Monday, August 31, 2009

Facts and Figures

As I type this, I'm only 16 people away from 75,000 visitors, which I never would have guessed five years ago when I started this blog. I'm sure by the time you read this, I will be well over that number but really, who's counting. I've written a journal for many years, love to write and love to read other other's opinions so a blog has always felt natural to me. It was so natural, that when I slowed down last year from doing five posts a week to my current 3, I had a huge backlog of ideas in draft for a long time. Now that I've had a chance to get used to the idea, I have grown lazy and sometimes feel that three a week is too much. But for now, it continues.

So I thought I would celebrate my 5th anniversary of blogging with some facts and figures thanks to two different blog statistics programs that run in the background.

Most of the 24 to 30 of you who frequent my blog three times a week are from the United States. I have a small cult following in the Philippines due to my associations there but other than the odd one in Asia or Europe, I seem to attract mostly Americans. I'm not sure if it is the sidebar widget that updates who has posted something new or that you are used to my posting routine for my three biggest days of page hits (more than twice the volume as other days) fall on the days that I post which has mostly been Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

In those five years I've done close to 1300 posts though in the process of switching my url address, I cleaned house and my official stat is in the mid 500's. Most of the posts that I didn't carry over were mostly dribble anyway and I didn't want to overburden anyone new who might want to read all my archives with too much of a load.

I had a changing rotation of popular posts over the years but the most popular general category is by far Wal-Mart which attracts nearly 20% of all new hits. The second most popular is one single post and a recent addition at that garners nearly 5% of all new hits is from people searching for the Commando 450 Shower Nozzle. I once did a post about RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) that garnered a lot of attention but I suspect that was mostly because it contained the word nude in it. Put the word nude in any post and suddenly you get all kinds of hits you would never have guessed. For example, since I used the word nude and blog in the same post, I'm sure within a week I'll get someone who lands on here who was searching for the phrase 'nude blog.' It never fails.

Surprisingly, I have a small Iowa audience with most of my returning visitors coming from such Midwestern states as Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri though I have someone from every coastal state except the Carolinas and Virginia. I'm not sure why I don't do well in those states. I'm also sure why I don't do well in the Great Plains states either. They are like a giant white hole on my map.

The average time you spend on my blog is two minutes and forty-six seconds. My blog is also very shallow as the large majority of you (48.79%) just read the most recent blog post. The next group of two page views falls in at a measly 25%. It goes sharply downhill from there. 86% of you are Windows users, 11% are Macs and the remainder Linux.

Perhaps the most notable thing that has come from blogging is having an author of a book I reviewed stop by here twice. I also had one of my posts linked to a national online edition of a newspaper that drew lots of hits at the time. I once was linked to a high school class reading list for a post that now escapes my memory. Mostly it is the smaller things that I enjoy such as the occasional email from a distant relative who read some genealogy post and took the time to write me. The only other people who took the time to email me about a post were people who were having Peace Towers built by the Maharishi in their hometown. They mostly wanted my words of advice on how to defeat them and were probably disappointed when I failed to get excited about it.

Though I try to remain anonymous, quite a few of you know who I am. I don't mind the people who know, knowing, but I do like remaining anonymous to all but the determined to give me the freedom to write as I please without fear of repercussions. I have thought about changing my moniker from Ed Abbey to something different just to prevent having to explain to those who don't know that he is dead why I am not him and why I chose that name. Besides, the reasons I did choose that name really don't follow along with my blogging topics of recent years anyway. Perhaps someday I will but not today.

In closing, thanks to those who continue to stop by. I'm flattered and am not sure what you see in my posts. Although I write them to give to my grandchildren someday so that when I'm about six feet under, they can know who I was better, you are welcome to read them too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
by R. B. Bernstein

