Friday, July 30, 2004

It's official: America can do better. Not only that, but Help is on the way. Last night John Kerry gave his acceptance speech and did his best not to look like Al Gore. We were pleased with the results of the big show, and hope he's able to keep it up for the next three months plus.

The next major test will be the head-to-head debates. There's no question that Kerry can come across as smarter than Bush; the problem is can he do that without appearing pompous?

The charming part of W is actually quite similar to the charming part of Tubby Clinton. They each come across as favorite uncle - you may not always agree with them, you may often be embarrassed by them, but they're your kin just the same. Bottom line: W's a dolt, but if you can get past the evil aspect of it, it might be fun to go down to Crawford for a bar-b-que and have a few beers with the prez.

Kerry, however, comes across as a professor. A favorite professor, mind you, but still, not quite family. You might have felt honored to have a beer with your favorite professor a few times back in college, but you then had to follow that up with a few more beers with your real peers.

So, Kerry's challenge, as I see it, is to continue to take the high road, not shy away from being the smarter of the two major candidates, but dig a little bit deeper and expose the part of his personality that we want to invite over on Sunday afternoon to watch the football game. The pompous professor has to give way just a little bit to Uncle John.

(One note back to where I posted that I've spent 40% of W's term without regular, full-time employment: My brother's comment was, "That's almost as much time as W's spent on vacation.")

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

What's more tiring than going on your vacation? Going on somebody else's vacation! We've been hosting my parents, who are supposed to be babysitting my nephews, but it's basically turned me into the driver for a Wild Bay Area Adventure. It's fun having family here, mind you; but it's also damned time consuming and tiring.

During all this I managed to have my 43rd birthday. Wheee. I wasn't so much into having a birthday this year, and I suspect it's because, once again, I'm not feeling terribly financially secure. I've put out this personal statistic before but it bears repeating; I've now spent 40% of the Bush II administration without regular, full-time employment. Let's review the two lay-offs:
  • Handsnet: went out of business as a result of fallout from the dot-com bust.
  • CompassPoint: office downsized, several positions cut (including mine) and remain un-filled.
As I've also said, even with those two lay-offs in less than four years, I've managed to make ends meet. That's one of the benefits of being a 40-ish white guy with a Master's degree; if you call yourself a consultant people will believe you and you can put together enough little projects that you can avoid un-employment.

So what's been my largest consulting project so far? Managing the dissolution and bankruptcy proceedings of ARIS. In fact, I'm due in court in about three hours to finalize the liquidation of one of our major assets.

So, my personal work experience of the W years has been Bankruptcy, Downsizing, Bankruptcy. That's just my work experience, I'm not even getting into domestic terrorism and foreign wars. No wonder I'm depressed about all this. Happy freaking birthday to me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

While I was away, our Governator, Ahhnold Schwarzenegger, referred to the Democratic legislators as a bunch of "girly men" for their inability to pass the budget on time. Much has already been said about whether or not this was a homophobic insult or just a joke (frankly, it was a joke that relied on a homophobic insult to get the laugh). I want to just note the absurdity of the comment.

You've heard of art imitating life (or is it life imitating art?), but this goes a little further. This is politics imitating satire imitating "art" imitating life. Arnold never actually used the "girly man" term in his movies. It came from a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Hans and Franz, a couple of Schwarzenegger devotees, attempt to pump you up and cure your "girly man" problems.

You would think that, as Governor, Arnold would want to take himself a little more seriously than that. What he's done here is not simply reference a catch phrase from a popular movie (like Reagan's "Make my day" rhetoric); he's referenced a catch phrase from a comedy sketch
pointing out how ridiculous Arnold himself was/is.

The lines between life, entertainment, satire, and politics have all melted together. Everything is entertainment - including the state budget battle - and everything is satire. The politicians have long ceased being statesmen and now publicly admit to being nothing more than pale parodies of themselves.

Monday, July 19, 2004

We're back from vacation - I know, you missed me. We had a full week in New York City (stayed at Swissotel The Drake, Park & 56th). Here were a few of the highlights:
  • The Shows!
    • A taping of The Late Show w/ David Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theatre (Monday's show, with Kristen Davis and Ali G, plus Frozen Yogurt Night for the audience).
    • The Lion King at the New Amsterdam Theatre
    • Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) at Carolines Comedy Club
  • The Food!
    • Vincent's on Mott, Little Italy - traditional (and reasonably priced) Italian - I had the Fried Calamari Parmesan with Linguini in Marinara. Incredible.
    • Katz's Deli, Lower East Side - The Pastrami! The Pastrami! It's sliced thick, but just melts on your tongue.
    • Bar Pitti, Greenwich Village - upscale Italian, with class and care. Not another tourist rip-off, but a true gourmet experience.
    • Hop Kee, Chinatown - get the roast pork lo mien and the roast duck won ton soup
    • Gray's Papaya, the Village (and elsewhere) - 2 hot dogs & a "healthful" juice drink for $2.75
    • Drinks at the Carnegie Club w/ a smooth jazz trio playing (drinking Manhattans, of course)
    • The best, Sourest pickle ever from a street vendor's barrel in the Lower East Side
    • Several fancier (and pricier) dinners and lunches around Midtown, the Theatre District, and the Upper East Side, including the Oyster Bar at the Plaza
  • The Tours!
    • Going to the top of the Empire State Building
    • The Lower East Side Tenement Museum - You must visit 97 Orchard Street when you are in New York
    • The Circle Line "Liberty Cruise" up and down the Hudson and around Liberty & Ellis islands
  • The City!
    • Central Park, especially Strawberry Fields & the Secret Garden
    • Walking endlessly up and down and through Broadway and Midtown, etc.
    • Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, from Manhattan to Brooklyn
    • Riding the subway everywhere ($21 for a one-week pass is the best transportation and touring value for visitors to the City)
    • The architecture; from the Midtown skyscrapers to the Lower East Side tenements
    • Waking up in a city that never sleeps
If you're planning on going to New York, and somebody recommends you try "Ray's Pizza", be sure to get more details than that, for instance, is Ray famous, original, neither, or both?

