Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Best Bar I Ever Walked Into

Around fifteen years ago, my wife sent me off on a weekend trip to Rome.  I picked my hotel....about three blocks west of the train station....quiet place....three star situation.

On the first day of walking around....I returned to the front of the hotel.  I had a feast of a lunch....a five-star ice cream in mid-afternoon, and was fairly tired.  I looked across and there was this little pub across the street from the hotel.  It was a no-name Italian pub.....nothing fancy.  This was mid-November....so there's not a lot of tourists around.

I stepped in.

This was an establishment of roughly 1,200 square feet.  Certainly not big in size or ultra modern.

I stood there for a moment....looking at the character of the place.

Tables were designed and built with chess or board games in mind.  Across the wall were literally dozens of board games in boxes....in English and Italian.

In the back was a billiard table, with a number of seats facing facing a soccer game running.

In the mid-section was a library of sorts.....Hemingway, Twain, Hugo, Shakespeare, etc.

I sat mostly in a daze for the next two hours.  The crowd never went past twenty in number.  They sat playing Risk with some associate.....discussing some finer points of Shakespeare in Italian.....or engaging in political talk.

It's the kind of pub that probably can't exist in the United States and if it did....it'd probably fold up after a year because of limited or marginal profits.

An American is used to the saloon-type atmosphere....music in the background....talk over NFL games....etc.

I came back the second day.....repeating the two hour visit to the pub.  It's a fascinating atmosphere.....maybe it was a one-of-a-kind situation there in Rome, and maybe there's not another place like it in Europe.

If I ever won a lotto and had a million to throw at some business idea....I'd like to put this type of pub into operation.  Course, it'd probably be a failure within a year or two.....but I'd just run it for my own entertainment.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Ten Things You Learn After Four Years in the Military

I never thought too much about the first four years in the Air Force.....at least til the last year or two (thirty years after the fact).  In retrospect, there are a couple of things that you gain from wisdom or stupidity....depending on the way you look at things.

1.  There are a lot of stupid people and crazy folks in the world.  You need to develop a quick method of recognizing the two groups and ensuring a fair amount of distance between you and them.  They aren't your friends....your associates....or people that you should trust.  If you are lucky, the military will realize their issues and help them return quickly to civilian life.

2.  As bad as chow hall food might be.....they really can't screw up any breakfast menu.  It doesn't matter if we are talking about pancakes, waffles, omelets, or bacon.  So it's smart to attend every single breakfast and enjoy the one meal of the day without burnt edges, 200-percent salt added, or tasteless food.

3.  You learn this nifty trick of just laying down and getting 25 minutes of a nap....to help make up for the four hours of sleep that you missed last night due to a false fire alarm (two or three times a year), a barracks fight around midnight (usually every other weekend), or a recall by the squadron (every other month).

4.  You eventually learn that just about everyone you meet from New York City is interesting and deep into character flaws.  You also learn that most everyone from Arkansas are accommodating and genuine in terms of humbleness.  And you learn that anyone from the upper peninsula area of Michigan are capable of hunting bears, boars, elephants, and various exotic creatures that should only thrive in Africa.

5.  You learn that the BX only sells clothing that fits some male model style guy....who likes the colors of red and yellow.....and it's stuff you'd be embarrassed to wear anywhere except to the TV room of the barracks.

6.  You eventually learn that the TV room of the barracks is the point where intellectual discussions often take place.  These talks include the possibility of aliens, the family burdens of the Ewing family of Texas, the finer points of professional wrestling, car repair, travel tips on cheap hotels, and pick-up advice on young women who hang out at the NCO Club.

7.  You learn that some places around America are boat-anchors for miserable feelings and frustrations.  Then you learn of places where you seem to be happy....365 days out of the year.  It makes no sense, but you learn that by traveling.....you will eventually find the perfect place.

8.  You eventually learn that barracks parties are occasions where stupid things occur, and potential downfalls in life might occur.  So, you learn how to avoid such parties.

9.  You learn that a pair of combat boots....after they get broke in.....are the most comfortable shoe on the face of the Earth.

10.  You learn that patience is a great skill in life.  You learn this....mostly by waiting and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for various things to occur on time.....but they never do occur at the time they were supposed to occur.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Setting One Up to Succeed

I am a amateur historian of sorts.  There are bits and pieces of history, which tend to drag me off to a curious state of mind.  For years and years....I've had this mystery existing in my mind over how the Pilgrims got off the Mayflower and went through a winter season where only forty-seven of the 102 original members survived.

You can do the statistical average.....more than half died over a six-month period.  It just simply didn't make sense.  If there had been some plague, or some flood, or some nutcase going around killing people....it'd all fall into place and make sense.

Over the past month, I picked up a new book...."Drinking in America: Our Secret History" by Susan Cheever.  I admit.....the book will detail more about our drinking habits and history that we may not be too proud of.....but somewhere in the early stage of the book, Cheever goes back to the original crew of Americans....the Pilgrims.