After reading the hefty tomes of a biography on the first two presidents, I decided to scale back on the third. The biography that I reviewed on Adams necessarily covered much of Jefferson's life so I was mostly interested in a book that filled in some of the blanks in the pre and post-presidential years and this book did that nicely. Yet this book also laid out the political years of his career in a well thought out and unbiased way that I am sure was hard to do giving the hypocritical nature of Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson has always been a complex person to learn about. Here is the man who penned the line, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…" and yet by today's standards he was racist believing white people were better than black people. He was even hypocritical in this belief because despite these differences, he fathered several children with one of his slaves. He fought hard to obtain our independence from England yet he kept slaves, never even freeing them upon his death as so many statesmen of his time did. He was vehemently opposed to Britain’s use of military force to enforce laws and yet in his presidency he used military force to enforce an embargo with Europe. Jefferson was adamant about following a strict interpretation of the constitution and yet he more than doubled the size of our nation with the Louisiana Purchase fully realizing that he had no constitutional power to do so and going so far as to draft an amendment to give him the power though never submitting it before congress. He lived his life as a gentleman planter and yet died so deeply in debt, that even his cherished home Monticello had to be sold off to pay it off. Yet here is a man who ended up with his own coin, national monument and even his likeness carved into a mountain.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Jefferson was his reputation after his death. Definitely while he was living he was a controversial figure and that didn't change much for the next 50 or so years after his death. Things started to swing towards the more favorable image we have of him during the First World War and even during the New Deal administration but it has mostly been the last sixty years when he gained the almost mythical status that he now has.

Bernstein did a great job summarizing Jefferson and having read the biography on Adams, I was not disappointed when he skimmed over some of the background of Jefferson's political motives, which I had already covered in depth. In fact, there wasn't one point during reading this book that I felt that too little information was given. Its brief 198 pages definitely hit the marks that I wanted to cover and kept it very interesting. Perhaps someday when I have met my goal of reading a biography on each of the presidents, I will come back and read one of the many larger tomes on Jefferson but until then, I am satisfied.

Next up is James Madison, which I know almost nothing other than his wife's name was Dolly and she supposedly saved Washington's full-length painting from being torched by the British during the war of 1812.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Let the Government Run Healthcare? Yeah, now there is a good idea!

It seems like once a day when I am bombarded with someone saying that we should have government run health care because the government can do it better than it is done privately usually by saying they can foster competition which makes the assumption that the government can do it cheaper. Really? This coming from the same entity famous for the $200 hammer? Here are some of the more compelling reasons of which I can think, that I plan on bringing up the next time I hear the words that the government can do it better.

1. The Internal Revenue Service - The entire purpose of this organization is to raise revenues to finance our government and the easiest way they have found to do this is with our current tax code that is tens of thousands of pages long and growing. It is written in such a manner that even a rocket scientist can't understand it and so full of loopholes that it couldn't even be used to hold a basket of balls.

2. Social Security - This program was set up because the government could do a better job managing our retirement than we could and yet it is set to go bust in 2041 by some estimates.

3. Medicare - Like Social Security, this government run program is slated to go bust in 2020. Already this program is upside down meaning that benefits are already exceeding program income.

4. Department of Education - The United States was first in the world twenty years ago but now we are ninth among industrialized nations when comparing adults with high school diplomas. If you compare math knowledge, we are 24th, in science, 31rst.

5. Prohibition - When we proved to irresponsible to drink, the government took over this part of our lives too and succeeded brilliantly until it finally ended only 13 years later.

6. Iraq - I just read where the incoming college freshman has never known a time when we weren't in Iraq.

7. Fanny Mae/Freddie Mac - I think the economy speaks for itself.

8. FEMA - It's role according to it's own website it to prepare for, prevent, mitigate the effects of, respond to and recover from all domestic disasters. To rebut this, one only has to say "New Orleans" or my favorite, "You're doing a heck of a job Brownie."

9. Army Corps of Engineers - Single handedly destroying are salmon industry and allowing the west to build huge cities in the 'great American desert' by promising them water based upon averages taken during historically wet times.

10. Bureau of Land Management - an agency to provide cheap grazing to a few select ranchers and thus subsidizing western beef production.

11. Bureau of Reclamation - a department which had to try multiple times to get people to build in the previously mentioned 'Great American Desert' by giving huge tracts of land away to those willing to irrigate it with help from the Army Corps of Engineers. Only trouble is that long-term irrigation causes salt to build up and thus destroying the arid land even further. Not to worry, Secretary Salazar just threw $11.1 Million in grants towards the Colorado River Basinwide Salinity Control Program. Is the whole they are digging getting deeper?

12. Intelligence FBI/CIA - We now know that we knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened and we knew about the hijackers before 9/11 and yet we were powerless to stop either. So what do we do, create a bigger government program called Homeland Security.

