Tuesday, August 30

Whats wrong with blogging today

I like blogging.  I have broke some stories here that it took the mainstream media a couple of weeks to catch on to.  I take pride that not one of those posts were proven false or without merit.  But, I do this just to inform and entertain, not to make myself famous or make a buck off of running down someone’s name.

Recently, FITS News , ran by Will Folks, a blog and a man I actually have defended on this blog, posted allegations that South Carolina Gamecock baseball hero Scott Wingo  had someone else take his SAT for him.  Follow up posts were promised but as of this post, were not delivered.

Frankly, I do not worry about such being posted.  Perhaps they will be.  But, the great problem with blogging, face book, twitter, all of it is made clear by that point.  Some guy tells some blogger some story that will  make the blogger famous if it is true.  So, the blogger runs with it.  Fair enough.

When such happens in politics, it is par for the course, so to speak.  Politics is nasty in South Carolina.  We are known for it.  But, when a kid, a civilian if you  will,  is maligned over an anonymous tip without digging deep, it shows the problem with the blog media.  I am not going to accuse Folks of this, but too many bloggers are willing to post allegations they know are flimsy in the hopes that they prove true and get them on ESPN or  Fox News or wherever to drive up their hits and satisfy their ad buyers.

The problem is with the people that are hurt by it.  In Wingo’s case, it is extraordinarily difficult to have someone take the SAT in your place.  Procedures are in place that are far more stringent than getting a SCDL or voting, even under the new voter identification law.  The College Board’s currency is its credibility with the colleges and universities of the nation. To think they would allow a slip up for, at the time, a medium talent baseball recruit at South Carolina is just dim.

Further, Coach Ray Tanner has a reputation of impeccable adherence to rules and ethics.  The kid in question has performed in the class room and on the field.  To malign Tanner, the University of South Carolina, and some kid who plays ball, to have a shot a ESPN type fame is irresponsible.

But, such happens all the time now.  People block ex wives or business partners from seeing their social network pages and blast them on them.  Blogs like the Huffington Post fire off with little substance.  The list of those types of blogs go and on.  The truth gets lost in the din of noise of those who write the loudest.

And, who is hurt?  Well, all us are to some degree.   But, that kid is hurt especially bad.  He has his whole professional life ahead.  And, now, with one of the most prominent writers publishing allegations he cheated, that will go with him.  Once the allegation is made, there are some people who believe it even if its proven wrong.

That’s fine for politics.  But, in sports and other private endeavors, those of us who claim to inform, commentate or entertain have to have some sense of decency, especially when it comes to young people.  Again, not making allegations,  but if a blogger  makes allegations based on anonymous and flimsy information just to take a shot at being famous, well, that blogger  has got a hole in his soul.

I  imagine the folks like that won’t like how I put things and gun for me.  That only will make the hole for them bigger.  And, it will make my point stronger,

Thursday, August 25

"Stuff Parisians Like" by Olivier Magny

Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi
Author: Olivier Magny
Can be purchased at Amazon.com, Itunes, or any major bookstores

We first met Olivier Magny at a social function at his wine bar "O-chateau wine bar" in Paris, Spring 2011.  I was very impressed with his knowledge of wine as well as the beautiful wine bar itself.  While vacationing in the US  I got a text from my best friend Steve, also vacationing in the U.S. (San Diego), that Olivier is having a book signing party.  I thought is this the same Olivier we know in Paris, and sure enough it was.  I had no idea he was also a writer. So, I immediately went on Itunes and bought and downloaded his book, “Stuff Parisians Like”.  I was expecting a book about wine, but instead Olivier wrote a book about the Parisian psyché.  I remembered he had an excellent command of the English language, but I was very surprised how well he also writes, considering English is not his primary language.  There have been many books written about the French psyché, but none more informative and entertaining than from a French/Parisian perspective.  His book is extremely well written, witty and just enjoyable.  His view of Paris and Parisians is honest and simply spot on.

