Archive for August, 2008

Taking a few days off … but first thing’s first

I’m leaving tomorrow for a week to go out west for my cousin’s wedding, and while I will be bringing my laptop, I don’t know if I’ll have time to update the blog.

Right now, I’m just very anxious to hear Obama’s speech tonight. so far, i don’t think the convention could have gone much better as both Clintons and Biden (who I love) delivered what I thought were dynamic, impactful speeches that should put aside any talk of party disunity heading into November.

Side note:

Hillary fans out there still considering staying home on election day or voting for McCain ought to be ashamed. Obama won the hard-fought primary fair and square, and his politics are nearly identical to hers. I’m assuming of course that most of these people trying to stir up the pot, if they’re not Republicans in disguise, are feminists who feel Clinton got shafted because she was a woman. Even if that were true, which I don’t buy for a second, you would think that there is too much at stake, too much for feminists to lose under a McCain presidency, for these women to take a stand on principle. We saw how well that worked for the Green Party environmentalists who voted for Nader (who has probably hugged far fewer trees than Gore in his lifetime).

End of side note.

But back to the convention … It’s been great theater but i am still amazed at how soft the Democrats have been on the Bush presidency and by extension, McCain. To me, reminding people of Bush’s failures (and failures is a generous word – crimes could be more accurate) would be the best way for Democrats to appeal to independent voters and keep the focus off of Obama’s relative inexperience.

As far as Obama’s speech is concerned, I’m a little worried. Expectations couldn’t be much higher, but this pre-speech talk about Obama having a conversation with voters doesn’t sound particularly inviting, and I think he’s going to lose a lot of the atmosphere by having the speech inside a massive football stadium that seats 70,000-plus rather than in a packed convention hall filled with diehard partisans (I mean, have you ever seen a halftime show at a football game that didn’t look lethargic and lackluster??).

However, another part of me can’t imagine Obama letting people down. I’m an all-around Obama fan and even I have to admit that, to date, his oratorical skill is probably the main reason why he’s made it this far this fast in politics. Speeches are his bread and butter, and I don’t believe I’ve heard him deliver a bad one yet … and there’ll end up being no bigger one in his career than this one (barring of course a hopeful inauguration speech!).

(And then there is also my paranoid side that just hopes they are able to keep the stadium secure and safe. An open venue like that scares me.)

Whatever happens tonight, I am sure of one thing: The Republican convention is going to be an absolute snooze-fest – and ratings nightmare – compared to these last few days of high drama and compelling politics.

The world as it should be …

On the same night I wrote about the idealistic Sixties and how the eventual disillusionment that followed has continued to hold its grip on the American psyche,  Michelle Obama gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention about not accepting the ‘world as it is” but striving to create the ‘world as it should be.’

The speech, taken at face value, should have been dismissed as hokey (and was indeed done so by some old white men on Fox News). It was filled with platitudes and buzzwords, and woefully short on specific solutions.

It was the kind of shiny, happy talk that’s all too common at political conventions and campaigns. For a million different reasons, we should be skeptical of Michelle’s speech, and of the entire Obama mystique, the way the campaign tosses around words like hope and change as if they were Magical Concepts, whose utterance alone will be enough to make the world a better place.

How can we not, after the last eight years, doubt the Obamas’ sincerity or wonder if they’d be able to fulfill their promises once elected, even if their intentions are pure.

Yet it somehow feels right to believe. We allow ourselves to not be so cynical, despite the fact we know we should know better. Young adults around the country, in particular, have been inspired by Obama in a way that hasn’t happened for decades.

Perhaps we believe the Obamas because we’re amazed that it’s even possible that an African-American couple has gotten to this point, so close to the White House. For if that is now possible in this country, then what, really, isn’t possible?

Or perhaps we believe them because the alternative is too depressing, and we’re so tired of being cynical, of Clintons and Bushes, of blow jobs and snow jobs, of Watergate and Whitewater and Blackwater, that we’re ready to believe again that it doesn’t have to be that way.

A recent book by the pollster John Zogby “The Way We’ll Be’ suggests that America’s youth – the ‘First Globals’ he calls them – are exceedingly optimistic about the future, crave honest and courageous leadership and believe that they can save the Earth.

