Friday, December 31, 2010

Euro: The Morning After

From Yahoo News:
"Euro turns to problem for Eastern Europe"
Bells pealed and fireworks shot across midnight skies in Bratislava two years ago, as Slovaks celebrated not only the New Year but also their country's long-sought entry to the club of nations using the continent's common currency, the euro. Fast forward to the dying days of 2010 — after the eurozone's debt crisis forced the bailouts of Greece and Ireland and painful austerity measures across the region_ and one thing is clear: while Slovaks will again turn out in droves on Dec. 31, the cheer will have nothing to do with belonging to the euro. The pride felt back then at being the first in the former Soviet bloc to adopt the euro has been tempered by the responsibilities that come with sharing a common European currency. Two years ago, the euro was viewed as a safe haven of financial stability, insurance against wild swings of national currencies that could throw national budgets out of kilter and threaten economic growth. For Slovakia, it also signaled arrival into the prosperous club of EU nations less than two decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Now, as eurozone nations are asked to help bail out others overwhelmed by debt and the risk of contagion spreads beyond Ireland and Greece, adopting the common currency is no longer a top priority for former communist countries still outside the zone. And in newcomer countries, like Slovakia, some now see the euro as a burden, not a blessing. "It seems that they allowed us to enter only to pay for their debts," said Petra Hargasova, a 22-year old economics student, her hands cupped around a glass of mulled wine to fight the chill while taking in a Bratislava Christmas market. Some in the Slovak leadership are even looking for a way out. In a recent commentary in the Hospodarske Noviny business daily, Parliament speaker Richard Sulik sent ripples across the already edgy eurozone by arguing that Slovakia should be ready to abandon the euro and switch to its former national currency. The Finance Ministry was quick to dismiss his remarks and experts note that the quick fix proposed by Sulik would likely backfire. Economist Nicolas Veron of the Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel says that leaving the eurozone "would be economically disruptive" for the nation. On the plus side, dropping the euro would allow a nation like Slovakia to devalue its national currency. That would help it boost its trade competitiveness against eurozone nations wrestling with the costs of the bailout and tightening their own belts. At the same time investors are likely to punish defectors, pulling out in fear that their euro-denominated assets will be converted and devalued, to the point of possible financial collapse for the nation involved. But anti-euro sentiment remains strong in a country that defied its partners earlier this year by refusing to provide its euro800 million ($1.05 billion) share of the euro110 billion ($145 billion) EU bailout loan for Greece. "Everyone with common sense can see that the system is ill," said Matus Posvanc, an analyst from the F. A. Hayek Foundation, a conservative think tank in Bratislava. He called attempts to bail out Athens futile "because Greece's bankruptcy is inevitable." With euro-skepticism extending into the top levels of government, Slovakia is among the most vocal of nations pressing for new rules that would force private investors, not only taxpayers, to pay their share. Under discussion is a so-called European Stability Mechanism, which would force private creditors to do just that by allotting them a share of the bailout burden if a nation is deemed insolvent. In refusing to pay its share of the Greek bailout package, "our main objection was ... that it was only the taxpayers who have to pay," Slovak Finance Minister Ivan Miklos told The Associated Press. "But the banks, which contributed to the problem and made profit by providing loans to problematic countries in the past, didn't have to pay a single cent." "To maintain such practice means to repeat the previous mistakes," he said. Miklos argued that the current rules undermine a trust of people in the free market economy. "The profits are privatized but the losses are socialized," Miklos said. "When it works, a few make money, but when it collapses because they take too big a risk, we all have to pay. That's a huge problem." Nigel Rendell, an economist at RBC Capital Markets in London, said Slovak concerns were understandable. "Slovakia worked incredibly hard to gain membership of the euro," he said. "Now they find themselves having to dip into their own pockets to finance foreign governments that spent too much and should have known better." Other newcomers are also having doubts, while outsiders are suddenly in no hurry to join the euro club, which Rendell says is no longer seen "as a final seal of approval for completing the transition from command to market economy." "Timetables for membership right across the region are being pushed back, perhaps even delayed forever," he said. Recent developments seem to back that view.
Although Slovene Prime Minister Borut Pahor has defended his country's loan guarantees for Ireland, a recent survey by the prominent polling agency Mediana indicated 67 percent of citizens were opposed. While the Polish government has suggested 2015 as a target date, it's lagging commitment to meeting necessary criteria may speak louder than words. At a forecast 7.9 percent of gross domestic product this year, Poland's budget deficit — like those of some other former Soviet bloc nations — remains notably above the 3 percent benchmark needed for eurozone entry. Polish skepticism of euro adoption has been growing since the country did relatively well during the global economic downturn while still using its currency, the zloty. In 2009, Poland's economy grew 1.7 percent, making it the only EU country to avoid recession. The governor of Poland's central bank, Marek Belka, voiced the country's anxieties when he said earlier this month that Poland should not rush to adopt the euro until the EU reforms its institutions to support a stable common currency. He called European monetary union "an ambitious but unfinished project." Monika Kurtek, an economist with the BPH Bank in Warsaw, said she believed the 2015 date was not a real goal and that in any case Poland will not be ready by then. "Our government does not want to point to a concrete date," she says. "They are speaking about 2015 but it is not even a forecast." Euro outsiders can now devalue their currencies against their eurozone partners and — like the Polish zloty — the weaker Czech koruna has helped Prague's export sector during the financial crisis gripping the eurozone. The Czech Republic is yet to set a target date to join the euro, which President Vaclav Klaus has repeatedly described as a failure. He scoffed last month — when visiting German President Christian Wulff called the joint currency a "success story" — that neither the government, parliament nor the Czech central bank were ready to push to join the eurozone in the foreseeable future. Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said that adapting the euro now "would be economic and political foolishness." Despite the chorus of disapproval, Estonia is bucking the trend and will become the 17th member of the eurozone on Jan 1. Finance Minister Jurgen Ligi recently said his country was willing to pitch in financially "to keep the eurozone stable and the European Union healthy." But ordinary Estonians are dubious and wonder what they may be getting into as daily headlines trace the downfall of once-thriving economies like Ireland. Just 54 percent of Estonians currently support eurozone entry, according to a November poll by the Faktum & Ariko polling organization. As for Slovakia, Miklos, the finance minister, says his country still benefits from the euro, pointing to projected economic growth of 4.1 percent in 2010 — the eurozone's highest. But he said Slovakia and all other euro nations must apply strict fiscal policies, reduce deficits and carry out necessary reforms to remain credible for the markets. "It turned out the risk of (the euro's) sustainability is higher than we had expected," he said.

