Monday, June 30, 2008

Harris County Grand Jury on Target

Bad guys, beware!
In Harris County, Texas, you could be shot for theft.
The County Grand Jury here refused to indict a man for fatally shooting a pair of thugs who were robbing his neighbor’s house.

Call me hard-hearted, but I really don’t have a problem with this. The Supreme Court recently upheld our right to bear arms. The local community—as represented by the Grand Jurists—not only agree, but approve of their use in protecting life and property.

Interestingly, the man in the center of the maelstrom, Joe Horn, regrets what he did.
As he should; the taking of a human life should never be considered lightly.

Also interesting to note that the pair who were shot were in this country illegally.

So, settlers take note: The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is also populated by people who are armed and prepared to defend themselves and their neighbors. I think the Harris County Grand Jury sent a strong message to the creeps, thugs, robbers, thieves and other such parasitic scum that feed off the rest of us: Even if the cops don’t catch you, the guy next door might.

I remember as a child visiting a Volkswagen repair shop with my father that was run by a German immigrant named Schmidt. Spoke with a thick, thick, German accent, but he was a pretty good mechanic.

I recall being shocked to see a sign posted in the back of his work shop plainly stating that "anyone removing parts from shop will be shot."

To an 8-year old, this was heavy stuff, and I imagined he had a whole arsenal of Germann Lugers and machine guns at the ready.

Maybe the guy was just fed up with theft in his neighborhood.
Probably the best crime deterrent there could be.
These days, I wouldn't mind having Joe Horn as a neighbor...or Herr Schmidt.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Exxon vs Chacon: A Tale of Two Perspectives

The Supreme Court this week chisled-away most of the punative damages awarded claimants against Exxon in its ill-fated Exxon Valdez oil spill. Lobotomized is a more apt description to the 80% reduction from $2.5-billion to $500-million in damages.

Basically, the Supremes decided Exxon shouldn't have to pay above and beyond the $507.5-million it had already expended to compensate victims of the spill in Alaska. Under the original judgement, plaintiffs would have received about $75,000 apiece, which now shrinks to about $15,000 each.

Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but still hardly enough for most fishermen to offset the losses they incurred, regardless of how long ago (18-years!)

Exxon's gotta love it: The new amount is equal to about 4-day's worth of profits, based on the $10.9-billion the company booked last quarter.

Meanwhile, down at the ball park in Houston, the Astro's needed a little something to liven-up their 36-42 season. Enter Shawn Chacon, a pitcher the team signed to a one-year, $2-million contract during Spring Training.

So far this season, his record has been about as exciting as a revised Exxon damages payout--and come to think of it, his performance has been worth about as much, with an 0-3 record in the past four starts and a 9.35 ERA.

Yesterday, in the Astro's lunchroom, Chacon was summoned to the principal's office. Actually, it was a calling onto the carpet in General Manager Ed Wade's office (remember, the dude's banking $2-mil this year for suiting up with the team.)
Chacon didn't want to be bothered.

Let's think about this: His performance is on par with an Oreck 12-pound upright, he's getting paid good money, so what response should he have had?
The response Chacon gave Wade was a pair of hands around the GM's neck, and throwing his boss to the ground.
Class act.

Chacon's name is already being stencilled into the Book of Names that Are Also Verbs (remember Sprewell, Lewinski, Crapper, etc?)

Chacon has told his agent he'd like to be released from the team or traded.
I would imagine the former is going to happen before the latter; for $2-mil, I'd expect any team manager would demand a bit more respect and decorum.

Psst--Mr. Wade.
For half Chacon's contract, I'll play for you, sit in the bull pen all season long, if you want.
Call my people.
Better yet, just call me.

CODA: Shawn Chacon's originally from Alaska.
Mebbe he was just miffed about that Supreme Court decision...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back on the Radio

It's been said, you can never go home.
I don't know who said it, or how far afield they'd roamed, but there is a bit of truth to the statement. You can never go home, expecting things to have remained the same since you were last there.
That's for sure.

I moved away from home for the first time in 1977.
It was Labor Day weekend, and I rented a U-Haul truck to schlep all my worldly belongings--including my car--from Houston to Tulsa.

