Follow the Money

June 11, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE DEALERSHIP – Oh, hi. I am just picking out what color Lamborghini I’m going to buy. You should do the same, because Big Bux are headed this way. And we deserve to get our share. The story, a scandal, really, is fairly well known. From 2006 to September 2015, nearly a decade, Volkswagen had a great way of selling more cars in the U.S. than Toyota, to become the world’s number one carmaker. Their aces in the hole were “clean diesel” vehicles. Fawning press reports stated: “About 580,000 such sedans, SUVs, and crossovers were sold in the U.S. under the company’s VW, Audi, and Porsche marques. With great fanfare, including Super Bowl commercials, the company flacked an environmentalist’s dream: high performance cars that managed to achieve excellent fuel economy and emissions so squeaky clean as to rival those of electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius.”

There was just one problem: It was a hoax, a con job. In a nutshell, VW altered its test cars to produce lower pollution and higher mileage than those actually sold on the market. The scam was discovered, VW executives – the plot was known to the highest levels – were hauled into court, and a fine was recently levelled: $2.7 billion. Texas gets about $30 million, enough to cover a pay raise for our legislators. No, the money is supposed to go to programs to improve our infrastructure with encouragement for more electric cars with more charging stations, that sort of thing. Gov. Greg Abbott chose the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) as the lead agency responsible for the administration of funds. That’s the same toothless TCEQ that has cleaned up our air so that the American Lung Association’s 2018 scorecard gave all of the big Texas cities poor marks for ozone pollution.

That’s the idea: millions of dollars to clean up our air. Good luck. We should remember the Master Settlement Agreement, or MSA. That was the deal in 1998 in which the tobacco industry would pay out $246 billion over 25 years to treat tobacco-related health issues and to prevent young people from taking up the cancer sticks. Ah, but did anyone really think Big Tobacco would shell out all that money? The entire cost of the settlement is being paid – not by the tobacco companies, but by smokers through price increases.

Where did that tobacco money go? The settlement made no mention of how the states would spend it, so you will recall from previous discussions on this matter, Michigan spent 75 percent of its settlement funds on scholarships for high school students. New York allocated $250 million for debt reduction. While only spending $5 million on youth smoking prevention, Illinois dropped $22.1 million to improve state buildings. Two Nevada PBS stations received $2 million to develop high-definition TV capabilities in exchange for airing some anti-tobacco ads. Niagara County in upstate New York spent $700,000 in tobacco settlement funds for a sprinkler system at a public golf course. The county also spent $24 million for a county jail and office building. In Wrangell, Alaska, $3.5 million of the tobacco settlement money was used to renovate shipping docks. In Los Angeles, former Mayor Richard Riordan proposed using $100 million in tobacco money to defend cops who are accused of planting drugs and guns on suspects. He was turned down.

North Carolina spent $42 million of the settlement funds to market tobacco and modernize the tobacco curing process. North Carolina also gave $200,000 in tobacco money to the Carolina Horse Park, an equestrian center near Pinehurst, N.C. The center defended the grant, saying it will boost economic development. But local taxpayer groups thought the allocation was wasteful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that states should spend approximately $3.3 billion per year on tobacco prevention and education, but the states budgeted a little less than 2 percent of that money, or less than $500 million. That means that for every dollar the states got from the tobacco settlement, two cents was spent on preventive programs.

Texas got $17.3 billion, so how was it spent? I mean, have you seen any anti-smoking TV ads? I, haven’t. It reminds us of that little box you could check on your electric bill that would add one dollar – a single buck – to help cover the electric bills of poor souls who couldn’t pay for their a/c in the summer. The Legislature took those millions, and funneled them into the general treasury. Then there were the lawyers. The national tobacco settlement was and remains by far the largest money transfer in the history of plaintiff litigation, and attorney fees just kept mounting. In Texas, five lawyers took on the tobacco industry, which until then had won every single court battle, on a contingence fee — if they lost, they got zero. The Tobacco Five, as they were known, won and received $3.3 billion, another record.

Back to our impending fortune. Texas has an unexpected windfall of approximately $30 million from VW. The money is supposed to be spent to clean up the air, including something about reducing nitrogen oxides in the environment. I have no idea what a nitrogen oxide is, but we’ve got to figure neither does the clerk at the TCEQ who is handling the millions. So we start a company called Nitrogen Oxide of the United States, or NOXIOUS. Slogan: “We clean up stuff!” How about a car company manufacturing automobiles called the Eletrix? The car runs on gasoline, but what Austin bureaucrat is going to stick his head under the hood to see?

It would be interesting to find out, in a few years, exactly where that $30 million went, and if all that money actually made even a slight difference in Texas’ air pollution. For us, this is a can’t-miss gold mine. Make room in your garage for that Lamborghini. I understand it has low emissions and is very fuel efficient.


Ashby gets rich at ashby2@comcast.net

Hoax Springs Eternal

June 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE WATCHTOWER – They are out there somewhere, and I’m going to do my civic and find ‘em, capture ‘em and terminate ‘em with extreme prejudice, as the CIA puts it. (This is the same government agency which refers to torture as “enhance interrogation.”) I am looking for the enemy of America. No, not the press, as President Trump calls the media, rather, I am looking for Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik. You remember them, the two Russian agents who came to Texas to check out our gullibility and paranoia. At the same time, I am keeping a wary eye on either a roundup of Obama opponents or a military takeover of Texas. And here comes the zinger: the two – Russian spies and a military roundup — are connected. Who would have thought?

But let me go back to the beginning, because this is one ridiculous story that makes Texas look, well, ridiculous. In 2015 word went out that the U.S. military was going to conduct an exercise called Jade Helm 15. Although the name sounds like one of Stormy Daniels’ co-workers, it was actually an annual maneuver taking place in several states, including Texas. But rumors spread that Jade Helm 15 was a cover for an Obama plan to round up political opponents or an outright military takeover. Gov. Greg Abbott became so concerned that he called out the Texas State Guard to monitor the military. Incidentally, this is NOT the National Guard — the governor of Texas has sole control over the State Guard because it is not subject to federal activation and thus could not be used for a military takeover.

Abbott wrote to the guard commander, Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty, “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” As best as I can determine, Abbott’s firm action prevented a roundup or takeover, although around Christmas I did spot members of the Salvation Army ringing bells, and there is an Old Navy store in every mall. But Abbott’s actions made our state look downright stupid.

Now we drop the other boot. As you and I recall, those two Russian agents, Krylova and Burchik, the real Natasha and Boris, visited Texas in June of 2014 to gather intelligence. These were not your run-of-the-steppes agents of the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin’s disinformation and sneaky election-changing department. Krylova was described as the agency’s third-highest-ranking agent. Burchik was described as the executive director or second-highest-ranking agent. They bought political ads under fake names and staged political rallies. The two got email servers like Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook to pass along their messages. They even set up fraudulent bank names to open PayPal accounts to pay for their work. The pair organized rallies in Houston, same place, same time. One was pro-Islam, the other anti-Islam, hoping for a fight that never materialized. The Ruskies had a false name to cover their work: “Matt Skiber.”

Texans’ gullibility and paranoia was the green light for President Vladimir Putin. Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, said the Jade Helm 15 controversy in 2015 was used by the Russians as a test to see how much influence they could exert through online means. “They took their game to North America in 2015, and I won’t belabor it here, but there was an exercise in Texas called Jade Helm 15 that Russian bots and the American alt-right media convinced most — many — Texans was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”

“It got so much traction that the governor of Texas had to call out the National Guard (again, it was Texas State Guard) to observe the federal exercise to keep the population calm. At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying ‘We can go big time’ and at that point I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.'” Hayden, our chief spy, said the Jade Helm 15 misinformation campaign was “a strategy that reports indicate they have continued to use to sow division on other issues since then, including in the 2016 presidential election.” Hayden later said he flatly believes Putin helped elect Trump.