I’m not so sure why that would be, but if it’s true, then perhaps the spirit of the Sixties isn’t entirely dead after all. And perhaps the world as it is will soon get a little bit closer to the world as it should be.

‘Hair’ yesterday, gone today …

Saw the play ‘Hair’ in Central Park this past weekend.

Damn, it’s a shame I missed the Sixties.

The outfits were funky and colorful and sexy. The music was danceable and uplifting. The drugs were mostly harmless, more about expanding the mind than escaping reality. And the whole free love thing, well, that seemed pretty groovy too.

Oh yeah, I’m bitter. All I got was a small taste of the 90s grunge movement, which while propelled by the same youthful energy of the hippie movement, the same rebelliousness, the same dissatisfaction with the many ways people in power were fucking things up, was a much more cynical and angry and generally depressing time.

The long hair may have still been there, but the clothes were darker and uglier, the music louder and madder, the drugs harder and deadlier. And with AIDS running rampant, free love wasn’t even an option on the table.

Can you even imagine a Broadway musical about the grunge movement? Those two hours alone would make me want to pull a Kurt Cobain (god rest his talented soul) …

Grunge, in fact, wasn’t even really a political movement at all. People still complained about authority, but they no longer believed they could change things. Mostly, it was about yelling very loudly, getting messed up, and destroying stuff.

That kind of disillusionment was really the underlying theme of the musical and I fear the primary byproduct of the entire 60′s counterculture movement. That the be-ins and sit-ins, the marches and rallies, the pot and LSD, the tie-dye shirts and bell bottom pants, and yes, even the free love, couldn’t change the world. That they’d still get you even if you burned your draft card. That eventually most hippies with long hair become suits with thinning hair.

And that forty years later, we’d still be watching helplessly as people in power make the same mistakes all over again.

As Cobain might say, ‘Oh well, whatever, never mind …’

The immigrants can stay, Dobbs must go …

This will be a very short post, but I don’t understand how Lou Dobbs still has a job. Are his ratings really that good? He’s turned a major primetime show on a mainstream news channel into not much more than a mouthpiece for his own personal jihad against illegal immigrants.

The funniest thing about the whole issue is that in a few years, we will be DYING to welcome more immigrants to this country as the baby boom generation retires en masse and the number of working Americans dwindles to a level unsustainable for economic growth. No matter how productive we become, the demographic shift guarantees our output will fall. Our Social Security funds will be used up. Our debtors will pull their money. It will likely get ugly.

America’s appeal to potential immigrants – its melting pot citizenry, its human rights protections, its almost mythologically meritocratic, upwardly mobile society – may be the only thing that saves this country from entering a sustained period of economic decline.

Like most controversial issues, though, I actually have mixed feelings regarding illegal immigration. I understand why it’s an emotional issue for tax-paying Americans and immigrants who achieved U.S. citizenship by following the law. I do believe we need a more comprehensive plan to protect our borders while at the same time liberalizing the system to allow more legal immigration.

But I don’t have any mixed feelings about Lou Dobbs. He’s an idiot, a boring, sanctimonious blowhard, not to mention an abusive interviewer who barely listens to his guests. And if for no other reason than the love of watchable TV, he’s gotta go.

Change in slow motion …

Man* is an unbelievably resilient creature.

He can go from riches to rags and be OK, as long as he didn’t lose his fortunes overnight. He can go from being happily married to bitterly divorced and manage, as long as his love wasn’t betrayed in an instant.

I believe life can throw anything at us, and we will find a way to deal… as long as we have time to adapt.

Take the aging process … Is there any greater cruelty man must endure?? We can fight it, of course, but any victories we earn are merely temporary. There are no surprise endings, no upset specials, in the battle versus mortality.

Eventually, our hand-eye coordination will deteriorate, our physical beauty will fade, our most vital senses will fail. If we live long enough, our minds, too, will likely betray us, jeopardizing even the rare positives associated with aging – the nuggets of hard-earned wisdom, the accumulation of sweet memories – turning them into nothing more than fragile question marks.

