Friday, June 26, 2009

Eight Turncoats

Here are the names of those Republicans (in name only) who voted yea on HR 2454, the deceptively titled "American Clean Energy and Security Act."

Mary Bono Mack (CA-45)
Michael Castle (DE-1)
Mark Steven Kirk (IL-10)
Leonard Lance (NJ-7)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2)
John McHuge (NY-23)
Dave Reichert (WA-8)
Chris Smith (NJ-4)

Two Republican House Members failed to cast votes on the bill; one, Jeff Flake (AZ-6), states that he missed today's vote (though he was and is clearly on record as opposing the bill) due to a family obligation, the other, John Sullivan (OK-1) does not note (as of this writing) on his website the reason for his failure to vote.

Of the eight RINO Members, two - Congressman Lance and Congressman LeBiondo - get at least a nod of respect from me for having the guts to forthrightly note their action regarding this vote on the front pages of their respective official websites.

As a blast from the past and to further document what we're dealing with here, I point readers to an analysis done by done and published by the trusted Human Events organization. They rank Michael Castle as the #1 RINO presently serving in the House. Chris Smith came in at #2. John McHugh... he came in at #4. Mark Kirk... #8.

Enough. Or at least that's what I say. It seems to me that - at a bare minimum, just as an opening salvo - that the Republican Committee Members and rank and file Republicans of Delaware's First Congressional District, New Jersey's Fourth Congressional District, New York's Twenty-Third Congressional District, and Illinois' Tenth District should take the bull(shit) by the horns and refuse to renominate Castle, Smith, McHuge, and Kirk for re-election next year.

Listen. This can't keep happening. The GOP is trying to win back America's trust (and mine!) and in order to do this the Party can't continue to place RINOs in positions of power where their actions not only hurt the image and reputation of the Party, but more important, double cross and betray the American People who are desparate for honesty, integrity, and common sense from our elected officials.

Voting for HR 2454 was a vote against the interests of America and the American People and as a political action in the partisan sense of "political"... well... note that this post is titled "Eight Turncoats."

This isn't over. The "battle" was lost but the "war" isn't over. Republicans and responsible Democrats in the Senate can still halt this march towards economic suicide and my bet is that they will when push comes to shove. (We'll see.)

Finally... speaking of responsible Democrats...

Kudos to the 44 Democratic House Members who voted nay to this 1,200-plus page monstrosity of a bill.

Reality Bites

No... not the movie!

Actually, the title of this thread refers to my state of mind having just finished Patrick J. Buchanan's "Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart."

I recommend the book, but please... make sure you have a bottle of scotch by your side as you read it; you'll need it!


Reading Buchanan's book, especially in the wake of having
just polished off "The Fall of Rome And The End Of Civilization," by Bryan Ward-Perkins M.A., D.Phil, is enough to point anyone to the nearest bottle.

What really set me off... Chapter 7 - "Colony of the World."

You can read the entire chapter (the entire book, actually, but start with Chapter 7) right now, for free. I urge you to do so.

Forty-one pages, folks... just start reading...

Let me know what you think. Hey, I can't "force" anyone to read Buchanan's book, I can't "force" anyone to read even this one chapter, but I'm asking that you take a moment now - just invest a couple of minutes of your time - and start reading the chapter. Give it a few pages... give it a few minutes... if you're not hooked - not impressed - after getting a few pages into the chapter, well, then at least you've "humored" me at no appreciable cost to yourself in time or effort.

Think of the other possible outcome though! What if after reading a few pages you conclude, "hey, Bill's got something here; Buchanan is making a lot of sense!" In that case the exercise has been well worth the effort - indeed, you'll want to finish reading the chapter; better yet, this "taste" may convince you to read the entire book - either for free online or via borrowing a physical copy (or perhaps audio-book) from the library, or, even purchasing your own copy!

To each of you reading this post... the ball's in your court.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cap & Trade = Corporate Welfare + Pay More, Get Less

From our friends at the Orange County Register:

"The House of Representatives is preparing to vote Friday on a massive "cap and trade" bill purportedly designed to address global warming - though they call it "climate change" now since the globe hasn't warmed in the past few years - that will probably not be finished until minutes before voting begins."



Once again our elected representatives will be voting on a bill which I'm willing to bet not one has actually read sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page - all 1,201 pages that is.

"...proponents are still buying votes from moderate Democrats with special-interest favors and sweetheart deals....Last week HR2454 was 946 pages long. As of Wednesday morning it had burgeoned to 1,201 pages, as various constituencies made backroom deals with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and his cohorts. That blatant vote-buying and sweetheart deal-making is why environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, and the open-government organization the Sunlight Foundation have come out against the bill."

