Thursday, August 23, 2012

Question of the Year

Why do Republicans hate women so much?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Parker misses the mark for Houston's airport future

Houston's Mayor Annise Parker may have just signed the death warrant for one of the nation's busiest airports, Bush Houston Intercontinental, and in the process, the city's economy.

I am actually a big supporter of Parker's; as a native Houstonian, I am proud to see her progressive views bring the city into the next century. However, with this move, she has made a serious mistake in judgment that will have reverberations for years to come.

Southwest Airlines, which recently acquired AirTran, approached the City of Houston to make Hobby Airport and make it into an international facility, with custom facilities. IAH, some 40 miles or so to the north, is already a major international airport, the biggest hub of United Airlines (the largest airline in the world) and the former home of Continental Airlines. IAH is also home to major international carriers, including Lufthansa, Emirates, Qatar and KLM/Air France.

Southwest, which is headquartered in Dallas, chose Hobby as a new international base because legal restrictions preclude it from flying internationally out of Love Field there. Also, presumably, flying out of Atlanta (as AirTran currently does) would be too expensive for Southwest. So they began an all-out assault on Houston's City Hall, casting them as the underdog against a world full of evil major carriers (like United), promising low-cost flights for Houstonians.

Apparently, Mayor Parker agreed, and has issued a memo to the Council that Hobby should become an international facility.

And in doing so, she has sealed Houston's fate to having two mediocre airports instead of one major one. Houston will no longer be an international hub in the broader sense; instead, the city will find two weakened airports in its wake.

Parker views this as Southwest wants her to: As a battle between Southwest and United, between high fares and low fares, between David and Goliath. In reality, this is a battle of Houston against the world.

Of the 10 largest cities in the country (where Houston is ranked No. 4), only one has more than one international airport: New York. And even there, the airports span two states. But the rest of the list: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego, San Antonio, San Jose, Dallas and San Antonio... all have one international airport. (Dallas and Chicago have two airports, but each has one major international and one that focuses on Southwest domestic services.)

This is a strategic choice. By allowing Southwest to operate international flights, United, the dominant carrier at Hobby, will cut its international flights out of IAH. If Southwest flies four flights a day to Cancun, for example, out of HOU, then United will not have the demand to maintain its current schedule and will reduce the number of flights. Because hubs operate on the concept of passengers moving through the city to connect, IAH will then be presented with a problem. Currently, someone in London, for example, could fly to Cancun through Houston; they would fly British Airways and connect to United for Cancun. However with fewer flights, they will have to wait longer for a flight, or might miss connections altogether. Their choice will be to fly with a different carrier (through Atlanta or Dallas) to get better flights. No one wants to be trapped in an airport on a long layover.

Southwest does not currently codeshare with other airlines, so it will provide international connections from its own domestic flights. The net result is that international traffic, which generates facility taxes for Houston, will simply bypass IAH, going elsewhere. Houston loses. Not Southwest or United, but Houston.

So with all due respect to Mayor Parker, Southwest has successfully fooled her and the council into thinking that this is some sort of a good vs. evil plot. Instead, Parker is dooming the city to a future with less revenue and global prestige.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The GOP isn't conservative

For years, the GOP has been successful in one thing: framing the political debate.

They managed to turn the word "liberal"into a dirty word; they turned the term "conservatve" into some sort of badge of honor.

And in 212, the time is more urgent than ever to change the debate. The GOP is no longer conservative, and they shouldn't be allowed to co-opt and bastardize the word. They are "reactionary."

The very idea of conservatism, as opposed to liberalism or progressivism, is that adherents want to "conserve" the status quo; rather than embrace social change, conservatives prefer to keep things the way they are. "Fiscal conservatives" (a term I personally hate) implies that the person being described is reluctant to spend additional money, keeping things as-is.

The Republicans of 2012 are throwing the word "conservative around" like a beach ball, seeing who can be the most "conservative" and using it as some sort of yardstick. The truth is, by their own rhetoric, the Republicans are taking a far different position than just insisting on the status quo.

Just in the past year, Republicans have worked to roll back society, with new restrictions on abortion, women's health, gay rights, church/state separation, workers' rights and so forth. (All the while ignoring the jobs issue, but that's another post.)

The proper term for this isn't conservative; it's "reactionary." There isn't a conservative in the bunch.

Don't let the GOP own words and definitions. Democrats should use their own tactics to drive the narrative and call the GOP out for what they truly are: people who want to roll the country back years, if not decades.

The GOP has made a hard right turn, and as such is now working to move backwards. This is reactionism at its finest. We should start using that more accurate term, and stop giving them a pass on the word "conservative."

Friday, March 02, 2012

Farewell, old friend

It feels like a death in the family.

