Monday, November 17, 2008

Back to Traffic School

(Cross-posted to my other blog at

This past Saturday, Kellie and I went to take "Defensive Driving School" -- referred to lovingly in Texas as "Traffic School." I took it to get out of my photo-radar ticket in Arizona. Kellie took it with me because we will get an 8% insurance discount. For $39.95 each, it's a pretty good deal. The outfit that teaches the class is called "Comedy Guys Defensive Driving" and--just like the name implies--the classes are taught by professional comedians. They have classes all over the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Ours was held at the Spaghetti Warehouse up on US-75 in Plano, and Comedy Guys even bought lunch (and the menu choices presented a good variety too!). We plan on someday visiting the restaurant just for the food!

Texas has this racket where you can get out of one traffic violation per year by sitting through this class. And, Arizona has the same racket where you can get out of one ticket every two years. I was able to work it out where I could take the Texas class, transfer the certificate to Arizona (you need to do this in coordination with an Arizona traffic school) and I would still be able to take the class again next week if I get a ticket in Texas. Not that I plan to, mind you, but I was able to reserve that right. My total cost was about $1 less than had I actually paid the fine to Arizona (the fine would have been $171, the defensive driving class was $37 {I had a coupon} and the fee that I needed to pay the Arizona driving school to transfer the certificate {I'm sure the state of Arizona gets their cut of this as well} was $133, bringing my total out-of-pocket to $170). But I got out of the two points that would have appeared on my Texas driving record. I don't think those two points would have hurt me much (I haven't had a ticket in 13 years, knock-on-wood) but it was easy enough to make it go away. I wish they had had this plan in Michigan because my wife has had a couple of tickets over the years up there.

So, as far as rackets go, this is one I just can't complain about! Of course, the whole purpose of all of this is to give people an option where the state can still take a little bit of a fee, but the people who want to fight it won't clog up the court system, and the people who otherwise wouldn't do anything about it (or, those people in Arizona who get a photo ticket in the mail and try to wait out the process server) have a palatable option to pay it and get it over with. The defendants are happy, the driving schools are happy, and the state is happy. Everybody's happy!

Anyway, here is my review of the class:

We saw a number of safety videos that were produced by the Michigan State Police for the AAA foundation in the 70s and 80s. The first video was called "The Final Factor" and it outlines the fifteen or twenty factors that can lead to accidents. Being as it was filmed in the mid-70s, they go over important safety guidelines as avoiding changing out your 8-track cassette (factor 1) whilst driving while drowsy (factor 2) in the snow with your baby fussing in her car-seat (factor 3) mounted in the front passenger seat while some dumbass kid rides out into the middle of the street on a bicycle (The Final Factor). Can you imagine if they had cellphones back then?

There was another video about organ donation. Don't get me wrong, organ donation is important, and when I kick the bucket, any of you can have anything that still works. But the only real connection to a driving class is that there may be an organ donation sticker on your drivers license.

The teacher spent about 20 minutes detailing the speed traps in the DFW area. My wife was furiously writing these down as she drives all over the area for work.

Then came a very easy 25 question test at the end. All in all, the whole experience was not too painful, except for my bladder, I managed to drink about a gallon of iced tea that day.

So, although I am happy that the state of Arizona has let me drop this whole thing from my record, I am still less than pleased with their methods of enforcement (Robo-Cop cameras, and portable speed-radar Talivans). One question now remains: Since my ticket has gone away, does it count? Can I keep adding to my 13 year record of no tickets (or, at least no convictions)?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Let's not be sore losers today.

I woke up this morning exhausted.

It's the day after the November election and it seems that the past two years of campaigning has taken it's toll on me. I'm not so tired from staying up late last night watching the returns. I'm tired of the division in this country that sometimes takes on an edge of hatred. I'm tired of watching the infighting in the Democratic party. I am sick and tired of the attacks back and forth -- including the unfounded rumours about Obama's faith. And it's over. We true Conservatives lost the battle. And it seems like it was a very bloody one.

53 percent of American votors disagreed with my choice for president. And I'm strangely OK with that. Even though we face at least another two years of a Democrat party agenda. We lost. We punted the ball and now it's our opponent's turn to run it back. The Republican party really hasn't done much to impress me for the last 8 years. So now it's time to sit back, and instead of judging the opponent, it's now time to judge the issues. The opponent is now our leader. We must allow him to lead. He is our president and he must successful at being our president. That does not mean that he must be successful at introducing socialism, or gun control, or advancing a liberal agenda. He must simply be successful at holding this country together. We may not like his methods, and we will need to be on him every time he does something that goes against the fiber of how this country was designed.

This morning, on the way to work, I felt a strange sense of pride. I was proud for America that we were able to elect a black man as our leader without having race riots. And I pray for his safety for the next four years. I pray that his policies don't ruin our country. I pray that, until the next congressional election in two years, that the damage is minimal. And I pray that Obama wasn't elected simply as a novelty, because novelty will soon wear off. We elected a man -- not a black man. But more important, we elected an American, not an African-American.

So tonight, I will raise my glass to Obama. I will wish him well. He will be my President. I will not be a sore loser like many on the other side were four and eight years ago, and I hope and pray that most conservatives will take the loss in stride, look to our new President, support him as a leader, and speak up when he does something that we don't agree with. If the Democrats try to put in a too-liberal Supreme Court justice, we need to speak up. If Obama and Pelosi try to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, we need to shout from the mountain tops and derail that abomination just like we derailed the amnesty bill and the way we derailed (at least the first time) the big bailout. And when their policies affect our livelihood, our success as a nation, or border on tyranny (like trying to take our guns), we need to respond with torches and pitchforks. True conservatives are the minority now. The marches on Washington worked for minorities in the past, and now it's our turn. But now is NOT the time to be a sore loser. I guarantee you, if we act the way that our opponents did when George W. Bush beat Al Gore, our credibility will be shot. And we will need that credibility later.

