Friday, September 30, 2011

Pac-12 Week 5 Quick Picks

Oregon and Cal have this week of. Will play each other next week.

Washington vs. Utah in Salt Lake City. Is UW for real or just lucky to have beat Eastern and Cal at home on the last plays of those respective games? Is Utah ready to make a statement in Pac-12 play? Utes are at home, so win 24-21.

WSU hosts Colorado in Pullman. Hmm. Two fairly weak teams. Again, home team Cougars wins 21-10.

OSU vs. ASU in Corvallis. Will OSU get their first win of the season and upset the South division race? No, they won't. ASU wins by a lot - 41-21. OSU misery continues.

Stanford vs. UCLA in Palo Alto. This one won't be close. Stanford big - 52-24.

USC vs. Arizona in Tuscon. 'Cats rebound from consecutive losses? No. USC 27-20.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pac-12 Week 4 Re-Caps rolled over Arizona big. So, you matched the other two Top 10 teams that have done that to the Wildcats this season, substantiating two things: 1) yes indeed, you are a Top 10 team (#9 as of today), 2) Arizona is not a very good football team. Rest up on your  week off and get ready for Cal. tried to give it away to Cal at the end, but you didn't. Kudos to your D (oddly enough) for stifling Cal right at the end. Bizarre play call by Cal on that last play, but hey - you won. You are now officially at the "top of the middle tier" of the Pac-10. That will be on the line again next week vs. Utah. lost to UW on the road. You are probably better than that, but you just dug yourself a hole with your next game against Oregon in Eugene. didn't play, and that's probably good as last week's loss vs. SDSU was not a good sign. looked pretty bad most of your loss to Oregon - in particular mental breakdowns, penalties, dropped passes and an "out of control" coach on the sideline. You are now fighting for bowl status.

Oregon lost to UCLA. At home. Not good. Welcome to the bottom of the Pac-10. beat OSU on the road and can feel good about being 1-0 in Pac-12 play. But on the other hand, you only beat the Beavers. So, don't get too cocky. Reality will be present and accounted for when you square off against Stanford next week.

Arizona bounced back from losing last week to beat a ranked USC team on your home field. That's pretty good, honestly. You are now in the driver seat for the Pac-12 South crown. lost to ASU. That is not shock, but in recent years this would have not happened. You are not the team you were two, three or four years ago. had your "hat" handed to you by Ohio State. Lots of teams suffer that fate, so don't get too down on it as it's a non-conference game. sat this week out and prepped for UW next weekend - a game in which with a win you can simultaneously climb into the Pac-12 South race and knock the Dawgs out of the running for the North title. sat this week out with UCLA coming up in a week.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Rude Pundit Calls It As It Is

I wanted to pass on a post I read as I think it sums up the Republican/conservative approach to Obama pretty well.

The Rude Pundit calls out conservative hypocrits for their over-inflated and shrill denunciations of Obama's jobs and economic plan in his post (as in, he wrote the below, not me) that reads...

Hypocritical, Cruel, and Buffoonish Responses from the GOP on Obama's Tax Plan:

So let's be sure we're absolutely clear here: when President Obama talks about raising revenue by having the wealthy pay their fair share, he is not talking about passing a single tax increase on individuals. What he is talking about is limiting certain kinds of deductions, closing loopholes, and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on people making over a million bucks a year. That's it. Yes, tax rates do return to a higher level on the very wealthy because the Bush tax cuts were allegedly designed to be temporary, enacted in flush times, but supposedly with a sunset just in case times were rough again. In other words, it was the model of "kick the ball down the road" legislating.

But to say that President Obama wants Congress to pass higher taxes is a lie. In fact, what he wants Congress to do is make the Bush-era tax cuts on the poor-to-merely wealthy permanent. If Congress doesn't do that, and Obama doesn't cave again on it, all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire and the revenue crisis is over.
Of course, none of this is preventing the scumsucking pig fellaters of Congress from laying into the very moderate plan Obama proposed. Let's check out what the most heinous motherfuckers are saying.

Why, here's Rep. Joe Walsh, who takes European vacations with his girlfriend while avoiding his child support payments: "The President is in over his head and just isn't serious about helping American businesses create jobs." You know who else is in other their heads? Rep. Joe Walsh, who owes over $100,000 to his ex-wife to take care of his children. Most hilariously, Walsh says, "I would encourage the Warren Buffett types, who want to pay more in taxes, to write as large a check as they want to the federal treasury. Nothing is stopping them." You know who else should write a check that doesn't come from his campaign funds? Nothing says "motherfucker" like fucking over the mother of your kids.