And yet, as a rule, we handle all this deterioration with remarkable aplomb. The reason, of course, is that getting old literally takes a lifetime, so we have time to get used to all the changes, to watch them gradually pile up like so many tiny wrinkles. We can adjust. We can adapt.

In many cases, we can even deny aging’s worst effects until we are more prepared to deal with their reality. I mean, I was certainly upset when I realized about eight years ago in a Foxwoods casino bathroom that I was losing my hair, but I’m sure the agony would have been much worse that night if I could have somehow looked into a mirror from the future and glimpsed my current hairline. It would have been too much to deal with.

I still to this day will see an older person walking slowly down the street, struggling with each step, cane in hand perhaps, and be completely unable to imagine myself ever being like that. But one day, if I am fortunate to live that long, I will look into a mirror, and that is what I will see.

And by that time, it will probably be OK.

*I am not referring to the specific gender when I say Man. It’s just more poetic that way …

Do the right thing … and suffer the consequences

I can be such a sappy sucker.

About a month ago, I noticed a pigeon egg lying in the planter on the windowsill outside my bedroom, and against my better judgment, I left it there.

I wanted to get rid of it because pigeons can be loud and rather disgusting, and I didn’t much relish the idea of having them breed right next to my bed. But I also knew I’d feel bad for the parent pigeons, who after all were just looking for a space to do what they were put on this Earth to do. (plus, pigeons mate for life, which is kind of romantic!)

It wasn’t my first experience dealing with unwanted pigeons. Two years ago, I had a family of the birds living on my balcony, behind a mirror my ex-girlfriend was supposed to have long ago fixed or gotten rid of, and they totally dirtied up the place with their crap and nesting material.

As soon as their baby was old enough to fly out on his own, I told my ex to get rid of the mirror immediately so we could start cleaning the balcony; she didn’t and the next day the pigeons had laid two more eggs. I told her enough was enough, and made her dispose of the eggs and clear the nest, something she as a crazy animal lover was very reluctant to do. After she had gotten rid of the eggs, the mother came back to the balcony several times, cooing repeatedly, pacing, and probably wondering what the hell had happened. It was not easy to watch …

So this time I decided to let the pigeon egg be. I thought I was doing the noble thing and at first, it didn’t look like such a bad decision. The birds were actually pretty quiet – the only noise came after the baby was born and one of the parents would return to feed it (which they do by regurgitating their food into the baby’s mouth). And I actually got a fair amount of enjoyment watching the baby hatch and grow up (baby pigeons are so much cuter when they don’t have mature feathers!!).

Last week, the baby pigeon became old enough to fly out on his own – I felt a bit like a proud parent watching him maneuver uncertainly across the street – and eventually it flew off and never came back. The parents, too, never reappeared.

I thought Pigeons At My Apartment, the sequel, was going to have a happy ending. Alas, it was not meant to be.

This past Sunday night, upon returning from our trip to the Poconos, my girlfriend noticed a bunch of very small, almost microscopic bugs swarming on top of the fan by where the pigeons had been. I had no idea what the bugs were and just sprayed the area with Raid. I thought I had killed all the little creatures and solved the problem …

And then I started to itch …

Apparently, those little bugs were bird mites, and they were in search of a place to feed once their initial host – the baby pigeon – had disappeared. It seems I became that source – I’ve noticed a number of tiny red marks on my legs and chest – and it totally creeps me out to think a couple dozen of them may be crawling on me as I type this.

An exterminator is coming on Thursday to treat the bedroom, but these mites can be tough buggers to get rid of. The literature is somewhat conflicted but according to most of the extensive Googling I’ve done, bird mites don’t tend to flourish on human blood, and they don’t seem to do any real health damage. Hopefully, in a few days, the apartment and my body will be mite-free again.

The moral of this story: Sappy suckers sometimes suffer severely.

Crying over a stranger …

It’s amazing the ways a life can touch another.

Leroy Sievers was a respected and accomplished journalist, covering wars and conflicts all over the globe for CBS News and Nightline, winning a bunch of Emmys and a couple of Peabodys in the process, and yet I think it’s fair to say that none of his work likely had as much of an impact as did his very public battle with cancer.