^ All I will say is: I told you so. ^

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Deaths

- Ike Aranne: 86, captain of the Exodus ship.

- Glen Bell Jr.: 86, Taco Bell founder.

- Barbara Billingsley: 94, actress(Leave It To Beaver.)

- Tom Bosley: 83, actor (Happy Days.)

- Dixie Carter: 70, actress (Designing Woman.)

- Liam Clancy: 74, singer in the Clancy Brothers.

- Art Clokey: 88, created Gumby.

- Gary Coleman: 42, actor (Diff'rent Strokes.)

- Tony Curtis: 85, actor (Some Like It Hot.)

- Jimmy Dean: 81, country singer, sausage maker.

- Anatoly Dobrynin: 90, long-serving Soviet Ambassador to the US from 1962-1986.

- Eddie Fisher: 82, singer.

- Miep Gies: 100, hid Anne Frank during World War 2.

- Peter Graves: 83, actor (Mission Impossible and Airplane!)

- Kathryn Grayson: 88, actress (Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate.)

- Corey Haim: 38, actor.

- Jeanne Holm: 88, first female 2-star general in the US.

- Richard Holbrooke: 69, diplomat.

- Dennis Hopper: 74, actor.

- Lena Horne: 92, singer.

- Lech Kaczynski: 60, President of Poland.

- Dorothy Kamenshek: 84, inspired the movie A League Of Their Own.

- Art Linkletter: 97, radio and TV personality.

- James MacArthur: 72, actor (Hawaii Five-O.)

- Rue McClanahan: 76, actress (Golden Girls.)

- Brittany Murphy: 32, actress (Clueless.)

- Fess Parker: 85, actor (Davy Crockett.)

- J D Salinger: 91, author (Catcher in the Rye.)

- Edith Shain: 91, nurse in the famous V-J photo.

- Gloria Stuart: 100, actress (Titanic.)

Baby Boomers Retire

From Yahoo News:
"Baby boomers near 65 with retirements in jeopardy"

I do not understand why people are so shocked that the Baby Boomers are starting to retire. Governments had 65 years to prepare for this and they did little if anything.

Germans Want Mark Back

From Deutsche Welle:
"Survey finds half of Germans want deutschmark back"

It's been a tough year for the euro, with debt crises in some eurozone countries chipping away at the common European currency's value. Many fiscally disciplined Germans were frustrated to see their taxes going to bail out Greece and Ireland, whose governments' debts had threatened to bring the euro down.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: The past year has seen increasing pressure on the single currency For that reason, it seems that many Germans look fondly back to the days of the deutschmark, once one of the world's most stable currencies. German daily Bild commissioned a survey by Cologne's YouGov-Institute that found that 49 percent of Germans want the deutschmark back. Only 41 percent of those surveyed don't. The survey also found that the majority of Germans are worried about the stability of the euro and the possibility of inflation. Some 77 percent of the 1,068 people questioned by YouGov said they personally had not profited from the adoption of the euro. If the country were currently not part of the eurozone, only 30 percent of those asked would today vote to adopt the euro and 60 percent would vote against such a move. Yet despite the respondents' concerns, the majority believes the euro is here to stay. Asked whether the euro would still be country's currency in 20 years, 55 percent of the respondents said yes. Germany adopted the euro in 1999 along with 10 other countries. Greece signed on in 2001 and euro bills and coins were introduced in 2002. Since then Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta and Slovakia have joined as well. On January 1, Estonia will become the 17th member of the euro area.

^ I had a feeling back in 1999 that the Euro and the EU was getting too big and doing too much too fast. It seems that I was right and now people are starting to rethink things. ^,,14737918,00.html

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Yesterday we drove to New York and picked up my Great-Aunt. We didn't stay long as we had to make it home to let the dogs out and because it was Christmas Eve and we wanted to start celebrating. We had our traditional Christmas Eve dinner (pepperoni bread, spinach and artichoke dip, meat pie, pecan tarts and cookies.) We had a fire and opened our presents. I got some nice things this year.
Today, we took it easy. We watched some DVDs, and then had our traditional Christmas meal (roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.) It was really good.
Tomorrow, we are bringing my Great-Aunt back home. We are now under a Winter Storm Warning starting tomorrow night and going through Monday. We are supposed to get at least a foot of snow. At least we can just stay home and avoid all weather problems.
While I did not get as many Christmas cards this year - it seems the number gets smaller every year - it was still a really nice holiday with my Great-Aunt and my mom.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


I know this ended a while ago, but I just watched it on my TiVo. I am really glad that Nat and Cat won. They were one of the best teams throughout the whole race. They didn't have much drama and were nice to everyone else. They are the first all female team to win the race. I'm glad that they won instead of the TV show people - they were pretty annoying.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nicholas And Alexandra (1971)

I watched this movie and thought it was pretty long (3 hours) and could have told the story better in a shorter way. It seems that Nicolas cared more about his family then he did ruling Russia while Alexandria cared more about her own power than anything else. The children were just born to the wrong parents at the wrong time. If there had been a czar that was more involved with the Russian people then I don't think the February or October Revolutions would have happened. The Communists also wouldn't have come to power and the millions upon millions of innocent people wouldn't have been killed by them in all the countries they controlled.

