Saturday, May 30, 2009

Coming June, 2010... Not Soon Enough For Me!

I just discovered that the first teaser trailer is out for "Toy Story 3", which is coming to theaters in June of next year.

Toy Story is, of course, the signature franchise for Pixar - the only major film studio in Hollywood history to never have a boxoffice flop... and with this weekend's opening of its 10th feature, "UP" drawing rave reviews, it's a sure bet that Pixar's winning streak will continue.

I can't wait for "Toy Story 3", simply because "Toy Story 2" was so fantastic. To my mind, along with "Godfather, Part Two", it is one of the rare sequels of all time that was even better than the original. is asking its readers to choose their favorite Pixar films of all time, and it's interesting to note that the responses are all over the board. There truly is no consensus winner, aside from the most obvious answer that most people seem to like all of the films. Personally speaking, I do have a top 10 list (actually top 9, because I have yet to see "Up")... Your results may vary!

1. The Incredibles - not just my favorite Pixar film... one of my favorite films, PERIOD.
2 Toy Story 2
3. Monsters, Inc. - I'm watching you very closely, Wazowski!
4. Toy Story
5. Ratatouille - More adult than most, but very enjoyable.
6. Finding Nemo - Many people say this was the best one. Many people are wrong.
7. Cars
8. A Bug's Life - Not a bad film, but I bet if they could do it over, it would be much better.
9. Wall-E - The only Pixar film I've ever fallen asleep in. I might have to give it another shot someday, but really - snooze-a-rama.

Me And Susie Had So Much Fun...

I would be remiss (and a little bit chicken) if I didn't post one more blog on good ol' Susan Boyle, now that "Britain's Got Talent" has ended with her losing to a rather bizarre (and in my mind, less talented) dance troupe.

Two things come into play here, I think... First of all, I think Susan peaked too soon. After becoming perhaps the hottest youtube sensation of all time with her first performance, there was simply no way she would ever have been able to match that again. It didn't help that she had a couple of obvious flubs with her second performance last week, and by repeating "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miz in her final performance, she set herself up for the impossible task of trying to improve on what the public had already decided was perfection. A bad strategy for winning, if you ask me. Here's that final performance:

The second factor in Susan's loss (I think) is the A.D.D. world that we live in... As quickly as Susan Boyle became a star, she just as quickly became yesterday's news. From what I've read, she was never as popular in the U.K. as she is in the U.S., and it's possible there was also a bit of anti-American backlash in the British vote against her.

I still think Susan Boyle did a good job, and I'm happy she really did get to "dream her dream".

But with that - especially since she did not win - I am going to amend my original comments, and predict that Susan Boyle's 15 minutes are now going to run out quietly and peacefully. She does have a pretty voice, but pretty voices are not as rare as many people think.

Fear not, however... As long as they're making Trivial Pursuit, Susan Boyle will always have a place in history - right alongside Ken Jennings, Justin Guarini and John Carpenter.

And Susan - we'll always have youtube!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bad Car-ma

Problems that used to be just a simple annoyance can become fiscally painful when one is only working erratically. I was actually looking forward to putting a few bucks in the bank with my new freelance gig at Sirius/XM (hosting on the POTUS Channel - watch this space in the coming days), because I was getting a couple of paid days for training, followed by a full week of work. But those dreams went away today, literally in a flash and a thump.

The flash was the telltale signal triggered when I sped past an unfamiliar speed camera on New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park at around 3:30 this morning. If you've read this blog, you know I'm no fan of speed cameras anyway, but THIS particular camera is especially heinous - and perhaps even not quite legal.

Allow me to present my case... I will confess to speeding well above the speed limit. Frankly, I wasn't thinking about speed because I was on the road alone - this being at 3:30am - and because my mind was focused on my new job. It's the placement of the camera that bothers me.

The only place in Maryland where speed cameras are currently legal is in Montgomery County. The location of this camera is in a place where Montgomery County crosses the road for literally just 5 or 6 blocks, with Prince George's County to the north and DC to the south. The camera is located at the bottom of a hill in both directions, so that traffic going either direction will have a natural predilection to be speeding. The camera is not near a school - it's in the middle of a commercial area, so I'm not even sure it's located there legally. But that's beside the point. Any argument the county can make that this is a matter of safety is simply absurd. That speed camera in Takoma Park is a cash grab - pure and simple.

