Monday, November 28, 2016

Ho Votato "No"

My ballot for the Italian Constitutional Referendum,
before I marked it and sent it in.
A week after I voted in the U.S. presidential election, I sent in my ballot for the Italian Constitutional Referendum, which is taking place on December 4th.

I voted "no." 

The referendum is a rather complex beast which I suspect a lot of Italians who live in Italy don't altogether understand, let alone those of us Italians by blood who live elsewhere. It is billed by its proponents as a series of reforms intended to make the Italian government more stable and efficient. That's an admirable goal, especially in a country like Italy, where the bureaucracy often moves at slower than a snail's pace, and where good-ol'-boys networks often dominate. But the problem in this case is that the medicine may turn out to be worse than the disease. That, at least, is the opinion I hear and read from a lot of people, both in Italy and outside.

The referendum's chief proponent is Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has stated that he would resign if the referendum fails. The "yes" proponents, as well as some news outlets and commentators, are predicting chaos if "no" wins -- from political chaos in Italy itself, to the absolute disintegration of the European Union.

I think those fears may be a bit overblown.

You can read a summary of the referendum's issues at Wikipedia. I just want to touch on one issue and how that issue made up my mind to vote "no."

The main point in the referendum is a reform of the Italian Parliament, which is made up of two chambers: the lower "Chamber of Deputies" and the upper "Senate of the Republic." One problem with the stability and efficiency of the government is that a law cannot be enacted unless both chambers pass the legislation in exactly the same form. This means that a bill just keeps going back and forth from one chamber to the other until, finally, at long last, maybe, the exact same language may pass both houses. At that point, the bill can become law. But the process is inordinately slow and unwieldy.

The referendum's solution to this is to drastically reduce both the membership and the power of the Senate. The Senate currently has 315 members who are elected by the voters. Under the reforms, the Senate would have 100 members who are appointed by regional authorities. The Senate would also be mostly taken out of the legislative process -- being reduced in most cases to an advisory role.

Thus, all but the most important legislation would simply need to be passed by the Chamber of Deputies, essentially making the Italian Parliament a unicameral legislature for most purposes.

But it occurred to me while thinking about these issues that the U.S. Congress solves this same problem in a much simpler way: When a piece of legislation passes the House in one form and the Senate in another, the two houses create a conference committee, work out a compromise bill that all can agree on, and then that bill is sent back to both houses for a vote.

Voila! No endless back-and-forth changing a word here or a paragraph there every time. No years-long deadlock because two chambers can't agree on exact wording. Instead, a simple solution. And the compromise bill is voted either up or down.
 
This thought demonstrated to me that the Italian referendum is indeed medicine that's worse than the disease it's trying to cure. Altering the Senate is only one of a myriad of changes to be enacted by this legislation. It is complex, unwieldy, draconian in some ways, and somewhat anti-democratic in others. It removes a great deal of representation from the people.

There's been a good deal of discussion of the referendum in a dual citizenship group that I belong to on Facebook. (And we can actually discuss politics without calling each other names!) Most of us appear to be coming down on the side of "no" because of these considerations. From what I understand, the views in Italy are much the same.

Reforms are indeed necessary. But I don't think these particular reforms are the way to go about it. They seem worse than the original problem.

So I voted "no."
 


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Double-neck Guitar Project, Part 1 - Will It Work?

Double-neck guitar kit.
Here is a little toy/project I picked up on eBay last week. I've been wanting to try one of these for a long time, and I finally found one at a bargain-basement price.

Actually, I've sold this guy to pay for most of it. So it's going to turn out to be an even better bargain. I'm trading a guitar that sort of duplicates what I already have for something unique and different.

I've never built anything like this before, so it's going to be an adventure. 

This is, in fact, not the kit I originally ordered. To make things easier on my novice self, I ordered a kit with bolt-on necks. But then the company emailed me saying they had made an inventory error and they were out of the bolt-ons. Could they send me this other kit instead? "This other kit" happens to have set-in necks.

After a bit of back-and-forth (I asked them, among other things, if they thought a total novice could handle assembling set necks), I told them to go ahead and send it, I would give it a try. They said if I found out I couldn't handle it, they'd let me return it to them, even if I'd begun finishing, etc., so that was nice of them.

Hopefully this guitar can add a number of new tones to my arsenal. It is a mahogany body with 24.75" scale, neither of which I have on any of my current guitars. Plus, obviously, the electric 12-string sound. Maybe I can become John McLaughlin...

Now all I have to do is put it together without screwing it up. Stay tuned for updates as we go along.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

I Can Now Vote in Italian Elections

Ballot for an Italian referendum
held in April, 2016
An additional privilege of the recognition of my Italian citizenship is that I now have the right to vote in Italian national elections. I can vote for representatives to the Italian Parliament, and I can also vote in national referenda. This is sort of like absentee voting in the U.S., but with a major twist.