So for now, Obama says that he plans on trying to help us heal our wounds. Frankly, I hope that he finds a way -- I am tired of being a divided nation. We need to come together again -- but at the same time, we cannot abandon our conservative principles. I don't know the best way to do that, and I bet that you don't either. That's what God is for. So don't panic -- just pray daily for America and our leaders, and ourselves.

The past two elections, we got lucky -- very lucky. Just think, we could have had a President Gore, or a President Kerry. Just think where we would be today. But our luck ran out yesterday. Even more so, the Republicans have just failed to deliver. Common sense could have prevented what happened yesterday. Americans are mostly conservative -- socially anyway. But many of those Americans are so used to be spoon-fed that they have forgotten that they need to vote based on. And many of our Republican leaders have forgotten how to talk to us. I sure hope that campaigning for 2012 doesn't start next week. Instead of fighting amongst ourselves the way that the Democrats did, lets take some time and figure out how to get back to our conservative roots. Then, when the time comes, lets provide simple answers to our problems. Like immigration. Didn't we learn our lesson about "comprehensive" immigration reform? Lets just cut the red tape and build a fence. Large government? Lets just say that we will start cutting large chunks of that out. Quit dancing around the issues, just make some promises and then DO them.

So tonight I will offer this toast to our new President Elect: "Congratulations, Barack. I'll be praying for you. Don't screw this up!"

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bill's Hotel Complaints

Even when I stay in a pretty decent hotel, I inevitably run into those little issues that will momentarily pi$$ me off. Among them:

10. Maids that turn off my air conditioner during the day. Nothing pi$$es me off more than, at the end of a long day working and sweating, coming back to a hotel room that has had the air conditioner shut off all day. With the curtains open. What I pay for one night in a hotel room more than pays for that room's electricity in one month. Leave the damn air conditioner on.

9. On a related note, air conditioners that are set to cycle the fan instead of leaving it on. OK, this can usually be remedied by removing the cover to the unit and flipping a switch. Sometimes it requires a little re-wiring. But I have slept with a fan on every night for the past 25 years of my life. I ain't stopping now.

8. Staff that does not speak English. Seriously. Hotel management, listen up. If you choose to hire immigrants (legal or otherwise), at lease ensure that they understand basic greetings in English. I'm tired of maids and other housekeeping staff giving me a blank stare when I say something complicated to them in English -- like "Good Morning."

7. TVs that revert to the hotel information channel every time you turn them on. The old Lodgenet systems are notorious for this. When I turn on the tube, I want the last station that it was tuned to before I last turned it off. I don't want to hear "Thank you for choosing the Holiday Inn Los Angeles. We hope that you enjoy your stay with us. Gracias por elegir el Holiday Inn Los Angeles. Esperamos que usted disfrute de su estancia con nosotros."

6. TV's and clock radios that mysteriously talk in Spanish when you turn them on. When you are lucky enough to have a hotel TV that will remember the last station it was tuned to, the maid will inevitably tune it to Univision or Telemundo while she cleans your room. And she will leave it there. Or, she will change your clock radio to the local Salsa station. You will usually discover this when the alarm goes off the next morning.

5. Your shampoo disappears. Whether you use the hotel-provided shampoo or bring your own little shampoo that you stole from another hotel, you will inevitably reach for it while showering -- and it won't be there. Whether or not there was any shampoo left in the bottle after you last showered, there is a 87% chance the maid will simply throw it away. Sure, she will usually leave you another bottle. But it is usually placed by the sink. The sink is usually out of reach from the shower. This may also happen if you use the free hotel-provided bar of bath soap. Luckily, it has never happened to my self-provided bar of Irish Spring,

4. Your bar of soap at the sink disappears. You know the drill. You check in. You poop. You wash your hands. While your hands are wet, you realize that the soap is still in the wrapping. No problem. You dry your hands and open the soap. Next day, you come in dirty from work. You wash your hands. You reach for the barely-used bar of soap you opened yesterday. But where is it? You look behind the faucet. You look behind the box of Kleenex. Nothing. Then you realize that the Soap Fairy must have visted and forgotten to leave a quarter behind. But she did leave a fresh bar of soap. You swear under your breath. You dry your hands. You open the soap. You wash your hands. The next day...

(other bathroom-related complaints include the fact that many maids will close the stoppers on the sink and tub drains... and you don't notice until the sink or tub is half full of water)

3. Your fridge isn't plugged in. Usually, on my way from the airport, I stop and pick up a couple of bottles of water because rarely have I run into a hotel that has tap water that tastes good. Then I check in and walk into my room and open the fridge to put my water in and notice that the fridge is warmer than the room that didn't have the air conditioner on and waiting for me (see above).

2. The maid forgets to leave the free pen if it is missing. Seriously, aren't pens like 10¢ in bulk? If I take the pen to work with me, and leave it at work, then just leave me another one so I can do the same the next day. (OK I am lying here. I steal the pens. I have a few hundred hotel pens rolling around my home. My wife and I haven't needed to buy pens in like 10 years.)

And the Number One thing I hate about hotels:
1. The hoards of people grazing the free continental breakfast. Now, part of this is the fault of the hotel -- namely, not realizing that nearly one hundred people will try to crowd into a tiny room with twenty chairs. Some of these people will be milk-spilling cereal-crunching screaming children running around underfoot and touching every exposed food item on display. Some of these will be big fatty fat people blocking your way to the orange juice dispenser. Or the person making six waffles, one at a time, for his entire family. Or the a$$hole that leaves his garbage on the table when the trash can is right next to it. Speaking of trash cans, the opening to the can is usually too small for the garbage that you want to put in it, and the flap is usually dripping with milk and juice. Seriously, though, the continental breakfast is a big free-for-all, and 90% of the people in that room have no manners at all.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Who "needs" an iPhone?

