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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Random Thoughts on a Wednesday

Government Waste

You know, this just sunk in. The last thing outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did before leaving office was go on a farewell tour of Iraq.

How much did that little excursion cost the taxpayers? Why did he go? Was he hoping to learn something significant that would suddenly get him un-fired? Why do we stand by and let the government throw our money around like this?

The first thing incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did when he was picked to replace Rumsfeld was to go to Iraq for a few days. Why? What was he going to learn in two days that he couldn't learn from talking to other people who'd already been there? Why didn't he go there and actually spend a couple weeks there, talking to the military leaders? What was the point of a two-day trip?

It's wasteful. Poor planning. Those little trips cost a bunch of money! We get so used to hearing that so-and-so is just returning from a three-day "surprise" visit to Iraq and so-and-so is on his way to Iraq to meet with whats-his-butt that we don't even pay attention any more. If our government wants to take control away from our military and micromanage the war, well then, they need to move to Iraq and STAY THERE. Enough of this commuting at taxpayer expense.

By the way, didn't we learn in Vietnam that it's better to let the military fight the war (like they're trained to do) than to let the government (who's not trained in warfare) get involved? Give the generals an objective, give them the men and supplies they need, and then get the hell out of the way.

My Beloved Packers

Well, it looks like the 7-8 Green Bay Packers can still make the playoffs this year. All they have to do is beat the 13-2 Chicago Bears next week. In Chicago. Hoo boy.

At first glance it's easy to write the poor Packers off. The Bears have been playing tough all season (the only team with a record as good as theirs is AFC leader San Diego Chargers), whilst the Packers have been, well, not so good. But...

Chicago head coach Lovie Smith pulled his ace young-gun quarterback out of the game last week and replaced him with the backup. Hmmm... And the Bears have strayed from their league-leading offensive strategy the past few games, too. Hmmm... So the Bears are showing signs of weakness. That's good for Green Bay!

In my mind, it'd actually be good for Chicago to let the Packers win this weekend. They could take this opportunity to rest some of their starters and get their people healthy again before the playoffs. And, if the Packers win, well, to be honest, the Packers would be the weakest team in the playoffs this year, which would give the Bears a better chance at winning the Big Kahuna.

And, if this would indeed be Brett Favre's last year, wouldn't it be nice to let him retire after getting into the playoffs one more time?

Wishful thinking from a fan...

Odd Things to Do to your Stomach

Blog-buddy Steakbellie, ranked 39th in the world in competitive eating, is gonna be in the Wing Bowl again this year. If he wins the whole thing, he could get two cars out of the deal! I have to admit, though, that I don't understand exactly how this is considered a spectator sport, but they sold all 20,000 tickets to the Wing Bowl in less than a single day -- that's over twice as many people as live in my entire hometown showing up to see a bunch of guys eat chicken wings for half an hour.

I'm happy for Steakbellie. He's been looking forward to this for an entire year, training, speculating, scheming and plotting. He ate a two-foot long sandwich, a half gallon of lemonade, and a bag of chips in about three and a half minutes to qualify... So, in 36 more days when you see a blurb on the news about the Wing Bowl you'll know what they're talking about.

I Guess I'm Grunchy

I got home from work last night and was immediately accosted. "Vy are you so grumpy, you big grouch?"

"I'm not grouchy," I replied, kissing my beloved Viennese Snowflake on her delicate nose. "I'm happy."

"You are not happy," she said. "You've been a big grumpusaurus for days. Vy?"

You know, I think it all boils down to weather. I put my bike in storage a month ago, so I'm going on 30 days without riding my motorcycle, but it still hasn't snowed! It's not exactly nice outside, but it's not bad, either... I could have ridden my bike yesterday, for example, if I didn't have to work. It seems like I never get to be outside during the winter unless I'm shoveling snow. And it's always dark. Dark and cold and I have to stay indoors.

I think that's why I'm grouchy.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas 'n Stuff

Yes, but what is it? Christmas, I mean...

Everyone talks about their holiday traditions. And every family has them. And they're all different. But what are mine? Do I have any traditions?

I think most people's definition of "True Christmas" comes mainly from childhood memories. We want Christmas to be like they were back in the good old days when we were kids, with just a touch of our parent's version of what Christmas should be thrown in the mix because things always sounded so simple and joyous when our parents talk about THEIR childhood Christmas. This almost always means that we're disappointed by Christmas Present because the memory of Christmas Past is always lurking over us, saying things like, "In MY day we used to sit around the fireplace and hand-carve our very own ornaments every Christmas Eve." Well, this year we're sitting around the X-Box instead...

On my parent's tree every year there lives a few ornaments that Pa made out of styrofoam, fishing line, and a few shiny beads back when he was a boy. I always pictured him sitting at Gramp's feet as a child, happily whittling delicate ornaments out of a styrofoam block, watching the snow fall gracefully outside the window, Bible open to the story of Christ's birth... Oddly enough, when I see this in my head, it's always in black and white, and everyone has halos. I imagine in reality the day those ornaments were made was probably as loud and confused and squabbly as any other day on the farm. And it was probably in color.

I never made a Christmas ornament, and you know, I don't think my childhood was any less rich due to that oversight.

