Palmetto Bluff

April 21, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

By Tom Flynn

The costal regions and islands along South Carolina’s coast make up the Lowcountry, a collection of historic communities, natural habitats and southern hospitality. With all that comes tourism.

Deep in the Lowcountry, between Hilton Head and Savannah, sits Palmetto Bluff. The 20,000-acre development is nestled along the May River, a coastal estuary teeming with wildlife. Entering the community is like stepping back in time. Building exteriors resemble 1930’s architecture, winding roads lead to quaint shops and restaurants, parks, chapels and outdoor activities; classic one-speed bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation. Residents of the 700 homes and guests of the Montage Palmetto Bluff are pulled together through an extensive list of activities and events and form a strong sense of community.

 

Life in this mainly getaway community can be tailored to individual desires. The amenities are reserved for residents and Montage guests, so tee times on the Jack Nicholas designed golf course are readily available, parks are never crowded and traffic jams are nonexistent. Reading a book on a park bench and watching neighbors play Bocce Ball is a good way to spend the afternoon. Preplanned activities are numerous, 10-20 per day. Yoga, cycling, tennis clinics and paddle boarding entertain the athletic. Beachcombing, Sip- n-Sail river cruises amid the dolphins and porching (tea and lemonade gatherings on a porch) for the social. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy archery; shoot sporting clays, fish and kayak. There are tons of kids activities, a state of the art four-lane bowling alley and everyone gets together evenings for S’mores at the fire pits.

 

The property touches 32 miles of May River shoreline. The marshy estuary has an eight-foot daily tide change. When the water is out you can walk out and harvest oysters by hand. When the tide comes in so do the dolphins, chirping, playing and feeding. Alligators and beautiful white egrets are always plentiful. A good way to experience the May River is a cruise on Grace, a luxurious wooden yacht built in 1913. Many holes on the golf course play along the river, diners enjoying Lowcountry cuisine at Cole’s have stunning views of the marsh while eating fried pickles. Numerous preplanned activities and excursions take place on the river.

 

In heart of Palmetto Bluff sits the Montage Palmetto Bluff, a luxurious gem of the south. The resort rests on a tranquil lagoon, miles of hiking and biking trails lead through the nature reserve. With dining options and bar, the Montage is the liveliest spot in the community; many residents gather there in the evenings and listen to live music.

The world class Spa Montage is an attraction all its own with the finest treatments and amenities. Enjoy the fitness center, eucalyptus steam room, redwood sauna, pool and cold plunge after your signature 90 minute facial. Most of all, the Montage’s amenities and guests inject energy into Palmetto Bluff.

 

If one tires of paradise and feels the need to getaway from their getaway, Bluffton is less than a 30-minute drive. Virtually every building in this historic town was burned to the ground during the Civil War by Union troops. The guides at Bluffton Bike Taxis will show you the few surviving structures, outline the towns history and show the best places to eat and drink with the locals. The Old Town Dispensary has lots of outdoor seating, Lowcountry grub and live music. Farm arguably has the best food in the region, possibly any region. Many restaurants have a chef who runs the kitchen and a Matre D in charge of seating and service. Farm adds a third partner; the farmer who grows produce and sources the best meats and seafood. Their fresh, light tappas sized plates are absolutely amazing; the crafted cocktails are an added bonus.

 

Palmetto Bluff feels hours and ages away from the real world. It’s actually less than 25 miles from Savanah, Ga. In 30-40 minutes after departing the plane, you can be sitting in one the Montage’s luxury rooms, snacking on the shortbread cookies and bourbon milk jam they leave as a greeting gift and watching alligators sun on the banks of the lagoon. Enjoy the Lowcountry!

 

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

International Food & Arts event San Miguel de Allende- from July 12-15

June 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

With summer here and travelers seeking fun festivals, one of the hottest tickets in July will be the international Food & Arts event taking place in one of Mexico’s most popular destinations – San Miguel de Allende- from July 12-15:
Dozens of dinners, events and activities are planned over the four days including themed feasts, tastings, art exhibits and performances, and a grand marketplace of food, spirits and art.  The themed dinners and lunches, which cost between about $77 and $150 each, and the After Party can be booked at www.magmexico.com. 
MAG will get underway on July 12 with a Kickoff Dinner in Moxi at Hotel Matilda themed “Beyond Borders – Mexico.” The event will feature acclaimed Mexican chefs Eduardo Garcia of Maximo Bistrot, Alan Mendez of Pasillo de Humo and Francisco Ibañez of Moxi, along with exhibits by artist Eugenia Martinez and music by Los Rumberos de Massachusetts.
A series of themed dinners and lunches will celebrate the cuisine of different countries with noted chefs cooking and artists exhibiting their works. In addition to the Mexico-themed dinner at Moxi, there will be:
  • July 13: Dinner at Rosewood San Miguel with Reylon Augustin, chef of One-Michelin-Star Madeira at Rosewood Sand Hills, and artist Adrian Gonzalez.
  • July 13: Dinner at Casa Dragones with chef Norma Listman and Saquib Kebal from restaurant de Masalá in Mexico City, artist Pedro Reyes.
  • July 14: Brunch at Moxi with chefs Eduardo Echeverria, John Gallo and Rene Reyes from PINCH based in Miami.
  • July 14: Australia dinner at Bovine Brasserie with chefs Paul Bentley and Duncan Welgemoed from Africola, a restaurant in Australia
  • July 14: Dinner at L’Otel with Chef Justin Smillie from Upland Restaurant in NYC
  • July 15: Brunch at Fatima 7, Casa Blanca 7 with Chef Donnie Masterton and artists from Colectivo Hoja Santa.
A grand market of gastronomy, food, drink and art, the Marché, was a huge hit in the inaugural MAG last year and it will be back for three days, July 13-15. Held in San Miguel’s beautiful Parque Juárez, it will feature some 100 booths offering tastings ‒ dishes by leading restaurants, tequila, spirits, beers, wines and cheeses, as well as an installation by artist Eugenia Martinez.

