Friday, December 10, 2010

25 Random Things: # 5

5. Beer, pizza, ice cream, buttermilk biscuits. I believe that pretty much says it all.

Nothing really a lot to say about this one. But I'll try.



1. Beer - considering I didn't drink until I was a sophomore in college, and didn't really start drinking until a year later, this was surprising to me. I never thought I would be a big drinker. My friends I hung with in school didn't drink, so I didn't. I didn't have a problem with drinking, or those who did. I just didn't do it myself.

My sophomore year in college, our school's men and women's basketball teams won the national championships. While the playoffs were going on, we started going to all the games, and then going out to the bars afterwards to celebrate. It was fun, and the start of something.

So, since then I've drunk more than any person should. I used to work in a liquor store, and people would ask me what I drank. I would just point to the shelf behind me and tell them to pick something, because I used to drink it. A lot of tequila and whiskey, as well as the beer. And schnapps. Man, I love me some schnapps.

But those days are over with. Now it's just beer on occasion, as I'm hardly drinking at all (working nights will do that) and some whiskey once in awhile. Of course, not having any money really cuts down on that also.

2. Ice cream - I love it. Vanilla, mostly. Some chocolate chip every once in awhile. But mostly vanilla, with some chocolate sauce on it. Or even better, some butterscotch. Man, I love vanilla ice cream with butterscotch.

For those of you reading previously, you'll know that Neeve loves ice cream too. It must be a genetic thing. She likes strawberry, which is a good choice, but it's not vanilla. And vanilla shakes. Those are good too.

The best ice cream I've ever had was in Amsterdam, which, oddly, is not known for its ice cream. If you stand in Dam Square, and look at the palace, just to the right of it is a little alleyway. Between the palace and the Rembrandt museum. If you go down that alleyway about 25 yards in, on the left side, there's a little shop about the size of a walk-in closet. I don't know if it's still there or not, as I haven't been in a few years. I hope it is. Now that I'm legal, I need to take a road trip.

3. Buttermilk biscuits - what can I say, its the country in me. Since I can remember, I've loved biscuits. I can't get enough of them. I'm not talking English biscuits, which are cookies. I'm talking scones, but so much more than that. Get them hot out of the oven, slap a pound of butter on them, and that's a meal for a king.

In fact, that is my breakfast a lot of time. A bunch of biscuits and nothing else. Of course, my cholesterol is up, but I don't care. I'm not missing out on my biscuits. Slap some gravy on them for biscuits and gravy, some hot coffee, and I'm in redneck heaven. I could eat biscuits 3 meals a day, and have them for a snack in between.

4. Pizza – who doesn’t love pizza. Not the wussy cheese pizzas, or pineapple pizzas. I’m talking the meat lovers jumbo. Sausage, pepperoni, ham, whatever can get on it. I could easily eat pizza three or four times a week. That, however, is the problem. I like it too much, and it doesn’t like me back. Of course, too much of anything isn’t good for you, so I try to keep it at a couple of times a month. Dominos will deliver here, but lack of money helps me resist the temptation.

Those are my four staples of life. Those are my 5 food groups: beer, ice cream, butterscotch sauce, biscuits and butter. I'm not healthy, but I'm happy. Are you with your crap vegetarian diet?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book review --- The Greatest Generation; by Tom Brokaw

I finally got around to reading The Greatest Generation, after having it sit on my bookshelf for 9 years and follow me through 4 different countries. It wasn’t that I was trying to avoid it, it just seemed that I always had a better book at hand. I knew it would be a good book, but it was also seemed to be one of those Oprah book clubs selections that everyone read because it was more popular than good. Not the type of book I usually choose, but the subject matter was more important than the hype.

I was also interested in the book because Tom Brokaw was raised in South Dakota, where I have lived and visited since I was a teenager. He spent the early years of his life 50 miles from where I used to live, and is a Midwesterner born and bred, who also came from a family with a military /wartime background. Very similar, if somewhat different to me. Reading about places I’ve been to and know well always interests me.

Brokaw breaks the book into eight sections, aptly titled Ordinary People, Heroes, Famous People, for example. He starts with Ordinary People, and takes his through his early life, with his family and people he knew growing up. This was the part of the book I enjoyed the most, as it was just about Ordinary People. The kind of people I knew and grew up with. These people truly were the Greatest Generation.

Many of the later sections deal with more famous people Brokaw came to know during his career as a correspondent, although to be fair, they were the Greatest Generation before they became famous. Although there were a few interesting stories, I didn’t really learn all that much new about the famous people that I didn’t already know about. Brokaw provides some more in-depth knowledge of these people, but nothing groundbreaking.

This is where my egotism from my military background comes into play, as I wasn’t very impressed with the section on the Home Front. Yes, I know the military needs equipment and support, but equating those who didn’t fight with those who did doesn’t really work for me. They were important, and they did important things. But turning screws on an assembly line doesn’t carry the same weight as carrying a rifle. This section doesn’t belong in a book like this.

The section that does, and the best section of the book, is Shame, where Brokaw profiles those who were discriminated against and not allowed to be part of this Greatest Generation as a full member. He doesn’t go into a rant about what happened, nor do those people in the book. They state what happened to them, that it wasn’t right, and that they carried on with their lives the best they can. People who fought for freedom for people of other countries that they were denied themselves. That’s always worth reading about.

I can tell you from personal experience that there are three things any soldier wants: hot food, mail and to have their families taken care of. Love, Marriage and Commitment is an excellent section that details what it was like to be the spouse of a soldier serving overseas. I’m always on the side of the soldier, but the families never get enough credit for what they bring to the military, and to the soldiers. In today’s world, this section is a great read for anyone who knows a military family.

Where the book loses me, and starts to drag, is in the Famous People section. This becomes more of a roll call of celebrities and politicians that Brokaw has a personal relationship with. That makes sense, obviously, as it was easier to find and write about people he knows than to go out and recruit strangers. It doesn’t make this a bad thing, it just give more illumination to people who have the light shining on them for years. Skipping this section and finding more Ordinary People would have been much better, to my opinion, and made this more a book of common people who made the generation than rehashing great people who have who were part of the generation.

Brokaw is at his best when common people tell their stories and provide us new insight to this time and place. A lot of this is common knowledge years later, as it finally began to become an open story after Saving Private Ryan and this book. We’re all familiar with the story now, but 12 years ago, the general public didn’t know this side of World War II. Brokaw helped get the word out, and even though the book lags at times and becomes a walk of fame, he gets the point across about what these people did, and thing issues they dealt with. The chapters on Joe Foss, Daniel Inouye, Nau Takasugi, and Art Buchwald and his family and friends from back home make it worth the read.

The luster has passed on this book, and sadly, the entire “Greatest Generation” phenomena. It shouldn’t, however, as these people are leaving every day, and way to soon, there will be none left. The theme of this book might be passé, but the stories aren’t. Pick the book up. Read it. Remember it. It’s important.


*** Note --- I’ve never tried to review a book before (not that anyone cares all that much), and looking back over this, I guess it’s more of a review of my opinion of the book than an actual review of the book itself. Oh well, that’s how we do things.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A look at our enemies

So today is December 7th, or as we call it in some areas, “Pearl Harbor Day”. For those of you not in the know, that is the day when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Hawaii, and got the United States into World War II. Of course, the fact that the Japanese ambassador had already delivered a declaration of war previously to that helped out a lot.

These days, 69 years later, we are mostly friends with the Japanese. In other words, we are friends, have normal diplomatic relations, trade relations, and people move back and forth between the two countries fairly regularly, either working or as tourists. We’ve been able to get over it, or forgive them, or sell out, or whatever each person wants to fell is the issue. This is a country that attacked us without provocations, fought a brutal war with us, tortured and murdered our prisoners, had two nuclear bombs dropped on them by us, were occupied by them, and yet we’ve each managed to forgive the other and become friends.

Hell, we’re even friends with the French, so pretty much anything is possible. So this got me to thinking about other countries we’ve had ‘issues’ with, and what our relationship with them is, and what the outlook is:

Canada --- we tried to invade them during the Revolution and the War of 1812. Neither was successful, and we let it go at that. Now we have the largest undefended border in the world, and even though we aren’t best friends, we’re at least drinking buddies and everything is pretty normal.

Mexico --- lots of history and bad feeling here, but we have normal relations with them. Kind of two neighbors pissing and moaning over the back yard fence about whose turn it is to trim the communal tree, but friendly nonetheless. Of course, a large portion of Americans claim citizenship on both sides of the border, so it behooves us to get along. Mexico is the black sheep uncle, and we're the white collar relative who never knows how to handle things.

Cuba --- I really hope Castro had something to do with Kennedy’s assassination, because there really isn’t any reason to be this pissed off at them. They weren’t the ones who tried to launch missiles at us, even though they were going to allow it. Nothing will ever change until Fidel is gone, and maybe even a few more years to get rid of the old guard. But as soon as they Cold War Hawks are gone for both countries, things will open up and we’ll be fine. And Havana will get an expansion team. Cuba is the kid from Rushmore, and we're the guys from Breaking Away.