On subsequent visits home, there were subtle and not-so-subtle changes: Someone else was living in my bedroom, for starters.

It happens on the job, too.
I love running into folks I used to work with.
But it's just not the same.
I was up at the old stomping grounds today.
Someone else was in my office.

Tomorrow I will begin hosting a one-hour Radio show from 7-8am on CNN 650 (KIKK-AM/Houston)
That's an old stomping ground, too.
Used to be BusinessRadio650 a few years back.
Used to be a lot of other things before that.

Since I've been away, CBS Radio has made some wonderful improvements to the facility. Like adding real studios for talk hosts, a separate studio for the producer, and an upgraded studio for producing snappy promos and commercials.

It's going to be fun broadcasting from a new room at a familiar place.
And I can watch my son collaborate with his team across the hall at SportsRadio610.

Sometimes when you go home, things change for the better.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Politics of Petroleum

One of the key issues emerging in the Presidential race is the price we’re paying for gasoline.

The Energy Information Institute on Monday noted that prices have increased each week for the past dozen straight, and we’re now paying about 74.5-cents more per gallon than we were this time last year.

The average price for a gallon of regular stands at $4.082, so if you’re buying it for less, consider yourself fortunate.

Sen. John McCain and President George W. Bush are both back on the band wagon for lifting restrictions on drilling in parts of the U.S. where Congress has imposed a moratorium since 1981.
It's about time.

Bush ’41 placed an additional, executive ban on drilling in place…Mr. Clinton extended it…and Bush ’43 extended it again until 2012. Looks like both parties’ standard bearers could be blamed for a shared myopia on the issue. At least President Bush’s apparent flip-flop on this one is a positive change of position.

Sen. Barak Obama is agin’ lifting the moratorium, offering the shallow argument that anything we drill today will be five years in reaching your gasoline tank. Translation: it’s not going to help him in November. Trouble is, such flawed logic could actually hurt him at the polls, if he is perceived to be part of the process that continues the financial pain. Because for each month we delay resumption of exploration, that alleged five-year window keeps sliding farther and farther into the future.

Sen. McCain is correct about one thing: more drilling is not the solution to America’s addiction to foreign oil. Like anyone trying to kick a habit, less is more. A successful U.S. energy strategy will have to include measures for reducing our consumption, however possible.

By the way, that paragon of global warm mongering and apostle of environmental responsibility, Al Gore, is still out-performing his neighbors when it comes to electricity consumption.

According to the Tennessee Center for Public Policy, since installing measures to make his home more energy efficient, the Gore’s usage has increased 10%--burning 213,210 kilowatt hours of juice in the past year.

The average usage for a typical American home is 11,040 kwh a year. That’s an average number for an average sized house.

The modest Clanton Hacienda in the exburbs near Houston, Texas burned through 27,382 kwh in the past 12-months, where the summers are anything but average in temperature and length.

It’s certainly hotter here, and for longer, than in Tennessee, so running through nearly two and a half as much kilowatt hours of electricity as the average house does not necessarily make me a power pig.

Actual photo of my car's outside temp reading

in the church parking lot tonight, 8:45p CDT

I went back and looked at the previous year, and we actually have used less power in the past 12-months than we did in the previous 12-month period.

The Gore’s monthly power bill runs $16,533, according to the Tennessee Public Policy report.
Wonder if they’ve ever considered balanced billing?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Things I Like/Dislike about Being Unemployed

As most of you now know, I was "invited to leave" my last employer somewhat suddenly.

"We're going to be doing things differently," I was told on a Monday morning. "Your job has been eliminated," they obliquely explained.
Which was bull.
The job was still there to be done, they were eliminating me.

After the shock wore off, and my office belongings had been carted out, sorted out, and put away in the attic, I've had time to wax philosophic about my present state of unemployment--not an enviable position at all--but, when life hands you 'Gators, you gotta make Gatorade.