In simplistic fashion, she details what I'd call in management circles....setting someone up to fail.

I came to work for a new boss in December of 1992, who spent fourteen months teaching me the art of setting people up to succeed.  It didn't matter if they were people above me or below me.....his philosophy was that I needed think and act upon the situation....ensuring people got information, made informed decisions, that they avoided over-reaction, and that this would all lead to a better atmosphere. I came to believe in his strategy, and until the point of 2013 where I retired from work entirely.....that was my philosophy.

Cheever tells the Pilgrim story from the prospective of setting someone up to absolutely fail.....to the extent that fifty-five valued members of a community will die over a six-month period.

You have the case of religious fanatics (no better word for them), who were charged up on religious chatter, and wanted some dynamic land where they could practice their beliefs with no hindrance from a government.  Never once did they question their beliefs or where this might lead.  So they made some unwise decisions in the beginning.

The two ships they hired (oh yeah, there were two to start with)?  The Speedwheel would have been drafted into history and have been mentioned millions of times.....except it never made the trip.  Cheever tells this side of the story......where the owners of the Speedwheel simply didn't want to make the trip, and wanted to take the money handed over by the religious fanatics.  They created episode after episode to ensure that they turned back.

Roughly two months was wasted on the delay tactics of the Speedwell crew.  The supplies used up?  Never really replaced.  So when the Mayflower finally did take off.....it was mid-September.  Arriving in early November?  They were basically there at the beginning of winter.

Oddly, their charter was for a particular piece of land in Virginia.  The Mayflower arrived with limited supplies for their own crew to survive the trip back.....mostly a very limited supply of beer (go figure).  So the minute they hit the east coast.....near Plymouth Rock.....roughly 550 miles from the charter location agreed upon by the king....there simply wasn't much discussion.  They were going to be dumped off there, period.

The difference of the 550 miles?  This would be a curious point that historians ought to jump into and analyze.  Milder winters exist there along the south coast of Virginia.  Oddly, the Plymouth Rock area had fairly agreeable Indians who didn't threaten the existence of the Pilgrims.  South Virginia?  That's a totally different area and they might have all been wiped out by spring.

With a meager batch of supplies....they were not set up for success or the harsh winter they faced.

Finally, Cleever gets around to this one odd question that I've always had....the background and skill of the 102 individuals.  There aren't accomplished hunters, fisherman or outdoors sort of people.  You had some with military experience but that basically means they could handle and gun and fire it......having little relationship with normal hunter skills you'd desire.

These were average people who had one simple core relationship....enthusiasm for religion.  If you were rating survivor skills up to a thousand skill-sets.....religion never makes the list.

In various ways, they were set up to fail.....to fail miserably, and to pay for this with their lives.

In some ways, this satisfies the mystery to me of the epic failure of the Pilgrims in that first six months.  In another way, it changes my perception of the Pilgrims and their historical impact in America.  They were doomed for failure, and there's just not much of a heroic nature to observe.  I hate to sound negative.....but it's one of those stories that one might relate to a kid....talking about setting people up for success and why it matters.

Friday, 5 February 2016

If I Were Going To Rewrite The Constitution

NPR did a piece yesterday....on state-by-state efforts to call for a Constitutional Convention.  Basically, they are up to five solid states.  It doesn't mean much.....but you can never tell if people would get that crazy.  So if I were rewriting the Constitution?  My ten changes:

1.  Senators are limited to two terms.  If you get appointed to fill out some retiring guy, that's term one for that month or year.  Representatives would be limited to twelve years of service in the House.

2.  A national election is limited to only citizens of the nation, and thus proven by an ID at the polling location.  States can determine how they recognize your citizenship, but a formal fee will be built into the system of $25,000 for non-Americans voting and caught later.  The $25,000 will be split among the person who identified the non-citizen and the county register's office.

3.  Congress will be solely responsible for the budget.  The Senate will have no say over the budget.  The President may veto the budget, but the House can over-ride his veto with a 51-percent vote.

4. No Senator or House Member must reside for 30 days of the year in their home state.  If they miss the requirement, then the House may bar them from participating in matters of state.

5.  The House will be given three years to arrive at a method of a balanced budget.  Failure to do so?  A six-percent budget cut will occur on the 4th year, and continue until they've reached a balanced budget.

6.  No tax may be passed onto citizens of the United States by the House, unless twenty-six states meet and agree upon the additional burden.

7.  Presidents are forbidden from appearing on comedy shows.

8.  Any money paid to House or Senate members for appearances on TV shows.....must be handed over to the Federal government.

9.  Half of all national forest property must be handed over to individual states within a ten-year period.  States will be required to maintain the forest but at their discretion..

10.  The President will be limited to 21 days a year outside of the US border.  Failure to do so will result in a twenty-five percent pay-cut for the year.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Ten Things That Won't Sell Today

1.  No matter what Jeb Bush says or talks about.....it won't sell in American politics in 2016.  Maybe back in 2006....it might have worked....but today?  No.