Vietnam --- gave us the only whooping we’ve ever had, but some pretty good movies also. Not that that is a reason to be friends, but we kind of are. My father and uncle are both Vietnam vets, and they don’t have any issues. We both seem to have forgiven the other, and political philosophies seems to be the only drawback to true friendship. This is the work buddy you got into a bar fight with over some silly argument, didn’t speak to for months, and now you’re both tiptoeing around the issue in order to get along again.

Russia --- no more Cold War, no more reason to be enemies. This is just an adversarial; I’m the big dog in the schoolyard kind of relationship. The only reason we can’t be real friends is because we aren’t allowed to be. There has to be two polar opposites in world politics, and even though there is no real animosity, there is no real friendship either. We’re both more worried about China than each other. This is the jock and the greaser competing for the foreign exchange student.

Germany --- we were never really made at Germany. It was the genocidal assholes that we really didn’t like, but we were mostly fine with the Germans. Germans like Americans, Americans like Germans, and everything is fine. There has never been any real problems. We like their beer and women, and they like to visit Disneyland. Germany is Stiffler, and we’re trying to bone Stiffler’s mom.

England/United Kingdom --- no real issue here. They pretend to like us, and we pretend to care. We beat them twice, and now they’re our best friends. The two leading English speaking countries in the world, and we work together to get things done, even though we pick and snipe at each other all the time. Its an extreme rivalry, but with friendship. This is the big brother and the little brother running the family business together; with the big brother keeping the books while the little brother handles sales.

Italy --- yeah, we actually fought Italy during the war, even though most high school students don’t know it. But no one cares about this anymore. It’s the land of vacations, hot girls, and guys in dresses. We all want to visit, but don’t really have a clue about what goes on there. We get along fine, but in a cautious, don’t get too close way. Italy is the hustler cousin who always want to borrow money.

That’s the list for now. I’m sure there are other countries out there, but I’m not really going to go more in-depth. Feel free to add your list. Not much to any of this, of course, but it was kind of interesting. At least to me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

25 Random Things: # 4

4. People think I talk too much, and I should shut up at times. They're right, but I don't care. People who knew me when I was young know how painfully shy I was and how hard it was for me to interact with people. I would take F's in school, so I didn't have to get up in front class and read a paper. I know how I was then, and I know how I am now. Yeah, I irritate people at times, but I will not be silent. I will never be that way again. Deal with it. I have.



Yeah, I'm kind of verbose, and tend to talk a little bit too much at times. Life goes on. When I was a kid, you couldn't have gotten me to talk. I was as shy as it's possible to be, and didn't think it would ever get better. Like most people, I had my moments, and could have a lot of fun and act up. But mostly I never did. Even at kids parties, I was the wallflower and wouldn't go talk to people I didn't know.

It was really bad in school, because it affected my grades. For some stupid reason, you have to do projects where you get up in front of the class and read it, or present it. That was a big problem for me, and I didn't like it. I would refuse to get up, or tell the teacher I hadn't done it, and take the failing grade. Failing was better than standing up in front of everyone.

There are a lot of reasons why I was like this, but I won't go into them. Mostly, it was a fear of failure or being laughed at. I don't know if that's the common reason, but it was mine. Suffice it to say, it was a problem. I would do anything I could to avoid being in front of a crowd. About the only thing where I didn't have a problem with it was in sports. But I wasn't a good athlete, so it wasn't like I played a lot.

Of course, this didn't help when it came to meeting women. It was always a big problem, because I wouldn't approach a woman to ask her out. Now don't think I was entirely lonely all that time. I wasn't. I guess some women liked the shy act, even though it wasn't. It would just take the woman approaching me and then it was fine. If she was going to come talk to me, then she must have been interested.

This finally came to a head when I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during the time everything in Somalia kicked off. My job was going to require me to give presentations on the services we provided, and not just to soldiers. To the high-level commanders and the spouses. If you've never had to brief a group of Army wives, you don't know what pressure is. You really don't.

I knew I had to get over it. To be clear, it wasn't fear of being up in front of a group of people. I had done that. It was being noticed by people I didn't know more than anything, and it wasn't fear, such as sweats and shaking and wanting to pass out. If I had to do it, I could. It just wasn't comfortable and I didn't like it. I always had the comfort level with people I knew, and think I was mostly okay socially in my own way. It was strangers I had a problem with. So now I was faced with a situation where I had to do it, and had no choice.

As luck would have it, I was fairly close to home, and would go back to Missouri on long weekends. I would stay with my good friend Layne, and we would hit every bar and party we could find. Layne is a performer (singer/actor/etc) and being the center of attention is his thing. Like Robin Williams, he is always performing. And I was the sidekick straight man.

So one night we went out, and Layne met up with a girl he wanted to go out with, who was out with a friend of hers. We met up at the Legion dance (oh, the joys of small town living) and then went to Country Kitchen for breakfast. Layne, as usual, dominated the conversation and I kind of sat there. I figured these two pretty women weren't interested in anything I had to say, not while Layne was around. Eventually, one of them asked me something and I responded with a joke, or a one-liner or something, and they laughed.

Hey, good times. Further on through the evening, more questions to me, more funny lines, more laughter and all of a sudden I realized I could actually involve myself with people I didn't know, be funny, and the world didn't end. By the end of the night, I was carrying the conversation, the two girls were laughing and Layne was pissed because he wasn't the center of attention. He still hasn't gotten over it. That seems like a small breakthrough, but it was amazing. It showed me I could actually talk to people I didn't know and get up in front of people if I had to. I had a comfort level that I had never known before. It really was that simple.

So when it came time for the presentations, I aced them. I was funny, I was informative, and I managed to deflect some tension from the subject and sent everyone home feeling better about what we could do for them. The Group Commander, who was in attendance, even sent me a hand-written note telling me how well I had done. Which was great, because it's not unusual to get a form letter with a signature, but this was an actual hand-written letter. I still have it.

Since then I've given countless presentations, attempted conversations in foreign languages, meet presidents and prime ministers, and have generally gotten over it. If I have to get up in front of a crowd now, it's no big deal. I'm still nervous about doing well, but not about being in front of people. I've actually helped write comedy shows for a friend, and have been asked to do stand-up routines by someone else. When it came to meetings, the people I worked for were confident enough to let me run the meetings with dignitaries. It's become easy.

However, on the flip side of things, now people think I tend to talk too much. Some people have told me that I never shut up, and I should back off a little more. They might be right. They probably are. It's hard to know where to draw the line between being involved or not involved. I don't think I have it figured out just yet. What I have figured out is that the way I am now is a lot more fun than the way I used to be. And I won't shut up, and I won't go back to the way it was. If people have a problem with that, they are more than free to tell me. They just have to realize I don't care.

It’s not fun being that shy, and it isn't good for people to be that way. It can be lonely at times, even sometimes in a crowd of people. So people are going to have to deal with it. I've found my voice and I'm going to use it.

I refuse to be quiet any longer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

25 Random Things: # 3

3. Someday I will buy a tropical island in the South Pacific, move there and never leave. Special invitation only to visit, so be nice to me.

That would seem to be a fairly simple statement. Who wouldn't want to live on a tropical island in the South Pacific? The weather, the simplicity of the life style, and the lack of stress or bother would be something most people want. I can be an obsessive-compulsive type of person at times, and can get a little Type-A when I need to. But I've worked hard all my adult life, and I also enjoy it taking it easy.

I'm not talking about some deserted, Gilligan's Island-type of place. But an island, nonetheless. Maybe the end of an island that has a town on it, for the basics of groceries and some socializing on occasion. I'm not anti-social; I just spend a lot of time by myself. But even better would be a small island all my own, but close enough by boat to get to another island with stores and civilization, when needed.

And not desolate, either. There would be electricity, or generators for power. I would still have my Internet connection so I can keep in touch with people, and my satellite television for watching baseball, news, and old movies. And a phone to make calls as wanted. And obviously, refrigeration for beer and steaks.

But can you imagine the lifestyle. You get up in the morning, and go for a swim. Check the trotline for fresh fish for breakfast, with some fresh fruit. Spend the day doing home improvement and gardening, or exploring the island. Maybe a sail boat for when the weather is nice. Or scuba diving. Time spent watching baseball and writing about it. I can see it. And in the evening, lying out on the beach with a cold beer watching the sun go down? Oh yeah, I can see it.

And I'm not looking to be lonely. People would be allowed to visit, of course. Especially family and certain other visitors. There would probably be a guesthouse for most of them. They could stay as long as they wanted, but not longer than 3 weeks. 3 weeks is the max. Except for Neeve. She can come live with me. That's actually the only drawback, the time away from her. So this would have to be when she is older.

And of course, as stated in a later item, there is one person who can come and stay forever. And when I ask her, I know she'll say yes. I think. I'm pretty sure. Yeah, she will.

Anyhow, I can see this happening. I mentioned this to a few people, and they thought I was crazy. They said I would be bored. Maybe. They could be right. But right now I'm bored in Bournemouth. My way, I would be bored in paradise. Not hard to figure this one out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

25 Random Things: # 2

2. I've been on television in six countries (United States, South Korea, Germany, Angola, Latvia, & Slovenia)


I’m not claiming any type of fame off of this. It’s more timing or circumstances than anything else. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really mean anything, and I haven’t gone out of my way to be on television. In some cases, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid it. I don’t care for the media, and think they are mostly hacks that sensationalize everything for ratings, and don’t really care about the real story. It was a couple of interviews, a couple of game shows, my own little ‘Band Stand’ moment, and just being where they needed someone at the time. Some long shots and just shots where I happened to be in the picture. Which also includes my great acting job. I’ll break them down by country.