My parents talk about how much they enjoyed singing and going to church when they were children at Christmas. That's what they remember. That's the measuring stick they use to judge Christmas Present. Me, I remember things different.

We moved to the farm the summer after I turned four years old. The first Christmas season I actually remember was at the farm... I remember the linoleum that used to be in the living room. I used to lay on the floor (there was carpet later) on winter days and watch the sunbeams come through the fancy window, glorying in the discovery of how the cut glass created a rainbow of color when the sun hit it a certain way. I'd watch the prism of color on the floor, noticing how it moved over time... It only happened in winter - during the summer the tree outside the window blocked the sun from that particular window - and that made it magic. When Christmas got close, the tree went up in front of the magic window, but sometimes you could still see the rainbow prism as the light cut through the colored glass...

I remember acres and acres and acres of snow with no muddy footprints. I remember making snow caves.

When I got a few years older and had to go to school, I remember being mildly confused by the darkness. I had to ride the school bus; it was often dark when I struggled through the snow up the lane to meet the bus, and it was usually dark by the time I got home after school and finished my chores. The world seemed like a dark, cold place, full of frozen pipes and worries about livestock. I remember thinking that they put Christmas at the end of December just to give people something to look forward to in the darkness.

It was about that time that I noticed that my parents always put the tree up in the same place every year. A tradition! The fake fireplace with it's single light bulb illuminating strings of tin foil, however, was in a different place every year. Gramma and Grampa Radloff moved to town and always put their tree in the "other room." Gramma and Grampa Jeys moved their tree around - some years it was in a corner, other years in front of the big window. Grampa Jeys always made a production of putting the tree up, and always made it a point to include us poor grandkids whether we wanted to be included or not. (Grampa enjoyed playing with us kids, and truly wanted to let us help, but it always ended being grumpy Grampa putting the tree up with nervous grandkids trying to find the right branches to hand him. It was always a little tense. But it was a tradition! And I miss it.)

As a child Christmas started December 1st. That's when the "Christmas Countdown Calendar" was hung on the door so we'd always know how many days left until the big day. Pops would get the wooden Santa out of storage (he kept it in the garage) and would put it on the roof of our house, strapped to the chimney. It was also about that time that the big Sears catalog would come in the mail, too, with it's ten or twelve pages of toys somewhere about three-quarters the way to the back. Every day I'd stare at that catalog and dream of how I'd be so happy if I could play with those toys... I'd helpfully put a mark by the toys I wanted, and I'd be sure to leave the catalog open to that page so the parents would see. The next day I'd go find the catalog again and thoughtfully mark a few more toys...

I remember one year I strayed from the Sears catalog and got suckered by a television commercial (I don't even remember if this was a Christmas gift or a birthday, to be honest). It was a lesson well learned in any case, but rather painful... Dick Van Dyke, from "Mary Poppins" fame, the guy in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," hero to small children everywhere, came on TV one day in a commercial and said that he had a lot of fun playing Chutes Away - a game where you peered through a little viewfinder at a rolling landscape and tried to drop little plastic bombs into little plastic bomb craters. I wanted that game! I wanted it, I wanted it, I wanted it. And I wanted it loudly. For weeks and weeks I loudly wanted that game. I actually went to sleep dreaming of that game, picturing myself flying through the clouds like Superman (just take three steps, hold your arms just so, and jump), zipping here and there, diving playfully at the cows in the field, and at the very proper precise moment dropping my little plastic bomb just exactly right so it would land RIGHT where I wanted... I dreamt of being a pilot of a very small, very agile airplane, soaring. I dreamt of piloting a very large airplane. For weeks and weeks I flew.

The big day came. Presents were opened with glee! But, you know, I didn't see any presents there that were big enough to contain my dream. Presents were opened with desperation now. With each shred of wrapping paper I saw my chances of being a pilot dwindle... When the last very small gift was presented to me, WAY too small to hold a Chutes Away game, I was actually sullen. After the gifts were done I sulked. A child who just opened a whole passel of gifts, sulking. Head hung low, kicking at the floor, feeling sorry for myself, I sulked my way into the kitchen. My dad quietly pointed to the corner by the refrigerator. There was THE PACKAGE! I knew it had to be the game - it was the right size!

And, by golly gee whiz, it WAS the game!

I tore the box open, grabbed the batteries and ran into the other room to set it all up. This game, this one toy, of all the toys in the world, was endorsed by Dick Van Dyke! The man who held tea parties whilst floating in mid-air. The man who built a flying car. That man likes to play THIS game! Oh boy oh boy oh boy...

Stupid game was done in forty-five seconds. It was the most miserable chunk of plastic I'd ever played. For one thing, I thought it was going to be made of metal and wood like toys USED to be, not cheap plastic and cardboard. And all it did was repeat itself over and over, making a noise that scared the dog. The little bombs got stuck in the little fakey airplane. In less than half an hour the game was back in its box and I spent the rest of the day in quiet reflection.

I've never quite trusted Dick Van Dyke since then.

But I'll never forget that Ma & Pa went out and spent twenty bucks (or whatever) on a game for their ingrate son even though money was tight.

