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!

 

The Latest Cold + Flu Fighter

October 11, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Health & Wellness

Although past studies have indicated that endurance sports (like that marathon training you’re pondering) put strain on the immune system, a new analysis in Frontiers in Immunology is flipping the script. We know that during intense exercise, infection-fighting immune cells increase 10 fold in the bloodstream, drop to low levels afterward and finally return to normal hours later—a finding that was previously interpreted as a sign of immune suppression. But now researchers speculate that this cell-turnover timeline is impossible, meaning that the “destroyed” cells (that were thought to have regenerated just hours later) can’t be replaced that quickly. Moreover, these “lost” cells actually end up in other more infection-prone parts of the body like the lungs. So it turns out that all exercise, and that includes the intense stuff, is good for immunity. One last thing, though: Make sure you’re balancing your marathon-training schedule with plenty of low impact, flexibility exercises like Pilates or yoga.

—Amanda Altman

Island Paradise: Aruba

September 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog, Uncategorized

Sunset from Pincho’s Grill & Bar

 

Island Paradise

Plan your next getaway on Aruba

Story and Photography by Laurette Veres

 

The wildly popular tropical island of Aruba is part of what’s known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire). Sunny and sultry Aruba is just outside the line of fire for hurricane season, making it an ideal location for a tropical vacation. It’s also the Caribbean’s hottest spot for adventure and fun!

 

Have fun poolside at the Aruba Marriott

The incomparable Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is tailor-made to host your once-in-a-lifetime event. With 411 stylish guestrooms and 23 lavish suites, this hotel has room for everyone. Each room features a 100-square foot balcony with a breath-taking view of the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea. There is something for everyone at this resort, from the party pool with cascading waterfall to the adults-only H2Oasis pool. Where else can you see a Zumba class break out in the middle of the day? The party is always hopping at Stellaris Casino. Family and friends of all ages will be happy on this happy island.

The real fun in Aruba takes place in the ocean. The currents are calm in these waters…lake calm. Your drinks can actually float, undisturbed, alongside you in a fabulous, inflatable flamingo (if you were brilliant enough to bring one). Aruba is the perfect island to push your limits and try some new water sports. Stand-up paddle boarding is very popular. Stretch yourself even further and try a paddleboard yoga class by Vela Aruba. There’s nothing more “zenful” than the peaceful Caribbean Sea swaying beneath you as you find your center. Looking for something more exhilarating? Book a kayaking tour, take a ½ day snorkel sail, parasail above it all or bounce to heart to your heart’s content on floating inflatable trampolines!

 

Looking for a group activity that’s fun for all ages? Beach tennis is big here! It’s the official sport of the isle. In fact, the sport is so popular here, Aruba hosts international beach tennis tournaments. We signed up for private lessons with Aksel Samardzic, currently ranked #9 in the world. It’s like playing tennis on a beach volleyball court, the racket is similar and the ball is a bit smaller. Scoring is identical to tennis and your group will be ready to play a match after only a thirty-minute lesson. It can really be a great team building activity for family and friends who might not know each other well.

What better way to get a real taste of authentic cuisine than spending one-on-one time with the chef. Learn from Chef Ever as he expertly seasons the catch-of-the-day. Watch his demonstration, or don an apron and join him at the stove. Compare your finished plate to his, then take a seat and enjoy the bountiful results.

Walkways connect the beaches together in Aruba

One of my favorite things about the Aruba coastline is the walkway that connects the beaches, creating miles of scenic beachside boardwalk. This family friendly, “walkable” esplanade is great for baby strollers and wheel chairs, speed walkers or casual promenades. Guests with young children will appreciate the multiple play areas right on the beach.

After an evening stroll along the Marriott boardwalk, dinner literally “pops up” at Atardi beachfront restaurant- just in time for sunset. Enjoy a toes-in-sand sunset supper starting with sashimi snapper, tomato caprese, or crab salad. Popular main course items are fresh blackened mahi mahi, grilled sea bass, tropical red snapper and more.

 

Healthy brunch items at Aruba Marriott Governor’s Suite.

The Marriott’s Governor suite is the perfect brunch spot. Your guests won’t be able to get enough of the expansive Palm Beach views. Think mimosa bar and hot and cold brunch buffet on the balcony. Enjoy mini-quiche, pancakes, and pastries or get your granola on. Your guests will be impressed with the food and the views.

