Saturday, October 30, 2010

There is a God, and He is Good part 1

Every once in a while I get the opportunity to experience something truly eventful, well eventful to me at least. Every once in a while the planets align, global warming calms, and the world seems to take on a new look of love and peacefulness that I am sure one experiences only a few times during his or her life. This past week may very well have been one of those periods of "Zen" for yours truly.

It began hectically enough, as life seems to be in this day and age. The wife, M, was actually on time getting home from her half day at work. That was the good news. She had told me to be packed, and be ready. Well, I was. Unfortunately, the US Postal Service was a bit tardy on this Monday morning.

M packed and insisted we give the mail person more time. She had ordered three outfits the moment she learned of my winning an Ante Up Poker cruise at our local card room, and only one had arrived. She was expecting the other two this very day. She even went so far as to drive around the neighborhood to see if she could spot said mail person.

No luck.

We loaded the car and headed out for our two hour drive to Port Canaveral to board the Monarch of the Sea. This was to be our first cruise, and all week long I had been eagerly anticipating it. That had all changed when I learned that my grandmother had been hospitalized. She is 83 and had suffered a stroke about 3 or 4 years ago that left her unable to communicate as clearly as she would like. This hasn't really prevented her from trying to let you know what she is thinking however, and that is how I know my grandmother is still the same ole gram who used to paddle my ass when I was a youngster. I love her dearly, and the news of her hospitalization made my guilt meter rise.

What right do I have to attempt to enjoy myself with my grandma going into the hospital? My mother had told me gram was fine. She may have had a minor stroke, but they would know more once they ran more tests. It made sense to go on the cruise. There was not much I could do for her, in Florida, while she was in the hospital in New York. My logical side took over and the decision was made to put our heads down and have a good time.

M was not happy about not having her new outfits. To her defense the outfits were at our doorstep when we returned, and they were really nice looking. She looks good, in anything, anyway. I still can't believe she hangs around with my overweight ass, but I am happy about it.

I thought the drive down was under two hours. I did not press M as we waited for the mailman. As we got closer to Port Canaveral I realized I may have been a bit passive in guaranteeing our on time arrival. The ship leaves at 4:30. They said we have to be boarded by 3 PM. It was 2:45 and we were not yet close enough to even be sure we knew where we were going.

We could see two ships. One of them was ours, this much I was sure of. There were two exits, one for piers 1-10, and tho other for 11-18, or something. We did not know which exit to take. I drove past the first exit and almost immediately wished I had not. As I went by I could see how the road wound around and went on right towards the ships.


U-turn off next exit.

Driving too fast now. I slow down and tell M to relax. M is thinking they won't let us on the boat. I am secretly thinking "good because I don't even know if this is a good idea or not". Of course, I keep this to myself.

I instead calm her by saying there is no way they won't let us on the ship. It doesn't even leave for another hour and a half. Be cool, sweetie.

We follow the signs and proceed through the parking lot arriving at the baggage drop at almost exactly 3 PM. Michelle flies out of the car and the baggage man, a portly, older, black man smiled at her and said "relax, slow down, you have plenty of time. You are here to relax ma'am."

I slip him a couple dollars and ask him where I should park. He points out an open spot quite close to where we are. Everything is fine. Crisis averted.

We go through customs. They don't check anything. There are no lines as I believe we were one of the last few to get on the boat. I think I like this.

We wander around, luggage in tow, and spot a place to buy a week long "soda pass". It cost six dollars per day. My cousin had told me to get one because it allows you to have all the juice and soda you want at meals as well as anywhere on the boat including the private island we would be spending one day at later on the trip. We got two, one for each of us.

They make it very easy for you to pay as you go. You are given a "sea pass" card. This allows you to charge anything you wish to purchase to a credit card allowing you to not carry your wallet or even any cash. It's also your room key and the key piece of identification when disembarking or getting back on the boat. This allows you to be as frugal as you wish to be. It is quite convenient.

When you purchase the soda passes you also receive two large refillable cups. You don't need these cups to get the unlimited soda but they are nice to have out by the pool. The only reason I mention these cups is because we lost one of them the very first evening. We were sure it was gone forever. Nice investment, that was.

