Friday, December 28, 2007

There is certainly little I can add to what has already been said about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It was the very first news story I heard upon waking yesterday morning and I've been keeping tabs on what has been said on news sites and political blogs.

Apparently the most important thing is how this effects the upcoming Iowa caucus, at least from what you would think on reading most political sites. All the candidates, or their spokes people, appeared to take the opportunity (after briefly sending their condolences) to spin the event in a way favorable towards them or negatively towards one of their opponents.
I personally think that it very well might have been some radical element in Pakistan, not necessarily affiliated with the government. However, I also think that if (and I should underline that) the Pakistani military or intelligence services were aware of the possibility of such an incident they did little to prevent it.
I don't know enough about the entire situation in that country to even hazard a guess as to what will happen. On the other hand, I don't think you have to be an expert to foresee that things are going to get much worse and unstable in the near future. I think we can also safely bet that the Administration will blow any chance of aiding the democratic elements in that country.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hope you all had a nice holiday the past few days. Donna and I sure did!

We did some last minute shopping and such on Saturday, and then drove up to the San Manuel Bingo & Casino on Sunday. We both had some ‘slot cash’ to play and while I had my usual luck, Donna hit for over three hundred dollars on the nickel Monopoly slots. Then later she won a jackpot at Bingo, but so did three other folks. She still came away with another three hundred plus, so our day was certainly not a loss by any means.
Donna had to work part of the day on Monday, so didn’t get home until after 1:00pm. Kristina drove over and after grabbing lunch at El Polo Loco, we traveled down to San Diego. Surprisingly the traffic was very good on the 5 Freeway, once we got pass an accident just beyond San Juan Capistrano. We got to Michael’s before 4:00 and all went to dinner together. I’d definitely recommend C Level over on Harbor Drive to anybody, but would suggest you stay away from Deborah’s Flaming Skirt Steak (it was called something like that), which was way too hot even for Kristina. She did eat most of it, but when Michael mentioned how hot it was to one of the supervisors she actually took it off the check. Everybody else enjoyed his or her orders and the view from the deck of the San Diego skyline was fabulous. Then it was back to Michael’s for the night.

We had a nice day on Christmas, the weather being clear and in the upper 60s. Michael’s friend Rod came over, as did Kristina’s gal pal Christine. The six of us had a very pleasant dinner of anti-pasta, salad, fresh raviolis, with the meatball & pork sauce Donna had brought. Later we had coffee and a wonderful cheesecake, also made by my lovely & talented wife. While Christine & Kristina stayed the night, Donna and I headed back home with our presents. We had a wonderful time, although there were some sad moments when we thought of Donna’s mother and this being the first Christmas without her.

Among other goodies, I got a JEOPARDY calendar, which lets you bet on each day’s answers and accumulate for the Final Jeopardy round. Donna also got me the latest edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which will certainly get a lot of use since we are always trying to figure out this or that actor or film credit. Kristina, among other things, got me THE SIMPSON’S MOVIE on DVD, which Donna & I are both looking forward to seeing, probably this weekend. Both of us are also enjoying the tasty Starbuck’s Christmas Blend my step-daughter gave her mother and me.

I only got to see a couple of parts of A CHRISTMAS STORY during the marathon the other day. Caught the last half hour before we went out to dinner and then the first half a few hours later. Of course, I do have it on DVD and just watched it a few weeks ago anyway. Mostly we were listening to carols and just catching up on things with everyone.

That sums up Christmas with the Chaput & Chiara households. How was yours?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Santa and the Reindeer sing White Christmas

I know Mark Evanier links to this but just in case you don't visit his blog I wanted to put it here.

There's a reason Mark puts it up each year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In order to 'reorganize' Bear Stearns has laid off over 600 employees. This should allow them to give that Christmas bonus to the executives who did the firing. No doubt it wasn't their fault for all those bad loans and financial problems the past year.

Sadly, among the most recent 135 folks given the boot here in SoCal was Kristina. Her severance package will last for a couple of months, but this isn't the way we hoped to be spending the holidays.

Donna is going up to Los Angeles today for some medical tests. With a family history of thyroid cancer we don't want to take a chance, so she is seeing another specialist who we hope will get definite results from the biopsies. Michael is taking some time off to go up with her, since I can't take the day off. Again, we are crossing our fingers hoping that the results will be negative.

