Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mr. Clanton Went to Washington

(Somewhere over Middle America at 35,000 ft.)

My dogs are barking.
After pounding the streets of DC for a few days, I have a new-found appreciation for those who work here regularly. I wish I had the show sole replacement franchise.

So here I sit on the flight back to Houston, legs and feet aching, but happy with the work over the past days.

Today concluded the “Mission Day” activities for the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society in which volunteers, staffers, and patients and survivors swarmed the offices of Congress like a horde of locusts. Instead of a plague, we delivered a message of hope and anticipation that cancer and the suffering it causes can be a thing of the past by 2015. All it takes is money and time. Spent our time on The Hill asking for the funding to make it happen.

With our group were a pair of sisters, Maria Voytko and Kathy Moceyunas, from Scranton, PA. Maria is a cancer survivor, and Kathy is the reason why. When Maria was a senior in high school, she came down with Leukemia, and Kathy donated some of her bone marrow to help her sister survive.

That was ten-years ago.
Both sisters are happily married and working productively in their community. Maria and Kathy shared their story with the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, just as the posse I was running with brought the gospel of the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society to Texas’ officials.

Count Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison as a win, Sen. John Cornyn as a maybe (his aide that visited with us took lots of notes and asked plenty of questions), and the staffers for Rep. Mike McCaw and Rep. Lamar Smith were similarly affected with the power of our stories, and the promising future for cancer research. All it takes is money.

Some of our volunteers today said their senators were not convinced spending another $7-billion on blood cancer research is doable without some offset elsewhere in the Federal Budget. They call themselves “fiscal conservatives,” and I suppose I can see their point. Everyone has their hand out and a leave-behind in Washington. The way I see it, we can pay for this now or later, but either way, we’ll pay the price for cancer.

This is how business gets done in Washington. Everyone stands in line to be screened by security before you can get in for your appointment. It can add ten to twenty minutes to the time you need to plan ahead to get inside.

Sometimes you get to see your Representative or Senator. More often than not, you’re visiting with one of their staffers, who hear the pitches, take the notes, and ask questions by which they can most fully inform their boss before an important vote on an issue.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s office occupies one entire hallway of the Russell Office Building. Access from either end of the hall takes you to her suite of offices. At one end of the hall is a classically-arched window overlooking a stand of trees on The Hill. At the other end hangs a Lone Star Flag. It’s pretty impressive.

To get there you climb marble steps that have been worn smooth and depressed by millions of footsteps up and down their cases over the years, bearing stories of need and examples of triumph.

One curious thing about the various office buildings is the restroom facilities. Apparently, there has been some confusion about their purpose, so these signs were posted all over the place. In the Cannon Office Building the problem aparently was so severe, they had to draw pictures to get the message across!

We don’t have problems like that back home, do we?

See you in the morning on the Radio.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mr. Clanton Goes to Washington, Part Tres

(Washington, D.C.)

Kids say the darndest things.
That was the premise of the Art Linkletter’s popular House Party show on CBS from 1952 to 1969. Bill Cosby later picked up the theme by co-hosting a show with Linkletter called Kids Say the Darndest Things. Kids are pretty perceptive, too, and not inhibited like we grown ups can sometimes be. They’ll just blurt things out, right or wrong, and there’s the truth, splayed right there on the ground in front of you, for the entire world to hear and see.

Like 5-year old Jennifer Reckers, a leukemia survivor in Mason, Ohio, who’s artwork was on display with drawings and paintings from hundreds of leukemia patients tonight at the Cochran Art Gallery.

Jennifer had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), and the doctors caring for her beat the disease. Now she has a fear that she will “fall through the cracks” in the American healthcare system.
How perceptive for a 5-year old.
How sad she perceives such a horrible truth at such a tender age.

I am in Washington to lend my support for children like Jennifer for legislation that would keep kids and adults from falling through the cracks. It’s called the Cancer Survivorship Bill, which would address the problems of access to care, systems of care, insurance issues, and research. Isn’t it interesting that the progress made in surviving cancer have created a whole other set of challenges: secondary cancers, cognitive issues, and psychosocial problems. Used to, these people just died. End of story.

The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society volunteers and staff are assaulting the hill—Capitol Hill—tomorrow to encourage congress to make an investment with incalculable returns. There’s a lot at stake.

President Bush wants to cut cancer research funding in his proposed budget for Fiscal 2007. This would mark the first time in ten years dollars earmarked for biomedical research would be less than in previous budgets, a one-eighty on the Administration’s stated goal for the past three years to eliminate suffering and death from cancer by 2015.

It is sadly ironic that Mr. Bush lost a sister to Leukemia when she was a very young child. A lot like 2-year old Jacob Erb, from Royal Palm Beach, Florida, who’s art also was on display tonight.

Cancer deaths dropped in for the first time in 70-years in 2003, which was the final year in a push to double the funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) within five years. There is a correlation between funding research and survival rates. Why would we kill the momentum we’ve built?

To meet the needs of NCI research currently being funded would require an additional $1.09-billion for fiscal ’07. Just to keep up with inflation would require an additional $177-million.
For Fiscal ’06, Mr. Bush requested a $49-million increase in funding.
For ’07, the figure is a negative $39-million.

