Friday, November 16, 2007

Read The Bills Act

You may notice a new banner on the right side of the page (until I change my layout again). This banner leads you to a site called DownsizeDC that I have mentioned a couple of times in my posts. DownsizeDC's overall goal is to reduce the size of the federal government (bet you couldn't guess that by the name), and the main push right now to accomplish that is their "Read the Bills Act." Congress passes hundreds of laws every year, most of them are hundreds and hundreds of pages long. There is no way that each representative and senator voting on the bill has read the entire bill. Plus there are usually last minute changes to bills, often done in secret, before a vote is held and the practice of adding an unpopular proposal to a bill that no one wants to vote against (this is how the internet gambling law got passed, it was piggybacked on a bill dealing w/ port security (shipping ports, not network ports :) ). The "Read the Bills Act" requires that...


  • Each bill, and every amendment, must be read in its entirety before a quorum in both the House and Senate.

  • Every member of the House and Senate must sign a sworn affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that he or she has attentively either personally read, or heard read, the complete bill to be voted on.

  • Every old law coming up for renewal under the sunset provisions must also be read according to the same rules that apply to new bills.

  • Every bill to be voted on must be published on the Internet at least 7 days before a vote, and Congress must give public notice of the date when a vote will be held on that bill.

  • Passage of a bill that does not abide by these provisions will render the measure null and void, and establish grounds for the law to be challenged in court.
    Congress cannot waive these requirements.


quoted from DownsizeDC


We have allowed our representatives to vote on and pass laws that they don't understand for too long. I urge you to write your representatives and ask them to support and/or sponsor this bill. DownsizeDC has a very nice system where you can register and they will automatically send your message to your representatives based on your address. They have a standard message they send and you can add your own personal message as well.

More information about Read the Bills Act

Information about another important effort the "One Subject at a Time" bill (to prevent them from tacking on unpopular proposals onto bills no one wants to vote against)

If you can and want to, please contribute to DownsizeDC. When a big corporation or industry wants to get a law passed, they throw millions of dollars at Congress through lobbyists.

And while you have your debit/credit card out, swing by Ron Paul's site and donate.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thomas Jefferson was a terrorist

Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passes House 404-6.

If this passes the Senate, "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change." will be illegal. What is an extremist belief system? Well, that's not defined in the bill, it's up to the government and the commission that will be formed. Maybe they can call the commission the House Un-American Activities Commission, oh wait, that's already been used.

This is absolutely an outrage that something like this can pass with such an overwhelming majority and NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION! It is time for all Americans to wake up and smell the tyranny. First, it was the Patriot Act which gave the government unprecedented powers to monitor communications and gather data on everyone. Then the Military Commissions Act which suspended habeas corpus and allows the Executive branch to imprison anyone it wants. Now, to complete the tyrannical triple-play, this bill gives the government the power to define its enemies based on their beliefs.

If you read the text of the bill, it defines Violent Radicalization, Homegrown Terrorism and Ideologically Based Violence. Hell, it even defines Commission. But notice it never defines what an extremist belief system is. That's because not defining it makes it easier to apply it with a very broad brush. I've seen media and politicians calling Ron Paul and his supporters (of which I am one, for now) extremists. So stating that the Constitution should be consulted and followed when considering laws is extremist? You know, that annoying document that politicians swear to uphold and defend when they are going into office and then spend the next 2-4 years attempting to shred it?

Not defining the term also is an affront to the rule of law, one of the founding principles of our country. In a nutshell, no one is above the law and government authority is only legitimate when exercised under written, publicly available laws and follows due process. One of the major issues at the forefront of the American Revolution was the British constitution. The British constitution was not a written document, it referred to a vast collection of laws and judicial decisions. And there was no defined authority to decide constitutional questions (i.e. our Supreme Court). By enacting vague legislation like this bill, the government is moving away from the rule of law.

To add insult to injury, there's a section of the bill about "protecting civil rights and civil liberties..." They pass a bill that makes certain thoughts a crime and expect to protect civil rights? Can you say "lip service"?

Let's hear what Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers terrorists has to say...


"[If] the King can model the constitution at will... his government is a pure despotism. The question then arising is, whether a pure despotism in a single head, or one which is divided among a king, nobles, priesthood, and numerous magistracy, is the least bad. I should be puzzled to decide."

"We surely cannot deny to any nation that right whereon our own government is founded, that every one may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases and change these forms at its own will... The will of the nation is the only thing essential to be regarded."

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience [has] shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."

"The oppressed should rebel, and they will continue to rebel and raise disturbance until their civil rights are fully restored to them and all partial distinctions, exclusions and incapacitations are removed."

"As revolutionary instruments (when nothing but revolution will cure the evils of the State) [secret societies] are necessary and indispensable, and the right to use them is inalienable by the people."

"Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."

"For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security. "

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. "

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. "

"I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too. "

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two Close Ones and other stuff

This time last year, the baseball team was 1-3. This year, we are 4-0! The last two games have been close ones. Saturday, we kept the game close until the 3rd inning when we gave up a lot of runs because of walks and steals. Zack did hit another double, this time on a fly ball to left. He is hitting so much better this year. Bottom of the 3rd, we were out of time so it was our last at bat, we were down 14-8. Our #7 hitter led off the inning with a hard line drive right up the middle, his first hit of the year. A couple of walks and steals later, we're only a couple of runs down and it's looking like we might actually have a chance. A hit by our #4 hitter scored a couple to tie it and he ended up on 3rd. I told him he was the winning run and to get to home plate however he could. A couple of pitches later was the 4th ball on the batter and the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher, who turned around and started shuffling back to the mound not looking. The player on 3rd just casually started walking toward home and when he got halfway, took off. If the pitcher had thrown it, he might have got him out, but he tried to run to the plate instead. Ballgame.

Last night, was another close one. After 2 innings, it was tied 6-6. We scored 1 in the top of the 3rd, with the same steal by the same player as Saturday. We put in a new pitcher and just shut the other team down in the bottom of the 3rd. We still had time, so I was hoping we'd get some more runs as padding in the top of the 4th, but they had their ace pitcher in as well and no one was hitting. They get up for their last at bat at the top of their lineup and we start off with a strikeout. Next two batters walk. Now they have 2 of their fastest kids on base and their #4 hitter up with 1 out. It's not looking good for us at this point. A hit to the outfield is almost guaranteed to score the two baserunners. First pitch is a strike. 2nd pitch, the boy smacks a hard line drive to the right side of the field. I didn't even have time to think "It's over" before it was over, but not in the way I thought. Because Zack was playing 2nd base and the ball left the bat and about a half second later was grabbed out of the air by Zack's glove. The runner on first was headed to 2nd and before he knew what was going on, Zack tagged him. Unassisted double play and ballgame. He got the game ball for that.

I never posted anything about my trip to Cleveland to see Dream Theater. Alec and I drove up on a Saturday (August 11th), caught the show, crashed in a nice hotel and drove back the next day. It was an 8 hour drive, but it was worth it. It was a great show and the people in Cleveland were very nice. I had always had a bad impression of people from Ohio, but everyone was cool. I was wearing my Rush Snakes & Arrows shirt and Rush was coming to Cleveland on the 30th, so I had several people (even a cop) ask me if I had already seen them and how it was. It was great getting to spend that drive time with Alec too. From talking with other fathers of teenagers, I consider myself extremely lucky that I can spend 16 hours in a car with my son and we actually have conversations and don't argue.

