Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Closing out the Month

Tomorrow marks the first of February, the shortest month of the year. Lots of lasting things have happened in February. We still celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday…and George Washington’s, too, although they have to share it on another date. There’s Valentine’s Day, which for florists, Hallmark, and chocolatiers, is the Retail equivalent of the second coming.

Ironically, it’s a day short of a Retail Pentecost (50-days after Christmas). Either way you look at it, not a bad thing for a short month. And every four years we tack on an extra day to catch up our clocks, and for those whose clocks are running fast…or out, or…well, you know that drill.

New Amsterdam was incorporated in February 1653…it’s now known as New York. Thomas Jefferson began construction on Monticello in February 1769. The state of Texas seceded from the Union in February 1861…and we could do it again. It’s in our Constitution.

George Washington created the Post Office in February 1792…and 39-cents later, you can still send a hand-crafted message in your own handwriting, maybe include a photo or two, with a scent that can’t be sent in an e-mail, and it still gets there in a day or two.

In February 1922, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote…and so from a short month, a lot of lasting things have come.

My firstborn was presented to me by my bride on the First of February, 25-years ago this year. He’s a guy I’d like to hang around with even it he weren’t my son. He can make my wife laugh when the rest of the family can’t He is the peacemaker between the Clanton women when hormones and histrionics sometimes run high. And I swear he could charm the stripes off a zebra if he thought it would make things better for someone.
He’s a good kid, and I am proud of him.

And on the First of February, one year ago, we at The BizRadioNetwork wrought upon the airwaves the second coming of our brand of intelligent Radio with the birth of BizRadio1320 on KXYZ-AM in Houston--An idea that actually was conceived and birthed in the last century (barely—November 1999), but improved upon a bit, we think, to become a lasting impression-maker for a discerning audience.

We built this station, this network, for you.
We call it Radio Wall Street.
We describe it as The Sound of Your Money Growing.
And we like to proclaim it as the Official Radio Network for Capitalism.

All of those monikers are true…but the deepest-rooted truth is that those of use here who have sweated and labored and sustained this project from its earliest beginnings have done so because we wanted to make something that would last:
Your success is our legacy.
And tomorrow is our first birthday.

Tomorrow marks the first day of the second month of the 5th or 6th year (depending upon which post Y2K argument you subscribed to) of this new millennium…and it’s another first for the BizRadioNetwork. My good friend, Vince Rowe, will launch a daily edition of his Radio show starting at 8am, running Monday thru Fridays.

We’ve watched Vince grow his show and his following. He’s a teacher, a nurturer, a father, and a friend. And we think you will like what he brings to the line up each morning, just ahead of the Markets’ opening bell.

I received a note from a listener expressing his disappointment that I was not going to be on the air for as long each day, and I appreciate that sentiment. I love doing this show, and I love being on the air.

I also love my bride and family and sleep and groceries, so this is not a backwards move for me. In fact, like all things in life worth hanging onto, sometimes the less of it there is, the more precious it becomes. And that is how I would like to think of the somewhat fewer hours I will still get to spend with you…they're now a little more precious to me.

See you in the morning on the Radio.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Challenge for Today

Remember what you were doing on this morning in 1986? January 28, 1986?

For many Americans, that’s like asking what you were doing on February 1, 2003… September 11, 2001…or January 27, 1967…or November 22, 1963—all dates that still live in infamy in our hearts, if not on the pages of our kids' history textbooks.

I observed today’s date by catching an episode of HBO’s “From the Earth to the Moon.” And you know what, it made me tear-up.

On January 28, 1986, I sure wasn’t on any mission to further world peace, cure cancer, or explore uncharted territory. I was a married father with two kids under 5 and a bride who stayed at home to raise them. I was working weekends for a rock and roll radio station in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and putting food on the table working for a state chartered savings and loan.

My job was managing what appeared to be a growing mountain of commercial paper for a lender that didn’t quite have a handle on a very serious problem: All those contracts represented mortgages on hundreds of manufactured housing units, scattered all over Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The S&L was learning the in’s and out’s of managing these wonderful little homesteads as the result of one of it’s mortgage loan originators being found “out of trust” on several pieces of collateral the year before. That’s a delicate way of saying that the originator had sold the loans to different S&L’s at the same time.

And part of my responsibilities was trying to find some of these units that had been sold, delivered, and set-up in some of the most unbelievably inaccessible places on the planet…in Oklahoma.