Anyway, back to the main point of this post... When I think of Christmas as a child, I think of visits to the grandparents' houses, Christmas trees with lots of presents under 'em, darkness (it seems like it was always dark) and cold lit by fancy street lights in the bigger towns. It was always snowy when I was a kid.

Once I got into my twenties, Christmas changed a bit. I couldn't very well spend days and days laying on my stomach, peering under the Christmas tree, dreaming of toys... I always managed to make my way to the family farm on Christmas day, though. I think I put up a Christmas tree of my own once or twice, but it just didn't seem right, being single with no kids. Christmas was, for a time, simply a month off of college where I had to work instead of study. My National Guard unit would have a Christmas drill every year where we could invite our families to come and sit with us for a few hours. I always had to play my trombone in at least two Christmas concerts - one for the college wind ensemble, and it seemed I always got conned into playing for some brass quartet or another. I remember thinking one year that it sure seemed like I had to dress pretty all the time in December.

I remember being amazed when I got my first "real" job that we only got one day off for Christmas. For some reason I was expecting to get the whole week off between Christmas and New Years. I was crushed. Welcome to adulthood. (In fact, if I remember right, I actually had to work a few hours on Christmas day the first year or two at my present job.)

Christmas had turned into something other people do. Not me. I'd see Christmas on TV, starting sometime in September, then it'd snow a day or two before Christmas, and I'd go to the farm on the one day off I got, hand out my gifts of beer and M&M's and fall asleep on the couch. I was always happy that Ma would put the Christmas tree up, the magic window still created a prism, the old ornaments always made an appearance... Tradition.

At the grand old age of 32 I met Dagmar and bought a house. Our first Christmas we talked quite a bit about starting new traditions, and talked of what our families found important to do on the holidays. We bought a few Christmas knick-knacks and finagled a plastic Christmas tree from someone. We thought happy thoughts.

Sometime in that first December we moved the couch over a bit and put the recliner on the porch to make room for our first Christmas tree. I really wanted Dagmar to help, but it ended up being a grumpy hippie putting the tree up with a nervous wife trying to find the right branches... (Just when did I become Grampa?) But we got the tree put together, and I sat and watched my elegant and graceful wife wrap the tree in garland and lights, then carefully, so carefully putting up our very own ornaments! In addition to the very few ornaments we'd both collected over the years, we had a box of red silk Christmas apples that we hung amongst the garland and lights (I guess in Austria apples are a Christmas thing). We sat for a moment, reflecting that we'd started our own traditions. The tree goes HERE. And THESE are OUR ornaments, and it's good. "Um," I said. "Where's Fruitloop, anyway?" We both glanced quickly around the living room, trying to spot the kitten. "Oh NO!" shouted my elegant and graceful wife, diving for the falling tree. "Your stupid cat is in the tree!" We pulled the cat out of the tree and got it standing upright again.

Turns out that cats are fascinated by little red silk Christmas apple ornaments. The whole night we sat guard on the tree, swatting the poor kitten on the nose with a newspaper every time he so much as looked at the tree.

The next day I came home from work only to find the tree on the ground, broken ornaments in the rug, and a sobbing wife. "I tried SO HARD to make a nice tree, und dis dumbo cat broke everything!" I consoled the wife, righted the tree, swatted the cat... By the end of the day the cat had knocked the tree over two more times. No matter how I propped the tree the cat found a way to make it fall.

My wife cried a lot that year.

The next year we had a real live dead tree! That was exciting. I wrote a fairly entertaining post about it last year that you can read HERE. Suffice it to say, that was the last year we had a tree. (I still have a mental picture of my wife, dressed entirely in black, dragging a Christmas tree up the street on the Fourth of July... You really gotta read the post.)

We haven't decorated for Christmas since then. It's just not worth the tears.

The past few years we have settled into traditions - they're just not our own, that's all. On Christmas Eve we always went to Dagmar's mother's house. We drank warm "grog" (some concoction of fruit juice and rum), read from the Bible, sang songs (some in English, most in German) whilst Mama K played the accordion, and exchanged gifts. Some time during the day, Dagmar and Mama K always called their family in Austria, where the phone would be passed from person to person, each wanting to share some little piece of holiday cheer. The holiday meal took a while for me to get used to - fondue! Ma and Pa used to dig the fondue kettle out once in a while when I was a lad, but I guess I never thought of it as a holiday tradition... Mama K always makes up five or six specialty sauces and cuts up some fillet Mignon and some chicken for us to cook. It's good! A rare treat indeed.

On Christmas Day we always go to the family farm, where we watch my brother's kids go through the same routines we did as children. It's fun to watch small children on Christmas! Especially as the children in question aren't mine...

I wonder if they've ever noticed the magic window... I hope so.

The kids enjoy the presents, we enjoy watching the kids and looking at Ma's Christmas stuff, then we all go eat too much, and it's all good.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Aw, poop

I thought I was over this...

Ten days ago I started feeling ill. Five days ago I gave up and went to the doctor. He gave me antibiotics and patted me on the head. "You'll feel better in three or four days," he sad paternally.

The last two days I've felt pretty good. I felt pretty good when I woke up this morning. We were going to take our beloved nephew and nieces to a movie and maybe to the Sioux City Art Center. I was happy. I like the kids.