13. NASA - An institute that some people call 'Legalized Theft.' After almost three decades of maintaining a reusable shuttle, we are almost rid of that boondoggle that got built only because the government went against all the experts and said they could do reusable cheaper.

These are off the top of my head and looking at the list of government run departments and programs, there are literally thousands out there that are probably worse run than these. Unless you disagree and think that the government has done a better job at running these examples than the private sector could, how can you possibly feel a government run health care is better than what we have? Yes I will agree that reform is necessary but letting the government get their hands on it is the LAST thing we should do.

I'll close with this little gem said by Ronald Regan. "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Attack of the Killer Bees!

When I noticed several sweat bees humming around while grilling a week ago, I thought it slightly unusual since I normally don't see them in great concentrations. So while grilling on the lower back deck, I glanced around and saw where they were building the beginning of their hive on the side of a light fixture. I made a mental note to scrape it off this fall when it got colder and went about my life. Flash forward a week when I woke up to find Mrs. Abbey swatting sweat bees inside the house where they seemed to be congregating on the living room window. I knew at that point we had a problem but still didn't connect the dots.

I looked around for entrance holes or cracks but in the living room, the only perforations were where the two ceilings mount to the ceiling. I could see a crack where they didn't mount up flush with the ceiling but after spending quite a bit of time staring at them, I never saw a bee enter or leave. Where were they coming from? After we got the hundred or so flying around dispatched to those heavenly fields of sweat in the sky, we took a break and went to the farmer's market. When we got back home shortly before noon, there were another 50 or so flying by the living room window facing the street side of the house.

I was again grilling lunch and pondering how the sweat bees inside the house could be obtaining entry when I remembered the sweat bees on the outside of the house from last week. I looked up at the light fixture and though there wasn't anymore structure built on the side of the light, there was considerable more activity and worse yet, I saw them disappearing behind the light fixture. I immediately decided to remedy the situation by getting a roll of duct tape and putting some tape over their entrance. Since it was a nice day and I hoped most were out and about, this would keep them from getting back in until I had a chance to seal it with some caulking but I didn't want to do that until it was dark and cooler and they had ceased activity.

Next I went inside to ponder the kitchen wall and the overhead cupboards that were on the other side of the light. That is when I saw it. Along a small crack where one of the overhead cupboards meets the wall, another small wax like structure and worse, sweat bees were now tumbling out of it. I unstrung another length of duct tape and quickly sealed up the entrance. I was puzzled. The only way I could explain it was that the previous owners who had hung the cabinets had covered over a hole in the drywall in the same stud cavity as the light fixture on the outside of the house.

Later that evening, I armed myself with some flying insect repellant spray that was supposed to temporarily disable the sweat bees and my caulking gun. I aimed with spray and hit the cluster now on the outside of the light and immediately they dropped down. I quickly began caulking the perimeter of the light only to have sweat bees pouring out of the whole joined alongside with those disabled ones on the deck who had only been very minutely disabled and were now very pissed. The spray seemed to only faze them for perhaps two seconds or less. So with one hand spraying bug spray this way and that, one hand alternately squeezing caulk out of the tub and resting it on the nearby grill to smooth it with the other, I waged war with those sweat bees for perhaps ten minutes until I was finally able to seal the exit, get the remnants of their structure scraped off and smooth the caulking so it didn't look so bad. I took one shot to the arm, which immediately turned angry red and throbbing, but felt that I was able to do it relatively unscathed.

Back inside, I pondered the taped up crack next to the overhead cupboard. I had taped the entrance over the top of wallpaper that I knew would peel with the duct tape. The walls are not straight and there was a fine crack most of the way up to the ceiling, (which was sealed by crown molding on all three sides) and I knew I couldn't just leave the tape there for very long if I wanted to increase my chances of not doing damage to the wallpaper. So I ran a fine bead of caulking alongside the cabinet, (the wallpaper has vertical white stripes so it isn't too obvious) peeling the tape back as I went. The tape did peel off parts of the wallpaper but I was able to seal the crack fairly decently. However, I found something that troubles me more than the messed up wallpaper.

