Friday, October 18, 2013

Here Is Your Chance to Sound Off

Do you ever get those four page questionnaires in the mail from either the Republicans or the Democrats which are designed to suck you into giving your opinion, which most likely no one ever reads, and to donate to their partisan cause and champion Amurika?  Well, I get them all the time and they drive me to drink.  Now some of my friends would assert that is no drive, just a short putt, but, nevertheless, I thought I would give you the same opportunity to sound off.  Although this time, I will read your responses, tabulate and collate them and report back the collective results.  Then you can choose to drink or not, up to you.

Just read the questions, select your answers from a, b, c, or d and note them in your return comments as 1 - b, 2-c, 3- a, and so forth.

1.)  Should Congress repeal Obamacare?    a. - Yes  b. No  c. Parts of it  d. I could care less, it is only a $ 4 trillion mistake.

2.)  Do you support creation of an independent panel like the 9-11 Commission to investigate the mortgage crisis and other factors that contributed to the economic crisis in our nation?   a. Yes   b. No   c. what good would it do?   d. I would rather see them investigate Benghazi, the IRS Scandal, wire-tapping of journalists and seizure of our private phone records.

3.)  Which of the following is THE most important economic priority?  a. Creating jobs  
b. Balancing the Federal budget   c. Keeping taxes low   d. Increasing government spending.

4.)  Are you in favor of raising the age of eligibility for Social Security?   a. Yes   b. No  
c.  Only if it does not affect me   d.  It should be lowered to age 55, it worked for the Greeks didn't it.

5.)  Is achieving energy independence from imported fossil fuels crucial to the long-term security of our nation?   a. Yes   b. No   c. Drill, baby, drill   d. More Hellfire equipped drones are the answer to long-term national security.

6.)  Do you support giving U.S. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies the ability to covertly track and monitor communications of terrorist suspects within our borders, as needed, even if a court order has not yet been obtained?   a. Yes  b. No  c. Only if you trust Big Brother  d. The hell with monitoring use the equipment from answer d. above on suspected terrorists.

7.)  Do you believe that "Global Warming" is a real problem, the ultimate outcome of which will be a new Ice Age?  a. Yes   b. No  c. I believe everything Al Gore ever said, including that he invented the Internet   d.  The solution is to just build a big wall across the entire Canadian border...that is where the (bleepin') cold air comes from. (Thanks to Lewis Black for that suggestion)

8.)  Should President Obama meet with the leaders of Cuba, Iran and North Korea without preset conditions?   a. Yes   b. No   c. Only if Cuban cigars are served with brandy after dinner  d. Only if women can attend without having to wear a Burka.

9.)  Should medical malpractice reform to stop frivolous lawsuits and ever increasing insurance premiums be a priority for healthcare reform legislation?  a. Yes   b. No   c. Only if I can still collect $ 10 million if some bozo doctor leaves a scalpel in me after a routine appendectomy   d. Define frivolous

10.)  Do you support eliminating the ban on human cloning?  a. Yes   b. No  c. Yes, yes, yes, yes.   d. No, no, no, no.

Let me know what you think by making your choices known and how you feel by making a comment or two.  I will report the results...honest.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Travel Update - Montreal, Canada

Dearest Family and Friends,

We arrived at the port of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River at 7:00 AM and were cleared by immigration and off the ship by nine o'clock.  We then boarded a tour bus for an extensive eight hour tour of this very beautiful city.  Vicki and I had been here

with friends some thirty years ago.  We took the train out of Toronto (across the river from Detroit) and spent the evening visiting the still-under-construction Montreal Underground City, a labyrinth of shops and eateries which is one of the largest underground complexes in the world.  Today, it covers more than 22 miles over a nearly 5 square mile area connecting shopping malls, apartments , condominiums, hotels, banks, offices, museums, a university, two train stations, and seven high speed metro stations.  If you stumble in there after a few wines, drop bread crumbs or you might end up like Charlie, from the old MTA Song, as the man who never returned.  Over 500,000 people use the underground every day and it is an amazing, multi-level sight to see.

The city is lovely and I think some of the ground level shots I got and those from up on Mount Royal, overlooking the city, can attest to that.  The leaves were turning nicely as fall descended upon the second largest city in Canada with its 1.7 million people and the weather was a perfect 73 degrees and sunny.  Totally enjoyable.

