Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm Tied-up

I know it’s been quiet here, lately.
Couldn’t be helped.

In Washington, D. C. last week, I became ill after dining with the Capitol Hill elite. Not gut-puking, Talking-on-the-Ceramic-Phone ill, but just enough of a sap on energy to make life truly miserable.

Ever been on an aircraft and gotten…you know…sick? Yeah, it’s like that…except without the egress of any food particulates.

I’m trying to do this without disgusting you all, but that is the one sensation that will totally kill my muse. I can write under the influence of some serious pharmaceuticals, but don’t ask for my input—or output—when le Tummy’s tuckered.

It’s taken a week to work through the ordeal.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look a lobster in the eye again…until the next time.

Meanwhile a few random thoughts did seep from my unconsciousness, including the following notions:

I have devised a rating system for men’s neckties, based on the ease of securing them around the collar. There are some ties that are just better-cut so that they knot more easily at the throat, dimpling just-so below, and fanning and flattening nicely against a dress shirt.

Then there are ties that refuse to conform, fight like a scalded cat against looping through the knot, and look like they were used to tow your brother-in-law, Bubba’s, pick-up back from the casino last Saturday night. Not even a terrific pattern can compensate for some neckties that are just too much trouble to wrestle into a presentable knot.

So, I rate ties based upon the number of attempts it takes to achieve satisfactory “knottage,” on a scale of one to five. A one-knot tie I will wear often, simply for the dexterous pleasure of tying it once and once only. The knot is perfect every time, the dimple subtle below the cross-over, the bottom flowing smartly to just past my buckle.

I don’t know if the fashionistas in New York approve, but it looks and feels good on me. Which begs another question: how to best color coordinate the tie? Do you match with your jacket, shirt, or the shaving cut you just inflicted on your chin?

A two-knot tie takes a couple of tries to get right, but is worth the effort because it stays tied without that cross-continental shift effect during the day (another pet peeve: ties that slip over a period of hours, so that by the time your big presentation arrives, you look ready for your DUI mug shot session at the county lock-up.)

There was a rock band in the ‘60’s that took its name from an Innuit Indian expression that described a gauge of cold weather based upon the number of dogs it took to keep warm. A cool night dictated you slept with one dog in the bed with your and your wives. A triple-header generally was reserved for bitterly cold nights during which said wives were equally frigid, requiring three dogs in the igloo.
You know them as Three Dog Night.
They're still around.
They don't wear ties.

I seriously doubt any rock bands are going to form-up and call themselves Five-Knot Tie. Although that would make an interesting name for an oriental food restaurant...

...which appeals to my warped sense of irony and order in the universe, since neckties were originally created to keep gravy off your shirt. A really sloppy, spicy plate of noodles and veggies could be described as “five knot Thai.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Attaching Strings in D.C.

Generosity with strings is not generosity; It is a deal.

--Marya Mannes

(Washington, D.C.)--An interesting concept when considered from deep in the heart of Washington. I have listened to more than my fill of presentations, luncheon addresses, press conferences, and before- and after-dinner speeches this week, and what I have found missing in most of the missives has been substantive posits to replace the ideas and solutions so many on Capitol Hill seem wont to discard.

It started with the Democrat’s rebuttal of President Bush’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday night. Senator Webb spent 99% of his time simply disagreeing with Mr. Bush’s plan’s and policy proposals, without providing alternative solutions. That’s not leadership; it is myopia compounded by partisan astigmatism.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the National Conference of Mayors Luncheon and applauded President Bush’s call for bi-partisan cooperation in the new Congress.

There is a nuance in the use of “bi-partisan” that allows an escape path, as opposed to the adoption of a spirit of “non-partisan” cooperation.

By definition, bi-partisan means two parts, two view points, two perspectives, and in Washington, two agendas. Often such mindsets result in lots of sound bites and video clips of elected officials thumping their chests and slapping each other on the back, but not much is accomplished on behalf of the constituents who sent them to Washington.

No man can serve two masters, and no politician can abide bi-partisan solutions, because one or the other side of the bifurcated opinion is going to prevail. Give and take, such is the nature of politics.