A U.S. citizen living out of the country can vote for federal-level officials -- president, vice-president, U.S. senator, and U.S. congressperson. But that person votes in their U.S. voting district (that is, the last place the person lived in the U.S.), their votes are commingled with all the other voters of that "home" district, and the senator and congressperson are elected to represent that district. 

In other words, the U.S. citizen living overseas effectively votes as if he were still living in the U.S., and the representatives he elects to Congress represent the U.S. district where he used to live, not the foreign locality where he lives now.

Italy, by contrast, has 18 seats in its national Parliament specifically set aside for Italians who live outside of Italy -- 12 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 6 seats in the Senate. So Italian citizens who reside permanently outside of Italy actually have their own representatives in the Italian Parliament. Rather than representing regions and constituencies in Italy, these 18 representatives represent the interests of the Italiani all'estero -- Italians living abroad.

So Italian citizens living in, say, the United States do not vote for a parliamentary representative from their home town in Italy. Instead, they vote for their own dedicated representatives in Parliament. Representatives who will speak up for their unique interests as expatriates.

Cool, huh?

These 18 members of Parliament are allocated among four electoral regions around the world in proportion to the number of Italian citizens living in each region. The region consisting of North and Central America has two representatives in the Chamber of Deputies and one representative in the Senate.

I have been doing a little research into Italian politics, because if I'm going to vote, I'd like it to be an informed vote. If I don't know what I'm voting on, if all I'm going to do is close my eyes and pick one choice or the other, I'd rather not vote at all. I think if you're going to vote, it's your responsibility to be at least a little bit educated on the issues and the candidates. So I'm trying to get at least a little bit educated.

What I'm finding is that Italian politics is a very fluid beast. You have a couple of major political parties -- say, a left-leaning party and a right-leaning party -- plus two or three lesser-but-still-important parties at various points along the political spectrum. Within each of these parties are a number of subgroups -- some more extreme, some more centrist, etc. The subgroups regularly split off from the major parties, form their own minor parties, then enter into coalitions with other split-off-subgroup-minor-parties, eventually perhaps forming into a new major party or occasionally simply self-destructing. All of the parties continually change their names to reflect their evolving compositions, coalition alliances, and leadership whims. They have factions leave, join, and rise and fall in influence all the time.

In other words, you basically can't tell the players even with a scorecard most of the time.

To be honest, I sort of wish the U.S. system was more like this. Here in the U.S. we have an entrenched duopoly of political power that absolutely refuses to recognize any group, no matter how large, other than their own. The televised presidential debates are a prime example: In 2016, the Libertarian Party is on the ballot in all 50 states, but its candidate is not allowed to participate in the debates. (This is probably because the Commission on Presidential Debates -- a high-falutin' sounding "not-for-profit" organization -- is actually organized and controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties. Betcha didn't know that....)

Anyway, U.S. politics aside, Italian politics is apparently not for the faint of heart. I am sort of intrigued by the Movimento Cinque Stelle -- the Five Star Movement, a grass-roots, anti-establishment organization which formed several years ago based on an Italian comedian's blog posts. The party has since evolved into a serious political juggernaut which recently captured the mayorships of both Rome and Turin, numerous other posts around the country, and a fair number of seats in the Parliament. But they are now having internal issues as well, and they have a couple of (fairly important) positions which I don't particularly agree with.

Ah, well, we shall see....

There is an important constitutional referendum coming up in just a couple of months (the exact date has not yet been set), which may be my first opportunity to cast a vote in an Italian election. The proposal completely reorganizes the electoral system in Italy. Whether I am able to vote or not depends on if my citizenship paperwork is filed in all the right places by the proper deadlines. If it is, the consulate will send me a ballot, which I will fill out and return.

I am leaning "against" this particular proposal because, from what I've read so far, it's basically designed to consolidate the power of the existing prime minister and his party, and to insure parliamentary majorities to parties who may only garner a plurality of votes in an election. It also removes the Senate completely from the popular vote and has senators appointed by the regional governments and the president.

All of this is supposed to help the "stability" of the Italian government -- but it also would provide established parties with absolute control of the legislative process, rather than forcing them to negotiate with, and enter into coalitions with, other parties in order to form a parliamentary majority to govern.

I am definitely a bigger fan of negotiation and inclusiveness (yes, even if you have to compromise your principles a little bit, and, yes, even if it is more "unstable" and inefficient) than I am of ramming things through simply because you have the votes -- votes which you've gotten because you've designed the system to give them to you when you haven't actually earned them. This latter method is how we do it in the U.S., and look where that has gotten us....