I found his My Cancer Blog on NPR about the time I started this blog, doing research for a book idea I was considering. His site was a refreshing, funny, candid, brave, detailed look at the day-to-day reality of living with cancer and it kept me coming back regularly.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize Sievers on the street, and less than two months ago had never even heard of his name, yet I totally broke down when I logged on today and read that Sievers finally lost his 2 1/2 year fight.

It’s eerie now to go back and read some of his last posts, watching his messages became shorter and shorter, filled with cryptic references like ‘one last secret wave’ and ‘long and sleepless nights’, and then reading about his decision to bring in a hospital bed and, finally, a hospice team.

His last post was about ‘a boy and his dog,’ a heartbreaking reference to the stuffed animal keeping him comfort as his condition worsened.

It reminded me of watching my grandmother during her final days, sleeping fitfully and dreaming about who knows what – pleasant and pain-free days hopefully – as she snuggled a small throw pillow tightly to her chest, just as an infant holds a blanket. I guess if we live long enough, we leave this world not much differently than as we enter it.

I wasn’t the only one moved by Sievers’ blog. It clearly resonated with his thousands of loyal readers, all of whom seemingly have felt cancer’s sting in one way or another and many of whom revealed their own emotional stories in the comments sections.

These people were all strangers, and yet they came to the site each day, to send prayers to Leroy, to commiserate with him over his struggles and to discuss their own battles, to celebrate the victories, small and big ones alike, and to mourn the losses, hardly any of them small ones.

Mostly, they came to the site to provide a much-needed source of support and advice for each other. In other words, Leroy’s blog became this massive community, and it is quite easy to tell from comments left after the news hit that his readers took on his fight as their own, and that none of them will soon forget him or the lessons his life – and death – provided.

And that is truly an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Best-laid plans ….

Quick post from the countryside (gotta love WiFi) …

So my girlfriend and I (and the dog) left the city late last night to head to the Poconos to celebrate our one-year anniversary (boy, time flies!). We were going to stay at a house owned by my friend’s parents, and we were almost finished with the two-hour trip – driving in the fog-shrouded middle of nowhere, the perfect setting for your typical city-slickers-get-lost-and-then-get-dismembered horror film – when I asked my girlfriend if she had the keys.

After a few seconds trying to figure out which keys I was referring to, she finally revealed the shocking, regrettable answer: Sorry, Charlie. The house keys are in New York. After a moment of shock, we started laughing and didn’t stop for quite a while. What the fuck we were going to do??

It actually reminded me of the time in college – right before Thanksgiving sophomore year I believe – when I was sharing a cab to the airport with a couple of other dormmates. We were all settled down in the backseat, and about ready to get going, when one of my friends suddenly remembered he forgot his plane ticket in his room.

After he had left to go get the ticket, the other two of us laughed at his foolishness but after about twenty seconds the girl remembered she, too, had forgotten her ticket. I couldn’t believe it and was now absolutely cracking up … until I realized several moments later, sitting alone in the cab watching the girl run back into the dorm, that I didn’t have my ticket either. The cab driver must have thought we were either the biggest morons, or playing a huge prank, and I’m guessing the former since he stuck around until we all came back, tickets sheepishly in hand. (Thank god for e-tickets!!!!)

Anyway, back to last night, all worked out well. My friend (whose parents own the Poconos house) told us to head to this cute town called Milford, where he found us a couple of cheap lodging options. But while driving through Milford, we noticed an adorable little place called Hotel Fauchere and checked it out. Unbelievably, they had an available room AND accepted dogs. The cost was somewhat reasonable and the service was great, so I highly recommend the place for New Yorkers looking for a romantic getaway. The room even came with a complimentary bottle of wine!

And then today we picked up an extra key to the house and are now relaxing in the piece and quiet of the Pennsylvania woods. Time to stop blogging and enjoy it!

Time to Google ‘Laziness’?

Is Google making us intellectually lazy?

