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.


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!


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.


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.


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.