Thursday, April 30, 2009

Joe Biden Is An Idiot.

There is no nice way of putting this. The man is a danger every time he opens his mouth. Biden says he would not recommend going in any enclosed spaces, such as airplanes or subways, during the swine flu crisis. You can hear his remarks about halfway through this interview with NBC's Matt Lauer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

If Your Lawmakers Don't Care About Loyalty, Why Should You?

I don't care much for party politics ... Actually, that's an understatement. I loathe party politics, and yesterday's defection of Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) from the GOP to the Democratic party is a perfect example of why.

Specter crossed the aisle after weeks of heavy lobbying by Democratic leaders, who promised him all kinds of committee appointment perks, as well as their backing in his re-election bid, in exchange for switching parties. Now with Specter in the fold, the Democrats are close to sealing up the elusive filibuster-proof majority they have been seeking. That kind of single-party power itself bad for the nation, but I'll save discussion of that for another time.

This is not the first time Specter has been a Democrat. He flipped to the GOP 46 years ago, and has spent 29 years in the Senate as a Republican. And he's been honest about why he's switching parties now. As a Republican, he was trailing his GOP primary challenger by double digits, and he figured correctly that if he stayed in the GOP, he'd lose his job in the Senate. Now, with the Democrats backing him in Pennsylvania, Specter can probably expect to be re-elected.

How would you like to be a longtime Republican in Pennsylvania? Someone who perhaps has written a check or two in the past to help Specter get re-elected, or perhaps gave some of your time for him? Do you feel like a chump now that he's abandoned your party in order to save his own ass?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. In the down and dirty world of politics, neither party has a moral high ground to retreat to. Both parties are willing to cut deals to build their bases of power, and in a battle between loyalty and power, power will win each and every time. For proof of that, just look at Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman, the Connecticut Senator who was Al Gore's running mate for President in 2000, lost the Democratic party primary for re-election in 2006, then ran and won the general election as an independent. He and the Democrats kissed and made up afterwards, because the party wanted to keep Lieberman's vote in the "D" column. Then, in 2008, Lieberman supported Republican John McCain for President, a move that outraged some Democratic leaders. But guess what? After the election, the Democrats kissed and made up with Lieberman again, and he continues to caucus as a Democrat. It's all about numbers.

It is unfortunate, but decent politicians usually have to play the party game in order to get elected and stay elected in this country (Lieberman is obviously a noted exception). They need the party base in order to shore up votes, because unfortunately, too many voters are too ignorant or too lazy to look beyond party affiliation when they go into the voting booth.

I have several friends on Facebook who posted notes after Specter made the switch yesterday, welcoming him over "from the dark side", or making similar remarks, assuming that Specter's switch is a sign that he has somehow "seen the light". These kinds of comments upset me, because they indicate that people will continue to look at the party instead of the person when they head in to the voting booth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pretty Dumbass, No Matter How You Cut It!

You've likely heard by now that someone in the Air Force ordered Air Force One to buzz by lower Manhattan for a photo op with the Statue of Liberty. Apparently the police were told, but they neglected to tell Mayor Mike Bloomberg. And for some reason, the Air Force wanted to keep the flyby quiet, so the public was never notified. Gee - is it any wonder when folks who survived 9-11 saw a jumbo jet hurtling towards them, that they ran in panic? Check out this video -

The fact is, this was at best insensitive, and at worst, akin to shouting "FIRE" in a crowded movie house. People could have been trampled. And has anyone even considered how much it cost taxpayers to send a Boeing 747 up to New York for a photo op? The trip itself probably cost the government 50 grand.

Like I say... pretty dumbass, no matter how you cut it!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Take This Heat And Shove It!

Excuse me while I whine...

I have lived in the DC area my entire life, so I really have no room to complain here, but I will anyway. After facing several mornings last week that dipped into the 30's, and a couple of days that didn't make it out of the 50's, we are now facing a third straight day of temperatures in the 90's - with a fourth on the way.

I had originially hoped to be able to open up the house and ratchet up all of the ceiling fans, but by lunchtime Saturday it became obvious that, between the rising heat and the hazy film of yellow pollen on the cars, the window option was not to be. I literally switched the thermostat from "heat" to "cool". The "off" switch, which in good years gets at least a little bit of welcome use, was of no use to me at all.

Spring is a fickle bitch in the DC area... Some years, we manage to eke out a couple of weeks of mild weather, but more often, we have these wild temperature swings, making it tough on both the electric and the gas bills. Autumn, on the other hand, remains by far my favorite season, because we tend to have more predictably mild weather. The air conditioning usually can be turned off by the third week of September, and in good years, we don't need the heat until Halloween.