Politics as usual, right? No. Not really. There's nothing "usual" about the scale of this latest governmental boondoggle. Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute warns that...

"Waxman-Markey is a 1,201-page economic suicide note. Those Members of the House who vote for it are voting for long-term economic decline and for turning the United States into a second-rate economy."

Based upon my own readings and analysis I share Ebell's conclusion.

A recent op-ed carried by The Hill, penned by
Perhaps the most destructive legislation in our country’s history will soon be voted on in the House - the Waxman-Markey tax bill in the guise of addressing climate change. It will have dire consequences for every American. It will raise the cost of energy with little or no environmental benefit. Independent experts estimate that it will cost Americans more than $2 trillion in just over eight years."

Is Murray a disinterested party? Certainly not.
Are estimates of the actual costs of cap and trade all over the map - ranging from less than $200 per year per American household by "pro-cap" estimators to almost $4,000 per year by "anti-cap" estimators - yes. I'll leave it to readers to wade through the competing claims, but as a starting point, I respectfully submit the following link to an op-ed from today's Wall Street Journal. (For supporting data click here.)

Now... back to today's Orange County Register op-ed...

"Most carbon emissions result from the use of hydrocarbon energy sources (mostly petroleum-based). Since 85 percent of U.S. energy comes from hydrocarbons, almost all use of energy would become more expensive due to the necessity to buy permission to emit a constantly declining amount of carbon dioxide every year. Thus the system would be a hidden tax on energy that would cost every American, including the middle class and lower-income people that President Barack Obama promised he would never tax."

Anyone care to argue with either the facts or the analysis? Oh, and "best" of all...

"The kicker, of course, is that, assuming carbon dioxide emissions caused by human beings cause global warming - still more theory than fact - the highly respected Institute for Energy Research has estimated that the controls in this bill would reduce the global temperature by one-half of 1 degree Fahrenheit. Not very impressive."

No. Not very impressive at all. And even this forecast reduction in global temperature of a measly one-half of 1 degree Fahrenheit is of course only a guess, based upon what we can only hope is accurate computer modeling based upon valid data entry - a hope those familiar with the... er... "modeling problems" of the past would likely not place much faith in.

Folks... mark my words... if Waxman-Markey (HR-2454) passes the House, gets through the Senate, and is signed into law by the President... you and your children and grandchildren will end up paying the cost directly and indirectly while the politicians and their special interest partners will reap the artificial economic benefits of the politically rigged "game" they're attempting to speed past you.

As the Orange County Register notes...

"[T]he bill has become a festival of rent-seeking, the economists' term for the search for privilege and gain through the political process....There wasn't enough support for a pure cap and trade bill, so they decided to give away credits to some groups represented by reluctant Congress members. So rural electric cooperatives, states that want to increase mass transit, algae-based biofuel producers, farmers, ethanol producers and others were granted free credits - with a market value. That process attracted a number of big businesses, like Duke Energy, Shell Oil, DuPont, Alcoa, Applied Materials and others to trade support (and the ability to advertise themselves as "green") for freebies at the expense of taxpayers."

Folks... we're the taxpayers...!!! If We want to stop this then WE need to get our butts in gear.

I've already called my Congressman's office. I suggest you (yeah, YOU... the guy or gal reading this!) call your own Member of Congress and sound off. (All Members of the House may be reached via the House switchboard at 202-224-3121; or, simply click here to find out who your Member is and how to contact him or her directly - I recommend through his or her district office which is closest to your home address.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Would Hope John Fund Agrees With Me

From "John Fund On The Trail," June 24, 2009 --

...the Senate Finance Committee is contemplating taxing for the first time the health insurance benefits workers get from their employers. One approach would tax the benefits only of workers earning over $100,000. An alternate proposal would tax the value of health care benefits that exceed a cap. But the taxes wouldn't be applied equally. Union members serving under collective bargaining agreements would be exempt, even though they often have the richest and most extensive packages of benefits.

Well, Mr. Fund, as much as I applaud you for highlighting the hypocrisy and favoritism of ongoing Senate Finance Committee "contemplation," bottom line... real conservatives understand that health insurance benefits should be taxed.

My God, man, what percentage of your income goes towards meeting your housing, food, and clothing needs? Perhaps under the "logic" of exempting the health insurance portion of your yearly paid compensation as an employee from the burden of income tax you'd care to advance the suggestion that "fairness" requires that federal, state, and municipal governments also exempt whatever portion of your income goes towards food, clothing and shelter from tax?

