Friday, July 29, 2011

Up to 3,000 free AAdvantage miles -- this one is easy!

    I just got 2,500 free AAdvantage miles from American Airlines, and you can get up to 3,000 free miles, too. The link is at the bottom of this post.
    I don't get to fly American very much. It's hard to out of Memphis. But I like the airline, and unlike Delta, they have not devalued their loyalty program to the degree that the Skymiles program has been gutted. So you can get a round-trip ticket on American for 25,000 miles far more often than on Delta. In fact, sometimes American offers round-trip tickets for only 15,000 miles.
    In addition, AA miles transfer into the HHonors program at the rate of 6 miles to 10 HHonors points. It used to be 5-to-10, so even AA has been devalued a bit, but the ability to trade for HHonors points can be really helpful when you need a few extra hotel points.
    So what do you need to do? Just agree to receive some emails. For each weekly email (a few may come more often) you agree to receive you will get 500 AA miles. If you already are subscribed to one of the emails, you don't get that offer. I already received one email each week, so I only got 2,500 instead of 3,000 miles (the offer is for 2,500 miles, but after you sign up they give you an extra 500.)
    I was pretty impressed with the website making the offer. It featured an auction appraiser pretending to "appraise" my email address.
    By the way, there's nothing to stop you from setting up a separate email account to receive airline and hotel mail. Just be sure to visit the AA site before you try to sign up for this offer to change your email address. Personally, I like getting the NetSAAver fares and sweepstakes offers. You can cancel these emails later, but don't do so until your bonus points have posted to your account, with may take a couple of months.
    One other tip. If you are trying to keep points alive in a program you don't use very much, try earning a few miles with a rental car or hotel stay. HHonors lets you pick which airline you want to "Double-Dip" with, and I choose American from time to time just to keep some activity. This works for any airline.
    I calculate the value of these points as between $25 and $40. Not bad for getting some emails, most of which I'd like to get anyway. Oh, and you also get your choice of four different sweepstakes to enter. They didn't have a trip for one to Las Vegas, so I picked the family vacation to Hawaii. I can hear the hula music now! Oh, wait -- that's Lucy listening to Youtube.
    Here's the link:
Appraise to Win Sweepstakes

Good Luck!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eagle reports death of Dean Faulkner Wells at 75

    The Oxford Eagle has reported the death of Dean Faulkner Wells, who was raised by her uncle, William Faulkner, after the death of her father.
Dean Faulkner Wells, 75, a novelist, died this afternoon at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford surrounded by family and close friends. She had been placed on life support after suffering a stroke. The niece of Nobel-prize winning author William Faulkner, Wells was the last surviving member of the children of William Faulkner and his siblings.
Earlier this year she published “Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi,” her recollections of growing up in Oxford. Her father, Dean Faulkner, died in a plane crash shortly before she was born. As a result, her uncle, William Faulkner, became her legal guardian and helped raise her. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Wells’ home, 510 S. Lamar Blvd. A graveside service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Peter’s Cemetery. Memorials may be made to: The Oxford Humane Society, P.O. Box 1674, Oxford, MS 38655. Waller Funeral Home of Oxford is in charge of arrangements.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns

    We've all heard the trite old saying, "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." It takes on a whole new meaning when we look at the recent events in Norway, where deranged gunman managed to kill more than 60 people over the course of more than an hour. Nobody had a gun to stop the guy.
    We've had these kinds of mass shootings in the U.S., of course, but with one big difference. We are an armed society, and someone usually arrives on the scene pretty quickly to take out the miscreant. Not so in Norway, where the police have to seek special permission to carry a gun.
    In Norway,only beat police officers in patrol cars have immediate access to weapons. By law, however, they have to remain unloaded and locked in a box in the car unless authorization is given for their use. I can't help but think of Andy Griffith and Barney Fife and Barney's single bullet.
    Mass gun ownership doesn't translate into gun violence. In Switzerland, almost all younger adult males are considered a part of the militia and are required to keep a gun at their home. After leaving the militia they may keep their weapon but it is modified to make it semi-automatic rather than automatic. The bottom line is that everyone in Switzerland is armed.
    Does Switzerland have a massive gun problem? Nope. But if some nut job starts taking people out, it's not going to take two hours to get permission to use a gun, either. That guy's going down. Same thing in the United States.
    Read more about it in the New York Times: Unsettling Wariness in Norway, Where Police Are Rarely Armed
    Norman Lear tried to make fun typical American Archie Bunker, but soon found out that more people agreed with Bunker than with the liberal elites. Here's Archie's views on gun control. Mine, too, for the most part.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Petra to open in old Palmer's location