Then I took a nap. Just a little half-hour snooze on the couch, nothing epic. And I woke up feeling ill again. Fever, chills, nausea, the works... It's settled down quite a bit now, but we had to cancel our afternoon with the kids -- I'd hate to give them the creeping crud.

I hope I can shake this soon! I'm gonna settle in for some nice chicky soup now. Hopefully I'll be back to write more later today.

Friday, December 22, 2006

'Tis the Season

Frantic Frantic Frantic

Ever get the feeling we're too busy to actually think these days?

I had a customer e-mail me this morning. "I need 2,500 brochures made up, please. I need to have them designed, printed, folded, addressed and mailed by the 30th. Please e-mail me a proof sometime next week before going to press. Thank you. Oh, by the way, I'm leaving in just a few minutes - I'll be back in the office January 3rd." So how exactly am I supposed to e-mail the guy a proof? He just said he's on vacation until AFTER his deadline... But he'll be plenty peeved if his job doesn't get done on time, I'm sure.

I e-mailed a different customer this morning. The subject of the e-mail was "The first four pages of your newsletter." In the e-mail I explained that I was sending the proof of her newsletter to her in two chunks this time because her server rejects anything over 10mb, and that she could expect the second half of her newsletter momentarily. I immediately received a reply. "Hey, I only got half of my newsletter! Where's the other half? What went wrong? Why did you only send me the first four pages?" I held my breath and started to count to ten. By the time I got to "eight," my e-mail beeped at me again. Same customer. "Oh," she said. "I see..."

The receptionist here at the shop called me on the intercom yesterday. "I'm ready to put that Jewish Christmas card on the color copier now," she said. Jewish Christmas card?

It's so busy here I actually saw the boss working. Spooky. Why is it that there's never enough time for us to print a job right, but there's always enough time for us to print it over again? How does that work?

I've been hearing from a lot of our customers (and Dagmar, too) that many people are off work from the 23rd through the 3rd. Is that normal? We only get Monday off...

A New Distraction

In an odd twist of events, I'm now the semi-official photographer of Chesterfield's Wednesday night jam sessions. They're giving me free beer and a couple bucks every week to go to my favorite bar, listen to good music, take pictures of my friends and maintain a website of photos. Color me happy! You can see the results thus far HERE. (Feel free to e-mail me any photos you've taken at the jam - I'll get 'em uploaded to the site!)

I was surprised how many musicians showed up at the last jam -- it's been a while since I've been there. It seems to have grown a bit!

My only problem with this whole thing is that I have a day job. Thursday mornings are gonna be pretty rough on me! I'm not used to being out until 1:30 in the morning on a weeknight any more.

Between that and the American Legion Riders (who created an officer position for me - I'm the PR guy now) I'm gonna be a busy, happy hippie! It's nice to be able to do the "music thing" once a week, and the ALR really gave me a sense of purpose. The last few months have been good to me!


I'm happy to report that Pops is out of the hospital and is back home. He's got some nerve damage from the blood clot, but they say it may heal, given time. But he's up and walking, and should be back at work in a couple months!

Finally, a Break for the Oil Industry!

Anyone remember the Exxon Valdez? You know, the supertanker that dumped about a zillion gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska? I just read that an appeals court lowered the fine Exxon has to pay from $5 billion to $2.5 billion. And boy, and I happy! Imagine, those 32,000 Alaska natives, fishermen and property owners are pretty chastened for wanting Exxon to pay damages -- just because Exxon spilled a pesky little 11 million gallons of crude oil. "Waaaaah, all the fish are dying and I can't make a living now..." I mean, everyone knows that the oil companies haven't been able to pull a profit at all the last few years. A $2.5 billion fine is bad enough, I don't know how they would have paid the whole court-imposed $5 billion...

Actually, Exxon actually had a $7 billion profit last year alone. Their greed knows no bounds. They're rolling in money, refusing to pay their fine, which would have gone to help the fisherfolk recoup some of the losses they incurred in the years following the oil spill as well as helping the property owners and native Alaskans whose lives were impacted by the spill. I'm sad that they kept this in the courts this long, and I'm sad that they found a sympathetic court that cut their fine in half.

We can't get true alternative energy vehicles on the market because the rich (and conservative) oilmen don't have enough of OUR money yet, and our health care system is completely unaffordable to most people because the rich (and conservative) pharmaceutical companies don't have enough of our money either. They will continue to take our money until we decide to take it back from them.

We need to quit letting ourselves be pushed around by these people.

Merry Christmas.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Curmudgeonly Thoughts

TV Woes

Amputations Are Forever

Having spent the last few days on the couch, holding on to my aching tummy, watching TV through a haze of fevered illness, I've come to a few conclusions.

The diamond people are evil. Having known about "Blood Diamonds" for the past few years, I find it morally irresponsible and borderline criminal for TV stations to accept advertising money from diamond companies until there is an international organization in place to ensure a diamond's provenance. Blood, or "conflict" diamonds were declared illegal by the United Nations way back in 2000. If you go to a website sanctioned by the diamond industry (like this one), you'll quickly learn that according to their statistics, 99.9% of the diamonds on the market are "clean." I don't trust this fact, simply because it comes straight from the diamond companies themselves, who stand to lose millions, if not billions of dollars. They also point out that hundreds of thousands of people in Africa are better off due to revenue from diamond sales, and that many of them now have health insurance.

