It’s Time To Turn Down The Incendiary Language

What is wrong is to fire up zealots through incendiary language and vitriol. That can’t be turned off and could easily become a ticking time bomb.

Zealot –noun

1. a person who shows zeal.

2. an excessively zealous person; fanatic.

Zealots are easy to fire up. They are much more difficult to calm down. It looks like the McCain campaign has realized that and, at least John McCain himself, is getting a little uneasy with what’s been unleashed.

Sam Stein/The Huffington Post: McCain was responding to a town hall attendee who claimed he was concerned about raising a child under a president who “cohorts with domestic terrorists such as [Bill] Ayers.” Despite the fact that McCain and his campaign have repeatedly used Ayers to hammer Obama in recent days, the Arizona Senator tried to calm the man.

“[Senator Obama] is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared about as President of the United States,” he said, before adding: “If I didn’t think I would be one heck of a better president I wouldn’t be running.”

The crowd groaned with disapproval.

Later, McCain was again pressed about Obama’s “other-ness” and again he refused to play ball. “I don’t trust Obama,” a woman said. “I have read about him. He’s an Arab.”

“No, ma’am,” McCain said several times, shaking his head in disagreement. “He’s a decent, family man, [a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

It’s important for this election to be heartily fought–for ideas to be vetted before the voting public. We should know what each candidate stands for. What is wrong is to fire up zealots through incendiary language and vitriol. That can’t be turned off and could easily become a ticking time bomb.

Do I need to go into specifics here for you to know why we need to worry? The language needs to be toned down now. Senator McCain’s answers today are a good start.

Head Of The Family–Carl Reiner’s 1961 Sitcom Pilot

What was missing was love and humanity. I am astonished to say this was a mean spirited sitcom–something it did not set out to be.

head-of-the-family.jpgI just watched the pilot that ended up becoming the Dick Van Dyke show. It’s part of what Comcast offers on their Fancast page. Dick Van Dyke was nowhere to be seen, nor were Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie or Morey Amsterdam. This was Carl Reiner’s show, written, created and starring Carl Reiner and featuring a cast with New Yawk accents so thick I thought I was back at PS 163.

I’m a huge Carl Reiner fan, but this was awful. Truly. It wasn’t bad because the jokes didn’t work–they were like all the other jokes on all the other sitcoms. What was missing was warmth and humanity. I am astonished to say this was a mean spirited sitcom–something it did not set out to be.

I can’t understand how Reiner didn’t see it. And, if he didn’t see it, I worry about who he was in 1961. The protagonist in this autobiographical show had big issues.

Luckily “Head of the Family” became the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” Lucky Barbara Britton was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore and Morty Gunty (Morty Gunty–my father will enjoy seeing that name) was replaced by Morey Amsterdam.

There are no TV pilots any more. If it’s made, it’s aired (and it certainly doesn’t run 26:20). There is no sandox to experiment in. I can thank and blame the Internet I got to see this 45+ years after the fact. I will never look at Carl Reiner in the same way.

Bob Lacey Brings His Vacation To Connecticut

If he keeps the rest of his vacation as tightly packed as this first day, he’ll have no vacation.

My friend Bob came to Connecticut to spend a day. We weren’t going to squander it!

He left Charlotte, NC Saturday morning and was here by mid-afternoon. It didn’t take long to drop-the-top on my car so the two of us could head out. We hit the Glenwood Drive-In, a local dog house, before turning south to the shoreline.

Bob grew up here. He likes to go back to those places he remembers as a kid–especially the shore. We took I-91 south to I-95 then turned east&#185. We drove over the Connecticut River and exited on Route 156 in Old Lyme.

Old Lyme is an interesting place, because there are really two Old Lymes… at least to me. There is the beach area of Old Lyme with the Miami Beach Association’s plot of sand flanked by some loud beachside bars. There’s also the more quiet, more traditional Old Lyme. The homes aren’t as special as the care taken of them. In that way it reminds me of Greenwich or “The Flats” area in Beverly Hills. It’s quite beautiful in an understated way that can only be achieved when the construction in your town is mature.