    Oxford is getting a new restaurant at the site of the old Palmer's restaurant across from the James Food Center. Or to be more precise, a very old restaurant is reopening its doors on a smaller scale.
    I saw some activity in at the building and stopped to ask if a new restaurant was coming in. Owner Maher Alqasas told me that he was reopening Petra, a Mediterranean restaurant that operated in the building which had been the site of the Oxford Steak Company some years ago. He didn't give me a start date, but it looked to me like it should be in the next two weeks. Like Palmer's, Petra will be B.Y.O.B., which means you can bring in a high quality wine for a fraction of what it would cost at other restaurants.
    Alqasas is doing away with the bar area that Palmer had that seated six patrons. Not sure if this is a good idea, but he said he needs more cooking area. Palmer had two tables, one seating four and one seating six and six more could sit at the bar for a total of 16. Alqasas will have three tables seating 14. I would think that sometimes circumstances might warrant the sharing of tables. If done right it can add to the fun.
    Alqasas also told me he planned to add some outside seating. Just to the left of the entrance is a little square graveled area. Not the most glamorous place to sit, but it would be nice enough if the weather is cooperative. He is going to add a couple of picnic tables, or perhaps one picnic table and two regular tables to this area. My thinking is this should make the difference between having enough business to break even and enough to turn a profit.
    Alqasas is fixing the building up a little bit. He's adding another window air conditioner and repairing or replacing the other one. So it should be nice and cool. He's gotten rid of the charcoal grill -- he said it was just too smokey, although it sure produced some good steaks.
    I'd like to see Oxford get more hole-in-the-wall, Mom-and-Pop type places that only serve a few people at a time. The big fancy places are great, but I like the dumpy places with great food where I can bring my own wine and have a great meal for half the price of what I would pay elsewhere. There was nothing fancy about Palmer's, but at each place setting he had a high quality wine glass. I hope Alqasas follows suit; I'll eat off paper plates and be happy, but I want a top-quality glass for my wine.
    Jinny's not a big fan of Mediterranean food, but hopefully there will be something on the menu she likes. Because I'm looking forward to Oxford's newest restaurant opening its doors.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blogger is now stripping out my indent codes (sad face)

On my most recent blog post, I noticed my paragraphs weren't indented. I thought that was funny, since I go to great effort to put an ampersand, followed by "nbsp;". This has been producing an indented paragraph.

No more. On this blog post I'm putting in the codes, but as soon as I save it Blogger is stripping out my indent codes. What, pray tell, is the harm of allowing me to have an indented paragraph?

Menu ideas to please the kids and protect the wallet

¶Jinny travels quite a bit and cooking for the children often falls to me. Sometimes they don't like my cooking, but more often they don't like my menu choices.
¶I like to serve spaghetti with meat sauce and hamburgers with French fries. A family of three or four can enjoy either for under $5, which is music to my ears and wallet. Unfortunately, the children are of the opinion that I serve these entirely too often.
¶Few things are more dangerous to the family food budget than not having any idea what to prepare for supper. That's when the restaurants start beconimg, with their no-work meals that cost five to 20 times as much as a meal prepared at home.
¶We decided to have a family meeting to make a list of things the family can have for supper without too much work. Perhaps not understanding the purpose of the meeting, Ash suggested that one of our meals should be dinner at Proud Larry's.
¶Ah, what a teaching moment! I explained that a family of four couldn't eat at Proud Larry's for less than $60, and the tab could easily top $80. A meal cooked at home, on the other hand, costs from $5 to $20.
¶Here are some of the supper items we came up with. I am often at a loss as to what to cook, so now I have a list to refer to. I almost always buy my meat off the discount rack and usually stock up on staples when they are on sale. So cooking at home can be really cheap!

Here's our list:
Baked Ziti
Shepard's Pie
Pot Roast with potatoes
Steak and potatoes
Beef Stroganof (Hamburger Helper okay!)
Coc au Vin
Fried Shrimp and fries (from the freezer section)
Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni
Poppyseed Chicken (just as good without the poppyseed)
Lasagna (homemade or frozen)
Breakfast for supper
Burgers and fries
Cube Steak (I have no idea how to cook this or exactly what it is)
Chicken Spaghetti or Ro-tel Chicken
Grill cheese and tomato soup (children's idea)
Chicken Cordon Blue (bought frozen in packs of one or two)
Hot dogs and fries or chips
Shrimp or mushroom risotto
Spaghetti (the children say I cook this way too much)
Grilled/BBQ chicken
Chicken or Turkey with dressing
Chicken Marsala
Chicken Tetrazzini
Fried Chicken
Friend pork chop
Fish sticks and fries
Fried or grilled fish

I'll likely update this list and post a few of our favorite recipes in the near future. Not that they're anything special; just recipes we've found in various cookbooks or online.