That was the gist of a question financial wildman Jim Cramer asked Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt on a CNBC interview this week. Cramer pointed out that one of his daughter’s fifth-grade teachers banned the use of Google for an assignment she received. Schmidt seemed genuinely surprised by the anecdote, comparing it to how math teachers often ban the use of calculators.

Schmidt called Google ‘a new way of learning … Kids are going from knowing everything to being able to search (for information) very quickly.’

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I have to agree with Schmidt.

For me at least, the Internet and search engines haven’t made me lazier, but more inquisitive. Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself doing a search on a topic I’ve never studied, a person I’ve never heard of, a word I’ve never learned, etc. And I don’t think the Internet has let me down yet in terms of finding the information that I seek.

Last week, I was writing a short story about a loan officer for my writing class, and I was worried about the piece’s verisimilitude, so I went online to do some research. There was just a ton of stuff out there, from consumer advocacy organizations discussing how to get a loan, to government agencies explaining the daily life of a loan officer.  Some of it was overkill for my purposes, but even adding just a couple of small details to the story really helped make it more believable.

And I can’t even imagine doing my job – researching stocks – without having the Internet at my disposal.  The productivity boost I get from finding information so much faster than ever before possible far outweighs the potential risks of relying too heavily on other people’s work, which can at times either be based on faulty assumptions or, worse, just plain wrong.

Schmidt’s calculator analogy is somewhat apt. The Internet and search are tools which help us more easily find basic facts and figures, but if we’re looking for anything more than simple answers, and we don’t understand the underlying issues or concepts, they won’t do us much good.

Remember, trivia does not equal knowledge. And knowledge doesn’t equal intelligence.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to continue to do what my girlfriend tells me to do whenever I question one of her dubious oddball statements: ‘S-T-F-W!’ she’ll say, exasperated that i just won’t believe her.

Don’t know what that means? Neither did I … ’til I STFWed.

Manipulated Olympic ceremony makes for perfect China metaphor

So apparently, the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony wasn’t exactly what it seemed. A firework display kicking off the countdown was generated by computer graphics, and a little girl performing a popular Chinese nationalist song was actually lip-syncing to the voice of another girl deemed not cute enough for prime time.

How truly appropriate and how terribly unsurprising.

It’s unsurprising because China has always been overly concerned with its image, worried about its standing in the world and whether it was getting appropriate respect among more established powers. It’s like the little brother finally starting to come into his own and wanting to make sure the entire family knows it. And because the government is so used to controlling how its people get their news (this is a country that denied the extent of the SARS virus problem for months, after all), it’s no wonder that they tried to extend that control to the opening ceremony.

Yet the manipulation was also appropriate because it provided a perfect metaphor for modern China, a nation that is undoubtedly a growing global power, accomplishing many amazing feats, but one that still feels compelled to shape perceived reality, to try and project an even more impressive image. It glosses over the fact most of its billion-plus citizens are still living in abject poverty. It hides the fact it treats animals in horrible ways. It ignores the fact its people are denied basic human rights.

For China, reality has always been what it makes it, as something under its control.

Dog eating is considered barabaric? Then we’ll take it off the menu for a couple of weeks. Our air is considered unhealthy? Then we’ll take the cars off the road for a while. Our weather is considered too dreary? Then we’ll shoot the clouds with iodine-filled rockets and make it rain outside the city.

So forgive me for not being surprised or offended by the fact that China decided to enhance an already impressive fireworks display with computers, or to replace a cute little Chinese girl with an even cuter one. I’m actually glad … because most of the world is being introduced to China for the first time, and now they’ll be sure to know the truth: China has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go.

Edwards, thy name is hypocrite …

Thrilling swimming races and scary Cold War flashbacks have snatched our collective attention from the John Edwards affair bombshell, but before moving on completely, I just wanted to make a couple of quick comments.

First, Edwards is a sleazebag. But not so much cause he first lied about the affair and in the process slandered the writers who reported the news – his entire political career was on the line so it’s easy to understand why he tried so hard to deny the story (and why he probably did much worse to keep the story hush-hush).