 

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

Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival

June 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Dining, Events

Experience the very best wines from Rioja and tapas you will never forget!

The Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival of Houston is a one-day celebration offering a flavor-packed experience showcasing the best in food and wine culture from Rioja, Spain. Join us for the perfect Saturday filled with unlimited tapas and perfectly paired sips.

From first bites to endless wine flights, here’s what’s in store for our guests:

Your Ticket Buys You … Everything! A unique culinary experience of gastronomy and prominent wines from Rioja, all served by some of North America’s most forward-thinking food creators and bodega leaders. Experience Rioja through exclusive tastings, libations, hands-on wine seminars and more at the biggest wine event of the year! All guests are entered to win a Rioja wine cellar.

Going on its fourth year the festival welcomes over 50 of Rioja’s best winemakers and notable Houston and nationally renowned chefs in the stunning atmosphere of Houston’s iconic Corinthian venue. A portion of the proceeds will benefit charity. For more details visit https://www.riojafest.com.

Click here to watch a video!

FEATURING RETAIL PARTNER Goody Goody Liquor

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

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

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

College Dropout

Like you, I stay awake at night worrying about the Electoral College. It doesn’t have much of a football team, but it does choose our presidents, no matter which candidate the American voters prefer. As we all know, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 2.9 million votes, even counting Trump’s write-in ballots from Russia. Al Gore got 540,000 more votes than George W. “Hanging Chad” Bush. In each case, it was not the popular vote, but it was the Electoral College vote that counted.

And Texas may start counting, too, finally. Federal lawsuits filed in Texas and three other states are seeking to end the winner-take-all system that awards every electoral vote from that state to the winning presidential candidate. The lawsuits argue that the winner-take-all system violates voting rights by discarding ballots cast for losing candidates. This is a two-party argument: Democrat voters in the GOP strongholds of Texas and South Carolina, and Republicans in Democratic California and Massachusetts have no say in picking their president. So if you voted for Hillary in Texas, your vote didn’t count, thus the lawsuit. In Texas’ case, it wasn’t state officials who filed the suits. They are perfectly happy with the current system. Indeed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will defend the state’s electoral-vote system, which was filed in San Antonio federal court in late February. Your tax dollars at work.

A bit of background: In 1787, the Founding Fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution, and stuck in the Electoral College (Article II, section 1.) as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote. Another version is they decided the average citizen wasn’t erudite enough to elect a president without a filtering process. Each state receives a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators (two in each state) plus the number of its U.S. representatives, which varies according to the state’s population. In the 2016 presidential election, California had the most with 55 electoral votes; other less populated states, such as Vermont, had three. Texas had 38 votes, and the 2020 census should give us two or three more.

You just thought we choose our President on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. No, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, (still with me?) the electors meet in their respective state capitals to officially cast their votes for President and Vice President. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate, who on Jan. 6 opens and reads the votes before both houses of Congress. Who or what exactly is the Electoral College? It consists of 538 electors – Washington D.C. gets three. A majority of 270 votes is required to elect the President. The winner is sworn into office at high noon on Jan. 20 before the largest crowd ever gathered anywhere. Four presidents have been elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote. As we have seen, two of them won in recent years.

Forty-eight states have the winner-take-all system. Maine and Nebraska have a variation of “proportional representation” that can result in a split of their electors between the candidates, which seems a lot fairer than what we have now. As for Texans: “Everyone in Texas is being ignored, because Texas just doesn’t matter to the presidential election,” said Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University law professor who was a leading organizer of the legal effort. Almost 3.88 million Texans voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not a single vote counted. Most black and Latino voters, who make up more than 40 percent of the Texas electorate, have not had one electoral vote cast for their preferred candidate in the past four decades. (In the 1932 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt gathered all of Texas’ electoral votes with 88 percent of the popular vote. In 1992, George H.W. Bush did the same with only 40.5 percent in a three-way race against Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot.)

