Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Market Meltdown

There is nothing I can tell you to make you feel better about yesterday’s 400-point-plus drop in the Dow.
“Should’ve seen it coming” is a hollow boast. And the truth is, there were plenty of warning flags waving ahead of the inevitable.
We all saw them.
We all thought it would happen another day.

So, here we are, with the Dow, the NASDAQ and the S&P all off over 3%.

China is being stuck with the bill, but that’s not the entire story. There were myriad elements to the perfect storm that descended on Wall Street…in addition to the China Syndrome, there was the assassination attempt on the Vice President in Afghanistan and the continuing turmoil in Iran coupling with the economic dynamics in play.

The events of 2-27-07 were Newtonian—what goes up, as the markets have, must comer down, as they did…and will again in the future. ‘Tis the cyclical nature of markets to do so.

Yesterday’s drop was not the end of the world as we know it, however. It was a natural phenomenon of the ebb and flow of markets and capitol, and starkly underscored how interconnected the economies of nations have become. China’s markets are not as sophisticated as Western bourses…yet.

I found some of the comments on the Wall Street Journal’s MarketBeat blog to be particularly entertaining last night, especially those that did not directly relate to the day’s activities… Part of the sharp oscillation was the result of a technical anomaly in the data system that manage information for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which basically became digitally clogged for a few minutes. When the computers caught up with themselves, it appeared to be more drastic than it was. That also fed the fears and jangled the nerves on The Street.

And that’s where the blogged comments picked up the conversation…

“That’s the way it is these days,” sighed Stanley.
“Unless you own stocks who gives a rat’s behind,” groused jh92084ca

To which someone anonymously posted, “That’s a shallow, blind, ignorant comment. Many people can be affected, 401k accounts, etc.”

“Most wall street journal readers do (give a rat’s dorsal terminus). Why are you here (Wall Street Journal blog site)?” posted Rb.

“Good, it’s about time! I guess Bush’s last hiding place is being destroyed. Now he can’t even brag about the stock market, boo hoo!” commented Kent.

And that one got the troops riled:

“Kent, are you 12? Go away!” responded Longhaul.

You are happy after this financial loss across the board only because it will make Bush look bad? How convuluted! I feel sorry for your outlook on life, Kent,” posted by Eric

Bill retorted, “That ‘hiding place’ is the same place we can find Bill Clinton. Without the “hiding place” where would he be? Of course, look at him now, making millions a year giving speeches. Thank you stock market."

“You really are kind of a dufus, jh92084ca. Are you telling me you are completely unaffected–even your 401K and retirement??” quizzed Rolf.

“Kent doesn’t have a 401K. He’s 12,” added Longhaul.

“It really doesn’t matter what the story is these days. Someone is going to tie it into it being Bush’s fault or happy that it makes the President look bad in their eyes. Heck, I even read a story about disappearing Bees the other day and it didn’t fail. Someone was able to draw the conclusion that Bush must behind this as well,” posted givemeabreak.
I’m pretty sure it must have been that damned global warming that caused this stock market crash. I guess Mr. Gore better look into it. That might be a sure clinch on that Nobel Prize!” proposed Skyisfalling.

“This is really not a big deal. So the Dow is a 12,200. The Dow is still higher now than what it was on Nov. 1st. Corrections are a good thing. This is a buying opportunity,” fished Big Tuna.

“Maybe Kent would like Jimmy Carter back in office? Go cash your welfare check and buy another bag of pot,” from an otherwise anonymous poster who changed their screen name to “Kent is an idiot” just for the moment.

“Hmmm…what happens when I press this button? There’s too much money riding on these folks for stupid mistakes like that to occur,” said Sad Day in response to the reports of a computer glitch adding to the anguish of the day.

“This has nothing to do with: Enron, Iraq, Bush, etc. This is simply a well needed correction in a overly optimistic bull market. End of story. This won’t help/hurt Dems in 2008. This won’t help/hurt Reps in 2008. No one will remember by then. But then again, those of you who love to bash Bush for every perceived problem in the world are probably too stupid to understand any of that,” commented Chris.

Bill astutely observed, “You know the globe did not start warming till Bush took over.”

“The people who are happy about the down day in the markets serve to illustrate Rush Limbaugh’s point perfectly: the Democrat Party and their syncophants are only happy when the U.S. military, economy and policies are put in a bad light. The only way Democrats and liberals can succeed is if this country fails. Think about it,” spun Dave.