We found our room, and boy was it small. You know what though? It had everything one would need. You spend almost NO time in your room other than to sleep, or do other intimate things, usually right before or right after sleep, a least for me. So, there you go. The room was small, but the bed was comfortable, and it was a very cozy experience. The bathroom may have been big enough for only one, but there were plenty of mirrors.

The next thing we needed to do was "muster" on the 7th deck. Everything is in decks, because it's a ship, and if you say "floors" they sort of look at you like you are a bit slow. It ended up taking me two solid days and nights to finally figure out the quickest way to get around the ship. I mean, stuff like this is how I know I'm not very smart.

After mustering, and everyone being accounted for, they pushed off from the dock. We made our way out of Port Canaveral, and out into the Atlantic. We were bound for Nassau, Bahamas and would arrive there in the morning for our first port of call.

Eventually M and I stumbled upon the Ante Up Poker magazine's Welcome Party. There were appetizers and free drinks. I decided to partake in both, as did the wife. We listened to Scott Long, publisher of the magazine, talk about some things. He introduced some gentleman who had won a World Series of Poker bracelet. He introduced the poker dealers that were on the trip. He talked about some other things, but I don't remember. I was drinking, and eating, and still taking it all in.

I heard him mention the hours the poker room would be open, and it was more than adequate. Lately I had been running bad. I had a few losing sessions. I had also played badly the last time I had sat down in a game. I really wasn't in the mood to grind out any kind of long ass poker sessions. I was looking way more forward to having fun.

I believe, but do not quote me, that there were like a thousand people on the cruise. 200 or so were here because of Ante Up. Ante Up had reserved two conference rooms to act as poker rooms. They brought very competent dealers to deal their cash and tournament games. They ran the games well, and stayed on top of things like good room managers should do.

The only criticism I would have was the proximity of the tables to each other in the cash game room. The second day an older gentleman went down when a woman tried to move in her chair so he could get by. Instead she picked up the back legs of the chair and put one of them down square on his big toe. He went down and gave a yell that sounded like he had been shot. As he went down he also scraped his arm on something. He was bleeding a little bit. I think they removed a table after that incident. They may have just rearranged them, I don't know, it seemed like there was more room after that man went down.

I won a little bit that first night playing 2-5 nl hold em. I didn't play for very long as the game was not that great. A couple of winners had changed games, and a couple of losers had gone to lick their wounds. I was winning, but I was card dead. I had an intense toothache that had been building throughout the day. So, I quit and went to bed. M was tired anyhow, it worked out nicely.

Another troubling thing was the only reason I made any money that night was because I put $300 in the pot, on the flop, with a flush draw. I was called by two pair and top pair, top kicker. It was a good gambling situation, and I hit it. I was not getting the good starting hands to really gamble very much, however. That, and the month to this point had not been very good. This was still not quite a vacation for me even though I wanted one desperately. It's like this ongoing battle I have with myself, and quite often. Sometimes card playing becomes work, and everyone knows work is not play.

M and I went to bed, a very cozy bed. I was liquored up, body numb, and very exhausted. Did I mention the bed was cozy?

I'm going to stop for now because I am sick of writing. I'll continue tomorrow, or sometime soon, with our arriving in Nassau, and our stroll down Bay Street. Never a dull moment as there was actual gun play, or near gun play, I suppose.

Codsey out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Think They Mean Well

Hey everyone, or no one, whatever it may be. Norton here, your self appointed Emperor of these, The United States of America. Congress did not listen. I asked them, politely, to please return home so we could install a more people oriented government. Of course they would not go.

You know how they are. They believe the bills they pass and the policies they enact are for the good of the people. I hope no one has any more sinister ideas. So, if they are doing what they believe to be best, and we elected them, then why all the hub-bub, bub?

Well, it may be that a large number of people did not exactly realize the route that was going to be taken to make things better for all of us. The economy seemed to be working along like a mirage that seems to never get nearer. It was chugging feverishly while interest rates came down, and people spent like never before. George Bush was the new president, elected among "questionable" supreme court decisions. So many people felt like the election was stolen. Polarization was strong.