We crossed back and continued up river to Essex. This is another picturesque New England community on the Connecticut River. Most people know it for its scenic railroad with steam engine rides up-the-river.

While Bob perused a gallery on Main Street, “Clicky” and I staked out the street, looking for photos to take. That’s where I ran into “W,” the dog. I held the camera very low to the ground and snapped away. It was too low for me to look through the viewfinder. I’m getting better at these low point-of-view shots, but still wasted most of what I took because the top of the dog’s head was out of my frame!

Down the street was a pretty town park which sloped to South Cove, on the river. Right in the middle a wedding party was posing for pictures. It was a spectacular day. I wonder how much angst the bride had hoping the forecast would come true?

Our evening ended with Helaine joining us for dinner at Lenny’s in Branford. Bob and I had the “Shore Dinner.”

As we drove home I saw I’d put over 100 miles on without going much of anywhere.

Bob left after breakfast on Sunday morning. He was on his way to Maine for a week with his grown son, Christopher. If he keeps the rest of his vacation as tightly packed as this first day, he’ll have no vacation.

&#185 – Though I-95 runs mainly east-west in Connecticut, it is marked north-south. To go east, follow the signs for north and vice versa.

Spinning The Weather Chinese Style

So, when the deputy chief engineer of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau says, “Even if the rare extreme weather hits Beijing in August, people will not feel muggy. High humidity will not accompany the hot weather in August because their climax periods are different, ” I’d hide the silverware and other valuables.

A few weeks ago, I created a page on this website that aggregates news stories about meteorology. Truthfully, I wanted to play with an application, and meteorology was just a subject I plucked to use. I didn’t expect a useful page.

Wrong. I’ve been reading it pretty regularly and it’s actually very cool. Surprise on me.

I just took a look and found a story from the Xinhua News Agency.

Xinhuanet was launched in 1997 as the online news service of Xinhua News Agency. It releases important news about China and the world around the clock without stop by relying on the agency’s worldwide information-gathering network.

Chances slim for Beijing Olympics to stand extreme weather was the headline. I began to read. The tone is defensive. People are saying Chinese weather might not be great for Olympic athletes. The Chinese don’t want to hear that.

Guo Liwen, head of the bureau’s climate center told Xinhua that records in the last 30 years showed that Beijing’s average temperature in August is 24.9 degrees centigrade, relatively genial weather for the athletes.

He noted that there is no need to worry about the hot weather, adding that the data of 29.8 degrees centigrade as average August Beijing temperature cited by some foreign media are incorrect.

“The 29.8 degrees centigrade is the average highest temperature in August,” he said.

Yeah – right. How awful to actually use the more meaningful numbers!

Hello. The athletes aren’t worried about averages. They’re worried about what it’s going to be like in the heat of the day. 29.8&#186C equals 86&#186 Fahrenheit. Not the worst, but still a bit warm for strenuous outdoor activity.

I went to Weather Underground’s incredibly useful trip planner to see what the real story is.

  • There is a 22% chance of a Hot Day (temperature over 90°F / 32°C).

    (37 days out of 170 in historical record)

    Most consecutive days found in historic record: 5

  • There is a 33% chance of a Cloudy Day.

    (48 days out of 147 in historical record)

    Most consecutive days found in historic record: 4

  • There is a 72% chance of a Sweltering Day (dew point over 70°F / 21°C).

    (123 days out of 170 in historical record)

    Most consecutive days found in historic record: 15

So, when the deputy chief engineer of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau says, “Even if the rare extreme weather hits Beijing in August, people will not feel muggy. High humidity will not accompany the hot weather in August because their climax periods are different, ” I’d hide the silverware and other valuables.

Technically speaking, are they smoking crack over there?

Drama In The Air

My flight to Chicago was relatively easy. I had the iPod for the first time and listened to a long interview with Bill Murray and This Week in Technology with Leo Laporte.

