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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Strange Things Happen

You sometimes hear strange things you don't expect in places where you don't expect them.

I attended a class Saturday required to obtain a "CHL" or concealed handgun license. It was filled with people like me, getting a license for the first time. We were sitting like sardines in a little room in Pasadena, in an abandoned theater that now serves as a practice range.

In the middle of it a couple near me told a strange but true tale. They said that one night at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning a woman started running around the outside of their house yelling something about "He's trying to kill me." Before they knew it, the woman jumped through their bedroom window! She ran into a closet and they called 911. All they had for defense was a knife.

Later they found a knife that the woman had dropped after breaking through the window. After hearing their story I found myself saying "If you had Armor Glass film on your windows, that never would have happened." The woman (or a burglar) would not have been able to break through their glass with a knife in her hands. Our security film would have prevented it.

It proved to me that security window film can provide armored protection, like a gun in many cases to protect you from a bad situation, be it a burglar, a wayward golf ball, a crazy lady on crack (the couple later found a crack pipe nearby), a hurricane or explosion....

It was a whirlwind week. I expect the next to be the same. It's odd to see the world slowing down while Armor Glass is speeding up...something fascinating is happening.

I passed the test with a 92. If we don't address the situation in Mexico, we'll all need the personal protection. Don't expect the violence to stay there when the criminals are making billions and importing high caliber killing machines. Don't expect hurricanes not to happen each year.

The other fascinating story I heard this week was at the "State of the County" lunch where Judge Ed Emmett told the story how a few tug captains kept a runaway ship from taking out our 610 bridge during Hurricane IKE last year. If that happened, it would have cut a vital Houston transport link -- and cost taxpayers millions of dollars and months, if not years, of repairs. During the 100 mph plus fury of IKE these guys chased down a ship that broke its moorings and would have wiped out the huge brige. Others joined in. All during the night, they kept the ship against a bank to keep it from destroying the bridge. All received a standing ovation.

The message. Be prepared. Or face the future high winds without protection.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Future cars, Future technology, Saudi Moderates - Anything is possible

Future cars, Future technology - Anything is possible

Take a look at the future of cars – an electric vehicle with a space-age look -- soon to be made in California. Give California credit. They have an "anything is possible" attitude. Instead of commuting in a bus-sized gas guzzler, you could be driving one of these machines. It looks like a “Jetson” flying car that doesn’t yet fly.

All of America needs this attitude that anything is possible. Texas, my home state, included.

We need a mental bailout on a national scale. Since I’ve already been on this road, I know. When I lost my high-flying Fortune 500 job in the mid-80's, I had to become an entrepreneur instead of a corporate thinker. When you don’t have a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks, your thinking becomes very motivated and creative. It meant having to try new things I never would have; to go places I’d never been. It means becoming both CEO and secretary, accountant and marketing rep. It means taking chances but not foolish to think you really won the British lotto.

Because of the free fall, and mistakes made being new at entrepreneurship, I lost all of my property but I also discovered that I didn't need it.

I also discovered how to succeed in the midst of chaos or despite of it. That experience, which millions are now having for the first time, proved to be a valuable lesson that is still paying off today. I find myself in the odd position of rapid increases in business while the rest of the economy sags. It also proves that providing the right service at the right time makes for success even in a global recession.

A different attitude by Americans will do more to generate our success than a thousand plans. We need an attitude adjustment. "Anything is possible" means that we try new things to generate new jobs and services. It means you listen to the person with the best ideas instead of the ones who are loyal yes men. There a millions of smart people of every skin color who never went to an Ivy League school but have built successful businesses and created jobs. We could export more and put solar panels on our roofs. I have been getting emails from around the world by people interested in our U.S.-made technology.

Not all of the businesses I tried worked, but the experience made it possible to avoid past mistakes and to grow a business that does work. When I was a Fortune 500 attorney, I never thought I'd be involved in saving energy and protecting people's lives and their property with Armor Glass. But because anything is possible, I find a positive change happening in my life.

On the international front, I see signs of positive changes in attitude as well.