The area right next to the entrance or exit as it were in this case, had an area about the size of a silver dollar that felt just like there was only wallpaper there and no drywall. I'm not sure if this is the edge of a hole that I theorized the previous owners covered almost covered up with the cupboard and wallpaper or perhaps more stomach churning, the sweat bees have utilized this home before and had destroyed the drywall so bad from the inside, that there is a huge terrible mess inside the wall of my kitchen. I shudder at the thought. Sweat bees don't build huge structures with honey like honeybees but still; I imagine the insulation is shot at the very least. Worse, to repair it, I would have to unmount the overhead cupboard, fix the drywall and insulation, and then have to redo the interior of the kitchen since the wallpaper would be ruined even more than it now is. I hate wallpaper and have stripped it from all the other rooms except the bathroom and the kitchen, the bathroom because it didn't look that bad and I haven't remodeled that room yet, and the kitchen because it is the most difficult with all the cupboards, outlets, doors, windows, etc. that I have to work around. Plus it is the center of our activity at least once every day.

So for now, I hope that little fist sized white spot of peeled wallpaper and the vertical seam of caulking will perhaps grow on me where I won't notice it too much until I think of a final solution. One solution that comes to mind is to sell the house and move but that seems a little extreme. So does redoing the wall in a kitchen…

Friday, August 21, 2009

Frances E. Bolton

I am writing this as a placeholder in the web in case someone someday decides to search for Frances E. Bolton. She was my 3rd great grandmother and holds the distinction of occupying the shortest branch in my ancestral lineage. I am here so I know that the branch goes further but after several attempts to track her down, I have yet to do so. I have three other branches that are the same length but all of them stretch across the ocean where I will have to wait for a future day to investigate. This branch however ends in 1848 in Willow Springs, Lafayette County, Wisconsin. In a sense, that is the beginning.

The only concrete evidence I have on Frances Bolton comes from the 1880 Census when she and my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker resided in Parkersburg, Iowa (a place half wiped off the map a couple years ago by a giant F5 tornado) with three of their kids. Oddly enough, my 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker whom I have wrote about before here, here, here and here was not there at the time of the census and I have been unable to locate his where abouts at the time of the census. From that census, I know that Frances was born in Wisconsin and both parents emigrated from England. The census lists a middle initial of A.

During a previous search, I had found a Frances N. Bolton living in Wisconsin at the age of 1 with her mother, who was 25 at the time, Mary Bolton in the 1850 census in a town called Willow Springs. Frances N. Bolton's parents were also listed as immigrants from England and all the details matched except for the middle initial. The census lists them as living in the residence of an Elias and Elisabeth Pilling, both near 50 years of age along with their assorted children. I would suspect that the Pillings are related to Mary Bolton but in what way I can only guess for now. Frances N. Bolton had a sister listed by the name of Salina Bolton age 4 but searches of subsequent census's have failed to turn up any traces of either Frances her sister Salina or mother Mary.

For the longest time this was a dead end and just all conjecture until a few weeks ago when I found an obituary for one of the grandsons of Joseph Baker and Frances Bolton. Doing a quick search of the surviving children names, I discovered one of them living not to far away and found an email address for her. So I sent off an email asking if she knew any information about our common ancestors, her great grandparents and my 3rd great grandparents Joseph and Frances Baker. She sent me a reply saying that she didn't know much about them except that one of them came from Willow Springs, Wisconsin. This seemed to clinch the information that I had only suspected as being a possibility and turned it into an almost certainty. Her niece is the family genealogist and will be sending me more information from some family albums kept by my 2nd great aunt now deceased. There is hope perhaps.

I do know from these to pieces of information that my 3rd great grandmother Frances married my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker sometime in the late 1860's judging from the fact that their first child was born about 1869 in Colchester, McDonough, Illinois. My 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker was also born on 3 February 1871 there though I have not been able to track down a birth certificate or other confirming information via either Internet or phone. I hope to make a trip there someday though I have been told the records don't exist by parties that sounded uninterested in my search.

Joseph Baker died a short while later two years after the 1880 census and I have visited his grave in Cedar Falls, Iowa. However, the only information the cemetery had was his name and plot number, no record as to whether his wife Frances Bolton was buried with him.

The only other pieces of information that I have come from the Iowa Census of 1925, which unlike other census records also, listed the names of the parents of adult children. Of the four children of my 3rd great grandparents, I have been able to find two of them in Iowa in 1925. His brother Charles W. Baker was in Iowa in 1925 but the spot for his mother's name was blank. My 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker has his mother listed as Fanny with no last name, a common nickname of Frances.