In Aruba, almost every location is picture-perfect and Pincho’s Grill and Bar is no exception. Arrive at the Aruba Surfside Marina in time for sunset and don’t miss the “Love Potion” premium margarita. Absorb the soothing sound of whispering waves as you enjoy a meal of luscious crab cakes, crispy coconut shrimp, dark rum-infused blue cheese tenderloin and pan- seared Caribbean grouper. As the sun sets over the water and the moon rises over the palm trees, you’ll understand why you came to this special island for an unforgettable trip.

 

Essentials:

www.arubamarriott.com
www.velaaruba.com
www.pinchosaruba.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pillot Building

August 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Community

Located in the 1000 block of Congress Avenue at Fannin, the Pillot Building is a living marker of both our state’s history and a prominent Houston family. Joseph Eugene Pillot (1820–1896) emigrated from France in his youth, arriving in Houston in 1837, when it was still capital of the Republic of Texas. As a businessman, Pillot was involved with both the railroads and barge-shipping, helping to make his adopted city competitive with its then-rival, Galveston. He was also the proprietor of Pillot’s Opera House—a playhouse, music hall and all-purpose public auditorium—where noted performers of the day, such as Lillie Langtry and Edwin Booth, appeared. (Unfortunately, in 1889 the Opera House burned to the ground, a not-so-uncommon fate for buildings of the period.) One of Pillot’s sons, Camille Gabriel Pillot (1861–1953), became a partner in the Henke and Pillot grocery-store chain, which operated throughout East Texas for nearly a century before it was ultimately subsumed by the Kroger Company.

Yet another, later scion of the clan, Houston-born Eugene Pillot (1886–1966) achieved national recognition as a playwright, poet, author and songwriter; his most-noted work, the one-act Two Crooks and a Lady (written circa 1918), was produced across the country during the 1920s and 1930s and remains in print to this day.

The three-story Pillot Building itself is most notable for its cast-iron front structure and ornate Corinthian columns. The neglected edifice suffered major damage during the 1980s; it had to be painstakingly reconstructed using its original materials, a feat accomplished by Morris Architects and the construction firm of Henry Alvin Lott (1908–2006). Today the Pillot Building’s ground floor is home to Christian’s Tailgate Bar and Grill, a popular sports bar and restaurant. —Clifford Crouch

Paper Tigers

July 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE FRONT PORCH – Some day my prints will come, or rather my printed papers will come. But I can’t hold out much longer. Out of news, out of comics, down to my last liner for the bird cage. I need my news fix for I am out of touch. Terrible about the Lusitania. Where is the cavalry, or at least a pimple-faced newsboy? But let me begin at the beginning and see if you can identify with my plight. Having been flooded out of my home by Hurricane Harvey, with a great deal of help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which released a tidal wave of water from the dams so my neighborhood wouldn’t flood, thus flooding my neighborhood. We are now in our new digs.

Among our problems is changing addresses for our newspapers. I had dutifully stopped the papers, I thought, once the Coast Guard helicopter had pulled me and my vodka collection off the roof. But my former neighbors, still bailing, hunted me down at the Salvation Army shelter to demand that I come get 23 soggy papers off my front yard. When I moved to my new address, I called up the papers — I take both the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times — to renew my subscriptions. Of course, these days companies don’t employ humans to deal directly with pesky customers, so we get recordings, something like: “Your call is very important etc. etc. Push 1 for… push 2 for… This call will be recorded in case you are one of those malcontents who make threats, and this way we can track you down.”

I called the Chronicle. After being put on hold and listening to “The Best of Polish Polkas,” plus a greeting from the Chron “right here in the great state of Texas,” I finally got a real person. “Hi, I’m Amber, how can I help you?” I gave her my name, address, and told her I wanted to subscribe to her paper. “Certainly, can I have your name, address and why you are bothering me? We can start your paper tomorrow.” Next, I called the Times. My call was very important to them, so I only had to wait one season. “We will be glad to put you down for a subscription. Would you like the paper in English? We are an international paper, so we never know. We can start your paper tomorrow.” The next day, no papers, nor the next nor the next. I called the Chron “in the great state of Texas.” The paper’s two employees in the circulation department seemed to be busy, but eventually I got a real person. I explained my predicament. “Can I have your name, age, address and the last four digits of your Social Security number?” I am told that the Chron will be on my doorstep tomorrow. The Times also assured me that all the news that’s fit to print would be on my doorstep the next morning.