Well, maybe not. I might be overstating a bit. But it definitely feels like a big loss. Losing a close friend, knowing you'll never see him again. It's gut-wrenching.

That's how today has hit me. Today marks the first day that Continental Airlines no longer exists. And while it's just a corporation, just an airline to many, to me it's like an old friend.

I grew up in the shadows of Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), always comforted by the sounds of jets flying over my house. I remember always looking up to see if I could identify the airplane, telling myself that one day, I would get to ride on one of those planes and go far, far away from my little mobile home in Nowhere, Texas.

A lot of things have changed back then. I now travel for work and have become a Platinum frequent flyer. And when it came to choosing a favorite airline, I chose my hometown favorite, whose name and logo I had seen for decades — Continental. I had heard about the work that CEO Gordon Bethune had put into it. And when I started flying, I saw the difference immediately.

The customer service was simply above and beyond. The crew always made flying a bit of a fun adventure that I wanted it to be. Whether it was Mexico or Missouri, Continental made sure the trip was pleasant.

More importantly, no matter where I was in the world, when I saw the Continental logo, I knew it meant "home." It may have meant many things to many people (or nothing to others), but that comforting blue always meant that there was a plane somewhere headed back to Texas and back to the people I love. It was my own personal safety beacon.

As of today, Continental has been merged with United. The globe is still there, but it's got a strange new name, as though the house you grew up in has new owners who have changed everything. It's a bizarre feeling, seeing the ghost of a friend now passed in the blue globe, constantly being reminded things are very different now. The spirit of that entity is there, but you can't quite get to it. "Home" doesn't necessarily mean Houston anymore. It might mean Denver or Chicago. It's a bit jarring.

But even so, I'm remaining faithful to the airline that has succeeded my beloved Continental. I feel a bit lost, but I'm grateful to still have some of the amazing people around to make my future trips enjoyable.

So Continental, farewell, and thank you for years of an outstanding experience. I'll always remember to work hard and to fly right.

Ex-Cons, it's time to fly.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

That's what friends are for

We all have them in our lives.

People we admire, love, respect. Friends who have played important roles in your life, even if you don't always remind them of that, or even get together for drinks as often as you should.

Life has a funny way of putting you where you need to be, when you need to be there.

I received an invitation to a party for a friend named Renee. Renee and I used to both be in the teaching business, and then in the yearbook business. She and I have managed to stay in touch, but we're separated by so many miles (25) that I never get to see her, except a couple of times a year.

The people organizing the party were people I had known in various capacities — the fellow teachers and advisers (Peggy, Cindy, etc.) and some yearbook business folk (Tina, Brad). The host was Bobby, a mentor that I am proud to call a friend.

At the party Thursday evening, we ate, laughed, caught up and had a generally great time. And it made me think of the butterfly effect — how a chance encounter or event led me to meet these remarkable people — and what the future holds.

The person I've known there the longest is also one of the few people that I consider a hero. Bobby is a legend in his chosen fields (writing, education and journalism) but he easily could have excelled at anything, from being a record A&R exec to being one of the best-read writers of modern times. Instead, Bobby turned his career early on into working with youth in scholastic journalism, focusing on Texas.

I met Bobby when I was a high school freshman in 1989. He presented me with an award for winning a state contest. He had given a speech before the contest that was laced with dry humor that I found refreshing, especially in a situation so tense (to a 15-year-old). So at the next convention where Bobby was a speaker, I made it a point to attend. And I loved it — so much that I kept going each year, and later when I became a teacher, I would send my students to hear him in whatever standing-room only room he was in.

But in between, when I was in college, Bobby's office was about two blocks from my dorm. Being the geeky fan that I was (am), I would walk into his office without any kind of appointment. Today we would probably consider it stalking. But back then, I guess Bobby sensed that I was harmless enough and that I really just admired everything he did and how he did it. He let the annoying college kid hang out in the office, and even gave the kid some work to do. I imagine it's how an aspiring pianist would feel meeting Elton John — awe and gratitude.

So Thursday was an intense recharging and a long moment of geek — not only was I in Bobby's house (!), I got to see his collections, hear the stories and get to know him just that much better. After 23 years (!), he's even more "real" than a lot of people I know, and full of more wisdom than ever before. Note: When someone who has shaped your life and career offers you the chance to visit their home, do it.

That energy was carried on by others, like Peggy. I met Peggy when my university sent me to her classroom for student teaching. She was one of the top teachers in her field in the state at that time, and I had no idea until i got there. I was grateful for the opportunity, but I was truly taken aback by how honestly friendly she was. She took me under her wing and included me in everything she did. She let me practically run the show with the newspaper staff, and was willing to try new ideas. She was — no — is  a carefree spirit who always manages to have a smile and words of encouragement, despite having been through all sorts of political turmoil related to her doing her job well. She's tough when she needs to be, but always makes time for hugs and laughter. I'm grateful to still call her a friend after 16 years.