“It’s too bad most Americans are ignorant about the US Market (as the comments suggest). The market is cyclical and has historically ebbed and flowed (but has always increased). This economy at present is strong…no matter what financial rookies choose to believe. Further, hiccups are common (esp. with bad news re Chinese Exports). To the Rookies: Would you forecast the weather for the rest of the year for the US on New York City’s weather today at 3pm?”

‘Nuff said.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

KILE-AM: Loud and Proud

The mechanics of the broadcasting business are as fascinating to me as the artistry of what goes on the air. In reality, both sides of the equation are art, performance on the air, and the performance of the technicians and equipment that get it on the air.

The good people at KILE-AM/Bellaire were kind enough to provide a tour of their new transmitter site with a six-tower array just completed near Rosharon, Texas. It’s pretty impressive, and when testing is completed and the ink is all dry, the facility will blast into Houston from the south-southwest with a 50,000-watt signal at 1560khz.

This place is literally “over the river and through the woods,” only instead of grandmother’s house, you get to a small transmitter building with six “doghouses” beneath each of the 5/8-wave antenna masts.

Why six towers instead of one?
Because this facility must protect other stations in other parts of the country who also share the 1560-AM frequency. The half-dozen towers are precisely phased so that the radiated signal pattern protects one geographic region, while focusing its energy towards another. So, one tower is effectively negating the power (by a factor of –200 watts), while another tower is blasting in excess of 700,000 watts in the opposite direction. The result is artistry—on a polar graph—and in applied physics.

An interesting detail you will notice is the series of six vertical wires that are suspended parallel to the main tower masts. These are folded dipoles of copper, and are the elements that actually do the heavy-lifting of radiating the signal.

In many of the broadcast facilities around the country, transmitters are meticulously married to networks of copper tubing as their RF is phased and fed to the towers. The coaxial cable that runs the signal between the transmitter and the towers is also copper. But most broadcast towers are constructed of steel, not copper, and their conductive coefficient is significantly less than copper!

At the KILE-AM site, these vertical strands of copper wire are suspended on six sides of each mast, so that there is less loss in the amount of RF produced. Also, because the profile of the dipole is wider than the mast—about eight-feet for KILE—the signal produced is more robust.

KILE-AM is also among the first radio stations in the country to use the new digital HD AM transmitter built by Broadcast Electronics. The unit weighs only 600-pounds, and is so efficient in its conversion of raw electricity to RF, that it runs cool enough to require no ducting from the transmitter cabinet. That efficiency factor is also sufficient that KILE’s digital transmitter will pay for itself in energy cost savings within 36-months...something that should make Al Gore grin.

Thanks to Don Werlinger at Plateau Management, the architect and main contractor for the KILE-AM site, for his tour!

Are Things as They Appear?

Things aren’t always as they seem.
That’s a simple enough statement…and it’s a perfect example of the statement it makes (is that something like a circuitous argument?)

Things aren’t always as they seem?
Just by adding different punctuation, different nuance to the sentence, the entire implied meaning is altered.

Things aren’t always as they seem!
Three identical sentences; three very different meanings.

Spinning the tale of the tape on Wall Street isn’t always what it seems, either. For starters, there is no tape—it’s electronic.

Secondly, how the various indexes behave on any given day—and the very different explanations that are given for that behavior—do not necessarily mean anyone has a clue for what really caused those results.

Thirdly, you must now include in your understanding of market behavior a wider array of pressures, forces, and emotions from all around the world in order to achieve an accurate perspective.

The price of oil reacts to Tehran and a pipeline rupture in Europe…gold goes up…the market takes a dive.
But is that all that’s really going on?

Mortgage loan numbers are off, interest rates are flat, and housing numbers seem bleak. Why, then, are investment bankers and mortgage brokers spending more of last year’s bonuses than they’re saving?
Do they know something you don’t?

It is fascinating to watch investor behavior.
It is telling to watch how investors react to situations they understand…and even more so, those which they do not understand.
It is absolutely vital for you to understand why they do so, in order to not replicate their mistakes.

For the past 2-years The Biz Radio Network has brought you a slice of programming you can’t find anywhere else on the dial in any other cities in America, except Houston, Ft. Worth and Dallas.
Actionable information.
Insiteful guests not available elsewhere.
And a way of doing Radio that detractors pooh-poohed and predicted would never last.

Well, here we are, still going strong, making plans to enter our third major market (Chicago) later in the year.
What’s really going on here?
Are things as they appear at The BizRadio Network?