So the Jade Helm 15 hoax in Texas was a pilot project which proved so successful that Putin ordered similar schemes to be used in the entire nation to get Trump elected. Be proud, Texas. But now we come to the next phase. As Hayden said, “they have continued to sow division on other issues since then.” This means the Internet Research Agency is still churning out misinformation, the real fake news, neatly disguised as ABC, CNN and the Washington Post, with ridiculous stories about porn stars, mass hirings and firings in the White House, even reports that Trump dyes his hair. Have they no shame?

As for Texans, given our track record, obviously we are in the crosshairs. We’ll believe anything. So, as the expression goes, “Be alert. This country needs more alerts.” With the fall elections cranking up, be prepared for an onslaught of rumors, fake news and doctored photos. Expect to see emails about a candidate’s pedophile background, his-to-her operation or tax cheating. Indeed, some candidates won’t even reveal their federal income taxes. Be suspicious of anyone who orders borscht or drinks vodka. Eastern European accents are a dead giveaway, unless she’s married to a President. We all know that Deep State is conniving to undermine the current administration, so report any politician who was secretly born in Africa or wants to pry your mortar from your cold, dead hands. Be especially suspicious of anyone named Matt Skiber. Putin wants us to be cynical, suspicious, and believe any story that strengthens our own beliefs. To avoid this, we must be cynical, suspicious and believe any story that strengthens our own beliefs. Meanwhile. I am in this watchtower guarding you against the truth.


Ashby is alert at ashby2@comcast.net

Masaki Oishi, MD, PHD

May 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Oishi, Masaki, MD, PhD, Top Docs

Masaki Oishi, MD, PhD
Kraus Back & Neck Institute, Neurosurgery, PA

kraus_oishi_2016The Kraus Back and Neck Institute (KBNI) is honored to be featured in the Top Doctor Issue of H Texas for the 10th consecutive year. Dr. Gary Kraus and Dr. Masaki Oishi, both top-rated neurosurgeons, strive to provide the highest-quality service to patients, in a compassionate and caring environment. Physicians at the KBNI have learned, after having treated more than 30,000 patients, that the best way to meet the needs and expectations of the patient is through excellent communication. “No two patients have the same problem or desires,” says Dr. Oishi. “It is our role, as neurosurgeons, to diagnose what is causing a patient’s difficulties, explain it to them, and together with the patient, formulate a treatment plan which will best meet their expectations.”

Physicians at the KBNI have treated patients with neck pain, back pain, and spine and brain disorders, and continue to focus on the most important issue—the needs and goals of the patient. The result has been years of highly satisfied patients.

“Frequently, surgery is not necessary to help patients suffering with pain,” says Dr. Kraus. “Patients often achieve excellent results with nonsurgical treatments such as chiropractic treatments and physical therapy…at times, epidural steroid injections, sacro-iliac joint injections and facet blocks may also be very beneficial.” Dr. Oishi adds: “The advantage of being evaluated by a highly experienced team is that patients can be shown and educated about their problem, which helps them to make the best decision, be it surgical intervention or conservative care, to heal their pain and restore their quality of life.” It is this conservative approach, of avoiding surgery when possible, but using the most current and advanced minimally invasive surgical techniques when necessary, that has gained the confidence of many satisfied patients to refer their trusted family and friends for care.

“Many patients come to see us because they have low-back or neck pain, leg or arm pain, and weakness,” adds Dr. Kraus. “They may have been in an accident, and suffered trauma to their spine. Many patients are scared, depressed and fearful. Pain has taken over their lives, their families and their jobs.” Adds Dr. Oishi: “A big fear of patients is that they may require a large operation. Many are relieved to know that there are often numerous treatment options available to improve their pain without an operation.”

Many patients treated at the KBNI have experienced significant improvements in their pain, and many have “gotten their lives back.” Patients have said, “I wish I had gotten treatment a long time ago. For the first time in years, I have no pain.” The goal at the KBNI is to restore patients’ function, and get people back to their lives with their families and their jobs. This provides the ultimate satisfaction to the doctors and staff at the KBNI.

“Most patients don’t need to see the inside of an operating room,” Dr. Kraus points out. “So don’t live in fear and pain,” advises Dr. Oishi.

Dr. Oishi was born and raised in the United States, and was awarded the National Institutes of Health National Research Service Award in 1989. He is board-certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, and is a Fellow of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. He was awarded the Congress of Neurological Surgeons Wilder Penfield Clinical Investigation Fellowship in spine surgery in 2002, and is one of the very few fellowship-trained spine surgeons in the state of Texas. Dr. Oishi has been in practice for 16 years, and also holds a PhD in Neuroscience from the prestigious Rockefeller University in New York City. He has been nominated to the AANS/CNS Joint Guidelines Committee.

Publications include chapters in the textbook Spine: State of the Art Reviews (STARs), as well as multiple papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Neurosurgery, Journal of Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Medicine and the EMBO Journal.

Specialty: Neurosurgery

Education: Cornell University Medical College, New York, NY, MD; Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, NY, Residency in Neurosurgery; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, Fellowship Spine Surgery

Gary E. Kraus, MD, FAANS
Masaki Oishi, MD, PhD
Kraus Back & Neck Institute
Neurosurgery, PA

(281) 44-NEURO (446-3876)
www.spinehealth.com
www.spinesurgery.com

West Houston Medical Center
12121 Richmond Ave., Ste. 324
Houston, TX 77082
(281) 870-9292

Memorial Hermann Memorial City, Building III
915 Gessner, Ste. 360
Houston, TX 77024
(281) 44-NEURO

The Woodlands Office
3101 College Park Dr.
The Woodlands, TX 77384
(281) 44-NEURO

Humble Office
1485 FM 1960 Bypass E., Ste. 340
Humble, TX 77338
(281) 44-NEURO

Katy Office
1331 West Grand Parkway N., Ste. 320
Katy, TX 77082
(281) 44-NEURO

West University/Galleria
3391 Westpark
Houston, TX 77005
(281) 44-NEURO

Terry K. Scarborough, MD

Terry K. Scarborough, MD
Texas Laparoscopic Consultants

scarborough_yuWhen looking for the top physicians in the field of weight-loss surgery, Drs. Terry Scarborough and Sherman Yu bring excellence and expertise. They are both board-certified general surgeons with fellowship training in minimally invasive and bariatric surgery.

Drs. Yu and Scarborough offer the entire spectrum of weight-loss procedures. They have been recognized as Houston’s top doctors for weight-loss surgery. Drs. Yu and Scarborough’s top priorities are safety, satisfaction and excellence in patient outcomes. And, First Surgical Hospital is TLC’s leading choice in a surgical care facility, where patients will find outstanding services in the most comfortable of settings.

In addition to patient care, both doctors are champions for local charities, Kids Meals and Cycle Kids. Kids Meals goal is to end childhood hunger, and Cycle Kids aims to strengthen healthy lifestyle habits.

At TLC Surgery, we have an entire practice dedicated to helping patients succeed with your weight-loss goals via surgical and non-surgical techniques. What sets TLC Surgery apart from other practices is their dedication to helping patients live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Texas Laparoscopic Consultants offer: Medically Supervised Weight-loss Program • Single Incision Surgery • Gastric Balloon • Weight-loss Surgery Revision • Adjustable Gastric Band • Anti-Reflux Procedures • Gastric Sleeve • General Laparoscopic Surgery • Gastric Bypass • Duodenal Switch

TEXAS LAPAROSCOPIC CONSULTANTS
1200 Binz, Ste. 950
Houston, TX 77004
713-493-7700

www.tlcsurgery.com

Shitel Patel, MD

Shitel Patel, MD
Lift Plastic Surgery

Dr. Patel is a renowned plastic surgeon who is double-boarded in Plastic Surgery and General Surgery, with an additional fellowship from the prestigious University of Texas-Southwestern in Craniofacial Surgery. Dr. Patel has been published numerous times in PRS (Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery) and the Journal of Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery for his cutting-edge research and methods starting from very early in his career. He has been invited to present at the top conferences for Plastic Surgery, including ASPS (American Society of Plastic Surgeons) and Texas Society for Plastic Surgery.