Being a solidly red state means presidential candidates don’t bother to campaign in Texas, although they come here for money. Indeed, GOP candidates consider Texas their ATM. If we give a lot of money, maybe one of us will get appointed to a top position – like Secretary of State. The candidates spend their time and funds in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where there are a lot of Electoral College votes, as I was telling President Hillary.

The only time any money came back to Texas was in 2008 when Hillary and Barack Obama were both seeking the Democratic nomination for President. The Texas campaign was tough and mystifying to outsiders. It’s hard for missionaries to grasp the difficulties of running a state-wide campaign here. We are expensive. Texas is separated into 20 media markets, the most of any state. Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who was state director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, told The New York Times, “It’s like running a national campaign. There are no similarities between Amarillo and Brownsville and Beaumont and Texarkana and El Paso and Austin and Houston and Dallas. These are very separate demographic groups with very diverse interests.” The primary election led to the Texas Two-Step with voting, caucuses, and late-night confusion.

If Texas went to a proportional vote, like Maine and Nebraska, presidential candidates would be forced to come here to campaign, hoping to get a slice of our big-delegate pie. That means renting hotel ballrooms and suites, cars, cops, caterers, lots of ads on TV, radio and newspapers. More importantly, everyone’s vote would count. We would no longer be spectators in the sport of government. This would mean amending the Constitution, but if Americans can change the charter to prohibit alcohol and give 18-to 21-year- olds the right to vote (they still don’t), we can drop out of college. So I can get some sleep.


Ashby is electable at ashby2@comcast.net

College Humor — Sort Of

March 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Harvey Schmidt has died at the age of 88 in Tomball. No, that should not mean anything to you, although I’m sure it meant a lot to Harvey Schmidt. He was co-author of “The Fantasticks,” the Off-Broadway romance that became the world’s longest-running musical. It opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village and ran for 17,162 performances. A revival that began in 2006 ran 4,390 more times. It was “very lucrative.” You may recall a song from that show, “Try to Remember.” In a 50-year partnership with Tom Jones, they wrote the Broadway musicals “110 in the Shade” and “I Do! I Do!” each earning them Tony Award nominations. And to think it all began at The University of Texas with bad jokes.

Coroner: “What were your husband’s last words?”

New widow: “I don’t see how they can make a profit on this at a dollar and a half a fifth.”

That was from the Texas Ranger, not to be confused with the law enforcement agency or a baseball team. It was the school’s humor magazine, which began publication back in the 1890s and was one of many universities’ similar publications. There was the Harvard Lampoon, the Yale Record and the Stanford Chaparral to name a few. The Ranger was published by UT nine times a year (no summer issues) and contained funny articles, cartoons, dumb jokes and the GOM. That was the Girl of the Month, the rather mild – by today’s standards – photos of a good looking co-ed.

College Humor (Popular Library): issues renewed from January 1936 (v. 1 no. 4); courtesy of Wikipedia

“Will your wife hit the ceiling when you come in this late?”

“Probably. She’s a lousy shot.”

I first became attracted to this genre when my older sister would return at Christmas and the summer from Stanford University with a collection of the Stanford Chaparrals. It turns out she was dating, and later married, the editor. The magazines were hilarious, although a lot of it was inside humor that only Stanford students would get. Later, when I attended UT, I learned of the Ranger, and dutifully joined the staff. Well, actually, as a lowly freshman I just sold copies. Each month we would get a bundle or two of the magazines and spread throughout the 40 Acres. Over the years the popularity of the mag grew to the point where we were selling one copy for every two students.

We made money this way: We would, in effect, buy a copy from the Texas Student Publications, which was the UT branch that ran the Daily Texan, the Ranger and the yearbook, the Cactus. We bought each copy for 20 cents and sold it for a quarter. We were selling thousands monthly. That way we got funds. The university had a rule that no booze was allowed at school parties, so we, as independent entrepreneurs, took our collective earnings and bought booze and had a party – really wild parties. All perfectly legal. For some unknown reason, in a campus College Bowl contest, the Rangeroos finished first. Their best category: religion.

One issue in the late 1920s or 30s dealt with the UT student body president, Allan Shivers, who was never heard of again. The Ranger ran this: “Allan Shivers gives honest politicians the shivers.” He didn’t like that observation, and had it cut out of all the copies before they hit the stands. I had heard that story, and once looked up the bound archives to see if that really happened, and, sure enough, there was a hole in a page in that issue. The Rangeroos, as the staffers were called, were made up of the wildest, most talented students at UT. Our leader was Hairy Ranger, a cartoon of a fat, drunken cowboy with a bottle of booze in one hand and the other arm around a floozy.

Many college humor magazines produced talents we know of today. Conan O’Brien was editor of the Harvard Lampoon, which at its peak spawned a national humor magazine, the National Lampoon, then became a multimedia humor brand with films like “Animal House” and all the Chevy Chase Lampoon movies. The Yale Record, the nation’s oldest college humor magazine (founded in 1872), had a cartoonist and editor-in-chief, Garry Trudeau, who writes and draws Doonesbury.

Theta 1: “Does your boyfriend have ambitions?”

