"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." - President Ronald Reagan.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sean Connery Turns 86

The actor who made James Bond into a worldwide household name is celebrating a birthday today.

Sean Connery, now happily retired, turned 86.

Above, Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962). Eon Productions.

"James Bond in the movie is a ladies' man, but Sean-san is a warm-hearted honest man. He has a clear vision as an actor. He can be stubborn from time to time, but he is a real man with a bit of old-fashioned taste." - Akiko Wakabayashi, co-star in You Only Live Twice (1967), G-FAN interview by Armand Vaquer and Brett Homenick.

Happy Birthday, Sean Connery!

Centennial Day For The National Park Service

In case you hadn't noticed, the National Park Service celebrated its centennial today with events around the country.

According to the Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON — The National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday on Thursday with events across the country, including the creation of a giant, living version of its emblem in Washington, a naturalization ceremony on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and an outdoor concert at Yellowstone National Park. 
The centennial comes as the agency that manages national parks as well as historic places welcomes a new national monument and nature forces some changes in the parks in the West.
It was 100 years ago today, the National Park Service was born.

During the past 14 months, I've visited several national parks: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree and Zion.

Above, daughter Amber and I at the Old Faithful Inn dining room. 

Above, yours truly at Yosemite Falls.

Here's my National Park Service Centennial mug that I picked up at Yosemite National Park:

To read more, go here

Despite Fires, For Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, It's Business As Usual

Above, Grand Teton National Park last summer. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The wildfires in both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park has visitors concerned, but with the exception of the closure of the South Entrance of Yellowstone, it is business as usual.

According to U.S. News & World Report:
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — Popular areas in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks were welcoming tourists Thursday for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, but a wildfire forced some people to drive a little farther than they expected to get to the festivities. 
The blaze in Grand Teton National Park shut down a route leading to Yellowstone's South Entrance, so visitors coming from the south through Wyoming will have to take an hourlong detour into Idaho. 
Four other entrances to Yellowstone are open, and once inside the world's first national park, visitors won't notice much is unusual other than a smoky haze in some parts of the sprawling park.
Many people, including me, have memories of the huge Yellowstone fires of 1988. We visited Yellowstone two years after that fire and quite a bit of the park had a burned-out look. We visited Yellowstone again (last summer) and much of the 1988 burned out areas have re-grown.

When we left Yellowstone last summer, we took the route south through Grand Teton National Park via Yellowstone's south entrance. As the article indicated, that entrance is now closed.

To read more, go here

Platrix Chapter No. 2, E Clampus Vitus Fall Trek Announced

Above, Clampers enjoying cigars at the Spring trek.

Platrix Chapter No. 2, E Clampus Vitus has announced their fall trek.

They announced:
By Order of
Platrix Humbug Denny “Too Tall” Thompson
De La Guerra Y Pacheco Humbug Steve “What’s His Lastname”
The Brethren of Chapters #1.5 and #2 shall assemble
October 7h, 8th, and 9th
Along the shores of Lake Cachuma at
Live Oak Camp, Santa Barbara Territory, Alta California

If you are a brother in good standing of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, you can attend this joint trek.

If you would like to become a Clamper, you'll need to be sponsored by a brother. If you are interested in joining the Order by submitting yourself to the Hangman, contact me. The rites of initiation will take place at the trek and you will need to be at the clamp-site all three days.

For Clampers, details on the trek can be found here.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Photo Shoot and Gladstone's

Above, Asya and I at Gladstone's today. 

Nothing to speak of was on today's agenda until I received a text message from Asya (Anastasia) last night asking me to come over today so she could photograph some ties for a friend who is starting up an online men's apparel business (he's also her landlord). She asked to use my Canon Rebel camera.

I agreed to do so and thought this would be a good opportunity to take her to Gladstone's 4 Fish in Pacific Palisades after the photo work was done. We couldn't go to Gladstone's last weekend as they were closed due to a wedding reception.

I got to her apartment around 12:30 and we began work in one of the building's conference rooms that's also on her floor.

With rapid speed (this is one girl who knows what she's doing), she had the ties all laid out on a table with white sheeting underneath.