Louisiana Senator and whore lover David Vitter said, "The president's plan is a grab bag of tax hikes in the middle of a recession, pure and simple." Like a large plastic bag where you can put an adult diaper? (Actually, the Rude Pundit wishes for the sake of easy jokes that Vitter had said what Rep. Jeff Landry said: "My beef is taking any money from any American at a time when our government is wasting money - not just wasting money but throwing it down the toilet." Beef? Toilet? That would have been comedy gold, baby.)
From the immoral to the imbecilic, it went. The usual suspects said the usual things. Rep. Joe "You lie" Wilson of South Carolina barked, "I'm just shocked at the level of tax increases. It's clearly just an effort to grow big government."

Unpack that statement, if your brain can wrap around it. Remember: there will be no "tax increases." The only thing that's happening is that a "temporary" tax cut might end and some other shit may going away. It's like saying that when your Groupon offer expires, it's a price increase on your sushi dinner. No, dick. You're just not getting it cheaper.

Of course, some "tax increases" are different than others. 'Cause, see, the payroll tax cut that Obama got as part of the extension of the Bush tax cuts is also sunsetting. That's a tax hike, no? No, you prole. The GOP is treating that cash for the middle class like it's a hooker with a sign that says, "Get hep-c here." Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions really did say, "If your debt is this large, I think you've gotta be very careful about adding debt." And Rep. Paul Ryan declared that the tax cut "didn't work."

Amazing how quickly they become agnostics when it comes to helping anyone but the rich.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pac-12 Quick Picks - Week 4

Oregon vs. Arizona in Tucson. Closer and lower scoring than you think. UO gets out of the desert 27-24.

UW vs. Cal in Seattle. Huskies bounce back and beat an unprepared Cal team 21-14.

WSU vs. Colorado in Bolder. CU beats WSU 28-14. Sorry Cougs. CU ain't great, but neither was SDSU.

Oregon State vs. UCLA in Corvallis. Battle of bottom feeders. OSU wins 13-10.

USC vs. ASU in Tempe. USC continues ASU woes and wins 22-17.

Utah and Stanford not playing this weekend.

Elizabeth Warren Quote to Ponder

Below is something I saw online and think really think it is a perspective not being heard or discussed as we all debate the economy and what to do next.

As background Elizabeth Warren is a lawyer, a Senate candidate, a law professor and former chair of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

I agree with her comments.

My take is, you show me a rich person and I'll show you someone who - about 80% -90% of the time - started out rich, well off or with significant advantages in life.

Warren is saying that even if you literally did start from "nothing" in your life and have built up wealth and success, you STILL did not do it all on your own. There are elements of our society and economy that we all pay into and benefit from.

And to the degree that one might debate how big (or small) a "hunk" should be given back in her example, I would say this...our nation has over the last 30 years specifically and methodically reduced what that "hunk" can or needs to be through major tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. So much so that reversing course even a little now elicits shrill cries of "socialism!" if "revenue increases" are discussed as an option for solving our debt and budget crisis.

All good food for thought in my book.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Constitution Week?

Did you know it was "Constitution Week" this week?

I didn't. That is, I didn't until I was looking on iTunes for new free apps and found several educational apps grouped under the heading "Constitution Week."

Well, turns out there is such a week annually. Info HERE.

With that in mind, lets look at one of the basics of the Constitution...the First Amendment.

The text reads...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

There's a lot of stuff covered in there. With the election season hotting up, some of the issues it touches on will no doubt be big.

How far will (or should) a candidate espousing "Christian values" as the core of his or her platform be able to go in primaries or general election. Similarly, how about candidates who have said or implied that anyone not a Christian (Muslims) should be treated differently or are in some way suspect?

Or, here's one for you. Is it right for the government to deregulate communications and online technology to the degree that now big international businesses buy and consolidate media into fewer and fewer for-profit corporations? Corporations that also own major companies that the media would normally cover objectively. Does all that help ensure "freedom of the press" or does it restrict it?

Anyway, you can see a copy of the entire Constitution in many places online. Try HERE or HERE.

Check it out. Read it over and form your own opinions rather than relying on "talking heads" who tell you how to interpret it.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Obama's Jobs Strategy

Obama's "jobs" plan appears to present things Republicans want, but also things they don't...but that are of course common sense like tax hikes for the wealthy and regulation for multinational corporations.


Setting aside the merits of the plan (and I think it's on the right track if not a little underwhelming) I think Obama's strategy is to force Republicans to either: a) vote for this and "co-own" the economy going into an election year, or b) not vote for it and be finally revealed simply as the party of "no to anything Obama proposes" even if the proposals contain things the Republicans say they want. Anybody paying attention would already know this, but many don't pay attention until election time.

In any case, I think it's a solid strategy and probably the type of political hardball that's needed if Obama wants to be re-elected. Put it this way...on the economy, he either runs as the President that has gained consensus and is leading the country forward OR he runs hard against the Republicans for their irrational opposition to their own ideas and as obstacles to progress.

So which response to Obama's plan do you think the R boys and girls will chose?

