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Monday, August 21, 2006


Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.

I had an opportunity to see presidential hopeful Senator Biden in person the other day. He was an interesting speaker, though I'm not sure I learned a whole lot. I did learn that the Woodbury County Democratic Headquarters is just a few blocks away from my house, and they don't have air conditioning.

Senator Biden had a wonderful plan on how to handle the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, he wasn't in the oval office at that time, and it's five years too late to institute his plan. But his plan sounded pretty nifty and got a good round of applause.

Two things stood out in the Senator's speech... The first is that he very loudly refused to say bad things about United States President G. Walker Bush and the Bush Administration (though he did point out a number of things he'd do differently). "The President isn't as dumb as you'd think," he commented. (I'm paraphrasing - he may have used different words, but that's what he said.) Senator Biden feels that the Bush Administration truly feels they're taking the country the right direction, that they're not messing things up out of malice or stupidity, but rather misguided patriotism.

The second thing that stood out was his opinion on Iowa's economy in the ethanol age. "You're sitting on a gold mine," he said. "You're the only game in town," meaning that once E-85 and bio diesel vehicles hit the market, Iowa will be in a good position to sell more corn and soybeans. I had a LOT of questions for him about this subject, but I hadn't done my homework (and still haven't) so I refrained. I wanted to ask things like, "How will the coming economic boom in Iowa affect farm subsidies?" and "If this stuff is going to be so great for the local economies, why are the citizens of Merrill (a small town just north of here) trying to stop construction of a new ethanol plant in their area? What do they know that we don't know?" and "How does it work that if the huge agribusiness companies like Archer-Daniels-Midland get more money for their crops it'll be good for me? They're not based in Iowa..." But, like I said, I don't really know enough about the issue to ask intelligent questions, and I'm not sure I'd understand the ramifications of the answers...

All in all, though, I enjoyed listening to the Senator speak. He was very personable, intelligent, and didn't seem to be overly arrogant. He seemed knowledgeable on the issues he addressed - but, of course, HE chose the issues himself... He answered all questions well, and (contrary to most politicians) stayed on the topic the questioner chose to ask about. I didn't really hear anything new or startling, but in my opinion the Senator handled himself well.

At the end of the meeting, the Democrats, as always, said that they need everyone's help. However, as always, no one actually said what they needed help with, or how a person can help, or how to volunteer... I'd love to help them, but they never ask me to do anything - even when I e-mail them and volunteer my services (as I have several times). It's a tad bit frustrating.

Local Benefits

We don't have a lot of money to donate, my wife and I, so when we get a chance to actually DO something good for the community we generally jump at the chance. I got to mix three of my favorite things this weekend - charity, music, and beer.

A police officer here in Sioux City passed away recently, and the local chapter of Iron Pigs (a law enforcement biker group - the name makes sense if you think about it) held a fundraiser for the family. They had a nifty poker run, lots of food, and my band played for a good four hours. Judging by the number of people there, I'm thinking they raised a considerable chunk of money, which hopefully will help the officer's family deal with the medical bills...

It's a sad state of our society when neither the government nor insurance will help a family in need. Thankfully, in this case, the family could count on the generosity of the community. I'm constantly amazed at how much bikers give to the community.

I have to admit, though, that I'm a bit worried what will happen in a few years when a bigger proportion of the community finds it harder to donate... Senator Biden's comments for the future are hopeful, but so far I haven't seen any ethanol or bio-diesel money coming into the community.

There are a few reasons to be optimistic, though - Gateway announced they're going to be bringing a few jobs to North Sioux City and a California company is hiring a few thousand people to man a call center, also in North Sioux. This is the first good news we've heard since Gateway left for San Diego and MCI axed a zillion people in the area.

Comedy? This is Comedy?

