Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eleanor Rigby, R.I.P.

I always thought she was a fictional character created by Paul McCartney for one of the Beatles' most haunting songs but it turns out that Eleanor Rigby actually might have been a real person.

Four Minutes

This weekend, I checked out a fascinating video entitled, "The Civil War in Four Minutes" after hearing about it on Slate's Political Gabfest. Created for the Lincoln Library and Museum and shown on a large movie screen to visitors, it's an powerful representation of the continuously shifting lines of battle (you really get a sense of what Sherman's March to the Sea did to the Confederacy) and the horrific casualties that were inflicted by both sides.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope your turkey goes down a bit more easily than this today. Bork bork bork!

Shalom! D'oh!!

Apparently the Bush Administration had some problems getting its holidays straight as its annual Hannukah invitations were festooned with Christmas wreaths in the White House windows and a wagon hauling the 2008 White House Christmas tree. Up next, the White House's annual open pit barbeque for members of PETA!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ummm...get out of the boat, please. need to get out of the boat.

Andrew Sullivan posted the video below on his Daily Dish Blog and I thought I'd share it as well. His comment? "When the odds are against you, remember this little penguin."

My comment...Think long and hard about whether you want that penguin in the boat with you at that particular moment.

Line of the Day (so far)

"You look a bit stressed. What better way to handle it than with tropical fruit and cured meat."

-- said to me as a co-worker handed over a small slice of pepperoni and pineapple pizza to make sure that I ate something for lunch today

Please, someone make her stop. The irony is killing me.

Ironic video of the week -- Sarah Palin pardoning a turkey in honor of Thanksgiving and then proceeding to give a 3-minute interview in front of a guy slaughtering turkeys (got to love that bloody trough and his occasional glances over the shoulder as if to say, "Ummm...ok, you ladies just keep talking while I behead these here birds.") I'm sorry but I just can't post the link. I'm sure it's on YouTube if you want to see it but really, I'll just be thankful when she goes away.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ghost Town

I'm in the middle of reading Bill Bryson's outstanding travelogue, "A Walk in the Woods", picking it up whenever I need a brief break from Barack Obama's "Dreams from My Father" (also excellent but not necessarily lighthearted bedtime reading). At one point along Bryson's summer-long encounter with the Appalachian Trail, he finds himself in Centralia, Pennsylvania, a modern day ghost town.

Centralia, like so many other towns, sprang up around the anthracite coal deposits upon which much of eastern Pennsylvania rests. Due to its high carbon content, anthracite coal is difficult to ignite and once it's lit, even harder to extinguish. Sadly for the residents of Centralia, they received a first-hand education on this particular fact in 1962 when a fire at the town landfill ignited a vein of anthracite that extended beneath the town. Efforts to staunch the fire failed and as it penetrated farther underground into an estimated 24 million pounds of coal, it was simply allowed to burn.

While authorities didn't realize it at the time, they'd signed Centralia's death warrant.

The fire continued to spread and the evidence of the subterranean destruction eventually made its way to the surface. Carbon monoxide from the underground fires seeped up into homes resulting in illness. A 150-foot deep sinkhole opened beneath a 12-year old boy who was only saved from death by grabbing exposed tree roots and being hauled out by his cousin. Additional sinkholes appeared as the town, bereft of the coal that had served as its foundation, began to collapse in on itself in areas. The temperature in underground gas tanks rose to more than 170 degrees while the ground only 13 feet deeper reached 1,000 degrees. Roadways cracked and collapsed, with steam and smoke rising from the asphalt equivalent of volcanic vents. In time, sections of the town became what Bryson describes as "an extensively smoking landscape, on possibly no more than a skin of asphalt, above a fire that had been burning for thirty-four years --- not, I'm bound to say, the smartest place in North America to position oneself."

By 1984, the government realized that it would be more affordable to just relocate everyone than to try and extinguish the expanding fire which had grown to encompass more than 350 acres of underground coal veins. While a few hardy (ummm...obsessed? foolhardy? stupid?) souls remained for a few years, eventually they were all forced to relocate. In an ultimate symbol of the community's eradication, the Post Office revoked the town's zip code. Centralia, by all reasonable measures, had ceased to exist.

I find myself absolutely fascinated by the story of Centralia. Fires threatening communities is old hat in a tragic way. Every year, the national news is filled with stories of wildfires threatening and sometimes destroying parts of communities in California and other points west. These conflagrations sweep across the landscape, visible to all, lighting the night sky, as courageous men and women fight to slow and then stop the destruction. But the concept of a fire steadily eating away at the ground upon which you walk, your children play, your house rests, immolating the literal foundations of the community slowly and inexorably and with no hope of stopping it? That's the stuff of horror stories I think.

I wonder how the residents who stayed could have slept at night without worrying if they would awake to the rending and tearing sound of their house collapsing into a burning chasm. Dedication to one's community is an admirable thing but I'm reminded of the story of Harry Truman (not the president) who refused to leave his lodge near Mt. St. Helen. Thankfully for the residents of Centralia, none of them perished as a result of the fire or their refusal to leave, unlike poor old Harry who died when the mountain blew out its guts on May 18, 1980.

I expect that in reality, Centralia wasn't quite that bad though I certainly wouldn't have wanted to trade spaces with Todd Domboski, the young boy who almost fell to his death. Looking at the photos here, clearly Centralia (or what's left of it), hasn't devolved into a hellish landscape of fire. However, there's no denying the grim fascination of the collapsing, smoking Route 61 or the images of steam and smoke rising from otherwise innocous fields and yards.

Call it Mother Nature's revenge for decades of strip mining and other environmental desecration or simply bad luck that brought about the ruin of a small rural town. Either way, after 130+ years of habitation, Centralia itself died a slow, lingering death at the hands of the coal the town's residents had come to claim.

By the way, if you're planning a visit anytime soon, there's no need to rush. The Centralia fire is expected to burn for at least the next 250 years.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Movie Review: Bolt

Just a quickie review for a trifle of a film:

We went to see the new animated film, "Bolt" last night and it's surprisingly good, even verging on excellent. The action scenes are better than anything in "Quantum of Solace", it's well written, the voice casting is solid (perhaps the best thing John Travolta has done in years), the animation is crisp and clean, and the pigeons absolutely steal every scene they're in. Not quite the emotional and brilliant film you get with Pixar's WALL-E but fun and very entertaining.

Blessings upon you, Eleanor Rigby

So I guess we know what's on Benedict XVI's iPod now, right?

Comments are like a box of chocolates...

I've discovered that the scourge of spam even reaches into the blogosphere.

As a writer, I find feedback invaluable. As a blogger, it's nice to know that someone out there is actually reading what I write (or at least visiting the blog and considering reading it). That's why that new little map tool on the sidebar is so cool. Not only is there the ubiquitous "visit counter" but the map shows that there were people in Iceland and Australia reading something I wrote. But it raises all sorts of questions -- how did they find "Walks in the Marsh"? How did any of you? What were you looking for? Did you find what you were looking for here? I definitely wonder about these things and that's why, when I get an e-mail alert that someone has left a comment, I'm always excited.

Did the reader like what I wrote?

Did they disagree with something in the blog?