But the Karma Gods were not done with me. On my way home (after carefully poking my way through Takoma Park), I felt a tell tale knocking under my car. I pulled into the parking lot of a high school and sure enough - my right front tire was flat. It has been a couple of years since I've changed a tire. It was warm and muggy out, but thankfully, it was cloudy and it was not yet raining, so I pulled everything apart in the trunk, got out the donut tire and the jack, and 20 minutes later, I was back in business.

The tire that had gone flat had lived a full life, I cut my hand as I pulled it off the wheel on the steel belt that was poking through the rubber, and I knew darn well that the other three tires were not in any better shape, so I took the car up to the tire shop in Olney (so nice to have one in the 'hood), and walked out an hour later with four new tires, a front end alignment and an oil change!

Now that I have a new set of tires for my '97 Honda, I'm good for another 5 years or so!

But with all of my transportation woes today, most of my work for this week has suddenly become pro bono. The only bono I want to consider these days is Sonny Bono. And he's dead.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Just Kill Me Now.

I was trolling around the ESPN website this afternoon when I saw this headline:

RUMORS: Vick To WAS Gains Steam

It now looks like the Washington Redskins are in the market for former Falcons quarterback and current dog fighting felon Michael Vick. Just what the Redskins need. It's not enough that they have done everything they can to destroy the confidence of their incumbent starter Jason Campbell. They tried to land Jay Cutler from the Broncos, and that didn't work. They tried to trade up in the NFL draft to get QB Mark Sanchez from USC, and that didn't work. And now, they are apparently trying to get Michael Vick - a flashy convict who hasn't played football in two years, and who wasn't all that effective when he was playing! Even if they get him, I can guarantee you is isn't going to work.

Jason LaCanfora of the Washington Post writes in his Redskins Insider blog that a Vick/Skins marriage seems unlikely, because Vick couldn't possibly join the team until sometime in training camp, and because his skills and size don't match the needs of coach Jim Zorn's offense. I 'm sure LaCanfora's correct in his assessment, but the rules of common sense do not apply in fantasy football, and that's the game Dan Snyder is really playing. It's not the NFL... It's all a big fantasy!

Can you name me one big Dan Snyder move in the decade since he bought the Redskins that really worked out the way he hoped it would? Bruce Smith? Deion Sanders? Steve Spurrier (and his star QB's Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerfful in tow)? Even Joe Gibbs? No - you can't.

Snyder has already all but ensured that 2009 will be a disappointment once again for Redskins fans. Now, it's just becoming an embarrassment. It's tough to be a Redskins fan and to try and defend them to fans of other teams. My friends who root for the Eagles and the Cowboys and the Ravens always tend to look at me with a hint of pity on their faces when the Redskins come up.

Can we just skip ahead to 2010?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Humor For The Underemployed!

Co-starring the immortal Mel Brooks and the recently late Bea Arthur! If you don't find this to be funny, you are NVTS!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Am I Still A Misanthrope?

Here's Susan Boyle's latest performance from "Britain's Got Talent". If I mention that her voice cracked at the opening, does that make me a misanthrope?

Susan beat eight other competitors, including a belly dancer and a Darth Vader inpersonator, to advance to next week's finale. She is the heavy favorite to win the whole thing, and if she does, she gets to perform for the queen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Another Bump On The Road To Hell

You've seen plenty of entries on this blog fretting about how newspapers and radio are dying a slow and painful death. Well, let's not leave out the third sign of the apocalypse, OK? The Washington Post reported today that Channels 4, 5 and 9 here in the DC area have formed a cooperative TV pool service, so that when mundane news conferences or ribbon-cuttings are held, just one station can bother to send a camera, with all three stations sharing the video from the event.

Won't this further homogenize the news and make all three stations look alike? Yes. With only one station in attendance, won't that discourage the gathering of sidebar stories, and won't the discovery of news stories suffer because only one reporter might be on hand to ask questions? Yes. Won't this just give the stations even more of an excuse to watch the bottom line instead of focusing on creating better TV news? Yes it will.

It is jaw dropping to consider how quickly local journalism in this country is going to hell. Even just a couple of years ago, being a major market counted for something. TV reporters had camera operators to work with. Radio stations had real news staffs. Newspapers had real beat reporters. And consumers received actual news. All of that is going, or is already gone - even in the Nation's Capital.

I am not looking to point fingers, and it's pointless to blame the economy. The news business was heading in a downward spiral long before the stock market tanked. The Internet has changed the world in far more many ways than I could begin to discuss here, but somehow, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Demand for information is at an all-time high, while the consumers making those demands are also demanding to get all of this information for free.

