Thursday, December 16, 2010

Immigration Issues: Germany faces the Mirror

After almost three straight days of policy meetings and discussions from morning through evening on energy and climate change led by the American Council on Germany, it was a welcome respite this evening to chew over an old standard: racism.

Here in Germany, the Turkish immigrant minority is very much on the outside of mainstream German society. There are a host of reasons for this: cultural, historic, economic, social, educational, and financial. Oh, and there’s the language thing, which also doesn’t help as a bridge.

But just like in the good ‘ol US of A, (emphasis on old, as in the Fifties) and the way our forebears used to do things (don’t hate me for saying used to, and don’t hate me for not saying we still do) when it came to minority issues and the rights of minorities, German today is totally backward when it comes to this issue.

Our cozy group from across the country got to witness this up close during an enlightening and engaging dinner presentation by Parliamentarian Ozcan Mutlu, who represents a district within Berlin (Neukoln) for the Green Party.

Mutlu ran through the issues, personalized it in clear and unambiguous terms, repeatedly said he’s an optimist, and sees the glass as half full on these issues, but left the impression that there may not even be that much liquid to drink from the beer mug.

For starters, he has been told on more than one occasion by authorities that he is being profiled because they are searching for terrorists. His son, born in Germany, was told by a driver’s education instructor to go back home to Turkey. The instructor, a Berlin police officer, knew from class registration that the teenager was German born.

Mutlu bemoaned the dreadfully small number of stories on the Turkish community on German public television, noting that every train wreck gets full coverage. (sound familiar, tv pals?) He decried that there are very few elected officials of Turkish heritage, but said inroads have been made in that there are now 200 police officers with Turkish ancestry on the force in Berlin. But wait. There are a total of 18,000 cops in Berlin. 200 comprise a shade over 1%. In a country with a minority population in the high teens. Since when does1% count as a success story?

So when I say the good ‘ol US of A, the analogy fits. Back to the day of Beaver and Wally and Ike and all those good things we had going on during those happy days of the 50’s.

Perhaps what the Turkish community needs is a Rosa Parks, unwilling to go to the back of the bus, and willing to advance a cause on principle regardless of the cost.

Germany has that with its national soccer team. 11 of the 23 players are from immigrant families. Many of them are Turkish. Their top player, Mesut Özill, is of Turkish heritage, and he publicly decided to play for Germany in this past year’s World Cup, much to the delight of Germans, and Germans of Turkish origin. Still, his bio leads with this line: ‘A German-born son of a Turkish immigrant,’ which suggests there’s still a long way to go for even those who have risen to the top of their field.

So while there may be some small things over which there is commonality, and we all know that sports has proven over time to be a stepping stone for the disenfranchised, Mutlu does not want Özill, or other German footballers to get involved in politics. Even after being told the story of Jackie Robinson and how he helped move America forward, Mutlu does not think their attitudes would have any bearing on the public.

Well, that’s probably short sighted, but it does go to show you how dated attitudes are in Germany today, at least in some areas, and still how far communities living on the margin (there’s a 50% unemployment rate for the Turkish community in Berlin) have to go if they opt not to take advantage of what others might see as golden opportunities.

So I must defer to Mutlu on whether his glass is half full, and wish him luck on getting some real juice in that cup.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cool day, bad architecture

Sometimes, it all comes together.

The sky opens. The sea parts. Sometimes, even, the girl says yes.

It’s called the A-ha moment.

Today, I had that experience, on a cold and blustery day in a concrete slab of a building in the middle of nowhere in Berlin.

Amidst back to back meetings, and hearing how taking government money means you can define yourself as independent (because you don’t have to take private funds), I was taken to a modern building housing a major German think tank for an afternoon chat about politics and purpose.

Amidst a welcome treat of apfel strudel and black tea, I listened to wonks waxing about progressive German politics, and bad American politics. No surprise there.

The building in which I was in, well, that was something completely different.

The Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung is the foundation and think tank for the German Green party. The Greens are what you would expect, a left of center pro-environment movement. They’re a force in Germany, and hope to lead several German states following spring elections.

The building for the Böll-Stiftung is an exceptionally modernist structure that was completed in 2008 by the Swiss architecture firm eckert eckert architeckten/e2a. It incorporates a number of highly technological and equally impressive measures to bring the building’s carbon footprint damn near zero.

From the triple pane glass, complete with argon gas to reduce the effect of direct sunlight, to the extra thick concrete flooring, which features water cooled and heated piping within a five foot perimeter of each exterior wall, to the server room that heat the building, to the HVAC system that recycles itself, silently, in the basement, and the photovoltaic cells on the roof, this is one helluva unique building.


Yeah, but.

But for all this coolness. But for all this hipness. But for all this design, and exterior style, and seeming functionality, this building is one ugly ass cold and soulless excuse for a modern office building.

It’s worth bearing with me on this one.

Sounds bounces around the omnipresent poured concrete. The carpet inlaid as runner throughout the office corridors has the consistency of 60 grade sandpaper, and the texture of cheap plastic Astroturf. Each office has inverted ribbon windows that can open, yet since the building is called a ‘lung’ you’re not allowed to puncture the lung by creating a hole in it’s cavity. So, no open windows. And no one is allowed to lay carpet or rugs on the floor, and all are asked to keep wall hanging to a minimum, in order to enhance air flow and circulation. So slab grey floors. Like in a warehouse. Just lovely and inviting.

So it’s like being Jonah for 8 hours a day, being inside a living organism, but not really being able to live.

This building may define architectural modernity and environmental sensitivity, but its severity is too great for all but a cubicle dwelling masochist to appreciate.

Prisoners might find this space familiar, with the concrete walls, floors, and ceiling, as well as the appearance of openness, which can be jarring, but by the time you finish the visit, realize is a false promise of design and environmentalism.

The German modernist Mies is attributed as saying ‘form follows function.’ I know, it wasn’t Mies, but Louis Sullivan, who actually said “form ever follows function.” But while this modernist piece has form, it surely drains clean every ounce of function. And it’s a shame. For the plan is welcome, and creative. But the execution, well, it’s just plain horrible. And that appears to be the building’s legacy. A shame indeed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Energy, Climate, and Enviro Policy: Oh, Boy!

Amazing what difference a day makes. Especially when it’s a day complete with presentations and programs. Let’s go to the numbers: seven policy experts, over two meals, and 14 hours. Long day, rich with information and calories. Oh, and two thirty minute train rides. Can’t forget mass transit.

The day began and ended with exceptionally intense policy discussions with two respected German trans-Atlanticists, SPD Bundestag member Uli Klose, and German Marshall Fund Fellow Constanze Steizenmueller.

And the middle dayparts were filled with substantive discussions on energy and climate policy at the German Foreign Office, as well as a visit to the famous Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the foremost centers for the study of global warming. If only policymakers and brilliant theoretical scientists were able to communicate directly with us, perhaps they would be better able to command the attention of those who don’t possess their primary interests, or their intellectual firepower.

But for the early morning and late evening speakers, Klose and Steizenmueller, they each expressed concern about the future. Klose about the long term, Steizenmueller the short term. Each had primary concerns: Russia for Klose, which he feels should recognize its’ role as part of Europe, not the globe; and China for Steizenmueller, which she feels can move things forward, but has to be more transparent, and more bold in it’s international affairs.

Klose feels Germany will continue to lend support to the U.S. in Afghanistan, even with a vote coming up in Parliament next month. And while he is concerned about the challenge to the Euro that exists with the European debt crisis, he feels that it won’t lead to street protests, or any virulent type of public opposition.

Steizenmueller, on the other hand, was nothing short of dark and depressing. On a cold winter’s night in Berlin, it was as though with her words she was trying to mirror the temperature we all felt on our walk to dinner through a deserted Brandenburg Gate, a temperature impacted by the sub-freezing chill.

Though she expressed a bit of optimism by noting that the self-regulating nature of the American system seems to adapt to change, she didn’t feel that Germany, or Europe, had that same flexibility. Some, perhaps, but not as much as their neighbor 4000 miles west. Her concerns for China, which were significant, and deep, were not as great as her sense that India has the leg up on the race to lead the 21st century, or that Turkey has made significant progress as a nation in this past decade, or that Russia poses a challenge, but not as a military power, but as a geo-political entity.

After closing out with a line about conflict trumping cooperation, noting that this seems to be the prevailing manner in Chinese leadership circles, she all but threw up her arms in dismay at the challenge that those who govern civil society have been compelled to address.

Oh, to think what joy tomorrow might bring. If there is a tomorrow, following tonight's Cassandra. Anon.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Energy Policy, German Style

This is a different sort of week for me. I’m putting aside my journalism hat (sort of) and sitting on a week’s worth of programs on German policy and programs with regard to energy, climate, and the environment.