If not... if you wouldn't support that concept... why support the continuation of a policy relic of WW-2?

Some argue that taking away the tax subsidy inherent within the present system would mark death knell for employer provided health insurance. GOOD!!! This is what true conservatives favor!

Again... our arguably dysfunctional income tax system based upon a mind-boggling, high-maintenance, prone to political manipulation for corrupt purposes gaggle of exemptions and enticements is one of America's most oft-recognized scandals, not something which We The People should take pride in.

We now have a system where those with the best jobs, the highest paying, most "perk-packed" positions, more often than not boast the most comprehensive, gold-plated insurance money can buy. And the premiums... those that come from "the company" are not viewed as income, not recognized as taxable income.

Yet for those who pay for their own insurance out of pocket - who pay the ever increasing, ever more onerous premiums out of pocket - tough luck... your only respite from the Uncle Sam's tax claim on the percentage of your income steered towards health insurance is that you're "graciously allowed" to pay your insurance provider with "pre tax" dollars.

In plain English... the man (or woman) in the "gray flannel suit" (in addition to all the other advantage enjoyed) gets his insurance subsidized partially through the additional income taxes forked over by those without employer provided health insurance - including those who may have to work two or three jobs in order to provide for food, clothing, shelter... and out of pocket health insurance and other healthcare related expenses.

It doesn't sound fair, does it? Well, that's because it's not. Not only is it unfair, but such a two-tier system is unAmerican in the sense that it's basically a collectivist device antithetical to the American ideal of individual liberty - which includes equal responsibility and treatment under the law and a respect for individual liberty as it applies to freedom of choice.

My fellow Americans... again... are we not responsible for providing ourselves food, shelter, clothing, transportation, the necessities of daily life? The answer is yes. Then this being so, why in God's name should any of us who champion freedom and responsibility in all other areas of daily life consider employee provided, taxpayer subsidized health insurance to be laudable, let alone a societal necessity?

No. I'm not suggesting an "absolutist" laisse faire approach to health insurance and healthcare any more than I would propose or favor that people who can't afford basic food, shelter, and clothing should be left to starve or freeze to death absent basic sustenance.

No. What I'm saying is that we as a society need to recognize that health insurance, that healthcare, is as much an individual responsibility as any other. We're Americans! We don't need nor should we want the government to "provide" for our individual and familial health insurance nor should we expect this of our employers - particularly when employer provided benefits are partially subsidized by the "have nots" on behalf of the "haves."

So Mr. Frum... if you're reading this... while I sincerely thank you for showcasing and illuminating the motivations and machinations of the income redistributionists in Washington and elsewhere, I respectfully urge you not to ignore the forest for the trees. While we're apparently in complete agreement that further class warfare targeted against those making over $100,000 per year is wrong and that the Democrat's proposal of a "cap" (one which would not apply to one of their Party's most powerful political special interests) would make a further mockery of a system already skewed against common sense, personal responsibility, and freedom of individual choice, I respectfully suggest that in future columns you make clear that it's not simply how to tinker with the present employer provided health insurance system which Americans must confront, but rather, that it is the present employer provided health insurance system itself which is a large part of the problem.

Well, At Least Barney Frank Is Consistent

This from today's Wall Street Journal:

Back when the housing mania was taking off, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank famously said he wanted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to "roll the dice" in the name of affordable housing. That didn't turn out so well, but Mr. Frank has since only accumulated more power. And now he is returning to the scene of the calamity -- with your money. He and New York Representative Anthony Weiner have sent a letter to the heads of Fannie and Freddie exhorting them to lower lending standards for condo buyers.

We're doomed.

Doomed... doomed... doomed...

(And do you think the average American who neither reads the Wall Street Journal nor checks in here at Usually Right is going to hear about this...?)

Well... Congressman Frank is scheduled to appear on O'Reilly
tonight so we'll see. Perhaps Fox News will amplify the Journal's warning, but what are the odds that the Mainstream Media will point out the obvious - that history is about to repeat itself with regard to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

God help this once great nation.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Healthcare in the Real World

I woke up with Pink Eye. Damn!
Annoying, painful, but easily treated, right? Well... yeah... but not without hitting an initial speed bump. Namely...

Is it just me or does it seem that pharmacies should be open from... oh... let's say 7:00 am rather than 9:00 am?

So my day starts at 6:45 am. I wake up with my left eye killing me! I know what the problem is, I felt it coming on yesterday but hoped that it was simply "dry eye." No such luck. Upon heading to the bathroom to check the mirror it's clear... I have Pink Eye... time to hit the Neomycin/Polmyxin B!

