Friday, November 20, 2009

One Man's Trash...

I went upstairs this morning with a heavy duty trash bag and opened up my standing dresser to find some rummage to give to the Vietnam Veterans of America.  Groups like the V.V.A. and Purple Heart call us at least once a week in search of our old clothes, books, shes and appliances, and more often than not, we manage to find some stuff for them. 

What's amazing to me is that we never seem to run out of stuff we really no longer want.  My dresser was literally bursting with clothes- it had been a while since I had cleaned it out.  By the time I was done, I had literally stuffed half of the dresser's contents into the bag to be given away. 

I don't know why I was holding onto to probably a dozen sweaters that hadn't been worn in five years or more.  I gave away a couple of perfectly good pair of sweat pants.  There was nothing wrong with them, except for the fact that I haven't worn them in years.  You know the routine... You get a couple of new pair for Christmas, and the old ones suddenly get shoved to the back.

My weight has been known to rise and fall over the years.  That, no doubt explains why I have at least a half-dozen pair of khaki shorts in assorted sizes... Or at least I did.  If I ever get that small again, I'll reward myself with a new pair. 

After I finished with the dresser, I went into my closet and examined the bar that is drooping with shirts and pants.  I suddenly found my enthusiasm waning at the thought of wading through that morass, and immediately decided that chore could wait until the next time - which should be any day now. 

Do you ever wonder whatever happens to all that stuff you give away?  Some of it goes to rummage stores, but much of it - especially the clothing - gets sold in bulk by the pound to be recycled into rags and for other industrial uses.  Ten years ago as a news reporter, I visited Rocky Mount, North Carolina to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, which devastated that town.  As people across the country responded to the disaster, the town was INUNDATED with old clothing. Tractor trailers full of it.  Perhaps five percent of it was used by the townspeople, with the rest piled ceiling-high in a warehouse.  It really became more of a liability than a help. So the next time you want to respond to a disaster, keep that in mind and write a check! 

As for your rummage, save that for the folks at Goodwill and Purple Heart.  I am always more than happy to take a tax write-off for my junk, but I'm even happier to have more room in my dresser and closet! 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hold The Line, Montgomery County!

I have spent quite a few column inches in this blog talking about Montgomery County, which I have called home, more because of inertia than anything else, for virtually my entire life.  The county government has a well-deserved reputation for taxing its residents and spending money like it's water, and its managers are now finding, in this miserable economy, that it's damn tough to turn off that tap. 

The county is now facing a 400 million dollar deficit for next year, and it's pretty much run out of options for finding that kind of cash.  Eighty percent of the county's budget goes to salaries for county employees, including cops, firefighters and teachers, and the county is going to have to ask all of those workers to forgo pay raises for a second year in a row. 

These kinds of pay freezes have become commonplace in other jurisdictions, as well as in the private sector, but it's almost unheard of in Montgomery, where employee unions have ruled the roost for too many decades.  As I've written before, this is the kind of power that can develop when there is no level of bipartisanship within the ranks of elected officials.  Montgomery County does not have a single Republican in power at the local or state level, and now we are paying the price for the myopia of our voters.  I'm not arguing that the GOP has better ideas, just that diversity and moderation is underserved here. 

The Washington Post has an op/ed piece today that makes an excellent argument to County Executive Isiah Leggett and School superintendent Jerry Weast to hold the line on pay hikes and cost-of-living increases, but it will be a mighty struggle for them to hold off the unions that have run roughshod over taxpayers for too many years. 

I say all of this despite the fact that my wife is a county schoolteacher.  We certainly could use the money that a pay raise or a COLA would bring in.  But we need fairness more than we need money.  As the Post points out, others are learning to make do with less.  Montgomery County workers need to join us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Whole New Meaning To "This Bud's For You!"

I just want to give a quick shout out of congratulations to Bud Adams, the owner of the Tennessee Titans, who has been fined 250,000 dollars by the No Fun League after extending his middle finger not once, but several times, towards the Buffalo Bills, who were beaten by the Titans in an AFL-heritage grudge match this past weekend.  Here's Adams in action - but I must warn you...  his fingers are showing! 

I'm not going to bother commenting on the fine handed down by the NFL.  They don't want their owners tarnishing the league.  OK, whatever.  However, Adams' gesture is no different from any gestures I've been giving to the television nearly every week of every football season since I was 10 years old.  Sometimes, the opposing team is the recipient of my wrath... sometimes the referees... and sometimes, even the Redskins. 

I personally do not find the finger to be all that offensive.  Actually, I think its a quite effective tool at getting a message across!  And if an 86-year-old man like Bud Adams wants to flip a few birds, by golly, I think he's earned that right!  So Bud...  These are for you!

Remember - You Get What You Pay For!

I am not, by nature, a pessimistic person.  In fact, I tend to be quite adroit at compartmentalizing the bad things in my life and leaving them in a dark hole to be ignored for as long as possible, so I can focus on lighter fare, such as vacation planning or watching reality TV.   When I'm busy working at one of my freelance news jobs, it's easier to ignore the fact that I have no long term career prospects. But when I'm not working, it's easier to dwell on the fact that news reports point to a rather dismal future, at least in the short term. 

Two articles of note in today's news are conspiring to open up my "bad things" compartment.  First, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is giving a pretty glum assessment of where the nation's employment picture is heading.  Bernanke says "the best thing we can say about the labor market right now is that it may be getting worse more slowly."

And from that broad assessment, we go to another article that points specifically to my profession, journalism.  A new study finds that fewer than half of Americans say they would be willing to pay for news online, and that those who would pay - would only cough up three dollars a month for it.

In essence, Americans believe they have a God-given right to free access to news - and really, who can blame them?  The cost of news coverage has been borne by advertisers for hundreds of years, and consumers have never had to worry about that burden.

But because of the internet, ad dollars have been splintered into tiny pieces, and the news business model is irrevocably broken.  The degradation of the news business is well underway.  We've all heard about the sorry state of newspapers.  Just this past week, the Washington Times began to brace for a new round of cuts, and the Washington Blade - DC's voice in the gay community - shut its doors after 40 years in business.  

And then there's broadcast news.  Many -  if not most - local TV news operations have made significant cutbacks in recent years.  Some stations have discontinued weekend newscasts altogether.  More radio stations are dumping their news operations every day, and many of the newsrooms still operating are doing so with much fewer resources. 

