Friday, February 27, 2015

It's Not The Same

Far be it from me to defend Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News host, but his lying about his exploits in the "war zone" of Buenos Aires and his lying about hearing the shot that killed a tangential figure in the JFK assassination, are not the same as Brian Williams embellishing his war coverage exploits.  The difference is that Brian Williams is a journalist while Billo the Clown is an entertainer.  He goes on the air each night and lies about many things, from the serious to the sublime.  He blows his dog whistle of right wing lies and propaganda and his faithful minions sit up on their hind legs and salivate.

At least Brian Williams was actually in Iraq, his helicopter was actually grounded and he actually was stranded for several days in a hostile area.  It appears he then embellished some of the details of that and other incidents in an otherwise distinguished career.  No part of Billo's career can be classified as distinguished.  As for the lies that have been reported to date, colleagues have already come forward to debunk his Falkland Islands War story.  As for his claim to having been outside the door when a man committed suicide in Florida, there are many witnesses to his being in Texas at the time.

Two men, two liars.  Brian Williams must be held to a higher standard because his profession demands it and because we, his audience, demand it.  In the case of O'Reilly, he has never had any journalistic integrity to damage.  It's comparable to finding out one of the Kardashians lied.  Who cares?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Buying Experience

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

We just bought a new car for the little lady. She had the last one for thirteen years and quite frankly did not want to part with it. Her reasons for this stance were sound. It still ran just fine. On the coldest of mornings packed deeply in snow it always started without hesitation. Even though it had never been garaged there was no body corrosion of any kind. Oh, and it only had 67,000 miles on the odometer. Yes, over thirteen years it traveled fourteen miles on an average day. Actually, on an average day it went about three miles, but when it was new it was our car of choice for those long road trips during the holidays. But the service bills were on the rise and the last estimate in excess of six grand finally swayed her point of view. She’s only had her new baby for a few hours but I’m sure it will win her heart quickly. She’ll probably have this one for thirteen years, too.

The process of buying was absolutely pleasant. The salesman was extremely helpful and low key. The finance guy at the dealership was friendly, took the proper amount of time to explain everything to us as well as run us through some optional purchases. Yes, we added the extended warranty. When you keep a car for thirteen years it usually pays off the up front investment. It always has for us. Then the salesman took the time to show us the rudiments of making the car work. Perhaps making the car dance would be a better way to put it. There are twenty-two onboard computer chips that run the show. Being tech savvy seems to be a requirement because when you lift the hood there’s pretty much nothing you can touch. Everything is controlled by some bit of technology and displayed somewhere in front of you. When the car needs something it will tap you on the shoulder and let you know. Until then, just drive.

We walked into the dealership at 4 in the afternoon. Things weren’t busy. We had actually done all the heavy lifting about eight weeks ago. We chose the car, decided on options and color and negotiated price. Then it turned out the car was not available anywhere and had to be built. But the price stood if we were willing to wait, which we did. So we were just going in to pick up the car, write up the financing, sign the papers, get our tutorial and be on our way. Mrs. Big Guy was hoping it wouldn’t take long. She drove her new car home at 8:30. We were there four and a half hours filling out forms, talking with the salesman, getting our first look at our new addition, talking with the finance guy, signing more forms, and then learning how to drive a car all over again. I swear this car will let you text and drive continuously as long as you remember to look up whenever a warning buzzer sounds. Okay, maybe not. But seriously, four hours? And the salesman told us that he really didn’t want to clutter our heads with anything else that evening and we could come back whenever we wanted and he’d continue his instructional efforts.

The whole experience really went well, perhaps even better than expected, but if I don’t have to do it again for another thirteen years that will be fine with me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Army Pfc. Chassan S. Henry
Age:  20
1st Battalion
9th Infantry Regiment
2nd Infantry Division
Died 25 February, 2005
Ramadi, Iraq

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Been To The Mall Lately?

Yesterday, Al Shabaab, an Islamic extremist terror group, issued threats against three specific malls, one in Canada, one in the UK and The Mall of America, the largest mall in the U.S.  The Mall of America covers approximately 80 acres with over a dozen entrances.  They have a security force of over 100 "highly trained" (their words) people, who have state of the art communication equipment, body armor and handcuffs, but no firearms.

If you've been to a local mall lately you've probably seen much the same.  The security forces are young, the pay is low and they are largely unarmed.  There are instances of malls using off duty police officers as security, but those are few and far between.  Mall security is there mostly to maintain order in the common areas and assist tenants when they are the victims of theft.  But in most American malls the security guards are as well equipped to handle an active shooter as you or I.

