Black Friday Success

As a man who feels himself in charge of his own destiny, I have developed a set of rules that help me to more effectively enjoy life.  For the most part, if I do not want to do something, and it does not hurt my family, then I do not do it.  For instance, I do not do garage sales.  I find them to be an extreme whipping, and I would rather just give my old useless stuff to a deserving charity.  So, I do.  Another activity that I have chosen not to take part in is the greatest shopping day of the year, also known as Black Friday. 

This year, I have been completing the game room in my home.  This includes a beautiful bar with a pub theme, a couch, bookshelves and seating.  The only thing that was missing was a television.  The plan had been to wait until I received this year’s tax refund, and buy an LCD HDTV, which would be my first.  However, after reviewing our finances, my wife and I had decided to buy one for Christmas, and finish out the room.

We traveled to my in-laws’ house on Wednesday, and prepared for a long Thanksgiving weekend with our little girl receiving loads of attention.  However, when we told my father-in-law of the plan to purchase a television, he went into internet action. 

I had looked at some prices in the past week, and had decided that I would probably be buying an off-brand 40 inch, 1080P for around $800-$900.  My father-in-law, being a veteran after Thanksgiving shopper knew that I had an opportunity to save a significant amount of money.

He looked at several sales, including online sales, and found some good buys.  Then, he ran across the sales ad for Sears.  It had several great buys on televisions.  I was interested in the 46 inch Sharp 1080P LCD HDTV for $899.00.  This was a $500.00 savings, and suddenly I found myself more motivated.

Unfortunately, my in-laws live about 80 miles from the nearest Sears, so my wife and I got up at 3:00 a.m. and set out for Lawton, OK.  First, I needed gas, and that meant finding a station that would sell it to me in Altus.  After three attempts, I obtained gas, and, more importantly, coffee, and we were on our way.

I began to get worried when I passed a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of Lawton at about 4:00 a.m., a full hour before their sale was to begin.  The parking lot way already half full.  Then about 4:20 we got to the mall, and saw that J.C. Penny which opened at 4:00 a.m. was already a madhouse.

We drove around the corner to the Sears, and I felt a little better when I saw the line waiting outside was not too long.  We placed ourselves in the line in the 40 degree weather behind about 60 people, and I was sure that they were all there to buy my television.  As time drew on, the line grew to the end of the building, curved down another wall, and then out of sight around another corner of the building.

The store opened promptly at 5:00 a.m. and the crowd briskly dispersed throughout the store.  We went directly to the televisions.  When we got there, there were already about 50 people roaming around, and grabbing the tags that referenced the various televisions.  We made a great decision when we decided to seek out a salesperson first.  We went to the register where the sales people were quickly devising a plan for dealing with the mayhem.  Their plan was to simply to form a line at each register and deal with the customers two at a time (one at each register).  Luckily the line just materialized behind us, and we ended up being third in line.

I paid close attention, and quickly realized that we had a problem.  The first question that the man at the register asked was what the SKU# was.  We had simply printed the front page of the ad off the internet, and the small print was illegible.  Therefore, I sent my wife in search of the correct SKU# and prayed that she would find it quickly.  She found the only Sharp 46 inch 1080P LCD HDTV on display, and quickly returned with the number.  The man looked it up and said that there were four in stock.  We were relieved and completed the transaction.  He informed us where we needed to go to find the Customer Pick-up department.

We drove around, and easily found the loading area with one empty space still available.  I did not plan this as a commercial for Sears, but let me say, their pick-up department has its ducks in a row.  There was a nice man there who showed me where the machine was that I needed to scan my receipt through.  There was a beep, and I looked up to see my name on a screen just like at an airport.  It showed how many people were in front of me (four), and how long I had waited.

We were waiting patiently when tragedy stuck.  My wife looked at the receipt and realized that we had been charged $1296.00 for the television that was supposed to cost $899.00.  I felt a little sick.  I suddenly had visions of the lines that we had left- the ones that had about fifty people in them apiece when we left several minutes earlier.