If, however, you go to an independent website (like this one, or Wikipedia) you'll learn that the diamond industry is funding several intense wars in Africa, and profits from the diamond industry may be linked to al-Queda. In 1996 Sierra Leone's president asked people to "join hands for peace." In response, Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front began amputating people's hands, arms, legs, lips and ears, mutilating over 20,000 and killing over 75,000 people in the last ten years -- all in an attempt to control that country's diamond trade.

Diamonds are pretty things. But please don't buy them with impunity - do some research to find out where the diamond came from. And don't trust the salesman! Or the brand name! Canada has some diamond mines...

Another thing that bugs me about the whole deal is how the diamond commercials try to make men feel like they're failures if they don't buy their wives or girlfriends $20,000 worth of diamonds for every holiday. Personally, I think that if a woman demands a man to buy her trinkets to prove himself, she has issues. I've bought Dagmar a fair share of jewelry, flowers and greeting cards over the years, but never because she expected me to, nor because I felt obligated to do so, and almost never on a holiday. "Every kiss begins with Kay" implies that if I don't buy my wife a diamond from Kay Jewelers I'll never have sex again. I resent any company assuming that my wife is that shallow.


My esteemed blog colleague Steakbellie pointed out a while ago in this rather salty post that prescription drug commercials are flooding the airwaves. I don't blame him for using strong language - I often holler language like that at the TV myself when I see dangerous commercials.

The danger of pharmaceutical commercials is that when people see an ad saying "do you have trouble sleeping?" all of a sudden they think they have a medical problem that causes them insomnia, and all they need to be happy is that particular medicine. "Are the toenails on your left foot sore from two to four on Tuesday afternoons?" Well, now that you mention it...

The problem is that we, as a society, are now telling our doctors what medicine we need rather than letting our doctors diagnose us properly, and that's dangerous.

No one wants to have heartburn any more. It's more dramatic and romantic to have an exotic problem like acid reflux disease... So we're pushing our doctors to give us medication we don't need -- a shot of Pepto-Bismol would probably cure the problem, but we're happier if we have a $75 bottle of pills that need to be refilled every month. (I'm not trying to downplay acid reflux disease, either. I'm just saying that there seem to be lots of people out there who claim to have the problem when their problem really is the pizza they eat.)

I feel this is a dangerous thing.

As Steakbellie pointed out, this trend is not likely to disappear soon. There's simply too much money involved. The pharmaceutical companies are making a ton of money selling us drugs we don't need (notice you never see commercials for generic or low-cost drugs), the advertising executives are living well, and the TV industry is making a ton of money selling ad space to drug companies. Think how much cheaper drugs would be if they weren't buying half the advertising space available on the airwaves...

Looking At Yourself

Since when is a television show news? When did this start? I think the trend's been around for a while, but it just now got past the threshold where I now notice it... I was watching a morning news show -- the one with the jovial weatherman, one white woman, one minority woman, and one father figure, I'm sure you know which one that is (oh, wait, that does kinda describe all of 'em) -- and was surprised at how much time in their "news" show they devoted to other programs on that particular network, treating the TV shows as if they were legitimate news!

I have a hard time picturing Walter Cronkite spending 15 minutes of his half-hour broadcast talking about the Beaver's wacky antics.

The problem is insidious. There's nothing technically wrong with any particular show choosing what they consider to be news and putting that up for our consumption, but it sure seems sneaky when they start to disguise propaganda as news. I've always wondered how much control corporations have over our news, now I worry even more. (Freedom of the press only applies if you actually own the press. Newspapers and television have to cater not only to their parent corporations, but to their advertisers. If "Ralph's Cardboard Company" buys half the advertising space in the local newspaper, the likelihood that you'll hear in that newspaper that Ralph's Cardboard is carcinogenic is pretty small. This is a bit scary. Think of pharmaceutical companies buying television stations... Would we ever hear of alternative drugs or cheaper medications? Probably not...)

The only good thing about the situation is that it's easy to avoid. There are so many media outlets these days it's hard for anyone to corner the news market. If I hear something questionable on the news, I often check BBC to see if and how it's reported there. (Not that they're perfect or impartial, but they're not subject to the same political pressures our news outlets face here in America.) More and more often I'm finding myself searching blogs to check on a news story as well. The point being, don't believe everything you see. Check things out. Be critical. Take my word for it, you'll be happier that way.

Those Annoying Little Graphics

Having spent two illish days on the couch staring vacantly at the tube, I've also learned that I really, really don't like those little graphics that every station now has at the bottom of the screen. Most stations have their logo at the bottom left (like I'm too dense to know what channel I'm watching), and quite a few of them also fly advertising across the bottom of the screen at regular intervals. I've seen it get so bad that in one corner the ABC logo was covered by the local affiliate logo, which was all on top of some graphic telling me what show was on, while in the other corner there was some advertising blurb completely covering up the weather alert I was trying to see. That's downright dangerous and irresponsible at that point.