United States:

The first time I was on television was back in 1975, when my mother won a slot on ‘Bowling for Dollars’. My two brothers, myself and a friend of my older brother went with her for the taping. It wasn’t that big of a deal. You stand up and they introduce the family members. It was taped, so I got to watch it at home when it aired.

When I got out of college, I moved to Rapid City, South Dakota, and got a job at the Hilton, in the banquet department. We would do some of the main events in town, and the news crews would come down at times to do interviews, or get shots, or whatever it is they do. I got to know them, mostly because there were only two channels in town at the time. They would do some extras at the end of the interview, like filming the buffet, or things like that. Every once in awhile, they would ask me to add a comment or make a remark about something. It was all silly, and pointless, but it happened several times.

This would lead to my big break later. More on that at the end.

I was on television a couple of other times in the states that actually kind of meant something. The first of those was at the end of Desert Storm. I got lucky and was on the first plane out and back to the states. We landed at Fort Stewart, Georgia. There was going to be a big ceremony, obviously, but not for me and the guys I was with. We were stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and had to catch a connecting flight. While they were getting everything set up, they decided to take us out the back door of the plane and get us out of the way so the ceremony could go on at the front door for the soldiers stationed there.

We didn’t really care; we were just ready to go home. I was sitting by the back door, and when they opened it, I was the first one out because I was the closest. CNN thought that was the start of the ceremony, so they started filming. So I was the first soldier filmed landing back in the states after the fighting was over. I didn’t even know it. My aunt told me about it. She thought it was me, and a friend called and asked her about it, but she said it couldn’t be me, because I was still in Iraq. We hadn’t had a chance to call anyone and tell them we were on the way home. It was only a few weeks later that we figured out what happened.

The other time I was on television was when I was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during Somalia and Kosovo, and other operations. I volunteered to go to all of them, but they wouldn’t let me go. They said I was too valuable where I was. Yeah, right. Anyhow, I was running the MARS station, which was a radio station/message center for the troops. We were able to do radio/phone patches so the troops could call home from overseas.

I’ll leave it at saying we did a lot of good work. If anyone is interested, give me your e-mail address and I’ll send you what happened. Anyhow, we started to get some publicity for what we were doing. We started on the back page of the weekly post paper, and then started moving up page by page every week. Finally, I got a call one day from the Sergeant Major telling me to get to his office. He threw the paper and told me to explain myself. I was a little nervous until I looked at it and realized he was giving me crap. We were the top story on front page, above the fold. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

The next day, the Colonel ran into me picking up the distribution, called me into his office and showed me the front page of the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, where we were once again top story above the fold. In full color. We were all pretty happy and proud of ourselves. Then the next day, the Sergeant Major called down to the station and asked if we all had proper haircuts. I replied that we did, and asked why. He explained that one of the stations from Nashville had seen the story and was on the way up to interview us. Lead story, 6:00 news, and third on the 10:00 news. Let’s just say that everyone from the Post Commander on down was very happy with us. I still have a tape of the interview somewhere, and will need to get it transferred to CD. Neeve might want to see it someday.

Also, while stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, I did some part-time security work for the Tacoma Dome, the Seattle Mariners, and a few other places. We would also be seen in the long shots, but enough that people would mention that they had seen me. Oddly, the most time I ever spent on television was 12 consecutive hours, at the Seattle International Speedway, working the start line for drag racing. I was on ESPN all day, and no one knew it was me. Mostly because I was wearing sunglasses and a ball cap, and they couldn't recognize me. Oh, well.

South Korea:

Germany should have been next, chronologically, but I wrote it like this originally, so it will stay. I was actually on television several times in South Korea, to include the Armed Forces Network and Korean television. The Koreans are very supportive of their military, and have game and talk shows geared exclusively to them. It’s kind of nice to see. They don’t just use the military to bump the ratings when something bad has happened, then turn around and shed a tear when public opinion is high. Anyhow, I was walking down the street in Seoul, and a television crew stopped me and asked if I would help them out. They were doing a segment where someone would say things in English, and the contestant would try and guess what the subject was. It wasn’t a big deal to me, and I like to support this kind of thing, so I said okay, not thinking much of it. It aired the next Sunday, and all of a sudden I was a huge star. Every Korean I met for 2 weeks told me they had seen me on television and how much they appreciated me supporting their military by doing that. Yeah, sure.

The other time I was on television in South Korea was on the Armed Forces Network. My roommate was ‘dating’ one of the girls who worked there, and she would come out with crews to do interviews and on the spot report type of things. Whenever she would see me, she would always get me in the shot, or get me to say something for the spot they were doing. Nothing big, but other people didn’t get to do it. People would actually come up to me and ask me if I worked for the Network, and if I could get them on camera. Yeah, don't think so.

Germany:

There wasn’t much to it in Germany. I was just in the shot, and didn’t do anything. But it counts as being on television. I worked in a Special Weapons unit, and the tree-huggers would protest, and the stations would come out and film. Because of the job I did, I moved around a lot, while others stood guard. Somehow I ended up in some shots, and some German people I knew told me they saw me on television. Yay!

Side note --- do you know the best way to save a tree? Kill a tree hugger and use the body for fertilizer!

Angola:

I was on television twice in Angola. The first was for a visit by the Deputy Chief of Staff for the European Command. He flew into visit the Angolan military, and his wife came with him. It was acceptable, as he has to pay all of her costs out of pocket. There is also an expectation that she will do a Humanitarian Assistance project while she is there. She brought a bunch of toys and medicine and medical equipment for a pediatrics hospital we had helped to refurbish. I was her official escort for the visit, as my boss was escorting the General (there were only two of us), and we needed to come up with something to do with her. We had some money left over, so I suggested we have her donate that to the hospital while she was there. Everyone seemed to like that idea, and it all went ahead.

Unknown to me, the Public Affairs office had arranged for the local news station to show up and cover it, and do an interview with her. I was just in background shots and tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, and told them ‘not’ to mention my name. Anyhow, the General (the official visitor) got page 6 on the newspaper, and his wife got the lead story on the 10:00 news. The General’s wife was happy, the General was happy, my boss was happy, and I was happy when the aide came up and said, ‘The General’s wife is happy. What do you need? Give me a list?’ Happy days. Because when the General's wife is happy, we're all happy.

The second time was at a fundraiser the President’s wife gave for a children’s charity. $100 a pop for tickets. I went, and took a date. We had a good time, the wine was flowing, the band was playing, ‘other things’ were going to happen, and we started dancing. We were doing some pretty good swing dancing, and there was hardly anyone else dancing, and we stayed out there quite a while. So for some reason we ended up getting more airtime for the story than the President’s wife. My own little ‘Band Stand’ moment.

Latvia:

There wasn’t really a lot of television time in Latvia. We did have the biggest NATO exercise in the history of the Baltics going on, and I was in on the planning for that. I ran a lot of it. We had visiting dignitaries at times, and a NATO Chiefs of Staff summit while I was there. Actually, the Latvians really ran those, but I was heavily involved and ran the American portion of things. Mostly I was on while they were there filming the big shots, and was the guy telling the aide to tell the big shot that it was time to stop talking to the press and get on with the next meeting. No big deal, as far as the television stuff. A big deal as far as the summit.

Slovenia:

A great country. Not as great as Latvia, but still great. I was there for a NATO-integration meeting, and we had a day to kill while we waited on our flights. A bunch of went into the city square and did some sightseeing and shopping. There was a television crew doing man on the street interviews. They asked me, but I don’t speak Slovenian or Russian, or any of the other common languages, and my German isn’t good enough for that kind of thing, so I declined. A couple of the others did it, and there were shots of me in the background. We watched it on the news that night at the hotel. That was it, really.

So the big break I was talking about?

While working at the hotel in Rapid City, we would get most of the entertainment acts that came into town. They would play the Convention Center, and until they built a hotel next door to it, we were the closest place to stay. A week before the Ice Capades came into town, the advance lady came in and stayed at the hotel. She was going to address the City Council that night and needed someone to go with her and wear the costume representing the show. My boss suggested me, as I was big enough to wear the suit, and would be available. I was asked, and agreed and went down to the council. We went into the meeting, handed out flyers; I shook hands with all the council members and the Mayor, and the crowd, and got a big cheer. The news channels were there and filmed it all for the 10:00 news.

What part did I play, you might ask?

Poppa Smurf.

Yup, the original Blue Man himself.

Friday, November 12, 2010

25 Random Things: # 1

1. I think the 5 greatest musical acts in history are the Beatles, Elvis, Merle Haggard, Pink Floyd, and Allison Krauss. You don't have to agree, but then it just proves you don't know what good music is. I love music.


I have absolutely no musical talent, and can't sing at all. I wish I could. I would love to play an instrument or being able to sing. I can't, so I'll listen instead.