Do you sense my level of passion for that job at that time?

January 28, 1986, 20-years ago this morning, I was staring at two, giant, white dry-erase boards, mounted side-by-side on the wall facing my desk in a glassed-in office on the 4th floor of nice high-rise building in downtown Tulsa.

There were serial numbers and surnames listed for all of these units, some with asterisks indicating we knew where they were…others with notations about how far past-due the owners were on their payments…some of them were still unaccounted for…and they all had low to mid 5-figure amounts tallied in a far, right-hand column, representing their worth/liability/risk to the S&L.

It was a job I had not wanted, really, but accepted because I knew a little about the business, a little more about Oklahoma geography…and a lot about what it took to feed, clothe and house a family of 4 that did not care to live in a mobile home. Radio wasn’t paying the bills. Radio was feeding the passion…the S&L was buying the groceries.

Sometime in the mid morning, my bride called me on the phone and said, “turn on your radio, the Challenger has just exploded.” I had completely forgotten that the day was a shuttle launch day.

And my world stopped…along with many Americans that morning who had begun to take for granted these space shuttle launches as “routine.”

Listening to the radio news on KRMG-AM, I hollered across the office suite to my boss, “The Challenger just exploded!”

Our secretary, who sat in the open area between our offices, turned white. My boss rocked back from his desk, and visibly slumped in his chair. It was a full minute before he could form an audible response.

We were stunned.

Suddenly, the dry-erase boards with hundreds of thousands of dollars of un-accounted for trailer houses didn’t matter. The stack of loan files on my desk blurred into a less-important background. My secretary wept.

We all left the office a little early that day; what was the point?

I remember driving home to my modest house in a place called Broken Arrow…stumbling through the door and watching and re-watching the video replays on TV of Challenger’s final 70-seconds. I can still see the telecast of billowing flames from the launch…the long-range television images of that beautiful white and black bird astride its ungainly orange fuel tank, smoothly gaining, speed…rising ever higher in the January blue sky.

I can still hear the squelch-static-beep of the NASA controller saying “okay for throttle-up,” and the awful, y-shaped split of smoke contrails, marking in the sky the point where Challenger’s solid rocket boosters blasted free of the shuttle vehicle as it plunged back to earth.

My life was changed on January 28, 1986, as I am sure your’s was, too.
I hugged my wife.
I hugged my kids.
I prayed for the families of the shuttle crew whose deaths we’d witnessed.
And I asked myself if what I was doing with my life really mattered.

The lives of Challenger's crew, Francis Scobee, Judith Resnick, Ron McNair, Christa McAuliffe, Ellison Onizuka and Greg Jarvis mattered. What they were doing was important, and they died in the process.
I was just looking for mobile homes out in the sticks in Oklahoma...and playing on the radio on the weekend.

No comparison.

Since we lost Challenger, we’ve also lost Columbia. That anniversary is coming up next week, the wounds still tender for our nation. From both of those tragic events, one gleaming truth has emerged: It does matter that we push the envelope. It does matter that we explore. It does matter that we ask “why” and “how” and “what if,” regardless of our life’s occupation, because without that spark of inquisitiveness, how can we grow?

I went back to the S&L office the next day. Pretty somber, really. But I began to look at each file in that mountain of mobile home paper contracts as representing people with lives to live and jobs to do…and yes, payments to catch up.

I am proud to say I helped a few families stay in their homes despite the legal limbo they were in with their mortgages. I located all the units the S&L was responsible for, and sold a great many of them at a great loss to the lender, I am sorry to say. That was 1986.

Later that year I received an offer to move from Tulsa to Austin to run a Radio station. I knew the meaning of passion…and I knew the meaning of timing. I moved my young family to Texas…my home.

Texas is home to the Johnson Space Center and America’s space program. Texas is home to the first word spoken from the moon, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.” And Texas is also home to the spirit of endurance and achievement and respect for those who have given the final, ultimate sacrifice for the advancement of mankind.

When I remember the Challenger explosion, it’s the smoky-Y in the sky that lingers most in my mind. An image of horror, yes. But also a reminder of what 1986 was for me—a Y in the road that I took when opportunity presented itself.

Like Yogi Berra, I took the fork in the road.

Like Robert Frost, I am the better for having taken that path I have traveled.

Like the men and women at NASA, I appreciate the importance of passion for success in spite of set backs.