Push is going to HAVE to come to shove at some point, people. TV and Radio news stations are not really gathering news any more - They are regurgitating what the read in the papers. And the papers have cut their staffs so thin that they are only covering a fraction of what they used to cover.

There is no corporate financial incentive right now for station owners to crank out expensive news product when they can rely on other sources to do investigative work and enterprise reporting, then steal it for themselves. As long as the stations can throw something up on the air that resembles news, that's really all they care about.

But mark my words... The day is coming when there will be another Katrina, or God forbid - another September 11th. People are going to need more information than the crippled TV and radio and newspapers can deliver. And very suddenly, there will be an outcry that will get some newsrooms rescued from mothballs. I truly believe it will take that kind of need to pull the news business out of this decline.

The young adults who are really just now getting married, having families and getting mortgages - in other words, becoming news consumers - are the same people who grew up as teenagers getting all of their music for free on Napster. They are the same people who feel they have the God-given right to receive whatever media they want - and to get it for free.

They say the customer is always right. But they also say you get what you pay for.

Viva Las Vegas!

Guess what just turned 50 this month? The world-famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign! Clark County, Nevada commissioned the sign back in May of 1959, and it has remained in place at the southern end of the Strip ever since with just a mimimum of change. Robin and I have probably passed that sign 30 times over the years, but we've never stopped to get a picture. But just this past winter, the county added a dozen parking spaces in the median, so you can be sure that when we visit with the kids this summer, we'll stop and grab a shot or two. The sign has just this week been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and there's now a plaque at the base of the sign to attest to that fact.

To read more about the Vegas sign and it's origins, click here, and to watch a video with the woman who designed it, click here!

Just seeing pictures of this sign gets my heart thumping - I can't wait to go back!

My Kind Of Advertisement!

Watch this TV ad! It seems like an SNL parody, but I swear it's real! The ad has gone viral on youtube, but there's no word yet on whether it's translated to any new business yet for Red House Furniture!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Love Him Or Hate Him, It's Good For America.

I refuse to take sides on this, but I applaud this debate between President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney over the appropriate level of security and caution against terrorism in the U.S. right now.

People (a lot of them, anyway) intuitively seem to want to instantly disregard what Cheney has to say, simply because he is old news - or simply because he was part of the "evil" Bush Administration. Cheney is perhaps hated even more than former President Bush is, yet he's still willing to come forward and press the case for caution. I, for one, think that act alone makes what he has to say worthy of my attention. Cheney was far from being a media whore when he was V.P.. There is certainly no reason to think he's making this noise only so he can steal the spotlight. Couldn't it be at least possible that Cheney knows what he's talking about?

President Obama has enjoyed (and largely deserved) a path of little resistance during his first four months in office, and it's good, I think to see him challenged. Cheney is clearly not alone in his reticence over the administration's policy on terrorism. Just yesterday, the Democratic Senate voted 90 - 6 to block funding for the President's bid to close the terror camp at Guantanamo Bay. There's nothing wrong with stepping back and giving full consideration to what the security needs are for the nation right now.

I'm sure I'm being idealistic, but opinions cannot hurt the national debate. They only serve to drive and expand thoughts and ideas. And what can be wrong with that?

Ya gotta love that First Amendment!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It Was Fun While It Lasted!

It is becoming apparent that Congress is going to tighten its regulatory grip on the credit card industry, and force lenders to clean up the way they lend money to consumers. The new rules will make it tougher for the credit card companies to make money off of people with shaky credit, which means the lenders will have to start making more money off of people who pay on time.

People with good credit (like me) have not needed to worry about interest rates or paying annual fees in the past. My interest rate is 7 percent, but I've never paid any attention to it because my card is paid off each month. And I haven't seen an annual fee in years. On the rare occasion when I've had one imposed, I've threatened to cancel my account, and the lender has always agreed to waive the fee.

Now, that will all change. The credit card folks are going to have to start charging fees, and my interest rate will go up. But the thing that really bothers me is that this will likely be the death knell of the credit card rewards program.

I have written about this before. Credit card rewards are largely paying for my family's summer vacation this year. They have also flown me to Florida at least a half-dozen times over the years. I have most of my monthly bills - phone/internet/cable, car insurance, cell phone - being paid on my credit card so I can rack up points and pay them all with one check instead of 4 or 5 checks. I will miss the perk, and hopefully as the credit card rewards diminish, banks will start offering rewards for debit card customers instead. I'm not sure why they would, but there's always hope!