Most of the people up here are trying to do a good job for the folks back home. It is up to you and me to keep them beholden to the platform planks they walked to get here. Bi-partisan makes me a little nervous, and very suspicious because of the duplicitous nature of the term. Non-partisan is more in line with the final phrases of the Pledge of Allegiance, which captures the essence of America: “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Watching in Washington

(Washington, D.C.) The Handwriting is on the wall in Washington…President Bush’s State of the Union Address tonight challenged the new Democratic Congress to help him achieve several goals for the American People, proposing tax incentives—and dis-incentives for health care, throwing down the gauntlet for renewable energy and bio-fuels, while increasing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve 100%, and seeking better fuel economy for all vehicles by 2017.

Mr. Bush also wants to increase the military by adding another 92,000 personnel, while increasing troop strength in Iraq—temporarily—an issue that has divided the Congress, and inordinately distracted the Administration. Regardless of your political convictions, no one wants failure in the War against Terror. What is less clear is what the handwriting on the wall reads for America’s continuing role in that struggle.

The Democrats’ response to the President’s speech was long on argumentative rhetoric and short on substantive alternatives to the solutions and policies recommended by Mr. Bush. Delivered by Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who publicly shunned the President last year, it was an anticlimactic pary against the thrusts initiated in the State of the Union speech.

So there you have it: Energy, Health Insurance, and Security, including immigration as a subset of that third issue. There are our marching orders—and the challenges with which our congressional delegations must now wrestle.

BC to DC

Tonight is the presentation of President George Bush’s State of the Union address, which should be interesting given the realities under which the Administration is working: A lame-duck President with a hostile congress.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post will be giving its “State of the Onion” address…(that's an inside, publishing joke.)

One of the more unsettling details coming out about the new Bush Health Insurance plan: If your employer provides you with a health care plan that costs upwards of $15,000 a year, you could be liable for taxes for the benefit.

I am travelling today to Washington, and will be broadcasting live from our nation's capitol for the next three days. Hope to bring you some high-profile guests with commentary and details on these and other issues.
See you on the Radio.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Tea Time

I am becoming a tea-sip.
I should clarify for my Aggie brethren that by this I mean I have developed an affinity for sipping hot tea this winter. It keeps my throat soothed during each morning’s Radio show, and helps thaw my core from the damp and chill.

Warm beverages never appealed to me before.
Coffee’s aroma was a false pretext to its hot, bitter taste to my palate.
Hot tea was right up there with warm spit—just never developed an itch that needed scratching.

I would make a horrible Brit, I fear.
Their tea is taken seriously.
They call it Tea Time, and it’s a production, brother.
Fine porcelain cups, saucers, cream, sugar, and other dispensaries of condiments. For tea.
Even the British Navy works Tea Time into their official nautical schedule, between breakfast, lunch, and dinner shifts.

My evolution as a tea-sip has been a bit less sophisticated. Chinaware is supplanted by Styrofoam cups.
The hot water comes not from an ornate tea pot, but the red valve on the Sparklettes water dispenser in the kitchen. A plastic knife serves to mix the ingredients of a Lipton Green Tea bag and a healthy dollop of honey in the steaming liquid.

I generally replenish the hot water several times over the course of a morning’s show.

This winter has been particularly onerous to me—don’t know if it has been actually colder, or its effects are just more acutely felt in the second half-century of my life.
But on a chilly January morning, when the cold goes bone deep, and your muscles feel more reptilian than human, nothing is better for thee than hot tea.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sour Apples

Good news and bad news for Apple: Great quarterly sales figures, but some serious downsides to its new iPhone.

Apple notched a 78% profit last quarter, primarily from the sales 21-million iPods.
78% profit?

Where are the congressional investigations?
Where are calls for windfall profits taxation?

Apple could have a few bruises from the very sexy, sleek iPhone design—the darling of last week’s Consumer Electronics Show.

There are some significant gotcha’s on this one:

Price--$500 in an environment where you can get a pretty decent high-end phone for $50, iPhone is a prohibitively expensive proposition for all but the more affluent early-adopters. Affluent consumers do not remain that way by squandering their money.