Census Results

From Yahoo News:
"Census shows slowing US growth, brings GOP gains"

Republican-leaning states will gain at least a half dozen House seats thanks to the 2010 census, which found the nation's population growing more slowly than in past decades but still shifting to the South and West. The Census Bureau announced Tuesday that the nation's population on April 1 was 308,745,538, up from 281.4 million a decade ago. The growth rate for the past decade was 9.7 percent, the lowest since the Great Depression. The nation's population grew by 13.2 percent from 1990 to 2000. Michigan was the only state to lose population during the past decade. Nevada, with a 35 percent increase, was the fastest-growing state. The new numbers are a boon for Republicans, with Texas leading the way among GOP-leaning states that will gain House seats, mostly at the Rust Belt's expense. Following each once-a-decade census, the nation must reapportion the House's 435 districts to make them roughly equal in population, with each state getting at least one seat. That triggers an often contentious and partisan process in many states, which will draw new congressional district lines that can help or hurt either party. In all, the census figures show a shift affecting 18 states taking effect when the 113th Congress takes office in 2013. Texas will gain four new House seats, and Florida will gain two. Gaining one each are Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. Ohio and New York will lose two House seats each. Losing one House seat are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Florida will now have as many U.S. House members as New York: 27. California will still have 53 seats, and Texas will climb to 36. In 2008, President Barack Obama lost in Texas and most of the other states that are gaining House seats. He carried most of the states that are losing House seats, including Ohio and New York. Each House district represents an electoral vote in the presidential election process, meaning the political map for the 2012 election will tilt somewhat more Republican. If Obama were to carry the same states he won in 2008, they would net him six fewer electoral votes under the new map. Some states Obama won, such as Florida, tilted Republican in last month's election and the electoral votes they will gain could further help GOP candidates in 2012. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not expect the census results to have a "huge practical impact" on national politics. For the first time in its history, Democratic-leaning California will not gain a House seat after a census. Since 1940, 79 House seats have shifted to the South and West, mainly from the Northeast and Midwest, census officials said. Starting early next year, most state governments will use detailed, computer-generated data on voting patterns to carve neighborhoods in or out of newly drawn House districts, tilting them more to the left or right. Sometimes politicians play it safe, quietly agreeing to protect Republican and Democratic incumbents alike. But sometimes the party in control will gamble and aggressively try to reconfigure the map to dump as many opponents as possible. Last month's elections put Republicans in full control of numerous state governments, giving the GOP an overall edge in the redistricting process. State governments' ability to gerrymander districts is somewhat limited, however, by court rulings that require roughly equal populations, among other things. The 1965 Voting Rights Act protects ethnic minorities in several states that are subject to U.S. Justice Department oversight. The average population of a new U.S. House district will be 710,767. But each state must have at least one district. So Wyoming, the least populous state with 563,626 residents, will have a representative with considerably fewer constituents. Six other states will have one House member. Each state has two U.S. senators, regardless of population. The U.S. is still growing quickly relative to other developed nations. The population in France and England each increased roughly 5 percent over the past decade, while in Japan the number is largely unchanged, and Germany's population is declining. China grew at about 6 percent; Canada's growth rate is roughly 10 percent. The South had the fastest growth since 2000, at 14.3 percent, the Census Bureau said. The West was close behind at 13.8 percent. The Northeast had 3.2 percent growth while the Midwest had 3.9 percent. The declining U.S. growth rate since 2000 is due partly to the economic meltdown in 2008, which brought U.S. births and illegal immigration to a near standstill compared with previous years. The 2010 count represents the number of people — citizens as well as legal and illegal immigrants — who called the U.S. their home on April 1. States losing political clout may have little recourse to challenge the census numbers. Still, census officials were bracing for the possibility of lawsuits seeking to revise the 2010 findings. North Carolina just missed picking up the last House seat, falling short by roughly 15,000 people. The release of state apportionment numbers is the first set of numbers from the 2010 census. Beginning in February, the Census Bureau will release population and race breakdowns down to the neighborhood level for states to redraw congressional boundaries. Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey and Mississippi will be among the first states to receive their redistricting data in February. The 2010 census results also are used to distribute more than $400 billion in annual federal aid and will change each state's Electoral College votes beginning in the 2012 presidential election.

^ I guess it does pay to be counted. ^

European Travel Rights

From BBC News:
"Snow Travel Chaos"

Air travel

Flights have been disrupted by the weather at a number of UK airports causing frustration for many air passengers. Many have been told to stay away from airports until their flight is confirmed. Passengers with a ticket have a contract with the airline to get them from A to B. So that means the airline must try to re-route the journey - even if that means a bus or taxi transfer to another airport for a flight with a different operator. Alternatively, passengers can choose to have a refund. The Air Transport Users Council says that airlines are usually quite swift to give refunds. Some passengers have had to spend a night in a terminal building If a flight is delayed, there are strict European rules in place, which mean that the airline is obliged to supply meals and refreshments, along with accommodation if an overnight stay is required. Whether passengers qualify will depend on the length of the flight and the delay. For example, for flights of 1,500km or less where there is a delay of more than two hours, a passenger should be given meals and refreshments, along with two free telephone calls, e-mails, telexes or faxes. If the delay is for five hours or more, passengers are also entitled to a refund of their ticket with a free flight back to their initial point of departure if this is relevant. People flying into the European Union from overseas are also covered by the rules, as long as they are travelling on a European airline. So are those on a non-EU carrier leaving from an EU airport. They also apply to passengers who have two single tickets. Passengers making their own way home, if stranded overseas, can claim "reasonable" expenses when they return. However, if their original flight operates as planned they may not be able to get their money back. However, owing to the fact that cancellations are beyond airlines' control, there is no automatic right to any extra compensation.