Do they have something to add to the conversation?

Comments are like Christmas presents. You see them under the tree and can't wait to open them to discover what treasure lies within. I hope that, as someone reading this blog, you might feel the same way about the blog itself...looking forward to opening it up and finding out what lies within.

And that why the appearance of spam comments today is just so disappointing. There's nothing quite so disheartening as when you open that Christmas present to discover that it's just nice wrapping around an overdue utility bill, a confirmation of an upcoming prostate exam, or a nice steaming pile of something unpleasant (not that any of those things have happened, mind you, but you get the idea).

Don't we get enough of this stuff in our e-mail? Do we really have to put up with someone taking the time to post commercial messages here?

They start out innocuously enough ("hey, great blog" or "I love this post") and are then immediately followed by a commercial pitch (pre-lighted fake Christmas trees in one case; a link to a low-interest rate finance site in the other). Ugh. And if the people who left those messages actually did like the blog, that's fantastic...just please don't tack on that spam message at the end.

At least, as the proprietor of this blog, I'm given the option to delete comments if necessary. I haven't gone so far as to turn on comment moderation yet but I suppose that's always an option so that you don't have to see them. Hopefully, they won't last and this and other blogs will remain open to legitimate, thoughtful commentary because that's why this blog exists for me. It's a venue in which I can ramble on in the hopes of stirring some sort of response from you.

So in the holiday spirit, take a minute and leaving me a Christmas gift of your comments to unwrap. I love getting Christmas presents!

And won't it be ironic if a spam comment shows up in response to this posting? I might actually leave that one up. Nah...not really.

Geez, what's the world coming to when you can't trust McDonald's?

Here's a little tip for you...if you have nude photos of your spouse on your phone, don't forget the phone at your local McDonald's.


When did assassination (or the discussion of the act) become a legitimate part of protests against the President or President-elect?

Reading the stories about the assassination pool in Maine, betting on the date President-elect Obama would be killed, was chilling. The worst part of the sign in the Maine store window wasn't the title ("Osama Obama Shotgun Pool") but the fact that the sign concluded with this flat statement: "Let's hope someone wins."

Reading these 45 years to the day after JFK was gunned down was horrifying. I wasn't born in 1963 but I've read the stories, seen the news footage, and talked to relatives who remember exactly where they were and what they were feeling when they heard the news. The only thing I can imagine from my own life is that I will never forget where I stood and how I responded when I heard the news of the planes on September 11th and their aftermath.

I believe that the violent death of a President must shake our society to the core. No one feels safe. There is no certainty. How can people consider the actual act with some sense of glee as part of casual conversation?

I remember when I was just a little kid and President Reagan was shot. My friends and I started dancing about thinking this was a good thing because all of our parents had so clearly hated him and the conservatism he stood for and we didn't know any better. In no uncertain terms, the adults with us made it clear that the President being shot was never a reason to celebrate, no matter who he was or how much we disliked him or his policies, that it was a terrible thing, that it was something no person should ever, ever wish for because it would hurt the country too much.

How could someone hate so much, fear so much, or be so ignorant, as to wish such a thing on a person and on a country?

And more to the point, what brings a person to actually attempt such a thing?


Hey, fella,
Feel like you're a failure?
Bailiff on your tail? Your
Wife run off for good?
Hey, fella, feel misunderstood?
C'mere and kill a president...

- "Everybody's Got the Right" from the musical, "Assassins"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

People Standing Up

From the Associated Press earlier today:

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Authorities in Maine say no charges are planned against the owner of a store where a sign invited customers to bet on a date when President-elect Barack Obama would be assassinated. Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion said Friday that Oak Hill General Store owner Steve Collins denied any knowledge of the "Osama Obama Shotgun Pool" sign.

Today, the Portland Press-Herald ran two articles that fleshed out the story of the sign and highlighted the strong response by residents of Portland members of the University of Southern Maine community to this and other recent displays of bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance within the state. Good for the members of the Portland community and the USM students and faculty.

It's something of a paradox of course -- in an open, enlightened, and educated culture, we must be tolerant of other beliefs and ideas but do we break that covenant when we are not tolerant of intolerance?

(Obviously, the attack upon a Portland man wearing makeup following a theatrical production because he "looked gay" has no bearing on tolerance or the First Amendment -- he was assaulted and all of the people of Portland should feel safer once the Neanderthals who did it stand trial for their crime...more on this in a minute.)

But back to the topic of the sign in the window and the black figures hung in effigy...they highlight again a thorny question -- where does free speech end and the abridgment of others' rights to a safe life begin? The courts have grappled with this for years, attempting to find a balance between the critically important First Amendment and the civil rights granted to all members of the community to keep them safe from defamation, intimidation, discrimination, or victimization. Sadly, no clear bright line yet exists, with lower and higher courts batting limits and reversals back and forth like a grim ping-pong ball. As a result, communities come to rely upon other laws to punish violators and protect the innocent from what might otherwise be considered "hate speech.

Consider the case of Robert A. Vincent vs St. Paul in which a teen was arrested after burning a cross on the front yard of an African-American family. Rather than charge him under more established ordinances that addressed topics such as terrorist threats, arson, or criminal damage to property, he was instead charged with the violation of a statute that criminalized activities such as burning crosses or Nazi swastikas. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually tossed the conviction noting that, while "burning a cross in someone's front yard is reprehensible. St. Paul has sufficient means at its disposal to prevent such behavior without adding the First Amendment to the fire."

In the end, the Court's decision rested on the belief that St. Paul's statute unconstitutionally made speech and forms of expression (a burning cross) aimed at racial or religious minorities illegal but not other types of speech that might have targeted "unprotected" groups. The same standard and question of fairness is often applied to the concept of "hate crimes" -- should the punishment be more severe if someone is convicted of assaulting a black man or a lesbian because he is black or she is gay vs. assaulting a Caucasian man or a straight woman?

I'm not a lawyer and can't speak to the constitutionality of hate crimes legislation either at the state or federal level. I do recognize that hate-filled members of our society clearly target those they believe are different or a threat. I also believe that when these fearful bullies (because that's what drives them -- fear -- and they then seek to prey on the weak either in packs or from the shadows due to their cowardice) perpetrate an assault, whether physical, emotional, or otherwise, they should be prosecuted and made to pay for their crimes. Strapping them to the side of a mountain where eagles can feast on their entrails might be a good've got to love those ancient Greeks. They knew how to punish someone. Honestly though, speaking as heterosexual white male, I do want to know that if I get my ass kicked by some ignorant cave dweller who sought me out because I held a different political belief, said cave dweller would be punished just as severely.

I'm an ardent defender of the right to free speech as well as the right of a minority to be safe from repression by the majority. I also am proud that the right to free speech extends to the freedom for members of a community to tell the scared, ignorant fools perpetrating bigoted, racist, homophobic, xenophoic acts that the community categorically rejects those messages of hate and intolerance. The examples set by the Portland community and by protestors nationwide speaking out against the discrimination now written into law by California Proposition 8 are ones that we should remember and support. While there's no law against people saying things that are stupid and ignorant, the law also allows us to stand up and announce that discrimination and intolerance have no place in our society.