I assure you they are—and more.
Because as we each day deliver the “business news and information you can use to grow financially healthy, wealthy, and wise,” we are adding another layer on our firm footing of facts. We are creating a legacy for each of you who listen and learn and apply and make money because you listen to us.

While other stations are honking their horns about their ratings, or giving away taxable trips, cars, or cash to bribe your ear for an extra quarter-hour of listening time, we’re very quietly, very steadily, very truthfully, simply telling you how you can make so much money you won’t care if you never ever win anything again for as long as you live…because you can buy any trip, any car, any thing you want.

By listening to The BizRadio Network you can build fortunes to support yourself in your waning years, or build bridges in impoverished countries for a better way of life. Your wealth can fund scholarships and research into cures for cancer…or simply enable you to better protect and provide for the one’s you love.

They said we’d never last.
They said no one would listen.
They say we don’t get it…and I am telling you, as we approach our 25th month of operation, that not only do BizRadio listeners “get it,” they get more than most.

Because things aren’t always as they seem.
And that’s why there’s Biz Radio.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Energetic Hypocrisy

Wal Mart is doubling its presence in China…and Strip clubs are coming into vogue on Wall Street…should come as no surprise…Wall Street bonuses have been obscene for years.

Vice President Dick Cheney may have been the target of a homicide bomber in Afghanistan…obviously, the VP wasn’t bird hunting at the time.

Clean Tech is the next buzz word for technology that burns or produces low-emission or emission-free energy…and the next hotbed for validating those technologies is on the banks of the Colorado River in Travis County…Austin, Texas.

And this note is not surprising—in fact, I expected it sooner or later: Al Gore’s house uses 20-times more energy than the average American household.

That inconvenient truth is being revealed by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which reported the 20-room Gore mansion burned through over 221,000 kilowatt-hours last year…the average American home only uses about 10,600 kwh/year. By way of full-disclosure, The Clanton Crib last year used 28,707 kw/h in 2006.

Maybe they should have given Mr. Gore a gold statue for hypocrisy Sunday night.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


What a strangely entertaining week we’ve had… Vice President Dick Cheney has publicly criticized the Democrats’ plan for Iraq…and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has complained to the White House.

Lemme get this straight: The Dem’s don’t want President George Bush to increase troop strength in Iraq in order to finish the job; so Cheney’s criticism of the Pelosi position to not fund the President’s troop requisition would seem appropriate.
But when the shoe is on the other foot, Nancy goes whining to Dad about that mean old big brother, Dick.

Then you’ve got the Hillary vs Obama smack fest…with LA music meister David Geffen weighing-in on the political equivalent of Lucy and Desi that would be king and queen of the White House again.

It all started in Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column Wednesday, in which the top fund raiser for Sen. Obama Barak’s campaign, Geffen, was quoted as saying, "Everybody in politics lies, but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

The return salvo was fired from the Battleship Clinton by Communications director Robert Gibbs, who pontificated about not getting “in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters.”

Then Gibbs fired the next shot, albeit a cheap one, and somewhat two-faced, noting that it’s “ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when was raising them $18 million and sleeping…in the Lincoln bedroom.”

Aren’t you guys supposed to be on the same team? Oh, wait—I forgot—when you’re ramping up to beat up on Republicans, first you must kill and eat your own.

Quoth Gibbs: “It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, who said, ‘if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because he's black.’"

That’s pretty amazing, even for a Democratic press handler—who in one breath managed to offend Sen. Obama, impugn Sen. Ford, and alienate the Black Vote from the party.
What is that, a trifecta of some sort?

Really, all the Republicans have to do right now is just keep their mouths shut until the Democratic Primaries are concluded next year.

Speaking of national love-hate relationships, there’s been another meltdown on American Idol, and this one does not involve contestants, Paula Abdul, or hotel rooms. Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell flung poo at one another during this week’s competition. Simon called Seacrest “sweetheart,” to which Ryan took offense after criticizing Cowell’s negativity towards the episode’s performers.

Oy…almost makes you want to put these people on a desert island somewhere, and let them fend for themselves.
No, wait…there already is a show like that.

Now, how about a good relationship story, and one you could make money on (without selling photos to tabloids!)

NASA recognizes the value of working with the commercial sector in the development of space suits, heat shields for spaceships, hybrid rocket motors and wants the private sector’s participation in helping develop hypersonic vehicles capable of traveling five or more times the speed of sound.
NASA has signed a letter of understanding with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, in which should act like a booster rocket for the commercial space economy.