I like William Shatner. I think he's funny, even if he doesn't mean to be. So, when the comedy channel had a roast for Mr. Shatner this weekend, I made sure to record it. So far, so good.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and decided to watch the show. That was my mistake. I've certainly heard of celebrity roasts, but I've never actually watched one. I don't think I like this style of humor... By the time I'd watched half the show, I felt like I should write letters of apology to all the celebrities who participated. I felt just horrible watching this... Betty White was there. I felt bad when comedian after comedian made jokes about Ms. White being so old she may have an uncontrolled bowel movement at any moment. (They used much coarser language, of course.) Ms. White took it all in stride, though...

The whole thing left me wondering if people can find anything funny without referring to religion, sex or poop. I don't really care who's gay, or who's Jewish, and I truly don't want to think much about poop at all. Ever.

The comedians did have a few clever moments, but I really found the whole affair degrading to everyone involved. Maybe I'm just a prude, but I truly enjoy clean humor a lot more. I will always have more respect for Bill Cosby and Garrison Keillor and their intelligence than I will for comedians that resort to nasty humor.

Puffy Man

I have to let my secret identity out. I am Puffy Man. I don't have much of a costume, though. Just a robe and some pajama bottoms, really.

"You look too skinny," my vunderful vife said to me this morning. "I bet you're losing weight. Don't do that - I like you the way you are." You must understand, she tells me this once or twice a week. I always fall for it. She likes my belly, I don't. I want it to go away.

"You think so?" I answered, swiveling my paunch around. "Do I really look thinner? Is my diet starting to work?"

"Vhat diet?" my beloved said to me. "You're on a diet?"

"Of course I'm on a diet, Hunny-Bee. I eat only food that fits in my mouth." I trotted off to the scale, hopeful that maybe, just maybe I have lost a few pounds. Eyes straight forward, I step on the scale. I give it a few moments to "settle in" on a number and peer around my bulging belly at the result.

"AAAARRRGHHHH!" I wail. "I haven't lost ANY weight! I'm still pudgy! I'm hefty! Puffy! I'm puffy-looking! I'm a puffy man!" What a way to start the day, eh?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Humbling Experience

Patriot Guard

It's one of those things that you just have to do. And you can't explain the experience to anyone who wasn't there - the words just don't exist. There have been precious few times in my life when I've seen a group of people and thought to myself, "They are absolutely, one-hundred percent right. There is no gray area - these people are doing the right thing, and I want to be part of it."

A little background on the Patriot Guard Riders...

There's a Baptist Church in Topeka, KS that believes that when a U.S. soldier dies, it's God's way of telling us that homosexuality is bad. The logic is that the soldier died defending the United States, and the U.S. government is tolerant of homosexuality - therefore the soldier is defending homosexuality and is going to hell. The really bad thing about this is that they go to soldiers' funerals and wave signs saying, "God Hates Fags," and "God Hates America," and they yell at the grieving family. I wish I didn't have to mention these people at all, but they're a fact.

In response to this group protesting at soldiers' funerals, a group of bikers (quite a few of whom are either combat veterans or, like myself, served in the military in peacetime) started going to the funerals as well - not to out-shout the protestors, but simply to stand in a line between the protesters and the families - if invited to do so by the family. Thus was born the Patriot Guard.

I've only been able to support two Patriot Guard functions, but I've been moved deeply by both.

My first experience was in a suburb of Omaha a month or two ago. A buddy of mine, along with our wives, left from Sioux City on a windy, windy day and made our way the 90-some miles to our destination, a gas station parking lot. Once at the "staging area," we hung around for a bit waiting for other bikers to arrive, then were called to a quick meeting. We gathered around and listened to the State Captain give the instructions. We were to ride in formation a few blocks to the chapel where the service was to be held, park our bikes, and line up along the sidewalk in order to block the families view of the protesters (who were about a quarter-mile away anyway, thanks to a state law).