I was hoping that part of his tour would bring him to Northern California, but unfortunately, he was not able to include Northern California for this trip. I wanted so much to organize a book signing party to introduce him to our community, but, oh well “à la prochaine” (next time).  However, I was able to interview him and ask him questions about himself and his book.

Olivier, I know you’re a native Parisian, but can you tell me a little about yourself and how you started in the “wine” business?
Well, I longed for a life with a bit more poetry. Wine seemed like a sensible path.

Now that I’ve recently discovered that you’re also a writer, what inspired you to write this book?

Well, it seems as if many foreigners just idolize Paris glamour, Paris beauty, Paris culture. On the other hand, many provinciaux simply hate anything Paris. Both sides seemed to me quite exaggerated, full of clichés and rather uninformed about the real Paris life. I guess in the end, I just wanted to provide people with good reasons to love or hate my fellow Parisians. So I started to write. Turned out that I realy enjoyed it and that people liked what I was writing. I’m just truly lucky.

I understand that you lived in the San Diego area for a couple of years.  Did living in the US influence you in any way? And, if so how?

Probably. First it helped me gain a better command of English. And it was fascinating for the young Parisian that I was to see so many laid back, positive, enthusiastic people. Let’s say most Parisians could use a bit more of these characteristics.

Living in Paris is a challenge for most Americans, what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome when you lived in the US?

Two mainly: price of wine and absence of good bread.

Have you lived in other countries as well? And, if so, what influences did they have on you. 

Nope. Visited many but never lived in any other.

I’ve read many books about the Parisian psyché, but from ex-pats such as Stephen Clarke.  We all have our stereotypes, but as a Frenchman, what one stereotype did you want to debunk for your readers?

Several I guess. But the one that has grown to be the most compellingly untrue is the whole “joie de vivre” thing. I tried to be as “real” as possible in my articles. Being a true Parisian, I might have a denser, somehow deeper understanding of the whole social circus that Paris life is. This book is just me trying to unveil a few secrets, making fun of all these very serious clowns.

I have a love-hate relationship with Paris, as well as the U.S. As a Parisian,  what is the one thing you really love about Paris and the one thing you really “dislike”? And, on the flip-side, is there something you really like about the U.S. and “dislike”?

My favorite thing about Paris: warm baguette tradition, pas trop cuite. The thing I dislike the most: la vibe très négative.  Favorite thing about the US: I think Chris Rock is a genius
Thing I dislike the most: how slow the line at customs is for non-residents

If there is one important piece of advice you can give my readers who may be thinking about moving to Paris, what would that be?

If your love for beauty, food and wine surpasses your hatred for rain, negative people and paperwork, then you’re in good shape.

Now a little bit about your wine bar? What inspired you to open O’Chateau? My first impressions were that the layout, size and ambience, if you will, were very American in nature.  Was your design element inspired by your stay in the US?

I guess what we tried to do was to come up with a place that was not only beautiful, soothing and nice but also convivial. Paris can get quite clicky and both Nicolas Paradis (my business partner) and I wanted to create a place where it’d be easy to meet people and interact both with the sommeliers and with other similar-minded clients. That is why we designed this beautiful bar in the middle, just to create the conditions of a nice friendly moment. I think O Chateau is one of the only places in Paris where you can come on your own, for dinner and drinks and you won’t feel awkward at all because you’ll meet people in no time. Now the place is a 17th century building so we also tried to respect the history of the place by cleaning up the stunning limestone walls and the cellar vaults. I guess your American remark stems from the fact that, by Paris standards, O Chateau is quite large. It is indeed. And we love it… We wanted each space to have its own personality and for the whole thing to just be nice.
I guess in a word, we tried to create the place we’d like to come hang out at. We realy love it and it’s nice to see that other people do too.

68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau
75001 Paris
+33 (0)1-44-739-780

You’re extremely knowledgeable about French wines; however, outside of France, what is your favorite wine region(s)?