His unique ability to precisely execute a range of procedures, from Reconstructive to Cosmetic, Pediatric to Adult, while fostering a close, compassionate rapport with his patients makes him very fortunate to run two busy offices—in the heart of the Medical Center and Clear Lake. His reviews constantly tout his thorough explanations of procedures and technical methods that allow him to earn both his patients and their family’s trust. He uses state-of-the-art methods and an artistic hand to deliver results that are exceptional and account for the body aging gracefully, which leads to very happy clientele.

When a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Patel is recognized by top Houston hospitals and doctors, including other Plastic Surgeons, to be able to take the patient through the entire process: from initial diagnosis to resection and reconstruction with a well-planned cosmetic result that creatively hides the scars. This includes implant-based reconstruction and the use of your own tissue (i.e., DIEP flaps), to create the most natural and beautiful result. Lift Plastic Surgery is the only practice in Houston and Clear Lake to offer one-stop total breast care.

Houston Location
7400 Fannin St., Ste. 1240
Houston, TX 77054
832-835-1131

Webster Location
210 Genesis Blvd., Ste. B
Webster, TX 77598
832-835-1131

liftplastics.com

Calvin Jung, MD

May 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Jung, Calvin, MD, Top Docs

Calvin Jung, MD
Cosmetic Surgery

Body sculpting is the secret to looking and feeling your best, and at Premiere Surgical Arts that’s what they do best. Dr. Calvin Jung, who’s double board-certified in cosmetic surgery and oral and maxillofacial surgery, focuses mostly on liposuction and fat transfer using the latest advancements at his Houston-based practice. “Watching the transformation is amazing,” he says, “and for most patients, it’s life-changing.”

In addition to Dr. Jung’s covetable Brazilian butt lift, patients flock to the office to see Nurse Sabrina Balloun, known for her artistic touch when it comes to injectables (filler/botox/kybella).

A believer in quality over quantity, Dr. Jung helms a small staff who takes the time to get to know each person. “You get the five-star experience. You don’t feel like you have walked into a doctor’s office.”

Premiere Surgical Arts
2024 Richmond Ave.
Houston TX, 77098
832-930-7660 • premieresurgicalarts.com

Bo Allaire, MD

May 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Allaire, Bo, MD, Top Docs

Bo Allaire, MD
Addiction Medicine

Contemporary Medicine Associates congratulates Bo Allaire, MD on being named a Houston Top Doc!

Dr. Allaire is the Chief Medical Officer of Contemporary Medicine Associates (CMA). He is board-certified in both family medicine and addiction medicine and specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of substance use disorders. CMA’s doctors, nurses and mental health professionals compassionately provide medical and mental health services to patients struggling with or in recovery from addiction or other psychiatric disorders. Dr. Allaire lives in Richmond, Texas with his wife Lauren, their two sons Ethan and Luke and their English bulldog Molly.

Contemporary Medicine Associates
6565 West Loop S., Ste. 525
Bellaire, TX 77401
713-661-7888 • cmamed.com

Jennifer Chen Hopkins, MD

Jennifer Chen Hopkins, MD
Sleep Disorders Specialist

Although research has consistently proven that sleep is crucial for good health, many of us don’t get the rest we need. At the Sleep Health Clinic of The Woodlands, Dr. Jennifer Hopkins utilizes the latest technologies in a caring, compassionate environment to treat and change the lives of people with sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, chronic insomnia, restless legs syndrome and more.

“The work we do to help our patients get a better night’s sleep can positively impact nearly every ailment they have, from abnormal heart rhythms to chronic pain to depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Hopkins, a fellowship-trained specialist with board certifications in Sleep Medicine, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. “Investing in sleep is an investment in your health.”

Sleep Health Clinic of The Woodlands, P.A.
8505 Technology Forest Pl., Ste. 1002
The Woodlands, TX 77381
281-719-5190 • sleephealthwoodlands.com

Nilesh Kotecha, MD, FACS, FAANS

Nilesh Kotecha, MD, FACS, FAANS
Least Invasive Neurospine Surgery

Dr. Nilesh N. Kotecha founded The Texas Institute for Spine Care to provide state-of-the-art care using the least-invasive, most cutting-edge technology, including lasers, for patients afflicted with neck and back pain. Dr. Kotecha is a neurosurgeon who graduated from Brown University and has completed two different fellowships: Complex and Reconstructive Spine Surgery and Endoscopic Laser Spine Surgery.

Having been trained by top neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, his skills allow him to treat patients with the least invasive techniques possible and, in most cases, administering only minimal anesthesia allowing for same day surgery and discharge. These are procedures that most surgeons don’t regularly perform; few have attempted them at all.

Why do hundreds of satisfied patients recommend Dr. Kotecha to their families and friends? Because he offers a truly unique approach to modern spine care that is laser-focused on getting each patient back to enjoying life as soon as possible. His depth of knowledge and ability to perform any procedure in a way that allows his patients to get immediate relief and the best long-term results sets him apart from the rest.

Texas Institute for Spine Care
950 Threadneedle St., Ste. 295
Houston, TX 77079
844-600-1616 • Helaspine.com

Edward I. Lee, MD

Edward I. Lee, MD
Plastic Surgery

Dr. Lee is a board-certified, fellowship-trained plastic surgeon serving the greater Houston area. Dr. Lee is an experienced and highly-skilled surgeon, having completed numerous years of specialty training in the areas of plastic and reconstructive surgery. He was recognized with an esteemed teaching award in 2016 from Baylor College of Medicine’s Division of Plastic Surgery. He also earned a spot on “Super Doctor®” Rising Stars list and is one of “Houston’s Top Doctors” by H Texas magazine.

Dr. Lee is a world-renowned lecturer, presenter, and researcher in the plastic and reconstructive surgery field and performs plastic surgeries around the globe. As a respected member of the medical community, Dr. Lee pursued his personal dream, and opened his own private practice in the spring of 2016.

At Nuveau Plastic Surgery and Medical Aesthetics, Dr. Lee and his staff strive to provide the highest quality services, while allowing the patients to feel comfortable, confident, and at-ease with their decisions. With a full spectrum of surgical and non-surgical treatment options available, Dr. Lee and his staff are able to offer an individualized, custom treatment plan that is personalized to fit both the short-term and long-term goals and desires of each patient.

NUVEAU PLASTIC SURGERY
546 Waugh Dr.
Houston, TX 77019
713-526-1220 • nuveauplasticsurgery.com

Jacqueline Wegge, MD

Jacqueline Wegge, MD
Lift Plastic Surgery

Dr. Wegge is a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon specializing in Craniofacial Surgery and total breast cancer care. She is board-certified in general surgery, completed her plastic surgery training at UT Houston, and then went on to finish a craniofacial fellowship at UT Southwestern.

Throughout her training, she was fortunate to learn from many great mentors and experts in the field before joining her colleague Dr. Patel at Lift Plastic Surgery in 2017 in a practice they are both extremely proud of. It is her goal to spend the time necessary to make every patient feel like they are safe, well-informed and an integral part of their own treatment plan.

The fact that she and Dr. Patel are fully trained in general and plastic surgery makes them a uniquely equipped team, able to offer total care for breast cancer patients from beginning to end. Dr. Wegge provides a wide array of plastic and reconstructive surgery services, with an emphasis on breast surgery, cosmetic surgery and pediatric plastic surgery. She wants every patient to enjoy their experience and feel as though they can be proud of their results. Her extensive training and artistic eye provides a unique skill set and perspective to help patients reach their ultimate goals.

Houston Location
7400 Fannin St., Ste. 1240
Houston, TX 77054
832-835-1131

Webster Location
210 Genesis Blvd., Ste. B
Webster, TX 77598
832-835-1131

liftplastics.com

Getting Down and Dirty

May 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE YARD – OK, my last get-rich-scheme didn’t work, but how was I to know that Trump would be such unifier? This time, it’s a sure-fire bonanza. I’m going to sell dirt. You laugh, so I will explain. The New York Times runs the Times Insider, which delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at the paper. The book editor explains how her staff reviews about 3 percent of the books they receive. Covering the White House is most interesting. Often the first-person articles are very funny or self-deprecating. Recently, the paper ran a story in that series about how their science writer, who focuses on climate change (yes, with 1,200 journalists they can specialize) went looking for a bag of dirt. Not very scientific, but important to him and his family.

