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Reading my way around the world

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I’ve always been interested in history, geography, and to a lesser extent world politics.  I feel my grasp of U.S. history is better than average.  Or at least good enough to keep from looking an idiot in a segment of Jay Walking on The Tonight Show. I enjoy reading about U.S. history with an emphasis on our military endeavors.  One of the better books I have read was Six Frigates by Ian W. Toll.  It tells the story of the first six American built warships and the role they played in the politics and foreign affairs of a young United States.  An excellent read that will educate everyone on the importance of an effective navy, regardless of your previous level of naval appreciation.

Like I said I’m pretty good with U.S. history, however, one of the things that I’ve learned in life is that looking at something from a different perspective can give you a greater understanding of a topic or issue.  One topic that many people have different perspective, or even different versions of, is history.  Each country on the planet has a unique history of how it came to be.  Some histories are deeply intertwined with others.  Some stand alone and are isolated from others.  Each history now shapes its country and defines its place on the current world stage.

So, to better understand the world around me and because I like to read, my new reading goal is to read a book about the history of each country on the planet.

Not every country will have a straight forward history book written about it, or at least one easily available, but, I should be able to find something that will give me a better idea of how and why that country is the what it is today.

I’ll be using the list of sovereign states as referenced on Wikipedia.

I’m going to go ahead and cross the U.S. off the list since I’ve already read several books and, like everybody else, took U.S. History in high school.

So, in no particular order I will read about each country and report back here after each.

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Is it just me…?

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There was a time in my life when I was climbing trees and playing cops and robbers with nary a worry.  While that was many years ago, I specifically remember thinking that being a police officer would be the ultimate job.  I relished in the fact that I could take down my bigger friends – the robbers – without too much of a problem because I was underestimated.  

These days, I believe that being a police officer would still be one of the best jobs ever, but it has less to do with the excitement of taking out a ‘bad guy’ and more about my attraction to random incidents that require law enforcement or emergency personnel.

I think this all started when I went to Iraq during my first deployment.  I think getting shot at created some sort of weird aura that was some sort of attractant for these incidents to happen near me.  In short, and in more detail in future posts, I was blown off a guardrail by a mortar, had a tank explode five feet from the door of my humvee, and fractured my neck playing volleyball…

Is there some sort of cosmic allignment that happens to certain people on a certain occasion that they then become targets of random happenings thereafter?

Soon after Iraq, while stationed in GA, I was driving to ‘beautiful’ Fort Benning for a lovely day of work when I witnessed a rollover.  By witnessed, I mean that the car in front of me was cut off by a Honda Civic, veered out of the way, started losing control, overcorrected and then careened in front of me skidding onto the right side of the highway…when tires met grass it was tush over tea kettle for the car.  I got to pull an old man and his 350 lb wife out of the car and was only five minutes late to work.  I received an Air Force Achievement Medal to boot.

In stories to come you will learn that Iraq the second time saw an air conditioning unit blown off a roof feet from where I was standing, my little trailer being peppered by shrapnel from a multi-rocket attack, a two story building being reduced to rubble 500 ft from where I was standing by a laser-guided bomb, and a visit from Jesse James.

Upon my return from that deployment, I watched three cars all follow each other into a ditch on a snowy day and managed to pull two of the three out with my truck. 

More recently I saw a more severe accident involving an accident and ensuing rollover.  I was almost at the intersection when it happened, so I was the first person that approached the flipped vehicle.  I climbed in after prying open a door and stayed with the lady that was inside until emergency personnel arrived when I helped her out of the vehicle. 

Not even a week later, on my way to work at three in the morning, another vehicle slid off the road and flipped directly in front of me.  In this instance, the locks on the car wouldn’t work, so I used a shovel to break the back window and helped the drunk out of his car.