Package holidays
Package deals guarantee a trip back from destinations or a holiday refund and this cover comes into force when bad weather forces a cancellation. Operators must refund customers for the whole holiday if trips are cancelled, meaning they could not get to their destination. In reality, operators tend to give three options to people on package deals. They are: deferring the leaving date of the holiday, transferring to another holiday of the same or similar value, or a refund of the amount paid for the whole holiday. Independent travellers can also have a look at their travel insurance policy which might cover the cancellation of a trip owing to bad weather. This may or may not cover the cost of, for example, accommodation booked separately. Those who spent more than £100 on each individual ticket using a credit card might be able to claim from their card provider.

The snow has frozen on the roads causing dangerous icy conditions. During the coldest snaps, motorists have been warned only to drive if their journey is necessary. Breakdown organisations, such as the RAC, say that they are expecting batteries and non-starts to be the biggest cause of mechanical problems. The organisation also points out their cover is for breakdown, not to drag vehicles out of the snow outside owners' homes. "We will do what we can to help people but our priority is to help those broken down in a dangerous position," says spokeswoman Vicki Burn. Those travelling in wintry weather over the next few days should ensure they take extra clothes and blankets for the journey, and those on medication should check they have enough with them. Drivers should allow extra time, pack a scraper and de-icer, and clear lights as well as windscreens. A charged-up mobile phone, torch and potentially a shovel should also be put in the car.

Rail travel
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) expects a busy festive period, with many rail travellers having booked advance tickets on specific services. Some traditional forms of travel have also proved difficult in the wintry weather That means some people's travel plans are set in stone, so they could face difficulties if specific trains are cancelled. However, with most train companies, these tickets should be valid on other services - even those run by other operators - although the seat reservation would clearly not be secured. But you should check with your train operator and talk to train staff before getting on an alternative service. "People will be compensated for train cancellations and delays caused by the weather, but different train companies have different guidelines so it is important for passengers to contact their operator," says an Atoc spokeswoman. "As a minimum if your service is delayed by an hour of more, you should be entitled to some level of compensation, but some train companies will consider delays of less than an hour, so it is important to check." Compensation forms are usually available at stations or on the operator's website.

Speed limits are in place on the high-speed service to Europe adding two hours to journey times. Any travellers who do not need to travel before Christmas are being asked to postpone or cancel their journey. They will be eligible for a refund or an exchange for a ticket after Christmas, in the next 90 days. Passengers willing to do so should contact the agent who sold them the ticket within 60 days for a refund of unused tickets, or for a free exchange, subject to availability, onto a train on another date after Christmas.

^ It's good to know if you are in Europe. I only wish we had the same kind of rules here in the US. ^

New Internet Rules

From Yahoo News:
"Divided FCC adopts rules to protect Web traffic"

A divided Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules meant to prohibit broadband companies from interfering with Internet traffic flowing to their customers. The 3-2 vote Tuesday marks a major victory for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has spent more than a year trying to craft a compromise. The FCC's three Democrats voted to pass the rules, while the two Republicans opposed them, calling them unnecessary regulation. The new rules are likely to face intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill once Republicans take over the House. Meanwhile, public interest groups decried the regulations as too weak, particularly for wireless systems. Known as "net neutrality," the rules prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services, such as those from rivals. The rules require broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks — including online calling services, Internet video and other Web applications that compete with their core businesses. But the rules give broadband providers flexibility to manage data on their systems to deal with problems such as network congestion and unwanted traffic including spam as long as they publicly disclose their network management practices. The regulations prohibit unreasonable network discrimination — a category that FCC officials say would most likely include services that favor traffic from the broadband providers themselves or traffic from business partners that can pay for priority. The rules do, however, leave the door open for broadband providers to experiment with routing traffic from specialized services such as smart grids and home security systems over dedicated networks as long as these services are separate from the public Internet. In addition, the regulations prohibit wireless carriers from blocking access to any websites or competing applications such as Internet calling services on mobile devices, and require them to disclose their network management practices, too. But the rules give wireless companies would get more leeway to manage data traffic because wireless systems have more bandwidth constraints than wired networks. Genachowski said the regulations will prohibit broadband providers from abusing their control over the on-ramps that consumers use to get onto the Internet. He said the companies won't be able to determine where their customers can go and what they can do online. "Today, for the first time, we are adopting rules to preserve basic Internet values," Genachowski said. "For the first time, we'll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness." Still, the final rules came as a disappointment to public interest groups. Even Genachowski's two Democratic colleagues on the five-member FCC were disappointed, though they still voted to adopt the rules after concluding some safeguards are better than none. They warn that the new regulations may not be strong enough to prevent broadband companies from picking winners and losers on the Internet, particularly on wireless systems, which will have more limited protections. They also worry that the rules don't do enough to ensure that broadband providers cannot favor their own traffic or the traffic of business partners that can pay for priority — resulting in a two-tiered Internet. "Today's action could — and should — have gone further," said Michael Copps, one of the other two Democrats on the commission. But, he added, the regulations do represent some progress "to put consumers — not Big Phone or Big Cable — in control of their online experiences." At the same time, the two Republicans on the FCC worried that the rules will discourage phone and cable companies from continuing to upgrade their networks by making it difficult for them to earn a healthy return on their investments. They also insist that the regulations are intended to fix a problem that does not exist, as all the major broadband providers have already pledged not to discriminate against Internet traffic on their networks. "The Internet will be no more open tomorrow than it is today," said Meredith Attwell Baker, a Republican. Republicans on Capitol Hill vowed to try to block the new regulations. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, plans to introduce a "resolution of disapproval" to try to overturn what she called "troubling regulatory overreach by the FCC." Robert McDowell, the FCC's other Republican, predicted that the FCC will face court challenges to its regulatory authority, too. In April, a federal appeals court ruled that the agency had exceeded its existing authority in sanctioning Comcast Corp. for discriminating against online file-sharing traffic on its network — violating broad net neutrality principles first established by the FCC in 2005. Those principles serve as a foundation for the formal regulations adopted Tuesday.