If you selected "b" from above then you are very likely correct. In fact, I think we've already seen amble evidence that they have no desire whatsoever to play ball with the President. I think their political calculus is...regardless of facts, it is better to run against Obama on a "blame everything on Obama/questions is authenticity" platform (socialist, deficit creator, Muslim, etc.) than it is to run against him after buying into some of his proposals and trying to differentiate on what they would do different in a Republican controlled Congress or White House.

And that's what they'll do.

So, all you Americans out there waiting for some sort of progress on jobs and the ain't gonna happen because of our government over the next 1.25 years. And lets not forget, conservative government carefully created and hand delivered the national debt, collapsed housing and financial markets, increases in outsourcing and off shoring of jobs and other ills in the seven years they ran everything from 2001 to 2009. Thanks Republican Party.

But in the meantime, the President created the difficult political situation we're witnessing now by himself by spending three years under the wild delusion that he could "work with" Republicans to get things done. This is a fundamental misread of the modern Republican party. He squandered big D majorities in the House and Senate when he had them. THAT was the time to get things done...not now. So, while I am on his side and think his current approach to jobs is correct and feeds nicely into election politics, Obama bears a lot of blame for the inability to get things done now.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pac-12 Re-Cap bounced back from your season opening loss on the road to LSU by beating Nevada and Missouri State by a lot of points as expected. Can you keep improving vs. Arizona on the road? Win and you're on schedule. Lose and...remember the Holiday Bowl? lost big to Nebraska on the road with a healthy shove from the refs. But you also didn't exactly help yourself with your 3rd quarter meltdown. Get up, dust off and make something of your season starting vs. Cal this weekend. Or, don't and get prepared for something more like a 4-8/5-7 season.

WSU...reality bites huh? SDSU isn't Idaho State nor UNLV. A revealing loss as to where your team may actually be.

Oregon got the week off. Probably for the best considering your season to date. beat Arizona on the road, but lost your best tackler for the season due to injury. A nice win, but how costly? got beat at home by Stanford. Doesn't get much easier with a game vs. Oregon this weekend. You may be looking at 0-2 in league play real quick. beat Syracuse at home by a lot of points. As expected. Nice job. On the road vs. ASU next weekend is a big one for the Pac-12 south race.

Arizona lost to Big-10 middle tier team Illinois on the road. Is this the start of your annual "not ready for prime time" performance or just an isolated road choke?

Cal...whatever. Nobody is impressed that you beat Presbyterian. In fact, nobody has ever even heard of that school. Even their own students are saying, "I go to Presbyterian? And we have a football team?"

Colorado...nice job. You beat in state rivals CSU. You're on the upswing after losing to Cal close.

UCLA...well, you are just not a very good football team now are you? You lost to Texas by a lot. Your season is starting the circle the toilet bowl. hammered in state rival BYU. Thank you and good job.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Italy: La Dolce Vita - Florence

Arriving by train from Venice, we alighted on the Florence train station platform about 11 a.m. Steamy weather and big crowds were there to greet us, but with only one afternoon and night in this city, we knew we needed to make the most of our visit. Thus started the second segment of our Italy adventure – Florence and Tuscany. As a reminder, you can see the set of pictures associated with our visit to Italy on my Flickr Photostream HERE. I will add new pictures to the set as I post about the places we went.

Our first goal was to get to our hotel without walking. Seriously, it was HOT in Florence. So, we took a taxi for the short 1-2 mile trip to the Hotel Consigli, situated right along the Arno River.

Checking in and situating our gear, we decided that – much like in Venice - we would forgo seeing the things we had already seen in favor of checking out some other locations around the town. Yes, I know, some will say that it’s a crime to not go see The David or tour the Ufizzi, but we saw those things last time and we only had the rest of the afternoon. For us, we made the right choice. However, I would advise anyone who has not been to Florence to go see those two things at minimum. They are a “must,” but for us not a “must twice.” Maybe next time.

The first order of business was lunch. Again favoring a taxi instead of walking given the heat, we were dropped off right in the middle of town where we attempted to get a table at a restaurant called Cantinetta dei Verrazzano. This is a well known and generally well reviewed restaurant – but since the word is out on it, the wait time would have been more than an hour. Forget it. We simply walked about half a block and found a nice, shaded outdoor place where we enjoyed a tasty lunch – and cold beer.

Next, we strolled through the main Piazza della Signoria and down one of the nearby “leather streets” that Florence is known for. Jackets, bags, shoes…you name it, this row of shops had it. And as a bonus, they carried styles that I don’t think you can readily get in the U.S. (Left: Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria. Leather shops just off to the right behind that white truck you see.)

As we talked to various shop owners, we learned that their clientele had changed over the past few years. According to them, sales to American tourists used to make up 70% of their revenue, but now it’s less than 30%. Meanwhile, guess who has taken over as the biggest tourist customer base for leather goods? The Chinese. And indeed, in a couple shops there were signs in Chinese. In one shop, the entire three floors were inundated with Chinese tourists looking over the goods.