I've also started school again. I'm doing the RODP (the online degree program), majoring in Organizational Leadership. I'm taking 2 classes this semester, hoping to increase after I get back in school mode. I have US History and Music Appreciation. I'm hoping to finish my bachelor's degree before Alec goes to college.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New Season of Baseball

Well, I am coaching Zack's fall ball team again this year. We've got a more solid team this year. They did a blind draft this year, so it was pretty much luck of the draw. I ended up getting 2 kids that were on the team last year. We started the season on Saturday with a 7-5 win. Zack hit a double that would have been a triple if he had been watching me signal him to round 2nd and keep coming to 3rd. It worked out cause he ended up stealing 3rd and home anyway.

Last night, we had a great night of baserunning. We won 10-7 on 3 hits and only 1 RBI. That means we had a lot of steals. 23 if I counted them right (which I probably didn't). Of course, a lot of those were on wild pitches or errors, which would mean they don't really count as steals, but these guys are 9 & 10 (some are only 8), so I keep simplified stats.

And before I get any angry emails from the soccer infested, competition in kids sports is bad, the only score should be how much fun did we have? crowd, let me say a few things. 1) The stats I keep are available to the parents/kids however, unless the parent shares the URL with them, they don't know how to get to them. 2) I do not talk about the stats in practice/games, or even tell them I keep them. 3) the only reason I keep the stats is because I have a terrible memory and often my first impression sticks. I only use the stats to make the lineup. At this level, every player hits, so I'm not using them to choose who doesn't get to play. And truthfully, I don't really look at batting avg. I look more at on base % (OBP). I put the kids that get on base the most at the top of the lineup. 4) The kids have fun whether they win or lose and that is the most important thing. But teaching them not to compete at all will not help them later in life.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

And it begins...

Aging Road May Lead to Tax Hike

Tragedy is to politicians what a bell was to Pavlov's dogs. It enables them to pluck the heartstrings of the general public while pulling money out of their pocket with the other hand. Every time there is a disaster, they line up in front of the cameras and talk about how we need to increase funding for .

The only thing that makes a politician salivate more than a disaster is war. That enables them to control you, not just your money.

Congress Backs Foreign Wiretaps

The 4th Amendment already looked like it had gone 9 rounds against Muhammad Ali, and it just took even more of a beating. It's on its last legs for sure. The gov't keeps infringing our rights in the name of security, and we just keep taking it. Do you feel safer now?

Friday, July 27, 2007

New Music

I've gotten a lot of new music lately and haven't had time to post reviews of everything, so I'm going to do one post and just do a quick review of everything.

Pearl Jam - Live at the Gorge Box Set

It's a pretty well known fact that I am a HUGE Pearl Jam fan. In my iTunes library, PJ has the highest number of tracks out of all artists (619 tracks or 629 if you want to count the Temple of the Dog album). This box set contributed 100 of those tracks. 8 hours of music, all live, all recorded at The Gorge in George, WA. There are 3 complete shows represented, 1 in 2005 and 2 on back to back nights in 2006. The music covers PJ's entire history, going all the way back to the beginning, even including early stuff that wasn't on Black like Wash. Technically, they go back to before the band existed as Crown of Thorns (originally done by Mother Love Bone, Stone and Jeff's original band). The 2006 shows include a lot of new material from the 2006 self-titled album.

The sound is great, song choices are great, it's live Pearl Jam so what else would you expect? PJ knows what playing live music is all about. They truly appreciate their fans and it shows. How many bands are willing to record every show they do and make it available to their fans? One of the things that makes me love PJ so much is represented on this box set: when they record a live show and release it, they don't "clean it up" or fix mistakes, you get the real thing. On the 2005 show, Eddie misses some lyrics in "Off He Goes" and they just laugh it off. He totally blows the lyrics to "Do the Evolution" in one of the '06 shows, but they didn't go into a studio and re-record that part. Live music isn't about perfection.

Bad Religion - New Maps of Hell

I bought this the day it came out, after listening to the first 3 songs on their MySpace page. Punk has always been considered a young person's genre, but this group of 40-somethings show the kids what punk really is. BR has been around since 1980, I remember hearing some of their early stuff on the local college radio station back in the early 80's. I forgot all about them until 1994 when they released Stranger Than Fiction. A lot of fans view it as their "sell-out" record because they went with a major label. I leave the "sell-out" argument to the hipsters and those that care about that kind of thing. A band exists to make music and if that music is good, it doesn't matter what label they are on.

New Maps of Hell is a fast and furious sonic assault. It rocks out of the gate with "52 Seconds" and stays balls to the wall through the first 5 songs. These 5 songs (52 Seconds, Heroes & Martyrs, Germs of Perfection, New Dark Ages and Requiem for Dissent) are the best on the album. That doesn't mean the rest of the album isn't good, it's very good. Other honorable mentions are Grains of Wrath, Scrutiny, Prodigal Son and Submission Complete. The music is fast and hard, but still has those great BR melodies. And, of course, there are plenty of vocal harmonies. The lyrics are very topical and, as always, scathing attacks on society and government. Like most BR albums, you will probably need a dictionary at some point. How many punk bands can pull off lyrics like
Amid the heat and the wrack
Hot boots invested and cracked
Poor candidates jacked into gray light
An ultra-violent call summoning both poet and thrall
Sweet catalyst for the acolytes
-Heroes & Martyrs
If you like BR, it's a no-brainer, go buy it. If you are younger and think Green Day invented melodic punk, you need to pick this up and learn where Green Day got their influence. One complaint, it seems that CDs now are getting louder and louder. Not a good louder, but one that causes distortion when listening with headphones. This album is guilty of that and the vocals are at times buried in the mix.

Velvet Revolver - Libertad
I liked the first Velvet Revolver album (Contraband), but it never got to that level of "that's an awesome album." I couldn't even tell you the last time I actually listened to the whole thing all the way through. But I've listened to Libertad 4 or 5 times since I got it 4 days ago. That's all the way through, no track skipping. You can tell they have gelled as a band now. Stand out tracks are: the album opener "Let It Roll" which kicks ass, the first single "She Builds Quick Machines" which is a catchy rocker, "The Last Fight" is this album's "Fall to Pieces", great wah guitar on "Pills, Demons & Etc.", "Messages" has a beautiful Slash guitar melody, bringing up memories of "Sweet Child O' Mine". And check out their cover of Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer", they did it justice.

The Mars Volta - Deloused in the Comatorium

This isn't a new release, but I just got it. I've been hearing about The Mars Volta for a while now, but never really checked them out. I'm glad I did. This isn't music for the casual listener though. They use lots of weird time signatures and changes, poly-rhythmic stuff, ambient noise and strange lyrics, which sometimes flow between English and Spanish within the same song. So if you like progjazzpunk music, check this out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Effective Tax Rates



http://tinyurl.com/ypawsq

In this election season, much ado will be made over tax cuts, tax rates and the fairness of taxes on the poor versus taxes on the wealthy. The information above, straight from the Congressional Budget Office should lay to rest the effective tax rates of the different levels of income. The effective tax rates above include all federal taxes (income, payroll (FICA/Medicare) and corporate). This data is from 2004, the tax code hasn't changed much since then but for reference, the FICA rate in 2004 was 6.2%, Medicare rate was 1.45% and the FICA limit was $87,000.

I ask that you read my entire post before responding, you may take something one way when you read it, but another way when you've read the entire post.

The fact that the tax rates for the lowest 20% are below the FICA rate shows that their federal income tax is negative. This is most likely due to Earned Income Credit. This is what enables people to pay in almost no federal income tax, yet receive a $3000 refund. And the 2nd tier (up to $36,000) is paying very little over the 7.65% FICA/Medicare rate. These are the two groups usually referred to as the "working poor" that politicians love to drag out and whine that they barely got a tax cut while the "mega-wealthy" got a huge tax cut. Well, if you aren't paying federal income tax to begin with, how much of a cut can you get?

