Al's Rantings

A view of the world from a hillbilly perspective.

Location: Virginia

I was born and went to school in the heart of the Appalachian mountains, in southern West Virginia. After graduating from college, I got married, and began working in Bristol, TN. I have have various jobs from Tennessee to up state New York and a few points between. Now I work in West Virginia. Some day, I want to live in Alaska.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Weekend Plans...

An interesting weekend is shaping up at Al's abode. Wifey and Little One left this morning, with Wifey's friend and her friends little one, for a road trip to Ohio to visit family. She plan to return on Sunday.

First let me declare that Wifey is strong and brave. She has made this 6 hour trip alone and she has made it with Little One. Today's trip will have 2 adults and a pair of 3 year old girls. This seems like a mismatch to me. To travel with wee ones, I believe you need a ratio of 5 adults to 1 wee one. That way there can be a driver, a navigator, a sleeper, and 2 to occupy the baby. Wifey is strong, brave, and determined...bless her heart. She goes places with Little One almost every day. I, on the other hand, shiver when asked to take Little One to the Wal Mart in Pearisburg, about 10 minutes away, by myself. However as a consolation, I donate blood and Wifey does not.

With Wifey out of town, its up to me and the two dogs to hold down the fort. There are basically two instances that cause me to spend my time on idle pursuits...1) weekends and 2) when Wifey is out of town. So this is a perfect storm for me.

So, I have set low expectations for myself for the next couple of days. They could (not will) include and oil change for the car, unloading the dishwasher, mowing grass, and feeding the dogs. It will include junk food, watching the NASCAR Talladega race on Sunday, computer time, and hopefully, XBOX face time. And if I sacrifice sleep, maybe I can squeeze in a couple episodes of Northern Exposure, gun cleaning, and listening to some old albums really loud. Yes, albums that are played on a turn table.

So much to little time...gotta go and get started.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Price Gouging

When you say price gouging, we normally think about gasoline since it has been in the news so much. Under Virginia law (link):

Under a stronger state law that takes effect July 1, the governor and state can move against suppliers who charge "such an unconscionable price" that it creates panic and threatens public welfare.

Well heck, this is so vague anyone could apply it to anything. Who determines if the price is unconscionable? How many people does it take to cause a public panic? I guess the all-knowing government know the answers.

What about a couple of instances I consider price gouging.

1. Soda pop, aka pop. I have noticed that the price of a 20 ounce bottle of pop runs about $1.29. This is a little over half a liter. And a 2 liter bottle runs about $1.49. In my opinion, I am being gouged on the 20 ounce bottle because it is convenient. Plus, companies are switching from 20 ounces to 1/2 liter bottles. Since 1/2 liter is less than 20 ounces, the price should be lower...WRONG...the price stays the same. Therefore, I see an increase in the unit price. This is pretty slick of the pop companies. Same price, less product. Is it Gouging? I my opinion...YES! Is it unconscionable to change the package size and keep the price the same? In my opinion...YES!

2. Potato chips. Since a 50 pound bag of potatoes cost about $5, why does a big bag of Ruffles cost around $5? And I know they can sell for less, because sometimes they go on sale. Slice the potatoes, fry them in oil, and package. It ain't rocket science. But they sure are expensive.

Everyone want to jump on the gas price gouging band wagon. Some make statements for the shock value. People in Congress should know better. Instead of profit, they should talk about profit margin. Plus, I read that gas companies make about 9 cents per gallon. The government takes 20-30 cents per gallon depending on where you live. If the gas companies are gouging the public, just what is the government doing to us?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Competition for tourists...

Twin Falls State Park near Pineville, West Virginia, looks to bring more tourist traffic to southern West Virginia. Maybe they will stop there and not travel I-77 into southwest Virginia.

Among those developments are a new federal prison in McDowell County, the increasingly popular Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, and construction of the Coalfields Expressway — all indications Twin Falls Resort State Park needs to be prepared for a growing client base among both state residents and out-of-state tourists, officials believe.

It seems there are a finite amount of tourist travelling the area. But everyone is expecting to attract them.

Time will tell.

Wind Farm for Greenbrier county, WV

There is discussion about a $300 million project to put 124 wind turbines in rural Greenbrier county, West Virginia.

The main sticking point is the killing of bats.