By the way, there is at least one notable exception in the case of spoken, written, or implied threats actually resulting in a violation of law: legitimate threats against the President, Vice President, and the POTUS-elect and VPOTUS-elect...though the sign in the store window certainly doesn't meet that threshold. A slightly drier presentation of this statute may be found here though it seems to be more restrictive that the first explanation. How does it account for spoken threats or e-mail? Is e-mail considered the same as snail mail in this case because it is interstate communications/commerce?

It's curtains for you, Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains.

For those who missed it the first time around, Joss Whedon's delightfully twisted and entertaining "Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" is now available in its entirety on Just click the below to enjoy 42 minutes of fun highlighted by an outstanding Neil Patrick Harris and a brilliantly dense Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer. And for fans of Whedon's "Firefly", look for the model of the Serenity hanging in the window in Dr. Horrible's lab.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On the topic of cars and searching in multiple states...

After my brief rant yesterday about the auto CEOs, lawmakers fawning over their American cars, and NY Rep. Gary Ackerman's saga of searching 5 states for the car with the right color, right package, and nav system yesterday, I realized I could understand where he was coming from. Not the whole "tell the story in the U.S. Congress" part -- that seemed a bit unnecessary -- but the quest to find exactly the car you want.

As the summer came to an end, we decided that it was time to part ways with my wife's venerable Saturn. So we decided to do the car shuffle -- she got my Honda Accord and I went looking for something for me. My wife also got a big ole I.O.U. that she gets to cash in at any time with no comment from me.

So I started looking and as my wife can tell you, once I get going on a project like this, I get a bit obsessive about it, not to mention compelled to bring things to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible. We found ourselves at a local dealership on a rainy Saturday driving a Saab 9-3 that was just a few years old with almost no miles. Man, that was a fun car. Saab might be owned by GM but their engineers apparently kept the skills necessary to make the driver's seat feel like you're in the cockpit of a jet. Alas, they also kept the quirky electrical issues that seem to crop up in Saabs.

I had a Saab 9000 several years ago and in the months before I moved on to the Accord, I'd regularly be startled by the sound of electrical short circuits somewhere in the dash in front of the passenger seat. No amount of testing and checking by my mechanic could ever determine what it was so I was left to wonder what combination of buttons would leave me unexpectedly crispy. Anyhow, this relatively new Saab was a great ride...until you made a 90-degree left turn when going at any speed and suddenly the electric door locks would rapidly unlock, lock, unlock, and then lock again with loud "chunking" noises. Now that's an interesting extra...hang a left and your car sounds like a package of Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn. My uncle, who still owns his pre-GM Saab among other cars, shared a valuable observation when I called to ask his opinion on this: Saabs are fun cars but not for the faint of heart.

And so ended the flirtation with a sweet black Saab 9-3 that went like a bat out of hell. I might not be faint of heart but repeated trips to the garage for repairs? One of the more terrifying prospects in modern American life.

So I started doing some more research, realizing that among other things, I didn't want to give up a manual transmission. I tried driving a few other cars that were either automatics or the automatics that allow you to "shift" by tapping the gear shift up or down but these were either boring or felt like gimmicks that I'd never use. Yep, I need that manual transmission. It's fun to drive and much more manly. Would James Bond drive an automatic? Only if it's a rental like those Fords he's been showing up in when he doesn't have his Aston Martin. Rocky Balboa? In mourning for Apollo Creed, dead at Drago's hands, the Italian Stallion goes tearing off and shifting over and over and over and over again to illustrate how upset he was. An automatic? Pshaw! I'm a manly man, dammit! Just ignore that I said "Pshaw" and the fact that I tear up every time Red and Andy are reunited at the end of The Shawshank Redemption.

The new round of research led me to a 2005 Volvo S40 just two days later that was cherry red, fully tricked out with the spoiler sport package, and a 6-speed manual transmission. Really? 6 speeds? Wow, I've never had one of those before. That sounded very cool. And it was. And so was the car itself. You don't usually think of Volvos as sporty. Do you remember that movie, "Crazy People" in which Dudley Moore plays an ad man suffering a breakdown and a need to tell the truth, leading to the slogan: "Volvos...they're boxy but they're safe!"? That seemed to sum it up. This one, however, was very sporty and loads of fun to drive. It was just screaming out for me to get my radar detector up on the dash (not that I would ever violate traffic ordinances or speed limits, of course). The interior was, well, a bit bland but it handled well and I'm a guy so the whole spoiler thing appealed to me. They actually made this Volvo look muscular and cool. I took some photos, decided to put down a deposit to hold it for a day or two so I could think about it, and headed home.

"Honey, you're too young to need a mid-life crisis car."

That was the response I received when I returned home and showed the photos to my wife. Really? It's not like it's a Porsche or a convertible. It's a Volvo, for Pete's sake.

"Honey, you're too young to need a mid-life crisis car."

What made me change my mind, however, was not that it might be seen as a mid-life crisis car but that it didn't have any way to directly connect my iPod. Horror of horrors! The year before, I had the factory radio pulled from my Accord in favor of an iPod-ready Kenwood. God, I hated using those damn FM transmitters to play my iPod through the radio. With the Kenwood, I could not only play it through the radio but control it through the radio. Sweet mother of mercy but that was a slick setup.

But here was the Volvo sales guy, along with two of the dealership's electronics guys, telling me that Volvo didn't include a direct link for iPods until 2007 due to the fiber optic design of the Volvo stereo system. Instead I'd have to go with an FM transmitter again but really, they work great, sir. Come on guys, the iPod has only been the world's most popular piece of consumer electronics for the last 8 years! There's no way to do with this without major surgery that violates the car's warranty?

Yes, that was a deal breaker. No iPod interface? No sale. Call me superficial but I spend a lot of time in my car and the iPod has become an integral part of my travel routine. Did it make sense to spend money on a car that couldn't support my one must-have accessory? I don't think so.

So I went back to doing more research and found exactly what I wanted...a 2006 Acura TSX with 6-speed manual transmission. Awesome reviews, top of the class in virtually every category, audio input for the iPod, the reliability of a Honda with the bonuses that come with an Acura. It was perfect...

...and it wasn't available. No one had one. They were so beloved by their owners that people never got rid of them. Welcome to Gary Ackerman territory. With the power of the Internet and various used car search engines at my finger tips I carried out my noble quest, expanding my search area again and again until there it was. Exactly the car I was looking for and at a dealership in Connecticut.

Here's how the thought process went as I discovered it while taking a brief break for lunch on a Tuesday: Oh wow. That's it. There it is. Is it a 2006? Yes. 6-speed manual? Yes. Reasonable mileage? Excellent! Color? Dark grey...mmmm cool. It even has a spoiler package? Oooooo very very cool. In my price range? Close enough. I'll just be extra super sweet to the wife from now until the end of time! But it's the web. Oh no. Maybe it's still online but has actually already been sold. I'd better call. Yes, it's still there? How late are you open tonight? Hmmm...if I leave work right on time and only mildly stretch the speed limit (really, I'd just be going as fast as everyone else around me; it's a safety thing, you know), I could make it there before they close tonight. Because as we all know, someone else could come along to snatch up that car now that I've discovered it. So yes, I'll be there.