Switching from cold to hot takes some getting used to... I have not slept well the past two nights, because after spending the past several months sleeping in a cold bedroom, I've had to adjust to a much warmer space. It's been a couple of nights of tossing and turning. Instead of adjusting the blinds and the shades to let the heat in, I'm keeping everything drawn and making the house darker to keep the heat out. And everything in my dresser is being moved around as the sweats make way for the shorts.

Summer's coming ... just much faster than I'd like!

Friday, April 24, 2009

R.I.P. Pontiac.

This can hardly come as a surprise, but it does come as a bit of a shock. General Motors has reportedly decided to kill off its Pontiac motor division. You can read all about it here.

The death of Pontiac will take some getting used to. When I was growing up, Pontiac was the "fun" division at General Motors. Your grandparents drove Cadillacs or Oldsmobiles, your parents drove "sensible" Chevys or Buicks, and young people drove the Pontiacs. Back in the 80's, there wasn't much difference between any of GM's models - Put a different grill and wheel covers on a Chevy Camaro, and you had a Pontiac Firebird, but still - it was much cooler to have a Pontiac.

The death of Oldsmobile in 2000 did not hurt so much - but then again, the Olds were considered geezer cars. A world without Pontiacs is going to take some getting used to.

In tribute to the Pontiac, we bring you this clip of car scenes from "Smokey and the Bandit", starring the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. Wait a minute or so for the music to kick in!

Becoming Less Needy In A Time Of Need

An interesting new poll is out from the Pew Research Center that asks people what things they really NEED. Not what they enjoy, but what they NEED. Not surprisingly in these austere times, folks are finding they need less of pretty much everything. Take a look at this chart:

This poll smacks of "different strokes for different folks", doesn't it? For example, I would definitely put "TV" on my must-have list, and I think my wife would kick me out the door before she'd lose the television. Yet, my Facebook friend, Ellen, got rid of her TV years ago, and says she catches all of the shows she needs to see on her computer. She also lives in Manhattan, and has not driven a car in six years, so I guess she doesn't need one of those, either.

The thought of not having a microwave oven has never occured to me, although I suppose I could do without one if I had to. I can dry my clothes outside, and I can wash the dishes in the sink. So I guess need really IS relative, isn't it?

I find it fascinating and kind of obscene that people are only now coming to the realization that they don't really NEED so much stuff after spending the past decade gorging ourselves on as many consumer goods as we could cram into our homes. In many cases, we even built and bought larger homes just to hold all of our stuff. George Carlin certainly knew what he was talking about in that regard:

Some folks who are smarter than me believe America is now heading towards a period of relative modesty... a world where lavish living would be seen as kind of tacky.... or maybe that's just spin control to justify the fact that many of us have less money than we used to.

I can't honestly say that I've had to make a whole lot of sacrifice, even though I've been without fulltime work for more than a year. Those days of austerity may be coming, and sooner than I'd like to think. But somehow, if the Joneses next door are making do with less stuff, I think it will be easier to get by myself.

But I'm telling you right now - the air conditioning stays!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Don't Mess With An Old Lady's Bingo!

When I was a single stud sharing a condo with two buddies right after college, our neighbor across the hall was an old lady who drove a big boat of a car, with a bumper sticker on the back that read "Outta My Way - I'm going to Bingo!". It's been 25 years, and I can still remember that sticker, because it feeds into every stereotype one ever has about old people and what they do for fun in the November of their years. With that in mind, I had a good laugh over this video. The participants were no doubt wearing their "Senior Discount" hats when the fight broke out!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Now THIS is Must-See TV!

Even if you do not use Facebook, you will enjoy this parody of those films we were all subjected to back in elementary school. A look at proper Facebook etiquette. Enjoy!

Send Them All To Their Rooms Without Supper!

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and the DC City Council are in a pissing match over the disposition of the city's allotment of Nationals baseball tickets. I won't bother going into the details, because it will only appear to give credence to this childish little argument. To make a long story short, Mayor Fenty has the tickets, and he won't share them. You can read the Post's account of the squabble here.

Now, in response, the city council is trying to drum up support for a vote to auction off the tickets, and use the proceeds to pay for city services. I suppose it's a noble cause, but what does it say about the Washington Nationals that the city, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars to bring the team to town, is willing to get rid of ALL of its tickets to go to the games? Given the amount of political capital that has been expended to bring the team to DC, you'd think the city's lawmakers would find some value in being able to show off the new ballpark and to provide tickets for charities and whatnot.