Battery life is only 4- to 5-hours. Most phones operate for days on a single charge, and you can pop a fresh battery in whenever you need to. The iPhone’s battery life is woefully insufficient, and you cannot interchange it—it’s like those stinking 1st generation iPods that had the crummy batteries—sealed with no way to install a fresh battery. Either find a place to charge your iPhone, or find a pay phone.

Speed--When you have the juice to run the phone, it’s not going to run as fast as competitors’ products—operating on the slower 2G Cingular network, which is not as swift as the 3G offerings; and the iPhone will not use Cingular’s Media Net download system for ring tones and other data. You’ll still have to crank up your computer, wake-up your iTunes software (am I the only one whose iTunes program runs glacially slow??) , and connect your iPhone to your computer to accomplish these tasks.

So not a great product that Apple’s rolled out for the iPhone debut. Hope for a second-generation iPhone by Christmas, if not by next year’s CES. This one’s a real pig.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Freeze Frame in H-town

(32-degrees and holding)

I confess.
I brought the ice storm to Houston this week.
Not that I want to take credit for it.

I was in Ft. Worth when the teeth of the storm gnawed a hole through the clouds and a torrent of icy needles were hurled across the north Texas plains.
Brother, it was brutal.

Woke up the next morning with my rent car looking like it had been deep batter dipped for frying. A sheet of ice fell away from the door as I pried it open.

My return flight to Houston was cancelled, so I elected to out-run the storm in the rent car. Finally caught up with the leading edge at Huntsville. There was a pack of us, all running along together at about the same speed down I-45, and as we crossed a rise, and dipped into a valley on the highway, our cars dove into the warmer, moist air ahead of the frontal system. We all turned instantly white and wet with condensation on the cold metal and glass surfaces.

That was Saturday.

Last night, the bitter chill pill was swallowed with a chaser of rain showers and ice chips all over Houston. Because county road crews had been ready, many of the streets I traveled this morning to get to the station were clear and if not dry, at least un-glazed.
I had no trouble commuting.

It was the same at the office.

We all arrived with wide-eyed wonderment that we’d actually ventured from our dens and made it to work. I thought it rather interesting, the mix of hardy souls who drove in, aware of the potential dangers, but showing up for duty nonetheless: Two pregnant women, a fella about my age, a temp and a part timer.

Sort of put the rest of the staffers to shame.

Friday, January 12, 2007

An Idea that Rings a Bell...

(The Metroplex)--Here’s a thought: I just tried dialing a number from Dallas to Ft. Worth. Being a stranger in a strange land, and accustomed to inserting a “1” in front of long distance numbers for which the area code to me is foreign, I mis-dialed the number.

Now, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you can call from here to there just like the phone was next door. There’s even a handy, audible reminder to let you know this.

(Drrrrrrrrrrrrr) [click] (hssssss…)
“We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed does not require a one or a zero before the area code. Please re-dial the number, and try your call again.”

You make a mistake, the “machine” knows it, and tells you.
So…why can’t this wonderful phone system just dial the stupid number?

Cell phones do this.
You just dial the area code and the number.
You dial a one, plus the area code, the call still goes through (with certain exceptions, as previously noted in an earlier blog.)

Here it comes: “If they can send a man to the moon…” why can’t they rig the phones to dial the number when we mistakenly add the “one?”

Pizzas for Peso's (chicks for free)

(Dallas) I am broadcasting live from our Metroplex affiliate, BizRadio1360, this morning, the home of international trade, and pizzas for pesos.

That’s right—Pizza Patron here in Dallas is accepting Mexican Pesos in payment for their product. Word to the wary—don’t try tipping in pesos—even if your waiter is of Hispanic extraction.

I wonder if Little Caesars would accept coins of the realm? After all, render unto Caesar, etc., etc.

Which begs another inter-cultural, international monetary question: If Peso’s buy pizzas, can we then infer that Taco Bell would be accepting Lira for burrito’s?
No, of course not.
Italy is on the Euro.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Transiting Texas

(Somewhere over Texas at 30,000-ft.)--
It's a travel day.
I am flying from Houston to the MetroPlex--into the teeth of what is being touted as a major winter storm this weekend.
What was I thinking?

