Sunday, August 5, 2018
Maybe because it is more flexible, maybe because there are more features, or maybe because I have a lot of time on my hands, I've decided to make a move.
From Blogger to WordPress.
I'll still nudge you when I post, but if you're dying for a read, find me on the internet at,
See you there
Friday, August 3, 2018
I grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance. My version included “under God” which was added in 1954. As a kid, I never knew it any other way, so I thought it had always been that way.
We said it every morning in school. Some kid, who was never me, got chosen to lead the school in the pledge over the PA system.
I was in Cub Scouts. We learned about the flag and the pledge. We got badges or something for memorizing the pledge and properly demonstrating our two finger salute. I practiced in the mirror with my little beanie.
Same with the National Anthem. We learned it in primary school. We read the story about Francis Scott Key watching the Battle for Baltimore in 1812. As a kid, it’s a pretty compelling story. What with its staying up all night and watching things blow up.
And winning! By the dawn’s early light, America won. In the world of an 8 year old, winning was pretty important.
They played the song at all the high school games. I went on to play it in the band. All would rise, we’d play, then play ball. It seemed to become rather rote. Stand, Sing, Sit, Play, Repeat.
Colin Kaepernick seems to have changed all that. In our time away, a lively debate has arisen about what the national anthem represents and what patriotism means. When I sing to the flag, am I honoring the fabric or am I honoring the American Ideal? And what is the American Ideal, anyway? Is it freedom of speech, and equality? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Or is it something else? The Flag? Veterans? Jesus?
Tastes great? Less Filling? Two great tastes that taste great together? Does it have to be one or the other? Ah, well….
What better way to reconnect with American values than to go to a baseball game? On a warm summer’s eve, Mrs. S.A.M. and I attended a farm team ball game. It was lightly attended even though it was “Kids Eat Free!” night. That’s a pity because it was a good game, rooting for the home team, peanuts and crackerjack and all that stuff.
The singing of the Anthem was noticeably different compared with a couple years back. In previous years, the anthem approached background chatter. Now, when the announcer comes on, a hush falls over the crowd. It is deathly quiet. Hats and hands to chests, turning, like sunflowers, to the flag in centerfield.
A large man, with the presence of the fourth Three Tenors, acapellas his way through the Star Spangled Banner, culminating in a torticolis rendering high note. O’er the land of the free!” He had a great set of lungs, but Man!, was he flat!
Homage we paid to whatever the song represents to us. From the homeless Vet, begging on the street, to the Somali vendor selling me an Italian sausage. From the Irish cop to the Dominican relief pitcher. One nation under God.
Friday, July 27, 2018
Here’s a thing that makes America great,... the Bourbon Trail.
Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but since returning, I’ve heard about the ice cream trail and the donut trail winding their way through the Midwest. Those may be worthy of exploration one day, but this year’s mission was the bourbon trail.
As noted last week, there 13 official stops on the trail between Lexington and Louisville. You can pick up a passport at any of them and collect all your stamps. There are any number of Unofficial stops as well.
Over two different weekends, we hit Woodford Reserve, 4 Roses, Bulleit, Angels Envy, EvanWilliams, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.
I was a total bourbon nube until this year. I knew it kind of hurt to drink it and I thought it all tasted pretty much the same. But after, taking a couple of tours, and some guided tastings I have a much better appreciation.
What’d I learn? That all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. That people spell the word whiskey either with or without the letter ‘e’ in it depending on whether the country of origin has a letter ‘e’ in its name, for god only knows why. I learned that bourbon can only be produced in the US and that 95% of it is produced I. Kentucky.
Why Kentucky? It’s in the water! The limestone rock is so ancient that all the iron has been leached out. The rock also filters the water and makes for sweeter bourbon and faster race horses. There’s no iron in the water, so the horses are lighter and can run faster.
That last bit is fake news. I have no idea why they run so fast.
So, what about the bourbon? They were all good, but I liked makers mark the best. It was smoother because they don’t char the barrels as much. Angels’ Envy was also good. They finish it off in port wine barrels for a unique taste. There were some well-aged single barrel whiskeys that were great. Bookers was one, but quite pricey.
