Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wonder If Noe Can Make That Green Jell-O Stuff

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where my historical realities and traditions are a little different than a lot of folks.  

When I was a kid growing up I ate many Thanksgiving feasts with my parents and brother in an Army Chow Hall or at the Officer's Club.  Once when we lived in Oklahoma,  my Dad was the sponsor for several allied students (from Ethiopia and Thailand) so my Mom prepared a full traditional American meal from scratch so that they could experience it.  To the best of my recollection that was the first time I had cranberry sauce with bits of fruit in it instead of the impression of the seam of  can.

A True Butterball Turkey
I ate one Thanksgiving Day meal while doing a 50 mile hike up the Chisholm Trail with a group of Boy Scouts.  Our troop's meal was provided by the Chow Hall at Ft Sill that sent out a 2 ½ ton truck full of the meal with all the trimmings.  I still remember sitting around the campfire later that night as we passed around a shared turkey leg, told stories,  and sang songs.
I have eaten a few meals in Air Force Dining Facilities (they were sensitive about the name).  It was an opportunity for the food service folks to show off and they did.   Several of those Thanksgivings I was on duty too in Germany, Guam and Missouri.

Some meals were family and friend gatherings.  Enjoying the company and all of those dishes that you only saw once a year.  My Grandmother used to make this green Jell-O stuff that had mini marshmallows and walnuts in it that was my favorite.  There were great deserts and trimmings that got snacked on all day.

This year found me in Kuwait and having my dinner at an Army Dining Facility (DFAC) with about half of the folks from my shop.  We all met at the DFAC, and happily it was not too crowded and still had lots of good food.  For a few hours we forgot where we were and shared some memories of Thanksgivings past.  Aside from the standard decorations and food/fruit carvings each place setting included a letter or picture from an American school kid.    Mine was from Noe Rodriguez who is a 6th grader.  Can't tell based on the name if Noe was male or female,  but I was assuming female due to the little hearts above the 'i's .  It was a sweet letter thanking me for my service and wishing me a happy day.
My 2012 meal consisted of turkey, fried shrimp, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas with mushrooms, cornbread, a green salad,  and iced tea. All of this was served up on some fancy china and a place setting of the finest sterling silver.

So now I have a new Thanksgiving memory and someone else to be thankful for;  but I do wish I could have just a little more of that green Jell-O stuff.  


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This Story Has Everything -- A Dog, A Cat, Recycling, and Poop

I took the dog for a walk this AM about 0530 or so.  The air was cool and smelled fresh due to the overnight rain.  When I walk Falkor I clean up after him, not wanting to make the neighborhood any more slummish than it already is.  I recycle my plastic shopping bags by using them to pick up his poop , and when I get to a dumpster I throw it in.  On our walking course there are dumpsters about every 50’ or so.  They are plastic and old, have no lids, and they smell really bad.  Living in and around the dumpsters are semi feral cats, at least two per dumpster. The cats feed off the trash and keep the rats away so they are tolerated.  So I will throw the poop bag into the dumpster, because if you get too close sometimes a cat will jump out at you – not attacking you per se but just out of fear.  The dog did his business, and when we walked past the next dumpster I threw the bag towards the dumpster.

As the bag was in the air, a cat came flying out of the dumpster and because the bag was spinning as it went through the air – somehow the cat managed to jump right into the open end of the bag ending up inside with the poop.  The cat and bag became one and flew away from the dumpster and landed on the street in front of me and the dog.  Falkor went nuts thinking he was being attacked by a lumpy plastic bag, the cat was rolling all over the place inside the bag trying to find an exit, and I was laughing my ass off as I watched the scene.  The cat finally found the bag’s top and jumped out of it, which made Falkor bark even louder that a cat would dare magically appear to challenge him.  As I continued to laugh, the confused and now poop covered cat took off across the alley – probably wondering what it did in life to deserve a morning start like that.  I hope your morning is better and that you manage to jump into it without landing in a bag full of poop.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

In a World Where Don LaFontaine Is Alive To Do The Voiceover For The Movie Trailer

My last post featured some pictures that included some small plastic figures,  and that prompted some questions and comments.  Those particular figures were from a company called Accoutrements, and they manufacture many weird and unusual toys for the child in all of us.

When I discovered their play sets I bought all the sets they had available.  Unfortunately the one set I wanted the most -- "The Angry Mob"  featuring villagers with pitchforks and torches - is no longer made.  So, why do I need little plastic people?  Simple - I was losing characters.
When I was editing my first book, I noticed that I was losing track of people.  In my mind I was having characters continue to move from one scene to another,  but I was forgetting to write it down so the reader would know what was going on.  This type of disconnect is why big time writers have people who check for a book's continuity.  Anyway,  since I can't afford a big time Continuist, even though I can afford to invent words like Continuist, I took the cheap way out and bought a couple of bags of small green plastic Army men and since my story took place primarily in a HMMWV - I got one of those and a plastic Jeep too.  I then went back through my tale moving the little plastic guys around as the story played out.  When I was done,  I put the little guys in a baggie in the closet, while the HMMWV Desert Knight 7 wound up on my desk as a trophy for completing that tale - Desert Knight 6 was destroyed toward the end of the book.

