Friday, October 31, 2014

Big Fat Friday Free For All

What's the matter, Chief?  Gain a pound and a half this week while working out five times? About to lose your Senate race to a very beatable candidate? Generals bitching about your war plan?

Share your pain.  We're here for you.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Senator of What?

I cannot think of a better or clearer example as to why the XVII Amendment should be repealed than what is happening now in North Carolina. In the Senate race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis over $100,000,000 will be spent by both political parties (along with a myriad of special interest groups) in an attempt to buy this election. It should give one pause to consider exactly what the payoff must be for some of these groups to go all in, as if their very survival depends on it, and indeed it just may. One thing is for certain, whatever goodies handed out will come courtesy of the American taxpayer... and it will be huge. That my friends is what scares hell out of me.

Let me ask you, how are the people of North Carolina being served by these two candidates? They were picked by the elites of both parties to serve the elites of those parties. The campaign is being financed by said elites and the winner will be beholding to same, not the citizens of North Carolina. I don't wish to imply we are unique in all this, quite the contrary, this is the norm throughout the country with every competitive Senatorial race. We just happen to be the most stark example of how and why the system is broken.

As I've said before and as every high school freshman knows, the balance of powers was given a lot of thought by the framers. A Representatives' job is to protect the interest of the citizens in their district. The President's job is to protect the nation's interests. Once Senators were appointed by the state governments (and beholding to) and therefore protected the interests of the States. Now we have a system where the Senators owe nothing to their respective States. And please don't say the voters, they are just a hoop to jump through...with the help of outside money of course. And that "outside money" whatever or whomever it may be is a Senator's true constituency, NOT the voters.

So whomever is elected be it Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis, they will not be representing anybody or anything even remotely connected to guys like me. They are the political class, and I don't have a say.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Update from the Road

It's the morning of my last day in San Diego for this trip.  I'll work all day, grab some dinner, turn in the rental car and then hop on the Redeye.  Good, though uneventful trip thus far, though I must report that my hunt for the perfect hotel goes on.  The Holiday Inn Express I'm in is pretty good.  A hearty free breakfast, free parking, free wifi (yes, I know those costs are rolled into the total cost, but I don't like them charged as extras) and a clean comfortable room.  Problem is, it is haflway between Little Italy and Old Town San Diego--so sorta stuck in the middle.  I did manage to walk to a sushi joint for some rather good but overpriced sushi last night, but by and large, one needs to drive to any respectable place to eat.  The gym here is small, but I've been the only person in it each time I've visited so that hasn't been an issue.

The weather has been--as it usually is--perfect.  I drive across the Coronado bridge each morning on my way to the client site, and where I lived for 15 months spreads out before me.  What a life it was.  I see young mothers and children on the streets as I drive through, and I wonder "who can afford this at that age?"

One of the bonuses to working where I do is that the Navy's Basic Underwater Demolition School (BUDS) is nearby--the place where we begin to make SEALS.  I walked down to the Subway to grab a turkey sub (6 inch) yesterday at lunch time, and passed the based galley as I walked.  There--at an outside shower, were twenty five or so young exhausted men waiting their turns to step up fully clothed into the shower, to remove the heavily caked sand and dirt from their uniforms.  Many of you have seen TV shows that feature what these men go through, and it is grueling.  Making sure none of their handler/torturers was nearby, I softly added a "keep it up guys, proud of you" as I walked by--and got two or three huge bright smiles of recognition in return.

I've managed to sorta stay on East Coast time while here, getting to bed each night well before 9PM and up at 0500.  Truth be told, that would be the DESIRED East Coast schedule, but I try to remain conscious a bit longer at home in order to keep the Kitten happy with my effervescent conversation, but I often fail at that task.  The other problem is that I often get up at 0500 too.  So I suppose the only thing I am really accomplishing on the West Coast is getting more sleep.

I am watching the run-up to the mid-term election with great anticipation. Things appear to be going well for Republicans, but I don't see it as overwhelming.  I'm looking forward to staying up late next Tuesday to watch things come in, but the entire evening will be made whole if and when it is announced that the Senate balance has tipped.  I cannot wait to see Harry Reid lose power.  I simply don't like the man.  I never disliked Tom Daschle....but this guy....the worst.

Republicans shouldn't expect miracles though. The President has the Veto and it still requires 2/3 of each chamber to overturn. Those numbers simply don't exist.  So when folks talk about "using reconciliation to repeal Obamacare" they are indulging in fantasy.  Perhaps we get the 51 votes in the Senate required to pass a repeal under reconciliation, but when the President vetoes it, we'd still need the two thirds majorities to overcome that--which will not come.  Now, it might be worth ONE vote to demonstrate Republican seriousness, but then any subsequent vote would be unserious.

The rocket exploding on the launch pad last night just seems like the latest in a string of mounting evidence that we've lost something, a little spring in our step, the ability to hard things well.  I wrote yesterday that I thought the person who makes us believe we are still good at doing hard things, and who lays out a vision for how we'll recapture that spring--that's the person who will win in 2016.  In other words, a positive, uplifting message.  We'll see if anyone hops on that....

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Hammer's College Football Show Week 9, with Special Hammer

Ole Miss and LSU played a good one last night in Red Stick (aka Baton Rouge) and for us devotees of old fashioned smash-mouth football it was like 1957 with Billy Cannon. Just a great back-to-basics football game. I can just hear the chatter down in the trenches: "I is sorry my brother but I goin hafta bus yo head head wide open and yo mamma ain't fixin' you no grits 'n gravy and yo girfren' ain't givin' you no puddin'. By the way, how's that class in plasma physics coming along?".
LSU had four turnovers, so how did they win? Well the passing game was pretty much a wash but they almost doubled the Rebels on the ground, plus a few stupid penalties here and a few bone-headed plays there and presto-chango...YOU LOSE! But the really BIG loser in this game is #1 Missississippi State. Can you guess why?
They had an interesting stat on one of the shows about Les Miles. Check this out, going onto the 4th quarter BEHIND, he has a .511 winning percentage. Chew on that awhile.

Ok let's get it out of the way, UVA blew it like a drunk Paris Hilton on a Foo Fighters tour bus. The Heels were outgained 443 to 374 and didn't look so hot themselves, but still Virginia found a way to not get it done (I'll just say Mike London's clock management needs a little work). This might be all she wrote for Coach. This was a game that should have been a win and now the Wahoos' bowl situation is precarious at best. London didn't have a lot of goodwill to start the year so we'll see. But damnit all to hell, I HATE WHEN CAROLINA WINS!!! Hey CW, worn that Carolina sweatshirt lately?

In other action South Carolina went .500 and 2-4 in the SEC, the Vols continue to suck as does the Michigan Wolverines and Texas Longhorns. ECU is 6-1 and Marshall is 8-0. Did I tell you I once met Marshall's Coach? His name is Doc Holliday and he spent a few years in Raleigh as Mike O'Cain's offensive coordinator, and I found him to be very offensive (insert canned laughter here). Naaa, just jiving. He's obviously a pretty good coach having gone 8-0 I don't care who you're playing. I wonder if UVA has his phone number?

At this point in the season there are a lot of GREAT one loss teams out there, and two loss teams as well. Oregon is good (although their defense sucks) 'Bama, Auburn, Mich. St., Nebraska, Ohio State, K-State, TCU, Baylor. The National Championship is wide ass open. I wouldn't hazard a guess as to who is in the top four but I can guarantee there'll be a ton of pissed off teams at the end of the year. Give it a couple of years and they'll trim a game or two off the schedule and go to an 8 or 16 team playoff. There's just too many good teams out there.

Well that's it. Oh, almost forgot, the Wolfpack didn't lose this week.
C-ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!

The Use of Political Proxies

One of the benefits of considering oneself a member of a political party is the proxy value of that membership.  Here's what I mean.  If someone runs as a Republican in a race against a Democrat, I can know nothing about the particulars of the race but STILL have some basic sense of how I should vote simply because someone adheres to the same party as I.  And if I do not educate myself on those particulars, the party proxy is sufficient for me to vote for that person.