We are truly blessed in France. My preference outside of France might go to New Zealand.

You’re relatively young, what would you like to see yourself doing 10-years from now?

Wow!! Something I like hopefully. Hopefully by then I will have achieved my life-long dream: learning how to hip-hop dance.

Olivier, besides amazon and Itunes, where else can they get your book, e.g., are they available at most major bookstores?
Major bookstores do carry it yes. In Paris, you can get signed copies at O Chateau. Otherwise, English bookstores like WH Smith or Garigliani on Rue de Rivoli carry it too. And if people want to practice their French, they should look up Dessine-moi un Parisien (the French version), also available everywhere.

Olivier’s summation:
I’ve truly had a fabulous past few months and I’m so thankful. Things right now may seem all shiny and nice, but they haven’t always been. What I’ve learned since I started O Chateau is that if you truly want something and really work hard at it AND put your heart at it, things end up coming together. So voilà!! (If you haven’t already, go on YouTube and watch "What the bleep do we know" – truly inspiring).

Summary:  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Olivier is not only a great sommelier, but also a great writer and "video" personality. I’ve read so many books about Paris, but written by ex-pats, I laughed, I cried, but I’ve never really read an “honest” book from a Parisian man’s perspective.   Since I live mostly in Paris, there was a lot of information that was familiar; however, I was surprised to learn quite a bit of new information about the Parisian psyché. Who better to delve into the Parisian psyché than a Parisian himself?  I strongly encourage you to read this very enjoyable, informative and honest book.

As for Olivier's wine bar, please see my review "O-Chateau review".

Wednesday, August 24

Polling numbers and the national angst

Numbers are hard things to argue with.  While statisticians and pollsters can “massage” numbers with questions, samples, etc, large numbers just stay about the same.  Reviewing some of the GALLUP organization's most recent polling data shows Americans are unhappy not only with the President, but with Congress, the Tea Party, and life.

Nearly half of Americans polled, (48 percent), say they are either struggling or suffering.  That national angst is focused on the political leaders.

President Obama has an approval rating of just 38 percent and a disapproval of 54 percent.  That is a horrible number for a incumbent President a little over a year away from a re-election contest.  In normal political climates, it was be easy to predict Obama’s  sound defeat next Fall with those numbers.

However, these are not normal times.  The President remains more popular than Congress, who comes in at 13 percent approval, (by far the lowest in polling history), and the chief rival of President Obama, the so called “Tea Party”  has only a 25 percent approval rating.    Frankly put, the American people do not like any of the players on the current political scene.  The majority of Americans simply do not approve of or trust the major players.

That makes 2012 an unpredictable election.  Of course paid for consultants, who are actually a part of the disconnect, will argue how both sides are sure to win.  But, the situation actually is fluid.  A dark horse candidate could win the White House.  The President could win re-election in a landslide.  Events will be bigger than the candidates for Congress and for the White House.  Because when the half the nation consider themselves struggling or suffering, traditional political wisdom is all but useless.

Think on it.  The Democrats took the House because the American people were tired of the Republican Congress and President Bush.  President Obama was elected in part because Bush was so unpopular. The Republicans took back the House because the Democratic Congress was so unpopular.  Now, the Republican House, the Democratic Senate, the Tea Party, and the President all are solidly disapproved of by the American people.,  There are districts and states in Congress where the Republican or Democrat should win.  But, in the middle that decides national power, there is no telling what will happen.

If VUI had to call it, we would give a slight edge to the President.  For, at 38 percent, he is the most popular player in the national political game.  And, that says  a lot about the state of America.

Monday, August 22

The NCAA should take a different approach with cheaters

Even casual sports fans know about the scandal involving the University of Miami and a booster who allegedly was a ponzi scheme artist who used is his ill gotten gain to shower athletes with cash, parties, and even women.  It is college sports at its worst.  