This past Saturday, I spent the better part of my day not catching any fish with two of my friends who I will refer to as J and B.  From 0930 until 1700 we hung out in -23 degree temperatures with the hopes of winning some sort of prize in an ice-fishing tournament.  In the waning hours of the derby, I managed to bruise J’s ribs with a flying people’s elbow, but then was taken to the ground by B in a suprise suplex.  The sudden onslought of flying arms and legs managed to take the bite from the cold and provided a good laugh regardless of getting skunked in the fishing department.  While not an incident worth mentioning per se, it did set the tone for the rest of the day as you will soon read about…

During every good road trip, in this case from the lake to my house, the need for gas rears its ugly head, so we stopped in the town of Rice, MN…population 705.  I mention the population because apparently it is the standard for gas station cashiers in Rice to know the police dispatchers by name and use their personal cell phone numbers as an emergency number…but I digress…

We – myself, J, and B – all needed to relieve the bladder at approximately the same time, and of course while driving.  It so happened that this pit stop coincided with a gas station, so a fill up, a bladder emptying times three, and an arrest all followed. 

While J was in the little boy’s room, B was paitiently waiting his turn, and I had just walked in the store.  I saw a very drunk kid stumbling from where the bathrooms were and decided to let the cashier – who looked to be about fourteen – know that there was a guy stumbling drunk in the booze aisle and that they should keep an eye on him.  As I walked back to relieve my now bursting bladder, I watched as the kid pulled his hands out of his coat after depositing something in a pocket.  He then proceeded to the beef jerkey and decided to pocket a pack.  I walked up to the cashier yet again and told her that this guy was shoplifting.  

I positioned myself in front of the exit with every intention of keeping drunky in the store until the police arrived.

When beefcake drunk boy got to the front counter and tried to leave I stood in his way and asked if he had anything in his pockets he wanted to pay for.  The look of confusion was priceless as he looked at me and then back at the cashier.  She mentioned to him that he was caught on camera too and that made him reconsider leaving the store with his acquirement of junk food.  He then proceeded to pull out two Starbuck’s frappacino drinks and a bag of beef jerky and placed them on the counter. 

It was when I told him that he had to wait for the police to arrive that this six foot bean pole decided that the store wasn’t the place for him.  He used his elbow and a little momentum to push me out the exit door but I ducked under his arm and grabbed him.  Like throwing bails of hay in my younger years, I picked him up and used his shoulder and right arm to make snowballs into snowflakes n the soft sidewalk.  I somehow ended up with my knee in his back and his neck in a chokehold…weird…

While I didn’t actually choke him out, it was fun to watch him try to think of a way to get out of the contortion he was calling home at that point.  I offered a solution when I told him that I would stop using him as a church kneeler and let him up if he would go inside with me to wait for the police.  That idea appealed to him so he asked if we could go back inside.  I even helped him up using the collar of his leather jacket. 

I led him towards the door and after entering he decided to exit all the while dragging me behind him.  He made it to the parking lot this time and I executed a body-slam that would have made an MMA fighter proud.  With my shoulder finding a soft spot between his shoulder blades this time, I parked myself with my knee in his back again and familiarized his neck with the crook of myelbow for the second time.  I looked up after calling this guy a few choice names and saw J there ready to do a tap dance on this kids face if he decided to run again.  In what could be considered a girly voice, drunky then asked in earnest if we could go back inside and wait for the police to arrive.

The cashier was freaking out at this point and tried to get a hold of the police…

She tried Sherry’s cell phone, and Tim wasn’t answering either – these people being the local dispatchers…oddly enough the thought process involving a shoplifter and the normal sequence of events during this type of incident didn’t involve the use of a phone utilizing the buttons 911…

The police did finally show up, but not just any officer…the chief of police for Rice, Minnesota graced me with his presence.  That being said, Rice’s police department is smaller than St. Paul’s department…smaller than quite a few departments across the state.  With one patrol officer and the chief, it is a two person strong police department. 

I was questioned by the chief for a couple of minutes, and then the shoplifter was escorted to the back of the squad vehicle wearing some shiny silver bracelets.  I got to give my account of the incident while talking to a tape recorder…and with country music blaring overhead. 

Now, I mentioned that J was standing overhead the second time I took the thief to the ground but where was J and B up to this point?