I love Leo. He’s been a trailblazer in tech. The show was rudderless. I still listened all the way through. I just wanted more meat and more structure.

About twenty minutes out of Chicago a flight attendant came on the PA. “Is there a doctor, nurse or medical person on the flight?”

That only happens in the movies, right?

About ten rows behind me a woman had suffered a seizure. As I’d later find out, she had medication with her. This must not have been a total surprise.

You would guess this sort of thing puts you to the head of the line for landing. We hit the ground, hit the brakes, did a 250 degree turn and pulled right to the terminal.

The door popped open and in rushed three Chicago Fire Department EMTs.

I can’t tell you how the woman is. She looked unconscious as they moved her off in a wheelchair.

Before we landed, the crew asked everyone to stay seated and not go to the overhead bins. The instructions were followed.

The Chicago-LAX passengers are starting to get on. It will be a full flight. I’ve moved back a row and taken a window seat. Maybe I’ll see some snowcapped mountains.

Next stop Los Angeles.

Full Day And The Glowdeo

After the morning balloon session, Helaine and I returned to the hotel for a while. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has distinct morning and evening sessions (with separate admissions).

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After a brief nap it was off to the tramway which climbs Sandia Peak. Only one problem. Everyone else in Albuquerque had the same idea. The Friday afternoon wait was two hours! Helaine wasn’t going to take the tram to the top anyway, so we left.

Even from the base of the tramway, over 6,000 feet above sea level, the view was excellent.

Next destination was Old Town Albuquerque, a picturesque area of artsy stores and native craftsmen. We walked around for a while and Helaine found something for Stef.

The Fox Family Secrecy Act of 2006 prevents me from disclosing what she got.

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By the way, parking near Old Town is interesting. The parking lot has a series of boxes at one end. Each box has a slot where you put your money for parking. I slipped two dollars in the space marked 122.

We ended up overstaying our time, but got no ticket. I suspect it’s not heavily enforced. In fact, it sound like my money went all the way to the bottom, not my individual ‘cash cubby.’

Old Town is conveniently located next to Albuquerque’s museums. Helaine asked if I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum? I would have, had I not spied a small building, previously used for something else. It was the National Atomic Museum.

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The signs outside made it look a little off center and not afraid to poke a little fun of itself. Was this a real museum or a sly museum takeoff?

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The first thing I noticed inside was a collection of slide rules. I stopped to gape. This was my kind of place. Before calculators, I was a slide rule expert.

In the history of atomic energy, New Mexico stands tall. Remember, there’s a lot of space here… lots of room to do things you don’t want found out. Our first atomic test was held not far from Albuquerque.

We paid our admission, walked in, and quickly walked into the theater where a movie was about to start; “Ten Seconds That Changed The World.”

Narrated by Richard Basehart and produced by the legendary David L. Wolper, this was a collection of grainy black and white footage which traced the real history of the atomic age, all the way to Hiroshima.

It seemed like it was originally cut for TV with distinct fades to black for commercial inserts. Whatever the case, it was fascinating. It was jam packed with historical film I’d never seen before – really good stuff from the 40s.

As we left, Helaine said, “That was worth the price of admission.” It was.

We only spent a few more minutes in the museum before heading back to the hotel and then the park-n-ride bus to Balloon Fiesta Park. There sure is a lot more traffic on a Friday evening than a pre-dawn Friday morning.

It was still light out as we approached the park. A dozen or so balloons floated about the area. The real action was shaping up on the field.

The Sun went down. The balloons lit up. The was a “Glowdeo.”

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Tethered balloons were kept inflated enough to float up, while their attached baskets sat on the ground. Lit from the inside, the balloons glowed in the fading twilight.

I can’t imagine there’s anything else like this anywhere. There were dozens… maybe hundreds of balloons. Most of the time, each was dark, sometimes illuminated by neighboring balloons. The scene was constantly changing and since the balloons were all cheek to jowel, walking a few feet changed the perspective.

I decided to leave my tripod in the car and take my monopod. The monopod provides plenty of support, but not the rock solid steadiness you’d get from a tripod.