And not so much cause he cheated on his wife – I’ve been stung hard by infidelity and it’s a truly awful thing to do to someone you love, but we are human beings, capable of failure and not necessarily designed for monogamy, so I’m not about to judge him solely for falling to temptation.

And not even cause he allegedly cheated on his wife as she battled cancer, which is most certainly tough to stomach, but again I don’t want to judge, because I don’t know the whole story and because then I’d be JUST LIKE HIM.

It’s Edwards’ hypocrisy that truly bothers me. Edwards was never one to shy away from judging others’ conduct. At a primary debate this spring, Edwards scolded Obama and Clinton for bickering with each other, declaring he was from the ‘grown-up wing’ of the Democratic Party.

In an interview with Katie Couric, Edwards said he made the decision to rerun for President after finding out the extent of his wife’s disease, and implied that he would be a morally superior candidate – “I think every single candidate for president, Republican and Democratic, have lives, personal lives, that indicate something about what kind of human being they are. And I think it is a fair evaluation for America to engage in to look at what kind of human beings each of us are, and what kind of president we’d make.”

A few years earlier, Edwards couldn’t resist commenting on President Bill Clinton’s infidelity: “I think this President has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen …”

Edwards’ whole political persona was premised on the idea of fighting for the little guy, the poor, the disenfranchised. Just please try not to notice his multimillion dollar mansion or fancy beach house, the $400 haircut, his $55,000 fee for giving a speech on poverty, his disturbing record on tort reform legislation.  The fact that anyone ever bought his spiel amazes me; He always reminded me of a used car salesman. or more accurately, like the slick trial lawyer/politician he is.

Edwards, who loved to speak of his faith,  once said that Jesus would be appalled at “our ignoring the plight of those around us who are suffering and our focus on our own selfish short-term needs”

Amen, brother.

p.s. after writing this, i watched on my DVR the Daily Show-edited version of Edwards’ Nightline confession, and can now honestly say calling him a hypocritical sleazebag is an insult to hypocritical sleazebags.

In the interview, he apparently felt it was necessary to say that none of his family were ‘responsible for (his affair)”; said he didn’t want to talk about other politicians’ affairs and yet brought up McCain’s infidelity, and then pointed out that his wife was actually in remission during his affair (Jon Stewart joked that Edwards “was just celebrating’ and ‘wanted to shoot off fireworks but they were illegal’).

Here are some YouTube links to the full Nightline interview -
Part 1-

part 2-

China’s Got Talent … Eventually They’ll Have Freedom

I was going to write tonight about John Edwards and his affair but that sleazebag can wait because I just got done watching the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics. And all I can say is …


I mean, seriously, i feel so bad for the Londoners planning the 2012 Summer Games. They’ve got to be shitting in their pants wondering how they follow that act. Hell, I can’t imagine any country ever putting together a better show. The Beijing ceremony was majestic, stunning, artistic, intimidating, dazzling, and at times, emotional and moving. It’s the type of event the word awesome was created for.

But it certainly wasn’t surprising. I’ve been to China twice in the last five years, and nowadays they do most everything B-I-G (I never saw so many cranes in my life, and I left the country committed to making sure my future children learn Mandarin).

China is clearly a country obsessed with progress – and damn the associated costs and trade-offs (environmental, social, historical, etc.). The Chinese people and government often seem insecure about their country’s standing in the world, so I had a feeling no expense would be spared as they prepared to strut their stuff during the Olympics.

Of course, the Beijing games are also causing a fair amount of controversy due to the country’s horrid human rights record, which basically continues to this day. Civil liberties are a joke. The justice system is a farce. And any significant dissidence is just not tolerated.

Some people are boycotting these games to protest the Chinese government’s policies and practices. That’s their right, of course, and I do think it’s important at a time like this to shine a spotlight on the negative part of China as well. But i also think these Olympic games are going to do a lot more good than harm. Nothing will bring about change faster in China than by welcoming the country and its people onto the global stage.

It’s the same reason why I disagree with people who want U.S. online companies like Google and Yahoo to avoid doing business in China rather than cooperate with its government. The Internet is tough to totally censor, and I just feel that true, lasting change is much more likely to occur once the Chinese people get a taste of the freedoms we enjoy, even if its a small, limited taste. Stay out of China, isolate the country and its people, and I guarantee no one will hear you; Why not at least open up the possibility of incrementally altering attitudes from within?

