mardi, janvier 31, 2006

I'm Working on an Open-Letter to the ESPN Television Network

I haven’t been blogging blogging because I’m working on a letter to ESPN asking them to reconsider their decision to broadcast high school sports. ESPN shows high school basketball and (I believe) some high school football state championships.

Yes, I know that they are making money on it and that they will only do it more and more in the future, but I still want to ask them to reconsider their decision.

Here are my primary justifications:

Nationally televised high school basketball games create undue pressure for young teens.

In America, sports are over-emphasized already. ESPN telecasts of high school athletics exacerbate this societal problem.

Even though televising sports is prima facie harmful, televising only young men is harmful to women and skews already imbalanced gender equities.

Media coverage and attendant financial considerations have a corrupting influence on sports. Once, professional sports were primarily almost exclusively televised. Then college sports were televised – and college athletics has become big business (raising complicated questions about what it means to be a student-athlete). Coverage of high school sports should bring similar and pejorative influences.

Media coverage may de-emphasize academics at the high-school level

Media coverage of high school sports may increase the rate at which high-school athletes opt out of college and go directly to professional sports.

Media coverage may increase the rate at which college athletes leave school early to go to professional sports careers.

The notion of the amateur athlete is eroded.

Media attention will undoubtedly influence high school choice (oft-televised schools will attract ambitious and talented athletes at a disproportionate rate).

Media attention will undoubtedly influence college choice (if selection at favored/oft-televised schools like North Carolina and Duke increase the chances that an athlete will be televised, both the athlete and his coaches will promote those schools – adding external criteria to college choice and creating/exacerbating a competitive advantage for favored/oft-televised schools).

Media attention may compel high school coaches to recruit players.

I hope to support my arguments with research. I plan to send the completed letter to the director of programming at ESPN. Also, as crazy as it sounds, I’d like to try to get a copy to LeBron James. ESPN first started televising high school basketball (the McDonald’s All American Games excepted) when LeBron became a phenomenon. My hope is that he will reject this component of his legacy and encourage big business to let high school sports stay closer to amateur than pro. And I’m not naïve. I know that there is a lot of pressure on high school athletes today. High school sports are already a very serious matter, but it’s up to us whether we expand that or restrict it.

Paging P. Picasso...Mr. Pablo Picasso

Who Should Paint You: Pablo Picasso
Your an expressive soul who shows many emotions, with many subtletiesOnly a master painter could represent your glorious contradictions
What Artist Should Paint Your Portrait?

jeudi, janvier 26, 2006

Oh, Meme

With an affectionate nod to GMTB, cross-posted on Pandyland.

Four jobs you have had in your life:

Dishwasher at a restaurant in Wichita, Kansas (“Gourmet 500”)
Pizza delivery driver
(asexual) Senate Intern (the Honorable Harry Reid, Nevada)

Four reasons you've given for missing or being late for work:

"I witnessed a violent crime, and I’m afraid to leave my house (see item 3, question 4, below)"
“Train” or "Light Rail Train"
“I Forgot…TinyE’s lunch, …my laptop (happened this morning), …that I had an early meeting, …to bring keys therefore locked out of garage and house
“Can't, golfin'”

Four movies you could watch over and over (and do):

The Professional or La Femme Nikita
The Big Lebowski
Anything by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Four places you've lived:

Kansas City, Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas
Washington, D.C.
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota

Four TV shows you love to watch:

Kansas Jayhawk Basketball
60 Minutes
CBS Sunday Morning
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Four TV shows you hate to admit you watch on occasion:

Wifeswap (love it, it appeals to my voyeuristic (no, not that kind) side)
MTV Cribs (love it, it appeals to my voyeuristic (no, not that kind) side)
Cops (love it, it appeals to my voyeuristic (no, not that kind) side)
The Oprah Winfrey Show (I have a lil’ tiny crush on Oprah)

Four movies you've never understood the hype about:

Oh boy, here it goes:

Say Anything
The LOTR trilogy (no, I have not seen them all)
Million Dollar Baby

Four (kind of obscure) lines from movies you quote often for no apparent reason:(props to those knowing one or more of the movies):

"Running things…it ain’t all gravy"
“Is a man for a husband?”
“..and then it just repeats, doesn’t it? That doesn't really work, does it?”
“…we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices…”

Four people you could live happily without ever hearing from again:

george bush
George Bush
DICK cheney
Donny Rumsfeld
Condi Rice
Karl Rove
Bill Frist
Tom DeLay
Samuel Alito
Mean ol' Barbara Bush
Jeb Bush
Neil Bush
Busch and Busch Light
Jenna and Barbara Bush
Bushwick Bill

Oh, only bad...

Four of your favorite foods:

The burrito
The french-fried potato
The donut
The scrambled egg

Bonus: the dry and (kinda) dirty vodka martini
Extra bonus: cheese

Four things you don't apologize for:

The upgrades to the “forward cabin”

The way I play the game: my showboat dunks, my tats, my triple doubles, my vicious blocks, and my rebellious wearing of my rebel/custom-made (red and blue) Duf Nikes (although I’m sorry that kids in Indonesia make them for only 4 cents a pair, gotta work on that)

My 1999 Subaru Outback (Anniversary Edition) (oh haters…get your own, PLEASE!)