What is the answer to this glaring problem?  Most every mall I have seen has signage prohibiting patrons from carrying firearms.  I'm not advocating opening malls up to concealed carry.  That would result in too many untrained people potentially using their weapon in a crowded space.  Another problem would be first responders not being able to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  If a police officer is called to an active shooter situation at the mall I'm sure he or she is going to shoot at anyone with a gun, as they should.  Allowing concealed carry at malls is a recipe for disaster.

We've already had mall shooting in this country.  Between the Islamic extremist sympathizers and the sovereign citizen crazies, we better come up with a solution to better secure our shopping venues.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Strange Dream

I had a quite vivid dream the other night.  I dream often, some I remember, most I don't.  I wish I could figure out what causes my dreams.  Is there a correlation between food or medication or my thought processes and my dreaming?  What ever caused this one, I hope it never happens again.  It was horrific.

It was 1982.  I was in a hotel bar in Buenos Aries, Argentina with a group of reporters and photographers, all of us there to cover the fight for the Falkland Islands, a part of the British Commonwealth that had been invaded by Argentinian troops.  Across the table from me was a young CBS reporter by the name of Bill O'Reilly.  He seemed rather the smug, know-it-all type, but I chalked that up to his youth and relative inexperience.  Anyway, in my dream we had the following conversation:

Billo:  This is fucking boring.  I came here to cover the war and these spicks won't let us get anywhere close.

Me:  Bill, it's partly for our own protection and partly so they can spin this war the way they want.

Billo:  Yeah, but the only way we're going to make our bones in this business is to report from a combat zone.  I want to see some action.

Me:  You mean other than the parade of hookers going to your room?

Billo:  Hey, I have needs.

Me:  Did you think there are worse gigs than staying at the Hilton on an expense account?

Billo:  I know!  Let's rent some cars and take a day trip to see that big Moses statue.

Me:  Bill, it's a statue of Jesus and it's in Rio.   It's over 1,200 miles from here.  I don't think that's exactly a day trip.

Billo:  Ok, then how about the Mayan ruins.

Me:  Bill, they're in Mexico.  That's a different continent.

Billo:  Well, let's go see those little brown men leading the alpacas around with all kinds of shit piled on their backs.

Me:  Bill, that's Peru and it's about 2,000 miles away.  And they're llamas.

Billo:  Well, we've got to get close to some action.  Combat action footage is going to look good on all our resumes.

Me:  I heard there was some rioting at the Presidential Palace.  Why don't you check that out.

Billo (leaping to his feet):  Now you're talking.  Let's go.  Where is it exactly?

Me:  I heard the police have pretty much put an end to the whole thing.

Billo:  I'm going.  Maybe there will still be some tear gas in the air.

Me:  Hey, if you see Brian Williams, say hello for me.

Billo:  That pussy wouldn't be anywhere near here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Douchebag Of The Week

I don't get it.  Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York, speaking to a room of fat cat Republican donors, took the occasion to question the president's love of America.  Look, he's been the president since 2009.  He will be the president until January 20, 2017.  The personal attacks have been non-stop since he took office.  What purpose is being served by this continuous barrage six years into his presidency?   If you have an issue with his policy decisions feel free to speak up.  If you have what you think are better ideas, please, we would love to hear them.  As far as the personal attacks, enough is enough.  You make yourself look silly and petty, you do not help your party with mainstream voters and you're not doing anything constructive to help the country.  Time to move on.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kids First?

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

As I sit here writing this late on a Wednesday night (you thought these little soliloquies were planned out, researched and written months in advance?) the air temperature is right around -1 degree Fahrenheit and the wind chill is -21. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me because I know that if you live pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi you’re in the same boat. It is really, really, really cold. My heart still goes out to those in the Northeast where you’ve not only got the cold but you also have five feet of snow on your roof threatening to crush your house while your sleeping. Not fun.

At dawn Thursday morning the thermometer should read about -2, not that anyone will notice a difference, and the wind may pick up speed and drop what you feel on your face as low as -30. It doesn’t take long for your skin to hurt at those kinds of numbers. If you’re lucky you have an attached heated garage or one of those cars you can start from inside your house. So it’s just a ten foot dash down the driveway into your warm Buick and off to work. And then there are the school kids.