We have in our county, and elected council.  One of the members of the council is a friend of ours, Catherine more than me, but a friend nonetheless.  He is a Republican.  I know this only because I had to do significant searching around to figure it out.  It is nowhere on his electioneering material, his yard signs, his bumper sticker--nada.  He is in fact, a member of a small subgroup of county council members who sorta run as a block--Democrat and Republican--under the banner of "County over Party".

I decided that I was not going to vote for him in the upcoming election, because of his attempt to be apolitical.  During a conversation with the Kitten yesterday, she was much exercised by this revelation.  Now the Kitten and I don't do politics all that well, because the few things she cares about, she cares about deeply, and sometimes I disagree but care far less deeply.  Those conversations never end well.  The Kitten was really taken aback by my stance, and insisted that it didn't make sense.  I made the counterargument that it makes perfect sense, that I prefer to spend my days thinking and reading about national and international issues, and that I use the "party proxy" to guide my local decisions.  This simply didn't wash, and I could see that she was getting a bit upset with me--not only because she is friends with the guy I wasn't going to vote for, but because in her opinion, his stances on the issues were much better aligned with the interests of our household.  Sensing the significant likelihood of there being no good way out of this, I stumbled upon an idea of true genius.

I said, "ok, Kitten.  You will be m proxy.  I will consult with you on local elections and matters, and rather than use the party as my proxy, I'll use you."  Problem solved.  Pure, f*****g genius.

On The Road Again

This missive comes to you from the United Club, terminal C Dulles Airport.  I'm in a foul temper, so I might as well just let it out.

Firstly, this airport continues to blow, and I really mean blow.  There is not an airport in the nation where the daily parking is as far removed from the terminals, as here.  Not even Providence RI, which also blows.

Whereas once upon a time, we cleared security here and then got on the dreaded people movers, when the people mover docked, you were at your terminal.  Pure and simple.  Annoying, but pure and simple. So now there is a light rail system, which during its construction, I believed would make this less of a suckhole of an airport.  Except it doesn't.  It only sorta gets you to your terminal, after which you have another long walk.  Ridiculous place.

Speaking of security, the real source of my distemper is TSA/Security.  You see, I'm one of those guys who paid his money, filled out the paperwork, got fingerprinted, and had the interview--so that I could go through the TSA "Pre" line.  No taking the computer out, no taking the liquids out, no taking the shoes off, no taking the belt off.  A great way to speed through security.  Except if you have a hunk of titanium instead of a hip.  You see, those circular xray machines were a Godsend for me.  The metal detectors ALWAYS trip on me, and then I get the pat and wand action.  So even before TSA Pre, the circular scanners were a serious upgrade for my security experience.  What Dulles apparently hasn't yet figured out though is that some of the people going through TSA -Pre have ortho implants--but there is no circular scanner at the TSA Pre station.  And so there I go, fat, dumb, and happy, and the metal detector trips.  Ok, I figure I need to get a quick pat and I'm on my way.  No.  Back through.  Take my shoes and belt off--essentially back to the non-Pre status.

So as I stood there fuming, I asked to see a supervisor.  A kindly gentleman came over to speak with me and I informed him of the significant design problem.  He copped to it, and told me I should ask to be escorted to the Xray scanner next time.  I asked if I were the first person to bring this up.  He said, "no, happens all the time".  Life under Obama.

I am on my way back to San Diego, where I have a wonderful client and where I will be traveling once a month or so for the next year.  This is my third trip since August, and I am attempting to find "the perfect hotel" to stay in.  My requirements?  Free WiFi.  Free parking.  Some kind of a gym.  20 minute commute to the jobsite or less. And a good bed.  Name brands preferred.  This time, I am staying at a Holiday Inn Express that appears to meet most of my requirements, so we'll see how it turns out.

Back to my happy place....I am considering springing my participation in "No Shave" November on the Kitten when I return.  This is no small item, as she and the Kittens tend to shun me when I am bearded.  It will not be a domestically peaceful month if I undertake this operation.  There is a reasonable chance for increased passive/aggressive behavior.  There really isn't much of an upside to it, except I don't have to shave.  It has become crystal clear as I have aged that three things make me look older--being fatter, longer hair, and a beard.  We'll see if this flies--I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Badinage From the Front Lines of Caroline du Nord

Legal/illegal is just a state of mind in North Carolina and it appears illegals don't mind at all. Currently there are 10,000 illegal aliens on the North Carolina voter rolls. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is our Republican Governor's decision to give Jorge from Heujucar a driver's license when he couldn't spell driver's license in English OR Spanish (actually Nahuati) if you held an AK-47 from an Arizona gun shop courtesy of the Holder Justice Department's illegal gunrunning to his greasy, louse bitten head.
How did we get here? Let me explain. First, a NC driver's license is issued to a known illegal which looks EXACTLY THE SAME as every other driver's license. Then DOT sends a list to the Board of Elections and if they smell a rat they send the name (maybe a real name, maybe an alias...who would know?) to Homeland security which tells them if the individual is a citizen and therefore eligible to vote. Remember, when the license is issued these folks are ADMITTED illegals. Well, lo and behold the overwhelming majority of inquiries made to Homeland are found to be just fine, yes indeed they are citizens and eligible to vote. Nevermind  that in many cases the individual in question wouldn't have had time to get a green card, much less full citizenship. And nevermind this 10k number is just what they have found SO FAR based on underreported numbers from Homeland. God only knows the real number!
I've always thought voter fraud accounted for about 3-5% nationwide. I viewed it much like a department store views "shrinkage", just the cost of doing business. But friends this is a real problem and 5% might be a huge miscalculation. If we can root out this stuff and get it front and center in the public's mind we can show the Democrats to be the liars and cheats we know them to be, and maybe, just maybe we can derail some of Obama's immigration insanity (and actually win an election or two).

Can you believe Carolina? I'm more perplexed and dumbfounded than angry (or happy). As you know Tickbite is Wolfpack country, not many preppies wearing Bass Weejuns running around here. But UNC is OUR university too. If there is wrongdoing WE have an interest as well. I may be an opponent of UNC on the athletic field but we Tickbite-ittes want to be proud of our flagship university not ashamed. I have seen many scandals over the years, as we all have; point shaving, criminals with scholarships, out of control alumni etc., but I've never seen bogus classes! For 20 years they had "paper classes" that didn't meet! AND they want us to believe only two people knew about it. Give me a break !!
This has grown beyond a normal scandal, we're into SMU territory now. I can well understand the fear they are experiencing. The Tar Heel brand is worth millions upon millions in real dollars, forget about the intrinsic, intangible value. They want to protect it and their instincts are to circle the wagons. I get it, but that time is over. Forget about NCAA sanctions, somebody needs to go to jail! The powers that be should just forget about sports for a while. They need to get a hatchet man over at the athletic department and clean house from top to bottom, and I'm talking everybody from the water girls to Roy Williams. And please don't tell me Williams didn't know about this, the kids he was coaching knew, they were the ones enrolled in the "classes", so the idea that he wasn't aware is ridiculous. That is the only way to restored confidence. I don't say this out of malice, I say this as a product and a friend of the North Carolina university system. God I wish Bill Friday were here, he'd know what to do and have the guts to do it.

That's all I got. I was gonna talk about Monica Lewinsky a bit, but what's the point? Hillary's minions will have this bimbo idiot jumping out a window if she keeps it up (oh it was terrible, she was soooo depressed). She's just a blow-job joke anyway but if it happens Drudge will get the blame.

Big Fat Friday Free For All

Hello, Chumley.  What's got you down?  Honey Boo Boo's mom pass on you for a child molester?  Ebola putting a cramp in your hipster lifestyle?  Got a Russian sub in your home waters you just can't find?

Share, friends.  Share.

This morning's weigh in--190.8.

Interested in what I've weight on/around this date over the years?


So--my average weight on/about this date from 2004 on is 182.8.  I am currently 8 pounds above that.  Gotta get my act together.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Hammer's College Football Review: Week 8, Skate and Don't Hesitate

What a game last night in Tallahassee! The Notre Dame Fighting Irish came to town loaded for bear and brother-man they almost pulled it off. Admittedly I haven't paid much attention to the Irish this year but I was very favorably impressed. Brian Kelly has put together a squad with not a lot of weaknesses. Their skill positions are outstanding and their line play is absolutely top notch! But they need to learn how and when to cheat. I refer specifically to blatant picks on cornerbacks right there in front of God and and a national television audience (it cost them the game winning touchdown). So my condolences to all you Papists and half-drunk mud apes of Irish ancestry out there, but buy a clue, you ain't gonna get those kind of calls at Doak Campbell Stadium on a Saturday night.