Damn... DAMN! None in the medicine cabinet. Let me call my buddy the doc and have him phone in a prescription for me. But first... let's check to see which local pharmacy opens earliest.

None! Yep. Short answer... none; they all seem to open for prescription pick-up no earlier than 9:00 am.

What is this crap...?!?! Now I know that not everyone has a buddy who's a doc and that even going through "normal channels" one can't always get hold (or wouldn't try to short of a life and death emergency) of one's GP or eye doctor at 7:00 am, let alone earlier, but seriously, what about people who would rather pick up their "regular" prescriptions on their way to work vs. having to run out at lunch or stop on the way home after working all day? Heck, nowadays even "banker's hours" often begin at 8:00 am, not 9:00 am!

Well... what this meant to me this morning - aside from a two hour delay in starting the drops, starting the treatment - was that instead of Mary (my far, far better half) being able to run out and pick up my prescription prior to heading for her office, I had to go out... I had to drive back and forth to the pharmacy myself while suffering from Pink Eye! Frigg'n brilliant, huh...?!?!

So... my question... what's Obama gonna do about this? What's government going to do to "reform" the system - perhaps a federal dictate that all pharmacies must open for business at 7:00 am?


Obviously I'm being sarcastic. There's nothing Obama is going to do about it. There's nothing any state government is going to do about it. Nor should the federal or any state government mandate that all pharmacies open at 7:00 am (perhaps even 6:00 am).

My point...? In the real world - the real world of healthcare - as with the real world in general, there're going to be bumps in the road. Regarding most of these bumps...

More government regulation isn't the answer. More layers of bureaucracy... not the answer. Mandates? Be careful what you wish for folks - the law of unintended consequences is a bitch.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wrong... Wrong... Wrong... Wrong... WRONG...!!!

Oh, Lord... why do I torture myself by reading the papers...?

Yes... today even my beloved Wall Street Journal has brought me low.

Check out the editorial "Yes, We Can Expand Access to Higher Ed." Jeez... I'd expect the authors, M. Peter McPherson and David Shulenburger to both know better, but then again, why should I? After all, their thinking is classic inside the box mainstream. They're not odd ducks out... I am - me and Dr. Charles Murray.

As Murray noted in last year's "Real Education," one of our nation's basic educational failures isn't that not enough Americans are attending college, but rather the adverse, that too many are and are wasting their time and their parents', society's, and their own resources while doing so.

Here... allow me to quote Murray directly:

Too many people are going to college. Almost everyone should get training beyond high school, but the number of students who want, need, or can profit from four years of residential education at the college level is a fraction of the number of young people who are struggling to get a degree. We have set up a standard known as the BA, stripped it of its traditional content, and made it an artificial job qualification. Then we stigmatize everyone who doesn't get one. For most of America's young people, today's college system is a punishing anachronism.

Now... contrast Murray's contention with the diametrically opposite position of McPherson and Shulenberger:

For generations, the United States has led the world in higher education. But today the U.S. has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young adults (age 25-34) who attain college degrees...

Ahh... and here we have the first false assumption - namely, that "education" in the sense of helping one do one's job and serve as a productive member of society is one in the same as attaining a college degree.

Folks... not all college degrees are created equal in terms of "educating" a person to actually... er... be a productive member of society and a productive member of the workforce.

Of course we want our doctors to attend and graduate from medical schools. We want our engineers to possess engineering degrees. Our academicians regardless of field... we hope and expect of them a level of subject knowledge in their fields far above that of any non-generalist.

Seriously, though, folks... do we really need to invest four years (at a minimum - we all know students on the "five year plan," sometimes the "six year plan") of time and money in the average college English major...??? Even to the English major himself... was it worth it? Was it worth the money and effort spent in absolute terms? Must it take four years or more to "educate" the average college student in order to give the student the amount of "education" reasonably necessary for the average job not directly related to one's academic field of study?

Yes... I'm a former liberal arts student - my degree (cum laude from a major university) is in Political Science with a concentration in International Affairs and a minor concentration in history. Except for an unpaid internship with a Member of the British Parliament back in my senior year of university I've never "used" my degree nor relied upon it for actual income producing professional endeavors. (Most of "my kind" go on to law school; I'm not a big fan of lawyers.)

I'm not alone, am I? How many liberal arts majors - what percentage - end up in with a job title and job responsibilities - private or public - having little to do with their core coursework in college?

Even those who have seamlessly transferred their academic pursuits to their professional careers, why four years...? Why not three years? Why not two years? How "broad based" is too "broad based" when it comes to spending thousands of dollars per year, often tens of thousand of dollars a year, on "higher education?"