I’m sitting here fuming as I read the list of schools closing in the metropolitan area. It’s a pretty long list. However there are still a whole basketful of school districts containing dozens of elementary and high schools that will be open tomorrow. I’m sure if you engage the superintendent of any of these districts in conversation about their philosophy of education they will, without hesitation tell you it’s all about the kids. Children first. We’re here for the kids. We must take care of the students. When it comes to our kids it’s their education, their safety, their security. So then tell me how that comports with a ten year old walking three blocks to school in a -30 degree wind chill.

I envision superintendents standing outside their office for ten minutes on Wednesday night and saying, “Well this isn’t so bad.” Or they figure that most of their students will get to school on a bus or their parents will drive them. But somewhere out there is a walker or two or a dozen with parents who don’t know or don’t care. They make sure their first grader or third grader has their gloves and sends them out the door. Suddenly “This isn’t so bad” turns terrible. How about the kids who miss the bus? How about the bus that breaks down or the heat that doesn’t work? Is this another instance where something bad is going to have to happen for accountability to find a place in the decision making process?

Speaking of the decision making process, I’m bothered by the fact that there don’t seem to be any guidelines or rules. Each weather advisory is analyzed and acted upon separately. I know this because these exact weather conditions arose just weeks ago and every school in the area was closed. Could this possibly have something to do with the fact that we have moved through a good portion of a tough winter and have already expended most or all of the days reserved for weather closings? Is “This isn’t so bad” all about the money? Is it kids first or isn't it?        

Good luck, kids. Bundle up. Don’t forget your gloves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Army Sgt. Carlos J. Gil
Age:  30
37th Transportation Co.
181st Transportation Battalion
Died 18 February, 2005
Humaniyuh, Iraq

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Only Way To Go

Sunday evening my first cousin once removed was in town with his children to go skiing on President's Day at a facility in nearby Southeastern Indiana.  While we were at dinner he said that he remembered visiting Cincinnati as a child and having visited our Union Terminal, considered one of the greatest examples of Art Deco architecture in the country.  He asked if it was still being used for train traffic when he would have been there.  Yes, it certainly was.

Our discussion brought to mind the great train adventures of my childhood.  In the 50's, before the interstate highway system was built, train travel was a common occurrence.    With much of our family living in Indianapolis, we often went there to visit.  My father owned a small  business that was open on Saturdays.  Many times during those years my mother, sister and I would take the train from Cincinnati to Indy on a Wednesday or Thursday in the summer and my father would close up early on Saturday and drive to Indy to meet us.

In those days the New York Central Railroad System operated the James Whitcomb Riley between Cincinnati and Chicago every day.  We would catch the train at Union Terminal early in the morning.  Stops were made in Batesville, IN, Greensburg, IN and Shelbyville, IN before arriving in Indianapolis.  The train would then continue on to Chicago.  The train then had an evening departure from Chicago, reversing its' route and traveling back to Cincinnati.

What I remember about those trips is the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, the conductor walking through each car to announce upcoming stops, the lunches my mother would pack for the trip.  But mostly I remember staring out the window at miles and miles of farmland, the scenery every so often punctuated by a house, a barn, a couple silos.  I would wonder who lived in those homes, seemingly far from the nearest neighbor.

Now we get in our nearly soundproof cars, enter the nearest interstate highway, stop only at exits where food, gas, and bodily functions can be attended to and then continue on, making phone calls, sending and receiving texts or watching movies in the back seat.  We scarcely notice the country passing outside our windows.  Makes me want to take a train ride.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Blast From The Past

Over the years I have fallen into a bad habit.  I like to snack at night.  Not on actual snack foods, but more like a sandwich and chips about 8-8:30.  Or whatever leftovers might be in the fridge.  Pasta salad, piece of chicken, a pork chop; I'm not picky.  I can eat dinner at 5:30 and feel full and still get the urge to eat a few short hours later.

Lately, I rediscovered one of the pleasures of my youth and probably of yours, too.  The ultimate snack for kids, the All American peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.  We always have peanut butter in the house that we put in a Kong and freeze as a treat for Abby when we leave home.  So one night as I'm foraging in the kitchen during a commercial break I see the large jar of peanut butter and it just hit me, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich might taste good.  A few chips on the side, a glass of milk (the only acceptable drink with PB&J) and it was like I had discovered a whole new food group.

Then I started experimenting.  My favorite jelly is Smucker's Raspberry Spread, so I stick with that.  I use whole wheat bread, sometimes toasted, sometimes not.  Or I'll have it on a bagel.  Heating the sandwich in the microwave for a short time adds a whole new dimension.  There's just something about the mixture of the peanut butter and the jelly that tastes good, while at the same time subconsciously triggering memories of childhood snacks made by my mother.

