Ending the Violence

June 16, 2016

Every time there’s a mass shooting, our government leaders renew the debate over gun control… ignoring the fact that in most cases, additional control of the legal sale of firearms would not have changed the outcome one iota.

The Sandy Hook killings were done using the weapons of a family member. The guns were purchased legally. The Orlando murders were committed by a person who should not have been allowed to buy guns, but was. The existing gun laws were not to blame – the FBI’s process was.

If the government can place a person on the “No Fly List” without due process, they should have been able to do the same when it came to buying guns. If nothing else, there should have been a ‘flag’ to let the FBI know the man had purchased weapons. Had a simple system like that been in place, they could have increased their surveillance and, hopefully, stopped him before he killed even one person.

The debate will go on while the more serious issues continue to be ignored.

Why is there a murder every two hours in the city of Chicago? Why do our government officials ignore that fact. Do those thousands of lives lost every year count less that the 49 killed in one night in Orlando? For that matter, was anyone else murdered in Orlando that night? Did that person’s life not mean anything because he or she died alone?

The way I see it, murder is the result of a number of factors. The simplest one is rage – in all too many cases, rage directed at a family member or a close friend.

Then we have the ‘gang’ related; in many cases caused by ‘turf wars’ in the dealing of illegal drugs. These are the cases where one, two, or three people are killed at a time.

My solution for the gang related mayhem is to legalize drugs. Let government sanctioned outlets sell them so that the purity of the product can be more closely controlled and the tax revenues can be used to treat the addicts. Taking the drug dealers off the streets and out of the prison system will save lots of money and lives.

As for family members killing each other, take away the guns and they’ll use knives or baseball bats. It has happened where a couple closing in on divorce settled the issue when one or the other was accidentally pushed off a cliff or assisted in drowning. In other words, rage is difficult to prevent, although if the rage is a result of mental illness, there is hope.

My first job after college was at a mental hospital for children. It was part of a network in Western Pennsylvania. Within a twenty-five mile radius, there were at least two asylums for adults to go along with the one I worked at. Many of our ‘inmates’ graduated to the adult facilities.

And then came along two factors that totally changed everything. One was President Reagan and his cut-backs. Federal funding for mental institutions dried up at the same time the A.C.L.U. convinced a judge that mentally incompetent people should not be held against their will. Brilliant! Very few crazy people readily admit they need help. One of the biggest problems with mentally ill patients is to have them continue to take the medication to control their behavior.

Thus, we have people who were once safely cared for in mental hospitals (and forget the Hollywood nonsense that says those hospitals were all horror stories) now walking the streets forgetting to take their medicine. Since our government sees no danger, they are permitted to buy fire arms and, when the voice in their heads tell them to go into a movie theater and shoot those enemies of Bat Man, we have another mass murder that could have been prevented. How many times did a psychiatrist think there might be such a possibility, but said nothing due to another Federal law called HIPAA.

So, there are my solutions to two of the root causes of murder; legalize drugs, and get mentally ill people the treatment and care they so desperately need.

And that brings us to the biggest problem we face today – terrorism. We have huge segments of the world population who hate us… thanks to the propaganda distributed by many of the people we (our government) consider to be our friends. These same people, in many cases, are the ones we give millions, if not billions of dollars in foreign aid every year.

We do everything we can in this country to encourage freedom of religion, but some religions use that freedom against us.

In fairness, Christian ministers encouraged people to join the crusades a thousand or so years ago. So, I can’t blame religious leaders in the Middle East for returning the favor (they carry grudges for thousands of years in that part of the world.) What gripes me is the leaders in churches in the U.S. encouraging young folks to either go to the Middle East to help the effort there, or simply buy guns and bomb making materials and do as much damage as possible here at home.

Sadly, there is no easy solution for this problem… any more than there was an easy solution for dealing with Hitler and the Nazis. The free world must come together to stop the terrorist groups. We need to be a part of that effort.

There is a very old adage that says “Those who ignore the past are destined to repeat it.” Our current leaders decided that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were over and our troops needed to be brought home. Those leaders ignored the fact that we still have troops in Germany and Japan. Lasting peace doesn’t happen overnight. It took decades for the peoples of Germany and Japan to realize we were there only to keep the peace – nothing more, nothing less. Any remnants of the groups that did not like losing World War II eventually were won over to the improvements brought about through peace.

We cannot force any nation to become a democratic republic such as ours, but we can help them peacefully establish governments that work for them.




Another Book

July 14, 2015

Beliz Pyramid

I recently uploaded a new book for both Kindle and Nook readers. It is called “If the Sky Should Fall” and is my first step into the world of science fiction. The following is the blurb I wrote to encourage people to read it:

Semir (Sam) Osmanagic is a Bosnian American archaeologist. He has spent years studying the pyramids of Latin America and believes that certain mountains in Bosnia are, in fact, also pyramids. Of course, the ‘experts’ have scoffed at the idea… just as the ‘experts’ scoffed at the idea that dinosaurs were birds rather than reptiles. One of Osmanagic’s findings showed that electromagnetic pulses were emanating from the top of the Bosnian pyramids. What if that is true? What purpose would such signals serve?
After visiting ancient ruins in Mexico, Belize, and Peru, the author of “If the Sky Should Fall” has his own thoughts and theories about ancient aliens, UFOs, and pyramids. If you’re a fan of television shows such as Ancient Aliens, History Unearthed, Hanger One, The Unexplained Files, and Ancient Discoveries, or books such as “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Däniken, you will find “If the Sky Should Fall” a compelling read. While it may well be a book of science fiction, the author raises a number of questions to make you stop and ask yourself, what if it were true? Life on our planet and throughout our solar system may, in fact, depend on the actions of aliens. They may be living among us and keeping us alive. Why would they be doing that? That’s a topic for another discussion.