With less competition, those news operations that are still in business are suffering from a lack of competition, leading to a new level of mediocrity in reporting that is being accepted as an industry standard.

And this is not just happening at a local level.  Network broadcast operations are making severe cuts as well, finding ways to sound and look healthy in hopes that the consumer won't take notice.

The sad thing is that most consumers WON'T notice - at least for awhile.  News on the internet seems to be thriving.  The problem is that most of that internet news is taken from the very same traditional media newsrooms that are in danger of collapsing. 

You don't want to pay for your news?  Just remember this truism, because eventually it will play out.  You get what you pay for.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ever Wonder How Some Businesses Stay In Business?

NOTE:  Let me say upfront that I hit a small speed bump in my quest to keep up almost daily with my blog.  It's just that I've actually been working this week - and unbelievably, that has a way of interfering with my blogging!  I might have to rethink this business of actually being employed!  Anyway - I'm back today, and hope to be back to cranking stuff out regularly by next week.  - ed.

You might recall that last week, I posted about my recent efforts to get quotes from contractors to replace my deck railing, which desperately needs replacing.  I did end up receiving four quotes... Three of them in the 2,000 dollar range, and one that came in at $6,700! 

I could not then, nor can I now understand why one bid was more than three times the estimate of the others, but I chose one of the other contractors, and have since scheduled the work.   I thought nothing else about it, until I received this e-mail today. 


Just checking in with you again to see if you made any final decisions on your deck repair. Please let me know if you want us to keep your file open still.


B__ D_____

(Name blocked to protect the stupid)

Mr. 6,700 dollars wrote to see if I had made up my mind on a contractor.  I decided to reply, and to let him know where his bid stood.

B__ - I have chosen a contractor from among four bids, but thanks for your interest. I should mention - in hopes this will help you - that your bid for the deck was more than three times the price of the other three bids.

Thanks again for the estimate.

Well, I expected to hear back from the guy - perhaps with an explanation for why his bid was so high.  But I don't think he closely reaid his email... Here's his reply:

Thanks for getting back with me. Let me know if I can be of service in the future.

You know what?  I don't think this guy has much of a future in home construction.  Maybe he can find work as a purchasing officer at the Pentagon!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Congratulations And Thank You, Ed Walker!

One of my true career Obi-Wans was honored over the weekend.  DC radio legend Ed Walker, who spent decades sharing the microphone with Willard Scott as one of the "Joy Boys", was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.   

Ed and Willard were about as close as you could get to being "bad boys' on the radio back in the 1960's, which is to say NOT very naughty, but still very funny.  As a boy, I knew them more through Willard's exposure on television more than I ever really did from their radio program, which was on the air during the afternoon and evenings.  You can see and hear the Joy Boys, and learn much more about their careers here

I really came to appreciate Ed once I arrived at WMAL, where he hosted a Sunday morning Big Band program, "Play It Again, Ed".  I was fortunate to be Eddie's producer for two years - it gave me a chance to sit and watch a master at work, and to absorb some of his humor and professionalism. 

Most people familiar with Ed Walker know he has been blind since birth, but I don't think anyone realizes how little that matters to Ed.  When we worked together, Ed ran his own audio board, played his own commercials, and even cued his own records. In fact, he ran a tighter ship than most people who have eyesight.  It was a wonder to watch him work, and it provided me with a valuable lesson - that the biggest handicaps people face are the ones we don't allow ourselves to overcome. 

Working with a blind person was also a lesson in how the rest of us take things for granted.  Eddie has a vast record library in his basement, and when I used to go to his house in Bethesda to help him prepare for a show or for a DJ gig, I would often help him gather his stuff.  Ed would open the door and invite me in, and inevitably,  I'd have to ask him to find a light switch, because it was always pitch black in there... Eddie had no need for lights! 

One of my jobs was to drive Ed to public appearances, and more than once, I would miss an exit on the Beltway because he and I would be in the middle of a conversation, and he would "forget" to remind me to exit.  Maybe Ed could have used a better driver! 

Otherwise, Eddie is just like any other guy.  He enjoys a good drink, a good smoke, and a pretty lady.  More than once, Eddie would get a hug from a woman out in public, and he would make his own judgement of her looks with his hands - not in a lecherous way, of course!  But after she'd walk away, Eddie would always ask, "How'd she look?"

Even as he closes in on his eighties, Ed is still working, hosting the old-time radio show, "The Big Broadcast" on WAMU Radio in DC.  I run into him every couple of years, and he's always ready with a dirty joke or a piece of industry gossip, along with a big smile and a firm-as-ever hansshake.  The Radio Hall of Fame is lucky to have him! 

Congrats and thank you, Ed!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Because It's Not The Thought, But The Discount That Counts!

Well, the holiday shopping season is upon us, and I am once again trolling the internet looking for bargains.  I understand some people still go to the mall, but for the life of me, I can't understand why.  Back in the day, I suppose you really could find the best deals on merchandise in actual stores, but that certainly in no longer the case.  Why pay the added marketing and payroll costs of retailers when you can buy it all online? 

Even the traditional retailers are getting in on the act - They don't want to lose any more market share to the likes of Amazon, and consumers are benefitting as a result.  Wal-Mart and Target are currently engaged in a pricing war for books and DVDs, and I have already made several purchases for the holidays (My poor kids have to "suffer" through both Christmas and Chanukah) - and made them all with free shipping, to boot. 

If you are like me, you care enough to send the very best - as long as you don't have to pay full retail.  And so, in the spirit of giving, I want to share a great tip with you.  It's a website -  I've been checking it a lot lately - at least once a day.  What's so great about Dealnews?  It's an aggregator - one that doesn't favor any particular retail operation.   The name of the site says it all - It's continuously updated news about great deals that can be found online, on everything from car tires to pizza... From blouses to hard drives. 

I first read about this site a couple of years ago in an article in the Wall Street Journal, and I've been checking it out ever since - especially around the holidays.  I've used the site to help me buy, among other things, two computers, a monitor, dvds, books and clothing.  It helped me land a one-year subscription to Vanity Fair for five bucks, and a TiVo magnet for free.  (It's the small things that bring me real pleasure!)