Money makes the world go round.
It also saves lives.
The additional investment of $240-million that’s being advocated by me and my brethren and sistren this week is needful in order to fund the research and amazing work being carried out on behalf of all cancer sufferers. Doctors now believe that we are closest to unlocking the keys to cancer through hematological studies. Blood cancers hold the secret to beating the other varieties of cancer in bone and soft tissue.

We are so close.
When you’re this close, you can taste it.
You can smell it—like the cherry blossoms in Spring, about to burst open with fragrance and color. Perhaps it is fitting that we assault this important hill during cherry blossom time in Washington.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mr. Clanton Goes to Washington, Part Deaux

(Washington, D.C.)

“Why don’t American’s appreciate more what they’ve got?”

This was a question posed to me by an Asian couple sitting next to me on the flight to Washington this weekend. Vu and Tina Le escaped from Vietnam as Saigon fell when they were kids. Vu’s father was killed by the Communists, they told me, because he was an intelligent, successful man.
Commies don't like folks like that.

The Le's came to America on separate paths, but driven by a common thirst for freedom. There's alot of that going around.

Vu and Tina later met in the States, married 16-years ago, and this weekend were traveling to the capitol of their adopted country to see the cherry blossoms in bloom.

We talked on the flight about their lives here, and how they contrast with the lives of their relatives still in Vietnam. And we agreed that you cannot truly appreciate the bountifulness of America unless you’ve come here from someplace else, or travel out of the country and are able to compare our way of life with those in other places.

“Why do (Anglo) American’s want to turn their skin dark?”

Another question posed by Vu and Tina.
She’s a skin care consultant in a salon in the upscale northwest neighborhoods of Houston. She can’t believe what some white people go through to darken their skin.

I told her it was vanity. We’re given role models for style and good looks by Madison Avenue and Hollywood. Whatever plays well, American’s adopt from a tube or a tanning bed.

Tina has nearly flawless skin, and Vu has a great head of hair, just now turning salt-and-pepper. You notice things like that, right off the bat when you're sitting hip to hip and elbow to elbow with strangers. I was glad I'd trimmed my nose hairs before leaving the house. You just never know who you're going to be sitting next to.

Vu was curious about my “do,” which requires a Number-3 guard on an electric trimmer once every three weeks--whether it needs it or not. I told him to not worry about his hair turning silver, just so long as it doesn’t turn loose. Besides, he’s got an in-house specialist who can add color anytime.

This morning on the hotel elevator a guy jumped on and sighed, “this is not going to be a good day.” I asked why, and he said, “I woke up.” I couldn’t help but remember back to the conversation I had with Vu and Tina about how unappreciative we can sometimes be. This guy was bent because he had to face another day. From where I’ve been recently, every day is a gift. It’s all about perspective.

Washington is full of different perspectives.
Everyone has one, and they all want theirs to be The Official View. I thought about snapping a few images of some of the bumper stickers I’ve seen up here, but this is a family blog.

Tonight I took the train to the National Mall.
Not to shop, but to shoot.
I wanted night shots of the Washington Monument, the War Memorials, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Depending upon where you stand and look, Washington has some awesome visual perspectives with monuments juxtaposed with one another.

The city is truly a photographer’s paradise. (In my next life I want to come back as a photographer for National Geographic.)

And Washington seems to never sleep.
There were tourists thronging the Lincoln Memorial. The World War Two Memorial was crowded with students; the Korean and Vietnam Memorials were less populated. Their meanings are more solemn. At all three memorials, the black and white flag of POW/MIA flies below the stars and stripes.

I noticed a particularly poignant, physical perspective at the Vietnam War Memorial. After snapping a few shots of the three soldiers (without a flash), I walked around to the wall containing the dead and missing from that conflict—the only war America lost.

Reaching the center of the giant, broad “V” gouged into the earth, I looked west and found the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial, wherein is enshrined the memory of a man who preserved the Union in another awful war.

Gazing along the opposite wall of the Memorial, I saw reflected in those hand-carved names the gleaming Washington Monument, a symbol of freedom to all Americans.

And I thought about the war dead, and the price they paid.

I thought about the Le’s and how they suffered the loss of family members in their country’s war, and had to leave the homes.

And I thought about that idiot in the elevator this morning, who really doesn’t have a clue.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mr. Clanton Goes to Washington

(Washington, D.C.)

The cherry blossoms are popping out in our nation’s capitol, just in time for my annual visit to button-hole a few congresspersons (they used to be all called “congressmen,” but that’s not technically nor politically correct these days.)

I am here attending an annual “Mission Day” convention of the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society, at which we will conduct LLS business, and more importantly, visit our respective congressional Representatives and Senators about how they spend your money.
This is my second trip to DC for this purpose.

Specifically, we want to impress this august group each March how important the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) are to the fight against cancer, of which your’s truly is now a survivor. Additionally, the Department of Defense has a cancer research program for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer.

Congress has invested $23-million in DOD work on these diseases for the past three years; the LLS wants to throw our weight behind an initiative to expand the research to include all hematological malignancies. And you thought all the Defense guys bought were $500 toilet seats…and big boy toys to blow up things with.

Here’s the deal.
In Washington, everyone has an angle.
If you don’t participate in the process, you lose.
It’s that simple.

So if it’s a question between lobbying the politico’s for federal funds like a sanctified version of Jack Abramoff, or not having enough dollars to fund the work of cancer researchers (some of which have parsed my prostate cells), I side with getting the message in the right hands and ears.

