Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hotel Overlooking Hartsfield Airport

Since those first trips to old Malton Airport one of the things that I have enjoyed watching since I was young was aircraft taking off and landing. Saturday we booked ourselves into the Renaissance Concourse by the Atlanta Airport. The one feature I like about this hotel is that it literally is up against the airport and overlooks two runways. The rooms on the Hartsfield side of the hotel have balaconies from which you can watch the activity at the airport. Below are a few pictures.

The opulant rooms are just as quiet as most hotels. The windows and walls are extra thick. We were not really bothered by any sound from the aircraft.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Off On Vacation

Evie and I are off on another week's vacation....well it is a full week for her and partial week for me as I have business meetings in Atlanta for three days. This trip is not with the RV, which is just as well as it has been in the shop. We have decided to replace the refrigerator with a more efficient model that will also run on propane as well as electricity.

As I type this we are in Spartanburg SC. Due to beach traffic it took us a little over three hours to get to Richmond, a drive that normally takes 1.5 hours. Tomorrow we move on to Atlanta where we will deliver some gloves and GatorAid 2 to Josh following the big show in the Georgia Dome.

As we are starting out, I thought I would post pictures from the prior vacation. As you will know from Evie's blog we took a dinner cruise on Lake George. The first picture is of the ship we took for the cruise. The second is of the dinning room...we were one of the first couples to board. As you can see the dinning room is in the rear of the ship and includes an upper level. Lac du Saint Sacrament is the name that the French gave to the Lake before the British took over the area.

The following picture is of the Minne Ha Ha, another small cruise ship that does one hour cruises on the south end of Lake George. This ship is a paddle boat.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Empress of Britain

In the recent family newsletter it was noted the Henry Joseph Sears and Annie Rebecca Keen arrived in Canada on the Empress of Britain in 1908. This Canadian Pacific Railway two funnel ship built in Govan Scotland had her maiden voyage on 5 May 1906. Yes, she is the sister ship of ill-fated Empress of Ireland.

She had twin screws, which was common for ships of her size, and was 458 ft in length. With a top speed of 18 knots, the ship carried 310 first class passengers, 470 second class passengers and 730 steerage passengers. On her second voyage she set the transatlantic crossing record. Two weeks after the Titanic sank, the Empress of Britain also struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic but unlike the Titanic the Empress suffered only slight damage.

At the outbreak of WWI the Empress served as an armed merchantman patrolling the South Atlantic until she was converted to a troop transport in May 1915. For the rest of the war she carried troops primarily between Canada/USA and England.

In 1924 the aging ship was renamed the Montroyal to make way in the fleet for a larger and speeder Empress of Britain (which was torpedoed and sunk in 1940….and the largest ship sunk in WWII by U-boat). She continued her days as the Montroyal until she was sold in 1930 for scrap. In all told she made 190 trips across the Atlantic. One of its finely carved wood lounges continues to exist today as the lounge was incorporated into a Norwegian hotel that today is the Norwegian School for Hotel Management.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Two Arguments Against Healthcare Reform

One set of arguments being made against healthcare reform and a government system targets/grounded in distrust of government. This viewpoint is reflected in the question, “Do you want to trust your medical decisions to the hands of government bureaucrats instead of between you and your doctor?” Of course the answer is “Absolutely not. Medical decisions should be made between me and my doctor.”

This viewpoint is also expressed something like this, “that at some point the government has to decide whether or not you are allowed to receive any more medical benefits if the cost outweighs the potential benefits.” This line of thinking plays off concerns that government will deny coverage as a means to save money or engage in euthanasia. This possibility horrifies the general public and is an argument already being circulated as a reason for keeping the proposed healthcare reform from passing.

On the surface these seem powerful arguments, but in reality these arguments are fallacies. Currently healthcare decisions are initially grounded in the annual decisions made by my employer. Level of healthcare can increase or decrease on what plan my employer elects to purchase. From year to year, deductibles can fluctuate, what is covered and not covered can fluctuate, and which doctors and hospitals I can use or not use is all determined by my employer. While it is noted that I can see any doctor I wish, when you have a 50% deductable for doctors off the plan versus a 15 or 20% deductable (deductable has changed over the years as the plan evolves) you have a strong incentive to remain with the doctors your plan authorizes.