Obviously I am a fan of all those TV shows I mentioned as well as a reader of books similar to “The Chariots of the Gods.” But watching those shows and reading those books, combined with traveling to ancient ruins and seeing the amazing constructions done by ‘primitive’ people, leads me to ask even more questions. And I can’t help wondering why mainstream scientists are so quick to laugh off the possibilities. Those are the folks who believed that uranium was a worthless metal prior to the 1940’s.

It’s difficult to watch these programs and not ask how the ancient Egyptians, Mayan, Incas, and others could build such structures. More importantly, I kept asking myself WHY? Did these folks have nothing better to do? Then I found myself wondering if there might not be pyramids right in my own backyard? The ones that have been discovered in Central America, for the  most part, had been hidden from view for centuroes by dense vegetation. How many mountains in the United States are also covered in dense vegetation?

IMG_0955This mountain in North Georgia sure looks like it could be covering up a pyramid. And there are many more like it.

Sam Osmanagic really got me thinking when he discovered electromagnetic pulses emanating from the tops of the ‘mountains’ in Bosnia. What if they really were signals to aliens? What if that mountain was serving as a light house for space craft navigation? The more I thought about such things, the more “If the Sky Should Fall” wrote itself!

I am in a comfortable point in my life where I am retired and, although living on a fixed income, my lifestyle does not require lots of money. My bride and I own a lot at a camping resort and a small trailer. We love taking our grandchildren camping for a week or so at a time. Otherwise, we are basic home bodies who take one or two trips a year.

We are extremely active in our church and community. Currently we are deeply involved in a program called Family Promise, which aims to help homeless children and their families. That is why I am dedicating 50% of any royalties to that charity.

If you are at all interested in the ancient aliens theories I think you’ll like my book. More importantly, if you’d like to support a program that helps homeless children, I ask that you buy the book for their sake.

Cover for bookLet me know what you think of it and how many questions it raises in your mind.


On Traveling Light

January 20, 2011

As we were planning our trip to Europe, we accumulated a number of tour books and maps. One of Lu’s friends went so far as to loan us a set of DVDs produced by Rick Steves.

One of the DVDs was full of tips on traveling. That DVD followed Rick on a trip through several European countries and covered numerous topics… from best times of year to travel to best budget priced hotels.

The one topic that really got our attention was “Packing for the Trip”. I don’t recall if that was the exact title, but that definitely was the subject matter. The statement made by Rick that stuck in my mind was, “No one ever says he wished he would’ve taken more stuff with him.” Again, I may be paraphrasing, but the point is the same.

We’ve all taken trips and crammed our suitcases with stuff we never used. Those extra jeans or shirts; the books we thought we’d read while basking in the sun, or… you name it. (I’ve even been known to take pots and pans… just in case the rental cottage didn’t have what I thought I’d need. Of course, I wasn’t flying on that trip… unless the radar unit on the police car said otherwise.)

Lu and I took that message to heart. I bought a back pack that was larger than most, but within the limits of carry-on luggage. Lu used a suitcase on wheels that was also within the airlines’ limits.

The bulk of our luggage.

I have to be honest. When I was watching the video I was convinced that Rick Steves’ filming crew was carrying the rest of his luggage. That is until he set the back pack on a bed, opened it up, and showed us everything but his dirty laundry.

He had one extra pair of pants, four shirts, underwear, and socks. He also had one or two tour books, some maps, and some pages he’d torn out of various books and magazines.  He had a minimum amount of toiletries and made another key point – Every country has stores where you can buy anything you need. Furthermore (and we have found this to be true) wandering through a store with shelves loaded with products labeled in a language you cannot read is an adventure in itself! If food products didn’t include pictures on the labels, we would’ve been at a total loss.

Another key point – Other countries do have laundromats; many times they can be found in the hotel in which you are staying.

Several years ago we took a two-week trip to Hawaii and stayed in condos. Our friends at Love to Travel advised us to pack light and take advantage of the laundry facilities that would be found right in the units themselves.

We listened, but failed to heed the advice. Fortunately, we over-packed with lightweight articles. But when we found ourselves doing one or two loads of laundry… while sitting on the lanai sipping our adult beverages, we realized that we’d brought twice as much as we needed.

So, how did we make out on this trip?

I took a total of three pairs of pants. (I wore one of them on the plane,) I took a total of five shirts… again wearing one on the plane. I took the shoes I was wearing, underwear and socks for the duration, maps and guide books, and toiletries. Because we had to pass through TSA security, my toothpaste and shampoo were the small travel sized containers. I figured I probably didn’t need the shampoo, but I needed to be extravagant somewhere along the line.

I also carried a computer case. In it, I carried our digital cameras, an electric currency-converter plug thingy, our airline tickets and other travel documents, and our notebook computer.

Lu carried about the same number of interchangeable garments, her knitting stuff, and various and sundry other small items.

As for the fact that I wore the same shirts and pants multiple times, not one person came up to me and commented that they had noticed. I guess they were more interested in looking at other things.

There was one other item we took with us… a collapsible duffel bag we’d bought on a Holland America cruise some years back. It folds and zips up to the size of a hard-back book. When we were finally ready to head home, we packed that bag with all our dirty clothes and used the space in our other bags to carry the souvenirs we’d bought. We then checked the bag of dirty clothes. If the airline lost that bag, it wouldn’t have broken our hearts.

So that’s that. We tried it Rick Steves’ way and will never go back to our old ways. It really works!

Considering the number of folks who were on our river cruise without their luggage (that the airlines had lost), we’re convinced that carry-on (which forces you to travel light) is the only way to go.

By the way, I know there were several people who only had the clothes they wore on their flights to Germany, but I never noticed who was wearing the same outfit day after day. I guess they weren’t checking out our clothes either.

Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 6)

January 4, 2011

Looking across the Danube from Passau.

In many ways, Passau reminded me of the city of my birth – Pittsburgh. The hills above the Danube are very similar to Mt. Washington and the hill upon which sits the West End Overlook. (I’m sure that hill has a name, but I have no clue as to what it might be. Perhaps someone who still lives near Elliot and the West End will know and tell me.)

Map of Passau.