Now, I can hear you saying, "But John, you cheap bastard - we have to buy shirts and pants in stores, lest a return is required."  But there is even a solution for that in many cases.  The Missus buys a lot of clothes for our sons online at places like Old Navy and The Gap.  If a return is necessary, she can always go to actual physical store to return it at no charge.

See?  I knew those places were still good for something!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thank You, John Riggins.

The latest chapter in the continuing soap opera that is the Washington Redskins pits Hall of Fame running back John Riggins against his former team, and specifically against owner Dan Snyder.  Riggins told Showtime's "Inside the NFL" that Snyder "is a bad guy" and that his "heart is dark".

Harsh words.  It's never easy to see anyone outside of Adolf Hitler to be called essentially evil - especially when you're discussing an entertainment product.  Football is a pastime... a luxury. Snyder is not a political dictator.  He owns a football team, and he hasn't broken any laws, as far as I can tell. 

But still, as a Redskins fan, I am heartened by Riggo's words - essentially because it ensures that the frustration of Redskins fans are being heard and felt in Ashburn.  It's bad enough that the Redskins stink on the field, but it's even worse that we rarely receive any sense of feedback from the team's management.  Dan Snyder simply does not acknowledge the fans who buy Redskins merchandise,  fill the seats at Fed Ex Field and watch his team on television.  John Riggins' voice is too big to ignore, and he knows that. 

And now,  the drama continues.  Assistant head coach Greg Blache showed up in the press room at Redskins Park yesterday and spent four minutes defending Dan Snyder and attacking Riggins for his comments.  You can see the video and read a transcript of those comments here.  Blache praised Dan Snyder for being a kind human being, and as someone who has done plenty of good deeds for Blache personally. 

I respect Blache for speaking up, but I don't think he's helping the boss' cause.  First of all, Blache is never ever going to win over Redskin Nation by attacking John Riggins.  That was a losing battle from the moment Blache opened his mouth. Blache's comments also failed to address many issues that directly relate to fans - from restricting tailgating, to lawsuits against season ticket holders, to banning fans from bringing signs to games, to barring TV stations from interviewing fans on Fed Ex Field property.   The Redskins have an awful relationship with their customers, and Blache's comments addressed none of that. 

Not that they should have.  It's not Blache's job to address the way the team does business off the field - But considering that Blache is the only person from the Redskins' management to speak out, his comments put a spotlight on the team's biggest public relations problem - a glaring lack of communications skills.

In speaking out, Blache broke his own self-imposed media blackout.  He decided a month ago that he was not going to speak with the media for the rest of the season - something that senior coaches are not allowed to do under NFL policy.  In fact, the Redskins had to get a waiver from the league to accomodate Blache. 

When Blache did speak with the media, he did not take any questions from reporters - a move that only served to weaken his statement.  If Blache's words can't stand up to the scrutiny of a few questions from the media, how valuable can they be? 

I hope Riggins continues to speak out.  At least to this Redskins fan, his words speak louder than the team's actions.

Thank Goodness For Inertia!

If it wasn't for inertia, I'd have up and moved out of Montgomery County by now!  Just a quick folo to yesterday's story about the county's broken traffic light computer system.  As you'll recall, my main rant was that the county was providing free commuter bus service - a move that cost the county thousands of dollars to no apparent benefit. 

Well, today, there's good news!  The traffic lights are fixed!  And to celebrate, guess what the county is doing?  It's providing free commuter bus service again today!  More money down the drain!  But it's OK... This is Montgomery County, where the streets are all paved with gold! 

Spare me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another Shining Moment For Montgomery County!

It's been a frustrating couple of days for commuters in Montgomery County. The 30-year-old computer that controlled more than 750 traffic lights in the county crashed the other night, leaving the lights with no way of adjusting their timing to account for rush hours. The lights still operated, but in many cases, their timing patterns made no sense, and thousands of commuters were left sitting through series of frustrating short-cycles.

This really falls into the unfortunate category of "sh** happens". No one likes it, but really - what are you going to do, other than frown and bear it until the problem is fixed? Well, here in the peoples' republic of Montgomery County, our leaders are loathe to sit on their hands and do nothing. Better to provide some kind of "fix", even if it does nothing and costs the county a lot of money!

The county, in all its wisdom, is providing its Ride-On commuter bus service for free today. Is this really supposed to provide some sort of relief? How many cars is this going to take off the roads? Are people who normally drive going to abandon their cars in favor of riding on unfamiliar buses? Will this get them to work any faster?

The answers are no, none, no and no. Regular Ride-On riders are getting treated to freebies today, and county managers are getting the opportunity to show they are doing "something" to address the traffic issues. I don't know what an average day's revenue is on Ride-On, but it has to run in the 10's of thousands of dollars. But now, we've given up that money, all to allow some bureaucrats to demonstrate they are "on the case".

Hey, Montgomery County! Sometimes NO solution is a better solution!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Excuse me... WHAT?

One of my current projects is finding a contractor to replace the railing on our deck. The current rail is 13 years old, and truth be told, it needed to be replaced probably 7 or 8 years ago. See the picture - you'll see I'm not kidding! I've been told the railing is made of untreated wood, and really should never have been used. We have a "model" home, which we've learned is both a blessing and a curse... It's a blessing because everything inside the home was decorated to the nines. It's a bad curse because everything else in the house was installed on the CHEAP! But I digress...

So I've been collecting estimates from builders, and they've generally been coming in within a couple of hundred bucks of each other - with one MAJOR exception. Builder X has sent me an estimate that is more than THREE times the cost of all of the others. THREE times! I thought perhaps that he has made a math error, but I added it up, and yes - he apparently wants to charge me nearly $7,000 for a job that others are asking $2,000 for.

I started to wonder whether he wanted to price himself out of contention - that for some reason, he didn't want the job... But then he dropped me an email to make sure I had received his bid. In fact, he was the only contractor who has followed up his initial visit.

A question... Do you think I should let the guy know that he has grossly overpriced himself, or should I let him hang? Very odd...

Moderation In All Things

One of the reasons I decided to start blogging again is so I could discuss topics that I just won't opine about on Facebook.... first and foremost - POLITICS! In our polarizing society, people are just far too quick to judge others based purely on how they vote, and I just think that is stupid. To me, Facebook is for sharing common interests, not driving a wedge between friends.