And as long as inspiration remains, and fatigue stays away, I’ll be blogging each day about the program. Straight line blogging, more of a report, than blogging with the verve and style to which I know you’ve grown accustomed.

But this ain’t boiled vegetables, as there will be some style and taste and even flava infused in each posting.

So here goes, folks.

I’m over in Berlin, taking part in programs and meetings put together by the NYC based American Council on Germany. Along with a dozen other Americans from the fields of energy, finance, law, government, and media, we have been invited to hear how Germany utilizes their limited energy resources to drive the world’s fourth largest economy.

This evening, at our introductory dinner, the featured speaker was the President of the Foundation for the German Green Party. Unlike the United States, where the two major political parties in no way have think tanks or foundations that hold forth on principled views and produce white papers, each of the five major German political parties each has their own Foundation.

Ralf Fücks (I know, I know) is the President of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, which is directly aligned with the pro-environmental Green Party. Fücks regularly addresses audiences, both in Germany, and overseas, and is one of the faces for the German Greens.

He was quite conversant not only on German energy and environmental policy, but on what’s not only happening right now in the United States, but what he would hope could happen in the United States in order for us to embrace a more green lifestyle.

In short, Fücks acknowledged that conditions and politics are different enough in Germany that the success which has been enjoyed by the Greens as of late (20% favorability in national polls), green issues and policies becoming accepted by the mainstream, green politicians and programs having a ‘hip’ cache, are all part of what it means for the Greens to represent what he calls the new modernity.

Fücks reminded us that renewable energy is thriving in Germany, with 17% of German energy usage coming from solar, wind, or biomass. Compared to less than 1% of US energy coming from these sources, this is significant.

In order to enhance prospects in the US for growth in non-carbon energy, Fücks hoped that more than a short term stimulus plan (along the lines of the 2008 bill) could be enacted by Washington, leading to long term investment, the transfer of scientific findings, and real growth in this area.

And he didn’t rave on about nuclear, didn’t point fingers at America or Americans, never once mentioned the word ‘Hummer’ or insisted that we all bicycle to work in even snow and sleet.

In Germany, Fücks argued that resource efficiency “has enhanced Germany’s economic independence.” While he did not speak directly to Germany’s link to Russia over energy, he argued that efficiency and environmentalism has helped Germany wrest itself from the situation the US faces, with significant energy consumption and energy costs.

Fücks added that he would like to see environmental education enhanced in the United States. By that he suggests more alternative forms of transportation, better use of public transit, and also, on the corporate level, a switch from government subsidy to corporate investment in green solutions to energy usage.

Fücks acknowledged none of this would happen overnight, but he expressed guarded optimism that the Obama Administration could still produce the spark essential to moving this forward in the next year or so.

Day One: German Energy and Environment Study Tour

It’s early Sunday morning, according to my body. It’s actually 1:45pm where I sit in Germany.

I have just arrived (though I still have to fly on to Berlin from my perch at the airport in Frankfurt) for a series of meetings and discussions on energy and the environment.

The good people with the American Council on Germany have invited me to be part of a group of 12 energy consultants, financial analysts, lawyers, and journalists who will be taking in the German perspective on energy, environmental and climate policy.

We’ll visit with senior staff at the Reichstag, meet with the American Ambassador, and hear from a number of experts (and wannabes, I’ll bet) over the course of the next few days.

My role, I presume, is to blog about this program, the experience, the insight, and the contrast with the United States on these issues.

I anticipate a very fulsome week of meetings and programs, some challenging, some quite likely to be dreadful, but hopefully overall engaging enough to be worth the time of a week in Berlin in the dead of winter.

More to follow. Stay tuned. And ask questions. Glad to be a conduit. Come one come all. Don’t be shy with those questions.

a day in the life, or time wasted in Frankfurt's airport

Arriving in Frankfurt is never a pleasant experience.

And I was not surprised this morning.

Grey skies, cold weather, crisp attendants, mid-field arrival. All the best parts of international travel.

But this is just the start.

I manage to get a standing room position in the front of the shuttle bus to the terminal. After a serpentine route that I think detoured to Luxembourg, we de-bussed (?) and proceeded up a three story escalator. This was all new, as even though I have flown through Frankfurt about ten times, every experience is different.

This time, atop the escalator, we were presented with a number of slots for which to pass through customs. With nary a word, and very little wait, I was allowed in to Germany. Danke schoen.

But there the mystery began.

Arriving passengers were directed to examine the departure board, but my flight, two hours ahead, was not yet listed. Fortunately, my boarding pass did have a gate assignment, so I proceeded in the direction of the ‘A’ gates.

After a 5 minute walk through a non-descript part of the airport, one with the tarmac on one side, and a security entrance with magnetometers and bag check on the other side, I was directed to a very long line. This line, in fact, appeared to be headed towards the security gate. As there were literally no other options, I was compelled to stick in this line, which meandered out of the security space, and hosted travelers (judging by their passports) from literally all over the world. (note to world: you don’t look very good in the morning).

Along with the other confused and air-weary, we snaked through this line for thirty minutes, amusing ourselves with the antics of the Italian family who insisted on getting ahead of everyone, the Japanese group of 30, who managed to stay together and find the longest security line of the half dozen presented to us, and those fellow business travelers who maintained various degrees of attitude during this process.

As I had slept through virtually the entire trans-Atlantic flight, I had been able to pocket the delicious and nutritious snacks and beverages the friendly flight attendants on United had provided. Well, they beverages did not make it through the gate, though I was provided the opportunity to guzzle the contents of my water bottle (note to self: good idea not to fill water bottle with vodka!), and with a nod, was allowed to bring through the 4 ounce already packed yogurt that was United’s breakfast treat.

Bored? Well, the journey was by no mean over. After passing through this security and pedestrian phalanx, I went searching for my gate. Turns out I needed another terminal for the ‘A’ gates, as I was in ‘B’ terminal at that time. So like many other previous visits, I descended three flights of stairs, found myself under the tarmac on a horizontal escalator (can the Fraport people visit O’Hare to see how moving people can be less droll), and into the ‘A’ terminal.

Before finding the entryway to ‘A’ I saw a host of people having to goo through yet another screening in the ‘B’ terminal. Anticipating this ignominy, I have to admit a bit of relief in finding my arrival into ‘A’ terminal to be uneventful. Took an elevator up the three stories to my level, and once the doors opened, I was welcomed by the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a modern European airport.

And it is there, amidst the free newspapers (there’s a way to save the US newspaper industry, compel the airlines and airports to buy truckloads of dead trees for travelers) and morning coke lights and all too omnipresent German hot dogs and severe hairstyles, that I found some space near a window, sat down with the grey sky as my backlight, and reviewed the waste of the past 90 minutes of my life.

Should I send the Reichstag the bill?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What to do with 3+ hours at O’Hare, 12-3-10 version

Well, it is definitely a familiar place. And certainly even more so this morning.

Following a dreadfully early flight out of the dust belt and cow country (all meant with the most sincerety and flattery), a similarly early arrival at O’Hare fails to produce the inspiration felt previously, on the outbound part of this journey.

Instead, there are just observations of my surroundings.

European travelers with two infants, and one grandmother.
Tattooed and muscled (tattoos painted, muscles sculpted) twenty-something guy with unusually appealing twenty-something girlfriend. It’s 20 degrees outside, but this couple is showing skin. Must be heading south, or southbound.
Young men sip beer (it’s 10am, dude!) at the bar, while middle age women savor rum and coke.
Pilot in civilian clothes working through a paperback.
Older teen from unknown country (Moroco, Italy, Bulgaria???) sleeping mouth agape against a backpack that seems to be carrying all his worldy possessions (this passes through security at TSA? A backpack the size of a water cooler?)
Beefy and gray 40-something men wearing sweats and signature sports apparel, high fiving and hugging a Chicago cop on the beat, as their similarly attired 14 year old sons, one with a Mohawk, effort to pull of the carelessness that would come natural if they were really cool, and not just the stereotypes of the dumb HS jock.
A 60 year old couple, each nattily dressed, clipped, packed for travel, silently reading their respective Kindles.
Young women of varying ages wearing black tights in lieu of other lower extremity toppings, apparently unaware of the public appearance of their own limited fitness.

All the while, maintenance men circle the gates, retrieving what little waste has been created pre-lunch hour, ignoring the absence of any recycling boxes, newspaper drops, or glass/plastic bins.

The airport version of CNN streams on one of the overhead monitors, reporting President Obama’s surprise trip to Afghanistan, alongside reports of a still faltering economy, and questions about what the Congress will do about extending Bush era tax deductions.

It’s all very familiar, and yet probably strange to those who don’t have to frequent the airport.