Another thing that reminded me of Pittsburgh was the fact that people refer to Passau as the City of Three Rivers. Of course, they are more literal about their count. The Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz do, in fact, add up to three. Had the people who named things in the New World not decided to name the Ohio River and decide it was formed by the other two rivers, then Pittsburgh would be the Two Rivers City. (Minor silly details!)

In any case, it was December 21st and we had been docked for some time. We ate our breakfast and prepared for another day of slogging through the slush and snow to tour yet another German city.

A building near the river being renovated.

Similar to the other cities we’d visited, buildings were no taller than the church steeples. However, unlike the other cities, it appeared that the sidewalks were much clearer. Of course, the people of Passau had an extra day to shovel the mess away.

Church towers dominated the skylines.

It was a cold foggy morning as we began our tour, but we would see the sun before the day was over. The main attraction in Passau was the St. Stephen’s Cathedral and I believe that is the only tourist attraction about which our guide had any in-depth knowledge. Once again, we had a gentleman who was not from the city he was describing and he seemed intent on getting us to the Cathedral and be done with us so he could run down to the river bank and hook up with another group. Many people felt compelled to tip these guides regardless of the quality of service rendered.

Note on the map that there were docking slots for up to fourteen river cruise ships. There were three or four ships docked when we went ashore and there may have been others arriving throughout the day. Our guide may have recognized that the tips accounted for more than his salary.

In any case, we were hurried past numerous other groups that were intently listening to their guides. I couldn’t help but wonder what we were missing.

Within a short time, we had trudged to the top of the hill and were passing through their Christmas Market.

This Christmas Market had not yet opened for business.

As we passed though the booths, we saw many vendors unloading their vehicles and preparing for another day of making money off the tourists.

One of the twin towers of St. Stephen's.

Once again we saw a church undergoing renovation. (Note the scaffolding to the left in the picture.) The inside of this church was probably the most interesting, but not quite the most beautiful.

Another beautiful European Cathedral.

The ceiling in this church was more beautiful than most. And I found all the intricate art work on the columns of the churches to be absolutely incredible. But there was something very special about this church.

A gilded pulpit.

Not all the pulpits in the churches we visited were gilded, but they were all very ornate.

A modern adornment.

This church had a wonderful, modern, pipe organ. The grating in the center of this ceiling panel was an outlet for some of the pipes. True “surround” sound! But this still isn’t what made this church special.

The Altar is what is so special.

It was difficult to get a good photo of the altar, but it has an extremely interesting history. The altar was installed in the early 1950’s and was considered too controversial. Many members of the church wanted it removed. Then the Bishop of the region came to see it and gave it his blessing. That satisfied those who didn’t like it.

And why didn’t they like this beautiful work of art? Because it illustrates torture and acts of violence being committed in front of clergy and civic leaders who watch… and do nothing to stop it. It represented Hitler’s Germany and was designed to send a clear message – Don’t ever let it happen again!

Fifty or sixty years later it is still a message that we all need to be attuned to.

I believe these are grave markers.

If our guide explained the plaques on the walls outside of the church, I missed it. I know that many churches in England regularly buried their dead in the floor of the church (inside!). I don’t know if this wall commemorated folks buried in the church, in the wall, or in the church yard, but there sure were a lot of them.

And why wasn’t I paying attention to our guide? I was too busy looking at the wall on the other side of the church yard.

Anything to keep the building standing.

I’ve seen this in many buildings in Europe. When a two hundred or so year-old structure shows signs of weakness, it is not unusual to run a strong cable along side a weight bearing beam and fasten it on the outside of the building using a steel rod. Had I walked around to the other side of this building, I would’ve found a similar photo op.

These are the sort of things that most tour guides ignore and don’t bother explaining. Often times, if you ask a guide, he or she will not have an answer. Growing up with such things, we tend not to notice. I was fortunate in finding a guide (some time ago) who knew.

Another question I have yet to have answered: Why are so many roads in perfectly flat cities, full of curves? My best guess is that those roads were once the outskirts of the city and curved around walls used to defend the city. But that is only a guess.

One of the sites our guide ignored.

After our tour of the city(?), we were once again on our own. We walked back the way we had come and tried to determine what other guides were pointing out as our group hurried by.

The above photo was St. Paul’s church. I’m assuming it was also a Catholic Church, but the interior – while not as large and impressive as St. Stephen’s – was even more beautiful.

All the woodwork seemed to be made of ebony.

There were numerous side altars, which led me to believe it had multiple priests at one time. The pulpit was also made of the same beautiful dark wood.

The pulpit and some side altars.

Our only mistake at this point was to leave through a door different from the one through which we entered. Somehow we got completely turned around. That led to a very long walk back to our ship for lunch. But that was OK. We needed to burn off some calories if we ever hoped to come home without gaining any weight.

We would’ve never seen this had we not been lost.

When we left St. Paul’s we wandered around until we came to the river. Unfortunately – change that to “fortunately” we were looking at the Inn River, rather than the Danube. Once we realized our mistake, we started walking toward the point where the rivers met.

We walked along narrow passages between buildings.

A church with a covered escalator?

A defensive tower from medieval times?

Anyone for Tandoori food?

A fortress on the hill overlooking the Danube.

We would’ve never noticed this fortress from where our ship was docked. No one bothered to point this out to us, but according to Wikipedia, Veste Oberhaus is a fortress that was founded in 1219 and, for most of its time, served as the stronghold of the Bishop of Passau, Germany.

Once again we saw the power and wealth of the church.

I believe this was the old town hall.

We finally made it back to our ship and enjoyed yet another wonderful lunch. Soon we were back ashore and taking our own walking tour. We were careful not to get lost this time. We didn’t want to miss dinner.

A wonderful produce market.

An old narrow street and markets in Passau.

The umbrellas would indicate it was raining, but I don’t recall that it was. Many folks used the umbrellas in the snow as well as the rain.

Passau’s Polar Express.