Let's pick a number... say $25,000 per year for college, room, board, books, expenses.

Seems to me a reasonable suggestion to save $25,000 in this case is to reform the existing four year college bachelor's degree process into a three year process. Better yet... let's save twice as much - $50,000 - by cutting some of the sham elective requirements (com'on folks... everyone reading this who has attended college knows exactly what I'm referring to) and perhaps increase course loads to five or even six courses a semester (as opposed to four - three if a class is dropped) so as to meet the requirements for a B.S./B.A. in two rather than four years?

Next... back to what our "kids" are studying. As I've said, I'm a product of the liberal arts educational system - at a fairly high level I might brag. I took my studies seriously and after screwing up my freshman year and taking a year off never achieved below a 3.5 cum for any subsequent trimester. Still... were all those courses actually necessary? Should I have been paying the same per credit for my stats courses as I was for electives such as "The History of Science Fiction?"

And speaking of the cost of credits... English is native language. I'm sure it's most of yours as well. What is this nonsense about paying the same per credit for a course in advanced physics or molecular biology as for... er... "English 101?"

McPherson and Shulenberger write:

"The more educated a work force is the more value it adds to society."

Yeah. Sounds good. But again... what is meant by "education?" Is all "education" equally valuable in and of itself as it translates into market value and useful, relatively unique skills? Again... how many frigg'n English majors does a nation whose language is... er... English... need? Haven't our kids been learning English since... er... birth?

Sarcasm aside, this leads me to ask... to note... What about K-12...??? I mean, shouldn't we be working to address the well-known failings of American elementary and secondary education prior to pushing for a higher percentage of the products of a flawed system to go on to post-secondary institutions? What - are
McPherson and Shulenberger unconcerned with the fact that one third of entering college freshmen have been educated so poorly by their secondary schools that they require remedial assistance? Doesn't this tell us something...???

Folks... again... just labeling a period of time spent as "education" doesn't necessarily make it so. (Jeez... we all went to school... attended K-12... most, perhaps all of us having gone on to college... you all know what I'm not imagining any of this!)

Continuing to excerpt from "Yes, We Can..."

Given the impact education has on the economy, the U.S should set a goal of college degrees for at least 55% of its young adults by 2025.

No. Given "the impact that education has on the economy" what we need to do is refocus and redirect our efforts upon rationalizing our national education strategy. This means "real education" (as Murray titled his book) as opposed to simply throwing money at the problem, dumbing down standards, and pretending that just those two words, "College Graduate," indicate a rational cost/benefit correlation.

No one is saying we shouldn't educate our kids... educate our youth... educate our young adults. No. Folks like me are saying just the opposite. We're saying we need better education - and "better" means quality, not simply quantity (in terms of years spent, money spent).

Are any of you reading this a CPA? If not, who has ever utilized the services of a CPA? Your CPA has a certificate - thus, "certified" public accountant. Is a university level accounting education necessary in all but the most extraordinary cases for one to take and pass the multi-exam CPA text requirement? Let's simply assume "yes." But a four year degree...?

Should every bookkeeper strive to become a CPA? What level of education should be required as a foundation for basic bookkeeping skills? At what level does a business require a CPA vs. a bookkeeper? Can we expect the average bright high school grad to be able to jump right into bookkeeping and if we can't what does that tell us about our high schools?

Paralegal or lawyer... nurse, nurse practitioner, or doctor... there's a place for graduate schools in the educational hierarchy just as there's obviously a place for - and more importantly a role for - our K-12 system; it just seems to me that we don't expect enough out of our secondary school system and thus slowly but surely have centered far too much of our nation's "general education" focus upon the college/university undergraduate programs instead of on high schools and certification programs where it belongs. How much of modern day American undergraduate work is little more than a polishing of what a satisfactory high school education should have provided? And at what cost - direct and indirect financial costs as well as time misspent?

We've set up a system geared more towards providing a path to college and then providing a path to a college degree rather than keeping our focus on education per se as it will assist our youth to grow into productive members of society. In doing so we've lost track of what "education" truly should be - at least the education one spends thousands and tens of thousands of dollars a year on out of pocket and financed by debt. "Education" in many cases has become more about the quest for the "sheepskin" than about the quality of the product or the actual stand alone need for the product as measured by anything other than the artificial "entrance requirement" for that interview, that "professional entry level" first position.