I showed the receipt and the ad to the nice man who had helped us a few minutes earlier, and he offered to get the dock manager for me.  The dock manager, Robert, quickly determined that I had bought the wrong Sharp 46 inch 1080P LCD HDTV.  There were two different ones.  I felt sick again because I knew it was my own fault.  I quickly developed an exit strategy.  I would just get my money back, admit defeat, and buy another television that we saw on Amazon.com that was a 42 inch Sony for the same price.  However, before I could even say a thing, Robert said, “Come this way, I can fix this.”  He quickly reversed the charges on the first television and sold us the new one.  After thanking both men profusely, we were loaded and on the road in only about five more minutes.  We drove back to my in-laws’ house and climbed back into bed at about 7:00 a.m.

Success.

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Death From Below

I have a few stories that I refer to as my “The Lord is My Shepherd Stories.”  These stories contain a common theme.  In each case, I give the Lord credit for either flat out saving my life, or helping me to get out of the situation before everything went to hell.

The first one took place on a deer lease that my father and uncles had in the Possum Kingdom area in Texas.  This particular lease was a bow hunting lease.  It was a great place for a kid to bond with the men of his family, and to learn many good life lessons, such as where food comes from, and how great that food can taste when it is cooked on an open fire in the great outdoors.

There were several perils for the average 10 year old.  Oddly, there were a couple of mountain lions on the lease.  These were part of a re-establishment program instituted by game officials. We knew something was not normal when 45 lbs of deer offal disappeared in about 30 minutes one day after a hunter had made a kill and field dressed a deer.  We questioned game wardens when they came onto the lease, and they admitted the existence of the cats, and reminded us of their protected status.  They had been relocated to the state park which backed up to our lease, and had moved onto the ‘mountain’ on our lease.  After that, the men carried pistols for protection.

Once, a large rattlesnake was killed about 30 feet from camp on the way to the two-hole outhouse.  On another occasion, a skunk waltzed into camp with a dog present.  This was not so dangerous, but sure smelled that way.  It was funny how suddenly a beloved pet became referred to as ‘that damn dog!’  I also remember eating armadillo a couple of weeks before I found out that they can carry leprosy.  Luckily, I have not lost any body parts yet.

Probably, the most likely things to cause pain to a 10 year old with a short attention span were the plethora of well placed cacti that seemed to be all over the place.  Prickly Pear cactus hurt, and those spikes can raise a nicely festered sore wherever they get you, but the worst are the little furry ones that are shaped like silos, known as a barrel cactus.  That’s not fur.  It is a bunch of evil that only the devil could dream up.  Rub a sock up against one of these, and you might as well throw it away.  You’ll never get all of those little hairy needles out.

Then there was the Skreech, but that is a story for another post.

With all of this danger lurking around every corner on the deer lease, it was surprising that I it was such a small thing that could have actually killed me.  The fateful day began with breakfast, of course, and then we got ready to go gather some wood for the fire.  It was early in the season, so it was still warm, and I started to put shorts on.  My dad, however, told me to wear pants.  I am not sure why, it had never been an issue for him before, but he did not back down even though I know I laid on some pretty good whining.

On this particular lease, there were frequent large piles of trees and stumps that had been uprooted by either the land owner, the oil company that leased the land or the Corps of Engineers.  These were prime varmint and snake habitat, but they were a great source of dead, seasoned firewood, as much as we could ever want.  We only had to drive about 200 yards from camp in order to saw up the wood, and load the truck up from a big pile of wood.

I was too young to wield a chainsaw, and was just in the way for the most part, stumbling around and watching the men do the real work.  It was while I was kicking around the edges of the woodpile that I felt a pain on the back of my neck.  Almost immediately, I felt a pain in my left arm, and then one on my right arm.  I realized that I was being stung.  It is these types of events where time seems to slow down.  I looked down and saw a little hollow stump about four inches across and three inches high between my legs.  There was a hole on the middle that went into the ground, and out of it hundreds, possibly thousands of what we later determined to be wood wasps (small yellow and black striped insects that look like a tiny hornet with an enlarged head).

I took off and ran as fast as I could all the way back to camp, receiving a couple of parting shots as I ran on my arms.