Above, Asya preparing a photo set-up. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

She tried various camera exposure settings, with and without flash, on each of the ties. I let her get her work done and just held back and gave her technical help when asked. We wrapped up the photography around 2:30 and then headed off for Gladstone's.

Above, Asya shooting a tie. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

I haven't been to Gladstone's since I was last there with "Somebody That I Used To Know" (as in the song of the same name) back in April. It was great being back there again, especially with someone who is grateful and appreciative (in fact, everyone I've gone out with lately are classy and appreciative). Asya is great company. She immediately loved the ambiance of Gladstone's.

Above, Asya uploading her photos. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While waiting for our order (crab cake, an oyster platter and New England clam chowder), she downloaded the photographs to her laptop. The download worked perfectly. Tonight, she's going to be formatting them to present them.

Above, the meal has arrived. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

On the way back to her apartment, she marveled at how I seem to have such a leisurely life of traveling, dining out and other things. I responded that I also get to go out with beautiful women. And, I added, "It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it! Life is rough!" She had a good laugh over that.

Today turned out to be an enjoyable one. 

Win A Dream Trip To Kyoto!

Above, Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji "Golden Pavilion". Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Condé Nast Traveler has announced a contest in which the prize is a "Dream Trip To Japan".

They wrote:
Experience one of the world's most beautiful cities on a luxe getaway for 2 to The Four Seasons Kyoto 
Prize includes a 3-night stay at The Four Seasons Kyoto + roundtrip airfare for 2

To enter, go here

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Case Approved For "Hot Bench"

The last small claims case that I have has been approved for the CBS court television show, Hot Bench.

The taping for the show will be in the morning of Wednesday, September 7 in Hollywood.

As a courtesy, I will be housed the night before at a hotel in Pasadena, since the show tapes in the early morning so I wouldn't have to fight early morning rush-hour traffic.

Yosemite Settlement Talks Collapse

Above, the modified road sign pointing the way to Half Dome Village, formerly known as Curry Village. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
Nobody said that this is going to be an easy case to settle. Sure enough, settlement talks collapsed and both parties are proceeding to pursue an expensive and time-consuming court battle.

According to McClatchy DC:
WASHINGTON - Efforts to settle the dispute between the federal government and Yosemite National Park’s former concessions company over trademarks have stalled, foreshadowing a potentially costly and time-consuming court battle. 
The failure of mediation efforts between Justice Department attorneys and their DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite was laid out in a court filing last week in which the two sides resumed combative trial preparations. 
“The parties do not believe that settlement is likely at this time,” attorneys revealed in the filing last Thursday, adding that while they “remain open to the possibility of mediation in this case (they) believe that the case should proceed at this time.”
The 23-page legal filing, known as a “joint status report,” spelled out myriad disagreements still separating the National Park Service from the concessions company, a subsidiary of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based, Delaware North.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/crime/article97178552.html#storylink=cpy

2016 Canada's Walk of Fame Inductees Picked, Jonathan Frid Passed Over

The selection committee for the 2016 inductees for Canada's Walk of Fame have made their decision.

They are:
Jeanne Beker, Fashion Entrepreneur, Television Personality, Journalist
Darryl Sittler, Hockey Player, NHL
Corey Hart, Musician
Deepa Mehta, Filmmaker
Jason Priestley, Actor, Director
Al Waxman, Actor, Director (Cineplex Legends Inductee) 
Above, Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins.
Unfortunately, actor Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows) was passed over again, despite there being an organized effort to get him as an inductee. Maybe next year.

This Is Not Good: Dollar Falls To ¥100 In Tokyo

The U.S. dollar fell to ¥100 in Tokyo trading today. This is not good news for anyone planning a trip to Japan in the near future.

According to an article in the Japan Times:
The dollar fell around ¥100 in Tokyo trading on Tuesday, hit by selling as stock prices retreated. 
At 5 p.m., the dollar stood at ¥100.10-10, down from ¥100.77-77 at the same time Monday. The euro was at $1.1344-1345, up from $1.1281-1282, and at ¥113.56-57, down from ¥113.69-70. 
The dollar moved around ¥100.30 in early trading after it was sold back by early buyers overnight following falls in European and U.S. stocks.
Hopefully, this is just a temporary re-adjustment.

