Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

The other day I received an e-newsletter from my loan officer down in Key West, Ruben Concepcion. One of the articles dealt with the IRS’s recent decision to stop collecting the Federal Excise Tax on long distance phone service. Taxpayers will be eligible to file for refunds of all excise tax paid on long distance service billed to them from February 28, 2003 through July 31, 2006. You can either collect all your old phone bills and add up the amount of tax you were actually charged, or take a standard $30 deduction, which is apparently what most people are doing.

But to borrow a well-turned phrase from Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story. The tax was imposed in 1898 and originally targeted the affluent because phone service was a luxury back then. The purpose of the tax was to help pay for the Spanish-American War, which lasted six months. But after the war ended the tax continued and consumers have coughed up well over $300 billion to pay for a war that cost only a tiny fraction of that amount.


The only way to obtain your refund is with your tax return. Tax forms will include a line for requesting the overpayment amount, and the refund can be claimed on 2006 returns due in 2007. And although interest will be paid on the refund amount – don’t forget that we’re dealing with the IRS – the interest is taxable and will need to be reported on your 2007 income tax returns. Can you believe it? It takes them 109 years to get rid of a tax that was supposed to be “temporary” and now they’re going to charge us interest on our measly $30 refund. Amazing.

This past Saturday evening I attended my first opera – Madame Butterfly. My house-mate, Sascha, is a bass player in the opera so he was able to get me a $5 house ticket. It was definitely in the nosebleed section – the very last row in the upper balcony – but the acoustics were great and I had a bird’s eye view of the performance.


Madame Butterfly is the story of Pinkerton, a dashing officer in the United States Navy, and Cio Cio San (not a complete innocent – she has been a geisha, after all), a nonetheless fragile, unworldly girl in love with the handsome sailor. It is clear that Pinkerton, although infatuated with the fifteen year old Butterfly, is a philandering heel, who upon the occasion of his marriage toasts to the day he will celebrate a true wedding to an American woman. Pinkerton deserts Butterfly and she pines for three years, always believing he will return to her and to the son he has unknowingly fathered. He does return, with his new American wife, and when he learns about his son he declares that Butterfly must give him up for “the good of the child.”

The set was exquisite in its detail: trees laden with cherry blossoms overhanging a traditional Japanese house with its sliding paper panels, all perched atop a hill overlooking the distant azure harbor. Even more breathtaking were the Read More

I was on the phone with Dad until midnight last night – he was trying to go to the links on my recent blog entry about the Honda car commercial and the fantastic machine, but he didn’t have the flash player he needed, so I walked him through it. We finally figured it out (hard to know what to tell him since I can’t see what’s on his screen) – got the software downloaded and installed – and he was able to view the videos. He is so mechanically inclined that I knew he would love the videos. As the car commercial played I recorded his running commentary:

“OK, now I got a couple of gears running down a plank – oh – they’re falling off the plank onto the floor and rolling over to something else and making it turn – oh – that’s part of a muffler! And that’s hitting – oh – it’s a windshield! Now these screws are turning and rolling off and hitting – ah – it’s a radiator – and it fell over – and it hit…a tire… and now the tire is rolling uphill and hitting another one, and another one and – that’s making a lot of other stuff fall and …oh for God sake it started a fan! And the fan rolled over and started another whole chain reaction that made water spray and started the windshield wipers and now they’re crawling across the floor! Now here’s the end and the finished car is rolling off the block. I’m gonna have to study this. This is something you can watch over and over. I’m definitely gonna have to study this.”

I knew he’d love it. He takes things apart just to see how they work and he can fix anything, my Dad. And you just gotta love YouTube!

When I lived on the Outer Banks I was fortunate to have a house located on 12.5 acres, surrounded by Nature Conservancy land, so it was not uncommon to be visited by critters of all kinds (read about them here). I had deer, fox, snakes, HUGE snapping turtles, nutria, giant Osprey, big ‘ol green warty bullfrogs and one inch long tree frogs in colors ranging from lime green to bright orange, Great Blue Herons, possum, rats – you name it. But the one thing I never saw was a raccoon. I KNOW they were there – I saw their tracks. Not to mention I had to bungee down my garbage can lids or they would tear up my trash and spread it all over the yard.

Raccoons climbing the palm trees in my front yard

Raccoons climbing the palm trees in my front yard

I had hoped that I would see a raccoon before I left the Outer Banks forever. But I never caught a glimpse of one. Sometimes we get our wishes in ways that we would never have imagined. In Sarasota, several stray cats live around the complex where I now live and the building manager, having a soft spot in her heart for cats, Read More

I received both of the following videos by email and they are just too good not to share. The first is a commercial for the Honda Accord that aired in the U.K.

Can’t view the above YouTube video about the Honda Accord? Click here.

There are no computer graphics or digital tricks in the film. Everything you see happened in real time, exactly as you see it. Filming was done over four near-sleepless days in a Paris studio, after one month of script approval, two months of concept drawings and a further four months of development and testing. It took five months of production and design work before “Cog” was ready to shoot. The film took 606 takes. On the first 605 takes, something (usually very minor) didn’t work. They would then have to set the whole thing up again. Read More

The other day I was wondering why, with all the millions of birds in the world, you never hear of anyone being splatted with bird droppings. Maybe people have always talked about this and I just never noticed. Or maybe by thinking the thought I released some kind of fowl energy. Whatever, since the moment I had the thought I’ve been bombarded with bird talk. Take, for instance, the conversation of the folks at the table next to me this afternoon at the sidewalk cafe:

“It’s a hawk,” said the man.

“No, it’s a pigeon,” argued the woman.



Pigeons roost wherever they can find a nook

Pigeons roost wherever they can find a nook

This went on for some minutes while I scanned the sky for said bird. No sign of it. I checked out the roof of the building. Nothing. Mind you, I was trying to be unobtrusive and act like I wasn’t listening to their conversation, so I didn’t want to look directly at them to determine WHAT bird they were talking about. Finally, out of the side of my eye I realized they were looking up. Everyone knows that it’s impossible NOT to look up when someone else is craning their necks, so of course, I looked up too. Perched in the tree directly above me was the biggest darned Pigeon I have ever seen.

I wasn’t even surprised when it happened. Splat! A direct hit on the big toe sticking out of my sandals. I did the best to wipe it off with the crumpled up napkins left over from my

lunch and headed off for my afternoon hike around town.

Birds on a wire

Birds on a wire

Within a few blocks my toes stopped feeling squishy and I resumed taking photos but at every turn I was confronted by birds. The building in

the above photo apparently has been fighting a battle of the birds for a long time. Every eave and gutter is lined with spiky metal prongs designed to deter the birds but it didn’t stop this Pigeon from making a tidy little nest – look at him checking me

out as I snap his photo, almost as if he is daring me to come up there and chase him out.

A little further along I chanced on this scene, straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Getting WAY too freaky now – I think I’ll just go home and think happy thoughts the rest of the evening.