You see, the reporter is John Schwartz. Both he and his wife, Jeanne, are from Texas, but they were living in New York City, unable to return home for the birth of their first child, and they wanted the baby to at least be born over Texas soil. Schwartz got friends back home to send him Texas soil from various parts of the state, including his home, Galveston. One friend also sent some soil — he said he chipped a piece off the Alamo, too, but Schwartz didn’t believe him. He wrote: “It might sound like a nutty idea, but it wasn’t a new one. I first heard of it during a study abroad program in Siena, Italy, in the 1970s. The Sienese have fierce loyalty to their neighborhoods, or contrade. Since there was, historically, only one hospital in one contrada, people from the others would bring some dirt from their own neighborhood into the delivery room for births.”

The expectant father checked with the delivering doctor about the idea. She said it was fine (she was Italian) so long as the dirt was in a sealed container and placed underneath the delivery table. Alas, after all the trouble, Swartz was stuck in traffic and missed the birth of daughter Elizabeth. End of story? Not quite. Schwartz explains: “Despite the frequent characterization of people who work at The New York Times as Northeastern elites, we come from all over the nation, and the world.” He wrote that some of the journalists want to pass that heritage on to their kids, which is how a humble bag of dirt became a newsroom resource.

Other Times’ Texans heard of the bag and one by one sought out the soil for the birth of their own Texpatriates. Once Schwartz had to race downtown to greet an impending father who stepped out of the delivery room to meet Schwartz in a hospital hallway. He tossed the bag. His fellow Times’ journalist snapped it out of the air and ran back to the delivery room just in time. Last October, the Times Metro reporter, Emma Fitzsimmons, borrowed the bag for the birth of her first child, Hudson. Her dad wrapped the bag in a little Texas flag and, the new mother later related, she “touched the flag to his cute little baby toes within a few hours of his birth so that he would ‘step foot on Texas soil before any other.’” The flag remains wrapped around the bag for more births.

Swartz got resolutions from the Texas State Senate that mentioned the dirt and declared Elizabeth “a child of the Lone Star State.” (The resolution did not, alas, declare her eligible for in-state tuition.) He kept the bag for the births of their second and third children. “They got resolutions, too. Resolutions are fairly easy to get when your father is a former member of the State Senate.” His father was State Sen. A.R. “Babe” Swartz, whom I covered along with the rest of the lawmakers back then. Babe was a liberal Democrat (everyone was a Dem at that time) whom I remember because he once got in a fist fight with another senator on the floor of the Senate.

This bag of dirt story has a particular resonance with me, because I, too, worked at The New York Times, for seven years, which was too long, I should have come home before then. I worked in the Times City Room writing hourly news for the paper’s radio station. Never made it to the big time, but it was fun, and maybe I should have stayed longer. Despite what some like hear about failing newspapers and declining circulation, the Times has more readers than ever, and more than half read it on-line. Today, all those Texans working at the paper, is a big change. Back when I worked there, I was the Token Texan, the Lone Star Loner. It was a delicate time, because the Southern civil rights campaign was in full strength, and New Yorkers, having a perfect civil rights record, simply didn’t like Texans or any other Southerners. Things got really testy for us Dallasites on Nov. 22, 1963. A friend of mine from Big D was visiting a NYC office when another man ran in and shouted: “Now you’ve done it! You’ve killed our president!” I was regarded with suspicion, but no one messed with me.

This bag of Texas dirt program is actually not new. It used to be that some state office, probably the Texas Land Office, would mail a bag of Texas dirt to any former and homesick Texpatriate at no charge. They may still do it, I don’t know, but this brings me to why I am digging up dirt from my yard. It’s part of my latest get-rich-scheme: selling Texas dirt, plus smog from the Houston Ship Channel, cow droppings from the Panhandle and hot air from the Legislature.

No, I didn’t do the dirt bit. We have three kids. Two were born in NYC and live in Houston. One was born in Houston and lives in NYC. Go figure.


Ashby is dirty at ashby2@comcast.net

Sandhya J. Prashad, MD

Sandhya J. Prashad, MD
Psychiatry

“Ketamine therapy is helping the best of me shine while quieting the thoughts and anxiety that can so often be self-defeating. It has, quite simply, been life-changing.”—Jack, patient

Up to one-third of patients with depression do not respond to several attempts at treatment or struggle with side effects. Dr. Prashad refused to settle for the relatively ineffective treatments available to these patients and decided to seek out the most evidence-based, innovative options.

She first became interested in IV ketamine because of the robust, rapid results and lack of side effects between treatments. Patients often notice that depression dramatically improves in a matter of days. Additionally, she became the first physician in the Houston area to offer deep transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy. This revolutionary approach to treating psychiatric conditions without medication is considered the most advanced TMS system currently available and is covered by insurance.

Dr. Prashad is a board-certified psychiatrist, who completed both medical school and residency at Baylor College of Medicine. She understands that any one treatment, no matter how cutting-edge, can’t be the right solution for everyone, and that treatments must be customized for each patient. Her patients describe her as compassionate, insightful and approachable, and above all, 100 percent dedicated to helping them achieve their goals.

 


Sandhya J. Prashad, MD

Houston Ketamine Therapeutics & Deep TMS
6565 West Loop South, Ste. 530
Bellaire, TX 77401
832-436-4055
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New Kid on the Block and Tackle

One gray winter Sunday night in the 1960s I was working at a New York City newspaper when a colleague came across the city room holding a sheet of paper. He said to me, “You think we ought to run these scores?” They were the results of that afternoon’s games played by something called the American Football League. Most New Yorkers had never heard of the AFL, or even their own team, the New York Titans, which in 1963 became the Jets. The story goes that the AFL came about because Lamar Hunt of Dallas, son of H.L. Hunt, wanted a National Football League team in his town, but was turned down. So in 1959 he called up the richest person he knew in a number of cities and asked if they would put up $25,000 for a franchise — Barron Hilton in Los Angeles, Bud Adams in Houston, and so on.

For years the AFL played before sparse crowds in lousy stadiums until it got big enough, and competitive enough, to merge with the NFL. With the addition of several new franchises, today the NFL is a billion-dollar operation. But wait. Are ya ready for even more football? There is a new pro football league shaping up, and games may be played at a high school stadium near you, or maybe Houston has finally found a use for the Astrodome. Yes, here we go again, with high hopes, lots of money invested by armatures who haven’t the foggiest idea of what they are doing. Then again, that 25K the AFL owners spent to own a team is today worth maybe a hundred thousand or so.

The new league is called the Alliance of American Football, and already has a TV contract with CBS. Plans are for the AAF not to compete with the NFL, but to give fans spring games. The season begins play Feb. 9, 2019, six days after Super Bowl LII in Atlanta. The founders describe the league as “a feeder system for the NFL,” rather like the role minor league baseball plays with its not ready for prime time players. The league will consist of eight teams, although all the teams won’t be introduced until next month. So far Orlando, with Steve Spurrier as head coach, and Atlanta, with the infamous Michael Vick as a coach, have been assigned a franchise. In order to make the game faster and fan-friendly, there will be some rule differences from the NFL. The AAF is eliminating one of the most dangerous parts of football – kickoffs. Teams will start on their own 25-yard line after a score and at the start of each half. This means no onside kicks, but instead, the team that scores a touchdown gets the ball on its 35 in a 4th-and-10 situation. There will also be no extra points in the AAF as teams will be forced to go for a 2-point conversion.