So, without further ado, here are a few things about my present condition with which you will either resonate, or stare in wonder, as I list some of the things I like/dislike about being unemployed:

1.) Sleeping late
2.) Watching the sun come up over the pond behind my house
3.) Making the first tracks in the morning grass
4.) No traffic
5.) A tank of gas lasts nearly a month
6.) Free 24-hour parking
7.) It would be relaxing except there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, so far
8.) The end of the tunnel gets closer and closer
9.) If I have a bad morning, I can sleep it off in the afternoon
10.) Watching Letterman
11.) Watching the guy after Letterman
12.) Discovering there’s no Off-The-Air Big Chief Indian test pattern after the guy after Letterman (if you don't understand this, you're not old enough)
13.) Daytime Soaps are more brain-rotting than cartoons
14.) When did they stop making new Popeye cartoons?
15.) A Casual Day consists of whatever I wore to bed
16.) Shaving-optional day
17.) No vending machines
18.) The commissary is always open
19.) Never having to wonder whose day it is to empty the commissary dishwasher
20.) If it breaks, I have to fix it.
21.) Not having to call/wait/explain/wait/call/wait for IT to do it
22.) Screening phone calls
23.) Getting phone calls
24.) No lost messages
25.) Did I mention no traffic?

Today I have two job interviews.
If you're thinking of snatching me off the market, better move fast!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cancer Update

'Tis the month of June, which means it's time for my semi-annual cancer screening.
So far, so good.

Not likely I'll ever have Prostate Cancer again (since they took it completely out), but those little cancer cells have a way of showing up elsewhere later on, so I've got to be vigilant.

Here, now, is my semi-annual invocation to the rest of you danglers: Go get a blood test for your PSA levels. At the least, you'll have a base-line result for later comparison. At best, you'll catch early anything that might be growing in your nether regions you'd be better off without.

Last week I underwent what I hope will be my last surgery associated with this whole Prostate Cancer ordeal.
After two and a half years, I was still, as they say in polite company, incontinent to a degree. Some days, it was a degree of exponential magnitude.
I was only half-joking when I said I was seeing the world's most expensive plumber regularly--and they weren't making house calls!

But this time I think we got a handle on it.
Actually, a sling.
(Parental Warning: this link is fairly graphic.)

There is a procedure for both men and women who suffer from urinary incontinence in which a strip of mesh webbing is literally slung from the pubic bone, raising the bladder and its sphincter back into its original, anatomical address. Less pressure on the bladder, less stress on the sphincter, and voila--most people experience immediate freedom from paper products with enhanced absorption capabilities.

I had this done on Wednesday morning, and was home that afternoon. They literally hung me, slung me, and schlepped me out the door before afternoon tee-times. Granted, I couldn't beat anyone in a foot race, but after all that I've been through, this one was comparatively easy.

I'd like to publicly thank Dr. Erin T. Bird and Dr. Belur J. Patel and their amazing staff at the Scott & White Health Science Center in Temple, Texas where I received my care.

You're welcome to contact me for more details about my experience and post-operative results, or you can check out this link for more. Meanwhile, only 5-weeks left before I can get back on my bike.
A recumbent, of course!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The True Role of America's Media

This weekend I had the distinct pleasure of addressing the Gulf Coast Regional gathering of the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership conclave at Rice Univeristy.

I was invited to participate on a panel to discuss Media issues, in the company of KUHT's Ernie Manousse and the Galveston County Republican Party Chairman, John LeCour.

We were asked to comment on two main questions:
1.) Is the American Media responsible for creating a structure of individuals voting only on personal content of candidates?
2.) How much time should the local news devote to global issues that candidates should be responsible for? Should news discuss the candidates’ platform more?

I was encouraged by the attentiveness, perception, and questions these high school sophmores were asking about how Media works, and what role it plays in shaping our society. Unlike the "young skulls of mush" that Rush Limbaugh likes to lampoon, these kids were sharp, and have a lot on the ball.

The process really got me to thinking...and I hope those questions would pull at your brain a bit, too: What is the responsibility of American Media?

Certainly, inherent with the privilege to inform and entertain comes a liability for keeping things fair. But is American Media’s primary responsibility to its audience or its investors?