2.  Fox News probably has reached a point where their brand of journalism doesn't well in 2016.  There in 2008 to 2012.....they might have said a hundred things a day to captivate their audience and impress people.  Now?  It just doesn't work.

3.  McDonalds had some great success from May of 1940 to roughly a decade ago.  Something happened, and the magic has more or less dried up.  They might have flipped the sign to have the breakfast menu around the clock....but beyond that?  It won't sell in 2016.

4.  American baseball hit some mythical point about a decade ago when the whole steroid thing was obvious and all the numbers accomplished for twenty-odd years were fake.  Now?  It just won't sell.

5.  Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler all enjoyed remarkable success for several decades.  Playboy from 1953 to about a decade ago.  Now?  None of the three are really doing much in business to brag about.

6.  Reality TV went through a fantastic success period, and today?  Nothing much sells because the public really doesn't believe it's real.

7.  Climate Change, Global Warming, Global Cooling.....all went and got hyped up.  Today, it's practically impossible to get the public into a buying stage.  Everyone thinks there's something bogus attached or ask questions about why they are right today but not when it was plain old Global Cooling.

8.  NCAA bowl process being fair.  For several decades....folks imagined some method could exist where the NCAA bowl process would be legit and completely open.  Well....the idea just doesn't sell well today.

9.  A $90,000 degree paying itself back, eventually.  Well, it doesn't sell unless your dad paid for it in cash, or you got an engineering degree which gets you a $50,000 a year salary right off the bat and $80,000 within six years.  People are sitting there now at age forty-five.....still paying off that stupid college loan, and can't really explain where they went wrong.

10.  Obama Care.  Maybe for two brief years.....people held some hope that the price business would all work out and they'd be in a fine window of opportunity.  Well....that window came and went.  Today?  You likely will pay $800 a month for family coverage, and have a $6,000 deductible as part of your deal.  If you were lucky (sadly, I say lucky).....you make less than $30,000 a year and only pay $200 a month for your same coverage, but then you have the $6,000 deductible as well, and have to decide if you get new tires this quarter for the car or take the wife for some serious medical condition.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Cruz - Trump - Rubio

The Iowa results are finished.  Cruz wins with a few extra points.....Trump barely comes ahead of Rubio in second place.

If I were Trump, I'd be pretty happy.  If I were Cruz....I'd be in hog-heaven.  If I were Jeb.....well....I'd probably go ahead and resign from the race.

It's mostly a two-man race now.....oddly down from the fifteen-odd characters that we had from nine months ago.  Over the next two weeks....several folks will downsize drastically or just quit.

Does Iowa mean much?  No.  Historically, winning Iowa doesn't mean that you will be the leader going into the convention.  That's probably something that should worry Cruz a bit.

Could Trump have done better?  I'm not sure about that.  Trump probably isn't the kind of character that appeals to the typical rural farmer guy in Iowa.

As for the three remaining primary episodes here in the beginning?  If Cruz were to win all three....it'd be a miracle.  I think Trump will likely take all three and shift the election back into his direction.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Book Review: Drinking in America

(Our Secret History) by Susan Cheever.

It is a 273 page book which you could read over in about a week.

It's a long discussion over our drinking habits.....from 1620 when the Pilgrims arrived, on up to today.

You see....we were a fairly hard-drinking crowd from day one.  If you read through Cheever's book....you come to realize this list of priorities that existed with the crowd who landed there at Plymouth Rock.

Most of us have been led to believe shelter, firewood, hunting, fishing.....all would have been priority number one.  It wasn't.  Brewing beer was the first and absolute priority.  On board the Mayflower?  Passengers stayed mostly lit up and blitzed....even the women.

Most of us would also say that these were hand-picked individuals for this enormous task of landing on the coast of the US and making something out of nothing.  Other than religious enthusiasm and a passion for alcohol consumption....there was nothing remarkable about their resumes.

Cheever covers the different periods,and how our habits changed.....intensified....and were part of our success (and failure). Drunk guys do stupid things....even taking orders to go and do something really risky and dangerous.  Drunk guys win revolutions, take on overwhelming odds with British Army regulars, and face fierce Indians in combat.

Cheever comes to the period after the Civil War and discusses the industrial revolution going on in America and how safety/accidents were now part of the failures of the nation.....when you inject drunk workers into the scenario.

For anyone who has an interest in the Revolutionary War period....the early 1800s....the Pilgrims period....and the Civil War.....I'd note this book as mandatory reading.  It will influence your perception of your ancestors and the type of lives that they actually led.

There's a great two page piece over George Washington's distillery operations and how successful his 'brand' became in the local region.

Cheever writes in a method that makes it easy to follow and keeps your interest high.  It's probably not a book I'd endorse for high school kids because it'd beg a lot of questions over how history has been written for our general consumption.  But if you have a keen interest in history....I'd put this on the top twenty "must-read" books for a history enthusiast.