Further, for many treatments outside all check-ups and basic tests you have to have prior authorization to receive treatment (excluding life and death medical emergencies). It is not uncommon for an insurance bureaucrat denying treatment or demanding a host of documentation before granting approval. In other words medical decisions are in the hands of insurance bureaucrats who have little or no medical training not between me and my doctor. Even more, the bureaucrat is making decision that are driven by policies designed in keeping with the plan and to ensure that the insurance company makes a strong profit while paying its top executives high six figure and seven figure salaries.

In Canada we never experienced pre-authorization for healthcare treatment. Decisions were made between us and our doctor. No consultation was ever made with a government bureaucrat and we had a far greater range of provider choices than the majority of Canadians.

Each year, subtle changes have taken place in my medical plan, changes which over years become increasingly significant by their accumulative impact. Fortunately I have an employer who is makes fewer changes than many others. There are some firms that have discontinued much of their medical coverage. Needless to say it is safe to say that my healthcare plan is not as vigorous as it was ten years ago.

I am not concerned about the euthanasia argument. To whom are insurance company bureaucrats and supervisors accountable? They are accountable to the chief executives who in turn are accountable and responsive to shareholders who are interested in making as large a profit as possible. To this end most companies have plans that have caps on life-time and/or annual claims, that anything above a defined figure is not covered.

Further compounding these caps is that companies can radically change their plan which in affect puts limits on treatment levels or type of illnesses covered. It is well possible for an employee or retiree still on the company’s plan to learn that the cap is suddenly dropped in a cost saving measure. Could this happen with the government? Definitely it could, but are the chances higher or lower than with what is being transacted between an employer and the insurance company? The employer and company are far more driven by profit than by responding to the complaints and protests of employees and retirees. Hence, I think any euthanasia type or denial process is much higher with private insurance than with government insurance since government bureaucrats ultimately answer to elected officials who are very sensitive to the whims of the electorate. So who is more sensitive to the complaints and needs of the general public, the elected official or the corporate executives? To me the answer is clear.

The two arguments against government healthcare are more applicable to the current private system.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fort William Henry

During our trip to Lake George at the end of June/beginning of July we visited Fort William Henry. This was a British Fort at the south end of Lake George and until Fort Ticonderoga was taken from the French, this was the northern most point in the 13 Colonies. It is also the Fort that was taken by the French as told in the movie The Last of the Mochicans.

As you will note from the pictures of Ticonderoga, the British fort is wood versus the French fort of stone. It was a quickly built fort and not designed to withstand heavy cannon bombardment. That said, the British plan for the area involved four forts, two of which were only a short distance away, Fort Ann (15 miles ESE) and Fort Edward (15 miles SES). The third, Fort Saratoga was about 30 miles south. As the British learned with the fall of Fort William Henry their plans of forts helping to reinforce and strengthen each other was a false assumption as undermanned Forts coupled with each commander looking only after their own interested doomed their plan.

Below is the exterior as taken from the lake side.

Below are pictures of the interior as well as of reinactor.

One of the orginal cannons that was discovered at the bottom of Lake George. The French burned the fort and tossed into the lake the cannons they did not take back to Ticonderoga. Blow the cannon picture is the picture of the jail in the bowels of the fort.

Below, dress of the day for the average soldier as well as the common volunteer soldier from the colonies.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Below are two pictures taken at Lake George of parasailing. I have seen parasailing before, but now I have my sights set on doing for a ride when I have the chance this summer or the next. Would you do it?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Chevy SSR

Today I saw a two seater Chevy convertible that impressed me enough that I noted its name as I had not seen it before. I loved the lines and the semi-retro look. Alas, I learned the Chevy SSR had a limited production run of 24,150 vehicles from 2003-2006. Ugghh, it is no longer made....just as well as the $42,000 price tag and its engine would cause me to not look at it beyond a short look.