Starting a new pro football league is monetarily suicidal. Remember Vince McMahon and his XFL league? It lasted one season, although McMahon will try again in 2020. The NFL is by far the nation’s most popular pro sport, but it has taken a hit the last two seasons. There was, and still is, the dispute over players taking a knee during the national anthem. TV ratings have dropped the last two seasons. Concussions have become a big problem. And there is overexposure with games on Saturdays after the colleges have taken a recess until the bowl games, Sunday afternoons and nights, Monday nights and now on Thursdays. For some fans, a saturation point has been reached.

At this point you are thinking, “If there’s gonna be a new football league, Houston should be at the table.” Well, the Bayou City has tried it before. There have been the Houston Texans in the World Football League. They moved to Louisiana to become the Shreveport Steamer. Over the years, in pro football, Houston has had the Oilers, Gamblers, Terror/Thunderbears, Outlaws, Marshals, Wild Riders, Texas Cyclones, Lightning and Stallions. Elsewhere in Texas, there were the San Antonio Texans in — of all things — the Canadian Football League. (Incidentally, on March 2, 2000, the new Houston franchise announced that the team name search had been narrowed down to five choices: Apollos, Bobcats, Stallions, Texans, and Wildcatters. Bobcats?) Then there were the Dallas Texans of the NFL, and therein lies a story. It was the 1952 season and the NFL put a franchise in Dallas, the Texans. One sports historian wrote: “The team is considered one of the worst teams in NFL history, both on (lowest franchise winning percentage) and off the field.” It lasted one season, went 1-11, and moved in mid-season to Hershey, Penn., then to Akron, Ohio. Remember that story the next time a Cowboy fan brings up football.

When the previously mentioned Lamar Hunt created the AFL, he named his team — what else? — the Dallas Texans. At that point the NFL decided Dallas deserved an NFL franchise after all. What a sudden change of heart. So Big D had two pro football teams. Eventually, Hunt moved his team to Kansas City where they became the Chiefs because the “Texans” handle didn’t do too well. Keeping that name would have been as bad as when Bud Adams moved the Oilers to Nashville and became the Nashville Oilers, then changed it to Titans, a totally meaningless handle. Adams probably felt safer in Nashville, since he was greatly disliked in Houston. When he announced the move, there was a rally in front of City Hall demanding that the Oilers stay put. Of a metropolitan population of several million, 100 people showed up. Adams once got in a fist fight at the Shamrock Hotel bar with Houston Post sportswriter Jack Gallagher. Later, someone told Jack, “Forget it. Adams is his own worst enemy.” Jack replied, “Not as long as I’m alive.”


Ashby is a fan at ashby2@comcast.net 

Birdies, Boats and Brews

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

by Greg Wettman

If world-class golf, beautiful lakes and rivers, and delicious craft beer are things that interest you, put North Alabama on your bucket list. The folks in this area take the tourism industry very seriously and have made it a prime destination for Houstonians wanting to take an affordable but luxurious vacation.

The Silver Lakes clubhouse; photo by Michael Clemmer

Legendary Golfing

In the early 1990s, a man named Dr. David Bronner managed the retirement systems of Alabama. He felt strongly that the state’s pension fund would stay healthy if its investments were diverse, and believed that building and operating a group of championship golf courses would be a sound investment. Somehow he convinced legendary golf course designer Robert Trent Jones to come out of semi-retirement to design the courses for this huge undertaking.

The original courses opened in 1992 and 1993, with seven locations and 324 holes of first-class championship golf. It became known across the golf world as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (RTJGT), and has since expanded to 26 courses in 11 locations around the state. These courses were designed to challenge the world’s best golfers while still providing an enjoyable and memorable round for beginners and casual golfers.

Five of the locations are in Northern Alabama, between Birmingham and Huntsville. These courses are particularly spectacular because they incorporate the beauty of the many lakes and rivers in the area as well as the stunning Southern Appalachian Mountains. Elevated tees and greens with gorgeous panoramic views are common on these courses. Here are the details on two of the can’t-miss courses:

Silver Lakes
Located near Gadsen, AL, Silver Lakes is one of RTJGT’s premier locations, with 36 holes of forests, wetlands and grasslands. There’s a short course and three championship nines named Backbreaker, Mindbreaker and Heartbreaker. Surrounded by the Appalachian foothills and Lee’s Lake, they each provide their own unique challenges and beauty, and feature dramatic elevation changes. All 36 holes boast Champion ultra-dwarf putting surfaces.

Hampton Grove

This location outside Huntsville has two championship courses: the Highlands and the River course. It also features an 18-hole links-style short course. The Highlands course was renovated in 2008 and restored to its original Scottish links design; long-waving grasses frame rolling terrain and many fluctuations in elevation. The River course is mostly flat as it winds its way along the Flint River, and has the distinction of being the only RTJGT course with no bunkers. Before thinking that might make it an easy course to score on, take note that it has water on 16 of the 18 holes! The course features massive oak trees, including an enormous, 250-year-old black oak behind the 18th green, touted as the third oldest in the state.

Green fees along the RTJGT average $50; during peak season, the highest fee at most courses is $64.

More Golf Heaven

There are other great courses to play in North Alabama that are not on the RTJGT. Twin Bridges Golf Club in Gadsen is a 6,800-yard layout set along the Coosa River featuring Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens. This course is enrolled in the Audubon’s Silver Signature Sanctuary program, which integrates natural resource conservation with economic progress and community education. It has a beautiful clubhouse atop a bluff overlooking the river, and houses a fully stocked pro shop and clubhouse grill. After golf, head over to Local Joe’s at Little Bridge Marina. Relax indoors or outdoors and enjoy some of the best smoked barbecue anywhere. Get the ribs!

Heading north, about halfway between Gadsen and Huntsville, is Guntersville. It’s nestled along scenic Lake Guntersville, home to Guntersville State Park. Alabama has six state parks with lodges and golf courses. The lodge and convention center at this location is outstanding in every way: It sits atop a foothill overlooking the lake, and each modern room has its own balcony with incredible views, not to mention the amenities of a fine hotel. The dining room and cocktail lounge are also excellent.

Across the road is The Eagle’s Nest Course at Lake Guntersville State Park. This unique course sits on top of Taylor Mountain and offers golfers majestic mountain scenery. It has many elevation changes throughout the course; the fairways are wide but tree-lined, and welcome strolling deer from time to time.

 

Also located in Guntersville is a course that is a true masterpiece called Gunter’s Landing. Some of the views from the tees will take your breath away, as they overlook the mountains and the Tennessee River. The elevation changes are dramatic, and some of the par-3s are over gorges. The staff goes the extra mile to make your golfing experience one you won’t forget.

About 10 miles from Guntersville, in Union Grove, AL, is a treasure known as Cherokee Ridge Country Club. This beautiful tract features a 17-acre lake on the front nine and an 80-foot waterfall cascading into Lynn’s Creek on the back 9. The lush fairways are Bermuda, and the greens are bentgrass. The signature par-3 fifth hole features five separate tees with bulkheads on the lake—it’s a photographer’s dream. Cherokee offers lodging at the newly renovated seven-bedroom Lake House overlooking the course and the lake. This Cape Cod–inspired facility has all the comforts of home, including a full kitchen, conference room, bar and living rooms. The huge back patio overlooking the lake has barbecue pits, rocking chairs, cozy tables and chairs. It will accommodate 15 to 20 guests for group gatherings, family reunions or just a weekend getaway.

Water, Water Everywhere

North Alabama has some of the most beautiful lakes, rivers and streams in North America, including the Tennessee River and Lake Guntersville. Lake Guntersville is Alabama’s largest lake—it’s 75 miles long and covers 69,000 acres—and was created by the building of Guntersville Dam on the Tennessee River. Surrounded by mountains and foothills, the scenic views on this lake are stunning.

Free boat ramps and private marinas dot the lake’s perimeter, and so do great places to eat and drink. One of the best is Somewhere on the Lake in Guntersville. This place is a beach bar that’s nowhere close to a beach. Not only does it have a fun atmosphere, but it offers an excellent menu featuring a wide variety of entrées from grouper to prime rib.