I personally think the Chinese government has already sown the seeds of its destruction by introducing  market-based aspects to the economy. In the long run, political communism and economic capitalism aren’t compatible, and history shows very clearly which side is likely to win out. It may not happen as quick as we would like, but it will happen.

I’ve always felt that change is usually an inexorable part of history, but that it only comes when the time is right. It can’t be forced. That doesn’t mean that you should stand idly by and wait for change. People’s actions can absolutely accelerate the pace of progress, and you never know which spark is going to be the one that lights the fire.

The students at Tienanmen Square didn’t waste their effort or their lives; they just set the stage for the next act to follow, one that will hopefully be much more meaningful than the visually impressive but ultimately shallow spectacle put on last night in Beijing.

I’ll hang up my cleats when Favre does (or maybe not) …

Holy shit. Football is back. Here I am, still consumed by Cardinals baseball, dressing in shorts and flip-flops, loving the A/C, eating outside at restaurants, sweating in the subways… and yet, ten NFL teams played in preseason games last night.

This happens every August; I get totally blindsided by football’s return. But only for a moment – and then I get psyched.

I love football. I’m talking real, genuine, I-wanna-marry-you-and-have-your-children love. I know it’s silly and not totally healthy, but I can’t help it. I love watching games on TV and seeing them in person. I love managing my fantasy football roster, and then rooting for teams that I normally wouldn’t care about, playing in situations that don’t really matter.

But most of all, I love playing touch football in the park.

This fall will be the fifth year I’ve been organizing a weekly pick-up game in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. About 30 good men are members of the league – half of which usually show up any given week. The game is, in my humble opinion, a beautiful, beautiful thing, and I take it very seriously. I’ve created a Web site for our league, and T-shirts, and a stat book, and a RSVP list, and weekly email game recaps, and year-end award ballots.

We have an official field permit. We play for seven months every year, for three hours every Sunday, no matter what the weather. We have old people and young. We have slow people and fast. Fat people and skinny. Black people and white (and one Asian). Jews and Christians. Columbia students and NYUs. Brothers playing brothers. Cousins playing cousins. Even once a son playing a dad. We all get along pretty well, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the fights that take place virtually every week when the competition gets the better of us.

Sunday mornings from September thru March are literally some of the best moments of my life. And yet each year, the new season feels a bit more bittersweet, because I know I’m that much closer to having to hang up my cleats.

My mom, of course, would love if I stopped playing yesterday. She fears the worst. And her fears – at least this time – are not totally unwarranted. I have a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which acted up last year during a couple of games. I also have a degenerative spine in the early stages of stenosis, which gets aggravated every time I play.

And serious injuries are not uncommon in our league. It’s just a game of touch, but we’ve had ruined labrums, broken fingers, cracked ribs, torn ACLs, strained MCLs, sprained ankles. Last year was the worst one yet for injuries. One of our regular players, a kid in his early 20s, decided last year the injury risk wasn’t worth it and stopped coming to games.

But me, I’m going to play til I literally can’t do it anymore, just like my cousin, who has smoked cigarettes for most of his life, has a bit of a gut, has had a couple major knee surgeries, is 46 years old, and still comes out almost every week and kicks ass (or at least yells a lot). If Favre can still air it out, and Steven Tyler can still rock it out, and Ron Jeremy can still do the ol’ in and out, then certainly I can try and two-hand touch it out.

After all, the games give me joy in a way few other things do. If I’m lucky, and live a long life, there’ll be plenty of time for me to sit around and watch TV, or hopefully, learn how to play golf. Sure, there’s the chance playing football could cause a debilitating injury that causes a lifelong issue i may not otherwise have had to deal with.

But life is full of tough decisions, of weighing risks versus the rewards. And often, the best things in life can end up causing the most pain … But you know what they say: Tis better to have loved football and lost an ACL than never have loved football at all.