And it’s all a bore, as it’s dead time, time that could have been spent reading, or writing, or traveling, instead of blogging about people at O’Hare who also find themselves in a temporary holding pattern.

And this cycle will repeat itself, quite soon, I’m sure.

a day in the life, at O'Hare airport, 12/1/10

Shit, I’m back in O’Hare.

OK, Apocalypse Now humor might not apply here. Better yet, it doesn’t apply now. Check with me if I’m stuck here another 24 hours from now. But don’t think that will happen. It’s a grey day, but not much precipitation, and flights are coming and going here. I should be en route to Oklahoma City on time.

There’s a familiarity with O’Hare. Anyone who travels shares that, I’m sure. For some it’s the lines, which swamp gates and arrival/departure boards every so often. For others it’s the food kiosks. Where else can you get coated nuts in an airport. What’s with Nuts on Clark anyway? For all of us, it’s the distance. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a connection in the terminal in which you arrive, you’re going to walk. Today, I walked from the end of the ‘B’ terminal, under the tarmac, and over and across to the regional terminal, to the far end of the ‘F’ terminal. This was an 18 minute walk, about a mile. That’s a lot of ground covered, and I didn’t stop at any point along the way.

For me, the familiarity with O’Hare comes from the architecture. Those repetitive yet simple and clean steel arches that support and lift the main terminals, at least the United terminals, are very soothing. They seem to smile down on you, guide you like a beacon towards your destination. They’re like stars in the night. Wherever you are in the terminal, when you look up, there they are. And they are as far as the eye can see, at least because this terminal seems terminal, and endless.

The straddle and cover food courts, restrooms, and a range of kiosks. So they top over crap, and junk, and spaces mostly passed right by. But they cover us, shielding us from the glare of the sun’s rays, or the bite from the winter’s wind, or the bluster of a snowy burst. And they’re just there. And they’ll be there when I come back through, reversing my course, in a scant 48 hours.

And they’ll provide the same reinforcement, and the same familiarity, and hopefully will provoke the same sensation.

We’ll see.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

why do those fish keep swimming in the barrel?

an open letter

Dear former Governor Palin:

It appears that you have managed to put together your second book in two years, all the while traversing the lower 48 on behalf of your grizzly cubs, decrying the free media while accepting paid media opportunities, and communicating directly with your fans and acolytes via digital media.

Now there's some leakage from this book, including the following line:

"Do you ever wonder where the producers of American Idol come up with the seemingly endless supply of people who can’t sing but are deluded enough to get up in front of a national television audience and screech out a song anyway?"

let's play a fun word game for a moment, and do the following with some words:

If you replace producers with parties, people with candidates, sing with lead, and song with speech in this line, would you be talking about yourself?

"Do you ever wonder where the parties come up with the seemingly endless supply of candidates who can’t lead but are deluded enough to get up in front of a national television audience and screech out a speech anyway?"


Friday, November 19, 2010

Looking Back on Reunions

Over the past 25 years, I’ve been to literally dozens of reunions. There have been work related reunions, High School reunions, College reunions. Hell, even funerals these days are reunions by another name.

But clearly, here in America, we place great weight on our high school and college reunions. Having recently attended one of each, and having attended widely divergent schools for high school and then college, I thought I would share some observations.

First off, nothing ever really changes.

Remember the beautiful but distant girl who would never talk to you, dated guys much cooler than you, and then disappeared. Well, she still won’t talk to you, and even with nametags, the silence suggests she doesn’t even remember you. That is if she even bothers to attend. (Girls, replace girl with guy. You get it.)

Remember the person who was a bore back then. Well, they’re even more boring now. Which means they try to take even more of your time. Which makes the, ‘excuse me, I see the canapés are being handed out on the other side of the room, I better go’ line that much harder to employ.

Secondly, not all of us look as lean and lithe as we did way back when. From high school, the cool guys really didn’t turn out all that well. They’ve gained the most weight, have the least interesting jobs, and don’t speak that highly of their exes. From college, the cool guys made the most money, date supermodels, don’t care any more about their exes, and travel regularly.

So Porsches trump Camaros, but I suppose we always knew that.

Third, nobody plays sports anymore, regardless of their level of activity in their youth. Sure, there are weekend duffers, and yoga devotees, but with one or two exceptions, mostly for solo sports like bicycling and running, physical competition has long since left the building.

And the most telling point, particularly with regard to nothing really changes, is that whatever you were back in high school, with rare exceptions, you still are today, 30 years later.

For example, those at the top of the graduating class still remember the order rank for themselves and their classmates, and click it off like they are running down the states that went from Democrat to Republican in the mid-term election. Hey, it’s been 30 years. You’ve graduated from a fucking Ivy League school, have 2.5 kids, a home in the Westchester suburbs, and still this shit matters to you. Gimme a break. Why do you need to reinforce this, particularly among the people who are already on this road with you. And why do you still have to turn down your nose at the others?

On the other hand, the folks who lived on the edge in the 70’s, smoking and drinking, and engaging in serial youthful indiscretions, seem to still revel in that, as though it’s not just a badge, but a lifestyle. Again, it’s been 30 years. What are you up to now?

A big difference is that high school kids are more inclined to talk about injuries, overcoming physical obstacles or limitations, than college friends, who would probably prefer to hire counsel to take care of that cancer scare, or the restrictions resulting from that accident.

But while nothing ever really changes, you do find out that high school was really just a phase for some people, and that for these folks, they were neither scarred, tarnished, nor handicapped by that time and place. And these folks, ironically people who have moved away from home, mostly great distances, and in each instance to communities significantly different than the close-in NYC burbs, seemed to have not only grown the most, but seem most comfortable and at ease. And they were the most revealing, and the most interesting to talk with, whether early in the evening, or later at night, when libations somehow still managed to flow.

Perhaps it’s what I get out of these events, but connecting with someone I either knew briefly, not that well, or in some cases, not at all, but with whom there was a shared experience (a bus ride to school for several years, a class, or just attendance at the same school for a year or so), makes the time and the effort involved in getting to these things quite worthwhile. And in that sense, whether it’s a meeting of former blue collar kids in an Italian restaurant on Central Avenue in Yonkers, or overachieving high flying Ivy Leaguers on the main green in Providence, that shared experience, whenever it was, provides us with the foundation for a conversation, and a reminder of who we are, and how we got there.

As for where we go from here, I am ever more convinced that relatively few of us have a clue, except for those who are living out their dreams, following the path they set upon a while back, and nailing it. But I do know that with a class of high school kids who are now everything from repairmen to milkmen to bra-fitters to court reporters and even anesthesiologists, we’ve got the bases covered. And the makings for another helluva party, if we ever find a way to get together again.

And I still think it would probably remain a good idea to keep my HS buds and my college pals apart. Was never certain if Porsches and Camaros mixed. Or how that would work. That would be a test of how the rubber meets the road!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What should journalists know?

Looking for suggestions on points and ideas for a project I'm putting together on the important things that all journalists should know. It's intended for students, mostly undergraduate students, but could also be applied by grad students in J school. Any and all suggestions are welcome. If anecdotal, share the anecdote. Reinforcement helps.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Journalism redux: Things Seem to Happen in Threes

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a number of examples of radio and television journalists who have stepped over the ethics line, and been slapped back into place by their bosses.

First, Juan Williams made offensive remarks on FOX News about his perspectives on traditional Muslims, and was summarily fired from his other job, at NPR, for those remarks.

Then, in a matter that received much less attention than the first, two Anchorage based television news producers with KTVA CBS 11 were fired from their jobs for making inflammatory statements about the campaign that Joe Miller was running for Alaska's Senate seat. Not only did the producers challenge the integrity of Millers' campaign supporters, but they allegedly joked about using their newsroom positions to denigrate Miller and his campaign in reporting.

And in the capstone to all this, MSNBC's top host, Keith Olbermann, was suspended indefinitely (ultimately for two shows) after it was revealed that he had made financial contributions to three Democratic candidates in the fall 2010 mid-term elections.

In each instance, these journalists engaged in inappropriate, unethical, or offensive behavior. Each deserved to be punished, and to be chastised for what they did.

But for NPR to fire Juan Williams for the statements he made on FOX, when asked his opinion, smacks of political correctness, and suggests that NPR not only overstepped, but was looking for a way to remove Williams from public radio. Fining him, or taking him off the air for a period of time, would have been an acceptable response. But firing, without pretense, and with little cause (remember, his 'action' occured on another network, in another medium), was not only excessive, but ham handed. (When was the last time you heard of a person fired over the phone, let alone a ten year employee) Perhaps NPR will learn how to discipline staff in a more responsible, open and transparent manner in the future.