The entire trip was based on Christmas Markets, but the sign on the train tells it like it is. In countries where German is the predominant language, the markets are referred to as Christkindlmarkts. For that matter, Santa Claus brings gifts on December 6th (not sure of the significance of that date) and the Christkind (Christ child) brings the gifts on December 24th. December 25th is nothing more than a day to recover from Christmas.

Entering the “other” Passau.

This is the part of Passau that reminded me of modern day London and an article I wrote several years ago. I called it – this is really original of me – “A Tale of Two Cities”. At the time I was working in the West End of London and had spent countless hours wandering the narrow streets and allies and visiting places like The Old Curiosity Shop. I then had reason to tour the “other” London that was filled with skyscrapers and all the trappings of modern commerce. At that point, I felt as though I had left Charles Dickens’ town and entered Manhattan.

Here in Passau, I had the same impression. I was leaving the narrow streets and small shops of a medieval village and entering a large bustling modern city.

They even had a fancy McDonald’s.

The area where the “natives” shopped.

A little bit of everything.

We didn’t walk beyond this point, but it was fairly obvious that there was much more of Passau that would be considered a modern city.

We returned to the small village and tried to get the modern taste out of our mouths. We soon found the perfect place for quiet reflection.

The Marianische Votivkirche.

This was a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary – think in terms of a votive candle.

Beauty in simplicity.

Very peaceful and serene.

We left the serenity when we were accosted by a woman who might have been trying to get us to join her church, or may have been simply begging. In either case, we left.

We were immediately faced with another paradox of juxtaposition. Outside this ancient church was a modern convenience…

A graffiti covered cigarette machine.

I gave up smoking in 1998. The price – 5 Euros ($6.75) per pack – shocked me, but made the credit card reader much simpler to understand.

I took this picture of window cleaning tools while Lu bought a beautiful German scarf.

When we returned to the ship, Lu took a closer look at her treasure. She then asked me what “PRC” meant. Her triumph was dampened by the People’s Republic of China.

Later we spoke to a couple who had bought a half-dozen lovely Christmas tree ornaments. They were only going to buy a few, but were concerned about getting them back to the states unbroken. That’s when they decided to buy the larger quantity – along with the box that would help keep them from breaking. After returning to the ship, they saw the “Made in China” on the bottom of the box.

Let’s face it, China manufactures most of the world’s goods.

Back on the ship, we realized that the top deck had finally been cleared of snow and was now open for us to go up and see what there was to see.

Shuffleboard Anyone?


Miniature Golf?

Or just set a spell and watch the world go by.

It was then I noticed a passing cargo vessel and got a better picture of the ever present auto on deck.

Auto on board!

And that ended our picture taking in Passau. It also ended the Germany part of the trip. Passau is on the border of Austria. We would soon be sailing for Vienna. Of course, that would only happen after we had our late afternoon snack, the cocktail hour, and dinner.

It was tough keeping up with all of that food and drink, but somebody had to do it.

Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 1)

December 28, 2010

My best friend and I recently returned from Europe. We’d been to Europe before, but never to Germany and we’d never taken a trip anywhere that saw us returning home on Christmas Day.

Hopefully I’ll get to my relating of Day 1 before I run out of space. But first, I need to provide a bit of background.

First of all, my best friend, and favorite traveling companion, is my bride. Lu and I have taken many trips together and I hope and pray we’re able to take many more. It seems that’s the only time we can be together twenty-four hours a day for any extended period. I like it that way. And so far, such times have not led to “knock-em-down, drag-em-out” fights.

Next, let me provide some details on the planning that went into this trip.

No. On second thought… That will take too long and can wait for another time.

So, we’ll begin with December 15th. That’s the day we drove to the Atlanta airport to begin our journey. The weather was miserable and getting worse by the hour. We left the car at the Crown Plaza hotel and rode their shuttle to the Airport where check-in would have been a breeze had it not been for the TSA’s attempt to make us feel safe.

There are many people in government positions who are trying very hard to make us more like other countries. I’ll have much more to say about that subject later, but as for airport security, our government continues to ignore the best method known to man. Do as the Israelis do, and look for bombers, not bombs.

Lu and I had packed light – extremely light. I had a back pack and a small computer case. Lu had a small wheeled carry-on bag and a large purse. We checked nothing. But we still had to take off our shoes, put the computer and cell phone in a separate bin, take off our jackets, place our one-quart sized plastic bags filled with liquids and gels in a separate area, and then walk through the metal detector. Naturally, we had to wait in a long line while many others did likewise. Of course, we could not even enter the line without having our passports and boarding passes approved.

As I passed through the metal detector I realized I’d made a fatal mistake. I’d forgotten to remove my belt with its large metal buckle. I knew I would soon be subjected to further scrutiny – that’s easier than allowing me to remove the belt and pass through the detector a second time – at least that what seems to be written in the training manual for these folks. Surprise, surprise, surprise! I didn’t set off the alarms and was permitted to retrieve my belongings, put my shoes back on, return the computer and bag of liquids and gels to my computer bag and continue to the gate area.

I certainly had mixed feelings. I’d gotten through without a full-body scan or pat-down… but what if the metal on my body – that was not detected – had been an explosive device? I have nothing against the TSA agents; they are only doing what they are told to do. My problem is with a system that is all for show. Those in charge over-react to situations with origins in other countries (shoe and underwear bombing attempts) and have a penchant for spending tax dollars on controversial (and extremely expensive) equipment that is being pedaled via lobbyists who are good friends with those in top government positions. It all seems like a sham and/or scam to me.

At any rate, it wasn’t much longer before we had found our gate and were able to board the plane scheduled to depart Atlanta at 4:20 PM. Around 5:20, the captain finally made an announcement. The nose of our plane had been replaced (say what???) and we would soon be pushed back from the gate. From there, we would proceed to an area where the plane would be soaked with some sort of de-icing compound so that our wings would not ice up as we passed through the skies laden with water vapor that was now beginning to fall as snow.