^ I am not sure on these new rules and am going to wait and see how they are enforced. ^

DC Metro Bag Checks

From Yahoo News:
"Random bag checks start at DC-area Metro stations"

This seems like it is only a ploy to try and make people think they are actually doing something. I don't see these random checks as doing anything to keep passengers on the Metro safe.

Snow Chaos In Europe

From BBC News:
"Cold weather causes travel chaos"

I am surprised at how poorly most European (especially Western European) countries are dealing with the snow. Millions of people have been affected since the beginning of December and you would think that airlines, airports and governments would have learned and improved things 3 weeks later. It seems that the UK and Germany are the worst. They continue to be unprepared and this causes lots of disruptions on the roads, rails and planes. I am very glad that we had no major delays when we were in Europe (especially at Heathrow and Munich.) I don't think I could keep my cool at the complete disregard the airlines and airports are giving to people. I really hope the EU stands up to what it said and makes all member states implement changes. Some of these places (especially the UK and Germany) need to put their big boy/girl pants on and get back to business - clear the snow and get things moving.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Survivor: N

I watched the season finale last night. I am glad that Shash did not get any votes and only wish the same for Chase. Fabio won and when Jeff asked him if he was just putting on an act (being so dumb) Fabio's explanation proved it was no act. Out of the three I am really glad that Fabio won. Jane won the Viewer's Choice. I didn't really care for her, but I guess others did.
Next season will be the 22nd season and those voted off have a chance to stay in the game. Hopefully, it will be good.

SC Confederacy:150 Years On

From Yahoo News:
"Dance, protests to mark 150 years since SC left US"

The memory of the Civil War was set to collide with modern-day civil rights sensitivities as protesters targeted a Monday night "Secession Ball" commemorating South Carolina's decision exactly 150 years ago to secede from the United States of America. The Confederate Heritage Trust, which scheduled the dance in Charleston near where the secession document was signed, says it wants to honor the Southern men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their homes and their vision of states' rights. Guests will have a chance to see the original Ordinance of Secession, which has been preserved by the state.Leaders of the NAACP say it makes no sense to honor men who committed treason against their own nation for the sake of a system that kept black men and women in bondage as slaves.As the Charleston event kicks off more than four years of 150th anniversary Civil War commemorations, it also frames persisting questions. Chief among them: How does a nation remember the time when 11 of its states tried unsuccessfully to break away?The $100-a-person Secession Ball falls on one end of the spectrum. It is partly sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose central purpose is to preserve the history and legacy of the South's "citizen-soldiers."On the other end are civil rights organizations that see no reason to celebrate a would-be nation like the Confederacy, which in its constitution prohibited its legislature from outlawing slavery.Monday's ball is like having a dance to celebrate the attack on Pearl Harbor, said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.It is indisputable that the men who voted 169-0 to leave the United States 150 years ago set in motion a chain of events that reverberate today.The decision led to a war that killed nearly 2 percent of nation's population — more than 600,000 people. That is roughly the same number that have died in all the other wars America has fought in from the Revolution, to both World Wars and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. It would be the equivalent of 6 million Americans dying today.On the eve of the Civil War, Census data ranked South Carolina third in wealth among the states. In 2008, its per capita income was 45th in the nation.Not all South Carolinians supported secession. About 57 percent of the state's 703,000 residents in 1860 were slaves. A few white opponents spoke out, including lawyer and politician James Petigru, whose famous quote still echoes through his home state today: "South Carolina is too small to be a Republic, and too large to be an insane asylum."

^ It seems pretty stupid to honor something that caused so many deaths. I think the Confederacy and all it stood for is on the same level as Nazi Germany. The Germans have laws that prevent people from celebrating anything Nazi, but the US does not for the Confederacy. Maybe we should. Even after the Civil War people used the name and symbol of the Confederacy to continue to dicriminate and even kill innocent people. ^

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Travels 2010

It's that time again... The trips I have taken this year.

January: Colorado

February: Florida


April: New York


June: Ireland, England and Northern Ireland


August: New York

September: New York


November: Massachusetts

December: England, Germany, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rotation (1949)

This is an East German movie made only 4 years after the war ended. It attempts to show why ordinary Germans became Nazis and why they allowed things to happen that the world has since found them collectively guilty of allowing to occur. One scene in the movie that I thought was interesting is when the son comes back to his dad at the end of the war (and after the son had his dad arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo for resistance work) and the dad basically says "it's in the past." I don't know if I would be so forgiving. This movie doesn't have any overt Communist themes (it is East German and so it could) but it is one of the first German-made movies that tries to look at the war and the role of the German people in it.