Anyway, we ended up buying ourselves some very cool leather jackets from a proprietor we liked. This latter point is not a small one. There are a lot of leather shops in Florence and many of them carry similar styles. But not all offer the same price, and not all offer the same level of customer service.

Let me tell you what I mean...

After identifying a jacket I liked at one shop – decent price, nice owner – we went down the street to another shop where I spied a very similar jacket – perhaps even a bit nicer than the first one. Now, bargaining over price is a normal thing in most parts of Europe. So, when I heard that the jacket was priced $100 or so higher than the first one I had liked at the other shop, I thought I’d see if I could get it for near the same price. After trying it on and asking the price from the sales lady, I offered $50 less than the asking price. After a bit of back and forth, the lady disappeared and then the owner came out. He sternly said, “What is the problem.” I said, “No problem, I really like your jacket. We were just talking about the price.” He replied with something along the lines of, “Yes, our price is our price.”

We talked a bit more and I advised him that there were similar jackets nearby for less. He acted insulted and claimed that those “other jackets” are inferior.

Once again, I offered him my price and once again he acted insulted and said no.

So, I said, “OK, well…I guess I’m not ready to buy it for that price. Thanks for your time. We may be back later.” To which he replied, “If you come back, come back with $50 extra dollars.”

Done. Not EVER coming back buddy. At that point I wouldn’t have bought from him if he gave me a 70% discount. The man let hundreds of dollars walk out the door. Good job man.

With that decision easily made, we went back to the first place and picked up the jacket I wanted and got a different type of one for Diane too.

Our shopping over, we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest up. But not before getting some gelato at Grom and walking through the Piazza del Duomo, church and other spectacular sights. (Right: View of three key buildings in Piazza dell Duomo.)

After a nice, cool rest at our hotel we headed out for dinner at Il Latini. We ate at this place when we visited Florence 15 years earlier and at the time considered it one of if not the best meal we had ever eaten…and that has stood up over the years. We just had to go back.

When we arrived at the front door, it was clear that the joint was still popular as evidenced by the big crowd waiting to get in upon opening. Positioned close to the door, we didn’t anticipate any problems getting in and we didn’t.

Seated in the main room, we enjoyed course after course of goodness. Starting with prosciutto and melon, we moved on to salad, pasta, a huge platter of meat and – of course – desert. Table wine sufficed nicely to wash the feast down.

Another thing that makes Il Latini stand out is that the service is very good and very friendly – and not in a cheese ball way. A lot of restaurants in Italy roll out very indifferent waiters (they are almost always male servers) who take their own sweet time and treat you poorly. Certainly not at Il Latini, however.

Anyway, that meal FILLED US UP. We waddled around a bit after to try and feel better, ultimately catching a taxi to take us the rest of the way home.

Sleeping off our meal, we awoke the next morning with a new mission: pick up a rental car and drive out of Florence and into rural Tuscany for more fun.

NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by Marc Osborn and are not permitted for any use without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

Pac-12 Quick Picks - Week 3

Quick picks for this week’s Pac-12 games…

Oregon vs. Missouri State in Eugene. MSU ain’t LSU. They’re not even Nevada. This could get ugly quick. Only way Ducks "lose" is if one of their players gets hurt. Ducks 56-13.

UW vs. Nebraska in Lincoln. Yes, UW beat the Cornhuskers in the Holiday Bowl. But they were also trampled by Nebraska last season in Seattle. This game is in Lincoln. The “Ns” win 31-21.

WSU vs. San Diego State in San Diego. Cougs are 2-0 with warm ups against inferior teams. They are probably better a tad better than SDSU and will win 29-17.

Oregon State vs. UCLA in Corvallis. Coming off a loss to an FCS team at home and an epic butt whooping by Wisconsin on the road, the Beavs are in bad shape. They lose again. UCLA wins a yawner 13-10.

Stanford vs. Arizona in Tucson. After two weeks of beating up on cupcakes, Stanford gets a jump up in competition. But not that much. Stanford 38-10.

ASU vs. Illinois in Champaign, IL. ASU is 2-0, but they won against an FCS team and then blew a 14 point lead to Missouri at home in Tempe - eventually winning in OT. I think they are upset on the road in Big-10 country. Illini win 26-19.

Colorado vs. Colorado State in Boulder. Buffs seem to lose this game annually. They do again. 24-21.

Utah vs. BYU in Provo. In-state rivals clash and BYU comes out on top 17-13.

USC vs. Syracuse in L.A. Trojans are better and therefore they will prevail - 31-13.
Cal vs. Presbyterian at Berkley. Presbyterian? What? Really Cal? Well, we all know how this will end. Cal wins big, big, big - 65-10.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Italy: La Dolce Vita - Venice

This post kicks off reporting on the second phase of our June 2011 trip to Europe - our journey to Italy. Also, I will be building a set of photos on my Flickr Photostream to supplement the pictures you see in the posts.