By 6:20 we were rumbling down the runway and soon on our way to Munich, Germany. Like sardines packed in a tin, we were stuck in positions that made it virtually impossible to sleep. So we read, did crossword puzzles, watched movies, and played trivia games. As we prepared to land, Jim in seat 36B had the highest score – 5200 points. I don’t mean to brag, but this clearly demonstrates that my head is full of useless information.

The original plan had us scheduled to land in Munich at 7:40 AM on December 16th. Due to our delayed departure, we finally touched down around 9:30.

Although our luggage was all carry-on, we still took a long time to get to the main part of the terminal. The major holdup was the passport validation process. We had to show our “papers” to an agent who asked us how long we planned to be in Germany and what we were planning to do during our stay. Once satisfied with our answers, he stamped a visa in our passports.

We were able to bypass the baggage claim, but not the ATM. We needed Euros. These are things all travelers to Europe should know. First, you don’t need to take travelers’ checks or go to your bank to get Euros before you leave home. Also, you don’t want to go to the currency exchange booths to change your dollars to Euros. Just make sure your checking account has sufficient funds and then use your ATM card just like you would at home. Second, be aware that there are many small retail shops and restaurants in Europe that don’t take debit or credit cards. Be sure to have enough Euros to pay for your purchases and meals.

Once we obtained our Euros, we then went in search of the public transportation. Years ago on a trip to Europe paid for by my employer I decided to spurn the limo that my employer would’ve paid for and take public transit. It was far less costly, and gave me a much better feel for the city and country I was visiting.

In Munich, a one-way transit ticket from the airport to the city cost 10.80 Euros (about $15.00). Our travel plans called for us to return to the airport on December 18th to catch a bus to Nuremberg. Thus, if Lu and I had simply bought the tickets for a round-trip from the airport to the city of Munich, it would have cost us 43.20 Euros (about $60). Then, if we wanted to ride the subway, trams or buses while in Munich, we would’ve had to pay anywhere from 2.50 to 10.00 Euros per ride. Instead, we bought a City Tour Card for 48.00 Euro that allowed us to ride any of the forms of transportation as many times as we liked for three days. That’s about $67.00. That’s also considered a bargain. When I tell you that five adults could’ve traveled on that same City Tour Card, you’d realize it was a tremendous bargain!

Our well used transit map of Munich

We were now ready to head for our hotel. The plan was to drop off our luggage at the hotel and wander around the city until 3:00 PM when we’d be able to actually check into our room. We took the S1 (an above ground train for much of the trip) – look for the green circle on the map – into the main train station (Hauptbahnhof [Central Station] circled in yellow). We would take the S8 when we returned so that we could see both sides of Munich.

The transit system in Munich (as well as Vienna) operates on an “Honor” system. There are no turnstiles, and no one to collect your money or take your ticket. You simply get on and off as you please. However, there is one major requirement.

After purchasing your ticket in a vending machine or at a tobacco shop, you must time stamp it at a train station or on the train, tram, or bus as you board the first time. Failure to have that ticket time-stamped can result in a 40 Euro fine. On our first ride – from the airport into the Central Station, we were confronted by a man who would’ve passed as a New York City narcotics officer. He was showing me his credentials (which I couldn’t begin to read) and demanding to see our tickets. When I realized there were similar people checking the tickets of others, I complied. He was satisfied (thank God we had stamped our ticket!) and he soon got off the train. That was the last time anyone in Munich asked to see our tickets. We rode several trains and trams before leaving the city, but never did more than get on and get off. I think Atlanta’s MARTA might do well by employing a similar system.

Being a careful planner, I had already “walked” from the train station to our hotel using Google Earth. It was a piece of cake. All we had to do was walk out the front door, make a right, go to the first intersection, make a slight jog to the left and continue straight to our hotel on Schillerstrausse.

Map of Munich's center city

The best laid plans of mice and men…

Using that map as a guide (see red circle), we walked parallel to the tracks and came out a door and headed for our hotel (see green circle). Alas, it was not the “front” door. Therefore, we were ninety degrees out of kilter. We exited from the NORTH side of the terminal rather than the EAST side. Thus we spent the next hour wandering around aimlessly. We asked for directions from a gentleman in a department store and he walked us to a different entrance and said it was right around the corner. The problem was Lu heard him say “Turn right” while I was sure he said “Turn left.” Being a dutiful husband, I went with Lu’s hearing. After walking another few blocks, I stepped into a bakery and asked the woman behind the counter if she spoke English. She said “No”. As I was leaving, I turned and asked, “Schillerstrausse?”

Her face lit up and, with a smile, she point back the way we had come. I’ll assume the man at the department store had said “right” when he meant “left”. His English may not have been as good as we all thought.

Within a short time we arrived at our hotel and were surprised when they gave us a room key and welcomed us to Munich.

We settled into the room and took a three-hour nap. We then headed for the main pedestrian area of Munich (circled in white on the map) and knew immediately that we were in Bavaria.

The wurst place to find German food

We then worked our way to the Viktuallenmarkt (circled in yellow on the city map). That was our first indication that German butchers cut meat far differently than their counterparts in the states. We eventually found our way to a small restaurant and had our first taste of German cuisine. We quickly learned that the meat not only looks different, it tastes much better than what is served in German restaurants in America. We also discovered soft pretzels taste far better when salt is blended into the dough itself.

My best friend and favorite traveling companion

I believe this picture of my bride illustrates her pleasure in Munich. Later I’ll include a photo of myself at the Hauf Brau Haus (circled in gold on the city map) and show you some real contentment. But that will have to wait until the next installment of this on-going saga.

Thoughts That Never Occured to Me… before

November 12, 2010

Veterans Day Parade in Branson, Missouri - 2009

My bride and I are planning a trip to Germany in the not too distant future. To prepare myself, I’ve been listening to a radio station in Munich. (My computer picks up the signal far better than my short-wave radio!) The station I’ve settled on has an interesting format; similar stations in the U.S. (which are difficult to find) call it “The Music of our Lives.” It’s a step beyond the “Oldies but Goodies”. Most of the music played was recorded in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. There’s some Rock n’ Roll, but most of the songs would remind the listener of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Shore, Doris Day, and the like.