Theta 2: “Yes, ever since he’s been knee high.”

After graduation, as a former editor-in-chief, I received a lifetime subscription to the Ranger, which proved to be a short life. As students, we used to poke fun at the UT faculty, administration, the board of regents was always a great target, but mostly at ourselves and our fellow students. However, by the 1960s I could tell there was trouble in Austin. That’s about when other college humor magazines hit their apex. The Ranger was running stories about the true meaning of life by some 19-year-old. The humor gave way to in-depth thoughts and lousy fiction. The Texas Ranger, which always made a profit for UT and, we kept saying, underwrote the Daily Texan, died, or rather committed suicide at the age of almost 100.

“(UT) President Logan Wilson sure has did a good job here.” His son was a Rangeroo.

Today there has been a resurgence of college humor publications, more in tune to the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert and The Onion, which started out as a college humor magazine. There are mags at SMU, A&M, the UTs at Arlington and Dallas, and the Travesty at UT-Austin. “The country’s largest student-produced satirical newspaper.” It began in 1997 and today its website is very funny. Like many others, the Travesty is online, and its staff includes video director and video staff. Times have changed. Oh, as for Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, they met when they both wrote for the Texas Ranger.

Fiji: “Say, that’s a bad gash on your forehead. What happened?”

Beta: “I bit myself.”

Fiji: “Oh, come on. How did you bite yourself on your forehead?”

Beta: “I stood on a chair.”


Ashby jokes at ashby2@comcast.net

The Spies of Texas

March 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE STREET CORNER – There are two interesting looking people standing across the street. Both are wearing cowboy outfits right out of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers, complete with huge hats, fringe vests, boots and even spurs. They approach me. “Howdy, pard,” says one. “Yippy-yi-yo and get along doggy little.”

I don’t know how to reply. The other one speaks up. “I am Billy Ralph Pecos and this is Tex Spindletop. We from Amarillo, here to learn more of your local elections. Like how to vote, who votes and how to, uh, fix ballot boxes to make it easier. We want to work with grassroots organizations.”

“You came to the right place,” I say. “Texas consistently finishes last among the states in voter participation. We don’t vote because most of our politicians are either third-rate hacks or such demagogues that they only care about their own agendas.”

One of them takes out a pad and starts writing. “You mean like Fred Cruz or Hilarious Clinton, and Little Mario Ruby? We hear the only decent politician is Donald Trump. Tell us, is Trump a great president or the greatest president? And do you think he is too hard on other countries, like Iceland, Ireland and, uh, Russia?”

“I would rank Trump right up there with James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore among our presidents. Say, if you’re from Amarillo you may know about the Cadillac Ranch.” They look at each other and suddenly say they have to leave. That night I see on TV that Russian agents worked to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. They visited Texas in 2014 to spread derogatory information against Cruz during the Republican primary, and posed as Americans while communicating with a person “affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization.” Huh? Those two strangers I met today may be the same agents who now have come back to influence the upcoming elections. The next day I see them asking questions of passersby and taking notes. I approach them. “Are you two sure you are from Amarillo? Something about you tells me you’ve never even been to the Panhandle.”

They grin. “You too smart for us. We are really exchange students from Station College. Hook ‘em, Aggies. We taking poll for Internet Research Agency, an organization in Saint Petersburg, the one in Florida, that is. Do you know the way to the local mosque? We need to visit there, preferably at night.”

Later I looked into these people a bit more and discovered that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had charged that the Internet Research Agency was “engaged in political and electoral interference operations” across the United States, especially in swing states like Florida. But a Texas organization was mentioned several times. I couldn’t find the name of that Texas group nor any person affiliated with it, but the Mueller report said the alleged conspirators created a fake American named “Matt Skiber” as their front man. So we have a Texas group that knowingly or unknowingly worked with Russian agents to help Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, and apparently the Russians are still busily at work.

The indictment said the person affiliated with the Texas grassroots group also promised the Russian nationals he or she would pass along Facebook events to Tea Party voters in Florida. That doesn’t make any sense, but a lot of this story doesn’t. One right-wing fringe group, the Texas Nationalist Movement, which advocates for secession, put out a statement saying it “had no knowledge of nor any involvement with the Russian-led efforts to influence” the election. Of course that’s what they would say. Does anyone really expect their press release to read, “Yeah, we worked with the Ruskies to elect Trump and defeat Hillary. So, what’s your point?”

For advice, I needed to talk to my neighborhood spy, Clark N. Dagger. I found him listed in Google, and he agreed to meet me at midnight at his favorite bar, the Ode-kay Oom-ray. Dagger looked around as he approached me. “Thomas wears pink socks,” he whispered. I replied, “The ostrich awakens at dawn.” We exchanged our secret handshake and then I explained the situation. “Were you followed?” he asked. “Did anyone ask if Oscar drinks orange sodas?” I replied no. Dagger looked around, then whispered, “You are dealing with two of Putin’s most dangerous agents. They go by Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik. That’s their cover names. They’re actually Billy Ralph Pecos and Tex Spindletop, or maybe it’s the other way around.”