In a perfect world, the tripod would have been a better choice. With a few hundred thousand of our closest friends it would have been a significantly more cumbersome one.

To make up for the monopod’s shortcomings and the fact that the gas jets on the balloons were constantly going on and off, I overshot. Sometimes I shot 4,5,6 snaps of the same thing, hoping one would work.

I also kept the shutter very slow, having it open for a quarter second at times. That kind of setting almost guarantees some blur, but most of my shots are very sharp.

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As the “Glowdeo” came to an end, we grabbed some tasty junk food and waited for the fireworks… but this was the end of a very long day. About two thirds through the fireworks I turned to Helaine and said, “Let’s head to the bus.”

From Albuquerque F…

We caught the spectacular display at the end from the bus stop, but there was little strength left between us to get excited. As the only event of the day the fireworks would haev been great, but we were well into sensory overload.

In the morning we fly… or at least we’re scheduled to fly in a balloon. The forecast has a chance for showers and lots of clouds. It’s iffy, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

Helaine’s never flown in wicker before. It’s a great experience. I’m really looking forward to it.

Blogger’s note: This is my 2,000th blog entry.

Flying A Plane In A Gym

I got the email a few days ago, with an attachment. It came from a pilot who sends me tidbits from time-to-time. Four words in the text:

Have you seen this?

If you haven’t, here is the clip of a model airplane being flown in a German gymnasium. I thought it was… well, I’ll leave you to make the judgment.

There is one thing. The soundtrack, picked up off speakers at the venue, is that catchy instrumental from Austin Powers (Soul Bossa Nova (Dim’s Space-A-Nova) – Quincy Jones & His Orchestra). I have not been able to get it out of my head for the past three days. It’s driving me nuts!

Unintended Consequences Google Style

As long as I’m here, I thought it might be fun to be a guest lecturer for my folks condo’s computer club. A few years ago I spoke to the camera club.

This is an active community. There’s a club for nearly everything.

The meeting was set for 1:00 PM, but as is the Florida tradition, everyone came early.

The computer club meets in the clubhouse. It’s the air conditioned town square for this complex. The club has its own room with banks of computers and monitors. They are wired so each can be independent or they all can watch what’s going on at the head of the table. It’s pretty clever and put together on a shoestring budget.

My talk was about blogs. What the hell – I have some expertise. Many of the participants had heard the word, but had no idea what it was. These are computing neophytes.

I spoke and demonstrated and answered questions. It was pretty nice. They are really anxious to learn.

Someone asked about finding old friends. Actually, the question was asked a few times in different ways and I realized to the people in this room, this was a big deal

I used my folks as an example, entering my father’s name into Google. Then I entered my parent’s phone number and watched Google cough up the address.

I was a hit.

We talked about how couples will check each other out online before the first date. Google has spawned the act of googling.

Then a woman threw out her daughter’s name. It was a little unusual, so she spelled it and I entered it letter by letter. Within a few seconds Google displayed a page full of results.

The woman looked on her screen, recognized her daughter’s name and another, the daughter’s boyfriend. Meanwhile, I was reading ahead. Each of the six or seven entries on the page referred to the couple’s arrest in Miami on smuggling charges!

If this poor woman knew, she wasn’t letting on. I changed the page quickly, hoping the rest of the group wouldn’t catch on.

Good grief! That’s not what I want to get when I Google a name. I was turned tomato red.

I stayed a few minutes more then beat a hasty retreat. I’m not sure how long they’ll remember that nice young man, Harold’s son, who spoke to their group. I will never forget meeting the mother of a smuggler at the condo’s computer club.

My First Action – Poker In Vegas

We were up and at ’em before noon – a major accomplishment considering our cross country trip and fatigue.

My folks spent last night, unhappily, at the MGM Grand. Nothing went right. All that was left were smoking rooms. There was an ironing board and iron in the middle of the room. My mom couldn’t sleep.