I’d estimate that eighty percent of the songs are sung in German; another ten percent are instrumentals, and the remainder are in English. Many of the songs are well known, but the English versions are not always by the original artists. Of course, I’m assuming the songs sung in English were U.S. originals. Based on what I’ve recently learned about German technology and a rich history of creativity, perhaps those songs originated in Germany and not in America.

Right now I’m listening to “Please Mr. Postman” and I think the group singing the song is the Carpenters. Go figure!

I was born in 1944 – about a year before the end of World War II. As a young boy, I would go to the neighborhood movie theater and cheer for John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Aldo Ray and others as they fought and defeated the Japs and Krauts.

It’s strange that I grew up considering anything labeled “Made in Japan” as junk, but had no similar opinion of German products. My memory tells me that the first products I recognized as having German origins were the Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen automobiles. One I saw as very high quality while I perceived the other as a pregnant roller skate of little value.

Today, it seems that the Japanese and Germans, along with the Koreans, are teaching Detroit how to make high quality vehicles. But that’s a story for another day.

Yesterday was Veterans Day. I always thought the U.S. did a fine job in recognizing the members of our “Greatest Generation”. As for our Vietnam vets, that’s another story, but it has improved.

On November 11, 1998, I was working in London, England. I was stunned when all activity in the office came to an abrupt stop at 11:11 AM. An announcement was made on the public address system and we were all asked to stand and observe a moment of silence. World War II had a much stronger impact on the British Empire than it did on America.

The victors certainly take the time to honor their soldiers, but what about the losers? Do the Germans and Japanese have parades to honor their citizens who fought so bravely, albeit for a losing cause?

I was recently told that the swastika can no longer be found anywhere in Germany; that it has been outlawed. However, another source tells me there is a museum in Berlin that displays many items of historical significance to the Nazi party, including the swastika. However, according to this source, there is very little to do with Adolf Hitler. If I was a German, I’d probably want to forget he ever existed.

Because of the war movies of my youth and the carry-over of anti-Japanese and German propaganda (that continues today in Hollywood) in my mind’s eye I see the enemy as blood-thirsty brutes who committed inhumane acts on our soldiers as well as on many innocent civilians. Let’s face it, it’s extremely difficult to view pictures of the Holocaust and see the German people in any other light.

And yet, I do. I’ve known a number of German nationals in my life and they are good fun loving people. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Horst, Chris, Joe, and my other German friends committing any act as brutal as those depicted in the historical documentaries.

“I was only following orders” is a defense that continues to be used to this day. Without having any factual information, it is my guess that the majority of the German and Japanese soldiers of World War II were fighting for a number of very simple reasons. First, they were drafted into the military and if they decided to go AWOL they could be shot. Second, they had to follow the orders of their superiors… or be shot. Third, when they faced the allied troops, they had to fight for their lives… or be shot.

It’s also possible that there were threats such as, “If you fail to follow orders, your families will be put in concentration camps or… be shot.”

Thus, I’m guessing that many of those soldiers were fighting because they had no choice. I’m sure each country had a number of combatants who bought their leaders’ propaganda completely and would be glad to shoot their fellow soldiers if that was necessary to insure the purity and harmony of their units.

But all of this is speculation on my part. I would love to sit down and talk with a German old enough to have been a part of the war effort… even if he or she was simply a teenager who gathered scrap metal for the war effort. As Americans who have never known a war on our own soil (in our lifetimes), it’s impossible to imagine how it felt to experience the exhilaration of the early Nazi victories, and how terrifying it must have been when the bombs started destroying their homes and cities. What were they told of the brutality of the allied soldiers? How much fear did they experience in the face of total surrender?

As for the Japanese, once again it is impossible for us to imagine two of our cities being totally destroyed by single bombs.

We lost the war in Vietnam – not because of any failure on the part of our military – but due to the ineptitude of our politicians. That ineptitude continues to this day.

In our country, it appears that we have finally learned to appreciate the efforts of our soldiers regardless of the situation that got us into war and the outcome of any military action. But how does a country pay homage to a military that failed to protect the homeland?

Again, I can only speculate. I would simply blame the political leaders who got us into the war to begin with. Then, I would honor and thank the soldiers who fought so bravely when they really didn’t have much of a choice.

I realize I did quite a bit of rambling with this, but it is an effort to wrap my arms around a subject that had never crossed my mind until I began listening to this German radio station.

The questions that gave birth to this blog entry were in regards to the music. So much of the music this station plays were popular songs in war-time America. Were those same songs played in war-time Germany? Or were they banned because they were American?

For that matter, were German songs banned in the U.S. at the same time? Prior to the war, Germany and the U.S. had many things in common. Was World War II like a divorce? All of a sudden, I will dislike everything about you simply because it reminds me of you? I will overlook all the good times we had during our life together simply because we’ve now discovered some basic areas of disagreement?

It seems to be such a shame. Perhaps all sides should listen more to the music than the rhetoric. If we can get everyone to agree on the same tunes, maybe world peace isn’t so far away.

Yes, I am a dreamer.

Wish List for 2010 and Beyond

January 13, 2010

Rich Grimshaw made me do this. He dropped by my blog recently and commented that it was time to move beyond my Christmas post. He’s right! It is time for something new.

After careful consideration, I decided to make it easy on myself and simply compile a list of things I’d like to do before I move on to the next stage of my existence.

I’ll begin by listing the places to which I’d like to travel. These are places I’ve not yet visited.

Japan would be near the top of my list, along with Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, and China. I like Asian cuisine and have always been fascinated by photos and articles about these countries.

As for European countries, I’d like to visit Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, and… all the rest. I’d list France, England, Ireland, Austria, and Denmark, but I’ve already been to those places.

Australia and New Zealand are also beckoning to me.

Allow me to digress. (That, in itself, is a ridiculous statement. You have no choice. I’ll digress with or without your permission!)

I read an article the other day. In it, the author noted that someone was at the “beckon call” of another. There was no way to leave a comment, but the phrase is “beck and call.” The author, no doubt, has never been under the control of anyone other than his or her parents.