I'm never going to have the discipline to exercise enough or diet enough to lose all the weight I should.  So screw it.  The PB&J makes me happy.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Not Our Fight To Lead

The president has asked Congress for new authorization to wage war, more specifically war on ISIS.  I'm afraid some of the language in the president's proposal is too vague and wishy-washy, hampering not only his ability to do whatever may be necessary, but also handcuffing his successor.  With that being said, I'm firmly against American boots on the ground in the Middle East.

We spent over a decade training the Iraqi army and the result is an organization that cuts and runs when under fire.  It wasn't that long ago that the president declared that al-Assad must go in Syria.  Now we are in the position of needing his compliance if not his outright assistance.  ISIS controls large portions of both Iraq and Syria.  Air strikes, while having an effect, are not going to wipe them out.

Like most of you, with every new and more horrible atrocity committed by ISIS, my first instinct is to send the full fury of the U.S. military onto their heads.  But, we've tried that approach before and it doesn't work in the Middle East.  Besides, it shouldn't be our fight to lead.  Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudia Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Turkey and Qatar are all in more imminent danger from ISIS than are we.  They are the countries who should be cooperating and forming a coalition to wipe out these savages.  They should be working to stop foreign fighters from using their countries to reach Syria and Iraq.  They should be doing all they can to stop the financial assistance going to ISIS from sympathizers within their borders.  They should be putting boots on the ground.

We can supply air and logistics support.  We can provide intelligence support.  But ultimately it's their region, their neighborhood, their fight.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Integrity, Honesty, Trust, Showmanship

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

My first thought is that most people don’t give a damn about who hosts NBC Nightly News. It’s also my second thought. However, recent circumstances have forced us all to at least stop and think about it for a minute, maybe two minutes, because we’re no longer talking about the showmanship of television news. Now we’re talking about things like integrity, honesty, trust, and on Abe Lincoln’s birthday.

I don’t watch NBC Nightly News. I probably haven’t watched it since it was fifteen minutes long and called The Huntley-Brinkley Report. Yes, that was a long time ago. At 6:30 eastern time, when it’s convenient, I watch World News Tonight on ABC, not because I like David Muir better than Brian Williams or even Scott Pelley over at CBS. All three seem to be very pleasant guys who do a fine job of presenting the day’s news in a half hour program. It’s just that for a number of years now I have come to appreciate the presentation of my local news, sports and weather on the TV station affiliated with ABC and because all things seem to be of equal caliber on the network level, I just stick with David Muir on ABC for the world and national stuff.

I see Brian Williams when he guests on The Late Show with David Letterman. He is very smart, clever and witty. Dave can ask him about anything in the news and Brian always has a great answer, loaded with facts, devoid of personal opinion, and usually laced with that charm that Williams can display in this venue. Yes, he has been the face of NBC News since Tom Brokaw retired but he has put himself in a position to let America know that he is somewhat approachable, not only with Dave but similarly on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, doing things that Walter Cronkite (or Huntley or Brinkley) would never do. Okay, Walter once appeared briefly in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show late in his career but his stature was unimpeachable at that point. Perhaps it is Williams desire to humanize himself with his appearances on Dave and Jimmy that is costing him now.

We have no idea what has gone on in the last ten days or so in the NBC News offices in Rockefeller Center. We never will, although undoubtedly someone will write a book about it someday. We don’t know the extent of the damage to Brian Williams or to NBC News although I’m sure the folks at Comcast who run the show would be happy to toss Mr. Williams a ship’s anchor if they thought it would take care of the matter. And we have no idea where things will stand when that six-month suspension is completed although I know we’ll have TMZ to keep us informed every single day between now and then.

This may not take six months to play out because truth be told, behind the scenes Brian Williams, while he may be damaged goods, is available, just as the position of host and managing editor of NBC Nightly News is also available. Then there’s the ratings of NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and whether they hold, because the other thing behind the scenes is that you can talk integrity, honesty and trust all you want but without a little showmanship nobody’s going to watch. And THAT is a problem.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Army Spc. Robert A. McNail
Age:  30
150th Combat Engineer Battalion
155th Brigade Combat Team
Mississippi Army National Guard
Died 11 February, 2005
Iskandariyah, Iraq

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Good Old Days

Last week The Big Guy chronicled the impending closure of an American institution, Radio Shack.  As he noted in the comments that day, his timing was impeccable, as the company filed for bankruptcy that very day.  For me, and I'm sure a lot of others, it was a day to reflect.