In other action #4 Baylor is #14 Baylor having lost to the best unranked team in the country, WVU. The Mountaineers blow hot and cold so often it must be a bitch for their fans. At least NC State sucks CONSISTENTLY! TCU looked great against OK State. 'Bama got some payback against Texas A&M, Oklahoma lost to K-State at home (State's defense is KILLER!) and Ohio State is starting to make a move.

I watched most of the Ga. Tech/UNC game yesterday, It was very disappointing. I expected the Jackets to bring that triple option into Kenan and hang 60 on statistically the worst defense in college football. WRONG! Coach Larry Fedora (never trust anybody named Larry) got those assholes to play over their heads so that's two in a row now for Tech.

CW's Cavaliers got dusted by Dook yesterday in Durham. It was funny, all the while the game was on CW was stuck watching The Marriage of Figaro in some dinky little theatre in bumfuq Mary-Land some God-damn where. Nothing like a little Mozart when your team sucks I always say. I could tell he was really into the performance posting on FB every five minutes. And that's just the thing isn't it? A good libretto ain't got a chance in the cultural wasteland of crab-on-the-brain eastern Mary-land. What a waste of time by all parties involved.

Well, I think we can announce the first firing of the year, Florida's Will Muschamp. The poor guy is drowning. The Gators got humiliated yesterday in The Swamp by the Misery Tigers and trust me, Gainesvillains are in no way amused. Oh they'll let him play out the year, but after the FSU game he'll have a bus ticket in hand.

As I alluded to last week, the Shepherd University Rams did indeed lose to Notre Dame (the South Euclid, Ohio Notre Dame) 35-34. Falcon QB Ray Russ threw for 459 yards to hand Shepherd their first loss of the year and dash their hopes of a chickenshit, small college, whogivesashit national championship. Oh well, could be worse, you could be a NCSU fan.

Do you folks realize that if we had to pick the four teams for the playoff right now we'd have two teams from Missississippi in it? Who woulda figured? But since Ole Miss and Miss State play each other the last game probably ain't gonna happen. As you well know, late losses count a helluva lot more than early losses. As it stands now we might even get a two loss team in the playoff.

That's it. I'm kinda bummed what with Duke and Carolina winning and State losing. I'm just not myself. So if I've offended anyone with my off color repartee, then I just want to take this opportunity and say, get over it numb-nuts. C-ya.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the Virtues of Sleeping In

Six graduate level writing assignments await my studied eye today, so in order to ready myself to hack others' writing to pieces I figured I'd do a bit of my own first.  I rise today in full-throated support of not rising; that is, in sleeping in.  It is something I do only rarely, but having done so this morning I am flush with praise for the practice and hope for its continuing presence in my life.

I am an early riser.  Partially by choice and partially as a result of geography, I tend to get up pretty early each day, including Saturday and Sunday.  Additionally, having made a career choice that virtually guarantees that I always have work to do and that the level of work cannot possibly be confined to eight hour days, I find myself up early even when I don't have long commutes to make, simply to have enough time to get the work done.

This morning was different, and it involved a conscious choice.  You see Kitten #2 is an accomplished equestrienne, and she has a very,very important show today. Her performance will determine if she makes the Washington International Horse Show, something that has been her aim for about two years now.  Her determination and hard work has been something to watch, and I am truly proud of her for the way she has approached this goal.  The show is so important that she asked that I (and her grandmother) not come to it, and is only allowing her mother to attend as a means of transportation to and from.  I go to many of her shows, and I have been witness to the nervousness and tension that goes along with this pursuit--and so I took my leave with aplomb.

The show necessitated an early wake up (early for Kittens) of 0500.  When the alarm went off, I laid there and considered my options.  I could grab my mask and earplugs and roll over and go back to sleep, or I could get up, make them breakfast, and see them off with hugs and best wishes of support.  You have no idea how attractive the former option was, especially considering how often I am up at 0500 as it is.  I did in fact, grab the mask and earplugs, and put both on whilst the Kitten pursued her toilette behind closed door, an important detail as she did not SEE me make this commitment to sloth and self-love.  I laid there for a minute or two and reconsidered my decision.  IF Kitten #2 makes the big show in DC, I will not be able to be there because I am flying to California.  I had already been informed that my presence at THAT show was absolutely desired, and I earned some raised eyebrows at missing yet another seminal event.  Given these circumstances, my laying in bed might be viewed with some scorn.

Because higher order thought processes had begun--something that always dooms my ability to sleep-- I bounded out of bed and asked the Kitten if I could make her and her spawn some eggs before they left.  I immediately entered faux husband and faux father of the year status with this simple act.  "You don't have to" she said, and while I agreed that I did not HAVE to, I did not feel completely free not to, at least while confined to my own guilty conscience.  And so, I alighted to the kitchen, engaged in the standard feeding rituals with the two dogs who apparently had grown to miss me with great feeling in the previous six hours, and made a pan of scrambled eggs.  When Kitten #2 appeared, she thanked me for the "good luck flowers" I set in her room yesterday (I'm no dummy) and began to devour her eggs.  They were not around more than ten minutes before it was time to load up and move out, and so I saw them off with a clear starry sky and a crescent moon overhead.

And then went back to bed.  And sprawled out decadently.  And put my mask on so that the approach of day would go unnoticed.  And put ear plugs in so that whatever noise the dogs might make would be ignored.

I laid there remembering the DVD-encased advice of some guru I had once heard who said, "if you think deeply about your breathing, no other thought can enter your mind.'  This always works for me, and so that is what I did.  And three and a half hours later, I woke up.  Dazed, but satisfied.  Completely refreshed.  Actually, felling accomplished, as if I had stolen something of great value from some kind of protective giant, or dragon.

Was this theft a responsible act? No.  Indeed not.  I have a ton of work to do.  I am scheduled to go sit in the local viewing area for the Met Opera and enjoy "Le Nozze di Figaro".  The Kitten has been patiently waiting for me to run more cat 6 cable to variously inaccessible parts of the house. But none of this matters to me right now, as I am well-rested and self-satisfied.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Big Fat Friday Free For All

What's the matter, friend?  Worried about that sneezy West African you sat next to on the shuttle from JFK to Dulles?  Concerned about losing your Majority Leader position in the next Congress?
Share, friend.  Share!

I am become huge, a man of great girth but not mirth.  Got back on the wagon Monday morning and lost 1.8 lbs for the week, but I shan't begin crowing for quite some time.

This quick update comes to you from the Business Center in the Library at the Army and Navy Club in DC, where I am killing a bit of time before recording a Podcast for the folks at War on the Rocks at 6PM.  I'll link to the podcast once it is up.  You can bet it will be largely Naval in character...there are very few things that would get me to head INTO DC on a Friday afternoon, but this kind of a chat with smart fellows is the kind of thing that will do it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Open Letter from President Obama

My fellow citizens, recently there has been much discussion in the press about the Ebola outbreaks. Some are criticizing our response with false charges and misinformation. I would like to address your concerns today and reassure you, I have our most qualified people working on your behalf to eradicated this scourge. 
First, why in 2010 did we discontinue the CDC quarantine regulations aimed at Ebola? As was reported on MSNBC I personally was not aware these regulations had been scraped, but after careful analysis the healthcare professionals at the CDC decided they were not needed and saw no reason to reinstitute them solely to appease those who shout the loudest. Manufactured hysteria trumped up by rightwing talk radio and Fox News cannot dictate our actions. The reality is we live in a world community. If I were to close our borders to West Africa and Ebola were to remain strictly an "African disease" then no monies would be allocated for the research needed to attack this virus. We ARE our brother's keeper and if black Africans are suffering then the world is suffering. Need I remind America of their rape of that continent and our obligations there?
My fellow Americans the facts are clear, this whole situation could have been avoided had not the Republicans gutted the CDC's budget. If we had had the funds the nurse in Dallas would have been trained and her protocol violation wouldn't have happened and she would not have Ebola. I tried to fund the CDC properly so as to protect the world from the ravages of want and disease. If we had had the funds our top scientists would probably have developed a cure by now. I did my best for the American people but the rightwing does not care about your well-being, their opposition to the Affordable Care Act proves it.  Sadly the bad guys win sometimes, for that I am sorry. 
Let me reiterate, our policy is we will not close our borders because it would actually make the problem worse. America is a country of immigrants. Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics ARE America and have been since our founding. We cannot and will not turn our backs on the poor and destitute no matter what country they may be in. I am currently doing everything in my power to minimize this plague but whatever may happen, it is clear the Republicans have failed us and I hope you remember when you go to the polls in two weeks. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taiwan Trip Wrap-up

It is now Tuesday afternoon, two days after I returned home to Easton.  I need to wrap up the Taiwan trip because some readers get upset that I "leave them hanging" (you know who you are) when I don't do a closure piece.  So here it is.

