Monthly Archives: February 2011

Shhhh! A review.

Shhhh! is the title of the newest play by the PB&J Theatre Factory. Success begins for this play with the name. My son and I had lots of fun with the who’s-on-first-type dialogue that comes with the name.

“Dad, what play are we going to see?”
“Okay. I’ll be quiet, but I really want to know the name.”

I heard a girl in the audience do something similar with her dad, so I’m pretty sure it was good and funny, and not just that Alexander and I are weird.

The PB&J Theatre Factory is local to Orlando, and they put on shows that are full of physical comedy with out spoken dialogue. There are tons of sight gags, sound effects and props that tell the story, and make us all laugh. And when I say laugh, I mean people are rolling in the aisles.

Shhhh! is their fifth play, following Sport, Snack, Sleigh, and Splash. They also have a mini-production for schools called Shade. Alexander and I had seen Snack and Splash before, so we knew what to expect, and Shhhh! met, if not exceeded, all our expectactions.

Shhhh! is a comedic mystery, and probably has the most straightforward plot. You’ve seen this story before – two thieves assume false identities while hiding from the cops – but you’ve never seen it done as hilariously. The actors are extremely talented at the miming and clowning skills needed to tell the story, and the jokes. The set for this show is the most elaborate they’ve done, and the Garden Theatre is a great venue for the show. It was our first time at that theater, and we’ll definitely go back there for other shows in the future.

It’s good and fun for all ages! Definitely try to check this out while it’s playing. It’s at the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden, Florida, through February 27th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.

United States Budget Ideas

I have a budget for myself that I maintain in Excel. I keep track of how much I bring in and all my expenditures. If I overspend, I see immediately the impact it has on the rest of my budget. I also pay down my debt and track that as well.

In the recent 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama said “But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”

So if I can make a budget and make sacrifices to live within my means, and the government has to do the same, why shouldn’t I share my ideas with the government?

The biggest drains on our economy are defense/homeland security spending, and entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Let’s start with defense spending. Even though we have troops spread all over the world, and we all talk about Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m going to start closer to home with Cuba.

First, let’s look at Guantanamo Bay. Obama had promised to close the prison there, but just this January, he signed the 2011 Defense Authorization bill into law. In it, it restricts the transfer for Guantanamo prisoners to the United States or to foreign countries. The Pentagon spends $116 million a year running the prison camp, which I believe now holds 176 prisoners. It costs about $650,000 a year per prisoner. Compared to the $27,251 it costs to house prisoners in stateside federal prisons, this is ridiculous. I know there are political ramifications, and NIMBY issues, but seriously, tough decisions need to be made.

But really, $116 million/year is just a drop in the bucket compared to the $671 billion defense budget that Obama proposed in his 2011 budget, which is a 5% cut.

So let’s be more creative with Cuba. Let’s lift the embargo. We’ve had an embargo with Cuba for about 50 years. Did you know that the US spends about $27 million per year broadcasting radio and TV to Cuba that Cuba effectively blocks? The non-partisan Cuba Policy Foundation estimates that the embargo costs the US economy $3.6 billion per year in economic output.

And the blockade keeps us from reaping benefits with our neighbor. By 1992, U.S. businesses had lost over $30 billion in trade over the previous thirty years, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that the embargo costs the US economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government estimates that the embargo only costs the island itself $685 million annually.

So we spend $3.6 billion for the embargo, and lose the opportunity for our economy to make $1.2 billion.

These are HUGE numbers, but they are still small compared to that huge defense budget.

The Pentagon has tried for five years to cancel an alternate engine for the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that is being developed by General Electric and Britain’s Rolls-Royce, but lawmakers have refused to kill the program. Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s chief financial officer, said, “We consider it an unnecessary and extravagant expense, particularly during this period of fiscal contraction.” He estimated it would cost taxpayers “nearly $3 billion in a time of economic distress.”

So ending the Cuba embargo, and stopping the development of the alternative engine for the F-35 would cut $6 billion from the US budget. The drops in the bucket are getting bigger.

Our military budget is larger than all other military budgets in the world combined, and 6 times as large as the next largest: China. I think it’s great that we have the best military in the world, but by what extent do we need it to be the best? These are tough times, and we need to make tough decisions.

Another money saving idea… Why have we not combined the military exchange services? I searched the internet and could not find any recent studies on this proposal, though it’s mentioned in passing on occassion. Currently, there’s the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Naval Exchange Service, and the Marines Exchange Service. I did find a DoD document that analyzed the exchange systems in 1990. “The review group determined that the current exchange systems are financially sound… However, with three separate exchange systems accomplishing the same basic mission, often within the same geographical area, there are duplications and redundancies in both the overhead and operating costs.”

I found another document that looks at the cost and benefits of retail activities on military bases. In 1995, the operating costs of all three exchange services were about $3.5 billion. Their income was about $2.5 billion. The government subsidy (cost minus income) was over $1 billion. Clearly, that operation could use some modern evaluation to streamline their opportunities. What kind of retail business loses $1 billion every year? And those are 1995 prices. Imagine what they are now…

I’m not saying I have all the answers. I’m not even saying I have any answers. I’m sure people can shoot holes in all my ideas. But we need to be creative as we consider solutions.