He paused for a moment: “Anyway, we think they traveled to Texas and eight other states in June of 2014 to gather intelligence. They bought political ads under fake names and staged political rallies. They 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. Some of the addresses included usernames like allforusa, unitedvetsofamerica, patriotsus, staceyredneck and ihatecrime1.” It was all to elect Trump.”

He continued: “Big time operators. You don’t send them out for borscht. Krylova is described as the Internet Research Agency’s third-highest-ranking agent. Burchik is described as the executive director or second-highest-ranking agent. Your life is probably in danger.”

A few days later I spotted the two Russian spies again. They were using Facebook to push “Trump in 2020.” I approached them. “You two are the most incompetent secret agents I’ve ever seen. First, you don’t blend into Texas in those ridiculous cowboy outfits. Your back stories are unbelievable, and finally, you are wasting your time trying to swing Texas voters to Trump. Last election he beat Hillary by nine points here in Texas. Spend your efforts on purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida where you might make a difference.”

“Maybe right,” sighed Pecos. “We shouldn’t spend rubles any place where Trump is beloved and welcomed.”

“Like the White House?” I asked.

“No, the Kremlin.”


Ashby is watchful at ashby2@comcast.net

Putin’s Puppets

February 26, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV – I am watching a Senate hearing in which the heads of all our intelligence and anti-intelligence operations – spooks, generals and admirals with more stars than the Hollywood Walk – flatly testify that Russia had influenced our last presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. At which point Sen. Angus King of Maine, an Independent and a guy I really like, asks why our own President has never said so. Indeed, our President won’t even enforce sanctions against Russia that Congress has approved almost unanimously. An interesting question, and the more conspiratorial among us would wonder just what has Vladimir Putin got on Donald Trump? There are all sorts of rumors going around about tapes made in Moscow hotel rooms, kinky women (Trump and women? Nah!) and business deals with billion-dollar unpaid loans. I think that our President prefers to limit his anger to more suitable targets, like Gold Star parents, reporters with physical disabilities and POWs.

This is only part of an unending story we are witnessing that involves misinformation, bots (I think they are the children of bon mots), Russian agents right here in sleepy ol’ Texas, and raises the question: Is Sean Hannity on the Kremlin payroll? Let’s take this step by step. You know you are being manipulated, don’t you? You don’t? Then that’s the sign of a real manipulator, like a scam artist whose victims don’t even know they are being taken. The manipulator, in this case, is Russia which is swamping America with emails, rumors, Facebook, Google, Twitter, anything to turn us against one another. It doesn’t matter which side the Russians are pushing, Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Rich versus poor. Everybody against Muslims. Liberals against conservatives. The point is to keep the pot boiling. Another major disinformation program occurred in the past presidential elections when the Russians backed Trump and opposed Hillary Clinton.

Putin wants to promote cynicism against our institutions. We are so cynical that trust in the press is at an all-time low. That bastion of society, the FBI, is being humiliated, scorned, its leaders held up to ridicule. Can you imagine for one moment how J. Edgar Hoover would have responded to some Congressman’s insulting line of questioning? Trump has called our CIA officials “Nazis” and our entire intelligence leadership “political hacks.” Our justice system is “a joke.” And here’s the end game: It’s working. Every poll shows Americans are more polarized that at any time since the Civil War. Pootie must be sitting in his office laughing out loud. Stir up the pot. OK, what organization is aiding him by daily stoking the fire of divisiveness and clan warfare? Fox News. Like any good demagogue, it has to have an enemy. Sean Hannity preaches to his audiences a sermon of anger, conspiracies, us against them. Tucker Carlson is full of hateful putdowns of anyone with a different opinion. Fox and Friends wakes up the nation with despair. They keep Americans in a constant state of unrest, mistrust and fear, just as Putin wants. Are we quite sure they aren’t on the Kremlin’s payroll?

We now take up a very important matter which involves all of us. Putin, that old KGB spy, has an ocean of operations flooding social media, and a willing bunch of knuckle-draggers who believe, and pass on, every rumor. Its cover is something called the Internet Research Agency. Remember that name, although it has many fake fronts. I get this stuff all the time and you probably do, too. Each item has a slight ring of truth to bait the lie. That panel of intelligence officials I referred to above warns that this election cycle is already seeing fake news, misinformation and outright lies, and they warn that the 2020 presidential campaigns will be inundated by Moscow-generated falsehoods. Pity the poor Democratic opponent who will be facing Donald Trump in 2020. Already the nerds in the Kremlin basement are lining up their one-liners, photo shopped pics and fake news. We must be vigilant. Be wary of any emails in Russian, or maybe Estonian.

This brings us to Deep State. It means a shadow government within a government, like they have in Pakistan where the military and the secret police actually run the country. Egypt and Iran have it, too. There is a growing belief in this country among the paranoid alt-rights that we have a Deep State and it’s the former Obama administration. Yes, those Kenyan holdovers are supposedly sabotaging the Trump program. They travel by night in black helicopters.

