Monday, July 31, 2006

Eyes and Teeth

It is clear that there will be no easy solution to the war that is raging between Israel and Lebanon. The story of the weekend strike against the town of Qana is heartbreaking, yet it is tinged with a stinging truth that those who play with snakes are bitten sooner or later.

No, the children of the two families seeking refuge from the bombs and rockets had no choice in their fate. But the town has long been a staunch supporter of Hezbollah. Add to this deadly formula the fact that Hezbollah is using the typical, cowardly tactic of using civilians as shields, and you have a potential for more needless killing and bloodshed.

Israel has every right to defend itself, and I tend to agree that in this new era of terrorism, the United States must remain strong in its stand against terrorists, where ever they may lurk. That’s not a popular stand.

You can debate until the cows come home who is most at fault in the escalation—Israel has always been a relentless foe; Lebanon is reaping the whirlwind of France’s arcane ideas about governance divided among three factions that could never peacefully co-exist; Hezbollah is little more than evil incarnate, a bunch of thugs running loose on the countryside, and should be exterminated.

Strong words?
You bet.

Strong photos in the press of those little kids’ bodies pulled out from under the rubble at Qana should galvanize the entire world against the evil that terrorism has wrought upon mankind, and demand that it be crushed where ever it is found.

That is the goal of terrorists—to utterly crush all those in their way.
Freedom loving nations should match might with might, and not settle for anything less than total eradication of terrorists.

Keeping our Standards High

Today is a travel day.
As soon as the show ends this morning, I am climbing into a Continental Express jet to Dallas, to prepare for tomorrow morning’s live broadcast from the Standards & Pours coffee emporium.

You may recall our coverage of this story a few weeks ago…Pascal Hall has been under siege by the S&P people (in New York) telling her she can’t call her shop “Standards & Pours” because it’s damaging to their name and reputation.

In the immortal words of Col. Potter, “horse hockey!”

I hope you can join me, Vince Rowe, John Carillo and the BizRadio Hospitality Squad tomorrow morning at Standards & Pours, 1409 S. Lamar in the basement of the Southside on Lamar Lofts. We’ll be there from 6a-9a with free bottomless coffee and more.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Squeezin' Corn

Here’s another piece of the mosaic revealing the Springtime switch to ethanol fuels as one of the stupidest ideas to come out of Washington…but if you’re running commodities, you’re going to look like a genius with the correct play.

Ethanol in this country is being primarily made from corn. Summertime is high-time for driving and high-fuel usage. Summertime is also when heat waves can scorch crops, corn being among them…and that’s what’s happening this Summer…corn crop conditions have worsened for the 4th consecutive week, according to the Ag people that watch this sort of thing.

The U.S. corn crop was adjudged to be 71% good to excellent in June, shucked down to 62% good in the middle of July, and was last rated 59% good by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as of July 23. This is the last week of July.

Friends, Romans, commoditymen, lend me your ears: What do you think the weather’s going to be like heading into August and September? And what do you think that's going to do to the price of corn?

War Games

There goes the neighborhood…anti-War activist Cindy Sheehan has purchased five acres of property in Crawford, Texas, from which she vows to continue her harassment of President George Bush over his prosecution of the war in Iraq. Sheehan is the mother of Casey Sheehan, who lost his life in Iraq in 2004, and she now heads a group known as Gold Star Families for Peace.

Can’t help but think that Mrs. Sheehan’s antics have negated any positive traction or credibility she could have ever achieved in promoting her cause. She now comes off as a pathetically shrill voice most thinking Americans discount in the ongoing debate over the War…ironically, exercising the freedom to do so that other soldiers, like her son, gave their lives to provide.

I am sad for her loss, but sadder still for the comfort she's now giving the enemy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Minimum Thinking in Chicago

You know your business inside and out.
You’re the expert, which is why you’re doing what you do. You know your profit margin, you know where your Achilles Heel is, you know how close you are to going out of business…as well as how far ahead of the game you are.

So what if I came to you and said you have to run your business a certain way, differently from in the past? What if I came to you and said that instead of compensating your employees as you do, you must now increase your operating expenses…with no proportional return in output?

And what if I told you that because your company has been more successful than other companies, you will be forced to operate differently, and other companies less-successful or smaller than you will be allowed a free pass on this new rule?


And what adjustments would you be forced to make in your business to make up the difference in those increased operating expenses? Can you afford to suck it up and cover the increased expense? Will you cut your workforce so that the amount you’ve budgeted for labor will be able to cover the increased expense? How do you as a business operator continue to survive with an overnight increase in the cost of doing business?

The City of Chicago is now the biggest city in the nation to require big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target to pay a "living wage."