So unless I learn something new in the meantime, if they send me a ballot, I'll probably be voting "no" on this particular proposal.



Photo credit: Matteo Grisorio - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0




Monday, September 19, 2016

A Mystical Experience at Delphi

(This post was originally published under the title "Delphi, Sacred Places, and Listening to Apollo" at EndlessJourneyTravel.com.)


Some places just have a vibe about them. You can feel it when you go there. It's in the air -- or something. There's just something special about the place, something perhaps a little other-wordly, something....

This is how "sacred places" become sacred.

Last month during our trip to Greece, we visited Delphi, site of the famous Oracle. Delphi has a vibe to it. It's been a sacred site since as far back as the 14th century BC, and you can feel it. The vibe is subtle, yet powerful. It can be (and probably often is) overpowered by the hustle and bustle of the modern world, by the diesel exhaust of the tour buses, by the buzz of hundreds of tourists flitting about snapping selfies and pictures of ancient ruins...

But if you can get alone for a few minutes and clear your mind, you can definitely feel the vibe. A vibe that's probably been there for thousands of years. A vibe that's probably why Delphi became a sacred site in the first place.

While we were at Delphi, I managed to shake off the tourist crowds for a few moments. Or, more accurately, the crowds went off in search of some other momentary pleasures, while I lingered almost alone at the ruined-yet-still-massive-and-impressive temple of Apollo. I tried to imagine what it might have been like 3,000 years ago: some people coming to offer tribute to the god, others coming to query the Oracle about some upcoming venture, perhaps some singers preparing to perform in the theater or athletes preparing to compete in the stadium.

I walked slowly around the temple and came to the spot where our tour guide had said the Oracle actually sat when she made her prophecies. I stopped, in contemplation. It was surprisingly quiet around me -- almost everyone else had gone away.

This was a sacred spot. In the quiet, I could feel it.

As I stood pondering, I began to experience a sense of insight -- almost as if an idea or feeling was being placed into my mind. It was a positive, calming feeling, which eventually translated into the words, "You're on the right path." This made me feel good in a very unique way: It provided reassurance that everything was going to be alright, while it also instilled in me the confidence that I'd be able to handle any challenge that might arise. I guess more than anything else, it helped to remove doubt.

But... where did this idea, these words, come from?

I decided they had come, through the Oracle, from Apollo himself.

As if as a sign, I suddenly noticed that the god had placed a small talisman in front of me, upon one of the stone platforms that in ancient times had led to the Oracle. I retrieved the talisman, held it for a minute, felt the vibes emanating from it. It would keep the god, his protection, and his power close to me. I felt grateful. I looked around. There was another talisman, which I retrieved for my wife. These were special objects from a special place.

As I began to look around for still another talisman, words came gently into my mind: "Don't be greedy." I sort of smiled to myself as I realized that, yes, I was beginning to get greedy. But I accepted the god's suggestion and decided to be satisfied with, and thankful for, the good fortune that was already mine.

As I began walking away, I realized that this apparently minor incident was actually having a rather profound effect on me. I can be a bit of a mystic, yes, but I'm not really one given to hearing voices. But here I was at a place where a god has been speaking for thousands of years, and simply by quieting my mind for a few moments, I could hear him, too.

Then, just a few days ago, I came across something rather astonishing.

I was reading about Delphi, and the article said that in ancient times there were two maxims carved into the entrance of Apollo's temple. One maxim said "Know thyself." The other said "Nothing in excess."

I did sort of a double-take as I realized immediately that "don't be greedy" is essentially "nothing in excess" in other words.

My experience at the temple was validated. I had no earthly clue that the phrase "nothing in excess" was an important factor in Delphic wisdom and ritual -- so important that it was actually carved into the entrance of the temple itself. Yet that is the exact concept that was given to me as I stood contemplating at the temple.

Not only is the site sacred, but it is consistent in its teachings.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

E 'ufficiale: Sono cittadino d'Italia!

Earlier this afternoon, I received the following email:


From: Consolato Gen. d'Italia, Houston - Cittadinanza
To: Ed Perrone
Subject: Italian Citizenship confirmation.
Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2016 15:49:59 -0500

Dear Sir,

This is to inform you that your application for the Italian Citizenship has been accepted and processed.

Your documents have been sent to the Comune di Giusvalla (SV) for their official registration.

Please, be advised that any change in your status or address must be properly notified to this Consulate General.

Should you be interested, it is now possible to apply for your italian passport in scheduling an online appointment with the Passport Office through our website www.conshouston.esteri.it

Regards,

Valentina Venditti
Administrative Officer
Consulate General of Italy
1300 Post Oak Blvd - Suite 660
HOUSTON, TX 77056


My Italian citizenship is officially recognized! I am now entitled to all the rights and privileges of an Italian citizen.

