Friday, May 29, 2009

Obama's Cyber-Czar to push for Key-Escrow?

The HITECH Act, passed as part of the stimulus bill, demands that medical computers are both made to be secure and be able to interchange information.

Now with his plan to name a Cyber-Czar, will Obama go back to the defeated Clinton proposal of key escrow for encryption?

Key escrow, basically having the government have the "keys" to crack encryption would almost be required should the twin demands of the HITECH Act, security and interchangeability be enforced. Otherwise how are systems going to be able to securly transmit data and share it amongst different medical practice groups. The other issue, that of audits of the encrypted information, as well as disposiiton of medical records from doctros that leave practice will also demand the passwords and keys to those records cna be retrieved.

My prediction is this new Cyber-Czar, Cyber-Czarina or Cyber-Czardine will propose a uniform encryption scheme along with key escrow, at first in computers covered under HITECH Act and later to push to include far more.

I think this calls for a traditional Jewish blessing for the Cyber-Czar:

"May God bless and keep the Cyber-Czar -- far away from us!"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Detroit's Innovative Way To Get Lower Crime Stats

Don't arrest criminals and don't take reports on crime.

In Why are the jail cells empty? Detroit Free Press reporter reveals that jails in Detroit have plenty of space not due to a drop in actual crime but to a drop in arrests and Police action against crime.

So much so the article goes on to note that Police are not even appearing to take reports after crimes have occurred leading to a misleading statistical impression that overall crime is down 9.1% while homicides are up 24%, probably because it's a bit harder to hide bodies lying around than to hide other crimes.

Much of this is due to the cuts in the number of officers available to handle calls for service, which leads to very long or sometimes even no response times even to robbery.
The Detroit Police Department deploys about half the number of sworn officers it did in the 1990s, and has lost roughly 1,000 officers over the last five years.

The cuts to the police force is not unique to Detroit, nor is the problem. Pontiac for example is having a similar issue with response --
Pontiac, however, is experiencing a trend similar to Detroit's: Arrests have declined as the number of sworn officers has dropped from 170 to 65 in the last three years.

One of the most essential services any government entity can offer is public safety. If a city is unsafe, decline in quality of life and of the city itself is sure to follow. Without public safety a city doesn't offer much, which of course is why politicians go after public safety cuts first in a way to play chicken with the taxpayers to cause them to agree to more taxes and protect politicians far less essential pet projects.

Of course if Detroit got its property tax system in line, for example by not giving City Council members special deals on their property taxes, say charging them $68 dollars a year while their neighbors get charged 6,000 in the same neighborhood, it might be alleviated somewhat. But then again corruption is so endemic to etroit at this point that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Burris caught in the Blago-web - Defense: You didn't ask me

So it turns out after all that Illinois Senator Roland Burris, appointed to replace Obama in the wake of the Blagojevich sale of the seat scandal turns out to be less than squeaky clean in the matter.

So squeaky that he offered to make a contribution to help Gov. Blagojevich in a conversation with the governor's brother and campaign manager.
On the call, Burris tells Robert Blagojevich about his interest in being appointed to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat and his desire to help the governor raise campaign money. As seen in the Detroit Free Press-
His defense to the claim that he misled the Senatorial panel vetting him before taking the seat?
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris said today that he did not mislead lawmakers investigating his Senate appointment because they failed to “follow up with the questions” that could have revealed a conversation he had about fundraising for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“It is not upon a person who’s testifying to go out of his way on anything. It is the person who has to ask the questions,” Burris said.

Spoken like a true Democrat.

No need for honesty or full disclosure before a panel about to approve your appointment to one of the highest offices in the land.

On the next Democrat to be questioned, hopefully the committee will remember to ask "Is there anything you're not telling us?"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good and Bad Diving News

The Good News:

WWII-era ship becomes sunken reef off Key West
KEY WEST, Fla. – A ship last used by the U.S. Air Force to track missiles and spacecraft has been sunk in the Florida Keys, creating a new artificial reef for sport divers and anglers.

The Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg sank in less than two minutes Wednesday morning, after demolition experts triggered a series of explosives that lined the both sides of the ship.

Key West City Manager Jim Scholl says he believes the 17,000-ton, 523-foot-long ship settled on the bottom of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in an upright position, but he was waiting for confirmation from divers.

The ship was first built as a cargo ship in World War II. Officials in the Florida Keys expect it to generate up to $8 million in tourism-related revenue, mostly from divers and related businesses.

. . . . .
This should provide some very exciting wreck diving with both the Spiegel Grove and Vandenberg in the Keys Sanctuary along with many other wrecks puts the Florida Keys even higher on the list of must-dive sites.

The Bad and Quite Sad News:

Diver dies exploring wreckage of ship off Greece (hat tip to Lagniappe's Keeper for pointing this out to me)

A member of a National Geographic team exploring the wreckage of Britannic, the Titanic's sister ship, in the Aegean Sea died of decompression sickness Sunday, the Merchant Marine Ministry said. Carl Spencer, 37, was rushed to the Athens Naval Hospital in the afternoon after diving to film the wreckage of the Britannic, four miles (6 kilometers) off the island of Kea, southeast of Athens, the ministry said.
The Britannic was the sister ship to the Titanic, sunk during World War One off of Greece (the third of the sisters, Olympic, survived in passenger service through 1935 being broken up and scrapped in 1937.)

The Britannic sank in 400 feet of water, which makes any dive on it a serious expedition-level dive and you need to be amongst the best divers to try it.

There is little information on the incident and there is an unconfirmed possibility that he was on an Inspiration closede-circuit rebreather and possibly suffered oxygen toxicity at depth:
Despite his experience, witnesses said that Mr Spencer suffered convulsions while filming the bow of Britannic on Sunday and headed rapidly for the surface, missing decompression stops.

It is very sad as he was a very well-respected and accomplished diver, and for someone of that level to get killed while diving is quite sobering indeed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No Change at the State Department - Obama keeps playing the same wrong-headed game

The State Department policy to the Middle East seems to have but one default approach - When In Doubt, Put Pressure On Israel.

Israel scrambles to avoid showdown with Obama
Israel scrambled Tuesday to sidestep President Barack Obama's demand for a West Bank settlement freeze with a diluted counteroffer to Washington.