I am not at the beck and call of either Australia or New Zealand, but I would like to go see them both.

I almost ended this part of my wish list by saying that no other places really interested me. Then I remembered two other continents. There are numerous South American countries that I’d love to visit. As for the continent of Africa, I’d like to go to Egypt to see the pyramids.

Although I am a Christian, I have no strong desire to visit the Holy Land. I’d rather not visit any parts of the world where my life might be in danger because of religious zealots of any kind.

The next part of my list (travel section) would include places I’d love to revisit. The European countries I mentioned above would definitely be on that list, as would several Canadian provinces and more than a few U.S. states.

I’ve only been on one cruise in my life. That was an inside-passage tour of Alaska. Taking the Queen Mary across the Atlantic doesn’t interest me in the least, however I’d love to take a “repositioning” cruise. That’s when a cruise line moves one of its ships from the Caribbean to the Northern Pacific waters via the Panama Canal or back.

If I’m not mistaken, that’s about a seventeen day trip. Of course, the way they feed you on a cruise would probably result in me looking like a beached whale at the end.

Speaking of food, I once had the opportunity to dine on Rocky Mountain oysters. At that time, I lost my courage. I’ve been kicking myself ever since. I will order them the next time I have the chance.

I’m a big fan of Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations) – two personalities on the Travel Channel. Most of what Andrew eats fail to whet my appetite. However, some of it does arouse my interest. On the other hand, most of the meals enjoyed by Anthony cause me to salivate.

When I was much younger I wished to own a Corvette one day. The first time I came close to being able to afford one I went to a dealership and crawled into one. My head pushed into the roof liner and, at slightly over two hundred pounds (at the time), I felt cramped. It broke my heart, but not my bank account.

Today, I see motor vehicles as nothing more than transportation. The one and only exception is the large motor home. If I could afford the insurance and fuel costs, I’d love to buy one and be off to see America. Of course, we’d have to tow our Toyota Yaris to make it easier to go sight-seeing.

Another thing I’d love to do is ride the train across Canada. The major part of that trip would be the ability to get off when we saw something interesting, spend a day or two wherever, and hop the next train going in our direction. I’ve a sneaky suspicion that such a trip would break the bank.

I just thought of something! Maybe I can get the Travel Channel to give me my own show. I’d get a big motor home and drive across the country visiting Brew Pubs.

When my bride and I travel I often drag her into micro-breweries for a tour. Quite often these breweries include restaurants. We’ve had some wonderful meals at such places. The only negative is that Lu doesn’t like beer. The positive is that I get stuck drinking her samples.

I have one more wish (for now). The State of Georgia has a lottery game called “Win for Life”. The grand prize is $1,000 a week for life. If we were to win that, a number of the things I’ve listed above could become a reality. My bride and I could both retire and go off to see the world.

Perhaps I should buy a ticket.

Now, we’ll see if Rich stops by again and makes another comment.

This Chain is Made for Yanking

June 23, 2009

I’ve come to believe that Kim Jong-il is crazy like a fox, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is simply a stupid figurehead who is good at ruffling feathers.

I also believe that the United States has finally reached a point of impotence – it can do nothing without being criticized. Actually, the United States of American is criticized the most when it does do nothing.

Let’s start with North Korea. Korea was an independent country at one time. Then it was taken over by Japan and held until the end of World War II, at which time it was split (very much like Germany) with the northern half controlled by Russia and the southern half controlled by the United States.

It must be noted that the Korean people were never consulted about this move. Considering they were a captive audience to WW II, it seems rather unjust that they should have to endure continued domination. By 1950, the cold war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had ‘heated’ up and Korea became a ‘playing’ field for the two super powers to test each other’s will.

The U.S. never called the conflict a ‘war’; it was a ‘policing action’ or a ‘conflict’, but not a war. (Try explaining that to the many families who lost loved ones in the conflict.)

By 1953, the two sides (numerous nations were involved – once again it appears that the people of Korea were simply a captive audience) agreed to a truce. The borders were left as they were when the country was initially divided. Nobody won. Korea lost the most.

South Korea, following the model of American capitalism, thrived. North Korea, following the model of Soviet socialism, did the opposite. Frequent famines were ignored by the leaders. Whatever resources the nation had were used to strengthen a military to protect them from the aggressors to the south… the Koreans who wanted no more part in a war not of their making.

The current leader has been in power far too long. He has done nothing to better the lives of his subjects and yet they treat him like a god. Is their fear so great that they must bow down and honor him?

A few months ago I watched a TV show about doctors who traveled to North Korea and operated on people with terrible medical problems. After they had been cured by the foreign doctors, they gave thanks to Kim Jong-il. Go figure!

In all honesty, I do have to give credit to Kim Jong-il. His country could easily be wiped off the face of the earth by China, the United States, and a number of other countries. So, what does he do? He threatens to destroy the otehr countries… and takes particular aim at South Korea – the one country that wouldn’t be able to annihilate his army.

And what do the super powers do? They get him to sign treaties (that he totally ignores) in exchange for enough food to feed his people for a year or two. When his people start going hungry again, he starts his threats again.

He is now threatening to fire a missile toward Hawaii. He has also sent out a ship with a reputation of carrying weapons and materials for nuclear weapons and dares the United States to stop it. He says anything we do to stop his current plans will be seen as an act of aggression at which point he was destroy U.S. cities.

How many of you remember Peter Sellers in a movie called, “The Mouse that Roared”?

Now, if the U.S. stops the ships, boards it, and finds nothing more than medical supplies, President Obama has egg on his face. And I’ll bet Kim Jong-il doesn’t destroy a single city. He’ll just yell and scream about the ugly Americans.

And if he fires the missile in the direction of Hawaii and we destroy it, he’ll say it was a communications satellite and insist we pay reparations.

And if we do nothing, he gains power in the eyes of his people.

Like I said, we have been made impotent. Regardless of what we say or do, we can be seen as the arrogant aggressor.