A similar story has developed in New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also selling off his city's tickets to see the Mets and the Yankkees in their new stadiums. However, THOSE tickets will fetch much more money, and the Mets and Yankees are both well-established brands. They don't need the city's support - the Nationals CLEARLY do.

Attendance is going to to be way down this year as the recession tightens its grip and the first-year newness of the stadium starts to wear off. Plus, the team clearly stinks again. If the city's own leaders aren't going to the games - or at least sending their constituents - isn't that sending a signal that no one else should feel the need to take in a game?

Councilmember Kwame Brown, who is pushing for the auction, believes the sale can generate a half-million dollars, but he wants to make sure the city does not violate its own scalping law, which prohibits tickets from being sold for MORE than face value.

The Nats lost 102 games last season, and are headed in the same direction this year. Does Brown really think that will be an issue?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Washington Post Is With Me On Horse Racing!

There's nothing I love better than posting a rant, and then seeing the Washington Post come along and agree with me. Last week, I opined that Maryland shouldn't be breaking its neck to try and save it's dying horse racing industry. And today, the Post agreed with me:

Maryland Ponies Up

The Preakness doesn't need saving.

HORSES HOLD a mysterious sway over Maryland lawmakers. It seems that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and legislators will go to any length, no matter how ill-advised, to protect the state's fragile thoroughbred industry. How else to explain the mad scramble at the close of this year's General Assembly session to pass emergency legislation giving the state the power to seize Pimlico Race Course, home to the Preakness Stakes? Lawmakers approved a hastily crafted bill that is pointless and possibly unhelpful.

The bankruptcy of Magna Entertainment Corp., the company that owns the racetrack, sent spasms through the state. Legislators fretted that a company or developer would swoop in, purchase Pimlico and move the race to another state or, worse, raze the track. They were whipped into a frenzy, in part, by the state's inability to stop the Baltimore Colts from moving to Indianapolis 25 years ago. Yet there have been no credible threats to Pimlico. A developer would find it difficult to secure the necessary permits to demolish the track.

That didn't stop legislators from passing a bill that gave the state authority, through the use of eminent domain, to purchase or seize Pimlico, Laurel Park racetrack, a horse training center in Bowie and the Woodlawn Vase, the trophy awarded to the Preakness winner. The bill is a dubious use of eminent domain and probably will be ignored by the federal bankruptcy court that will direct the sale of Magna's assets.

Perversely, Marylanders should hope the legislation is ineffective. Otherwise taxpayers could get saddled with a money-losing racetrack the state can't afford.

Just In The Nick Of Time!

In terms of work, things have been pretty slow lately. I was so busy during the period between Election Day and the beginning of March, that I had almost convinced myself I was once again part of the working class. Aside from my two freelance jobs, I had a writing project that I was working on at home when I wasn't working in DC. With the inauguration and some good fortune found in others calling in sick, I was working pretty steadily.

Then March hit. My writing project wrapped up. My freelance gigs started to peter out. Co-workers at one of my jobs told me they were not taking time off because they wanted to save their vacation to cash in as extra money in case they lost their own jobs. Things got really quiet.

I have managed to keep myself distracted from the quiet for the most part. We had tax returns to prepare, and we took a family vacation at the beginning of April. I focused on my blog - which has always provided a good way to pretend I'm actually working. But for the first time since last summer, I suddenly had nothing on my plate. No scheduled work to look forward to.

The gloom and doom feeling that I had been fending off finally began taking hold yesterday morning, and I'm sure the weather had something to do with it. With no place to go, and nothing to plan for, there's nothing like heavy rain and clouds to make someone want to say "screw it" and go back to bed. I was officially in a funk.

And then - the doorbell rang. A surprise box from UPS! The company that had hired me for my freelance writing project was sending along a thank you gift for my efforts. After more than a year on the beach, it was truly heart-warming to have my work acknowleged again.

An hour or so later, my cell phone rang for the first time in weeks. A company I had interviewed with more than a month ago about a freelance opportunity was finally getting back to me and asking me to fill out a background check form so they could put me to work. Things were finally starting to look up!

Then this morning, I checked my email and found a request from one of my existing freelance clients, asking if I could pick up a shift later this week. It's only one shift, but it's a start!

It doesn't take much these days to make me happy. I could certainly use the money, but it's really the feeling that I am serving a purpose - filling a need for someone - that really gets me going. As long as I have something in the hopper - something to look forward to doing - than it's easier to keep the gremlins away.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blogging Is For Narcissists!