I haven’t even started on Social Security reform, but there’s plenty of information on Wikipedia. There are both conservative and liberal proposals there with the pros and cons of each. The important things is that we do ANYTHING. Inaction is the only wrong course, and that’s just what we’ve been doing.

Medicare reform is another action that must be taken. ($78 trillion in unfunded liability!!) There are plenty of proposals for that too. Here’s a website that compares all kinds of healthcare reform proposals:

I encourage you to do your own research, and then contact your government representatives. Maybe you have creative ideas! Feel free to share them in the comments!

PPD: Post Pinewood Depression

Yesterday was the Pinewood Derby for my son’s Cub Scout troop. We made what we thought was a pretty good car. It was NASCAR themed, and looked good, with shiny metallic paint. We carved a space in the back for adding weights, and got it to exactly 5.000 ounces, the maximum, giving it as much potential energy as we could.

Alexander's is the Blue one above the 66.


And it lost.

Two car lengths behind in the center track.

Immediately after the first heat, Alexander’s demeanor changed from joy to sadness, though there was still a small spark of hope since each car did 3 heats, changing lanes each time.

The second heat was just as bad, and all hope was abandoned.

Alexander didn’t even stay on the line to watch his third race. I’m actually very proud that he didn’t cry, though I know he would have liked to. We worked hard on the car and thought it would do good. Getting the weight exactly to the max seemed like a good omen.

I was able to cheer him up a little bit by the time of the final races. One of his best friends came in first place, so Alexander was very happy for him, and watched his heats with him.

And after the races, Alexander got to pick lunch (Pei Wei) and we went to Menchies for frozen yogurt.

We think that our issue was probably wheel alignment, or an axle issue in retrospect. And maybe there are some things we can do to the car design for next year. So rather than dwelling on the negative, we’re looking towards improvements in the future. Minor changes, like sanding the axles before we polish them. Major changes like changing the shape of the car. We even have discussed adding golf ball-like dimples all over the surface, a la Mythbusters. Maybe we should build a little test track to see if it goes straight and doesn’t rub against the edges. It takes trial and error.

And really, maybe this is a good lesson for other kinds of depression that we all face from time to time. This isolated moment of time was relatively easy to overcome. Real depression never is. But dwelling on the negative, NEVER makes things better. It’s easy to lie in a fetal position and listen to the heartlike backbeat of emo music, while the darkness comforts us like the womb.

But we need to find ways to focus on the future, and look to improvements we can make, from minor to major. And there needs to be some allowance for trial and error. Things don’t get better immediately.

I encourage you to seek out the little things that make you happy. Maybe start with a little change, like just switching to Katrina and the Waves instead of the Morrissey. It’s hard to wallow when you listen to Walking on Sunshine.

(I do like The Smiths, though. I’m not saying the music is bad.)

I’m not an expert on depression, though I do have some firsthand experience. But we mustn’t dwell. Not on Rex Manning Day. The little things matter! Let’s let the good and positive things outweigh the negatives!

So how about you? What are the major or minor changes you have made that help lift you out of depression?

What does it mean to be brave?

Just before the Super Bowl kickoff, Michael Douglas narrated a video segment called The Journey. It showed images of WWII vets, Martin Luther King Jr., firefighters at the World Trade Center… And then compared their accomplishments to the teams in the Super Bowl. “This is so much bigger than just a football game. These two teams have given us the chance for one night, not only to dream, but to believe.”

It seems that we in America have a twisted view of bravery and what it means to dream.

Recently, we have seen people in Tunisia and Egypt take to the streets to fight for their dreams, risking injury and death to see things changed for the better. When Americans take to the streets, it’s often because their basketball team won or lost.

Is there anything that would get Americans in the streets as a form of political protest? Why have games become so important to us?

My unique coffee table!

For Christmas, my dad made a one-of-a-kind coffee table for me.

I don’t know where the giant paintbrushes came from, but my mom has had them for a while. One day I was at my folks house and I said it’d be cool to make a coffee table that looks like a painter’s palette, with these paint brushes as legs.

So my dad for Christmas made me just that. Originally it did have the paintbrushes as legs, but it was really wobbly, so I made a new base for it.

I made the base out of canvas stretchers that I assembled and nailed together. They have a picture frame look, and are cool because it keeps the art supply theme going. They’re not super strong – I wouldn’t stand on the table or anything, but they’re pretty good. I stained them with the same stain that I used for the top of the table (Minwax Gunstock). The base is darker than the table top because of the different woods, but it still looks good. It’s more subtle than the picture shows.

I’m going to try to keep this theme going in the living room. I want to make a lampshade out of this watercolor paper pad cover. I also want some coasters for the coffee table. I saw these great ones on Etsy made out of recycled paint chips that are really cool. (Not $24 cool, though, when I can do it myself.) Colorwheels might be good, too.

So what do you think? Do you like the table? We’ve learned from making it, and my dad and I think we can do another like it better. And maybe sell it on Etsy. My walls in this room are still pretty bare, so I’ll be looking for (or making) some art for the huge walls. Do you have any other suggestions for the room?