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Below is sensational segment of a U.S. Cairo embassy SECRET classified cable to the Secretary of State of 4/4/07 — four years ago! –that predicted a meltdown in Egypt because of rampant corruption related to Mubarak’s son Gamal and his
“cronies.”. The cable was released by Wikileaks on 1/28 this year. It had originally been scheduled for declassification in 2047!

(S) XXXXXXXXXXXX said XXXXXXXXXXXX had commented to him in a recent
private meeting that, “he has had it ‘up to here’ with Gamal
and his cronies, and the tremendous corruption they are
facilitating.” “XXXXXXXXXXXX told me he is having trouble sleeping
at night,” he continued, “and that he cannot stand what has
happened to the country, and what may yet happen to the
country.” Disappointed by the recent constitutional
amendments, and skeptical about the will of either Mubarak or
Gamal to push forward meaningful political reforms, XXXXXXXXXXXX
said he viewed a post-Mubarak military coup as “the best
possible way out for Egypt … we are in a terrible spot, and
that is the best of all the bad options available.” (Note:
XXXXXXXXXXXX provided no further details about a possible coup
scenario, and appeared to simply be theorizing about the
future. To date, we have not heard other interlocutors
speculate about a possible coup option. End note).

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, near where I hang my winter (and summer) hat, will host on Feb. 2-5 the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship, the top snow sculpting competition for U.S. carvers. Entrants come from as far away as Alaska. Who knows — somebody may decide to carve Sarah Palin this year! Talk about frozen beauty. Final judging will take place the morning of Saturday, Feb. 5th, on the frozen lawns of the Riviera Ballroom and boat docks at Lake Geneva’s shore front. The event is held in the midst of Lake Geneva’s annual Winterfest. I never miss it! An early tour of the creative snow sculptures is the perfect appetizer for a big country breakfast.

As you can read below from today’s Writer’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin thought the noble turkey would make a more appropriate national bird than the pesky bald eagle. Here at Applewood Lodge, we’ve yet to see an eagle, but a half dozen resident gobbling, wobbling turkeys peck their way past my library window here every day.
On this day in 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter saying that he was not pleased about the choice of bald eagle as the symbol of America. He wished it had not been chosen as a “representative of our country” because, he said, it is a “Bird of bad moral Character.” Franklin wrote about the eagle: “Like those among Men who live by Sharping and Robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy.”

There was a different fowl that Franklin championed as a true representative of the budding United States: “The Turkey,” he wrote 227 years ago today, “is a much more respectable Bird, and … a true original Native of America.”

McDonald’s, my alumni group, just announced that U.S. 2010 4th quarter sales were up 4.4% in the U.S. Almost simultaneously, Nation’s Restaurant News announced that the number of independent U.S. restaurants declined 2% — losing some 5500 restaurants, in 2010 vs. 2009. The number of chain restaurants remained level. What’s going on? Rising commodity prices for groceries are tougher for independents to swallow than the more cost-efficient chains. As for McDonald’s, they continue to re-invest in “re-imaging” their restaurants, and coffees and other special beverages, together with strong promotions, are boosting brand appeal for the Golden Arches, though even McDonald’s sees some small price increases coming. As consumers, we need to watch for the bargains, as prices for almost everything, from groceries to gas, begin to climb. When I retired from McDonald’s at the Millennium, some 50 million customers a day were dropping by globally; Today it’s 62 million a day, and that still occasionally includes myself, as in this visit to a Shanghai McDonald’s last fall.

Not that I’m a big sports fan, but tomorrow’s Packer/Bear NFC Championship game conjures up some memories: sitting in the rickety wooden stands of East High School in Green Bay watching the Packers play, before Lambeau Field was built, meeting Curly Lambeau himself on the bench at Soldier’s Field when he coached the All-Star games in the 50s, walking the stands in the new Lambeau Field with my grandfather helping him pick out his seats in the 8th row behind the home bench, freezing through the legendary 1967 Ice Bowl game there as an Army Lieutenant on leave before shipping out for Vietnam, inheriting those tickets when grandfather passed away, and attending games in the snow at Lambeau in recent years with my older brother John up from N. Carolina before his death last year. I wish tomorrow’s game had been held in Lambeau, either for the chance to attend and add another memory, or perhaps to have made $5 thou a ticket!

Vicki and I saw George Burns perform in Vegas near the end of his life. He was on a roll, signing and telling stories, and did an extra half hour. We loved him. Today, he would have been 115, and it seems he should still be doing Vegas.