A quick shout out and thanks to a Mr. or Ms. Aquidneck, for his/her response to my blog on Susan Boyle. For those of you who haven't read through the comments, I wanted to highlight this one, and I encourage you to check them all out. I must warn you, though. The more you read my blog, the more you are feeding the narcissistic beast inside of me!

Ah, the joy of the internet, where one can post valid critical comments anonymously.

To be completely accurate, what I was attacking was the last four paragraphs of your post, and in particular, the last sentence describing Susan as "ratty".

Those four paragraphs, in my view, constitute a jaundiced, cynical, and yes, a misanthropic view of the process. You see, that's what called "theater", and it succeeded quite well. The votes are around 20 million to two, by my count, in favor of some very good "theater".

Secondly, a narcissist has, by definition, an "obsessive interest in one's own importance, abiilities, etc." I never accused you of spewing hate, only venom, and your last four paragraphs are indeed venemous.

Thirdly, while we're correcting spelling errors, naivete is spelled with an accented e at the end, not a y.

Lastly, in my 65 years on this planet, I've learned a few things:

1. Don't get into a pissing match with a skunk (of which I'm obviously in danger to succumbing).

2. Anyone who blogs, again from my perspective, falls under the definition of narcissist.

3. In this day and age, anonymity is a good thing.

4. When I hold up the mirror, what I see is a 65 year old with an MS degree in EE/CS from Stanford, a successful VP of Engineering at a few firms, and a 15 year career as an independent consultant. I like and respect the guy I see in the mirror, who has had to hold up several mirrors in his lifetime to demonstrate undesired behavior on the part of his subordinates, superiors and clients.

With that, I'll sign off on this particular site. I have far better things to do with my remaining time on this planet than hold up mirrors to misguided misanthropes...

Friday, April 17, 2009

So The Susan Boyle Phenomena Is Not A Formula?

Following up on yesterday's entry about Susan Boyle - the one that sparked a lot of "fan" mail from anonymous "fans" - Take a look at the first appearance of the guy who went on to win "America's Got Talent" last summer. Look familiar?

If this hadn't taken place during the summer, and if the music had been something more popular than opera, you might have seen Neal E. Boyd become a worldwide youtube phenomenon, just as Susan Boyle has. Again - I totally respect their talents, and I truly hope both Neal E. Boyd and Susan Boyle totally capitalize on all of their fame!

Having said that, this piece -like the "Britain's Got Talent" piece for Susan Boyle - is a cleverly concocted formula. Challenging life? Check! Loving Mom? Check! A less-than-stellar look for the talent? Check! Pull a few heart strings, and let 'em rip!

These producers know what they are doing. No happy accidents!

Can You Imagine Your Father Wearing This?

I was flipping through my junk mail the other day, when I ran across this ad:

While I appreciate the functionality of this particular piece of apparel, I cannot for the life of me imagine who would be caught dead wearing it! My father is 73 years old, and would not be caught dead flashing an AARP card - let alone be caught wearing a hat that read "Don't forget my SENIOR DISCOUNT!

Maybe I need to be spending more time down in South Florida. Or maybe I should buy up a bunch of these for my friends who are turning 50... You all know who you are!

The Stars At Night... Are Big And Bright!

(Clap Clap Clap Clap) Deep in the Nation of Texas!

You may have read this week that Texas Governor Rick Perry has hinted that his state could choose to secede rather than succumb to a higher tax burden. Well, according to the U.S. State Department, Texas has already flown the coop! We get more from the "In The Loop" column in the Washington Post:

Breaking news! In the Loop Exclusive! Texas has once again become an independent country! The State Department, listing the countries Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has visited and the frequent-flier miles she's piled up (more than 50,000 so far), notes that she's taken trips to Europe, the Netherlands, Mexico, the Middle East, Asia and Texas.

The site provides a breakdown of "trips by country" and includes Texas along with France, Germany, Japan, China and so on. Clinton's trip to Texas on March 27 did not involve international diplomacy -- there was a speech at a Dallas women's forum and a stop in Houston to pick up an award.

Frankly - I don't care if Texas secedes or not - I just wonder if foreign countries like Texas should be eligible to take part in the NFL draft. Take THAT, you no-account Cowboys!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Susan Boyle - Inspiration Or Invention?

As I write this, tens of millions of people have seen the video of Susan Boyle singing on "Britain's Got Talent", and almost as a single voice, people are plotzing over how inspirational her performance was. If you're one of the four people left in the world who have not seen the clip, then take a look before reading on:

Susan Boyle Sings on Britain's Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 @ Yahoo! Video

I think Susan Boyle is great, and I think the song she chose, "I Dreamed a Dream", from Les Miserables was a perfect choice, both for the way it fit her impressive vocal range and for the irony of its lyrics. However, the rest of the "Susan Boyle phenomena" offends me on so many levels.