Grampa McCain wants to take Obama’s ball away …

While growing up in a St. Louis suburb, a bunch of kids who lived on my street would often get together in my neighbor’s backyard to play some soccer. Occasionally, the ball would be kicked too hard and roll into the yard next door, and sometimes all the way to the back of that house, which sat perpendicularly to our soccer field. This was always a dicey, somewhat traumatic moment for us, and we would usually argue for quite some time about who had to go retrieve the ball.

You see, the guy who lived in that house and the source of our fears and consternation was a mean, nasty, grouchy old man, a regular Grampa Simpson-slash-Ebenezer Scrooge who would yell and scream at us if he caught us in his yard, and threaten to take the ball away if he ever got it first. For a bunch of nine- and ten-year-olds, the dude was just plain scary.

I’m bringing this up because John McCain has lately been reminding me of that scary old man (and Obama’s the kid with the errant soccer ball). The real odd thing is, I think it’s the image he’s trying to cultivate.

How else can one explain McCain’s recent behavior and ads, where he basically mocks Obama’s lofty, inspirational rhetoric, and derides his popularity as a symptom of our shallow, celebrity-based culture (comparing him to both Moses and Britney). I know what he’s trying to say – that there’s no there there with Obama – but to me, he just comes across as a crotchety old guy with no message of his own, nothing positive to say, so all he can do is complain about those darn whippersnappers.

McCain isn’t the first person to try this strategy with Obama; in the primaries, Hillary Clinton often questioned Obama’s substance and occasionally mocked his speeches, and I thought she too looked petty and shrill while doing so. But for McCain, who already has an age problem, this will prove to be a particularly unhelpful tactic because in addition to being mean-spirited, it also makes him look old and out-of-touch.

Or have we truly gotten to the point where we automatically scoff at terms like hope and change, pass them off as more Camelot myth-making, just part of an impossible and foolish dream that will end up doing more harm than good.

I’d like to think that after eight years of George W and his cronies, and now mired in a rather depressing economic situation, most of America is looking for someone with a vision and fresh ideas, someone who is more interested in unity and compromise than party and ideology, a leader who can inspire and motivate us and help us become that more perfect union our forefathers intended (Well, I tried, but Obamaian rhetoric is hard to do without sounding cheesy!!).

Now I’m sure an Obama presidency will likely fall short of the ambitious, lofty vision he espouses in his speeches. The real business of politics and governing can be gritty, even dirty at times; The way Obama is alternatively shifting to the center (offshore drilling OK) and pandering to his base (windfall profit tax for oil companies) may not be very appealing, but it also shows that he’s not a total idealist, that he understands this aspect of the business as well.

And in any case, I’d much rather a leader start with his head a bit in the clouds and fall short of best intentions, than have him begin in the gutter and try to rise up out of it.

In other words, I’d much rather vote for a Ned Flanders than a Grampa Simpson…

p.s. speaking of grandpas, my mom just called and reminded me my grandfather’s 97th birthday would have been today. he died about ten years ago from complications after a stroke. until he got sick, there was a guy who knew how to do the old thing right!! what a sweet beautiful man. happy birthday zeydeh!!

Skipping ads could get a whole lot easier …

Over the weekend, I wrote a post about how product placement and alternative forms of marketing will become more important, partly because technology will make it easier to skip over ads. A New York Appeals Court ruling this morning increases that threat significantly.

The case centers around Cablevision’s wish to offer its consumers DVR functionality (including ad-skipping features) at the network, or ‘cloud’ level, as opposed to solely on individual set-top boxes. An initial court ruling agreed with content owners who charged that the feature amounted to copyright infringement, but the appeals court overturned the decision, saying basically that a network DVR is nothing more than ‘a DVR with a long cord.’

A story on Barron’s Online notes that Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett believes if the decision sticks (another appeal is likely), DVR penetration could rise from 25% levels to more than 60% in a very short time, and with more DVR-enabled outlets per home.

The article goes on: “Moffett contends the media companies should have settled the case by agreeing to network DVRs in return for a commitment to block ad skipping. ‘By failing to settle,” he writes, “the media companies now face the bleak prospect of a massive increase in ad-skipping.’”

August 2008
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