Then there's Renee. Renee is maybe a year older than I am, but her spirit is timeless. Since we're about a year apart, we share a lot of experiences. And our careers had striking parallels. We went to the same university, both student taught at the same place, ended up teaching at the same time, and both left to work for the same publishing company. And in the time I got to know Renee, I went from simple friendship to true admiration. She is one of those people you can't help but like — her smile is infectious (ask anyone) and she always has a super-friendly demeanor about her that sometimes belies how smart she is. It's hard to think of someone more with more honest-to-goodness charm than Renee. I was grateful to get the invitation to celebrate her career, because she's someone I hope to maintain a long-term friendship with.

There were others at the party who I look up to (Cindy), who have always been welcoming to me (Sharon, Jeanne, Tina and everyone else) and a few that I don't know as well yet, but hope to some day.

It's not often I blog anymore (as you may have noticed), but being in the presence of all that talent, all that creativity and all that love for each other and passion for their craft... well, I had to find an outlet for it. I can say "thank you" to them individually, but I want it written somewhere that each person I mentioned has played a role in my life and getting me to where I am today. And for that I'm truly grateful.

I sometimes wonder (and get asked) if I'll go back to my old career of being back in the classroom. The truth is, I don't think I could stand it anymore. I do miss working with the students and having our own business, but I don't miss the paperwork, bureaucracy and parental headaches. (That's a separate post.)

I may never go back and sit down behind that Mac again with a group of high school kids, but it doesn't matter, because I've been fortunate enough to meet a series of people who have made it all worthwhile.

Here's to even more decades of continued friendship, and having those guiding forces in my life to help me muddle through.

Maher: Unprecedented disrespect of Obama

From Bill Maher/HBO:

"There is something about this president that makes conservatives think it’s okay to go ape shit in his presence. They didn’t do this Carter, an actual pacifist, or Clinton who really did have a plan for universal health care, or LBJ, who actually made it easier for poor people to vote and eat. All of them clearly, evil America haters, but they got treated with a modicum of respect, at least to their faces.

Not Obama. What can it be that’s different about him?

It’s either his race, or it’s your brain chemistry, or it’s something that happened when you dad spanked you and liked it, and you were looking at a box of Cream of Wheat. I don’t know. I’m not a therapist. Maybe, it’s not race? I don’t know what’s in people’s hearts. Except Newt Gingrich, I know what’s in his heart, lust and cheese fries.

But this type of in the room, in your face, in your space respect disrespect is new. Admit that, and I will admit that of course, something like impeaching Clinton was far more serious, but it was also at least in some ways more respectful. It was done with high pomp through official channels. It was all about the rule of law, and the Chief Justice wore a special robe he got from a musical, or something, and somehow that is a lot more respectful than this.

Not that if Obama ever did anything like Clinton did, he would even be alive. Can you imagine what they would do if they ever found out Obama had sex with a White House intern on Easter? Talk about colored eggs. He would have been impeached two times, one for each testicle. This president has had to be the Caesar’s wife of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Jackie Robinson of American politics, never reacting to the taunts from the stands. But after you do this to try to get his goat, what’s next? A wedgie? A purple nurple?

Gov. Brewer said she did this because she felt threatened. Right, like Obama ran his finger down his blouse and said, ‘you my white princess.’

The right has shown Obama nothing but disrespect since the moment he took office. Their hatred of the man who occupies the Oval Office has become so common place that it is now newsworthy when a Republican doesn’t disrespect Obama. What a sad state of affairs. Obama came into office under the mistaken belief that at even if his opponents disagreed with him, they would still show respect for the office that he holds.

The reality is that Republicans were not just angry that they lost the presidential election. After the economy collapsed, this was expected. No, the right hates President Obama for a different reason. Obama represents something that Carter, Clinton, LBJ, JFK, Truman, and FDR never did. Obama represents a threat to their power as white men.

Every time his conservative foes see President Obama, they are reminded that our nation is changing. When the see the black man occupying the White House they are confronted by their loss of power. The White Republicans feel entitled to the presidency. It is their unfailing belief in their own superiority that is the basis behind their obsession with criticizing Obama as incompetent at every turn. If they can only make America belief that the black president is incompetent then they can be restored to their god given position of lord and master over us all.

It’s not Obama’s dark skin, but what his dark skin represents that evokes hatred without bounds and limits. President Obama’s power of them and the realization that their status as a privileged class is coming to an end are the real reasons why they disrespect President Obama.