. . .

However, Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have spoken in recent days about halting all settlement activity without exception, suggesting Netanyahu may have little room to bargain.

Obama is continuing the US State Department line that it is the settlements, or even building expansions on existing settlement that is the "obstacle to peace" in the region. Not Arab terror, not the continued rejection of Hamas of Israel's right to even exist, just a bunch of people living in apartment buildings are the obstacles to peace in this view, totally overlooking all the violations of the "Roadmap" committed by the Arabs.

The idea that Israel should be held to every dotted i and crossed t in the Roadmap while the other side is given a pass on its multiple continuing violations is ridiculous, but that is how the "peace process" as continued by Obama is shaping up, and its not a positive "change" by any measure.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend - Monday Parade

Memorial Day is of course to recognize the sacrifices of our soldiers. Originally called Decoration Day so called to appeal to people to decorate the graves of civil war soldiers with flowers to commemorate their sacrifice to both preserve the Union and end slavery, its now to remember the sacrifices of our troops in all the wars, that, and now a reason for a long weekend to mark the start of summer.

Every year Keego Harbor has a Memorial Day parade on Orchard Lake Road. It's a slice of small-town patriotic Americana, and a lot of fun.

The kids were given little American flags to wave and the parade went by and it began with two Police cars with their lights and sirens on leading the way:

In addition to the vehicles and people pictured above, A variety of classic cars, marching bands, boy and girl scouts and a variety of businesses joined the parade, throwing candy to the kids and handing out coupons.

One sad sign was a lack of any auto dealers in the parade.

A worse sign as to the state of the US Auto industry was this:

Yes, that was Uncle Sam in a Porsche and Lady Liberty in a BMW. Looks like this year was the Memorial Day to commemorate the American Car industry.

It was a fun parade and the kids had a great time, along with a lot of neighbors that met at the parade to watch it go by. A very happy, well mannered, crowd at a nice family-friendly event.

Not a bad way to end the Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day Weekend - Sunday shopping, cleaning and BBQ

Sunday started as usual but with more emphasis on cleaning as friends were coming over for our memorial weekend grilling.

So I went shopping with the girls.

First to Walmart, when amazing enough there actually was some 40 S&W ammo available for sale. I bought 5 boxes which I'll shoot up in short order with two reserved for my friend Rob. Walmart is limiting purchases to 6 boxes and i should have bought a full six as they were sold out within the hour. Still no 9mm ammunition however.

Abby had saved up her chore money, tooth fairy money and every other dime she could scrounge so she could buy a Polly Pocket doll set she had picked out. She was very proud that she had $7 (we won't mention it cost 10, you have to credit her for saving up for it).

We then bought some flowers to be planted at the front of the house and the kids got to pick -- of course both girls picked pink and white flowers. The we bought play sand, also pink. All I'm saying is I am glad Walmart had some ammo to buy, ok?

Walmart also had an interesting new Pepsi product - Pepsi Throwback. It's Pepsi made with sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sweetener.

It does taste lots better than the HFCS sweetened pop (and its supposedly "better" for you than HFCS anyways, hopefully we'll see Coke retro sometime soon too. Good on Pepsi for bringing it out as it is better tasting.

Then we prepared for our firends arrival - soaking the corn on the cob in the husk before grilling it, cleaning the patio furniture and preparing to burn up other people's carbon offsets.

Oh yes, there was carbon produced to be offset when delicious hot dogs, freshly grilled corn and other grilling delectables were prepared. Good times with good friends followed, then to the beach with the kids to splash around followed by a healthy fruit dessert and a not so healthy but real good cheesecake.

Memorial Day Weekend - Saturday at the fair

Saturday, to begin the weekend, we again went to the Orchard Lake St. Mary's High School Fair - The biggest high school fair in the united States, now in its 37th year.

Lots of rides, a family-fun carnival atmosphere, good Polish food and some out of this world ice cream.

The kids could now do enough rides that wristbands were in order rather than tickets and they had a great time on the carousel (multiple times), train ride, airplane ride, bumblebee ride, super-tall get the idea.

After that, pleasantly exhausted we went home then to the lake to play in the sand, and the kids were hot enough they waded right in.

Then home and to tuck the kids in bed and plan the next day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Our new US Car Overlords

What was the old saw about government's view of dealing with business?

Step 1. If it moves tax it;
Step 2. If it keeps moving regulate it;

We're now up to Step 3 -

If it stops moving - subsidize it (links to theDetroit News commentary by David Harsanyi by .
Finally, Americans can start moving forward -- albeit in small, unsafe, state-mandated, subsidized pieces of junk.

We all remember a time when we drove around in nearly any variety of automobile desired. Well, thank goodness we're getting past that kind of anarchy.

Rejoice, my fellow citizens, in the forthcoming automobile emissions and efficiency standards, even if they happen to add more than $1,000 to the cost of your average car.

and Step 4 - Own it.
The United States government, if you haven't noticed, owns the auto manufacturing industry, props up the last vestiges of "labor" and soon will bail out the failed state of California. So this harmonizing of disparate interests is what a gracious person might call a "conflict of interest" and an honest person refers to as "racketeering."

What should really make those concerned about the fate of the auto industry in America really happen is the realization that the majority of Obama's new Automotive Overlords either don't Own cars, or own foreign cars.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Libertarians who Voted for Obama

And how has that decision been working out for you recently dear Obama-Libertarians??

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein has a post on Libertarians and Obama. Fun comments ensue, including those form Libertarians that still posit that Obama is still a great choice for libertarians.

Unless you're a libertarian of the ideologial persuasion that the only way to reform the system and restore individual liberty is to have it come crashing down (It is true that Obama is doing a great job destroying America, no doubt about that), I don't think Obama can be construed in any way to be a libertarian choice.

It must have been hard to be so willfully ignorant during the campaign season, but come on, the blinders must have fallen off by now right? Right?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama delays as Iran builds nukes and the delivery systems for them.

On May 18, Obama says he wants progress with Iran by year's end

Iran's Response Today:
Iran says it tests missile, Israel within range.

So nice of Obama to not only give the Iranians a year to develop a nuclear weapon (and some long range solid fuel missiles to deliver them on) before he gets serious but to announce his intention to give them a year to accomplish their goals.