OK. The iPhone is cool. I'll admit it.

What I don't understand is why people seem to think that they "need" one.

I was at the big mall at King of Prussia, PA a couple of weeks ago when the new iPhone came out. They have an Apple store there. And outside the Apple store, past two or three more storefronts, behind a roped line, were people. Lots of them. Waiting to pay full introductory price for an iPhone.

Remember those pictures of people waiting in line for toilet paper in the bad ol' days of the USSR?

I betcha that two-thirds of those people waiting to plunk down their credit cards were already up to their eyeballs in debt. I bet a good number of them had to cancel their existing cellphone contract (and pay the ETF) to switch to AT&T. I bet a decent chunk of them are gadget freaks that just like to buy the latest toys.

I like gadgets. I have a fair number of them. Laptop (provided by the company), Blackberry (ditto), Palm Pilot (which I don't use so much since I got the blackberry), some ham radio equipment, a Slingbox, an XM Radio in the truck, hell, every light switch I have in my home could be considered a gadget, since I can control them all online.

But I don't need any of them. But yet I do. I spent two-thirds of my life without a cellphone. I grew up without cable or internet (which I now spend $160 a month on combined). Hell, I was in my early teens when my parents bought a microwave and a VCR. I was 16 when my dad bought us a computer (a Packard Bell 386, 16 MHz of blazing speed, and a 40 MB hard drive (to you teenagers out there used to Gigabytes, the MB stands for Megabyte. One MB = 1/1000 of a GB.) My computer at home is about 1300 times as fast, and has almost 600 GB of hard drive space. That is almost 15 thousand times more storage than I had back then. I remember having to actually delete files to gain hard drive space (imagine that). I have an additional 300 GB on a networked hard drive as well. And I actually had to just check my computer to find out how big my hard drives are. I honestly didn't know, and I had that computer for over a year now. Back in my teens, that 40 MB number, and how much space I had left after installing Leisure Suit Larry and a pirated copy of AutoCAD 10 that I brought home one floppy disk at a time from my high school (sorry AutoDesk, the statute of limitations is up on that one).

Our definition of the word need sure has changed, hasn't it? I mean, I now need a cellphone. I now need high speed internet. I now need cable TV. But do you truly need those when you can't afford your basic needs like food, shelter, and transportation? Or, even worse, when you bought too much house, too expensive of a car, and go out to eat every night and put it on your credit card?

My wife and I are blessed that we can afford what we have with no debt other than a mortgage that we can afford. And that we can afford the good things like cellphones, cable TV, internet, and decent cars. But we never lose sight of the basic needs, and we make sure that, if the worst happened, we could meet the basic needs.

I don't know how the hell this post got so long. I was just going to talk about the sheep waiting in line for an iPhone. Which I don't need.

Because, I don't buy anything because of the hype. I buy things because I need them.

However I end up defining need at the time.

Goodbye, my friend

Last week my good friend and co-worker Dave Jarchow was killed in a freak accident. He was riding his recumbent bicycle on a Michigan trail and pulled out in front of a pickup truck. He died at the scene.

You could not have asked for a nicer friend and a more patient coworker. I have known him for going on 11 years and have learned much from him. I never really met his family but I share deeply in their grief.

I also pray for the young 19 year old lady who was at the wheel of the pickup truck. This accident was not her fault. Witnesses have said that she tried to avoid the accident and that there was no way to have known that he was there until it was too late. I hope that she will come to realize that these things happen. We all need to die someday and we are not in charge of when it happens, and when God decides to call one of us home, sometimes it needs to involve the use of another human being who just happens to be there at the time. I know that that is an unusual way of thinking about it. But isn't that just what a fatal accident really is?

Goodbye Dave. Rest in peace and rest assured that your presence on Earth will be a lasting one.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tithing and Giving

I have been researching the area of Christian tithing for a little while now. A couple things stemmed this particular quest of knowledge:

#1) I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey, a financial talk show host who is also a Christian, he promotes the (wonderful) idea of being debt free, and recommends tithing 10% to your church or synagogue no matter what your financial situation.

#2) I recently (beginning about five years ago after we lost our son) became a churchgoer. I was born a Catholic, tired of organized religion in high school, and continued for many years as a Christian who worked directly with God and "eliminated the middleman" (church). My wife and I started attending a wonderful United Methodist church in Michigan when we needed support after losing our son. At this church, the pastor (who became one of my best friends) hated to talk about money. People gave out of a sense of need, as we did.

#3) After moving to Texas, we started going to a wonderful church here. It is a large Methodist church with lots of property and plans to build. It has fancy lighting and sound, a computer lab for it's elementary school, and big plans for the future. They are also big on the tithe (giving 10% of your take home income to the church). Although they are good about not picking on you individually, it is brought up frequently during church. They are also big on annual pledging (I am not). Anyway, when you join the church, you make a pledge in front of God and everybody, I don't have a problem with most of it but part of the pledge is "I will give ten percent of my money." I cannot pledge this. It is the only reason I still don’t feel called to join, even though I love going to that church.

So, really, that is what has me thinking about tithing right about now. Personally, I believe in giving to the church, from the heart, as you would give to any other charity. And for a while, I was thinking that all of your charitable giving should count toward your tithing, as, when the tithe was created so many, many years ago, the church was pretty much the only charity around. If I had to give 10% to the church, I would have no money left to give to other organizations that I find to be important. So, when we get to church (depending on my travel schedule and my wife's work schedule (she sometimes works on Sundays)) we write a check for $25 and feel good about it. If we made more, we would give more.