We obediently saddled up and headed to the chapel. I noticed that a few bikes had nifty flags attached to the back. We proceeded to line the sidewalk and stood there at attention, those with flags at the end towards the chapel, while the family came in. It was VERY emotional. Once everyone was in the chapel, we made a beeline for the shade and awaited further instructions.

"When the family comes back out," the State Captain said, "we'll need to be lining the sidewalk, saluting. I'll need five volunteers to ride with the hearse to the funeral home after the service." As you can see by the photo to the left, the five volunteers turned into nearly two-hundred. That's just the way this group is. (By the way, you can click on any of the photos to see a larger version. I think.)

When the services were over, I overheard the soldier's father saying that he was going to buy a motorcycle so he could join the Patriot Guard and honor other fallen soldiers. (By the way, I'm not saying either of the soldier's names, simply so the families can have a little privacy. I feel a little bad writing all this in the first place, like I may be invading on private ground.)

I found out later that not only does the Patriot Guard attend the services themselves, but they will also meet and escort the fallen soldier from the airport, no matter what time he lands, to his destination.

My latest experience was just this past week in Pender, NE (population 1,148). The National Guard unit based in Wayne, NE was activated some time ago. (Soldiers in that unit come from all sorts of little towns in the area.) When word filtered down that a soldier from Pender had been killed I started making plans to attend. When I realized that many of the Patriot Guard Riders were at the Sturgis rally that week I decided I'd go for sure.

The night before the service Dagmar and I went to the store and bought a flag and some miscellaneous brackets - I figured if I bought enough hardware I could figure out a way to mount the flag on my bike somehow. (By ten or eleven o'clock that night I succeeded. I ended up using one bracket and six zip-ties - not the best arrangement, but it worked.)

At four in the morning the day of the service I was awake and somewhat alert. I had seen on the Patriot Guard web site that a group of riders from LeMars, a town north of Sioux City (and my hometown), was planning to stop for a fifteen minute break just off one of the Interchanges here in town; I figured I could meet up with them there and follow them to Pender. Unfortunately, when I went outside at five-thirty in the morning to get the bike cleaned up and ready to go, I couldn't help but notice the pouring rain, lightning and thunder. Hmmm... I puttered around in the garage for about an hour, cleaning various bits of chrome, watching the rain. Finally I went back inside to get my rainsuit. I kissed Dagmar on the nose, grabbed my stuff, and headed back outside. Joy of joys, in the three minutes I was inside the rain stopped! I stowed my gear in a saddle bag and headed off to meet the LeMars group.

Fifteen minutes later I pulled into a parking lot just off the indicated Interchange. I could see a group of four bikes parked in the corner with a few people milling aimlessly about. I pulled up and shouted "Patriot Guard?" They nodded, so I parked. Introductions were made, hands were shook. I was starting to get a bit worried - the last Patriot Guard function had something like 200 bikes present, and here there are only five of us so far. But at about that time the LeMars contingent pulled in, doubling our size. Again, hands were shook, introductions were made...

And off we went. It's only about forty miles from Sioux City to Pender, so we were pulling in at the staging area (a gas station in Pender) within an hour. Our group of about ten bikes (plus the one we picked up on the way) joined the three bikes that were already there. Hmmm... Not a big turnout so far.

By the time we had our helmets off, a lady from the gas station had approached our group. I was ready for her to ask us what we were doing, or tell us to leave, but instead she said, "I heard what you boys are doing today. We made some nice sandwiches and coffee for you - it's right inside the door." We all smiled and thanked the nice lady. Just then we hard a rumble in the distance behind us. We all turned to see a LONG line of motorcycles approaching from the distance - the Omaha contingent. "Oh my," said the lady, "I'd better make more sandwiches."

As soon as all the bikes were in the parking lot, the State Captain called everyone to the "mission briefing," where details of the day were explained. I have to admit, I felt a bit proud when he said he wanted "bikes with large flags" to lead the way to the church. (I noticed that all the LeMars guys had large flags on their bikes - only a handful of other bikes had large flags. I'm willing to bet the LeMars guys have done this before.)