The flight home was absolutely delightful.  We were whisked to the airport, through a special security gate, and to our departure gate with the greatest of bureaucratic ease.  Flopping into my business class pod, I endeavored to be strategic about the fifteen hour flight by staying awake long enough to eat the sumptuous meal they had planned and then watching a movie.  I did both, selecting "Million Dollar Arm" for viewing, and I was not disappointed.  About five hours into the flight, I changed into the Viet Cong pajamas they gave us for the flight, not because I was not already comfortably attired, but because I knew I'd be wearing those clothes for an extended period and I felt I'd given them a rest.  Mask on, earplugs in, and off to sleep--but only for two and a half hours--at which point I woke up and tackled some work projects for a few hours.  Then, another movie--"Draft Day", which was exceptional.  A bit more work, another meal, and voila--we landed in New York fifteen hours later but only three hours after we took off by local times.

My traveling companions all checked bags, but I did not, using my new rolling, hanging, bag suitcase that fits in the carry-on bin so that I could avoid the hassle.  Additionally, my enrollment in Global Entry meant a quick walk to the kiosk, insertion of my passport, fingerprint check, answering a few questions and I was then clear of immigration.  Because I had to wait on the others, I went out into the lobby of the airport and called the motel that we were booked into for the night, in order to get the scoop on how to get there.  One port authority bus to another part of the airport and then onto the hotel shuttle.  Easy enough.  We arrived at our Best Western at around 2330 and took to our rooms.  At 0800 we were up and out, back to JFK to hop on the shuttle to Dulles, then the drive back to Easton. I got home at around 2PM and was greeted by two sloppy labs and The Kitten.

The rest of the day Sunday was brutal, as I just wanted to go to sleep.  But I stayed up long enough to watch "Once Upon a Time" and then went straight to sleep, awakened by my alarm Monday morning at 0600.

It was truly a first class trip, in terms of accommodations, meals, and travel.  Additionally, it was a top-flight intellectual experience.  We got to talk with some really smart people, and we learned a great deal about a part of the world few of us know well. I can tell you straight out though, that I am not sure I'd ever fly that far again UNLESS is was in biz class.

So, consider this trip wrapped.  Thanks for your interest.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Hammer's College Football Review: Week 7

First off I'd like to congratulate CW on his just concluded trip to Taiwan. After seeing the photo of him shaking hands with the ROC Prez, well it's pretty clear he's world-class. But before you go getting a big head CW (I know, THAT train left the station ages ago!) just remember, in Tickbite you're just another God-damn Yankee!

Ok that's done, now on to the important stuff. Sorry but I gotta get on my soapbox a minute. Did you see that Georgia Bulldog Todd Hurley was suspended? That's right he was selling his autograph for twenty bucks a pop. Of course in the UGA bookstore you can buy his jersey for $120.00 and he gets squat, but hey, he signed the scholarship contract so screw him!
When are these idiots gonna learn? I heard on the radio that during the Ed O'Bannon trial dealing with this very subject an NCAA official testified that the NCAA was actually doing players a favor with this set up, protecting them from exploitation don't you know. Exploitation by one to prevent exploitation by another, gee sounds like absolute bullshit to me but then again I'm not a lawyer.
What is a kid to do for money? Some of these guys come from homes without a pot to piss in. They can't work, they can't sell their likeness or jersey or tickets or any damned thing, so how do they get their spending money? Well however they do it you can cool believe it's illegal under the Neo-Fascist NCAA. Why not just give them s stipend of say $300 a month? Makes sense right? They're a revenue producing sport (really BIG revenue) so give 'em a couple of bucks. Not gonna happen friends. The lesbians on the b-ball team would scream bloody friggin' murder, the golf team would want lifetime memberships to Firestone or Pinehurst and eventually the theatre group would want to be paid for their awe inspiring performance of Guys and Dolls, that's why not. So now we have a situation where maybe the best running back in college football is on the bench and Jameis Winston will start for FSU next Saturday, after attending a rape allegation hearing on Wednesday.

Ok, enough bullshit let's talk football. Man O man did you catch the Auburn Missississippi State game? I thought Auburn was the best but the Bulldog offense was kick-friggin-ass. It's was kinda ragged with four turnovers each way, but State made the most of them. It was a really entertaining game and more evidence that the SEC is the best and Miss State may be the best of the best. Their cheerleaders ain't bad either (Girls of the SEC, Nov. 2011). Speaking of Missississippi Ole Miss ain't looking bad either! They put a spanking on Texas A&M which is in no way a pushover. Can't wait for these two to tangle!
I didn't see the TCU Baylor game, just the highlights, but I wish I had recorded it. I'm usually not that big a fan of shootouts but hey, that's the game these days. TCU had this one but couldn't hold on. Petty had a bad game last week and his confidence was a little shaky, but Baylor reeled off three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rob the Horney Frogs out of possibly the playoffs. I was hearing noises about TCU being the best team in college football, and they are good, they just lost their composure. But ain't that the great thing about college? They're just kids and they'll shock the shit out of you going and coming. Sometimes good sometimes bad.
In ACC action Duke got the Ga. Tech monkey off their back with a victory in Bobby Dodd, the Heels went to South Bend and played the Irish reasonably tough but still got 50 points hung on their cheating asses, the Pack lost to BC at home (so much for this year) and FSU won on the road at Syracuse. Out little snot-nosed brother school ECU (the best team in the state probably) kicked ass in South Florida which is actually in central Florida (Tampa) and not really South Florida unless you're a redneck and don't count all those blow-ins, Haitians and Cubans down in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade, in which case Tampa IS South Florida...I guess, in a roundabout way.
In the Big Ten Michigan State whipped Purdue in what was a pretty good game, they're the cream of that degenerated conference. Lookie lookie, Michigan beat up on Penn State, there is life in that old dog yet. The Gophers outscored Northwestern so I guess they ain't for real, just spoilers.
The Shepherd University Rams remain undefeated at 6-0 and 9th. in their little poll, but they play Notre Dame next week so who knows?

Goodbye Auburn, hello Missississippi. By the way, I'll be out of town next week, the Dalai Lama wants to hook up in Monte Carlo and I thought I'd visit my friends over at the Palais Princier (haven't been in a while). But not to worry, I'll still be blogging with daily updates of my trip (got up, brushed my teeth, took a dump, worried about jock-itch etc., stuff like that).
C-ya and in no way, shape, form or fashion would I want to be ya!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dispatch from the Road: Day 8--Last Day in Taiwan

It must be time for me to leave this dynamic, wonderful place, because my sleep cycle has thoroughly matched to the time zone.  I nodded off at 2100 last night and woke at 0600 this morning, refreshed and ready to tackle or last day here.  Yesterday was a good day and worth a bit of retelling.