I have hit numerous dead ends and can't seem to locate this family outside of the 1880 Census. I have tried all the tricks and tips I know to filter through the census data to try and locate them and I never can. Partly because Baker is a very common last name, especially in the states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa where they lived and died, or perhaps they were just very adept at not getting tallied. They were only in Wisconsin and Illinois briefly and spent much of their lives probably around Parkersburg where the F5 tornado supposedly took care of a lot of the records at the courthouse.

One other researcher on this person has her full name as Frances Elton Bolton and though I have heard Bolton as her maiden name in our family oral history and have seen her name listed as Bollen in a marriage announcement of her son, I have never seen or heard anything listing her middle name as Elton. Her first-born daughter was named Frances Ellen Bolton, which leads me to suspect that Elton is incorrect. They sound similar when spoken aloud and was probably transcribed incorrectly. Ellen is also a more common middle name than Elton, which I have never heard of outside of Elton John the entertainer.

The last tidbit that I have was a search on the immigration record for Mary Bolton. I turned up only one hit that had a Mary Bolton arriving in the U.S. before the 1850 Census when she was recorded as living in Wisconsin. That Mary emigrated with husband Joseph Bolton on 6 June 1844 aboard the ship Joseph Cunard from Liverpool, England landing in New York. This of course assumes she didn't marry another immigrant once in the U.S. and thus immigrated under a different last name.

I'm not sure what I can do to further this pursuit at this time other than to wait for some distant cousin who may or may not have anything that I can use and may or may not allow me to obtain a copy anytime soon. Like I said, I want to head over to Colchester but I have to be prepared for that fact I may not find anything there. Ditto Parkersburg, Iowa. What I really would like is to find all those missing census records but it will take a better searcher than me to skim through the billions of records and come up with some that I feel are possible matches. Perhaps someday, someone will come across this page and know the answers and be willing to write me an email, assuming it still works. Whatever happened to you Frances Ellen Bolton?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Story that Floored Me

A coworker of mine went on a vacation a year ago telling everyone that he would be gone a week so we were all surprised when he showed up on the following Wednesday. After we heard the story, I was floored.

He had taken off early Saturday morning with his family and arrived in North Carolina on Sunday evening. After supper however, he started feeling poorly and his chest began hurting. On Monday morning, it still persisted so he made a doctor's appointment which included some x-rays and culminating in the doctor asking for his wife to come into the patient room so that he could tell both of them together the diagnosis. He knew that couldn't be good.

The doctor said that the x-ray had shown that cancer was scattered clear through his torso and that he probably only had a matter of weeks to live. The doctor advised him to drive back to Iowa immediately to get his affairs in order and to schedule an appointment with his doctor to get on some sort of pain medication. My coworkers and his wife broke the news to their two kids that he was going to die in a matter of weeks and that they needed to drive back home. He didn't say how it went but I imagine it was one of the longest drives he has ever taken. The only good thing was that in the middle of all the tests at the hospital, his pain had disappeared completely.

Back home, his doctor is stunned to hear the news and ordered more x-rays. They came back and the doctor said that my co-worker was completely normal and that there was no sign of any cancer what-so-ever. He theorized that the x-ray machine at the hospital in North Carolina hadn't been working properly and thus the misdiagnosis. Further more, he said that the pain had probably been just the result of a case of indigestion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Wal-Mart Effect

How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works and How It's Transforming the American Economy
By Charles Fishman

Some of you may remember a while ago when I posted a collection of articles from various sources on the destruction of such American institutions as Vlassic, Levi's, etc. I had linked them in the past and my stats page said it was one of my more popular searched pages but the links almost always got moved and quit working. I fixed them several times but the end result always ended up with dead links so I decided to just copy the articles instead of the links. I was surprised however when one of the authors of several of the articles commented asking me to link to a different site which I promptly did. He also mentioned his book on the subject and so here is my review of the book which I finished somewhere above 30,000 feet in southeast California.

I was expecting a rather dry book with lots of facts and figures but found myself completely enthralled with the way Fishman wrote the book in a captivating way and yet presented a wealth of information. In fact, the first chapter alone would have been easier to simply highlight the things not of interest as every sentence made me want to scribble something down in my notebook. Case in point, the first sentence a quote from Sam Walton read, "I'm probably not the best negotiator in the world; I lack the ability to squeeze the last dollar." It certainly was not something I expected from my perceived notions of Sam Walton. In fact, my views of Sam Walton have completely changed from the kindly man who would be terrified at what his company has become to a man who would probably only be surprised that his ideas had come along so far. Sam planted the seeds of almost everything that makes Wal-Mart what it is today.