Tomorrow's show will be from Dallas at our affiliate, BizRadio1360.

On Saturday, I will be in Ft. Worth at The Chop House on Mainstreet for The Shivaun Palmer Show live broadcast at Noon...just in time for their rodeo parade.
What was I thinking?

Okay, full disclosure time.
Not too many days ago in this space I regaled you with the comparison of driving vs flying, the convenience, the hassles, yada yada yada, and most likely led you to the conclusion I'd rather drive than fly.
Which is true.
...Winter storms and rain and hail threaten.
Then I drive somebody else's car, preferrably one with four-wheel drive.

Yes, I love the warmth of the sun on my face, and the wind whipping through what's left of my air as I pilot my open-cockpit car up the interstate. But when the weather sucks, my baby stays safely parked in the garage.
Discussion ended.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Spurning Sprint, Nixing Nextel

It is amazing to me the extent to which some companies in the business of serving the public will go to avoid dealing with the public.

I received a lovely letter from Sprint-Nextel in my personal e-mail box last night. They want money from me. I will be paying it in due time, but have very little remorse in making this company wait for payment because of the shoddy manner in which I have been treated and ill-served lately.

I called the toll-free number in the note, and for the next half hour (as if I had nothing better to do) played telephone voice-mail tree roulette. After two hang ups by Sprint-Nextel’s phone system, and multiple instances of their automated system failing to register my phone number, I finally got on the line with a human being.

When you have an issue with a company--and they're asking you to respond--they'd better make it easy to reach them. Sprint-Nextel seems to go in the opposite direction, making it as difficult as possible to resolve issues by avoiding direct, personal contact with customers.

Sprint-Nextel has provided the worst connection and most dropped calls in the past six months I have ever experienced—and I’ve been using a cell phone since the days when those putty-colored bricks were in vogue. I’ve been a loyal Nextel customer for at least a dozen years. At one time, everyone in our family was on their system, plus many of my co-workers. I generated a lot of business for Nextel within my sphere of influence.

I’m not sure what happened to Nextel.
Perhaps the blending with Sprint was the un-doing of both companies. Sometimes bigger isn’t better. Perhaps it was the outsourcing of their euphemistically-named customer care division. I’ve had wonderful conversations with Indians and Canadians over recent years, dealing with outages or phones that wouldn’t operate or cooperate.

We forged a bond, a band of brothers with a common goal: Get the calls to go through. I kept punching in the digits…Sprint-Nextel kept dropping the ball and the calls.

Last week I wrote Sprint a letter and fired them. Told them their service was horrible, and I was fed up, and I cancelled my contract.
Like it says on the screen: I'm Done.

So now they want their money.
I’ll pay it.
Maybe phone it in.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Toying with the Public

The first baby born in America in 2007 has created quite a stir across this land, exposing hypocrisy, greed, and bone-headedness that is, unfortunately, par for the course.

Toys-R-Us ran a contest promising a $25,000 savings bond for the first kid to crown on New Year’s Day, urging all expectant mothers to apply.

You know how these things work: A retailer draws you in with a cool contest, and while you’re in the store, it is hoped you will buy a couple-hundred dollars’ worth of stuff.

Been there done that…it’s not hard to drop several Benjamin’s in Toys-R-us. (We used to buy diapers in bulk at T-R-U when our kids were infants.)

The sweepstakes rules were printed in 3-point pica with all manner of legalese, including the stipulation that mothers-to-be must be American citizens in order for their child to be eligible to win the $25k bond.

What the Mensa’s in the marketing department at Toys-R-Us failed to realize is that this is no longer white-bread America, and that the odds of the winning child being born of an American mother were slimmer than in years past…and that’s exactly what happened.

Yuki Lin, the offspring of a Chinese-American union, checked-in at Midnight on the nose in New York City. Her mom, alas, is not a US citizen.

Toys-R-Us faced a dilemma:
The company jas just opened its first store in Mainland China in the past month. Yet the sweepstakes administrator disqualified the Chinese-American baby according to the posted rules of the contest, and gave the bond to a baby born 19-seconds later in Gainsville, Georgia.
That kid won by a nose…there was a third child that also qualified for the prize.