Parade figures
As we discussed, yesterday was Taiwan's "National Day", and we were treated to front row seats at the National Day Parade/presentation in front of the building the President works in (he lives in another).  The streets were packed with patriotic Taiwans (I hear people using this phrase rather than "Taiwanese", and I like it better anyway), and it was clear that folks were into it.  A brief diversion?  We in the United States are metaphysically certain of both the greatness and the exceptional nature of our Republic.  For many, we simply can't understand why anyone free to choose would not try and move to our country.  The funny thing is, lots of people in lots of other countries feel the exact same way.  Have you ever landed on a plane in Japan or Turkey?  I have.  And when the plane touches down, people applaud.  Because they are back where they want to be.  Being here this week and especially yesterday gave me yet another opportunity to reflect upon the universality of love of country. The people of Taiwan have a LOT to be proud of, and it was good to share this day with them.

101 Taipe looking up
We sat on a broad boulevard and watched the dancers, acrobats, military bands and marchers pass by, mostly in the cloudy morning, but occasionally in the rain.  We were provided with large rain hats and slickers to protect us from the elements, and they did come in handy when the heavens opened up.  There were speeches and exhortations which the crowd seemed to appreciate, but my lack of Chinese language skills left me to just people watch, mostly.  Occasionally I cracked a tasteful joke.  And a few less tasteful.  But I digress.  We were provided with a translated version of the President's address, and it hit all the high points.  The bottom line for me after making this trip is that right here, just off the coast of China, is a version of China that blends all the wonders of this ancient culture with the vibrancy of representative democracy and economic dynamism....and the world chooses to believe that it does not exist.  That countries such as North Korea and Syria have seats in the UN and Taiwan does not seems unjust.  Again, I'll take my foreign policy stuff to another blog, but as an American, you ought to question degree to which we accommodate the mainland in order to salve their poor ego's where Taiwan is concerned.

Warning on a mirrored floor
We headed back to the hotel after the parade to change out of wet clothes and then head to the Taipei
101 skyscraper, formerly the tallest building in the world and now sixth.  We had a delightful dumpling meal in what our handler assures us was a very famous restaurant, and then we headed to the observation deck on the 89th floor.  We didn't get back to the hotel until 30 minutes before we had to turn around again and head off to a diplomatic reception, but the bus waits for no man and so I changed clothes again and headed to the reception.

This was quite a party, and the whole diplomatic community--such as it is in a country where 9/10ths of the nations on Earth do not extend full diplomatic relations--was on display.  Food and booze were everywhere, and the crowd was in good spirits. We (my companions and I) mingled a bit and then congealed in a central location to share our observations and to people watch.  It really was quite a party, but we were all pretty ragged and so we alighted from the gaiety and headed back to the humdrum of our hotel.

The Hullabaloo
My mission upon arriving was to deal with the logistics of all the presentos I had received in the past week.  The lovely woman in the business center hooked me up, selling me a box and directing me to the concierge who handled the particulars of mailing it back.  I had the choice of using FEDEX to ship my stuff for nearly $400, or the Taiwan equivalent of "Joe's Shipping" for $138.  I chose the latter, and managed to lighten my traveling load by packing a bunch of non-essential/dirty clothes into the box.  It is estimated to reach Easton in two weeks.

Today is a sightseeing day and departure.  We'll hit some local history until lunchtime, then back to the hotel for packing and preparing for the flight.  We leave tonight at 1900 and land Saturday night at JFK; we'll overnight near the airport and fly back to Dulles on Sunday morning.

I will probably get the inflight wifi for the flight home, so there may be a closing post then.  If not perhaps Sunday..  But for now, signing off to go to breakfast.  Cheers.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dispatch from the Road: Day 7--Starting to Lose Steam...

For the first time this week, I woke this morning (it is now 0647 Friday as I write) to the sound of an alarm and not ninety minutes beforehand.  Eight hours of sleep followed a very good day of meetings, but I must honestly confess to missing the Kittens, my house, my familiar life, and my bed.  I look forward to returning to the splendors of autumn, my favorite time of year.  Today is Taiwan's National Day, and so our activities are completely wrapped up in it.  No meetings per se, but we will observe the big parade and then be invited to a she-she reception tonight.  Then tomorrow (Saturday) is a day of sightseeing followed by the beginning of the long journey home.  But let us not forget yesterday (Thursday).

We started at a gentlemanly hour and first headed to a meeting at what is essentially the equivalent of our U.S. Trade Representative to talk about trade issues.  Taiwan's status (or lack of status) worldwide means that it has a tough time getting trade deals that advantage other nations.  Putting aside for the moment the lack of diplomatic relations that stands in the way of such agreements (with some nations), there is also the bullying behavior of the mainland to take into account, whose mafioso-like threats tend to diminish enthusiasm to reach deals with Taiwan.  There is also an issue between the U.S. and Taiwan on pork imports, but it is hard to see this as much more than something to be overcome rather than a fatal break.  Of note, there was a young woman in the meeting with flawless, Fairfax County English, and it turned out that she had gone to UVA as an undergrad.  We exchanged all the necessary greetings and salutations of Hoos recognizing each other in the wild, and her supervisor did not seem to know what to make of the familiarity and lack of protocol.  

We then moved onto a meeting with Andrew Yang who runs a think tank in Taipei.  As you can see from the Wiki link here, he had been Defense Minister but resigned after a plagiarism scandal last year, six days into the job.  Be that as it may, this was a fascinating discussion with a man who had served at the top levels of Taiwanese government who was now somewhat more free to discuss with us things that folks IN the government were a bit more coy about.  I was much taken with Mr. Yang, who was very intelligent, thoughtful, and seemed to exude wisdom.  He was also very patient with our group, who once again seemed quite happy to provide the benefit of their six days of experience in Taiwan to the difficult problems this nation faces.

The haul, thus far
From here we headed to "Jimmy's Kitchen"  which our handler assured us was a famous eatery here in Taipei.  It was not disappointing....I found both the pig's knuckles and the frog legs to be delicious.  From here we took another one of our famous hit-every-red-light-along-the-way bus rides to the edge of town to have a "round table" discussion with a number of professors from the Taiwan National Defense University.  We were met by a Major General who I believe was the #2 man at the school...and he could not have been smoother...six two, a jet black mane of hair, big smile and excellent English, he easily could have been an insurance salesman, or a car dealer.  After a brief meeting (and more presents), we were taken to another building for the actual round-table.  

It appears that there is sort of a standard Taiwanese military approach to these kinds of discussions.  First, the tables are not round.  A U-shaped arrangement is favored.  Along each of the long sides sits the opposing sides, in this case, professors from their NDU on one side and our delegation on the other.  We are seated in descending order of our "rank" or at least what they perceive our rank to be.  Our delegation lead--my colleague at Hudson Seth Cropsey--is afforded head of delegation status and sits next to whomever is hosting the affair.  Arrayed before us are usually several pens (which I cadge), tea and or coffee with creamer and sugar, water, sometimes coke, and often sweets or fruit or sweets and fruit.  Next to these necessaries sits the bag in which the gift resides--tea, teacups, paper weights, etc.  Perched at the front edge of the table is the microphone stand, and usually we each get our own microphones.  Push the button, the little red light comes on, and speak.  The practice of using the microphone does not seem to be geared to room size however, as even in rooms where someone of such a challenged auditory state as I can hear the human voice quite clearly, we still resort to amplified voiceovers.  When in Rome....

In this case, as soon as we walked into the room, the professors began to very enthusiastically applaud our arrival.  I don't mind telling you, there is something very pleasant in having one's arrival applauded.  I did take the opportunity to let the retired SEAL Admiral know that this kind of applause generally attends my comings and goings, which caused him some amusement.  

After our discussion, we piled again into our buses for the ride back to the hotel.  We had been scheduled to go to a "very famous" Japanese restaurant, but none of us wanted to go through another long, multi-course dinner no matter how good the food--so we asked our handler if he minded if we didn't do it and he enthusiastically agreed.  I think he is losing steam too.  So it was back to the hotel to do a little work and hit the elliptical before meeting the boys down in the bar at 7PM.  I think the plan was then to move to the buffet in the hotel or eat there in the bar, but the combination of the comfy chair, the bar lighting, and the utter lack of attention we received from the waitstaff caused me to declare that I was going to walk over the the Taipei 101 building foodcourt and avail myself of a McDonald's dinner--then go to bed.  This I did, and I am glad of it, because I was able to have a quick, easy, familiar dinner and then get a good night's sleep.

Some quick hits?