In your face?

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I’ve just returned from seeing my first 3D big picture movie, The Green Hornet.  I’m not impressed.

I love movies and I love the latest in tech.  Having said that I’m not really that excited over 3D movies or for that matter 3D tv.  A number of factors go into this.

First, the glasses.  I realize that doing glasses-less 3D is near impossible right now, but i still don’t want to wear them.  For someone who doesn’t normally wear glasses it can be distracting.  The glasses also give me a sense of tunnel vision that seems like its keeping me from seeing everything.  I want to feel like I’m in the movie not just spectating parts of it.

Next, the 3D forces you to focus on whats “nearest” you in the foreground and you miss whats happening on the rest of the screen.  Filmmakers spend a lot of time in the details to make the full experience enjoyable.  I don’t want Kato’s throwing stars coming out of the screen to cause me to miss the other action in the frame.

3D also gives you artificial expectations.  When you watch a 3D movie and don’t constantly have things popping out at you, the tendency is to declare it a bad movie when you walk away.  Take a movie like Clerks for example.  Arguably one of my favorite movies of all time.  If I had watched for the first time in 3D, I would have declared it crap because nothing flew out of the screen at me.  3D cannot be forced on content that should not be nor was ever be intended to be in 3D.

Last, when things look too real, they start to look fake.  This is also my beef with Blu-Ray on an HDTV.  The reason we enjoy the fantasy of movies and tv is because its fantasy.  We can watch incredible violence in a movie without batting an eyelash. If we watch news footage of someone getting hit by a car in in real life and we know its real, we wince and look away.

The displays at the electronics store with Avatar in super HD Blu-Ray look fake.  Yet for some reason the standard def version looks pretty believable.

Electronics companies and media studios are ramming 3D down our throats.  It was one of the biggest stories of the last two Consumer Electronics Shows in Las Vegas, the gadget show that rules them all.  But, i really don’t know many people that are going as gaga over it as the media is.  People aren’t buying the TVs in droves nor is there really much content to inspire them to.

3D is in its infancy.  It works with some movies, like A Christmas Carol, but overall most content outside of the animated realm is not really suited for 3D.  Hopefully the technology and it’s content will evolve and prove me wrong.

Sneakers…

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Sneakers have never gotten me in trouble before.  As a matter of fact, sneakers have mostly kept me out of trouble and in more ways than one.  That is a different story though, so…  Imagine this – a young 20 year old (me) working two seasonal jobs after failing out of college has his father (mine) breathing down his (my) neck about going back to school or going to work for him as a carpenter in the great state of Massachusetts.  With the possibility of either job forcing him (me) to drink, he (I) went to spend money he didn’t have on a pair of sneakers.  It was a Wednesday, and after parking my father’s Ford Escort on the street, I started walking towards the store where all my shoe dreams came true.  I never made it there though because a very attractive young lady caught my eye walking the opposite direction.  I decided that the sneakers could wait and decided I wanted to meet this girl.  Before I could catch up to her, she ducked into an office building.  As I made it to the same building, I saw her sitting inside talking to someone at a desk.  I used the jobs posted on the window of the office building as a cover, I snuck a peek at her from time to time waiting for her to come back out so I could say hi.  Eventually, the gentleman she was talking to saw me and came outside to invite me in to talk to her.  He specifically said that if I came in to talk to him, he would ‘hook’ me up.  Looking back at that fateful day, and with the buildup I have created, one could be led to believe that the woman is now my wife, or that a romantic encounter ensued.  Neither is the case.  As a matter of fact, I never saw that girl again, and I can’t remember her name to this day.  What did happen though is three days after I went to buy sneakers, I signed up for four years in the Air Force.  I hadn’t even considered joining the military up to this point, but since I hadn’t been too spontaneous in the 19 years prior, this was my first and biggest surprise moment.  It was more than a good choice, and the rest of my rambling will be the next six years of my Air Force life.  If you aren’t sure what to expect, think… ‘I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell’ with a military twist.  More to follow…

Hello

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Welcome to the show.