All personal greed aside, I think credit card regulation is probably a good thing for the nation. We are still in major hangover mode after a 20-year party of free spending, and a little bit of forced austerity will be good - not only for consumers, but also for the lenders themselves. I mean - I've been largely unemployed for almost a year and a half, and I continue to receive credit card offers. American Express essentially GAVE me 500 dollars to sign up for a gold card, right around the time AMEX went asking the government for stimulus money. Who am I to turn that down?

One of my favorite hobbies is figuring out ways to use my credit card/frequent flyer points to get free stuff. Just yesterday, I was trying to brainstorm a quick summer getaway for me and the Missus. I had decided not to pursue it, but if we get into "Use 'em or lose 'em" mode, then I'm definitely gonna use them!


Thanks, Wayne Allwine.

For some reason, this is really turning into a Disney-centric week on the Beach. I was sad to hear this morning that Wayne Allwine has died from complications related to diabetes at the age of 62. That name will not be familiar to most of you, but for the past 32 years, Wayne had been the voice of Mickey Mouse - only the third man in history to voice the role, after Jimmy McDonald and Mickey's creator, Walt Disney.

Wayne was also a sound editor and foley artist at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, as well as the voice of several other animated characters, but you can bet his obits will barely mention any of that.

I had the good fortune of meeting Wayne probably a half-dozen times, at various Disney media events. He and his wife, Russi Taylor, would stop by the WMAL broadcast table and spend a few minutes in character being interviewed by our hosts. Russi is the voice of Minnie Mouse, and she and Wayne were married after years of working together in the recording booth. It was a great love story for them both!

The Allwines were special because they were always friendly, always flexible in terms of working around our broadcast clock, and they would always remember us as well. Wayne would carry his ukelele with him and serenade us on the air as Mickey and off the air as himself. When the mic was open, though, he was always careful to be Mickey - there was no betrayal of the toon universe, and we were always strictly interviewing Mickey and Minnie Mouse!

Can you imagine having a better job - or a bigger responsibility - than being the voice of an American icon? Thanks, Wayne!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Disney In D.C. Redux

I read with equal measures of interest, nostalgia and amusement this morning that the Walt Disney Company has purchased 15 acres of land at National Harbor in Prince George's County, Maryland, to be built as a hotel resort at the burgeoning convention facility.

A few years ago, that would have set my heart a-reeling with excitement. I've been a Disney geek for most of my adult life, and I've spent a fair amount of that time aspiring to work directly for the company. I was fortunate enough to be an ABC employee for 11 years under Disney's ownership, and it is truly a great company to be a part of.

Once upon a time, I came **this** close to working for Disney directly. Back in 1994, when the company was planning its "Disney's America" park in Haymarket, Virginia, I essentially turned coverage of the story into a full-time beat. I covered Disney like a blanket, and even managed to travel to Orlando to interview several company executives about the project. Aside from airing stories almost daily, I also prepared a 5-part news series called "American History: The Disney Version", which offered an in-depth look at both Disney and its opponents. The series went on to win broadcasting's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, the Alfred duPont Silver Baton.

I was living in fat city. Although I was doing my best to stay neutral on the air, I was truly conspiring to latch on with Disney behind the scenes. I had a great relationship with the Disney P.R. folks, and I truly believe they would have hired me once construction got underway. My wife and I had even driven out to look at the park site and discussed where we might live. But it turns out my dreams were swept away like so much pixie dust. The week after my series ran on the air, Disney pulled the plug on Disney's America. Appropriately enough, I was vacationing in Disney World when the news was released.

Disney chairman Michael Eisner told me later that the company was simply not willing to engage in a pissing match with the well-funded historians and environmental groups that were promising to spend the next decade suing to stop the project. I won't waste space here crying "sour grapes" over what happened. I've blogged about this before, so you can read about those thoughts here.

Flash forward to Disney's latest plans for DC. It's no secret the company has long coveted the tourist market here. Visitors to Washington tend to be better educated with higher incomes and more discretionary income than average. It's one of the main reasons Disney was attracted here in the 90's. However, I'd caution anyone about getting too excited about this latest news.