According to NASA 's website, http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/news/facts/shuttlefacts-toc.html with the completion of Space Shuttle Mission STS-114 on Aug. 9, 2005, a total of 114 missions have been flown since the first flight in April 1981.

Two orbiters and two crews have been lost in all of those missions. I have no earthly idea how many mobile homes are still missing in Oklahoma.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Scoring with the Fans

I’m really not poking fun at Houston’s new, professional soccer club. Not being a “sports journalist,” and having never played ANY organized sport EVER, far be it for me to be critical of something I just really cannot relate to. But a lot of people—including your’s truly—are scratching our heads about this one.

"Houston 1836"

What does that mean?

That’s the official name of the new soccer franchise team in Houston.
One point in favor of this label—it is geographically accurate.
There’s no doubt where THIS team is playing, nor for whom.
Which could be a blessing or a curse.

Of course that could be said for any of Houston’s other professional sports clubs—depending upon the season, a blessing or a blight on our town’s reputation among sports fans.

If we can capture the back-to-back Rockets Championship wins…if we can bottle the fervor that took the Astros to the World Series (and win or lose, they DID earn their ticket to play in The Big Show)…if we can tap into the magic of the Comets’…and refine the glory days of the Oilers and Texans (both of them), and from this alchemy produce a Houston-namesake winner, I don’t think anyone’s going to mind as much.

But what a row to hoe.

The official colors of our new soccer team could be prophetic: “Raven Black,,” “Space City Blue,” and “Wildcatter Orange.” That’s what many pro- and amateur athletes look like on any given Sunday following a game: black and blue, with betadine orange smeared over the really ugly places.

Wonder if Sherwin Williams has plans to stock any of those colors in their rainbow of selections for Spring?

As I understand it, there is a tradition in Europe (where soccer fanaticism can cause riots—imagine that!) of naming teams for their cities of origin, including the date of establishment.

Of the city, not the team.

So Houston 1836 has a logical validity.
I think it’s just begging for trouble:
"My team’s better than your team… "
"My town’s older than your town… "

Imagine a playoff game between Houston 1836 and Stonehenge 2000…B.C.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Wussification of American Society

If you’ve ever wondered why Caleeforneeya is called "the land of fruits and nuts," you need look no further than today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times and its incredible offering by guest commentator Joel Stein, on “Warriors and Wusses.” At least with this clown, you know what you’re dealing with, because Stein outs himself in the first sentence as admitting he does not support our troops.

“I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on,” writes Mr. Stein.

What is it about the American psyche that causes our kids to want to “play army man” until we’re old enough to understand the meaning of boot camp? As Stein states, anyone “signing up for eight years of unknown danger” is who he wants to hang with in Vegas.

How patriotic.

There is one painful truth that is exposed in the stark spotlight of Stein’s wuss-less gaze: “being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.”

Cynical, perhaps.
Painfully true, unfortunately.

Stein only partially redeems himself by admitting sympathy for people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, who he believes were "were tricked into fighting in Iraq."

He only gets partial credit because that idea does not square with the majority of responses I have had from US soldiers when asked what and why they are doing what they’re doing in Iraq.

Maybe that’s the loss of touch with reality that comes with the territory when, like Stein, you “grow up with money, did well in school and hasn't so much as served on jury duty for his country.”

Stein isn’t advocating spitting on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, which is good, because he’d likely not be spitting much of anything after trying that about once. And he is critical of celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea.

Hey, Joel, stay home; no one wants a wet blanket at a parade. And you’re missing the point: The parade and appreciation is for the service and personal sacrifice of the men and women in uniform. It’s not about the politics. Sorry you’re so confused.

Beyond these comments, I am not going to even attempt to impugn Joel Stein's character for choosing to express his wussiness in writing 'Warriors and Wusses," but simply point out that the only reason he can get away with writing such ideas is because there have been more warriors than wusses in America's history.

If this piece was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek article, he's choking on it. War is an ugly business, but it does accomplish goals, which is more than can be said for wusses.

Friday, January 20, 2006

More Power to Ya!

From exile in The Clanton Hacienda...

I have been sentenced to one weekend with a catheter by my doctor. Actually, I am not going to complain. He does not believe in performing procedures just before a weekend that could possible result in a call from the ER on an otherwise peaceful Saturday or Sunday.

Can’t say that I blame him.