Now to Texas. We have discussed the Heart of Texas Facebook page earlier (always ahead of the pack). It “grew into the most popular Texas secession page on Facebook — one that, at one point in 2016, boasted more followers than the official Texas Democrat and Republican Facebook pages combined.” Texas dummies (is that redundant?) believed its messages of secession, hordes of illegal immigrants arriving daily, etc. Two agents came here to stir up pro-Trump votes, but were told not to bother. Texas is Trump territory. The Ruskies even got some demonstrations going on around Texas. One was an anti-Muslim demonstration in Houston, cleverly staged at the same time and place as a peaceful Muslim demonstration. Guess what? Heart of Texas was sent to us from Russia with love. Yep, the feds traced the movement back to Pootie. And Robert Mueller says there were more dealings in the Lone Czar State, but doesn’t go into detail. Well, Heart of Texas is no doubt gearing up for the upcoming elections. Be wary of messages with y’all spelled yawl, references to the “Rio Grande River” and “Sam Jacinto.” We shall know Heart of Texas hits pay dirt when Gov. Greg Abbott calls up the Texas State Guard to spy on Operation Jade Helm II which is financed by Hillary Clinton.

If you voted for Donald Trump for President, were you manipulated? Yes. Will you admit it? No.


Ashby is suspicious at ashby2@comcast.net

Luxe Playa del Carmen Resort Brings Good Times + Tan Lines to Spring Breakers

February 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

The idyllic Mexican destination, Thompson Playa del Carmen is a luxury lifestyle hotel located on the famed La Quinta Avenida – Playa’s two-mile, pedestrian-only shopping and dining district – and Calle 12, which boasts the trendiest bars and nightclubs in Riviera Maya. During the Summer, Thompson is offering the ultimate package for a perfect getaway full of luxury, leisure and nightlife in the form of Good Times + Tan Lines. Gather your group and head south for an unforgettable vacation this Summer. The Good Times + Tan Lines package includes:

  • Luxury accommodations for 3 nights or more

  • One day exclusive use of poolside cabana with a chilled bottle of rose and a $250 food and beverage credit to splurge while in cabana

  • Two 60-minute massages per stay

  • Morning coffee and juice delivered to your room

  • Daily breakfast for two

 

Thompson Playa del Carmen’s vibrant 30,000-square-foot rooftop is the social mecca of the property (and the highest point in Playa). The rooftop playground at the 5th Avenue Building boasts NYC-famed concept CATCH, a massive infinity pool, swim-up bar, panoramic ocean views, and luxury cabanas. Guests can sip signature CATCH and Cinco cocktails under the sun and relax listening to the DJ-spun tropical house music, or privately in a plush cabana or daybed. Located on ‘Calle Corazon,’ the 5th Avenue Building is perfect for Spring Breakers looking for a colorful urban atmosphere and a real connection to downtown Playa’s local shopping, restaurant and nightlife offerings.

For rates and availability, visit www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/playa-del-carmen/thompson-playa-del-carmen/special-offers/exclusive-offers

 

RODEO UNCORKED!® ROUNDUP AND BEST BITES COMPETITION

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Dining

Last night, foodies and wine enthusiasts gathered to eat drink and be merry! Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites Competition featured 106 Houston restaurants, chefs, caterers and food trucks paired with winning wines from the 2018 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition.

The 2018 Best Bites winners are:

Outstanding Showmanship Award

  • Grand Champion – Brothers Produce
  • Reserve Grand Champion – Pop Fancy People’s Choice Award
  • Grand Champion – Killen’s – Beef Ribs
  • Reserve Grand Champion – Taste of Texas – Certified Angus Beef Tenderloin Tasty Traditions Award
  • Grand Champion – Ooh La La – Corn Flake Cookie
  • Reserve Grand Champion – Texas de Brazil – Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce andMashed PotatoesTrailblazing Appetizer/Starter Award
  • Grand Champion – Snooze an AM Eatery – Pork Belly on a Tortilla with Mango Pico de Gallo
  • Reserve Grand Champion – Brennan’s – Tasso and Grit Dumpling with NOLA BarbequeShrimp
  • Third Place – EuraAsia Fusion – Pepper Tuna CrabLone Star Entrée Award
  • Grand Champion – Killen’s – Beef Ribs
  • Reserve Grand Champion – Texas de Brazil – Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce andMashed Potatoes
  • Third Place – Brio Tuscan Grill – Balsamic Braised Beef with Smoked Gouda, Polenta andBrussel SproutsTwo-Steppin’ Dessert Award
  • Grand Champion – Killen’s STQ – Maple Bacon Bread Pudding
  • Reserve Grand Champion – Pop Fancy – Cereal Pops
  • Third Place – Ooh La La – Corn Flake CookieRookie Award

Pop Fancy – Cereal Pops
Trail Boss Food Truck Award (new for 2018)

Breaking Bao – The Hot Jam Bao
During the event, each dish could be paired with one of 452 complimentary, champion wines selected from the 2018 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition.