With that in mind, here on the Beach, I am eager to discuss this year's elections, which saw big victories for the GOP in the Virginia and New Jersey Governor's races. I found the outcome to be fascinating on a couple of levels. First of all, the spin-doctoring is hilarious. The Huffington Post this morning was essentially leading with "Voters Don't Blame Obama", while Drudge's lead was simply "Uh O".

The fact is that voters largely don't blame the President. Obama is still drawing a 50 percent approval rating, after all. However, I think the outcome DOES tell us a few things about how Americans want their government to be run - from the middle.

Folks - this is a moderate country. For all of the ranting from the right and the left, most Americans - 70 percent of us, myself included - are really in the muddled middle. And we like it that way. If the power in Washington goes too far in one direction, America will find a way to make a course correction, and I think last night's results in Virginia and New Jersey are just a symptom of things to come. Given that Democrats are in power right now, and also given that the quality of life is not getting much better very quickly, it's inevitable that 2010 will be a very good year for the GOP. This is not to say that Republicans have better ideas than the Dems - it's just their turn to gain momentum. The same independents that put Barack Obama in office 12 months ago voted 2 -1 in favor of the Republican candidates last night.

It's time for the Democrats to come to grips with the reality that last year's election of Barack Obama was a cultural phenomenon... a media moment... the coronation of a rock star. The election drew people to the polls who have never voted before and may never vote again. They were not voting for a party - they were voting for a brilliantly marketed brand name - Barack Obama. The fact that he is a Democrat is besides the point, and any politician who thinks he can use the Obama name to win an election is a fool - just ask Jon Corzine.

Both parties need to start listening more to constituents. The left has labeled those "tea party" and "town hall" protesters as right wing whackos, but the fact is that the GOP has only been able to tap into that anger because the Republicans are not the party in power. People who take the time to go to public meetings and to march on Washington are angry, and they are tired of useless debate - they want action.

Ironically, we could see a LOT of action in Washington in the coming months, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Pressure to pass a health care reform bill has just been turned up several notches, because the Democrats have to prove they can get something done. If health care fails to pass, then we might see a whole flurry of bills from the Democrats flying through Congress.

It'll be a fire sale to end all fire sales - getting those "pet" bills turned to law before the other party takes back Congress a year from now.

And the big wheel keeps on turning...

Back From The Wilderness...

I have, for some time, been trying to conjure up exactly what I would say when I returned to my blog. I have not posted in about five months, so you would think that I have plenty to say - and I do. It's just that to say it all here and now would be pointless, dated and, no doubt, more than a little self-centered (As if blogging one's thoughts wasn't already self-centered enough!).

I won't bother picking through my navel lint to search for a cause for my long break, either. If I did that, I'd likely never blog again... Therefore, I shall offer a quick recap of life, and then hopefully resume where we left off back in the summertime!

I had a very busy summer, working nearly full time at my various freelance gigs - in fact, for a while there, it almost felt like the good old days when we were truly a two working-parent household. It felt - gasp - normal! The family also enjoyed a 10-day vacation in California and Las Vegas, thanks to my favorite hobby of creative frequent-flyer mile collecting!

Of course, with the economy being what it is, it was fairly inevitable that life would raise its ugly head and kick me in the arse. Early last month, ABC News Radio essentially scrapped its DC bureau, and laid off eight full-time employees. I am still technically an ABC freelancer, but since all the people I used to fill in for no longer have jobs, it's kind of hard to say when or if I'll be getting any more work there. It's a real bummer, too, because I had a lot of work lined up at ABC between now and year's end that is now gone.

But life goes on... I still have my other gigs. I'll be on the air at XM next week, hosting "The Press Pool" on the POTUS channel - Sirius 110, XM 130 - and I have some other stuff lined up at both XM and WMAL next month. I also auditioned yesterday for another freelance gig that could keep me quite busy if I get it... More on THAT later (hopefully)!

Oh - and before I go on - a shout out to my friends on Facebook - you've certainly seen plenty of me these past months, and our daily visits will certainly continue. I think you will find this blog to be somewhat more sober than my flights of fancy on Facebook. I don't "do" unhappy topics over there - except the Redskins, of course!

And now... The Rest of the Story!

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Camp!

Young family Ham Spencer Matthews strikes again... He is performing as Erronious in "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" at Camp Airy... (He's the one in the light blue toga with the dark blue sash...) Mom and Dad are SO proud!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thank God For Global Warming And Other Random Musings

It's been a week or so since my last entry - a long, long time (for me) between postings! So hopefully, I can kick start this puppy by spewing out some random musings that have been knocking around in my head!

I must plead guilty to a little sloth in recent days, as the boys have been away at camp, and the missus has been home with school out for the summer. What has really been occupying my time, aside from work, has been Fifty Hand Deuces Wild Video Poker.

That's right - Fifty hands at once! It's a nifty little game that I've been playing in casinos for several years now. But for some stupid reason, I've never taken the time to learn how to properly play the game. If you take the time to learn the strategy, and practice, practice, practice, you can actually have a decent chance of breaking even. And considering that the missus and I are heading to Atlantic City in a few days, I figured this would be the opportune time to bone up on the game. I've been spending hours at the computer, learning to hold on possible flushes while rejecting two-pair combos. It's not hard to learn... It's just hard to remember everything - so I've prepared a cheat sheet!

Of course, I have no reason to be inside at the computer - not with the weather being as gorgeous as it has been recently. I cannot remember a cooler start to summer. It's the 4th of July, and I am sitting in front of an open window. The high yesterday was 76 degrees, and it's not supposed to get above 85 in the foreseeable future. Didn't anyone tell the weather Gods this is DC in the summertime? Even without blasting heat, we're supposed to have insufferable humidity - but it's like early spring out there! I've even seen pictures of my kids up at camp wearing sweatshirts! If this is global warming, I say BRING IT ON!

While we say hello to this wonderful weather, we say goodbye to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. I was an early admirer of Palin when the nation met her just before the GOP Convention last year. I thought she was plain-spoken and easy to look at... a diamond in the rough, to be sure, but someone who could excel on the national political stage with the right amount of seasoning.