To read more, go here

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hors d' oeuvres: Process Proceeding

Above, the main entrance of The Odyssey Restaurant. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While dining at the Woodland Hills Kabuki Japanese Restaurant last night, Dawn and I went over the hors d' oeuvres list provided by The Odyssey Restaurant for the portrait unveiling party.

The night before, Asya (or Anastasia) and I reviewed the list and she selected the ones that interested her..

We did the same last night and one that is definitely going to be served are crab cakes.

I will look at what each of the ladies put down as preferences and narrow it down some more.

RVs In Russia Blog Post Picked Up By Camping News

The fine folks at the Camping News online newspaper apparently felt that my blog post on RVs in Russia was meritorious enough to be included in today's edition.

I had a feeling that it might!

Camping News features articles on worldwide camping, glamping and RVs.

To visit Camping News, go here.

Japan To Open Tourist Information Centers At All Shinkansen Stations

Above, a tourist information center at Niigata Station. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics gets nearer, Japan is picking up the pace to make things easier for foreign tourists. 

Japan will be opening more tourist centers at shinkansen stations throughout the country.

The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) reported;
The transport ministry aims to make tourist information centers capable of assisting foreign tourists available at all Shinkansen stations nationwide by fiscal 2019, as part of efforts to boost the number of visitors from overseas. 
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry plans to provide subsidies to local governments and other entities when the tourist information centers they operate meet certain criteria, such as always having English-speaking guides available. 
The ministry will request necessary funds in the government’s budget for fiscal 2017 for more than 100 Shinkansen stations to open tourist information centers or upgrade their current ones by fiscal 2019.
To read more, go here

Sunday, August 21, 2016

RVs In Russia, A Vast Untapped Potential Market

Above, Anya and I at The Chart House.

Last night, while Anastasia (Asya) and I were conversing over dinner at The Chart House in Marina del Rey, the conversation turned to the subject of RVs and camping. She asked me in great detail on what it's like to travel by RV and the different systems in a motorhome (such as fresh water tanks, waste water holding tanks, propane, etc.).

I asked her if there are any motorhomes and travel trailers in Russia, her home country. She said that she's never seen any. Most Russians do go camping in tents.

I remarked that since Russia is the world's biggest country with lots of wilderness areas, it would seem that once incomes of the Russian people rise to comparable levels of other countries, Russia would be a great place for RV companies to tap into that market. Right now, it is a vast untapped market. It could be that disposable income levels of the Russian people haven't risen enough for them to get into "the RV lifestyle" as yet.

Asya said that younger people, who have little or no memories of the former Soviet economic system, are very ambitious about career goals. She said that they are motivated, like other people in free societies, to experience other lifesyles and accumulate material goods, which may include RVs. She was born at about the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

She had told me before that older generations of Russians are a bit bewildered about dealing with the new economic system where the government isn't taking care of all their needs as it had before. The former socialist/communist system made them too dependent on the government. This caused them problems in adapting to a more self-reliant life. The younger generations have adapted well, she said.

While she had never personally seen any motorhomes or travel trailers in Russia, there are rental companies in Russia (ironically, one is in her hometown of St. Petersburg) who rent motorhomes. Also, caravans of motorhomes and travel trailers of foreign visitors do roam around the country.

One thing they face is the scarcity of developed campgrounds. By our standards, the campgrounds that are there are primitive and are filthy with litter. Here is an interesting article on camping by RV or car in Russia. It has good information for people who are contemplating visiting Russia by RV.

It will be interesting to see how the leisure and RV industries develop in Russia as the years go further away from the former Soviet system and the income levels of Russian citizens rise. There's a lot of potential there.

Foreigners To Be Exempt From Japan's Liquor Tax

Above, a bartender at the former Beat Diner in Tokyo. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

For those who want to bring home bottles of made-in-Japan sake and other liquors produced in Japan, the Bangkok Post has some good news.