I like a lot of different types of music. Rock, southern rock, country rock, classic rock, Motown, classic country, the 60's British invasion, the 80's British invasion, country, blue grass, jazz, blues, early country, pop, original 50's rock, swing, current country, big band, etc. I have albums in all these forms of music. I think people who limit themselves to one type of music to listen to limit themselves in life. They're missing out on so much. Variety is the spice of life, and everyone should be able to enjoy different types of music.

Even though I'm not big on opera or rap, in its way, to those who enjoy it, it's good music. I've been to the opera, and would go again. It was fantastic. But I wouldn't buy any records. Same with rap. I've listened to it. Some of its good, some of its crap, and I just don't enjoy it that much. Just the way it is.

My musical tastes come from my family more than anything else. I think most people would say their friends, but not with me. Some, yes, but mostly my family. My older brother is 5 years older than me, and he started listening to music in the late 60's/early 70's. And there was some great stuff there. Music, rock music mostly, changed during that period and several new genres appeared. My brother listened to lots of different music, and I used to hear it from his room.

My parents also were a big influence. They used to listen to a lot of different types themselves. My mother grew up as teenager in the 50's, with Elvis, the Everly Brothers, etc. My father was a country boy who listened to Webb Pierce and Tex Ritter. I also remember my father listening to ZZ Top when he was in his 50's. Lots of music, lots of different types of music, and the ability to listen to it for the value of it individually, and not because it fit into a genre or someone told you it was good.

As an example, I could care less about the Rolling Stones, and I'm not really a Bruce Springsteen fan. But I love del Amitri and Queen. I prefer Earl Thomas Conley to Garth Brooks. Frankie and Deano over Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart. It doesn't mean I don't like all of them. I do. I just don't pick my music based on the popularity of the performer. I pick it based on whether I like it or not. Some people might laugh at that statement, but we all know people who only buy their music based on what's popular. Popular doesn't mean good.

And so on to my picks:


The Beatles: simply the greatest, in my mind. They changed music in a way that no one ever has. The top 5 songs in Billboard in one week. No one has ever done anything like that. My parents were in England in '63 and '64. I was born there. I remember them telling me about watching the Beatles on television before they ever made it to the States. The first pop movies were 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help'.

One reason I refuse to listen to REM is because Michael Stipe, lead singer of REM, said the Beatles were no big deal and had no influence on modern music. Yeah, he's an idiot and I hold grudges.

Favorite song: I Should Have Known Better

Bonus Track: Help


Elvis: forget about the movies and listen to the music. Buy a CD, open a bottle of wine or a beer, and listen to the songs with no distractions. I didn't like Elvis for a lot of years. He died on my 13th birthday, and ruined it. It was the only year my mother actually remembered my birthday on the day of my birthday. And then she sat and cried all night. Good times. And in the 70's, in Kansas City, Channel 5 used to have a 3:00 movie every afternoon. And at least every two months there was a weeklong Elvis festival. And never King Creole or Jailhouse Rock. It was always Viva Las Vegas and the ones where he played twins, or something.

But over the years, I listened more and more and came to realize why they call him the King. Remember, at one time, this guy had more #1 singles than anyone in history. He sold more records than anyone else. Some of that was the hype, but not all of it. He was that good. There was a lot of schlock involved with Elvis, and he didn't go out the best way. But the man could sing.

Favorite song: Suspicious Minds

Bonus Track: Always On My Mind


Merle Haggard: of all the country performers, he's my favorite. I don't know why one person makes an impact more than any other, but the Hag Man does. He writes most of his own songs, he's lived a hard life, and made a success of himself. He doesn't have the greatest voice, but he can sing. But more importantly, he tells a story that gets you to listen to it.

He was the first concert I ever went to. And he has an unusual show. He walks and says hello. Then he sings to you. About half way through, he'll stop and say thank you for coming to see him. Then he sings some more. Then he says thank you and goes home. No light shows. No laser shows. No dancers. Just the music and song. What a concept.

Favorite song: Kern River

Bonus Track: My Favorite Memory


Pink Floyd: I was never a huge Floyd fan, at least until I saw 'The Wall' for about the 5th time. I loved the movie, and the music was good. But I never really listened to it. It was just a part of the movie, without being individual songs. That's a hard concept to get used to, unless you're into album rock, which I never was. Then one day I bought the sound track and listened to it without the movie. And I was hooked.

When I was in Turkey, I found a store where I could buy every (bootleg) Pink Floyd album for $2. So I did. And there wasn't a lot to do in Turkey, so I listened all the time. And I was hooked. There is one thing I know. Put on the sound track to 'The Wall', open a bottle of wine (or other means of relaxation) and by the time the song 'Comfortably Numb' comes on, you will be.

Favorite song: Comfortably Numb

Bonus track: Shine On You Crazy Diamond


Alison Krauss: I usually buy greatest hits albums. I would rather spend my money on an album that has 7 or 8 songs I know I want to listen to over an album that's popular and might have one or two songs I might like. The first album I ever bought based on one song and nothing else was 'I've Got That Old Feeling' by Alison Krauss. The video of 'Steel Rails' came on and I loved the song. I went out right away and bought the album, and have bought every album of hers since. Some are straight bluegrass. Some are straight country, or variations. Some are a combination. She's even performed with Robert Plant.

She's a very versatile performer. She's an award-winning fiddle player, a Grammy-award winning singer (among many others), and is extremely talented. You never hear a lot about her, which is good. I don't care about performer's personal lives. I care about their music.

Favorite song: Steel Rails

Bonus track: Carolina On My Mind


That's it. Not much, really, but this is the first post. My favorite performers and a little about them, and why I like them.

So who are your top 5?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

25 Random Things About Me

I'm re-posting this because I want to, mostly, and to keep me writing again. I started this awhile back, at least over a year ago, and never did get around to actually finishing. This time, I've actually finished all of the 25 different 'things'. I could pick up again where I left off, but that's not the kind of thing I do. So I'll start with #1 again tomorrow, and post a different one each Friday.



1. I think the 5 greatest musical acts in history are the Beatles, Elvis, Merle Haggard, Pink Floyd, and Alison Krause. You don't have to agree, but then it just proves you don't know what good music is.

2. I've been on television in six countries (United States, South Korea, Germany, Angola, Latvia, & Slovenia)

3. Someday I will buy a tropical island in the South Pacific, move there and never leave. Special invitation only to visit, so be nice to me.

4. People think I talk to much, and I should shut up at times. They're right, but I don't care. People who knew me when I was young know how painfully shy I was and how hard it was for me to interact with people. I would take F's in school, so I didn't have to get up in front class and read a paper. I know how I was then, and I know how I am now. Yeah, I irritate people at times, but I will not be silent. I will never be that way again. Deal with it. I have.

5. Beer, pizza, ice cream, buttermilk biscuits. I believe that pretty much says it all.

6. If they offered me a place on a space mission to explore new planets, I'm gone. No doubt, no hesitation. I won't even pack. I'll buy it when I get there.

7. I think a lot of people are jealous of me, because they always show it when we trade stories. The problem is, their stories start: last fall, when I was in Sheboygan for a convention. My stories start off: when I was in the middle of Africa watching the wild elephants; the day I came face-to-face with a North Korean soldier; one day in the middle of a tank battle; yesterday, when I met the President; or this time I got arrested by the police in Latvia. Sorry, that's what I have. I'm not going to apologize for living a charmed life. I think instead of being jealous, people should stop reading about my life on Facebook and go get their own. Take a chance. Explore. Experience. There's a whole, big, bright, beautiful world out there, and it's yours for the taking.

8. I love my daughter more than anyone in the world, but I know it's a good thing she was born at the time she was. If she had come along 10 years earlier, or 5 years earlier, or even 2 years earlier, I'm not sure I was the man I am today, and I don't know if I would be doing what I'm doing now. I would like to think I would, but I also think I might have been the guy to walk away. I guess timing is everything.

9. I don't know if I'm the person I am today because of my family, or in spite of them. If you know my family, you know what I mean. That's not meant to be an insult to my family; it's just the truth. And they all know it.

10. The only thing I've ever really wanted to do is be a writer (realistically). Someday I will get paid to write something. There has to be a book out there I can write. And I will do it. Eventually.

11. I've only ever loved 2 women in my life, and they were both the right woman, at the time. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it work with either one of them. But I'll keep trying until I get it right.

12. I think my friends that I have are my greatest asset. I have the greatest group of friends anyone could every want. And because of the places I live, I have friends all over the world. Thanks to e-mail, I talk to people everyday on six continents. Whether or not they want to take credit for it, I am who I am today because of my friends.

13. My favorite vehicle of all time that I owned was a piece-of-shit '75 Dodge Ram pick-up. The breaks were shot, the suspension was a distant memory, and I swear it got negative gas mileage. You can have your Mercedes and Volvo's. Give me that pick-up again, and I'll never own another vehicle again.

14. I've had six surgical procedures, have been to the emergency room 29 times, but have had only one broken bone, and only received stitches one. Sure, I need to lose 15 pounds. But I bounce.

15. I hesitate to use the term soul-mate (since Jorgen has said we shouldn't), but I know who the perfect woman for me is. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I wasn't able to do anything about it at the time. But I know she's the one, because any time you can get a woman to smile like that, you're doing something right. I know where she is and what she's doing. And one day, when my life is better, I'm going to go knock on her door and ask her to move to an island in the South Pacific. And I'm 90% sure her answer will be: "What took you so long".