Another thing that bothers me about their "10%" rule is that this church has so many bells and whistles. Don't get me wrong, I like bells and whistles, with my A.D.D. I need bells and whistles to stay interested. They have fancy automated stage lighting that changes colors and can be aimed anywhere in the room. The seats are comfortable, and the sound system is excellent. They also have a wonderful multimedia system including three projectors and monitors in other parts of the facility. They are looking at putting in a large expensive telephone system. If I gave 10%, I would want that money to go towards the poor, to spreading God's word, and doing other churchy things. The bells and whistles are icing on the cake. Don't get me wrong, if they wanted to buy another bell or whistle, and they wanted to take a special collection, I would be happy to give. But I don't think a biblical tithe should go toward maintaining a fancy facility. Now, I would freely admit, that they would need to take tithe or giving money for general operating expenses, including phone systems, computers, and infrastructure. In this day and age, you need these types of things to run a business, non-profit or not. I call these types of expenses the "icing in the middle of the cake" -- it holds the layers together. But you really don't need the bells and whistles, the icing on the cake, to hold a church together.

As far as annual pledges, I don't participate in those because I feel it is pledging money that I don't have yet, and if the worst happened and I lost my job and we had to scale back on our giving, I would feel bad about not keeping my pledge promise. I know, I know, there are compelling reasons for churches to have pledge drives. It helps them create their budgets, for one. But I just can't pledge money I don't have yet. It's a personal problem, I know.

After saying all of that, I love to give money to charities. My wife and I are blessed with good jobs, a healthy income, an affordable mortgage, and no other debt. We save well, we budget well, and we are able to give well. Starting last year, we set goals for the end of the year to give larger one-time donations to a few charities. This year, our goals are even higher. I won't provide amounts here, but we gave large sums to St. Jude's Children's hospital, the American Radio Relay League (a national amateur radio organization that focuses on radio education and public service), and the USO, with some smaller donations to a few local radio clubs for good measure. Basically, we split the amount evenly and my wife decides how to give her half and I decide on my half. It's fun. Our goal for this year is a 50% increase over last year. (And these goals don't include the collection plate offerings at church).

Anyway, I found an interesting website today called Now, they have some interesting biblical interpretations about tithing. As with most of the biblical interpretations out there, there may have been some bias against tithing while they did their research and picked bible verses. There may be conflicting verses that they didn't quote as well. I don't know. I'm not good enough at reading and interpreting the bible (remember my A.D.D.) to really know if they know what they are talking about. But they bring up some interesting points (everything within quotes, including links, from, some links did not transfer but the asterisks did, they point to bible text):

#1) "A Biblical tithe is 10% of certain agricultural products from the land of Israel to be paid by the farmers to the Levites, who in turn tithed to the priests. Wage earners and the poor were exempt from tithing. The poor were allowed to benefit from tithes."

#2) "Israeli* animals, seeds and fruit are tithed: When your herds or flocks go out to pasture, remove every tenth animal* that passes by. If you only have 9 or less, then there is no tenth animal, hence no tithe. You tithe on cattle and sheep*. Produce of the land is tithed by calculating what is one tenth, and that is your tithe. Examples: Seed and fruit* Grain, wine and oil* Grain, wine, oil and honey* Spices* and herbs* "

#3) "Money and wages are not tithed as money is considered as unrighteous*. Other things not tithed: Unclean animals, beasts of burden, fish, birds, insects, reptiles*. The spoils of battle are not tithed."

#4) "Israelite* farmers*, gardeners* and Levites*. Wage earners did not tithe since only agricultural products were tithed. See Jesus."

#5) "Charging a fixed 10% of everyone's income is unjust because the poor can't afford it. The Bible recognized this, and granted the poor the right to receive tithes, instead of having to pay them.* It was only the land owners (farmers), and the Levites who tithed. Most countries recognize the injustice of a flat taxation rate for everyone, and charge a progressively higher income tax on the rich, and often nothing on the poor, who are sometimes sustained by the state. "
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! OK, I personally believe in a flat TAX. I think a flat TAX to the government is fair, with perhaps an exemption for poor people who simply cannot pay… but up into the middle class and higher, flat fair taxes for all! So let's not get confused. However, as it applies to charitable GIVING, I approve of this statement. One should GIVE according to their own ability.

#6) "The biblical principle of giving, is that we give whatever we feel moved to give from our hearts, without compulsion. This was stated by both Moses*, and Paul* Tithing and giving are different concepts."
Could not agree more! is an interesting website. Again, it may tweak some people off. And there may be other parts of the bible that promote monitary tithing that they did not mention. But it raises a lot of good points and I enjoyed reading it. That being said, I am going to continue my quest to learn more about tithing and it's modern day applications.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bill's Blog goes Green

Alot of people these days seem to like the color green. I like the color green. It's a nice color. Not my favorite, but I do enjoy green things -- mint chip ice cream, money, shamrock shakes, the seaweed wrapped around my sushi, and even asparagus (although I could do without the green pee that results from the green asparagus).

I was on an American Airlines flight last week and started reading the American Way magazine. It pronounced that it was the annual Green edition. Cool. I like green. Again, not my favorite color. A nice blue may have been a nicer "annual issue."

Unfortunately, the magazine lied. It wasn't about the color green at all. The whole issue was packed with environmentalist tree-hugging stories. Bor-ing. I just spent four days in Pennsylvania driving a rented SUV, and then was flying home, burning jet fuel, trying my best to increase my carbon footprint. I don't need an airline magazine, fooling me with the color green, then trying to guilt-trip me into driving my pickup truck from the aiport parking directly to a car dealer to trade it in for a Prius immediately upon landing.