That’s a lot like how I like to run the Radio business. Get things put to bed for the weekend, and hopefully, it all works. But there have been times…a weekend operator fails to show up…copper thieves decide to appropriate a segment of transmission cable…a satellite receiver fails. Nothing much surprises me anymore.

There are any number of variables that can for no apparent reason decide to make their unhappiness known at the most inopportune moments. I try not to dwell on that, especially when I am tethered to the homestead by a three-way piece of rubber tubing. Besides, that’s what engineers are for. To keep up with the electronics…not my tubing. Besides, our stuff doesn’t use tubes any more.

Chris Wilkerson, our IT technician, and Jim Reese, a long time broadcast engineer friend of mine, recently met me at the KXYZ-AM transmitter site to take a look around. I had my camera along, and was snapping a few photos for the fun of it.

Ever wonder what ground-zero at a tower site looks like? You will either find it amazingly fascinating, or see it as just another metal stick in the sky. Perhaps these shots will alter your opinion. I’ve always been awestruck by transmitter sites and the towers they power.

Technical notes: See the two inter-locking (but not touching) rings at the base of the tower? They’re called Austin Rings, an ingenious invention allows the tower lights to illuminate at night.

For an AM radio station to transmit, the entire length of the tower is energized. (That’s why you NEVER want to touch one of these things while they’re operating.) In order to separate the electrical circuit for the lights from the main power that’s coming off the tower, an isolation transformer (Austin Rings) is used.

Both rings contain helical copper windings, and when a current is passed through the lower ring, it creates a magnetic field that generates enough “juice” to energize the upper ring, which then creates current to power the tower lights.

The two metal balls mounted above and below the Austin Rings are called Johnny Balls, which prevent lighting strikes to the tower from arcing back into the transmission line and back to the transmitter. Transmitters have been knocked out by lightning strikes, but usually along a different electrical path.

Wouldn’t Nicholai Tesla have been proud?

See you on the Radio Monday morning!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tuesday's Epilogue

The doctor called Tuesday night, alright. After I'd been enduring excruciating pain for two days, he said to meet him at the Emergency Room, where he'd called ahead for an operating room. Dragged his entire surgical team out in the middle of the night to work on me.

We thought we got everything taken care of...until 3:30am, when I was again in such pain I shook uncontrolably. The doctor was summoned again; his surgical team again rousted out of bed. Finally, relief obtained, a catheter inserted, and this boy is not going to be playing in traffic anytime soon.

My special thanks and appreciation to Shirley McIntosh and her team of nurses on duty at The Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, as Tuesday night morphed into Wednesday morning. A special note of appreciation to Nurse Natalie, and her partner on the nightshift, Brenda, who unfortunately, had to deal with the ugliest part of the ordeal. Ladies, they just don't pay you enough for that.

And no words can express my thanks to the urological surgical team of Dr. Brian Powers at Houston Urologic Associates, who performed not once, but twice, above and beyond the call of duty. I like to think of them as Dr. Power's Nocturnal Surgical Strike Team, the Delta Force of urological surgery.

Finally, my thanks to Vince Rowe who graciously stepped in the gap and hosted my show Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and Jack Warkenthien, who stood in the gap on Friday morning's show.

I am to rest through the weekend, doctor's orders.
See you on the Radio on Monday, God willing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Tuesday night at The Clanton Hacienda

I am waiting for the doctor to call.
Monday was the six-week milestone following my prostate cancer surgery. We marked the occasion by drawing a little of my blood for testing purposes, and performing a dilation of you-know-what. Not a fun experience.

The doc gave me some pills to chase away the sting, and we left feeling very optimistic. The blood test should show me to be cancer-free, since they completely removed the prostate.

Funny how this entire experience has heightened my awareness of things that might have avoided it…only I don’t play the coulda-shoulda-woulda game. I’ll just pass along the information to you, in case it should help you.

Like a story in the Washington Times Monday by Jennifer Harper, revealing yet more research indicating you are what you eat…and can avoid what could befall you by putting the right stuff in your pie hole.

She writes, "Ladies, if you love your man, give him cauliflower curry with a side of kale for dinner. It may stave off prostate cancer, according to research released by Rutgers University. Cauliflower and kale -- along with cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, watercress and turnips -- contain a chemical that is a significant cancer-preventive. But add curry powder to the mix, the researchers say, and the vegetables and spice are effective in treating established prostate cancers, the second-leading cause of cancer death in American men.