I wish Palin had gone back to Alaska after the election last fall, and worked as hard as she could to focus on her job., and then perhaps run for the Senate, so she could start to earn the bonafides she would need for the future. But I think she fell in love a bit too much with the national stage, and I believe the conservative wing of the GOP saw her as a beacon among the ruins of the Republican Party far too much to allow her to be absorbed back into the wood work.

Palin continued to be overexposed at a time when she should have been giving the spotlight a break. Then, the Letterman saga came - that wasn't her fault, at first... but she way overplayed her role as a victim, and turned what should have been a positive into a negative.

Now, she is resigning. If she is doing this to make a run for President in 2012, she is going to regret it. Whoever runs against Obama is going to get creamed, and Palin doesn't need to do this to raise her public profile. However, friends of Palin say they think she is getting out of politics - that she's simply had enough. If that is indeed the case, then I will truly admire Sarah Palin once again. Most politicians cannot kick the addiction of power and adulation. I hope Sarah Palin can.

Onto less weighty issues... One of our favorite summer pastimes has been living vicariously through our children, who are away at Camp Airy. I don't know whether parents have become more protective, or whether camps see this as an effective marketing tool (probably both), but it's become commonplace for camps to post photos of campers on a daily basis on their websites, so parents can go on-line and see how their kids are enjoying camp. Robin and I both on onto Airy's site every day to look for our boys. Here's Spencer (in front) with his fellow cast from "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum"...

And here is Brad in his most common camp habitat - the Arts and Crafts pavilion. He's the one in the right corner - his good bud Evan is sitting across from him:

The boys don't write very often - if we hear from them three times during the month they are away, that's a lot. But I did receive something else interesting in the mail yesterday... My new driver's license!

I was due to re-up for a new license this summer, and I had been preparing to make my once-every-five years sojourn to the MVA. But when my application arrived in the mail, it included a flier offering to let me renew my license by MAIL! All I needed was to have my optometrist fill out a form confirming I had had an eye exam in the past year, mail in the form and presto - license by mail.

I'm not sure how secure our world is that I can get a license with a picture that's five years old in the mail, but if it saves me a couple of hours at the MVA, I'll take it!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Just Call Me The Man In Black!

You know by now that I have a thing for credit cards... There's nothing I like more than getting a good offer in the mail that offers me a full range of benefits. Typically, I've signed up for cards to receive free airline miles, fulfilled the minimum requirements, sucked all of the benefits out of the offer, then sent the cards to cancelled-account Hell. But today, I have truly been rewarded.

The offer arrived in a black envelope. Not a cheap flimsy cheap drug store model, but the heavyweight, expensive stationary store variety. The promotional card informed me that I have been invited and pre-selected to receive the EXCLUSIVE Visa Black Card.

But wait, there's MORE. The promotional brochure informed me:

For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it is the ultimate buying tool.

The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every cardmember.

And there were bullet points, too!
  • Limited Membership

  • 24-hour Concierge Service

  • Exclusive Rewards Program

  • Luxury Gifts

  • Patent Pending Carbon Card

And my favorite:

  • Annual Fee $495

Yes - that's right. For 500 bucks, I can pay with plastic that's not even plastic, but CARBON!

Having been wooed with the marketing, I took a harder look at the nitty gritty. The current APR on the card is 13.24 percent... Not too bad, but still nearly twice the rate of my current credit card. But while the $500 annual fee allows me a level of exclusivity, it does NOT buy me much trust. If I make one late payment, the APR jumps to 29.99 percent!

Of course, these expenses are just the price one must expect in order to belong to such an exclusive club. After all, just one percent of Americans are being sent this offer. The small print says Black Card membership is limited to one percent of the US population, based on the 2000 census. That number is 281,421,906, which means 2.8 million people are being offered this credit card. Doesn't sound so exclusive to me, somehow...

I'm quite sure I will live to regret this, but I'm afraid I will have to say no to the Black Card. As big as it is, my ego is simply not big enough for this card. If you'd like to join, let me know and I'll put in a good word for you!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Ad To Make You Blush!

Is it hot in here?

Michael Jackson Is Dead - What To Make Of That?

I heard just before 6:30 this evening (literally at 6:27 pm) that Michael Jackson died today. My first reaction was to turn on ABC's World News to see how the network was covering the story. MJ was the lead of course, followed by Farrah Fawcett, who also died today of cancer. Poor Farrah will now forever be remembered for having died on the day that Michael Jackson died, and Ed McMahon will be remembered for starting this particular celebrity death trifecta.

I am still trying to come up with a "take" on Jackson's death. My sister, Jill, has already plastered Facebook with 3 or 4 quick hits expressing her sadness. It's probably a gender thing, but I cannot be sad, per se. I mean, it's obviously sad whenever anyone dies, but in a way, Michael Jackson's death almost comes as a relief to me. It's the end of a freak show.

There will be those who demand that Michael Jackson's talent be remembered with respect, transcending his personal foibles and troubles. Perhaps that will be the case someday, but it certainly isn't today for many people. Michael Jackson was a child molester, just as clearly as OJ Simpson is a murderer. It's kinda hard to look past that. He spent tens of millions of dollars to keep his victims and their families quiet, and it almost seems inevitable that stories about Jackosn's private life will come flooding out into the media any second now. It's tough to see how Jackson's legacy as a popstar will be able to rise above all of that.

Jackson's "Thriller" is the best-selling album of all time, but I have always preferred the "Jackson Five" Michael Jackson... the one who sang "I Want You Back" and "I'll Be There" and "ABC".

Child stars are too young to have tarnished legacies.

Let's Stamp Out Stamp Ignorance!

Against all odds, we received our first letter from camp yesterday... just two days after dropping the boys off at Camp Airy. The letter was from our youngest son, 11-year-old Spencer, who informed us in three sentences that he had already made two new friends and was having fun. I can only imagine that his counselors made every boy in the bunk send a letter home. Last year, we did not receive a single letter from him, and I wouldn't be surprised if, despite our pleadings, that Spencer does not write again.