Four days later, I drove home in my new, pre-owned Acura TSX. It only took test drives of and deposits on (refunded of course) two other cars that were almost perfect and a quest through three states to find it but this ride is worth every minute, dollar, and gallon of gas spent during that search.

And the fact that my mother-in-law just happens to also drive an Acura TSX? Does that detract from my feeling of automotive coolness?


Because I've got a spoiler.

And my mother-in-law is actually pretty cool. So sue me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

So exactly how much cluelessness can you buy for $25 billion?

You've probably heard about the boneheaded Big Three auto CEOs who each flew in their private corporate jets to Washington to ask for financial assistance from Congress. What you might not have heard is how thoroughly they were raked over the coals for it by some members of Congress (as opposed to other fawning members who gushed over their American cars).

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post offers a great look at both sides of this story in today's Washington Post. Among my favorite lines is this one from Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY):

"There's a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, D.C., and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hand. It's almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high-hat and tuxedo. . . . I mean, couldn't you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?"

Of course, a short time later, Ackerman goes off on how he had to check with dealers in 5 states before before he could get the car he wanted in blue and with GPS so any points he won sticking it to these guys promptly went out the window.

But back to Rick Wagoner of General Motors, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler, and Alan Mulally of Ford. These guys make $15 to 20 million a year. You'd think they'd shell out for a consultant who'd have the balls to say "Ummmm...perhaps a dose of humility might go over well here, sir."

Apparently not and that's a big reason why the Big Three are getting the Big Zero when it comes to a bailout, at least for now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Coffee or Tea?

"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family." - Balti Tribal Saying

We all know the phrase, in one form or another, "One person can make a difference." It feels so overused as to be little more than fodder for a cheesy inspirational poster. Sometimes though, you get a reminder that there is truth in that phrase, whether that reminder comes from hearing about someone who did it or, luckier still, when you are there as that person is doing it.

At the recommendation of a friend, I recently read Three Cups of Tea, an account of Greg Mortenson's efforts to fund and build schools for rural villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His efforts were spurred on out of gratitude for the aid he received in a small village called Korphe following his near-disastrous attempt to scale and then return from K2, the world's second highest mountain.

While the book itself, written by David Relin of Parade Magazine and Mortenson, is at times somewhat overwrought (Relin clearly didn't check his hero worship at the door), Mortenson's commitment to expand educational opportunities for children can't be denied. Learning how to create and lead a development effort (the Central Asia Institute) on the fly, he overcame remarkable challenges during his quest -- a kidnapping by mujahedin in northern Pakistan, corrupt officials, firefights among warring Afghan tribes, fatwahs from mullahs opposed to education for girls, and post-9/11 threats from fellow Americans enraged that he would seek to provide educational resources for Muslims.

It's in that last challenge that Mortenson was most prescient. He recognized far earlier than many that an education for all could empower young women and build new resources within the communities while also offering an alternative to the Islamic fundamentalism that gave birth to the 9/11 terrorists and others like them. Without schools like those funded by Mortenson, the only voice, the only vision, the only "truth" for many young men and women in these regions is often the word of the fundamentalists, funded by millions of petro dollars from the Middle East. And so he forged on even as war came to the region and despite his vilification by those in America who would tar every Muslim an enemy of the West.

It takes a unique person to recognize a need like this AND to actively take steps to address that need, especially in the face of daunting challenges. Many of us shake our heads sadly and say "oh, what a shame" or simply send a check or enter our credit card numbers in an online pledge form. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Non-profits rely on the people who are willing to write that check, collect those non-perishable food items, walk for a cause. But it's the people who see an issue and lead the way in helping address it that are the ones who truly embody the "one person can make a difference" concept, keeping it from simply being a cliche. They make it possible for the rest of us to help in some way as well.

I count myself lucky to have worked with such a person -- Bill Fishbein, the founder of Coffee Kids. Owner of the Coffee Exchange coffee roaster and cafe in Providence, RI, Bill launched his non-profit effort in 1988 after visiting coffee-growing communities and meeting the farmers and families who lived in poverty and grew the beans that Bill and other businesses roasted, sold, and brewed. Compelled by a need to give something back, Bill created Coffee Kids as a means to direct resources to these communities with a mission to help these families, who often earn as little as 4 cents per pound of coffee picked, improve their lives.

Initially, Coffee Kids simply acted as a middleman, connecting donors to child sponsorship programs operating in coffee-growing regions. Over time, however, Bill and the Coffee Kids team realized that more could be done through direct action within these communities and the role of the organization changed.
  • Coffee Kids was among the early adopters of micro-credit for women. As a result of Coffee Kids' efforts, more than 4,000 women now have their own businesses, empowering them within their communities and building financial independence for their families.
  • Health programs sponsored by Coffee Kids are training women in these communities to diagnose and treat common illnesses, provide pre- and post-natal care, and then enabling these women to train others to do the same.
  • Coffee Kids is funding school programs to provide books and materials, carry out repairs to school buildings, and pay for scholarships for high school and college students within these communities.
I met Bill very close to the start of his Coffee Kids journey. My mother was the organization's first volunteer, then the first executive director, and remains a member of the Board. As a result, I got all the news, heard about all of the challenges, and learned of the successes that came with long, hard effort. I eventually found myself volunteering to assist with the communication efforts and eventually assumed the role of Coffee Kids' first Publications Director. From there, I witnessed some of the maturation an organization like this goes through.

Part of it was a learning process, trying to figure out what would work and what wouldn't. At the early trade shows, we spent all of our time selling t-shirts and coffee mugs before realizing that doing so prevented us from achieving our true goal – actually building a relationship with donors by telling them about our mission. The next more t-shirts at the trade show. Once, we got on the charity road race bandwagon. In the end, the return from the 5K race really didn't warrant the effort that went into it from a financial standpoint and the runners, well, they were there to run, not to learn about the work Coffee Kids was doing in places like Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Nevertheless, those early attempts helped the organization to evolve and remain focused on the mission established by Bill -- to help coffee-farming families improve the quality of their lives. This was driven home most sharply for me when I spent a brief time in Guatemala visiting the project communities around Lake Atitlan. It was eye opening, not only because it was my first foray into Latin America, but because the results of Bill's vision, the Coffee Kids team's effort, and the support of individuals and businesses around the world were right there in front of me in the small businesses and the women who owned them as a result of micro-credit funding. In my journal notes from that trip 11 years ago, I wrote:

September 5, 1997
San Pedro La Laguna

Touching is the only way to describe meeting members of the program's Directiva. Each woman shook our hands and embraced us with a kiss on the cheek, sincerely pleased to meet us. A prayer in both Spanish and Tzuhuil (the indigenous tongue) followed by a beautiful song of prayer and thanks. Five women, probably with no formal training and they rocked the building. No congregation ever sang with more heart and soul.

These are very intelligent women with very clear ideas. They aren't sitting around waiting for us to tell them what to do. They know. They just haven't had access to the resources necessary to put their skills, creativity, and initiative into action.