The middle class is made up of the next 2 groups ($37,000 - $81,000). These two groups are paying 13% and 17%, respectively, of their income to the federal government. Something that is true for all groups, but probably most pronounced in this group is the difference between 2 married people earning the money versus a single person earning the money. I pay more in taxes as a single person than my ex-wife and I combined when I was married and our combined income was 50-60% more than it is now. Then the top 20% is paying 25% of their income. Keep in mind, this is before state income tax (which Tennessee thankfully does not have), state sales tax (where TN makes up for not having an income tax), county/city sales tax, wheel tax, property tax, utility tax, permit tax, fuel tax, all those taxes listed on your phone and cable bill, pet tax, toll roads, etc.

The table includes the top 1%, which is already factored in to the highest 20%, but it is interesting to note that the effective tax rate is 31.1%. The effective tax rate for that group is 25%, so you have to assume that the lower incomes in that group are paying quite a bit less than 25%.

I created the table below, which shows the percentage increase in average income and the percentage increase in tax rates between the groups. This shows that the average income increases faster than the tax rates. Does this mean the tax system is not progressive enough? I don't think so, keep in mind this is comparing 2 different types of numbers. The income amount is an average while the rate is the effective rate for the entire group, not an average for the group.

Income Group Avg Pretax Income Eff Fed Rate Increase in Income Increase in Rate
Lowest 20% $ 15,400.00 4.5%

Second 20% $ 36,300.00 10.0% 135.7% 122.2%
Middle 20% $ 56,200.00 13.9% 54.8% 39.0%
Fourth 20% $ 81,700.00 17.2% 45.4% 23.7%
Highest 20% $ 207,200.00 25.1% 153.6% 45.9%

What this table does not include are those tax payers who do not draw a paycheck. If most of your income comes from capital gains and dividends, you would only be taxed at 15% and they are not subject to FICA/Medicare taxes. This is one of the favorite whipping posts for the crowd that complains about "tax cuts for the mega-wealthy." I don't know how many people actually earn the greatest portion of their living this way, but I imagine it's not a very large group.

The article quotes Bush as saying "On principle, no one in America should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government." My question to that quote and all the data mentioned above is: Who's principle? Where, exactly, did he pull a third as the correct maximum amount of tax? Let's look back to 1916 when the income tax was enacted (well, the 3rd and last time it was enacted), the rates went from 1% all the way up to...7%. Less than 1% of Americans (the top earners) paid income tax. Fast forward 90 years and we have teenagers working part time at McDonalds paying income tax and the president thinks no one should pay more than 1/3 of their income and there are people who don't think that is enough!

So what is enough? How much of your income do you think the federal government has the right to take from you before you even receive it? This post is full of numbers and percentages and comparisons between income levels. You could take the numbers I provided and argue that our tax system is progressive and that the rich pay significantly more in taxes than the poor. But you could also take the same numbers and present them a different way and argue that the system isn't progressive enough and the rich don't pay enough.

I didn't provide the numbers to argue either one of those things. I provided them to prove my point. My point is that using numbers to argue a moral and philosophic question is a waste of time. Look back at the numbers, you could add 10% to every percentage listed and we could still have the same debate about who's paying their "fair share." Add 20%, 30%, where does it stop? Why is 1/3 of my income the most I should pay? Why not 1/2? Why not 1/4? There are no fractions in ethics and morality. If the government of the United States thinks that they have the right to 1/3 of my income, then they think they have the right to 100% of it.

Let's not ignore the privacy issue brought about by the income tax. Before the income tax, employment was a private matter between an employer and an employee. How much you made was between you and your employer only. Now, you can't work without filling out a bunch of forms and by the time you get your first paycheck, there are 5 or 6 government agencies that know exactly how much you make.

Also, think about all the exceptions I mentioned above. All the different rates and differences between single and married, parent and childless. The tax code is huge and has created an entire industry that exists just so normal people can file their taxes. And God forbid you file them wrong, get ready to pay serious penalties or worse, lose some property.

And if the "taxes aren't progressive enough" crowd is so up in arms about taxation, why aren't they willing to talk about the most regressive tax of all, FICA? FICA and Medicare taxes everyone at 7.65%, with an additional 7.65% begin paid by the employer. And to make it even more regressive, the FICA portion (6.2%) stops after $94,500. Why isn't this group willing to look at reducing or eliminating these taxes? Because they fund the ultimate nanny-state program, Social (In)Security.

The sad thing is, politicians won't talk about taxes like this. There seem to be only two schools of though: 1) lower taxes for the middle class and poor and make up the difference by taxing the rich (often the definition of rich here means those making over $75,000 a year which is a long way from rich) and 2) tax cuts for everyone! No, we don't need to reduce spending, we'll collect more from taxes because the economy will improve. I've got an idea, how about we really, I mean really, cut taxes and cut spending til we're only funding what the government is constitutionally allowed to do and everyone will have more money. Sure there will be a brief economic downturn for all those government employees out there, but they will get swept up in the booming economy that would follow such drastic tax cuts.

There is only one candidate running in the 2008 primary that is willing to talk about taxes in these terms. That candidate is Ron Paul. I swore on this very blog that I would not vote for a Republican or Democrat again. I am revising that statement. Ron Paul is not really a Republican. He has ran on the Libertarian ticket before and his views align more with the Libertarian Party than the Republican Party. I am going to vote for Dr. Paul in the primary (as of right now, future events may change my mind).

My theory (caveat: with my non-mainstream views, any political analysis of major candidates by me is apt to be completely and utterly wrong) is that Dr. Paul is the only hope the Republican party has at winning the presidency. Based on the current approval ratings of our current despot, the American people aren't going to go for Ghouliani, Tancredo, Romney or any of the other Bush clones who want more war and torture and less rights. And how can anyone forgive McCain's involvement in the McCain-Feingold bill, one of the biggest affronts to free speech in recent history? So we're down to the district attorney from Law & Order, Fred Thompson and Dr. Paul. From what I know of Thompson, he talks a good game about the Constitution, but he falls into the party line on a lot of issues, so the left will see him as just another R.

Historically, you've got 40-45% voting D and 40-45% voting R no matter who is running. It's the 10-20% of swing voters that truly decide an election. If, and this is a big if, Dr. Paul were to win the Republican primary, then the Libertarian party would be best served by not running a candidate and throwing their support behind Dr. Paul. With their support and enough of those middle of the road voters who don't go third party, he could win the election. I think with any other R candidate, everyone will see it's going to be more of the same and those 10-20% swing voters will cross to the D side so fast, the boat might tip over.

"America is a land of taxation that was founded to avoid taxation." ~Laurence J. Peter

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Summer Vacation Days 1 & 2

This year, Alec, Zack and I are going to Gatlinburg and Chattanooga for our summer vacation.

Day 1 – Sunday

We drove up to Gatlinburg Sunday afternoon. It was a great drive, I made a playlist with 528 songs (about 1.6 days worth of music) for our trip. We jammed to whatever came on and the 3 of us talked pretty much the whole way here. It’s great that Alec still likes talking to his dad, even though he’s 15. We got up here around 5 and checked into the hotel. We went out and walked around for a bit and found somewhere to eat dinner. We ate at the Mountain Edge Grill, which was pretty good. Then we walked around and found an indoor miniature golf place. We pretty much had the place to ourselves and had a great time. We also road go-carts, which was fun.