“Some people say that you may be risking a big increase in West Nile Virus if you kill off enough bats,” Schoenfeld told The Register-Herald Monday. “Bats live for a long time and it doesn’t take much to wipe out a whole population.”

Compounding this problem is the fact two endangered species of bats protected by federal laws — the Indiana bat and the Virginia big-eared bat — either reside in Greenbrier County during the summer or potentially could pass through during migration.

Two big concerns: West Nile Virus and Endangered Species. This ain't over yet.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fire is our friend...

Most of the time, fire is our friend. We cook and heat with it and it keeps the animals away from our camping sites. However, this is an example of what happens when the fire is too big and too close to the evergreen tree...selective brown-ness.

Between the evergreen trees and a pole barn is my spot for burning the wood and ornamental grasses that I collect through the year. Ornamental grasses are awesome...they burn like a and fast. After cutting down the grasses, they get hauled to the burn spot. A couple of loads is all that it takes to create a big blaze. The plan is to use the grass to get the remainder of the pile on fire. It works too...kind of like the guy running the 100 yard dash handing the baton off to the 2 mile guy (note that English units were used because its cooler that saying 100 meters and 3000 meters).

The most recent burn was wind. The little ashes that take flight and are carried up by the heat were coming back down on my head.

Little One sure enjoys the swing set. It did not take her very long to figure out that going up can be just as fun as going down.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Living on a hill

The land where I live is not level. Any appearance of levelness has been man-made. This causes 2 problems: 1) mowing the grass is tricky and a chore and 2) there is no flat place to put the playing equipment for Little One. So, we either play on hills or make a flat spot. For our trampoline, we went with the "make a flat spot" option. Because, even with the attached safety net on the trampoline, jumping at an angle would be a bit awkward, not to mention slightly dangerous.

Lucky for me, my neighbor has a BIG, manly toy. Its a John Deere tractor with a front bucket...WOW! He let me borrow it to make my level spot by using brute strength, horsepower, and ingenuity to overcome the clay that had hardened by months of dry, hot weather. Basically, I created a 20 foot square flat place, one tablespoon of dirt at a time, using a bucket that was big enough to hold a small car. But I did not care...I got to play with a BIG John Deere tractor.

The swing set, on the other hand sets in a down sloping area. It has outriggers that make it almost impossible to turn over. I did find out one thing this past summer. Those inflatable pools that are seen almost everywhere and stand about 3 feet high, most definitely need to be on a flat surface. Gravity does still work and pulls all the water downhill to the lowest point.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fantasy job

Imagine your fantasy job. What would it be? Try this one.

1. You work for a major auto company, Ford for example.
2. You make good wages, because of the UAW.
3. Suddenly you get laid off
4. Now comes the fantasy keep getting paid and keep your benefits.
5. You can turn down a job with Ford, as an example, if it is over 50 miles away, and keep your pay and benefits.
6. You get paid to read or even learn to deal blackjack
7. There is no limit to the time you can stay in this status
8. What a job!

Guess what? This is a true story. Ford has 1,100 doing this. GM has 14,700!

One provision that may be in Ford’s sights is the Guaranteed Employment Number program, or the Jobs Bank. It is a two-decade-old program that pays workers their full wages and benefits when they are laid off, even if they do not transfer to other plants. Workers have the right to refuse work at plants more than 50 miles from their home base.

The Jobs Bank has paid workers to idle away hours reading or to attend classes on subjects such as dealing blackjack. There is no limit on how long a worker can stay in the program, which includes an estimated 1,100 Ford employees and could cost U.S. auto companies up to $2 billion this year.

“The fact that they can stay in a room and play checkers for the rest of their life is an unbearable burden,” said Peter Morici, a professor of international business at the University of Maryland.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dimming of the Sun

This may be the next big scare...the dimming of the sun. As I was channel surfing tonight, I saw this show. All one sided with not rebuttal. Now we cannot win because

Climate researcher James Hansen estimates that "global dimming" is cooling our planet by more than a degree Celsius (1.8°F) and fears that as we cut back on pollution, global warming may escalate to a point of no return.

What? Pollution causes dimming of the sun and causes cooling? Stop pollution and global warming escalates! What the heck is going on?

The Swing Set

This apple tree is in bloom. Looks like a good year for apples. If the deer do not get them all, maybe some will find their way into fried apple pies...yummy.

We went to Roanoke, Toys-R-Us to get Little One a swing set. I knew I was in trouble when it took 2 fit, young men to load two large boxes into my truck. Needless to say, some assembley was required.