This is, sadly, a great example of how television and pop culture rule the world. A veritable handful of TV producers have the power to tell us how to feel and what to think. The producers of "Britain's Got Talent" decided that Susan Boyle should be played as a sympathetic character - an ugly duckling underdog who, against all odds, shows the world she can succeed. That portrayal, a Cinderella cliche that has been around since cavemen ruled the world, plays much better than the truth.

The truth is that Susan Boyle is not such an underdog. She deserves a lot of credit for auditioning for the show simply because it takes a lot of guts for anyone to try performing before a large audience. But why is anyone surprised that someone who LOOKS like Susan Boyle could actually be a gifted singer? The world is full of people just like her - and not just in the entertainment field. People who are not attractive enough or thin enough or clever enough to have their full potential shine through to their bosses.

Susan Boyle is a reality TV confection - cleverly invented and packaged by reality TV producers who knew exactly who should be cast to make people feel better about themselves. There's nothing folks like better than an underdog.... someone who can be a champion for the "plain janes" of the world.

Susan Boyle was not a "happy accident", but part of a tried and true formula. The producers of the show (including Simon Cowell) knew exactly what they were getting when they put her on the stage, and they played it up big time. Do you really think those reaction shots of Simon and of Piers Morgan (not to mention the two goofballs off stage) were a coincidence?

So yes - I am bothered by the naivety of people who do not see that this emotional groundswell of support around the world was entirely orchestrated. It probably worked better than producers ever could have dreamed, but they certainly knew what they were doing.

I am also bothered by the fact that as much as people are cheering for the ugly duckling, it only underscores the fact that you can't be too thin or too attractive in this world. The only change that Susan Boyle may add to the equation is that it will no doubt prompt some producer to create a reality TV talent show made up entirely of fat, ugly, short and smelly people to compete for your affections.

Here are a couple of other safe predictions. Susan Boyle will now be the odds-on favorite to win "Britain's Got Talent", because she now has the world in her corner, just as God - or, actually, the show's producers - intended. She will go on to become a giant Reality TV star in Britain - expect to see her on either "Big Brother" or "Strictly Come Dancing" (the U.K.'s version of "Dancing With the Stars") in the near future. She will be paid big money to be given makeovers and to go on a diet. And she will never be quite as captivating as she was the first time we saw her.

And here's another safe bet. When "America's Got Talent" comes back next summer, you can bet there will be plenty of new underdogs to root for who are every bit as ratty-looking as Susan Boyle.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Forget That Tarnished Crown!

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has signed into law several measures designed to keep the state from losing the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. The new laws would allow Maryland to hold onto both Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness race itself through the power of eminent domain, in the event a new owner wanted to take the race out of the state.

Thankfully, these legal moves are not, so far, costing the state any money. But if future actions force the state to take actual ownership, and tax dollars are used to save this broken-down business, then this taxpayer. for one, is going to scream!

Have you ever been to Pimlico, or even to Laurel? I've been to both - I enjoy going to the track with my friend, Mitch, about once a year. Let me tell you... Both tracks - but especially Pimlico - are dirty, depressing holes... with shuttered concession stands and betting booths that are ancient reminders of a sport that has already died a thousand deaths. When we go to the track, we sit with a few dozen others in grandstands that can seat thousands of people - and do just one day a year - on Preakness day.

Horse racing is already dead in Maryland. Not even the passage of a law allowing slot machines is going to save it. But memories and nostalgia are powerful drugs that have a particularly strong affect on politicians. Lawmakers in Annapolis see the rescue of the Preakness as one easy win that they can deliver to their constituents in a year when there are no easy wins elsewhere.

Saving the Preakness is not going to solve anything. It will not make the state more attractive to the horse racing industry. The racing business has been pulling up stakes and moving out for years to places like Delaware, which brought in slots years ago to pump more money into stables and infrastructure. Pimlico will simply become another road venue for horses and trainers who come in from out of town, run their race and then move on to Belmont.

It's not at all clear if this eminent domain move is legal, or even whether its necessary. But at a time when Maryland has more important industries to protect, we need to be prepared to let "Ol' Paint" go to the glue factory.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back From Spring Break!

The Matthews Family is just back from Spring Break, which we spent for the third year in a row in beautiful Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, at the Disney resort in Shelter Cove.