The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society supports increasing funding by 5-percent for the NIH and NCI. A percent here, a percent there, and pretty soon you’re talking serious cash--$1.4-million for NIH, and $240-million for NCI—which pays the salaries and supply bills for chemists, oncologists, doctors and caregivers trying to figure out how to beat Cancer. Period.

This weekend’s meetings are being underwritten in part by people who have a vested interest in our success in getting this message heard in Congress: Companies like Amgen, Merck, and Novartis. So there’s your full-disclosure.

Novartis markets Gleevec, a “silver bullet” in the Cancer fight—the first FDA-approved drug to directly turn off the signal of a protein known to cause a cancer. This is pretty significant, because other drugs previously approved by the FDA can only interfere with proteins associated with other cancers, but not with proteins that directly cause the disease.

There are two other points on our agenda this weekend. We’re pushing for passage of funding for the Patient Navigator Act. That’s not where all cancer patients get a Lincoln SUV.

Have you tried to get around on the website for your healthcare provider? There ought to be a law! Actually, there is—but it’s another one of those un-funded mandates. An initial $25-million grant was approved for patient navigators, but no appropriation has been blessed. Maybe a bridge or two to nowhere got in front of the pecking order, but since navigating health care systems is vital to cancer patients, the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society is going on the record in support of writing the checks to pay for this through 2007.

The final piece of lagniappe this weekend is the handling of a “Cancer Survivorship” bill written in the last congressional session to create programs addressing the unique needs of cancer survivors. The LLS independently was working on a similar idea, drafting principles for pediatric cancer survivors. We’re going to ask that the two themes be blended, and a revised bill be reintroduced for consideration—and passage.

So, that’s how I am spending my weekend…preparing for these meetings, and getting my talking points in order. Not exactly cleaning the garage, but it is good work that needs to be done.

Tomorrow, I want to share with you some personal stories of people I’ve met here. Some of the best pictures I’ve shot so far were taken with the cameras of others…and the Washington Mall is more than a focal point for marches by millions of men. Meet you back here, later this weekend.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Afterglow

We toasted you last night.
You, who have been our support and inspiration for the past year, our listeners and pen-pals online.
You who have told us what you like, and what you don’t like.
You who have stood by us as we beat a different tack against the prevailing winds.
Thank you.

The BizRadioNetwork 1st Anniversary celebration was a hit. I’ve got the pictures to prove it…

CEO Daniel Frishberg and the irresistable Carolyn Farb

Kristina Ramirez and our resident movie-star and ace traffic & news reporter, Tim Wolf...

The BizRadioNetwork Ensemble: Brent, Mit Tai, Kristina, Tim, and Buddy "In the Booth" Cantu.

Amy Olson, Genevieve Cassanova, and Jewel Gentry are the backbone of our office operation.

Did you know Daniel Frishberg does a mean rendition of "Mack the Knife?"

Kristina Ramirez arrives in her famous limo.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Taxes: The Ultimate Sell-out

There are a few things in life you just don’t do.
Pulling on Superman’s cape, selling Nigerian barges to a shell company…and marketing personal information from IRS databases. That is certain to create consternation in the general population.

The Treasury Department wants to change the rules to allow accountants and tax return preparers to sell your entire tax returns to marketers and data merchants. Treasury says it’s an “insignificant regulatory action.”

Say what?

Despite rules that would require your written consent before anyone could sell your information, this is not a good idea. If you like the way the various “do not call” lists are working, what reasonable expectations should you have about the government effectively monitoring this gambit?

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama nailed it when he said, "There is no more sensitive information than a taxpayer's return, and the IRS's proposal to allow these returns to be sold to third-party marketers and database brokers is deeply troubling.”

That’s the understatement of the year. It’s outrageous.

This change is part of the federales’ proposed regulations to “safeguard taxpayer information” as issues like overseas processing of some returns becomes an option. I always get nervous when someone says they’re “from the government, here to help.”

Curiously, no one at H&R Block and Jackson-Hewitt, which are the two largest national tax-preparation firms, are conspicuously silent on this issue.

That the IRS has only received about a dozen comments on the proposal is not too surprising, since this little item has been very quietly kept under wraps.

The formal comment period ended March 8, but you can send late comments which "may receive consideration" if you get them there pronto.

Here’s the address:

CC:PA:LPD:PR (REG-137243-02)
Room 5203
Internal Revenue Service, Box 7604
Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C. 20044.

Ben is spinning in his grave.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Where's Brent-o?

(The Clanton Hacienda) A Plan-B is always a good idea. The Plan-B we’ve been developing for the BizRadioNetwork Morning Show stood us in good stead the past few days. The partnership between Vince Rowe and I primarily is to add more depth to the show.

But the secondary benefit is to provide us both with a back-up for the show.

When I woke up from yesterday’s outpatient procedure, I discovered the work had required the insertion of another catheter. Since the studio in The Clanton Hacienda was dismantled last month, that meant Vince needed to do today’s show solo again.

Tomorrow will be a better day; Vince will be in-studio with me, in town for our Anniversary celebration for The BizRadioNetwork.

See you in the morning on the Radio.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Monsters and the Weak

This weekend marks the 3rd anniversary of the war in Iraq. It's a very politicized war on this side of the world. I can't even imagine what it's like on the other side, but I've got friends and friends of friends who are there. It's enough for me to take their word for it.