So it is because of the stupid prank by American Way Magazine last week that I dedicate this blog entry to the color green. Just because green is a nice color. Maybe not the best color. But a nice color nonetheless.

Glenn Beck in Dallas, all of USA in one night

Kellie and I went to see Glenn Beck's summer tour "Beck '08: Unelectable" at the Majestic Theater in Dallas last Thursday (which was also our 9th anniversary, bless her heart!). This show was also simulcast in high definition in over 350 movie theaters all across the US, including one in Mishawaka, Indiana that my folks were able to get tickets to.

Mr. Beck is a comedic genius, a political genius, and just a damn good guy. The second half of the show was a political speech that we all (well, we conservatives, anyway) want to hear from a political candidate. After this, I would definitely vote for Glenn... He would have a fighting chance to win a presidency. But his wife would kick his ass if he did.

This show will come out on DVD and I highly recommend that you buy a copy when it does. I just can't explain it -- you need to see it for yourselves. Your views on America will either be changed or strengthened, depending on your point of view, of course.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

This was a letter that was allegedly submitted to the Orange County Register and was subsequently rejected due to it being politically incorrect. I have not vetted this fact (I received it forwarded from a friend who got it forwarded to him, ad nauseum), but the letter, pasted below, is an especially well-written critique of those who illegally cross our borders and try to compare themselves to the immigrants coming through Ellis Island in the early part of the last century. When will people learn the difference between a legal immigrant welcome to come into our culture, and an illegal immigrant who is absolutely not welcome within our borders?

Dear Editor:

So many letter writers have based their arguments on how this land is made up of immigrants. Ernie Lujan for one, suggests we should tear down the Statue of Liberty because the people now in question aren't being treated the same as those who passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry.

Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people, like Mr. Lujan, why today's American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer.

Back in 1900, when there was a rush fro m all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New Y ork - and be documented. Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times. They made learning English a primary rule in their new American households, and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home.

They had waved good-bye to their birth place in order to give their children a new life; and they did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture!

Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. All they had were the skills and the craftsmanship that they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity. Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. My father fought along-side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France and Japan. None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from. They were Americans fighting Hitler, Mussolini, and the Emperor of Japan. They were defending the United States of America as one people.

When we liberated France, no one in those villages were looking for the French-American or the German-American or the Irish-American. The people of France saw only Americans.

And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country's flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl.

And here we are in 2008 with a new kind of immigrant who wants MORE rights and privileges. They want to achieve that by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country. I'm sorry, that's not what being an American is all about.

I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900's deserve better than that for all the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life. I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign country flags.

And for that suggestion about taking down the Statu e of Liberty, it happens to mean a lot to the citizens who are voting on the immigration bill.
I wouldn't start talking about dismantling the United States just yet.

(signed) Rosemary LaBonte

Diners, Drive Ins, and Bill

So I found myself in Harrisburg, PA this past weekend, and I will be finding myself there for the next three or four weekends as well. One of the most wonderful pieces of the culture of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey area is the diner. I have my favorites, and my all time favorite is the Menlo Park Diner near Edison, NJ.

I found another good one in Harrisburg, and I ate there three times this past weekend! High quality food, good prices, and -- best of all -- they had pork roll! For those of you in the rest of the country, pork roll (also known as Taylor ham) is a delicious breakfast meat that is only made and sold in that part of the country. (See the Wikipedia link for a description).

My single disappointment? No lemon meringue pie. They had a lemon cream pie that was pretty good but there was too much cream. Very very rich. Oh yeah, one more disappointment -- no substitutions! Can't substitute pork roll as a breakfast meat. Gotta order it a la carte. Oh well.

Diners are a staple in that part of the country. Most are open 24 hours, have lots of gaudy neon and metal trim, and serve great food and desserts. Just about everything is good there, from the seafood to the chipped beef on toast (also lovingly known as "$#!+ On A Shingle"). Many have a gigantic refrigerated dessert case that is the first thing you see as you come through the door. The Starlite Diner (where I was a frequent customer once) in Allentown, PA is an especially good example of this.

So, keep lookin' for me at the Capital Diner over the next few months!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Justice John Paul Stevens needs to quit. Now.

The Supremes in Washington today finally declared that the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution protects an individual's right to own guns. Unfortunately, as cut and dry as this should be, the justices split 5-4.

Writing for the dissenters, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons."

That is exactly what the Framers had in mind, Johnny. Exactly.

The 2nd Amendment was added to the Constitution to protect our right as US Citizens to posses firearms to protect ourselves from others that wish us harm, and to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government.

For the Supreme Court, the Constitution is their instruction manual. Their bible. John, you should know that document and the history behind it inside and out.

If you don't, you need to retire. Right now. If not, you need to be impeached.

Retire, John Paul Stevens. You don't deserve to wear the robe.

Innocent until proven guilty--then what?

Many of you, my friends, know that one of my best friends stands accused of a brutal murder in northern lower Michigan. Out of respect for his family, and the family of the victim, I won't name names or link to news stories or describe the crime or anything like that -- there has been plenty of news about this in Michigan. I grieve for the victim, someone who I have met a few times, and I grieve for the victim's family. Nobody should have to have a loved one killed and abused in that manner. I also grieve for my friend's family, who will probably all but abandon him this time, as they are rightfully sick of him getting into trouble.