As for KTVA and Millergate, in this instance, firing these two producers for their inappropriate comments was excessive. Clearly, these individuals stepped out of bounds with their comments, comments recorded on the cell phone of Miller's campaign press secretary. But to summarily fire producers for inane comments, or for mocking politicians, hell, where would we be? Who would we have to cover campaigns? How would we have those gridiron dinners, and such, here in DC each year, where pols are publicly mocked by the 4th estate? Mocking candidates, campaigns, and politicians may not be the world's oldest profession, but it's certainly up there. Crossing a line doesn't justify things, but summarily firing these folks was rash, particularly when suspensions and fines could have had the same effect. After all, Miller supporters, and right-wingers nationwide, still will not harbor any love for KTVA and its' news team, even after this firing. And ripping apart a newsroom to make a point doesn't suggest this is a team that will be moving forward as a unit to advance to the next stage after this incident.

As for Keith Olbermann, the light slap he received from MSNBC is way too minimal for an offense that is perhaps the most significant of the three referenced here. It was words that got Williams and the KTVA producers in hot water. Words. Important words, but not actions. Olbermann took action, and committed $7200 to Democratic candidates, in clear violation of NBC and MSNBC policy, regardless of what he says. Journalists of any character know that among the cardinal rules, primary among them is not to contribute to a candidate for office. How Olbermann missed that, after 25 years in the business, and how he manages to apologize to his audience, but not his MSNBC bosses, particularly after they let him off easy, iss churlish and insincere.

We may differ on the merits on each of these matters, or the justice in any one of them, but for journalists in electronic media, the lessons we must remember in this digital age is to be responsible, remember you're always on, and to focus your contributions or philanthropy to those organizations that are legitimate non-profit entities.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Been up to, well, eyeballs would work here, been up to my eyeballs with Germans for a while now, so my mind focuses those eyeballs by checking out maps. Not maps of Europe or Asia or Africa, but of the US, and those capital cities, and capital buildings, that have somehow managed to escape me.

Let's see, there's some nearby, like Lansing and Frankfurt, then those a bit further on, like Nashville and Little Rock. Then we start pushing distance and serious road tripping, with Springfield (that's the one in Illinois), Des Moines, Madison, Bismarck, Pierre, Lincoln, Topeka, Oklahoma City (though that itch should be scratched in December), Helena, Boise, and perhaps the toughest of the lot, Carson City.

15 Capitols remaining. 14 by year's end. Wonder how long this adventure is going to take. Working on a goal. Open to suggestions. And music for the road.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Frontier Days

Alaskans pride themselves as living on the last frontier. They boast of being the westernmost state, being twice as big as Texas, as wide as the continental United States, and having almost half the land of the lower 48, combined.

Certainly the facts (square mileage, latitude and longitude) cannot be argued. But just about everything else can.

Alaska, and Alaskans, certainly are different. But so are New York and New Yorkers, Colorado and Coloradans, and California and Californians.

Each place, and the people who inhabit them, have certain intangible qualities that help to provide definition and framing. And our media and common lore often play off these qualities, accentuating those characteristics that are different (think about the brash New Yorker, or the new age Californian) , while not really helping to explain why those traits exist in the first place.

Alaskans seem to pride themselves on their individuality, and their distance from civilization. Their connection to the outdoors, to the basic aspects of human survival, and human instincts. How that translates to truck sales, I don’t know, but it seems as though advertisers and marketers have certainly tried.

Over the course of a week in Anchorage, and a day in the capital city of Juneau, I began to develop a sense of the place. It’s pretty country, and rough no doubt. But in many more ways than not, it’s awfully familiar to the places we live in the lower 48, just more so.

To start, in the urban core of Anchorage, there’s plenty of visible poverty, in the form of a sizable homeless population. Restricted from panhandling by law, these men (I saw mostly young men) congregate in small public spaces, and bide their time with games and idle banter. Homelessness in America is no surprise in 2010. It was to me, however, in Anchorage, a place where it must be tough to be on the street in winter. And the volume of food shelters and pantries, some running up against each other in a well worn part of town, testify to the need.

Overheard conversations provide a cheap thrill, at times. But they can also provide an unvarnished perspective. Hearing some of the older men at a downtown athletic club gripe about the state of affairs in America, and what’s wrong with people today, provided some context on the recent success of Alaska’s former governor, Sarah Palin, and the tea party movement in general. Alaska may certainly be ground zero, or at least one of the ground zeroes, in the debate raging across the country. So in that way things are no different than in the other states. But up in Alaska the physical distance from Washington, DC, if not the rest of the country, does provide context for the criticism that regular folks have for the way government is run, and the way dollars are spent.

It’s ironic, however, given the size of the federal presence in Alaska, whether that’s in the form of the Interior Department, or the Defense Department, or the literal payback that Alaskans receive each fall from the oil revenue generated from drilling. But that seems to be an irony only to outsiders, and those few who acknowledge being progressive in a state where even liberal carry handguns.

Holing up at an area college on a project, conversations with the student population covered a range a bit wider than with a prototypical student,, but only with regard to there being more issues with fewer people. While one student missed classes over a week due to time out in the bush moose hunting, another was away due to the birth of his child. In neither instance did the student feel he should have contacted a professor to let them know of their absence, nor seek permission to be away. But in suspecting that their actions were perfectly understandable, and that it should not have bearing on their grades, these students were similar to their colleagues at campuses across the nation. Self righteous, and perhaps indignant had their professors gotten in their face about the need to communicate. But moose hunting? When was the last time you heard that one as an excuse for an absence. And acknowledging an out of wed birth? Same goes. Not your everyday occurance, though of course it happens.

Still, people up in Alaska, seem friendlier, at least initially. Whether it’s stopping in Wasilla, or strolling in Barrow, they are polite, civil, and seemingly meaningful in their actions. When someone says they will do something, they do it, and they mean it. Words seem to have meaning here, and words seem to be ways in which Alaskans bond with one another.

While no cross words were sent my way up north, some folks were free with their criticism of former governor Sarah Palin. One couple, in fact, asked if I would take her back to DC when I returned. Not to provide her with a political forum, but to get her out of their hair in Alaska.

So that surprised me. The bare criticism of this neo-celebrity, someone exalted across America as a demi-god of a movement, yet apparently lacking widespread support across the very place she calls home.

But perhaps in the end that is the quality that defines Alaska. People are much more than the two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that we have of them in our mind, and are more richly layered and textured following some time among them. And much like those New Yorkers and Coloradans and yes, even those damn Californians, there’s more to them than what you get at first, and there’s more to them than they let on, and even share.

Even if there’s no way in hell a place as uglified by strip malls and K-marts can in any way with pride call itself the frontier!

Friday, August 20, 2010

a week in the life

Now I know why John Lennon didn't write a song longer than 'A Day in the Life.'

I could start with 'woke up, got out of bed' but from there it just deviates significantly.

Though it's still early on a Friday, over the course of this week there's been a car purchase, a curriculum update, a welcome invitation to speak, confirmation on upcoming workshops and programs, and lessons from eastern Europeans on the benefits that come with smoking.

But even the smoking nonsense about smoking pales with the latest development. One that is just so amusing, so comic, and perhaps so expected, that it trumps the sight this morning of a man storing his cell phone in his crotch. Is that a conference call you're on, or are you just glad to be riding the Red Line?

The comedy ensues from a brand new used car, one with an apparent car alarm. An alarm with it's own mind, or it's own schedule. Or perhaps concerns for my neighborhood. As this alarm goes off at will, for no known reason. No vibration, no noise, no contact, nothing.

So I do the first thing anyone would do in this circumstance. I called the dealership. Well, the cell for the salesperson. He was polite, but reiterated that electrical issues are not covered under the limited 30 day warranty, and that perhaps it could all be fixed with a new battery, or something with the fancy key fob, basically something that is beyond his or the dealership's control.

Then, as an aside, he added that he's no longer with the dealership, no longer working where he was a scant few days ago. Poof, no longer a used car salesman for Jim Coleman Toyota. Wonderful. And when asked for the name of someone at the dealership who could possibly answer my questions, and still works there, he offered the name of the used car sales manager. But just his first name. Didn't have both names. Thought it might be Silverman, but knew it wasn't. Since found out it's Stilman, but that's besides the point.

What a great country we live in, where our major issues have to do with a quirky alarm on a car that won't be repaired by a car dealership that either can't hold or tosses away salesman at the drop of a hat.

At least we're not waiting for a tram, in the rain, smoking a cigarette, in Belgrade. Well at least we're not today.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

music lyrics

it's funny how lyrics from songs, regardless of whether they're popular, or just personal faves, pop up in the mind.

today's list has ranged from the Stone's 'Waiting on a Friend' to the Velvet's 'Vicious' over to various ditties by the Ramones.