Media is a business, just like Banking, Retail, and the Grocery business. Are banks required to accept DDA accounts from just anyone? Do Retailers have a mandate to sell to anyone at any price—and are they required to sell everything made? With so many grocery stores in operation, why are there still hungry kids in America tonight?

You know the answer as well as I: they'd all go broke if they had to cater to everyone. So, apply that principle to the Media and ask, must the Media inform as well as entertain, if Media consumers aren’t buying what they’re telling or selling?

Perhaps the real question might be re-phrased just a bit: Is the Media is responsible for reporting to, or appealing to, the audiences it reaches?
Does the Media shape or reflect its Audience?

Let’s talk about Fairness for a moment.
What is fair?
FOX News has made it their Brand, “Fair and Balanced, You Decide,” daring viewers to pick apart the stories, and thresh the rhetoric from fact.

If we are to hold the American Media to a standard of fairness, a la a Fairness Doctrine, thus removing some of the free market forces of competition for audience share, should the Media then be underwritten to an extent so that it can survive financially?
PBS is an excellent example of this principle.

If the Media presents a view or position to the public that is unpopular, to the extent that the outlet providing that presentation cannot survive financially, does that position still merit support from the public for the sole purpose of providing “balance?” carried an article by Jamison Foser on how the Media has covered the Bush Administration (a lightning rod for commentary!), to which this poignant post was made:

“The media is an absolute train wreck that will never learn or improve. It will only dwindle and fade. As they lose more and more of their audience, they will make no changes. They will only continue to lose still more.

“A corporate media would seek to improve its ratings. It would cater to the majority and promote policies that don't destroy the economy. We do not have a corporate media. We have a deeply partisan and deeply stupid media.”

The poster is not wrong.
But, let’s look objectively at Media as a business.

Newspapers have to sell copies—increase circulation—to stay in business. Radio must attract and retain listeners. TV must attract and retain viewers. The more audience share each Media outlet amasses, the more profitable it becomes.

There has been much criticism of the Media for being biased, un-fair, slanted… yet, is Media having to portray the slant that sells for the sake of survival?
Note that the Liberal-leaning Air America Radio Network has had more than its share of difficulties launching; is that indicative of the reception such programming can expect?

Media Matters for America ran a very telling survey of the syndicated columnist landscape, contacting each publication individually to determine which columnists were being carried.
The results showed that in paper after paper, state after state, and region after region, conservative syndicated columnists get more space than their progressive counterparts.

Editor & Publisher paraphrased one syndicate executive noting, "U.S. dailies run more conservative than liberal columns, but some are willing to consider liberal voices."

If content is what sells papers, can it not be inferred that such writers are what more readers are willing to buy? And if American Media Consumers were truly concerned about this issue, why then can most major cities support only one daily newspaper?

(To be fair, part of the failure of many major dailies has been because of the advance of electronic media, particularly the shift to on-line news consumption, and the refusal of those defunct publications to recognize that trend. Guess what: Clicks still tell the tale of the tape, and the measurement of on-line viewing/consumption is actually more accurate than newspaper circulation numbers could ever represent.)

When the question is asked, whether American Media is responsible for creating a voting mentality more centered upon personality than policies, one must also ask what it is that Media Consumers expect and are willing to support from their Media outlets?

Which would you be most likely to do: Listen to Rush Limbaugh, Jim Rome, or Ray Lucia?
Which magazine would you be most likely to purchase first: The Economist, People, or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition?
Which TV show would you make an appointment to view through its entirety: CBS Big Brother, anything on ESPN, or the McNeil-Lehrer Hour?

(When I asked these questions this weekend, the majority of responses tended towards the pop-cultural end of the spectrum.)

Which brings us to the second question up for consideration: How much time should the local news devote to global issues for which the Candidates would be responsible?
As much as they can get away with.

Should the news cover the candidates’ platform more?

Is there a responsibility on the part of Media members to provide as balanced a story as possible? I believe that there is. It is what separates Journalists from hacks; but I also recognize the fact that such “balanced” stories are not always feasible (no comments available), or reasonable (“…we need a piece that sells this angle”) because of the market forces that must be calculated into the equation.