The new city ordinance requires mega-retailers to pay wages of at least $10 an hour and another $3 in fringe benefits by mid-2010. Mom & Pop stores all over the country are rejoicing.
All three of them.

The law only applies to companies with more than $1 billion in annual sales and stores of at least 90,000 square feet. There, take that, you mean, nasty big-box retailers. That’ll level the playing field.

All we need now is for some smart bunch of advocates to legislate the meaning of "living."
Don't even get me started...

The State of Illinois already pays a minimum wage that’s $1.35/hour more than the Federal Minimum Wage. Walmart already pays an average hourly wage of $11 in Illinois.

I’m predicting a run on moving vans, as large companies escape from Illionois to locales where it’s less costly to hire people. In fact, Wal-mart is already making plans to refocus its efforts on suburban stores, which will result in less service to Chicagoans living inside the city limits. Target is also reportedly re-thinking it’s presence in Chicago.

The morons who advocate mandates for increasing minimum wages and imposing living wage floors are doing a disservice to the groups for which they advocate. “Minimum wages” are not meant to be living wages. The motivation should be to achieve a better wage or get a better job as a result of self-improvement through higher education and better skills.

The Chicago City Council just stuck another blow for the socially-destructive philosophy of entitlement—that people are “owed” a living, regardless of their personal accomplishments, or lack thereof.

If you operated a billion-dollar business and were considering a move between a city that offered a healthy economic environment, and one that dictates you must pay workers an inordinately higher wage because you’re big and they’re feeling left out, where would you go?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Apples, Oranges, DVD's and Oil

As expected, I received static from comments I made here earlier this week that I am happy paying $3/gal for gasoline when the alternatives are considered. Griping about the cost of fuel to me is a lot like griping about dealing with the cure for my cancer last year. Beats the alternative.

John C. posted to my blog:

“That is a whole bunch of excuses wrapped up on one blog. It is like a "Dirt sandwiches are GOOD for your child's mentality. The bottom line is the bottom line. I am paying $2700/year more for gas than 5 years ago."

Perhaps so, John, but let’s compare apples to apples.
In 2006 Dollars, which are worth less than they were 5-years ago, we’re paying an average of $2.91/gal for unleaded regular w/10% ethanol. This time last year the price was $2.20—without the alcoholic content.

For comparison, in March 1981, when the first Iraq War started, gasoline was running $2.75/gal in today’s dollars. In fact you are paying $2,700 more a year for fuel, but part of that increased expense is because those dollars are worth less now than 12-months ago, and much less than 5-years ago.

One of my regular respondents, A. Nony Mous, wrote:

"My first DVD player cost me almost $400. By the logic you seem to be using, that DVD player should now cost me at least $500. Technology is making oil exploration easier and less expensive, but as long as we keep buying gasoline ay $3+ per gallon the oil companies and refiners have no incentive to find enough new source to drop the price down to below $2."

Let’s compare oranges to oranges: Technology-based products, like DVD players, are not resources; they are manufactured items. Technological improvements in chip speeds and memory capacity, as well as the fact that there are a couple of dozen DVD makers to choose from, have actually sent the price of DVD players down. You can make as many of them as you want...which is why the prices were so low before Christmas 2004, women were having catfights in the aisles at WalMart for $99 DVD's. Always the low price leader in family entertainment.

Oil is a commodity, comes from only one planet, and while technological applications have made it more affordable to find and refine, the laws of supply and demand, plus a little geopolitical friction, have kept the price higher. Consider, too, that without oil running above $40/bbl, the technologies being used today would not exist, and there would actually be less oil (because it would be more technically difficult to get), and the price would be even higher.

Incentivization for the oil companies right now comes from
a.) a requirement to repay investors, and
b.) the quest to locate and produce more petroleum so that the oil companies can repay investors, as well as the people that work for the oil companies.
None of these oil companies is in business to sell you gasoline under $2/gal.
Get real, man.

A. Nony Mous also wrote back to ask whether The Mailman is, in fact, a millionaire.
He is, indeed, several times over.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

BizRadio: Healthy, Wealthy & Wise

Running a Radio Network is a daily challenge. When one market is running great, another one can be struggling from technical challenges which impact the entire operation. Houston has recently been pestered by those Gulf Coast thunderstorms that like to crop up on a Summer’s afternoon. Along about 3pm, you can watch the thunderheads forming out over the rice paddies, west of Katy, or south of Houston over Brazoria county. Pushed along by Gulf breezes, they scoot across the sky, form-up near the Beltway, and dive-bomb selected neighborhoods with drenching rains and deadly lightning strikes.

Over the weekend, one of those lightning strikes hit the HL&P power relay station that supplies the transmitter site for KXYZ-AM in Houston. So we were off-and-on the air Monday morning…mostly off, until midday. Most of our audience was understanding. Others, who have been constant critics and doubters of the BizRadio operation, took the opportunity to nail shut our coffin.