They wrote:
The Japan Tourism Agency plans to exempt domestically produced alcoholic drinks such as sake from the liquor tax for foreign tourists as part of efforts to boost regional economies, agency officials said on Saturday. 
The agency will call for the exemption when the Finance Ministry soon receives requests from government offices for annual tax changes in the next fiscal year starting in April, the officials told Kyodo News
The measure is intended to allow foreign travelers to buy made-in-Japan sake, shochu distilled spirit, wine, beer and whisky at lower rates and jump-start demand for such products that have shown signs of peaking out.
To read more, go here

Foreign Tourist Spending Down In Japan In July

Above, the food area below the Tokyo Skytree. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While the rising Japanese yen hasn't dampened the record numbers of foreign visitors to Japan, it has put a dent in the amount of spending by those visitors. This is part of the lingering effects of Brexit.

According to Financial Times, spending has fallen "by a fifth year on year in July" despite the record number of visitors. This may prompt the Japanese government to take action to weaken the currency.

To read more, go here.

The Joys of Crab Cakes, Etc. At The Chart House

Above, in The Chart House bar.

It had been what seemed like ages since I last dined at The Chart House in Marina del Rey. But once Anastasia Lipovetskaya and I stepped in, it all seemed familiar to me again.

After I found that Gladstone's 4 Fish was closed due to a wedding, and that other restaurants in Malibu had no tables available until after 9:00, I decided to check with The Chart House. I thought about going to The Odyssey, but I was determined to go somewhere near the ocean. Luckily, they had tables available for 8:00, so I reserved one. I wasn't disappointed. We had a nice window table overlooking the marina.

We had an enjoyable time there. Although we had reservations, we weren't seated until about 30 minutes later. But, the time was put to good use as we went to the bar and reviewed the proposal for the portrait unveiling party from The Odyssey Restaurant.

Above, Asya's first mai tai. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
We reviewed each of the hors d' oeuvres offered with the package that I am considering. We marked the ones that seemed most tasty and appropriate for the occasion (I'm going to get another opinion tonight).

Before we began our review, we ordered mai tais. Asya (her actual name) never tried a mai tai cocktail before. She originally was going to have a pina colada, but curiosity got the better of her and she ordered a mai tai. She liked it!

Before we arrived at The Chart House, she was texting with her family in St. Petersburg, Russia. We got the idea to take some pictures at the restaurant to send to them. So we did. Some are posted here.

Once our table was ready, I suggested that she try a crab cake for an appetizer. She never had one before. I thought the crab cakes at Gladstone's 4 Fish in Pacific Palisades were the best, but The Chart House ones topped those. Asya thought the crab cakes were "heaven".

For dinner, she ordered a grilled King Salmon and I ordered the shrimp scampi. Thanks to yours truly, she learned the difference between wild Pacific (or Alaskan) King Salmon and farm-bred Atlantic salmon. She thoroughly enjoyed the King Salmon.

Above, the best of the bunch of selfies
 we took. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Asya had a great time and would recommend The Chart House, especially the crab cakes, to anyone. Ditto that from here!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Marina del Rey Tonight

Above, The Chart House in Marina del Rey.

Tonight, I'm headed off for dinner with Anastasia Lipovetskaya to one of my old haunts (back in the days of living in the South Bay) in the Marina del Rey marina. We'll be dining at The Chart House.

This will be handy as she lives in the Mar Vista area of L.A.

The original plan was to go to Gladstone's 4 Fish, but they are closed due to a wedding reception.

We'll be going over plans and menu for the portrait painting unveiling party that will likely be held at The Odyssey Restaurant in Chatsworth.

It has be a-while since I've been in Marina del Rey. I'm looking forward to it.

32 Years Ago: A Visit To Dealey Plaza

Above, yours truly standing at Elm Street in Dealey Plaza.

Thanks to a reminder from Facebook (and getting the date right from my photo album), I visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas 32 years ago today.

I was in Dallas for the 1984 Republican National Convention as a member of the California Reagan Delegation.