Germany Gives To Auschwitz

From Yahoo News:
"Germany givs $80 million to fix Auschwitz memorial"

WARSAW, Poland – Germany pledged Wednesday to pay euro60 million ($80 million) over the next year into a fund for Auschwitz-Birkenau to preserve the barracks, gas chambers and other evidence of Nazi crimes at the former death camp, some of which are deteriorating to the point of collapse. Germany is the largest of several countries contributing to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Fund, which was set up in 2009 to gather money to maintain the 472-acre expanse made up of the original camp, Auschwitz, the nearby satellite camp of Birkenau. The camp was operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died in the camp's gas chambers or through forced labor, disease or starvation.
"Germany acknowledges its historic responsibility to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to pass it on to future generations," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement. "Auschwitz-Birkenau is synonymous with the crimes of the Nazis. Today's memorial recalls these crimes." Museum director Piotr Cywinski first issued a worldwide appeal for help in 2008, saying that euro120 million was needed to repair the memorial site, which stands as one of the most powerful symbols of the Holocaust. The barracks, gas chambers and other buildings are in need of urgent repair, having been worn down by the ravages of time and the pressure of more than 1 million visitors a year. The United States has pledged $15 million and Austria euro6 million, while smaller amounts have been promised by the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Estonia and Malta, Auschwitz memorial spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said. Most urgently in need of repair are the 45 brick barracks of the women's camp in the Birkenau section of the camp, Mensfelt said. "They are in tragic condition due to the method of their construction and due to the ground water that is washing away the ground where they were built," he said. "They are crumbling away and could collapse at any time," he added. The barracks were built during the winter of 1941-42 by Soviet inmates, captured Red Army prisoners who were cruelly treated by the Germans and then executed, Mensfelt said. Wooden barracks and the ruins of the gas chambers at Birkenau also need urgent repair, as they are crumbling because of harsh weather and sinking due to unstable ground. The site, set up as a museum in 1947, receives $5 million annually from the Polish government and earns another $5 million by publishing the accounts of survivors, screening documentaries to visitors and from guide fees. The camp was liberated in January 1945 by Soviet troops.

^ Auschwitz is a very important place that needs to be saved so people a hundred years ago can go and learn about what happened. It is only fitting that Germany give the most to help restore the death camp as they were the ones who created and ran it. Every country in the world that had a citizen in the camp should be required to pledge money to save the camp and the countries that didn't have a citizen there should give to make sure that what happened during the Holocaust does not ever happen again anywhere. ^

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Flights Home

We took a car to the Dubrovnik Airport only to see that the board with the flight information said our plane to Zagreb was “Cancelled.” I asked at the Information Desk and was told the flight was leaving and that check-in would start in 15 minutes. Almost an hour later check-in finally opened. There were numerous issues but no one from the airport would explain anything. After checking-in we had to wait for the one security section to open. It seemed that this time no one was that helpful or nice. When it finally did the people there didn’t say anything. It was pretty weird. We boarded our flight and an hour later we were in Zagreb.
We were told by the airport people to be at security at 4 pm so they could help us. We were there (after first trying to get some food at a café which had nothing to eat and then exchanging my Kunas into Euros with a very nasty woman) at 3:40 pm and at 4:30 pm I finally went to the Information Desk and asked her. She told me that the plane from Munich was late and to just wait. After hearing an announcement for passengers going to Munich to head to the gate I went back to the Information Desk and the same lady started yelling at me. I yelled back that I wanted to speak to an airport official because we had been waiting 30 minutes. A guy did come and was pretty rude saying the flight was delayed and we had to wait. I told him the airport could have at least told us this rather than making it seem as though they were just abandoning us. Around 5 pm an airport guy came and took us through security and Passport Control. That’s when I heard our names announced and the guy called someone who said they needed our passports to put in our information. We finally boarded the flight (which was part of Lufthansa – Augsburg Airways. The flight attendant was really nice and when we landed in Munich she gave me some of her own chocolate in a little box that said “Merry Christmas” in German and English.
We were helped by some good airport people in Munich. They even brought our bags to the Kempinski Hotel where we were spending the night. The hotel was pretty nice. Too bad we were only staying there from 6 pm to 4 am before checking-in for our flight to London. In the morning we were again helped through checking-in at the special assistance desk (where the same mean woman who checked us in for our flight to Croatia was) and through Passport Control. We had some breakfast. Munich Airport has smoking Lounges past security which is pretty nice. We boarded our flight to London (a Lufthansa flight.) After waiting on the runway for an hour we took off.
When we landed at Heathrow we were met by a guy from Special Assistance. He was nice and helped us through British Immigration. Then he brought us to the Special Assistance place and called a bus to bring us from Terminal 1 to 3 (because I didn’t want to walk with the chair and bags again.) He then left and the woman at the desk was a complete witch. Whenever I asked her when the bus would come she just kept saying 10-15 minutes and when I told her that she said the same thing 15 minutes ago she said it wasn’t up to her. I don’t like people who just make things up in the hope that you shut up. I would rather they say that they didn’t know. We finally got fed up and told the woman how unhelpful she was. We boarded the bus and went to Terminal 3.
I went into the Terminal and asked the Virgin Atlantic Information Desk for help with the bags and they told me to go to Special Assistance. I told the woman about our bad experience in Terminal 1 and she said these were from a different company. When I went to the Special Assistance place they were of no help. There were 4 people just standing there doing nothing and no one would help so I told them that they were worthless and moved the chair and bags myself.
I checked in for our flight. We then had some breakfast/lunch and then went through security. Again we had to wait in the General Waiting Area for our gate information to be announced. When it finally was we went to the gate. We pre-boarded the plane. The plane turned out to not have bathrooms in our section and the entertainment system was on a loop so you had to wait for the last movie to play before seeing another. Our plane was not full at all.
When we had 2 hours before landing in Boston my mom and I saw the flight attendants bring a drunk guy up to First Class (called Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic.) It looked like we may have to land in Gander, Canada - the first airport in North America from Europe, but we landed in Boston where the police were checking everyone’s passports as they got off the plane. They arrested two guys and I saw them being taken away. I wonder what they did.
We had no issues going through US Immigration or getting our bags. We took the bus to our car and I spent about 30 minutes lost in rush hour traffic trying to find my way – and I had a GPS to help. There was a good amount of traffic until we got past Manchester. We stopped for a quick dinner and then got home. There was snow and ice everywhere on my mountain even when there was none in the rest of town. It was good to finally be home.
I have to say that for the most part the trip was good and fun. There were issues with some airports, airlines and people at the airports, but if you take that out the rest of the trip was great. As I said before: Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro were a lot of fun while Munich was also good.