70's hard rock and basic punk, including inspiration. must be inspired by an upcoming Cleveland trip which will have to include a pilgrimage to the RnR HoF.

funny thing, haven't heard many of these lately, so the tracks running through the mind become a subconscious I-pod. Cool.

rock on, as Wayne and Garth earned fame saying, and David Essex profited from singing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ten reasons newspapers still matter

1)They are democratic. Just about everyone has access to one. Ever see a homeless person reading the daily paper on a Kindle?
2)They make nice paper hats.
3)They can also serve as umbrellas in a brief downpour.
4)They can be used as toys for some.
5)They can be used as weapons against others (and pretty goods ones, too).
6)They can provide protection against a strong wind.
7)They serve as an alternative to lathering up with sun block, if held above the face.
8)In an emergency, they can be used as a mop or sponge.
9)They make for a nice flat blanket against a cold or damp seat.
10)The perennial fly swatter.
11)They make for a very nice, if a bit cumbersome, fan.
12)When jotting around the margins, they make for a nice notepad.
13)They still contain more information in one easy to transport case than just about any other device or implement currently known to humankind. And they're quite easily replacable, require no monthly service fee, and provide us with space and privacy in the event we wish to place one in front our nose while on the subway.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top Ten Cities for recent College Grads

The Bloomberg publication Business Week has released its list of the top ten cities for recent college graduates. Using a metric based on the employment rate, the cost of living, and other factors, BW found four Texas cities in the top ten, and several other mid-tier cities that might not be on your target list of places to live.

Some on the list, DC and Denver, for example, offer quite a bit, and are distinctly livable. But Columbus? And Pittsburgh! C'mon, who are they kidding. Been there, but wouldn't want to live there.

Took on Cleveland in another forum. Anyone want to come to the defense of the Lone Star State, or the rust belt? Doubtful.

Businessweek’s 2010 list of Best Cities for New College Grads:

Washington, D.C.
Fort Worth

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ranting and Raving

There's often plenty to rant about.

The price of gasoline. The heat. The presence of oil in precious Gulf waters. The humidity. Your kids. Your neighbors kids. Kids. Finding out that Al Gore may have had a sex life. And, of course, anything having to do with close relatives.

But here's a new one.

New to me, at least.

It seems that the British government has finally gotten around to announcing that former BP CEO Lord Browne is now being named the country's efficiency czar.

Of course not everyone who has in any way ever been affiliated with BP bears any responsibility for the disaster that's still ongoing down there.

But there are certainly some who do, in particular those who teeter atop corporations such as BP. And it is those folks who bear direct responsibility.

And if the reporting is correct, that like Lord Browne (don't you just love someone who can get away with an old world title in lieu of a first name), you can cut safety and maintenance at your company, all in the name of economy and profit, then you are among the privileged few who bear direct responsibility.

So it goes without saying, though it is still being said, that the new British government is beyond tone deaf for appointing Browne to a spot wherein all of Britain, and now, thanks to the speed of light, all of the world, will be reminded of his decisions while atop BP.

And if anyone thinks he will survive in this position, and that the British government won't have to apologize in short order for the ham-handed nature in which this appointment was both vetted and then named, then I have some sub-prime mortgages in Detroit I would like to sell you.

I tell you, you can't make this stuff up. Even if you wanted to.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

we could all benefit from an editor

it just goes without saying.

even as it goes again both the grain, and the trend.

look at what we twitter, post, share, even graffiti.

pretty soon we'll all return to grunting, caveman style, while trying to create an image on our IPad that conveys what we would otherwise say, if we had a command of language.

it will be strange, but funny.

sort of like the opening scene from Mel Brooks' History of the World.

and while I'm at it, what are people trying to say on facebook? and why are some saying too much, or too little, or just nothing? would we reveal or share if it weren't at the tip of our fingers? would we care? will we ever know?

discuss at your own peril.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

no, we're not all the same

It would be great if we lived without distinctions.

We could carry on and communicate with one another, listening and learning, without having to evaluate whether this person is signficant, and thus worthy of greater attention, or whether that person, well, you know, don't bother.

But it's not that simple.

The wealthy hold sway, carry themselves as if they're important, and if what they have to say, as well as how they say it, really matter.

Unfortunately, it does. As they hold the cards. Or at least printed the deck. Or owned the company that made the ink.

You see, it goes back. And it often goes deep.

But, still, why do they have to be so damn clueless. So unable to distinguish between the simple and the complex. The clear and the murky. The truth and the facts.

You would think that any person who has a basic command of English literacy would be able to understand a sentence, recognize a comment, and interpret meaning.

But to some, and often this applie to those, as we say, of privilege, it just doesn't matter. They choose to listen to what they want, answer the questions they select, if at all, and carry on as if the center of the universe is about them.

And, collectively, we let them.

But it would be great if those titles and zip codes and appurtenances could be stripped away, and we would have to answer ourselves, absent cover and foil.

Yes, that would be nice indeed.

And it would mean we would have to understand one another. Listening, that is. Listening.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Time to be solemn?

Memorial Day is our moment for solemnity.

Across America, we celebrate our lives, and in our own way, pause to reflect upon what others gave up in support of our way of life.

But that can be reflected in a myriad of ways.

From the humor of the Rhode Island taxi driver, who turns his tour in the 82 Airborne some 50 plus years ago into a series of running gags over the course of a drive to the airport.

To the merchants and marketers, who take yet another opportunity to ply us with a sense of want and desire for yet another item, another bauble, a discount on a purchase intentionally held off until just this sale.

To the Europeans living in the United States, not entirely familiar with all our habits and customs, but are quick to embrace an opportunity for a get-together, for a party.

And it's that confluence which makes for interesting moments. For example, this afternoon, at a party thrown by a friend from Belgium for friends, colleagues, and neighbors, there were guests from eastern and western Europe, central America, west Africa, and the mid-Atlantic.

Perhaps it's the uniqueness of a place like Washington where you can talk about the qualities of freshly made gelato with the Armenian man who proudly presented this treat to the partygoers. Or to hear from an African women of her concern for her daughter, about to attend an American college as a freshman. Then there's all the French people smoking, but there's no tie-in or analogy for that one.

In a way, the amalgam of people we can come across, all in one place, happens because of the sacrifice made by thousands over the years, continuing to allow our grand experiment in democracy to serve as a guide and a sense of hope for others across the world.

Happy Memorial Day. However you recognize it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

some weekend thoughts

From our friends at CBS News, one of the MSM baddies, but still among those paying the big bucks for surveys and polls.

On the 50th Anniversary, the golden anniversary, of the birth control pill, some very interesting findings on attitudes and perspectives on this life changing med.

Read down to note, at the end of this cheat sheet, what CBS found on the hypothetical question on whether men would take an equivalent pharmaceutical.


--52% of Americans say the birth control pill has been one of the most significant medical developments of the last 50 years. Both women and men think the birth control pill has been an important medical development.

--Four in five Americans think the birth control pill has had at least some effect on American society overall, including 41% who say it’s impacted society a great deal.

54% think the pill has had a great deal of impact on women’s lives in particular.

--Most Americans (56%) say women’s lives were changed for the better because of the birth control pill. Only a quarter think it made no difference, and even fewer say the pill made women’s lives worse. Among women, 54% say women’s lives improved as a result of the pill.

--57% say the pill made it easier for women to have jobs and careers outside the home. Older Americans are especially likely to say this.

Among working women, 55% say the birth control poll has made it easier for women to enter the workforce.

--Most (83%) think the birth control has affected Americans’ attitudes toward sex, including more than half who say it had a great deal of impact on attitudes toward sex.

--In 1966, six years after the pill was approved by the FDA, fewer than half of Americans - 43% - told a Gallup Poll that birth control pills could be used safely without danger to a person’s health. That number has risen to 64% today.

--A majority of women (54%) do not think most men would take birth control pills if they were available. In contrast, two-thirds of men think most men would take the pill if it were available.

Poll story on CBSNEWS.COM

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I'm not partial on this issue, but....

Ever come across a story that's just revolting.

Pedophile priests. Check.

The woman who sunk her two kids in a South Carolina lake some years ago to get with her boyfriend. Check.

Michael Jackson. Check.

Well, here's a twist on an old story. Bush meat. Never heard of it. Well, now you wish you really never heard of it.

Steer clear of the balls. At least those unusal ones for sale in parts of Indonesia. That's all I can say. Thankfully The Meatball Shop on the lower east side still has vegetarian offerings.

Two arrested two over monkey meatballs

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police have arrested a couple who made meatballs from the flesh of protected monkeys, an animal conservation group said on Wednesday.

The pair poached dozens of rare Javan langurs, also known as silver-leaf monkeys, from Baluran National Park in the east of Java island, according to a statement released by Indonesia-based animal protection group ProFauna.

"Police found 30 kilograms (65 pounds) meat estimated to come from 20 - 25 individuals, two rifles and a live langur," the statement said.