My savoir faire, my sassy flair, my pretty hair, or the clothes I wear

Four sites you visit daily:

Or, insight to my current (but long-standing) obsession...

This one
This one
This one
This one

A Helping Hand; or: "It's Nothing, Friend;" or: Not Discussing Islamic Extremism

Instead of discussing Hamas and the rise of Islamic extremism (more proof that the Bush agenda is working! I mean, Sharon has a stroke and becomes comatose, the Fatah party fades, and Hamas gets lots of seats. Just when I thought co-existence was a possibility! But wait I'm NOT discussing it. I'm not, I'm not, I'm not), I'll share this happy, happy, joy, joy, feel-good message:

This morning I was flossing my teeth (oh, if my misspent dental youth, friends) and looking out of the bathroom window. I saw a man on the roof of our neighbor’s house (our neighbor is doing an expansion so I was not stunned by this) starting to climb down using a standard aluminum ladder. The ladder slid and he grabbed the roof, narrowly avoiding a fall. He also caught the ladder, but he was aware than the ladder (which had no purchase because its foundation was/is hard packed snow/basically ice). I thought longer than I should have about what to do, then I went outside and offered to help.

I yelled “do you need some help?”

He yelled back “si.”

I held the ladder (even with my ample weight it was slippery), and he came down.

"Gracias," he said.

"De nada, amigo," I replied.

Then I talked at him for 22 minutes about the implications of the Hamas victory (which I repeat, I'm NOT talking about).

mercredi, janvier 25, 2006

On Imperialism

The night before last, The Gardener and I watched “The Corporation” (viva Netflix!). It is a wonderful, provocative and scary documentary. The basic point is this: corporations benefited more than freed slaves from the 14th Amendment (in the history of 14th Amendment jurisprudence, there have been approximately 200 cases: 14 involved freed slaves, the other 186…corporations). Corporations are like citizens when it suits them. They have no accountability to the community; they only have accountability to shareholders (they are extremely (some say exclusively) bottom-line focused). They want to own everything (and I’m not kidding) every inch of land, every ounce of water and even the sky (no fooling, Bechtel bought the water rights to a town in Bolivia and try to prohibit people from collecting rain water!). There is very little to stop them, except the people, united.

Then of course, there is our imperial President. I’m amazed by the spin effort to convince folks that:

In a time of war,
It’s okay to spy on American citizens,
Provided that they are speaking internationally.
No court order necessary.

Remember the good old days when we had a constitution and followed it and stuff. Ah, the good old days...

And what amazes me more is that – by all accounts obtaining approval for this type of spying is so easy to get that there is little reason not to seek it. I heard an expert on NPR indicate that in the history of requests, they are granted more than 98% of the time and they take very little time to obtain. There is a unit within the Department of Justice who gets the approval for you. Let’s postpone our conversation on whether it should be a little more difficult to get wiretap approval for another day. Today, let’s wonder why – if it’s so easy to get approval and if we have the infrastructure to get the approvals – why, why, why King George can’t be bothered to follow the process. It's his imperial mindset. The rules don't apply to him - they never have (apparently and sadly, it seems they never will).

My favorite part? If you get challenged, the appropriate response is indignation. Nice.

Last, there is the now imminent approval of the Alito nomination.

Democrats, stand up! Draw one line in the sand one time, please!

We have a Republican Congress, a Republican President and now we will have a conservative Supreme Court. In all candor, even thoughtful Republicans can't think this is a good idea. We are entirely out of balance, no? While I hold out hope that Roberts will run to the middle and that Alito will not be so committed to the Scalia (moron)/Thomas (imbecile) line, there is no doubt that the court will become more conservative.

The primary beneficiaries? Corporations. A close second? The President. Third place goes to: social conservatives. Corporations will become more imperial. The Presidency (if Alito has sway) will become more imperial. And government will become bigger and it will push the Christian line: rights to our GLBT brothers and sisters will be compromised (WWJD, indeed). Women’s rights will be undermined by inconveniences or (in some areas) eliminated. The poor, already down, will get kicked repeatedly.

But this morning I was compelled by this notion that our imperialism, once expressed primarily in foreign policy, is now coming home (our corporations have been imperial for a long time, but with each passing year, we’re harmed by it more and more; our President has a more exaggerated sense of entitlement than any in recent history; and now we will appoint a Justice who seeks more Presidential power – with potentially calamitous results). Will we embrace it – establish a monarchy and surrender control - or will we (like the citizens of Bolivia who told Bechtel to shove it) finally say enough is enough?