After mowing grass on Saturday, we hit the swing set constuction like Ali -vs- Frazier in the "Thrilla in Manilla". This Thriller has nothing to do with Michael Jackson. There were 2 boxes full of wood planks, screws, bolts, washers, lock nuts, and assorted swings and one slide. I noticed the slide right away and was glad that it was ready. Too bad for me, it was one of the last things to attach. Plus, 24 pages of instructions!

Saturday went fairly well. Wifey helped. We checked and double-checked the directions like a space shuttle launch. It was coming together quite well. Construction had to cease due to darkness and fatigue. Total man and woman hours on day one: 8.

Day two, Sunday, started with me alone. What else was I going to do since there was no NASCAR race to occupy my time. The going was rough, no help meant I had to gather supplies and do the construction. Luck for me I has a cordless drill with an extra manual insertion of screws!

The final assemble took place in the yard at the chosen site. After the last bolt was tighened, Wifey and I watched as Little One took the maiden voyage down the newly installed slide. She was happy to slide, I was happy it was done. Total man hours day two: 4.

Two days work, 12 hours, and a few curse words later, it was all done. Should be a good summer for all.

Toyota Fever

The prospects of a Toyota plant near Roanoke has been all the rage for the past couple of day. There is a lot of speculation on where it might go. According to reports, four states are in the running: Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

One delegate, Steve Landes make this news to be negative by saying

"The other thing about the automobile industry is it's a very volatile business right now," Landes said. "We're losing the Ford plant in Norfolk. I would think from a business standpoint, localities would be a little bit skittish about the industry in general being that stable. Obviously some of the international companies have done better in the marketplace, but it's not as stable as it used to be."

Volatile business...what business is not volatile. Communities should be skittish because the industry is unstable...there are no guarantees with any business. He harps on stability...what a buzz killer he is.

The Roanoke Times did not get to talk to anyone at Toyota, but the Greensboro News-Record sure did. They say a plant like this would be"economic windfall to the region, bringing high manufacturing wages for hundreds of workers here and attracting dozens of suppliers that would also employ local workers." They are not skittish about this plant.

According to a Toyota spokesman this news is putting the cart ahead of the horse.

"The real key is that we haven't made the decision whether we are definitely going to expand at this time yet," said Dan Sieger, a company spokesman from its Kentucky offices. "We're not even getting into where it would happen if we were to expand. We are looking at sites in a wide variety of states but as a matter of business practice we don't disclose where we're looking."

Toyota is not sure it will be built...don't disclose where they are looking.

Looks like the state is getting all excited about nothing.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Place I Hate To Go

Wifey, Little One, and I made a trip to Roanoke to get Little One a swing set. Looks like my honey-do list just a little longer for this weekend. My truck, which was in the shop yesterday ran fine on the way to work. But on the way home, that darn "Check Engine Light" came on again. We took it to Roanoke, and it did OK. But I fear something just ain't right.

First stop in Roanoke was Sams. I believe we stop there every time. Second stop was Toys-R-Us, the home of the friendly giraffe. We got the swing set and we were off.

Then came the question from Wifey, "Can we stop at Jo Anne Fabrics, I have to run in and get one thing? You and Little One can stay in the truck." Sounded like it would be quick enough, so I agreed. We stopped, she went in, and Little One and I ate some Fritos.

After she came back with three (NOT ONE) items, I asked for some clarification. I asked: "When you say you need to get one thing, does that mean you know exactly what it is and where it is? Or does that mean you know a general item, say fabric, but you still have to hunt it and then decide which fabric you want?" The answer was that she knew exactly and the other 2 items were found better the check out line and the primary item. Hmmmm, I don't know if I am buying that explanation.

Which bring me to my point. There are some places I hate to go into.

1. Michael's
2. Jo Anne Fabric
3. Baby Clothes stores
4. Wacamaw Pottery (when it was still in Roanoke) or Dixie Pottery (around Bristol, TN)
5. Kohl's

There is nothing to keep me occupied in any of these store!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Truck troubles

Truck trouble today, but at least it was a cool blue night, with a full moon.

My truck has been in the repair shop a lot this winter. It was there today. The "Check Engine" light was on and the truck had no power. The mechanic said it needed a larger catalytic converter. The current one was a restriction to the exhaust flow.