It's a testament to Bill's vision that these resources are now available to families in coffee-growing communities around the world. While Coffee Kids relocated to Santa Fe and I moved on to other things, I remain a proud supporter of Coffee Kids. I treasure the time I spent working on behalf of the organization, and I am proud to call Bill Fishbein a friend. It's been 20 years since inspiration struck and Bill set out to make a difference. Since then, Coffee Kids has directed more than $4 million into these communities and made it possible for coffee businesses and coffee lovers around the globe to give something back to the people who grow the beans we crave every morning with our cereal and morning paper.

Isn't it time for you to get involved? Here are two ways to do so. What's your preference -- coffee or tea?

Coffee Kids

1751 Old Pecos Trail, Suite K
Santa Fe, NM 87505 USA
Phone: (505) 820-1443
Fax: (505) 820-7565
Toll Free: (800) 334-9099

The Central Asia Institute
P.O. Box 7209
Bozeman, MT 59771
Phone: 406-585-7841
Fax: 406-585-5302

To boldly go where someone has gone before

The new Star Trek film, a prequel of sorts to the original series, could be absolutely awful but the new trailer certainly makes it look action-packed, a nice change from the moribund Star Trek: Nemesis.

However, I'm still not sold on recasting the original roles and rebooting the series. Part of what makes the original Star Trek series so much fun is the camp, 60s vibe, not to mention the interplay between Shatner, Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley. From what I've heard, this new film isn't trying to fit cleanly into the mythology of the TV series and the existing movies. Think of it as a new vision of what Star Trek is using parts from the original series while violating all sort of elements of the existing mythology. I guess there's time travel involved so maybe the things that fly in the face of the Trek canon are simply explained away by someone from the future coming back and mucking with things. Maybe it will work as a sci-fi movie but at the expense of 40 years of Star Trek lore? We'll have to wait until May 2009 to see but until then, I'll have my doubts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Giants? I'm still not so sure.

I grew up a New York Giants fan. My dad is a Giants fan and so was my grandfather. I reached an age when I could really watch and understand the game of football at exactly the same time Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms came on to the scene. My father and I never missed a game -- how could you pass up watching Simms-to-McConkey, Mark Bavaro rumbling over safeties and cornerbacks, and that spark plug Joe Morris who literally ran out of his shoes once en route to a touchdown?

Then, after the G-men had scored, out would come LT (who forced offenses to change how they played the game) and Carl Banks and Harry Carson and they would simply crush the opposing offense, sometimes quite literally. I remember watching the end of Joe Theisman's playing career as an LT hit snapped Theisman's leg in 2 places live on Monday Night Football (and yes, it's available on YouTube and no, I'm not going to provide a link because it still makes me queasy even thinking about it). While it's a cliche now, that's when the dumping of the Gatorade cooler first became a pop culture item thanks to Carl Banks, Harry Carson, and a perpetually shocked Bill Parcells. Hell, Joe Madden even did a telestrator assessment of the Gatorade bucket's dimensions, volume, etc., during the Super Bowl!

We loved those guys. I had a Phil Simms poster in my bedroom. My dad? A matching LT poster. I bought him Phil Simms, LT, and Mark Bavaro action figures and to this day, for big Giants games, the poster and the action figures come out to create a shrine to the Giants Gods of Old in the hope of recapturing some of that glory.

But when the Giants won the Super Bowl last year, I just couldn't get myself excited about it. This year, they're 9 - 1 and I know that some commentators feel they're the best team in the NFL. I watched Sunday's game as they blew out the Ravens 30 - 10 and looked moderately impressive doing it. So why can't I get myself to like the new Giants very much?

I think it comes down to the quarterback. I just can't get over my perhaps irrational dislike of Eli Manning. Maybe it's a lingering distaste for how his father Archie appeared to blackmail the San Diego Chargers into trading Eli to the Giants on draft day ("make a deal to trade him to the Giants or he sits out a year and you don't get him"). Perhaps it's the feeling that you just can't ever trust Eli to be sharp enough when he needs to be. You still see the dumb mistakes, the glazed look, the "Manning Face" as it was dubbed by Bill Simmons. And maybe it's the Patriots fan in me rebelling against anything Manning.

I suppose it's like the Presidency where you can have absolutely no respect for the person but respect for the Office. In this case, I'm a fan of the Giants and I always will be. I'm just not a fan of the man standing under center and calling the plays.

A slightly different perspective

I've been introduced to lolcats. I'd seen the book that was published recently but didn't give it much thought, thinking it was just another collection of cats doing cute things. I see now that I was wrong. Sure, some are just interesting photos with amusing captions (4 turtles on a fallen log with a crocodile on the other end and the first turtle shouting "back up! back up!). Even the lolcat progenitor is just generally cute but it did set the standard for lolcats' grammar and speaking style. However, others actually have a melancholy, wistful air to them that can be surprising amidst the goofiness. The lolcats have even developed religious analogs as the beneficent "Ceiling Cat" and the dark "Basement Cat" remain forever locked in opposition.

No, they aren't great literature and are a sterling example of how the Internet can be used to waste time but every now and then, you just need a break from the news and serious ideas. And when you do, don't you also want to have the freedom to ask "I can has cheezburger?"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Half Blood Looks Like Full Measure of Fun

Following the disappointment of "Quantum of Solace," film fans' eyes now turn toward "harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", coming to theatres next May. Spurring them on...trailer #3:

Yeah, yeah...I know. You get your hopes up after watching a trailer only to have them dashed by the movie. I got fooled last year by the disappointing "Order of the Phoenix" but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Movie Review: The name's Bourne, James Bourne...A Review of "Quantum of Solace"

Apparently, the producers did decide to make a fourth Jason Bourne movie...well, something of a weak rehash of the second one really...and its name is "Quantum of Solace."

Yes, I too believed that it was going to be a James Bond film and of course we went to see it opening night. After the smashing success of "Casino Royale", I was tremendously excited to see "Quantum," even though I knew it probably wouldn't live up to the high standard set by "Casino."

Boy, was I right. I just didn't realize how much it would fail to live up the that standard.

"Quantum" feels like a largely joyless work derivative of recent "Bourne" films (not too surprising given that a number of the same writers worked on "Quantum") without the assured direction of Doug Liman or Paul Greengrass. Would it have killed the producers to bring back the outstanding Martin Campbell? "Quantum" is the first true sequel in the Bond series ("Diamonds are Forever" makes reference to the events in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" but isn't really a sequel) and it seems like it would have made sense to carry the same style of direction and vision over into the new film. Campbell had already proven he could handle action sequels without a let-down (see "Mask of Zorro" and "Legend of Zorro").

(On a superficial note, the movie also gets off to a lousy start thanks to "Another Way to Die", a truly awful opening song by Jack White and Alicia Keys - I'm not sure if it's as wretched as Madonna's dreadful "Die Another Day" but it's pretty bad.)

Where "Casino" was the most character-driven Bond movie ever made with a clear, focused plot and tremendous action sequences that redefined how this secret agent was going to do business, "Quantum" is an incoherent mess with a bland villian named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) whose lead henchman only notable for his silly haircut. Greene is part of a shadowy evil organization apparently named Quantum, the members of which wear shiny "Q" lapel pins so they can identify one another (note to self -- when starting my next secret cabal, just skip straight to the "Hi, My Name is..." evildoer badges).

