Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Spring Skiing (Belated Post)

I was just looking through my phone and came across these pics from when my kids were up visiting for April vacation.

These were taken Monday, April 7, 2008 at Bretton Woods (which has become my new favorite ski area in NH).

What a glorious day it was -- temperatures started out in the 30's, but by mid-morning it was up in the 50's and it got up into the high 60's as the afternoon went on. When we stopped for a late lunch, there were folks sunbathing on the picnic tables.

I'm so grateful to be able to shares these times with Emma and James. I was telling them about when I was their age, that my father (who had been an excellent skiier as a young man) never skiied with us. My kids were really puzzled by that -- they couldn't understand why not -- and I didn't have a good answer for them. It just seemed like the way things were. Mom and Dad dropped us off at the ski area in the morning and they went off and did whatever grown-ups do (lunch dates? shopping?). I didn't feel like I was missing anything. But now looking back, through the eyes of my own kids, I know that my Dad really missed out.

It's not like anything remarkable happens when we are skiing -- no deep insights or breakthrough moments. But it's our time together. A big block of time that we get to spend together, with no interruptions, hanging out, talking on the chairlift about whatever comes up.

OCD Watch

I love obsessive single-issue blogs -- you know, the type of blogs which have only one narrow theme or idea, which is then repeated day after day, carried out to the extreme. Like the one of the guy who posted a photo of himself taken every day for several years.

I don't know why I get a kick out of them. They seem like a strange form of performance art to me. The quirkier, the better.

Well, here's todays entry -- a blog dedicated to cataloguing sneezes.

The site is awesome, with its minimalistic feel. It is stripped down to the bare essence of obsessive counting.

If you stop by, be sure to read his "Reflections on the Counting of Sneezes".

Grim Thought for the Day

I was reading the news today, thinking about the war when a thought flashed through my mind. A child in Iraq who was five years old when the US invaded is now ten. Think about it.

I look at my own kids -- now 8 and 12 -- and think about how much the events of the past five years have shaped who they are. What must it be like for that child in Iraq heading into his or her teen years with almost no memory of a life without war. Maybe some distant hazy memories of a more normal life -- of being able play outside without fear, of regular electricity and running water. Overshadowing those will be the last five years filled with check points, bombings, stories about people being dragged out of their homes and cars, street battles between different militias, seeing heavily armored soldiers patrolling through the streets. These are their entire reality.

I'm sure there's a whole body of literature out there on how growing up in a war zone effects children, and how it impacts them as adults. In a way, it seems too grim to investigate.

Here's an article from the Guardian last year that touches on theses issues.

What future horrors are we sowing?

[Iraqi boys in a refugee camp in Baghdad play with toy guns. Photograph: Namir Noor-Eldeen/Reuters]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Amen, Brother

Sometimes I read a blog post and it resonates with me -- expressing with clarity and vigor ideas that have been stewing around nascent inside me. Well, this post from John Cole (of Balloon Juice) [writing about Obama's speech today distancing himself from Reverand Wright] made me just want to stand up and holler. He's absolutely spot-on

And for those of you who don't read John regularly, he used to be a Republican. But the unremitting policy disasters of the past seven years have caused the scales to fall from his eyes.

Read and enjoy:

As to Wright himself, well, I have my own thoughts. First and foremost, I guess I am no longer the delicate fainting flower that most other bloggers and media commenters are these days. I spent several years in the early days of this blog being all sorts of outraged about petty bullshit. I spent days calling Ted Rall an asshole (he still is, I think), days opining about what an asshole Michael Moore is, and so on. I got my panties all in a bunch about Ward Churchhill (also a dick), and stupid things Bill Maher may or may not have said, and so on.

And you know what? They may be assholes, or jerks, or whatever term you want to use, but they sure as hell didn’t run this economy into the ground. They aren’t responsible for turning a huge surplus into a several hundred billion dollar deficit. I have yet to read any memos from Barbra Streisand detailing how we should spy on American citizens.

And so it is with Jeremiah Wright. Is he a jerk? I don’t think there is any argument to be made that lately he hasn’t in fact been one big, giant, puckered asshole. His ego tour the past few days was all about him, but so what? I blame the media as much as I blame him. Is it an offensive notion that the government created aids? Absolutely, but I refuse to get all bent out of shape about it, because the government that tortures people and ran the Tuskegee experiment and wiretapped MLK for years opens itself up to crazy accusations like that.

So Jeremiah Wright has acted like a jackass the past few days, and he may have acted supremely selfishly by hurting Obama’s electoral chances. Regardless, he may be a flawed man, but that does not undo all the good he has done over the years. I don’t know of any bloggers with thirty years of service to the poor and the indigent. Get back to me when Chris Matthews feeds hungry people for three decades. . . .