Frankly, I am quite amazed that this has gone through so quickly. I only first discovered that I was even eligible for citizenship last November 30th. Now, less than 10 months later -- and only two weeks after my appointment! -- it is official. People in other jurisdictions often require years to go through this process. I am thankful to the Consulate employees in Houston for being so businesslike and efficient.

I am thankful to a lot of people, actually, and to the Universe itself. Although this is technically my birthright, it is also a great privilege that is not bestowed on everyone. I am a very fortunate guy, the gods have smiled upon me. I may or may not take advantage of all the opportunities this citizenship affords me, but I am grateful to have them.

I am a big believer in fate and destiny. Some things are simply "meant to be" (and some are not). The fact that my path toward citizenship went so quickly and so smoothly -- even around obstacles that could have halted it in its tracks -- tells me that it is "meant to be." I don't know why (yet!). But when you see a door in front of you and you give that door the tiniest of pushes, and then the door simply flings wide open and essentially sucks you right through it -- then, yes, I think you were meant to go through that door.

What's on the other side? Chi sa? (Who knows?)

Finding out will be a new adventure.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Italian Citizenship: Success!

Today I had my appointment at the Italian consulate in Houston to present my documentation to claim my Italian citizenship.

It went far better than I could have expected.

The consulate is located on the 6th floor of the Wells Fargo Tower on Post Oak Boulevard in Houston. I arrived about a half-hour early for my 9:00 am appointment. Unfortunately, they do not actually open until 9:00 am, so I and seven other people also waiting for appointments had to stand around in the hallway for a half-hour or so, without even any chairs to sit on. (To be fair, there is a little lobby area with seating on the 1st floor. But most of us didn't go down there, we just waited outside the consulate door leaning against the walls.)

A minute or two after 9:00 they unlocked the door. I was the first one in. I signed in on the sign-in sheet, and was directed to window #3 -- a bank teller-like window, but with two comfortable chairs to sit on. You pass your documents through a little slot in the plexiglass divider.

A few moments later, a fairly cheerful-looking lady arrived, said "Buongiorno," asked me how I was doing, and then pretty much got down to business. I found out later her name is Valentina, but she did not introduce herself at this time.

She first asked for my passport and my driver's license or other proof of residence, which I gave her. She then asked for Form 1, which is the basic application and details the line through which I am claiming. She looked that over, then asked me for the $339 fee, which I gave her in cash in the exact amount. She also had me sign Form 1 for her.

She excused herself for a moment, and said she would return with my receipt. She brought my documents with her and, I presume, made copies of them. She returned in a few moments and gave me a copy of Form 1 with the receipt stamped on it, as well as my passport and license.

Then we got down to the nitty-gritty. My line is my grandfather, to my father, to me. So she asked for my grandfather's birth certificate. She examined it briefly, then asked for his naturalization papers.

This is where I had the most worries. I had the NARA documents which provide all the basics of the naturalization, including the court order and certificate number. But I have not yet received the actual naturalization certificate from USCIS (which I ordered in April!). I was hoping this would not be too serious of a problem.

I gave her the NARA documents, which she examined approvingly. I noted her nodding her head as she was going through these documents, and I took that to be an encouraging sign. As long as she is nodding, I figured, I am good.

Then she asked for the naturalization certificate.

I told her that I had not yet received it, although I had ordered it in April. She said -- to my immense relief and surprise -- that that would not be a problem. For the "completeness of my file," she asked that I forward it to her when I receive it. But she said it was "not necessary" to have it in order to proceed.

Whew!

She then asked if I had my grandmother's birth certificate. I did, and I gave it to her. She asked if my grandparents were married in Italy or here. I told her they were married here, and slid the marriage certificate through the slot.

She examined the certificate, comparing the names to the birth certificates. She then looked at the translation, comparing that to the original certificate. All the while, she was nodding her head. I was breathing a little easier.

Next was my father's birth certificate. Then his marriage certificate and my mother's birth certificate. Again, she compared everything to the previous certificates, and compared the translations to the originals. Again, I noticed her nodding to herself a few times through the process.

Then she commented to me that she was very pleased with the Delaware marriage certificates -- both my parents and my grandparents had been married in Delaware. She said these marriage certificates provided all the information about the bride and groom, including their parents' names and places of birth. She said many certificates simply said that "so-and-so married so-and-so," without providing any other details -- and it is those details that she needs in order to verify that the correct people are being married.

She then asked if my father was still alive. I said no, so she asked for his death certificate, which I gave her.

Then it was my documents: birth certificate and marriage certificate, which I provided her. I was married in New Hampshire and they, too, include the information about the parents of the bride and groom. Again, she compared things to the previous certificates and nodded her head a few times.