"The couple admitted that they had known what they did was against the law and they hunted the monkeys for their meat because beef and chicken were more expensive than the protected monkeys."

Meatball soup, known locally as bakso, is a popular dish in Indonesia.

The statement said police were now broadening their investigation to include checks on vendors suspected of selling the monkey meatballs, while ProFauna was in talks with the national park caretakers to prevent further poaching.

Indonesian law states that perpetrators of wildlife crimes face a maximum five year prison term and a fine of 5 million rupiah ($555), but the law is not always strictly enforced.

(Editing by David Fox)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Scamming with Spam

It's a shame that our friends in Cameroon are going to have to suffer for the mistakes of their Nigerian brethren, but that is what happens when trends go viral, even those which have been exposed, pilloried, and revealed.

But yet they continue.

Which begs the question, are they successful, or ar they being scammed by others?

If interested, feel free to conact dear Ms. Veronica Camara at I'm sure she would appreciate hearing from you. Sorry, no photos.

Dearest one,
Greetings !
I know this letter may come to you as a surprise considering the fact that we have not had formal acquitance before in terms of friendship or business partner but all the same, I would want you for God's sake to give this an immediate attention in view of the fact that the security of my live and possession is at stake. I want you to be my partner as I can agree for you to take possesion of these treasure under my name,
I am Miss.Veronica Jallo Camara,single, the daugther of a late Camara Santo Jallo,Managing Director,Jallo & Sons Mining & Gold Company, / Guinea Conakry, Who died recently due to political clashes. I and my mother left the country for Dakar,Senegal to avoid being killed as political instability is still in place due to military coup detat.
I am also to inform you that my late father had lodged the sum of (US$8. M and gold worth millions of Dollars in the bank.I am pleased to inform you that these money was realised from the gold and mining export and import from my late father's company.I shall be very greatful if you would kindly help me to relocate these funds to your position as well as my humble self to your country where I can begin a new life.
I will accept any condition you may come up with in this direction.You are also free to come down here as you will be very free to meet with me. Awaiting your reply very soon. Greeting and kiss from
Veronica Santo Camara

Monday, April 26, 2010


yeah, it's been some time. but don't worry. it's like riding a bike. not that i know anything about that, mind you. but i'll be back with some bon mot shortly. you expect as much, i'm sure. perhaps something travel related. would that work for you?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reflections from a mountain state

Go west, young man

Horace Greeley popularized this line, first documented a generation before Greeley made it his mantra, and helped to define America’s 19th century spirit and growth.

Sure, it can be interpreted to be a number of things, but for me, it distills down to enjoying the splendor and natural beauty of our vast mountain ranges, still somewhat clear skies and air, and of course crisp water and expansive space and scale.

Though I’ve only driven cross-country but once, I have been able to find myself out in the mountain west on a regular basis.

And right now, I’m in Salt Lake City, fretting over a spring snow, frustrated by my unerring ability to catch winter weather several times over, while not getting to enjoy the benefits that come from sudden snow and fresh powder.

But it provides time to reflect, and consider the openness that exists in these regions, the trust and faith that seems to endure, and the grandness that forever reminds me why people keep turning west for recreation and relaxation.

Salt Lake City itself is a quintessential western city. Set up on wide blocks, with 8 city blocks to the mile, it’s not designed as an urbanist mecca, with too great a distance to walk between places, and too much sprawl to encourage all but the hardiest bikers. (and those folks exist. Even amidst a strong snow last night, there were a pair of riders, with their bikes, in a local grocery store picking up items for dinner)

The city feels a bit dated, perhaps having as much to do with the traditionalism of the Mormon community as anything else. But the architecture adds to this as well. Sure, there are a handful of new and modern projects under construction right near South Temple, but most of the high rises scream 70’s and the ugly phase of modernism. Buried beneath, and documented nicely with placards and other memorials, are the buildings that helped launch this city in the 19th and early 20th century, from classically designed hotels, to social houses, to banks and trading institutions.

The city of course is home to the complex of buildings and facilities run by the LDS, and that still does seem, to a visitor, to be the predominant element here.

But there is more, for those who wish to press further, from the University of Utah up on the hill, the magnificent State Capitol building to the north, the city-county building in the city center, as well as some other complexes that have sprouted up to support and sustain professional sports and entertainment, facilities that had central roles during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and some public plazas that really do seem to have come out of the Disney school of architecture and urban planning. Oh, Michael Graves, what have you done to us.

But despite the tranquil appearance, this is still a city, with the problems and issues that come with urban life. While spending time yesterday in the Moshe Sofdie designed public library, I sensed a flash go off in front of me. It seemed odd to see flash photography in the library. Looking up I saw a cop standing near the photographer, and upon second glance I notice the photographer was also in a police uniform, with CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHER clearly marked across her back. So something was amiss in a place some once considered Eden, and judging by the number of marked and unmarked units outside the library, it was something significant.

And it’s a city with a remarkable view of the fantastic Wasatch range, a unique lake, and vistas that run for miles and miles.

Off to talk with students about journalism and media. Perhaps I’ll come up with a way to provide them with inspiration beyond that provided by nature. Naah, not gonna compete with that one!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Still travelling.......

The saga continues (isn’t it supposed to)

Connecting through Chicago O’Hare in the winter is always an iffy proposition. I have successfully avoided having to do so for many years.

That streak recently came to an end in January.

Last evening, thought it is technically spring, I was reminded that it’s not just snow or rain that can hinder winter travelers through the second city, but yet another meteorological phenomenon. One that the city works to live down, even as generations of tourists play it up.

The phenomenon: wind.

Yes, the windy city is in fact windy at times.

So windy in fact that a connecting flight through O’Hare from Colorado Springs was forced to fly a holding pattern for 55 minutes over some part of that part of the United States that certainly today was flyover country.

And that’s where the story begins.

Dutiful flight attendants on the incoming flight to O’Hare cheerfully told all of us on the RJ-70 where our connecting flights would be gated. That was nice. It was civil. And it was helpful.

But it wasn’t quite accurate, as our flight arrived 65 minutes late, putting a great many of these connecting flights into a category that could best be described as illusory. But in their best impression of Julie Haggerty, they carried forward, and smiled. No waving, just a lot of smiling, and joking. But no assistance with re-connections.

This being a regional jet, rollerboards are not allowed as carry on. So along with a contingent of frequent fliers, I exited the plane, only to wait on the entryway for my bag. And wait I did. For what seemed like an interminable amount of time. And after waiting a few extra minutes to deplane, coming after what appeared to be the longest taxiing trip on the tarmac, even coasting by my scheduled connection to Washington, this was all insufferable.

And I’ll avoid mentioning that it was freezing in Chicago, the gangway was packed with more middle aged white guys looking for bags than at spring training for the Cubs fans, and the wind was coursing through the metal canister in which we were waiting. Yeah, I’ll avoid that, and the heavy steel door that would slam shut like a prison gate each time an airport employee would access the area.

Once my bag made it’s appearance, it became a race to the inevitable, a rush for justice, or really just me trying to make a plane that was inexplicably sitting at a nearby gate 10 minutes after it’s scheduled departure.

Of course there were no gate attendants at the end of the jetway. That would be too much to ask for a flight arriving at O’Hare an hour late in the early evening.

And the departure board nearby was fuzzy, with a digital hit on some of the screens. Naturally, my screen was one of them. But I was able to make out a sign, not the ON TIME sign that was aside a number of scheduled departures. Alongside my flight 624 was a second time, one that I couldn’t completely make out, but one that suggested there was still a chance of this connection working, and thus my avoiding the plane change limbo that would follow.

So off I went. From the ‘E’ wing of O’Hare all the way around to ‘B’ wing, B10 actually, which was quite a distance. I didn’t set my stopwatch, and didn’t stop to catch any of the usually amusing anecdotal images that I find in our airports. And for once, for just this time, speed, consistency, a good set of polyurethane wheels, and a loud voice, all helped to turn an impending disaster into a moment of triumph.

The headline: Good guy wins! Connection Made! No sweat broken! Well, that may be tmi, but I can assure you, my seatmate was happy with that point.

So I made the plane, but only after seeing the gate attendant closing the door. Yelling out to him as I turned the corner, he hesitated, took my ticket, and let me finish my journey across our wide continent.

As for windy, this note might contain too much wind itself. But it’s a fitting coda to the affect that the invisible hand of nature can have on our traveling plans. Plan accordingly, and be prepared to jettison those plans if necessary.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Airport observations

People are larger in Chicago than in other cities.

Not necessarily in the city, but certainly in the airport. Not sure if they added girth to protect themselves as they hustle through terminals en route to another destination. Not sure if the center of the United States can bear more weight than the fragile coasts, east and west. Not sure if it’s March, and the masses need the mass to survive what have been described as a frigid winter.