Maybe it is because I am totally and unrepentantly in the tank for Obama, but I just can’t get worked up over what his pastor said. Maybe it is because I am not religious, and I am used to religious people saying things that sound crazy. Or maybe I just refuse to spend any more time and energy getting worked up over and denouncing, distancing, and rejecting the wrong people- people who really don’t matter in the big scheme of things. If you have a memo from Jeremiah Wright to John Yoo showing how we should become a rogue nation, let me know. If you have pictures of Jeremiah Wright voting against the GI Bill, send it to me. If you have evidence of Jeremiah Wright training junior soldiers on the finer aspects of stacking and torturing naked Iraqi captives, pass them on.

Until then, I just can’t seem to get all worked up about the crazy scary black preacher that Obama has to “throw under the bus.”

Now, let me apologize (to the two or three people who might be checking in here) that I haven't written anything particularly interesting or insightful about my life, thoughts, emotions, or ideas lately. It's been a combination of a lack of time coupled with a lack of inspiration. I really admire those bloggers out there (yeah, you Christie) who manage to come up with something witty every day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shameless Thievery

This is fun -- it's a website where people post childhood pictures of themselves alongside a recent picture, in which they try to recreate the pose. Go check it out.

I can't take any credit for finding this site -- I am shamelessly stealing from Andrew Sullivan's blog.

This entry is one of my favorites -- lots of attitude points:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why I Get Most of My News From Blogs

One of my favorite big-time bloggers, Glenn Greenwald has been watching television news the past few days as the brouhaha over Obama's "bitter" comments (predictably) unfolds. His critique seems spot-on to me.

"Our elections are dominated by the same tired personality script, trotted out over and over and over. Democrats and liberals -- no matter how poor their upbringing, no matter how self-made they are, no matter how egalitarian their policies -- are the freakish, out-of-touch elitists who despise the values of the Regular Americans. Right-wing leaders -- no matter how extravagantly rich they are by virtue of other people's money, no matter how insulated their lives are, no matter how indifferent their policies are to the vast rich/poor gap -- are the normal, salt-of-the-earth Regular Folk. These petty, cliched storylines drown out every meaningful consideration and dictate our election outcomes, and they are deployed automatically."

It's true.

Think about how many times you heard about John Kerry's heiress wife, and about the fact that they lived in a house that was purchased with her family money. It crept into news reports over and over again. Have we heard a peep in the media about John McCain's wealthy wife? No. Not even when the media attended a barbeque at his extravagant Arizona home (that belongs to his wife). And you won't hear about it.

Why not? Because it doesn't fit the television news overarching narrative -- that John Kerry was wimpy, effete, snobbish, and out-of-touch. The idea that he married a wealthy woman and is beholden to her for her money fits that narrative, because it helps to emasculate him. But John McCain by contrast is supposedly a straight-talking, war hero tough guy. So the fact that he married a wealthy woman and is living off of her fortune undercuts that narrative. So they can't mention that.

It doesn't matter how much public opinion shifts away from the Republicans...the narrative stays the same. Why? I'm not sure. Some times I think it is because journalists are simply lazy, and don't want to do the work necessary to break out of these pre-cast narratives. Other times I think it is because they are part of an insider media culture that shapes their world view. Or maybe they really are (unconsciously?) beholden to their corporate patrons.

Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that the Democratic candidate can not expect to get a fair shake in the media, and we need to go around them.

A Very Exclusive Club


Sorry for the recent lack of postings. The kids were visiting from Atlanta last week, and I was trying to juggle spending time with them and keeping up with work. We had a great week -- lots of fun. I'll be blogging about the kids and our experiences together once I have some breathing space.

In the meantime, here's a fun little fact I saw in the news.

What do the following countries all have in common: China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the USA and Yemen.....? you give up?

Those are all the countries that have executed children for criminal offenses since 1990.

Don't you feel special, knowing that we are in such good company, with those human rights champions, Sudan and Pakistan.

[UPDATE/CORRECTION -- The information in the preceding four paragraphs about the US executing offenders under 18 is misleading and inaccurate. My apologies for posting it. Thanks to my brother Greg for catching this. I no longer have the link to the site where I found the information, which I think was an Amnesty International report I read. The truth is that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the execution of minors who commit crimes in 2005 in a 5-4 decision. So, we are no longer in the club for executing juveniles. The Washington Post article states that between 1976 and 2005 there were 22 executions of juveniles, 13 of them in Texas. So, I guess we have seen the light on that issue.]

Here's the list of all the countries that still retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes: Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic), Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Korea (North), Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saint Christopher & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States Of America, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe

Again, what good company we are in.

You might be asking, where are Great Britain, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, etc.

Well, I don't need to tell you. They have all abolished the death penalty.

Hmmm...what do those countries know that we don't?

Ah, but we can't talk about that, because doing so might suggest that the United States isn't the greatest country that has ever existed, and we know that is blasphemy.