Brothers and sisters – join my revolution. Step one: watch “The Corporation.” Step two is coming soon (I’ll give you a hint though – it has to do with the upcoming midterm elections).

mardi, janvier 24, 2006

The Talented Mr. Duf

According to the Which Movie Star Are You Like? quiz, you're:

Matt Damon

Your hard work has paid off! You're known as a talented, dedicated, nice guy, who wisely learned from his best pal's failure to keep his lip zipped about affairs of the heart. Also, unlike that unnamed pal, you don't seem to have let success go to your head.

Take this quiz at

lundi, janvier 23, 2006

Two Things Which Prove I'm Pro-Woman

Initial Proof:

Did you see the Gloria Steinem profile on CBS Sunday Morning? She's so cool. One of my favorite Americans. Perhaps I should try to compile a list of my ten favorite living Americans. Hmmmm... It might be too much work. But, I'm a huge Gloria Steinem fan. You should be too.

Additional Proof:

Fe•male (fee-mayl) adj. 1. of the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs. 2. (of plants) fruit-bearing, having a pistil and no stamens. female n. a female animal or plant.

Wom•an (wuum-un) n. (pl. women pr. wim-in) 1. an adult female person 2. women in general 3. (informal) a female servant.

So, I have my share of grammatical, syntactical and usage pet peeves. I’ll admit it. And yes, that means that something is wrong with me. I’ll admit it. There's just too much evidence for a credible denial.

But man oh man, I hate to hear people refer to adult women as females. As near as I can tell, military types (who also like to say “vehicle” in reference to a car – another example of an overly broad appellation applied to an item with a more popular and more specific appellation), police-types and thugs.

Examples of misuse:

“I arrived to the scene and noticed two females who appeared to be intoxicated.”

“That’s what I don’t like about females, they’re always trying to take somebody’s man (notice 'man' not 'male').”

It always makes me think of a photo where a woman is standing in a field with a doe, a cat and several flowers. Were one to say “what a lovely ‘female’ in reference to the photos, one might be chided for one’s imprecision. Is one referring to the deer (or rabbit or hare – female rabbits and hares are also does methinks), the cat (BTW, The Gardener can tell a cat’s gender somehow just by looking at the cat!) the woman, or the flowers? If one speaks of the female person in the photo, should not one refer to said person as a 'woman'? I think one should.

Somehow I also find it derogatory/offensive. It just rubs me the wrong way. "I arrived to the scene and noticed two egg producers who appeared to be intoxicated." I'm sure that in many instances the intent to offend is not there, but...

Anyway, should I check my prescription (and either double my dose or cut it in half), or should we start a movement? Am I on something or onto something?

Holla at ya' boy!

samedi, janvier 21, 2006

Proof I'm Getting Old (as if it were needed...)

"Daddy can you get me a lemon bread and Mommy a coffee? Please."

TinyE 01.21.06

On Saturdays and Sundays, it's not unusual for me to go to our local Caribou Coffee to get The Gardener a large skim mocha and to get TinyE a slice of lemon poppy seed bread. I'm not a coffee drinker myself. But I'm not above the occassional decaf espresso (say it right!) after a nice meal.

This morning, I listened to a sublime mixed tape (a.k.a. mixed CD) that a friend gave me earlier this week.

Anyway, Caribou Coffee has a trivia question. If you answer it correctly, you get ten cents off your beverage. Last year, I almost made it the whole year without missing a question, but I was stymied by this arcane query - "Which two days are the busiest shopping days of the year?" I should also add that I did refuse to answer the trivia question one weekend morning when it was "What fifteen seed upset the Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament yesterday?"

This morning, the trivia question was:

"Even though Joey Stivic's father was a meathead, can you name is grandfather?"

I answered "Archie Bunker" for my ten cent discount. The clerk, a nice young woman who always teases me for being there early because my daughter wakes me early, said: "that's right, even though I have no idea who that is."

*Oh, my bad: the answer is the Friday and Saturday before Christmas.

jeudi, janvier 19, 2006

My Next Post Will be from the Other Side, An Open Letter to My Readers

Dear Visitor,

By the time you read this, I may be dead.

Oh, there are many reasons I may be dead. For example, God may smite me for my active distaste for his messengers and angels.

For example, I can’t even stand the look of this guy. I think this guy’s a murderer. I think this guy’s a charlatan, and I think this guy’s disgusting.

Why do I think he’s disgusting? Well, because he once said:

“I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good ... if a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It's that simple. Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty; we are called by God to conquer this country...”

I don’t like this insider-trading, M.D..

I don’t like this moron.

I don’t like this crook (although, to be fair, I’m not sure he’s a God squad guy – he may align himself with the devil if the K-Street money was right. Unlike this evil overlord who uses God for political gain – he’s the opiate dopeman…smoke up!).

But I really like this guy. So clearly I’m not on the right team.

And those others are the God squad (just ask ‘em), so I may be smote for not following their every word. If I am dead, and there is a Christian Coalition/Moral Majority/Operation Rescue/700 Club/Pro-life-pro-death-penalty-pro-Iraq-war pamphlet in my pocket, then God struck me down.