Read the
McPherson and Shulenberger op-ed, folks. Read it while keeping in mind the points I've made. Consider your own experiences. Take no assumptions for granted. What their argument comes down to is, "Hey, this boat with a hole in it is taking on water; what we need to do is build a bigger boat with a hole in it and get more people aboard!"

Me? I say plug the hole, start bailing, get to shore, and the next boat to be built... no holes, please!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Northwest Travels (Last Leg... Back to Seattle)

Sunday morning, June 7, 2009 - our last few hours in Victoria.

Up at 7:30 am. Down to the pool for a swim. Out to get an "American style" breakfast at a nearby deli. Back to the hotel... check-out... take a Pedicab the couple hundred yards to the Clipper dock... clear American customs on the Canadian side, board, and by 11:30 am we're "sailing" back to Seattle.

Well... I still had $15 Canadian burning a hole in my pocket. What to do...?! (*SNORT*) Well... obviously... drink! Let me tell ya, folks... plastic cup or no plastic cup, they make a pretty mean margarita on the Victoria Clipper! In fact... it was over drinks that we made friends with the Seattle couple who were seated next to us on the voyage! A damn nice couple; in fact, we ended up inviting them over to our hotel (the Edgewater being located within a two minute walk of the Clipper dock) for post-cruise happy hour!

(Hey... check out this happy hour!)

Well... we ate... we drank... they left... we went to our room and took a well needed nap!

(I took my snooze lounging in a deep, comfy wooden Adirondack chair set on our private deck right on the water... dozing to the peaceful sound of the water lapping against the deck supports.)

Next stop... dinner. Off to Quinn's! Fine beer, fine food! As with many of our vacation dining experiences we partook in a host of "small plates" (tapas) so as to get a fuller appreciation for the chef's talents. On that score... Quinn's passed "The Barker Test" with flying colors.

Following dinner we decided to break things up - while burning a few excess calories - by seeking out a dessert cafe for... er... dessert.


Well... B&O. The B&O Espresso Cafe that is, located on Capital Hill, not too far from Sun Liquour, the scene of Mary's previous... er... "episode." Thank God... (*GRIN*)... dessert and coffee (hot apple cider in Mary's case) didn't lead to any further... er... disruptions of our vacation schedule.


Three words: Damn Fine Eclair! (Check out their dessert menu!)

Following dessert we took a cab back to The Edgewater and hit the sheets - patio door open to allow us to feel the breeze, smell the fresh salt air, and fall asleep to the sound of the waves... oh... and add to this picture a roaring fire in the fireplace with the AC turned on for good measure.

(*NOD*) (Hey... we're Americans, damn it!)

Next morning... Monday... up... coffee in the room, shower, shave, pack, dress... and off to the SeaTac for the flight(s) home - which by the way went off without a hitch.

Well... that's it, folks! Next vacation update... mid-October 2009 when we return from spending six days, five nights eating, drinking, dancing, singing, swimming, and sailing in and around Key West, Florida with our good buddies Drunk'n Ted and Drunk'n Mary.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Northwest Travels (Second Leg... Victoria!)

So... from Seattle we took the Victoria Clipper to Victoria, British Columbia; Canada.

Fine trip! A beautiful day for a two and a half hour high speed "sail." But we didn't just use the Victoria Clipper for transportation, we used the parent company, Clipper Vacations, to book not only our round-trip travel, but also our lodgings while in Victoria. And where did we stay...?

Com'on! You guys know me! At the Empress of course!

Funny thing; when I first tried to book at the Fairmont Empress for the three nights we'd be in town I couldn't. Not directly. Even as a Fairmont President's Club member, both the Fairmont website and their live (via phone) central "member's reservations" department showed no availability. In the end I actually had to book my Fairmont Empress room through a Clipper Vacation's package deal; apparently they pre-hold blocks of rooms at the Empress for their customers. Well... annoying... a bit off putting... but in the end the package I got through Clipper Vacations for both round-trip travel and three night's lodging ended up being a less expensive proposition than it would have been if I'd booked separately. So in effect... Fairmont's "false" no availability listing ended up costing them money while saving me money!

(And yes... as a Fairmont President's Club member I still received all my usual perks - including complimentary room upgrade - as I normally do. Psych!) (*WINK*)

So... for those not familiar with Victoria... the Fairmont Empress is right square in the middle of the city, directly overlooking the base of Victoria Harbour, diagonally across from British Columbia's House of Parliament. Mary and I had a fourth floor corner room overlooking Victoria Harbour, Parliament, and the Royal British Columbia Museum. With three functioning windows we had access not only to one hell of a spectacular view, but also exposure (at will) to the sounds and smells of salt sea air and garden blossoms.