All fixed, new converter, new converter, and peace of mind...NOT.

We headed for Roanoke about 6 pm. Little One needed a swing set. We were headed for Toys-R-Us, happy as can be. The first mountain between Pembroke and Christiansburg went ok. I thought I noticed something on the second mountain. But it couldn't be. Afterall, I just got the truck out of the shop. Then I saw it...sticking out like a sore thumb...the "Check Engine" light was on AGAIN!

Maybe we could get to Roanoke and back. At least we might try. A stop a Wendy's changed my mind. The truck was now idling rough. Better head back to Pembroke. So we turned back with one very sad little girl.

The truck did horrible on the way back. No power, missing bad, down right poor engine performace.

I dropped Wifey off to get her van while I hobbled to the mechanic. I had to leave it again.

This truck, GMC, has been a lot of trouble.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Off to see the cow...

Michaels must be the arch enemy of Lowe's. Here women can find all they need for the crafts that they do. In a cruel irony, the Home Improvement store can be seen from this parking lot leaving men to think of what could have been. If you look closely at the Home Improvement when the moon is full, you can see Tony Stewart rear ending an unsuspecting driver.

Saturday was a special day. This was the day that there would be an Easter egg hunt at the local (meaning Christiansburg) Chic-Fil-A. And since Little One had not been to a single egg hunt yet, it was our duty to take her. Off we went seeking fame, fortune, and eggs. Sadly, all we found was eggs.

Starting time was 0930 zulu. We arrive in plenty of time to register. Little One signed up for the 3 and under crowd. I looked, but there was no over 40 group...drats! Lucky for us, the 3 and under group went first. Upon the announcement to commence, the rush of people looked like an immigration demonstration in Los Angles, but I counted and it was closer to 10 kids plus assorted parents. Little kids are deceptive...crowds of them look bigger due to the hyper-activity.

Little One had fun and Wifey and I got to eat before we left, so everyone got something. I did come to understand what a strange place we live in. Little One was hunting plactic (maybe recycled) eggs, at a chicken fast food place, that has a cow for a mascot. No wonder our kids are confused!

Of course our trip would not have been complete without a couple more stops. Today we chose Target, Michaels, and Wal Mart. The only place I went in was Target. There I spotted Northern Exposure, Season 4 still for $40. I will continue to wait and pounce when the time is right just like a duck on a June bug.

While cruising around parking lots, I notice the pedistrians and formulated Al's Rules of Pedistrians.

Rule 1: When crossing a busy highway, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and the goal is to spend a little time as possible on the highway.

Rule 2: When going from car to store door, or vice versa, the shortest distance is a straight line and the goal is to take that straight line even if you must walk in the road for 1/2 mile. Getting out of the road is not permitted and will result in disqualification.

Rule 3: When in doubt, use rule 2.

It makes me believe people may have a phobia about side walks. However, since you are reading this I know you do not have logizomechanophobia (1). Me, I have automatonophobia (2).

1. fear of computers
2. fear of ventriloquist dummies

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

According to two recently released reports, Roanoke is a tough place to live.

In fact, it is the second most dangerous city with a population over 75,000. Richmond was #1.

The mayor does not believe it. He believe the city is safe and the stats are flawed. He says

"It's disturbing that criminal statistics are being reported as reality," Harris said. "Any criminal justice 101 textbook will tell you that criminal statistics are flawed."


"... adding to the confusion and complexity surrounding the issue, he said that some crime statistics for Roanoke are inaccurate and there is a "glitch" in the crime reporting system."

So crime stats are flawed, inaccurate, and there is a glitch in the system. He does not know where the flaw is, but it is there.

Forget the facts and stats, the mayor has a feeling that Roanoke is safe.

I would like to hear Ms. Elenaeous' take on this information.

What's the big deal?

What's the big deal? Everywhere I looked today, the major news story was that Katie Couric was going from NBC's Today Show to the CBS Evening News. Forgive my lack of concern, but "Who cares?" I certainly don't. In fact, I could not care less.

The evening news anchors are readers of the news...that is it. The news outlets are treating this like its a big deal. Its only a big deal to them.

If I wanted to hear someone read the news...I would pick...James Earl Jones or Martina McBride.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

An Amazing Thing Happened

I did not get to see the eclipse the other day. I best I could manage was this picture of the sun as it passed behind a small cloud. If you look closely, you can see the sun.