I may also be dead for eating a cherry tomato and spraying tomato guts on my laptop keyboard. If you find me dead, and there is a note in my pocket which reads “it’s not your computer, it’s Wernham Hogg’s computer!” then it was our Network Administrator who done me in.

But mainly I may be dead because I made a fatal error. Yesterday I was drinking water out of a 22 ounce plastic cup that I keep on my desk. The problem is: I didn’t add the water yesterday. I added it some day (or two or three) before yesterday (I really have no idea when). The water tasted fine, but it was room temperature. When I got to the bottom of the cup, having enjoyed 10 ounces or so, there was a cloudy white mass floating in the water…it looked like a pea-sized piece of ice, only flattened.

I saw it just before I took it in – right to my belly. And it weren't no ice. I'm pretty sure it was a nice blobby mass of bacteria or germs or anthrax or sputum or iocane powder.

So anyway, it was nice knowing you, and we’ll see you on the next lap (see what I mean that reincarnation thing is going to get me smote),


mardi, janvier 17, 2006

But I'm Lost. I'm Quite Lost.

The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.

M.K. Gandhi

Early morning after a dusting of snow...I’m typing my ideas out, and you have to suffer. Sorry…

Four recent things which shape our school conversations:

First, I was talking to a man at church who just happens to be from India and also just happens to have a four year old daughter (TinyE is four). He spoke with certainty and clarity and recommended this charter school. For him, the question is simple. Send your child to the school which will most prepare them for admission to our nation’s elite colleges. He said that if he could afford private school, he would send his daughter here (it's a feeder and it's prohibitively expensive). He told me that he researched every school; he spoke aggressively against “art and music magnets.” He said – “kids can learn art on their own time.” I have a feeling his kids will succeed whether he wants them to or not. Success defined narrowly.

Second, I watched 7 Up and Plus Seven with The Gardener* and in it the 7 year old British kids from affluent backgrounds know exactly where they will go to school all the way through college (“first I’ll go to this (exclusive/prestigious/snooty) prep school, then I’ll go to Trinity Hall, Cambridge”). And sure enough, when we see them again at 14, guess which prep school they attend (whichever one they said they would attend – you’re not left to doubt that they will eventually matriculate to Cambridge or Oxford). The children from middle class backgrounds and lower middle-class backgrounds do not know where they will go to school. One did not know what “university” meant. That seems the nature of the 7 year old.

Third, TinyE had a play date on Saturday at the home of a class mate who will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2007. The friend has a single mother (a widow) who is in her early 20’s and has a very limited income. She will send her daughter to parochial school (done and…done).

Fourth, the Saint Paul Public School Expo is take place on Saturday, so we will know all our public options then.

And it’s not easy. Sometimes we have to take a break and resolve to talk about it later.

Because, unlike the man from church, or the British children who are “of the manor born,” we most certainly do not have certainty or clarity around what we want to do or what our goals are.
I know I don’t want a feeder school, but if TinyE was to struggle to decide if she wanted to go to Harvard or Yale, having won admission at both, I guess I wouldn’t consider that the worst thing ever.

And, verily, mine own days on the bucolic Mount Oread are as dear to me as ever and long shall they remain such. Oh, for those halcyon days on that prime castle on the hill!

In fact, I know for sure that my goal is not for her to go to an “elite college.” My goal is for her be able to do that if that is what she wants to do. (I have two friends (married to each other) who are both triple legacies at Princeton – any questions about where their sons will go to college?).

Most notably, I want her to love learning and see it as a life-long endeavor. I don’t regard that as the mission of schools. Nor do I regard it as something parents can instill. I do believe that parents and schools can undermine it – but I don’t see that as likely to happen in our case (our schools are pretty darn good, her parents love learning) – nor is it likely to happen if the child has that natural predisposition anyway (and I don’t know if she does).

I’m also a proponent of small schools and small class room sizes. This as much anything drives my decisions. I cannot see my daughter thriving in a classroom with 25 other kids.

But more than anything, I’m completely lost. I freely admit that I’ve made it more difficult than it needs to be. I’m wrapped up in the whole “the personal is the political” thing. I realize that I’m bringing guilt and shame into the conversation and that both take me further away from the certainty that others seem to have with neither guilt nor shame. Should I cast everything aside, take full advantage of my resources and groom the girl for Penn - everything else be damned?

My wife disfavors private schools, but primarily for financial reasons (why pay for tuition if you don’t have to).

I think about Friedman and my own observations working in the Fortune 500 setting – seeing talent from all over the world employed in our leading institutions and thinking the days when high-school to college to sustaining/meaningful job (with a pension) as a guaranteed thing are now less guaranteed (and likely to get less guaranteed still). There’s a lot more competition than there was even when I was a youngster. The more technical the meeting, the more likely that the majority of attendees were not born in the United States. I find myself not wanting my child not to be on the outside looking in. Whatever they are, I want her to fulfill her ambitions.

There are practical considerations: we sometimes need before school care. We always need after school care. Not every school provides it.