Above, the open window marks where Oswald fired the shots. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While in Dallas, I took a cab from my hotel to Dealey Plaza to see for myself the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

During my visit, I took photographs from many angles of the site with my Olympus OM-1 35mm camera.

Above, this photo was taken while atop the pedestal where Abraham
 Zapruder filmed the assassination. In the background, the former Texas
 School Book Depository and Dal-Tex Buildings. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The site looked pretty much the same in 1984 as it did during the assassination 21 years earlier. The most noticeable difference was that the street lamps were moved from the sidewalks and re-positioned in grassy areas. Also, newer, modern skyscrapers surrounded (from a distance) the area.

Two months ago, I attended a presentation by former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill on the Kennedy assassination. I shot this video during his presentation:

Still, it was an eerie place to visit.

When Was The Last Time Gas Prices Were This Low...In California?

Last night, I headed to the United Oil Co. gasoline station at Ventura Blvd. and Corbin Ave. in Woodland Hills.

I was astonished to see the posted prices for gasoline, especially for 87 octane unleaded.

I can't remember the last time gas prices were this low in California:

Friday, August 19, 2016

JNTO Opens Online Media Center

Above, Shibuya's shopping district. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To aid media outlets with royalty-free content, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has opened a new online media center.

eTurboNews reported:
TOKYO, Japan - The Japan National Tourism Organization opened the "Japan On-line Media Center" on August 19, 2016. 
The Japan On-line Media Center (JOMC) is a media platform designed specifically to distribute information for media. With a database of over 7,000 photos and videos, JOMC offers an exceptional tool for overseas media creating tourism content for Japan.
To read more, go here

IBM Japan To Scour Internet Chatter To Attract Tourists

Above, a view from the Tokyo Skytree. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To find out what foreigners praise, complain or comment about Japanese tourist attractions, services and anything else about Japan online, a new business is being launched to use the data to attract more foreign tourists.

Nikkei Asian Review reported:
TOKYO -- IBM Japan is launching a new business that will monitor internet chatter to support local municipalities in their efforts to attract more foreign tourists. 
The idea is to read foreign-language postings, collect and analyze the information, and provide feedback that the municipalities can use to make improvements. 
The city of Kushiro in Hokkaido has already signed up for the service. IBM Japan hopes to have around 10 clients by the end of 2017.
 To read more, go here.

Show Bound?

It looks like I'm headed for an appearance on Hot Bench.

Due to a legal "peace agreement", I can't get very specific, but it looks like both sides are agreeable to appearing on the show. It is a win-win for each.

One could construe this as a "no hard feelings" gesture on my part, at least. This will be an experience, for sure.

As Dr. Pretorius said in Bride of Frankenstein, "That should be really interesting!"

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Hot Bench" Wants Me

Last night, as I was heading out the door to go get some dinner, a UPS Express Envelope sitting on my doormat.

It was from Joe Scott, the producer of the syndicated court television program, Hot Bench. They also produce Judge Judy.

Hot Bench features small claims cases from around the country and they are interested in having my Small Claims Court case against Jacquese Scott on their show.

It is tempting, I must admit, to do this. Should I win my case, I am guaranteed that I would receive the money awarded by their Arbitration Panel within 30 days. If the case is selected for Hot Bench, a guaranteed "minimum payment" is given (to both parties, I presume) for appearing on the show.

This is the second Small Claims Court case I've filed where I was approached to have it adjudicated on television. This happened two years ago when I filed a Small Claims Court case against an engine re-builder (I won). I decided against it.

It will be even more tempting to have my other Small Claims Court case (against my former "other half") on the show, should I be approached again (considering the amount involved). That would be one case that's worth entertaining to watch! That case will be hot, in more ways than one!

Japan Sees Record High In Visitors For July

Above, the Wako department store in Ginza. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan set a record in July.

According to The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun):
TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The estimated number of visitors to Japan in July jumped 19.7 percent from a year before to an all-time monthly high of 2.297 million, thanks in part to robust travel demand in the summer holiday season, data from a government agency showed Wednesday. 
The previous record high was 2.082 million in April this year.
To read more, go here

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