It's not exactly difficult for Spencer to write us something. Mrs. Matthews sends along pre-addressed envelopes - All Spencer has to do is put a stamp on it, and we also sent along an abundance of "Forever" stamps - or so I thought. I noticed on the envelope that someone had added a three-cent stamp to Spencer's letter. I thought that was kind of odd. "Forever" stamps don't NEED to have any extra postage added. So I poked around online, and went to the US Postal Service website to confirm that my stamps were indeed "Forever" stamps. The USPS website was, of course, no help. (I've had problems with the USPS site before) The Postal Service wouldn't want to set a dangerous precedent and provide competent customer service, would it?

Eventually, however, I discovered that the American Flag stamp I had been using as "Forever" stamps, are, in fact, worth 41 cents, despite the fact they have no postage amount listed on them. The current cost of mailing a letter is 44 cents. It's interesting to note that I have mailed several letters with the old stamps, and they have all been delivered without incident. I can only assume that the Postal Service let them slip because they know that customers have no way of knowing the stamps' value without a PRICE ON THEM!

Robin and I stopped by the local Post Office and bought a bunch of three-cent stamps to use with our outdated ones, and Robin also bought a sheet of "Simpsons" stamps to send to the boys, in hopes that their cartoon value will somehow prompt the boys to want to write home (She's dreaming, but I indulge her...) I also now know that the ONLY "Forever" stamps are the ones with the Liberty Bell on them.

So now you know. And so do I!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Tacky Response To Tragedy.

I just finished watching a live news conference concerning yesterday's tragic Metro train crash in Washington, hosted by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. What an exercise in frustration!

Nearly half a dozen people spoke, from Fenty to Metro's General Manager, to the Chairman of Metro's Board of Directors and DC's Fire Chief. Between those four, there was very, very little new information released. We did learn that Metro has set aside $250,000 to help bury the dead, and we did learn the names of some of the people who died in the crash, but for the first half-hour, we mostly heard either old information - stuff we had heard in the hours after the crash - or we heard Fenty and others thanking each other for the hard work they had put in for the previous 24 hours. Essentially, these public servants were kissing each others asses for doing what they are being paid to do - their JOBS.

This is not a new complaint of mine. It's been a pet peeve of mine ever since I was a cub reporter covering deadly boring hearings on Capitol Hill... Hearings that largely consisted of Senators thanking their esteemed colleagues from South Carolina for having the courage and fortitude to hold hearings on whatever subject the hearing happened to be about.

But back to the rant at hand... The worst part of this news conference is that there WAS real news to be reported, but it came from the last speaker - Debbie Hersman, the National Transportation Safety Board member overseeing the investigation into the crash. She had real and new and compelling information, including that the striking train was operating under automatic control when the crash took place, and that the operator apparently DID try to use the emergency brake.

In the news business, this is what we call burying the lead. The NTSB board member should have gone first, not last. She had, by far, the most important information to present. However, if she had gone first, the TV stations carrying the 5:30 pm news conference in the middle of their newscasts might not have stuck around to hear Mayor Fenty and others kissing the backsides of their colleagues. So instead, the politicos kept us all waiting around so they could make their political points before mucking up the news conference with real NEWS.

So tacky and so sad.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's Deja Vu All Over Again!

The boys are leaving for camp in two days, so we've started the arduous task of schlepping in their trunks from the garage and getting them packed to go away for the next month. As Robin was going through Spencer's box filled with stationary and stamps (that largely go unused every summer!), she found a letter that she had written to him LAST summer. Gee - it sounded awfully familiar - she was packing up to leave one school and move to another, just as she is doing this summer! Here is an excerpt...

June 28, 2008

Hi, Spence!

Things here are very quiet without you and your brother. I'm still trying to pack up at school! I have too much stuff! The good news is that I am getting better at backing up the car into the driveway - the bad news is that I am quickly filling up the garage with my junk and running out of space, and I still have more to bring home!

What's really bad is that I have to move it all again in a few weeks to Greenwood! My office looks really strange - nothing on the walls, my shelves are all dismantled and for the first time in 6 years, I can see the floor and even my desk! Dad is trying not to think about how much stuff I have and how much I have spent on my classroom... Let's put it this way - I have an entire box of pens (mostly purple, of course) and another container of Sharpie markers in all shapes, sizes and colors. The crazy thing is that I'll still be going to Staples to take advantage of their Back to School sales! Right now, I'm in the middle of looking for my wrist brace, since I seem to have hurt my wrist while moving all of my stuff. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll find it before next Christmas!

Ya know... some things in life are best lived just once. Unfortunately - no one asked my opinion!

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Friday, June 19, 2009

I Need A (Pack) Rat Exterminator!

For the past three days, the boys and I have been helping Mrs. Matthews pack up her classroom. She is leaving her old school and going to a new school this fall, so in effect, she has been evicted. This means that for the next two months, my garage will be home to boxes (and boxes and BOXES AND BOXES AND BOXES!) of books, games, files, curriculum binders, school supplies, paper and the other minutia of school teacher-dom.

My wife is not making this easy for the rest of us. She swears she is throwing stuff away that she doesn't need, or leaving it for her successor. In fact, she's left a lot of stuff. But the problem is, my wife is a packrat. She has major abandonment issues. In my garage, there is one large plastic tote filled with crayons. You've heard of the 64-color pack? Think of this as the 64-THOUSAND color pack! There is a large cardboard box filled with ziploc bags, and one tote filled with nothing but glue sticks. She could teach paper-gluing classes for the next five years, and we would still have leftover glue sticks.

This all creates a conundrum or two. First of all, there is the matter of our garage. It is now half-filled with her school materials, and some of those materials will now never be leaving the garage, because there is stuff she bought for Kindergarten (this past school year) that she will never use for Special Ed Preschool (this coming school year). So it will now have a permanent home here. Robin actually said to me last night "Well, I guess this means we won't be able to park in the garage". We have lived in this house for nearly five years, and we've never (ever - not once) parked in the garage! (Like I said... PACKRAT!)

Then there's the matter of moving stuff again. I have discovered that we have been moving some materials that have already been moved twice without being used. Case in point - Yesterday, I moved a box containing two gallons of Elmer's Glue. I recognized the box, because I had moved it from her PREVIOUS school last year, to our home last June, then to her old school last August, and back to our garage again yesterday. Will I dare move it to her new school again in eight weeks? How about most of the hundreds and hundreds of Scholastic books that Robin has somehow amassed over seven years of teaching. Her new students will not be literate, so am I really going to be moving a dozen cases of books that will only return home again in the (hopefully way, way, distant) future?