Comedian George Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City on this day in 1896. His dad died in the flu epidemic of 1903. To help his family make ends meet, seven-year-old George Burns got a job in a candy store making syrup in the store’s basement. The other kids working there were about the same age. To relieve the boredom, they sang harmony.

One day, a mailman heard them, came downstairs, and asked them to sing some more. Pretty soon a small crowd gathered at the top of the stairs to listen. The people clapped and threw pennies down the stairs. The child laborers decided they’d take their chances and earn their pay busking instead of syrup-making. So they took to the streets of New York City — elementary school-aged kids singing at bars, in brothels, at busy intersections, and on ferryboats.

He quit school before the end of fourth grade to work as a full-time entertainer. He sang, danced, roller-skated, did tricks with seals, and performed in vaudeville. In 1923, he met Gracie Allen, another performer, and began partnering with her in routines. He would later say, “And all of a sudden the audience realized I had a talent. They were right. I did have a talent — and I was married to her for 38 years.” They had a show that ran on CBS throughout the 1950s, The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show.

He smoked cigars, lived to be 100 years old, and worked up until the end of his life. He was a best-selling author, and his 10 books include Living It Up: Or, They Still Love Me in Altoona! (1976), Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness: Buy Two Books and Call Me in the Morning (1984), and Gracie: A Love Story (1988).

In Just You and Me, Kid (1979), he wrote: “When I was young I was called a rugged individualist. When I was in my fifties I was considered eccentric. Here I am doing and saying the same things I did then and I’m labeled senile.”

I suppose it’s just coincidence that at 12:30PM today, just as Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. President Obama were about to step up to the podiums for their major press conference in D.C., that beginning with CNN and then extending to all news channels, my DirecTV satellite system lost it’s signals. It’s a clear, windless say here in southeastern Wisconsin. Then I went to the computer and set it to CNN — again the signal speed (the high speed computer system runs through land lines) slowed to a crawl, so I could get but an odd word here or there of the live feed news conference now in session. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it just seemed odd that all this interference occurred right at that moment of this key live news conference. I’m sure there is no relationship with how the Chinese block media signals of content they don’t want their people to hear.

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board has revisited the discussion about the dangerous, outmoded Electoral College system of selecting, not electing, our U.S. Presidents. The electoral College is irrational, but like some hostages, many in the American populace have Stockholm Syndrome, and have developed a loyalty to a system that defies democracy.

The National Popular Vote initiative ( is one way to reform the system and assure that a true voting plurality elects our President. A Constitutional Amendment is another way to remedy the situation, but the chances of our Congress getting together on this are slim.

If you care about democracy, and want to avoid having people riot in the streets some day over an illicit election express yourself to your friends, media and your representatives in Congress. Here’s Steve’s editorial:

There was a time when the French had a big cultural problem with the company that built it’s success on what else than the French Fry. Activists made the term “culinary imperialism” into their anti-McDonald’s mantra. But those days are long gone. McDonald’s first innovated a policy called “Open Doors” in France, inviting the suspicious news media and the critics among the public to comes behind the scenes in its restaurants and suppliers to see that French people were serving them quality food from predominantly French suppliers. Now they can say the same thing about the beef. See this article from for the details.βurgerβusiness%29

The disconnect between the rhetoric of government, especially the Federal government, and the life and prospects of ordinary Americans is a vast chasm. The poor and working poor grow poorer. The rich and super rich grow richer, flaunting their political influence, wealth and extravagant lifestyles, provoking those less clever and lucky. The un-necessary wars go on and on, and cost more and more in lives and treasure, while the government refuses to restrain the military industrial complex or engage the 99% of the untouched population by risking a draft or war taxes. The Left/right political process is broken, yet hangs on because of fear of change, fear of disrupting the obsolete political norm, and fixing things like the dangerous Electoral College process for electing Presidents, where a vote in Alaska is worth 6 times more than a vote in Chicago, or the Senate that leaves us with lopsided representation that is geographic instead of population-centered. And let’s look at the ramifications of the decay of standards in education, and loss of general civility throughout society. All of that, together with inflammatory rhetoric emanating from some of our politicians and what used to be the news media, leaves little doubt that some of those on the fringe of mental stability might resort to acts of brutal terror to gain attention or express their utter frustration with society. Thus it is not surprising that Tucson happened, but that it doesn’t happen more often. The remedies, or at least the most glaring opportunities for remedy, are implied in the shortcomings I’ve just summarized. Was Tucson but a violent expression of a latent madness which ultimately infects us all.

January 2011

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