Lake Guntersville; photo by Brian Weis

The lake is widely known as one of the best bass fishing spots in the nation. Large-mouth bass are the main draw for anglers but the lake also has an abundant supply of other fish including brim, crappie and catfish. Boating, camping, kayaking, hunting and eagle watching are also popular activities on and around the lake.

The Tennessee River runs from the northwest corner of Alabama down through the heart of north Alabama and back up to the northeast corner of the state. It has been dammed up to form several lakes, and provides recreational activities as well as commercial transportation use. Flint Creek is a major tributary along the river, and is utilized for many water sports near its confluence with the river because of the vast width of the creek and calm waters that are created by the sheltering geography.

Beer Blast

The North Alabama Craft Brew Trail was unveiled in 2016 by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association to invite beer enthusiasts on a self-guided tour of eight craft microbreweries. Each microbrewery offers tours of the facility and awesome taprooms, where their unique beers can be sampled and purchased.

Back Forty Brewery in Gadsen is one of the first breweries to open in the area, and is currently the largest producer of alcoholic beverages in the state. Owner Jason Wilson is a walking encyclopedia of beer. The tour here is amazing: Back Forty uses almost only locally grown ingredients in its beer, and recycles the grain used in production through local cattle companies and bakeries so the hamburger patties and buns served in the taproom are “coming home.” The brewery produces a beer called Cart Barn that’s the official beer of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and is available at all their locations.

Yellowhammer Brewery in Huntsville is another mandatory stop. General manager and part owner Ethan Couch has built one of the best taprooms anywhere. In addition to the wide variety of award-winning beers offered, in 2015 the brewers paired the brews with popular former food truck Earth and Stone Wood-Fired Pizza to open a brick-and-mortar version at Yellowhammer’s new location. The result is a beer and pizza lover’s dream. Yellowhammer’s T-Minus Kolsch is a tangerine Kolsch named in honor of Tang, and is the official beer served at Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center nearby. The center is an official NASA visitor center and home of Space Camp. It provides a great experience while in Huntsville.

North Alabama offers these great destinations and more. There is a Wine Trail, a Barbeque Trail, a Birding Trail and a Hallelujah Trail featuring historic churches more than 100 years old.

Seven Miles of Bliss

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

by Matthew Abernathy

On a recent weekend getaway, my wife and I discovered a hidden gem on the west coast of Jamaica. The Royalton Negril Resort and Spa is nestled on one of the Caribbean’s most idyllic settings along a stretch of seven miles of the most beautiful beaches imaginable.

The Royalton Negril is an all-inclusive experience (they call it “All-In Luxury”), and we were blown away at the attention to detail put forth. (For starters, we were greeted with the warmest of welcomes that included chilled cocktails and cool eucalyptus wash cloths after a somewhat arduous trip from the airport in Montego Bay.) The resort features 407 elegantly appointed yet modern suites, as well as world-class, reservation-free dining, a top-tier spa, a splash park for the kids and a fitness center with all the bells and whistles. There’s no shortage of daily entertainment, and the nightly shows don’t disappoint. (More on those later.)

The lush view of Bloody Bay at the Royalton Negril.

A Dreamy Start

The resort is made up of three distinct sections—the Resort, the Diamond Club and the adults-only spot called The Hideaway at Royalton Negril—with the goal of personalizing your stay. Being that my wife and I were looking for a romantic getaway, we opted for The Hideaway. When we arrived at our room, we were greeted by our own personal butler who showed us around. Right away, I fell in love with the bed, which the butler explained was the resort’s very own handcrafted DreamBed—dreamy indeed! The rooms come equipped with Wi-Fi (there’s connectivity throughout the resort), and there’s also complementary long-distance phone calls to North America if you need to stay in touch with your loved ones back home.

Once we settled in, it was time for a bite to eat. We were delighted by the outdoor dining experience at Ocean Point Bistro. The food was excellent—we ordered the Chef’s tasting menu filled with delectable, fresh seafood and local fare. The staff was attentive, and the atmosphere on the bay was breathtaking. To finish off the night, we stopped by the popular Martini Mix; when you visit, you must try the espresso martini.

Natural Beauty

The next morning, we hit up the buffet at the Gourmet Marche. The restaurant offers a wide variety of both international and local favorites to please even the most discerning of palates. They even have a good selection of healthy options, and a designated section for the kiddos.

After our a.m. fuel session, we hopped on a bus to one of the most beautiful regions of the island that proved to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. We traveled off the beaten path and through the deep countryside and into the heart of Westmoreland, which includes the renowned Mayfield Falls. The picturesque area comprises several widely spaced cascades and all-natural pools (folklore purports healing powers of these pools).

The property is approximately 14 acres of exotic plants and wildlife, and our guides took the time to explain almost everything that we encountered along the way. With one mile of river and numerous cascades along the way, comfortable water shoes are a must At the end of the tour, we were treated to an authentic Rastafarian lunch of curried chicken and dirty rice—it was a real treat.

The stunning view from The Hideaway rooms.

A Meal to Remember

Later that evening, after a short rest in our room, we attended the C/X Culinary Experience. This seven-course meal was truly unique in both the ambience and the delicious food. Each course was presented by the executive chef with wine pairings and musical selections.

To round out the evening, we decided to attend one of the resort’s nightly entertainment venues. Magical Michael—inspired by Michael Jackson, of course—was the show of the night; it was lively and energetic, making for a fun night out.

A Bittersweet Goodbye

With one day left, it was time for some much-needed relaxation at The Royal Spa. The spa has an amazing hydrotherapy circuit, along with a full roster of treatments, including full-body massages, couples massages, body wraps and other therapeutic practices such as authentic shiatsu and Hawaiian Lomi Lomi.

Now we were relaxed and ready for our next outing at the iconic Rick’s Cafe. After a short bus ride, we were greeted at the front door of a very unassuming entrance; once we entered, we were left speechless!

Overlooking the bay on the far west end of Jamaica, the cliffs at Rick’s are known for some of the most beautiful, uninterrupted sunsets in the world. It’s a must when visiting Negril. The café was the first public bar and restaurant of its type on the West End Cliffs, offering an alternative to the majestic seven-mile beach.

The night was just getting started, though, and we were off to Hunter’s Steakhouse. The open-kitchen eatery made it the ideal place to watch as the chef and his crew cooked our aged beef steaks to perfection. We capped off the evening at the XS Disco Bar, where we knocked back creative cocktails and danced until the wee hours of the morning.

If you get the chance to visit Royalton Negril, make sure you have more than a few days to explore this side of Jamaica. I wish we would have had more time to discover the rest of the area, as we truly enjoyed every minute we spent in paradise, along the seven miles of bliss.

You can take exercise classes at this pool, complete with a swim-up bar and an ocean view.

Test the Waters

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog, Uncategorized

by Marion Jacob

Perched on the majestic Caribbean shores of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the Mayakoba Resort offers four exclusive luxury hotels surrounded by natural forests full of wildlife, freshwater lagoons and crystalline beaches. The newest is the long-awaited Andaz Mayakoba-Riviera Maya, a welcome addition to round out this spectacular master-planned retreat.

Mayakoba—which literally means “village of water”—prides itself on sustainability and protecting the natural environment, while creating a luxurious escape to what feels like another world. Wake up to bird calls from more than 200 species, and experience nature right from your room.

Get Appointed

Stay in the presidential suite at the Andaz, enveloped in tropical scenes of serene lagoons and lush greenery, or behold the Fairmont’s hypnotic waterfront views and superbly cultivated gardens. Lose yourself in the Rosewood’s ultra-comfort service and white-sand beaches, or rent a villa at the Banyan Tree with your own private plunge pool and garden terrace.

The Andaz Lobby.

Get Busy

Start off the day with a farm-to-table breakfast buffet at Cocina Milagro at the Andaz, overlooking the pool, or enjoy a good book while swinging in one of the hanging-egg wicker chairs. Set up tee time at El Camaleón, a world-class golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and home to the PGA Tour OHL Classic.