Robin insists she needs ALL of this stuff. I think what she really needs is an educator's yard sale.
Or, better yet - a gallon of gasoline and a match!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

John Edwards - Please Go Away!

It's been 10 months since the world learned that former Presidential Candidate John Edwards (D-NC) had cheated on his wife and possibly fathered a baby with another woman. During that time, Edwards has been, in addition to kissing the ground his wife walks on, doing charity work to aid the poor in places like Haiti and El Salvador, and he has studiously avoided the press, even as his wife published a book and toured the country and appeared on Oprah.

Now, Edwards has broken his silence and granted an interview to the Washington Post. You can read the complete article here. The story opens by stating that Edwards has no illusions about how America views him. Yet, in these two paragraphs, it sure sounds like Edwards is making an effort to rehabilitate his public image:

Yet as he spends his days in his family's mansion on the outskirts of Chapel Hill, N.C., Edwards can't help but fret about how Washington and the country are getting on in his absence. He worries about the concessions that may be made on health-care reform, which he was promoting more aggressively than anyone on the presidential campaign trail. He worries about who will speak out for the country's neediest at a time when most attention is focused on the suddenly imperiled middle class.

"What happens now? If you were to ask people during the campaign who's talking most about [poverty], it was me," he said in an interview a few days ago. "There's a desperate need in the world for a voice of leadership on this issue. . . . The president's got a lot to do, he's got a lot of people to be responsible for, so I'm not critical of him, but there does need to be an aggressive voice beside the president."

Well, guess what, Mr. Edwards? That voice should not be you. Why do you think you deserve a second act before the American public (third act, actually, if you count your run as a VP candidate)? I will concede - cheating on your spouse as a politician has almost become de rigueur (as well as tacky and cliche), but you also likely fathered a child with your mistress, and you cheated on a woman with stage 4 cancer.

You claim you are not on a PR campaign, yet you refuse to rule out a return to politics. Eliot Spitzer (former NY Governor and employer of call girls) is at least pragmatic enough to see the forest for the trees. He knows his life as a politician is his over. Do you really think people are going to listen to what you have to say? Are you waiting for your wife to die so the living reminder of your sins will be gone and you can make a comeback? I'm sorry to have to be a soup nazi, but no more public time for you!

I think its grand that you seem to truly feel a need to champion poverty as a cause, and I'm equally sure you can make a real difference. But please - do it someplace else - away from the cameras and the microphones. Don't write a book. Don't send an op-ed to the New York Times. Don't do any more interviews. Redeem yourself with your family, and make peace with your God. You're not going to be able to do either on the public stage.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Honesty May Be The Best Policy, BUT...

When you work for several employers, as I do, and all of your paychecks come in the form of direct deposits, it's always a bit of a guessing game as to when you'll get paid, and what the exact amount of payment will be. So every week or so, I find myself going online to look at my checking account and match up the deposits to my calendar and make sure I've been paid properly.

Yesterday, I went online and saw something impressive... a deposit of nearly three thousand dollars! The thing is - I haven't done anywhere NEAR three thousand dollars worth of work for any single employer in recent times. I checked and double-checked my calendar, and then started doing some detective work, and figured out which employer has the overly generous payroll department.

I found my pay stub for this client in the company's online portal, and soon discovered the company's error. While we had agreed on a DAILY rate, the company's timesheet still required me to post the number of hours I had worked. What happened was that the company ended up paying me my daily rate PER HOUR!

So now, I'm left with this very impressive pile of extra cash in my checking account. Do I tell the company, or do I jet off to Vegas? Lest you think of me as some dishonest cad, I will let you know that I immediately emailed the employer, and even sent them a screen cap of my online paystub to explain the error of their ways. I know from having run a departmental budget for many years that as soon as the news manager noticed a sizable spending anomaly in his budget, it would take about 5 minutes to figure out what happened. I have not heard back from them yet, but I'm sure somehow that the little "gift" will soon be gone as quickly as it arrived...

But in the back of my mind, there's a little fantasy playing out that they will be so embarrassed by their shocking oversight that they will tell me to just keep the cash.

I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Faded Photographs...

...covered now with lines and creases...

Those lyrics come from a song called "Traces of Love" by a group called "Classics 4" - a song that USED to play on WMAL way back in the day. And it's only fitting because WMAL's chief engineer, David Sproul, recently uncovered a folder full of photos from the radio station "back in the day", including many that have not been seen for years. He was kind enough to share them with me, and I am delighted to share a select few of them with you!

This is a picture of the WMAL News team, circa 1995. I'm the guy sitting behind the wheel of "Cruiser 630". Back in the day, I was the station's morning drive "man on the street", and I had to end each report with "John Matthews - Cruiser 630, OUT!" It was a little embarrassing, but my boss told me people would sure remember me. They sure did. (It was still embarrassing)

This is Pat Anastasi and Dorothy Jones in a picture from approximately 1983. Pat was, at the time, the Assignment Editor at WMAL, and Dorothy was the house mother of the newsroom, although I'm quite sure she had a better title than that. I think she was officially the "Editorial Director". Anyway - I chose this shot because this is what the WMAL Newsroom looked like when I started there. Note that Pat is sitting at a manual typewriter. We did have some IBM selectrics, but about half of the people in the newsroom were still breaking their fingers banging out stories on three-copy carbon paper when I started out at WMAL.

Yep - WMAL was a station with a lot of PULL back in the day. This is Morning Show producer Janice Iacona in 1985 with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Bush was a big WMAL listener, going back to his days at the Director of the CIA and as a Member of Congress. I also met Mr. Bush once when he visited the station for a news interview.

This past weekend, I went to a reunion of old WMAL News team members - people who were at WMAL when I arrived in 1982. It was quite nice - and a little novel - to be the youngest person there! Marge Kumaki, who was a reporter/anchor at radio 63 back in the day, says she always thought I looked like I was 15 years old. I can assure you I was MUCH older than 15 when this head shot was taken in 1995 or so...

Oy. Sometimes looking back can be painful! Look at that punim!

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Have A Weak Crotch Problem.