I was surprised to learn that the engine of the SSR was 5.3 L Vortec 5300 v8, the same engine used in Corvettes. A v8 is a very powerful engine for a vehicle of this size. Too bad it did not have a smaller engine and a price point in the mid to upper 20's....it may well have sold far more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fort Pillow by Harry Turtledove

Fort Pillow by Harry Turtledove is a story based upon a historical and controversial American Civil War battle. The attack was not driven by any significant necessity as by this late stage of the war Fort Pillow had become a backwater area. Yet in an effort to harass the Union and to prove a point, about 1,800-2,200 Confederates under General Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the 600-620 Union troops stationed at Fort Pillow.

Though the basis of the story is based upon an actual event, Fort Pillow mingles fictional characters in with historical characters to give the reader a glimpse of the dynamics that were at play that lead to the massacre of the Union troops. In the attack and massacre we see the confluence of chaotic consequences of war that were magnified by fear, misguided patriotism, deep hatred, racism and miscalculations. At the end of the battle the Confederates had about 100 casualties (about 20 killed, 80 wounded) but the Union had 574 casualties (274-294 were killed).

The Union suffered lopsided casualties because the Confederates were reluctant to accept the surrender of the Union troops, particularly the about 300 African American troops from the heavy artillery unit. Though many of the Union’s 13th Tennessee Calvary unit were also wounded or killed after they surrendered, the African American troop casualty rate was double that of the while Calvary unit.

The battle is controversial due to the killing of soldiers after they surrendered. The actions of General Forrest is also highly questionable as this was the only time he did not participate on the attack with his troops. Instead Forrest remained on his horse on a hill overlooking the fort long after the battle concluded and after he entered he was slow to command his slow command his men to cease slaughtering the enemy. Statements made before the attack indicates he knew what would happen yet did not restrain his troops until the bulk of the slaughter had concluded. By today's standards Forrest would be charged with War Crimes.

Though I found this book to be an enjoyable and interesting read, there are sections of the story after the fort fell that seemed to drag. The book gives the reader a glimpse into the social and political dynamics that were at play in the minds of the Southern and the Northern troops.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fort Ticonderoga

While we were in New York, Evie and I visited Fort Ticonderoga. The fort was built by the French and as with the French forts at Quebec City and Louisburg, the fort was built out of stone. The French were making a bold statement and to be as secure doorway to protect Canada from the British to the south. The fort is positioned at the midpoint of Lake Champlain at a narrows and where Lake George to Lake Champlain’s west empties via a short river into Lake Champlain.

Though she was of stone, and though the British were defeated on their first attempt to attack the fort, as with Ticonderoga’s two sister forts, she too fell to the British.

The British lost the fort to the Americans during the early days of the Revolutionary War who then lost it later to the British. By the time it was retaken by the British the battle field was much further to the south leaving Ticonderoga without any strategic importance. If you are in the area, visiting this piece of history that dates back 250 years is well worth it.

The last picture is of Lake Champlain looking south from the fort with the narrows off picture to the left and the mouth of the river from Lake George on the west (right) of the picture.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Supreme Court and Sonia Sotomayor

Since the 1980s a growing number of conservatives have talked about the importance of fighting to have confirmed conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court in order to secure their agenda regarding abortion, gay rights, affirmative action and devolving the public education system.

In the coming days conservatives who oppose Sotmayor’s nomination will focus their attack in one of two directions. The first attack is rooted in her 2001 “wise Latina” comment that she was better qualified to understanding various dynamics of some gender and ethic cases because of her gender and ethnicity. Her critics argue that this shows a bias that is in appropriate. Such an attack is rooted in the impossible…approaching a case with a blank slate. It is impossible for a person not to have their probative questions, reasoning and the judicious weighing out of various factors influenced by their religious belief system, education and life experiences.

We need justices who are in touch with their roots, understand how they impact their thought process and attempt to keep them from having undue sway as they come to a decision on a particular case. I find such an attack to be disingenuous as they are made by the same individuals who are upset by past appointees to have not made decisions that were fully in keeping with their religious and education beliefs by making rulings that were not conservative enough.