Trouble is, you don't seem to hear that side of things. The good news that's coming out of Iraq doesn't sell newspapers. Why don't more people want to hear about success? Why does failure make a better fit with the mainstream media? Rhetorical questions no one has the spine to answer.

I received a note from a church friend this weekend. Don't know where this originated, don't even know if this kid is Over There. But the sentiment rings true, and that Truth is this: if we don't fight and win there, we'll be fighting here.

This one's worth passing along...and so I am passing it along to you.
Semper Fi and Godspeed our troops.

We Are All That Stands Between The Monsters And The Weak

The sun beat like a hammer, not a cloud was in the sky.
The mid-day air ran thick with dust, my throat was parched and dry.
With microphone clutched tight in hand and cameraman in tow, I ducked beneath a fallen roof, surprised to hear, "Stay low."

My eyes blinked several times before in shadow I could see,
The figure stretched across the rubble, steps away from me.
He wore a cloak of burlap strips, all shades of grey and brown,
That hung in tatters till he seemed to melt into the ground.

He never turned his head or took his eye from off the scope,
But pointed through the broken wall and down the rocky slope.
"About eight hundred yards," he said, his whispered words concise,
"Beneath the baggy jacket he is wearing a device."

A chill ran up my spine despite the swelter of the heat,
"You think he's gonna set it off along the crowded street?"
The sniper gave a weary sigh and said, "I wouldn't doubt it,"
"Unless there's something this old gun and I can do about it."

A thunderclap, a tongue of flame, the still abruptly shattered;
While citizens that walked the street were just as quickly scattered.
Till only one remained, a body crumpled on the ground,
The threat to oh, so many ended by a single round.

And yet the sniper had no cheer, no hint of any gloat,
Instead he pulled a logbook out and quietly he wrote.
"Hey, I could put you on TV, that shot was quite a story!"
But he surprised me once again -- "I got no wish for glory."

"Are you for real?" I asked in awe, "You don't want fame or credit?"
He looked at me with saddened eyes and said, "You just don't get it.
"You see that shot-up length of wall, the one without a door?
Before a mortar hit, it used to be a grocery store. "

"But don't go thinking that to bomb a store is all that cruel,
The rubble just across the street -- it used to be a school.
The little kids played soccer in the field out by the road."
His head hung low, "They never thought a car would just explode."

"As bad as all this is though, it could be a whole lot worse."
He swallowed hard, the words came from his mouth just like a curse.
"Today the fight's on foreign land, on streets that aren't my own,
I'm here today 'cause if I fail, the next fight's back at home."

"And I won't let my Safeway burn, my neighbors dead inside,
Don't wanna get a call from school that says my daughter died;
I pray that not a one of them will know the things I see,
Nor have the work of terrorists etched in their memory."

"So you can keep your trophies and your fleeting bit of fame,
I don't care if I make the news, or if they speak my name."
He glanced toward the camera and his brow began to knot,
"If you're looking for a story, why not give this one a shot.

"Just tell the truth of what you see, without the slant or spin;
That most of us are OK and we're coming home again.
And why not tell our folks back home about the good we've done,
How when they see Americans, the kids come at a run.

"You tell 'em what it means to folks here just to speak their mind,
Without the fear that tyranny is just a step behind;
Describe the desert miles they walk in their first chance to vote,
Or ask a soldier if he's proud, I'm sure you'll get a quote."

He turned and slid the rifle in a drag bag thickly padded,
Then looked again with eyes of steel as quietly he added;
"And maybe just remind the few, if ill of us they speak,
That we are all that stands between the monsters and the weak."

Michael Marks
Somewhere in Iraq
January 25, 2006

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Enterprising Solutions

The question of whether customer service is a dying art was raised by me earlier this week following a recent experience I had with a rental car company. I promised I would reveal the company name, and give you the rest of the story as the problem was resolved.

I rented a one-way car to drive from Killeen to Dallas on Sunday. On Tuesday when I returned the car at the D-FW airport depot, I was told there was a $300 car-return fee because I had been given a “roundtrip” car. An interesting phone conversation ensued with the agent in Killeen arguing with me—one of those “you said this, no you said this, no you said this” kind of pointless conversations.

The topper for me was when the agent crowed that since he had my card imprint, he would extract the fee regardless, and refused to pass along the name and phone number of his supervisor. Told me to call the 800- number.

Well, I did within minutes of that exchange, and navigated the voice mail tree to obtain a name and direct number. Left an intriguing message, and within 24-hours received calls back from two much more responsive managers for Enterprise Car Rentals.

The first was from the Central Texas Regional Manager, Craig Corporon, who agreed that the way the matter was handled was not the way Enterprise likes to treat its customers. Craig’s solution was elegantly simple, and extremely fair: the mistake in sending me off in a roundtrip car was theirs, so no car-return fee. The proper rate for a one-way car would be imposed (I thought that it had been), resulting in a slightly higher daily cost.

That’s fair.
That’s balanced.
That’s more like it.

The second call from Enterprise management occured only a few minutes later. The manager of the rental office at the Killeen airport, Jimmy Phillips, also expressed his apologies for the way his weekend manager had handled the transaction. Alienating a customer is not how to cultivate a lasting customer base, he said, and he wanted to do everything in his power to rectify the problem and roll out the red carpet for me when I next rent from Enterprise.