I just don't like 'em. I get enough advertising shoved at me in one day. I'm smart enough to know what channel I'm watching, and I know by watching the morning news show what shows I'm supposed to watch that evening; I don't really need any more, thank you. I'm full.

Public Service Announcements

There must be a law that each local station must show a certain number of public service announcements. That's good - we all need to be educated about AIDS, the benefits of staying in school and whatnot. The problem is that at least one station here in Sioux City runs ALL the public service announcements, nearly back-to-back, between 3 and 5 in the morning. I'm assuming that advertising is cheapest then, so it doesn't cost the station so much in lost advertising revenue to run the PSA's then. In any case, it's pretty transparent, and I don't like it. The whole point of PSA's is to get them in front of lots and lots of people, and that's not going to happen at 4 in the morning.

Continuing Woes

I switched to the new version of Blogger the other day. It worked fine the first time I used it, but I've had to re-write portions of this blog three or four times, as every time I try to "Save as Draft" or "Publish" it glitches out. Frustrating. Grrr... I had actually written a bit more on PSA's, but it got lost, and so did my train of thought. I can't remember the point I was making. Frustrating. Grrr...

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

My Oh My


I don't know if many family members read this, but Pops had back surgery Monday night, then again on Thursday night. Turns out he developed a blood clot in his spinal column from the first procedure. The clot cut off some pretty major nerves, but the second surgery (to remove the clot) was successful. So it looks like Pops will be okay. They don't expect there to be permanent nerve damage (though it's still a possibility), but it was kind of a rough week... He's still in the hospital, they don't know when he'll be able to go home.

Unfortunately, I think I picked up a bug whilst visiting Pops. I feel rotten. Icky icky icky poo.


I finally had the option to switch to the new blogger. So I did. This is it. So far I don't see any major differences (other than labels), but I haven't poked around in the software's innards yet either. If anyone has any problems reading my blog, please lemme know! I'm not sure I'll be able to fix it, but at least I can be anxious and upset... So far I agree with Common Iowan - it seems easy to use and stable indeed! I really like their "g-mail" style spellchecker! The only glitch is that Blogger has e-mailed me some 23 messages saying that the transfer was complete, and I'd like to find a way to delete the AdSense module (in the past year of having ads on my blog I've earned less than a penny)...

On a related note - if anyone e-mails us at our regular e-mail addresses and doesn't hear back from us, please don't think we're uppity or anything. It's just that we get so much junk mail (well over 200 messages a day in one account) that some of the "good" mail is getting deleted by accident. You have my sincere apologies, but I really don't know what to do, other than to encourage "real" people to use my gmail address when they send stuff to me. G-mail has an automatic filter that seems to be pretty reliable. I think. Maybe.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Oh good gosh...

Blogger Blues

Bah! Yesterday I wrote a post. I was happy. I didn't write anything earth-shattering, just the usual drivel, but it made me happy to get something posted. With something bordering on glee I pushed the "Publish Post" button and sat back to watch all the little letters I typed go out to the world...

But they didn't go. I waited. Nothing. The little "Blogger Triangle" just sat there, looking at me, saying "0% Published." I minimized the window and went back to work on something else.

Twenty minutes later I went back to the Blogger window. It was still at 0%. So I hit the "Back" button and tried to publish the blog again. Same result. This happened four more times over a three-hour period, all to no avail. I finally gave up, noticing that five copies of my post were in the "Drafts" section.

Pops had back surgery last night (thankfully it all went well -- more details in another post, maybe), so we were up at the hospital for eight or nine hours. There was a computer kiosk in one of the waiting rooms, so I thought I'd give the blog one more chance. I logged in, noticed that there was a new section in the log-in page telling me I can switch to "New Blogger" at any time. That made me happy! I want to switch! I'm tired of having "Old Blogger" misplace my posts on a regular basis. I then went to the "Drafts" section, pulled up the post that wouldn't publish, and gave it another try. Five seconds later my post was indeed available to the world. Oh giddy glee! I toyed with the idea of switching to the "New Blogger" there in the hospital waiting room kiosk, but I decided to wait.

By midnight we were home again... After winding down for a few minutes, I decided to check to see if my post had indeed been published. It was. EIGHT TIMES. Gah! The same post, over and over and over again... With something approaching consciousness, I went to Blogger and managed to delete all the copies out of my "Drafts" section with my tired, clumsy fingers -- unfortunately, as far as I can tell, they're still on my blog, making me feel like an idiot.

This morning I hopped out of bed after four and a half hours of fitful sleep and eagerly ran to my computer, lukewarm coffee in hand; I'd been dreaming happy dreams of finally being able to switch over to the "New Blogger." Maybe if I switch I can get rid of the excess and embarrassing posts! I can finally try the new features! Maybe I can post more photos! This is going to be fun!

Fingers quivering in excitement I log into Blogger. The announcement saying I can switch to the new version is gone! It's not there! Waaaaahhhh! Now I'm stuck with five or six copies of my last post on my blog, and I'm all disappointed. Bah! Drat! Gosh darn it...

I hope THIS post goes well!

On the MUCH brighter side...