One of the centerpieces of the city is the "The Big O", the architecturally famous stadium built when Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympic Games.  The residents of the city came to call it "The Big Owe".  The cost of the stadium was outrageous and the city went in the hole for an astronomical $ 1.5 billion which took 30 years to pay off.  In addition, it was architecturally famous because it was unique and striking, but also because it was an engineering disaster.  The cable supported roof collapsed twice and had to be rebuilt using different materials every time.  It is a tourist attraction today but some residents still consider it a political and economic boondoggle that rankles them.

The old town area houses the famous Cathedral d' Notre Dame, modeled after the one in Paris and it is quite spectacular.  My photos could not capture it but I tried.  Inside is just too massive.  Hope you enjoy a hint of its grandeur.  Across the plaza was the old financial district which used to be the "Wall Street of Quebec".  Years ago the financial firms and banks all moved to Toronto.  The only institution left is the old and new headquarters of the Bank of Montreal, standing side-by-side, massive columns juxtaposed with high-rise glass.  By the end of the day we were exhausted but very satisfied with our visit to this impressive city.

Hope you have enjoyed sharing our travels to these North American treasures.  Next up, we visit a part of Asia we have not seen yet on an 18-day cruise from Hong Kong to Beijing with stops in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and The Great Wall of China.  Hope you will come along.  As always, we welcome your questions and comments.

God Bless you all,

Jud and Vicki Smith

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Travel Update - Quebec City, Canada

Dearest Family and Friends,

We are actually back at Possum Kingdom and I have be trying to catch up, so this Travel Update is a bit late.  However, today, I would like to tell you about Quebec City.  It was the biggest surprise of our trip for me.  I never had heard much about this place, even though it is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and the second most populous city next to Montreal.  However, I was immediately smitten by the charm and beauty of this wonderful gem.  It is one of those places we never thought of going to and one that is near the top of the list of places to which we want to return.  And we will someday.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera before we left on our tour of the city before I left the ship, so you will have to follow along with the stories we heard and next time I will promise to get art for you.

Quebec City is built on two levels: the lower city on the river and the upper city perched on top of a 150 foot escarpment.  The old part of the upper city is dominated by the huge Chateau Frontenac, now a luxury hotel that fills the skyline.  The old city is grand and quaint at the same time and the architecture is fabulous, the narrow streets and lush parks clean and the views spectacular.

The walls of the original garrison established on the highest point on the escarpment still exist as do the quarters which are still occupied.  In 1775 the British were trying to take control of Quebec City and prevent the French from joining the Americans in the Revolutionary War.  Seven thousand troops came down the St. Lawrence River in 40 ships but the French left their hilltop fort and positioned themselves on the northern side of the river in a five mile long line of resistance.  The British, not being able to land, held up and occupied the Isle of Orleans, a six mile long and two mile wide island in the middle of the river, upstream from the French troops.  Because the St. Lawrence narrows significantly at Quebec City (the name is an Algonquin word which means "where the river narrows"), there is a very strong current going down river.  The British, under the cloak of a moonless night, allowed their darkened ships, their sails furled, laden with men and supplies to drift down river past the troops and they landed on the other side of the river from the city, a point only 3/4 of a mile wide.

The next morning they started bombardment of the city and the garrison with cannons shot across the river.  Over 40,000 cannon balls were fired, leveling the lower city and laying waste to much of the upper city and its battlements.  But the British could not cross the river at that point or risk being sunk from the remaining French artillery.  Capturing two Frenchmen on Orleans, they extracted from them information about a secret path, leading from a small port where French ships sailing up the St. Lawrence put in to unload supplies which was two miles down stream.

The British drifted, again at night, put into the small port, and moved 6000 troops up the path to the now nearly abandoned garrison.  When the French troops got word their garrison was under siege, they moved their troops off the shoreline positions and back up the escarpment.  But it was too late.  When they arrived their garrison was filled with British troops and the two-year running Battle of Quebec (or Battle of the Plains of Abraham as the final fight was known) came to an abrupt end, the engagement lasting less than 25 minutes.  Both commanders, General James Wolfe for the British, and General Louis-Joseph, the Marquis de Montcalm, died within 24 hours of each other from wounds suffered during the brief skirmish.  From there, the British were able to seize and secure the shipping lanes into the Ohio Valley and prevent the French from fully assisting the Americans in their war for independence.  Quite an interesting part of history, don't you think?

