Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Shopping at Bass Pro Shop

Earlier today, my family and I went Christmas shopping in Round Rock, TX. Round Rock is the home of two destinations: Round Rock Premium Outlets and the Bass Pro Shop. (Full disclosure: I do not like to shop, period.)

Bass Pro Shop

I have never been to a Bass Pro Shop before. Boy, was I in for a surprise. My wife parked in one of the handicap spaces and I dutifully hung her blue placard. Her knee was doing pretty good, so she decided to leave the wheelchair and cane in the truck, knowing that if she needed either one of us could just walk out and fetch.

As we walked up to the main door, we were greeted by this:

Note the second welcome, just over the doors... I just had to take pictures, just to prove that I was not in the third category in describing the place!

Inside those doors is a lobby. Just look at those very comfortable couches!

To the right of the couches was this H.U.G.E fireplace!

Panning to the right, there was this small Christmas tree.

On the other side of this lobby, there was this H.U.G.E Christmas tree...

Beyond the lobby, was this main aisle...

This wildlife theme was carried on throughout the store. Here is a fitting room...

The store had the expected collection of boats, boots, clothing, fishing supplies, outdoor and camping gear, and weapons for sale. One surprising entry that instantly caught my attention:

Walking down to the other end of the store, we found another lobby. This lobby was nautically themed. The crowing jewel here was this fisherman...

To the left of that statue is a restaurant and a bar inside the "fishbowl" bowling alley! Here, the theme is the fishing and sea life...

All that walking took a toll on my wife's knee and made us thirsty, too. We stopped at the bar and ordered four Duck IPAs (IPA: India Pale Ale, a type of beer) and a medium pizza.

Yes, between all the gawking, we actually did some Christmas shopping!

Round Rock Premium Outlets

It's a shopping mall with minimal holiday decorations. 'Nuff said.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Electoral College and Why Hillary Lost

The Electoral College voted on Monday and made it official: Donald Trump is our next President.

In the news, there still are moans and groans and gnashing of teeth: Hillary lost. She won the popular vote. Why doesn't that make her the winner? These people are now blaming the Electoral College and calling for its elimination.

This is wrong-headed. This is the United States of America. While in many ways we are one people, we are also an incredibly diverse people. People from different areas of the nation have different needs, opinions, experiences and points of view. We always have. When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they took this into account. The compromise they forged created the Electoral College. It allowed states with limited voter turn-out (no need to get into the why of that in this post.) to stand on an equal footing with states with a large voter turnout when it comes to selecting the President and Vice President.

In the 1790s, states like Virginia had a large population but, due to literacy and property ownership requirements, a small voting public. Other states did not place these restrictions on voting: Massachusetts had universal male suffrage and New Jersey, while requiring voters to own property, allowed women to vote. This is according to Original Sin: The Electoral College as a Pro-Slavery Tool by Paul Finkelman.

The problem of large voter states versus small voter states still persists today. The roll of the demographic dice has changed the names and moved states from one camp to the other. Different states still have different concerns and needs, as shown by the recent election.

Highly urbanized states along the east and west coasts are different form the other states. They have fared relatively well since the Great Recession. The old "Industrial Heartland," or more derogatorily, the "Rust Belt" states have not recovered half as well. The coal-producing states have seen almost no recovery and, with cheap natural gas, have seen jobs continue to diminish. The "Farm Belt" states have seen a continuing loss of jobs for the last fifty years, or more.

With a popular vote system, the needs of the areas that are hurting would get buried by the tsunami of votes from the urban states. The Electoral College ensures that smaller voices will be heard.

This gets back to why Hillary lost: she forgot the smaller voices.

  • She did not criticize the Obama administration for its failure to aid the Rust Belt, the Coal Belt and the Farm Belt. If anything, his policies made the Great Recession worse for these areas.
  • She did not offer a plan to increase employment in these areas, to offer a future for these areas' young people or to preserve the scattered small towns.
  • She assumed that she had the Union vote, without offering them anything.
  • She epitomized the problem of "Inside-the-Beltway Thinking"
  • She was guilty of assuming that urban women's concerns were the same as rural women's concerns
  • She did not put forth a meaningful plan to deal with the rural opioid addiction problem, which is very different from the urban drug addiction and substance abuse problems.
  • She did not discuss the critical health care shortages in the Rust, Coal and Farm Belt areas.
  • All of her comments about immigration centered on those who went to the cities. She ignored those who toil in the shadows on farms, cultivating and harvesting crops that cannot be machine harvested.
  • She did not offer meaningful immigration reform. This would have drawn votes from those trying to bring their friends and families into the country.
  • Her points on jobs centered around large corporations and urban jobs. She left out the small corporations, family businesses and sole proprietorships that are the backbone of the Coal and Farm Belt economies and are, nation wide, the biggest generators of jobs.
  • Worst of all and through it all, she acted as if she was entitled to become the Democratic nominee and to become our next President.