As for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the recent election (try not to laugh) demonstrated that he has no power whatsoever. He is simply following orders. The real power in that country belongs to the guy in the white beard… and he ain’t no Santa Claus. He’s just another wild-eyed religious radical.

Notice I did call him an Islamic radical. From what I’ve seen, all religious radicals are basically the same… regardless of the religion.

So, these minor despots will continue to yank the chain of Uncle Sam simply because the United States is powerless to stop them.

Eat at Joe’s

June 11, 2009
The next best thing

The next best thing

Joe’s Bar & Grill is long gone. Joe’s was the place my brothers and I frequented for a number of years. In fact, both of the twins tended bar at Joe’s from time to time.

Alexion’s is a neighborhood bar introduced to the Ingram softball team by the team that represented the St. Paul Roman Catholic Seminary. They were our biggest rivals for a number of years, but we often shared a few pitchers of beer at Alexion’s following our hard-fought games. I took that picture in 2008. I’m guessing the establishment is still doing business.

Joe’s bar was run by Joe and Emma Haberstroh – a German couple who eventually sold the place, retired, and moved back to Germany. The people who bought the bar cleaned and painted the place – removing all the atmospheric dirt – and it was never the same.

Joe’s is on my mind today because our local Thrivent for Lutherans chapter is planning a good old-fashioned summer picnic to be held at Christ the King Lutheran Church in August.

Joe’s used to host three picnics every summer. Joe’s was the Elliot section of Pittsburgh’s version of Cheers. It was the place where everyone knew your name. The regular customers were a good group of people who liked to eat, drink, and sing.

Joe had an extremely large fishbowl brandy snifter that he kept on a shelf behind the bar. It could probably hold more than a gallon of liquid. But Joe used it to hold money… the contributions made by the regular customers.

I doubt if Joe and Emma (Emma did all the cooking and acted as the waitress) ever received a tip. But customers left money on the bar and tables to be added to the brandy snifter. That money accumulated all year long and was used to finance the picnics.

The picnic planning committee would reserve a place with a shelter and a ball field. (The best place also had a dance hall!) On the morning of the picnic, the regular customers would show up at the bar bright and early and start loading their cars. There were cases of beer and soda, large pots and pans, and many coolers filled with food and ice.

When we arrived at the picnic grounds, Emma would set up her portable kitchen and start cooking hot dogs and sauerkraut, corn on the cob, Pittsburgh Bar-b-que, and other tasty treats to go along with the potato salad and coleslaw she’d already prepared. The food table would also be piled high with cold cuts, cheeses, and various types of bread and rolls.

In the meantime, laundry tubs were filled with beer and soda and lots of ice.

Soon, the horseshoe games were set up along with the volley ball and badminton nets. Softball games were started and people who weren’t interested in any of those activities were tossing Frisbees or footballs. If a swimming hole was close by, many of the teenagers would head in that direction.

Yes, these were family picnics. Everyone was invited to bring their entire families.

At some point, the organized contests began. The three legged race, the sack race, and the egg toss were among the favorites. One year one of my brothers rented a very heavy stuffed bull. Contestants grabbed the ‘bull’ by its rope tail and threw it. The technique used was similar to the Olympic Hammer throw.

In case anyone is unfamiliar with the hammer throw…

Now, imagine someone using a similar technique to throw a stuffed bull.

Interestingly enough, the people who threw the most bull at the bar were not among the top finishers of this event.

Once the sun set, a bonfire was lit. We’d all gather around the fire and someone would start the singing. We sang all the old time favorites – Shine on Harvest Moon, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, and many others.

While the older folks were singing and enjoying the fire, the younger kids were busy catching lightning bugs and teenagers were spending time in the dance hall or simply walking in the moonlight.

All too soon, it was time to pack up and head home. Everyone had had a wonderful time. If it was June, we’d start looking forward to the July picnic. If it was August, we’d start looking forward to next summer… and encouraging everyone to be generous with their donations to that brandy snifter.

Thoughts on Christmas

December 11, 2008

The Christian Church didn’t throw a dart at a calendar to determine the “official” birth date of Jesus. However, the early church had as its motto, “If you can’t beat them, join them!”

In my recent studies of our family tree and life in the 1600’s I’ve learned that the Church of England once tried to eliminate Christmas because it had become a pagan holiday. I guess they’d forgotten that Christmas had been exactly that – a pagan holiday – before the Church took advantage of a traditional mid-winter festival. The church had done the same thing with Easter, but that’s a story for another time.

In a few weeks I’ll be experiencing my 65th Christmas. I honestly don’t remember the first few, and many of the others seem to blend into one.

It may be my imagination, but it seems the pagan holiday is flourishing in spite of any and all efforts of the Christian church. When radio stations begin playing “Christmas” music before Thanksgiving, one would think it was part of a conspiracy to encourage us to go shopping. Considering that none of the songs mention Jesus, the conspiracy theory gathers strength.

I choose to recognize both the pagan holiday and the miracle of God’s son. The mid-winter festival is a great time for partying, exchanging gifts, and spending time with family and loved ones. Jesus’ coming as a humble human born to a poor family in less than ideal conditions tells us that our God is a loving parent reaching out to embrace every one of us. The message delivered by Jesus made God’s love abundantly clear to all who would listen.

So what if the church doesn’t really know the date of Christ’s birth? What matters is that He was born and, as a fully human person, got first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be one of us. It’s a miracle that not everyone believes, but for those of us who do, it opens our eyes to many other miracles.

I recently read an article about Germany celebrating St. Nicholas Day around the first week of December. The article was written about past memories, so I don’t know if this is still true.

At any rate, the gift exchange took place on St. Nicholas day. That left December 25th as strictly a religious holiday. It would be nice if we could celebrate in this manner in this country. However, it would be difficult to get the parties involved to change their ways.

We could ask merchants to start selling St. Nicholas Day gifts a month earlier, or ask church’s to pick another date for the birth of Christ. On second thought, our only hope probably lies with the merchants.