So much for that good ol' Hope and Change.

Change? What change? This administration wants to forget about the world while it reshapes the United State's economy and society in its own far left image.

Hope? As in - Is there any hope the Obama administration will get serious on major international problems and develops a workable strategy for dealing with them? There's been no real strategy for the Middle East enunciated by the Obama administration -- aside from:

A. its current wrongheaded, outdated and fundamentally flawed State-Department and arabist driven concept that the secret to success in the Middle East is to put pressure on Israel while mollycoddling terrorist and dictatorial regimes. Or is this strategy Obama just trying to get Israel to "take one (nuke) for the team?" and;

B. Withdrawing from Iraq (eventually) and closing Guantanamo (maybe) and not doing anything the Republican administration did with regards to national security (or maybe he will, because it is A-OK when Democrats do it).

Offering a Do-Over on Cobo?

What was that about "Fool me once...."

Testimony: Senate deal is Cobo's last chance to keep auto show
A Senate proposal that would make it possible for the North American International Auto Show to move to Oakland County if Detroit City Council doesn't accept a Cobo Center deal by July 1 may be Michigan's last hope to keep the show in the state, according to testimony this morning -- but an ultimatum is unlikely to move the council to accept the deal, Senate Democrats said.
. . .
The Detroit City Council would have until July 1 to agree to turn Cobo Center over to a regional authority or possibly lose the North American International Auto Show to an Oakland County site, under rules laid out in bills introduced by Senate Republicans on Tuesday.

The bills offer Detroit a plan identical to one rejected by the City Council in February: Detroit would get $20 million for turning Cobo over to a regional board.
This quite generous do-over attempt after the Detroit City Councils memorable and racist previous refusal was responded to rather quickly - Detroit council is quick to reject ultimatum on Cobo
State Senate Republicans set forth an ultimatum Tuesday on Cobo Center to the Detroit City Council: agree to a regional authority to own and operate the aging facility or risk losing the North American International Auto Show to Novi.

But the response from council members -- even some who supported the ill-fated first Cobo proposal -- was swift.

No deal.

Ok, Detroit City Council rejected the original best deal to save Cobo, now they're rejecting it a second time (under time pressure as the North American International Auto Show has indicated they need to know immediately so they can plan appropriately for the 2011 show.)

Enough dancing with Detroit, time to move the show to Novi where it will be appreciated, kept in Michigan and in a nicer facility in a better area with nicer parking to boot.

The state can ill afford the loss of the show and its associated economic benefits and the longer Detroit Coity Council keeps trying to cut a better deal at the expense of the rest of the state, the more likely the risk becomes. (All of this depends of course on assuming there will be any auto manufactureres left to put on the show).

Hopefully the State Government, as well as Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, will not let themselves continue to be made the fools (and the check writers) by and for Detroit City Council.

This must be a rhetorical headline: Detroit Free Press - How to avoid state seat belt crackdown

Umm, how about the blindingly obvious -- Wear your seatbelt?

Kind of self answering don't you think?

Apparently this is noted by the Detroit Free Press seatbelt inspection enforcement / checkpoint week in Michigan.

I saw one such zone this morning on Orchard Lake by Telegraph on the way to court this morning. Other than really slowing traffic by having a nice sign up saying "Seatbelt Enforcement Zone" (as if you don't have to wear them elsewhere)and an officer standing outside his patrol car diligently looking into everyone's window and presumably radioing seatbelt scofflaws to officers further up the way, it wasn't all that much.

Given that wearing a seatbelt is a major life saving device it only makes sense to wear it when you're driving, not to mention its required - outside the seatbelt enforcement zones and within.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

For the armchair commando that has everything....

Yes, a Pistol Bayonet. Really, it is not a joke, it IS actually being offered for sale at Cheaper Than Dirt: Ka-Bar Pistol Bayonet for Large Frame Pistols with Rail Pistol Bayonet Fits on Your Handgun, 5.75" overall For the bargain price of $39.99 and absolutely no utility it is perfect for just about any wannabee on your shopping list, as the first real-life pistol bayonet charge will be the last....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Note to Lagniappe's Keeper - Glocks Rock

Lagniappe's Keeper in his post Glocks....Why? notably fails to understand the appeal and allure of the Glock pistol, even as he has had two for quite some time and carries one quite often.

Clean, straight lines, simple ergonomic design, easy to field strip and clean, rock-solid reliable. Consistent trigger. Accurate. No need to tart it up or add silly frills, it just works, right out of the box.

It fills the hand with an ideal grip position for rapid follow up shots, and can be carried all day without having you walk lopsided.

A modern pistol, for the modern man and woman at arms.

Conservative in its simplicity, plain talking and understated in its approach to getting the job done, no flash or bragging required. It has a quiet soul born of tenifer-treated steel and hi-tech polymer.

Oh and you can buy two of them plus ammo and magazines for what you'd pay for a reliable 1911, and three of them for what you'd pay for a P13.

Comparing it to the HK P7 / P13, lets not even talk about price, spare parts or availability of night sights (good luck on getting some for the P7), just dimensions:

The P7 and P13
Weight 27.6 oz / 30 oz for P13
Length 6.5 inches
Width 1.1 inches / P13 is 1.3
Height 5.1 / 5.3 inches
Capacity 8+1 / 13+1

The Glock 19
Weight 21 oz
Length 6.85 inches
Width 1.18
Height 5
Capacity 15+1

So in a pistol practically the same size and with a lighter weight it holds 16 rounds compared to 9 in a P7 of almost the same width, or 16 to 14 in the P13, but a fair bit thinner than the 13.

As for P7 light sabers (and nothing against them after all I own one and respect it as a great example of German 1970s technology) and 1911s (yep own one of them too), all I need to say is:

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good Glock at your side, kid"

Begun the pistol flame wars they have.

Obama's cunning plan to balance the budget by appointment only

As noted by RightMichigan, one of the possible reasons Michigan's own Governor Granholm is being considered for a Supreme Court seat is her failure to pay some of her taxes.

Of course, hers is a $20,000 tax lien and an $800 tax lien which is relatively small compared to some of the scofflaws Obama has appointed to high positons such as Secretary of the Treasurer Geitner at $34,000 or Daschle with $120,000.