Here are your tourist tips. If you head to downtown Louisville, you can lock off quite a few stops. A number of distilleries have smaller active stills and tasting rooms set up. Angels’ Envy, Evan Williams, 4 Roses, Rabbit Hole, Jim Beam all have operations there. Purchases can, of course also be made.
I would encourage a visit to the countryside for a visit to a couple stills. Woodford Reserve and Makers’ Mark are particularly scenic. The rolling hills make for great driving.The tours are also quite good. Perhaps because they’re Kentuckian with names like Mawley or Jimmy James, or perhaps because they’re great storytellers, the guides are pretty awesome at conveying the story of bourbon in an entertaining fashion, even if you’re not drinking afterwards.
If you don’t have a lot of time or a designated driver, check in at a hotel and find a bar like the Taj Speakeasy. Pull up a stool and let your gaze wander up the wall before you. And begin. You may not get the full history of each but you’re sure to find something you like. Order a flight or ask the barkeep for some tips.
Also, make a stop at Art Eatables where they make bourbon infused and pairing chocolates. A delicious treat.
For an awesome meal, try the Mayan Cafe. A super innovative South American restaurant. They even have a bourbon flight that pairs well with their house specialty, Lima beans. You’ll never think of Lima beans the same way again.
Drink responsibly and enjoy!
Friday, July 20, 2018
|A remarkably diverse trio of public servants at the ready.|
I will reach out through the internet and bop you on the nose, if you thank me for my service.
Mrs. S.A.M and I ventured down the Bourbon Trail recently, which is a very scenic and fun thing to do, even if you don’t prefer bourbon. You learn a lot and taste just enough that you can drive between stills safely.
There are 13 distilleries strung out like kernels of corn between Louisville and Lexington. We ticked off 7. All were unique, but to a one, they all asked if we were current or former military, offering discounts to those who were.
We aren’t, so I declined.
Mrs. S.A.M, the smartest and wisest person in the household and comfortable, over-sharer always replied, “We’re with the State Department.”
Responses ranged from a shrug to a “Oh? Which State?” while clicking the full price admission button.
Once in awhile, people would enquire more, and she would give a brief blurb. Probably in response to my eyeroll, she would later say, “No one has any idea what goes on at an Embassy. We need better PR!”
She’s right, of course. The military gets all the press. Ultimately, for them it’s more binary. Attack or defend. Kill or be killed. It’s easy to understand.
But what happens at an Embassy? Here in the Midwest, we’ve repeatedly encountered the comment. “I don’t really know what you all do. It doesn’t affect me, so I guess I don’t pay much attention.”
But, it does affect you. Even in the heartland, what happens in Moscow or Beijing affects all of us.
When a foreign government wants to talk with the United States, the Ambassador is the voice. The meet with government figures at the highest levels to discuss and formulate policy.
Political offices monitor a foreign government. They inform our government about who’s in charge, how they view the U.S and how they view others. If a government changes or is going to change, these folks are the first to know it and how we should respond. The diplomatic work keeps kids out of war. It can also open up channels for military communication.
And all the talk of peace and a peace process would not occur without hundreds of people laying groundwork and feeling out the other side. Exploring and discussing and making things happen. This is where the trust is built.
A country’s economic climate is closely monitored by Economic Officers. Watching prices and industrial output may seem mundane, but so much can hinge on a few numbers. Our folks model what is going to happen when a government raises fuel prices or the price of bread and what is going to happen to the country’s neediest or wealthiest. Will they tolerate it? Will there be riots in the street? How can the U.S. help?
They help promote U.S. products, putting U.S. companies in touch with buyers. How are we going to push those 66 million barrels of Kentucky bourbon overseas? Who wants all these Ohio soybeans?
Building trade affects all of us, especially those who work in industries where products are manufactured. Maybe you are one of the many Americans who work in the supply chain. Know any truckers, warehousemen or sales people? Or maybe you just want a new Toyota or Adidas or T-Shirt from Target or Walmart. After tariffs are imposed, they talk about why and how trade ties can be improved and work toward that goal.
The security and law enforcement offices keeps everyone safe, from the Ambassador to the janitor. They watch over us. They work with local law enforcement with training and improving law enforcement and enhancing the rule of law. If you’re not sure if that matters, try making a police report to a cop who won’t start working until you give them some “cigarette money”, or who botches the evidence collection. That may seem like it doesn’t affect you, but remember that on your next trip to Cancun or Jamaica.