As a result, she lost the "small voice" vote leaving the state-by-state vote totals looking as follows (as reposted from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/elections/live_results/2016_general/president/map.html:

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Post-Election Blues.... Which way do we go, now???

I just saw this photograph showing the silhouettes of two rhinos walking past each other by wildlife photographer Rudi Hulshof taken in the Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa:

I think this photo is the perfect metaphor for the leadership of both of our major political parties in the wake of the recent election:

  • For the Republicans — We won, but with Trump. How did we do that? What does it mean for the 2018 elections? How do we hold on to these new voters who supported us? What should we do, now?
  • For the Democrats &mdash: How could we have lost? The polls said we had it! What did the Clinton campaign do wrong? How do we correct our mistakes? How do we regain the trust of the Democratic constituency who, in the privacy of the voting booth, chose the opposition candidate? What should we do, now?

My Take:

  1. I think the Democratic party erred by selecting Hillary Clinton as their candidate. In the minds of many voters, she represented the past – a cold-warrior from a different era – who has not changed, even though the world (they believe) has changed.
  2. Many of my friends and neighbors could not relate to Ms. Clinton. Her message seemed tailored for the East Coast and West Coast audiences, missing the concerns of the Rust Belt, the Bible Belt and the rural and agricultural community. Here, in "fly-over country," she came off as elitist and, as a Washington insider, she appeared more concerned about the Government than about the people.
  3. The Democratic party promised a continuation of the recovery from the Great Recession. That recovery, weak as it is, will be one of the lasting legacies of the Obama administration. People across the nation are still living with lower wages, a depressed standard of living and the enhanced inequalities that were the hallmarks of this recession. They want change and they need it now, not five or ten years from now.
  4. Donald Trump caught the attention of the "h-u-g-e" portion of the American people still suffering from the after-effects of the Great Recession. He promised these people changes that he probably cannot deliver, such as "bringing the jobs back from overseas." The reality is that if the old factory that closed and eliminated 5,000 jobs comes back, it will be totally automated and employ only fifty, including the gardeners and janitors.
  5. Many people think that the Cold War is over. The reality is that it has just shifted phase. The world is still full of "proxy wars," including the Korean peninsula, Syria, India vs Pakistan and now, the Ukraine. Our opponents have grown more diplomatic and sophisticated, but they are still based in Russia, China and North Korea.
  6. In many ways, we are still dealing with the collapse of the European colonial era and the double-dealing of our European allies from days gone by. As the European powers withdrew from their colonies, they established "puppet" governments and drew new international borders as lines on a map, without caring for the racial, religious, tribal and ethnic boundaries that historically existed. They lumped traditional and historical enemies into the same new nation, creating governments that are inherently unstable – leaving these nations vulnerable to dictators who promise stability and security.
  7. We are also left with the fallout of our own hypocritical meddling in the internal affairs of these new nations. Using both covert and overt force, we have deposed freely elected governments, corrupted foreign officials and established non-democratic governments (see "banana republic") beginning in 1870 and continuing, if Edward Snowdon is to be believed, up to the present day.

All of these issues are tied together at our waistlines – literally – with food and trade. One of our biggest imports and exports is food, in various forms. We export tons of corn, wheat and sorghum. At the same time, we import tons of meat, fruit and vegetables, especially vegetables for our salads. The governmental instability and warfare in many nations disrupts our ability to buy or sell food there. The refugees created often cannot buy our food exports, so just to allow them to eat, we have to give away our food.

The Trump administration and the next few who follow will have to find ways to deal with these issues. We must lead. We must be a strong enough and honorable enough leader that others freely choose to follow us. The use of force, double-dealing and coercion will just create new, more intractable problems down the road.

In this endeavor, our political leaders must be part of the solution. They can no longer sit in their "ivory towers" of privilege and pontificate to us about what is good for us. They are replaceable. If nothing else, both parties have seen that in America, "political elite" is an oxymoron – the "unwashed rabble" who walk into the polls can, and will, "toss the rascals out."