And…I tend to shrug off the counsel of well-meaning friends who do not have to make the decision for this child, in this setting, in this day and age, with these practical considerations.

But I’m lost. I’m quite lost. And I admire (or perhaps better to say envy) those with certainty: “Our goal is X. Therefore our school choice is Y.” Even though (secretly) their certainty is fueled by things which bug me.

*A co-worker of Mrs. Duf happened upon my site quite by accident. Mrs. Duf does not read my blog – she gets quite enough of my ramblings and rants at home (thank you very much). The co-worker told Mrs. Duf her moniker on the site, and she has asked me to change it. Henceforth, Mrs. Duf shall be known at “The Gardener.” Subject to change if someone tells her the new moniker and she hates it – but I see it as the perfect label for my wife who is a horticulturist by trade and a caring nurturer by DNA.

jeudi, janvier 12, 2006

Government Matters

So, I used to work for now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (pause for applause) back when he first arrived in Washington. Harry is a great guy, and I really liked working with him. I regard him as a centrist or conservative democrat, while I regard myself as a liberal democrat (if I’m a democrat at all), but we got along just fine.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how government matters. I have friends who don’t vote, and I always think that’s a bad idea. The main reasons they cite are:

One vote doesn’t matter
Government doesn’t matter
Religious grounds (devotion to secular matters is against their faith’s teachings)

I respect the third reason (and wish our evangelical brothers and sisters would incorporate it into their zeal); I disagree with the first two.

The first I’ll discuss some other time.

I want to focus on the second.

There are three things that are happening right now that really argue that government DOES matter. The first is the coal miner tragedy. The second is Abramoff scandal, and the third is the Alito nomination.

A few papers have discussed the link between cuts in federal programs designed to evaluate mine safety and increased risk for miners. I see this as analogous to the New Orleans levee and the impact of years of budget cuts on the levee’s ability to withstand a storm. Today, I’m feeling charitable, so I won’t blame the President for the deaths in West Virginia, but I do want to make the central point. Government matters. Government decisions make a real difference in people’s lives. When you cut taxes to the rich and cut spending on mining inspections, THAT matters. If a city has fewer firefighters when a four alarm fire breaks out, that matters too. More houses burn. Property damage increases. Firefighter safety is compromised.

And Abramoff. I’ve been appalled by what I’ve read about his government for hire schemes. I regard Abramoff as an anti-democracy racist. What he has done to elect Republicans and to pass legislation has impacted lives, and he has undermined the entire legislative process and (even though intuitively we know that Washington is dirty) our faith in elected officials. When I read the list of elected officials donating dirty money to charity, I feel sick. I find myself thinking: government matters. We should treat it like it does. We should respect it more than we do.

And last, Alito. He sure seems to be a bright guy, and he’s playing his cards really well. Give academic and boring/technical answers to questions you feel like answering – avoid controversy. Let’s face it, the average American doesn’t know what the 10th and 11th Amendments are, nevermind a dry monologue about their application to the commerce clause and what they suggest about the various powers of the various federal branches (be they executive, legislative or judicial). He dodged the abortion bullet, did the old thrust and parry whenever he was pressed for details around his ill-informed views on executive powers. But ideologues make poor justices (Scalia and Thomas are ill-suited to the bench because they are more interested in the application of a concept than in striving for intelligent and sensible outcomes. That’s how you end up hunting with litigants and not appreciating why that matters. And by the way, for all their crowing about judicial activism, no one strikes down more legislation on constitutional grounds than Clarence Thomas (read about it here), and trust me on this – Alito is an ideologue. For those who don’t think government matters my advice is this: the answer may come…if you replace a thoughtful jurist like Sandra Day O’Connor with an ideologue like Alito, you’ll see first hand how government impacts the lives of everyday citizens. I hope we never learn that lesson as clearly as we might.

And this brings me full circle. The reason I started by talking about the Honorable Senator Harry Reid is because his leadership may see us through this.

And it’s a complex question. Midterm elections are coming up, and taking down Alito will make it easy for Republicans to cast Democrats in an extremely negative light (and they lack scruples, so expect exaggerations and half-truths). Still and the same, Harry needs to lead us here and do what must be done.

Alito should not be approved. The Supreme Court matters and Government matters. Those who regard it as a plaything, or a joke or a place to test theories spun out at one Ivy League spot or another should not serve.

What we need is thoughtful, courageous leadership. Leadership divorced from money and all the ills it inspires.

mardi, janvier 10, 2006


We sent our year-end letter out in a blast followed by two painful sputters. As much as anything, the exercise seems to be about gathering addresses and updating our address list. It is nice to send a greeting and a photo - we get a lot of greetings and photos in reply.

As part of this exercise, I found (again) the address of a loved one and sent our letter to him and his family.

In response I got a nice email saying hello. It was great to reconnect.

The next day, I got an email from said loved one asking if it was okay to run something by me…he told me he’s been receiving emails from an attorney and wondered about them.

I said “sure, I’ll take a look.”