All sorts of rumors about how the NCAA is going to address the situation are floating around, including a harsh probation or even a death penalty for the Miami football program.  

The death penalty for Miami is not just and will not deter other cheaters.  Here is how.  First, new coach Al Golden, his staff and most of the current players had nothing to do with the alleged scandal.  How is it just for them to be punished for the acts of others?  Further, Miami does not interact in the college football world alone.  There are other teams in their conference and elsewhere that have scheduled them, count on the revenue that comes from playing them, etc.  How is punishing those programs just?

If the NCAA really wants to do justice and wants to make its rules be taken seriously, it should ban all coaches, players, and administrators guilty of such from participating in NCAA sports as a player or coach for life.  Any administrator who oversaw such nonsense should be banned as well.  Simply ban those folks from being employed, volunteering, being a booster, being in a Hall of Fame, etc., from any member school in the NCAA.  In that way, the culprits get the punishment.  

As things stand, a President can oversee an Athletics Director who can oversee a Coach and his staff that allows a booster to cheat.  All the before mentioned move on to other schools, with no consequences, and their old school and the new coaches and players are punished.  The system as it is seems to reward cheating.  

Change it.  Punish the culprits and watch people start to get interested in running bad boosters and the like off their campuses. 

Sunday, August 14

Think the debt ceiling fight did not matter? Think again

The debt ceiling fight between Congress and the President made great headlines.  It made financial institutions think about things.  Some say it led to Standard and Poor's to lower the the US credit rating.  It certainly made interesting news for the cable news networks.  

Another thing the debate on the debt ceiling accomplished is not not noted.  Democrats and Republicans alike do not want this secret out about what their political game playing meant.  But, we at VUI, we tell it straight.  

Strong sources in the military tell us that military pay checks did not go out on time.  The staff of VUI has been told directly, by members of the military, that they did not get their pay checks on time.  Their pay checks were delayed.  The blame was put on the budget showdown.  

Fair enough.  VUI made clear, a over a week ago that the SC DOT could not pay its bills.  Now the mainstream media is picking up on it.  That insult to hard working contractors was and is outrageous.  

But, even more outrageous is the fact, and we have verified, the fact that hard working military folks, the folks we ask to defend our way of life, were delayed paychecks because of political points being made, both right and left.  While politicians were scoring points, playing golf, getting face time on cable news shows, the men and women of the military were being told, "wait another week" for their pay.  

Those folks did get paid.  But, that is not the point.  With what we pay the military, so many of  those folks and their families live paycheck to paycheck.  Holding a paycheck for several days puts those folks in a bind. The fact that payment to them was denied because of political gamesmanship on both sides is a dadgummed outrage.  

We ask the men and women of the military to give, as Lincoln put it, "the full measure of devotion," to our nation.  In return, our political leaders get in a urinating contest that results in folks not being paid on time.  It is an outrage.  Indeed, the insult to the military and to us all, is deep from these clowns.  They would rather score political points then run the country.  Consultants say do this to win the Tea Party. Other consultants say this to win the Move On crowd.  All the while, actually running the country gets left all alone. No wonder we have the problems we do.  We elected them. 

High School Friday Nights are back

All around South Carolina, young men and coaches have been working on the game of football.  The fans got their first glimpse of the work the coaches and young men do over the weekend with Jamborees that have teams scrimmaging against each other.  Next, week, so called Week Zero to the SCHL, football gets real.  A full slate of games follows the next Friday night.  

High school football is ingrained in the culture of South Carolina.  Even the kids that do not go out for the team have pride in their school's team.  At most schools, dozens, if not hundreds of kids work hard to be good football players, good band members, good cheerleaders, managers, and spirit club members.  All the students and the coaches, be them paid or volunteer, of the football team, the band, the cheerleaders, they all work hard to put on a Friday night for the fans.  Others are involved, like the transportation people who make sure the kids and coaches get the buses and vans needed to get to the games and do not forget the officials and the people with South Carolina High School League and South Carolina Band Directors Association that work to make the contests fair and safe.  