Now, I am writing a very different story - it has humor, romance, action, twists and turns and is set in exotic Kuwait - to add to the mayhem it also deals with cultural and historical reality.  Sounds good, doesn't it?  Anyway,  this time I have 12 main characters and another 20 or so named characters (so far), multiple locations - that will be used several times -, horses, plus four  major story lines -- with three other minor ones, and of course flash backs and vivid dream sequences.  Sounding like a soon to begin filming major motion picture yet?  Maybe.  Antonio Bandaras has played an Arab before.  In short with all that stuff going on and all those people milling about, I knew I was going to need to keep track of a lot of things so the right people and things were in the right places when I needed them there.  But, I needed more than just green plastic Army men.  So, I started my search.

As I mentioned, I came across the Accoutrements Play Sets and ordered those.  I needed Arabs,  but the only ones I could find were fighting figures - so I will make those work.  I am still waiting on an assortment of train set play figures to arrive from Hong Kong that will give me some female figures and children.  It is amazing how many little plastic people you can get for $50.  Because I still have a some Cold War issues, I pulled the green plastic Army men out and I am using a few of those for retired KGB Russians who are the main villains.  Now I can visually see the story in my mind play out on my dining room table.

Falkor does get peeved because he can't see what I am doing on the table.  He is fairly sure it is either something good to eat or something of which he wants to be a part.

Of course,  if I can't figure any other way to end the book,  I can always go for the total Zombie Apocalypse!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Change Your Shoes, Change Your Life

When I was preparing to leave for Kuwait, I gathered a stockpile of things to take with me that I knew would either be difficult to find over here or difficult to have mailed. As a result, I arrived with a cache of ingredients for spaghetti sauce, enough stuff to make four pots of my award-winning chili, tomato soup, vitamins, meds, and other things. In and amongst all of that stuff were 3 pairs of New Balance tennis shoes.

I brought desert boots as well as street shoes, but a majority of the time I end up wearing my trusty New Balance 1020s. Given the work environment and the environment in general, they are the best choice for both comfort and functionality. As I’ve mentioned before, the environment here is covered mostly by very fine powder like sand – – in addition to that there are places with very course sand. This mixture gets into the bindings in stitches of shoes and due to the constant motion of the shoe gradually cuts the shoes apart from the inside out. Knowing this before I got here, I planned on having to change out shoes every four months.

The longer of been here, the more that my stockpile has dwindled down. As time passes, I use more and more of what I brought and my cabinets and closet gets emptier and emptier. Today is significant because I am breaking out my very last pair of new tennis shoes. This means that I am four months from the end of my tour, barring any significant world events.  I am a little late in changing out the shoes, so I’m actually only 111 days from departure rather than 120.

Due to the significance of this event, I needed to prepare a press release and have a photo op for the paparazzi.  Therefore, the change out was delayed until today but now it will go on as scheduled. 

I was promised by the local paper that the story would run on page 1 above the fold. We will see.

Of course the press didn’t bother to hang around for the less memorable and significant retirement of the old sneakers – and the subsequent horror and fleeing of the villagers.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Nation Divided Against Itself

This Tuesday Americans will select the President and Vice President for the next four years, through our voting/election process.  One person, one vote -- probably by the end of the evening we will know who was chosen.

This election is close,  very close.  As a result whoever wins will leave whoever voted for the other candidate disenfranchised – this time that means a little less than 50% of all Americans.  Unfortunately, whichever side wins will probably try to claim a mandate for massive change --  when nothing could be further than the truth.  The Electoral College provides for a methodology that can show a person winning by a massive landslide, when the truth might be victory by a single vote in any number of states.

That is neither a mandate nor an endorsement.  It is barely a win and should be a sign that the President should govern cautiously and by bipartisan agreement instead of attempting to ram down the throats of the American people their own agenda in total.
At no time in my life have I seen each side try to divide the American people and not allow for any ideas other than their own.  The amount of ridicule, mistruth, false and misleading statements, personal animus, and spin is unbelievable; it leaves us as a people divided.  Logic is totally being ignored as well:  Why would anyone risk their personal fortune on a business venture when the government plans on taking a confiscatory portion of it to redistribute?  No risk , no new jobs Why would anyone reliant on the government want to see that change and risk their own stability?  People receiving entitlements vote too After the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was rammed through so quickly and with so many deals for unions and some states, the question of how it is paid for and by who is still there – do we need more legislation that, as Nancy Pelosi said, “we have to pass to find out what is in it”?  If some people are subsidized, that means everyone else will pay more to subsidize them- which means higher costs.

Finally, with the race so close – anyone want to place bets on how quickly lawyers will be jumping in from the losing side claiming voter fraud?  There is also a distinct possibility of a tie that, based on the polarity of the House and Senate,  a tie breaker could end with a President from one party and a Vice President from the other.  Except for some minor upheavals in the month after the election,  that scenario is almost the most desirable in insuring a representation that would have to be bipartisan -- keep in mind the VP is also President of the Senate.