Neither of these gentlemen knew much about me, or that their as-yet un-named company had already been outted by a talk show host with a very active blogsite. And I didn’t tell them about that until we finalized the fix for this incident.

Now they know…and so do you.

Lessons to take away from this—when you arrange for transportation on line, make sure you print out a copy of the transaction or the reservation (which I did!)

When you pick up a rental car, don’t just sign here, initial there, there, and there, and sign here, without reading through the contract and understanding what you’re agreeing to. I also did this, which is how I knew I was not contractually obligated to pay a non-return fee for a car I was driving one-way.

Finally, never accept the first answer you get when it appears someone with your card number has the upper hand. To quote a line from “Porgy and Bess,” “it ain’t necessarily so.”

Will I rent from Enterprise again?
Sure—who doesn’t like a little red carpet treatment?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dangerous Incompetence

To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.
Bertrand Russell

If it were easy to achieve all the goals you have set for yourself, you might be aiming too low. There is a difference between contentment and complacency…contentment tempers our cravings and hungers and desires… complacency dulls us into accepting the mediocre. A little denial, a little hankering for things just out of our reach is a healthy motivation for building, creating, and producing.

Michigan Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow put a “Dangerously Incompetent” placard on an easel on the Senate Floor Tuesday as a backdrop for dissing President Bush and the general philosophy behind the funding of Homeland Security. As it turned out, the sign served as an unintended caption for her comments on the floor of the Senate.

Funny thing about all these wanna-be problem solvers who are now piling on the administration—they’re all like sharks who think they smell blood in the water—they’re all teeth and muscle, with very little brain power to create reasonable solutions. It’s pretty easy to bite and tear apart—especially in a feeding frenzy or a herd mentality. But they're not offering any plausible alternatives. They're only creating a vacuum.

It takes a lot more skill and intelligence to find creative answers to problems we’re facing in America today. In fact, if these nattering naybobs of negativity used half of the energy and brain power they're wasting on blasting Mr. Bush, and instead applied it to constructive, positive, answer-seeking thought processes, we’d all be a lot better off.

Rental Car Snafus

Customer Service: Is it a dying art in business?
I love telling stories about individuals and companies that do a great job of providing superior customer service. You also know that I am not shy about shining the light of truth on less-scrupulous businesses when I discover they are not doing a good job. Today's story is in two parts--because I don't yet know the outcome--and contains a little good and a little bad behavior.

I rented a car to drive from my parents' home in Central Texas to Dallas on Sunday so that I could be in-studio with Vince Rowe on Monday as we launched our joint morning show. The Clanton Clan gathered over the weekend to celebrate the pending high school graduation of a niece, and I journeyed on to Big D, with a return flight home on Tuesday.

Imagine my shock and awe when I was told at the rental car check-in booth that I was being charged a fee for not returning the car from the rental location where I picked it up.

It's a substantial fee--triple what I paid to rent the vehicle in the first place.

I took issue with the check-in clerk at D-FW airport, and to her credit, instead of arguing a pointless point, she called the office where the car had been rented. One-way rental in a roundtrip car was the answer. They were going to suck the additional fee out of my magical plastical card. Only I barked back.

I reserved the car through Travelocity, one-way, Killeen to Dallas.
I picked up the car at the Killeen Regional Airport, even mentioning to the clerk at the desk that I was heading to Dallas on business, and flying back home on Tuesday.

A key point, wouldn't you think?

The dude behind the counter put me in a round-trip car, it seems. Nothing on my rental contract delineates either type vehicle. I am not yet at the point of naming names, but dropping the "e" from "dude" might be a more accurate label. Here's why...

The fella who rented me the car in Killeen is the Manager of the rental office there. He told me I rented a round trip car.
I said I didn't.

That conversation could have gone on forever, except I quickly asked this simple question: "what can we do to resolve this issue and salvage my future business with your company?"
He was not in that kind of mood, apparently.
Told me he already had my card imprint, and he was going to apply the charge. I could smell the glee through the phone receiver.

I told him I would refute the billing, and then I made the second, key test of this dud's customer service IQ by asking for his boss' number.
He failed miserably.

Not only would he not give me his supervisor's name, he told me I could call 1-800-XXX-XXXX (no names, yet) if I wanted to talk to his boss.

You know what--I did that. Waded through the voice-mail Hell that is the halmark of business non-communication anymore, and finally got a warm body on the phone. Got the boss's name and direct phone number, too. Left a very warm and inviting message on his voice mail, urging him to call me.

What happens next will be the second part of this saga...watch this space for details, and the revelation of which rental car company is earning either my very public praise, or scorn and a warning to the rest of you.

The good part of this story is about the two lot attendants who were checking in the rental vehicles at the D-FW terminal. Never did get their names, but they were very kind and considerate--almost to the point of embarassment. In fact, they were embarrased by the behavior of their co-worker in another town.

To molify my irritation, one of the women, a very attractive Asian, complimented my suit and tie--as if to say, "sorry I can't give you back your goofy fee, but you look like you can afford it without breaking a sweat."

Okay, so that did win a few points for her; and it is a new suit.

Still, they were caught in the middle in this scenario, and so did the best thing they could do under the circumstances.
They were nice to their customer.

I'll let you know what happens next.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On the Road Again...