My father and uncles followed me back to camp, and that is when I realized that I would probably have been killed if I had won the argument over the pants with my father earlier in the day.  My uncles proceeded to take a couple of sticks and rake hundreds of the little wasps off of the legs of my pants and into the fire.  I guess this is what the Bible means when it says, “Honor your father and mother, and your days will be long upon the Earth.”

In the end, I was stung only five times.  My dad, who was twenty feet away, took one in the neck, and one of my uncles received a couple of stings also.  My dad tried to impart a little wisdom to be by saying, “Boy, if you had just stood still, and not ran, they would not have stung you!”  I countered this argument but reminding him that he had stood still, and still got stung even though he was twenty feet away.  “And besides that,” I added, “I think that the bees would have noticed the big thing that was standing over their nest that was not there a minute ago.”

One of the other hunters chewed tobacco (gross), and he wet some (no, not in his mouth), and put it on my stings.  It seemed take the pain and swelling away almost immediately.  I recommend it, though I am not a doctor.  To this day, I have a slight phobia associated with the flying, stinging insect, and I still do not have any regrets for running as fast as I could away from them that day.

Things that I am Thankful for

As I edge toward Thanksgiving Holiday, I ask myself what it is that I am actually thankful for.  Daily, it seems that we are being bombarded with news of the bad economy, and being a Republican is nothing like it was a decade ago, but here goes.

I am thankful that I am a Christian.  I may not hold to many of the more fundamentalist (or liberal) views of modern Christian denominations, but I believe that Christ died for my sins, and am thankful that my God is a god of grace who loves me in spite of my many failings.

I am thankful for my family.  I am thankful for my lovely wife and my wonderful little daughter.  Every day is a new adventure when you have a two year old.  My wife and I may be a good pair, but it is the little girl that completes both of us.

I am thankful for the grandparents.  My mom is wonderful with my daughter, and she does everything thing she can to help us through the everyday life situations that sometimes come up.  My in-laws are also great.  This year, there were a couple of times when I had to work some extended hours (once I put in an extra 155 hours in a month).  My mom and my in-laws really came through by coming to stay with us for weeks at a time so that the baby would not have to be in day care for eight hours a day or more.  To top that all off, this summer while I was having to work so many hours, my father-in-law practically put in a bar that I had been planning to do by himself, and it looks as good as a master carpenter could do.

My sister, her husband and my niece who is slightly older than my daughter are also a blessing.  We will not be spending Thanksgiving together this year because we will be at the in-law’s house, and my sister, who would normally be at her in-law’s house, will be staying at home because she is pregnant with what will be my new nephew.  Yeah!

I am thankful that I was born an American in Texas and in the Dallas area.  There is no place I’d rather be.

I am thankful for my education, the fact that I have a good job, and a good boss who appreciates the work that I do, and I am thankful that I have a customer base that, for the most part is easy to work with.

I am thankful that my wife likes some of the programming that I like to watch on television, and that she is willing to sit beside me and act like she likes some of the other programming that I watch.  I am also thankful that I live in the age of the DVR.

I am thankful that I live in an area that has a lot of sports related outlets.  Between, the Cowboys, Rangers, Stars and Mavericks, Dallas covers the sports world well, but it would be nice to see a World Series come through here.  We even have a professional soccer team, FC Dallas.  There are also three professional minor league baseball teams, several universities, and Texas high school football to satiate the sports fan.  And, of course we have the best local sports radio in the country, Sports Radio 1310, the Ticket.

I am thankful that I live in a safe, affordable neighborhood with good schools that my daughter will one day attend.

I am thankful that Texas still does not have a state income tax.

I am thankful that I have a few friends that go back as far a high school, and that I know I can trust at least one of them with pretty much anything.

I am thankful that I will not have to do anything to assist with the cooking of Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I am thankful that my father-in-law finally paid for the local channels to be put on his Dish Network plan so it will not be snowing during all of the football games that I plan to watch this week.

I am thankful that I live in a time, and in a country where I can publish any opinion that I wish to anyone in the world who wishes to read it, for free (thanks, WordPress).  Being a student of history, I know that freedom of speech has been a rarity throughout the history of mankind, and I respect a person’s right to have an opinion even if I do not agree with what the person is saying.