Things don't look good for my friend. I can't say if he did or did not commit the crime -- I simply don't know. Some of our friends, at times, have questioned his mental state or perhaps questioned if he has or has had a chemical dependency of some sort. But, since I have known him, he has always been a good friend to me. We've gone on business trips together, we've drank beer together, we've gone gambling together (he's lots of fun at the blackjack table). He's had words of comfort and prayer when my wife and I lost our son. In fact, right about the time the murder allegedly occurred, my dad had a heart attack and he called frequently to make sure that he and my family was OK.

He has been in trouble in the past, the most recent experience being about five or six years ago. He was set up to take the fall for a particular crime and languished for nine months in jail before the correct perpetrator was caught. I was one of the few people who would take his collect calls from jail, and he and I would write to each other. He always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and can't seem to stay out of trouble.

I am a firm believer in the fact that we are innocent until proven guilty in this country. I will wait to judge him until the verdict comes down. I will say that the evidence that has been released doesn't look very good for him. As much as I want to believe that he didn't have anything to do with the crime, I have to admit that it seems possible, if not likely, that he did. The question I am posing to myself is, if he is proven guilty, will I turn my back on him because he is a monster for doing what he [allegedly] did? Because whoever committed this crime (my friend or someone else) definitely is a monster that needs to be put away.

I don't know the answer to that question. Yet.

I'd like to think that I could no more turn my back on him than I could my own brother (if I had one). Because he is a brother to me. We are all brothers and sisters. We all need to forgive. His life is not over -- the rest of it could be lived out in a concrete and metal room provided by the state of Michigan, but it won't be over (Michigan does not have the death penalty). Guilty or not, if I had a brother, I could not imagine him having to live out the next 30-50 years in the misery of a jail cell, whether he deserved it or not. But all is not lost for his soul. I don’t know much about the Bible but I do recall a story about David (the same one that killed Goliath) and BathSheba and Nathan. The gist of the story was that if you commit a sin, you will be forgiven by God but must still face punishment on Earth. He can still get to heaven, but he needs to face his earth punishment first.

Would my faith be strong enough to pray for him and his soul, to help him seek forgiveness from God, and to visit him (if I am allowed) in his misery, while all the while knowing what he [allegedly] did? Then, will I be able to accept that I am a hypocrite, who believes that criminals like that deserve to rot in a bath of battery acid while being forced to watch reruns of The Brady Bunch and Judge Judy until they check out and catch the non-stop express train to Hell?

This is what is tripping up my mind right now.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"It's Him"... or, "ooh-ooh that smell! Can't you smell that smell?"

I spent this morning and afternoon at Ham-Com, the largest hamfest in Texas. Saw lots of people (mainly vendors) that I got to see at Dayton last month (see my Dayton Hamvention post from May). Gordon West WB6NOA was there, as well as good ol' Russ from Batteries America. Rick the SignMan from Baton Rouge, and my friend Allen from Link-Comm, makers of the finest repeater controllers. And, although the always cute Laura wasn't there from The Ham Station, her equally hot sister was, and yes, I did tell Laura's equally cute sister that she was cuter than Laura, like I promised to in my Dayton post.

If you are a fellow ham, you know that, although most ham radio operators are relatively clean folk that enjoy showering and smelling and looking relatively presentable, there are a select few that, well, don't. And a representative number of these unwashed hams were at Ham-Com today. It always reminds me of my annual trek to the Fort Wayne Hamfest each November. Each year since we were in high school (except for a couple of years, probably including, unfortunately, 2008), my best friend Kevin N9IAA and I have made it a tradition to go to the Fort Wayne swap, and then enjoy a nice meal afterwards (Hooters, or some sushi place).

And, invariably, we smell "him." We don't know "him" personally but "him" smells bad. It's a unique smell, with nuances that neither of us have smelled at any other time of year. Each year we have gone to Fort Wayne, without exception, we smell "him". It'' a game, really. We could be looking at somebody's junk table, or possibly some expensive test equipment, or we could even be snacking on nachos at the snack bar. And then, one of us will smell "him" coming. And then the one who smelled "him" first says those two little words that have become famous between the two of us... "It's him." And then the other will acknowledge, "Yes, it definitely is him." We then take a look, and sure enough, it's "him". The same "him" that it has been every year. We always smell a number of smelly people. But we can always recognize "him" when he comes on walking past.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bill's Presidential Platform, Part 1: Immigration

It's official. We now know that Hilary is out (yay!), and Obama and McCain are going to be battling it out for the next, oh, five LONG months. So, it is also official that this is going to be a battle to see who is the lesser of two evils. I trust Obama to make good on his promises more than any politician I have ever trusted in the past, yet I don't like his promises. On the flip side, I don't trust John McCain. And I think he is waaaay too liberal on some things (global warming, immigration, etc). So I will probably vote for him. Or not at all.

I am too young to run for President but, when I am old enough to do so in four years, my wife would kill me if I tried, so I guess I will never be president. So I am laying out my presidential platform, in hopes that someday some person will pirate it off of me.

First lesson for that person? At a debate, actually answer the questions. Don't dance around them, don't be politically correct, don't diss your opponent, just ANSWER THE DAMN QUESTION. You will most likely really impress people who like your platform.

So, follows my Immigration Plan:

1) Everybody who is here illegally, GO HOME! That doesn't mean we don't want you back (see below), but if you GO HOME now, you will increase your chances of being able to come back and not have to worry about looking over your shoulder all day.

2) Mexicans (IN MEXICO) and other non-Americans (IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES) who want to work in the US can apply at the US Embassies IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES for a two year work permit. They will fill out the application IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. They will submit the fingerprints IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. They CANNOT do this once they are in the US. They MUST GO HOME!