(Irving, Texas) There is deep within all of us, I suppose, a degree of wanderlust. I always had a minor fantasy about heading west on I-10, following the sunset to what ever adventure might lay before me.

I got that out of my system recently, driving back and forth from Houston to San Antonio every week.
White-line fever is no fun.

Today I am writing from the Metroplex, as Vince Rowe and I begin to congeal our partnership in the morning show. One of the attractions of doing Radio in the 21st Century is that I can literally do the show anywhere. Have codec, will travel. Vince is now hosting his part of the show from his office, which he has converted into a mini remote studio.

Vince's office looks like it was the target of an IED with a payload of paint. Vivid purples, yellows, oranges are liberally splashed throughout the suite, complimenting the light oak furniture, and the prominent BizRadioNetwork logo on display. Radio's face--and location--is changing.

As Vince and I continue to shape and form the show, look for some surprises…like taking the show on the road—and in the air—to the other side of the globe. More details to come.

Meanwhile, no wanderlust, just a boarding pass for a silver bird to take me home this evening.

I'll see you in the morning on the Radio.

Friday, March 10, 2006


You’ll hear a slightly different blend of a familiar sound on The BizRadioNetwork Morning Show starting Monday. We’re re-arranging our team to provide better content for you by bringing Vince Rowe into the show with me from 6a-8a, and placing Scott Murray in the 8a-9a hour.

Programming a Radio station is tricky. People don’t like change, basically, even when the change has potential to have a better outcome. I would not characterize the changes at the previous dial position for our programming to have been a positive change, certainly.

In 2004, Infinity Broadcasting’s boasting hosting Howard Stern in Houston was trotted out by Management as the most brilliant programming coup in history. History would later prove it to be a colossal flop for the station. In fact, I recall predicting that the eventual outcome of that gambit would be a royal screwing of Infinity by the indefatigable Mr. Stern. You play with fire you get burned. Perhaps a more accurate metaphor involves with laying down with pigs and getting slopped all over.

Both depictions came to pass.

Stern jumped ship to take his Thesaurus of blue adjectives to satellite radio, trumpeting the move in his show for months before the event. Now CBS Radio is suing him for fraud and theft of airtime. They still make such a happy couple.

I once worked for a different Radio operating company that flew me into a market with a platoon of engineers and disc jockeys to flip the format on a station from Easy Listening to Classic Rock. We pulled it off—a complete surprise—over a 4th of July weekend. But the hue and cry raised by the elderly listeners was pretty aggressive. Change is tough.

Monday’s changes will be comparatively minor.

I will still be here for you with my irreverent takes on events of the day, and the occasional pun. We’re going to integrate Vince Rowe as our “uber color commentator” to those events that we cover, and Scott Murray’s contacts in the sports and media world will provide a window on inspirational examples of success that you’re just not going to be able to get anywhere else on the dial.

Let us know how we’re doing. The most important aspect of any new endeavor is the feedback from you.
I’ll see you Monday morning on the Radio.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Dubai Doo Be Doo...

Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all.
--Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Of course, that would make you a pretty shallow individual. Without an opinion, a passion, and inkling of likes and dislikes, agreement and disagreement, where would the octane come from that drives the world?

As predicted, a House Panel voted last night against the idea of Dubai Port World acquiring the operator of cargo terminals in six US ports. By 62-2, the House Appropriations Committee voted to bar DP World from holding leases or contracts at U.S. ports, crowing that the issue is one of national security. Pundits and commentators say the lopsided vote is proof three weeks of White House pressure to stunt opposition to the deal in Congress have not been successful.

It’s also proof that congressional understanding of the implications is apparently stunted.

First, DPW and P&O are merely agents…they’re companies that operate the cranes that load and unload sealed cargo containers. I would be no different than allowing El Al Airlines to operate a half dozen gates at D-FW or Bush Intercontinental airports.

What we are witnessing is the politicizing of a commercial issue, and if the Congress of the United States gets away with running half-cocked and half-educated about this deal, you must look over your shoulder, because it will be your turn next.

The thing about Congress is that during an election year, any issue, any topic is ripe for distortion, dis-information, and manipulation. This "port gate" tempest in a teapot is not about protecting you; it’s about protecting turf on capitol hill. It’s about getting elected for another two or six year term. It’s about access to power, and sometimes that power is mis-directed to other means.

Here’s where the story really gets ugly: the House panel attached the Ports language to a $91 billion piece of legislation they must pass that would fund hurricane recovery and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What does loading and unloading container ships in Boston have to do with money for rebuilding New Orleans and Biloxi?
But that’s how the logic flows and the money goes in Washington.

Want more proof?

The Treasury Department is now withdrawing money from the civil service pension fund so they won't smack up against a $8.2 trillion national debt limit. Last month Treasury suspended investments in a retirement savings plan held by government employees.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow is sucking money from the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund to keep from running afoul the statutory debt limit until Congress raises it. This smoke and mirrors gambit will provide the Treasury with several billion dollars for extra borrowing.

The fund had an estimated balance of about $655 billion at the start of the year, but Treasury can use only a small portion because of the statutes restricting the fund's use during "debt issuance suspension" periods.

The Civil Service "G Fund" has assets of about $65.3 billion, all of which are available for Treasury's use.

Now if your company or mine were to pull a stunt like that, we’d be drawn and quartered by our employees…and then be charged with fraud.