Allow me to say thank goodness for the Disney Vacation Club - After resisting temptation for many years, we finally bought a membership in Disney's time share program three years ago - mostly because Disney was selling my radio station, and I wanted to join while I could still get an employee discount.

The timing of the purchase was even more fortuitous than I had planned, because it now allows me to continue to vacation with my family, even after the elimination of my job. We had a great time in Hilton Head, and it was nice to enjoy a deluxe resort without having to worry so much about how much everything cost. It also didn't hurt that gas was about two bucks a gallon!

Just a few random thoughts about our trip...

It's incredible to me how much congestion there is on I-95. We managed to make pretty good time during our drive, but we still experienced several slowdowns caused by the sheer volume of traffic - even in the middle of nowhere! I-95 is still just two lanes in each direction for the most part all the way from Petersburg, VA through the state of South Carolina, and since most of its users are merely passing through, there's little incentive for the states to pony up the dough to expand the lanes. Perhaps a little stimulus $$$ can do the trick?

Speaking of $$$ - when I die, I want to be resurrected as a TV chef. We took a drive over to Savannah, Georgia, just so Robin could check out "Lady and Sons", the restaurant owned by Food Network star Paula Deen. Paula Deen is a chef who firmly believes that any recipe - whether it be Jello or Spaghetti and Meatballs - can be made better by adding a stick of butter. And God knows America loves its butter! The restaurant is a golden butter gold mine!

Here's the normal routine for getting into "Lady and Sons" for lunch. You need to line up outside the restaurant at around 7:30 or 8 am. Starting at 9:15 or so, a hostess comes out and starts taking reservations, and seating starts at 11 am. Lunch and dinner typically sell out every day, and the adjacent gift shop is packed with people, too.... especially when one of Paula's sons comes in to pose for pictures and to sign autographs, which one of them did while we were there.

We did not have to do any of that early-morning stuff to get in. We were able to use another method to reserve our spot. I won't go into details, but frankly - we lied to get in the door. Once we were seated, we enjoyed our lunch very much. Most people get the southern buffet - For 14 bucks, you get all of the Fried Chicken, black-eyed peas, butter beans, green beans, mashed potatoes and mac & cheese that you can eat, washed down with syrup-like southern sweet tea. It was all delicious and reasonably priced. But trust me. If you ever have the chance to wait all day to eat at Paula Deen's buffet - it's NOT worth the trouble!

We had fun just hanging out at the resort, which is really kind of like a summer camp for families. They have lots of activities... Robin made a pillow and tie-dyed a t-shirt. Spencer made a shark tooth necklace. We went to a campfire, complete with camp songs and s'mores. And we spent a glorious spring day sitting by the pool, where the kids swam, Robin crocheted, and I honed my word skills with the New York Times crosswords. We also attended a pool party, where Spencer (with some help from Dad) serenaded the crowd with a raucous karaoke of "Sweet Caroline".

On the way home, after sleep-driving from Petersburg to Fredericksburg, Virginia, I finally pulled off of I-95 for a big cup of coffee. Sleep-driving is scary stuff in a 20/20 hindsight kind of way - especially when you are doing it at around 80 miles an hour! I simply don't remember much about driving that distance... Thankfully, it was after midnight, and there were not many cars on the road. Slapping myself to stay awake could only take me so far, so when I saw an exit sign for Wawa, I surrendered to my body's cry for caffeine. I LOVE Wawa! If you've never been to one, just think of a 7-11 that's three times the size with three times the selection and cheaper prices. I wish we had them around here in the Maryland suburbs!

Now that we're home, it's back to the grind - and to the welcome rhythms of everyday life. I did not blog during vacation this year, despite the fact that I had a laptop with me. I just found, pretty quickly, that doing routine stuff, like blogging, was going to make my vacation more routine.

I'm happy to be back!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

RERUN - Pedro Sez - Visit South Of The Border! (Just Don't Get Out Of The Car!)

From March 30, 2008:

The distance between Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and Brookeville, Maryland is 617 miles. I know this for a fact because I drove every single blessed one of them on the family's return home from vacation. For the first third of the trip, I, like so many before me, passed the time reading billboards every couple of miles like this one...