3) Based on current employment conditions, the US will pick applicants via lottery to come in THROUGH A BORDER CHECKPOINT with their PURPLE CARD (work permit) for their two year work term. They have ONE MONTH (generous) to find a job. If they lose their job, they have ONE MONTH to find another one. During their work period, they have NO access to social services (welfare, food stamps, education). Medical care will be provided by a fund that is funded by a special tax on them

4) At the end of their two years, they may apply again on their way BACK HOME. Or, they can also apply for the citizenship process at this time.

5) Anybody EVER found here illegally will be removed from the country and will NEVER be eligible for citizenship. State, county, and local governments will be required to process illegals through their court system. Failure to do so will result in losses of federal funding.

6) All persons wanting to apply for US citizenship will be required to have gone through one term as a guest worker, to learn English, and to take a citizenship exam that requires a few months of study.

7) While here as a guest worker, instead of social security taxes, they will pay a guest worker tax to cover medical care for guest workers.

8) Guest workers will be allowed to drive if they purchase AMERICAN car insurance.

9) Conviction of any crime resulting in a jail or prison sentence will result in deportation after the sentence is complete, and a permanent ban from the US. Conviction of ANY drug crime or sex crime that results in a non-jail sentence will result in an IMMEDIATE deportation and lifetime ban.

10) ENGLISH will once again be the official language used in the USA. No business or government agency or form or sign will be required to be bi-lingual.


See, the plan is beautiful in it's simplicity. It gives everybody a chance and removes the riff-raff.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Just read "Ten Ways to Save Money in your Bathroom" ( by Trent Hamm.

A few points that stuck out (and my comments):
Shower Install a low-flow shower head - or at least an adjustable one - and stop dumping water down the drain. I generally use a pretty light water flow for washing everything except for my hair - all I need to do is wet myself down, then scrub without the water, then just rinse myself off. There’s little need for strong water flow for that.

Whether from someone who simply wants to save money, or a treehugger that wants to save every drop, I hate hearing that I should go out and buy a low flow shower-head just about as much as I hate people telling me that I should swap out all of my perfectly fine light bulbs for those crappy little fluoroescents. Anyway, EVERY shower head sold for the past 10 years (probably longer) is a low flow shower head (2.5 gallons a minute). In the past I have been known to remove the flow restrictors so I could get a better shower but in recent years the low-flow heads have gotten much better. But I aint gonna take a shower with a light water flow and do it like this joker. A 20 minute high pressure shower is my morning coffee--it's responsible for waking me up, as well as helping me smell good. And my water bills are actually quite reasonable.

Laundry At home, I typically use one towel for every two showers. I’m essentially just wiping clean water off of my clean body, so the first time around I just hang the towel on a towel rack. This reduces the bathroom laundry by half.

I typically can get away with using one towel for a whole week. After all, when I get out of the shower I am the cleanest object in my house, which means a towel should theoretically last forever. But this guy? He doesn’t use enough water from his showerhead to rinse off properly, so his towels probably only last him a day or two. But this is also the guy who makes his own detergent for real cheap… so he can afford every two days.

Toilet bowl cleaner Never buy store-bought toilet bowl cleaner unless you have exceptionally hard water. Instead, just sprinkle some baking soda all over the inside of the bowl, add a little white vinegar, leave it for a few minutes (it’ll foam a bit and such), then scrub it down with a toilet brush and flush it. No blue water, either.

Wasn't this a typical elementary-school volcano science project? I bet you could really talk the kids into cleaning the toilets for you now! I'd miss the blue water though, especially the part about re-discovering how yellow and blue make green… (we men are entertained by the simplest things)

Razors If you’re a guy and are using disposables or an electric razor, take a serious look at shaving with a traditional safety razor. Over the long run, they’re cheaper than both the electric razor and the disposable razor and I feel they give a better shave once you’re used to them.

I may be willing to try this. I only shave every four days because of razor burn. The safety razor may actually get me more days between shaves as it will probably remove both the dermis and epidermis as well, and most of the hair follicles.

The sink Master the fine art of using the plug. Instead of letting the water run while brushing your teeth or shaving or washing your face, instead just plug the drain, let enough water run so that your needs are met by the water in the basin, and do your thing. When you’re done, just let the water out. By letting the faucet run while brushing or doing similar tasks, you waste a substantial amount of water.

OK, so I am to plug the drain, put some water in the sink, wash my face (thus turning the water soapy and dirty), then rinsing the washcloth in the filthy, soapy water, and then rinse off my face with it? It's the same reason I don't take baths… I don't like marinating in my own filth.

And finally…
Toilet paper Buy it in bulk from your local warehouse store, then know how to minimize usage. It only takes a few sheets to do the job, so when you use big wads of it, you’re basically flushing money down the toilet.

Define a few sheets? I don't really want to get into this too deep, but, really now… Each wipe takes a minimum of six sheets, gently folded into a square… although most of the sheets never touch the poo, they are there to add strength to the TP so that your finger doesn't pop through. Although if Sheryl Crow can get away with only one sheet per sh!t, and this guy uses a "few" sheets, he probably smells a little bit better than Sheryl does.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Only $14 extra this year in gas for a 560 mile trip.

Gas was $3.79 (on average) this past Memorial day weekend between Dallas/Fort Worth and San Antonio. Something like 70 ¢ more than it was last year. And you know what?

San Antonio was busier, all weekend, than it was last year. Mostly with tourists. Tourists that had to drive there. Like us. We took the Focus (not my gas-guzzling F150) on the 280 mile trek straight down I-35. Sure, it hurt to pay fifty bucks to fill it up, but hey, you can't live as a hostage to gas prices. As far as numbers go, it probably cost us $14 more in gas to go there this year than it did last year. So I am tired of hearing about people not driving places because of gas prices. Unless they are unemployed.