So, we headed off for the church, just across town. Once we were all in the parking lot (which took a few minutes), a few volunteers handed everyone a flag (provided by the Patriot Guard) and we made our way to the sidewalk to create an avenue of flags for the family. The National Guard unit had a parade float near the church. On the side of the float were photos of each member of the unit. There were a lot of photos.

Once we were "settled in" at the sidewalk, I took a moment to glance around. At the church door was a military honor guard. After them were the American Legion with their flags. Following that group was our own Patriot Guard with our flags. Combined, we stretched from the church door, around the corner, and nearly a block down the street to the east. The protesters were there with their children just a block north of the church. You really couldn't see them, though, for all the American flags waving in the breeze between them and the church. There were several television crews wandering around. A man quietly rang a big brass bell every ten seconds. He did this for over an hour, his head down, silent tears falling from his cheeks.

When the family arrived to make their way into the church we were called to attention. The family made their way down the flag-filled sidewalk past us and into the church. As soon as the service started, we headed back to the parking lot where we stowed our flags and waited to find out what we were to do next. I noticed there were so many people at the service they couldn't all fit into the church - quite a few people were standing outside in front of the church, listening to the service as it was piped through loudspeakers.

There was another short meeting where word was passed down that we were to reassemble in front of the church to honor the soldier as he was brought to the hearse, then an honor guard of seven "large flag" bikes would lead the hearse to the cemetery in an eight-bike "missing man" formation with the rest of us following - remaining large flags to the rear please. So, we hung around, quietly talking in the church parking lot while the service was going on, sipping on bottles of water (again, donated by the Patriot Guard). When it seemed the service was coming to a conclusion we gathered in the front of the church where we waited in formation to honor the soldier as he was placed in the hearse. Again, the emotional impact was startling, so very many people there with one goal in mind - to respect a young man who lost his life.

Once that portion of the service was over we headed back to the bikes and proceeded to the cemetery. As we made our way through town, a few bikes in front, hearse, five or six cars of family members, followed by hundreds of motorcycles with uncounted cars at the end, we started seeing small groups of people standing here and there on street corners, hands on their hearts or saluting, waving small flags. We turned a corner. Someone who knew what the funeral route would be had placed a boom fire truck on each side of the street with booms extended, a huge American flag strung between them billowing gently over the street. That's when I found out just how hard it is to ride with tears in my eyes. The farther we went, the more people there were on the side of the road. As we left town I could see that for two miles to the cemetery at the top of the hill there were people lining the roadway nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, waving small flags and saluting. You know, it's really hard to ride a motorcycle on gravel while crying. When we got to the cemetery we passed a truck. In the back of the truck was a big brass bell, being rung every ten seconds by a man with his head down, quietly crying.

We parked our bikes, grabbed our flags, and arranged ourselves in formation a respectful distance from the gravesite. It took a long time for all the family, friends and townspeople to arrive - there were a LOT of people. We were far enough away that I couldn't hear the service, but I could tell what was happening simply by watching the mourners. Shots rang out, followed by a lone bugler playing "Taps," the bell rang on.

It took a few minutes after the service for everyone to compose themselves and get the flags put away, and quite a bit longer for the impact of the whole thing to sink in.

We must remember that no matter what our opinions of the war or our leaders may be, there are soldiers dying - and they deserve our respect. I'm honored I was able to do so twice. The Patriot Guard is more than mere flag-waving - it truly is about honest and sincere respect. For more information on the Guard, simply click here. (They do accept donations if you're interested in helping out a bit.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Can I Go Back to Bed? Please? (Updated - now with pictures!)

It's been one of those days, and it's only one in the afternoon.

I woke up from a bad dream in a bad mood. "You rejected me!" I said to my vunderful Viennese vife. "You're a rejector!" I threw back the covers and tried my best to stomp out of the bedroom. It's hard to stomp effectively on carpet. Some of the effect is lost somehow.