Like a chameleon, the surrounding vistas change from mangroves and cenotes to sand dunes and white beaches. Take a ride in a golf cart tram through the winding roads of the exotic forests to El Pueblito, El Corazón de Mayakoba (the Heart of Mayakoba). Here, you can shop at boutiques filled with handmade textiles and pottery, take a cooking class at El Pueblito Cooking School or eat lunch at La Fondita. In between meals, enjoy a refreshing fruity drink at Bang Teng Thai or coffee at El Cafecito. On Sundays, they hold Mass at Santa Cruz Chapel, which is followed by the weekly farmers’ market.

Mayakoba offers a variety of activities, including hiking and biking through meandering nature trails, bird watching for those rare and unique species, honing your archery skills on the four-target range, or taking a guided kayak tour through the Mayakoba waterways.

A boat in the lagoon.

Get Fed

You can also take a leisurely tour of the entire resort via the Mayakoba Connection ferry service. Stop by each of the hotels to enjoy a meal and live music from the myriad restaurant options: tasty tostadas and tequila from Olla Ceviche at Andaz; authentic Thai cuisine from Saffron at the Banyan Tree; sushi from Agave Azul at the Rosewood; or golf club standbys and Latin wines at Koba on El Camaleón.

Get Rejuvenated

The 24-hour butler service at the Rosewood, with personalized room service and housekeeping, is the ultimate way to relax. Use the Rosewood Mayakoba app to request services for those special moments. Think: a romantic bubble bath, an intimate dinner or even a helicopter ride over the Kulkulcan Pyramid in Chichen Itza.

The private villas at the banyan tree.

For rejuvenation and spiritual healing, opt for treatments rooted in ancient Mayan rituals, such as the Mayan Clay Purification treatment at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont, or a fresh honey body scrub and massage at the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa. The spa at the Andaz has six treatment rooms and two hydrotherapy areas dedicated to your relaxation, as well as a full-service salon to keep you looking as great as you feel.

Stations of the Crosshairs

April 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV –“We’ll be back with more shootings, stabbings — lots of yellow police tape — and apartment fires. Speaking of stabs in the back, have you noticed how much fake news there is on television, in newspapers and social media? You can’t trust the mainstream media, but you know who you can trust? President Donald Trump.”

What? In the middle of my 10 o’clock local news I’m getting this blatant sales pitch for the President? How can this be? The next night I turn on the same station. “Tired of being stuck in traffic, getting junk mail and lied to about global warming? I’m Chip Chap. We here at Channel 0 want you to know the truth instead of the fake news being put out daily, if not hourly, by the left-wing media. We feel as honest journalists that….”

“Chip?”

“Yes, Muffy?”

“Why are you reading this alt-right propaganda right in the middle of the program, and making it sound like news?”

“You didn’t get the memo? Our bosses at Sinclair Broadcast Group have sent out orders that we insert their scripts in every news show, up to nine times a week. These pieces are called ‘must-runs’ because they are not a suggestion. It’s mandated, otherwise, as the CIA says, we will be terminated with extreme prejudice. There has been plenty of grumbling from the station manager on down, some are threatening to quit, but thus far no one has, and you know why.”

So it has come to this. There has been unprecedented press bashing, particularly under the Trump administration, but this is a new, and dangerous, wrinkle in the news biz. And who or what is the Sinclair Broadcast Group anyway? I never heard of it, so I check their website and discover it is a publicly traded American telecommunications company controlled by the family of company founder Julian Sinclair Smith. Based in Hunt Valley, Md., the company is the largest television station operator in the United States by number of stations, and largest by total coverage; owning or operating 193 TV stations — including nine in Texas, but none in Houston, so far — in 89 markets.

This number may grow. Sinclair is trying to buy Tribune Media, with 41 stations, for $3.9 billion. Sinclair’s stations currently cover one-third of America and, if the Tribune deal goes through, three-quarters of the nation will have a Sinclair station. Another biased news story, but true: The F.C.C. under Trump has loosened the rules governing how many TV stations any one company can own. This allows Sinclair to buy Tribune Media. The chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, led the charge for changing the rules, but the top internal watchdog for the commission found the whole deal and timing didn’t pass the smell test, and has opened an investigation into Pai and his aides. Wonder if this story will make the Sinclair news?

But it is not a TV network like CNN, Fox or NBC. Sinclair owns or operates local stations including all the major networks affiliates, plus the CW, Univision to the WeatherNation. This allows Sinclair to control what you see on those stations. For example, the Friday, April 30, 2004, edition of “Nightline” consisted entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of some 700 U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. But Sinclair, being an ultra-conservative voice that supported President George W. Bush and his Iraqi War, refused to broadcast that show, on its — at that time — seven ABC affiliates. So viewers in those cities never saw the show.

A week later I try to watch my Sinclair station again. “This is Chip Chap with the latest news about gun control, that commie liberal movement to take away your God-given right to own and shoot a 105 howitzer in your backyard if you wish.” Lordy, Sinclair is out-Foxing Fox. “But the mainstream media is shoveling out fake news. You can only rely on Chanel 0 for the truth.” The network has a Terrorism Alert Desk which daily carries items aimed at scaring the bejesus out of its viewers, and there is commentary by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump spokesman. Here’s an actual must-run: Sinclair stations guard against the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.” The anchors give no specific examples. Needless to say, Trump tweeted that it was funny to watch “Fake News Networks” criticizing Sinclair for being biased.

Deadspin Media, a sports news site, posted a video showing dozens of news anchors reading the same script about “fake stories.” It is hilarious with all the blow-dried beautiful anchors, standing in front of sets reading KAAA and WWWW reciting exactly the same words as in a chorus. The 98-second video has already been seen by millions of people. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” did a lengthy segment on the Deadspin video, showing the words being repeated by several robot-looking anchors. Co-host Mika Brzezinski said she was surprised some of the local anchors didn’t refuse to read it. “This looks like something we would mock the Russians for doing during the days of Pravda,” said co-host Joe Scarborough. Dan Rather’s website said that it was “sickening” to watch.

This just in: the network’s anchors can’t afford to quit. If they leave before their contract is up, they can’t take another job in TV for six months, face mandatory arbitration and must pay back as much as 40 percent of their annual salary. That’s practically indentured servitude. I tune in to Sinclair one more time: “You can’t believe the mainstream media, which only presents warped and biased reports. Right. Muffy? Oh, I’m being told Muffy quit because she can’t stand these must-runs from Sinclair. That’s gonna cost her a bunch.” Like the man said, there is “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories,” and I just watched one.


Ashby watches at ashby2@comcast.net

Game On

April 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Features

by Rima Jean

Don’t let Lindsay McCormick’s appearance fool you. She might be small and blonde—and a woman—but the host of Super Bowl XLIX is a sports authority to be reckoned with.

“I grew up in a huge sports family,” explains the sportscaster, who also covered the most anticipated fight of the decade, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. “My entire family is obsessed with sports. So for me it was like, either learn to love it, or hate your life.”

Getting ready for her career in broadcasting, a young McCormick practiced on her stuffed animals.

A native Houstonian, McCormick became involved in sports and cheerleading at an early age. Her grandfather was drafted to play football for the Washington Redskins, and both he and McCormick’s brother went on to work for NASCAR. McCormick attended Auburn University in Alabama, where she got involved with the campus news station. When the resident sports anchor went out of town one weekend, McCormick was asked to cover the Auburn football games. She immediately fell in love with it. “When he came back to town, I refused to let him have his job back,” McCormick admits with a laugh.

One weekend, McCormick was on the sidelines covering Auburn play LSU, and ESPN’s College Gameday was in town and saw her in action. “They offered me a job as an intern with ESPN SportsCenter, and that was how, at 20 years old, my career started.”

McCormick’s expertise isn’t limited to football, either: She’s covered basketball—she was the sideline reporter for the quarterfinals of ESPN’s The Basketball Tournament—as well as boxing, covering the Timothy Bradley vs. Jessie Vargas fight, among others. McCormick contends, “I’ve had my fair shake with just about every sport, except baseball.” However with the Astros’ World Series championship win, she hopes to add it to her repertoire.