Or is it just that we’ve grown as a people. Grown horizontally, that is. Yes, over the course of our American history, we have grown in size and weight. Both for men and for women. The average man weighs a bit more than in the time of Washington and Jefferson, and the average woman as well. We’re also a bit taller, 5’9” inches for men, and 5’3” inches for women, each about 2 ½ inches more than our colonial era ancestors.

And that’s good. It speaks to opportunities for healthier living, an easier life, and the wider availability of foods and medicines that both nurture and heal.

But there’s a flip side to our growth, and my friends in public health are both aware, and come across the side effects quite often.

We’ve gotten HUGE. I think this is my first airport trip since director Kevin Smith’s well publicized tiff with Southwest Airlines over his removal from a flight due to his size. And already I’ve seen a few folks who might wish to take Kevin on, in sumo.

What has happened to us? How did we allow this to happen? Is it ironic, or just smart politics, that the First Lady, herself a Chicago native, has recently called for a full frontal assault on childhood obesity. And will we do anything about this, both individually, and collectively?

At 2:45 this afternoon, several pubs at O’Hare are packed, empty glasses and beer bottles left on tables in front of patrons like pawn pieces from an abandoned chess game. The healthier food kiosks are not heavily trafficked. The mother sitting near me is feeding her five year old a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Even with the great distances one needs to travel to access connecting flights at O’Hare, it seems as though the desire for fitness and health succumbs to the desire to sate and numb.

And plopping down next to her, well, near her, really, is a seriously obese man who I hope doesn’t have a heart attack right here in the terminal. This guy has to be tipping the scales at 400, and more resembles an oompa loompa in chinos than anything else I can imagine.

What has become of us? And what will become of us if we continue on this path? It's as though consumerism, in the form of health and food consumption, has just run amuck.

But I’m not a businessperson, or a marketing maven. Just an observer. And if I could only see what was ahead of me, ahead of the large family shielding my view from the departure board, then I would know the likelihood of making my connection. The one to a room with no view. But that’s for another time, and another post.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

all is not forgotten

It might appear that it's been awhile. But it's not. That's just a state of mind. I'll be back. It's more like I've never left. There's time with new best friends from Germany, and travel, and writing, and coaching and prodding. And a little bit of living. And planning. And re-booking that which has been dropped, or canceled, or even neglected. But back I will be, even though I've never left.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympic Spirit

We're halfway through the Vancouver Games, and this is certainly one Olympics that has met the hype.

There have been stellar performances by many American athletes, great competition in several of the skills events, particularly short track speed skating. As well as some fantastic visuals from the mountains of jumping and ski-cross and all the boarding competitions.

Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out how Shaun White reached the heights he did, literally, or how Lindsay Vonn powered down the mountain with her injury, or how Bode Miller suppressed his own demons to become a great winner at these Games.

Other than NBC's boneheaded decision to relegate the USA/Canada hockey game to an off-brand and non-HD on my system MSNBC, it's all been good. Costas keeps it going. Michaels is palatable. And Mary Carillo really has some chops.

Hoping this week's coverage continues to be engaging. I know I'll be watching, and scoring the athletes from home.

But don't expect ESPN to buy into any of this. Try and find the Olympics on the main page. I dare you. To them, it's an afterthought. Which tells you a lot about how the worldwide leader treats events to which they don't have the rights. Lovely. And all business. Keep that in mind next time someone tries to hype you on the X-Games, bro.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winter Snow

It's winter time.

It's been snowing.

It continues to be a news story, here in DC, as well as nationally, and internationally.

But not necessarily for the right reasons.

We need to get over it, and back to whatever it was we were doing before the storm came and sucked the thoughts from our heads.

For now, I'll settle for some Olympic diversions.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sports, not the one you're thinking

Ovie and Crosby

We’ve heard a lot about this matchup, and we’ll continue to hear a lot about it in the years to come.

It’s like DiMaggio and Williams, Mantle and Mays, Montana and Marino, Wilt and Kareem.

Star players, opposing each other in their prime. Each the star of their team, if not their league. Alex Ovechkin, perhaps the most complete hockey player in generations. Sidney Crosby, a born star, with phenomenal reflexes, and a very high hockey IQ.

Ovechkin leads the MVP count, Crosby has his name on the Stanley Cup.

Ovie is the international, a physical player, not shy about playing two ways, mixing it up, and doing what is necessary to inspire and motivate a team.

Crosby is like glue around the puck, with an instinct for where he teammates are, where the opposition is, and where the goaltender will be when he shoots.

And did I mention they are each the captains of their teams, at 23 and 22, respectively.

Man, this is gonna continue to be good.

This afternoon Crosby got off to a great start in the Penguins matchup in Washington against the Capitals. Two strong goals in the first period, some solid playmaking, and all around outhustling of the Capitals made it seem like the Capitals 13 game winning streak was about to fall.

The second Crosby goal seemed to awaken the Capitals from their stupor, but it wasn’t until early in the second period when Ovechkin scored on a beautiful play, taking a head man pass and just steamrolling through a defensemen before blasting the puck through the goalie’s legs, and into the NBC netcam, for his league leading 40th goal of the season, that the Capitals really came alive.

Even though they ended up down 4-1 in the second period, the Capitals did not give up, and eventually Ovechkin channeled his anger and frustration, scoring twice more on goals that relied more on his strength than his formidable skills, and the game went into overtime.

This inspired the Capitals as a team, and with less than two minutes in OT, Ovie blased a snapshot toward the goal. It was stopped by the Pittsburgh netminder Fluery, but not cleared, and with some effort, Caps winger Mike Knuble stuffed it home to give the Caps their 14th consecutive victory, and a resounding victory on national television over their archrivals the Penguins.

Ovechkin was critical to the Capitals victory, as critical as he has been in any victory. Besides his hat trick, and his position at the point on power plays, and his solid checking and following through, he sat penalties for the team, inspired by his leadership, intimidated Penguin players all over the ice, keeping some away from the corners at times, and provided ample ammunition to the home town crowd to cheer lustfully for Ovie and boo mercilessly every time Crosby touched the puck.

But it’s not as though Crosby was outplayed or outclassed. He’s a force, and the Capitals recognized that. He manages to get open with a deceptive quickness, and threads cross ice passes as well as anyone in the league. His on ice vision approaches that of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, yet his behavior over time, and unwillingness to be more physical, daunts his image, and comes back to taunt him through the chants of opposing fans, particularly in arenas like Washington’s Verizon Center.

As for the rivalry, let it go, keep it on, hype it all you want. This is one of those rare ones that matches up to the billing. Let’s hope we can get a January 1 game outside next year year in DC between these teams. Now that would help enhance the rivalry.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

for once, a real article......this one on the Finnish Embassy in Washington going really green

Since it opened in 1994, the Finnish Embassy in Washington has received accolades from architects and diplomats alike. The open, inviting, and welcoming building high atop Embassy Row has been admired by visitors and gawkers alike. The Embassy building delicately balances the important role that diplomacy plays in society while serving as a standard for design with its’ perch atop Embassy Row and historic Rock Creek Park.

Designed by Finnish architects Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen, the building goes beyond the modern glass box, creating an exterior lattice along the building’s Massachusetts Avenue face, and featuring a series of walkways both behind and below the building. There is a grand open space, the Finlandia Room, just beneath the main entryway, offering space for lavish receptions, and grand views of the edge of the Park. Surprisingly large, and roomy, the building is home by day to 40 Finnish diplomats, ranging from Ambassador Pekka Lintu, on through the military attaché, the press and communications team, and the policy analysts.

Invitation to the building is a welcome ticket in Washington. Some enjoy the frequent festivities and events which celebrate Finland and Finnish-U.S. relations. Others come to stake their membership in the super-secret Diplomatic Sauna Society of D.C. But now, those who visit the Embassy might not even recognize the changes that have been made over the past year, changes that have further distinguished the building from the dozens of other embassies and missions that dot the landscape of Washington’s ‘diplomatic row.’

In January, the United States Green Building Council conveyed LEED Gold certification upon the Finnish Embassy. This is the first embassy building in Washington to receive LEED certification, a particular point of pride for Ambassador Lintu, who sees this as just a first step. “We hope that our adaptation of green principles and our commitment to the well-being of people and the environment will inspire other foreign missions to view their opportunities in this field.”

Ambassador Lintu has made green living one of the central elements of his tenure in Washington, and felt a lasting impression could be made by having his office work towards and then seek LEED standing. Undoubtedly, he is also pleased that the Embassy is expected to completely recoup the costs for the retrofit in two years.