"I did vhat?" my beloved bleary-eyed bride asked, sitting up in bed. "I rejected you? I did not!"

"Did too!" I replied, standing in the doorway. "In my dream. You told me that you and Mel Gibson were going to Tahiti with a bottle of tequila. It made me sad."

"You need to remember to turn the TV off when you sleep," she said. "You fell asleep vatching the news again."

I stomped off to the kitchen, in a muffled, carpeted sort of way, startling the cat. One cup of water in the microwave for a minute and a half, toss in a teaspoon of instant coffee, some sugar...

"Ow!" That hurt. Hmmm... Take another sip. Ow! Why does this hurt? The coffee's not hot... Abandoning the coffee I wandered into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Aaaahhh... I have a zit in my moustache, just above the corner of my mouth. I'm sensitive there! It's not yet seven in the morning and I'm in a bad mood, I've upset my wife, scared the cat, and at the tender age of not-quite-forty have acquired a pimple.

I tend to my daily ablutions, taking care not to hurt myself, and head back to apologize to my wife. "I'm sorry I accused you and Charlie Gibson of running off to Zanzibar with a box of wine," I said, kissing her on her delicate little forehead.

"It vas Mel Gibson," she replied, "not Charlie. Und it vas Tahiti we went mit tequila, not Zanzibar."

Off to work I went, mildly groggy due to the abandoned coffee. Aahhh, what a glorious day! The sun was shining, gracefully reflecting off the neighbor's garbage can, birds happily scolding squirrels... I decided to walk to work. This is not unusual - I generally only drive the car on Mondays when I have to go to the bank. About halfway to work I started thinking of my motorcycle. I formulated a plan. I was going to get my motorcycle at lunch - that way I could take a short trip after work. The day was looking brighter.

On my way home for lunch, just as I was walking past the dachshund house (they have three, and they all bark at me whenever I go past) my phone wheedled at me. It was my Austrian Snowflake.

"I vas thinking," she said, "Vy don't you take the afternoon off and go tootle around on the motorcycle? You seem stressed lately." I pondered that thought for a second. There's nothing going on at work, but I hate to leave for lunch and never go back... "Hmmm," I replied. "I'll think about it. It does seem to be a good time, and the weather's good." We chatted for a few minutes more, until I got home. I threw a TV dinner in the microwave (you can get 'em ten for ten bucks at Hy-Vee) and started dreaming about an afternoon in the sun. By the time I'd finished my so-called "chicken" I'd talked myself into taking the afternoon off as well as the following day. What fun! And my little European Snickerdoodle is working at the County Fair for a few hours tomorrow - I can ride the motorcycle down to the fairgrounds and surprise her... This is gonna be great! All I gotta do is go back to work and let them know what I'm doing...

I gathered all my stuff -- helmet, bike key, extra hair bands, sunglasses and headed out the door. We have a one-car garage which sits at the end of our driveway. There are fences on both sides of the driveway. Our little white car is parked in front of the garage, in which resides the bike. I hop in the little white car (a 1993 Ford of some kind) to move it out to the street. Key in the ignition, turn... Nothing. The battery is dead. Dead, dead, dead.


Not only can I not get the motorcycle out with the car sitting there, but I can't afford to take any time off work if I have to buy a new battery (or, Lord forbid, an alternator). So much for happy afternoons in the sun. (I probably could still take a vacation day tomorrow, but I'd feel horribly guilty.)

After making a few phone calls I figure I can pick up a battery charger at Wal-Mart (gasp!) for fifteen bucks. Then I can limp the car down to our local mechanic (Woody's Garage - I highly recommend him) so he can test it to see if it's the battery or the alternator. Yich.

I call my wife to tell her the glorious news. "The car is broken again," I said into the phone. "The battery is dead." I related the details to her. "Vell," she said when I finished, "We can't really afford to do much. Ve might have to use the credit card."