They were coming to the Mirage Tuesday, but Helaine managed to get them in today. They are now safely ensconced here, along with my cousins Michael and Melissa and their son Max. My sister and brother-in-law get here Tuesday.

Helaine, Queen of Las Vegas, had arranged for line passes. These are worth their weight in gold. Getting to the head of the line can be very valuable when the line snakes forever! These aren’t comps – we’re paying – but it’s still worthwhile.

We went with Cousin Melissa and had breakfast in the Caribe Cafe. It’s a Vegas coffee shop and everything good that implies.

After breakfast, and moving my folks, I headed to the sports book to watch the Eagles. It was ugly. It was a win.

Michael and I headed out for a walk, but when it was his turn to watch Max, I headed to the poker room for my first tableside action.

I have been playing $10-$20 of late at Foxwoods. None of that here. I signed up for a $6-$12 table, but before I was called a “Sit ‘n Go” tournament opened.

In a “Sit ‘n Go,” 10 players ante up $100 plus $15 for the casino. Each then gets $1,000 in tournament chips (no value off this table). The 10 play until there are two left. First place gets $700, with the remaining $300 for second.

In the beginning I was incredibly nervous. My play was fine, but I was intimidated to be doing something live and in person I usually do at home, on the couch, in pajamas.

I took a quick lead, amassing $3,500 of the tables $10,000. It didn’t last. I stayed up, but was soon in third and probably fourth for a while. I played steady. I measured my bets, studied the pot, figured the odds.

I have been reading Dan Harrington’s poker book and used some of his advice.

The table leader was a man from Alabama who played very loose and had been lucky. I knew he would burn out.

Finally the table was down to three. The player to my right went all in against the player to my left. They were nearly even in chips. That meant there would be two… and one of them would be me!

We continued to play. The player to my right was up by a few thousand chips. With me holding King/Queen off suit, he made a bet. I decided to take a stand and go all in. He asked if I wanted to split the $1,000 cash 50/50?

I was a crap shoot. Who knew. But, right then, half the pot seemed good to me. We shook hands.

I’ve played once and so far, I’m up. I was pleased at my play and pleased at the quality of the others playing. They are beatable.

This doesn’t mean i will leave Las Vegas a winner. It does mean I have a fighting chance. Even if I lose a little or come out even, I will be a winner, because I enjoy the action.

Of course, I could lose a lot. I’ll try and limit that.

Graduation Day

It seems too soon. Helaine and I seem too young. Steffie seems too young. Yet yesterday, Steffie graduated from high school.

People treat it like such an important moment – and I suppose it is. Still, I’m trying to put my finger on what it was that actually made high school so important to me or important to Steffie.

In the car, on the way to the graduation ceremony, my dad told Steffie she had probably not yet met her life’s best friend! That’s pretty insightful. It’s true in my case… Helaine’s too.

I was such a bad high school student that anything valuable I picked up academically was probably just an accident.

I do know this – over the past year it’s become obvious that Steffie is more of an intellectual than she’ll admit. There is more that she decides based on her head, not emotion. There are more subjects she can speak about – things that are not discussed on MTV or E!.

That makes me proud. She probably won’t understand that. Other parents will.

If the commercial is correct… if “people judge you by the words you use.” She will be judged favorably.

That makes me proud too.

Helaine drove Steffie to school and then came back home to pick up my parents and me. Though the ceremony was scheduled for 5:00, we got there early. That was a good thing because the gym filled and then overflowed outside.

It was hot. The gym isn’t air conditioned. The breeze that made it bearable when we walked in disappeared as more people entered.

I tried to think back to my graduation. I can’t remember anything. Faintly, I seem to think my senior class was divided into two separate ceremonies so our 3,000+ seat auditorium (at the time the second largest ‘house’ in New York City, right behind Radio City Music Hall) would work for the 1,100 graduates and guests.

Steffie’s graduating class was under 70. It’s a little different. Still the ceremony was ploddingly slow and long, taking over two hours. I suppose the one thing not taught in high school is brevity!

