View From Table 9

May 26, 2008

Remembering…

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 2:44 pm

On this Memorial Day, remembering those who died in service this past year, along with the wounded – those whose bodies, minds have been broken through service.

We salute you and give thanks.

May 24, 2008

In the Northwoods

Filed under: Travelogues — table9 @ 11:03 am
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This week I headed to Minneapolis MN for a few days.  Minneapolis is beautiful in the spring – so much so you think, “Man, I could live here!”  Then you remember Minneapolis in the winter (brrr).

Most of the time was spent in meetings, but I did get out a little bit. First, we had a block of free time to visit the Mall of America.   For many years now I’ve heard what an amazing place it is, how huge, how it’s a ‘destination’, ‘mecca’ for shoppers. Well, it is indeed huge, and yes there’s an amusement plaza complete with a ferris wheel and roller coasters in the center.  Other than that, it’s really just a mall, and one filled mostly with national chain stores that you can go to anywhere else in the country.  Granted, I got some deals at H & M and Nordstrom Rack, but these are both stores I can go to at home.  It was a nice way to kill time, and hey, I can say I’ve been there, that’s about all I can say.

The other place I went to was Sunsets Restaurant in Wayzata, MN.  Now, this place is not the easiest to find for someone from out of town, but once you get there, it’s lovely. It’s right on lake Minnetonka, and in a small resort town atmosphere with local stores all around.  The food was very good and the views were amazing.  I can now see why people love summering on the lakes in MN, heck this is something I want to do.   Now I finally think I get the appeal of ‘snowbirding’ – summer in the Northwoods, winter in the Desert.  It’s not at all a bad plan.

The one thing I didn’t get to do was to catch a Twins game, maybe another time.

May 19, 2008

Texas Likes You Anyway

Last week we headed to Houston TX to visit family there. This time we were there for a long weekend, and got to do some things we hadn’t done during past visits.

One of our perennial visits was to the Johnson Space Center through the Space Center Houston visitor center. This was the first time we visited where they didn’t have an exhibit on the main floor. Fortunately/unfortunately they did still have the huge multi-level play structure, which was basically all DS was interested in. I like that he can go play, but it does turn the place into a rather expensive McDonald’s PlayPlace.

Another place we went to that we haven’t been since he was a baby was Kemah Boardwalk (not far from Space Center, on the bay). WOW, has this place grown up. Last time we were there it was really a bunch of restaurants and shops hoping to be a ‘fun place to go’. Since then they’ve added many amusement rides, including a wooden roller coaster and other thrill rides.

First, we ate at the Aquarium Restaurant. That was really cool, especially as DH and I are divers. They have an adjacent Stingray Cove where we got to touch stingrays (de-barbed, and as usual extremely gentle). Eating was great fun for the kids and adults as everywhere you look you see either aquariums or the view to the bay. Food was very good too. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it. Get reservations if you go or go early as it gets packed.

Once we finished dinner, it was off to the rides. There were many, a good spread of ages and thrills too. My only complaint was the ticketing system. Instead of buying a book of tickets and using them on rides, you had to buy each ride and they all had different prices. Also there is only one ticket booth for the whole boardwalk – meaning long lines and logistical nightmares. Being from out of town, we had not pre-planned what rides we were going to go on, making the individual pricing frustrating – we had no idea what DS would want to ride and weren’t expecting to have to know this. I think this also made the rides feel expensive. Most were in the $3.50 to $4.50 range, and while that’s probably what you’re paying in tickets from a ticket book, psychologically it just seemed like more. We ended up probably overpaying for all-day-ride bands so we could just wander and ride as we chose.

Kemah is a fun place, and has more variety for entertainment. I think next time we’ll plan more time there, like 3/4 of a day, so we can really check out all the rides and music and such.

Once again, we flew Southwest, which was great even with the weather delays. I truly love their boarding system. We got stuck in the airport with what was looking to be a 3-4 hour delay, and as such we were eternally grateful to the Houston USO located in Hobby’s new terminal. It’s quiet, well contained, inside the security gates, and when we arrived pretty empty, meaning we could take over the unwatched TV area with a kid’s movie (of which we had plenty). DS could roam the center without disturbing others or wandering too far off, and lastly they had flight screens so we could see the status of our delayed flight. The retired gentleman staffing the center was a delight too. As it turns out, our delay lasted only one movie (2 hours), we were relaxed throughout the wait, and got home only one hour later than planned.

I’m looking forward to future visits. Especially as DS is getting older, I think we can finally check out things like the Orange Show, zoo and some of the museums.

Happy travels.