For those of you who've never had the pleasure of driving through the Carolinas on I-95, South of the Border might be a bit difficult to describe. The massive tourist trap, which sits just South of the North Carolina/South Carolina border(get it?), includes a gas station, several restaurants, souvenir shops, fireworks stands, a motel, mini-golf course, amusement park and even a store selling pornography and sex toys.... I would describe the theme as "pre-politically correct 1950's Wetback kitsch". The mascot for South of the Border is Pedro, a Mexican equivalent of a Negro lawn jockey or Chief Wahoo, the idiotically grinning mascot of the Cleveland Indians. Pedro is a caricature - perhaps what our parents might have thought a Mexican looked or sounded like. His billboards "speak" in a thick Mexican accent, like this one -

In fact, I wonder whether"South of the Border" might be what Corey Stewart and his anti-illegal immigrant crowd in Prince William County picture as their own version of Hell!

It's probably been 25 years since I last stopped at South of the Border, and it might be that long before I stop again, but I couldn't resist passing through, and taking a look around. Sadly, "SOB" has seen better days. Even in the middle of the day, much of the place was shut down, even though it was spring break. Many of the buildings were in disrepair, and it seems many other local businesses that once leached off of the tourist mecca have turned the area into a Tijuana ghost town. Just beyond "SOB", we saw boarded-up car dealerships, shutdown sex shops, and other dingy nightspots that once presumably used the allure of South of the Border to bring in customers. Sadly, it seems time has passed Pedro by... But we'll always have his billboards!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

RERUN - I'm Not Paranoid (But My Email Is Out To Get Me!)

From May 15, 2008:

Literally the very first thing I did when I came home from losing my job was to sign up for Google mail. I had always relied on my former employer for e-mail services, so I needed to get set up immediately, and Gmail did the trick. I really enjoy Gmail - especially its chat functions, and the fact that I basically never have to worry about deleting anything because it has more space than I'll ever need.

Of course, because I receive this service for free, Google does place a few text-only ads in a column next to my incoming messages, but considering my entire income for the past 25 years has come from advertising, I have no problem with this. HOWEVER - there is something REALLY creepy about Gmail that I have not been able to get used to. It reads my e-mail even before I do! If I'm chatting with a friend about "Lost", I get text ads about other ABC TV programs. If I'm sending a resume out to a prospective employer, I see ads for Every e-mail I receive is customized to the content of the letter. It can be kinda creepy.

Of course, Google does make mistakes... I received a note last night from my friend, Loretta Cooper, and the ads offered to sell me cars - Mini-Coopers, of course. I'm wondering if I ever wrote a doctor about hemmorroids if I'd get Preparation H ads... And God forbid if I ever hear the bad news about someone dying - will I get a great deal on a casket?

God Bless Madison Avenue!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Life On The Beach" RERUN!

It's been just a hair over one year since I began this blog. I meant to officially mark the first birthday, but it slipped right by unnoticed, so I am doing it now. For those of you you've been with me for the past year, many many thanks, and I hope you'll continue to keep coming back!

For my friends who have more recently started reading my drivel, you have my sincere condolences - as well as the opportunity to read some of my earliest entries. All this week, I'll be featuring the best of "Life On The Beach", starting today with my very FIRST entry...

(It's a re-run, get it?)

March 10, 2008 - First Musings Of A Beach Bum

Well, here I am... joining the navel-gazing world of blogging. Two weeks ago, I would have told you (as I told everyone) that I spent my day writing stuff for a living - why would I spend my free time writing as well? Well - God (or Farid Suleman, take your pick) had other plans! Now, I suddenly have some time on my hands... and I'm not getting paid to write - at least not at the moment, so here we are!

I've never been unemployed before, so I had no idea what to expect...but my friend, David Burd, explained it to me like this...

Step one - At first, you'll hear from everyone you know in the radio business... the rubber-neckers who can't resist looking at the roadkill (me) as they drive on by... The roadkill appreciates all the attention, and soaks it up like a biscuit to gravy.

Step Two - After that, the tedium of updating the resume and the audition tape (how dated - of course I mean the audio file) sets in, followed by hour after hour of repeating your hard work on an online application forms, because employers really DON'T want to read your resume...

Step Three - (sounds of birds chirping)

Suffice it to say we're at step two now... and we don't want to see step three, hence the "Life On The Beach" blog.

Just a couple of personal observations before I bring this inaugural blog posting to a close...

1/ My kids like my new "arrangement", because for the first time in their lives, Dad is home to help them get ready for school in the morning. And while this is a big help to Mom, Mom is not so thrilled to see Dad home. This simply serves as a reminder to Mom that Dad should really be off someplace else...

2/ I used to get in to work in the morning and groan at seeing at least a couple of dozen new emails waiting for me. Be careful what you wish for. I pine for email now... even to the point that I've signed up for some selective junk email because it ensures I'll have something new to read every day! For those of you who might want to contribute to the cause, the address is

3/ Old habits die hard - or in some cases, don't die. I still find myself sitting with a cup of coffee at 6 am every morning, scanning the Washington Post and making mental notes on how to cover each story. I suspect some of my soapbox rants concerning these stories that used to be released to my newsroom cohorts will be released here on the beach instead. Lucky you.