She asked if I had my wife's birth certificate. I did, and gave it to her. She said she wanted this because the marriage certificate only said my wife had been born in "Maine," but to properly complete their forms, they needed the city of her birth as well.

At this point, she told me that everything seemed to be in order. She repeated that she would need the naturalization certificate to complete my file, but that she could actually process everything without it.

Then she asked for the remaining forms: Form 2 (my declaration that I have never renounced Italian citizenship) and Form 4 (the declaration of deceased ascendants).

I gave her Form 2. She looked it over, returned it to me to sign, then I returned it to her.

I then gave her Form 4 for my grandfather. She looked at it for a moment, then told me that she didn't really need it. My grandfather, she said, lost his Italian citizenship when he became a U.S. citizen. The Italian government already knew that, and did not need to verify that he did not renounce it. She made a distinction between "losing" his citizenship by naturalizing in the U.S. and "renouncing" his citizenship formally -- apparently this is an important legal distinction in Italian law. So she gave me back that form and said I did not even need to submit it.

Then I gave her the Form 4 for my father. She examined it, I signed it, and gave it back to her.

Finally, the AIRE registry form. Again, she looked it over, filled in "Giusvalla" (my grandfather's birthplace) as the comune of reference (i.e., the town where all of my paperwork will be filed), and had me sign it.

At that point -- and much to my surprise -- she leaned back in her chair, got a big smile across her face, and said to me, "I wish they were all that easy."

I tried to control my ecstasy....

She said my documents were "perfect." Seriously, that is the word she used. She said it's surprising how many people show up with bad documents, incorrect documents, incomplete documents. I was lacking the naturalization certificate, but that didn't seem to bother her. She mentioned that my line was fairly straightforward, "but even so..." she said.

Moral of the story: Make sure your documents are in order. It will make you stand out in a good way.

She then went over with me what will happen next: She will start a file for me and place it into the processing queue. Within about four weeks, my information (birth and marriage) will be filed in Giusvalla, and she will send me an email telling me I am officially recognized as an Italian citizen. At that point, I can apply for my Italian passport. She went over with me the various rights and responsibilities of citizenship. She reminded me to send in the naturalization certificate when I received it.

And then, about a half-hour after we started, we were done.

I am extremely fortunate. I only discovered I am entitled to Italian citizenship last November 30th. It is now nine months later and I am basically approved. Within another month, approval should be official, and maybe another month after that and I will have a passport. Less than a year from start to finish.

There are people for whom this process takes years -- two years simply to get an appointment, another two years' wait while the authorities process the request. That is in the U.S. In South America, the situation is far worse, requiring 10-20 years -- you read that correctly -- to go through the process.

A process of claiming what is rightfully yours by birth. Not asking for something new, but simply claiming something you already have.

I am a very fortunate guy....

I am not fortunate alone, however. I need to thank Audra de Falco for her accurate translations of my documents. The Dual U.S.-Italian Citizenship group on Facebook for all kinds of help and support throughout the process. And Avepally on Fiverr for quickly and inexpensively obtaining my grandmother's birth certificate from Italy when I was unable to do so.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Scammers Who Can't Even Scam Correctly...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VIV9IKyBHA
Snotty Phone is a phone with an attitude.
Click the picture to hear how she deals
with telemarketers.
You're familiar with Snotty Phone, correct? If not, you need to check out Snotty Phone's first video (click the image), because it will give you some context for the story you are about to read.

As you can tell from the video, Snotty is not particularly fond of telemarketers -- although she does like to have fun with them. But sometimes a telemarketer -- or in this case, a flat-out scammer -- puts a little twist on things.

Maybe you've gotten a call from people posing to be the IRS. The automated call tells you that you are behind on your taxes, and that the IRS is getting ready to file criminal charges against you. The call can sound quite threatening, and for people who don't know how the IRS works (they do not make threatening phone calls, they send you a letter in the mail), or for people who may actually be behind on their taxes, these phone calls can scare you into pouring out your confidential financial information to complete strangers.

But the "IRS" people have a little twist in their phone calls. Instead of telling you to "press 1 to speak to an operator," as most telemarketing calls do, this call simply gives you a callback number, then hangs up. In other words, they want YOU to call THEM so they can scam you.

Snotty Phone would love to get her hands on these guys. But the first couple of times they called, we were not at home, so we only got the message on our answering machine. And by the time we were able to actually call them back, the number had been disconnected.

Then a couple of days ago we got lucky. The phone rang. It was the "IRS," once again threatening to file criminal charges against us. The recorded message went through the whole spiel and provided the number to call back: 202-360-4612. (A number in Washington, DC -- nice touch.)