There are tons of people who help keep the lights on. Paying bills and signing the contracts. Shipping and logistics. When the Embassy has an event for the host country, these folks make your country look good. Putting our best foot forward for the world
Medical personnel make sure all these Americans who are living in this foreign country with diseases like Dengue and Malaria stay healthy. They also monitor for outbreaks and work to counter pending epidemics
Consular Officers wear several hats. If an American is in need, they are the main contact. If your son or daughter is overseas, say on an exchange program or mission trip, and gets in trouble, they won’t bail him out of jail or pay her medical bills, but they will put him in contact with someone who can help. They’ll visit them in jail and make sure they being treated humanely. A working legal system isn’t a guarantee in many countries and saying “But, I’m an American” doesn’t make it happen. These people will watch out for you.
If you lose your passport, they are the ones that will help you get home.
More importantly they are the decision makers at the tail-end of an extreme vetting process that’s been going on for years. Denying and granting visas. Human lie detectors. They are the real wall. A dynamic barrier. Finding a balance between safety and sense.
The Public Affairs Office is the public face of America. They supervise the social media and speak with the press. They keep track of how America is perceived overseas. They also help in distributing American culture and values. Keeping the beacon shining had been a huge goal. Promoting education of the world’s youth and getting them to study in the U.S. The more positive someone's experience is with our country the less likely they are to want to do harm to us. They are also more likely to stand up for us in the future.
Aid and development allows another important way to promote the U.S. It is often reported that country ‘X’ receives billions in aid. And, I think, the perception is that we just dump a bunch of money into some bank account somewhere. But, a vast majority of aid comes with the requirement that it be spent on US products. So, more aid means buying more American. It is not a zero-sum game where, if they get more, we get less. In reality, if they get more, we get more. It is a win-win.
There are initiatives that help create jobs or keep the environment clean or empower women. These are, or have been until recently, global priorities. Created with the idea that stronger, more stable nations are better trading partners. Safer countries send us less people in distress.
The primary mission is to advance the interests of the United States and its people. Putting America first has always been the mission. It is nothing new. But, we also all do well when we all do well.
So, that’s the PR spiel. A little plug about what goes on in an Embassy and how it factors in back home. We do this because we love our country and our jobs. Even if we don’t get discounted bourbon, we are happy to serve, so that America can reap the benefits.
Friday, July 13, 2018
Took a walk the other day. Searching for seeds of optimism. Not surprisingly, I found some within a few blocks. Tucked away in artwork displayed on the curb.
Found these outside a house. Maybe this was a summer project. Maybe a summer parent, a month into summer, trying to keep her kids away from the screen. But it was a nice little display. A sign that the kids are watching. The kids are hopeful. They’re making plans.
Then I found another artist.
This is Malvin. He makes art. And he’s made art since he was 9 after he saw a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit. His family couldn’t afford to get him any oil paints, but he had a job sweeping out a general store for a holocaust survivor. That Christmas he found a box of paints under the tree. Without any training, he’s been painting ever since.
He was planning on going to college, but got called away to Vietnam at age 18. He didn’t think he was going see 19. Three days after he returned his dad was killed in car accident. So it was up to he and his brothers to care for his mother.
He met a caucasian woman and fell in love. They were disowned by parts of both sides of their families, but got married anyway. He planted a tree in the front yard of his house and has stayed there for 40 years.
After 29 years with a local bank, his job was outsourced to India. He retired 2 months ago.
“You know, I could probably be angry about a lot, but with guidance from friends and God, I’ve mellowed out. People ask me if I’m religious and I tell them, ‘Well, I believe there’s something guiding us. I’ve spoken to the angels and I think that God and I are pretty close. None of us own anything thing in life. We’re just renting this space. So, I watch my grandkids, I tend my garden and I sit on my porch and I paint what comes out of my head. I got a whole basement full of stuff. I think the best way to sell it is just put it out in the yard and see what sells. I’ve met the most interesting people just walking by!”
Also, he’s sumo wrestling fan. “It’s the championship today! I’m gonna knock off early and catch it on NHK TV!”