The masks.  My U.S. based expert on all things China emailed me yesterday that the people wearing masks are actually doing so because THEY are sick, or feel that they are becoming sick, and so they don't want to spread THEIR germs.  I asked our handler about this, and he indicated that some of them fell into this category, as there is a pretty serious public health campaign that urges people to do so.  But he said, he believed that more of them were trying to keep themselves protected against other people's germs.  

The People.  The folks I meet here in Taipei are a very happy lot.  Smiles, handshakes, warmth...are abounding.  I think the U.S. is missing out on a pretty good opportunity to actually point our what a success this place is, that right here, 170km from totalitarian China is a vibrant, free-market democracy that proves such a thing IS consistent with being Chinese.  

Ok, that's enough for now.  Have a good day/night as the case may be. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Hammer's Guide to Winning Elections

Politics is very much like war. If you are fortunate enough to have an advantage it is imperative you press your advantage. If you give your opponent breathing space, a chance to lick their wounds and regroup, then my friend you are playing with fire. If you snooze you lose.
Not so many months ago Kay Hagan was losing to a GENERIC Republican opponent by 8-10 points. Now it stands to reason the race would tighten when a real candidate was picked, but there is no way in the world a good, competent Republican candidate should NOT be up by four or five points now and really throughout the course of the campaign.
Now many will say Hagan has outspent Tillis, and that is true. But why? The Democrats are fighting (and funding) at least a half dozen VERY competitive Senate races around the country so why would they pour resources into a race that looks hopeless? Well simply put they recognized early on that Tillis was an empty suit. They realized that his establishment led campaign had a "run out the clock" strategy that would allow them to define Tillis and go on offense (he's certainly made no effort to define himself). They realized his strategists would go after the moderates which meant his would be a "nice guy" campaign relying on Hagan's negatives to bring her down. Well it didn't work because it can't work. Any candidate that relies on a protest vote as the basis of their campaign is doomed.
A good example of this occurred in the opening statements of last night's debate. Hagan's opening salvo was to attack Tillis for giving tax cuts to the rich and "wealthy" corporations, "gutting" education, hating on women and making college more expensive. Tillis' throughly forgeable response was that Hagan had not kept her promise to the people of NC (what promise?) because she voted with the President 96% of the time. At that point I flipped over to a Dukes of Hazzard rerun.
So please allow me to take a shot, here's what Tillis would have said if Lee Atwater (or me) ran his campaign.

Senator Hagan you are mistaken, we cut taxes across the board, not just for the rich, and considering our corporate tax rate is the highest in the industrialized world and North Carolina's was one of the highest in the country, we thought it would be a good idea to reform our tax structure so as to save jobs and PREVENT these companies from going overseas. I'm not sure if you've noticed but middle-class income is down, middle-class buying power is down and the middle-class have lost 30-40% of their assets during your time in office. But the wealthy have done VERY well. Their share has gone up significantly, as has your share I suspect. But for the sake of argument let's say your assertion is true, let's say we are favoring the rich. I would think you'd be thrilled. Out of 100 Senators you are more wealthy than all but 8. Your husband and your son "won" stimulus cash to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars on a bill that YOU voted on. And you Senator, you voted with Barack Obama 96% of the time. When he lied about "shovel ready jobs" you lied about shovel ready jobs, when he lied about Obamacare you lied about Obamacare. YOU Senator Hagan have been Barack Obama and Harry Reid's Senator, not North Carolina's.
Now, you just said we "gutted" education. You tweeted recently that our education "cuts" have put the squeeze on our teachers and NC ranks near the bottom for teacher satisfaction, pay etc. I guess that might be true, WHEN THE RESEARCH WAS DONE! This study was from 2003-2013. Gov. McCrory didn't take office until Jan 2013. There hasn't been a Republican Governor in this State for over 20 years so this was a critique of Democratic run schools. The fact is we gave the teachers a 7% raise this year...2014, which is 7% more than the previous legislature and Democratic governor ever did. We are doing everything we can to repair the damage of the previous Democratic administrations and I think the numbers prove we're doing a pretty good job especially in light of what we have in Washington. If I am elected Senator I'll bring those skills to the Senate and try to repair the damage done by YOU and your bosses, Harry Reid and Barack Hussein Obama. I just hope we're not too late. 

That my friends is how you press an advantage, and win an election. 

Dispatch from the Road--Day 6: Field Trips

Curse the night.  I awoke today again at 0330, ready to go.  Perhaps I need to stay up later...went to bed at 2130, so six hours is a respectable rest.  On the good side, the early wakeup gives me the opportunity to get some work done, and to spend some time with you.

We had an early start yesterday, meeting in the lobby at 0700 to head to the train station to catch our high speed rail to Kaoshiung in the southern part of the island, there to be whisked by bus to a nearby Navy base.  Taiwan is a sort of tropical place, lots of palm trees, etc.  But the 90 minute ride south took us to a downright tropical place--beautiful, hot, a bit humid, etc.  The ride on the train was uneventful, through a mostly green but densely packed country.  We were in business class, which essentially meant a large, reclining seat (assigned) and fetching Train Attendants (one with mask--still don't get this). This was my first ride on a legitimate "High Speed Train", and I have to say I'm a believer.  The Wiki I linked to above about the rail line indicates that it was built and operated by a private corporation (good), but I wonder what kind of government intercession was required to make it happen.

The Navy base we visited was nice, not Air Force quality mind you (more on that later), but nice enough.  We were met at the zone HQ building by two two-stars, and the head of our delegation was "piped aboard".  I needled our retired USAF general at this point, reminding him of the great deals Navy admirals get, what with all the whistling, and side boys, and bells, etc.  We were ushered into the standard U-Shaped briefing room, with the standard pre-poured (and somewhat lukewarm) coffee, and the standard plate of sweets and fruit.  Since it had been a full two hours since I had gorged myself on the breakfast buffet at the hotel, I made fast work of these offerings.  We were briefed on the Navy's view of the situation in the Strait and their building program; the briefing was done by a Captain from HQ in Taipei--and it was superb.  He was a Naval War College grad and his English was impeccable.  He blew through his slide deck with skill, and it was a fact-packed presentation.  Some of you know that they are very keen to obtain diesel submarines, and they made this very clear.  So clear that they took us after the brief down to the piers to visit one of their four submarines....two of which are 70 year old US WWII diesels and two of which are 30 year old Dutch diesels.  We visited one of the US boats, and god love 'em, they seemed to do a pretty good job keeping it up.  But the message was clear--our submarines are old and we need new ones....and we need your help.

We left the boat after about a half hour visit, and then headed to the Marine Corps section of the base to get a brief from the Marines and a visit to one of their motor pools.  I have a theory that Marines are basically stamped out of the same machine, with language and ethnicity selection being the last phase in their production.  Motivated and physically fit, they put on a nice show which included a ride in one of their LTV's.  I must say, our group of older, less fit gentlemen looked a bit silly with the white helmets and white gloves they gave us for the LTV ride. But one does not question Marines of any type when they are on a roll.

We alighted to our buses for another high speed rail ride about halfway up the island, where we were met by a representative from the 427th Fighter Wing and his big air conditioned bus which took us to their base.  The ride was about forty minutes through scenes of Taiwan life.  I cannot think that unemployment is high here, as wherever I go there is a overabundance of staff.  At a red light, I peered over to a filling station and to my wondrous eyes, it was like that scene from Back to the Future where the Marty sees the uniformed pit crew descend on a motorist for filling, wiping, and inflating.  We arrived after hitting every red light along the way at a magnificent Air Force base (but I repeat myself), built were were to learn, in no small measure by the USAF who used it extensively during the Viet Nam conflict.  We got a brief from the Fighter Wing Commander (actually a video, complete with "Top Gun" music) and then headed out to the flight line to visit their Indigenous Defense Fighter which appears to be essentially a two-engine F-16.  After the static display, we headed over to their simulator facility, and we each got to "fly" the fighter.

Now, I've never held fighter pilots in particularly high regard.  Not low regard either, but just not high.  But after ten minutes of flying this high performance jet, I need to tell you that doing so is a question about it.  Standing next to the cockpit looking at the large screen encapsulating us, one could easily get motion sickness.  The experience was so lifelike that as one of your buddies was "flying", your body couldn't help but move along with things, even though the room was saying completely still.  This was a very cool experience.