This time, Snotty and I were on it immediately. As soon as we hung up the incoming call, we dialed the number provided. It couldn't be disconnected yet, we reasoned.

One ring. Two rings. Someone picks up the phone. We hear a voice saying a couple of words in the background... and then the phone is hung up.

What?! You call a scammer back, virtually begging to give them your financial information, and they hang up on you?

Must have been a mistake. Maybe they didn't have their script ready, so they needed to get organized before answering. We redial. This time, they don't even pick up the phone. We are simply disconnected after a few rings.

We wait an hour or so, then try a couple of more times. Same result. 

I don't get it. How are these guys supposed to scam you if they don't even answer their phone? Did they flunk out of Scammer University or something? Are they just complete idiots?

I must tell you, Snotty and I were pretty disappointed. They laid a great opportunity right in our laps, then just snatched it away from us. 

I can promise, though, the next time they call we will be all over them. And maybe it will be a different group of scammers who know they actually have to answer their phone if they want to make any money at this scamming game.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sad News for Superman Fans: Noel Neill Has Died

Credit: Hollywood Reporter
Sad news for Superman fans. Noel Neill, who WAS Lois Lane to those of us of a certain age, has died.

I actually met her once, and got to play a scene from "Superman" with her onstage. This was at one of her personal appearances in the early '70s. I was a winner of a Superman trivia contest sponsored by the local Philly underground newspaper (called the Daily Planet), and the winners got free tickets to Neill's appearance and got to play the scene onstage.

I think I was Jimmy Olsen. My friend Everett, a very tall African-American who went with me, was Perry White. They gave him a grey wig to wear. Picture this in your mind now. Tall black college kid wearing a grey wig and saying things like, "Great Caesar's ghost!" :-)
 
The scene was pretty much a catastrophe. Most of us had, er..., "indulged" ahead of time, if you know what I mean... So we couldn't keep straight whose line came next, etc. But it was lots of fun. And Noel was a great sport about the whole thing. We also saw two or three episodes of "Superman," and listened to her give a little talk.

She was a great Lois Lane.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Snotty Phone Meets the Telemarketers

What happens when a telemarketer calls and a phone with an attitude answers? Check out this video and have a few laughs. Hopefully the first in a series, this is all real -- no scripts, no actors. Share it widely! :-)



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Here I Sit, Broken-Hearted"

Here is the song I wrote the other day. A true story about a man's shattered dreams, and the note he left behind. (Contains one "adult" word, if that sort of thing bothers you...)

You can also download this track at CD Baby.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hillary Clinton, the Cenus Bureau, and Information Security

Hillary Clinton: I did not have textual relations with that server.
tulsatoday.com
Let's talk a little bit about government data and information security, shall we?

I used to work for the Census Bureau. In my last go-round, I was a Field Representative, pretty much the lowest person on the totem pole. I went around to people's houses and asked them various questions, so the government could collect data on (in this particular case) crime victims.

The Census Bureau in general, and the Field Reps in particular, deal with a lot of people's personal data. They collect names, addresses, birth dates, education levels, number of children, sometimes income and similar information. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but also nothing that most people would want paraded around in public.

The Census Bureau as an institution takes this trust very seriously. Their mantra is the protection of personal information. Census Bureau employees take an oath to protect such information and never to reveal it, even after they leave Census Bureau employment. Read that again... Census Bureau employees take an oath -- you know, raise your right hand, I [state your name] do solemnly swear... Seriously. It is essentially the same oath that the Vice-President takes upon inauguration, except it contains an additional clause about never revealing personal information of Census respondents.

Census Bureau employees are reminded of this responsibility at least once a week, and take training courses at least annually to reinforce this knowledge. You will not reveal personally identifying information. Period. End of story.

If a Census Bureau employee does reveal personal information, it is a serious crime. The penalty is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Read that one again, too: five years in prison, and a $250,000 fine. So if I am a Census Bureau employee and I interview you for the survey I am doing, and you tell me your income is $85,000 a year, and then I mention that fact to your neighbor, I can go to jail for five years!

Information collected for the Census Bureau cannot even be revealed to law enforcement or to the IRS. If a Census Bureau employee goes to interview a household and there is a meth lab in that household, the employee cannot reveal that information to anyone. If he or she does, for example, call the police, the meth lab owners will be set free (because the information was obtained illegally) and the Census employee will go to jail (for revealing personal information).

On top of all that, all this information that Field Reps collect is stored on government-issued laptop computers. The hard drives of these computers are encrypted. They require a password, and in some cases a physical "dongle," to access. Software ensures that the password is changed every 60 days. And it cannot be a stupid password like "password" or "fido," it has to be a strong, secure password.