As I write this, I can look out the window to my backyard, where a large branch from one of my Bradford Pear trees is lying neatly across my lawn. To call it a branch is somewhat of an understatement. At it's widest point, the branch has a diameter of about 7 inches, and it accounts for about a quarter of a 40 foot tree. It will cost me several hundred dollars to have a tree guy come out, cut it up, then grind it up and haul it away.

This same problem happened to me with another Bradford Pear last year, and I blogged about it then as well. The problem is apparently very common in these kinds of trees. Simply put, Bradford Pears have weak crotches. Here's how the Washington Post defines a crotch in tree-speak:

The crotch is the joint between two branches and, as the Bradford matures, the spot becomes especially susceptible to breakage -- often without warning and often to the detriment of cars parked beneath it.

Well, I don't have to worry about one of these branches falling on my car, but my house is a distinct possibility - and the problem is, these trees are all apparently just time bombs waiting to go off. Cutting them down would cost several THOUSAND dollars, and of course, we'd have top spend thousands more to replace them with something that would presumably have heartier crotches.

Mrs. Matthews takes the pragmatic approach, of course. She says "Honey, we can't cut them down, anyway. They look so beautiful when they bloom in the spring!"

Of course! Putting up with 24/7 impending disaster vs. one week of blossoms a year. Beauty tames the Beast... What was I thinking?

See? Donuts DO Clog Arteries!

I love my doughnuts, but this should make anyone give pause...

Krispy Kreme fires back; suit moved to federal court

By: William C. Flook
Examiner Staff Writer
06/14/09 8:31 PM EDT

How are you going to find a jury impartial to doughnuts?

The running feud between Krispy Kreme and Fairfax County over a ruined sewer system has moved to federal court, and the doughnut maker wants a trial by jury.

It’s the latest legal meandering in a protracted dispute that’s recently garnered national attention, and chuckles.

Fairfax County last month filed a $19 million lawsuit against Krispy Kreme, alleging that years of dumping waste at the company’s Lorton plant clogged and corroded the system’s pipes.

Krispy Kreme, in a U.S. District Court filing last week answering those charges, laid the blame for the damage at the county’s feet.

The county operated the sewer system despite “faulty design and construction,” and knew that sewage would become stagnant over time, “thereby creating conditions that have caused the corrosion to the metal and the failure of the system,” Krispy Kreme alleged.

The neglect led the sewage to become anaerobic, or without oxygen, leading to a buildup of sulfuric acid, Krispy Kreme argued.

Fairfax County’s lawsuit, first reported by The Examiner, charged that the problems originated from “excessive quantities of highly corrosive wastes, doughnut grease and other pollutants” dumped since 2004 at the Furnace Road doughnut plant.

The county claimed to have at one point run a closed-circuit camera along a pipe to document the buildup of goo, only to get the camera stuck. It said Krispy Kreme ignored the $2 million repair bill.

A Fairfax County spokesman declined comment, citing a policy on pending litigation. Krispy Kreme spokesman Brian Little did not return a call for comment. In May, Little called the lawsuit “completely groundless.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wicked And Evil - But True!

The Daily Show paid a visit to the New York Times this week, and in the course of five minutes of irony, sarcasm, silliness and satire, proved the case that newspapers are headed for the graveyard...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
End Times
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

Let Your Fingers Do The Walking - On Your Keyboard.

The phone rang last night...


"Mr. Matthews? This is Patuxent Publishing calling. We want to check to make sure you received your new Olney Yellow Pages."

"Yes, I saw it in my driveway."

"Do you plan to use it?"

"No. It's already in my recycling bin."

"So what book do you use to get phone numbers?"

"It's called the Internet."

"Thank you!" Click.

I actually lied about throwing the phone book away.... the new one, anyway. The old one IS in my recycling bin. The new book is on the top shelf of my hall closet, where it will sit untouched until this time next year, when I replace it with the 2010 edition. Mrs. Matthews won't let me throw the new phone book away. I think she thinks it's against the law or something.

So Funny, I Forgot To Laugh!

I've been watching this feud between David Letterman and Sarah Palin pretty closely, and I am ready to declare a pox on both of their houses. If you are unfamiliar with the genesis of this feud, you can read about it here, or get the gist of it by watching this:

I was all ready to come to David Letterman's defense when I first heard about this. After all, jokes are whan Letterman does, and pushing the edge of propriety is part of his job. Plus, Palin's daughter, Bristol, who is now 18, was, in fact, "knocked up" even before her Mom came in to the national spotlight. Bristol Palin is fair game. However... Letterman made a joke about Palin's daughter getting knocked up at the Yankees game, and the problem is... the Palin daughter at the game was not 18-year-old Bristol, but 14-year-old Willow.

I can't defend jokes about getting innocent 14-year-old girls pregnant. Letterman should have apologized, and explained that he got the daughters mixed up. That would probably have been the end of it. But Letterman is not really going to apologize. Late night talk show hosts don't DO that. He has to save face with his audience... More significantly to Letterman, he's now in a white-hot ratings war with NBC, where viewers are still trying to decide whether they like Conan O'Brian. Letterman could have handled this with more class, but he's not going to.

At the same time, I can't paint the Palins as real victims in this, either. The feud keeps Sarah Palin in the national spotlight, which serves her political career well, and she's been able to use it to whip up a frenzy (and a few bucks, I'm sure) from the conservative right. Palin is right to defend her daughter, but you don't see her doing anything to try and quiet the controversy, either. And her husband, Todd, who accused Letterman of making a rape joke, just takes a valid complaint against Letterman and skews it way out of proportion.

There is one other news item that, sadly, is also drawing some laughs. Through a spokesperson, Chastity Bono has announced that she is, after years of consideration, going to transition and become a man. I heard my friends discuss this on the radio this morning and have a good ol' belly laugh over her decision to become "Chaz Bono". One of the hosts went so far as to say "I thought she already WAS a man".

Look - you can think transgenderism is misguided and wrong if you want - but to mock and laugh at someone's personal life decision is both cruel and disrespectful. Chastity Bono never asked to have a public persona. She was born with it, and has dealt with it her entire life. There is no way this transition was going to be allowed to take place privately, so it took enormous courage for Chaz to go forward with it at all. He is getting by with his life the best way he can.

How can you laugh at that?