On the positive side, the rain is supposed to end this afternoon and things aren't as bad as in the previous period. More accidents and mudslides that time. It was still nasty driving in today, as well as driving home last night. Folks out here just do not know how to drive in anything but clear and sunny days.

Update: Donna got a call from the doctor's office saying the doctor will be leaving early. Needless to say she is pissed since Michael left work early and Donna has just called the office on Monday to verify the appointment. Unbelievable!

Monday, December 17, 2007

We had dinner last night with Kristina and her friend, Christine (yeah, it is confusing), again at our favorite Italian restaurant. It was a nice surprise when Donna gave me with another b-day gift (or early Christmas gift depending) earlier in the day. Kristina gave me a present at dinner.

My wife, who knows me very well, gave me the "Cowboy Ralphie" ornament, which goes great with my Lone Ranger ornaments. Kristina delighted me even more with "A Christmas Story" Monopoly game, that I hadn't even known about. This step-parent gig is working out swell!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Fugs - Wide, Wide River

There may be some words, images or ideas in here that will offend you. Please move on to another post if you think you'll be upset.

Donna gave me some wonderful presents for my birthday, a few of which are edible and I'll enjoy this weekend. She also bought me a really nice, cigar torch-flame lighter from Xikar. This is no Bic, trust me!

She mad me breaded chicken cutlets for dinner on Thursday, one of my favorites. Then we went to an Italian restaurant we both like last evening, so it was kind of like two b-day dinners for me. We may also be having lunch or dinner with Kristina tomorrow, which is always a pleasure. I consider myself very lucky!

In case anybody is keeping track, I've shaved off my mustache again. I was trying to trim it yesterday morning, without wearing my glasses and things did not turn out well. It was pretty obvious though and when Donna joked about it I decided to go for it. As usual, this morning I regretted it but will learn to live with it. For those who don't know, I have had a mustache for most of the time since I was nineteen years old. I think this may be only the third or fourth time I've shaved it off.

It's odd, since I now see my father staring back at me from the mirror, rather than my Uncle Charlie. He doesn't look happy about it either!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It goes without saying that I’m not a fan of the Damned Yankees. Add to that the fact that I’ve never cared for Roger Clemens, even when he pitched for Boston. Still I was surprised to find that he and fellow Yankee star Andy Pettitte have been named in the MLB steroids report released today. Say it ain’t so, guys!

Looks like the Dems can’t even get enough support in the House to override Bush’s veto of money to give health insurance to kids not already covered. Remind me why we voted for these losers again? I’m leaning more and more towards voting against every single incumbent politician next year no matter what party.

Poor Donna had to stay out of work because of her cold, fortunately (?) she was able to do some work from home via computer and having the office calls routed to our home phone. The antibiotics they gave her really don’t seem to be working so she’s going to ask for something else. I recommended something with morphine, but was voted down.

On an other front, Kristina will be going in for a second interview and we remain hopeful. In the meantime, she continues at her current job and it looks like things may settle down enough to keep her employed into the early part of the New Year.

Finally, I know what today is so they’ll be nothing more said on that subject. Okay?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Poor Donna had to go in for some medical tests on Saturday, but things seem positive from the results so far. On the other hand, she has a bad cold and we had to go to the 'walk-in' clinic yesterday to get her checked out. She's not feeling much better today, but still had to go into work. We are hoping she can sneak out early. I took her some soup and tea before I came into work today.

Just a heads up that our holiday cards went in the mail this morning, so hopefully many of you will be receiving them in the next week or so. A few of you have moved since last year, so we hope the new addresses we have for you are accurate.

Despite everything we went to Bingo on Saturday but neither of us hit. We plan on going up to San Manuel the weekend before Christmas for some bingo and slot play. They sent me a card for my b-day that entitles me to one free buy-in at the regular bingo and some slot credit. We both got cards for free slots play and figure we might as well use it up before they expire.

Yeah, we're totally addicted. What of it? :-)

Friday, December 07, 2007

I’m old enough to have some memories of my parents and their friends talking about JFK. My parents were split, with my father supporting Nixon and my mom Kennedy. As we were Roman Catholic that was a big reason for my mother liking JFK so much, but she also said she didn’t trust Nixon even back then. I also recall the nuns at Catechism and even some mention at mass about how proud we should be to have someone of our faith running for the office of President. It’s hard to believe that all these years later the matter of religion is still so important in an election.