Somewhat appropriate for the opening week of the “Astronaut Farmer” film. Watch this story develop. I predict yet another opportunity will be created from such alliances with NASA, including the once forbidden notion of selling ad space on the sides of rocket ships.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Billy Envy

(Dallas) My son is in Nashville this evening, learning to live the life of an influential member of the Media. He’s attending the Billy Joel concert there as the guest of a friend.
He sent me a text-message with this image attached, the caption: “Wish You Were Here.”


Let me think about that for a moment.

He’s in Nash-Vegas with a couple of thousand of his closest friends, enjoying lukewarm concessionaire pizza and watered-down fountain sodas, getting a second-hand buzz from the ambience in that stadium, no doubt.
And he’s seeing Billy freaking Joel.

Billy Joel is still performing.
He’s got to be older than dirt…although, not as old as Tony Bennett, who’s older than granite. But they’re both still going strong.

The last time I saw Billy Joel perform in person, he finished playing a piece, got up from his piano stool, and came to the front of the stage, where he sat on the edge, his feet dangling over, to greet the audience.

Some ill-behaved troglodyte slipped between the security goons, and wrested one of the performer’s (then) trademark black and white sneakers from his foot, and ran off with it. Billy Joel was so outraged, he stalked off the stage, and refused to play another note.
Can’t say as I blame him.

Billy Joel recently sang the National Anthem at the Superbowl. It wasn’t his best performance, and in a business that judges you on your most recent performance, it’s probably good that he’s booked out tour for a while, to redeem himself musically.
As if.

So my kiddo’s in the middle of this sea of humanity, soaking up the cool vibe from Billy Joel. Snapping brag-shots on his cell phone, and launching them off into cyberspace for the rest of us to covet.
Wish you were here, indeed.

I’m sitting in a hotel room off the N. Stemmons Freeway in Dallas…eating lukewarm pizza and watered-down Dr. Pepper in a hotel room glass…listening to Billy Joel on my iPod.
This is the cell phone photo I texted back to my boy.

Wish you were here, indeed.

Jet Blue, Blue Smoke, and Blue Sky

I am a simple man with simple needs, deriving joy from simple pleasures: One of my passions is rag top cars. Unless it’s freezing or raining, the top is down when I’m driving.

A drawback to driving topless is pulling up behind a relic of 1970’s Detroit, belching and coughing blue smoke, and laying a smoke screen from a stop sign that would make a WW-2 Destroyer proud.

Did you ever emerge from such a noxious fog and wish to high Heaven someone could get those smoke pots on wheels off the streets?
Watch the progress of SB-12 working its way along the alimentary canal of the State Legislature in Austin, which would offer up to $3,500 towards repairing or replacing automobiles in Texas which fail their annual safety inspection because of elevated exhaust emissions. If your clunker is beyond redemption, the money can be used towards the purchase of a new(er) automobile…perhaps a rag top.

An apology to the friends and family of Britney Spears, who was obviously smitten by my trend-setting hair-style so much that she has shorn her locks for the Clanton Streamline look.
This works best for riding around in drop-top automobiles, which I am certain Ms. Spears can easily afford…once she gets out of rehab.
Odd story coming out of the Big Apple this week, where Immigrants’ rights activists are putting on the pressure to allow legal non-citizens to vote in New York Municipal elections. The issue affects over 50,000 adult non-citizen taxpayers, which activists say have been disenfranchised by citizenship voting laws.

Despite xenophobic knee-jerk reactions to the notion of letting non-American citizens participate in our electoral process, there is apparently historic precedent for the exception: The Washington Post quotes CUNY Professor Ron Hayduk, who notes immigrants voted in national elections from 1776 through 1926.

While I’ve got you riled up with that idea, a final note on the JetBlue Passenger Bill of Rights…where that airline is reeling from weather-related delays and negative publicity over last week’s ensnarled departure gates.
Instead of bleating about making the airlines “do something,” like doling out refund vouchers, and allowing passengers’ tails to wag the dog of airline operations by choosing when they can hit the escape chute, politicians like Barbara Boxer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be focusing their time and energy on addressing the real culprit behind airline traffic SNAFU’s (yes, the acronym is accurate in this usage):
The FAA’s system of flight control and airport traffic coordination is woefully inadequate, antiquidated, and a major contributor to the flight delay ripple effect that regularly wracks the country.
Perhaps a little less pressure on the airline industry and a little more wind beneath the wings of the FAA would go a longer way towards solving the problem.
You’re not hearing that aspect being discussed; that’s an egregious omission.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Prescription for Profits

When it comes to health insurance companies, I am torn. On the one hand, I am grateful for the services they provide, and had it not been for the excellent healthcare coverage that I pay for through my employer, the outcome of my recent cancer surgery might have been very, very different.
I cannot imagine having to go through such a life-changing event like that and having to worry about how to pay for the treatment.