Day 2 – Monday

This morning, we decided to go hiking. We drove up to the national park entrance and went to the Sugarlands visitor’s center. We got a map of some day hike trails and decided to do the Chimney Tops hike. It’s a 4 mile round trip and rated as strenuous. The first part is easy, leading down to a bridge over waterfalls and a pool in the river. Several people were swimming, even though the water is pretty cold. Alec & Zack waded in and got their feet wet. We climbed out over some big rocks and got a lot of pictures. Someone picked up Zack’s water bottle, so we were down to 2 bottles. We hiked on, going up some pretty steep inclines. We crossed several bridges and got tons of pictures (which I will post this weekend). We reached a point and realized we were only half way up. We were tired and running out of water. Alec wanted to press on, but I knew we would run out of water and would need some food soon. So we turned back. Not 3 minutes later, it started to rain. It was just a drizzle, so no big deal. We got back to the car and started back down the mountain and it started pouring. It was raining so hard, we had to pull into one of the parking areas because I couldn’t see the road. If we had pressed on, we would have been over a mile up a mountain getting soaked. So we eventually got back to town and relaxed in the room for a bit and dried out.

We went out walking, looking for something to do and hit one of the candy stores. It was still raining and we couldn’t find anything fun to do. We headed back to the room to get ready for dinner. For dinner we went to the Hard Rock CafĂ©. It was pretty cool, the food was not bad, just nothing special. But it was cool to look at all the guitars and pictures on the walls and listen to good music while eating instead of the standard muzak. Our waitress was Anna, who was from Belarus. I've now met 3 women from Belarus (I worked with 2 years ago) and let me tell you, there are some beautiful women in that country. The table we were at had Chet Atkins memorabilia, including his Fender Telecaster (with his name on the neck) and a red, sequined outfit he wore at Carnegie Hall in 1969. The table next to us had Johnny Cash stuff, so Zack had to get a picture of that. He also took a picture of the Chet Atkins stuff cause my granddad will get a kick out of that. Other acts in the room we were in were the Allman brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimmy Vaughn next to each other and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. I didn’t get pictures of those because people were eating at those tables. In the lobby, I took a shot of Eddie Van Halen’s display, Guns N’ Roses (Duff McKagan), a Sex Pistols t-shirt and a couple of other things.

Tomorrow, we go white water rafting!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chris Cornell Review

I'm going to kill two birds (pun intended, you'll get it later) with one stone and review both Chris Cornell's show in Nashville Thursday night (May 31) and his new album "Carry On" that came out Tuesday (June 5).

Live Show Review

When I saw that Chris had left Audioslave AND was going on tour AND that tour was going to hit Nashville, I was very happy. Don't get me wrong, I liked Audioslave and they made some good music, but if you listen to Chris' previous work with Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and his solo stuff, you realized how much Audioslave limited his style. I think the other 3 musicians from Audioslave are great musicians, but when you have 4 or 5 songs on an album where the guitar solos are the same tired "make weird noises that sound like record scratching" solo, you're not really pushing new musical boundaries.

On to the show, I met up with a friend of mine earlier in the afternoon and we drove by City Hall to see if there was a line. There were about 10 people waiting, so we went back to his office to meet up with a couple of other friends. We had a couple of drinks and walked down to the venue. The line was around the corner. We didn't wait too long and when we got in, we ended up about 75 feet from the stage, right in the middle. It didn't take long til they killed the lights and the band came out. Chris has put together a great backing band. He opened with Spoonman and the whole band was rocking it just as hard as Soundgarden ever did. I had never seen Chris live before with any of his bands, and let me tell you, his voice will just blow you away. It sounded just as good live as it has on any studio album. One of the guys I was with, Ace, always says if he had a voice like that he would never talk, he would sing everything he had to say. I have to agree.

After Spoonman, they rolled into Outshined, which has always been one of my favorite songs. It just plain kicked ass. They did some Audioslave songs, Original Fire sounded great. He sang "No Such Thing" off the new album, which wasn't out yet. I had heard 2 songs of the album and this was not one of them. It sounded great live. Then he reached back to the Temple of the Dog album and did Hunger Strike, which was great but I did miss hearing Eddie on it. Then Chris said something about it being great being able to play some of the old stuff and said that they hadn't played the next one yet. Then the opening notes of Say Hello to Heaven rings out. Man, I was floored. I first heard that song about a year after my mom died and it's just one of those songs that reminds me of her. It was great getting to hear it live.

He introduced Rusty Cage by saying something about he still gets a high when he thinks about Johnny Cash recording one of his songs. It was freakin' loud and hard and amazing. After Sunshower, the band took a break, but Chris played acoustic versions of Can't Change Me (the only song he did from Euphoria Morning), Scar in the Sky (from the new album) and I Am the Highway. He started Call Me a Dog from the Temple of the Dog album acoustic and the band came back in halfway through. Listening to Chris just singing with an acoustic guitar is further proof that he is an amazing singer and musician. I think one of his talents has always been creating such great melodies on top of the music. He uses his voice as another instrument and the melodies he creates are just amazing. At that point, the words don't even really matter, he could sing his grocery list and it would sound good.

After the acoustic set, they did some more Audioslave songs. This was the point I started realizing it was hot. I don't mean "fan your face a little" hot, I mean it was fuckin' hot. I had on a lightweight button down shirt and a t-shirt and when I took off the outside shirt, it was soaked in sweat. He did a couple of songs from the new album, including Billie Jean. Yes, that Billie Jean. It's a completely different take on the song and it sounded really good. That was followed by Like a Stone one of my fave Audioslave songs. Then, wait, is that...holy shit, that's Loud Love! (from Soundgarden's 2nd album Louder than Love). That was rockin' and then when they kicked into Jesus Christ Pose, I about lost it. That song is one of the heaviest, hardest hitting songs ever. And Chris' backing band did it justice. Those guys are pretty damn good to be playing music from 3 different bands, especially considering those 3 bands consisted of Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Matt McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Tom Morello and the bassist and drummer from Audioslave (I can't remember their names and I'm too lazy to go look it up). Plus playing stuff from Chris' solo albums, which are all over the place stylistically.

After Jesus Christ Pose, they all left the stage and we waited patiently for an encore. I was drained after JCP, but was ready for more. They came back out and open with that great guitar riff that starts off My Wave. They did a great job on it. Then Chris said something about he hadn't played the next song in a long time and the guitarist starts picking Seasons. Holy shit! I mean, if you had asked me before the show what songs I thought he would play, Seasons would have been way down at the bottom of the list. But it would have been near the top of my list of songs I would want him to play. It is a song he did solo for the Singles soundtrack (Soundgarden also had a song on there). It was amazing hearing it live. They followed that up with Black Hole Sun. That's one I loved when I first heard it (I bought the Superunknown album the week it was released), but after the radio and MTV wore it out, it's one of those songs I usually skip over. But hearing it live made me love it again. I loved it without the vocal effects that are on the album.

The house lights actually came on toward the end of Black Hole Sun. They finished up and Chris thanked everyone and left. I found out later that they actually were going to play a 2nd encore with Never Be Your Man (new album), Be Yourself and Slaves & Bulldozers (which would have been awesome), but they got shut down because it was so hot and people were passing out. Even without the 2nd encore, it was an amazing show. He played for at least 2.5 hours, maybe a little more. We definitely got our money's worth. I'm still pissed about paying $35 to go see Sting 7 years ago and he only played for 1:45, which included a 10 minute acoustic version of Roxanne, and what made it 10 minutes was mostly him repeatedly singing "Roxxxxaannne". I spent the same amount for this show and was close enough to read the Gibson name on the headstock of the guitar and Chris put on a fucking show. I included the setlist below, thanks to someone on the Chris Cornell forum.