Something amazing, according to Wifey, happened at my house tonight. She was truely impressed. We feed out two dogs in the lower level of the house. That is also the place where Little One takes her bath. Since I was not involved in the bath detail, my job was to feed the two mutts. There was a problem. After searching the entire down stairs area, I could only find one of the dog's feeding bowls. Being a male, I had decided that only one dog would eat. And I would get to pick. Sorta like going "thumbs down" on one of the dogs. As a last resort, I asked Wifey. To my surprise, she could not give me the exact location. And she always knows the location of stamps, tape, tools, food, etc. So I knew the bowl was good and lost.

However, she said "Look around. It has to be there." Well, I had looked. But since I was not involved in the bathing of a 2.5 year old and in order not to get involved with the bath while she looked for the bowl, I agreed.

If you saw me looking for something, you would swear I was only walking around looking straight ahead. No scanning left or right, or up and down. Kinda like a Frankenstien's monster imitation. But this time was different. Something shiney caught my eye. And, lo and behold, upon further investigation, it turned out to be the missing bowl. It was sitting on a chair. Little One had put it there earlier in the day.

I announced my find. And Wifey said "I'm amazed." Her tone did not sound amazed, but I took the compliment anyway. Both the dogs got to eat and the whole house was happy. At least for a little while.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Me and Olan

On Sunday, Wifey, Little One, and I went to see our friend Olan. You may know him. I believe he had the famous quote "A thousand words a worth one picture, and the picture will cost you $9.99 per sheet." Of course our friend is Olan Mills. Maybe he is your friend too.

The appointment was at 4 to take a picture of Little One for Easter. So we let the house at 3:30 (I had to miss the race, but I did manage to listen now and then). Onward to my favorite place - Blacksburg/Christiansburg, aka the Burgs. To my surprise, traffic was very light. It was almost a pleasure driving to K-Mart.

The actual picture taking went fast. I watched the first few then left to get us a drink. I also spent a little time watching the race on a 13" set in the store. Then came the wait. We were waiting to see the pictures. One couple ahead of us. But the signs were bad. The dad was waiting with 2 kids, about 4 and 1 while the Mom picked the pictures.

We waited for what seemed like hours. It is very difficult to occupy a 2.5 year old. Especially when you have to wait in the childrens clothing hunting/fishing power tools...just clothes. I'm sure Wifey thought I was being worse than Little One.

Finally, time to pick the pictures. My job was to watch Little One and make a pick after the non-contender photos had been deleted. I was ready and made my decision without hesitation.

All done, time to Fazolies. Now letting Little One eat spaghetti while wearing a white dress seemed to be a fine idea with me. But I don't buy the clothes for Little One and I don't do the laundry. Wifey was prepared. She changed Little One into something more spaghetti friendly. She is good at these things. It was good she changed, the dress would have been in bad shape.

Finally a run by Target looking for videos. Supposedly, childrens videos were on sale. Buy 2 and get 1 free. Selection was poor. We came out with nothing. However, I did scope out my next video purchase. Season 4 of Northern Exposure. Its about Alaska of course.

Oh, I did manage to hear the final laps of the race. Jeff Gordon was second so it was a pretty good day.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Out of touch inside the Beltway

I have began to shy away from political comments, especially on the national level. But this one was too good to remain silent on.

It seems a congresswoman from Georgia got into a scuffle with some Capital Hill police.

Members of Congress wear identifying lapel pins and routinely are waved into buildings without undergoing security checks. McKinney was not wearing her pin at the time, and the officer apparently did not recognize her, she has said.
This bothers me a bit. Congress people cannot take the time to go through security! It is part of that "Do what I say, not what I do" attitude.

Anyway, the police stopped her and she struck him.

So who is the victim? The congresswoman of course!

Her lawyer, James W. Myart Jr., said, "Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, like thousands of average Americans across this country, is, too, a victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin."
Give me a break. Excessive force! She only got a hand on the shoulder. This was not Rodney King treatment. Don't you think the police would stop everyone who by-passed the security check and then would not stop when ordered by the police? I sure hope they would!


"Ms. McKinney is just a victim of being in Congress while black," Myart said. "Congresswoman McKinney will be exonerated."
This is laughable. She is in one of the more elitist clubs in the world and she want me to see her as a victim? Not gonna happen.

She should thank that officer for stopping her and proving that the security works.

Congress people are really out of touch.