Of course as these scofflaws are named they end up paying their taxes thereby helping the Treasury and reducing the tax burden on ordinary Americans who do pay their taxes . . . Brilliant! On the other hand, all of these back taxes don't even add up to even a tenth of a percent of all the spending Obama has been doing, but some revenue in is better than none.

it looks like if you get an invite from the Obama administration to join the team, you better be ready to get your checkbook out to payoff your outstanding tax liabiities.

The scary part is we could, and probably will, do a lot worse than having Granholm on the Supreme Court. Let me explain.

Yes for a hot button issue like abortion she will not be on the side of conservatives, as if any Obama nominee would be - they will assuredly not.

Granholm as Attorney General and Governor has at least been decent on the firearms issue, given her AG opinions that read like simply following and honestly interpreting the law rather than allowing liberal preferences to sway and distort her rulings and hose firearms owners, so she's likely better on that issue than most nominees Obama may come up with. Her record as AG was relatively decent, her record as Governor, not so good. Michigan has been sinking into the mire on her watch and her policies have helped it sink further and farther into what is now a one-state deprssion rahter than turingin the state around.

Yes, Granholm is all about big government, big spending and big taxes and without a doubt she'll be a reliable vote on the Court for government expansion regardless of constitutional limits and we'd expect nothing less from any such nominee.

The sad thing is we will probably suffer an even worse pick than Granholm as Obama's choice on the Supreme Court.

My bet is she gets passed over for the Supreme Court seat and Obama slides her into a nice Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Judgeship. My prediction, he wants both a woman and minority to fill the slot in twofer-de-force so my bet is he nominates Sonia Sotomayor unless some serious skeletons come rattling out of her closet (unpaid taxes will not count as a skeleton however).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Books to read if you're in the mood for some well written military science fiction and fantasy

If you haven't read anything by The Incomparable John Ringo and you like military science fiction and fantasy, you should.

Ringo really knows how to write, and thankfully for fans he writes prolifically, with multiple series with different themes, settings and levels of violence. For his thrillers think of what would happen if you crossed Tom Clancy at his prime with Richard Marcinko added some of the style and philosophy of Robert A. Heinlein and then gave the gestalt 12 cups of coffee and 12 doughnuts -- yeah, that fast paced and that good.

For a well written sci-fi nasty alien invasion of earth meets the military with lots of intrigue in addition to action try his Posleen War series, starting with A Hymn Before Battle (Posleen War Series #1)

For a non-sci-fi straight shoot-em-up red blooded patriotic American kill terrorists techno-thriller book try his Paladin of Shadows series, starting with Ghost (Paladin of Shadows Book 1)

For a fantasy/sci-fi future society disaster / military series with Roman legionary tactics, try his Council Wars series starting with There Will Be Dragons

Or if you want a stand-alone book about a post-apocalyptic America complete with conservative commentary on global warming, health care and emergency management along with a modern military homage to Xenophon's Anabasis: The March Up Country (The Ten Thousand) in a neat narrative format , try The Last Centurion

If you're in the mood for fast paced action with black humor, interesting plots and fun character development you really can't go wrong with any of John Ringo's books.

A Recently Read Book Worth Recommending

If you want a non-stop, cannot put down non-fiction story of modern war, I'd heartily recommend

The book is about the 2004 deployment of a battalion of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment to Al-Amarah in Iraq and how a company of the battalion was cut off and besieged by the Moqtada Al Sadr's forces. The engagement has been reenacted in Andy mcNabb's Tour of Duty series on the BBC, with some of the actual troops interviewed for the episode (no DVD available yet in the states but you can catch it on the military Channel on TV sometimes).

Mills, the author was the Sergeant in command of the company's sniper platoon and he gives an engaging, well-written account of the unit in action, with a particular focus on his sniper platoon. Certainly this is one of the best war memoirs I've ever read - full of typical British humor, understatement, and tense descriptions of action and the life of the troops in Iraq. It makes you appreciate that the British are on our side and that regardless of the craziness of the British government in wussifying their citizens, the British soldier is still every bit the lion he (and she) has always been, and are valued allies.

Disney Vacation Day 2 - Of Hotels, Sales Pitches and the Grand Floridian

Day 2 began with a quick breakfast and then being on the receiving end of a 2 hour sales presentation.

As part of our Vacation we had received a great discount for the hotel in return for listening to a time share presentation.

In short they had a well-tuned sales pitch but we resisted mightily and didn't buy anything. Indeed, on later investigation, the resale market in time shares lets you get them for much, much less than direct from the marketers.

After the presentation we did a little shopping for souvenirs and trinkets for family and went back to the hotel for a swim at the pool.

We had reserved a "Disney Cinderella Dinner" at Disney's Grand Floridian (you need to book this way ahead of time as it fills up fast). The Grand Floridian is a really, really nice hotel/resort on the Disney property - very nicely decorated and appointed with some very attentive staff.

The dinner was very nice, buffet-style with excellent food for the adults (everything from Prime Rib to paella) and appealing child fare.

And there were the Princesses -

Abby and Leah were thrilled to meet Cinderella, her step-sisters, the wicked step mother and of course, Prince Charming. They got everybody's autograph, had pictures taken with them and got to talk to them which was a lot of fun as everyone stayed in character, even to the point of putting on a show:

The stepsisters acting up:

The stepsisters getting a time out (nose to the wall, or else!):

Basically it was a fun, interactive dinner and if your kids are as Disney princess-crazed as mine are they'll enjoy it.

After the dinner as the wicked step mother suggested go to the Polynesian resort of out in back of the Grand Floridian to the dock to see the fireworks and light show (again, the staff at Disney were constantly nice, helpful and full of great suggestions to make the vacation experience even better.)

We took her advice and after touring the hotel and watching a live band perform we first hopped on the monorail for a tour of the Disney properties and then rode the monorail to a number of resort hotels, Epcot and the Disney transport center and back to the Grand Floridian - it gave a nice view and the kids liked being on the monorail, and best of all they could sit down and didn't have to walk anywhere.