What he sent me was a garden-variety, email, spam scam: you won a lottery based in Belgium, please come to Belgium to collect…

Followed by: oh, you can't make it (he wrote back), then we will appoint you a representative…

Followed by: there is a processing fee of…

And I was troubled by these communications.

I googled “moneyballs email lottery scam” and was taken to a site that exposed the whole con.

I know intuitively to distrust spam, but it took me ten seconds to find a link that might explain all this to my loved one.

I sent the link and encouraged him to end the correspondence and to send no personal information under any circumstances whatsoever.

But my consternation continues unabated. My loved one is an adult with a family and a college education. What on earth would possess him to be reeled in by such an unsophisticated trick?

lundi, janvier 09, 2006

Top Ten Things Which Prove There's Something Wrong with Me

10. I have never seen "24," "Alias," or "Desperate Housewives" or "Lost."

I am not likely to do so.

9. I have only seen one LOTR movie, and I thought it was okay.

The first one.

8. I have only seen 3 Star Wars movies (I fell asleep early into number 4 (a.k.a. #1)).

I'm sure I'll see them some day.

7. I have not read a Harry Potter book, and I'm not likely to do so.

I'm really, really bad about my reading...really bad. Very, very snobby.

6. I have not read the DaVinci Code, and I'm not likely to do so.

Angels and Demons? Not so much.

5. I cannot be roused to care at all about Jennifer/Brad/Angelina/Lohan.

Not even a little. If they rang my doorbell, I'd be overwhelmed by yawning.

4. I have only played a video game once since they switch to the fancy controller.

I was quite bad at it acutally.

3. I'm fanatically opposed to artificial vanilla.

I'm very particular about my english muffins.

2. I hate to miss "Wife Swap." Hate missing it.

I missed it tonight, and it almost killed me.

1. I have no idea at all why anyone except his parents cares about Ben Affleck.

Not even a little clue.

Bonus: I thought that "Million Dollar Baby" (on HBO right now) was horribly overrated. Before going, I'd heard there was a surprise in it. After the film, I LITERALLY had to have my wife explain to me what the surprise was. I kept waiting for a surprise and was never surprised.

vendredi, janvier 06, 2006

"Hey, I have a Toddler" - 2005 The Year in Movies

2005 - The Year in Movies

Movies I saw this year:

Assault on Precinct 13
Pooh’s Heffalump Movie
Schultze Gets the Blues
The Upside of Anger
Melinda and Melinda
Sin City
Kung Fu Hustle
The Interpreter
Chicken Little
Be Cool
Mad Hot Ballroom
Layer Cake
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
Batman Begins
Me and You and Everyone We Know
March of the Penguins
The War of the Worlds
The Jacket
Hustle and Flow
North Country
The 40 Year Old Virgin
The Transporter 2
The Squid and the Whale
Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit
Walk the Line
Brokeback Mountain

Films not seen that I really want to see:

Cinderella Man
The Wedding Crashers
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Fantastic Four
The Aristocrats
Broken Flowers
Good Night and Good Luck
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
The Matador
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
King Kong
The Constant Gardener
Match Point

(which means I may update this post in a few weeks – I have some glaring absences but give me a break…I have a four year-old and a full time job! I can’t believe I saw 31 movies released in 2005 – although there was a time when I might have been in the 60’s)

My Current Top Ten:

10. The 40 Year Old Virgin – charming and funny
9. Hustle and Flow – just plain well done
8. Layer Cake – great story, well-presented, action-packed
7. Kung Fu Hustle – a wild romp, fun!
6. Mad Hot Ballroom – kids, dancing, challenges, drama
5. Brokeback Mountain – fine performances, a sophisticated and universal story
4. Me and You and Everyone We Know – extremely creative, wonderful throughout
3. Wallace and Grommit: TCOTWR – most fun at the movies this year
2. The Squid and the Whale – complex, well-told, provocative, unique
1. Crash – the best movie this year; I’ll be stunned if it’s bested

The Five Worst:

5. Shopgirl – not bad, but disappointing, flat and blah
4. Madagascar – not without its moments, but overall, a dud
3. Constantine – there was a neat costume toward the end
2. The Transporter 2 – no headache but I felt like a sucker.
1. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D

A special warning/PSA: The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl…is a horrible film, but it’s also dangerous. Simply awful. Sharkboy is a bully and a jerk, perhaps the worst possible example for kids. Also, this film gave me a complete headache. Seeing it in not 3-D it’s somehow worse. The teacher character is horrible. Dear director guy: it’s great that you wrote this with your kids, but it is the second worst film I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen Titanic). Still, my daughter watches it over and over and over…there comes this point in the movie where the kids are riding around on chocolate or cookies or something, when I become so overwhelmed by self-loathing that I start to hurt myself. Avoid it at all costs, but especially avoid it if: you are prone to headaches, motion sickness or depression, if your faith in human-kind is waning, if you don’t like things that are dumb, or if you value your eyes/ears/mind/sanity/stomach lining.