All those people come to come together to be a part of the special tradition that is fall high school Friday nights in South Carolina.  Life is fast, it comes and goes so quick, but all those involved from the fan, to the head coach, to the band director to the guy volunteering to sell tickets or sodas, to the cop who works for half his pay or free to provide security,  they are a part of the tradition of fall Friday nights that lives on. 

Indeed, the uniting force and tradition of high school Friday nights brings together all sorts of people.  People of different races, incomes, political ideas, agendas, beliefs, talents, they come together to give us the games.  When one thinks of that, it is hard not passionate about something that does so much good, even in the worst of times. 

Think on it, when it is fourth down and goal at the one and the home team has the ball, down by six with a few seconds left, the liberal and conservatives both cheer for the touchdown for the home team and , if they cheer on the other side, they cheer for the defense to hold.  Nothing transcends all our differences in South Carolina like our high school football teams.  And, our bands add to it, some of them with outstanding performances  that get the same different people up cheering and clapping for the same team.  

Having coached two sports now, basketball and football, I believe that every kid counts on a team.  The kid who shows up to practice and practices hard makes the starters better.  He or she makes a difference.  But, in the big scheme, everyone counts on this great tradition that is High School Friday nights.  Every role in that night counts and makes South Carolina a better place to live.  It is a special thing.  

So, if you are looking for something to do in the next several Friday nights, go to a high school football game.  Buy a hot dog, watch the game, enjoy the band.  Look around and see the best of South Carolina from towns like little McBee to big cities like Columbia.  The money you spend for a ticket, for the hot dog, etc., goes to the worthy cause of  giving South Carolina one of is finest traditions that brings out the best in people:  High School Friday Night. 

Wednesday, August 10

Health care costs are the problem

As the United States deals with its debt crisis and deals with Standard and Poor’s downgrading the United States federal government’s credit rating, one of the growing debates is about health care.

The President and the Democrats who had control of Congress passed a so called Health Care Reform Act.  That act did absolutely nothing to lower health care prices.  What it did was cater to health insurance companies, and make criminal not having health insurance coverage.  Now, why the Act offers subsidies to pay the lesser among us some sort of subsidies for that heath insurance coverage, it still was something that did nothing to lower prices.

Let’s face real facts here.  The great frustration of rank and file Americans is not having health insurance, it is having health insurance and still being put in a financial hole.  A man or woman can spend their entire lives having health insurance, get sick, and be stuck with big bills after insurance pays.

Here is how that happens.  America has seen a shift in the health care profession, from being non profit to profit.  As health care went to profit, so called financial professionals have been hired by health care providers to maximize profits.  Here is how that works.  Supposed a procedure will be paid $100, to be simple, by insurance companies.  Health care financial experts take that number, then figure out you can pay thirty dollars yourself.  So they charge you $130 for the act.  Your insurance company pays $100 and you are stuck with the $30 leftover. VUI choose low numbers to make a point simple.  But, frankly there are folks out there who paid their entire lives for health insurance, had something like a heart attack and find themselves, after insurance will bills ten or twenty times that after insurance.   The health care providers are in the business of maximizing profits. And with people choosing living or dying, getting those profits are like shooting fish in a barrel. You got a $100,000 in your savings after a lifetime, they will take it.

Health care providers will tell you that that Americans have access to the best health care in the world, the most innovative treatments.  That is true if you have good insurance coverage and money.  What they do not tell you is that millions of dollars of money is spent lobbying state legislatures to make health care malpractice harder to go after.   They do not tell you that they lobby to make sure they will not cover simple tests that find things like cancer in the earlier stages. In other words, big health care, spending big money, raises your bills to outrageous levels and  spends millions to make it harder for you or you family to recover if your health care provider messes up.  No other profession in America enjoys such protections.