When information is transmitted from the field to headquarters, or vice versa, it is transmitted over a secure connection. Employees are not allowed to use their personal email accounts for Census Bureau business, and are never allowed to include the personal information of respondents in any email communication, even on the Census Bureau internal email system. Because email is considered inherently insecure. There is a separate, secure (encrypted) email system for those (rare) occasions when something absolutely must be sent in an email.

Keep all this in mind as we now turn the conversation to Hillary Clinton and her infamous email server.

Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State of the United States. She was not some lowly Census Bureau Field Rep trudging from one house to another where the people didn't even want to talk to her. She was fifth in line to the Presidency, responsible for managing the sprawling U.S. diplomatic corps around the world. The information she had access to was not Joe Blow's highest educational level and annual salary. She had access to highly confidential information about sensitive international negotiations, about various world leaders, probably about spies and other operatives. She had access to highly classified information -- information, most likely, that was even more sensitive than the information leaked by so-called "traitor" Edward Snowden.

Yet Hillary Clinton and her apologists say that it was no big deal that she stored this sensitive, classified, issues-of-war-and-peace information on insecure servers and transmitted it through insecure channels. They say it is no big deal that, against the wishes of the State Department security team, she used her own personal (insecure) Blackberry for email communication, rather than a government-issued secure device. They say it is no big deal that she processed and stored all of these emails on an insecure machine set up in, of all places, her own home.
Trump Hillary Negatives

A few days ago, I saw one of those Facebook political memes that listed "The Negatives." Under Donald Trump's picture was a whole list of perceived negatives. Under Hillary Clinton's was a single one: "She sent emails from her cell phone."

Anyone who creates or perpetuates a meme of this sort is either stupid or a liar. The issue is not that Hillary Clinton sent a "WYD?" email to daughter Chelsea from her cell phone.  The issue is a damned serious one: That Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States and someone who supposedly should know better, sent sensitive and often classified information across insecure channels and stored said information on insecure servers. After having been warned against it by her own experts.

This single act shows that Hillary Clinton is either incredibly stupid or incredibly arrogant. Either she didn't know that doing this was, let's say, not the brightest thing in the world (although any newly hired Census Bureau Field Representative would know); or she didn't care, meaning that she would endanger the safety and security of her country, and most likely break a half-dozen laws in the process, because using her own Blackberry and doing things "her way" was too important to her.

During this presidential campaign, I've heard a lot of "not qualified to be President" accusations thrown at pretty much all of the candidates on both sides. But for me, a former Census Bureau employee, this one takes the cake. Like I said, what Hillary Clinton did here -- and not just once, but for an ongoing period -- demonstrates either complete stupidity or complete arrogance.

I suspect it also demonstrates a complete disregard for the law, because I doubt that lowly Census Bureau Field Representatives are held to a higher legal standard than the Secretary of State. Or... maybe they are, because they can't afford the spin doctors and knee-jerk partisan sympathy votes that former Secretaries of State can....

Let's be clear: I don't have a lot of use for the Republican Party at this point in time. But if you are a Democrat and writing off these accusations against Hillary Clinton as just partisan politics -- or worse yet, if you actually don't think they are serious and you are defending her -- I really urge you to think again. The Republicans may be making political hay off of this, but it's not too different from Democrats having made political hay over Nixon's Watergate coverup.

In both cases, the targets of the accusations were, in fact, arrogant law-breakers, political hay notwithstanding...



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

As the Texas Candidates Try to Out-Conservative Each Other....

Texas candidate brochures
"I'm more conservative than you are!"
Click on the photo to read the spiels.
Here in Texas, we have a runoff election coming up next week. That means this week we are innundated with mailings and telephone calls from candidates trying to out-conservative each other.

I would note that the telephone calls might not be a problem, except that the politicos have exempted themselves from the state no-call law. Thus, politicians are free to badger you with spiels both live and recorded, as well as with robo-call automated "surveys" which, I suspect, are designed not so much to solicit your opinion as they are to guide your opinion in a specific direction. (I say "I suspect" because I have never gotten to the end of one, I hang up during the first question.)

In any event, the candidates' posturing would be kind of amusing were it not so pathetic. "I'm more conservative than you are!" is pretty much the theme of every advertisement.

"You're against Obamacare? I'm even MORE against Obamacare!!"

"You're against Planned Parenthood? I have 6 children, I'm even MORE against Planned Parenthood!!" (Cole Hefner, running for State Representative, says he is "married to Kerri for 13 years with 6 children" and "will defund Planned Parenthood." Yeah, well, obviously he didn't utilize its services...)

There is even a guy running for Texas Railroad Commissioner whose name is "Christian." I kid you not, Wayne Christian. Do you think he'll get the Christian vote? Is that a pseudonym he took just to run for office? Is he even a Christian?