This situation goes on for a week, then two. By now I have the Chron’s number on my speed dial (713 220-7211) and am on a first-name basis with Amber. She says she will pass my complaints on to her supervisor. The Times (1-800 698-4637) tells me to “Press 1 for English, 2 for Tibetan, 3 for …”). My call is very important to them, but apparently not important enough to do anything about my complaint. A voice asked, “Now, you are at 122 Senility Circle, right?” I grit my teeth and reply: “No, I am 123 Senility Circle. That’s my address. I know where I live.” “Oh, we must have gotten it wrong. Silly us.” One morning the doorbell rang, and my wife answered. It was a neighbor, slightly exasperated. He is holding five soggy New York Times in his arms. He said he’d even called the Times to stop cluttering up his front doorway with the paper. It did no good. I made another call and was told: “I see that you have a vacation stop, with no re-start date.” Do you ever get the idea you are surrounded by below-par IQs?

At times (or Chronicle) we like to beat up on various levels of our government, and ask: “Why can’t the government be run like a private business?” We’d better be glad it isn’t. Three weeks have now passed, honest, and I finally get my Times. But no Chronicle. “Hi, Amber, I still haven’t gotten my paper. This is a recording.” I get one in return, “in the great state of Texas.” A voice eventually answers, and I ask: “Why don’t you say, ‘in the great city of Houston?’” Pause. “Because we’re in Dallas.” Maybe I’d have better luck if I subscribed to the Dallas Morning News. This may explain why, when I asked for the supervisor, I got put on hold, and heard Cowboy cheers in the background. The supervisors – I’ve talked to several – assured me that they would take care of the problem. One ominously referred to “discipline,” but it was not clear if he was referring to the carrier or that troublemaker from Houston who keeps complaining. Maybe they learned I’d worked for The Houston Post and this was their revenge. That day’s mail brought me my Visa bill. It showed a $44 charge from the Houston Chronicle.

It is not fair to beat up on the poor souls who spend their waking hours sitting in a cubicle dealing with angry customers, but it would be nice if companies trained them correctly and kept their promises. “Amber, check your records. How many times have I called to complain?” “It looks like six.” “More like sixteen.” So here I stand in my bathrobe at my front door, looking silly and despondent for my lifeline to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that newspapers are sick and dying. Perhaps it’s because of poor circulation.


Ashby is waiting at ashby2@comcast.net

Our Own Polezni Durak

July 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE STREET CORNER – Once again we are out here patrolling Texas to keep it safe from the Ruskies. Obviously no one else is doing it, so the job falls to us, and suddenly it is a much more important job. If you just got back from building your part of the wall on the Rio, I will quickly bring you up to speed. Everyone — except our President — knows the Russians tried to influence the 2016 President elections in favor of Donald Trump. What we didn’t know is how they operated in Texas. Top Kremlin spies, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, came to Texas and, using phony names, PayPal and fake emails, got Texans to fight one another, demonstrate, and counter demonstrate to help Trump. It was an easy success. The Kremlin even hatched opposition to the annual military exercise, Jade Helm 15, getting the more gullible among us, a majority, to fear Obama was going to confiscate our howitzers and militarily seize the state.

End of the story, right? Wrong. For now we must deal with the polezni durak. Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and an expert on all things sneaky and Russian, flatly says the Russians got Trump elected President. Gen. Hayden also may solve a mystery: “The most benign explanation as to why Trump seems to not criticize Putin is a phase from the Soviet Union: polezni durak, ‘the useful idiot,’ the sort of person the Kremlin secretly held in contempt but went all out to exploit.” That’s a chilling thought. We’re being governed by a useful idiot? That does explain a lot, although many Americans’ contempt for the President is not so secret. We also have a new fly in the borsht. It’s a virtual currency called Bitcoin, which sounds like a dime with teeth marks. Bitcoins leave no fingerprints, no paper trail. It didn’t take long for Russian military intelligence officials to spot this new tool and use it. So if you suddenly start getting funds from an anonymous source, do the patriotic thing: call me and we’ll split it.

What about Texas? Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged that the Internet Research Agency – the Kremlin’s disinformation operation — is “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. We must assume that agents Krylova and Burchik are making their plans to infiltrate Texas again, if they haven’t already landed and are putting their disasters in place. (Have you checked out the Astros’ bullpen lately?) A major part of the Internet Research Agency’s M/O is the distraction. Notice how Trump keeps trying to turn Americans’ attention to something other than Russian collusion? NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, fake news, an FBI agent’s notes to his lover, porn stars. Oh, wait, forget the last one.