16. I'm one of the 5 smartest people I've ever encountered. Sure, there are people out there with higher IQ's, and who are smarter than me. But of all the people I've ever met in my life, there are only 4 as smart as I am. That sounds egotistical, but it's true. Deal with it, and don't complain. And if you have to ask if you're one of the 4, then you aren't.

17. I don't understand people who like to play, "What if?". Because you can't. You can't go back and change things. You can't redo decisions and change situations. What you know is what you have. I could have made better decisions in my life (we all could), but I wouldn't trade what I know for what might be. If you change, you relegate the people you know and the things you've done to nothingness. If you're not happy with your life, make better decisions in the future, stop complaining about the ones you've made in the past. And stop asking me, "What if?"

18. I've ordered beer in 35 different countries in 12 different languages. It's important to have a hobby.

19. Every day I doubt myself about whether I'm doing the right thing for my daughter. I know I am, and she's better off having me here than not, but it's still rough for her, and if I can't make her life better, then I should go away. I know I am a positive influence on her, but I still doubt myself everyday. Maybe that's a good thing, because it will make me try harder.

20. I wish I could have a better relationship with my daughter's mother. Not because I want to be friends with her, but we do have a child together. We are supposed to be the adults in the equation, and some days we fail miserably at it.

21. I like beer.

22. I subscribe to the 3 B's theory of life:

Blond hair
Blue eyes
Big tits

Sure I'm a shallow person, but I'm having fun. Are you?

23. I plan on living until I'm 100. The day after my 100th birthday, everything is fair game. Before then, I'm going kicking and screaming and taking the bastards with me.

24. I think people who engage in exercises like this only do it try and impress people with how smart they are, or the things they have accomplished in their lives. I, however, am able to pull it off successfully. It's the truth, you know it, deal with it.

25. I love this crazy tragic, sometimes magic, awful beautiful life

Monday, November 8, 2010

More on taxes

One of the things I hear Brits bag on Americans about all the time is our tax system, mostly in that we have our tax system broken down by community, where as they have, for the most part, taxes based on a federal system.

In the States, we pay city tax, county tax, state tax and federal tax on almost every purchase we make. The highest rate I remember seeing was around 23%, which is high, but not completely crazy. It’s usually in the 18-20% range. Here in the UK, and throughout Europe, we pay a VAT (Value Added Tax) on everything, which right now is 17.5%. At the beginning of the year, that will go up to 20%. You know, the recession and all. Some people think paying one tax on every purchase is easier than trying to figure out taxes based on community. Mathematically speaking, it probably is. Theoretically, paying based on community is much better for us.

The VAT is determined by the Parliament, and the citizenship doesn't have a choice on it, beyond whom they elect to represent themselves. In the states, while some tax rates are determined by the legislature, many taxes (city, county, etc) are actually determined by a ballot initiative, and the citizens of that community actually have a say in how much they pay. They tax themselves, or not, as they see fit.

The benefit to the American system, as I see it, is that we actually have a say on where our tax money goes. In the UK system, all VAT goes to the federal government, which then doles it out as it see fit. Your tax money on purchases can go to other parts of the country, and be used for projects and programs you might not necessarily agree with. In the States, a tax can be imposed for a specific project or program, such as a new road, bridge repair, or into the educations system. If you vote it in, it goes for that. There is a choice, as the community decides, not the government.

One good example of this is my hometown. At just over 3000 residents, it should actually be around 1800. The discrepancy is due to the fact that my town used to advertise nationally as a retirement community, and the population is over 60% senior citizens. Very out of whack with the national average, the seniors constitute the largest voting block in town and have a lot of power. At every election, they block every attempt for an increase in property taxes that would go to the Board of Education to buy books, repair the schools, support extracurricular activities, and all those other things that schools generally.

Some people would claim that the federal government, or the state, should be providing money for education, and not the community. Well, that already happens. Each school district in Missouri receives money from the state, which apportions federal entitlements with its own, and parcels it out to the school districts. The money from the community (property tax) is above and beyond any other entitlement. What works, to me, is that the community gets to make that decision about any extra tax money, not the government. While I wish the seniors would vote in the tax increase (they won't; they've raised and paid for their kids education, why should the pay for someone else's?), they have the right and ability not to. Any parent not happy about it has the right to move to another school district. It's called freedom of choice, and it's a good system.

So after all is said and done, Europeans can bag on Americans for the way our tax system, and state power (which have actual power and are not just geographical regions on a map), but the truth is, they don't have the same freedom in determining taxes as we do. Even as a non-socialist country, the average American pays slightly more tax on purchases than most Europeans. But we can control where our money goes, while Europeans don't.

While we pay slightly more on purchases, which adds up to a good chunk of change after awhile, the total amount of taxes gives Americans a decided advantage.

Some of the other taxes that I pay here:

Television tax:

A television license (or broadcast receiver license) is an official license required in many countries for the reception of television (and sometimes also radio) broadcasts. It is a form of hypothecation tax to fund public broadcasting, thus allowing public broadcasters to transmit programmes without, or with only supplemental, funding from radio and television commercials.
No, we don't pay television tax in the states. Sure, everyone bitches about how much cable or satellite costs, but they do the same thing here. But Americans don't have to pay just to have a television in their house. We pay by having to watch commercials.

United Kingdom -- £140/yr ($225/yr)
United States --- none

Council Tax:
Council Tax is the system of local taxation used in England,[1] Scotland[2] and Wales[3] to part fund the services provided by local government in each country. (In Northern Ireland, the form of local taxation is rates.) It was introduced in 1993 by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, as a successor to the unpopular Community Charge. The basis for the tax is residential property, with discounts for single people. As of 2008, the average annual levy on a property in England was £1,146.[4]
This is equivalent to our property tax. This is based on the valuation of property and goes to pay for police, fire, trash pickup, and other municipal services. The advantage to this system over the American property tax is that there are bands, according to income, occupancy, single residency etc. In the States, there are no discounts. You pay the assessed value and that's it, whether by country or state.

However, one advantage the American system has is that some states; and by extension, counties; don't have property taxes. I spent the majority of my adult life in states that didn't require a state tax, or where active duty military didn't have to pay unless you were a resident of that state. I can tell you that saved me a lot of money over the years. But no such system exists here. There might be some form of discount, but everyone pays.

United Kingdom --- £1300/yr ($2100/yr)
United States --- £250/yr ($400/yr) of course, I was a poor boy and never owned any property beyond my car. That was the year I lived in Arizona and the year in Missouri. The only two times I ever paid.

Road Tax:
Road tax, known by various names around the world, is a tax which has to be paid on a motor vehicle before using it on a public road.
We don't pay a road tax as such, in the states. This is rolled up into property taxes (you pay for the value of your car - again, in those states that have those taxes), and sometime there are special road taxes, but that is based on the needs of your community, not someone else's. This is mostly equivalent to licensing your car each year, but again, this is based on the state you live in.

United Kingdom --- £212/yr ($340/yr)
United States --- £20/yr ($30/yr)

Income tax:

The same basic system in both countries. You earn money, you pay taxes on it. In the UK, it is pretty much a flat tax with no deductions or itemization, while in the States; you can do all sorts of magic with your return to lower the amount you pay.

United Kingdom --- around 20% over £6000. Small refunds.
United States --- around 18% over $7500. I usually got a refund around $800 every year.

So, after almost three years here, and paying taxes in both countries, my assessment of the situation is that the United States has an advantage in how much we pay, or don't pay. The amounts paid in each country aren't that much different overall, once it's all added up. The major difference is the that Americans have more control over their taxes and where the money goes, in that we can keep more of our tax money in our own community, by popular vote, while the people of the UK have their rates dictated to them and have less control on how it is spent.

I prefer the American system in that we have more control, but as a Socialist country, the tax system in the UK governs all of the tax income, minus council tax. This gives more of a portion to everyone, but takes away from the community. It’s really a matter of choice, in the long run. The main thing I’ve taken from all of this is that I pay way too much in taxes in both countries for the services received.

Disclaimer: I kind of threw this together without checking out a lot of numbers. Hey, I'm not a journalist and I'm not getting paid. That being said, if somene has better numbers than me, let me know.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The 10 worst organizations in the history of the world

The idea for this post came from a conversation at work one day. Not the hotel I'm working at now, but back in the day at the embassy. We were sitting around enjoying some of the local beverages (this was actually after work, I should point out) and we got to talking about this. I don't think we actually came up with a Top 10 list, just groups we thought were a waste of time. I decided to expand it because 10 is better than 7. This conversation took place several years ago, but I've just gotten around to writing it up. I don't think I forgot any particular organization. Most of them I have personal experience with, so it was kind of easy to remember. Anyhow, here's the list:


10. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Assholes with attitudes. This people just don't get it. We're carnivores. We eat meat. It's the natural way of life. We also use animals for many things like shelter, clothing, transportation, and many other uses. I'm not into being cruel to animals, and killing elephants for ivory (for example) is despicable, but killing an animal to eat is perfectly acceptable. It's the way of life. And we have the right to do so, and they don't have the right to attack people for doing it. If they really want to be do-gooders, there are millions of children dying around the world from starvation and disease. How about helping them out first. Then we'll talk about the animals.