Fishman does a masterful job of explaining the groundwork of how Wal-Mart grew into what it is today and how it affects the world. He describes the 'Wal-Mart effect' as the, "whole range of impacts resulting from Wal-Mart's way of doing business." Fishman also goes on to say, "Wal-Mart isn't just a store, or a huge company, or a phenomenon anymore. Wal-Mart shapes where we shop, the products we buy, and the prices we pay - even for those of us who never shop there." After reading the book and the supporting evidence, I am certainly a believer.

I thought my long standing hatred of the Wal-Mart experience and general boycott of their stores would exempt me from their effects but Fishman has shown that I still benefit from Wal-Mart whether I like it or not. He used that stick of deodorant that I buy without any packaging other than its own hard plastic container as an example since Wal-Mart was instrumental in eliminating the cardboard packaging that they used to come in. Wal-Mart's effect has caused even those of us who buy deodorant at our local employee owned grocery store to benefit since the manufacturer of the deodorant has eliminated the extra packaging for everyone.

Before reading this book, I wondered if Fishman would change my views on the evilness of Wal-Mart and after reading it, the answer is no. In fact, it reinforced my views on Wal-Mart. It isn't because of one-sided journalism by Fishman because he laid out both sides very well. He has written a book that is neutral on the issue, laying out the facts and thus allowing me to support my views while still getting a better sense of why some people like Wal-Mart and why some have no choice but to shop there. In one chapter, Fishman describes a study that showed households with a baby and a pet are likely to defect to Wal-Mart along with those shoppers who buy store brand stuff. The former set of shoppers buy large volumes and thus go with the one-stop cheaper shopping. The latter set of shoppers already buys cheap stuff anyway so switching over to Wal-Mart is not a big difference. Those likely to not shop at Wal-Mart are households who spend a large portion of their grocery expenditures on fresh produce, seafood and read to eat meals. Something that surprised me is that location made no difference in where a person shopped.

One of the things that I always wondered about since I have seen it both ways was whether Wal-Mart's touting of all the new jobs they create when opening a new store was true. Fishman presented various studies that show that although they do create on average 30 new jobs over a five-year period, a typical plus-sized Wal-Mart can employ up to 500 employees and thus they drain upwards of 470 people from the surrounding area. Another study showed how Wal-Mart raised family poverty rates in a county after building a new store. Yet another study that showed that companies that did a majority of business with Wal-Mart (>25%) had half the profit margin than those companies that did 10% of their total business or less with Wal-Mart. Frightening stuff, yet Wal-Mart has undeniably brought down prices not only at their stores but retailers and even manufactures across the nation.

Probably the only good feeling I got from this book is that Wal-Mart seems to be so addicted to their cutting of costs that they are slowly pricing themselves out of profit. I would still guess that Wal-Mart will still be around in twenty years but this book makes me feel as if it won't be around in the same form as it is now. Fishman also laid out some more good news about how companies can and are successfully competing with Wal-Mart despite all the horror stories of other companies that have literally been run into the ground and shipped over seas. Perhaps in the end, Wal-Mart is its own greatest enemy.

If you read this book and I highly recommend it, I doubt that you will change your opinions on Wal-Mart. But you will most definitely understand Wal-Mart more than you do today and understand how shopping at Wal-Mart is changing the very fabric of our lives, good and bad. I will continue my long-standing boycott of Wal-Mart and hopefully will live long enough to see the beast burn itself out. Until then, I will encourage others to read the Wal-Mart Effect.

Friday, August 14, 2009

California Ramblings

California is an incredibly beautiful state with oceans, mountains, lush hills, and sparse deserts. It is also incredibly over crowded and paved under. I've been to California a handful of times mostly for business but a couple times for pleasure and every time I leave the state I hope that is the last time I have to go back. Mostly it is the traffic that appears to be a minimum of six lanes where ever you are going, mostly nowhere fast. The most lanes that I counted was 16 on the 101 around Los Angeles, all of them full of cars bumper to bumper in every lane with motorcycles threading between them for good measure. I never saw an old motorcyclist so I have to reason that the life expectancy must be really short.