Putin (“Pootie” to our President) knows his targets: someone so egomaniacal as to really believe all the flattery, promises and photo ops. Art of the deal? This is the Great Negotiator who moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, where it had been alongside every other nation’s embassy, to Jerusalem and got zero in return. This is the same savvy deal maker who agreed to cancel the joint U.S.-South Korean military which had been held for decades and he received in return? Nothing. We got taken, snookered, conned. His next book should be called “The Art of the Steal.” Also, your useful idiot needs an enemy — someone or some group to attack and, when doing so, receives cheers from a fawning crowd. In this case, the press, immigrants, then immigrants and the press. This the Age of the Demagogue. Find a leader who appeals to our worst instincts, and don’t forget fear. All we have to fear are fear mongers themselves. “They are storming across our borders! Build a wall! They are breaking into our houses. Grab a gun! Global warming and dirty air are hoaxes. Build an ark and get a gasmask!”

Let’s put ourselves in the place of Krylova and Burchik. Which Texas leader is the Official State Demagogue? Who keeps pandering to our fears, paranoia and cynicism? The usual suspects are numerous. We have a state attorney general who keeps us occupied with local ordinances on plastic bags, constantly suing Washington to leave Texas alone, free to pollute and turn away selected voters, all the while neatly obscuring the fact that he is facing criminal hard time for fraud. Our land commissioner doled out $400,000 in bonuses to agency employees and billed taxpayers for personal out-of-state trips that included receiving a “Jesus shot” in Oklahoma. Gov. Greg Abbott is a Trump lapdog.

The Texas Legislative Study Group reported the state ranks 50th among states in percentage of high school graduates, first in amount of carbon emissions, first in hazardous waste produced, last in voter turnout, first in percentage of people without health insurance, and second in percentage of uninsured kids. Texas ranks fourth highest for teenage birth rate, the lowest in the nation for women with health insurance, and is the second lowest in the nation for percent of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in the first trimester. Texas also ranks the fourth highest for percentage of women living in poverty. We are 44th in high school graduation rates and 47th in SAT scores. In higher education, in Texas, only 51 percent of students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, meaning that only 17 percent of Texans will earn a bachelor’s degree.

So what did the Texas Legislature spend its time and our money on during this last session? Transgender school bathrooms, the good ol’ distraction. And who spearheaded this entire slight-of-hand? Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He fits all the criteria – demagoguing, egomaniacal, pandering to our fears, etc. Could it be that Dan Patrick is our own polezni durak?


Ashby is suspicious at ashby@comcast.net

Horns of a Dilemma

July 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE OFFICE – They are now hanging on the wall here, a large set of cattle horns. Having been flooded out of our happy home for the last 50 years by Hurricane Harvey, we have moved to new digs. Going through boxes, I came up with this set of horns which had adorned my old office. The brief backstory and why you should care: My mother’s grandfather was a Texas rancher, and back then the big meal of the day was lunch. So each day Oscar Jones would come in and sling his dusty, sweaty cowboy hat on the dinner table. My grandmother, a child at the time, thought that was disgusting, so she sought out the ranch butcher and they selected the cow, bull or unicorn, with the best horns. It was butchered and the horns were mounted in the ranch house’s front hall. Each noon Oscar could come in and toss his hat on the horns instead of on the cornbread, black-eyed peas and bull tongues.

I know this story because, as a child, I was forced to accompany my mother to visit relatives back in the hinterlands. It was a dreary, wet and gray afternoon and the ladies were discussing Uncle Edgar’s gout or Aunt Susie Jane Alice Maggie’s second husband’s lynching or some such thing. If there is anything a 10-year-old doesn’t want to hear, it is family tales, so I went rummaging in the garage and came upon two separate horns, and brought them in, curious. “Oh, my. Where did you find those?” Aunt Babs Sharon JennyJoan asked. And then they told me the tale. I took the horns home and the next Christmas there was this big box under the tree with my name on it. The box contained — oh, you are the sharp one – the horns all cleaned and mounted.