There are a total of at least 51 "Ray's Pizza" of some sort listed in the Manhattan phone book, including: Ray's Original (1), Ray's Pizza (19), Ray's Pizza Restaurant (2), Ray's Pizza and Bagel Cafe (1), Famous Original Ray's Pizza (14), Famous Original Ray's Pizza of 6th Avenue (1), Famous Ray's Pizza of Greenwich Village (1), and Original Ray's Pizza (12). There's also one "Original Famous Pizza", but they don't have a Ray.

We were aware of this problem thanks to a Seinfeld episode (that show has the answer to everything) in which Kramer is lost downtown and calls Jerry to pick him up. Jerry asks where he is. Kramer replies "By Ray's Pizza." Jerry asks, "Famous Ray's or Original Ray's?" "I don't know, Jerry," Kramer cries, "It's just Ray's!"

We walked into a few of the Ray's to check out their slices and figure out which one is supposed to be the good one. If they didn't look perfect, we walked on, sliceless. We finally ate at the Famous Original Ray's Pizza on Houston Street. It was very good, very authentic, New York pizza, but I'll stick with the original Regina's Pizzeria in Boston's North End (that's the original one, you know, not their suburban clones).

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

So much is happening, and so little of it of any interest. Okay, I'm being overly un-impressed by the week's big news. I'm actually pleased with John Kerry's choice of John Edwards as his running mate, but it's neither the big surprise or earth-shaking announcement that it has been made out to be.

The biggest surprise is that it actually was [somewhat of] a surprise. I think that's the actual news story here. Hundreds of people (at least) had to be in on the planning of the announcement, from making the proper travel arrangements to printing up Kerry-Edwards posters, etc., and the non-disclosure agreements kept them all in check until only about 90 minutes before the official announcement.

I think we're supposed to see that as an example of Kerry's superb leadership ability. Of course, if we're using being able to keep a secret as our criteria for choosing whom to vote for in November, then Bush will be re-elected in a landslide. Think of the secrets he's kept for the last four years: the location of the WMDs, the link between Osama and Saddam, the authors of his energy policy, and the name of the doctor who replaced Dick Cheney with a cyborg following his fatal heart attack.

But back to Edwards... I for one appreciate his "two Americas" theme from his campaign, and am pleased that it will carry over into the Kerry campaign. The Republicans, of course, are saying that this is class warfare and that the Democrats are all pessimistic while they are optimistic.

Pessimistic or optimistic, it's all just a different way of looking at the same situation: The Republicans see the nation as half employed, while the Democrats see the nation as half un-employed. They're both right; it's just semantics and a little thing called "honesty."

Personally, I've been without regular, full-time employment for 17 months (in two periods, first for eight months, and currently for nine more) since Bush took office. That's about 40% of his term. If that makes me more susceptible to believing the candidate who takes the pessimistic point-of-view, so be it.

I should add here: I'm doing alright. I've got a few clients and am doing some consulting and grant writing work on my own, but it's not the same as regular, full-time employment, and the decision to go into business for myself was not done on my choice of timing. I'm able to do this and survive because I'm a 43 white male with a Master's degree and about 15+ years in the same industry.

I recognize that I'm coming from a position of privilege and experience to begin with. So, if I'm having trouble keeping a steady job in this economy (and both lost jobs were economic cuts, not personal firings), what chance does somebody who's not as lucky as I am have?

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Here's a fun little item: Peter Coors (yes, THAT Coors), running as a Republican for U.S. Senate, has come out in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18. The immediate and opposite reaction came from all corners, including his own company.

From the Coors Brewing web site: "Peter Coors’ positions on issues as a candidate for the U.S. Senate do not necessarily reflect the positions of Coors Brewing Company. Regarding any possible lowering of the drinking age, Coors Brewing Company does not support lowering the drinking age... The company has, and will continue to, actively support legislation to reduce youth access to alcohol... and sanctions against adults who provide alcohol to children..."

The unfortunate part is, I actually agree with some of Peter Coors' statement. The national drinking age of 21 came about during Reagan's years, pointing out the hypocrisy of his "New Federalism." See, with the end of prohibition, in Ronnie's youth, the power to regulate alcohol was granted to the states. The Feds would have no ability to say who could or couldn't drink.

So, Reagan, while professing to "give power back to the states," actually blackmailed them into raising the drinking age from 18 to 21. He did this not by passing a law saying, "the national drinking age shall be 21." No, as we just covered, that's not within the Federal Government's rights to do. He did it by threatening to withhold federal highway money to any state that didn't raise the minimum drinking age.

Now, there may be legitimate reasons for the drinking age to be 21. And there may be legitimate reasons for it to be 18. Or any other age, for that matter. The problem is, we never got to have that debate. While each state should have been able to decide for itself the answer to that question, we were forced to accept one man's answer through the power of the budgeting pen. That's basically a form of extortion, and should be frowned upon in a democracy.

I don't know if Peter Coors will make a good Senator from Colorado or not - that's up to the folks that live there, not me - but he should be allowed to have his say. And it might be a good idea to listen to the debate.

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