New Shoes in the Rain

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Gulf Coast

Happy Friday from Biloxi, Mississippi, where I've been attending an industry function since Tuesday afternoon.  If you're a little rusty with geography, Biloxi is on the Gulf of Mexico and was directly in the path of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated this region a little more than six years ago.

This is my first trip to this area, and, I must say, I'm kind of astounded by what I've seen just driving around.  Some of the folks who are regular visitors to the area have mentioned how many large buildings, particularly the casino/hotels (I'm staying in one of them and writing from there right now), were severely damaged but quickly restored.  Yet when I drove around a bit Tuesday afternoon upon arriving the first thing I noticed near the Gulfport (neighboring community) airport was that the roof was still damaged at a National Guard building.  Then, driving along the beach highway to Biloxi, you see new construction alternated with ruined homes and structures surrounded by chain-link fencing.  A couple of blocks in from the shoreline I saw a great many vacant lots, where homes apparently stood prior to the storm.

I had dinner twice in a community east of here called Ocean Springs and have since learned that a number of businesses reestablished themselves there, rather than rebuilding in Biloxi.  Why?  Apparently it's just a little further inland and on higher ground, so that makes living and working there less risky than in Biloxi itself.  A cab driver told me and some colleagues last night that before Katrina he paid $2300 per year for insurance for his home, which was within sight of the beach in Biloxi.  He mentioned that if he had chosen to rebuild in the same location that the insurance company would have required him to elevate the home on pilings by 18 feet and that his insurance would then cost about $19,000 per year.  No thanks, he said, and bought a home inland.

The oddest thing to me about this is that I was just in Destin, Florida earlier in the year for a similar business conference, and because it wasn't affected by Katrina it's a whole different ballgame there than here in Biloxi.  Bustling hotels, retail and resorts, in spite of the BP oil spill impact just a year ago.

The folks I've met who are from this part of Mississippi seem like great people and I have no doubt they're extremely resilient.  I wish them luck, as they most certainly deserve it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What I know (or think, anyway)......

On another business trip (first of four consecutive weeks of travel, which will bring the recent total to eight out of nine weeks) and I had some time to commit some stray thoughts to this blog.

I'm actually in Richmond, Virginia today.  Arrived here yesterday afternoon, and leave around lunchtime tomorrow.  This appears to be a pretty nice city; the former capital and in the northernmost of the Confederate States.  I have visited her pretty regularly in the past two years and I like what I've experienced.

My Cincinnati Reds are merely playing out the string, as they're out of contention with little to play for, a lot of guys hurt and fans are turning most of their attention elsewhere.  My son and I made one last trip to Great American Ball Park Saturday night, mostly for Johnny Bench night.  This event commemorated a statue outside the ballpark depicting the Reds' Hall of Fame catcher ("baseball's greatest catcher," we were reminded repeatedly during the ceremonies Saturday evening) throwing out a would-be basestealer, something that happened frequently during Bench's playing career.  It was a great night, made better by a trip to the Hofbrauhaus Newport, where my son and I experienced some German food and beer (it WAS Oktoberfest, after all), then worse by the lackluster play of the home team.  We'll get 'em next year.

Next year may not come soon enough for the Kentucky football team.  They lost to Louisville Saturday night (see where my priorities are these days?) and based on the television recording I watched Sunday morning, did not look good doing so.  And they're heading into a tough stretch of their schedule, so it doesn't get any easier from here.

Love the latest actions by President Obama regarding jobs and the deficit.  Glad he's taking the offensive to get his points across.  High time, I say.

Most of my friends and acquaintances in the Louisville area are having to deal with the closure of one of the bridges across the Ohio River due to structural cracks.  I haven't heard an accurate count of the cars that use that bridge (the Sherman Minton bridge, to be precise) regularly, but it's gotta be a lot.  If the folks in Washington who don't feel that infrastructure investments are necessary would just take a look at that bridge and the car volume it normally carries.....well, you know.

And I don't write of world affairs here all that often, but I don't understand the back-and-forth regarding the remaining two American hikers who've been detailed in Iran for so long.  Their president said (through a translator) on an interview on NBC recently that they would be released soon.  Then the courts there indicated that, no, they would not be released.  Then it came to light that they would be released on $500,000 bail each.  So were they ransomed?  As I write this they're arriving in Oman and have now been released.  Good for them, as we don't want our citizens held overseas without good reason, but what do you suppose all of this means regarding our relationship with Iran?

Well, gee, sports, national politics and foreign affairs.  My work here is done.....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The view from the cheap seats

Since so much of my comments here are observational, I thought today's title to be appropriate.  I also considered something else, but realized that journalist David Brinkley beat me to it as the title of one of his memoirs:  "Everyone is entitled to my opinion."

True, true.

OK, first, let's touch on sports.  This is one of my favorite times of the year, as the baseball season is winding down to reveal who will play in the post-season (and confirms what I've known for months, that my Cincinnati Reds will not be playing any meaningful games from here on out), and both the college and professional football seasons are getting underway.  Great time of year to be a sports fan.