Some of you may already know we spent a week in Romania right before this, and if anyone wants to read or revisit our adventures there you can check it all out in one convenient post I've put together that accesses each episode and photos.

Arrival In Venice
Flying into Rome from Bucharest, Diane and spent a couple hours on layover in the airport before our flight up to Venice. Three things happened during this time: First, the cold hard reality of how little our U.S. dollar is worth compared to the Euro became blatantly clear. Of course we knew this going in, but after a week in Romania where the reverse was true, this felt even worse than if we had just showed up in Italy directly from home. Second, we had lunch. Third, Diane bough some seriously cool shades at one of the boutiques at the airport. Soon enough, we boarded our plane and flew to Venice.

Arriving at the Venice airport is just like arriving anywhere else by air in Western Europe. However, once you've collected your bags, the way you get to the city is by boat rather than taxi, train or car.

After chugging our way across the lagoon for about 40 minutes, we alighted at one of the drop off stations in the main part of the city. Our next challenge was to find our hotel amongst the maze of streets and canals that make up Venice. I knew generally which direction to go and which piazza we were looking for. But, no matter how good a map you have of Venice, it cannot and does not account for all the little streets and narrow passageways that confront you. Suffice it to say we did a pretty good job of finding where we need to go. (Left: A quiet canal right near our hotel.)

All the while, of course, we were taking in the scenery as we dragged our bags behind us. For indeed, every turn brings a new and picturesque view – a little canal with boats, a bridge, old buildings, painted shutters, small piazzas, art on the wall and on and on. It’s tempting to stop and take it all in as you go. But, we’d been on the road all day, tired and it was getting hot. So we kept going on our best guess at where our hotel was. And sure enough, we got there no problem. After checking into our nice room at the Hotel Bernardi (our room was in their anex building) in the San Marco neighborhood (but very near the Cannaregio neighborhood) we washed up and went out to a nearby street to get lunch, a cold beer and watch people walk by. Relaxation at last!

Meeting Up with Family and First Evening
Later that evening we met up with Diane's sister and her husband - who were on vacation in Europe and obviously Venice at the same time as us - for an evening stroll and dinner. As you walk through the streets of Venice, just how different this city is from others screams out at you. No cars, no scooters, pedestrian only, wide thoroughfares, small passageways, big obvious bridges, crooked alleyways, small out-of-the-way bridges, cheerfully colored buildings, crumbly facades, church steeples, a boat roaring by followed by a quietly paddled gondola and more. All of this contrasts greatly with most cities of the world. And it's fun to experience simply as you walk around on a warm evening. (Above: Piazza San Marco from the water.)

This night we hit appetizers at a little walk up counter on a typical Venetian piazza. Just walked up to the window and ordered a fresh basket of fried seafood and vegetables. Simple. Delicious. Later we had dinner at Alla Vedova, a great little osteria serving typical Venetian dishes. Given that we'd had a long day coming in from eastern Europe, we called it a night after this and turned in. (Left: Basilica San Marco.)

First Full Day
Refreshed and ready to go, we dedicated most of then next day hitting the highlights of Venice - especially since our relatives had not seen them. Strolling the crooked crag streets we emerged at Piazza San Marco in the brilliant sun. Everything within view - Basilica San Marco, the campanile tower, Doge Palace and all the surrounding buildings - were lit up brightly all vivid and attractive. Crowds were gathering, but we sensed we had beaten the majority of the hordes that would no doubt show up soon. So, we jumped in line to get into the Basilica. Now, if you've never seen this church, it's unlike virtually any other anywhere. Beautiful onion domes, gold interior and spires all make this a worthy visit. Oh, and it's free to get in.

Next we ascended the campanile tower. This is something Diane and I had not done 15 years earlier when we visited Venice, so we were excited to get a view from up there. With the sun hotting everything up by now, we braced ourselves for the hike up the stairs to get up there. Imagine our pleasant surprise when we finally entered the bottom of the structure and found out that an elevator takes you to the top. Nice! Jetting up inside this old tower in a modern elevator, we exited at the top inside the bell tower. The first thing we noticed was the welcome breeze, cooling us down. Looking around, you could easily see the layout of the island city and marvel at the canals and red tiled roofs everywhere.

Back down at ground (or island) level, we dropped Diane's sister and husband off at the Doge's Palace as we had already seen the inside. As they toured the palace, we struck out to look around the back alley streets and get some lunch. After a while we settled on a little restaurant on a hidden piazza. As it turned out, a good choice! People: pizza, salad, beer and a view of an ancient little does not get any better than that! And that's the fun of Venice. Getting a bit lost and stumbling onto an unexpected place or a restaurant and just saying, "what the Hell, we'll check this out." Delightful.