How, then, do those who are concerned with Media balance, effect change so that the proper equilibrium is maintained?
What is equilibrium?
Who is the determinant?

I believe that economic force—the same economic force that dictates the decisions that result in Radio format changes, cancellations of TV shows, and the disappearance of most cities’ competing daily paper—is the motivation needed to effect such change.
If you like the coverage, support the sponsors.
If you do not, let those same sponsors know why you are not buying their product.

That seems so simplistic, but in the final analysis, in a capitalist society economics are what truly get the attention of the decision-makers for content in the Media.

Is the American Media responsible for creating a structure of individuals voting only on personal content of candidates?
Not entirely responsible, but certainly culpable for creating the hyper-glammed, instant-gratification, 20-second sound-bite universe in which it operates.

If the local news devoted more time to global issues and political platforms—would you watch, read or listen?
Would most people?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Obamarama Begins...

The aftermath of the Obama-Clinton race for the Democratic presidential nomination continues to entertain. News reports published the day-after Sen. Obama captured the required delegate count trumpeted how the politics of his identity trumped the politics of her identity.

But the reality was the Democratic party wasn’t about to throw an historic election by ignoring its Black constituency, just to make another kind of history by placing a female candidate in the hot seat.

I think we’re making too much of the gender-color issue, frankly. There has been too much emphasis on the superficialities, and not enough focus on the truly meaty issues that will determine the kind of life we live in the United States of America for the remainder of this decade, and into the next.

I don’t care if the next President is a purple hermaphrodite, so long as important matters of national security and economic stability are appropriately addressed. The sex and color of the next Commander in Chief have nothing to do with either.

I laughed when I read part of a Los Angeles Times story, summarizing the world view of Sen. Obama’s emergence as The Annointed One by Democrats. Prof. Radwan Abdullah at the University of Jordan in Amman exulted that Sen. Obama is “a minority African-American from the Third World.”

‘Scuse me, Professor, but check your facts.
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, attended private school as a child, and graduated from Columbia University and Harvard—where he was Magna Cum Laude.
Hardly a Third-World product, and likely more of a privileged upbringing than most traditional, Democratic-voting families of his generation have experienced.


No run-offs for me: I am still seeking gainful employment.
Interested? Check me out:

View Brent Clanton's profile on LinkedIn

The Power of Change

Yesterday I shared the Ether with Loren Steffy, Business Columnist at the Houston Chronicle, on BlogTalk For a half-hour, we discussed how the automobile manufacturers are going to fare with gasoline north of $4/gal.

The conversation evolved into talking about other lifestyle changes that are going to be occurring as we all figure out how to make up for the difference in what it costs to get around vs what we’re able to devote to such expenses.

Since I’ve been “gainfully-unemployed” recently, I think I’ve left the house a total of three times in the past three weeks on errands just for me. Now, the family has had additional trips along which we’ve traveled together. But I can count the alone-times I’ve had with my beloved two-seater on the fingers of one hand.

I believe more and more of us are going to figure out a way to consolidate trips and leave the house less. Or if we do venture, it will be on foot or on a bicycle (I have been riding mine every-other-day!) What other changes do you believe expensive gasoline/fuel prices are going to cause?

Amtrak reports an increase in ridership on its Heartland Flyer rail line that runs between Oklahoma City and Ft. Worth. That trip costs you only $48, with whistle-stops in picturesque places like Ardmore, Norman, Purcell and Gainesville. So with the cost of a round-trip ticket slightly less than a tank of gasoline, ridership is up over 10%, and Amtrak is looking at the possibility of extending the service northward to Tulsa and Kansas City.

Forget the charm of riding the rails vs the personal convenience of taking your own car where ever you want to go. The thing that’s going to change the way we do things is pure and simple economics. If enough demand builds for train service, it will come.

Another downside of expensive fuel costs have been the untimely demise of electricity retailers, REP’s they’re called, which promise to sell you juice at a bargain rate while your neighbors roast this summer. Three of those outfits have “shorted-out” in the last several weeks, and according to my source with the Texas Energy Analyst, Alan Lammey, more are likely to follow.