Not so great, though, if you're a fan of high-quality professional football, as most of the games that I've watched have involved some pretty sloppy play.  This is undoubtedly owing to the NFL lockout that prevented teams from having "off-season" workouts, mini-camps and abbreviated training camp.  I've come to understand that much of what happens in football is not the result of raw talent or ability, but rather extensive practice and repetition.  And the pros didn't get that.  To be sure, some teams looked pretty sharp offensively (Green Bay, New Orleans and New England come to mind) but others looked like a couple more weeks of practice might have helped.

And then there's college football.  The "experts" were significantly wrong about Notre Dame, as the Irish have now lost two games.  The latest was a massive collapse in the fourth quarter at Michigan last Saturday evening, making Notre Dame 0-2.  I'm sure the Irish faithful aren't happy at all about this.

Kentucky is 2-0, and not because they played so well in either of their games.  But a win is a win, so they say, and Kentucky fans will take it, although they'll not be too thrilled with how things look down the road if things don't improve.

So let's now turn to politics.  Have you watched any of the Republican debates so far?  Looks like the mission of most of the candidates is to tear down the front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry (who looks like an odd cross between George W. Bush and a televangelist).  They're forgetting that they will have to run against a somewhat unpopular, but still incumbent, President Obama, so they're probably wasting their ammunition on the wrong opponent.

Speaking of President Obama, it was nice to see him show some fire last week in his address to Congress concerning his jobs bill.  We haven't seen that fire since he was a candidate for his current office, and it's long overdue.  I think he is unfairly criticized for his willingness to compromise and cooperate, but since the conciliatory method isn't working, time to try something else.

Finally, I won't say that I enjoyed the coverage of the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, but I watched some of the programming and felt that everything was done very appropriately.  I was and am fortunate that I did not lose anyone on that day, nor have I lost a loved once since in our numerous military deployments around the world.  But I cannot help but feel that the people left behind by those lost on 9/11 have a very different sense of grief and sadness than those who have lost military personnel or others serving in a civilian capacity in a war zone since.  Regardless, it's important to remember them all.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Working on my act and taking it on the road

Well, sort of.....just back from a very quick business trip to Charlotte, where my supervisor and I interviewed candidates for a vacant position on my team.  And this morning I decided to move outside of the environs of my home office and am writing from a nearby bakery/coffee shop, soaking up that nice, strong, FREE Wi-Fi.

Weather is an interesting thing, isn't it?  How often do we get what we really want?  Here in central Kentucky, we've been approaching drought conditions for a while (though not nearly the extent that many parts of Texas and elsewhere have experienced), so now with the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee parked over our region, it's rained pretty much continuously since last Sunday.  We live on high ground in the city, so flooding really isn't an issue for us.  But it certainly is for those closer to creeks and streams, and there have been many reports of flood damage in our area.  Be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it.

The whole coffee shop dynamic is kind of interesting to me.  I've not been a regular at Starbucks, for example.  Like some of their products, don't have a problem with the environment, but I don't generally think of going there to hang out.  The bakery where I'm perched at the moment is in our neighborhood and many mornings around this time there are groups who are gathered here.  This morning there appear to be two men's bible study groups.  I suppose that community is what places like this are about, but I can't help but feel a little odd when I'm in proximity to a group like this, as though I'm somehow intruding by sitting nearby on my computer, writing this and doing some work.

On my flight from Atlanta (where else?) home last night, my seatmate was a pleasant man who stands about 6 feet, 5 inches tall.  There he was, contorted into the window seat next to me.  Felt worse for him than for me.  Said he didn't fly much and therefore was confounded by the whole idea of the regional jet.  I got over that a long time ago.

Have you noticed that there's a new movie starring Brad Pitt that's out now, or soon, called "Moneyball?" It's based on a very good nonfiction book about how the Oakland Athletics, faced with a lack of money for player salaries, turned to something that's now called sabermetrics to evaluate players.  Statistics replacing baseball scouts' in person impressions of players' abilities.  Very informative and entertaining book, but I'm not sure it makes a good movie.

This time of year is usually kind of a drought for movies that grownups would enjoy, but there are a couple of others coming out soon that appear interesting.  "Contagion" deals with a megadisease and the scientists who apparently discover and attempt to control and cure it.  And Kentuckian George Clooney is out with another picture that he's written and directed, called "Ides of March."   This one is about a presidential candidate.  Well timed.

You probably know that I'm not a Republican, yet my wife and I watched the latter half of last night's Republican presidential debate.  Sorry, but I didn't get any impression that any of the frontrunners look or seem presidential.  Jon Huntsman appears articulate and not without some decent ideas, which is probably why he has no chance of winning.  The funniest thing is that when these folks turn on each other, they're forgetting they have an incumbent, albeit only moderately popular, President against whom to run their campaigns.

The bible study guys nearby are now talking about God wanting us to be better men.  And arguing over which passage best fits a certain scenario.  One of them just looked in my direction.