I’ve only read excerpts of Mitt Romney’s speech as well as the reactions of various columnists, bloggers and some talking heads. To me it is a non-issue since I put all religions in the same category as belief in the Greek and Norse gods. Dude, if you pray to Odin or Buddha it makes no difference to me. Just tell me what you are going to do about the economy, the situation in Iraq and the environment. Those are the things that matter most folks and certainly to me. Your beliefs are or should be a personal and private thing between you and your family. As long as you’re not sacrificing goats in the Rose Garden who cares?

Romney’s speech reminds me more of Reagan’s remark that the Constitution promises “freedom of religion not freedom FROM religion”, rather than Kennedy’s comments. In fact, I’ll reprint the closing remarks from the late President's speech on the topic below:
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe–a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

‘Nuff said!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

We have just begun putting up some decorations and still aren't sure how much we'll do. The new entertainment unit doesn't have the space the old one did for Donna's Christmas village.

I picked up holiday stamps yesterday, but we still have to decide on the card we're sending out. Fortunately, we have some holiday stationary from last year (thanks to a great post-holiday sale at Staples).

I don't have anything to add on the various political goings on, but like most folks am growing pretty tired of the Dems bashing each other rather than taking aim at the GOP. Guess you have to do something to get that 30-second soundbite on the news.

Surfs up here in the SoCal and we have already had one boarder swept out to sea. While I do sympathize with his family you have to admit that he did know what he was getting himself into. This wasn't a hot shot kid, but a 40+ yr old experienced surfer. Guess he found the Big One, huh?

Monday, December 03, 2007

This Movie is About Cats Flying

Please do not ask me to explain this. Cats flying!
'nuff said!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sleeping with the Devil by Robert Baer

Even though this book came out in 2003 the information the author provides and some of his conclusions are still very relevant today. Robert Baer was a former CIA operative/analyst who looks at U.S. policy from a unique perspective. He actually had contact with a number of individuals involved in the events that he discusses, much of his information coming first hand.

Beginning with events then current, Baer goes back to look at just how the U.S. government became involved and in fact helped to ensure the reign of the Saudi royal family. Starting with the a meeting that FDR had with the then king, following WWII (at the behest of SoCal and representatives of American oil companies at the time), and continuing through the Bush II Presidency, Baer follows the money. For, in fact, it does come down to money and lots of it. Great sums which line the pockets of too many Washington insiders, including some who may be running for President and hundreds of others over the past fifty plus years.

It may have started, either as rumor or fact, with a briefcase filled with money left in the home of Richard Nixon, shortly after he had been elected to the office of President. Even if not true, word seemed to leak out that it was okay to do business with the Saudi family and their various businesses, legit or otherwise. Baer does not play favorites and just about every administration since Nixon’s seems to have either openly or behind closed doors done business with the Saudi regime. It is also clear, from the history that Baer discusses, that the Washington elite have not only closed their eyes to that country’s involvement with Islamic radicals, but also knowingly allowed them to cover when things got too hot for some individuals.

The author, naturally, talks about the bin Laden family, still very powerful and doing business with many U.S. firms, but also lesser known individuals in the royal family who are funding the Taliban and Al Quida. Baer really did his research, and spends several chapters discussing the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic radical groups from their creation in the 19th and early 20th century. He also looks at how other countries like Syria dealt with them in ways very different from how the Saudi government pays them off in hopes they will turn their anger outward rather than at the royal family. His examination of just how corrupt the Sauds are and have been is amazing, although it really hasn't been a secret, just not widely discussed by U.S. media.

I can agree with Baer’s conclusions that the American government has to cut its ties with the Saudi royals and other Arab countries, equally guilty of the same sort of corruption. He also makes the point that the U.S. public might have to face the possibility of changing their addiction to cheap Arab oil and look for alternatives. However, I can’t agree with one of the author’s proposals. That is to militarily take over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others via air strikes and commando raids. The idea is to take them over, rebuild what is necessary and allow the governments to fall around them.

I think that Baer is dead on when he says that it is only a matter of time before what the Saudi royals have allowed comes back to slit their throats. I just hope that he isn’t right that the idea he presents is actually being considered (despite the fact that such a plan was presented to Congress over twenty years ago by the Pentagon). Let’s hope there is another alternative.

All that said, I recommend the book to anybody who wants to know how we got to where we are and why certain Presidential candidates probably won’t change things very much. It does look like every past Democratic as well as Republican resident of 1600 Pennsylvannia Avenue has oil, if not blood, on their hands.