For tonight we're having a pot roast I bought off the discount rack a couple of months ago for less than $4. Tomorrow night we're going to grill some large boneless pork chops that I bought this weekend off the discount rack for $5.05. Hopefully we can limit our dining this week to ColRebSez's kitchen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Simple tax better than outright ban on incandescent bulbs

    Folks are squabbling over light bulbs, particularly the ban on 100-watt incandescent light bulbs that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012. Eventually the ban will include standard 60- and then 40-watt bulbs as well. Small-base and oven lights are not included in the ban, and thank goodness, because just look at the small-base bulb in the photo. That is not acceptable!
    Republicans in Congress are talking about repealing the ban. The state of Texas is considering going into the light bulb business, much as Mississippi did with the manufacture of mirex back in the 1970s. I suspect Texas would have better luck than Mississippi.
    I'm a big fan of CFL bulbs, as I've said before. The recessed 65-watt floods cost little more than incandescent floods, and the twirly bulbs have come down greatly in price. While the first CFL bulbs were pretty dreadful, throwing off a eery blue light, they have improved greatly.
    In our home we have approximately 80 recessed and other 60- or 65-watt lights. It's not uncommon for a few hours each night for most of these to be on. I don't go around flipping off light switches and freely admit it (the CFL bulbs take a couple of minutes to warm up, which is a disincentive to flip them on and off). Let's just assume 30 bulbs in use for 15 hours per day. CFL bulbs use 14 or 15 watts to produce the light of a 65-watt bulb, so our total lighting usage is just under seven kilowatt hours per day. With standard bulbs, our lighting usage would be 28 kilowatt hours per day. Nationally electricity costs about 12 cents per kw/hour, so we're talking about a cost of 84 cents per day to light one's home versus $3.36. Monthly that comes to $25.20 versus $100.80. Multiply that by a hundred million households and you can see what a difference the use of CFL bulbs can make for our country.
    Electricity isn't gasoline, of course, and saving electricity won't necessarily solve the oil shortage. But energy is energy, and the more we save as a nation the more we will have. It's a national security issue.
    Nevertheless, I'm opposed to an absolute ban on incandescent bulbs. CFL bulbs, despite their improvements, do have an inferior lighting spectrum. Artists, museums, fashion designers and many others need lighting that will be free of any distortion, however small. Incandescent bulbs provide this.
    So what should our government do? Simple. Levy a tax on incandescent bulbs of a quarter or so per bulb. It's the government's way of telling people to switch to more energy-efficient lighting while still leaving the traditional bulbs for those who truly need them.
    Raise taxes on investments and people will invest less. Levy a tax on incandescent light bulbs and people will buy fewer of them. It's always better to discourage an activity through a tax than to ban it outright, and that's what our government should do with incandescent bulbs.
    As for me, I'm happy with my CFL bulbs, thank you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 12 is Game of Thrones Book 5 publication day

    July 12 is the day a lot of people have been looking forward to. A Game of Thrones, Book 5: A Dance with Dragons is going on sale. You can buy a copy by clinking on my link and I'll make fifty cents or so.
    I bought Book One during a cruise about six weeks ago. I think I finished the first three books during the cruise and the last book over the next week. So now I'll have the fifth installment. I've had to wait all of one month for it.
    It's actually been five or six years since author George R.R. Martin wrote Book Four of the series, A Feast for Crows. So the true fans have been waiting for a long time. And though I'm tempted to wait to read Book Five, I know that if I do I'm likely to hear part of the plot. So I'll go ahead and buy and read it. Then I guess I'll wait five years for the next installment. Early reviews say the events in Book 5 occur simultaneous to those in Book 4. So there will be a return to Tyrion and Jaime, and presumably Bran.
    I wasn't aware of the HBO series when I started reading the series. I guess I'll watch it next season when it goes to Netflix.
    One awkward thing about these books is that my children and I sometimes read the same books. They usually read high-school level or even adult books, and I enjoy reading them. Sometimes they'll read one of my books. Last year Lucy read "The Help," for example. But I'm not sure I can recommend this book for the kids, or for the church ladies, either. While it's not full of sex, when it's there, it's there, big time.
    Of course, children are going to read what they want to read. I'm not sure what possessed me to read "Valley of the Dolls" at age 11, but I had sense enough not to bandy it in front of Mother while saying, "Look, Mommy, I'm reading a grown-up book!"
    At any rate, come the stroke of midnight I'll likely be downloading my copy of A Dance with Dragons to my Iphone. I'll be sure to tell you how it ends.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mississippi GOP House members all vote to continue Libya debacle