For our afternoon activity, we decided that instead of re-visiting the better known museums of Venice to re-see Renaissance art that we would check out something completely different...a modern art museum situated in the Palazzo Grassi. We picked up our relatives and headed out on a vaporetti water bus up the Grand Canal to the museum. For the second time this day, we were rewarded for getting off the beaten track. Featuring very interesting pieces from the personal collection of French billionaire Francois Pinault, each room had something new, different and thought provoking to ponder. That, and it was nice and cool in there compared to outside. An afternoon well spent. (Right: View along the Grand Canal.)

Next up was a well deserved rest up at the hotel. Refreshed, we hit the streets for a progressive dinner in which we went to successive osterias to get small plates collectively called cicchetti (loosely pronounced chick-et-tee) Think Italian tapas. (Left top: La Cantina; Left bottom: Osteria al Bomba.)

We hit places on or near the Strada Nuova. We started at Osteria al Bomba just off the main drag tucked away on Calle De L'Oco. They featured seafood. Wonderful! We then walked up to La Cantina where we had delightful meats, olives and home made bread along with only-can-get-it-there beer. Finally, we ended up at  some random place that turned out to have a good special of fried seafood. Sorry, don't remember where. But it was on Strada Nuova near the Ponte Pasqualigo.

Second Full Day
This day was all about getting out on the lagoon and visiting some of the other pretty islands right near by. OK, this day was really about doing that while also finding and buying a nice Venetian glass chandelier. With these goals in mind, we boarded the water bus and made our way. Alighting at the main Murano dock, we quickly started checking into the various glass houses to see what was on offer and how much.

To my novice eye, Murano is basically a small Venice - but less crowded. It was nice to walk around without the crush of tourists you get in the main destinations in Venice proper.

Anyway, back to glass shopping. We hit three different shops. One was a large but interesting place with a lot of options. We felt pretty good about this place and the guy we were talking to, but given that it was the first place...we decided to keep looking and perhaps come back.

Next we stopped at a huge shop with a load of inventory - much of it indeed beautiful. However, the problem here was the sales guy who showed us around. He was fine walking us through the galleries and talking about the different styles, but he was extremely elusive when it came to pinning a price to anything. We had a bad vibe here - either we were being set up to be taken advantage of OR the guy just didn't respect us and thought we were just "lookers" out of our league looking at this stuff. Oh well, his loss as we bailed out of there. (Right: View of the main canal on Murano.)

Our third shop was a small, family run operation that had an amazing collection. Instantly we thought this might be the place where we scored our Venetian chandelier. We looked, we talked to the proprietor, we hemmed and hawed, we picked out the 2-3 we liked best...and then we said we would think about it over lunch and come back if interested.

At this point we had a nice picnic lunch we had packed along with us consisting of fresh bread, salami, cheese, wine and olives - just sitting on the street curb and enjoying.

Next we went to the Murano Glass Museum. This is a nice visit if you go there because it shows you the history of glass in the area, artifacts and explanations of the various styles of glass creations you see when looking around the rest of the island.

Following all that...we did go back to the small shop and we did buy a chandelier. Suffice it to say that we are very pleased with what we bought, where and from whom. We recently hung the thing in our house and, I have to say, it looks great!

With the primary goal of the day achieved, we made our way by boat over to another island called Burano. This is a smaller still Venice-like island town. Brightly colored buildings and quaint canals lined with shops, boutiques and restaurants make up most of the island. Here, they are known for their lace and textile work, and so as not to deprive ourselves, we bought a few items. At this point it was getting late in the afternoon, so we hopped the boat bus back to Venice. The trip from Burano takes about 45 minutes. (Left: Colorful buildings of Burano.)

Rested after a couple hours in our hotel, we made our way down the Grand Canal and over to another part of Venice where we had a water-side dinner at a restaurant called I Figli delle Stelle that looked back at the main part of the city. With the sun going down and good food on the table, this proved a great way to end our time in Venice. (Right: View from our table at I Figli della Stelle.)

The next day we simply checked out of our hotel, went to the train station and boarded our train bound for Florence - thus ending our stay in Venice.

My thoughts looking back on our visit are that the city is as beautiful as we remembered and I am glad we did some different things this time compared to last time we were there - that we did not spend our days simply and only looking at Renaissance art and rather we got out on the water, to little neighborhoods and into interesting places like that modern art museum. My advice for anyone going to Venice with only two full days to spend there is: do one day of "the classics" and one day "out and about"...and of course eat well by dining one night at a nice traditional place and then dine another night by "cicchetti hopping" around a neighborhood.

Next post up in this series is a re-cap of our time in Florance and Tuscany. Check on back for that in a week or two.

NOTE: All pictures in this post taken by Marc Osborn. No use of the images is permitted for any purpose without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two Points to Consider When Watching Obama's Jobs Speech

As you watch President Obama's "jobs speech" Thursday, or perhaps if you torture yourself by tuning in as pundits tell you what you just heard, here are a few things to keep in mind, at least in my opinion...