Kari Mokko, the spokesman for the Embassy, sums up the project as ‘pure Finland.’ He says that Finns take to what he describes as cool architecture, and a clean environment. “As your guests here, (there is) no reason to burden your environment more than absolutely needed.”

The process of working toward LEED certification began back in 2007, when the embassy first applied for EPA Energy Star standing. Among the first steps was an energy consumption assessment in order to obtain a better sense of when the building was utilized and occupied, and to more efficiently expend energy over the course of each day. At the time, energy efficient lighting was installed, and natural light was further encouraged throughout the building. Over time, the Embassy has cut electric consumption by 50%, gas consumption by 65%, and compared to early last decade, decreased annual energy bills by almost $150,000.

Last year, the consulting firm CQI Associates was hired to help shepard the Embassy through the LEED process. As LEED rates buildings for energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and the way a tenant stewards resources and is sensitive to the environment, there was much to do. But at the same time, according to Dick Anderson with CQI, Embassy staff were directly engaged in the project. “They had an extremely committed team. The Ambassador was motivated, and the staff was involved. It’s also how they lived and they carried it over with this project. If they saw an article on wind power, they would show it to us and ask what could be done.”

Toward the LEED goal, the Embassy went further than initially planned. Light switches and lighting were replaced with occupancy sensors, lower flush plumbing was installed, recycling programs were more faithfully followed, and environmental factors became central considerations in each materials purchase. Even cleaning supplies were replaced with environmentally sound products, and low-impact chemicals were used for landscaping and gardening. Embassy spokesman Mokko even notes that the building’s garage space was assessed, and the use of hybrid vehicles or zero carbon transportation devices, like bicycles, was significantly encouraged.

Anderson was impressed that over half of the staff either walk or bike to the Embassy, and there is a bike repair space set up in the parking garage, as well as extra bikes should a staff person want to head out for a lunch time ride.

While the Finns working at the Embassy do not intend to draw attention to themselves and their green office, there is little doubt that the combination of progressive architecture, an attractive location, and now first of its kind LEED certification, will challenge the longstanding quiet and reserve that helps define the Finnish character.

Monday, February 1, 2010

could this be true?

I have received several messages from this person, so it must be true, right? Senator Momoh. Hmmm...I wonder if he is from the Galactic Senate, or just another planetary system?


We have reasons to believe that someone is trying to impersonate you claiming your 10.5m contract payment. Respond to this email to confirm that you did not authorize Caroline Mann of Sarasota FL to claim your money, after your response, your funds will be delivered to you in an ATM card.

Contact us through this email: or call me on my direct line on: +234-70-40993160

Nb: that the displayed email addresses are the people this said has scammed already, so you have to act fast.

Thank you

Senator John Momoh

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Optional Clothing

People dress up. Pretty simple statement, but it’s true. People dress up for work, even in 2010. Kids dress up for school, particularly the first day each fall. And adults dress up for wherever they’re headed, especially for parties, but even for the gym, the movies, a day of errands, whathaveyou.

I was brought back to this seemingly obvious point today at a high school wrestling match, of all places.

So stay with me for a minute as we peruse my memory of clothing and appearances from a moment that has stuck with me for a long time.

I was fortunate enough to attend the U.S. Tennis Open back in 1980, when Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe had one of their famous finals. I was struck by the quality of tennis displayed, but the lingering memory has less to do with those stars, and their play in the old Louis Armstrong stadium, than what people wore and how they looked that day.

By then I had been to plenty of sporting event. I had been to each of the four major team sports in New York, plenty of times to see the Yankees and Mets, a few times to see hockey with the Rangers and even the Islanders, once to a Knick game, and once to a football game with the Jets. Hell, I had even been to a Cosmos soccer game at the old Yankee stadium.

And while people would wear team and sports apparel at each of these places, hockey jerseys, or t-shirts with their favorite player, they wouldn’t come dressed as if they were ready to compete.

That’s what struck me about the U.S. Open. The fans showed up in their tennis best, perhaps hoping that Borg would pull up with an injury, and tap the overweight tax lawyer in the third row to take off his Ellesse sweats, pull back on his Fred Perry shirt, and hit the court on behalf of team Borg.

It doesn’t work that way. The fans stay on one side of the arena, and the athletes get to compete on that other side. Clothing and appearances notwithstanding. At a baseball game you know the difference. The guy with the Yankee 27 World Championships sweatshirt is not gonna want to be in the game. So why does the professional out on a Thursday afternoon at the National Tennis Center feel compelled to show off his designer tennis duds?

Just doesn’t make sense. It’s one thing to wear team colors, or show your support by purchasing an overpriced authentic item, or even a reasonably priced knock-off. It’s quite another to come fully dressed to play, from head to toe, hoping security will think you’re a top ranked tennis stud. I’ve never gone to a hockey game with my skates, let alone pads or a stick. So why go to the Open in full regalia?
Which, believe it or not, brings me to today. This afternoon was spent on the bleachers of a suburban Washington high school watching teenage boys grasp at each other in a sport many call wrestling. To me it just appears to be an attempt at bad teen sex with too many poorly colored tights. Whatever it is to you, it surprised me to see many parents from another school at the match wearing t-shirts and sweatshirts and other outer garments with the name of their child’s high school.

To me it’s nice to support your kids, to offer them suggestions and the benefits you can provide from your years of living on this earth. But what the hell does it mean to wear a shirt, clearly designed for an adult, given the lettering and the style, with a high school name and logo? Were these people regressing? Were they desperate to show some love? Were they searching? Did they lose a bet? Were they playing Candid Camera, or some variation?

Sure, there are some things I just don’t get. Actually, there are many things I just don’t get. If you know me, and I’m going beyond my stellar Facebook list of dear friends here, I’m sure you’ve already thought of a handful of things.

Regardless, it’s just plain odd to see a middle aged woman squeezed into a designer shirt festooned with a high school name, in a cursive writing akin to the old ‘Juicy’ logo of the last decade. And fathers wearing shirts from matches their kids participated in. Perhaps it’s the logical progression from those stickers you see on the back windows of SUVs documenting the size of the family, down to the furry pets. Maybe it’s a self identification thing, and not a clothing thing.

Either way, whether you’re wearing tennis whites at the Open, or high school shirts at your kid’s sporting event, it suggests something else going on in that brain, and for the life of me, I can’t quite figure what it is. And I’m not sure I even want to know.

Let’s see if I’m inspired to talk about face painting and tattoos and sporting events. Now that could be interesting.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm Back

Well, here we are again. Almost a month has passed since the last posting, light years in the realm of the internets. But I'm here. It's not as though I left, or actually went anywhere. It was more an inertia, a disinclination to blog, or even microblog. So while I wasn't here, I wasn't there, either. You follow.

It's interesting to see what you can do when you don't blog.

You can read books. Plural. Yes, books.

You can fix things. Well, they have to be broken in the first place, but I'm sure there's something around that's broken and in need of a fix.

You can work harder at things than you might have before.

You can multi-task a little more smoothly, a requirement for today's independent professional.

And you can plan, or even think, and begin to see where it's all going. Hopefully it's all going forward, though you never can know for sure.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Audio Voyeurism

Initial thoughts for a new year following an old habit.
There needs to be a better term for this, for overhearing the conversations of others. Sometimes they are intended to be heard. Other times, they are not. And they span the range of talk.
They include the argument b/t long married couples in line at an airport security check.
They are what you hear passing by people on escalators headed in different directions.
They involve families debating life options while waiting to board a flight.
Or individuals talking with friends on a subway, questioning choices and decisions, some made long ago, even evaluating the alternatives.
Yes, you can hear them talk about what it was like before they were married. Before children. Before the baggage, or the layers, or however they refer to them.
But how is it that we hear these conversations?
Are our eared perked by certain words, by the appearance of certain individuals, by the look and image presented by some people, by boredom, by intrigue, by the surreptitious nature of the information acquired?
What makes these overheard conversations so interesting?
And, here’s the money question. Is it just me, or are they interesting to others?
Years ago a cartoonist made them into a series that ran in New York’s Village Voice. Mark Alan Stamaty’s stuff was just great, and was advertised as ‘guaranteed overheard’ so that the equivalent of this good housekeeping seal conveyed greater legitimacy than just ‘overheard.’ And it made a difference, as unlike the snippets of conversation we occasionally pick up, he documented complete dialogue, complete with arcs, or punch lines. And they were funny, enhanced by Stamaty’s creative mind, and cartoon images, reinforcing the odd reference made by one of the featured individuals.
So I visualize cartoon balloons above people’s head when I hear these conversations, trip over their words, or quietly slide in to a moment of their lives, their public displays of private communication. And it provides grounding, after all.
So unlike overseas travel, where conversations are little more than white noise, if I hear you on a plane, on the subway, or on the street, I’ll be listening.
Just one request. Make it interesting.