At the same time, I am absolutely incensed at the audacity of my health insurance provider to presume to know what’s best for my health and welfare as I continue to heal.
It is ludicrous, in my humble opinion as a cancer survivor, for my healthcare plan provider to presume they know better than my doctors what is the best care for me as I continue to heal.

Case in point: I am on a therapeutic dosage (.25 regular strength) of a prescription medication that is popularly advertised for recreational purposes. The insurance company will only pay for four pills a month. In a 30-day month, that means I would have to go ten days without the prescribed dosage. I offered to buy additional doses at cost, just to make sure the medication is continuous. The pharmacy said to come back after the first of the month.
What are these people thinking?
Certainly not about my best welfare.

They're thinking bottom line.

One of the post-operative phenomenona that cancer survivors go through is the “What-if” game: You cannot help but ask yourself, “What if” the original diagnosis was wrong? What if you really didn’t have the cancer…was the procedure really necessary?

Here’s another what-if: What if there was a drug you could have taken to keep from developing the cancer in the first place? Would you take it?

What if there was a drug to keep your kid from contracting cancer—would you administer it? What if the government told you you had to give that drug to your kid?

I share these two anecdotes with you to paint the backdrop for an issue that is raging in Austin, where Gov. Rick Perry has returned from the mountain top with tablets of stone mandating all 6th Grade girls be administered a vaccine against the virus that has been proven to cause cervical cancer. The Legislature worked until the wee-hours this morning on this, listening to a host of concerned leaders, doctors and citizens.

Protractors have multiple issues with the proposed law, including the delicate problem of unknowingly administering the vaccine to pregnant pre-teen girls.
I know—that’s a whole other horror story.
But it raises a valid question—when you mandate such ministrations, you apply a blanket ruling to a very personal, individualized situation: While vaccinating against cervical cancer sounds like a great idea on the whole, on an individual basis, it’s not necessarily the best course from one individual to another.

The primary problem physicians have with this scenario is that it obliterates implied consent—where an informed patient (or her parents) are able to make an intelligent decision on whether or not to accept an HPV Vaccination.

Here’s a telling point that should not be overlooked: According to Angleton State Representative Dennis Bonnen, who has led opposition to the Governor’s planned mandate, the only people who testified in support of imposing such vaccinations were medical doctors who’ve been professional advisors in the past for Merck Pharmaceutical, the drug company making the vaccine. Merck would charge $360 for the course of three inoculations.

That reveals what is perhaps the true crux of this issue: Who stands to gain if the Governor’s mandate moves forward? Would opposition to the proposal be as contentious were the mandate to also include a requirement for Merck to subsidize the cost of administering the vaccines?
That would not dull the sting of having state government dictate how you live your life. But removing the lucre-quotient might help clarify the ethical issues, and point to a more reasonable solution. In matters such as these, following the money trail often reveals who the real drivers are.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidential Ponderings

President’s Day is the day we recognize the men who shaped our nation, and created the legacy all American’s enjoy today. Abraham Lincoln has emerged as the greatest President for his work to preserve the Union and the abolition of Slavery.

According to Presidential Historian, Patrick Diggins, Lincoln heads a list of the top five Presidents which includes Washington, Regan and both Roosevelts.

On this morning’s show we visited with 12-year old Noah McCullough, who wants to win the Republican nomination for President in the 2032 race, the first year he would be eligible to run. In a political environment where politicians are planning farther and farther ahead (while amassing multi-millions of dollars in campaign war chests), young Noah’s ambitions are not ill-founded.

It was interesting to hear his response to my challenge to identify one positive aspect of the Democratic Party: “actually both parties are just trying to do the best they can for our country; they just have different ideas.”

There is an element of truth to that notion.

After President Bush’s inauguration, Don King was heard to remark, “now that the election is over, ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’ doesn’t matter: Let’s just get it done.”
A good notion to nurture this President’s Day.

Also on the show this morning was a remarkable man who has not allowed physical infirmities deter him from reaching his goals, whether they be on a mountain top or on a desk top. Erik Weihenmayer is the 2006 recipient of the Freddie Award in Public Service for his inspiration to others.

Erik is blind…but he’s climbed mountains, snow skis regularly, and has written three books. He’s also involved in amazing research into technologies that would translate visual images to other neural receptors in the body…like the tongue, for example.