After the monorail we went to the dock at the rear of the Grand Floridian and watched the boats come and go from Disney world and then watched the light show, which was a very long series of towed barges on the water that each held what looked like LED screens that lit up in different shapes (flags, animals etc) accompanied to music. The kids enjoyed it and then as it was getting late and they were getting tired, we went back to our car, drove back to the hotel and happily ended day 2.

Ancient Coin Post - A Legionary Denarius of Marcus Antonius

From my own collection, a Denarius of Mark Anthony:

Date: 32-31 BCE
Type: Silver Denarius

Obverse: Galley right.
Inscription - ANT AVG III VIR R P C. (Antonius Augurus Triumviri Rei Publicæ Constituandæ - Antony Augur Triumvir for the restoration of the Republic)

Reverse: Legionary Eagle between two standards.
Inscription: LEG XXIII (Legion 23).

Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) was, along with Octavian (Later Augustus) and Lepidus (The brother of L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus a member of the Second Triumvirate.

The second Triumvirate broke up in 33 BCE when disagreement and competition between Octavian and Antony caused it to break down and end in civil war. Anthony struck this series of Legionary Denarii to pay for his legions (many of these legions he inherited from Julius Caesar).

Antony had an army composed of 30 Legions. Each Legion had up to 6,000 men plus auxiliaries and camp followers for a total of up to 160,000 soldiers. Each Legion was numbered from I to XXX.

To pay the troops each Legion had a mint that traveled with them and coined money to pay the legions, and this coin is from the mint that traveled with the 23rd Legion.

A huge number of coins were required to pay up to 160,000 men in his army. If we assume that Antony maintained the pay rate established by Caesar of 10 Asses (bronze) per day per soldier or 30 Asses per month. Pay day for the Legions occurred 3 times a year or every 4 months. At 16 Asses to the denarius (the rate at the time) we have 75 denarii 3 times a year. The payroll the traveling mints would have had to produce would have been approximately 3 million denarii a month, Or 36 million (36,000,000) per year. An impressive number of coins for the period. Paying the troops took a significant percentage of Rome's coin output so it is not surprising that the coins feature a variety of military messages upon them to maintain their loyalty and broadcast the Emperor's military virtues. Indeed keeping the soldiers well paid became a major means of remaining (or becoming) emperor in Rome, as we shall see later among the coinage and in Roman history.

This is the first of the "Legionary Denarius" series. Of all the Roman imperators, only Anthony, Gallienus, and Septimius Severus struck series of coins naming and honoring their legions.

In 31 BCE. Antony was defeated by Octavian at the naval Battle of Actium, and in a brief land battle at Alexandria, leading to the supremacy of Octavian, who changed his name to Augustus and became the first Roman Emperor.

The legionary denarii of Marcus Antonius are desirable as they are metallic commemorative of the clash of arms that led to the end of the Roman Republic and its transformation into the Roman Empire, and Antony having been immortalized in Shakespeare's Antony And Cleopatra and his end in Egypt alongside Cleopatra is well known to all.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Ammo Shortages beginning to be a real pain

One that's even being noticed in the news: The Detroit News - It's a shot in dark to find bullets as fears feed ammo shortage
Worsening economic times, fear of crime and concern that Democrats will tighten gun-control laws have led to an explosion of firearm sales and a shortage of ammunition in Michigan and the nation.

Gun and bullet sales started creeping up before the November election. They've escalated since, as many gun owners and would-be owners worry President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress will re-establish the 1994-2004 so-called assault rifle ban and levies on ammunition.

Organizations representing gun owners and the gun industry say the fears are valid. Others say concerns are unfounded and the hoarding is the result of a miasma brought on by fear and people looking to make a quick buck if gun-control laws are tightened.
Trying to find even common ammunition such as 9mm and 40 S&W is very difficult in this area, with most shops sold out and my go to store for purchasing these two calibers - Wal mart, has been quite completely out. Very annoying as I'm now eating into my ammo reserves just to go shoot for practice or for when I teach a class.

Hopefully supply will catch up to demand soon. it would of course help if the Department of State, or Commerce or whoever would expedite applications for imports of ammunition to help alleviate the shortage, but somehow I don't believe the curent administration is too interested in fixing this particular problem.

SCUBA Law: Interesting Michigan Attorney General’s Opinion on Intentional Wreck-making

If you sink a ship in Michigan waters in the Great Lakes on purpose does anybody care?

More importantly who owns it once it touches the bottom?

These questions are answered in Michigan Attorney General Opinion No. 7299, dated May 7 2009 and published today.

The opinion letter, consisting of 10 pages can be read online.

The Opinion is in answer to the question as to what happens if an organization intentionally sinks a vessel in Michigan waters for the purpose of turning it into a wreck for recreational SCUBA diving. I believe there is a group trying to obtain an ex-US navy vessel for sinking in the US for divers, which would be a neat addition to the Michigan preserves.

The opinion states that the vessel would not necessarily become property of the State of Michigan and the owner could still be liable for issues involved with the sinking of the wreck. I’d suggest the potential sinkers of such vessels inquire if gifting the vessel to the State of Michigan before the sinking would help in relieving them of such liability.

As a SCUBA diver, the opinion is of interest as not only is it a very interesting and well-written opinion that touches on all the laws related to Michigan’s claim to wrecks and items on Great Lkes bottomlands and the interface of those laws with Federal laws, but it also gives a great overview of the laws that will get you in serious trouble if you try and remove artifacts from shipwrecks in Michigan’s underwater preserves and also where the authority comes from to prohibit such activities.

Scary things in the Gym

In my efforts to get in half as good shape as Lagniappe's Keeper, among other things I've been going to the gym.

I get there and do my cardio and head over to the weight area and start working out.

There's a felow there with no neck.

Really, NO NECK.

Muscles from the shoulders are touching the head.

He could play head and shoulders, knees and toes no problem, and he'd win as there is no neck between the head and shoulders.

I'm strangely fascinated by this, wondering if some new evolutionary trait has been found - no neck means one less vital area open on a human body to attack, but it certainly cuts down on swivilleng the head to search fro predators so it may be n evolutionary dead end. On the other hand, maybe the Neaderthals didn't go extinct, they just went to the gym.

The guy is doing multiple one-handed pullups while holding a big weight in the other hand.

Quite expresionlessly and without any real apparent effort.

I'm half expecting either the MLB Officials or Imperial Stormtroopers to show up:

"Look Sir, 'Roids!"