May 6, 2008

Rewarding our Troops…Not

I’m not generally a huge fan of Bob Herbert at the NY Times.  This, however, touched a nerve.

May 6, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Doing the Troops Wrong

At the top of the list of no-brainers in Washington should be Senator Jim Webb’s proposed expansion of education benefits for the men and women who have served in the armed forces since Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s awfully hard to make the case that these young people who have sacrificed so much don’t deserve a shot at a better future once their wartime service has ended.

Senator Webb, a Virginia Democrat, has been the guiding force behind this legislation, which has been dubbed the new G.I. bill. The measure is decidedly bipartisan. Mr. Webb’s principal co-sponsors include Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia, and Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

(All four senators are veterans of wartime service — Senators Webb and Hagel in Vietnam, Warner in World War II and Korea and Lautenberg in World War II.)

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are on board, as are Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House.

Who wouldn’t support an effort to pay for college for G.I.’s who have willingly suited up and put their lives on the line, who in many cases have served multiple tours in combat zones and in some cases have been wounded?

We did it for those who served in World War II. Why not now?

Well, you might be surprised at who is not supporting this effort. The Bush administration opposes it, and so does Senator John McCain.

Reinvigorating the G.I. bill is one of the best things this nation could do. The original G.I. Bill of Rights, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, paid the full load of a returning veteran’s education at a college or technical school and provided a monthly stipend. It was an investment that paid astounding dividends. Millions of veterans benefited, and they helped transform the nation. College would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and those who crowned themselves the intellectual elite.

As The New York Times wrote on the 50th anniversary of the G.I. bill: “Few laws have done so much for so many.”

“These veterans were able to get a first-class future,” Senator Webb told me in an interview. “But not only that. For every dollar that was spent on the World War II G.I. bill, seven dollars came back in the form of tax remunerations from those who received benefits.”

Senator Lautenberg went to Columbia on the G.I. bill, and Senator Warner to Washington and Lee University and then to law school.

The benefits have not kept pace over the decades with the real costs of attending college. Moreover, service members have to make an out-of-pocket contribution — something over $100 a month during their first year of service — to qualify for the watered-down benefits.

This is not exactly first-class treatment of the nation’s warriors.

The Bush administration opposes the new G.I. bill primarily on the grounds that it is too generous, would be difficult to administer and would adversely affect retention.

This is bogus. The estimated $2.5 billion to $4 billion annual cost of the Webb proposal is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions being spent on the wars we’re asking service members to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s important to keep in mind is that the money that goes to bolstering the education of returning veterans is an investment, in both the lives of the veterans themselves and the future of the nation.

The notion that expanding educational benefits will have a negative effect on retention seems silly. The Webb bill would cover tuition at a rate comparable to the highest tuition at a state school in the state in which the veteran would be enrolled. That kind of solid benefit would draw talented individuals into the military in large numbers.

Senator Webb, a former secretary of the Navy who specialized in manpower issues, said he has seen no evidence that G.I.’s would opt out of the service in significantly higher numbers because of such benefits.

Senator McCain’s office said on Monday that it was following the Pentagon’s lead on this matter, getting guidance from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Under pressure because of his unwillingness to support Senator Webb’s effort, Senator McCain introduced legislation with substantially fewer co-sponsors last week that expands some educational benefits for G.I.’s, but far less robustly than Senator Webb’s bill.

“It’s not even close to the Webb bill,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group.

Politicians tend to talk very, very big about supporting our men and women in uniform. But time and again — whether it’s about providing armor for their safety or an education for their future — we find that talk to be very, very cheap.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

I’d say “unbelievable”, but, yanno, given the general erosion of benefits over time (retirement is less, health benefits are less, VA is a nightmare, etc.), it’s not as surprising to me as it should be.  Mostly it’s just very very disappointing.

Support Your Troops means more than wave the flag, go to the parade, put the flag sticker on.  It means taking care of them when they’re injured, providing them with compensation that is equivalent to sacrifice or value, and yes, benefits that make it ‘worth it’ to protect us against enemies, foreign or domestic, and allow us to live in freedom.

GI bill benefits are one of those ‘perks’ that pays back in so many ways.  Bill Gates talks about how the GI bill allowed his father to obtain an education and allowed his parents to afford a house.  The house I was born in was a GI Bill VA Loan house, as was the first house my husband and I bought.   Many of my college instructors were themselves GI bill educated, including a world-class, internationally recognized optical scientist and an internationally renowned plant scientist.   So why not support it?  It doesn’t just pay the service member, it pays the community back in droves.

So please, if you really do support our troops, write your congresspeople and demand they are taken care of and rewarded for their sacrifice.

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