First off - Disney is not offering any timetable for when it might build a hotel at National Harbor. In fact, it seems like the company is cautioning it might be several years, and it certainly won't happen without a solid period of economic recovery. National Harbor isn't filling up it's existing capacity, so I'm sure Disney is in no hurry, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's never built at all.

Disney has already said it has no plans for anything beyond a hotel at National Harbor, and at 15 acres, there's no way the National Harbor will be anything BUT a hotel. If you're having visions of new theme parks, you can forget about it. Disney's world view is now global. It will continue to open new attractions and to renovate its existing US resorts, but in terms of new parks, Disney is thinking Shanghai, not Suitland.

If Disney does build in P.G. County, it will really amount to a new form of business for the company - making Disney a corporate travel name in direct competition for the Hyatt and Hilton customers of the world. I do not believe Disney's primary focus would be tourists in this case, because the main tourist attraction - the Mall - is a good half-hour drive away. Disney would certainly offer group tours of DC, and charge a pretty penny for them, too. But I believe this is more of a play for convention business.

Disney is also in the timeshare business, but I doubt it is looking to open a Vacation Club resort at National Harbor - at least, not at first - because the nearest current tourist attraction is a good half hour drive away. The developers of National Harbor envision it someday becoming a stand-alone destination resort - some place you'd take your family to for a week, like Ocean City or Hilton Head. National Harbor is certainly not that kind of a place right now, and my guess is the owners hope Disney will help to bring that kind of flavor to the area. But I think that growth will have to measured in decades, not years.

In any case - if and when Disney does come to DC, I'm quite sure I'll be lined up to see what they have to offer... and depending on what it is, I might even bring my resume with me!

A Lying Conundrum

My 11-year-old son lied to me this morning.

Spencer came downstairs for school, wearing his school patrol belt. Only - it wasn't really HIS belt. This belt was stretched so tight around Spencer's belly that he had to suck in his gut to get it latched. Spencer didn't say anything about it, but it was so blatantly noticable that I had to say something.

"What's wrong with your patrol belt?"
"Let me adjust it for you."
"No, Dad. It's OK!"
"Did you lose your belt?"
"You spent all winter wearing that belt over your heavy coat, and now you can't wear it over a T-shirt?"

At this point, Mom came downstairs and set the record straight. Spencer had indeed lost his belt last week, and the Patrol manager at school had given him a loaner. Robin knew this, because she's a teacher at Spencer's school, and she knows everything that goes on with him.

So at this point, I'm pissed. I'm pissed, of course, because he lied to me. No one wants to think that their kids are capable of deceit, but they certainly are, and I'm not going to beat myself up thinking I've been a terrible parent because this happened.

But I must admit, I'm perhaps even more pissed because his lie was a stupid one. If he had told me the truth, I wouldn't have been upset or even gotten angry. Spencer would lose his head if it wasn't attached to his neck, and he'll probably always be that way. But the fact that his Mom knew the truth, and he knew she knew the truth means he really wasted a lie on a lost cause. And that's just stupid.

Spencer is terrible at lying - perhaps because he is so gullible himself. He never did figure out the truth about the greatest lie of all - Santa Claus. I had to break the news to him just before Christmas when he was close to turning 10. I did it because I feared that he'd become a laughingstock at school, because he still so clearly believed. The fantasy aspects of the Santa Claus legend simply never occured to him.

I should mention at this point, for the sake of full disclosure, that Spencer has Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism that makes it challenging for him to interpret social cues - to read faces for proper expression, or to sense how to act appropriately in certain social situations. I don't offer this as an excuse, because we believe that Spencer has to learn to live in the real world, and the world is not going to pause to learn how to live in his private Idaho.

The fact is that Spencer is never going to be a great liar. That's probably a good thing, because honesty is the best policy. However, I do worry for my son. Someday, when he really needs to conjure up a good Whopper, I fear his efforts will fall flat. I'm not about to start giving him fibbing lessons.

But I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I'm Ready To K-strate K-Mart!

You know how there are certain stores you just won't shop at - until you do, of course, and remind yourself all over again why you don't shop there? That pretty much sums up my relationship with K-Mart... at least the one in Silver Spring.

I had a need for some merchandise on Friday, and not wanting to venture all the way to Rockville of Gaithersburg or Germantown, I made the closer drive to Aspen Hill, home of the over-crowded yet somehow understocked K-Mart. On this day, I did manage to find several items, and made my way to the register. There was only one register open, of course, and when I got there, the cashier was waiting for someone - the manager, apparently - to get her a price on an item. This act alone took at least five minutes. We waited another five minutes while the customer paid by check - another pet peeve of mine. By this point, there were at least a dozen people in line, and I was number six.