You see, Radio Shack was my first real job after college.  I was hired as a Manager Trainee at the largest store in the area and the official training center.  Most people don't remember, but in 1971 Radio Shack bought out Allied Radio and officially became Allied Radio Shack.  The signage didn't change but the catalog and inventory reflected an influx of Allied product(more about that later).  Basically, all of the manager trainees were retail clerks, learning the electronics business and store operations.  When the Store Manager at the training store decided you were ready for your own store the most senior trainee would take over the next new store to open in the Greater Cincinnati area.  Those were the salad days for Radio Shack and as rapidly as stores were opening, the wait for a Store Manager spot was less than a year.

The bankruptcy filing brought to mind some things I hadn't thought about in years.  Like the free flashlight.  Every catalog and flyer had a coupon for a free flashlight.  The idea was to draw people in, try to sell them batteries for the flashlight you just gave them and introduce new people to the store.  What actually happened is that each time there was a mailing we would see the same deadbeats come in for their free flashlight.  I sometimes wondered what they did with them all.

Or how about the Battery Card.  Buy a certain number of batteries and once your card was checked enough times you could pick out a free battery.  Then there were the stereo loaner people.  Every Friday we would get an influx of people buying stereo systems, only to show back up to return them on Monday, claiming they were unhappy with the performance.  Not much we could do about it.

I never did figure out the electronic parts business.  The capacitors, resistors, transistors etc. that all the DIY guys were after were beyond my comprehension.  Fortunately, most of them knew what they wanted and all I had to do was point them in the right direction.  Ham radio was a big deal in those days and a lot of those guys built their own equipment.  Radio Shack had the market cornered on electronic parts.  We also were on the leading edge of the CB radio boom.  We all had units in our cars and stayed in touch on an otherwise largely unused channel.  Breaker, breaker good buddy.

When I got my own store, I was put on a salary of $6,700 a year; I got my own apartment for $110 a month and my first new car, a Toyota Corolla with a monthly payment of $93.  Obviously, life couldn't get any better.  But then it did.  My buddy and fellow trainee, guy named Dick, got his own store shortly after me.  One day he called with some big news.  He opened up the case on an Allied 495 Stereo Receiver and found "Pioneer" stamped on the circuit board.  Pioneer was a highly respected name in stereo circles and here we were sitting on Pioneer receivers right under our noses.  I don't remember the details of how we pulled it off, but Dick and I both soon had Allied 495 receivers in our apartments, purchased at a very friendly price.  That receiver lasted nearly 30 years before finally dying.

I learned a lot of lessons working at Radio Shack.  How to deal with the public, how to manage employees, inventory control, which battles to fight and which to let go.  Also how to get fired when the District Manager wanted to give my job to one of my employees he was screwing.  Lessons that would apply throughout my working career.  Good times.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sleep Is Overrated

I have always had trouble sleeping if I feel the least bit warm.  I don't have to feel hot to lose sleep, just the least bit warm.  This poses a constant problem at our house as Mrs. Grumpy likes the house, and the bed, to be toasty.  Many nights I can be lying on top of the covers, struggling to fall asleep because I feel warm, and she is next to me covered from head to toe by a sheet, a blanket and a down comforter.  Not helping the matter is that our little dog, Abby, often chooses to lie right against me, the effect being that of having a hot water bottle pressing into my body.

What's to be done?  I've tried programming our thermostat so the house is cooler at night, but she manually overrides the settings and I can hear the furnace humming through most of the night.  We have an overhead fan, but it's use causes her to complain of being cold, even underneath all those coverings.  So I defer and many nights lie awake until finally dozing off sometime between 1-2 a.m.

I have accused her of trying to be rid of  me by depriving me of sleep until eventually I go crazy and she can have me committed.  She, of course, denies any such plot.  What I need is a sleeping room with a minimum of heat, windows that I can open at night and an overhead fan.  That, or our basement.  The temperature there is ideal.  I know I would sleep well in the basement.  The problem with that plan is that Abby would stand at the basement door whining until I either come back upstairs or bring her down with me.  Alas, we have so much crap in our basement that I don't know where I could put a twin bed or even a cot.

So I soldier on, tired most of the day, taking naps when I should be out enjoying life.  I heard a recent news story that adults my age should be getting 8-9 hours sleep a night.  If I'm lucky, I get half that.  Maybe I can drink myself to sleep.  Then get a nice, restful vacation in a rehab center.