4/ When I used to hire people, one of the last things I did before making an offer was to google the applicant's name and see if anything interesting came back. To be honest, more than one person was not hired because the person they portrayed themselves to be on Myspace or Facebook was NOT the person I had just interviewed. I suspect discerning employers may also use this practice... so don't expect to read any stories of debauchery or other tawdry tales here. Those will have to remain the stuff of legend and vivid imagination!

Let me hear from you - ESPECIALLY if you find me getting whiny. I can't STAND whiny...


Friday, April 3, 2009

It's Not Easy Being A Redskins Fan.

Do you ever feel like you're being held hostage as a fan of your favorite sports team? I have been following the Washington Redskins since I was 10 years old, and I am not about to stop being a fan, either. But it's difficult sometimes when you know that the guy who owns the team is an idiot.

Dan Snyder is not only an idiot... He's the worst kind of idiot. He's the kind of idiot who thinks money can solve any problem, and despite the fact that he's spent the past decade being proven wrong, Snyder keeps coming back with more bad ideas.

The latest, of course, was his determination to land the newest, biggest name out there - Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. Never mind the fact that Snyder's own coach has gone on record to say that Jason Campbell is his guy. Never mind the fact that Campbell's statistics were nearly identical to Cutler's last year, despite the fact that Campbell had to suffer nearly three times as many sacks. And never mind the fact that Cutler has proven himself to be a whiny player and bad teammate.

Dan Snyder has never ever been able to resist finding a new doodad or geegaw that was going to be the next, greatest, final piece of the puzzle that was going to lead the Redskins to the Super Bowl.

When is Snyder going to realize he doesn't have all of the answers? When is he going to learn to be patient enough to let the professionals run his team for him, and to let nature take its course.

By pursuing Jay Cutler, Snyder has now shown his hand. He does not believe in Jason Campbell. He does not believe in his coach, Jim Zorn. Both are now on the short leash and both will likely play out the next season waiting to be fired. That does not bode well for the Redskins' chances of succeeding in 2009, does it?

When Snyder was a young owner, he looked up to Jerry Jones as a mentor. The Cowboys owner had a real flair for marketing his team and keeping his profits out of the NFL's hands... and he was also a proven winner. The great combo of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin gave the Cowpokes a pocketful of rings, and for a few years there, Jones made winning look easy. He didn't need a General Manager, and coaches were totally over-rated.

Then Jones lost his Hall of Fame players to retirement, and Barry Switzer turned out to be a bomb as a coach. And the Cowpokes have suddenly been without a playoff win in more than a decade. Hmm... Maybe Jerry Jones doesn't walk on water after all.

Well, neither does Dan Snyder. And who's paying the price for Snyder's ego, both literally and figuratively? Redskin fans.

I am not the most knowledgable of football fans. I'm not in any fantasy leagues. But memo to Dan Snyder - neither are you. This is the NFL - the big boy league.

And your diaper is FULL.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Just let it be known going forward that for all of the change the Obama Administration has promised to bring to Washington, some things NEVER change - like the down-and-dirty business of politics. This has already been proven several times in the 70-odd days since the President took office, from his nomination of tax-challenged candidates for cabinet positions to his about-face on his own ban against hiring employees who had recently lobbied on Capitol Hill.

The latest case of politi-creep is the lead story in today's Washington Post. It seems that some lawyers in President Obama's own Justice Department opined that the bill to give DC a vote in Congress is -ahem - unconstitutional. But rather than pass that report on to the President, Attorney General Eric Holder - like the President, a longtime supporter of voting rights for DC - ignored the advice and went looking for some other lawyers to give him the opinion he was looking for. Holder apparently got what he wanted - a pro-DC vote opinion that can be argued to the Supreme Court.

The Post story notes this is not necessarily an opinion that the Obama administration believes can be argued successfully, but the President would still be able to enjoy the political victory of having the bill pass through Congress - before it gets shot down by the Supremes.

Look - regardless of whether you believe DC should have a vote in Congress - you have to see what's going on here. For better or worse, the Obama administration is quickly forfeiting any moral or ethical high ground it may have claimed over the previous White House.

I'm not saying President Obama is directly to blame for this, or that this is some sort of scandalous behavior. To the contrary - it's business as usual in Washington.

But it's NOT "Change You Can Believe In".