One particularly onerous posting, from some coward hiding behind the “AdGuy” pseudonymn, had this nugget to offer:

“They must have been off the air this morning. I too had dead air as I scrolled through the dial on my morning safari. I think they've been having a lot of technical issues again. As I have posted time and time again on BizRadio, they need professional radio management to make that thing work. Actually, I think it's dead now. They probably lost any listeners they once had due to things like this dead air and poor programming.

“I still think Business talk is a viable format in Houston if properly executed. CBS should revisit putting 650 back to business. Their daytime signal is ok enough to deliver quality and they know how to run radio stations. The folks running BizRadio have no clue anymore. It was a great idea at first, but now it has turned into a paid programming station for the most part with some business thrown in.

Brent Clanton's show is pretty good and informative. The guy that comes after him seems to be selling one of those trading programs. You can't listen beyond 2 or 3 minutes without dozing off.

“The rest of their programming day, the last time I listened, was pretty much following the same format of scheme hawkers. The only commercials you hear are promos for their weekend paid programs and the endless parade of Dan Frishberg offerings.”

Adguy has been a predictable nattering naybob of negativity for sometime. Invitations to speak face to face with him in the past have been rebuffed. He’d rather armchair quarterback from behind his fake name and computer screen.

Let me tell you the other side of the story here at The BizRadio Network, because there are real people who listen to our stations each day because we offer a quality menu of informational fare.

I defy you to listen to any other radio station—AM or FM—from which you can consistently glean information that can be put to use the same day you hear it. Not gonna happen, listening to Sports talk, Smoove Jazz or even the all-news AM’s.

We traffic in ideas, methods, and means by which our audience—you—can better your lot in life.

This morning my personal e-mail box had a message in it from a former employee who’d worked for me at both Business Talk stations I’ve managed. This guy’s been married a few years, their second child is on the way, and he’s got his life pointed in the right direction. Part of that direction came from his association with BizRadio:

“With that news (of a second child), we bought a new home, still in The Woodlands. I also decided to sell our home for sale by owner. We sold it a week after we listed, for our asking price which was 10% more than we paid for it a little over a year ago. I owe a lot of my knowledge in Real Estate to producing (a) show (about real estate) a few years back!

“You'll be happy to know I'm very financial fit thanks to your radio stations and the programming on them. We've got a nest egg built up, we live debt free other than our home, my 401k is maxed out and I'm always looking for new ways to make more money. At 23 years old, I would have never had this stuff figured out if it weren't for working at your stations and listening to what the hosts were saying and sorting out what seemed right for me. Thank you for that!”

Obviously, this e-mail more than offset the tripe from Adguy, and is proof positive that listening to The BizRadio Network can have a positive influence on your life. We will continue to offer business news and information you can use to grow financially healthy, wealthy, and wise!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Cheap Gasoline Ain't Good

Gripe if you may, but I don’t mind $3/gal gasoline.
I realize that’s heresy, and I could be burned at the stake for making such outlandish statements. But as my friend, petro-economist Karr Ingham eloquently stated over lunch today at the Petroleum Club with a few fellow journalists, $3 gasoline beats no gasoline at any price.

Ingham described how $73/bbl oil is actually good for us, and not just the Texas economy. At prices north of $70/bbl, the oil exploration companies are able to go find more deposits of oil and gas that would have been too expensive to locate at $20/bbl.

There are other residual, positive effects of higher fuel prices.
Tax revenues are up for the state based on the levies imposed on oil production—which raised a thorny question: Why is oil the only natural resource that is taxed as it is produced?

Where is the wisdom in slapping a fee on a commodity that is so vital to our national economy…yet, the powers that be (stupid) in Washington have no compunction over garnishing cash from energy companies. These are the same Mensa's that believe the US offshore oil and gas industry should be concentrated in the hurricane magnet that is the Gulf of Mexico, eschewing any drilling on the East or West coasts of these oil-parched United States.

Hey, if taxing production is such a swell idea, why not put a production tax on something that’s BAD for you—like tobacco?
That’ll never catch on.
Makes too much sense.

Meanwhile, Exploration and Production operations will contribute up to 18% of the sales taxes generated in the state this year.

Higher fuel prices have also meant boom times for towns like Midland, Odessa, Wichita Falls, and Lubbock, as well as Houston and Dallas. That’s because more workers are earning salaries, and spending their pay on other things…like clothing and food and transportation and housing. You know, contributing to the economy.

Trickle up, or trickle down, the money’s flowing like a river in Texas.