At one time I held faith that the Constitution would prevent the overriding of the will of the people by one branch of government over another – but that faith has been crushed in recent years as the Executive Branch has used Executive Orders to bypass Congress and by refusing to enforce laws as passed in favor of their own agenda.  That is not the way this is supposed to work.  The Constitution clearly spells out the powers and limits of each Branch of government.  It is a brilliant design which prevents the rise of a despot in any one branch.  The Legislative Branch has no power to interpret laws,  the Judicial no power to enforce them and the Executive Branch no power to selectively ignore enforcement.  This is not just the current Administration but has been growing since the Clinton years, when he used Executive fiat to make laws he wanted that Congress would not pass.  In my opinion, this needs to stop now before there is no longer an  identifiable balance of powers and no way to check the out of control power of one branch over another.  We need a renaissance of the true concepts of liberty that returns us to the concepts of controlled government as a servant of the people -- the ideals our nation was founded upon. 

I used to believe the American press was an unbiased force for good in our nation but no more.  I have lived through many top level scandals and abuses of power that were brought to light by a diligent press.  Watergate, the failed Desert One rescue, Iran-Contra Affair, and the Clinton sex scandal all started with abuses of power and in many cases further abuse of power to cover up wrongdoing.  Now the press participates in campaigns of cover-up and downplays issues if the mood or issue suits them.  Likewise, they spread known lies or fabricate their own to drive specific political affect.  I am not sure how Dan Rather got back on the air after it was proven he fabricated facts to broadcast a false story and then never retracted it.  However, this is a double sided coin with some networks swinging Right and others swinging Left.  It leaves the public doing one of two things:  only listening to the media that agrees with them, or having to spend hours to research more than one version of the information.
When I was stationed in Berlin, I listened to Radio Free Europe, BBC News, Radio Moscow, Israeli Freedom Radio, and Armed Forces Network (this was before CNN).  On any given topic there were five versions of any story, but even with the slant there was a salient thread of truth running through all of them.  Many news sources now ignore including that thread.  Hard hitting journalism is gone in favor of approved question/topic lists, the View and the Daily Show.  What is scary is that people are listening and believing.  A good example is the free phone program.

People talk about loving their free Obama phone;  but it is neither free nor an Obama program.  Ronald Reagan established the program Lifeline which provided free phones to the poor so that they had a means of communication for emergencies.  The program is paid for by anyone who has a phone since they pay a Universal Service Fund fee which supports the program.  Technically, it is not a taxpayer funded program, and anyone can opt out of paying the fee – they just have to opt out of their own phone as well.  Much of the media broadcast the video of the woman saying she was voting for Obama to keep her free phone,  none of them bothered to say who actually started the program or who pays for it.  Where was the reporting of the facts?  Any wonder why the Benghazi Terror Attack has so many iterations but none of which add up to the known facts?  Keep in mind no one died as a result of Watergate and the press hounded a President from office.

Two other truths:  First, the government has no money – they have the money of the taxpayers.  When the government decides to give away money, it is yours and mine.  Free insurance is not free – someone has to pay or it does not work.  When politicians talk about doing things with money – it is not theirs – it is yours.  Also,  no entitlement program has ever been abolished as long as the receipients of the entitlement are alive, once created they live forever.  Secondly, the President and Vice President can do nothing to change abortion laws, for or against.   The Supreme Court has ruled,  even Congress can do nothing to change that.  If abortion is your topic of interest,  worry about what is going on in your state government,  that is the only place where change is possible.  Supporting an Executive Branch candidate based on their position about abortion is useless,  they simply are powerless to change or create laws concerning it.  

Joseph de Maistre said “Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite” ("Every country has the government it deserves").  God, I hope not.  I can only hope that what happens on Election Day leads us back to the roots of our grand Democracy where individual accomplishment and rights are respected, where the system of checks and balances mandated in the Constitution are allowed to function as intended and where we are guided by the will of the people and not the will of the special interest or a select few in the media.

In closing, I voted – and if eligible you should as well.  I can complain if the other guy wins or cheer if my choice does.  If you don’t vote,  you have no right but to maintain your silence as change is thrust upon you -- good or bad.  Voting not only gives you a voice but also a right to bitch.

I do have my resume ready to send to the winner.  You never know,  there might be an Ambassadorship in Luxembourg vacant for which I am ideally suited.  

Note:  The US Constitution is a wondrous document that in 4500 words covers everything needed to have a balanced and fair government for a diverse group of people who are brought together for no other reason than “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.  You can read it here [LINK] , contact your Congressman’s office he/she will send you a free pocket sized version, or send a self addressed envelope with $0.65 postage to: NCCS, 37777 W. Juniper Rd., Malta, ID 83342 for a free pocket sized version.  It is a citizen’s duty to know how they are governed and the limits of that government.