I could go on forever, but suffice it to say, I am thankful.

Top 50 War Movies (criteria)

When I decided recently to rank my favorite war movies, I went on the internet to see what was out there.  I found lots of lists of movies, but most of them were bad.  They were either done by an outfit looking to get people to purchase the movies from them, or they were done by people who do not know what a war movie is.

Almost every list I looked at included many movies that simply are not war movies.  Gone With the Wind, Schindler’s List, Hotel Rawanda, The African Queen, Forrest Gump, and Casablanca may be movies that took place in a time of war, and whose plots were heavily influenced by war, but they are simply not war movies.  And, I am not intending to take anything away from the greatness of these movies.  I also realize that I am splitting hairs including some movies and not including others, but I have to draw the line somewhere. 

Note: Even though they are some of my favorite movies, Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings are not war movies, and any list of war movies that includes them should be disregarded.  I also did not include Ken Burn’s two masterpieces The Civil War and The War because they are simply not movies in the same sense that the other films included in this list are.

One regret that I discovered as I compiled this list is the amount of history changing wars and events that have never been addresses in film.  I loved Gladiator, but it is sad when this movie is the best historical depiction of a Roman Legion on film.  Where is a great film that deals with the Indian Wars?  And the amount of material covering Napoleon and the American Revolution is shamefully light.

I have to make an admission.  I have not seen every war movie ever made, and I do not intend to do so.  There are also several war movies that I have seen, but cannot remember well enough to comment upon.  In both cases, these movies were not included in my list.

That all being said, I took it upon myself to come up with my list of great war movies.  I tried to make it a top 50 list, but only came up with 45.  You can supply you own additional five to the list if you would like as long as it does not include Pearl Harbor, 300 or Alexander (I just threw up in my mouth).

I attempted to be objective as I compiled the list and came up with a grading system which I found useful.  The ten criteria that I used to judge these films were:

1) Acting and Script– A good movie of any genre has a good script and good acting.

2) Effects and battle scenes– I was forgiving when it came to this category due to the time in which the film was made.  There was a point where the best effect available was a toy boat in a pool of water.  I understand that, but I do expect the maker of the film to at least attempt to recreate the battle scenes.  Movies with large battle sequences and graphically accurate depictions of warfare tended to score high in this category.  I thought that POW camps could be considered an essential part of war, so I included these movies in this list, but movies like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape suffered in the effects/battle scenes category.

3) Importance– In this category, the film was judged on the importance of the subject matter.  Patton, for instance scored very high because he was a seminal figure in the European theatre.  Tora! Tora! Tora! also scored well because it told the story of one of the most important battles in World War II

4) Message– I find that many good war movies have a message in them.  The Bridge on the Rivier Kwai, Gallipoli, and Braveheart are good examples of this.

5) Accuracy– Accuracy is a must in a good war movie.  Nothing hurts my brain more than a director who sacrifices accuracy in order to tell the story the way they want to. Saving Private Ryan lost a couple of points here simply because it is a fiction.  It, however, still scored well because it depicted the war well in general and the battles that the central figures were supposed to be in so accurately.  The Last of the Mohicans, however, did not do as well because even though the battle scenes were done well, the director unnecessarily changed the story up so much from the book, that it was hardly even recognizable any more even though in the end it was a compelling film.  Anachronisms are always a problem.  Fortunately, most of these films do not suffer greatly from this.

6) Epic Quality– I love a good epic, and no genre lends itself more to the epic than war movies.

7) Score– One of the most unobserved but pleasingly essential aspects of a great war movie is a great score.  I’ll have to be honest, I could not remember the scores of some of these movies.  If I could not, I gave them a five in order to be fair, but I thought the fact that I could not remember it, said something.  I definitely remember great scores such as those in Gettysburg, Glory, Braveheart, The Great Escape and Master and Commander among others.

8 ) Scope– Was the subject covered well enough?  Being a complete work of fiction, including the battle itself hurt a movie like the Guns of Navarone in this category.  The Longest Day, on the other hand, covered the subject of D-Day so well, that it would be hard to outdo it.