A camera converted a game of “rock-scissors-paper” into understandable stimuli, and enabled Erik to catch a ball rolled to him by a researcher, by being able to “read” the message conveyed to his tongue.

Erik doesn’t consider himself deterred by his blindness; rather, he is challenged with his remaining four senses to go above and beyond what sighted people are able to achieve with all five.

That brings problems and obstacles into true focus (pun intended), and helps crystallize the true priorities in life.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lusting for Lexus

A buddy of mine was teasing my about my recent mention of the use of a new Lexus LS-460 for the week. (As an influential member of the Media, Lexus has deemed my opinion of their automobiles worth of a 7-day loaner now and then, an impression I am reluctant to dissuade.)

He wanted to know if this was the car that will parallel-park itself. Yes, it does…but...I never got out of it long enough to test that little feature.

You see, the new Lexus LS- 470 also has an 8-speed automatic transmission married to a powerful 4.6-litre V-8 engine producing 380-hp that just defies you to ever stop. The fleet vehicle I’ve been driving is clad in soft leather with a moon roof, the premium sound system, and a Satellite Radio receiver.
You become very reluctant to step outside its high-tech cocoon.

But it’s the little things that Lexus has done with this vehicle that really charmed me.

The keyless ignition and entry system, for example, that senses your presence, and triggers several welcoming functions: Red LED’s glow from the driver- and passenger side window sills, lamps in the underside of the rearview mirrors throw pools of light at your feet, and the mirrors themselves silently unfold like tiny arms to draw you to the car.

There are some details I found a little humorous, too--like a photo of the LS460 that appears when you push the ignition button, just in case you forget what you're driving.

There are some intangible benefits to the new LS-460BMW and Mercedes Benz drivers visibly covet the car, for one. It’s a head-turner, with the smooth, sleek lines, and elongated wheelbase. The back seat is spacious enough to start a family in…and I can personally vouch for the cavernous trunk area, which easily swallowed the entire contents of my daughter’s closet in an impromptu demonstration of its appetite.

By the way, that drive train package is trimmed under the hood by a system of plastic plates and covers that minimize noise—and confusion, should you need to poke around in there. Receptacles for coolant, windshield fluid, and engine and transmission lubricants are clearly and crisply marked, with the labyrinth of hoses and cables shielded from view.

I’ve often said that Lexus builds the last car you’d ever need to own.
With the LS-460, they just built a reason to trade up.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Planning for President's Day

Don’t know about you, but I am freaking-glad it’s Friday. I hope you are looking forward to a long, holiday weekend.

Monday is the government-sanctioned day of public slackedness in the form of President’s Day. Unlike Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, and (some suspect) Valentine’s Day, President’s Day was not created by the greeting card industry.

This one belongs to the Retail Sector. The sales activity generated by President’s Day promotional extravaganzas must generate at least 1% of annual GDP.
I don’t know that for a fact, but the metaphor seems apropos.

Long weekends are good for a lot of reasons.
Fewer disgruntled former employees enter their former worksites, armed to the teeth, and blast away their frustrations on President’s Day. Could be those places are closed…but, hey, a little time off is always good for the constitution.

Long weekends are good for getting things done you can’t get done the rest of the time, working 32-hours a week. (What—you work more than that??) This weekend, we’re moving our precious daughter from The Clanton Hacienda into a rental property that she and one of her running buddies have decided to share.
That’s a big step…at both ends of the equation.

Both of our kids went away to school, so the initial shock of emptied closets and vacant dirty clothes hampers has been broached and conquered. But we knew they’d come back--on weekends, during mid-semester breaks…when they were hungry.
This is different.
She’s going to be Out On Her Own.

We’ve had time to prepare for this.
The replacement furniture for her soon-to-be vacant room is waiting.
Much to the chagrin of our son, the d├ęcor will not include anything having to do with billiards or large format video playback devices.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you will also recall the saga of the small yappy dogs that have infested The Clanton Hacienda. On the same day that Satan began serving ice cubes, we allowed a small, furry, four-legged creature to take up residence under our roof.

My bride was besmitten, and when our daughter announced her intentions to move out, and the pooch was also being packed, I did the only sensible thing a sensitive, caring and otherwise irrational husband would do: got a surrogate canine companion to salvage her sanity.

Yep…two (smack) two (smack) two dogs in one house.

So the furniture is staged, boxes are packed, and all is in a state of readiness for our little girl to spread her wings and fly from the nest. It’ll take the long weekend to complete the transition.
Don’t think I will ever get totally used to the idea, though.