Also, you have to wonder, if one of these idiots were out walking in the woods and was attacked by a wild animal, are they going to advocate someone shoot the animal to save them, or just stand true to their belief and take one for the team? Want to take a walk?


9. The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball

Bud. Seriously, does anyone need more of an explanation than this?


8. The American Civil Liberties Union

Yeah, I know, they fight for every one's rights. That's the problem. They fight for every one's right. They don't have a stance on anything. They'll argue everything. I'm waiting until the day when they get hired to fight different sides of the same issue. And it will happen someday. You just get the feeling its not really about the particular battle they are fighting, just that they are involved somehow and get their name in the news. Wonder if that has anything to do with fundraising? Just curious. Little note guys. Want to make me a believer. Take a stand on something. Choose a side. Believe in something. Not just your own power. I just can't take these guys seriously.


7. Any religious organization except the Catholic Church

Faith is an internal issue that an individual decides for them self. It is not an issue where one person tells a group of people how they should act based on his own beliefs, and not theirs. Particularly when it is based off books of fables. Most of these groups are hypocrites who demand money for the pleasure of belonging to the organization, and promising something that is based on a fairytale. Can't you get the same euphoria for free by walking out into a meadow and watching the sunset?


6. The United States House of Representatives

My first issue is what they cost us, the second issue is that they don't do anything. Its political wrangling for the good of the party, and not for the good of the people. We don't need both houses, as they do the exact same thing and we don't get enough work out of one of them. Some states only have one representative as it is, and I'm pretty sure they don't do anything that a Senator can't do. If you need to, double the number of Senators. All the house does is create two votes on each issue. The citizens don't get to vote twice for the issues that concern them; seems to me the states can get by under the same system.


5. The United States State Department

I can't say too much about this right now, because I still have friends who work there. I've sat in the meetings and read the memos. They involve themselves in every aspect of other countries operations, even when it has nothing to do with the U.S. interests, or is a completely internal issue. They are not there as an equal partner, but as a dominant one. This is non-specific to president. They also feel that they are the governing body of the Department of Defense, and are completely willing to sit back and let the military do the fighting and dying while taking the moral high ground as the loyal opposition, then immediately demand that they be put in charge as soon as the last bullet has been fired. The motto of the State Department is 'there will be peace in our time'.


4. The United Nations

They go to poor countries wearing $500 suits, ride in limos, and stay at 5-star hotels, all while claiming they are there to help the poor, down-trodden people who can't afford food, medicine, or clothing. Meanwhile, the United States pays 25% of the UN budget, and 50% of the peacekeeping budget, but has to have it's vote approved by other countries that pay a fraction of that cost and are fundamentally opposed to their politics. Additionally, they pretend to be a vital force by sending in "peace keepers" composed of units from countries for hire that don't want to go in unless they have the Americans, Brits, or Australians there to protect them, but then want to have command. Don't forget to send the check. These are troops who aren't allowed to actually conduct combat operations to rid the world of bad guys, and and get their asses handed to them by every second-rate insurgent group willing to actually shoot people.

Meanwhile, they spend hundreds of millions to airlift food into the same areas because they are 'unstable'. No shit.

Can't feed the starving, and can't stop wars. Why does this organization exist?


3. The European Union

A continent that spent well over 2,000 years fighting each other for survival now thinks it can band together to outshine 'America'. Not going to happen, boys. For one thing, the USA is a country, where you are a 'collection' of countries. Not the same thing, not at all. Also, you guys really still don't like each other. You're coexisting, but that's all. Peace might exist, but brotherhood doesn't. You still have different countries that have internal problems with regions that want their own statehood, and you want to pretend you're a united Europe? Nope, not buying it. There's still a lot of conflict going on, and meanwhile, the EU is ripping the nationalistic heart out of the individual countries by passing legislation to make them all alike. Individualism, even in countries, is good. Collectivism isn't. Anyone remember the Soviet Union?


2. The Catholic Church

I don't have anything against Catholics, this is the Church, or more importantly, the leadership of the church that I have an issue with. As everyone should. As the richest organization in the world, they leave poor boxes in churches for the parishioners to put their own money in. Yet Cardinals make $12,000 a month, have a free place to live, and most often have personal aides and drives. I'll take that vow of poverty any day. Throw in the abuse scandal, the denials, the billions they have paid people off with, and I have a hard time thinking this organization is can be taken seriously. Add in the the treasure trove of artifacts they have, the real estate, and their tax free status they enjoy, and I don't understand why any Catholic person is still poor.


1. The committee that approved the use of the designated hitter in the American League.

If it were legal to hunt people down and mount them on the wall, well, I'm not saying I would do it myself, but I probably wouldn't stop someone else from doing it. Actually, no proably about it. I would lend them a hammer and the nails.

The end of modern civilization as we know it, and quite possibly, the last sign of the apocalypse.



This is just my personal list, and I'm sure many people, to include many friends and family of mine, will disagree with the choices. Particularly the one ones about religion and the ACLU. Oh well, write your own list. However, feel free to live your list in the comments.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Taxation with representation

My father watches a lot of news programs. Mostly FOX. I think it's more for all the blond, female talking heads vs being a right-wing radical, but who knows. Hey, Megyn Kelly is hot, in my opinion. Anyhow, my politics are not the issue here, and his aren't either. FOX, to me, is no better or worse than any other news channel. They present the opinion they want, and people can either agree or disagree. I always have wondered why people watch news programs when they disagree with the politics so much. Oh well, that's a post for another day.

Anyhow, the point I was getting to is this. I've been listening as I sit here at the computer, wasting my life with frivolous pursuits of knowledge, and I've heard quite a few things I hadn't been aware of before. One of those is the fact that several cities have initiatives on their ballots to allow LEGAL immigrants the right to vote in local elections, such as city council, school board, and anything that affects day-to-day living. I'm entirely for this, as I've written about this before.

I think it's a great idea, and support it wholeheartedly. Which probably isn't surprising to anyone, as I'm an immigrant myself and feel I should have the right to have a say in my local community. One of the drawbacks to this, which I fully understand, is giving this right to people who have no vested interest in the community and don't really give anything back to it. Here in Bournemouth, there is a large Polish community, which breaks down along two lines.

The first - Polish people who have immigrated on a permanent basis and plan on making this their home permanently. They are part of the community, learn the language, and make the effort to assimilate into the population.

The second - Polish people who have immigrated on a temporary basis, and don't plan on staying any longer than it takes to save enough money to buy a house and a car. As soon as that's done, they head on back to Poland. They live together, associate together, work together, and make no effort to learn the language or to insert themselves into the community.

I'm not picking on the Polish, as there are other nationalities here that do the same thing, but its more prevalent with the Polish, and I have some background with this situation. Also, I'm not going to say it's right or wrong. But there are many Mexicans and Central Americans who do the same thing in the states. Again, it's not an issue of right or wrong. But not all them are illegal. Many of them here/there legally, and work legitimately.

The question is, if you give the vote to people like this/me, is it the right thing to do? The upside is you are telling people that they are productive and accepted members of the community, and the downside is that you are giving the vote to people who don't really care. But those people probably wouldn't vote in the first place, so it's probably an acceptable trade-off.

All-in-all, I'm for the vote. I'll still maintain (whatever country it is) that only citizens should vote in national, or mabye even state elections. I'm still up in the air about that. But I think anyone who is in a country legally as an immigrant should have a say in what happens in the community.

If you give people a reason to care about something, they most often end up working harder to take care of it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

One more go

So here I go again, giving it another try. At least for now. We'll see how long it will last this time. A little bit more than the previous ones, I hope. Things seem to be going somewhat better, and are a little more stable, so if I can get back to a regular schedule, I'll be able to keep this going. So, for those of you who are interested, a few updates:

Neeve -- things are going great, mostly. She'll be 7 in  3 weeks, which is hard to believe. Plus, she's getting pretty big. She's looking forward to being 7 and having her birthday. She'll have a party with her mother, and then come here for a party. She's actually looking forward to it, and doesn't have too many issues with coming over. She still does a little bit too much "I miss Mummy" with the big crocodile tears, but neither one of us actually believe it's true. She's having a good time, and only really has problems when she's getting ready for bed.

She's also learning French and taking swimming lessons. That's a lot more than I did in 2nd grade.

Family --  my father is back to visit. He's been here about 6 weeks. He's enjoying it more than last time, but mostly because the weather has been great, and just started raining and getting cold. He also got to know a few people while he was here last time, so he's not a complete stranger anymore. Plus, I have a car now and we can get around to different places, which makes it much easier.

Work -- much better, overall. Back working days, as the hotel Administrator and early Duty Manager every day. More money, better hours, and a chance to work up, if I want. I'll do more on this later. The job is okay, but it's some of the people I have an issue with. I'm not used to working in areas where 'good enough' is an acceptable standard. Laziness, sloppiness and being in it for themselves isn't the best way to be successful. Some good stuff going on, and some good people, but some problems also.

Personal life -- well, if I had one, there would be something to write about. Still not much in that area. I'm still broke most weeks after the bills are paid, so there isn't a lot of money to be chasing women with. So, mostly working, sitting at home, and a couple of beers at the pub.