9) Star Quality– A good war movie usually has great actors in it.  Some movies did well because they had a superstar in the lead role.  Others did well because of the ensemble in the film.

10) Patriotism– I think a good war movie usually leaves the viewer with patriotic feelings.  Movies that depict the military as evil, stupid or apathetic to the plight of soldiers suffered in this category.  These included Gallipoli, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Full Metal Jacket.

I hope you enjoy the list, and feel free to comment and disagree (tastefully) with anything I say.  Also, if there are any egregious omissions, please feel free to remind me.  Enjoy.

I also want to say that I like almost all of these movies, and am somewhat splitting hairs with this list.  If there was no redeeming quality in the movie (Pearl Harbor, for example), it would not be in the list in the first place.  I think it is fair to say that every movie in the top 25 of this list is a great movie.

Top 50 War Movies Criteria

Top 50 War Movies 10-1

Top 50 War Movies 20-11

Top 50 War Movies 30-21

Top 50 War Movies 40-31

Top 50 War Movies 45-41

Lists

Top 50 War Movies #45-41

45) The Guns Of Navarone– (Score 46/100)-  I like the movie, as a movie, but there are no real ‘battle’ scenes in it.  It is also a complete work of fiction, and the effects are poor even for the time that it was made.

44) Kelly’s Heroes– (49/100)- I almost left 44 and 45 off the list because they are fictions and contain so little historical truths.  The Dirty Dozen was not included in the list, but it belongs right here with 44 and 45 for the same reasons.  There are also several anachronisms in this particular film.

43) Letters From Iwo Jima (57/100)-  The main problem with this movie as a war movie is its main point.  I know that Eastwood was showing the Japanese point of view with the movie, but that is really the problem that I have with it.  It is simply too different from what I expect in a war movie.

42) The Wild Geese– (57/100)-  This film is generally underrated as a war film.  Its unique depiction of 20th century European imperialism and mercenary attitudes in post WWII Africa is good, and the battle depictions and acting are not terrible.

41) The Battle of the River Plate – (58/100)-  This movie recounts the events that led to the scuttling of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.  This is one instance in which the actual historical events surrounding the plot help propel a movie that does not have great effects or acting to the point where it is at least watchable.

Top 50 War Movies Criteria

Top 50 War Movies 10-1

Top 50 War Movies 20-11

Top 50 War Movies 30-21

Top 50 War Movies 40-31

Top 50 War Movies 45-41

Lists

 

Top 50 War Movies #40-31

40) Full Metal Jacket– (58/100)- This is not one of my favorite war movies, but on most of the lists I saw, it scored consistently in the top 10.  I honestly thought that I would have it higher, but here it is at number 40.  The movie suffers from what I call “Stripes Syndrome.”  It is almost as if it is two complete movies: one about basic training, and another about Vietnam.  The first part of the movie is gold, but this is not a list about great basic training movies, or An Office and a Gentleman would be on it.  By the time you get to the second half of the movie, all of the compelling stuff has already happened, and you just want it to end.

39) Stalag 17– (59/100)- This is a good movie with a compelling plot and some good acting, but it takes place in a POW camp, and therefore suffers from a lack of battles in the ‘war movie’ department.

38) Where Eagles Dare– (60/100)-  This is another good movie with good acting, but it suffers from the fact that it is a complete work of fiction.  It is, however, considered to be the one of the best of the fictional war movies.

37) Andersonville– (62/100)-  This was a made for TNT depiction of life at the most brutal prison camp in the South during the civil war.  It suffers from many of the same problems that Stalag 17 does, but it is shows a little more of the actual brutality that often accompanied prisoner of war camps.

36) The Bridge on the River Kwai– (63/100)-  This is really more of a character study than an actual depiction of life in a POW camp run by the Japanese during WWII.  It suffers on this list from the same things that hurt Stalag 17 and Andersonville.  Though it has a great cast, there is some pretty bad acting at times in the film.  It is also a fictional work.  It however deserves some respect because of the mold that it broke when it was made and the fact that it won seven Academy Awards.

35)  The Green Berets– (65/100)- I’m not saying that it is a great movie, but what kind of war movie list would this be if it did not have a few John Wayne movies on it.  At least there are a few good battle scenes in it.