We took a quick tour around Dubrovnik. First we went to the fishing town of Cavtat. We walked along the peninsula. It was a nice little place. Afterwards we drove through the mountains and saw the villages. Then we drove through the valley and saw the vineyards. We then ate at a nice,family-owned, homemade, traditional Croatian restaurant. The waiter was nice and the food was so good. We liked the place so much that we went back the next day (our last in Croatia) just so we wouldn’t have to eat Italian food again.

Kotor And Budva

We took another day trip to the cities of Kotor and Budva in Montenegro. While there was no war damage to be seen the country did look very poor. Kotor was nice to see and we had a good lunch at a local restaurant (an Italian one as it was the only one open.) The waiter there was trying hard to impress us with his skills and that was sometimes funny – when he dropped the soda and made a mess, etc. We then went to Budva which was very cold, windy and didn’t have much there.
Budva is trying to make itself into a 5 star resort town, but the buildings and everything else looks more like a 1 star (at best.) We waited outside for about 40 minutes for our driver and were just glad to get into the warm car and head back to the hotel. On the way back we did take a quick ferry as a short-cut rather than drive hours through the mountains as we did on the way there.
I don’t think I would ever go back to Budva, but Kotor was nice.


We took a day-trip from Dubrovnik to Mostar, Bosnia. We had our own private driver who took us there and back. To get to Mostar we had to leave Croatia, enter Neum, Bosnia then leave Bosnia, re-enter Croatia and then enter Bosnia again. Our passports got stamped each time.
From the Bosnian border to Mostar you could see all the war damage everywhere. There were holes in buildings from the bombs and shells. It was a little odd to see that not much had been repaired in the 15 years since the war ended.
Our driver let us off near the Old Town of Mostar and we walked around ourselves. Unlike, in Dubrovnik where the Old Town was easy to move the wheelchair, Mostar was very hard. I was struggling a lot until four local guys came and picked up and carried the chair to the Mostar bridge. The old bridge was destroyed during the war, but was completely rebuilt. I took some pictures of it, but we didn’t cross as it was a little too difficult.
I was surprised at how friendly and helpful the people in Mostar were and also how many spoke good English. I found a restaurant and they helped us down the stairs. We had a traditional Bosnian meal for two which was very good. After lunch we started walking back to the driver when we met some nice and friendly people at a souvenir store.
I was impressed by the Bosnian people and food, but don’t think I would want to spend longer than a day there (if nothing else than because it was hard to move the chair around the city,) We returned to Dubrovnik that night and had to go through all the passport controls as we did on the way there.


The Croatia Airlines flight from Munich to Zagreb was delayed by an hour. When we did board it was a small plane. The flight attendants were really nice and made sure we had everything we needed. They served drinks and a Croatian cookie (which was pretty tasty.) We landed in Zagreb and were helped off the plane by friendly airport staff. We had no issues through Croatian Immigration – although the female official was pretty manly looking. We were told to meet at a certain time by the security line and they would help us board the flight to Dubrovnik.
The airport is one of the smallest I have ever seen. All the planes park away from the terminal and you have to take buses to them. We waited and at the appointed time were met by another airport person who took us through a special security line and into a special waiting area. We boarded our plane and again the flight attendants were very nice and friendly. An hour later we arrived in Dubrovnik.
Zagreb Airport was small and Dubrovnik Airport is even smaller. We were helped off the plane and to baggage claim by the airport officials and then met the driver we had our hotel arrange to pick us up. It took 45 minutes to drive from the airport to Dubrovnik – through small mountain roads.
I will now give a basic timeline of what we did during our seven day stay in Dubrovnik. The hotel (the Excelsior) looked a little gloomy from the outside, but the inside was first class. Every employee we met there spoke basic English, was very friendly and helpful. There was only one kid who we had as a waiter twice that barely spoke English and kept messing everything up. We did have a nice old man who waited on us and was very friendly. On the two days he was not working things did not go smoothly at the hotel.
Dubrovnik is very beautiful. It is right on the Adriatic Sea on one side with mountains on the other. Our hotel was a 5 minute walk to the old, walled town (it was a little difficult to push the wheelchair up and down as the streets are like San Francisco – very hilly.) Most days it was cloudy and windy and a few days it rained. The wind may the 60 degree temperatures feel more like the 30s. We spent a good deal of time in the Old Town. It is the off-season and so most of the cafes and restaurant were closed. The first day we saw a large group of German tourists come from a cruise ship and the Old Town came alive for the few hours they were there. I heard that in the summer they get around 80 cruise ships a day with thousands upon thousands of people. I’m glad we came when we did since it was cheaper and less crowded.
For the most part the Old Town was reachable with a wheelchair. We couldn’t go on one side which had many narrow steps or up the walls, but that was ok with me. One day we had a quick tour of the Old Town with a native girl. She told us about the history of the city including the 7 month siege by the Serbs in 1991. There was no military significance of the siege, but the Serbs wanted to annex the city, but even without food, water, electricity and cut off from the rest of Croatia the city survived. There are several maps around the Old Town that show you the damage done by bombs to every building. After the war the UN helped rebuild the Old Town exactly the way it was before. You can’t see any war damage in the city except for the pictures hanging outside some buildings and in the Museum of the Defense of Dubrovnik (which is on Mount Srd surrounding the city and which we took a cable car up to.)
The one issue I had with Dubrovnik is the food. The cafes and restaurants that were open off-season were mostly outdoors and with the strong winds it wasn’t very comfortable to sit and eat. Also, I wanted to have some real Croatian food, but everyplace – including the hotel – had nothing but fish and Italian food. I can’t tell you how many times I had spaghetti carbonara during our stay. At least all the people we met spoke good English and were friendly. That really surprised me since I thought no one would speak English.
All-in-all I have to say that I had a great, relaxing and fun time in Dubrovnik. I don’t think I would go there in the summer when it is very hot and crowded, but I wouldn’t mind going back any other time.