Hatred is the fuel of fear, and for white conservatives their hatred of Obama masks the fear attached to the realization that their America is never coming back."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Use quercetin to avoid the niacin flush

If you're taking niacin (or Niaspan™ extended release niacin) for cholesterol, you may have already noticed the famed "niacin flush." It literally feels as though you are sunburned and itchy from the inside... intense heat and redness, followed by itching. It disappears in time, but it's miserable.

It's primarily a prostaglandin response, which means antihistamines don't work. Most doctors recommend taking aspirin about 30 minutes prior to taking your niacin which does work — it reduces or eliminates the flush about 30 percent of the time.

I discovered a more effective anti-flushing agent. Meet quercetin, a naturally-occurring bioflavonoid that acts as an anti-inflammatory. Found in citrus fruits and in apple peels, this chemical blocks the niacin flush about 90 percent of the time! And I say this as having been someone who tried it and is happy with it.

You can buy quercetin at any health food store, or even online. I take 1000mg right before my Niaspan dose of 1500mg at night.

Read the medical research abstract here.

UPDATE: a month later, I write to tell you that just as well as quercetin worked for me, it stopped working. I would wake up at 3 a.m. with itching... so I would take an aspirin. The funny thing is that after weeks of quercetin, the aspirin had this amazing effect: it worked better than it ever did before on preventing flushing. As we type this, I took 2000mg of Niaspan last night with half a 325mg tablet of aspirin, and slept like a baby. No itching that I know of.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why USPS will continue to fail, and how banks can survive

I want to root for the United States Postal Service. I truly do.

Who (over the age of 18) doesn't remember getting a long-awaited letter in the mail? Who hasn't smiled as a postcard from a far-away locale? Mail is part of our collective memories.

For me, it goes even further — I've known several people who work for USPS.

But after this week, I'm going to commit to using USPS as little as possible. I've got e-mail, a fax line and FedEx at my disposal. Don't mail me; I might not reply.

I needed to send a check overnight to my bank, which has a P.O. box., so I used the USPS's online "Click-N-Ship" online service to print a label. For $18, my postage printed, and all I had to do was drop it off.

I printed out the label on Monday, Jan. 16, a holiday. I swung by my local post office on Tuesday morning around 9 a.m. and dropped the Express Mail envelope in the clearly-marked Express Mail drop box outside. Cut-off time was 5 p.m.; I had made it with several hours.

So I was a little pissed when I looked the next morning to find that my package hadn't even been scanned yet. I was busy with work, so I checked later that day to find out that it was scanned around 1 p.m. that day — still here in Austin. more than 24 hours had gone by and the package hadn't moved!

I called the USPS toll-free number, which is akin to one of those hedge mazes, talked to four different people (one of whom admitted she had no idea what she was doing), until finally being told to print out a screenshot and take it to my local post office for a refund.

So I did that, only to be told that they can't give a refund for non-delivery until the item delivers. Chew on that for a second.

The next day, Thursday, Jan. 19, now 48 hours after I mailed the package, it arrived at the PO box in Phoenix. I went for my refund. This time I was told that the initial scan was on Jan. 18, so the package had indeed made it overnight.

I explained that I had dropped the letter off on Tuesday, so it was a day late, then I was asked for something with a postmark. Huh? Apparently, unless you go to the counter and get a receipt for your drop-off, they won't guarantee overnight delivery, although they're happy to collect the $18.

So, my question to the USPS is "Why do you encourage people to go online and then place drop-off boxes if you really don't want people doing that?"

Anyway, I got screwed out of $18. Fast forward to the actual package itself. It was a check — a very large one — that I needed deposited into my checking account. I use Charles Schwab Bank, which has only one branch in Nevada. For all intents and purposes, it's an online bank with some awesome features. Normally I could just take a photo (seriously) of the check for a deposit, but over a certain amount, they need the physical check. So I overnighted it to them.

Unfortunately, they couldn't find it, so Friday morning, the deposit still wasn't there. I made a call the Schwab, and a banker answered on the second ring. An actual human. Who listened to me and understood the situation. He promised to contact the appropriate people to find the check and deposit it... in fact, he would waive the normal hold on large checks and deposit the entire thing for immediate withdrawal. I didn't ask for that, but it was an example of great customer service that goes above and beyond.

It was an incredibly stark contrast to the Postal Service. One might try to make some sort of "government agency" joke, but this is really just human errors compounded by laziness. They didn't try to make it right; they didn't care. Schwab on the other hand, didn't really do anything wrong, but still went out of their way to make me feel that they valued me as a customer.

And for that, I'd like to talk to Chuck. And thank him. And remind him to never, ever use the post office again.

P.S. This same afternoon, Continental Airlines called to thank ME for sending in a compliment about one of their flight attendants. An actual person called me to thank me for thanking them. Amazing! Such wonderful customer service. United — please don't kill that.