34)  Memphis Belle– (65/100)- It is hard to think of Sean Astin as a war hero, but this is really not a bad movie.  It attempts to encapsulate the trials and tribulations of the average bomber crew in the European theatre during WWII.

33) Sink the Bismarck (67-100)- This movie is on par with The Battle of the River Plate as far as the way it was made.  The ships still have that ‘toy’ quality about them.  The reason it scores higher, it the Bismarck was simply an icon and the Graf Spee was not.

32) The Desert Fox– (70/100)- This biography of Rommell is a very good.  It is not big on battles, and suffers here for it.

31) The Charge of the Light Brigade– (70/100)- The subject is one of the greatest military debacles in history.  The cavalry charges are some of the best to be found on film, but the plot, complete with social commentary tend to make the film tiresome.

Top 50 War Movies Criteria

Top 50 War Movies 10-1

Top 50 War Movies 20-11

Top 50 War Movies 30-21

Top 50 War Movies 40-31

Top 50 War Movies 45-41

Lists

 

Top 50 War Movies #30-21

30) The Patriot– (71/100)- This is a fairly good depiction of the issues and battles that occurred in the Southern part of the Revolutionary War.  The main characters on both sides of the battle appear to be a conglomeration of several people, and this hurts its ranking.  The film is patriotic, but it is not nearly Gibson’s best effort.  It underscores the unfortunate lack of quality Revolutionary War movies.

29) The Sand of Iwo Jima (73/100)- This is the second John Wayne war movie on the list.  It is a fairly good depiction of the events in the battle for Iwo Jima though the characters are made up.  The film gets extra point for establishing the film tradition of the tough, gruff sergeant and placing John Wayne in the role.  It uses actual Pacific theatre battle footage which only makes it more believable.

28) Enemy at the Gates– (73-100)- This is the underrated story of snipers who ruled the broken city of Stalingrad 1942.  It is the story of German and Russian snipers who squared off against each other in an attempt to determine who was the best and deadliest.  Though some of the events are legend or conglomerations, it is very interesting as a war movie, and a nice change from the standard war movie fare.

27) The Tuskegee Airmen– (75/100)- This movie chronicles the story of the only group of black fighter (P51) pilots in the European theatre during WWII.  It, therefore, relates an important story mixing the beginnings of the American civil rights era with a WWII war story.

26) The Great Raid– (76/100)- The book, Ghost Soldiers is a better telling, but the movie is still a compelling retelling of the rescue of soldiers from a prison camp on Luzon.  It flew under the radar a few years ago, but is worth a view.

25) We Were Soldiers– (76-100)- It is clearly more popular to make movies that expose the flaws of the military and America when it comes to Vietnam (see Platoon, Casualties of War, and Born on the Fourth of July for good examples).  I find this movie to be a refreshingly patriotic portrayal of the events of that war.  The battle sequences are just scary at times, especially when they fight in the dark.

24) Lawrence Of Arabia (76-100)- This is a true epic.  It tells the true story of a great British officer who took it upon himself to organize the nomadic tribes of the Middle East into a fighting force which eventually drove Turks back to their home land.  It is a little long, and the director takes a few liberties with his audience in this matter for effect.  This is why it is best to watch it on video.  I love Peter O’Toole, but he overacts a little also.  I would like to see this story retold now that films can be made that show the darker side of warfare.

23) The Great Escape– (76-100)- This movie is the best of the POW camp based movies.  It is ‘based’ on a true story, has a stellar cast, and a great score.  It would be even higher on this list if there were some battles in it.

22) Master and Commander– (77/100)- This is the best depiction of life aboard a wooden warship ever made.  It deals with almost every aspect of life aboard a British warship even though it is a fiction.

21) Flags of Our Fathers– (77/100)- The war scenes in this film could have been better, but they were still good.  The fact that most of the movie is about what happened to the ‘flag raisers’ after the battle keeps it down the list.

Top 50 War Movies Criteria

Top 50 War Movies 10-1

Top 50 War Movies 20-11

Top 50 War Movies 30-21

Top 50 War Movies 40-31

Top 50 War Movies 45-41

Lists