The second set attacks are rooted in a recent Supreme Court reversal of her appeals court ruling regarding a discrimination case filed by white firefighters in New Haven Connecticut. The reasoning goes that how can she be fit for the court given that she has had a case reversed by the same court to which she is nominated. At first this sounds logical but it is a fallacious argument. Any Supreme Court justice is only one of nine voices and votes on the court. Rarely do any rulings carry the judgment of all nine justices. Recently one case had eight in the majority and one in the minority.

One way to look at those in the minority, particularly cases that go 6-3, 7-2, and 8-1, is that the majority is overturning the ruling and opinion of the minority. If Sotomayor is unfit due to this one issue being overturned by her future peers, then is not Clarence Thomas equally unfit as he has been in the minority more often than not than any justice each year since he was appointed to the bench, including the recent 8-1 case. Oh, I forgot, Thomas is the darling of the ultra conservatives and hence the argument that they use against Sotomayor cannot apply to Thomas.

Hence, as with the “wise Latina” comment, the reversal arguments too are shallow and disingenuous. They are a smoke screen for her nomination being opposed because they do not view her as a conservative. The American Bar Association has rated Sotomayor as eminently qualified, and unless there are solid arguments to the contrary, I will go with their judgment rather than those of political hacks who are trying to obfuscate the high quality of the nominee with their political smoke.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

TSA - American Officers and Canadian Officers

Just prior to going on vacation a friend at the office and I were talking about various issues within the division. He asked if there was much of a difference between officers in America and in Canada. My response, “If we had seven Corps Officers sitting around a table wearing civies, and three were from Canada, I could tell you which were the Canadians by asking one question.”

He looked at me with a puzzled look. I went on, “All I need to ask is, ‘What is the size of your Corps?’ The American officers will immediately talk about the size of their budget, number of employees and possibly the size of their building. Canadians will talk about the number of soldiers and adherents, their average attendance on Sunday morning, and possibly the average size of their Sunday School.”

He agreed that the COs he has known over the years would focus budget and employees, and doubts that any would get to membership and worship matters unless prodded in that direction. I cannot imagine a Canadian officer talking about budget or employees unless prodded specifically in that direction.

He made an interesting observation that the different responses would likely reflect how each handles Corps resources as well as measure success.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Crossmen 2009 Music

Following is a clip of the Crossmen playing part of their show on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin. This gives you a sense of the music they are playing. They will hone the music and it will become more dynamic over the summer.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Contrabase

Whenever I watch DCI Corps rehearse it is the contrabase players who I admire more than others. Like all the others in the Corps they work on little sleep and drill all day long. They move swiftly across the field while lugging their instrument. Below is a picture of a contrabase.

All day long the lift upon their shoulders and play these instruments. Below is a picture that show the difference in size between the baritone and the contrabase. The last gives an indication how the contrabase is played, with one end on your shoulder while holding the rest on your arms. Imagine lifting and lowering, and marching with this thing from sunrise to sunset day after day. Talk about sore shoulders and arms.....hence, my admiration.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Chairs

We are home from another camping trip. A few years ago we bought two chairs for sitting around the campground relaxing. When we chaparoned at Orkney Springs Josh's senior year the other chaparones fell in love with them and were always seeking to enjoy a few minutes in them....one lady told her daughter, "Tell your brother and sister that is what I want for Christmas." (Orkney Springs is the retreat in the mountains where the Oakton Marching Band goes to rehearse and drill for a week). I have fallen asleep in the chairs several times.

Though we love our chairs there is one problem, they are about 2 inchest too wide to fit into the main storage compartment. So the chairs have to travel with us in the cab. Though these are not the same brand, below is a picture of chairs that very similar ours. When you recline, the foot rest comes up.

Friday, July 03, 2009

July Fourth

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a high ranking conservative Iranian cleric recently stated that the ongoing unrest has foreign roots, in particular British roots. As we know foreign press has not only been restricted in its coverage of the protests but they have now been forbidden to be on the streets and interview Iranian citizens. The spin of the messages coming from the religious and governing authorities is ungodly foreign influences are destroying the orderly calm of the Iranian nation.