Spoonman
Outshined
Original Fire
Show Me How to Live
No Such Thing
You Know My Name
Hunger Strike
Say Hello to Heaven
Fell on Black Days
What You Are
Rusty Cage
Sunshower
Can't Change Me (Chris solo)
Scar in the Sky (Chris solo)
I Am the Highway (Chris solo)
Call Me a Dog (started Chris solo, band came back at end)
Doesn't Remind Me
Cochise
Your Soul Today
Billie Jean
Like a Stone
Loud Love
JCP

Encore:
My Wave
Seasons
Blackhole Sun

Album Review: Carry On

Carry On is Chris Cornell's new album that was released yesterday. He apparently recorded it immediately after recording Revelations with Audioslave. In February, he announced he was leaving Audioslave and releasing a solo album. I was always a bigger fan of Chris' work in Soundgarden and solo than Audioslave, so I was pretty happy to hear that. I've heard that he is pretty much an asshole to work with and that he is egotistical. If I had his talent, I would be freakin' unbearable. I don't really care if he's a jerk, I just know I like the result of his musical creativity.

The album opens with No Such Thing, which starts off as a up-tempo rocker. The guitar riff at the beginning is pretty generic, if you've listened to any alternative in the past 10 years, you've probably heard it before. But the music suddenly drops to just an acoustic guitar and light drum, with Chris' vocals. The choruses go back to that generic riff with Chris singing. I guess it's a good opener because it's one of the harder rocking numbers on the album, but it's just not one of his best. But, my opinion of the song went up a few points when it got to the bridge. It shifts into a great sounding arpeggioed guitar with Chris' vocals split over the left and right channel. On the right, he's singing in that high falsetto he has (not the primal scream) and the left channel is his lower pitched, rougher voice (think of When I'm Down on Euphoria Morning).

Up next is Poison Eye, which doesn't have the best lyrics, but the chord progression, riff and melody makes up for it. Arms Around Your Love starts out sounding very poppy and radio friendly. And it stays there. That's not a bad thing, I'm sure some fans who only want to hear him sing Outshined for the rest of his life won't like it, but that's their loss. I think pop sounding songs like this are great when the artist is authentic. It's the manufactured pop music or the bands that say "hey, Pearl Jam sold millions of records, if we sound like them we'll sell millions too." (ahem, Creed) and even worse "hey, Creed sold millions sounding like Pearl Jam, we'll sell millions sounding like Creed sounding like Pearl Jam" (ahem, Nickelback). And I can't even bring myself, okay I guess I can, mention (I cringe even typing it) Hinder, which sounds like a rip off of a rip off of a rip off of Pearl Jam. Ok, back to the review.

Safe and Sound is a great song. It's got a bit of a bluesy feel, which I love when Chris does blues flavored songs (Call Me a Dog, When I'm Down). The lyrics are great, concerning a utopian view of society. Next up is She'll Never Be Your Man, which is written from the point of view of a man who's woman left him for another woman. Apparently Chris knew several people this happened to and he wrote this song about it. It's a very catchy song and has a great vocal melody and the lyrics are catchy. Ghosts has a some great guitar chords opening up, which fade into a great sounding acoustic strumming. I'm definitely going to have to learn the chords to this song.

The next song is Killing Birds (we finally get to the source of my pun at the beginning). Very interesting sound, opening up with a low-key acoustic guitar and some electronic drum sounds. After the chorus, it kicks into a more rocking tune with either a piano or guitar playing some weird notes while the rest of the band plays a straightforward rhythm. And the guitarist has great tone on the solo. The lyrics sound very personal and intense. Up next is Billie Jean and as I said above, yes the Billie Jean written by Michael Jackson in the 80's (back when he was cool). First thought is the guy from Soundgarden covering Michael Jackson?!? But you should check it out. Hit iTunes or Amazon and listen to the 30 second preview. He has rearranged it into a slow, bluesy tune with subdued vocals during the verses and cutting loose during the choruses.

Scar on the Sky is a pretty song that would sound at home on a Soundgarden album. That is followed by Your Soul Today, which I think is my favorite on the album so far. It's got an infectious guitar riff and a funky beat. Finally Forever has a Beatles feel with a slide guitar. Silence the Voices starts off sounding vaguely like an old school Soundgarden sludge-fest. But the vocals and drumming change that feel. It's actually a tough song to classify. Interesting. Disappearing Act is next. I wondered if it was related to Disappearing One from his last solo album (Euphoria Morning). It's a pretty, mostly acoustic song. Closing out the album is You Know My Name, which you've heard if you saw Casino Royale. It's a good song, with great lyrics and music. Chris collaborated with a composer on it and the orchestration in the song blends well with the standard guitar/drums/bass sound. Being a Bond fan and a fan of several Bond songs, I love that Chris has added one to the list*.


*Cool Bond Songs
Live and Let Die - Paul McCartney
The World is Not Enough - Garbage
A View to a Kill - Duran Duran
You Know My Name - Chris Cornell

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Summer Concerts

This is going to be an awesome summer for music. I have tickets for 3 concerts this summer.

First up is Chris Cornell May 31 at City Hall. I have been a huge fan of Chris since I first heard Soundgarden back in 1990. He has continued to make great music as a solo artist and in Audioslave (Soundgarden was much better though). He has left Audioslave and has another solo album coming out. Should be a great show.

Next is Rush in Atlanta on June 13. Since Starwood has closed, there's no amphitheater here, so Rush isn't coming to Nashville on this tour like they usually do. So I am taking Alec, who is a huge Rush fan and has never seen them live, and a friend of his to Atlanta to see them.

And to finish up the summer, I'm going to Cleveland, OH to see Dream Theater on August 11. I've been a fan of theirs since 1992. I've never seen them live, since they never come to Nashville. I am very excited about this show. Alec and a lot of his friends love DT also. I bought the tickets on the spur of the moment because I happened to check on them right after they went on sale and had the opportunity to get pretty good seats. We'll be in about the 30th row, right in the center in front of the mixing board (which is typically where the best sound is). I bought the tickets just a couple of days before Alec's birthday, so they were part of his present. I printed a map with the route from Nashville to Cleveland, then pasted Dream Theater's logo above Cleveland. I handed that to Alec at his party. It took him a few seconds to figure out what it was. A friend of his was looking over his shoulder and I could see his reaction when he recognized what it was. I did tell Alec that since the concert is 2 days after my birthday, he had to buy me a t-shirt at the show.

Counting Cards (sub story from Vegas story part 2)

This is a sub-story to my Vegas story. I had a brief encounter with a guy I'm pretty sure was counting cards.

Now, I've always been interested in the odds and the math behind games (not just card games). So naturally, I'm interested in card counting. One of the great things about blackjack is that it is one of the only games in Vegas that has a memory. I have argued several times with a friend about probability and independent events. His idea on roulette was to watch the history and if several reds had hit, to bet on black. But each spin of the wheel is independent from the last spin. The same with dice. If I flip a coin 1 time, the probability of it landing on heads is 50%. If I flip it 10 times and it lands on tails all 10 times, what is the probability of the next flip being heads? It's still 50%. While I was playing roulette one day (and yes, even though I know it's mathematically inconsisitent, I still found myself watching the history and betting based on the past ), I saw 5 numbers in a row hit in the 30s and it hit 33 twice in a row during that run. That seems improbable, but statistically, it was just as likely to hit 33 the 2nd time as it was the 1st time.