Some Bond villians and their plots are so over the top, they're almost unwatchable ("Moonraker" or "A View to a Kill" anyone?) but this time, the plot is so non-threatening, it's almost incidental. Does anyone really get stressed out about someone seizing control of 60% of Bolivia's water supply? And why does Quantum want to do it? So they can gouge utilities customers by charging higher rates? That sounds like my cable company.

It doesn't help matters that the action sequences -- a vital element of the Bond spectacle for 44 years -- are so poorly filmed and edited that you have little idea who is doing what or why something just blew up. Someone needs to tell directors that jump cuts every second or so don't make action scenes more exciting; they just make them more confusing.

In addition, the movie's big action sequences often leave you feeling like you've seen them before elsewhere. That chase through the tunnels and up the building? A dark, muddled rehash of the jaw-droppingly brilliant parkour chase scene in "Casino Royale." The chases through buildings and the leaps to balconies and through windows? Nothing more than a pale imitation of the pursuit scene in "The Bourne Ultimatum".

Daniel Craig does his best with a thankless role here. While I still believe that he has the potential to be the best Bond ever based on his performance in "Casino Royale", he's playing the role of the Avenger Agent in this movie, burned by Vesper's apparent betrayal in "Casino Royale" yet hurting because he truly loved her and could only watch her die. There's no doubt he has the physical chops for the part and he puts them on display in "Quantum." However, in "Casino Royale", his charm was allowed to show through. At the conclusion, when he steps up with the stylish suit, the big gun, and the ice-cold eyes to say "The name's Bond, James Bond," you could see him becoming the stylish killer, the martini drinking seducer of women with outrageous names, and a man who would probably become comfortable enough to drop an occasional bot mot as well as a grenade.

Now, that evolution and that charm are largely put on hold and he is simply a running, jumping, shooting killing machine seeking the secrets that Vesper took the the grave. ("The name's Grim, James Grim.") Even the movie's one outrageous name, in this case "Strawberry Fields", isn't revealed until you watch the credits. Where's the fun in that? Where's the "strawberries and cream" quip after they have sex? Bond movies are supposed to be a bit over the top. Hell, that's why the guy drives an Aston Martin. What government on earth can afford to put its spies in $170,000 automobiles that always get shot up, blown up, or otherwise wrecked?

The only time something more is allowed to peek through is in his relationship with Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini reprising his role from "Casino Royale"), who seeks to help his friend move on from Vesper's death, and with Judi Dench's M. In fact, I have to admit I was surprised at one point when Bond explains that he's after the person who tried to kill a friend of his. I immediately assumed he was talking about Vesper but it's revealed, at that particular moment, that the "friend" in question is actually M, revealing something new in the Bond/M relationship -- trust, affection, a reliance on each other?

While it didn't have to be this way, "Quantum" is hamstrung right from the start by "middle installment syndrome", that affliction faced by otherwise well-meaning movies in the middle of a trilogy. They have to have something to do but aren't allowed to wrap up the story -- they're simply filling the space until the big finale comes along. It takes a rare movie to overcome this. "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Bourne Supremacy" are two exceptions to the rule. Each is a fantastic movie. And while each raises questions that are eventually answered in Jedi and Ultimatum, respectively, you ultimately leave the theatre feeling satisifed and thrilled at the end.

In "Quantum", however, questions are raised and villians are identified but they're simply put out there as filler or as potential fodder for the next movie with little to no resolution and certainly no driving excitement to find out what happens next. (Minor spoiler alert -- isn't anyone concerned that the senior adviser to the British Prime Minister is apparently a member of Quantum? Apparently not because it's mentioned once and then never again.)

Adding to the problem...while you're watching "Quantum", you don't realize you're watching a middle installment until the end at which point it's too late. You've been let down by the lack of closure that seemed to be simply the result of poor story telling.

As "Quantum" ended, I found myself looking forward to the next one to see how all of the pieces come together but not terribly interested in going back to the theatre to watch this one again. That's a rare feeling for me, a true fan of the series. Of course, as the credits ended, the traditional statement of "James Bond will return" rolled across the screen and in that, at least, we can take some solace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence"

A story in today's New York Times is a remarkably funny (yet sobering in its own way) look at how the demand to fill the 24-hour news cycle is getting out of hand, allowing mischief-makers to create chaos. Remember the "Palin didn't know Africa was a continent" story? Here's the story behind the hoax. Yes, it was a hoax that FOX News fell for but isn't it sad that when you heard that story, you just wanted to believe it, too, just a little bit.

It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

Who would say such a thing? On Monday the answer popped up on a blog and popped out of the mouth of David Shuster, an MSNBC anchor. “Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,” Mr. Shuster said.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.

Read on...

Do you know someone like this?

Sadly, it's worse than we thought. If you know someone matching these symptoms, call 1-800-NO-I-CANT:

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Too High a Price

Earlier this year, my uncle's wife -- a vibrant, brilliant, creative woman whom, regretfully, I did not know nearly as well as I wish I had -- passed away following a long battle with lung cancer. Nora's struggle came to a close late one Friday night in her family's home on Cape Cod. The following morning, we made our way to the Cape, a trip we'd already been planning to make, only it was no longer to visit with Nora but instead to be with my uncle and my cousin and to try to fill the void we felt with memories of her shared among our family and her friends.

Lung cancer is a vicious disease -- the 5-year survival rate following diagnosis has NEVER exceeded 15%. However, it is all too often excused as a smoker's disease that people bring upon themselves. That's unfortunate in light of the horrific cost to our society, communities, families, and health care system caused by this disease that is often identified far too late to be successfully fought.

My uncle shared the following statistics in an e-mail he sent today:
  • Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer, claiming more than 160,000 American lives every year
  • Four times as many people will die from lung cancer as breast cancer; nearly twice as many women will die from lung cancer as breast cancer
  • Three times as many people will die from lung cancer as prostate cancer
  • More people will die from lung cancer this year than breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney, and melonoma cancers — COMBINED
  • Spending on lung cancer research last year was approximately $1,400 per lung cancer death compared to breast cancer research receiving $23,953 per death and prostate cancer research spending $10,318 per death
  • Approximately 15% of the people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked - we are all at risk
  • Approximately 45% of the people diagnosed with lung cancer are former smokers, many of whom quit decades ago
  • While smoking is a primary cause of lung cancer, Massachusetts, for example, (most other states are similar) generated tobacco-related revenue over $711 million while spending only $4 million on smoking cessation and prevention programs
The number of deaths is tragic. However, the addiction of our governments to the cash generated by sales of the drug that is so blatantly a cause of this disease is appalling.

However, the stigma of lung cancer -- it's a smoker's disease; it's their own fault for picking up the filthy habit; why don't they just stop; the warnings are right there on the package -- changes the rules, allows revenue to be generated and budgets to be balanced, and, tragically, weakens the drive to do something about it.

But perhaps that can change. November is National Lung Cancer Month. Next week, the Lung Cancer Alliance of Massachusetts is hosting a candlelight vigil in Boston to raise awareness (click below for details).