Lammey explained that many of these REP’s were heavily leveraged, betting their books that the price of power would drop off in the Spring, as it seasonally has in past years. Didn’t happen this year, with $135/bbl oil futures, and $12.50 natural gas. In fact, most resellers aren’t even taking on new customers right now.

So if you’re already in a plan with a rate of less than 16-cents/kwh, consider yourself lucky—unless your REP kills the current. Lammey says the phrase that pays for electricity providers, and their customers, is “Survive the Summer.”
Hope we all do!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama vs Clinton: Winning where it Counts

The horse race to the White House just gets stranger and stranger by the day. Last night’s presumed majority win of Democrat delegates by Barak Obama was somewhat soured by Hillary Clinton’s refusal to concede the race, leaving questions in everyone’s mind about what might lie ahead.

Actually, those questions have never been fully addressed, as both Democrats’ campaigns have been more focused on form than substance, dotted with more platitudes than solid plans for the change they so desperately advertise.

A recent Rasmussen Poll notes that while most voters are pining for change, they also believe the best thing Government could do to improve the economy is to butt-out. Here’s the interesting part: Rasmussen's numbers show more voters trust the Democrats more than the Republicans to get it right, but they trust Sen. John McCain more than Sen. Obama.
Go figure.

I don’t think the fat lady has sung yet (not a swipe at Hillary) especially when you digest some of the numbers: Mrs. Clinton’s leads were accomplished thru the primary contests, while Mr. Obama’s gains came from the caucuses (caucusi?)

Ironic, don’t you think, that the Democrats’ candidate in this Fall’s elections might not come from the popular vote?

By the way, Sen. Obama tried to reach Sen. Clinton after her speech last night. Twice. Got her voice mail both times. Ever wonder what Hillary Clinton's voice mail greeting might sound like?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Back on the...Ether

Some of you have asked whether/how I might return to you in some audible electronic form any time soon.
Thanks for asking.
I'm working on it.

Meanwhile, a teaser:
What’s happening in the US automobile market?
Are we the people, accursed with $4/gal+ gasoline, destined for a diet of nothing but nano-sized econoboxes from here on?

Those were a couple of questions posed to me recently by a media colleague, Loren Steffy, business columnist for the Houston Chronicle. The juicy details will be shared tomorrow at Noon CDT on a blogcast he has arranged for us to both “broadcast” on the internet.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that the US’ dependence on foreign oil has created a marketplace in which domestic automobiles are losing share to foreign-manufactured cars…and to rub salt in the wound, the markets in which most all of the automakers are making it are outside the US!

Has Detroit completely missed the boat?

Ford’s Marketing and Communications czar, Jim Farley, yesterday remarked in a conference call that the industry is only now catching up with the ”breath-taking choices” the rest of us are having to make. Those choices are finally forcing changes in the way carmakers make cars...and trucks. Interestingly, fewer of the latter than the former are on the horizon.

American Honda’s head honcho, Dick Colliver, released a statement, admitting “the dramatic increase in car sales appears to be one of the most profound shifts in automotive buying patterns in more than a decade."

Profound may be the understatement of the decade. A recent Canadian study notes that 90% of Americans have already altered our lifestyles significantly in the face of rising fuel costs: dining-out less, driving less, and now, more and more, considering a hybrid automobile as their next transportation purchase.
Detroit didn’t see this coming?

Things are so bad for the domestics, General Motors is thinking of ditching its Hummer line, and will be closing four assembly plants within the next 24-months. It wasn’t all that long ago that Trucks and SUV’s were the prime profit makers for GM and Ford.
My, how things have changed.

Look soon for Chevrolet’s gasoline-electric hybrid, the Volt, and a new range of engines in the 1- to 1.5-litre displacement range. Meanwhile, what to do with existing inventories of gas-thirsty vehicles?

Chrysler has about a 75-day supply of SUV’s on hand, offering gasoline price guarantees as sales incentives. And Ford is rolling out employee pricing carrots to push their slow-selling F-150 pickups. You can buy one for the same price a Ford employee could. Or would.

We’ll talk about it more with you tomorrow.
I’ll see you on the Internet.