Our first evening in Victoria, we dined at the romantic Cafe Brio. What a meal, my friends... what a meal! Suffice it to say... "It's good to be Bill on vacation."

The next day... seeing the sites! First up... the Dutch Bakery for breakfast!

(Hey... for me any place I eat or drink counts as a "sight." After all, only the best of the best for your humble diarest Bill!) (*GRIN*)

No... seriously... this bakery serves kick ass pastries, cakes, chocolates, and light meals. Mary and I had breakfast there on both Friday and Saturday and for less than $10 cd were able to enjoy some of the yummiest sausage rolls, beef and turkey pies, and pastries I've ever eaten - and folks... those who know me know that I know "yummy!"

(BTW... two doors down the street there's a "rival" German bakery... the Rheinland Bakery. They specialize in breads and scones and based on the cheese scone I had there... uhmmm! Another winner!)

Continuing our first full day in Victoria we took public transportation (yep... I'm a bus guy - besides being inexpensive, riding the bus is a great way to see stuff you otherwise wouldn't and chat with folks willing and eager to share their "no axe to grind" advice and local recommendations) to outer Victoria's Butterfly Gardens. Hey... you've been to one butterfly garden you've pretty much been to all of 'em, but Mary loves butterfly gardens and to be honest... I find 'em relaxing myself!

Next to the Butterfly Gardens there's the Church and State Winery. (And yes... of COURSE we went in and did some wine tasting!) (*GRIN*) Some nice wines! And like most wineries... just a beautiful setting to wander and enjoy.

Next... the biggie! Back to the bus stop - next stop... the world famous Butchart Gardens.

God... (*SIGH*)... I just love formal gardens and parks. And yes... Butchart Gardens is everything it's cracked up to be.

Returning from our day long outing, it was back to the hotel for a swim and relaxing soak in the hotel spa's hot tub. Next... time for a pub crawl!

Yep. After the day's sightseeing and a cool down in the pool it was time to head to Spinnakers, Victoria's oldest brewpub. Getting there was in itself fun! From the Empress we literally crossed the street, walked down the port steps to sea level and hoped on the water taxi, which drops you off a few hundred yards from the pub. As for the setting of the pub... it's nice... it's sit on the outside deck with a beer in one hand and a piece of fresh seafood in the other overlooking the harbour where the float planes are landing. Great beer... excellent food... and what a setting!

After Spinnakers we took a scenic walk following the shoreline and over the bridge back into Victoria proper and hit Canoe, another brewpub. Again... nice. We watched the sun set from Canoe's patio right on the water.

Next... (hey, I'm a thirsty guy!)... Swan's. Not bad. Not bad at all! More of a traditional "English pub" than the others. Which pub was the best? They were all wonderful! No "winner," certainly no "loser." If and when you're in Victoria make sure you hit all three!

Well... after all the walking we'd done that day and evening and after hitting three pubs one after the other we decided to skip a large meal that night in favor of heading back to the hotel for a late night dip in the pool - open daily from 5:00 am to 1:00 am. And believe it or not, we weren't the only ones with the same plan at 11:00 pm on a Friday night. (*WINK*)

Next morning... Saturday... whale watching! Yep... first a quick swim... then a quick morning run to the Dutch Bakery for breakfast... then a pick up at the hotel by the fine folks of Eagle Wing Whale Watch who took a small group (14 of us I believe) out on Goldwing for a three and a half hour voyage where we saw eagles and seals and sea lions and... oh, yeah... killer whales! A mom and her "pup" to be precise!

I went alone (without Mary). It's just not her thing. While I was out on the whale watch, Mary toured the magnificent Parliament building. (I wish I could have fit that in myself!)

Back from whale watching, I had myself a quick lunch at Barb's Place, "the" premier Fish and Chips purveyer of Victoria. Pretty damn good, but then again... I didn't have one piece of fish in either Victoria or Seattle that wasn't delicious and hadn't sold
fresh at market the very day I ate it. If you like seafood, both Victoria and Seattle are cities for you!

After meeting back up with Mary, we decided to once again go exploring via public transit and so off we went to explore the little town (right outside Victoria proper) of Oak Bay. Nice. Quaint. Best of all... one of the finest pubs I came across on our travels sits right on the main drag - The Penny Farthing Pub!

After enjoying a few perfectly poured pints in Oak Bay Village it was time to head back into town, hit the hotel for a quick swim and a change of clothing, and off to dinner at one of Victoria's finest restaurants, Brasserie L'ecole. What can I tell you... check out the menu... check out the wine list and house drink list... (*SIGH*) What a meal! What service! Great atmosphere!