It all boils down to a pair of crucial chemicals that "hold real potential for the treatment and prevention of prostate cancer," the Rutgers study stated. The vegetables contain phenethyl isothiocyanate, or PEITC, while the curry contains curcumin, a yellow pigment found in the spice itself. Both are considered phytochemicals -- nonnutritive substances in plants that have protective, antioxidant or anti-disease qualities.

"The bottom line is that PEITC and curcumin, alone or in combination, demonstrate significant cancer-preventive qualities in lab mice, and the combination of PEITC and curcumin could be effective in treating established prostate cancers," said Ah-Ng Tony Kong, the study's lead author and a professor of pharmaceutics at Rutgers. Though a half-million new cases of prostate cancer occur in the U.S. annually, incidence and death rates have not lessened despite decades of research for treatments or a cure. Advanced cases of prostate cancer cells are "barely responsive" to rigorous chemotherapy or radiation treatment, Mr. Kong said.

He was inspired to investigate diet as a supplementary therapy after noting that while prostate cancer is common in the U.S., the disease is rare in India, where plant-based diets and curry are the norm.

Curry itself has prompted other significant findings. Last year alone, the University of Texas found it inhibited the growth of both skin cancer and breast cancer cells, while the University of California at Los Angeles found it stopped the spread of harmful brain plaque in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Kong had previously found convincing evidence, he said, that the two chemical compounds quelled prostate cancer cells grown in the laboratory. He has since tested his theory on mice injected with the cancer cells. Three times a week for a month, the test mice then received injections of PEITC and curcumin.

Separately, the compounds "significantly retarded the growth of cancerous tumors," Mr. Kong noted. "Using PEITC and curcumin in tandem produced even stronger effects." The research team also evaluated therapeutic potential of the compounds in mice with advanced prostate cancer to find they "significantly reduced tumor growth." The study was published by Cancer Research, a journal of the Philadelphia-based American Association for Cancer Research.

I'll let you know what my doctor says.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Thoughts on Dr. King

I thought about doing an essay on Martin Luther King Day, and then thought better of it. After all, that’s a Black Holiday, right? Besides, in some cities around the country, there are actually competing factions in the black communities that have resulted in not one, but two MLK parades. Wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of the street in that neighborhood.

Then I thought better still—the things Dr. King stood for, advocated, and some believe, died for, are solid truths that are applicable to people of all colors.

He once said, “all men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

We’re here to help each other, whether we like it or not. Funny thing about that is, the more we help one another, the better our lives are. You keep practicing that philosophy, along with “The Golden Rule,” and pretty soon life is pretty grand, regardless of where you are, socio-economically, professionally, and personally.

Dr. King was ordained a Baptist minister in 1947. In 1954 he was working with a church in Montgomery, Alabama, when a woman in his congregation decided to not give up her bus seat to a white man.

Rosa Parks’ bravery was an early inspiration for Dr. King, who would later remark, “that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”

Dr. King sponsored a bus boycott after Parks’ arrest, which brought the Montgomery bus system to its knees, and changed the course of history.

I find it fascinating to read the words of this man, whose thoughts and comments are even more challenging today, for people of all ethnicities. He once said, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

We’re entering an election year, and the second half of a new decade in a new millennium. Many of you readers are couched in comfort and convenience; you’ve been blessed beyond your wildest dreams. What if that were to all be taken away tomorrow? What would your views on life, religion, politics, and morals be under such altered circumstances?

There are lots of conflicting, controversial, and confounding stories about Martin Luther King. I won’t even repeat them here. I am not his judge, but there is a Higher One who is, and He can decide the eternal destiny of Dr. King. But during King’s days on earth he was many things—including a contemporary philosopher and preacher of love and equality for all races—and a sharp-witted observer of the times.

He was a good example of what it means to speak your mind, regardless of the consequences, if what you spoke was the truth. And he said, “our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about things that matter.”

Dr. King mattered. I couldn’t be silent about that.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pictures at an Exhibition

This has been a pretty frantic week at the BizRadio ranch, culminating with this weekend’s Wealth Expo in Houston with our affiliate, BizRadio1320.

If you’re in Houston this weekend, and are hankering for some intellectual stimulation, this is the place, in the Westin Galleria. What goes on at one of these? Well here are a few snapshots of our crew…a picture is worth a thousand words.

Daniel Frishberg opened the Expo with his presentation on

"Buying Fear and Selling Happiness..."