Two lessons to draw from this experience, first for marketers:
Make sure your contest is truly inclusive.
June and Ward Cleaver aren’t the only one’s shopping in your stores.

If you’re running a contest to attract more customers and generate more business, why exclude potential consumers? A non-American citizen is just as likely to spend US dollars in your store as any homeboy and his brood.

The second lesson for all of us to remember is that the demographics of the United States is changing. Why open a store in China when you’re going to discriminate against non-Americans at home?

Businesses sometimes fail to consider what’s going on from the outside looking in. Instead of walking a mile in another’s moccasins, simple walk the aisle of your shop with the eyes of an outsider.

Toys-R-Us' Solomonic solution to the gaffe (all three kids received 1st-prizes) may have cost them more than the three $25,000 savings bonds. As the MasterCard ads like to proclaim, the cost of your credibility as an impartial marketer: priceless.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mixing it up at Milan's

Ft. WorthThe Milan Gallery here is breaking the stereotype that art galleries are stuffy, snooty places for the rich and cantankerous. Okay, one out of three, maybe, but no one snooty or cantankerous here last night as our Metroplex affiliate, BizRadio 1360, hosted a viewing and presentation for Ft. Worth Fans.

FOB is now the officially-designated acronym for “Friends of BizRadio;” or FOBR, if you must.

The Milan’s have operated their gallery for years in Ft. Worth, and later this Spring, will re-assemble their eclectic collection of paintings and sculpture in a newly renovated space. Last night’s suarez was well-attended by a diverse crowd: a private jet broker, a national publisher, a political analyst…and painters.

Cynthia Bryant has been exhibiting her work since she was 15. Her Texas-themed landscapes are rich with hill country vistas, and storm clouds as only the weather can produce over the Lone Star state, and she charmed the guests with her genteel grace.

Henrietta Milan is the matriarch of the gallery, preparing for a major art show in Florida this Spring. She nearly had her exhibit planned for that project, until she remembered this photo.

Rome Milan produced a painting on the spot during the event last night. He changed hats every 15-minutes.
Must be an artist thang.
He works fast, too!

Kudos and thanks to the catering staff at Ferre Restaurant in Ft. Worth, under the able direction of Ashly Yoder…and our special recognition of ShaBang! Exhibits for their production of our new display piece!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Shut up and Drive

Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned… Official Gold Star mom Cindy Sheehan’s abuse of her first amendment rights was a disruptive element in yesterday’s opening session of the 110th Congress…

Memo to Mom: The nation is grateful for your priceless sacrifice, but your credibility is worthless because of your antics.

You are no longer providing a solution, but instead are creating a distractive sideshow that is neither helpful to your cause nor productive of rational dialogue on the issue which drives you.

Not to be disrespectful, but enough is enough.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Dumpster Diving & Fast Driving

How did you survive travelling during the holidays?
What about your luggage?

One of the quirkier stories between Christmas and New Years came out of Houston, where a ring of thieves working for a baggage handling contractor at Bush Intercontinental Airport snagged loads of luggage from nearly every airline.

The suitcase caper was uncovered when 68-pieces of luggage were discovered in a dumpster near the airport. This week, 90-more pieces of baggage were found in two other dump sites.

The quintet of sticky-fingered bagmen worked for Menzies Aviation Group, a company based in London which provides ground services and luggage handling at airports in the US as well as other parts of the world. Menzies people are cooperating with local detectives as the case evolves. We can assume the now ex-employees were told to (ahem) pack their bags.

Between the ridiculous airport security routines at check-in, and now the threat of having all of your stuff ripped off, are you finding it’s just almost more convenient to drive on trips that would take four hours or less by car?

For those of you reading on-line in parts of the world outside Texas—that’s how we measure travel over here. Not in miles or kilometers, but in increments of time.

In Dallas and Houston, especially, we don’t worry about the geographic distance between two points. We want to know the travel time.
I generally find myself factoring-in a one-hour drive time to anyplace I need to be.
No, traffic’s not that bad; I just hate delays and being late.