The doctors were happy with how Pop's surgery went last night. The one with the funny accent (Australian?) said that improvement should be "dramatic." By the time the nurse shooshed us out of his room late last night he was squeezing hands, wiggling toes, and making sense when he talked. I'm happy!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mondays are Rough

That'll Teach Ya...

I just read an Associated Press story that made me sad. Seems Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky was in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport a week or two ago and noticed several Christmas trees displayed in the terminal. Rabbi Bogomilsky threatened to sue the airport unless they added an eight-foot Jewish menorah to the display.

So the airport took the trees down.

"We decided to take the trees down because we didn't want to be exclusive," said airport spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt. "We're trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year." source

Ms. Betancourt continued to say that the holidays are the busiest season at the airport, and they didn't have time to play cultural anthropologist. They felt that adding the menorah would have required adding symbols for all other religions and cultures as well.

So, by wanting his religion recognized, Rabbi Bogomilsky made sure that the holidays are not acknowledged at all at the airport. According to the Associated Press article, the Rabbi was appalled by the decision. "Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday. For many people the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season."

This kind of stuff is tricky, ain't it? Wouldn't it have been better if the Rabbi had, instead of threatening the airport with a lawsuit, simply asked them if HE could place a menorah on display in the airport? That would have given the airport people the chance to leave the trees in place, and given them a big clue that they might want to review their holiday policy sometime in the next year... (Seems to me the simplest policy would be to have an area of the terminal available to local religious groups to display their own particular cultural icons without the airport interfering. But then you've gotta give space to the local cult of devil-worshippers to display their, well, whatever it is they'd want to display, too.)

By threatening to sue, the Rabbi merely got the Jewish community lumped in with the Grinch as far as the holidays are concerned. I think that the best policy of all would be TOLERANCE. I haven't looked up any statistics to back this statement up, but I'm reasonably sure that the majority of people in the Seattle area are Christians. So what harm does it do to let the airport put up Christmas trees? If I ever go to Israel, I'd expect to see plenty of Jewish symbols around, and I certainly wouldn't demand that they give my religion equal treatment. (Well, I guess Israel is a questionable example as the state is founded on the religion, but you get my drift. When in Rome, expect to see Catholicism. When in Turkey, expect to see Muslim symbols. When in America, expect to see Christmas trees.)

Oddly enough, Christmas trees aren't even a Christian symbol. According to Wikipedia, the Christmas tree may have roots in early pagan rituals, but the modern custom dates back to the 1570's, when a few Germans started putting apples and nuts on trees to make the children happy. According to tradition, Christmas trees aren't supposed to be put up or decorated until Christmas Eve anyway, else you'll have bad luck. Commercialism changed that tradition in a heartbeat...

So... Was the airport right in putting up trees? Was the rabbi right in threatening to sue? Was the airport right in taking the trees down?

I think the airport, being (I assume) privately owned, should be able to do what it wants as far as decoration goes. They probably thought that Christmas trees were a pretty vague and non-religious symbol of the season, and I guess I agree with them. The rabbi shouldn't have threatened to sue. Instead he should have either accepted the fact that the majority of the people around him like Christmas trees and realized that Christmas does not diminish Hanukkah any more than Kwaanza threatens Easter. Unfortunately, the rabbi gave the airport no choice but to take the trees down; I agree with their decision and their reasoning. Maybe next year they'll put up snowmen or something instead.

This brings up a whole kettle of issues that I'm not gonna delve into (the "War on Christmas," separation of church and state, etc.) but I will mention that many people tease the Democrats for trying to be politically correct. Looks to me like if you're not politically correct, you'll run the chance of getting sued. Ain't that sad?

So, the next time you see a cultural or religious symbol you don't agree with, please remember tolerance. Isn't that what our religion teaches us anyway?

Worrisome Times

I have several relatives that are battling cancer, and a member of my family is having back surgery later today. I'm having a hard time concentrating. We're all getting older, and I don't like it much.


I just read (oddly enough in the Seattle Times) that it costs $6.65 (five euros) to buy a can of cola at the Louvre in France. The article said, "The $9 soda, the $5 espresso and the $30 taxi ride are commonplace," and talks about dinner for four at a pizza joint costing $100. I guess the dollar isn't holding up well in the international market these days... We may be headed for rough times. In 2002 you could buy one euro for 89 cents - now it costs $1.36 to buy that same euro.

I've never studied economics (as can be seen with a quick glance at my checking account) but whatever happened to the gold standard? Seems we went off it sometime during World War II as an emergency measure, and have never gone back to it. Maybe it's time...?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Slow Day

My Brain Hurts

I've been having strange dreams lately. Last night I had a dream that I wasn't even in -- I wasn't even the narrator or anything. Someone finally did kill the robot, though... The night before, I had a dream that no one in my unit wanted to share a shelter-half with me, so I went through the whole area poking holes in other people's mosquito netting and such and generally being mean-spirited to get even. The odd part about this is that I'm not in the military, and I'm generally a pretty nice guy - not one to poke holes in someone else's tent. And if no one wanted to share a shelter-half with me I really wouldn't have a problem with it anyway. Most likely I'd just mock up a hammock or something.

It bothers me when I have inexplicable or violent dreams.