Did you know that independent operators are actually producing more crude oil in Texas than the major conglomerates? The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, who hosted the luncheon, reports that 96% of the wells drilled in the state last year were performed by independents, producing 86% of the natural gas, and 90% of the crude oil in Texas.

And there’s more to come, so long as oil prices stay in the $70/bbl range, because only 15% of what is in the huge, Barnett Shale formation has been extracted thus far. That’s not to say it’s going to last forever…but it bespeaks of continued flush times for independent operators and the companies that service them.

You see, finding those deposits take money.
Drilling for those deposits takes money, too.
Producing and transporting to market what’s being discovered is also a money-maker…and it all funnels back into the public cash flow eventually, either through tax revenues tapped for spending on roads, or through retail purchases by the men and women being paid to keep the home fires burning and the porch lights on.
And your car filled with (relatively) cheap gasoline.

A final point to ponder: If you took the price of gasoline from 1979 and multiplied it by 3% a year through today, you get a price in the $2.15/gal range…add the taxes, and look where we are. At $3/gal you will have gasoline to buy. At a cheaper price, with less funding for exploration and production, fuel becomes a scarcer commodity.
I don’t want that—do you?

Kill Joy

Betty Williams watched British troops shoot an Irish Republican Army soldier as he drove past in his car. Mortally wounded, the IRA driver’s car veered into a group of children, killing two instantly, and permanently maiming a third. Galvanzied against any continued violence, Williams motivated tens of thousands of Catholic and Protestant women to march against the war. For this she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 30-years ago.

Yesterday Ms. Williams told a group of schoolchildren that she "could just kill" President George W. Bush because of policies she believes have led to the deaths of millions of children in the Middle East.

Careful, Bett, you’ll void the warranty on that Nobel medallion.
As we quoted Eric Hoffer this morning, “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Railroad Lines and Lotteries

Two issues are tugging at my community, one of them of state- and national significance, and the other more locally-oriented, but also related to national concerns. We’re heading into the last few months before the mid-term elections in November. Voter turnout has never been more abysmal—or more embarrassing, when you consider what Iraqi voters have gone through to reach a point where national elections could be held last year, and they turned out in droves.

No one is shooting bullets at you or me on our way to the polls, but a little over half of the registered voters in Texas cast ballots in the 2004 Presidential election…and about 36% participated in the 2002 Governor’s election. Those numbers reflect just the folks who were registered to vote. Compared to a larger universe of all voting-age citizens in Texas, only 29% participated in that election.

In this year’s Gubernatorial race there are lots of horses, all of whom know that low voter turnout usually means defeat for all but the incumbent and the front-running contender. Perhaps that’s why independent candidate Kinky Friedman is floating the idea of an election lottery.

Now each race can have two winners—the candidate with the most votes, and the registered voter whose lucky registration number pops up for the $1,000,000 jackpot. Would that move you to the polls?

Mark Sanders, a spokesman for the Carol Keeton Strayhorn, a.k.a “Grannie for Governor” campaign, quipped that people ought to be inspired, not bribed, to vote.
He’s not wrong.
Maybe he’s missing the point—along with the other managers of campaigns this year: There’s not a lot of voter inspiration being offered by any of the candidates running.

The closest thing anyone’s gotten to getting a new rise out of the public are the one-liners from Kinky Friedman. You may think state government is a joke at various times, but running it is no joking matter. Making decisions that affect peoples lives and livelihood aren’t, either.

One such decision faces my hometown of Houston, where there’s ire in the air over the placement of the next stretch of track for the Metro Light Rail System. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has wisely suggested the line run from the University of Houston westward along Richmond Blvd to the Metro Transit Station at Hilcroft.

Between those two points are myriad businesses and multi-family dwellings. There are also some nice homes along that line, and one neighborhood in particular, Afton Oaks, is adamant about letting the rail line go through their few blocks of territory. They say spend the money on commuter rail to bring more people in from the suburbs. Eventually, yes, but those commuter lines must have a transportation grid to feed into, and the Richmond Line is a component of that structure.

Ridership studies conducted by Metro suggest the Richmond alignment would serve the most riders, and ridership usage is a key factor in securing Federal funding to help building the line. Afton Oaksian’s would rather have the line detour south for a mile or so, missing their turf, and then re-align with the original route.

Did you ever wonder why a road way out in the middle of the country suddenly takes a jake-leg jab to the side for a mile or so, and then throws another 90-degree turn at you, before proceeding on? Farm-to-Market roads in Texas are like that. The roads were designed to help farmers bring their crops in from the fields and get them to market. But during the negotiations for alignment, one sod-buster or another would get his hackles up and stand his ground (literally).

Farmer Sven would hook his thumbs in his Dickies overalls and say,“Sure vee need dis road to get ahr guds to market…but don’t chu build it trew my pasture, no!”