    I'm very disappointed that Mississippi's entire House delegation opposed cutting off funds for Barrack Obama's illegal war on Libya.
    Mississippi's three Republicans supported this continued illegal war despite the fact that a majority of House Republicans voted to cut off funding. It is shameful! The roll call can be found here.
    I cannot recall a time when we have tried to openly assassinate foreign leaders. I cannot recall a time when we have been so willing to murder innocent children in an effort to assassinate a foreign leader. As a nation we have disgraced ourselves.
    I am aware of the awful things that went on during the Bush presidency. While he properly got Congressional authorization to act in Iraq, he made a mess of things. Many of us assumed that whether or not we liked Obama's domestic policies, at least he would get us out of war. Instead, he's us more entangled than ever.
    I don't know whether or not Alan Nunnelee will draw a credible Republican opponent next year, but if he does he'll likely have my vote.
    I'm all for a strong America that, when threatened, pounds its enemies into the dirt. But we can't, and shouldn't, be the policeman to the world.
    If you're a Republican and support an end to nation building and acting as policeman to the world, please raise your hand. Mine is waving wildly!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dubious prosecution claims doomed Casey Anthony case

    I'm not one to follow "celebrity" criminal cases. I do find it interesting to note which cases grab the country's attention and which don't. Every American was forced to keep up with the Casey Anthony murder case to some extent, but beyond that I certainly haven't been typing the name into my search engine for more info.
    I spent almost all day Sunday on the road, and as such was able to listen to the closing arguments in the Anthony case. I thought Prosecutor Jeff Ashton did a great job on his closing argument, which lasted 77 minutes. According to the rules of criminal trials, he had almost three hours reserved for rebuttal of the defense response. The prosecution gets to speak last, which I find a little unfair, but it relates to the fact that they have the burden of proof in a criminal trial. (I never got to hear Ashton's rebuttal; obviously it didn't do the job).
    Then I heard defense attorney Jose Baez rip right through portions of the prosecution's case. Most commentators said Baez made some mistakes during the trial, and I agree. He somehow managed to mention things in close for which he had not laid an evidentiary foundation, which was a lucky break. But his closing argument was masterful.
    The prosecution claimed there was this huge "smell of death" from Casey Anthony's car. The only problem was that numerous people were around the car or even passengers in the car and smelled absolutely nothing. Many of those who smelled nothing were police officers. One can't argue that the "smell of death" is a really important part of one's case when a dozen credible witnesses are on hand to say they smelled nothing at all.
    The prosecutor chose to use several novel scientific techniques to prove Anthony's guilt. Yet some of these "novel" techniques had "bogus" written all over them. It's best not to present a bunch of novel claims unless they can be backed up by others. In this case, many of these novel claims were pretty well debunked.
    The prosecutor presented evidence after the trial started that Casey Anthony had done 84 web searches on chloroform. Yet the original computer forensics found no such thing, and the report that claimed this huge number of searches found no visits to MySpace, which the defendant visited constantly. Prosecutor claim: Chloroform is really important to this case. My conclusion: the defendant searched the word only once, and did not purchase, make or use chloroform. A reasonable juror could conclude that if this was really important and never happened, the defendant must be not guilty.
    The prosecutor told us that people who lie are guilty. Yet George Anthony lied about his ownership of the "extremely rare" duct tape. The obvious conclusion, based on the prosecutor's logic, is that George Anthony was guilty of something, and that guilt might mean that Casey Anthony is innocent.
    The lesson to take away from this for attorneys is that if you want to stand before a jury and declare that something is a really important element in proving your case, you had best be sure that you can convince the jury that that fact is, indeed, true.
    If there are nine pieces of evidence which are essentially undisputable and support one's case, one can present them and likely win. But choose to present two or three dubious claims to bolster that case and risk all. Jurors will not simply discard the dubious claims; on rejecting them they will be inclined to reject your entire case. That's where Prosecutor Ashton missed the boat.
    My view is that the prosecution was not being entirely honest in presenting some of the evidence against Casey Anthony. When the jury rejected these patently dubious claims, they simply rejected the prosecution's entire case.
    Based on what I heard, I think Casey Anthony is probably guilty. In a criminal trial, probably isn't good enough. A juror who believes a defendant is probably guilty is sworn to return a verdict of "not guilty."
    The prosecution chose to make claims that simply were not supported by accepted science, as well as claims that clearly were disputed by reputable agents of the state. The prosecution set itself up to lose on these issues, apparently unaware that in the process they were torpedoing their entire case. I guess they know now.