Nationals who were employed at the British embassy have been arrested, interviewed/interrogated aggressively and have confessed to being puppets of the ungodly foreign power. Jannati told the thousands of worshippers that the British "had designed a velvet revolution ... In March, they said (in their Foreign Ministry) that street riots were possible during June elections. These are signs ... revealed by themselves." He went on to tell the throng that those involved in the protests "need to repent and ask God to forgive them" and that regardless of what the pre-election polls showed, the election process was “pure” and that reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was truly a landslide victory.

Though he did not name Mousavi directly, Jannati implied Mousavi and his followers were committing treason when he quoted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, as saying that "anyone disrupts unity has not only committed a sin but also has committed treason against the Islamic Republic and the system." There is no room for honest disagreement and dissenting views are crushed.
My initial reaction is that this rhetoric is typical of the Iranian fundamentalists.

Despots, whether they are religious or secular, have a way creating bogey men and escape goats, and decrying how these outsiders and other non true believers are conducting an evil conspiracy in their midst. I would like to say that that happens “out there” and yet when I look at the church I ask if our hands are clean. Do we not have church leaders over the centuries, and even today, suggesting that if you disagree with them that you are fighting God and therefore you are evil? Do we not have those who define so narrowly that if you disagree with them then you cannot be a Christian? Do we not have many in the church who hold that those who accept and support abortion cannot be true Christians? In America do we not have a large number of evangelicals who functionally cannot fathom how anyone can be a true Christian and be a Democrat? And the questions could go on and on.

I fear that similar words of Iran clerics, has been heard on the lips of American and Canadian clergy. I fear that the same the same hard line agenda and spirit of Iran clerics have been and is still found within segments of church leadership today.

On this Fourth of July my mind turns to an American fundamental founding principle, religious freedom. Religious freedom has two sides to it, freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Freedom of religion allows people to worship freely as they so choose. We often forget the handmaiden of free worship, allowing others to worship and hold views different than mine without me degrading them or thinking that their faith is less valid than mine. I should not be so arrogant and bold as to claim to have the corner on truth and view others as being less enlightened than me.
Separation of church and state rests upon freedom from religion. Whereas Europe and other countries had their official religion the Founding Fathers determined that not only would the United States not have an official religion but it would allow its citizens to hold any religion they deemed to hold, or even to have no faith. Coupled with that posture means that no religion or set of beliefs should dominate government or be advanced by government action.

I do not agree with those who extend separation of church and state to mean that a person who is running for or in public office should not speak of their faith. Hearing about a person’s faith helps me to understand what motivates the person who is running for office and even what types of legislation he or she will push forward. Though a candidate like a Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin may be a Christian, their fundamentalist views and statements about entrenching Christian believes in national legislation and their dismissive attitude toward liberal, adherents of non-Christian faiths and atheists scares me tremendously. Their type of thinking and demonizing is the American equivalent of what Ayatollah Jannati and the followers of other Iranian conservative clerics are saying and doing.

On July 4th 1776 the United States was founded upon freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Such freedoms are part of its nobility and strength as a country. Such freedom allows for diversity of religious expression and open political discourse. Those who signed the Constitution recognized that when one set of religious believes hold sway across the land and in government, that a nation is only a short distance away from the a society that claims to be benevolent while being far from being benevolent.

I am thankful for Jannati’s recent statements and the Iranian governing authorities reaction to the recent protests as they help me to celebrate this 4th of July with greater appreciation.

Report on Josh

Due to rain we did not get a chance to see the 2009 Crossmen perform their show in Fort Edward. Evie and I spent two days helping to prepare four meals a day for the Corps….that is about 200 meals at a time.

I did get to take some pictures of a rehearsal on the afternoon of July 1, just about an hour before the rain started.

In this year’s show Josh is involved in a dance flair before the commencement of a small ensemble made up of baritones. Once again he is already well tanned…when he takes off his shoes and puts on his sandals his white feet stand out. He also has a light forehead as the cap peak has kept that area of his face from tanning as quickly.

It was a hoot watching them pull into the school in Fort Ann at 8:30 Tuesday. They had been on the bus from Erie PA all night long. They look exhausted, but they crashed for two hours before a 10 AM breakfast (prepared by a local civic group) and the start of their day. Though exhausted, Josh sounds and appears happy....he loves the rigor and the performing.