You can find more of his art on the corner of Indianola and Milford in Columbus, Ohio or at…
Friday, July 6, 2018
Safety in America as a thing. I’m trying to decide if it is a great thing.
Living for several years in an environment where one is searched on every entrance to the mall or large event, or with heavily armed guards outside the workplace or roaming the streets, One gets tuned into the potential of threats that could arise. It is an awakening to come home to America with so few safeguards.
There are far fewer cameras covertly or overtly placed. A much smaller security footprint is remarkable. It is breath of fresh air really to feel so un-oppressed by safety measures.
Until one's breath is taken away looking around at all the potential gaps that could allow something bad to happen.
The whole safety net seems to have a lot of holes. For example, thanks to Nice, France, roads are no longer barricaded with wooden barriers. Now city buses or dump trucks are parked to block major roads. Don’t want any deranged person to commandeer a truck and go for a death ride through the crowd.
At the same time, large public events are often totally unscreened.
Spawn of S.A.M. has taken to dressing up in a dinosaur outfit. This is not a time to ask why. It is just something they like to do. I suggested that the local fireworks display may make for some interesting fun.
And so onward we went. Dressing up in the car. We waddled on into the venue and were largely unchallenged. We even asked a guarding cop if we could pass.
“Sure! Just stay cool in that thing!”
And off we went spreading Jurassic joy.
This is my paranoia peeping through, but really, what better to disguise a suicide vest than inside an 7 foot inflatable dinosaur? Have we learned nothing from the Trojans?
Mind you inflatable dinos aren’t the only way. Coolers, wagons, bikes, picnic baskets are all potential vectors. It’s a deadly nightmare. And folks may say that controlling things couldn’t be done here, but many places do it with leagues of portable fencing and thousands of guards searching each individual box or bag coming in.
But it’s pleasing to find an America that is largely safe and in between firework explosions and when one stops thinking about it, it is relaxing and fun. And America in the Heartland is, these days, white and brown and yellow.
We were heartened to see Syrians, Somalis, Hispanics flocking to celebrate America’s birthday along with everyone else. Somali children like inflatable dinosaurs just as much as American children, and just as much as they crave a safe place to grow up.
And under the rockets red glare, everyone’s “oooos” and “aaaahs” sound exactly the same.
Friday, June 29, 2018
Boobs and pot are only cursorily related to this post. I’m seeking mastery in click-baiting in an effort to boost readers.
Democracy is a great thing. Or it used to be. Everyone gets a say in how their world should operate. I wonder sometimes, where it all went off into the weeds. You might say it’s gone to pot.
After being away for years, I was able to attend the Community Festival or Comfest in Columbus, Ohio. It is the largest volunteer run festival in something, something, something. It’s been going on for, darn near, 30 years and is a pretty big event. Here are their principles.
Multiple music stages, food, art, merchandise. For a weekend in June they transform a city park into a Love-in. Some of you dear readers would call it a libtard, freak show. There are bare-breasted women’s and lots of partaking.
It’s also a hotbed for community activism. It’s a great place for upcoming candidates to meet with those they wouldn’t ordinarily meet. Where else can a potential judge shake hands with men in kilts and hello kitty purses.
There are a number of organizations trying to start ballot initiatives. Health care reform. Environmental protection. Cannabis legalization. For the most part attendees are pretty community oriented. What better place to practice democracy? This is what makes America great.
Until one totally abdicates one’s right and privilege.
I was stopped by an activist and asked to sign a petition to support legalization of marijuana. I’m not totally convinced this is a great idea, but I wasn’t opposed to seeing it on the ballot. While completing my form I heard another conversation.
“Would you like to sign our petition?”
A young woman with a selfie- imager affixed to her hand replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not even registered to vote.” She was young and pretty and dressed for summer.
“That’s okay”, replied the activist, “you can register here, too!” And he offered her a different clipboard with a voter registration form on it. The cannabis people are really prepared.
“Oh, no, thank you!” She smiled.
I just wanted to bite her little head off!! But instead, I gently cajoled, “hey, c’mon. It’s a privilege. This is what makes America great!”
She just looked at me with her pale blue eyes and shrugged and then looked down at her phone and walked off to seek solace in her own vanity.
And I sulked off to drown my sorrows in a 7 dollar beer
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