So, 50-years later, out in the middle of nowhere--these modern, two-lane asphalt ribbons with wide shoulders on each side, yellow and white striping, and plastic reflectors to help separate the lanes--a nice, long stretch of pavement is suddenly interrupted by a pair of reverse s-curves…to protect Sven’s pasture.

You generally see lots of white crosses erected near those curves, because late at night, people like Sven’s neighbor, Gerhardt’s son was coming home from the Community Center with a little too much liquor in his blood, too much speed under his car, and he missed the curve and plowed into Sven’s field without a tractor.
Kid might be alive today if the road were a straight shot.

Afton Oaks would be wise to reconsider their position on the positioning of that rail line. If you took a vote among all the folks with addresses on Richmond Avenue that would be affected by placement of the rail line, the Afton Oaksian’s might find themselves out numbered.

That is if everyone participated in the poll. If, say only 29% participated, the outcome might be different. But then again, there’s a lot of inspiration to be found when it’s your pasture the line wants to go through.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Incredible, Indelible Egg

The Clanton Women have graduated from watching Survivor to American Idol to Rock Star this summer, with sprinklings of other quasi-reality shows in between, like Big Brother and Fear Factor.

The only brain cells required are those necessary to suspend any awareness that these shows are just eye candy, and a reminder that what Edward R. Murrow predicted about Television is coming true:

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

CBS, the network for which Murrow worked his entire career, is thinking outside the box (pun intended) to attract more viewers. Watch for the CBS logo and slogans promoting the network and various shows to appear along with coded expiration dates on eggs sold by grocers!

Who hatched this idea?

More than 35 million eggs will be laser-etched with clever phrases like, "CSI: Crack the Case on CBS" and "The Class, New Grade-A CBS Comedy." The campaign is part of a deal cooked up by CBS Marketing Group and EggFusion, an egg-coding company, to be laid this fall when the new TV season is cracked open.

This new way of thinking about advertising is part of what the CBS calls its "Outernet strategy," which is an effort to reach viewers "outside their homes as they go about their daily lives." Guess networks are like navels, everyone has either an "inny" or an "outie."

Not to be out done, one of our BizRadio Network Producers in Dallas, Ray Whitworth, suggested the following Outernet marketing strategies for our group:

  • Toasters that will grill the likeness of Brent Clanton on each slice, with the BizRadioNetwork Logo and stations’ frequencies, proclaiming "Spread your mornings with Brent;"
  • California Oranges Bearing the Likeness of Vince Rowe, "Squeeze as much as you can from the stock market with Vince;"
  • Margarita Glasses with Eddie Reyes featured, specially etched with “Raise your glass to entrepreneurial opportunities with Eddie;"
  • Cans of corn bearing labels with the smiling face of Mike Yorba; “Food or Ethanol in this can? You decide with Mike Yorba."

As Ray has said…the possibilities are endless. Murrow is spinning in his grave.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Language of G-8

President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were captured discussing world events by a table mic left on during a private luncheon in St. Petersburg, Russia yesterday during the G-8 Summit. In addition to chatting about commute times from the Summit to various home country capitals and gift selections, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair also mulled over the current middle east war and possible solutions in such a manner that only men talking man-to-man would.

In Texas, we'd call it ranch language.
In Great Britain, they'd call it raunch.

President Bush’s disgust for Islamic militants and their supporters is quite clear when he summarizes that the whole ordeal could be ended by Syria applying sufficient pressure on Hezbollah, and that United Nations President Kofi Annan needs to get on the phone to Syria and make something happen.

While the language the President used is not suitable for implementation in this program, it clearly was not “cursing” of Hezbollah, as trumpeted by news headlines. The term for barnyard excrement was applied as a pronoun to describe the state of affairs that exists between Israel and Lebanon, and the role Hezbollah has played over the past few weeks. While grammatically, and graphically accurate, hardly a curse. For that, you ask Harry Potter to lunch.

On balance, the term President Bush did use is an apt and fitting description of how far down those three governmental bodies have allowed their regions to sink because of the lack of restraint on the parts of all parties.

Good Medicine with Andy Kessler

Yesterday I underwent an exploration of my nether realms to make sure the docs got all the cancer that was growing in me last year. My doctor and I agreed that now would be a prudent time to follow up my radical prostatectomy with a little recreational photography session inside my bowels.

So I now have undergone the dreaded tailpipe inspection so many men and women my age have experienced. I felt like I needed a sticker to paste on my upper left forehead, signed by the DOT, and good for two years.

At least I know my catalytic converter is in good working order.