And at the national level, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) have introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate creating and authorizing at least $75 million for lung cancer research. This is the first-ever multi-agency, comprehensive program targeted at reducing lung cancer mortality.

I urge you to contact your U.S. Senators today and ask them to add their support to S. 3187, the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act. It's easy to do -- simply CLICK HERE to arrange for an e-mail or letter to be sent to your Senators to urge them to get behind this legislation.

In a world where car makers and insurance companies are expecting multi-billion dollar bailouts, $75 million is a pittance that can change the lives of millions.

Make sure your Senators know that they need to support this. Do it for a friend or relative who might have suffered from this illness. Do it for a friend or relative who might find themselves diagnosed with this disease in the future. Do it because it's the right thing to do. I'm going to do it because never seeing Nora again is too high a price to pay.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Comment away!

By the way...

I've changed the settings on the blog so you no longer need a Google or OpenID user name, etc., to post a comment. Now you can choose the Anonymous option on the off chance to you want to chime in.

Sometimes the destination is more important than the trip

Earlier this year, we moved into the GPS age here at our house. Obviously, GPS in cars wasn't new to us – I'd driven thousands of miles with my company's demo vehicles for media road shows. Each of the SUVs was equipped with in-dash GPS, which, the first time I used it, was just about the coolest thing I'd ever tried.

About a year ago, my wife drove up to meet me for a weekend in Vermont after I'd driven up earlier for a visit with friends. To avoid driving home separately, she rented a car that happened to be equipped with GPS and unerringly met up with me (the same could not be said for me when I drove up a day or so earlier, at night, and ended up off-course in the middle of the mountains...oops).

It was in April, however, that GPS came home with us in the form of two new, compact Garmin 260Ws for each of our cars. I thought a GPS would be helpful to Jennifer as she drove all over the state for meetings and for me...well, I like gizmos so how could I refuse!

While plotting our way on the map is still fun, I won't go on a road trip again without Greta or Gracie Garmin along for the ride ever again. Hey, the things talk to us in a pleasant female English accent so it's only polite to give them names. It's not like we're in love with them. Since that time, we've done our best to spread the GPS gospel with some success. My in-laws bought one recently and so did my folks (converts after borrowing Greta for a drive to Illinois and back to bring my brother to college this fall).

GPS may just be among the most useful gadgets I've ever owned, my Leatherman multi-tool and iPod excepted. It's everywhere now -- cars, boats, in phones. Is there anywhere it can't go? Is there any use too extreme for GPS?

Apparently, the bedroom and the art of seduction are no longer valid answers to that question. Really, I'm all in favor of making effective use of technology and, as I mentioned, I'm a gizmo and gadget guy but was the world truly crying out for GPS-enabled lingerie?

The "find me if you can" line of sexy nothings is now available to discerning and directionally challenged women. Or is it really for their men, whose lack of self-confidence and inability to trust others might spur them on to track their honey's every move? "A high-tech chastity belt" is how one feminist described it.

You've heard the saying "getting there is half the fun"? Well, apparently not anymore because when tracking this GPS signal, the fun comes when you've reached your destination. Heaven help you, though, if you start hearing your lover's undies stating, in that cultured English accent, "recalculating".*

* Credit where credit is due...I shamelessly borrowed the recalculating idea from ad libbed comments by Peter Sagal, the brilliant host of NPR's radio quiz show, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. It was just too good not to use here. If you don't already listen to Wait Wait, please do. You won't regret it and your schedule is no excuse. It's available as a weekly podcast from iTunes.

Order now...going fast

Only 71 days left to get my new favorite t-shirt...

Oooo...that's got to hurt

I don't think this is something you would really want to put on your resume.

Monday, November 10, 2008

End of a cultural institution?

Anybody remember that old bumper sticker, "Wouldn't it be a great if schools had all the money they needed and the Army had to hold a bake sale"?

Apparently that's not going to be an option anymore.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What were they thinking?

So maybe I won't be starved of political fodder after all.

What the hell is up with Alaska? Ted Stevens is going to get re-elected?! Sure, let's vote for the man just found guilty of 7 felonies and abusing his office for personal gain. Where do those eastern folk get off telling us in the great frontier who we can have in office. Coming up next...Ted Stevens resigning (if he has any decency left) and yet another election to fill his seat.

I'm sorry for people in California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas. It looks like a slim majority in CA and AZ and just over the necessary 60% in FL may have approved enshrining discrimination into the state constitutions with the passing of bans on same-sex marriage. Plus, Arkansas just made it illegal for gay couples to adopt. Lovely. It looks like even with Obama's election, we still have a long way to go before all men (and women) are created equal.

OK, so what now?

Hmmmm...the election is over. What the hell am I going to do now?

For the last 12 months I've read all sorts of news about the primaries and then the general election, I've listened to hours of political podcasts, and have looked at so many polls and projections that I think I deserve a degree in statistics and political science. It's become something of an obsession.

I can feel the withdrawal symptoms coming on already. I know I'm not the only one going through this. Maybe we need a support group.

Hi, I'm Chris, and I'm a political junkie.

Yes We Can

It's been a long night but I don't recall another like it in my lifetime. And it came to a close with Barack Obama, make that President-elect Barack Obama, on stage in front of 125,000 people giving a powerful, stirring speech that spoke to our country's past, present, and future. At times he seemed curiously unemotional and at times stern but this is a man who has been on the campaign trail for 2 years, who lost his grandmother yesterday, and who just won the opportunity to lead the country out of a multitude of hellacious messes. Even so, he stepped up and made this victory about the voters, about us. He made it clear that there are challenges ahead and mistakes that will be made. But at the end, that's OK.

I'm exhausted, I'm relieved, and I'm blown away by what his election represents.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Damn Fine Speech

McCain just gave a tremendous concession speech - gracious, powerful, and heartfelt, clearly recognizing the historic importance of tonight. It felt like the sort of stirring speech McCain of 2000 would have given. He was energized and seemed looser and more comfortable than he has in a long time. Good for him.

Governor Palin, on the other hand, looks like someone just socked her in the gut.


Jesse Jackson is crying.

The crowds in Chicago and New York are hugging and cheering.

John Lewis, Congressman of Georgia and a leader in the civil rights, is having trouble speaking.

John McCain is beginning to speak and trying to tamp down the boos.



I mean, wow.


Oh my God.


Congratulations, President-elect Barack Obama.


40 minutes until the world changes

40 minutes until the last polls close

40 minutes until this thing becomes official as California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii go blue

40 minutes...

Sleepy time for Britt

FOX News' Britt Hume look and sounds like someone shot him with a tranquilizer dart. On the other hand, CNN's David Gergen sounds like he has a piece of food in his mouth as he speaks.

Gripping commentators, these.

CNN unofficially proves McCain is toast

John King and his magic touchscreen just illustrated how it's virtually impossible for McCain to win now.

Is this really happening?

Buckeye Barack?

MSNBC just called Ohio for Obama. Holy crap!

Big Suit

Who let David Gregory wear that suit on MSNBC? He looks like he's wearing a black, pinstriped version of David Byrne's big suit from The Talking Heads' concert movie, Stop Making Sense.