We then headed to a place that I'm still having a little difficulty processing...the old base Chapel built by the U.S. Air Force, still very much resembling a chapel, but now housing a museum dedicated to the U.S. presence there.  A young, fetching Air Force enlisted woman was our guide, and she was one of the most enthusiastic people I have met in a long time.  She took us through the displays, which were essentially the detritus of the U.S. presence there.  Shoes, table settings from the O'Club, Detroit switches and AC/R power panels.  Picture after picture of U.S. service members smiling, surrounded by their Taiwanese counterparts.  A slightly bawdy poster from the wall of the O'club, presumably the pool room.  The whole thing brought home to me what it must be like FOR A COUNTRY to be abandoned by the world.  Let's face it...only 22 nations recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, and we aren't one of them.  We are still very good friends, and their is genuine affection on their part for the US, but you simply can't get around the isolation these folks must truly feel.

We hopped in our buses for the every red light trip back to the town 40 minutes away, then to the high speed train, then to Taipei and our hotel.  Because we arrived late late in a long day, there was no formal dinner.  There was however, a hotel restaurant serving from yet another ridiculous buffet, and so I joined a group of fellow travelers and gave it the old college try--though I was somewhat restrained after the big piece of cake I ate at the Chapel/Museum.

Kind of a light day today (Thursday) and then tomorrow is filled with "National Day" celebrations.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dispatch from the Road--Day 5: Meeting the President

Having in some way damaged my internal timing mechanism, I awoke at 0340 today with a start, and immediately began thinking about all the things I have to do.  We leave early today, 0700, for a train ride south to visit an Air Force Base and a Navy Base.  I wanted to knock off a few things before then, including this little slice of heaven with you, Dear Readers.

Yesterday was blissful---the piece I wrote to you was part of an extended morning in, as we did not meet until 1030.  I slept until 0800, worked out, drank coffee, blogged, drank some more coffee, marked a paper, and then went to Starbucks before hopping on the bus en route our first call on the Deputy Defense Minister.  Another of a serious of ultra-polished dudes, he came up through the Foreign Affairs Ministry but was moved over to Defense for his first, current post.  We met in a spartan, military style meeting room, u-shaped table, with him and our delegation leader looking down the legs of the U at the rest of us.  Across from our group was a murderers row of Admirals and Generals from the Navy, Air Force and Army.  It was a pleasant chat....I sometimes get the feeling that there are folks in our group who possess wisdom or knowledge unavailable to these men facing the Chinese threat every day of their lives, because that wisdom and knowledge is conveyed with such certainty and confidence.  Were I one of the guys across the table, I might find myself having a moment of ... irritation with the know-it-alls in ties.  But I digress....

Grand Hotel
After this meeting, we headed out to the edge of town to the Grand Hotel, Taipei, for many years the only 5 star hotel in the city and apparently a favorite haunt of Chiang Kai-Shek.  This was to be our lunch spot, and it was wonderful.  Unlike some of the other meals on this trip, the languid pace seemed just right.  Very good food and very good conversation.  We have a great group, including a retired Air Force three star and a retired Navy Seal two-star...and they've gotten into a few good-natured tussles about the A-
Lunch Homeys
10.....good to hear guys who really know their stuff argue their positions.  From here we headed to the Presidential Palace for two meetings.

The first was with the Deputy Secretary General of the National Security Council, a retired Army three star.  Very bright guy.  You get a sense of how bright someone is when they sound smart in what is obviously a second language.  Sometimes, however, you only get the full measure when he speaks in his native tongue and is then translated by someone of skill.  That was the case with this fellow.  He was great using his English, but only when he tired of it and launched into long interludes of Mandarin was I able to get the full measure of his big, quick, brain.  After about an hour, we started upstairs to meet the President.
Presidential Palace

We were ushered into a formal meeting room in which comfy chairs ringed the wall.  Each of us had a bag with a gift/name tag on it sitting net to our chairs.  Since I am one of the few non-retired flag/general officers on the trip, I tend to be seated farther from the places of distinction.  Such is life.  The room was high ceilinged and ornate, festooned with fragrant blossoms (many of the places we meet and our hotel lobby are similarly awash in very smelly flowers--nice smells, but a bit overpowering at times) and while not overwhelmingly Asian in decor, Asian enough for you to get a broad sense of where you were.  There were a few functionaries hanging out and also some members of the Press Corps.   President Mawas ushered in once everyone was in their place, and he (in perfect English) informed us that he would read an opening statement in Mandarin (which was translated for we benighted Anglo-Saxons).  The statement was pretty straightforward stuff, with a dig now and again at the rival political party for their inability to be as wise has his reign has been. This was obviously for domestic consumption, for when his statement was over, the reporters were ushered out of the room and the rest of the meeting was conducted solely in English.
President Ma

Ma is a very, very good politician.  We've seen some pretty smart and smooth operators during our trip here, but this guy is in the major leagues.  What amazed me was that here was the head of state of a nation of 26 million people, and he spent an hour with us, taking our questions and getting into a very good discussion of some very sensitive issues.  For those interested, I asked a question about the growing, warm, relationship between Taiwan and Japan, and he seemed very happy to talk about that for a bit.

At the end our time with the President, we had one more meeting, a 1700 meeting with Deputy Minister for Mainland Affairs, which is a cabinet level ministry separate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Why, you ask?  Why because if it were in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that would be a sign that Taiwan considers China a foreign country...which it doesn't.  Capice?  An uneventful interlude, we finished up and went to dinner---at which point I was once again nearing exhaustion.  Some of the party exercised good judgment and hopped back to the hotel rather than go to dinner, only because (as I'll talk about below), meals here are extensive and time consuming.  

Some quick hits?
Meals.  Far bet it from me to complain about food...but here goes.  The food here is wonderful.  Really, really good stuff.  But every course is served separately and there are many courses in each meal.  At the end of the day when hung dog tired, the last thing I want is a meal that comes in little parts spread out over two hours.  As I said, it was good at lunchtime yesterday, because I was alert and in good company.  It is less so when I'm grumpy and tired, the company notwithstanding.

Presents.  We have been given presents at some of the stops.  Little things, books, paper weight, etc.  The bags are ornate though.  I fear I will have to purchase another bag to get this stuff home with me!

Flowers.  The Kitten (and the Kittens) all have allergies to strong smells, and so our house is pretty smell free.  We use fragrance free detergents, soaps, shampoos.  We tend to keep only neutral smelling flowers in the house, etc.  But here, flowers are on full display.  Huge arrangements of flowers that smell wonderfully, but because of the hermetically sealed environment in which I spend much of my time, become somewhat overpowering after a while.  

Situation.  I will probably write extensively about his on some Foreign Relations type blog, but for the time being, I'll share a thought or two with you.  This trip has given me a greater appreciation for the real pickle these guys are in.  They have to walk fine lines, wherever they go.  They need to be strong to deter an attack from China, but not too strong as to be provocative.  They need to curry favor with the United States in order to be protected and have arms sales, and they have to listen to us complain that they don't spend enough on their own defense.  If they spend more on defense, they get viewed by the CHICOMS as provocative.  The cycles are vicious and lines are fine.  I've come to admire the path President Ma appears to have chosen, and his people seem to like it too.

Ok, that's it for now.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dispatch from the Road: Day 4--Grand Hyatt Taipei

As predicted, yesterday was simply brutal.  By the time I arrived home at 2130 I was exhausted and went straight to bed.  But it was a good day, worth recounting.  And so, armed with the delights of the little coffee setup in my room (insta-boiler, Nescafe) I shall begin.

Before I do, can I say yet again home much I love Nescafe?  I know I raved about it during my trip to Israel and South Africa....must be getting old for you, though not for me.

We started our day with a trip to the American Institute in Taiwan, which is essentially our Embassy in Taipei, except that since we do not have diplomatic relations with Taipei, it isn't an embassy.  We met with the Director (Ambassador sort of, but no Senate confirmation) and some members of his staff for an hour.  I am always impressed with the quality of people we have at our diplomatic posts around the world, and this was no exception.  We had an excellent chat about US/Taiwan/China relations and the challenges all three nations face in the region.  Note:  yesterday I mis-identified AIT as the sponsor of our trip....this is not the case.  The Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs engaged Hudson to put together the delegation.