Our hotel (the Concorde) was on a small, side-street about 10 minutes from the Marienplatz. The place was nice except for the fact that the wheelchair couldn’t fit in the small elevator and we had to leave it in the lobby – and this after I had e-mailed them and asked them about everything. The night we arrived it was around 8 pm and we were tired and hungry and asked the receptionist for a local restaurant we could eat in. She told us about a local place about 2 minutes from the hotel. We got there and it was an Italian place (which doesn’t seem odd now, but when you read about the rest of the trip you will understand.) We went in and the menu was all in German and the woman only spoke German. I have never had any issues finding someone in Germany who speaks English, but this trip most people didn’t – except at the airport. We ordered some food and it turned out to be shrimp. I do not eat any kind of seafood and it was disgusting. I went back to the hotel and looked on-line for the words: fish, shrimp and seafood in both German and Croatian so I wouldn’t have a problem again.
The next day we walked through the snow to the Marienplatz. They had the traditional Christmas Market. I had been there before, but it was still nice to see everything. I didn’t notice any police though and since Germany was supposed to be in a terror alert you would think you would see some uniforms every now and then. I got some mixed roasted nuts and we bought a small, wooden nativity. That night we happened to find a restaurant and walked in. The host was pretty arrogant (especially when he saw we didn’t have reservations.) He seated us in the back next to an old American couple who were very loud and annoying. The food was good (especially the horseradish soup) by the host kept coming over and was pretty annoying.
On the third day we went back to the Marienplatz and saw the Glockenspiel play. It wasn’t anything special, but is one of those things you have to see at least once. I wasn’t feeling well and so we went back to the hotel. That night we went to a restaurant where we were told we could have one hour to eat before the next party came to our table. The food was good, but I didn’t like having to rush.
The side-trip to Munich was good. If it had been summer I don’t think we would have gone there. The main reason we went was to go to the Christmas Market and we did that.

Flights To Europe

We drove to Logan Airport in Boston for our flight to London. Check-in went by without any issues. We had lunch before security which was pretty good and then headed to our gate. The TSA were fine this time. I had to go through the full body scanner, but this time didn’t have to have a second screening as I did last June – although I was waiting to. The one main issue we had was when we were boarding our flight. We were supposed to pre-board, but the Virgin Atlantic staff in Boston were very stupid and only let us board when they started general boarding and I complained.
The flight to London was fine. This time there were bathrooms in our section and we didn’t have to walk 20 aisles back. Also the entertainment system was not on a loop so you could see whatever you wanted whenever you wanted to. One thing I thought was funny was that the pilot said that London was having white-out conditions with lots of snow and when we landed there was barely an inch (you could still see the grass.)
We had no issues going through British Immigration, except for the long walk from the gate. Then we had to take the underground tunnel from Terminal 1 to 3 with our bags and the wheelchair. No one was willing to help us. We had several hours to wait in London and had breakfast. We tried to get on an earlier Lufthansa flight to Munich, but they were having a lot of cancellations and delays because of the snow and so we had to wait.
When we finally checked in with Lufthansa the guy there told us to go to the Special Assistance desk after security for help. We did and they were not helpful and pretty rude. The section where they were was very depressing with the elderly and disabled just left anywhere.
The one thing I hate about Heathrow is that they don’t tell you which gate you have to go to until about 30 minutes before your flight so you have to stay in the general waiting area (which was very crowded since many flights were cancelled due to the weather.) Our flight was delayed and when they finally told us the gate number we headed to it only to find a bunch of stairs with no elevators. The other passengers – Germans - (taking the same flight as us) simply left us and didn’t even try to help. I went into the BMI lounge which was right by the stairs to see if they could call someone for us and the woman there was a complete witch - with a capital B. She wouldn’t do anything to help and even threatened to have us removed from our flight. I really let her have it. We eventually got down the stairs and down several more levels to our gate – through no help from anyone else. At the gate I told the Lufthansa guy what an awful experience we had just gone through and he made it out to be our fault. I had a mini-scene and let them know what I thought. According the EU Regulations it is the responsibility of the airline to contact the airport about special assistance and not the passengers – that fact was overlooked by both Lufthansa and Heathrow. I have never flown BMI before and was thinking about it for our next trip to Russia, but after that stupid woman I won’t ever fly them.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. When we landed in Munich the airport staff there helped us and were very friendly. We had no issues through German Immigration and found our driver who took us to our hotel in the center of the city.