...and later broadcast his show live from the event, Thursday and Friday afternoons.

So did Dayna Steele:

Meanwhile, the BizRadio "bevvy of beauties" were in full-force in our broadcast booth.

Gracie and Brenda

Show Producer, Mit Tai, making another A-list connection

This was one of the most popular corners of the show, apparently.

IT Wizzard Chris Wilkenson ponders the imponderable...

...as his partner in crime, Shaw Wareigi, later discovers the same muse.

And across the hall, the crew from The Online Trading Academy

made for attractive neighbors!

Christa, Sean, and Joy

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Domo Arrigato, Mr. Roboto

There is a memorable scene in one of the Star Wars movies that has always stuck with me. It’s where Luke Skywalker and his robotic buddies go shopping for spare parts to repair one of the droids. I can’t remember which pre-quel, sequel or plain old “quel” of George Lucas’ the scene is in, and I’m not sure I’d just rattle-off that book-chapter-and-verse to you if I did.

That would be too freaky.
I know people who can do that, though...

The scene I recall is set in a scrap yard of robotic hardware, if I remember correctly, and it’s a pretty interesting place. (This scene is first-cousin to the famous "Cantina scene" in the very first Star Wars movie, in which every imaginable being in the universe was collected for a pan-galactic sample of diversity.)

But I digress.

National Instruments just completed its second competition for school kids to build robots using LEGO technology. The FIRST LEGO League, created through the partnership of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) and The LEGO Company in 1998, is a program that helps more than 60,000 "yout's" worldwide discover the fun of science and technology by encouraging them to construct fully autonomous robots.

We’re talking about 9-14 year olds doing this stuff, and the winning team for the second year in a row is a group from Texas.

This year's challenge was called "Ocean Odyssey," which tasked teams to address a series of missions geared toward completing marine-related tasks, such as releasing a dolphin or deploying a submarine. Teams competed in the tournament by designing, building and programming robots with LEGO Mindstorms technology.

I remember playing with LEGO’s as a kid, and felt pretty good when I could get a vehicle to just roll smoothly across the floor, or could erect a tower higher than 12” that didn’t fall over.

The story about all this was carried on an Australian website, http://www.ferret.com.au/articles/2d/0c03bf2d.asp and of course included links to companies sponsoring the competition…one of which brokers used robots, hence the referral to the Star Wars movies.

And here’s the modern day, precursor to that futuristic scene in a galaxy far, far away.

Undersea United, a group of San Antonio home school students, received the prestigious Director's Award for the second year in a row. These kids not only presented the best technical robot design, but came up with some ideas about solving water resource issues in their local community, and best represented FIRST LEGO League values in its work.

National Instruments will sponsor the team to compete nationally at the FLL World Festival in Atlanta this April.

Wonder if they could fix that vacuum bot we got that’s supposed to clean the carpet without supervision, but keeps knocking over the fish tank?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Peaceful Real Estate

One of my most favorite places on Earth is an old battleground. Depending upon whom you ask, it’s a place where several hundred hapless soldiers were mercilessly slaughtered and left rotting for days, or it is revered as the location of a 20-minute skirmish by a few hundred rag-tag “contras,” who’d decided they were sick of being pushed around.

Recognize the place?

San Jacinto.

Each April, the famous Battle of San Jacinto is re-enacted on the barely rolling terrain that is accessed by Texas Park Road 1836 from the south, and linked to the north by the still-strategic Lynchburg Ferry.
The Texas Parks Commission is working on some restoration of the towering San Jacinto Monument that marks the battle site, and dominates the landscape for miles.

I can spot it, shimmering in the distance, from my office window in Houston’s Galleria. The San Jacinto Monument towers over more than just the swampy terrain: its builders in 1936 had the gall to construct it a few feet higher than the Washington Monument in our nation’s capitol.

Yeah, that was on purpose.

I love to visit the Monument, read the rolls of the surrounding land, and imagine the Spring of 1836. The Parks Department has been working to restore the battleground, too, to a close approximation of how it looked in that fateful April 170-years ago. They’re re-planting native grasses, and are landscaping the terrain. Really helps visualize what was going on.

You can see where Gen. Sam Houston was wounded, his horse shot dead out from under him. You can see the spot where Gen. Santa Anna’s encampment was sited, and imagine his dalliance, perhaps, with a woman immortalized as “the yellow rose of Texas,” who may have had a hand in distracting the General during his afternoon siesta…just before the Texans attacked.