Companies need to step up and get back in the game
While government action can and is sometimes necessary to stimulate the economy, the bottom line is that companies create jobs, not government. No, I haven't gone all "supply side" on you, but it is true that companies are the ones who make decisions on the vast majority of hiring - where, how much, for what and when. There's no getting around that. Obama can talk a good game about tax credits or incentives, but if companies don't want to hire...and rather want to sit on their cash...they won't do it.

This is all related to my assertion that, guess what? The jobs ain't coming back. Companies - especially big ones who tend to employ (or used to) a lot of people - have weathered the economic storm and are now getting by without having to hire back costly items such as employees. So they won't.

Nope. Old jobs are not coming back. Forget about it and move on. The hope would be that "something new" comes along to spur growth, offer clear investment and hiring opportunities for companies and help alleviate the unemployment rate...and thus many of our other economic ills.  This is actually the American spirit that has gotten us by in other times. Be it the automobile, the airplane, medical breakthroughs, the space race, computer chips, the Internet...something big has always come along to really boost our economy and usher in new good times. But this isn't happening now. The bubble burst and the ones left holding the money bags are not ready to invest in innovation and new sectors of the economy.

If government can help via stimulus, great. I am for it. But again, it is companies who hire. So, if you are ticked off that companies are not hiring...get mad at them.

We are in a "conservative economy" and have been for quite some time
Without a doubt, you will hear the Rs rebut Obama's recommendations as ineffective, too reliant on "big government," and wrong for the country. And no doubt, those same conservatives will say that what we really need is a big old helping of tax cuts, deregulation and "getting government off our backs" to free up the economy and get it moving again.

But here's the thing...we are already in that type of economy. Huge tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations were enacted 10 years ago and are still in effect. Aggressive deregulation of energy, financial, transportation, housing and other markets has been going on for 20+ years...and got a big boost over the last 10.

And Obama? He has repealed almost exactly none of that.

You think his "big government healthcare plan" is the problem. Nope. Virtually none of it goes into effect until 2014.

Think Obama is the guy responsible for the debt. Wrong again. Our historic and spectacular federal debt was hand delivered to America by Republicans in the short six years between 2001 and 2007 when they ran the White House and both houses of Congress - all on their watch, all in service of the same economic theories they're still talking about today and all while happily raising the debt ceiling without a peep of controversy.

So you see, we ARE IN a carefully and steadily constructed conservative economy. How you liking that?

Put another way, if tax cuts and deregulation are so good for the economy, where are the jobs?

Anyway, a couple things to ponder as you watch or hear about jobs over the next couple/few days.

Short Picks for Pac-12

Time for my abbreviated Pac-12 picks for the week...

Oregon vs. Nevada in Eugene. Ducks rebound and win 31-17.

Washington vs. Hawaii in Seattle. You think Eastern WA had an offense? Upset. Hawaii wins 27-24.

WSU vs. UNLV in Pullman. Cougs win two in a row. Score will be 27-10.

Oregon St. vs. Wisconsin in Madison. Blowout. Badgers 42-9.

ASU vs. Missouri in Tempe. Hmm. Interesting game. ASU wins at home 27-24.

Arizona vs. Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Okies win big 37-16.

Stanford vs. Duke at Chapel Hill. The cupcake parade continues for the Trees. Stanford big, 47-10.

Utah vs. USC in L.A. USC at home, better. 28-14.

San Jose State vs. UCLA in L.A. Bruins win 17-10.

Cal vs. Colorado in Boulder. Close game between not very good teams. Cal wins 17-9.

Russian Jet Crashes

The story today that a Russian jet liner crashed, killing all but two on board is sad. Very sad.

It also brings up something anew that I've always been leery of - Russian built airplanes. And in particular Russian built airplanes built in the Soviet era. Seriously, they freak me out.

Diane and I travel the world and I honestly try to avoid booking us on any flights run by Russian carriers (Aeorflot) or flying Russian built airplanes (Yakovlev, Tupolev, etc.).


They seem to crash a lot. We want no part of that obviously.

Why do they crash?

Not sure, but I would guess few things:
1) They were poorly built in the first place
2) They are old now - increasing the odds of failure
3) Maintanence standards are not the same in Russia as they are in the west
4) Russian built planes (especially older ones) are cheaper for smaller airlines from small or poor countries to buy so they use them...and their maintanence and pilot training standards are even lower than Russia's.

My advice...avoid flying on Russian built airplanes. If you go to/from Russia, do so on western carriers. If you have to fly on Aeorflot, make sure it's a recent-vintage Boeing or AirBus built airplane.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Know Your History: Labor Day

Most people associate the Labor Day holiday as a nice long weekend at the end of the summer - a chance at one last warm weather "harrah" with friends and family before the realities of Fall weather, school or work settle in.