At least he wasn't wearing spandex.....

TV Show Worth Watching - Castle

Castle is a great lighthearted and entertaining murder mystery show on ABC starring Nathan Fillion (of Firefly fane) & Stana Katic.

Nathan Fillion is Richard Castle a mystery writer who tags along with Stana Katic as Detective Kate Beckett as they solve a variety of murder mysteries (Castle and Beckett - get the literary reference?).

I'm still waiting for a bad guy in show to quip:

Will no one rid me of this troublesome detective?

Great show, and Fillion is at the top of his game and delivers in the role with well timed humor, smarts and style. If you liked him in Firefly or Drive, you'll really like him in this role.

Stana Katic is also excellent in her role as the detective that has to constantly put up with Castle following her around on cases and his dry humor. She delivers her lines perfectly and has some great expressions in reaction to what Fillion does.

Well worth watching, its on ABC at 10 pm which is why DVRs were made. Hopefully because it is on ABC it will avoid the Fox / Fillion curse. (Anytime Fillion stars in a great show on Fox they cancel it (methinks someone has it in for him and Joss Wheadon over there), Having the show ABC may keep this great show going.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Comparative (Wage) Fiddling While Michigan Burns

So what are the Democrats doing as Michigan continues its downward slump?

Introducing e i g h t - y e s - (8) (each hyperlink goes to one of the bills - from a great Michigan political resource website) bills into the State House and Senate to legislatively prohibit paying a person a wage or salary that is less than an amount established under a proposed definition of comparable worth.

The bills would prohibit different levels of compensation for work of “comparable value,” meaning a “comparable composite skill, responsibility, effort, education or training, and working conditions.” "The bills do not specify how different kinds of work would be compared with regard to these various criteria."

Yep, its legislating wages and salary time for all folks.

Of course they don’t define what comparable worth means.

That will be decided by a committee in the form of:
directors of the Department of Civil Rights and the MEDC, and representatives from the Michigan Women's Commission, the National Organization of Women, and the Michigan Women's Studies Association, the AFL-CIO, the UAW, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and the Small Business Association.

You can tell who is going to get outvoted on this proposed committee every time right?

These comparable worth bills are based on the belief in the old canard that women are paid (whatever percentage less looks the best in the study report) of a man and this canard only flies if you discount factors like time in service, maternity leave, part time status and related factors, not to mention the actual job performed. Now it is back being considered with an even further government dictation twist, this gets expanded beyond the same job position to “comparable” jobs. How do you tell what is comparable? Ask the committee. Does a doctor perform a comparable service to the community as a garbage man or more importantly a UAW member line worker after all working conditions will have to be compared as well as education training etc? Let’s not find out.

Hopefully these bills are just some political theater by to Sen. Liz Brater (D); Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D); Rep. Joan Bauer (D); Rep. Pam Byrnes (D); Rep. Sarah Roberts (D); Rep. Dian Slavens (D)’s for their constituents the UAW, NOW, and various university Women’s Studies departments. (Yes, there really are 8 bills with this scheme working their way through the legislative process.

If you think the Michigan Government is doing such a great job with the economy now, just wait until they get to decide what each job is comparable to and the wages and salaries to be set for it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Disney Vacation Day 1 - EPCOT

So we made our way to our hotel after the Budget Rent A Car debacle and after dropping off our luggage and a quick lunch we went to Disney's EPCOT.

Here's a view of Epcot from the window of our Hotel room:

We took the shuttle from the hotel and arrived at EPCOT. After the obligatory (and very cursory - I could have carried a lot of harmful items in undetected) bag search, we went to will call to pick up our tickets. Leah, being under 3, got in free and didn't need a ticket, but Abby proudly got her very own.

As a security feature of our own, we wrote, using a sharpie marker, my cell phone number on the upper right arm of each kid. That way if they got lost or separated, and obviously Leah at 2 has no idea what a phone number is, and I'd bet a 5 year old under stress wouldn't remember one either we could be reunited in short order. Luckily and through extreme attention and constant vigilance verging on the paranoiac, we never lost either kid throughout the trip. We did however receive tons of compliments from fellow Disney-goers (typically Great idea, I wish I'd thought of that) and even from Disney cast members who said they wished everyone did it as it would make reuniting a lost child with their parents a lot easier.

We didn't try to do everything as the day was getting short so we first went to the Disney character photostop, where the kids lined up to have their photos taken with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Daffy and Pluto. They loved it. On first seeing Mickey as they got to the front of the line, they both ran and gave mickey a hug. The Disney staff were well organized and the line moved smoothly, the photographer knew the best place for me to stand to take pictures and only after I was done did he take pictures (that I'm sure will be much, much better than mine - still to be looked at on the Disney photo website). The efficiency, friendliness, great service, and attention to detail of the Disney cast members was no accident and seen throughout our visit. Cast members were always helpful in answering questions, even with tons of people about and were always smiling and personable - which has to be hard dealing with tourists and kids day in and day out.

The Seas with Nemo and Friends Ride. You enter the line, get on a conveyor and walk into a clam shell that closes once you enter. You then go past holograms and the actual aquarium (with some actual divers inside). Lots of fun and the kids were enchanted and even a bit scared by the shark and anglerfish popping up.

One of the nice things about Disney is the incredible attention to detail.

On the way in to the Seas with Nemo ride I saw this on the wall (expand the photo and read the Tanks A Lot Diveshop sign) -- cute and the attention to detail to such small and incidental items like this were constants throughout all the theme parks:

Then we saw Turtle Talk with Crush - an animated California Surfin' Turtle that actually interacts with the kids- including repeating their names, seeing what clothes they are wearing and answering their questions. For the adults in the audience that was an incredible display of technology. The kids accepted it without a second thought.

After Turtle Talk we went to the United Kingdom exhibit and had Fish n Chips (really good fish n chips) for dinner. We then stayed and watched the fireworks display, which was incredible.

It was a very impressive firework, laser and music show.

Then began the EPCOT Death March (part one - we weren't done with EPCOT). Take two tired kids, one stroller and a long way to the exit of the park. In short order I was carrying one kid and Natasha was pushing the other in the stroller. A good way to work off the Fish n' Chips, and a forecast of our further park excursions. We got back to the shuttle bus pickup and after a while got on the bus got back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep to recharge for the next day.