So that's it for now. I actually have a couple of other posts written up and ready to go, so I'll get at least a week out of it this time. A note also. I'm being hit by spammers, so all comments will be  moderated in the future. But don't let that stop you.

Friday, April 9, 2010

25 Random Things: # 6

6. If they offered me a place on a space mission to explore new planets, I'm gone. No doubt, no hesitation. I won't even pack. I'll buy it when I get there.




Seriously, how could you not do this? The adventure of it, not knowing what's out there? Even the danger involved. I'm there. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of America, and an even bigger fan of the Earth. This is my home. I like it. But I'm gone.

There's too much out there, too much unknown, to much to discover and too much to explore. I wouldn't even stop to pack. I'll get it when I get there. From some alien convenience store.

There's not really a lot I can say about this one. Either you're in, or you're out. You want to make the trip, or you're staying at home. Simple.

The only drawback would be having to leave Neeve, and I'm not sure I could do that. So it might have to be when she is older and has her own life going on. Or maybe she can go with me.

We'll figure it out. But somehow, someday, someway, I'm going.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More on driving over here

As I've said in the past, I won't be critical of the United Kingdom, as Neeve was born and is being raised here. She's British (and American), but being raised as a Brit. I'm not going to be derogatory, make fun, or ridicule the country, the people or the customs. The government is a different issue however; as it is always appropriate to ridicule the government.

The one thing that has irritated me the most here (beyond Immigration) is the issue of car insurance. I recently bought a car. An old, 1999, piece-of-shit, Ford Mondeo Estate (station wagon). It cost me £350 ($600). It’s probably the most expensive thing I own right now, but it's still just an old beater.

In my life, I've driven in the United States, Canada, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Latvia (the worst country in Europe for driving), Lithuania, Germany, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Angola (it has to be experienced to be believed). A variety of countries, many of them not known for their special skills on the road. But I've spent 30 years driving in those countries, without an accident of any kind, and haven't had a ticket in 20 years. I've only had 3 total, and they all came in an 18-month period after I left the autobahns of Germany.

Now, to my way of thinking, the United States is a developed country, and you don't just get handed a driver's license. There are written and driving tests required, insurance is mandatory, and the police are all over the place. There are strict rules and procedures for driving. This isn't like some other countries, where, although a licenses and insurance are required, the lack of either can be handled with a $20 to the police. No, there are standards, and records that cover the driving period, document all accidents and tickets, and a standardized system for tracking all of this.

So what is my problem, you might wonder? The United Kingdom refuses to recognize this. I can't receive my U.K. driver's license as a transfer from my U.S. license. And I'm not happy.

There are four categories of licenses available in the U.K.:

Full - just like what you get in the states
Provisional - a temporary license for people like me until we pass a written and driving test to get a full license
International - one of those paper licenses you get at AAA for $10, and gives you a year of driving anywhere in the world
Learners - a restricted license for people learning to drive

But if I came from one of the following countries, I could exchange my license with no problem:

Australia
Barbados
British Virgin Islands
Canada
Falkland Islands
Faroe Islands*
Hong Kong
Japan
Monaco
New Zealand
Republic of Korea*
Singapore
South Africa
Switzerland
Zimbabwe

Now I realize that a lot of those are Commonwealth countries, but Japan? South Korea? Monaco!!!?

Really.

So I need to get a provisional license, and have to take a written and driving test. As far as they are concerned, my U.S. license carries no more weight than one from Angola or Iraq would carry.

So you'll know why I'm bitching, this is not just the inconvenience of having to take the tests. I think its silly, but I can deal with that. No, it goes much deeper than that.

Insurance on a full license - £54 ($90) per month

Insurance on a provisional license - £111 ($170) per month

See the issue. I'm getting screwed. My driving isn't considered good enough to warrant a lower rate, but people from other countries from throughout the world can come to the U.K. and exchange their licenses. For the simple reason that there has been a governmental agreement between the two. It doesn't matter what the standard, or what the background of the driver is. Just what is on the cover of the their passport.

They get a full U.K. license. And cheap insurance. Meanwhile, I've been driving for 30 years with no accidents and tickets against my record, in a country with some of the highest standards in the world, and I'm a substandard driver.

To be fair, I don't know what the procedure for Brits moving to the states is, so this could be the fault of the United Stats also. But maybe not. But the U.K. doesn't have to do it. They just are.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The political process

General elections are coming soon, and will be held on May 9th. The campaign season has begun. Who is elected concerns me, as I live here now. Particularly since immigration is the second biggest issue in the election, behind the economy. As an immigrant myself, I'm curious and wondering. As a permanent resident, I don't get to vote, as I'm not a citizen. Same system as in the states. I can't run for office, either. Maybe one day, if I decide to take citizenship. We'll see how it goes, and if they decide to let immigrants stay.

What I don't agree with is the fact that other residents and non-citizens do get to vote. If a citizen of a European Union country moves to the U.K., they are allowed to vote in all elections, except national parliamentary elections. So they can vote for local councilors, mayors, etc; just not Ministers of Parliament. I don't have a problem with them getting to do that. In fact, it's actually a good idea, to my way of thinking. The residents of the E.U. nations live here, shop here, spend money here, send their kids to school here, and pay taxes here. They are settled, a part of the community, and should get to vote.

The issue I have is that I do all of the same things, especially pay taxes, and I'm not allowed to vote. That hardly seems fair to me, after all, if other immigrants get to vote, why shouldn't I? I know its one of those E.U. things, which is ruining Europe, but it would seem to be a matter of discrimination to me. One group gets to do something based on where they are from, but another doesn't get to do the same thing based on where they are from? People from Bulgaria, a country known for it's democratic values, get to vote for mayor, but I don't?

I know this is beating a dead horse, and no one is going to listen to me. But this is one thing I don't like. Just seems wrong that I don't get a say in how much my water bill is. Wow, taxation without representation. Nah, just kidding.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Saving our dough

Sunday, Easter Sunday that is, I was going to go do my grocery shopping for the month. No particular reason for that day, just needed to get it done. After all, my days kind of all run together, so which day I do my errands isn't really important. So I got to the shopping center, and to my surprise, all the stores were closed. I was kind of confused, but couldn't do much about it, so I headed home. Most of the way convenience stores, restaurants and pubs were open as usual, but as I drove back, I noticed all the big stores were closed along the way. Imagine Wal-Mart and all the malls being closed on the Sunday of a 4-day weekend. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

I mentioned it to a co-worker that night, and he told me something that surprised me a little. Actually, a lot. They were all closed because it's the law. Based on religion, which happens, but still seems strange. Much like the United States, the United Kingdom used to have 'blue laws'. Essentially, stores couldn't be open on Sunday because it was the Sabbath. The only place to spend your money was the collection plate. For a country where only 10% of the population attends church and religion isn't all that important, the church still has a lot of power.

Remember, it is a state church, and the head of the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the monarch, even though it is really the Prime Minister. That's the Church of England, for those that don't know. The Anglican Church as its known around the world, and the Episcopal Church in the states. Yep, England's answer to Catholicism. According to my co-worker, the law was changed awhile back to allow big stores to stay open on Sundays, but with the agreement that they would be closed on Easter. Convenience stores, restaurants, and pubs, which had always been open on Sundays, were exempt form this. So eating and drinking is allowed, but not buying stuff. I guess I'm okay with that, fundamentally speaking.

I don't remember this from last year, although I was here. I wasn't working at the time, and hadn't been for 5 months. I didn't have the money to go shopping, regardless of whether or not the stores were open. I had been here a few times in April before, but not on Easter. So a new thing for me, entirely. As stated many times, this isn't meant to be an insult, but informative. I remember living in Georgia in the mid-'80's and not being able to buy beer on a Sunday. Even worse, when I was forced to live in Kansas in 2005, you still couldn't buy beer on a Sunday there, either. You could drive to a bar, drink there, and drive home, but not buy it a store and take it home to drink.

So in two different countries, one with a state church, and one with separation of church and state, some of the same archaic religious traditions still dominate, and saving you soul trumps saving your dough.

Friday, April 2, 2010

25 Random Things: # 5

5. Beer, pizza, ice cream, buttermilk biscuits. I believe that pretty much says it all.




Nothing really a lot to say about this one. But I'll try.

1. Beer - considering I didn't drink until I was a sophomore in college, and didn't really start drinking until a year later, this was surprising to me. I never thought I would be a big drinker. My friends I hung with in school didn't drink, so I didn't. I didn't have a problem with drinking, or those who did. I just didn't do it myself.

My sophomore year in college, our school's men and women's basketball teams won the national championships. While the playoffs were going on, we started going to all the games. And then going out to the bars afterwards to celebrate. It was fun, and the start of something.

So, since then I've drank more than any person should. I used to work in a liquor store, and people would ask me what I drank. I would just point to the shelf behind me and tell them to pick something, because I used to drink it. A lot of tequila and whiskey, as well as the beer. And schnapps. Man, I love me some schnapps.

But those days are over with. Now it's just beer on occasion, as I'm hardly drinking at all (working nights will do that) and some whiskey once in awhile. Of course, not having any money really cuts down on that also.