However, at at time when the U.S. economy is in the dumper, corporations are laying people off and outsourcing jobs overseas, unemployment is at a 25 year high and people are working longer hours or multiple jobs just to get by, the realities of why Labor Day came to be are worth revisiting I think.

Here are three things to know about Labor Day in my opinion:

1) The first celebration of labor in the U.S. The first civic observation of labor in the United States happened in 1882 after American labor leader Peter McGuire witnessed celebrations of labor in Toronto, Canada earlier that year. McGuire organized a similar celebration in New York City complete with parades. From that point forward there were increasing numbers of cities and states recognizing labor with a special day or celebration - all usually in that early September time frame. However, it would be another 12 years before nationwide Labor Day came to be. To know why the did this, you need to know more about...

2) The Origins of the Labor Day holiday. As the economies of world modernized in the 1800s to become far more industrial, along with that came the need for workers to work in the factories, mills, printing presses, transportation and other key components of the economy. These jobs did not pay very well, but for many they represented a potential way forward for themselves and their families compared to farming - especially for the continuing waves of European immigrants coming to the U.S. during this time.

But here's the thing. There were no laws governing pay, hours worked, number of days a week worked, age of workers, safety of workers. Neither were there any benefits for workers other than their minimal pay, no social security, no Medicare, no weekend etc. The U.S. economy operated on an unregulated and "laissez fair" level that even most Americans who vote conservative today would be offended by I think. And, on top of that, you can imagine that captains of industry and the wealthy (and the politicians who they supported) were vehemently against giving workers any concessions whatsoever.

As you might imagine, this situation touched conflicts between labor and business. And when I say "conflicts" I mean pitched battles in the streets. People were hospitalized and killed as business-hired thugs and occasionally the US Army were deployed to stop strikes, marches or protests as workers did the one thing they could do - withhold their labor - as they sought some elements of a decent living.

One such clash that brought several decades of conflict to a head was the Pullman Strike in Illinois in 1894 in which 3,000-some railroad workers staged a walkout strike after railroad company management slashed their wages. The strike virtually stopping all railroad traffic in the United States west of Chicago. Between railroad company thuggery and labor union aggression in retaliation there were casualties on top of everything else as the conflict worsened. On the pretext that the strike hindered the delivery of the U.S. Mail, President Cleveland sent in the Army to settle things - and they did with more causalities following. Naturally, the railroad company got off scott free while the labor union leadership were taken to court.

In the aftermath President Cleveland sought to avoid further strife with labor and pushed through a bill establishing the first weekend in September as a national Labor Day holiday. The first one of which was in 1894.

3) Establishing Labor Day didn't really change much. OK, so great. Labor had one day a year to feel good about itself and be collectively recognized. Did this change the conditions under which working people had to persevere? No. All the same issues remained, as did business and government resolve to not give an inch. And that's why vicious conflicts between labor and management continued well into the 20th century.

Only the sad realities of the Great Depression, created in major part due to unregulated business and zero safety net for everyday Americans, could convince society and government to do the right thing and start legislating things like Social Security, workplace safety regulations, hourly limits and more. This is an agenda championed by President Franklin Roosevelt called The New Deal. Ten years later, President Truman attempted to reform the healthcare system to make in more equitable, and in the 1960s President Johnson established Medicare and Medicaid to help the poor and elderly. All of these things helped everyday working people far more than a single day off in early September. Many conservatives at the time called these things "communism" and predicted it would lead to the downfall of the country...and their conservative brethren have been trying to repeal these programs ever since.

So thereyou go...three things about Labor Day you may not have known. Born as an attempt by the government to appease a group of people it had just supprssed with the Army, the day is ideally a chance to reflect on how our economy relies on everyday working people...and, yes, an extra weekend day to say goodbye to summer.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Underwhelming Debut for Pac-12

OK, well...week one in the books for the new Pac-12.

UO have a lot of work to do. Sure, you were playing by far the stiffest competition in week one compared to other Pac-12 teams. However, you could give North Dakota State College for the Blind Girls School South Campus Annex four turnovers (two of them right by your own end zone) along with 100 yards in penalties and probably not win. Give those same turnovers and penalty yards to LSU and...well... you are toast. And you were. Thanks for coming to Dallas and being so giving. Figure it out starting with Nevada next week or it could be a very long season.

UW, sorry...your rise into the top part of the league is on hold. You all won vs. Eastern WA, but not very convincingly. Three points. Really? Get better against Hawaii next week or it will be another 6-6 or maybe 5-7 season.

WSU...congrats. You pounded Idaho State.

USC, you just got by Minnesota.

Oregon State, you lost to Sac home.

UCLA, you lost to the University of Houston.

Colorado, you lost to Hawaii.

Stanford, Arizona, Utah and beat respectively the powerful lineup of San Jose State, Northern Arizona, Montana State and UC Davis.

Not very impressive from top to bottom.