I probably should not even be alive today, if not for the advances in medical science. The most life-threatening diagnosis the docs have come up with me so far is acute sleep apnea, for which I nightly don a face mask that forces pressurized air into my nose and throat to keep my air passageways open, my breathing steady, and my heart rate level.

People have died from this one, and at a young age, too. That scared me worse than the cancer--at least it was operable. The apnea steals your breath when you least expect it.
Like the Grim Reaper with a vacuum.

Modern Medicine is helping us to all live longer. The actuarial tables are all out of whack because people who are now 65 will probably survive to 85. “Kids” in their 30’s now have every expectation of making it into their 90’s, if they don’t get hit by a drunk driver walking through the parking lot, or have their car boosted at gun point.

I’ve been reading a book by Andy Kessler called “The End of Medicine,” (Harper-Collins) about how the advances in medical research from Silicon Valley are literally rebooting the way things are done…to us and for us. Medicine is morphing from the art of chronic care to the early detection and cure of disease. My story in a nutshell (about the size of a walnut, to be exact.)

Andy’s on the show Tuesday morning at 7:20a CDT to discuss.
See you on the Radio.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Monday Morning Story

In the pre-sunrise stillness of my neighborhood, the pond behind the house is calm as an obsidian mirror, dark, tranquil and still. The houses around the pond are bathed in a violet light that mutes their earth-toned trims, and softens the bricks and stones.

There are two families of ducks just stirring on the opposite shore, the ducklings honking like tiny, feathered foreign cars during rush hour.
There’s no hurry here.
I never get to see this much, because I am usually feverishly working against a deadline each weekday morning at this time.

Today, I am watering the dog…or more accurately, the dog is watering its personal space on the lawn. We’re getting ready to make a rush-hour trek to the Texas Medical Center where I will undergo yet another indignity in the quest for medical knowledge, seeking answers for questions we dare not ask. Curtain call is 7:00am, and we live on the opposite side of the county.

In my seat this morning is a colleague, Vince Rowe, for whom I have filled-in in past weeks, and who has eagerly accepted my invitation to sit-in for me this morning. It’s strange to hear the sign-on sequence of the show from outside the booth.

6:00am network news feed…6:03am local news feed…6:05 The National Anthem as performed by Faith Hill at The Superbowl a few years back…into promo…into Vince making cracks about being me doing my best impression of him. It's all Theatre of the Mind, and I'm a spectator instead of a performer today.

We head towards town before the sun has broken through the clouds to the east. Traffic is still not too bad this time of the morning, and I can enjoy the changing landscape as we hurtle southward into the city from the exburbs, speeding along a ribbon of concrete with toll gated sentinels at the the on-ramps. The downtown skyline rises purple in the distance, majestic above a forest green base of trees. To my left an angry, red-orange orb struggles to rise through banded layers of clouds and morning fog.

Buddy Cantu, my Producer, and I used to work on the top floor of a building in which we had a wonderful view of the eastern horizon each day. It was a treat to greet the sunrise, like a sneak peek at the day ahead. Our present facilities are buried in the middle of a one-story industrial park, ringed by an impressive urban forest of live oaks, whose branches form a gentle canopy overhead.

While Buddy guides Vince through the morning show, a team of nurses guides me through a maze of passages and wards, separated by curtains clanking across suspended rods of chrome and aluminum. The squeeze of a pressure cuff, the prick of a needle in the top of my hand, and for a half-hour I am unaware of anything at all, and then the gentle nudge of my bride on my arm brings me back to wakefulness. Surrounded by a curtain in a cold room ablaze with harsh neon lighting, I dress in a post-op fog. We walk to the garage and drive out into the blazing sunlight of noon for the return trip home.

I will doze the entire journey, and sleep through the afternoon.
Thanks to Vince for standing in the gap, and to Buddy for keeping it all running smoothly.

I’ll see you tomorrow on the Radio.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Spectacular Speculations

All bets are off on the price of oil this morning.
Here’s why: Israel and Lebanon are now going at it over Hezbollah rocket launches into Israel, the Israeli Air Force has retaliated by whacking Beirut International Airport (please double-check your flight connections today), and there is now an Israeli air and sea blockade being enforced against Lebanon.

Add this to the volatile mix already in the blender in Iraq, Iran, and Syria… Despite the best optimisms of learned men like yesterday’s esteemed guest, Fouad Ajami, who believes that ultimately, democracy and freedom will overcome centuries of oppressive regimes, for the near term it appears things will become a bit more dicey in the region.

Remember the variables in the price of oil…supply, demand, and risks from natural disasters and war. There’s about a $25/bbl speculation-premium on oil…part of the speculation is on how spectacularly the people in the Middle East continue to behave.