I can just hear Lee Greenwood in my head, "Well I'm proud to be an Americaaaaaaahn, where at least I know aaahm free!"

Friday, April 4, 2008

Nature Blogging -- Friday Edition

I got home last night from work around 6:00, grumpy and tired, and the lovely Renee said "why don't you go skiing, baby?"

In normal years I can't go skiing after work, because with the short days it is usually dark by the time I get home (although to be honest, I have been desperate enough to go out a few times with a head lamp -- "yeeeeargh!")

But it's April, and we still have snow on the ground!! So I threw on my gators and a windbreaker and headed out.

The conditions have deteriorated sorely since last weekend. There was less cover, and the snow was hard and crunchy, like skiing on crushed ice. It made conditions fast and treacherous on my narrow touring skis. It was so firm on top that even though it was ungroomed, I was able to skate across portions of the open fields.

I saw a line of moose tracks in the woods. Every third or fourth step the moose had broken through the crust and sunk down about 2 feet in the softening snow. Must have made for difficult going.

Alongside the moose tracks (following? chasing?) were dozens of large canine tracks. Dogs? Coyotes? I can't tell. But I saw several different sized tracks, so there were at least 3 or four different animals. Were they tracking the moose? Hard to imagine that coyotes could take down a full-grown moose. Maybe if it was hurt.

The trail I was following had some nasty water hazards -- little rivers and gullies that had formed across the trail. (Those weren't there last week!) There were a couple times when I was caught by surprise, half in control, and nearly got a bath. Luckily each time I was able to maintain just enough control to squeeze between the water and the trees.

Darkness was coming on pretty quickly though, and I didn't have a light with me, or any other gear, so I couldn't stay out after sunset. So, I turned around and headed home to go see Renee, make some dinner and play with the new puppy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It Comes Right Before "Gullible" in the Dictionary

Last week Renee and I were browsing through the Shaws produce section (btw grocery shopping with Ren has become one of my favorite chores. Really, I'm not kidding. I think because it often leads to a Sunday afternoon cooking adventure) and I saw these fancy looking apples, called "Grapples" They came in a clear plastic four pack (ooh, they must be good if they are taking such care to avoid bruising) Initially I thought "what a crappy name." Makes me think of wrestling. But according to the package, it should be pronounced with a long "A" -- like Gray-ple. (OK, but if they wanted that, they shouldn't have put in the two p's. Don't these people read English?)

Intrigued I read a bit further, and saw that it was a special apple that supposedly tasted like a grape.

Wow, I thought, this must be some sort of fancy hybrid or genetically modified fruit. "Hey Ren, let's try these!"

So we plunked down $4 for four apples (gosh, they must be good if they cost so much) and took em home.

As soon as we unpacked the groceries I wanted to try one. I'm not sure what I was expecting -- some new delightful blend of different fruit flavors.

What I got was the taste equivalent of Barney the Dinosaur -- the sicky sweet grape flavor was overpowering and vaguely unnatural, like someone had injected my apple with grape kool-aid.

"What sort of diabolical food product is this" I thought. Then I looked at the package, and in fine print it said "Ingredients: apples, natural and artificial flavoring"

Ingredients!?! Since when do apples have "ingredients"?

I later learned that I had been duped into buying Fuji apples that had been soaked for a while in artificially flavored grape syrup.

Ah...yes -- isn't this modern technological world amazing. Flying cars? No. Free unlimited energy? No. Apples that taste like grape candy. Yes!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fools' Day

April Fools' Day is one of James's favorite days. James is my budding comic -- he loves jokes and riddles. He carries around this book ("1000 Jokes for Kids" or something like that) and he will read them out-loud, trying for that good laugh. And even though I've heard a lot of them repeatedly, I still laugh (or groan) appropriately.

As with all 8 year olds, he especially loves bathroom humor, fart jokes, etc. Renee absolutely adores James and totally "gets" his sense of humor. This is a huge blessing for me, because I get to watch the two of them going at it, laughing together over some silly joke, putting on a crazy voice or accent.

Every year when April rolls around, he gets very excited at the thought of playing tricks on people. Some years I will catch him let slip a little comment several days in advance that tell me he's thinking about it, scheming away. And when the day comes and he launches his little joke, he is so excited!

At his age, he has a hard time coming up with the right angle -- and his ideas often outstrip his ability to execute a gag. But he sure gives it a good try. (And heck, comedy's hard.)

Sadly, I won't get to be there this year for when he tries to spring his jokes, since he's down in Atlanta with his sister and my ex.

But I'll get to chat with him on the phone tonight, and maybe we can talk on Skype and play some Battleship or Chess.

And hopefully James will get to play a trick on somebody today, and they will give him a good reaction.

Next week the kids come up to stay with Renee and me for April Vacation. I can't wait.

Until then, I miss you James. Have fun, and play a good trick on someone for me.