jeudi, janvier 05, 2006

Fly Away From the Land - The Year in Music 2005

If you told me at the beginning of 2005 that my favorite songs would be a folk song and a gospel song…

If you would have told me that my favorite album would be in Icelandic and would not have anything to do with Bjork…

If you would have told me that my four year-old daughter would create one of my favorite musical memories by asking me to play a song called “Dirty Harry” over and over…

Well, I would have said you were either on to something or on something…

If you ask me, 2005 was an amazing year in music. A folk singer took the President down on Jay Leno. A rapper took the President down on live television, and a benefit album showed the nation how to respond in times of national crisis. I rocked with teeth; I enjoyed a Funeral over and over and over again. Though I was never a huge AC/DC fan, I started to admire DCFC. TinyE and I both clapped our hands with Gorillaz. I thought globally, but acted locally. I lucked into a live show that was amazing, and I almost learned Icelandic. But more than anything, I literally flew away from the land…I was transported and elevated so many times by song.

And so, without further ado, ILIM is thrilled to present:

2005 - the Year in Music

Albums of the Year

10. Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth
So I’m a NIN fan, but I think this work would stand on its own anyway. The opening track, “All the Love in the World,” was so good, I had a hard time getting to the rest of the album.

9. Kanye West – Late Registration
When it’s good, it’s so so good, but it does sag in the middle a bit, no? "Golddigger" is quite nice, but "Heard 'em Say" "Touch the Sky" and "Crack Music" are my faves.

8. Arcade Fire - Funeral
A distinctive and compelling sound and enduring disc that rocked my car and iPod all year long.

7. Spoon – Gimme Fiction
So I walk into the Virgin records megastore in midtown Manhattan right as this band is starting to play. Fresh off the farm like I was, I had to ask the hipsters who was on stage. They told me. I listened to them jam for 45 minutes (and they were rock solid) and then I bought the disc. It’s nice. It’s very nice.

6. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
Simply put, the best pop album of 2005. I don’t know if Ben Gibbard wrote the lyrics for “Summer Skin” or not, but its opening “squeaky swings and long grass…the longest shadows ever cast…” blows me away every about setting...

5. Gorillaz – Demon Days
The three consecutive days I spent listening to this disc were three consecutive happy days indeed. My daughter, TinyE, is a huge fan of “Dirty Harry.” Clap your hands and shake your bottom, y’all.

4. My Morning Jacket – Z
Two bands kept me in the car to find out who was singing was responsible for a track that just rocked me all the way down and back up again…local band Digitata, and My Morning Jacket. I wrote down the name and went to the record store to get whatever that was as soon as I could. Z is refreshingly unique and rock solid from start to finish.

3. Atmosphere – You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having
My favorite hip hop album of 2005. The rhymes, the back beats, the polish, the truth. It’s all there. Atmosphere is a local institution and he has a huge midwest (and kinda coastal) following. To me, he's everything nifty about hip hop. If he is an underground sensation, he is becasue he wants to be both - underground and sensational.

2. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
I’m a fan. I cannot lie. I downloaded the pre-production version and it didn't exactly rock my world. Then I bought it a few days after release and…truth be told…had to warm up to it. There is no question that the post-production version is much, much better. Anyway, one morning, enjoying my daily constitutional in San Diego, I listened, I really listened, and then…only then…did I understand. I may try to hit the road to see her open for Coldplay.

1. Sigur Ros – Takk
A friend I met and came to admire in 2005 suggested this disc to me. I won’t declare them the best export ever to come from Iceland, but I will say that they are a darn close second. They convey emotion through their music better than any band I’ve heard in a long, long time. "Glosoli" (which, like the whole album, is sung in Icelandic), my favorite track, is despairing and sparse and uplifting and triumphant all at once. It builds on itself like all the great songs do. There is an entire story, and entire journey within just a few minutes. And so it is with the entire album. I have enjoyed a lot of discs this year, but this is the one I always come back to…this is the one I know I will still listen to years and years from now.

Songs of the Year

5. Halloween Alaska – “You Know I Can’t Live without My Radio”
4. Nine Inch Nails- “All the Love in the World”
4. Gorillaz – “Dirty Harry”
3. Sigur Ros – “Glosoli”
2. Digitata – “Spring Fever”
1. Bright Eyes – “When the President Talks to God”
1. Davell Crawford “Gather by the River”

Biggest Disappointment

Coldplay - X & Y; it’s not that I didn’t like it – it’s that it fell so short of what I think they could have done. Just when it seemed they were on the verge of being one of those bands that endures...

A Nod to My Favorite Local Acts (in alphabetical order):

Halloween Alaska
The Hopefuls
Ocean Over

Discs I Need to Get:

13 & God
Mannie Fresh
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
LCD Soundsystem
New Pornographers
The Hold Steady
The Killers

Best Burns (and who burned it for me):

Saul Williams 1 & 2 (my brother)
Dos One 1 & 2 (JR)
Death Cab for Cutie a.k.a. DCFC (Panda)

Bet iTunes Download:

Bow Wow Wow – “I Want Candy”
They played this song in my daughter’s dance class. I wasn't in the class, but she was singing it on the way home. I asked her if she wanted me to get it off the computer so that we could play it at home. She said. “Dad, you don’t know that song…”

The rest is history.