2. Ice cream - I love it. Vanilla, mostly. Some chocolate chip every once in awhile. But mostly vanilla, with some chocolate sauce on it. Or even better, some butterscotch. Man, I love vanilla ice cream with butterscotch.

For those of you reading previously, you'll know that Neeve loves ice cream too. It must be a genetic thing. She likes strawberry, which is a good choice, but it's not vanilla. And vanilla shakes. Those are good too.

The best ice cream I've ever had was in Amsterdam, which, oddly, is not known for its ice cream. If you stand in Dam Square, and look at the palace, just to the right of it is a little alleyway. Between the palace and the Rembrandt museum. If you go down that alleyway about 25 yards in, on the left side, there's a little shop about the size of a walk-in closet. I don't know if it's still there or not, as I haven't been in a few years. I hope it is. Now that I'm legal, I need to take a road trip.

3. Buttermilk biscuits - what can I say, its the country in me. Since I can remember, I've loved biscuits. I can't get enough of them. I'm not talking English biscuits, which are cookies. I'm talking scones, but so much more than that. Get them hot out of the oven, slap a pound of butter on them, and that's a meal for a king.

In fact, that is my breakfast a lot of time. A bunch of biscuits and nothing else. Of course, my cholesterol is up, but I don't care. I'm not missing out on my biscuits. Slap some gravy on them for biscuits and gravy, some hot coffee, and I'm in redneck heaven. I could eat biscuits 3 meals a day, and have them for a snack in between.

Those are my three staples of life. Those are my 5 food groups: beer, ice cream, butterscotch sauce, biscuits and butter. I'm not healthy, but I'm happy. Are you with your crap vegetarian diet?

Friday, March 26, 2010

25 Random Things: # 4

4. People think I talk to much, and I should shut up at times. They're right, but I don't care. People who knew me when I was young know how painfully shy I was and how hard it was for me to interact with people. I would take F's in school, so I didn't have to get up in front class and read a paper. I know how I was then, and I know how I am now. Yeah, I irritate people at times, but I will not be silent. I will never be that way again. Deal with it. I have.



Yeah, I'm kind of verbose, and tend to talk a little bit too much at times. Life goes on. When I was a kid, you couldn't have gotten me to talk. I was as shy as it's possible to be, and didn't think it would ever get better. Like most people, I had my moments, and could have a lot of fun and act up. But mostly I never did. Even at kids parties, I was the wallflower and wouldn't go talk to people I didn't know.

It was really bad in school, because it affected my grades. For some stupid reason, you have to do projects where you get up in front of the class and read it, or present it. That was a big problem for me, and I didn't like it. I would refuse to get up, or tell the teacher I hadn't done it, and take the failing grade. Failing was better than standing up in front of everyone.

There are a lot of reasons why I was like this, but I won't go into them. Mostly, it was a fear of failure or being laughed at. I don't know if that's the common reason, but it was mine. Suffice it to say, it was a problem. I would do anything I could to avoid being in front of a crowd. About the only thing where I didn't'have a problem with it was in sports. But I wasn't a good athlete, so it wasn't like I played a lot.

Of course, this didn't help when it came to meeting women. It was always a big problem, because I wouldn't approach a woman to ask her out. Now don't think I was entirely lonely all that time. I wasn't. I guess some women liked the shy act, even though it wasn't. It would just take the woman approaching me and then it was fine. If she was going to come talk to me, then she must have been interested.

This finally came to a head when I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during the time everything in Somalia kicked off. My job was going to require me to give presentations on the services we provided, and not just to soldiers. To the high-level commanders. And the spouses. If you've never had to brief a group of Army wives, you don't know what pressure is. You really don't.

I knew I had to get over it. To be clear, it wasn't fear of being up in front of a group of people. I had done that. It was being noticed by people I didn't know more than anything, and it wasn't fear, such as sweats and shaking and wanting to pass out. If I had to do it, I could. It just wasn't comfortable and I didn't like it. I always had the comfort level with people I knew, and think I was mostly okay socially in my own way. It was strangers I had a problem with. So now I was faced with a situation where I had to do it, and had no choice.

As luck would have it, I was fairly close to home, and would go back to Missouri on long weekends. I would stay with my good friend Layne, and we would hit every bar and party we could find. Layne is a performer (singer/actor/etc) and being the center of attention is his thing. Like Robin Williams, he is always performing. And I was the sidekick straight man.

So one night we went out, and Layne met up with a girl he was wanting to go out with, who was out with a friend of hers. We met up at the Legion dance (oh, the joys of small town living) and then went to Country Kitchen for breakfast. Layne, as usual, dominated the conversation and I kind of sat there. I figured these two pretty women weren't interested in anything I had to say, not while Layne was around. Eventually, one of them asked me something and I responded with a joke, or a one-liner or something, and they laughed.

Hey, good times. Further on through the evening, more questions to me, more funny lines, more laughter and all of a sudden I realized I could actually involve myself with people I didn't know, be funny, and the world didn't end. By the end of the night, I was carrying the conversation, the two girls were laughing and Layne was pissed because he wasn't the center of attention. He still hasn't gotten over it. That seems like a small breakthrough, but it was amazing. It showed me I could actually talk to people I didn't know and get up in front of people if I had to. I had a comfort level that I had never known before. It really was that simple.

So when it came time for the presentations, I aced them. I was funny, I was informative, I managed to deflect some tension from the subject and sent everyone home feeling better about what we could do for them. The Group Commander, who was in attendance, even sent me a hand-written note telling me how well I had done. Which was great, because it's not unusual to get a form letter with a signature, but this was an actual hand-written letter. I still have it.

Since then I've given countless presentations, attempted conversations in foreign languages, meet presidents and prime ministers, and have generally gotten over it. If I have to get up in front of a crowd now, it's no big deal. I'm still nervous about doing well, but not about being in front of people. I've actually helped write comedy shows for a friend, and have been asked to do stand-up routines by someone else. When it came to meetings, the people I worked for were confident enough to let me run the meetings with dignitaries. It's become easy.

However, on the flip side of things, now people think I tend to talk too much. Some people have told me that I never shut up, and I should back off a little more. They might be right. They probably are. It's hard to know where to draw the line between being involved or not involved. I don't think I have it figured out just yet. What I have figured out is that the way I am now is a lot more fun than the way I used to be. And I won't shut up, and I won't go back to the way it was. If people have a problem with that, they are more than free to tell me. They just have to realize I don't care.

Its not fun being that shy, and it isn't good for people to be that way. It can be lonely at times, and sometimes in a crowd of people. So people are going to have to deal with it. I've found my voice and I'm going to use it.

I refuse to be quiet any longer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is this discrimination?

One of the things I had to do to get my residency visa was to take a Life in the UK test. It is a 20-question test about the history, politics, religion, local living, etc, of living here in the country.

The reason for the test, straight form the website:
A pass in the test fulfils the requirements for "sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom" which were introduced for naturalisation on 1 November 2005 [1] and which were introduced for settlement on 2 April 2007 [2]. It simultaneously fulfils the language requirement by demonstrating "a sufficient knowledge" of the English language.
So there are a lot of different questions, in the following categories:

1. The Making of the United Kingdom
2. A Changing Society
3. UK Today,: A Profile
4. How the United Kingdom is Governed
5. Everyday Needs
6. Employment
7. Knowing the Law
8. Sources of Help and Information
9. Building Better Communities

I got 24 or 25 right out of 25, so the test wasn't that hard. I did a lot of studying, read the study guide about a dozen times, and took about 30 practice tests. I guess it worked.

That's all well and good, but one of the things I wanted to bring up that I learned while studying the test:
The law also says that men and women who do the same job, or work of equal value, should receive equal pay. Almost all the laws protecting people at work apply equally to people doing part-time or full-time work.
Now, that's all well and good. No issues there at all. It's a good idea, and the way things should be. This is what got my notice, however:

In a country as obsessed with political correctness as the United Kingdom, I was surprised to see this. I mean, you can't look cross-eyed at someone here without a complaint being made, the government getting involved, celebrities marching against it, and overreactions that make a nuclear war look tame by comparison.
There are, however, a small number of jobs where discrimination laws do not apply. For example, discrimination is not against the law when the job involves working for someone in their own home.
Add in that fact that the UK is one of the most diversified countries in the world, and you wouldn't expect this kind of thing at all. Fortunately, they don't do the lawsuit thing here and sue everyone left and right, but they don't let it go. Its an amazing case of common sense in a world gone mad.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating discrimination. Not in the least. It's wrong, and shouldn't be allowed. But I think this makes sense. In your own home, you should be able to do what you want (within reason and law). And that includes who you let into your own home. If you don't want someone in your house, you shouldn't have to let them in.

From the opposite side, this makes sense also. Why would you want to work for someone who obviously doesn't like you because of 'whatever'. If they are that irrational that your difference makes them uncomfortable, you wouldn't be happy working there. Might as well not even start.

What's funny, is that this wouldn't be allowed in the United States.You couldn't even have this on the books. There is no way the ALCU would allow this. They would rather force a person to accept someone into their home, even if causes problems.

So, while discrimination is, and should be, illegal, there is a measure of common sense allowed. So what are the opinions of the people reading? For, against, or no opinion?

World Clocks