After this meeting, we piled into our little tour bus for a trip the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  We were ushered into an elevator to a plush meeting room where we spent the next hour with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, (Secretary of State).  A polished, smooth older man, he engaged us in the manner of an experienced diplomat, returning to his themes and verbally jujuitsu-ing any question that was a little too hot for him to handle.

From here, we went to a buffet lunch in a "five star" hotel (words of our handler) that was an orgy of food.  I embarrassed myself and our nation with the volume of food I ate.  You cannot imagine the bounty that was spread before me.  I should have exercised restraint for a number of reasons, but avoidance of an afternoon food coma should have been chief among them.  I did not, and so struggled with consciousness for the remainder of the afternoon.

Our next stop was the Taiwan National Security Bureau, which is essentially their CIA and FBI combined.  We got a brief on Chinese military modernization and we engaged in a spirited discussion of Taiwan's reactions/plans/strategies.  We sat facing each other in a nicely laid out command center, with the Taiwans on one side and we eight on the other.  Across from us were ten officials and the Deputy Director, a Navy three star I met in DC a few months back.  One of the interesting things was that of the eleven men facing us, three were named "Wang"----and they had the largest speaking roles (except for the Admiral).  By the end of this event, I was dying.  I needed my bed, desperately.  And an angel of mercy intervened, because when we got on the bus our handler told us we were essentially free for two hours once we got to the hotel.  I obviously  hadn't been following the program closely enough....but yes...there it was...sweet, blessed relief.  I hurried to the room, stripped off my suit and climbed into the rack for 1 hour and 48 minutes of bliss, awakening to the rude tones of my alarm and then dressing while still asleep to head down to the lobby for dinner.  Eat till you're tired, sleep till you're hungry--the Naval Aviation creed.

Our dinner was in a private room hosted by Su Chi, former Taiwan National Security Adviser.  I rallied long enough to engage in both the meal (very good, though I was somewhat more restrained than at lunch) and the conversation--which was superb.  Dr. Su was engaging, very intelligent, and quite funny.  Afterward, it was back to the room and again, straight to the rack.

We don't rally this morning until 1130, and I awoke at 0530--so I've been diddling since, taking care of some admin back home, Skyping with various customer service reps, etc.  I need to grade a few papers, and to do a bit of other work, in addition to hitting the treadmill.  Our day looks pretty gentlemanly, and I don't think we have an extended dinner to contend with.  Some thoughts?

Surgical masks.  The air quality here is pretty high, but there are a lot of surgical masks.  It seems to me that Asians resort to this more than others  Am I right here?

Motor Scooters. This city is lousy with them.  They appear to have special travel lanes.  If I lived here, I think this is how I would get around.  In fact if I lived in any city it is how I would get around.

Ok---time to put in a little work.  Ciao for now.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dispatch from the Road: Day 2--Grand Hyatt Taipei

My Pod
This is going to be brutal day.  I arrived at the hotel last night around 2315 hrs and putted around until 0030 or so.  Got my internets working.  Scoped out the hotel.  Admired my nighttime view.  I figured that I'd sleep for five hours or so and set my alarm accordingly.  At 0350 I awoke fully refreshed and unable to get back to sleep.  It is now 0613 and I have:  worked out in the 24 hr fitness center here; ironed my suit and shirt, consumed two cups of coffee and had a delightful Skype with The Kitten. Soon as I am finished with this update, it's into the shower, down to breakfast, and off for our busy day of meetings.  Some thoughts so far?  Don't mind if I do.

The Flight.  And by this, I mean the flight from LAX to Taipei on EVA Airlines.  No doubt you haven't heard of them either, and for some reason I was a bit apprehensive.  I shouldn't have been.  It was the most delightful 14 hours I've ever spent in an airplane.  As discussed earlier, The Fellowship was put up in "Royal Laurel" class, which appears to be a hybrid First/Business.  Each of us had a podlike dwelling to inhabit with the bed folding down fully flat.  There appeared to be wonderful entertainment available, but I did not avail myself of it, choosing instead to spend the first couple of hours reading and eating, the next five sleeping, and the following seven working.  It was a good mix. Got a lot done and ate some damn good airplane food.  I asked my Flight Attendant to bring me "what someone from Taiwan would eat" when she brought me the substantial menu from which we were to choose our dinner, a full snack, and a breakfast.  Everything was superb, save for the POW-like breakfast porridge, some kind of rice gruel that was warm, but without taste.  We are being accompanied by a representative of the American Institute in Taiwan, our hosts for the week, and he appears to have some pull as we were whisked through immigration with nary a wink. We were however, scanned with an IR camera for signs of fever, and anyone showing such would be immediately taken aside to have their temperature taken.  This is what mature nations do when they use immigration policy to support public health.  The ride to the hotel was uneventful, save for the superb roads (no doubt, tank capable) and incredibly clean roadsides.  As we drove along, I tried to peer into the apartments of regular Taiwan folks.  I do this wherever I travel, not in any kind of a prurient way, but to perhaps get a glimpse of everyday life being lived.  I think this is why I love foreign films....the chance to see how other cultures operate.  What did they have for dinner?  What are they watching on TV?  What are they concerned about?

What greeted me in my room
The Hotel.  We were met at the hotel by some sort of manager person who said hello and thank you 46 times.  This is quite a place, ornate, lots of marble, etc.  I am on the 20th floor and my room is pretty luxe.

Right outside my window
The Program. We have a number of meetings today with Taiwanese officials and grandees, but until I've scoped out the sense of how broadly I'm allowed to discuss all this, I won't identify anyone.  We'll be on the go from 0800 to 2100 tonight, so I doubt I'll be able to check in again.

The Hammer's College Football Review: Week 6, The "WTF Just Happened" Edition

Well...I think we're in for some changes in our next Top 25. Oregon went down, Alabama lost to Ole Miss, The Sooners got the horn at TCU, Texas A&M was abused doggie-style by the Miss State Bulldogs and Southern Cal and UCLA both lost at home.
Let's look at it state by state. Arizona is looking good with Arizona 5-0 and Arizona State 4-1. Mississississippi is doing great with Ole Miss 5-0 and Miss State 5-0. Texas is doing good, Baylor is 5-0 (I like Bryce Petty) A&M lost but they're still 5-1, TCU is 4-0 and in Utah the Utes are 4-1 and BYU is 4-1.
In the ACC the Pack got thrashed by Clemson (no surprise there I'm embarrassed to say), Ga. Tech is 5-0 beating Miami and the Heels sucked again losing to Va Tech. Oh yeah, UVA beat Pitt...zzzzzzzz.
The Big Ten, man I don't know what to say. I hate those assholes but I miss them being good. It was league play this week but what in the world is Wisconsin doing losing to Northwestern? Plus I don't think Michigan could beat Miami of Ohio (1-5 having just beaten zero win UMass 42-41). The Wolverines (keep it up and they'll be renamed the Weasels) lost to the New Jersey State School for Dumbasses 26-24.
The SEC is still the cream of the crop. Auburn looks fantastic and is the best team I've seen so far. Tennessee is 2-3 and I would bet the farm they'd be #2 behind FSU if they were in the ACC. Georgia is strong and that running back of their's Todd Gurley has got to be an early Heisman favorite. Alabama, the Mississippi schools, LSU, A&M, Missouri, even piss-ass "can't get outta their own way" South Carolina would be kicking ass in the ACC (and Big Ten probably). The SEC is just head and shoulders better than everybody else. No surprise they're better than the ACC, but the Big Ten has really screwed the pooch in recent years. I guess nobody wants to play in the snow and ice anymore, plus Big Ten chicks are the Big 4 and 5 on the hotness scale. Would you rather go to class with a woman wearing a top with spaghetti straps so as to let them puppies breathe or some slack jawed Slavic chick looking like Rosie O'Donnell and dressed like the Michelin man (like the guys in American Werewolf in London)? Thank you, me too!
That's all I got, lots to digest this week so color me gone.

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