The reason I bore you with this family tale is that every family, including yours, has tales, objects, photos and rumors that are in danger of being lost. Tick-tock. Uncle Marvin, who knows all the inside skinny on your aunts, uncles and illegitimate cousins, is not looking well. Grand Ma keeps drooling oatmeal on her bib, so you should update her obit. But the point is, you need to get their oral history before they pass on to that Great Walmart in the Sky. My mother and her sister, Aunt Jane, were a goldmine of family tales, but I waited too late. They did tell me that their father, Lynn Cox, for whom I am named, started out as a 19-year-old railroad conductor in Texas and ended up as vice-president of the railroad. One day my mother and grandmother were riding on his train and a cowboy said he wouldn’t pay for a ticket. Lynn Cox opened a window on the moving train, stuck the cowboy’s head out the window (this was before a/c), slammed the blinds down on his neck and began to kick him, then hauled the poor guy to the platform between the cars, threw him off the train and tossed his bag. My grandmother was screaming and my mother was crying. Ah, you don’t get good family stories like that anymore.

There is a problem of recording some tales, because as the years go by, people’s memories fade and they lose, they lose. Where was I? Oh, yes. The Medal of Honor winner. I was writing a newspaper obit about a late veteran, and the widow sent in info, including that he had received the Medal of Honor. Hey, that was big news, but a quick investigation showed he hadn’t. Now, either the old soldier was stretching the truth or the new widow simply got it wrong. OK, what’s the opposite of serendipity? A friend from Oklahoma decided to look into his ancestry. “I discovered most of them were outlaws.” My wife’s father had a very interesting life. After he died she put together a book, interviewing relatives, friends, going through old clippings and photos, and handed them over to a journalist (I didn’t qualify) who wrote a fine book which will be handed down to our offspring and theirs.

We now come to an important point, and I don’t have a good answer. Like many of you, I have old photographs of ancestors. I know who they are, but if I stick a note on the back of the photograph, Scotch tape only sticks a few years, some photos are too fragile to be written on the back. My grandchildren will be sifting through pictures, unattached notes, and probably toss the whole lot. Here is my great-great-great etc. grandfather, married 1836, with a long white beard, scowling, looks like a Mormon elder with constipation. We refer to him as “Chuckles” Kuykendahl. Someday the grandkids will ask: “Who’s this guy? Looks like a Mormon elder with constipation. Toss.”

Many families have an elderly aunt who can spin tales of bygone days. Get her to talk into a tape recorder and write down her memories, which you will probably lose. Usually it’s impossible to check the accuracies, so go with the more colorful version. Here’s a last one. Euphemia Ashby (I can’t find her real first name) was standing on her front porch during the American Revolution with her two smallest children. Her husband, Capt. Stephen Ashby, “captain of foot,” (infantry) and her two eldest sons were off fighting the Red Coats. A group of British POWs came slouching by. A young British lieutenant broke away and asked Euphemia if he could have a drink of water. “Under these circumstances,” she replied, “I would gladly give a drink of water to the entire British Army.” The young lieutenant smiled at the situation, got his drink, and marched on.

I didn’t tell you about Lynn Cox conducting a train between Houston and Dallas when a drunken cowboy peed in Lynn’s coat pocket. But you can probably beat that one.


Lynn Cox is at ashby2@comcast.net

Take Me to Your Litter

July 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

AISLE 4 – Cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, kale. Why is kale such a hot item these days? Every yuppy and Gen X recipe features kale. Yuk! I’d rather suck rocks. One thing they all have in common is that customers put the veggies in these little translucent plastic bags. They are handy, and certainly beat wrapping your lettuce in a damp towel. But plastic bags can be a nuisance, or even deadly, which brings us to the Texas Legislature.

It seems that some Texans don’t like those plastic bags, and want to outlaw them, at least in their area. West Texas ranchers say their horses and cattle eat plastic bags that blow into the pastures, and die. Galveston residents who depend on tourism, say plastic bags clutter the beaches and hurt business. The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles seem to love a good plastic bag for lunch, making the turtles even more endangered. Other towns just don’t like the clutter of bags clogging sewers, hanging from trees making their towns look blighted, or in some cases even more blighted. So they passed local ordinances banning the bags. Fort Stockton in West Texas approved a ban. The Galveston City Council unanimously backed an ordinance to ban those bags at stores. So did Laredo and Austin. Houston and San Antonio were taking steps in that direction. All told, about 11 Texas cities have banned the bags.