A selection of the champion wines will be available for tasting, by the glass and bottle, throughout the run of the Rodeo, Feb. 27 through March 18, in the Champion Wine Garden, located in Carruth Plaza.

rodeohouston.com

 

A River Runs Through It

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

SAN ANTONIO – Here we are, morning at an outdoor café along the town’s River Walk. The sky is blue, the temperature is 75, the flowers are in bloom and, right on key, here come both a barge full of tourists and a waiter with my Bloody Mary. Just like Buffalo Bayou. Well, not exactly, but how many times have you heard totally clueless residents or out-of-towners say, “Why can’t Buffalo Bayou be turned into something like San Antonio’s River Walk?” Well, why can’t the Astrodome be turned into the world’s largest sauna? Just open the doors in August. Why can’t the Texans stay healthy? The easy answer is simply: Harvey, but that 500-year flood only hits every three years, right?

Let’s start here in San Antonio, or Santone. The river got here before the town. San Antonio’s history began in May of 1718 with the founding of the San Antonio de Béxar Presidio and Mission San Antonio de Valero (now the Alamo) so the city is now celebrating its 300th birthday. For the next couple of centuries the river was considered a dumping ground. If you look at some of the older building along here you will see fire escapes, loading docks and the butt-end of structures. Indeed, in the 1920s the manager of the Plaza Hotel asked the city if it couldn’t do something about “that dirty little river.” In 1929, San Antonio architect Robert H.H. Hugman developed plans for the river area including stone walkways, bridges, staircases and the vision of retail development. Nothing happened. Then the Great Depression came along, the WPA found unemployed workers willing to lay stone for starvation wages, and Bingo! The 1968 HemisFair nudged more walkways, bridges and tourists. Since then Santone has been adding on and extended the river because every hotel and restaurant wants to advertise “on the River Walk.”

The San Antonio River Walk.

A few items of interest, maybe. Santone is now the seventh-largest city in the country. (Texas is the only state having three biggest cities in the top 10, with Austin coming on strong.) The minor league San Antonio Missions are the only original member still in the Texas League. (That may change.) The headwaters of the San Antonio River are found at the Blue Hole, a natural artesian spring on the University of the Incarnate Word campus near the downtown. San Antonio is called Military City USA because for almost 300 years soldiers and, later, airmen were stationed here. If you were a career soldier or airman, somewhere along the line you were stationed here. Shake any tree and a retired general will fall out. The list of former military residents includes Robert E. Lee, Black Jack Pershing and a young lieutenant named Dwight Eisenhower, who met his future wife here. Ike also coached a college football team. Gen Douglas MacArthur went to high school in San Antonio at the West Texas Military Academy. Needless to say, MacArthur was the class valedictorian.

What kind of cash cow is this “dirty little river?” Houston, read with jealousy the following: A 2014 study found that the River Walk attracted about 9.3 million non-resident visitors whose main reason for coming to the area was to visit the River Walk. Locals made about 2.2 million trips to the River Walk resulting in a total of about 11.5 million visitors. These non-resident visitors spend about $2.4 billion each year, which supports more than 31,000 jobs. These workers earn incomes and benefits of over $1 billion. The economic impact is about $3.1 billion per year. This economic activity results in about $173 million flowing to various state and local government agencies, and almost $201 million in revenues being generated for the federal government. That’s a lot of money for this sleepy river village. But how do they keep it from flooding? Back in the 1920s, like Houston, Santone flooded awfully. Finally a series of dams and locks regulated the water level. However, the bottom depth varies, so if some Saturday night drunk falls into the river, she may be up to her waist, or 30 feet down.

This water level is obviously one of the major drawbacks for the aptly named Bayou City. After Houston’s 1920 and 1930 floods, like San Antonio, plans were made and two dams — Addicks and Barker — were built west of the city to prevent flooding. (Quit laughing.) Here’s a quick overview for real estate brokers who are using glass bottom boats. Buffalo Bayou rises west of Katy near the Waller County line in extreme northern Fort Bend County and flows 65 miles east, across southern Harris County, to its mouth on the San Jacinto River. It goes through some of the most expensive neighborhoods and winds through the downtown. You couldn’t ask for a better location for lazy boat rides, kayaking and waterside restaurants. But over the years the bayou became neglected, polluted (there used to be a boating event called the Reekin’ Regatta). In recent years some good citizens have tried to fix up the banks with jogging paths and trees, bushes, etc. But it still ain’t no River Walk.

OK, that’s the problem, what’s the solution? First, we need a major tourist attraction to bring visitors to our bayou. I suggest we buy, or at least rent, the Alamo. Hey, San Antonio has been talking a good fight for decades about how the city is going to upgrade the Alamo Plaza, get rid of the Bible thumpers and the sleaze shops. All hat and no cattle. So Houston moves in and takes charge. Then we copy San Antonio’s flood plans, with docks and locks. Houston sent men to the moon, so don’t tell me we can’t figure out how to put in a few flood-free bars and cafes. The main point is that we don’t consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, unless you want that riverside café in your den.