My encounter with the assumed counter was during my Monday night blackjack marathon. It was early in the night because I was still sitting in the middle of the table. This Asian guy was standing behind us just watching the game. There were open seats, but he didn't want to play. He just stood and watched, he didn't seem to know anyone at the table. About 3/4 through the shoe, he decides to sit down. He cashes in a C-note and places all $100 in the circle. Damn, dude is serious. I've seen people do stuff like this before, but they didn't sit down, they walked up put their money down, either lost or won and walked off. Lo and behold, the dealer busts and this guy is $100 richer. His next bet was only $15. Now that's a big change in betting strategy. He lost. Next hand, he lays out $25 and wins. It starts dawning on me that he was back-counting the whole shoe (when you count the cards while not sitting at the table) and he waited til there was a high positive count to sit down. The next hand he lays out $50, I had just won $10, so I left it out there for $20. We both won. He leaves $50 out there, I put out $30 and won. When we finished the shoe, he got up and left. I won about $75 in the 3 or 4 hands where I watched what he bet before making my bet.

The process of counting cards is simple. Statistically, more low cards favors the house while more high cards favor the players. So, you don't actually count the cards that are played (meaning you don't have to know that 4 Kings, 2 fives and 3 10s have shown up), you just keep a running count of the high and low cards. Low cards (2 - 6) are worth +1 point, high cards (10 - Ace) are worth -1 point. 7, 8 and 9s are neutral. When the count is positive, that means it is more likely for high cards to come out, favoring the player. So the idea is to adjust your bet according to the count. If it is negative, you bet the minimum, if it is positive, you bet more ( raising the bet for higher positive counts).

Now, if you go to Vegas and you count the cards down at the table and you are fluctuating your bet drastically based on the count, you will stand out like a turd in a punchbowl. Trust me, they've seen it all before. One of the ways counters have gotten around this is by working in teams. You can have several people sitting at various tables, just betting the minimum and counting. When the count gets high enough, instead of them changing their bet, they signal to a partner and he or she comes in and just starts betting big. Since he hasn't played any other way, it's not as suspicious. When the count goes down, that player leaves.

Welcome Back to Nashvegas (Part 2)

Well, I promised this would be shorter, but I probably lied. This is part 2 of my Vegas trip. If you haven't read it yet, here's Part 1.

Monday, we got up and went to the NAB show that was in Vegas. It's the National Association of Broadcasters and they have everything from radio transmitter stuff to cameras to video editing and a whole lot of other stuff I didn't know anything about. Ace was able to hook Chuck and I up with free passes to go to the trade show floor. We got to check out some really cool shit. Chuck was drooling over some of the DV cameras, we were all drooling over the new Final Cut video editing software from Apple. I've had the bug to buy a Mac for a while and seeing some of the stuff there has made me want one even more.

After our trip to the trade show, I played a little blackjack and when it was time to go to dinner, I was up about $100. We had a hankering for Hooters hot wings, so we walked down the street to the Hooters hotel. As we were walking to the restaurant, we saw another restaurant called Dan Marino's (you know, the former QB of the Dolphins) that was advertising all you can eat ribs for $16.99. Since none of us have ever met a rib we didn't like, we decided to try it out. We ordered some boneless buffalo wings as an appetizer to satisfy our wing craving and then it was on to the ribs. They brought out a plate with a huge rack of ribs and my 2 sides (which were also all you can eat). Damn they were good! There were 3 or 4 sauces on the table also and the whiskey sauce was excellent. We all knocked out our 1st rack and Chuck got another half rack and Ace and I got another 1/4 rack. We were all stuffed. One of the things that made the meal even better was that our waiter, Nick, was one of the best waiters I've ever had. We never had to ask for anything, he was just there with it and he was actually friendly. Not the normal "I'm your waiter and I have to be nice so I get a good tip" friendly. We got the manager over there and complimented both the food and the service. We figured that usually people only comment when they are complaining, so we would share some positive comments.

After dinner, we hung out in the room to let the food digest and I was itching to get back to the blackjack table. This was my last night in Vegas and even though we weren't leaving until after 3 the next afternoon, I knew I wouldn't have much time to play on Tuesday. I headed downstairs around 9:30 and found a good $10 table (the $5 tables are gone after 6 or so) with several people.

Side track: one of the things I enjoy the most about Vegas, and this will probably be a shock to the people who know me, is getting to meet so many different people. There are literally people from all over the world in Vegas. I like talking to people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Ok, back to the action. I sit down at the table and change out a black chip (that's $100 for you non-Vegasy people ). I'm betting the minimum and looking for a cocktail waitress. The first couple of hands are terrible, then I get a pair of 8s. The dealer is showing a 5. You always split Aces and 8s because they both are terrible hands. So I split my 8s (meaning I put down another $10 and have 2 hands). My first 8, I draw a facecard to make 18, so I stay. Next 8, I draw a 3 to make 11. You always double down on 11, unless the dealer is showing an Ace. The dealer is showing a 5, which is a bad card for the dealer (you assume they have a 10 not showing and that they will bust). So I double down the 11, drawing a 6 for a 17. I now have $30 riding on this hand and the dealer is showing a bust card. Everyone else plays, the dealer flips his hole card. A fucking 6. The dealer is sitting there with 11. I know what the next card is before he flips it, a fucking 10. The dealer hit 21, costing me $30. I won the next hand, then got a pair of 7s with the dealer showing a 2. I split and drew a 3 on the first one. Double down. I drew a 10 for a total of 20. Drew a 4 on the next 7, double down. I drew something crappy like a 5. So I have $40 on this hand, dealer flips his hole card, has to keep hitting, he meanders through 5 cards to get...you guessed it: 21. I was down $100 before I even ordered a fucking drink. I cash in another black chip, the cards were just not falling my way. Some people got up and I moved over to the middle of the table (I had been sitting at 1st base). The cards weren't much better.

My second $100 went almost as fast as the 1st. I wasn't happy about it, but it was money I had won the night before and earlier that day, so I hadn't even touched my stake for that day yet. So I pulled another $100 out (this time it was green and made out of paper). Things kind of went back and forth. Then the card counter sat down.

I decided to make this story a separate post because it involves some backstory and a lot of information. See my next post to get the story of the card counter. I'll include the end here so we can continue with the narrative. I had about $125 in front of me when he sat down, when he left, I had about $200.

The guy on 3rd base (the last spot on the table to act, to the far right of the dealer) finally left, so I moved over there. By this time, I had been playing about 2.5 hours and still had the last $100 I had cashed in plus a little more. Considering I lost the first $200 in less than an hour, playing for an hour and a half on the same money was good. People were coming and going at the table, the dealers were changing out every so often for breaks, the waitress was putting orange slices in my screwdrivers, life was good.

There were about 4 of us at the table and this laid back looking Asian guy sat down and threw $100 down. At this point, instead of giving 20 $5 chips for change, they were giving 2 $25 and 10 $5, I guess encouraging us to bet bigger. He lays down $25 and bam, bad cards. About 5 hands later, out comes the wallet, another $100. 7 or 8 hands later, repeat the process. This guy dropped 7 $100 bills on the table in the span of an hour. Then he seemed to hit the spot I was in (I was still playing on the same money) and he didn't have to go into his pocket anymore. We started talking and introduced ourselves. He was from Singapore, there for the NAB show. There was a couple at the table from Chile and the dealer was Armenian.