Albums which meant the most to me:

Ocean Over – The City Sorrowful EP
My favorite art is made by people I adore. My friend JR is in the band Ocean Over, and so having this EP (given to me) meant a lot, but liking it…genuinely liking it means even more. Someday, when Ocean Over has taken over the world, or at least the part they want to take over, I’ll remember JR when he was a little guy and how much I liked singing along to “Aircrash” during flights hither and yon. “I’m already gone; don't let go…” indeed.

Our New Orleans – A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast
This compilation by New Orleans artists is so amazingly good and sincere and heart wrenching/warming that it blows me away. If you listen to the songs divorced from context, you would be moved, but when you think about the suffering and devastation that occurred in one of the last unique cities in America (one of the few places that did not succumb to the disorienting rush to be like everywhere else with non-descript suburbia thick with Cheesecake Factories and Macaroni Grills), you will be laid low and humbled and somehow raised up and filled with this sense that everything is going to be okay. Buckwheat Zydeco’s (whose "Turning Point" represents me near my happiest and symbolizes those halcyon days in Lawrence, Kansas) "Cryin’ in the Streets" is a classic. Randy Newman’s "Louisiana" is a masterpiece. Allen Toussaint’s "Tipitina and Me" calls to mind everything I love about New Orleans and the South and the African-American musical experience and, on top of it all, is great piano playing. But I have to tell you, though it embarrasses me a bit to do so, that twice while thinking of the hurricane and the damage and the suffering and what the aftermath said about America and indifference and power and the class divide, Davell Crawfords awesome “Gather by the River” moved me to tears – especially at the end when she sings (like she knows how the weight of privilege and options can weigh a survivor down as though her heart is filled with sadness because she's still here) “fly away from the land…cause we can…cause we can.”

I’ll let Davell close. Here are the lyrics to “Gather by the River.” (as recorded by me, so they may not be exactly right). To me, they represent the notion that music can transport a person to amazing places...that music is spirtual and divine...that music can heal. They represent a wonderful year in music:

Gather by the River
Davell Crawford

We shall gather
at the river
with each other
'cause you’re my brother

Put our souls
in the water
for the healing
of each other

Be saved
freed from sin
we’re free to fly

Fly away
from the land
'cause we can
'cause we can


mercredi, janvier 04, 2006

Bzzzzzzz Zap!, or: The Trifecta of My Disgust

There is a parking garage adjacent to the office building in which I work. It is a nice covered structure. If you’re a big shooter and wanna pay $100 per month (which is roughly $1200 per year) you can park in an underground heated lot. It can be nice in the winter.

Anywho, our building management (a thoughtful lot, as you’ll see) took time recently to install a heat lamp so that friends and colleagues who enjoy tobacco cigarettes* can smoke under its warm glow. I assume the primary goal is to keep folks warm whilst they smoke. I think the secondary goal is to encourage people to smoke in the designated area (instead of right by the door).

But whenever I drive by and people are under the light, it seems like it is designed to highlight their vice. It comes across as part cautionary tale, and part mosquito zapper. I can’t help but giggle a bit when I see smokers huddled beneath it.


BTW, what did I see whilst on my lunch break? The trifecta of my disgust:

An SUV... (international symbol for earth hater)

with a Bush/Cheney sticker on it… (international symbol for driver = ignoramus)

whose driver flicked a cigarette butt out the window (international symbol for selfish earth hater who likes to make the world less beautiful and create problems for others to solve; a suggestion about the type of person who passes up an ash tray that is inches away to throw trash on the ground like it's funny or cool).

It would trouble you to know how much it bothers me when I see SUVs with Bush Cheney stickers driven by litterbugs. It would trouble you.

Anyway, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

* I’m told that marijuana cigarettes should not be enjoyed on the premises.

Don't Make Me Call Maury Povich Up in Here

Intuitively, I think we all know it has happened. Proving it happened may compel some of those Americans who support the death penalty to reconsider. Guess what folks – our justice system is a human creation maintained and carried forward by human beings. It is, as a matter of law (pun intended), imperfect. We make decisions in courtrooms the same way we make decisions in life. Our perspectives are flawed. We are biased. We have visceral responses. If you’re on the fence about the death penalty, let the prospect of an innocent man (and deep down you know there are others) executed turn your heart away from this heinous practice.

And folks are starting to see the light. As the linked article notes, in 1994 80% of Americans supported the death penalty, and today 64% support it. Things are trending in the right direction.

Last, it’s not entirely clear that Coleman is innocent (he sure looks like he’s up to something…), and he isn’t exactly squeaky clean. But I for one support running the test to find out for sure. If he is proven innocent, perhaps it will compel a public dialogue on whether we can/should provide a “justice” system which executes our citizens. If he is proven guilty, well…I’d still like to have that dialogue…