Her resume is impressive: McCormick was the stage host for Super Bowl Sponsor SAP alongside Marshall Faulk in San Francisco and served as NBC’s Sunday Night Football Social Host; she’s hosted the 2012 NFL Draft for CBS Sports, The Fan on Comcast SportsNet and was a panel analyst for Rip City Live. She also appeared on ESPN.com’s Streak for the Cash and ESPN College Pick’em and MTVU’s The Dean’s List.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

With McCormick’s success in a male-dominated industry, there’s no avoiding the question of how she, a woman, made it to where she is today. “When I started 10 years ago, there were only a handful of women reporting sports. Erin Andrews was just getting started, Suzy Kolber had been there for some time, Linda Cohn…these were all women I looked up to, and they paved the way for other women to come into the field.”

Even with the help of these trailblazers, McCormick concedes it wasn’t easy. “I would go into these interviews knowing I had a lot to prove. I was going up against all of these men, and I had to prove my sports knowledge. The first question I would get was, ‘Why would our audience believe you?’” McCormick chuckles at the memory. “In hindsight, it was a huge insult, but at the time I thought it was normal. I felt I had to work twice as hard to prove to an audience that I knew what I was talking about.”

The boxing world, she reveals, has even fewer female broadcasters. “I’m hoping I can help change that over time.”

No Place Like Home

Despite her jet-setting lifestyle, McCormick recently bought a home in Houston in her childhood neighborhood, where her parents still live. She was in H Town, in fact, during Hurricane Harvey. “I drove out to stay with my parents when it happened. Our entire neighborhood got flooded. We stayed up for two nights straight in parkas holding buckets, trying to keep the water from coming into our home.”

McCormick celebrates the Astros’ World Series Game 5 win with her family.

Hurricane Harvey was a tragedy, and one that many Houstonians are still dealing with. “It’s amazing to see how the city has bounced back,” McCormick says. “And I think the Astros have a lot to do with that. Their win helped the city shift their focus from a tragedy to something that binds us together. I love how sports have the ability to do that.”

A Bright Future

McCormick can currently be seen in the romantic comedy The Bounce Back, available on Amazon Video and iTunes, playing a talk show host opposite Shemar Moore. She is also working on an augmented reality sports game for ePlay with fellow sports commentator and NBA champion and former Houston Rocket Robert Horry. “He was one of my favorite athletes growing up, and I’m so excited to work with him on this.”

As for whether she’ll be spending more time here in Houston? “I hope so. I go back and forth between here and California, but maybe I can finally learn some more about baseball by hanging out with the ‘Stros…”


Get the Lindsay Look

Just how does she get that glow? Here are her best camera-ready secrets.

Number-one beauty must-have: Resurface by Shani Darden Retinol Reform. It’s magical. Every celebrity you’ve ever seen with flawless skin either visits Shani Darden as a facialist or uses her serum.

Nighttime miracle-worker: I use the Deesse Professional LED Facial at night. It’s this red-light therapy that helps to boost collagen production and heals the skin quickly.

Drugstore find: Garnier Skinactive Moisture Bomb Sheet Mask. The masks hydrate your skin and leaves it feeling super soft.

Favorite ways to stay fit: I adore ballroom dancing as a form of exercise. I’ve been dancing since I was two years old, and started competing at the age of seven. Unfortunately, I threw my neck out doing a dip, but the injury introduced me to Pilates, which I’ve incorporated into my workouts. Pilates has been the best at helping me recover from my dance injuries while keeping me fit. It just transforms your body, and it’s perfect for someone like me, who is always on the go.

A Moving Experience

April 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE PHONE – “Hello. I’d like to change my water bill address,” I tell the city water department. “I’m moving to a new home. Well, it’s not really new. Like the car dealers say, it’s pre-owned. Very pre. If the place was any older, it would warrant a historical plaque.”

A recorded voice speaks up: “Thank you for calling the city water department. Good to the last drop, we like to say. All of our team members are listening to other whining customers, but one will be with you when she or he gets around to your silly complaint. Until then, please listen to some of our comforting music.”

Team members? They used to be called employees, or workers or wage slaves. I hear a click and then the music. I think it’s the love theme from “Patton.” The reason I have to make this call is that after 50 years, my wife and I are forced to abandon our house in Running Rats Acres because, during Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chose to release a flood of dammed-up water into western Houston, inundating formerly (maybe forever) dry neighborhoods. My house was downgraded by the city inspectors from “not worth burning” to “uninhabitable.” FEMA came up with $45.50 to help us recover, and the Red Cross gave us toiletries, then asked for a donation. Bill Clinton said he would feel our pain, and Donald Trump said he liked to feel. So we had no choice but to move, which is far harder than one might think.

It’s a story being told maybe 10,000 times along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Harvey, but briefly it goes like this: Find a cheap hotel to stay in, file 234 insurance forms, drag what’s totally ruined to the curb and wait for the city to pick the debris or watch the vandals and rats haul it away, whichever comes first. Eventually the survivors have to find new digs, and face the worse hurdle of all: changing addresses. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Nope. You would think by now our society could handle our nomadic lifestyle. About 40 million people move annually in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population moves an average of once every 5 years. There are, obviously, many reasons: shifts in the economy, for instance, from the Rust Belt to Texas, or an unexpected visit by ICE. The doubling of the divorce rate in the last 30 years results in many moves. In my case, it was a mud line about three feet up the den walls.

Ah, someone is answering at the water department. I give her my name, age, favorite sport (mud wrestling in the den) and address of my new home. They have no record of any such place. “Give us the account number of that house.” I have no idea. The team member puts me on hold again, (“National anthems from southeast Africa”) to speak to her supervisor. She returns and takes my phone number and says she will call me back on Monday. It’s 1 p.m. on a Friday and no one works on Friday afternoons. Moving on, the gas company has me get on my hands and knees to read the gas meter’s 32-digit number. The phone company puts me on hold while playing “Choice Busy Signals” as I wait for a “happy and excited management assistant” to get on the line and inform me that he needs my Texas driver’s license number (no kidding) plus my Social Security number. No DNA sample.

Then I face the ultimate challenge: the cable company. I used Disable Cable in my old house, which has been, shall we say, a challenging experience. Surveys show that the most disliked, if not hated, industry in the nation are the cable companies, passing airlines, the Postal Service and most hit men. When your TV set goes out as the detective says, “…and the murderer is…” that can be annoying, as well as “With no time left, here’s the Hail Mary pass which zzzzzzz.” My computer goes down in storms, power outages and nightfall. If you will recall, when I changed cable companies at my lake house in Varicose Valley, the cable company’s office had a big sign at the door: “No firearms allowed!” Inside was one firearm – on the hip of a cop. Past events hinted that was not your usual business office filled with happy customers. This time it was my wife’s turn to make the call. She rarely uses profanity, death threats or wants the name and address of the team member. Forty-five minutes into her conversation with Duc Phat in Hanoi, I bring her a box of Kleenex for her tears.

I also needed to change my mailing address. OK, in this case I admit it was confusing. I had gone to the post office and filled out a long form to temporarily change my address from my old house to my lake house. Three weeks later I began receiving mail – mostly Christmas catalogues. The rest was MIA. Now I needed to change the address again to my new place. If you write me a letter, send it by carrier pigeon or use semaphores.

In the midst of this White House-worthy chaos, and this is the honest truth, someone in California started charging things on my credit card. I got a call from that company, House of Cards, asking if I frequented Chipotles in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno. No. But wouldn’t you think if someone went to all the trouble to forge a credit card he would make higher-class purchases, like opioids, or rent Stormy Davis for the afternoon? On top of all the trouble and paperwork and lengthy phone calls from moving, I had to start changing all my automatic billings to my credit card.

So my advice to you is: don’t ever move. But if you do, take along a box of Kleenex.


Ashby is moved at ashby2@comcast.net

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