Statewide, they have been prohibited in places like California and Hawaii. But Texas is going in the opposite direction. Our Legislature passed a statewide law that, in effect, prohibits local governments from prohibiting the bags. Laredo merchants took note of this state law and sued. The city of Laredo argued it imposed the ban to avoid spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean disposable bags from the sewer system. Now the Texas Supreme Court has ruled Laredo can’t impose a ban on plastic bags, saying that the Texas constitution declares state law takes precedence over any local law, specifically, the ordinance violated state law that regulates solid waste disposal. The legal term for citing solid waste disposal as grounds for banning bag bans is “a real stretch.” This ruling by the Texas Supreme Court not only tosses out the Laredo ban, but will soon do the same to other cities’ ban ordinances, and end efforts by Houston, etc. to enact similar bans. Republican Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton applauded the decision and warned cities with existing bans to reconsider. “I hope that Laredo, Austin, and any other jurisdictions that have enacted illegal bag bans will take note and voluntarily bring their ordinances into compliance with state law,” he said in a statement. “Should they decline to do so, I expect the ruling will be used to invalidate any other illegal bag bans statewide.” That’s pretty clear.

Who would want to mess with Texas’ mess? Merchants, as mentioned, and Big Oil. You see, those bags are petroleum products, and with California and Hawaii already opting out of plastic bags, who knows how many other states will follow? But that industry doesn’t make state laws, does it? You must be new in town. Of course the oil and gas biz gets what it wants from the Texas Legislature. But there is another, and most disturbing, movement afoot: our state lawmakers telling local governments what to do, because our legislators know best what’s best for us. If the good people of Galveston want to clean up their beaches, what business is it of some lawmaker in Pampa or San Augustine? Why should a legislator from a Dallas suburb care about horses in Fort Stockton? Again, you must be new in town. Follow the money. Check the campaign donations of those who voted for the statewide ban on bans.

This long-distance meddling also follows a hypocritical power grab by our top state leaders. They love to exercise their power. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick got involved in a Houston referendum on gay rights (it wasn’t called that, but it still lost). Patrick also called for the resignation of the Fort Worth ISD superintendent for his stand on transgender school bathrooms that differed from Patrick’s. Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed one Republican candidate for the state legislature over a more moderate one, who won. The governor once called these local rules “a form of collectivism.” The Republican-controlled legislature has even passed laws dealing with local governments’ ordinance on Uber, Lyft and cutting trees. Remember these are the same pols who keep whining about “Washington interference.” Remember Gov. Abbott’s famous quote about keeping the feds out of Texas’ business when he was attorney general: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.”

OK, all this time you have been wondering about plastic bags. The modern lightweight shopping bag is the invention of Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin in the early 1960s for the Swedish packaging company Celloplast. It was patented worldwide by Celloplast in 1965. The popularity of these bags began to snowball from the mid-1980s onwards. It is estimated that the number of plastic bags used and discarded worldwide is about 1 trillion annually, and an estimated 300 million plastic bags end up in the Atlantic Ocean alone. While the average consumer in China uses only two or three plastic bags a year, consumers in Denmark use four, Ireland: 20, Germany: 65, U.S.: about 300, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia: more than 400. Waterways and drains can be clogged by plastic bags and have been linked to severe flooding. Wonder if we should stop blaming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Oh, and the bags don’t just kill horses in West Texas. About 25 children in the U.S. suffocate each year due to plastic bags, mostly laundry bags, and almost nine out of 10 are under the age of 1. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, especially if they are filled with kale.


Ashby bags at ashby2@comcast.net

The Born Experience

July 2, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

What do Sam Donaldson, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Eisenhower have in common? No, they were not brief members of the Trump cabinet. They were all born in Texas. So were Debbie Reynolds (El Paso), Joan Crawford (San Antonio) and Tommy Lee Jones (San Saba). Actually, the entertainment industry is filled with our former neighbors: Carol Burnett (San Antonio), Gary Busey (Goose Creek), Cyd Charisse (born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo), Spanky McFarland (Fort Worth), Steve Martin (Waco). And what would the musical world be without Texans? Willie Nelson (Abbott), Trini Lopez (Dallas), Selena (Lake Jackson), Larry Hagman (Fort Worth) didn.t sing but his mother did, Mary Martin (Weatherford). Who can forget our favorite singing Longhorn, Janis Joplin (Port Arthur) or the Big Bopper (Jiles Perry “J. P.” Richardson, Jr., (Sabine Pass). We also have Beyonce (Houston), Ernest Tubb (Crisp) and Tommy Tune (Wichita Falls). Ragtime composer Scott Joplin (Texarkana) was re-introduced to millions in “The Sting.” Speaking of films, Humphrey Bogart never did say, “Play it again, Sam” in the 1942 film “Casablanca.” The line, “Play it once, Sam,” was spoken by Ingrid Bergman. Sam was played by Dooley Wilson who was born in Tyler. Notice that you never see Sam’s fingers on the keyboard. That’s because he was a drummer.