Seems there’s a trial going on in Houston this week of a couple of guys who pulled something similar—diverting money to other uses, lying about what’s in the kitty…that kind of thing. A crooked "E" comes to mind...will we next see a "crooked P?"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Radio Daze

I always wanted to be on the Radio. As a little kid, I would rescue large cardboard appliance cartons and create a “radio station,” from which I would broadcast, only to myself, some talk show topic, or my 6-year old version of American Top 40.

And I was fascinated with radio sets. Back in those days, they were all tube-type radios, and they drew me like a moth to a flame.

During the Summer of 1974 I had a chance to volunteer for the Rice University campus radio station, KTRU-FM. They needed help staffing the station during the Summer Break, and I was given the task of reading the news one or two nights a week. I was smitten.

I was bitten.

By the Spring of 1975, I was working full time for KODA-AM/FM, as a board operator/traffic reporter/news reader. Those were the days before computers and digital audio.

Music was either played from a massive turntable, or recorded onto even more massive reels of tape or 8-track-like cartridges, called “carts.” That label has survived thru today, with “cart labels” referring to the window on a touch-screen indicating where a specific piece of digital audio resides.

Back in the day, the worst thing you had to look out for was an LP that skipped, or a tape that broke.

I ran across a photo taken in ’75 or ’76 of the old KODA-AM control room. There’s an old-style control board with real knobs and switches…and push buttons that were really high-tech. They had remote-start circuits that would fire a cart deck or a turntable without performing a "Mary Woods Stretch" while you were on the air. (If you didn't live through Watergate, that reference has no meaning.)
To properly cue a cut on a record, you had to either hold the needle in place in a groove while the felt-covered turntable spun beneath the vinyl, or you back-turned the LP a quarter- or half-revolution to give the thing enough room to reach 33- or 45-rpm speed so that the audio wouldn’t “wow” when you started the tune. Those were big, honkin’ turntables.

I notice in this photo there were two types of cart decks in use. The big ones built into the cabinet were considered “beasts” by the time the more-compact versions were installed on top of the counter to the left of the control panel.

Now they're used for door stops.

Across the room were rack-mounted reel-to-reel tape decks and one of the early programmable audio managers.

A computer.

It shuffled tunes onto the air from the reels of tape, in a sequence that was determined by thumbwheels. Each tune on the tape ended with a low-frequency tone that cued the automation system to trigger the next tape deck in the sequence. Crude by today’s standards, but it worked like a charm in those days.

I miss those days on groggy mornings, when the computer in our control room is misbehaving, won’t play audio on command, or has lost its connection to the internet.

Today was one of those days...would have welcomed that cardboard appliance carton to crawl inside.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Crashing Oscar

The Oscar for “best movie of the year” went to “Crash” at Sunday night’s academy awards. It was a movie I had not seen, but had been mildly intrigued by the story line and the trailers I saw in the theaters last year. It just hadn’t moved me enough to drop $35 for tickets, popcorn and beverages.

There are two problems plaguing Hollywood releases these days. Problem Number One is that Hollywood is REALLY out of touch with what most movie goers are willing to pay money to see. Don’t believe me—take a look at box office figures. They’ve been dropping like a stone for the past several years.

Problem Number Two is that the concessionaires are gouging moviegoers in a huge way, which is where movie theaters make their big bucks. The only place more expensive to eat is at an NBA basketball game, but that’s another topic for another blog.

So I hadn’t seen “Crash,” which is a disturbing thread of a tale with an impressive cast of familiar faces. A buddy lent me his copy he’d rented from Netflicks, and asked me to drop it in the mail when I was finished.

Okay, so if that’s a Federal offense, sue me. At least I’m not sneaking around about it. You’d think I hoarded out of date Blockbuster videos…which I do not.

You’ve got to pay attention when watching “Crash.” There is a lot going on with a lot of people, and somehow they’re all intertwined. Irony. There’s lots of irony in “Crash.” This is not an irony-poor film.

I was disturbed by the offensive language in this film. Did you know Sandra Bullock can cuss like a sailor? While we were sleeping, that girl developed an attitude. Does she put food in that mouth, too?

No one in this movie is going to be mistaken for a Tibetan monk. Well, a few might be mistaken for Tibetans, but only on looks. And that’s the point of the movie…looks are only skin deep, but prejudices run much deeper.

If the characterizations, comments and thoughts of the people in “Crash” represent even a tenth of the reality in America today, we should all be ashamed. Here’s a test: did you see even and inkling of yourself in any of the characters in “Crash?” For some, that answer is pretty painful.

I am heartened that there are several resolutions for some of the main characters in the plot. After all, it was filmed around Christmas time, as keyed by the set dressings. I like happy endings, which comparatively speaking, “Crash” has. Perhaps in a year in which the main contenders for Film of the Year were about gay cowboys, cross-dressers, or violence on one level or another, it is encouraging that as vile a film as “Crash” is, the one with the happy ending took home the Oscar.

By the way, the borrowed Netflicks disc is in the mail.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Crepe Myrtles and Bicycles

Today is the three-month anniversary of my cancer surgery, December 5. I celebrated by pruning the crepe myrtle and riding my bicycle for the first time.
When you're a cancer survivor, you celebrate in different ways. You celebrate the little things.

I don't particularly enjoy trimming shrubs.
I am pretty good at it, especially with a freshly-sharpened set of electric cutters. With the mild winter along the Texas Gulf Coast this year, it was way past time to prune the crepe myrtles.