So, here I am, the hick from Nashville, the only representative of America at the table. It's not like we have a great public image anyway. It's about 1:30 in the morning and I've been drinking screwdrivers as fast as they can bring them. But I am not a sloppy or mean drunk. I'm friendly and when I'm playing cards, especially for that kind of money, I'm very serious, no matter how much alcohol I have. So I'm being nice to everyone and we are all joking around. The Chilean husband was making me nervous because he split 10s several times. He won 2 out of the 3, but it's not a good idea to do it. There's only 1 card that can give you a better hand and if the dealer is showing a low card (which is the only time you would even consider splitting 10s), you will often end up taking their bust card. Anyway, while all this international goodwill is flowing, Mr. Drunk Ass American decides to sit down at our table.

Now, I've been around drunk rednecks, drunk headbangers, drunk black people, drunk geeks, hell even drunk Cajuns. And unfortunately, I've been around the most obnoxious type of drunk there is: the white, upper middle class, middle age business man. That's the tribe this guy belonged to. He sat down right next to me and started playing. At the same time, he started asking where the hell the cocktail waitress was. He said he needed some Maker's Mark. That's red flag #1 that you are dealing with this particular tribe, they refer to what they drink by it's brand name. They wouldn't be caught dead drinking "whiskey" or "vodka" or "tequila", they drink Maker's Mark, Grey Goose and Patron. Now, don't get me wrong, these are good liquors (although I prefer Absolut to Grey Goose), but I'll drink OFC, Smirnoff and Jose Cuervo just as quick.

So Mr. Drunk Ass gets his drink and promptly knocks it over and spills it all over his chips and a few cards. The dealer (Roosevelt from Armenia) was very gracious about it, even though I could tell it pissed him off. The little bits of ice left on the table hadn't even melted before he was loudly saying he needed more Maker's Mark. Yea, that's exactly what you need jackass. Now, when you play at a blackjack table for longer than an hour with the same person or people, there will usually be some sort of comraderie going. If you make a bold move like doubling down on 8 and win, your "friends" will congratulate you, maybe even shake your hand. This guy wanted to shake hands every time we won, no matter what we did. Then his asshole buddies showed up. They were just as drunk and just as obnoxious. They were egging him on to bet more and more and totally disrupting the flow. Finally, they decided they needed to go and hit on a cocktail waitress or something and they all left. I just looked at Vincent (the guy from Singapore) and shrugged trying to say "not all of us are like that".

Shortly after that, the couple from Chile left and it was just Vincent and I against the dealer. We were both still playing on the same money. I would get down to $10 in front of me, then work my way up to $200. We went through several dealers and had a few people sit down for a few minutes, but no one really stayed. Then they raised the minimum to $25, but we could still bet $10 since we had been there. Sometime around 3am, Vincent asked me about tipping the waitresses, he wasn't sure how much to give them. He didn't know if the drinks were free or not. I told him the drinks were free, and that I usually gave the waitress $1 and every 3rd or 4th round give her $2 (or usually $2.50 which is the chip you get if you hit blackjack when playing $5). He offered to tip for the next round (there was 1 other guy at the table at this point). So this started a cycle where we would take turns tipping and we were giving her $5 a trip. I think at one point I gave her $10 because she was putting 2 orange slices in my screwdrivers.

Around 3:30, the dealer said they were going to close the table soon and we would have to move to another table. I started bumping up my bets a little trying to get back as much of my money as I could. A little after 4am, the pit boss said we could play one more shoe and then the were closing the table. After a couple of hands, I was betting $25 or $30 a hand and Vincent was playing 2 hands at $25 or $50 a hand. He was getting pretty good cards, mine were kind blah. I got down to my last $20, got back up to $100, down to $50, up to $150. There were only about 3 or 4 hands left in the shoe and there had been a lot of low cards, so I put $50 down. Won it, bet $50 again, lost. Last hand, I had $50 in front of me. I said fuck it and put it in the circle. Vincent laid out $50 in two different hands. He won both his and I won mine. When he colored up, he had about $600, so he lost $100 over a 4 hour stretch. I lost $200 (which I had actually won previously) over a 6 hour stretch. Even losing that much, I still had a blast and it was cool to play that long and actually close the table down. Once I fell asleep, I woke up around 7am and my hand was making the "stay" motion you make when you don't want anymore cards. I guess I was dreaming about playing blackjack.

The next day we had to pack and get ready to leave. We checked our comps and had free buffet meals, so we had lunch at the buffet, then bought some souveniers for the people back home. I found my way back to a blackjack table, playing single deck. That was fun, I had played single deck either Friday or Saturday night also. Ace joined me for a little while, Chuck came over and watched and reminded us that we had a plane to catch and gave us a deadline. We played just a few minutes past the deadline, headed to the room and headed to the airport.

Last time I came home from Vegas, our plane took off at like 8am, and I had been up til 4 drinking Kamikazis (vodka, triple sec & lime juice) and had eaten nachos sometime during the night. I spent most of the flight trying not to vomit and fighting a headache that felt like kamikazi pilots had flown their planes into my head. I also only had $4 on me.

This time, it was much better, I had a lot more than $4 (even though I had less than I left with) and I wasn't hung over at all. Our flight was later in the afternoon, so we stopped in a airport bar to have a beer. We boarded with the A group this time, so we were all sitting together, I was on the aisle which is so much better than the middle. And I had another little blue friend to help make the flight that much more pleasant. We landed in Nashville at 9:15 and I did get a little worried that they may have lost my luggage. Chuck and Ace got theirs quickly. I waited and waited and didn't see mine, I kept seeing the same bags go by and none of them were mine. Then I spotted my business card on the conveyor belt. I had this thing from work that attaches to your handle and one side had a plastic laminate you put a business card in and then sealed. It makes finding your luggage much easier. Well, I saw the whole tag thing lying on the conveyor belt attached to nothing. Finally, I spotted my bag. Tammy once again transported us home and I tried to go to sleep, since I had to work the next day and knew I wouldn't be adjusted back to Central time. But, I had a hell of a time going to sleep.

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Welcome Back to Nashvegas (Part 1)

This was actually written almost a month ago, I just haven't gotten around to posting it. I was in Las Vegas April 12 - 17. This is the account of my trip. Names have not been changed to protect the guilty or innocent.

I think I'm finally back on Central Standard time and mostly rehydrated. 6 days in Vegas can be hard on your body and mind. Everyone's first question is always "did you win anything?" No, I didn't. But I didn't do too bad, I think the money the casino took from just barely covered the tequila and vodka bill. I rationed my money out so that I had the same amount to gamble on each day. 2 days I ended up with more than I started, 1 day I broke even and the other 3 days I lost. BUT, I ended each day with at least some of my gambling money left over. Did I have a good time? Hell yea.

We left Nashville Thursday afternoon after being driven to the airport by Tammy's Taxi (thanks Tammy!). I love to fly, but I hate to be close to my fellow man like you are on a crowded flight. Luckily my doctor understood and gave me a prescription for my flights. Unfortunately, I needed it. We (Ace, Chuck and me) had made sure to check in for our flight exactly 24 hours before the flight so we'd be in the A group (if you've ever flown Southwest, you know what I'm talking about). Well, after going through the security (the illusion of security) checkpoint, we stopped and got a pizza and a beer. By the time we got over to the gate, the flight was boarding and we were pretty close to the last people on the plane. I ended up in the middle seat between two guys who weren't talkative. I didn't mind as I left my sunglasses on, put on my headphones with some Pearl Jam and opened up a book. With the help of my doctor's little blue friend, I fell asleep after takeoff but before the plane even leveled out.

Chuck won the "fastest way to lose $20 in Vegas" award. We got out of the taxi at the hotel and he pulled some money out of his pocket to tip the cabbie. It was very windy and we were under a covered driveway, which acted as a wind tunnel. I caught site of a $20 bill flying off about 10 feet in the air. I swear I saw Andrew Jackson waving as it fluttered off. Chuck went to look for it, but it was long gone. Somewhere on the vast Internet, someone is posting a blog right now about how they were in Vegas and a $20 bill just flew right into their hands.