"Nah," I said. "I can walk to work for a couple weeks until we can get the money saved up to fix the car if we need to. I don't think we need to use the credit card."

She agreed. "But," she said, "You can still take tomorrow off as a vacation day if you want. It won't change your paycheck any, and you really need to go de-stress." I told her I'd think about it. "And I'm still sorry about getting mad about you and Mel Tourmet going to Abu Dhabi," I said. "You're so nice, you don't deserve goofy husbands getting mad at you for dreams."

"It vas Mel Gibson," she said. "Und it vas Tahiti mit tequila, remember, not Abu Dhabi. It vas your dream..."

Back at my computer at work, I started mulling over the possibilities of a vacation day. You know, if things go right I could probably get the car charged and to Woody's by eight in the morning. If it's just a battery, I could probably afford that if we went the cheap way... You know, I just might take a vacation day tomorrow! I painfully stroked my moustache, pondering the possibilities.

"Bong," went my e-mail. Our biggest customer. He needs to have a bunch of stuff done, "by the end of the weekend." He goes on vacation Monday, you see.

So much for my vacation day. Now I'll be lucky to salvage Saturday! I'm sure I'll end up working Sunday...


But, on the good side -- my wife never DID leave for New Delhi with Mel Brooks and a bottle of champagne. I DO have a job, and a nice little house with a nice little kitty that may eventually forgive me for stepping on him this morning. And I have a motorcycle, too. AND, I am now the proud owner of a battery charger. (I feel like I've come of age... No one's truly an adult until they have a battery charger.) It's all good... I'm just having a grumpy day.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Talk is cheap...

For shame!

The Republicans did it. I can't believe they did it. They saddled a bill increasing the minimum wage to a tax break for the rich. By beelzebub's brazen balls, this is the most crass, craven bit of slimy political maneuvering I've witnessed in a long time. What it boils down to is that congress has voted itself NINE pay hikes in the last nine years, while at the same time the working poor have received NO pay increases. Yet, in order to allow the poor to get the minimum wage increase, the Republicans are insisting that the richest families in America (some of which are, of course, themselves) get yet another tax break.

I'm steamed. I honestly thought they were going to back down on this one once they realized just how greedy and ridiculous they looked. But I guess they don't mind looking greedy and ridiculous, as long as their pockets are lined with our money.

Bah! I'm gonna write that bonehead Grassley - I bet he's involved in this somehow. He's been making a LOT of bad decisions lately. Maybe it's time for him to come home and let someone else who actually cares about Iowa go do his job in the Senate. (Every time I write him, I get what amounts to the same form letter back. "I'm sorry you're sane and have a valid opinion and want me to vote this way, but I'm going to vote the other way anyway.") I wish he could come and visit my neighborhood for a few days, maybe stay at the Gospel Mission, eat at the Soup Kitchen, see the graffiti and the kids with the blank stares - maybe then he'd see what his attitudes are doing to Iowa.

We NEED to stop taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. It just isn't working. The Republicans have taken a record surplus and turned it into a record deficit in just six short years, and they show no signs of stopping. If I'd do that with my household finances, I'd be in a world of hurt by now. It's criminally irresponsible.


In the Name of the Lord

I heard an athlete on television say something like "All glory goes to God." That's a fantastic attitude! Make sure you don't get a big head, be humble... But I bet the athlete in question kept the money. I doubt he donated all his winnings from his victories to the church.

You know, that may actually be a good thing. This is just a thought, but I wonder what percentage of church expenditures goes to helping the needy versus evangelism. I bet churches spend more now on recruitment and retention than they did in the past, percentage-wise. I don't mind donating money if it's going to help people who are worse off than I, but I don't want to give money to the church only to have it indirectly end up in a politician's pocket.

I'd rather the athlete donate his money directly to a charity. Isn't that sad?

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