The military has more than its quota of Texans. While Adm. Chester Nimitz (Fredericksburg) commanded the Pacific Fleet in World War II, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower (Dennison) commanded all Allied troops in the European and African Theater. An interesting story about Ike. He thought he was born in Abilene, Kansas, where he grew up, and put down Abilene as his birthplace on his application to West Point. When Ike became a famous five-star general, a lady in Dennison thought she remembered baby-sitting littlie Ike at the Eisenhower home there. (I’ve visited the house, a tiny, humble place.) Ike was surprised to learn he was a native Texan. The most decorated soldier in World War II was Audie Murphy (Kingston). He could also be listed in the Hollywood category because, after the war, Murphy made more than 40 movies and a TV series. This military thing is traditional: “. . . the Texians being entirely a military people, not only fought, but drank, in platoons.” — Western Monthly Magazine, October, 1838. Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, in “Travels With Charley” observed: “Among other tendencies to be noted, Texas is a military nation. The armed forces of the United States are loaded with Texans and often dominated by Texans. Even the dearly loved spectacular sports are run almost like military operations….Sectional football games have the glory and despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.”

While it is interesting to learn that so many famous people hail from the Lone Star State, it is also interesting to learn that most of the founders of Texas came here from other places. Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin were born in Virginia. William B. Travis and James Bonham came from South Carolina. James Bowie was from Kentucky. The Alamo defenders came from 20 states and six countries. There were only 11 native Texians at the Alamo and they couldn’t speak English. Twenty-two of the defenders just appeared, and no one knows where they were born. At San Jacinto, the Texas Army came from 24 states, 11 countries, and Texas. The only native Texians were 30 Tejanos from San Antonio. “A scene singularly wild and picturesque presented itself to our view. Around 20 or 30 campfires stood as many groups of men: English, Irish, Scots, Mexicans, French, Germans, Italians, Poles, Yankees, all unwashed and unshaved, their long hair and beards and mustaches matted, their clothes in tatters and plastered with mud. A more savage-looking band could scarcely have been assembled.” Some things never change. All these newcomers give fresh meaning to the bumper sticker; “I’m not from Texas, but I got here as soon as I could.” This also includes Dr. Michael DeBakey (Lake Charles), Walter Cronkite (Saint Joseph, Mo.) and Roger Clemens (Dayton, Ohio).

Getting back to those who were born here, the Texans have rather dominated the evil media, especially the TV news. We have Dan Rather (Wharton). Then there are Bob Schieffer (Austin) and Scott Pelly (San Antonio). Lou Dobbs is not from Childress but from “Childress County.” When it comes to athletes, we can’t list them all. Nolan Ryan (Refugio), Ben Hogan (Stephenville), A.J. Foyt (Houston), most of the NFL, Roger Hornsby (Winters), “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (Port Arthur) and a newly pardoned Jack Johnson (Galveston). Incidentally, Johnson fits into a sub-category: BOI. That’s Born On the Island (of Galveston). The BOIs are very proud of that, although most are descendants of Jean Lafitte.

Only two U.S. Presidents were born here, Ike and Lyndon Johnson (Stonewall). Since Jim Hogg, most of our governors were Texan-born. George W. Bush was an exception. (New Haven, Conn.) In other areas, we have Dr. Denton Cooley (Houston), former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (El Paso), H. Ross Perot (Texarkana), Katherine Anne Porter (Indian Creek), Howard Hughes (Houston), painter Robert Rauschenberg (Port Arthur) and Gene Roddenberry (El Paso). Who was the first white female to be born in Texas? It could be Mary James Long, or maybe not. On December 21, 1821, Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long gave birth to Mary James on Bolivar Peninsula, and throughout Jane Long’s life she claimed to having given birth to the first white baby in Texas, and was called “The Mother of Texas.” However, censuses between 1807 and 1826 reveal a number of children born in Texas to Anglo-American mothers prior to 1821. Stephen F. Austin is called “The Father of Texas,” and he once romanced Jane Long. Hmmmm.