We got settled in and went to eat at the buffet at Excaliber (where we stayed). It was the first of several trips to that buffet and the first 2 lbs that I gained for the trip. Great food and there is so much variety, you have to eat some of all of it. We then retired to the roulette table and did ok. I walked away with about $30. We then went to the Keno lounge.

The Keno lounge is infamous in my circle of friends. This is due to several reasons. 1) Keno is the slowest paced game in Vegas. There is one game every 5 or 10 minutes. 2) You can bet as little as $1 per game. 3) They still bring you drinks while you are playing this slow paced game. 4) You don't even really have to play to get drinks. Just play once or twice and then keep the slips of paper on your table and look like you are playing. Tip your waitress well and you will be hammered in no time. 5) All of this adds up to a hilarious story that happened on a previous Vegas trip that I cannot relate here because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. ANYWAY, the Keno lounge has become the last stop of the night for our crew. The first night went very well, we played a few games and then all 3 of us played the same numbers (the numbers on the outside edge) and hit for $25. We decided to leave while we were ahead.

Ace was actually in Vegas for work, he was going to classes and the NAB show. Friday, Chuck and I walked with him over to the MGM Grand so he could catch the monorail. Chuck stopped by his personal slot machine and won back the $20 that floated away the day before. They had told me all these stories about how they constantly would win money from this particular machine. Since it seemed to be in the mood to hand out money, I stuck $20 in. I actually won $12 my first spin, but Chuck had as well and he had pressed on and eventually won about $20. So I pressed on. Roughly 45 seconds later, my $20 was gone. It just confirmed my hatred of slot machines.

Chuck and I wanted to see Grindhouse and since spending $7.50 for 3 hours of entertainment is hard to come by in Vegas, a movie sounded like a good idea. So we took off down the street where Chuck said the theater was "right down there." There was a sign with the movie times over one of the buildings and he remembered that you had to walk down a side street and the theater was behind a building. We looked and walked and walked and looked. We finally decided we must have passed it and turned around. As we were walking back, we noticed the sign that we had walked right by close enough to touch. The one that was at eye level, about 5 feet high and 40 feet long and said "Some name Theater Now Open" and had ginormous arrows pointing down the street. We followed the arrows and sure enough, there was the theater. After the movie, Chuck and I stopped at this cantina we had spotted on the way to the theater. We got a margarita which was awesome. Of course, it cost $9.50, so it should be.

That night, we all decided we wanted to get drunk. We had drank Thursday, but just a bit. After dinner, we decided to walk to the liquor store. It was much further than it looked. Since I had been drinking margaritas that day, I bought some tequila and margarita mix. We hung out in the room for a bit and drank and then went down for more roulette and Keno. We accomplished our mission to get hammered. At some point in the night, I was having a very raunchy conversation via text messages with a certain someone here. As I told her (to explain my willingness to say anything), I had drank so much tequila that I could now speak Spanish.

The next morning, I was amazed. I had no hangover whatsoever. I've never drank that much tequila and not woken up with at least a headache. I also realized that I had been in Vegas for 2 days and had yet to play a hand of blackjack, which is pretty much the only game I like playing in Vegas (liking keno has nothing to do with the game itself). So that afternoon, I setup camp at one of the tables. I switched back to screwdrivers (my regular drink of choice). I played for several hours and stayed about even money-wise.

I had seen a TV show about the Freemont Street Experience and really wanted to go. Tammy and John had went when they were in Vegas and said it was a must-see. So, we mixed some drinks to go and caught The Deuce (a double-decker bus). Our driver was officially the grumpiest man in Las Vegas and he honked and maneuvered the bus between cars so close that I couldn't see pavement between the bus and the cars. We talked to a woman from Greece on the bus and she was very nice and after listening to her description of Greece, I am ready to go. There was also an older woman on the bus who's son is a police officer in Hendersonville. I told her that he has probably given me a ticket at some point. We finally made it to Freemont Street in one piece. My first order of business was to secure orange juice and vodka. Ace kept talking about eating dinner, obviously ignoring priorities. Of course, he still had some of his drink since it was in a 10 gallon cup. One of the great things about Vegas is that you can buy just about anything in just about any store. We went into a store that within the first 10 feet of the door had 1) souvenier t-shirts 2) cokes/water/orange juice (woohoo, we're halfway there) 3) poker chips 4) chips and last, but definitely not least, bottles and bottles of liquor. So I purchased a 20 oz orange juice and a half pint of Skyy. NOW, we can find dinner. After watching one of the overhead video shows, we ended up at Binion's having a great steak dinner that was $6.99. We all upgraded with a salad and clam chowder. I had gone out on a limb ordering the chowder, since I have a hard and fast rule about eating soups I can't see through. I dislike opaque soups. But this stuff was awesome. I'm now rethinking my soup transparancy scale.

After dinner, I made 2 drinks with my OJ and vodka. I poured half the OJ in a glass and about 1/4 of the vodka. that was an average screwdriver. I then poured the remaining vodka into the 1/2 empty OJ bottle. That wasn't a screwdriver, it was a fucking hammer. By the time we made it back to The Deuce, I was doing great. Since a co-worker of mine has several inside jokes about "The Deuce", I thought he would find it humorous that I was riding on a bus called that. So I text messaged him letting him know I was riding "The Deuce." It was somewhere around 12:30am in Las Vegas. Which made it 2:30am here. I didn't get a reply til morning (surprise). He correctly guessed that I was "hammered" because I misspelled "duece" and didn't message again to correct it (I'm a stickler about spelling).

Part 2 coming soon. I promise it will be shorter.

Friday, January 26, 2007

REAL ID

Well, I haven't posted in a while, I've been pretty busy with work. This is my 100th post to this blog, I've been trying to think of something special to do for the 100th post, but nothing really appealed to me. But I think the REAL ID legislation is definitely important enough to be the subject of my 100th post. I subscribe to a newsletter put out by an organization called DownsizeDC. They have some really nice tools that allow you to enter your information and contact all of your congressmen at the same time.

They have put out a notice about the Maine legislature voting nearly unanimous to NOT comply with the REAL ID act and request that Congress repeal it. Way to go Maine! I have written my congressmen with a slightly modified letter from DownsizeDC. As I was doing this, I discovered that Bob Corker does not have any way of emailing or submitting a message electronically on his page. So he will be getting a paper version, along with the recommendation that he accept electronic communication.

I also plan on writing my local legislators asking them to do what Maine has done. If we sit and do nothing, by the summer of 2008 we will be carrying a national ID, the federal government will be collecting even more information about us and if your state decides not to comply you will not be able to travel by plane. So I urge anyone who reads this to write their representatives and demand the repeal of this invasive law immediately. Below is the message I am sending. You can find your representatives by going to http://www.house.gov/ and http://www.senate.gov/.


"I read in the news that the Maine legislature has refused to comply with the REAL ID Act, and they've asked you to repeal it. Surely you know that more states are going to follow Maine's lead. There are already similar bills pending in Georgia, Massachusetts, Montana and Washington. I am writing my local representatives in Tennessee to urge them to introduce bills exactly like Maine's. Please read the handwriting on the wall and take immediate steps to repeal this bad law. Don't try to fix it. Just repeal it.

I don't want centralized databases and controls over my personal information. The federal government has shown itself completely incompetent to manage and properly use the powers and tools it already has. Perhaps if you spent more time having the federal government do less, it would stand a better chance of doing a few things reasonably well. Please repeal REAL ID now!"