Houston to Dallas is 240-miles.
That’s four hours at 60-mph.
Nobody drives sixty on the interstate between Dallas and Houston; at 60-mph, you’re whipped and buffeted by the slip-stream of faster vehicles—cars and trucks—passing you like you’re standing still.

The commonly-adopted speed on I-45 I’ve observed has been in the 75-to-85 mph range. Easily.
Those in a hurry are doing 90+.

When I travel to the Metroplex, I generally leave from the BizRadio Network Broadcasting Complex & Deli on Houston’s northwest side. Doorstep to doorstep, it’s a three and a half hour trip to our affiliate offices in downtown Dallas. Less time if I leave directly from The Clanton Hacienda in the exburbs of Harris County.

So when the possibility of traveling to the Metroplex arises for me, I weigh the possibilities and costs in terms of time and money. I can still drive from here to there in less time, more cheaply, than to fly between the two cities.

And I don’t have to worry about my luggage being pilfered.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
--T. S. Eliot
I don’t know how significant it is that the New Year has begun with a certain focus on mortality, with an oxymoronic mix of personalities meeting their Maker at the end of 2006.

Just before the turn of the calendar we lost the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and the man many believed to be the Devil incarnate, Saddam Hussein, finally swung from the end of a rope. Sadly, the world lost former President Gerald Ford, who’s mark upon history was indelible, while sometimes invisibly wrought.

Many of you are listening this morning for the first gleams of light for charting your path for 2007. We at the BizRadio Network continue to carry the torch for the union of people using their brains to get a better deal.

Today marks the first 13-hour broadcast day, with two new daily shows in our line-up: The Vince Rowe Radio Showe returns to BizRadio this morning at 11am for a daily pulse check on how to best trade the markets…

...and tonight at 6pm, City of Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace will present his unique perspectives on the yin and yang of the markets and the political forces that push and pull on them daily.

These next paragraphs and a dollar will get you a Coke in most vending machines…but from the For What it’s Worth Dept., I expect Oil to toil in the $60-$70/bbl range this year, holding out the caveat of hurricanes and geopolitical interruptions creating pricing bubbles built on speculative momentum and fear.

Housing will continue to flirt with economists and the Fed, teasing regional markets with depressed prices, and frustrating lenders managing rancid portfolios of mortgage loans souring from weak underwriting during the boom times.

I will not begin to guess what the Fed is going to do. Suffice it to say the Presidential cycle is now a factor in decline, but only for a time. Watch the rhetoric begin to heat up again towards the end of 2007, as the usual suspects—and some surprise candidates—wade into the water with predictable ripple effects.

And what of the War in Iraq?
We begin 2007 with an estimated 3,000 dead in this conflict which has now raged longer than WW-2, but still costing a fraction of the lives lost in that conflagration. The war for Freedom has a different complexion than past campaigns in which this country has involved itself. How surreal that an administration that was so resolute and clear-eyed in the days following September 11, 2001 is now tentative at best in its final two years of power. The 20-20 hindsight so many politicians have embraced has done little more than to cloud the visibility as we move towards moving out of the Middle East as an occupying force.

The War will be a catalyst for growth in two areas: industrial production and energy independence. The end results will not be completely realized in 2007, but a key to disentanglement from Iraq, and the oil fields in that part of the world, will be increasing domestic production sufficiently to buy time to develop alternative energy resources. And as the US Armed Forces ultimately withdraw from Iraq, the replacement of the machines of war will continue to occupy factories and manufacturers.

We won’t be beating our swords into ploughshares anytime soon; in fact, a sub-catalyst in technology will be applications to enhance domestic security and international intelligence as the War on Terror metastasizes onto new battle fronts.

Xenophobia and Isolationism will continue to nip at the heels of immigration and global trade issues. Education will play a key role in preparing for and maintaining the US as a competitive player in the global economy that now is the way the world works.

Economic solutions to political challenges will supplant 20th Century methodology—and perhaps instead of ploughshares, those swords will be beaten into chips, nano-tools, and educational utensils for a future in which water is more precious than oil, and communication at the speed of thought enlightens and overcomes centuries of hatred and repression.