Place your bets?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Lay of the Land

The revisionists are already at work on the legacy of Ken Lay. Let me preface the rest of my remarks here by saying I met Ken Lay once, spoke with him for a time, and liked the man. He was a likeable guy. But so was Al Capone to some. Ken Lay was also in charge of a company that fomented one of the most financially dastardly deeds in modern history, and a jury of 12 men and women recently convicted him on all counts against him.

There was a heart-melting memorial service for Ken Lay in Houston Wednesday. Friends and family gathered to mourn and eulogize a man who’d been vilified in the press. It was quite an event. I'm surprised it wasn't televised, but then, that would have been a final, cruel indignity.

When was the last time you attended a funeral with Secret Service agents on station, and police posted on every corner? When was the last time you attended a service with former President George H. W. Bush in attendance? Dr. Denton Cooley in the crowd with James Baker and Rob Mosbacher. A who’s who of attendees for a man who was a mover and shaker on so many levels in his life.

I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life.
My parents started taking me when I was young, getting familiar with the process of death and grieving and healing on the occasion of the passing of great aunts and uncles, great grand parents, and the elderly in our church. As I grew older, I made it a point to attend services for friends and for family members of friends.

There is a passage in Ecclesiastes (7:1-4) that comes to mind:

1 ¶ A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

I’m not going to preach you a sermon here, but there are valuable nuggets in those verses of scripture. The value of a good name when our life ends…the comparison of mourning and joyfulness...and the idea that it is healthy to go to a service for someone. You gain an appreciation for life.

I’m not sure many folks would head to George Lewis’ funeral parlor instead of The Laff Stop, but a certain balance is needed in our lives from time to time. Funerals can do that.

Funerals are also dangerous places, because there sometimes can be a tendency to “preach the departed into Heaven” through comments made during the service. I’ve been to services like that, too. They’re a little odd. Basically, one you’ve reached room temperature, it’s “game over,” and your destiny is sealed, in my view.

Today, I don’t think anyone was trying to give Ken Lay a pass key to the Pearly Gates, but there were comments made that should not go unchallenged. Mr. Lay’s Stepson, David Herrold, expressed anger at the treatment Lay endured over the past five years.

Hey, David. I am sorry for your loss; truly, I am.
But you must know by now, you reap what you sow, and your step dad was plowing a field with a borrowed team of mules and stolen seeds. I agree with you in being thankful that he is now beyond the reach of the circus that surrounded him so relentlessly. He was a good man who did a bad thing...or at least was responsible for those below him who did so.

Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Pastor William Lawson really pushed the envelope in comparing Ken Lay’s treatment by the government to the treatment meted out to Jesus Christ by the Roman government. Rev. Lawson, you should know better.

The Roman government officially washed its hands of Jesus’ case, which was really a trumped up bunch of charges by the religious politicians of the day, and allowed the Jewish Sanhedrin to seal His fate. The Roman crucifixion was carried out as one of three civil cases closed on that date.

Rev. Lawson, I could lend you my copy of The Passion, if you’d like to review. I know you own a Bible. Check the Gospels--they've got a great parallel account of the event.
I knew Ken Lay.
I know Jesus Christ.
Ken Lay was no Jesus.

Lawson also expressed anger at Lay’s “lynching,” and Lay’s brother-in-law, Ray Phillips described Lay's conviction as false…more examples of revisionist thinking. Lay was not lynched, but solidly convicted by a jury of his peers.

I think one of the most poignant point of the day was written in Forbes by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (McLean was one of the creators of the Enron movie,"The Smartest Guys in the Room"):

“…the setting aside of Lay's criminal conviction is really a legal technicality. Nothing will ever change the fact that after a long, fair trial, 12 people found Ken Lay guilty of fraud and conspiracy. Nothing will change Lay's legacy now; he will have no Michael Milken - like redemption. He lost his fortune, his reputation, and now his life.
What more is there to lose?”

A very sad closing to the final chapter of Ken Lay’s life, and an important lesson to take away from the house of mourning in Houston today.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mea Culpa

I know, I know--I've not posted in some time.
Look, sometimes life happens when you're making other plans. The fact of the matter is, this blog is an offshoot of my life; intended to be a daily chronical of my comings and goings, thoughts and ideas. But sometimes, there's only enough time to live life as it happens; scarcely time to relive, reflect, and record.

That's important to do, but it takes energy, for which there sometimes is not enough to redirect from the issues and challenges at hand.

So, I am getting back in the groove, and trying to keep it from becoming a grind. If you missed me, thanks for stopping by to check.

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

Friday, July 07, 2006

Missiles on Missiles

Rocket Science just ain’t what it used to be…

North Korea’s missile launch yesterday failed--again-- when a piece of the rocket fell off a few seconds after lift off…meanwhile, an inspection of the Shuttle Discovery revealed that bird droppings, landing on the space vehicle prior to launch, survived liftoff, raising speculation that NASA might have discovered a tenacious, new adhesive product.