In my neighborhood, azaleas are in bloom in some yards with south- or west- exposures. Mine have a few weeks to go yet, but the crepes were pushing out their first bud-nobs (I'm sure that's an acceptable technical term any nurseryman will recognize).

Two trash cans await our sanitation crew in the morning, full of chopped limbs and twigs from six crepe myrtles, two rose plants of unknown lineage, and the most unruly shoots from my hyper-active azaleas (which face East). I worked up an honorable sweat with that chore.

Next was the ceremonial lifting from the storage rack of my bicycle, which had been hanging dormant in the garage since before my operation. Both tires were inflated to the max PSI, and I cleaned and lubed the chain and gear cranks, and dusted the frame with a clean towel. There is a respectful ritual cyclists perform on their beloved steeds.

I frankly didn't know what to expect when I got into my bicycle.
It's a recumbent, which you don't get "on," you get "into."

It's a tricky bike to ride for the first time, even for experienced cyclists, because the center of gravity is lower, and my feet extend forward of the front wheel to reach the pedals. The handlebars emerge from the frame between my knees.

My kids make fun of me on this bike.
They say all I need is a red nose, a wig, and a bowler hat, and my future with the circus is secured. I used to think these bikes were a little extreme, too.
Little did I know.

They're extremly light.
They're extremely nimble.
They're extremely fast.

After not having been on a bike for a while, and still a little sore at times, way down deep in side, I wasn't too sure how my first outting on a bike was going to be. I'd tried a display bike in a sporting goods store a few weeks ago. That was not a good idea, for obvious reasons. Still very sore in my "transmission," sitting on a regular bike seat was a poor call on my part. So I was a little curious how this new frontier, post-op, would work out.

It worked well for over 40-minutes.
I got on, clicked-in (the pedals latch to the underside of my shoes so I can pull as well as push on the crank) and took off with no noticeable discomfort. Just tooled around the neighborhood, not really trying to break any land-speed records. Today's agenda was to get rolling and stay upright.

I succeeded.

I can't wait for the next ride.

Friday, March 03, 2006

(Life or) Death and Taxes

I spent a little time with my favorite doctors this week. They’re my favorite because the know my most intimate, inner workings, and when my mechanisms start to run a little rough, they have the ability to tune things up. Some tune-ups take longer than others, and it seems, the older I get, the cause and effect cycles of their curative powers seem to grow longer.

I was pretty amazed to get an appointment with my otolaryngologist, see a real live MD, and have prescription medicine in my system within two hours of my initial phone call.

That’s fantastic. Two hours, start to finish, including travel time.
For this service, I paid $25 for the Doctor Visit and $10 for the prescription.

What do you think that visit really cost?
You probably haven’t a clue.

Unless I read my statements line my line, I don’t have a clear picture of what my healthcare is really costing my provider, and indirectly, me.

That’s going to change as businesses continue to cut operating costs—including the expense of employee healthcare—and patients shoulder more of the financial load for getting well and staying well. Only when individuals feel the full pain of medical costs will behaviors and policies change.

I received a love note from the IRS yesterday.
They’d love me to send them about $7,000 for back taxes they say I owe for underreported income a couple of years back.
Bet they would.

Letters like that can really take the edge off your day. I immediately burrowed into my cavernous closet to locate my tax records for the year in question. Much to my relief, I found the files.
There are certain benefits to being an anal-retentive packrat.

I located all the pay statements, ran the numbers, and Lo! And Behold! Not only did I completely and fully report all of my income for the year in question, I discovered a math error in my favor indicating the Federales are actually on the hook to me for me a few dollars more.

Watch this space for further details. I’ll walk you through the process as it unfolds! Until then, have a safe weekend.
I'll see you on the Radio Monday morning.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Any Port, Part Deaux

Here’s an ugly little secret about a major US Port that’s been allowing foreign companies to operate it’s container cargo operations for years: it’s worked flawlessly.

What is now the Danish Maersk company has been moving container cargo in and out of the Port of Houston for 37-years.

This morning the Chairman of the Port of Houston Authority, James Edmond, was my guest, and pretty well put to rest many of the issues that the nattering naybobs of negativity have been harping on over the Dubai Port World acquisition of Peninsular & Oriental.

P&O basically operates the cranes that load and unload cargo containers at the ports in which it leases space. DPW is simply going to take over those operations. In every US port from Brownsville to New York, the Longshoremen provide the physical labor that make these ports hum.

The cargo containers that move through these ports are sealed when they’re packed—no doubt for freshness. From the time a container leaves Europe or Asia or any place in the world, it is track via GPS, subjected to numerous X-ray inspections, and literally followed every inch of its trip from shipper to recipient. 72-hours before a cargo ship arrives in a US port, its manifest and crew roster are forwarded to the Coast Guard and FBI for perusal. Before a container leaves the port, it is again X-rayed, sometimes twice. Still sealed.

If anything, the focus on the DPW acquisition of P&O has illuminated the safety measures and security levels already in place in US ports, and clarified the fact that the Arab-owned company, a US ally, will be but a small cog in the gearboxes of these ports’ operations.

I’m still more concerned about fertilizer and diesel in a rental truck in middle America than some schlub from the Middle East getting a toe hold in a US Port.
Possible, yes.
But not likely.