Well... Saturday was our last night. I had fantasized about making it a late one, but after a full day and evening of activities - ending with a two hour plus diner - our souls were willing but alas... our 40-something bodies weren't. (*SMILE*) So... after dessert... back to the hotel... one last late evening swim... and up the next morning - Sunday - in time for breakfast before our required 10:30 am check-in for the Clipper back to Seattle.

* To be continued...

(Next installment... our last night in Seattle.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Northwest Travels (First Leg... Seattle!)

I'm back...!

Vacation was great - as it always is! Seattle... Victoria... then back to Seattle. One vacation down this year, one to go!

Great hotels. You can't go wrong with Fairmont and as for the Edgewater... they get the Bill Barker seal of approval as well.

The Fairmont Olympic is centrally located, the rooms are large, and when you throw in the on-site 10,800 square foot fitness facility with its 42 foot heated pool and giant jacuzzi... well... it's a "Bill" kind of place. (*WINK*)

Seattle's a great eating and drinking town! First night there we hit Purple and on our last night we hit Quinn's. Other great meals were had at Le Pichet (dinner) and the Seattle "fusion" icon Wild Ginger (lunch). A bit further off the beaten track we had a nice snack of fish and chips along with not just one, but distinct locally brewed cask conditioned ales at the Harbour Public House overlooking a lovely little marina on Bainbridge Island and on another day cocktails (dynamite homemade sangria!) at Cactus on Alki Beach in West Seattle.

Believe it or not, we never made it to the Pike Brewing Company - not for a drink at least. We tended to stroll "The Market" in the mornings. While of course I was quite prepared to start drinking beer at 9:00 a.m., alas... the brewpub doesn't start pouring till 11:00 a.m. Mary and I did however have a simple yet excellent breakfast at The Crumpet Shop (also located in "The Market") on day.

We did the Seattle Underground tour one morning. I highly recommend it not only to those visiting Seattle but to those residents who have never done the tour, figuring it's too "touristy." Well, maybe it is... but it's fun! Also, it's educational; you learn how and why Seattle evolved into the city it is today. (Also, you'll get acquainted with the Pioneer Square section of Seattle!)

The Space Needle and Seattle Center are worth a visit just to stroll around, but if you want great views of Seattle I suggest Smith Tower and/or Columbia Center Observation Deck.

Oh... and now... last but not least... Sun Liquor:

Man, oh, man, oh, man... (*BLISSFUL SIGH*)

What a happy, happy place... (*ANOTHER BLISSFUL SIGH*)

It was here where Mary got... er... smashed.

Yep. Not me! Nope. Mary. My lovely bride. Or... as they now call her in Seattle... "The Goddess of the Porcelain Temple." (*CHUCKLE*)

Funny story... we had taken the water taxi over to Alki just for the pleasant boat ride and to munch on some fish and chips. From there we took the shuttle into town and after walking the beach and browsing the shops decided to partake in what looked to be one heck of a happy hour at the previously mentioned Cactus. While there we started chatting with three 20-somethings who were... er... "Bill-like" in their happy hour spirit - a couple who were taking their friend out for her birthday. One think led to another (one drink led to another) and before we knew it we had accpeted their offer of a ride back into town via the land route over the bridge (they had their car) to their home neighborhood of Seattle's capital district.

Well... Mary had started with a "Mike's Hard Lemonade" at the fish and chips joint and had switched to beer at Cactus. Sun Liquor - in contrast - is a classic cocktail bar... and boy... do they make GREAT cocktails...!!!


First the wine cooler... then the beer... then a couple mai-tais and sips of various other drinks the rest of us were sampling...


Well... before too long Mary excused herself and after 15-20 minutes with no sight of her returning...


Oh, well... live and learn! (*HUGE FRIGG'N GRIN*) Been there, done that. (Not for decades... but still...)

After finally prying her away from her... er... "comfort pose" hugging the bowl it was into a taxi and "home" to the Fairmont where I proceeded to tuck the worse for wear Mary into our comfy bed for the night while I proceeded to the local Seattle Rock Bottom Brewpub for a shrimp scampi pizza and a nightcap pint.

At the time I was... er... less than pleased that Mary's... er... condition precluded our planned diner at Restaurant Zoe that night... but looking back... (*SIGH*)... I can only imagine what might have been the result had I spent three or four hours at Sun Liquor sharing (proactively!) my imbibing proclivities with a bar full of 20-somethings.

I of course would have triumphed... but at what cost...? (*PENSIVELY STARING INTO SPACE*)

* Next... Bill and Mary in Victoria, BC.