Now her world changes. From a small high school and the comfort of living home, Steffie will be going away to a college with thousands of students. I’m not sure how exciting this is to her, but I can tell you it’s exciting to me.

Somehow, I think she’s ready.

The Collapse Along The Henry Hudson Parkway

At the moment I’m watching New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg conduct a press conference about a collapse in Upper Manhattan this afternoon.

A retaining wall holding back a steep hill gave way, allowing the hill to tumble onto the Henry Hudson Parkway and its access road. Debris was piled up at least 25 feet deep and you could see partially buried cars at the edge of the slide area. This all took place in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge.

I have driven by this particular spot dozens, maybe hundreds of times, over the years. It is a physically impressive part of Manhattan, because of the steep rise of the land adjacent to the Hudson River.

A little farther south of this site are buildings, seemingly perched on nothing but spindly columns. Their front entrances are at street level. The backs of the buildings are way above the ground. Underneath, the ground plunges away from the basement.

At the moment, it seems no one was injured. That’s pretty amazing considering the traffic this road handles (there’s actually significantly more traffic just south of the collapse where traffic can exit from the George Washington Bridge or Cross Bronx Expressway – I-95).

It’s possible the hill gave way slowly, or possibly in a few disjointed slides lead to the major crash at the end. It couldn’t be blind luck that no one was underneath.

From the photos I’ve seen, there are construction ‘canopies’ where the slide took place. Undoubtedly there was work going on – maybe trying to prevent what ended up happening.

In a situation like this, the most obvious culprit will be water. Unfortunately, there’s water seeping all over Manhattan. The water mains, some well over 100 years old, leak like crazy underneath the streets. No one really knows how much, but it’s substantial.

I heard the mayor say there might have been seepage from a park on the top of the hill. More will come out with time.

As a frequent driver in New York City I have seen other signs of water damage and seepage that have worried me in the past. Portions of the brickwork along the side of the Cross Bronx Expressway have eroded away. The mortar is still there, but much of the brick is gone.

Some underpasses show the same or similar problems. There looks to be water flowing and carrying away parts of the facade.

You always hope this damage is superficial, that New York City has a handle on it. Maybe not. Hopefully, this is a wake up call that the water has to be put under control and damage repaired.

One mile south, this same slide would have been a huge catastrophe. The potential would have been there for casualties in the hundreds, or more. Tonight it’s just a head scratcher.

Remind Me Not to Go To Moscow

The mayor of Moscow, Russia has decided there should be a penalty for bad weather forecasts. What is he trying to do… become personally responsible for my plunge into the abyss of forecaster’s hell? I’m tense enough already about today’s potential storm.

Continue reading “Remind Me Not to Go To Moscow”

Dinner With The Foxes

Tonight, I got to go to Steffie’s favorite Florida restaurant… or so I have been told. Steffie will have to actually verify this.

Sweet Tomatoes is located in Boca Raton. Boca Raton… that’s rat’s mouth, right? I’ll let it slide this time.

To get to the restaurant we had to drive past at least three hundred other restaurants, so obviously my parents are fond of it. Now I am too.

Sweet Tomatoes is in a strip shopping center. There’s nothing special from the outside. Once you get inside, things are a little strange. You’re immediately at the head of a long salad bar. It’s a good salad bar – though I’ve seen better.

What makes this restaurant special is that after the salad bar you can help yourself to soup, baked goods including excellent deep dish pizza, pasta and dessert. The whole meal was $8.99.

I’d go back, and if Steffie would let me, I’d take her.

Squirrel Myths Debunked

I woke up late this morning and came downstairs to find Helaine, Steffie and my camera. Nutti, our resident pumpkin eating squirrel, had taken up his position again, on our front steps. The pumpkin he had been gnawing at for days now had a squirrel sized hole to the middle.

Nutti (OK – even I feel sort of stupid writing that name… but it’s now his) stands on his hind legs, cocks his head in both directions and slithers into the center of the pumpkin. All that’s visible from the outside is his ever expanding waist and tail.