Global Smarming

Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.
--Putt's Law
It was 28-degrees at my house this morning when I pulled out of the drive way. Guess that makes up for January, which has been called the warmest January since weathermen and their dogs have been keeping up with these things in 1880.

Meanwhile, at the South Pole, the weather is not behaving as global warming theorists would have you believe… A new report on climate over the world's southernmost continent shows that temperatures during the late 20th century did not climb as had been predicted by many global climate models.

Undeterred, Al Gore is going into the entertainment business. The Save Our Selves world wide concert series for global warming will feature top performers on several continents this July.
This is going to be a hot ticket.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tilting Axis'

For the past 62-years, the American Dollar has been the foundation of the global economy, and the locus of world economic and political power. We rebuilt Europe and Japan following World War 2, and effectively forced the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the final decade of the 20th Century.

At the time there was no one else to do the work that needed doing, and American brain power, finances and labor were both catalysts and contrivances in the re-stabilization of the industrialized world.

Is there room for more than one “super-power” in the 21st Century?

Would a second, complimentary economic engine enhance world peace, and expand prosperity to other nations?
Is that necessarily good for America?
Does that spell opportunity for you?

There is now some considerable economic octane in the combined interests of India, China and Russia: the three countries are home to 40% of the planet’s population, are responsible for 20% of the global economy…and more than half of the world’s existing nuclear warheads, for those of you keeping score at home.

Imagine this troika in a partnership, which arguably could rival America’s position at the pinnacle of the world order. Not to compete directly, but to add their influence in the creation of “a more democratic, ‘multipolar world’.”

The foreign ministers of India, China, and Russia say that their alliance is not so much anti-US as it is pro-global economics, and “intended to promote international harmony and understanding,” based on the release issued jointly by the trio.

It is interesting that the concerns of these emerging nations closely mirror those of the US: What to do with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Korea; what to do about energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and trade.

Same issues, same problems…but the really interesting possibility is that the same solutions might not be the result of this new, eastern brain trust. What they’re about is how to use their budding economic and political mojo so that Washington doesn’t have to tackle these issues alone.

Is this a natural progression, a Darwinian reaction to reality, as these diverse countries turn the corner from operating as command economies and metamorphosing into free markets?

Sounds promising…until you add in the a political dynamic, and realize that these three countries—while embracing Western-style economics—are diametrically opposed to America’s presence in the Middle East. Therein lies one of the planks in a platform for change.

Interestingly, while opposing US military operations in Iraq, these countries also do not relish dealing with a nuclear Iran any more than we do. But necessity is the mother of odd alliances, and Russia is selling nuclear technology to Tehran, despite concerns about western markets for the Motherland’s oil and gas sales. And China and India’s thirst for oil could shade its assessment of Iran’s position in the pecking order, as this new economic order evolves, half a world away.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Horning-in on Opportunity

I love cars.
Always have.
I like driving them, even like fiddling with them (within my limited, mechanical-diagnostic abilities). I once had a crush on a girl in high school who regularly re-built her VW Bug’s engine on her drive way. I found that somewhat erotic, in an abstruse sense. She also played the horn in the band, which is only marginally related to this story line…

Later this week I will be test-driving a new Lexus model, one of the perks of my position as an influential member of the media. Go ahead, ask me anything.

One of the finest automobiles I have ever driven was the Lexus Hybrid GS, which combines neck-snapping acceleration from an electric motor, coupled with a muscular gasoline engine for sustained speeds. An amazing vehicle.

The hybrid automobile space is very exciting…and now, it seems, controversial.

The National Federation for The Blind says the quieter-running electric- and hybrid-automobiles are creating a hazard for the visually challenged, who cannot hear the cars coming. They’re already lobbying for noise makers on the cars, emitting beeps, whistles or buzzes to warn blind folk out of their way.

I think this opens up a whole new realm of opportunity. Just as you can now down-load custom ring-tones for your cell phone, why not have down-loadable “engine tones” for your electric car?

“Listen, is that a Hybrid or a Viper?”
“Dunno—sounds like a Dodge Ram Hemi to me.”
“Better get out of the way…”

This idea is not without precedent.
In Houston, the Metro Transit Authority has begun a surface-level light-rail line. It runs from downtown south through the Texas Medical Center, and terminates just south of the 610 Loop. It’s electric, and it’s quiet.

They call it the Wham-Bam-Tram because in its first year of operations it smacked into 67 motorists and/or pedestrians.
In 2006, the train marked World Braille Day by running over a blind person.