Question of the Evening

If you take a can of V8, add vodka and spices and turn it into a Bloody Mary does it still count as two servings of vegetables?

Answer: Drink it and you won't really care too much either way.

Apparently according to Wikipedia, such a concoction is called an Bloody Eight or an Eight Ball. Mind you Eight Ball sounds like you're doing illegal narcotics - "Dude, want an Eight Ball?", so we shall remain refined and stick to calling it a Bloody Mary.

What you'll need (per serving):
1 glass to put the following in, in order -
1.5 oz (1 jigger) Vodka, chilled (Stolichnaya is what I've got on hand and its good).
1 can V-8, chilled.
2 twists of black pepper grinded from the pepper grinder.
1 tsp Worcestershire (Lea & Perrins, of course accept no substitutes).
1 squirt lemon juice.
3 drops of Frank's RedHot or Tabasco sauce.

Mix drink, unwind and contemplate the remains of the day as you consume the drink and feel virtuous that you just drank 2 servings of vegetables with your after-dinner cocktail.

Stimulus Paying to Insulate Others

In the Detroit News, editor Nolan Finley hits one out of the park when in Hey neighbor, buy you a window? he points out an Obamasurdity with the stimulus.
You may be surprised when the insulation truck pulls up to your neighbor's house and starts stuffing his attic. Or when his high-tech new windows arrive.

You'll be even more shocked to learn you're paying the bill. Most of the Obama stimulus money coming to Michigan counties is in the form of weatherization and neighborhood stabilization funds -- $248 million to plug drafty houses and $134 million to pretty up foreclosed homes.

Michigan expects 40,000 homes to get attic insulation, weatherstripping and window and roof repairs at a cost of up to $6,500. The lucky recipients will save about $400annually on their heating bills.

As the taxpayer picking up the tab, you might have a few questions. I know I do.
Yes indeed, like why they just didn't do this as a tax credit and use the funds for more universal things like road repair and infrastructure (probably because it wouldn't be a government program but only an incentive for individuals - can't have that). But it gets better as it doesn't make any real economic sense -
First, I wonder who did the math. At $400 a year, it will take 16 years to recoup the investment. The White House claims the greater good is the impact on global warming, but I doubt it'll cut enough carbon to keep a single ice cube from melting in the Arctic.
Yep, in the name of global warming, we're giving plentiful handouts to a favored few, handouts that don't even make economic sense. We could have made economic sense and reduced "climate change" by using the money to build some nice new clean nuclear power plants to reduce CO2 emissions and provide a source of pretty clean power -but noooo.

My bigger question, though, is: What about my house? While my tax dollars are going to make someone else's home cozy, I've got drafts blowing through that would take a chihuahua airborne.

Likewise, my castle could use a good sprucing to make it more marketable.

But the money I might have used for new siding went for taxes to fund a federal Neighborhood Stabilization stimulus program, which gives buyers of foreclosed homes cash to fix them up. Never mind that they bought the houses at a 40 percent discount and should have plenty of cash leftover for repairs. Obama is making sure they can flip them at a tidy profit.

The counties, starved for operating cash, have no choice but to use the money to pay for Obama's Robin Hood schemes.

Paul Gieleghem, chairman of the Macomb County Commission, said he would have rather used the $8 million his county is getting for weatherization to improve Macomb's higher education options.

That would be legitimate economic stimulus in a county that needs a more highly skilled work force. And it would have been a more direct benefit to a broader group of residents.

Exactly. This handout to a select few in the guise of a stimulus for weatherization of a few homes is a wasteful stimulus at that. No real multiplier effect - just that I bet the costs for weathering services and supplies just went up to match the stimulus rates being paid out.
Weatherization? That's welfare wrapped in itchy pink fiberglass.
Even worse its welfare only for those who bought foreclosed homes and those in the weatherstripping/insulation industries - hardly a broad-based stimulus to turn this state's economy around.

It expands the idea of a safety net well beyond making sure everyone is secure, fed and healthy to guaranteeing everyone has the same stuff, even the same R value in the attic.

It reflects the driving mission of Obamanomics to equalize wealth and flatten the standard of living. . . .

That and ideology above practicality. If they really wanted to promote weatherstripping, just give everyone a tax credit equal to the amount spent on weatherstripping and insulation, both of which just like Editor Finley my house could use some more of, and I actually plan to add it.

Unlike the Obama beneficiaries however, I won't be doing it with stimulus money but I'll be paying for theirs through taxes as I pay for mine, at a now higher price due to his artificially increased demand through this stimulus plan. Thanks.

Swine Flu Follies

First, this cartoon at Protein Wisdom is hillarious. For Flu-omic relief, go see it.

Second, while Obama and Health departments around the country are closing schools to prevent the spread of Swine Flu (And the CDC), we're being told by the same people that closing the border with Mexico won't help reduce the spread of the flu. Anyone else understand the cognitive dissonance of those two pronouncements?

Third, Howard Markel and Alexandra Minna Stern in an opinion column for the Detroit News worry with much handwringing that Mexico and Mexicans will be blamed for the Mexican (oops sorry Markel and Stern, Swine - oops sorry, the Pig Growers Association just protested) H1N1 flu.

They say that closing the border would be counterproductive. While giving a history of various prejudicial and scapegoating acts against various victims throughout history for both incidences of disease and economic downturns, they never stop and explain why closing the border would be "counterproductive".

They claim its a matter of blaming the victim, but leap to that conclusion without any real substantiation, and then claim such blaming of the victim is alleged to have happend - real proof there. Once would think that the authors
Howard Markel is director and Alexandra Minna Stern is associate director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Both are historical consultants on pandemic preparedness planning for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
would use the scientific method rather than emotion in their analysis.

During an epidemic outbreak it makes sense to quarantine and slow the spread of people from affected areas while flooding those areas with medical assistance and scientists to try and understand and fight the virus. It does not make sense to keep in place rapid transport and movement from the affected area as that can increase the spread of the disease.