Within ten or fifteen seconds he’s out and then on top of the pumpkin. My guess is, this gives him a commanding view to protect his bounty. He doesn’t seem to eat inside the pumpkin but comes out with a seed which he chews open and eats.

He is not a particularly neat squirrel. The steps around the pumpkin are full of discarded seeds and pumpkin bits. When he drops something while eating, it stays where it lands. Though we have a full supply in the house, Nutti has never come to the door and asked for a napkin.

There is one grooming move that did surprise me. A few minutes ago he moved off the pumpkin and crossed the driveway to our front lawn. He stood on the lawn while rubbing the side of his face against the curb. There was probably some sticky pumpkin innards stuck to his face that he wanted off.

Earlier I had written and others had chimed in about Nutti’s adherence to the ‘only child syndrome.’ When another squirrel approached, Nutti had shooed him away. Blog readers wrote to say squirrels were territorial and did not play well with others.

However, this morning that was shot! I got a picture of Nutti and another squirrel both eating from the pumpkin at the same time. Later, Nutti did force the interloper away. Still, for a while there was world peace among squirrels.

At some point this weekend we’re going to have to move the pumpkin into the woods. It is becoming an eyesore. And, I don’t want a squirrel hanging around like he owns the place when trick or treaters come tomorrow.

Judging by outward appearances, there’s also the chance the pumpkin will lose its structural integrity and collapse. I hope Nutti has insurance.

Wednesday Evening Fun in Vegas

We took two cars and 11 people to dinner at the Bellagio buffet. Las Vegas is a buffet town and Bellagio is the buffet against which all others must be judged.

We always look forward to the Alaskan King Crab legs, but they were only adequate this time.

I tried venison and buffalo along with some prime rib. Both were good, but I’m not sure I’d change from beef. It’s all in the preparation anyway. Properly prepared, nearly anything can taste great. A bad chef can spoil anything.

I’m not quite sure how Helaine does it, but she got line passes to the buffet. These are worth their weight in gold since they move you to the head of what can be an hours long line!

After dinner we said goodnight to Michael, Melissa and Max and headed to the MGM Grand to see Carrot Top.

Mention Carrot Top to anyone and there are two possible reactions. If they’ve seen him, they’re a fan. If they haven’t, they can’t figure out why anyone would want to see him. My mother was in the latter class – until tonight. Now she’s a fan, as is my dad.

It took a little longer than usual to get to MGM Grand. We drove in the back way but couldn’t seem to get to the main valet. We did find a secondary valet stand, somewhat out of the way, and parked there.

Carrot Top was excellent, but most of his act was what I had seen before. Still, it was great to see Steffie, Ali and my folks really laugh hard. He really does work hard and is very clever with a boatload of props.

I’ve said this before, but if you enter the words “Carrot Top shirtless” on Google, my web pages show up first. Very weird.

That citation is there because I noticed last year how Carrot Top ends his show shirtless. He obviously works of his body and is quite buff. I know that’s not the persona he shows on his 1-800-CALL-ATT commercials, but it is the real deal.

About 2/3 of the way through the show I started to take out my camera to snap a photo. It didn’t take more than 10 seconds before a security guard was over my shoulder telling me not to and threatening to kick me out if I tried again. That was pretty creepy. I admit I went to do it, but I didn’t get to take a photo before he arrived.

After the show we returned to Mirage, and I played a little more poker. This time I won $169. Actually, I won more, but I took tips to the dealer and cocktail waitress from my take.

Poker has been going very well. I am pleased with my play. Tonight I managed to win even though my cards mostly sucked. I only saw the river three times and won each time.

I am seriously considering playing tomorrow’s tournament here at Mirage. It is a lot more pricey than anything I have ever played before, so it will be a decision I’ll mull. It’s certainly within the range of what I’m prepared to lose.

My goal this trip is to come home with a form 1099-G. That’s what you get if you win over $600 at one time (like a slot machine jackpot or winning a poker tournament). I haven’t gotten there yet. Tomorrow’s tournament could be my best chance.

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