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

FedEx

Recently, we received a package of merchandise that we did not order — the cold-calling salesman on the telephone placed the order, even though we said, "No."

A week or so later, the package was delivered by FedEx Ground. They dropped it off at our main gate and left.

We called the sender and they told us to return the unwanted merchandise. Easier said than done.

Today, I took the unopened package to a FedEx-licensed retail location. When I asked them to send the merchandise back, they told me that I would have to pay to return it! If I wanted FedEx to bill the shipper, I would have to go to a different office. They were veryhappy to give me the address.

I drove across Waco, Texas, to get to this "official" FedEx office. After waiting on a short line, the clerk told me that I would have to take the package to another office. Her excuse was that this was a FedEx Express office and the package was delivered by FedEx Ground. She gave me the address of another office — in another city!

I drove to the address in Hewett, Texas, and was greeted by a customer-hostile security fence. I walked up to the gate, pressed the "call" button and wait for a clerk to answer. First, I had to explain myself. Then, I had to be buzzed through the security gate and cross a busy internal driveway to get to the office. This office was the front of their warehouse with little provision for people as customers. The clerk simply took the package and said, "Thank you."

If you listen to their advertisements, FedEx is the premier package shipping company. Maybe for companies, it is. But for ordinary people, their customer service is the worst I have ever dealt with. Not only did I have to drive all over Waco, but into another city just to return unwanted and unordered merchandise. Who is going to pay me for the time taken off from work, the gasoline and the aggravation caused by their unwillingness or bureaucratic ineptness that prevented me from dropping off the package at the nearest location?

The United States Post Service and UPS both do a much better job!

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Watched the Presidential Debate

I watched the debate last night. My experience was summed up in the pre-debate remark: "Are we going to watch Barf-nado 3 tonight?"

As of right now, I do not know which Presidential contender I will vote for.

I do not like Hillary Clinton's plans. She wants to increase taxes on the rich to pay for a plethora of new social programs. That sounds great, until you do the numbers. Say there are 300 million people in this country. If we assume that the average family is approximately three people, that leaves only 100 million tax-paying families. The rich "one percenters" therefore account for 1 million. If you increase their taxes by $10,000 each, you will raise $10 billion dollars. Compared the the government deficit, that is peanuts. There simply are not enough rich to cover Mrs. Clinton's plans. To make matters worse, many of the rich tax-payers will pay tax accountants and lawyers to find ways to reduce that $10,000 burden.

If we use Wikipedia's poverty numbers for 2011, there are 46.2 million Americans living in poverty. Let us use the following formula for the middle class:

300 million - 3 million "rich" - 46 million poor = 251 million people

Again assuming a family of three, that amounts to 83.6 million tax-paying families. If you raise their taxes by a mere $100, you will raise $8.3 billion. Raise their taxes by $500, and you get $42 billion. Now, just where do you think Mrs. Clinton can get the money to pay for her programs?

Mr. Trump's tax cutting program makes even less sense. The Laufer Curve has been derided as the "Laughter Curve" since the end of the Reagen Presidency. Our Federal budget is too bloated for a tax cut. We need to rethink and reprioritize spending and revenue sources. We need to spend smarter and waste less. Tax dollars are a precious resource and must be carefully husbanded and used wisely.

I could write about each of their major plans. Each sounds good, but I do not think the political will exists to implement any of them after Inauguration Day.

Neither of these candidates is worth voting for.

What do I want to see in November??

BETTER CHOICES!

Oh! By the way, early voting begins on Monday, October 24, here in Texas.

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Sunday, October 09, 2016

Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo - the Rodeo

Tonight, we returned for the rodeo. We had box seats right near the bucking shoots. This made my daughter very happy.

Unfortunately for me, my camera is locked in my car, which is sitting at the dealership awaiting repairs. I have had to rely on my cell phone for all my recent shots. Don't get me wrong, it does a great job. It does not have a fast shutter, however, leaving me with excessive blurring of action shots.

You can see what I mean in this saddle-bronc shot....

Let's move on to some barrel riding...

On to the bull riding. This is my favorite. I rode a mechanical bull once — Believe me, holding on is a real challange. How these cowboys manage to do it with grace and style is beyond me...

The bulls won most of the contests, dumping their riders in less than eight seconds. To score at all, the rider must stay on the bull for at lease eight seconds. After eight seconds, the rider can score a maximum of fifty points for the ride and the bull can score a maximum of fifty points for trying to toss the rider. The two are added together for the final score.