I was driving a full sized rental van during my stay so I always had the upper hand when forcing my way into various lanes. You quickly learn that when driving in Los Angeles or there abouts, you don't give away your moves by using a turn signal. It is more of an acknowledgement to the guy you just cut off after the fact. Because Mercedes seemed to be the vehicle of choice among the people, they always gave way to the beat up rental van. Still nowhere fast was still pretty slow going despite the vehicular advantage.

All told, I spent nearly two days of my life (40 hours) behind the wheel of the van sitting, flying through or a combination in traffic. I was only able to spend two hours walking the beach and boardwalk in Newport Beach, sipping a couple ice cold Coronas sporting fat wedges of lime at a boardwalk café overlooking the ocean. Had their not been another person in sight, those two hours would have been well worth the 40 hours in traffic but that was not to be. Perhaps tanned beach babes in bikinis would have made it worthwhile but due to the cool breeze blowing, there wasn't much skin in sight. I did enjoy the two Coronas and the 8 feet swells blowing into shore.

Once again, I was saddles with people whose idea of culinary adventure was eating macaroni and cheese in shell form instead of regular tubular pasta shape. The most exotic thing I was able to eat the entire trip was getting crab stuffed shrimp at Outback Steakhouse. I did get a bowl of fucilli carbanara at a place called Charlie Brown's that was outstanding but it wasn't very exotic. I also ordered a hamburger with avocado at a sports bar we went too that was the most exotic thing they had on the menu and it was okay but just didn't do it for me.

I did have a chance to be part of a scene midair on the way back when the man in front of me rammed his seat into my knees three times trying to get it to recline and then madly complained to me mid flight to stop moving his seat. I told him I would be more than happy to do so if he could remove his seat from my knees. He put his seat back once again in the upright position but didn't take a swing. I'm guessing he saw that I was bigger than him because when we landed, he never once glanced my way and made a point of keeping his gaze towards the front of the plane. Flying used to be such a joy for me but since they crammed the seats even closer, took away all the service and go out of their way to make everyone feel like cattle waiting slaughter, it has been something about as bad as getting a tooth pulled.

At least the getting through security to get aboard the plane has gotten better. The most I had to wait in security was ten minutes and about eight of those minutes was waiting on the guy in front of me to empty his pockets, search his bag for liquids and gels, pull out his laptop and take off his shoes, all something that I had done previously while waiting in line. I finally went around him, got through security, got all my shoes, gels, and metallic objects back in their proper places along with my co-traveler before he finally made it through the metal detector. Rookie!

Airport eateries love these new rules. I used to avoid them and instead eat the free snacks the airlines gave out in flight. Now, the airlines are charging $3 for a small bag of chips and $10 for a small deli sandwich making the concourse eateries seem cheap in comparison. Oddly enough, they still give you a can of non-alcoholic beverage for free but I can't imagine that will last long.

As always, now that I'm back home I am extremely grateful for all that I have. I have a five-minute commute on two lane roads to work and that is if I hit the stoplight wrong otherwise I can make it in four minutes. We don't have an ocean but we have streams, we don't have mountains but we have rolling hills, we don't have lush hills unless you count lushness as corn or soybeans and we don't have deserts unless you count the dead spot of grass on my front lawn. It's certainly a tradeoff but one I am gladly making.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This is my first rodeo when it comes to having kids so I am learning things along the way. A week before I left on my trip to California, we went to eat at a seafood place in the big city named Joe's Crab Shack. The crawdad boil that I got was good though I though the mudbugs were a little on the salty side. I took several pictures but none of them turned out except for the one of the empty plate. Case in point of my bad pictures:

But to get back to my main point, I learned something at that restaurant. Always, and I do mean always, check the ceiling for what is above your table before sitting down. When your three year old daughter looks up halfway through the meal and spots this:

it can make the rest of the meal difficult to say the least.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Jumping T-Run: Revisited

[I am gone for business for a couple weeks so my blog is on autopilot. Here is a repost of some early writings way back when...]

Bill studied the Radio Flyer and the hill sloping in front him leading down to the infamous T-Run. T-Run a.k.a. Toilet Run was rumored by all the kids at Fox Valley High School to contain the overflow from a lot of septic tanks in town. Yes it was a ditch and most of the time it did contain some stagnate, foul smelling liquid but no Bill didn't think it was actually liquefied shit. He actually drove by the city sewer lagoon on the school bus ride home every day after school but he didn't want the townies to know this. So when the bet had come up, he had accepted it but now he wasn't so sure.