Pest Control

Chris Matthews is yukking it up with Tom DeLay on MSNBC. This guy ought to be in prison. I'm baffled how the TV networks are willing to give guys like DeLay and Karl Rove the credibility and the megaphone that is TV. Well, I can understand FOX News doing it but MSNBC? Olbermann's head must be about to explode.

Granite State Rematch

In New Hampshire, it looks like Jeaneen Shaheen is winning her rematch with John Sununununununu.

That's plus 2 in the Senate now for the Democrats.

I don't think they'll reach 60 but they're going to pad their lead certainly.

2 styles

MSNBC is definitely going out on a limb with some of these calls (Pennsylvania, etc.).

CNN isn't calling anything yet stressing that it's early days yet.

Ack...what's a paranoid Obama supporter to believe?

Go Godless!

It's still early but Kay Hagan has a 100K vote lead over Liddy Dole and a 60% to 39% lead. Now that would be a nice bit of justice, wouldn't it.

8:04 and counting

Obama up 10% in Florida.

MSNBC giving the Big O 103 electoral votes and has called Pennsylvania for Obama.

If these two numbers are correct, could McCain already be sunk?

Early polls

Ugh, I hate the whole "early results" thing when you see big splits but then find out that only 1% or 2% of the votes are in and Obama and McCain are only separated by 4,000 votes or less.

That felt good

Just got home after voting. Call me a sap but I choked up a bit as I voted for Obama.

Dedication in the face of frustration

Election Day isn't going smoothly for everyone but in the face of bureaucratic frustration, dedicated voters are forging ahead (salty language warning!):

Forgive my mouth for just a moment but


Are you kidding me? With a 3 1/2 y/o and 8 week old??? And I'm just crazy enough to do it cause I CANNOT miss out on this election. Poor Lorelei walked out of the middle school with me just now sobbing "But Mommy I want to vote!!!"


Yes, my sister and brother-in-law moved back to New York earlier this year and there seems to have been a bit of a snafu. As a result, she didn't take the "sorry you can't vote" announcement too well. I can't wait to hear my older niece repeating her mom's colorful language when we see her this weekend!


This is why John Dickerson at has become one of my favorite political correspondents.

Christmas Day

Here's the transcript of a quick e-mail conversation I had with my sister this AM regarding the election:

Me: It’s like Christmas is finally here after weeks of waiting but you don’t know if Santa brought you the present you really want. I’m going to be ill if Santa blows this one...

Her: I couldn't agree more. Santa had better pony up for that big ol' 10 speed bike. I'm going to be glued to the TV all night...with the exception of the fight Lorelei and I are going to have over watching CNN versus Max & Ruby on Nickelodeon.

It's nice to know that my sister is trying to teach my niece the proper priorities in this situation.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The ELITE Plan

Keeping my fingers crossed that we won't have to take advantage of this offer...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

TV Review: The two best shows not enough people are watching

Thankfully, the writers' strike last year didn't kill off two of the best new shows to come out of the 2007 TV season – "Chuck" and "Life". It came close but both were renewed, much to my delight. Of course, not a lot of people are watching them so there's no telling how long they'll last but until someone at NBC pulls the plug (please don't!), they've become must see TV for me.

No, this isn't going to be a rant about how if you don't watch these shows, you're a fool and contributing to the downfall of civilization. I seem to recall some of those from people I know who watched "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" and swore they were the greatest TV shows ever. That may be the case - I haven't watched enough of either of them to pass judgment but I am one of those people who, when told I absolutely have to read a specific book or watch a specific show because it's soooo good, will dig my heels in and not do it, just to avoid being one of the herd. Maybe that's a lingering aftereffect of being told that I absolutely must read "The Prince of Tides" many years ago and when I finally broke down and did, I hated it. Oh well.

So anyhow, this isn't going to be one of those rants. It's merely a suggestion that if you want to watch some well acted and entertaining TV, you could do far worse than "Chuck" and "Life."


So here's what it's about – The CIA and NSA intelligence databases, known as the Intersect, are downloaded into the head of Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), Stanford dropout and leader of the Nerd Herd at a southern California "Buy More" electronics store into his head by mistake while the computer containing the real Intersect is destroyed, leaving Chuck the sole respository for this key information. As a result, he becomes an unwilling secret agent with a gorgeous CIA agent (Yvonne Stahovski) posing as his girlfriend and an NSA agent (Adam Baldwin...not one of the Baldwin clan but the talented other Baldwin who also starred in Firefly and Serenity) as a fellow Buy More employee while keeping his activities secret from best friend Morgan, sister Ellie, and her fiancee, Captain Awesome.

Of course it's an outrageous premise (the CIA and NSA working together? Nah, never happen...) but the casting is great, the balance between saving the world and surviving life at the Buy More is really well done with just enough of an absurdist touch, and the writing is crisp and very funny. The homage to "Grosse Point Blank" a few weeks ago in "Chuck vs. the Cougars" was brilliant. Plus there is plenty of trendy gizmo commentary ("Morgan, do we have any Rush CDs in the store?" No, but don't worry, dude. I've got them all on my Zune." "You have a Zune?!" "Are you kidding me? I'll get my iPod.").

The pop culture riffs are also often aimed right at my "I was a young geek" phase (not to be confused with my current "I'm a late 30s geek" phase). A perfect example -- "Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer" in which Atari's Missile Command console game that we all played in the 80s has the code to stop an actual missile strike from a secret satellite but the only way to reach the legendary "kill screen" to play the game with Rush's "Tom Sawyer" providing the appropriate tempo for the necessary moves and score enough points). All in all, it's tremendous fun.


"Life" is a bit darker - longtime LAPD officer Charlie Crews (the stellar Damian Lewis of "Band of Brothers") is convicted of murdering his best friend and his friend's wife and sent to prison for life. 12 years later, his conviction is overturned, he wins a $50 million settlement from the City of Los Angeles, and returns to life as a homicide detective. Partnered with recovering alcoholic Dani Reese (former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader and "L Word" supporting cast member Sarah Shahi) whose ex-cop father may or may not have been involved in a bank robbery and framing Charlie, Crews deals with the murder of the week stories while pursuing his friends' actual murderer (wrapped up last season) and now the people in the larger conspiracy (this season's arc) with the aid of friend and former cellmate Ted Early (Adam Arkin).

Certainly, the mysteries of the week are entertaining, not to mention creative (cancer researcher with lung problems is killed when his oxygen tank is swapped for a tank of liquid nitrogen). But the real thrill of watching this show is Damian Lewis and his take on Charlie Crews, a man who now takes a Zen approach to life as a means of controlling the rage he feels over the death of his friend and the 12 years stolen away from him. His passion for fresh fruit (a scarce commodity in prison), his curiosity about new technology (trying to figure out how a motion-activated water faucet works), his continuing love for his now remarried ex-wife, his dedication to Dani Reese (see the episode, "Powerless" in which she is taken hostage in her own home by a rapist she met in an AA meeting and finally comes to lean on and trust Crews), and his unique leaps in solving cases -- all of these things make Charlie Crews a fascinating character. Hopefully, "Life" will have a long and healthy lifespan on TV. It's absolutely worth it.