Enough silly handwringing, after all its "unproductive". I haven't heard of anyone blaming Mexicans qua Mexicans for the flu (there was appropriate distaste previously towards the Chinese government for covering up the outbreak of SARS, but that's a whole different matter.) and indeed many are heartened by the fact the Mexican government seems to be taking good steps to fight the virus outbreak (including I might add the use of quarantine and preventing the congregation of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus).

While H1N1 is hopefully and likely just a minor flu outbreak, public health officials do need to have some kind of plan for quarantine and indeed for sealing a border if necessary when a real dangerous outbreak occurs.

Viruses don't understand and are not deterred by political correctness, and such hand-wringing assists them in their spread.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Ancient Coin Post - A Denarius of L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus

It is certainly about time that I posted and discussed ancient coins, and this one is from my personal collection.

Date: 62 BCE
Type: Silver Denarius.

Obverse: Veiled and diademed head of Concord facing right.

Reverse: Trophy flanked by Perseus and sons, and L. Aemilius Paullus standing to the right. Inscription TER (third) at the top PAVLLVS at the bottom.

Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paullus was the brother of triumvir Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and son to an elder Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.

The coin was struck honoring his ancestor, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, and his third victory over Perseus of Macedon and the reference to Concordia as an appeal for harmony during the political struggles he was involved in.

He supported Cicero during the Catiline Conspiracy and never supported Pompey. Paullus was quaestor in 59 BC, aedile in 55 BC, praetor in 53 BC and consul in 50 BC. During his consulship, Julius Caesar bribed him for his support. He reconstructed the Basilica Aemilia in Rome, with part of his bribery money.

Paullus opposed the second triumvirate. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, who was a member of the second triumvirate alongside Mark Antony and Octavian (later Augustus) was his brother. Paullus joined the political rebel Marcus Junius Brutus and after Brutus' suicide in 42 BC, Paullus was pardoned and lived his remaining years at Miletus.

Paullus certainly lived in very interesting and turbulent times and this coin, now 2071 years old is an interesting link to that past era.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Disney Vacation Day 1 - Arrival and Rental Car Follies

We flew from Detroit Metro Airport to Orlando on Spirit Airlines. A very nice, smooth flight, Spirit was nicely on time, organized and it was a good flight. Leah's first flight at 2.5 years old and she liked it. Both kids were very good on the plane, no crying, minimal fussing and boredom alleviated by a portable DVD player with their favorite movies in tow.

We arrived in Orlando to be greeted by a shining sun and 80 degree goodness Our one checked bag made it through and was quickly picked up and then we went to the rental car area of the airport. The day quickly started to go downhill.

Since we were staying off the Disney property, a car was pretty important. Not overlooking that detail my wife, planner par excellence had shopped around, called ahead, made a reservation at a good rate on the phone with the agent and had a confirmation number and all the details booked. The car rental agency was Budget.

The line up at the budget counter was not that big but it moved s-l-o-w-l-y. Very, very s-l-o-w-l-y. So much so that the kids excitement at being in the rental car area of the airport began to pale.

Finally its our turn and even with the confirmation number, the counter person won't honor the rate quoted. Apparently we need a coupon. Never mind no such coupon was mentioned as being needed on the phone when the deal was struck. After a fair bit of discussion and talking with a manager they decide to honor the reservation. How nice.

Then we went to the parking garage at the airport where Budget had their cars located. Of course no booster or car seat is ready and with the car. After asking were sent into a Budget rental booth to pull out the seats and find that there is a booster but no car seat. The Budget personnel promise to get one as we obviously can't drive off without it.

Time passes again, now in a warm covered concrete parking structure. The kids consider mutiny. The wife considers maiming Budget personnel to get them to do something other than standing around chatting away. I'm busy figuring how to load all our gear in the rental car we've been given, a Ford Focus (the confirmation was for a Nissan Sentra, but apparently that's flexible). Surprisingly the Focus has a TARDIS-like trunk that is bigger on the inside than the outside and everything fits, if only just.

Still no car seat. I begin to think the wife's proposal of maiming is too mild a form of attention-getting.

After asking yet again we get the car seat, 30 minutes after getting to the parking garage and well over 1.5 hours from landing at Orlando.

As you can guess, Budget Rent A Car is forever verbotten with this family (just wait till I describe the fun we had giving the car back on our departure -- it gets better). I'd heartily recommend avoiding them at all cost.

On the upside the Ford Focus is a product that Ford really got right. Tons better than the execrable Escort it replaced and the nasty Tempo before that. Smooth ride, no engine noise, but still zippy, good styling, huge trunk, comfy and really great gas mileage. Its enough to make me rethink my pledge to never get another Ford since the Taurus we had went to Fixed Or Repaired Daily Status and the terrible Escort I had gave Ladas a good name in reliability and handling. So from the experience at least we learned that Ford does seem to get some products right. The one we drove had 36k miles on it and was quite a nice ride.

Of course, it helped that Orlando's roads are ridiculously smooth and perfect compared to Michigan's, which are disgraceful with over 32% graded in poor condition, and that's understated because they started grading on a curve.

Once we got the car out and pointed in the right direction we followed the perfectly good and helpful road signs (another area where Michigan is sorely lacking).

We went to the Hotel and checked in and then went to Epcot.

I go away for a bit and this place goes to heck in a handbasket

Yeesh, I go on a 6 day (4 work day) vacation and:

- Air Force one buzzes New York Cityon a photo or fundraiser jaunt panicking many.

- Swine Flu hops the border, gets into Texas and arrives in Michigan

- Obama puts Chrysler into bankruptcy

- Michigan Democrats and some Republicans vote in the House for no reason absentee voting (it should be called the Voter Fraud Enhancement act).

- People are actually considering Granholm for a spot on the US Supreme Court now that Souter is announcing he is leaving that august building.

I really can't go on vacation anymore, bad things just happen when I'm not on the job. And where's everyone else keeping up their end hmmmm?

Ok, end of the narcisistic "I'm the center of the universe and this is only happening 'cause I went on vacation" mode.

On the upside the vacation - taking the kids to Disney World was great. Tiring and somewhat athletic but great. Full report to follow (with pictures, commentary about the amusement parks and a certain rental car company to avoid).

Downside, I had to work the equivalent of two weeks in the week preceding it to get away at all -- very tiring and no time for blogging then either.

So I'm back and normal blogging will resume shortly.