And you can clearly see how the Mexicans were horribly positioned with their backs against an impenetrable swamp bordering the meandering San Jacinto River nearby.

I’ve been coming here since I was a young boy.

I always learn something new when I visit.

Across the reflecting pond from the Monument floats the magnificent Battleship Texas, still a tribute in progress to the men who served on her in two world wars, and to all members of the armed forces anywhere, anytime. She’s painted a dark, Pacific Blue, now. The hull was replaced a few years ago at the Todd Shipyards in Galveston, and the refurbishing work continues “from stem to stern.”

The highest point open to the public is the protected walk around the front of the bridge.

The lowest point you can visit is deep within the bowels of the engine room, where refurbished dials and gauges gleam in the dim light, and massive pistons, push rods and crankshafts slumber in peace.

“Texas” saw action in both Atlantic and Pacific theatres of WW-II, participating in the shelling of Normandy on D-Day, and the pounding of Iwo Jima and Okinawa a few months later.

The truly amazing thing about the Battleship Texas is that she was originally built with WW-I technology, a “dreadnought” of the era—a warship which feared no other on the high seas.

While touring the ship recently I met a couple from Oregon who asked me to snap their picture near the stern of the “Texas.” It was their first visit to the battleship, and I mentioned to them of my love for the floating museum that has grown over the years.

Later, as we were walking off the gangway to shore, they asked me why the Battleship Texas and the Monument hold such an attraction. I wise-cracked, “because I am a Texan,” and we all had a laugh—and I am sure they thought I was just another braggadocio shooting off my mouth.

But my love of this place runs much deeper.

It is fitting, I think, that these two monuments to human struggle, one pointing to the sky, the other floating peacefully nearby, are positioned as they are at San Jacinto. War is such an ugly thing. History has illustrated, graphically, that it is often a necessary thing.

Aristotle said “we make war that we may live in peace,” a paradox of the human condition.

Here on this sloping battleground, the representatives of three great struggles reside as reminders of the price of the peace we enjoy, protect, and cherish.

(All photos of The San Jacinto Monument and The Battleship Texas, including aerial shots, were taken by me.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bordering on Insanity

The Associated Press did a story this week on diplomats from Mexico and Central America demanding guest worker programs and the legalization of undocumented migrants in the United States, while at the same time finding time to criticize tougher border enforcement by the U.S.

If they weren't elected officials of legitimate countries, their behaviour might be mistaken for that of neighborhood thugs, spewing condemnation of plans to make illegal entry into our country from theirs' a felony.

If there was one positive to come from the "Gang of Seven" meeting in Mexico's capital, it was a pledge to do more to fight migrant trafficking. Mexico hosted officials from Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, and Panama.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary, Luis Ernesto Derbez, nailed it when he said, "there has to be an integrated reform that includes a temporary worker program, but also the regularization of those people who are already living in receptor countries.

Sec'y. Derbez has called legislation working its way through Washington making it tougher to get in to the States "stupid and underhanded." Maybe he skipped the class on international protocol and good manners-101 at Foreign Relations Secretarial school.

Yesterday Derbez acknowledged "it's not the Mexican government's position to tell the U.S. Senate what to do."

Really? Nice of you to acknowledge that, Senor Derbez, since that’s exactly what you and your vaqueros are trying to do.

Now reportedly, there is a great deal of resentment in Mexico over plans to tighten up at our border crossings, some of it spilling over into criticism of Mexican President Vincente Fox for not being assertive enough in opposing them.

Fox's description of the new law: "shameful." Interesting choice of words, and here is why:

Mexicans working in the United States are a huge source of revenue for Mexico...the country's 2nd largest source of foreign currency after oil exports. The Central Bank of Mexico calculated Mexicans working in the states sent home more than $16 billion in remittances in 2004. Looking at that factoid from another perspective, you could say Mexican nationals working in the US are a huge DRAIN of revenue, sucking more than $16-billion out of our economy.

The Mexican Fox administration says migration has declined in recent years. Official figures show it remains at historically high levels. Typically, the Mexican government can’t even get those facts straight.

Ruben Aguilar, a spokesperson for the Fox administration, this week admitted that Mexican migrants "don't emigrate because they lack work, but rather for a series of other reasons, cultural reasons or better living conditions."

Bingo, Ruben.