That said, there is another part of the health care industry that is outrageous, and that is elderly care.  If a man or woman lives their whole life saving some money, and paying insurance, God help them if they get dementia or something like that and need nursing home care.  The nursing home health care provider runs through their savings, and takes every dollar of their Social Security benefits.  What is even more outrageous is that such care is often provided by people who frankly have no business doing it.  It is all about the profit and administrators of such care get relatively big money leeching off people who made their livings working hard. Think on it.  There are people out there, with no formal medical training, with not even a Bachelor’s degree in such things, making big salaries and deciding what is good for your grandfather or grandmother, all the while running through the lifetime of savings you grandfather or grandmother built. VUI really does not blame the folks who have to make that decision, but the big for profit folks who hire them for cheap because they do not have the formal training.

That, folks, is what is wrong with America and health care.  We live in a country that touts freedom, but if you live your life the right way, save your money, and you get sick, you lose it all to the health care leeches.  That is why so many American are tired of things.  They see our politicians all but paid off.  Indeed, we live in a country in which states must and do regulate things like a cable television bill and a electric bill, but health care providers are free to drain you dry.  And, living, that is probably the most irrational economic act people make.  Health care for profit folks take advantage of that.  Ten dollar aspirins and taking the savings of old folks is the tip of so called iceberg.  Nowhere in the world, but America, can a man or woman in the middle class build a small fortune and watch it all go away just to get basic health care, even with insurance.  Obama missed that.  The Tea Party Republicans missed that.  And, that folks is why so many remained so ticked off in this country.  And, making it criminal that poor folks do not get insurance will not do a damn thing about it.  The for profit health care industry bleeds the middle class and government alike.

Saturday, August 6

President Obama has reached his low point

Weeks of bickering with Republicans over the debt ceiling did take its toll. Standard and Poor’s downgraded the United States credit rating to AA+, citing the inability of the Congress and President to get their acts together on the national debt. The credit rating agency left them both to blame. 
But, there is only one man in the White House, the focal point of credit and blame, and that is Barack Obama. As the news, as odd as it came on a Friday night, came in about the Standard and Poor’s decision, a more pressing matter came into the White House.

In Afghanistan, 31 American troops were killed in one shot from a Taliban supporter’s anti aircraft weapon against a Chinook helicopter. Seven Aghans were killed as well. The war in Afghanistan, thought to be one the United States was winding down victory in, is all too real again.

Add to that dismal economic numbers that came out this week, along with a sluggish stock market. We are indeed a long way from the heady day in January 2009, when the President took office, and even farther from his campaign promises to win in Afghanistan, get out finances in order, and get our economy moving again.

Indeed, this President, whose election was to so many a dream come true, is living a nightmare. The bad news just keeps coming to his desk. And, fair or not, he will take the blame. That is how life in the Oval Office goes. Sometimes the circumstances overwhelms the man holding the job.

It happened in 1968. Lyndon Johnson passed more legislation to help the poor than any President in history. He also did more to fight the communist menace than any President during the Cold War. But it whipped him politically, and he wisely sought no second term on his own.

Perhaps President Obama should think of Lyndon Johnson. The economy suffers, our credit is downgraded, the war he promised to win for us is still hot, perhaps the President should shock the world and remove himself for re-election. It would give his Presidency a boost past this low point and be a real act of patriotism. Besides, a former President Obama will live a comfortable life with book and speaking deals and secret service to boot.

Chances are Obama will run re-election. And, as he does, he will, by the force of campaigning, have to divide this nation. The President will do the very thing that Standard and Poor’s says is the problem. The Republicans will answer him in kind. Doing business in this country is secondary to their respective political whims.

But, one thing is not a whim. Like him or not, President Obama has overseen growing debt and military and economic setbacks. His promise is nowhere near being fulfilled. Indeed, his Presidency, with the recent news is at a low point not seen since that of Jimmy Carter.
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