But, one September morning everything changed. Islamic radicals slammed two jets into the twin towers, and another into the pentagon. Except for the suicidal bravery of the passengers aboard a fifth, the White House may have been the final target.

Everyone wanted answers. Nearly all wanted action. We wanted revenge upon those who blatantly attacked and murdered our friends, wives, children, and relatives. These enemies of America were unlike others in the past. They kill the innocent. They kill Everyday Joe just trying to make a buck, feed his family and make his way on this planet.

We went to war. People cheered. I was at a Nascar race when it was announced we had begun bombing Al Queda in Afghanistan. I cheered.

We went to War in Iraq. Fewer cheered. Barrack voted against the Iraq war. The evidence suggested Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It was accepted.

And so began our 9 year, two front war, costing thousands of American lives, thousands of Arabic lives, and billions and billions of dollars. The economy started to slag, a bit. The spending was slowing.

President Bush sent everyone a $600 check. It had the desired effect because people spent that money. Some used it to stay afloat, and some used it for recreation. Either way, it was spent, the economy gasped, put it's head down, and chugged onward.

Interest rates were lowered again, reaching record lows. People had to be encouraged to borrow and spend. The economy grabbed at it's chest, but continued onward. Always forward, always growing.

We found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We deposed, and eventually put to death one Sadam Hussein. His people rejoiced. Our reason for the war were unfounded, but we had done what needed to be done. Now, we had to rebuild Iraq. We had to let them vote, let them stand for themselves. We had to make them realize freedom is worth fighting for, and to be free meant struggle. The economic costs to the US increased.

The people began to become restless. How could you lie to us, Mr. President? How could you say there were weapons of mass destruction when clearly there were not? How can you spend this money on a war we did not want? How is it the Vice President shot a man while quail hunting? How is it someone threw a shoe at you? You have become a laughing stock on the late night shows Mr. President. We will find a replacement.

And we did. We elected a man who promised Hope and Change. Well, it had to be better than the last 8 years, right? George Bush was made out to be a bumbling fool who could no more make a dinner decision than a decision on the handling of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

We elected the first man of color as the President of the United States of America. A monumental occasion to say the least. At the time I was proud to be an American. While I did not agree with all of Obama's ideologies, I believe him to be a man of honor. Something else happened as well, however. Here is where things begin to get dicey.

Along with Mr. Obama, we also elected the Democrats to control of BOTH the House and the Senate. One step of the checks and balances set forth by our constitution had been derailed. The Presidents policies, as long as he had the backing of the members of congress in his own party, were unstoppable.

Before they got a chance to roll forward something else happened. The bottom fell out of the real estate market. Values of homes began to plummet. Record numbers of people were being foreclosed upon. We were entering into an economic epidemic that has not been seen since the 1930's.

The banks were in trouble. Fannie May and Freddie Mac were on the verge of bankruptcy. Our head economic czars explained to our outgoing and incoming Presidents that we had to save the banks. Both Presidents were explained the situation in detail, I would assume. Both agreed it must be done. TARP was passed, and another 780 billion went into the debt side of the ledger.

The stock market tumbled. People's retirement funds were drying up before their very eyes. They got out of the market, it continued to slide.

The banks were saved. The market leveled and began to climb. We had averted destruction, but were not out of the woods just yet.

The wars continued, the spending went on.

The economy faltered. It could not sustain the weight of it's own lust. People still could not pay their mortgages. No one was buying anything. We were scared. The automobile industry was in serious trouble. We took them under our wings. We, as a people, invested in their businesses. Congress passed Cash for Clunkers. The auto industry leveled. Crisis averted. We were still not yet out of the woods.

The economy did not pick up steam. Businesses were failing. Firings and layoffs were happening to the tune of 800,000 jobs per month. We need jobs!! was the cry of the masses.

Enter the stimulus. Another 800 billion was pumped into the economy. We were convinced by the promise of "shovel ready" projects only needing the funding to put people to work. Well, we've got the funding alright.

The economists in the president's ear said don't worry about deficit spending and the ever increasing debt. Eventually, it will be paid off, we are fine. This 800 billion dollars will save jobs and keep people spending.

Well, there has been some argument as to how many jobs were saved. Mr. Obama recently stated that there weren't any "shovel ready" projects, and in fact there is no such thing. Huh?