The Saudi ruler has started replacing hard-line religious types who interfered in people's lives with more moderate people. Under the hardliners a woman who was raped was punished more than the men who committed the crime. And a woman being alone in a car with a man who was not a relative was considered a major crime for a woman in Saudi under the hardliners. So Saudi is going towards the center. It still has a way to go in a county that does not let women drive or any religious organization other than Muslim, but it is a move in the right direction.

However, the hard-right in India have been going into coffee shops and harassing women, telling them they are not being religious by drinking coffee and not wearing traditional saris. Backwards thinking seems to have no national barrier. Even the far lefty, Venezuela’s Chavez, is trying to abuse his power and remain President for life. America is good at not letting that happen.

Backwards thinking or inaction is not going to solve our problems or fix the financial mess. Tax cuts alone certainly won’t. It was backwards thinking that a nation and people could borrow and spend without end during the good times. It defied common sense that people could borrow money without showing proof of income, and that no one on Wall Street thought that would prove to be a problem. During the boom years America lost its common sense. Guys delivering pizzas one day became mortgage traders the next day -- making $20,000 a month with no training! Wall Street was drunk, but it wasn't alone.

We need to adopt the California attitude that "anything is possible" but apply it to real technology advancements, not Ponzi schemes where there is no oversight -- no one to question whether a practice is creating a threat. We need a return to common sense.

"Anything is possible" will produce the new green economy and jobs of the future we need. "Anything is possible" will save America and help us build a better 21st century in which we work with our global neighbors to do the same.

If it can happen in Saudi, it can happen anywhere.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Windy February ClearLakeTX

Winds have been blowing fiercely the past few days here on the Texas coast. I shot a few seconds clip of it.

This is nothing. Just wait until we have another hurricane - an annual, unavoidable event. What if the next one is a CAT 3 instead of the CAT 2 IKE?

At least the swinging plants don't worry me. There is Armor Glass security/energy saving film on my windows. I see freak weather is also happening in the Midwest - tornadoes. With Armor Glass security film, I'm ready for those too. During IKE, I didn't worry about Piper the bird behind it on the 3rd floor, on concrete pillars, next to the shore of Clear Lake. I knew it would prevent a breach of the glass that would subject her to hurricane-force winds, flying glass, rain, etc.

Are you ready?

Very few are...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Hurricane building codes - Good enough? Study - LWV report

I have been working on a project for the Houston League of Women Voters on building codes in the Houston and coastal areas. After IKE, the questions are several: “What should we do to prepare for the next one?” “Should we follow Miami-Dade codes?” If climate change brings stronger storms, are the formulas we use out-of-date?

In Galveston, I heard how the use of two additional nails on asphalt roofs would have kept roofs that were installed after RITA from being torn off again during IKE. Loss of the roof (or windows) means millions more in internal damages, and potential injuries to the families, computers and property inside. Downtown buildings could have invested $1 million in hurricane-rated window film and avoided $20 - $800 million in internal damages, not including lost computers and files. Yet some don’t even allow it.

In doing the research for the project, one of the most fascinating and helpful pieces of data was the “Wind Zone” maps which show the lines of wind speeds – from the coast’s 150 mph to the north Houston/Harris County area which are in the 90-100 mph zone.

Today Houston uses 110-mph as its standard. Miami-Dade uses 150-mph. In southern Harris County, NASA uses 130-mph. Harris County only has a fire code because counties don’t have authority to do anything unless the legislature lets them. Inspections are hit-and-miss and may not happen at all.

Building codes remind me of the Goldilocks story. Some may be too soft (and result in repeated, avoidable damages); some may be too hard (unnecessarily driving up costs). The trick is to find one that is "just right" for future risks we face.

One thing is clear. We can't repeal the laws of geography: we will as close to the coast next year as we are this year.

Nor can we repeal the laws of nature: Like it or not, Hurricanes are an annual event. In deaths caused, it is a bigger threat than terrorism. They are Mother Nature's way of throwing off excessive heat from its equator. The hotter it gets, the more heat to dissipate via future Hurricanes.