Finally, also born in Texas were Bonnie (Rowena) and Clyde (Ellis County) Barrow and David Koresh of the Waco siege fame (Houston.) Let’s assume they forged their birth certificates.


Native Texan Ashby was born at ashby2@comcast.net

A Portmanteau to Celebrate

June 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

GALVESTON – This town has an assortment of neighborhoods such as beautiful old mansions next to pawn shops. The mansions were probably built in a neighborhood of mansions at that time. Here is one example: Ashton Villa, a magnificent home now sitting across the street from a seedy-looking loan company. Scattered around the area are equally well-worn establishments. It was built by James Moreau Brown, beginning in 1859. The family occupied the house until at least 1926. But what happened on the villa’s second story balcony changed Texas’ history and, eventually, America’s. In a word: Juneteenth.

Actually, according to the calendar, the date was June 19th, but this year even Apple added Juneteenth to its calendars under official U.S. holidays. The date was recently celebrated, but if you’re new to Texas, Pilgrim, we’ll discuss why. During the Civil war, on Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued General Order #3, better known as the Emancipation Proclamation, effective as of Jan.1, 1863. It declared that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands were to be freed. This order excluded the five states known later as border states, which were slave states but not in rebellion. So when you think about it, who exactly was freed? Not a soul. A noble gesture, but absolutely meaningless.


Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas.

Here in Texas, although most slaves lived in rural areas, by 1860 more than 1,000 resided in both Galveston and Houston. The war actually caused the number of slaves to increase in Texas as slave owners fled here from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought their slaves with them. At the end of the Civil War, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. (San Antonio, being mostly Hispanic, had only168 among a population of 3,436.) As for Galveston, it was the only part of Texas that was conquered and occupied by the Yankees. As part of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, on Oct. 4, 1862, eight Union warships entered Galveston harbor and demanded the Rebels’ surrender. After a brief skirmish, the Southerners, commanded by Col. Joseph J. Cook, struck a truce and left, having already sent their heavy artillery ahead. So with gunboats off shore, 264 men of the Forty-second Massachusetts Infantry, led by Col. I. S. Burrell, finally arrived on Dec. 25 to occupy and patrol the town.

Maj. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder took command of Confederate forces in the fall of 1862, and, showing far more courage than his predecessor, started planning to recapture Galveston. On New Year’s night, with a combination of armed river steamers offshore, and dismounted cavalry and infantry crossing the railroad bridge (wouldn’t you think the Yankees would have burned that bridge by then?) the Rebels stormed Galveston. In fierce hand to hand combat, the Union forces were pushed back. Their warships simply sailed away, leaving the hapless Yankees no choice but to surrender. Galveston remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war.

Now we come to Juneteenth. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but word was slow to get to Texas. Indeed, the last land battle of the Civil War was fought in South Texas, and the Confederates won. On June 18, 1865, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas. The following day, standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of General Order No. 3 announcing the total emancipation of the slaves. They were advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. “They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” Since this occurred on June the nineteenth, it became Juneteenth, a portmanteau. And what, exactly, is a portmanteau? It’s a new word made up of parts of other words. Smog was coined by blending smoke and fog, and motel, from motor and hotel.

Anyway, upon hearing the news, Galveston’s former slaves celebrated, and a year later the freedmen, as they were then called, organized the first of what became the annual celebration of Juneteenth in Texas. According to the Handbook of Texas, in some cities African-Americans were barred from using public parks because of state-sponsored segregation of facilities. Across parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to hold their celebrations, such as Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

In the early 20th century, attention flagged and Juneteenth lost some of its movement, but during the Great Depression and during World War II, many black Texans moved to the west coast and to northern cities seeking work or just to get away from the segregated Lone Star State. They took with them the celebration and meaning of Juneteenth, and soon blacks in such places as Portland, Maine, and Flint, Michigan, held their own celebrations. Oh, and in Paris, France. As historian Isabel Wilkerson wrote, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s put Juneteenth back in favor, and following the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to Washington D.C. called by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, many attendees, first hearing about the celebration from Texans, returned home and formed Juneteenth celebrations in new areas.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday — state government offices do not close but may operate with reduced staff, or a skeleton crew. As of May 2016, 45 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia had recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or ceremonial holiday, a day of observance. States that do not recognize it are Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota, mainly because none of them has any blacks to celebrate.


Ashby is free at ashby2@coscast.net

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

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