The people were becoming extremely restless. How can this spending continue? What future are we leaving to our children?

As though this were not all bad enough the democratic congress and executive branch were feverishly passing their laws and bills in an effort to make things better for all of us. They had a social agenda they were in the process of enacting. First up, Health care.

I can't even talk about it. My favorite quote from the "debates" about health care was Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house, stating "let's pass the bill first, and then we can find out what is in it." Maybe I'm paraphrasing, I don't know. I was floored.

They passed it. They told us it would save money in the long run. They told us the reforms were necessary and people need to be covered. The people grew more restless.

Most people do not understand how people already paying for health insurance coverage will somehow pay less if we add 20 million non payers to the system. The tea party was created.

Now, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. The top earners will pay an additional 10% in income taxes. This new number was used to help pay for the new Health care bill. If those tax cuts do not expire, then the revenue to pay for health care is not there.

The tea party went bonkers. They marched on Washington. It was brushed aside and the tea partiers were labeled as extremist and less than intelligent right wing radio listeners. Which brings us to where we are today.

The political races are fun. I have ever heard so many politicians side step the issues on peoples minds. How are you going to put Ray Ray to work so he is not sitting his ass on the sofa playing Call of Duty all day?

You have to ask yourself one basic question.

Do you believe the economy would be better off, that more people would be working, that more money would be moving around, if we tax the rich and have the government redistribute it to the lower classes, OR, if we let the rich keep more of their money and let them choose to either invest it or save it.

If we tax the rich, and the government redistributes it, it does not get invested by the rich. It does not go to research and development. It does not go towards expanding businesses. It does not go towards higher wages for employees. It does not go towards additional benefits. It goes to the government to be spent on what they see as fit.

Don't get me wrong. I am sure the national government has good intentions on how to use that money. But the middle class does not get any of it. It skips us.

If we don't get any of it, and it skips us to go directly to whatever plan the government has for it, then how are we going to pay the fines, fees, and taxes lumped on us by our local and state governments because they too are in a financial disaster? $200 per car registration in the state of Florida? Who would have thought?

How are we going to spend money on goods and services so this country climbs out of this damned recession if we don't have it to spend? How are we going to continue to support the current social programs if we, meaning the middle class, do not get to at least hold the money even if just for a little while?

It's Reaganomics v. Obamanomics. What do you believe?

I would honestly like to see the entire system overhauled. I think it is an inefficient and non cost productive way to provide for a nation's needy. How is it this great country can continue to slide south in the area of education? Could it be the system, with the current sociological set up of our inner cities, does not achieve the desired results?

What about feeding the poor? Our current system is not cost effective. There are better ways than food stamps and soup kitchens. Would it cost more to simply have the government make basic necessities FREE FOR ALL? Of course, it is not free. Taxpayers pay for everything.

How about the IRS and the current tax system? Is there not a more cost effective, more efficient way to collect and distribute tax revenue? There MUST be. What about a progressive national sales tax? Let the businesses collect it for the government, and cut out a large part of a very fat middle man.

I was at the car wash the other day. There was a police car in front of me. His wash cycle was taking a long time. He had purchased "the works" to clean his mean machine. "The works" cost 10 dollars. That is an average price for our area of Florida, and it took him about 15 minutes to complete it. Well, what if we paid a guy 15$ per hour to wash TWO police cars ever hour? I know it is probably not that easy, but it might be. Multiply that savings by a thousand counties, and multiply it again by 52 weeks, and that is quite a savings, and quite a large group of new employees.

I am sure there are brilliant people out there, in our public sector, that have many ideas. As long as saving money and creating jobs is the goal than how can it be wrong?

This election cycle, as your sitting there thinking about things, and as your mind turns to the state of things to come, concentrate on the issues. Concentrate on how each candidate plans to help make things better. Understand the how and why of what they want to accomplish.

It's easy to talk about who is a witch, and who called who a whore. Focusing on the important issues becomes almost impossible some times. Try. Really try.

Think about how you believe things work, and what overall strategies seem better than others, and then find the candidates in your area that think as you do. There may not be many.

Right now we need people collecting a paycheck. Just vote. Do it.

Norton out.