Ashby deposits at the Left Bank of the Bayou at ashby2@comcast.net

Over Lock, Stock, and Barrel

February 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

To our stockholders:

It is time once again for our annual report from the Sludge Energy Co., and a good report it is. As your CEO, COO and CFO, I can assure you that your investment with this firm is in good hands. Oh, sure, like every company in the oil, gas and nuclear power industry we have had our ups and downs. This past year was mostly down, but expect a quick turnaround as soon as the SEC, not to mention the FAA and FEC, complete their silly investigations. Our former treasurer has turned state’s evidence, his bookkeeper is under the Federal Witness Protection Program and our auditor has disappeared, along with last quarter’s earnings. I think we can safely say that it’s the fault of the liberal media.

This brings us to the current political situation. As you know, I have been a Trump man ever since he got elected. His administration has no greater friend than Sludge – and vice versa. The Trump Justice Department has put a brake on those ridiculous indictments left from the Obama administration over price-fixing, embezzlement and that mysterious warehouse fire that destroyed all of last year’s records. The FBI has called off its investigation since most of the agents have been fired. Then there is the IRS. As I told their top officials at a $10,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner for “Trump in 2020” at a Chili’s in League City, Trump’s new tax bill is a refined idea, especially for those of us who own refineries, as the Koch brothers say. We’ve been told that the new tax plan gives great cuts to the wealthy. And I say, “What about Hillary and Benghazi?” No, the President does not need to release his income tax forms as other Presidents have done ever since we had income taxes, despite what he promised. So what? Trump also promised to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Can he help it if the Mexicans don’t keep his promise?

The Labor Department has seen the light and no longer plans to take action against the company’s $2-an-hour minimum wage. OSHA is still smarting about a few accidents in the workplace, but as we successfully explained, most of our employees are healing quickly, and should be back of the job within months. As for ICE, its agents have been working overtime under this new administration, although our friends in the Deep State have agreed to give us a 30-minute notice before any raid. Our contract with the Pentagon to furnish fuel for dirigibles has been renewed, even though the backlog has been growing.

Our best news is about the EPA, those nosey tree-huggers who keep finding fault with our refineries, toxic dump sites and tar pits. Just because we are a founding member of FOS, Friends of Smog, we have been hit with meaningless fines and reprimands over a few minor acid spills plus an entire nearby neighborhood being razed after one tiny plant malfunction. As I explained to EPA inspectors over a three-martini lunch with a few going-away presents, it’s all about jobs – jobs for EMS workers, jobs for lawyers, jobs for funeral homes and the accompanying florists. They understood. Congress is also co-operating by doing nothing. The Trump administration doesn’t believe in the myth of global warming, nor do I or any other member of the tea party. The glaciers are still there. True, some are now floating just off Long Island, but they should melt within a month. And I really agree that there are too many polar bears, don’t you? Despite the Texas Congressional delegation being called “moribund,” “worthless” and “inconsequential,” by the elite news media, they are excellent in obeying our orders and receiving campaign contributions, if you get my drift. Notice how, after Hurricane Harvey, our members of Congress got FEMA to spring into action. Well, they will by next spring.

On the state level, our legislature is going to meet again next year and will no doubt be as productive as last year in supporting lower taxes, fewer regulations dealing with fracking, pay-day lending and truck safety. With that irritating Speaker Joe Strauss gone, the state lawmakers can continue to cut funds for frivolous expenses such as education, public health and clean water. Oh, and momentum is gathering to bring back chain gangs. Every poll shows most Texans are more concerned about transgender bathrooms in our schools than about the schools themselves, teacher’s pay and classroom size. The poll was taken by Every.

There has been some, well, a lot – of criticism about our jacking up the price of gas to the consumer. We had to raise prices in May and June because the summer driving season hit, with all the families piling into their gas-guzzling SUVs to visit grandma before she lost her Obamacare. Then came fall, and northerners needed heating oil for their furnaces, so supply and demand took over and we had to raise prices again. Christmas shoppers put a drain on worldwide fuel supplies, as did New Year’s party-goers. We all know how trouble in the Middle East caused a shortage of oil, then came Hurricane Harvey which ate up vast amounts of diesel for National Guard rescue vehicles. Otherwise, prices held steady.

Many of you have been wondering about the sexual harassment charges made against executives in Sludge Oil. Nonsense. I have visited our plants, warehouses and outhouses many times. If a 60-year-old, bald, five-foot-three, 200-pound sex symbol can’t get sexually harassed, who can? I have hired the Weinstein, Rose & Lauer law firm, even though those accusations from disgruntled employees leave me no choice but to have them de-gruntled. About those rumors that we are doing business with Russia despite sanctions against its billionaire leadership, they are lies. We are dealing with a reputable company in the Cayman Islands, Vodka Oil & Oligarchy. Finally, I will explain my ankle monitor in the next annual report.


Ashby’s stock is at ashby2@comcast.net

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