Can anyone guess what the largest export item is from the Province of Quebec?  No, it is not hockey players.  It is electricity.  The Province is blessed with an abundance of water, fast running rivers and many waterfalls, most of which are huge generators of electricity.  In addition to supplying all their own needs at a retail cost of only $0.02/kwh, Quebec exports electricity all over New England, servicing Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island with a huge portion of their power requirements at a quite profitable $ 0.11 per kwh. 

We loved our visit to Quebec City and the friendly people we did not expect to find.  Turns out Canada is very much like the United States in many respects only nobody lives there.  The total population of Canada is only 35,000,000, about 12 % of the US population.  Quebec Province, has the largest land mass of any Canadian province and the second highest population, but New York City has more than its 8,000,000 people.

Next up, Montreal, and the end of our journey.  Until then, God Bless you all. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Travel Update - Charlottetown and Saguenay, Quebec

Dearest Family and Friends,

Today we are in Québec City, Québec, Canada on the St. Lawrence Seaway.  Québec, named from an Algonquin Indian word, Kébec, that means “narrows” or more literally translated, “where the river narrows”.  It was one of the biggest surprises of our entire voyage, but more about that tomorrow.

We sailed from Sydney to Charlottetown, the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island, Canada.  It was the first town settled in the PEI in 1720 and was French before it passed to the British in 1758.  Charlottetown was the site of the 1864 Convention where the founding fathers met to negotiate the ultimate combining of all territories into the nation we now know, collectively, as Canada.  We were charmed by this intimate and lovely city with its Victorian buildings, hundreds of hanging flower pots lining the streets, colorful heritage homes and beautifully manicured lawns ending in extremely clean streets.

We took a tour out to a river which is the home to hundreds of oyster beds and met with a family who owns an oyster lease, a section of water about 200 yards by 100 yards along the banks of a river with a combination of salt and fresh water.  The river actually had an eight foot tide because of its closeness to the ocean.

The couple had been “oyster fishing” for 13 years and they were really cute as they opened up their home and taught us all about how oyster harvesting works.  There are strictly-enforced rules and regulations involved with this harvesting and it is truly a hand operation that requires 8-10 hours a day hard work.  One man (or woman) works a boat and only one boat is allowed on a given lease.  They haul up about a dozen oysters with each “raking” of the bed, but may only keep 2-4 that are over 3” long and are graded either “standard” or “choice”, depending on its size, shape and age.  The rest are tossed back for more time to develop.  Oysters covered with one or more baby oysters are spared so the younger oysters may grow. 

Did you know that oysters are either male or female but they can change gender?  Don’t ask me how or why, but they must have had their roots in San Francisco.  Did you know that oysters can survive out of water and stay fresh that entire time for up to ten weeks?  Did you know that oysters develop rings, much like a tree, and that is how you can roughly tell their age?  Is that like wrinkles on a human?

After learning everything about oysters you ever wanted to know, we ate them.  Lots of them.  Very, very tasty….a lovely combination of salty and sweet.  And clams, the sweetest I have ever had, cooked on a BBQ grill until their shells opened.  Delicious!  Prince Edward Island is a beautiful spot and it was the best tour we had been on since we sailed.


We then sailed up out of the Atlantic and entered the gigantic mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  We spent a day at sea in transit to our next port, Saguenay.

Now, Saguenay did not even exist officially until 2002 by amalgamating four cities and two municipalities.  It encompasses the entire Saguenay River region, an oasis in the vast remote wilderness of Northern Québec which was carved out of the land by a huge glacier nearly 20,000 years ago.  It is not hugely populated and, in fact, there are no human settlements due north of Saguenay all the way to the Canadian Arctic Island.  The joke is the only difference between the United States and Canada is that nobody lives in Canada.

That being said, we have been looking for the turning leaves of fall for the past eight days in every port from Newport, RI to Prince Edwards Island and we have never seen so much green in our lives.  That yearning was satisfied when we visited the Fjord du Saguenay Nationale Parc on the banks of the Saguenay River.  We took the most enjoyable two mile “stroll” through the woods with a learned guide who gave us more information about the flora and fauna then we could ever absorb BUT the scenery was absolutely gorgeous.  I will let the photos below speak for themselves.  Enjoy.

We are off in Montreal tomorrow, before the crack, taking a city tour and staying overnight for a 7:30 AM flight back to Texas.  I will report on Québec and Montreal after we return.  Hope you have enjoyed these Travel Updates.

God Bless you all,

Jud and Vicki