Ash attending Scout camp again; as camps go, it's a great value.

    I drove Ash up to Maysville, Ky., Saturday so that he could attend Boy Scout camp with his old troop, Troop 221 from Maysville. This is his second week at camp; he attended Camp Yocona with Troop 45 of Oxford a couple of weeks ago.
    They are attending camp at Chief Logan's reservation east of Chillicothe. Although the troop has been moved into the Blue Grass Council, they prefer the Ohio camp to their council's camp.
    Scout camp is one of life's better deals when it comes to cost. A week at Scout camp costs less than $250. The camp I attended as a kind today costs more than $1,000 for a week. Kind of makes Scout camp a no-brainer.

Monday, July 4, 2011

New Albany man drowns at Pickwick saving life of another

    Jinny, Lucy and I were the guests of some friends at Pickwick this weekend. We had a great time on the lake, but were witness to a family's terrible tragedy before we left.
    A New Albany businessman apparently drowned while saving the life of an older man who was struggling in water which had suddenly turned very choppy due to the threat of a storm. I use the word "apparently," as the man's body has not been found; until then there is a sliver of hope that he might somehow be alive. As some of his own family does not know about the accident, I'll not use his name, either. His wife and son were in the boat with him.
    Probably the most dangerous thing a person can do is to try to save a person from drowning. Boy Scouting teaches the reach-throw-row-go rule when it comes to helping someone who might be drowning. Certainly jumping in to save another person should only be done as a last resort -- and perhaps it was in this case.
    A lot of us were reminded that while boating and the water can be lot of fun, they can also be deadly. Being on the water demands every safety precaution. In this case, the apparent drowning victim reportedly swam out and gave his life vest to the older man who was struggling. Somehow he didn't make it back to his boat.
    My heart goes out to this family. After witnessing their grief, I doubt any of the children present will object to wearing life vests in the future. To my friends I would add that before attempting to help others, make sure you've safeguarded your own life as well.
    Be safe, and keep this family in your prayers.

Update, 10 a.m., Wednesday, July 6
    WTVA reports that authorities have recovered the body of Robbie Hale, age 46. The story can be found here: Authorities locate body of missing man. A family friend said Mr. Hale was the Farm Bureau agent for New Albany.
    A bit of explanation as to what I believe happened. A family had stopped their pontoon boat and gone swimming. The water at Pickwick was as smooth as glass and there was no wind. No one remained on the pontoon boat. A very sudden storm came up and blew the boat away, stranding the swimmers in water that was suddenly almost as choppy as the ocean.
    Mr. and Mrs. Hale and their son pulled the group out of the water, and Mr. Hale reportedly jumped in and gave his life vest to an older man who was struggling. After this, he apparently drowned.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Another reason to join hotel, airline loyalty clubs

    One of the rules for frequent travelers and not-so-frequent travelers is to join every single airline and hotel club that you can earn points in, although you should try to restrict your earning to just a few clubs. In other words, even if you only fly an airline once a year, go ahead and earn the miles. They add up over time.
    Jinny had a couple of nasty experiences recently that point to an additional reason to join the loyalty program of the airline or hotel that you are using. When things go wrong, loyalty club members are often treated better than non-members.
    On a recent visit to Birmingham Jinny made the mistake of booking a room at the Birmingham Sheraton. She had a pre-paid reservation for two nights (not guaranteed, mind you, but pre-paid!). When she arrived, they had sold her room, which she had already paid for, to someone else. The Sheraton is connected to the Convention Center and there was a big concert in town. Jinny feels that they just decided they could rent out her room at a higher rate, send her down the road and make more money. She was attending a trade show, and being forced to stay at an inferior hotel far from the convention center was not a little inconvenient for her.
    Jinny is a Starwood Preferred Guest member, but she didn't have her number on her reservation. It was her intention to look it up and give it to the hotel after her arrival. But that was too late. In deciding whom to walk or bump, the hotel almost certainly started with those who weren't SPG members, a group to which Jinny appeared to belong. Clearly the Sheraton Birmingham is a sleazy operation, but if Jinny had had her number on her reservation, chances are she wouldn't have been walked.
    A week later she flew U.S. Air, an airline she never flies. She didn't bother putting her loyalty number on her reservation. Things went horribly awry, and she probably got far more shabby treatment than she would have had her frequent flier number been on the reservation -- even if her number identified her as a flier with no status. She says there is no need for me to try to find her U.S. Air number; she won't be flying them again.
    The moral of this story is simple: Always join the loyalty club of whatever airline or hotel you are using, and always include your loyalty number! Not only will you earn points, but that number might keep you from being treated like dirt.