One of the townies had brought in their kid sister's Radio Flyer which was covered in rust making the words barely even visible. One of the rear wheels wobbled when pulled and the handle had been bent many times and straightened over the years. A crude ramp of some blocks and a thick piece of scrap plywood had been set up at the bottom of the hill right at the lip of T-Run and of course, it had been set right in front of the largest pool of stagnate water that the townies could find in the 100 feet or so that ran across the southern part of the school property.

Bill was pretty sure he could steer the rusted Radio Flyer and hit the ramp but the ten feet or so across to the other side of T-Run looked a lot bigger now that there was no backing out. If he made it he would have the admiration of every boy in his seventh grade class and perhaps some of the older kids as well, maybe even some girls. If he didn't, he would crash ass over feet into the liquefied primordial soup of T-Run and walk away smelling like...well, shit. But he figured it would be a good laugh for everyone and he would still go into the annals of Fox Valley lore and maybe win the admiration of everyone. It was a no lose situation unless of course he hit hard and broke something or actually killed himself.

He pushed those thoughts from head and sat down in the Radio Flyer with his feet towards the handle and the handle bent back so that he could steer while riding. Bill gave the thumbs up and put a cheesy grin on display even though his stomach was all tied up in knots. He told the fellows to push him for all they were worth because he was going to need the speed. He tensed his back to provide a good pushing surface and nodded his head quickly giving the okay.

The hands pressed on his back sending him accelerating across the short flat up by the tennis court fence and over the crest of the hill. As he picked up speed the hands began disappearing one after another until all were gone. The wagon picked up speed and hit a small mole hill causing it to lurch sideways almost jerking the handle from his hands. Bill over corrected several times almost wiping out but was able to regain control as he entered the steepest part of the hill nearer the bottom and the ramp. Wind whistled by his ears and he was going faster than he had ever gone before. A bad vibration from the wobbly wheel was shaking the wagon but he thought it was going to hold together long enough.

The last few feet came and went as the wagon hit the plywood squarely in the middle with a loud bang and the splintering sound of tearing wood. The former, Bill was pretty sure, was the wobbly wheel letting go. But momentum was his friend and though the back end of the wagon sank and then jumped sideways almost spilling him out, it continued if forward progress off the end of the ramp at alarming speed. The sounds ceased except for a soft escape of air as the ramp fell down into a pile behind him. He soared up into the air with his eyes focused on the grass on the opposite side. The saying was true, it really did look greener.

February 1, 2005

Friday, August 7, 2009

Solitude: Revisited

[I am gone for business for a couple weeks so my blog is on autopilot. Here is a repost of some early writings way back when...]

Solitude enshrouds me as I sit underneath the tree and sky,
I am listening to the tree's whispered story, told through a sigh.
Even the grass chimes in with a charming story of its own,
About the sun and the moon and why through the sky they roam.
The flowers listen politely silently bobbing their petals in the breeze,
As the robins and the blue jays sit witness in the branches of the tree.
Have you ever heard a tree talking, its soft whispers in the wind?
Have you listened to solitude and has solitude in you ever lived?

Date Unknown

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Shining On: Revisited

[I am gone for business for a couple weeks so my blog is on autopilot. Here is a repost of some early writings way back when...]

I was looking at a photograph
Taken in a world so very far away
Sunlight draped across your hair
A smile radiating from your face
Your love shining on

Remember that wind swept mountain
Overlooking the emerald sea
Where I proposed to you on a knee
And asked you to marry me
My love shining on

The fire between us is burning brighter
With each and every passing day
Our first child will soon be here to stay
But one thing will always be the same
Our love shining on

May 15, 2006

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Overheard at Breakfast

I'm in Camarillo, California right this moment and over breakfast I heard a gentleman say, "It's (California) getting squeezier and squeezier." I think I would have to agree with that statement.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Single White Flower: Revisited

[I am gone for business for a couple weeks so my blog is on autopilot. Here is a repost of some early writings way back when...]

In the meadow grows
a single white flower
Beaded in dew
reflecting the sunlight
Through it runs the earth's axis
and the world spins
If but for a second

Date Unknown