Anyway, it's kind of annoying and kind of funny at the same time. As for the issues, as near as I can figure it, they are saying that we need to build a wall around all public restrooms, because illegal immigrants are taking stalls from native-born citizens who need to pee. And those illegals are threatening, too. Would you want your daughter in the same restroom with an illegal immigrant who has a driver's license and who utilizes the services of Obamacare and Planned Parenthood?

I thought not....



Thursday, April 28, 2016

Monday I Fell Off the Wagon

Fender Squire Bullet Strat
Meet the newest member of the family: A Fender Squire Bullet Strat. Not fancy or expensive by any means, but feels and sounds like a pretty decent guitar at first play, and it's basically new out of the box. It still needs to get a real workout, of course, and then see how it holds up over time. But my initial impression is very good.

It will compete most directly with the Indiana Strat copy -- the one that's covered with stickers and upgraded with two lipstick-tube pickups in the neck and middle positions. Aside from the lipstick pickups, they are essentially the same guitar, at least superficially. What remains to be seen is if they have the same tone, feel, and vibe... or if they each have their own unique personality.

This guitar was definitely an impulse purchase. I was not supposed to be buying any more guitars. I haven't bought any for quite a while. Money has been a little tight; but more to the point, I seem to have everything I need to get the sounds that I want to get. No matter what sound I'm looking for -- acoustic or electric, hard or soft -- I can pretty much pick up a guitar in my collection and get that sound. So I was pretty happy with the stable the way it is.

Then on Monday, the next-door neighbor came over and asked me if I wanted to buy a guitar. I wondered how he knew I was even interested in guitars, as he is fairly new here and we haven't talked a whole lot yet. He said another neighbor had told him that if he wanted to sell his guitar, maybe he should ask Ed, as he knew that Ed had a bit of a collection...

So there I am standing in the yard checking out this nice little axe. One side of me is thinking, "I don't need any more guitars, and this isn't anything that I don't already have." The other side is thinking, "Oh, man... Feels nice... Sounds nice... Brand new... Price is right..."

My wife, Vicky, is also there. Unlike many spouses I've heard horror stories about, she is saying things like, "Well, if you really like it you should probably get it." And (to the neighbor), "What's the least you can take for it?"

See what a lucky guy I am?

So he named his bottom-dollar price, and I said something to the effect of, "Hang on a second, I'll get you the money..."

And here we are.
 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Testing dictating

I'm just trying to test whether I can dictate a blog entry rather than actually type it out on my phone

Looks like it can work this way

Son of a bitch. Even splits the paragraph when I tell it to

Monday, March 14, 2016

Italian Citizenship: A Giant Leap

Tutti i Giusvallini, Sept. 23, 1923. 
 The group of Italian immigrants (including my
 paternal grandparents) who came to the U.S.
in the early 1900s from Giusvalla in Italy
and settled in northern Delaware.

Photo courtesy: Frank Rosaio
Well, I have managed to book an appointment with the Italian Consulate in Houston to present my claim to Italian citizenship. If you follow the way the Italian government handles these things, getting this appointment is itself no small feat. In fact, "word on the street," so to speak, was that Houston was not even booking citizenship appointments. So I am pretty thrilled about this. I was thinking this was going to be the most difficult step. And now it's done and confirmed.

The appointment is in late August. At that time, I will bring to the consulate all of the paperwork that documents my Italian lineage. Fortunately, I only have to go back two generations, and everything is pretty straightforward. Some people have a lot of problems with this -- three or four generations, unreliable documentation, name changes, lost documents, errors, etc. Mine seems much more uncomplicated.

After I chat with the consular official and give them the paperwork, then I wait. They check the lineage, and they also verify that neither my grandfather nor my father formally renounced their Italian citizenship before their respective sons were born. And when all that checks out -- anywhere from a few weeks to a few months -- they send me a letter and tell me I am officially recognized as an Italian citizen.

Then there is a bit more paperwork, the most important of which is obtaining an Italian/European Union passport. And then... a whole new world of opportunity opens up.

I am a member of a Facebook group for people who either have, or are pursuing, their dual U.S.-Italian citizenship. Someone in that group recently mentioned that to obtain in some way other than via bloodline the same rights and privileges that this Italian/EU citizenship gives us would cost $1.5 million or more in various European countries. Plus various types of residency requirements and gobs of other red tape. She said that those of us who can claim this by bloodline in Italy "have hit the genetic lottery."

I believe she is right. This is going to cost me maybe $1,000 when all is said and done. Yet I will gain the ability to travel, live, and work WITHOUT RESTRICTION in any of 28+ countries in the European Union, in addition to the United States.

That's what I call "having options."