San Antonio is a popular place. I guess, since last year anyway, Memorial Day Weekend in San Antonio has become an annual tradition for me and my wife. It's like New Orleans--without the stench. Or the drunk people showing their ta-tas. There is booze, mind you, especially down on the Riverwalk. But, among the crowds (and there were crowds), I didn't see anybody that appeared over the legal limit. Because anybody who is drunk enough to not be able to walk straight will fall into the river. Seriously, the Riverwalk may be handicapped-accessible, but just barely. One guy in an Amigo old-person's electric scooter will take up the whole sidewalk. I know this to be a fact. Try to go around and you can easily end up in three feet of slow-moving water.

The Riverwalk is a great place, even with all the crowds. There is some good food down there, and not all of it is overpriced. (County Line Bar-B-Que is one of my favorite BBQ places in the country). Also, the 2 1/2 mile river cruise is a relaxing way to spend 30 minutes and eight bucks.

Also of note is the Market Square where you can buy fresh Mexican food from street vendors (try the Gorditas and the fresh fruit drinks) or from a few different restaurants. My very favorite Mexican restaurant is the Mi Tierra Café which is open 24 hours and has wonderful Mexican breakfasts, and a pastry counter that must be a mile long. There is also lots of shopping, if you like shopping for Mexican stuff.

And, if you haven't been to the Alamo, it is worth the visit. It is a free tour (they operate on donations) and you will learn some great history (turns out Davy Crockett was a real person… I failed History).

Among the tourist traps, there are the old standards such as Ripley's, Guiness (as in world records, not beer) and a wax museum, plus the Tower of the Americas, which is worth the $10 ticket, if only for the view.

So, if you can afford the gas, I encourage you to visit San Antonio, one of the nicest places in the great state of Texas.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dayton Hamvention 2008--Another one come and gone

I honestly thought that this would be the year… the year that record high gas prices noticeably lowered the attendance at the annual Dayton Hamvention. Sure, there are enough hard-core people who would never miss it. I am one of them. I went there all the way from Texas. I got the plane tickets, the hotel rooms, the rental car, etc. In fact, I would only consider canceling my trip if, perhaps, my wife was pregnant and dilated at least 3 cm. Which is probably why I remain celebate during July and August, so that nothing can keep me from going to the Mecca of ham radio in May.

I am a hard-core Dayton freak. And there are many others. But were there enough?

During the Sunday prize draw (yes, I am hard-core enough to sit in the Hara basketball arena through the 2 hours of ticket draws on Sunday) the emcee announced that the 2008 advanced ticket sales were actually up from 2007! And, to my eye anyway, there may have been a few less attendees, or maybe some didn't stay the whole 3 days, but attendance was still strong!

To be fair, there were lots of empty spots in the outdoor flea market. I am assuming that many people who brought the same junk - -er, junque -- to (try to) sell year after year finally decided not to rent the U-haul and waste the gas to bring it this year. But there was still enough junque to look at, pick up, and occasionally offer a dollar for. Some of the inside spots were empty too -- the Suspender Man didn't arrive to his reserved spot this year (my friend Bill from the Prosoft booth next to his told me that he had had a heart attack shortly before leaving Texas for the Hamvention. Suspender Man, you are in my prayers). The T-shirt lady was also not there this year due to what was only described as a family emergency. Oh, and one of the guys selling the junk tools with the badly translated Japanese-to-English packaging was noticeably absent as well. And the cord-reel guy who sold the extension cord reels that looked like giant yellow donuts (some called them ass-pads for hemhorroid sufferers) was not there. It was too bad -- those cord reels are about the best extension cord storage devices that money can buy. I'm serious, and I think that to myself every time I have to use my electric weed-whacker out in the yard.

But the standards were there. Bob Heil and his tremendous audio equipment. The Anderson Powerpole guy. My friends at Prosoft and Link-Comm (who unveiled one hell of a repeater controller this year!). Yeasu (announcing the soon-to-come VX-8 (awaiting FCC approval) with Bluetooth and APRS), Kenwood (showing the new TM-D710) and Icom (sadly, without the Icom Girls (booth-babes) handing out free hats, or the devastatingly cute Icom Robot Girls). The US Tower babes were still sticking their flashing stickers on our shirts (they must buy tens of thousands of those stickers). Russ from Batteries America, as always, was there, with about the best selection of ham radio batteries around. And Rick the Signman from Baton Rouge was engraving tons of lamacoid callsign badges. The Wireman selling coax and ladder-line by the foot. Tower Electronics ("The Ham's Dime Store") was there, as was Mendelson's selling their surplus under the big tent. Peet Bro's Weather Stations. Doug Hall Electronics. The ultra-cute Laura was at the Ham Station booth (without her ultra-cute sister). (I made sure to tell Laura that I thought she was cuter than her sister. Laura says that she won't be at HamCom in Texas (in June) but her sister will. And I will then tell her sister that she is cuter than Laura.) And, of course, Gordon "Gordo" West WB6NOA was there. It wouldn't be a Hamvention without him.

Ahh, all was right with the world. I was among friends.

I was most impressed with the ARRL Expo that Katie Breen, W1KRB managed for the League. In the 18 years since I was first licensed, the ARRL has gone from (what looked to a 14 year old like) a relatively faceless organization that published QST to an organization that truly exists to represent its members. I am truly impressed with how far they have come. I am budgeting to purchase a lifetime membership for me and my wife when my dues come due in January.

I got to see some of my old ham radio buddies too. It was great to hang out with the guys from the Grand Rapids ARA, and I met some hams from my neck of the woods in Texas that I never met before.

Dayton 2009 is May 15-17. Make your plans now, hotel rooms start booking up about 9 months prior. If you haven't been, next year will be a perfect first time for you.