This could revolutionize the duct tape industry, as well as marketing campaigns for future products.
“Uh, gimmie a roll of that Crappy Tape.”

What kind of bird was it…and what was it eating?

Instead of glue sticks…are “Poo-sticks” the next, hot item for back to school this fall? At least there'd be a little more incentive to heed the teacher’s warning to kids--“don’t eat the glue!”

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cokes, Koreans, and Birthday Cakes

So far, so good, for the space shuttle Discovery. Astronauts have found no evidence of damage to the craft following Tuesday’s launch, during which a few pieces of icy foam were observed falling from the shuttle’s external fuel tank.

Healthy competition is good for business, especially when the competitors are honorable. Pepsi told Coke someone was trying to peddle recipe secrets between the two soft drink companies, and a sting was hatched to fizzle the plot.

Sure enough, an executive administrative assistant in Coke’s Atlanta headquarters was caught in the act, rifling files for documents and sneaking a sample of a new beverage Coke is working on.

Price tag asked for the information: $1.5-million.
Giving up the mole to Coca Cola by Pepsi: priceless.

In New York City, the illegal immigrant demo is so important to the economy, that the Big Apple would become an empty core if that group were to be deported, according to the testimony of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg told a Senate committee hearing yesterday that New York is home to more than 3 million immigrants, one-sixth of which are in the country illegally.

Here's the quote: "Although they broke the law by illegally crossing our borders ... our city's economy would be a shell of itself had they not, and it would collapse if they were deported. The same holds true for the nation."

North Korea has more missiles on launch pads…three are ready for test shots. Is it just me, or does the N. Korean Flag look like a marquee for an Israeli Texaco station?

Speaking of lots of pyrotechnics, President George W. Bush is 60-today. D.C. Fire Marshalls are standing by for the lighting of the presidential birthday cake at the White House.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ken Lay Dies

Ken Lay is answering to a higher jurisdiction this hour, having passed from this mortal coil into foreverafterness early this morning in Aspen, Colorado.

The former head of Enron was felled not by the government or an aggrieved assassin, but by a massive heart attack…no doubt the result of the terrific pressures of the collapse of his company, the rigors of his trial, and his conviction last month on all counts against him.

He was 64.

Doggone North Korea

North Korea is the yappy-dog of the world.

You know what a yappy dog is, don't you? We have one at our house. A yappy dog is a small, furry ball of energy that demands constant focus, and unless it is the center of attention, will continue to pester and act out until it become the focus of your life at a particular moment in time. Behavioral traits include—but are not limited to—pooping in the house, nipping at your feet as you walk past, and barking at the slightest threat—real or imagined—that appears unexpectedly.

At our house, it’s the yappy-dog’s world...we just happen to live in it. And to be fair, all of us at the Clanton Hacienda, to a degree, are responsible for allowing that behavior.

North Korea has become the yappy dog on the world stage. Not content with its role as a has-been (actually, a never-was) world power with a failed philosophy (communism) of governing its minions, North Korea has been rattling its sabers lately, playing the N-card (no, not that N-card, the nuclear one!) as a means of drawing attention to itself.

On July 4th, within ten minutes of the United States’ launch of the Discovery space shuttle, North Korea decided to not be outdone by launching a series of seven small, medium, and intercontinental ballistic missiles—one of which is believed to have the design capabilities to reach the continental US. They all fell into the Sea of Japan, yap yap yap yap.

One of the games our yappy dog likes to play involves a 9-inch length of cotton rope, knotted at both ends, which she likes to take in her mouth and tug and growl while we hold the other end. The object of the game is for the yappy dog to end up with all the rope, which is pretty entertaining, since she hasn’t a clue as to what to do with it once she’s gotten it all.

At 3.5-pounds, the ferocity of our dog is absurd; fortunately, she’s endeared herself to the entire family, and she is little more than a lovable source of entertainment. North Korea, on the other hand, is the 3.5-pound yappy dog of the international community you want to just slap across the room (or remand to its kennel for an hour or two, just to shut it up).

North Korea is tugging on a 9-inch piece of rope connecting to nothing. It’s growling while it tries to “conquer” that rope, with which it has no clue what to do. It would not be wise to underestimate this country. This week’s missile shots were tests—which laughably failed. If they keep it up, the odds are they’ll get one missile to work. That could stain everyone’s day.

Every once in a while, our yappy dog gets a good grip on that rope and pulls it away. She trots to the other end of the house and guards it intently, marking her turf on the carpet (you know what I mean.)

Those stains can be cleaned.
But a yappy dog with a missile would make a serious mess to clean up.