I've been thinking of otters a lot lately, too.

Good Weekend

We had a good weekend. Saturday Dagmar and I went to Sioux Falls to visit my niece on her birthday. (My brother's family only lives 25 miles from Sioux City, but they went to a fancy hotel in Sioux Falls so the kids could play in the water park the hotel had in the lobby.) That was fun! If I get time later I'll post a photo or two... Small children all hopped-up on sugar in a swimming pool - what could be more fun than that? Too bad there weren't any otters there...

Saturday night we stopped in Sioux Center to munch on a steak with some ALR friends of ours. That was fun, too. They served beer there. I always like that.

Sunday I finished up a web site I designed for the Northwest Iowa chapter of the American Legion Riders. You can peek at it HERE if you want. I enjoy doing stuff like that, but I'm always glad when the majority of the brain-sweat is done and I can sit back and relax for a few minutes. I'm really happy I got involved in the ALR. Couldn't ask for better people to be around.

The only fly in the ointment was hearing the Packers were on the short end of a 38-10 score against the Jets. That makes me sad.

Long Time, No Smoke

The original reason I started this blog almost a year and a half ago was to give me something to do between twitches as I quit smoking. (You can read the first bloodshot and grouchy posts I wrote HERE -- the earliest posts are at the bottom.) I'm very proud and a little surprised that I've been nicotine-free for so long, but I'm constantly surprised at how often the addiction makes itself known.

"Vy do you roll your window down when you chew gum?" asked my beloved Viennese bride the other day as we drove to Sioux Falls. "Every time you pop gum in your mouth you roll the vindow down a few inches."

"Well," I answered, "I roll the window down to let the smoke out, of course..."

I keep gum in my "cigarette" pocket. I'm done with smoking, but I still reach for my cigarettes about once every twenty minutes... (For those of you who know me in person, you know I also keep my digital camera in my cigarette pocket. I've taken almost 20,000 photos since I've quit smoking...)

I read the other day in a magazine that nicotine actually alters some chemical receptors in your brain so your brain can accept the nicotine. With some people that happens the first time nicotine is in their bloodstream, other times it's the second or third time (which is why some people will try smoking once or twice and never mess with it again while others are addicted from the very get-go). But it's a physical change that occurs in your brain. Once it happens, you can't un-do it -- you're always, forever addicted to nicotine. That actually made me feel better... I'm not an addict, I'm just brain-damaged is all.

Generally, not smoking doesn't bother me a bit any more. Until I drink coffee or beer - then I get all wistful and twitchy again... The only time I'm in any real danger of smoking is when I'm in a bar drinking beer (which doesn't happen all that often any more, now that I'm not in a band), and I've learned how to cope with that for the most part. But every now and then I'll find myself leaning over an ashtray, breathing it all in...

If the doctor came up to me today and told me I had some rare tropical disease and I only had a month to live, I'd probably go out and buy some cigarettes. But I've still got some forty or fifty years ahead of me, and I've already gained the weight, so I may as well stay quit. I am truly happier this way. I can go to a movie if I want now without worrying about smoking. I can go to family events and enjoy myself instead of standing outside in the snow, smoking a cigarette, peeking through the window to see my family having fun. I can go to restaurants. I don't feel ill much any more. It's all good. It's all good.

The State of the UN

I just saw on a news site that the United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, is going to step down. In case you forgot, Mr. Bolton is the angry man with the moustache that U.S. President G. Walker Bush chose to speak for us all at the United Nations a year or two ago. Normally, this position must be ratified by congress, but Mr. Bush knew Mr. Bolton wouldn't get the votes needed to assume the position legally, so Mr. Bush waited until congress was in recess (didn't have to wait long - this congress has spent more time on vacation than any other in history) and made a "Recess Appointment," a legal technicality generally reserved for time of emergency, and threw Mr. Bolton into the limelight.

Well, Mr. Bolton has been doing his job there for a year or two, and to my knowledge hasn't actually punched anyone yet, but his recess appointment is up -- it's time to go in front of congress and get officially voted into the office. I guess he's not too optimistic about his chances; he's not even going to try. He's just quitting. The only atypical aspect of this is that a Bush appointee seems to be quitting BEFORE being arrested, and he doesn't seem to be blaming anyone else for his own shortcomings.

This is good for both the U.S. and the U.N. Mr. Bolton was not very good at working with others. I'm hoping now that with a democratically controlled congress we can put someone with good people skills in place to represent us to the world.

NOW I'm hungry!

Holy buckets! Check this out... A 1-1/4 pound (cooked) burger for seven bucks! (Click HERE for details.) A buddy of mine in VROC kept saying last summer that we should take the time to ride from the Missouri to the Mississippi simply to eat a Gunderburger. Now I'm more apt to agree with him... Though Gunder is all the way across the state, it might just be worth the trip! (There's an entire website devoted to the Gunderburger HERE.)

There's a place in Nebraska just 25 or 30 miles west of Sioux City that has huge hamburgers like that... If you're ever in the neighborhood, stop by Bob's in Martinsburg. You won't be disappointed. I've been to Bob's several times over the past few years. It's a hole in the wall, but the burgers are great!

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