Most of the bulls this year were Brahmans. They know that the faster they toss the rider, the sooner they can head for the gate and to the feed bin.

Here we go....

The calves used in the bulldogging and roping events have experience, perhaps too much experience. They know where the gate is and that to get there quick they have to avoid the cowboy or the ropes. They are pretty crafty about stopping short, turning fast, jumping through the lasso and so forth.

For you PETA types, no animals were injured during the rodeo. Cowboys, on the other hand, found the floor of the arena to be very hard - no broken bones or other major injuries, but lots of bruises and such.

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Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Dr. Pepper Museum

Today, we went to the Dr. Pepper Museum. It is located in the original Dr. Pepper bottling plant on Fifth Street in Waco, Texas. When you come to central Texas, the Dr. Pepper Museum and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame are two must-see stops.

Most of the museum is dedicated to Dr. Pepper, its history and how soda is made and bottled. But Dr. Pepper is not the only soda that started in Waco — Big Red also started here. One of the displays centers around an anamatronic figure, dressed as an early 1900s doctor, telling a little about life of that time and the beginnings of Dr. Pepper.

Other displays included machinery for washing bottles, filling and capping them, trucks which transported them and vending machines that served them. Of course, advertising materials were displayed, including photographs of billboards, magazine ads, wall signs, thermometers, clocks, glasses, paintings, movie and television show "product placements," star and famous personalities endorsements and, of course, television commercials. The emphasis, of course, was on Dr. Pepper, but materials for Coke, Pepsi, 7UP, Big Red, Big Blue, Royal Crown Cola, Moxie, Canada Dry, and a hundred other, lesser known brands were on display.

Across the plaza from the museum, there is another building with a soda shop, gift shop and even more displays. One that caught my attention for a while was a G-scale model train display.

This building also contains an art gallery with a number of paintings with "product placement" type advertising. I especially liked this well-executed painting of a young woman in a canoe drinking a Royal Crown Cola.

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Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo - Mark Chesnutt Concert

The Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo opened yesterday. It has the usual assortment of livestock, booths selling food, "skill" contests, rides, farm equipment and, did I mention? food. In addition, there is the rodeo and three — count 'em — three concert stages: the Shooter FM stage, the Hometown Stage and the big one — the Bud Light Stage.

To buy anything, you first need to buy tokens. They are used for beer, soda, food and the rides. This year, you get one token for a dollar. The food and drink is overpriced – with a small soda selling for three tokens.

On the Bud Light Stage, there are a number of well-known artists appearing, including Tracey Lawrence, Holly Tucker and Mark Chesnutt. Tonight, it was Mark Chesnutt's turn to light up the stage. This being Texas, the show started with the presentation of the American flag and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. KWTX's Madison Addams sang to an audience of doffed hats and off-key participants.

Shortly after that, Mark Chesnutt took the stage.

Mark Chesnutt has a female drummer who is simply fantastic! Unfortunately, he did not introduce his band, so I could not catch her name. If she has a fan club, sign me up!

You can tell this is Texas. Just look at the cowboy hats in the front rows!

It was a great concert! He mixed lots of his old favorites along with several songs from his new CD.

We had a great time!!

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Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo - Mark Chesnutt Concert

The Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo opened yesterday. It has the usual assortment of livestock, booths selling food, "skill" contests, rides, farm equipment and, did I mention? food. In addition, there is the rodeo and three — count 'em — three concert stages: the Shooter FM stage, the Hometown Stage and the big one — the Bud Light Stage.

To buy anything, you first need to buy tokens. They are used for beer, soda, food and the rides. This year, you get one token for a dollar. The food and drink is overpriced – with a small soda selling for three tokens.

On the Bud Light Stage, there are a number of well-known artists appearing, including Tracey Lawrence, Holly Tucker and Mark Chesnutt. Tonight, it was Mark Chesnutt's turn to light up the stage. This being Texas, the show started with the presentation of the American flag and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. KWTX's Madison Addams sang to an audience of doffed hats and off-key participants.

Shortly after that, Mark Chesnutt took the stage.

Mark Chesnutt has a female drummer who is simply fantastic! Unfortunately, he did not introduce his band, so I could not catch her name. If she has a fan club, sign me up!

You can tell this is Texas. Just look at the cowboy hats in the front rows!

It was a great concert! He mixed lots of his old favorites along with several songs from his new CD.

We had a great time!!

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