Mexico should be ashamed that it cannot create and maintain an environment and standard of living that encourages its own domestic growth, but instead encourages its citizens to break the law and become leeches on the American economy and society.

The solution is not taller fences (or fences where once none even existed)
The solution is not stricter laws.
The solution is simple: enforce the laws that exist, and augment them with a compasionate dose of common sense.

What is most needful is a legal means of recognizing the realities of border economics: there is work to be done in America at wages Mexican nationals are willing to accept. Allow that commerce to take place, tap the income for taxes sufficient to sustain the infrastructures affected by their presence…and let those who want to work here do so.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Reach Out and Distract Someone

From time to time I get confused in mid-sentence. Do you ever feel this way? Just rockin’ along, thoughts clearly organized, precisely expressed, getting good feedback…and BAM! Like a John Madden hit—I go blank.

It’s not “old timer’s disease.”

It can come from a number of external and internal stimuli.

Like Charles Dickens’ character in “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge, thinking his nocturnal jousts with the spirit world are the result of a morsel of cheese or a bite of something from supper, I can, and often do get thrown off by a scrap of paper with a handwritten note, an instruction manual for a piece of new equipment, or in Friday’s case, an IM screen flashing just inside my range of peripheral vision.

As you can see, some of this distraction is unavoidable. Many mornings my IM screen looks like the tiled splashboard behind the kitchen sink…and when they’re all flashing at once, demanding my attention, they can look like an airport runway nighttime landing guidance system…

Not that I mind.

It’s great to be in touch.

But sometimes, too much touchiness will throw you out of touch with where you need to be.

Wouldn't Mr. Bell be amazed?

"Watson...never mind. I'll IM you."

Friday, January 06, 2006

No Words to Express

Okay, I’ve been a slug this week, I admit it.

This was the first week to head back into the office after my operation, one month ago. And while I have done surprisingly well, it’s been exhausting.
Hopefully I will be better (and stronger) next week.

I am still stunned into silence when I contemplate the mining tragedy in West Virginia.
Twelve miners trapped by an unexplained explosion and poisoned air, huddled behind a thin layer of plastic sheeting, and waited for the end to come.

Some of them wrote notes to loved one’s telling of their pending passing…examples of courage and strength borne by their faith.

“It wasn’t bad.”
“I just went to sleep.”

…in the cold, dark bowels of the earth.

Contemplation of all the aspects of this story are mind numbing.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Box Office Bonanza

The week between Christmas and New Year’s has traditionally been vacation week at The Clanton Hacienda. Not so this year, given my history in December. Still, even with doing the show live from The Studio at The Clanton Hacienda, it was a fairly light week.

The normal activity of choice during our vacations is to hit a movie theater at least once a day. Again, could not do that this year, but we did watch copious amounts of our favorite DVD’s on the laptop on a bed tray on my lap.

"What did Santa bring you?"
"Great lap muscles this year."

We did go see one movie on New Year’s Eve; Rumor Has It. Very clever film with Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner that picks up with “the rest of the story” from “The Graduate.” The star who steals the show is Shirley McClaine. I’ve always thought a little Shirley goes a long way, and that’s true here. But the little dabs that do ya are priceless in the film. So the Clanton Movie Watcher guide gives “Rumor Has It” three thumbs up.

It’s important to know the content of the films that are in theaters today. When you shell out serious coinage for tickets and a snack—which might as well be a three course meal after the expense—you want to know you’re getting your money’s worth. Or at least have a clue what you’re in for…

So my Bride and our young, single and attractive 20-something daughter were getting our tickets at the box office, and we noticed an older couple in line behind us. They went to the next available window, and I heard the man ask for two tickets for “Brokeback Mountain.”

And I looked over at this couple—he was sporting a flat-top hair cut and wearing dark blue jeans and a western shirt, and she was wearing something rather non-descript, but they were clearly not aware of what they were getting themselves into.

The box office attendant snickered when she overheard the man comment to his wife, “I really want to see a COWBOY movie.”

I really hate to see people waste money, so as we walked past, I tapped the couple on the arm and told them they really didn’t want to see “Brokeback Mountain.”

“What? Why not?” they demanded.

I leaned in closer, and said—“It’s about Gay Cowboys.”

You should have seen their faces.
You should have seen the faces of the box office attendants, too…

I don’t know what this intrepid couple ended up seeing…but it sure as shootin’ wasn’t a cowboy movie New Years eve.