The Wham-Bam-Tram averages one collision every six days. It has a wimpy, electronic whistle sound to alert people it’s a-comin’.

Obviously, rail proponents did not want to upset the neighborhoods through which the route passes, so a kinder, gentler sound was adopted as a warning signal for the train, which resulted in a higher, harder crash rate.
I don’t know about you, but when several hundred tons of steel are bearing down on me, I want to know about it, without a doubt.

None of this wussy, half-hearted “I’m a lite-train cominnnnngggggg (sshhhh!)”
“Lookout, I am softly passing by (ssshhhhh!)”
“Don’t want to disturb youuuuu (sssshhhhh!)”

Nossir, I want to feel the earth move, see the heavens open, and witness fire-breathing mortal-danger with an ear-splitting blast of a quadra-toned compressed-air horn, that leaves no doubt that my time on earth is short if I don’t move off the tracks and out of the way.

What I’d really like to do is down-load that tone for my car.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Real Estate Realities

HSBC says bad mortgage loans will be 20% higher than forecast, setting the stage for the next round of ripples from a softening housing market. The third largest bank in the world expects to take in excess of $10.5-billion in bad debt charges this year.

HSBC grabbed a ton of sub-prime mortgages in 2005 and 2006, before housing went south. They’re not the only banking group in trouble…Washington Mutual lost $122-million in bad loans last quarter, and things aren’t looking up for this quarter.

That was one of my lead stories this morning…which I find difficult to square with the continuing hawking that goes on by some of these real estate get-rich clubs that insist on pushing their brand of snake oil in spite of what’s happening in their arena.

The National Association of Realtors reports more and more of their ranks are being depleted by an alarming rate of attrition, as making a living selling real estate becomes more difficult. Part of that is a natural, Darwin-esque survival-of-the-fittest phenomenon; but part of it is that the luster’s been lost in real estate for all but the hardiest.

Two questions arise from these truths which are self-evident:
Houses ain’t selling like hotcakes anymore, so why does the hoopla continue from these hucksters?
The glut of empty homes on the market is going to result in a softening of prices; what will it take to be the last man standing who scoops up those properties at a fraction of their value?

I am inherently skeptical when I hear promises of untold riches selling real estate for a few hours a week in your spare time.
That’s a myth.
I am intensely suspicious of anyone offering to mentor me in the ways and mysteries of the real estate world…for a fee.

The giveaway for me is when a business makes more money selling the “how-to” secrets, instead of earning its way by practicing what it purveys.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Running Hot and Cold

Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
--Friedrich Nietzsche
Could the global warming theory issue be the modern-day equivalent of the Inquisition, The Crusades, and The Dark Ages--all rolled into one greasy, oily, carbon-glob?

The National Journal took a poll that reveals only 13% of Congressional Republicans believe Global Warming is caused by man...

Meanwhile, Al Gore says the Bush administration is paying scientists to dispute the theory, and for some who do, they’re in danger of losing their jobs.

Talk about an inconvenient truth...

The Governor of Oregon is planning to fire a state Climatologist for being publicly skeptical of warming theories. Could the next pc-phrase be “s-i-p,” for being skeptical in public?? Are thought police just around the corner?

Meanwhile, China blames the West for climate issues--nevermind the fact that China’s belching emissions place that country as the second most flagrant emitter of carbon…while Canada is experiencing temps of 50-below, and Cambodia is having its coldest winter in 27-years.

Speaking of nutjobs…the screaming headlines surrounding NASA’s amorous astronaut have been pretty entertaining.

By now you know the story…Lisa Marie Nowak tracked down a romantic rival at an Orlando airport, and was charged with attempted kidnapping, among other things.

The “Astronaut Avenger” and “Lust in Space” are two of the more colorful story titles. You watch--this will either be a made-for-TV movie this Fall, or wind up as a full-blown mini-series.
"Desperate Astronauts," anyone?

The judge in Florida told her to wear a tracking device and get out of his state.

Is it just me, or does the idea of putting a GPS device on an astronaut seem a little…futile?

Sooner or later someone’s going to work “space balls” into this story…probably as a reference to the celestial lothario in this series of close encounters of the three-way kind…

Too bad this embarassing publicity has besmirched NASA's image at a time when Congressional bean-counters are slicing and dicing budgets and cutting funding for the space program. The timing could not be worse for an incident so easy to lampoon and imprint upon the public an image that is wholly incongruent with the gravitas of Space exploration.