We have to change our thinking. People went from panic in RITA in 2005 to apathy in IKE in 2008. We need a middle ground between apathy and overreaction. We need to prepare and don't panic.

The League should be releasing the report soon. As a nonpartisan study not paid for by builders' or vested interests, it could be extremely useful to city and county officials who are preparing for the next storm (which will be an annual event). The League is a non-partisan body (which also has male members) and does these studies with volunteers. They just completed one on homeowners' associations.

With the next hurricane season starting June 1, we have no time to spare.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Kidnapping Security

I had the privilege of attending a program at the Greater Houston Partnership this week in which a company that conducts international kidnapping negotiations gave us a briefing. Very interesting. Their comments on the shifting kidnapping patterns --from Latin America to Africa to the Middle East -- were fascinating, and worth listening to.

Colombia used to be the kidnapping capitol of the world. Now it's come to Mexico, and even into the U.S. They talked about the difference between kidnappings -- some are for reprisal; others are kidnappings for ransom (as in M-O-N-E-Y).

In Nigeria, the kidnapped person is rarely killed. In a reprisal kidnapping (eg. Mexico), the victim is unlikely to live long. These reprisal kidnappings and killings by the Mexico cartels now extend into the U.S. - over 185 incidents so far!

As if to confirm it, news reports today are that another Mexican official was killed less than a day after taking over a job dealing with the narco-drug gangs. If they want you, they get you. If you have 5 bodyguards, they come for you with 15 people. If you have 20, they will bring 50. No matter how many you have, they will show up with a more massive force. It is a whole new, dangerous world.

We are too focused on our own financial mess and need to pay attention to these global threats before they get even worse, because without attention they will get worse. Pakistan just released the guy, A. Q. Khan, who was selling nuclear technology on the black market to any rogue --from North Korea to Iran -- with the money. "Hey, we got a 50% off sale on nukes this month!" Feel safer now?

We just lost our 1 square mile base in Kyrgyzstan that was the key to servicing our operations in Afghanistan over a measly $2 billion that the Russians were willing to pay to get it, but someone on our side wasn't willing to pay. What short sight thinking lost this vital base deal for us? We spend $10 billion a MONTH in Iraq! Now we've lost a key base for the entire war theater in Afghanistan. Penny wise. Pound foolish.

But I digress. The speakers discussed measures to avoid being a victim, and how they negotiate kidnappings -- different tactics are required in different countries. These guys do it full time. One of the speakers had negotiated over 30 kidnappings in Nigeria alone. If you ever think you need some good advice, I recommend you contact the offices of Clayton Consultants, which is now a part of Triple Canopy. They know what they are talking about. If you can't find them, I can get you their contact info.

I know a little about this unique occupation. When I was faced with an international kidnapping case in the Middle East in the 90's (a young girl from Texas), it was assumed that having a Ex-Delta Force "go in to do a snatch and grab" would be an option. It was not only too expensive, upon a closer look I decided NOT to use them in that case because of the real risk of getting the hostage (and some of us) killed. Even with a disguise, the chances of "gringos" getting into (and out of) Sidon, Lebanon undetected were about as good as snow stacking up in Tucson, Arizona. Sidon is where the Hezbollah were shooting rockets into Israel and the girl was living with relatives of the kidnapper.

These guys are too sophisticated to risk anyone's life by trying to be Rambo. They know what to do -- and how to do it. Check them out.

Oh yes, they also think as the Somalia's are pushed away from hijacking ships, they will turn more to land-based kidnappings. They have a point.

Another insecurity trend: We have turned a corner in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not a good one. We just finished the first month that more young soldiers died from suicides than from IED's and fighting in two wars.

The repeated demands made on the same group of soldiers, regular and national guard units, who had to go into combat repeatedly without body armor and serve multiple tours of duty while everyone else shopped, has started to take its toll. Stop losses kept them away from their families too long. Our government needs to change the conditions that led to these suicides. It needs to address the mental needs of our troops as much as their physical needs.

Those of us who didn't serve owe much to those who have.