The bored cashier popped her gum as she leisurely scanned items. While she did this, the lady in front of me started to ditch stuff from her cart onto the candy/magazine display. She was apparently worried that she didn't have enough money, because when her time finally came, and the cashier rang up the total, the woman came back and grabbed most of the stuff back that she had already dumped. It was special. By the time I got through the line, 20 minutes had passed. I was sweating profusely because it had to have been 80 degrees in there, and I swore to myself I would never go back.

Of course, that promise lasted 24 hours. Through no fault of my own, some of the stuff I bought had to be returned and exchanged. So back I went on Saturday. To be honest, the returns went surprisingly smoothly, but buying other stuff to replace what I had returned? Fugeddaboudit!

I was able to find what I wanted quickly, and I returned to the front of the store to check out. I did mention this was Saturday, right? They had four registers open, but there were easily ten customers in each line, and they all stretched back to the linens department. I went to the back of the line, and waited for about five minutes without budging. This was not encouraging, considering I had spent 20 minutes in a shorter line the day before.

I looked around and noticed the shelves of folded towels that surrounded me were filled with pants and motor oil... Twinkies and blue jeans. Stuff that had no doubt been left behind by people who had better things to be doing on their Saturdays than growing old at K-Mart. I followed their lead, put down my merchandise on top of a very nice floral sheet, and walked out of the store.

Have I mentioned that I don't shop at K-Mart?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Son Trek

My sons and I enjoyed a special treat this week - taking in a Wednesday after-school matinee to see the remake of "Star Trek". As someone who has been a Trek fan since Junior High - when the TV show had been gone for several years, and the first disappointing film was still several years off - it was fun to take my own kids and give them their first meaningful exposure to the canon. And the movie was good, too!

I had never really considered what a leap Trek has taken in pop culture, but it now joins Superman, Batman and James Bond in the late-American folk story library. (I know Bond is British- sue me.) For better or worse, these characters - Kirk and Spock and McCoy, et al - have secured their places in the national conscience, and our children will now likely be passing their stories along to their children... not bad for a TV series that was cancelled due to low viewership after three seasons!

Now that Brad and Spencer have been exposed to the origins of the Trek characters, it will be interesting to see if they want to expand their interest by checking out the other movies. I'd say Spencer will definitely want to check them out - With the revival of Indiana Jones, he has now seen all four "Indy" movies, and he's fluent in "Star Wars" as well. If the 80's cheese-fest of Shatner and company can hold Spencer's interest, we'll all know for sure that good story and character development can survive the times they were created in!

One good side effect of exposing my kids to things like "Star Trek" is that it gives them a better understanding of where some of their Dad's common phrases come from. Someday soon, I expect they'll know why their Dad tells them "resistance is futile". They'll be able to figure out why I say "nuclear wessels" instead of "nuclear vessels". Or why, when we're leaving the kids at home alone, I tell Brad "you have the conn".

It's the little things in life that count. And if you don't what I was referring to just now, then you need to see more Trek, too!

Live long and prosper!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Personal Power Outage

Late last night, as I was watching the season finale of LOST, about half of the lights and outlets in the house went out. I didn't think too much of it at first, because frankly, I was too immersed in watching Jack and Sayid conspiring to blow up the island with a nuclear bomb... but I digress.

When Robin came upstairs and told me the garage door wouldn't open, and the washing machine was stuck in the spin cycle, and none of the bathroom lights worked, I realized we had an issue, so I went downstairs to the circuit box and looked inside. There was, indeed, a breaker that had flipped, so I turned it back on and... nothing. Damn.

Next stop - the computer. Fortunately, it was plugged into an outlet that still worked, so I googled "circuit breaker repair" to see if this was something I could do myself. The verdict came back that yes, I COULD replace a circuit breaker - if I semi-knew what I was doing. Now, I am semi-handy with a screwdriver. I used to work in construction, and I have replaced ice makers and garbage disposals, but electricity scares me. The last thing I want is for one of the kids to come home and think Dad made hamburgers for lunch, then come downstairs and see me charred and broiled on the basement floor!

After determining we needed a professional, Mrs. Matthews quickly volunteered that one of her kindergarten's students' Moms' sister-in-law's husbands was an electrician, and that we knew these people through one of our former neighbors when we lived in our last house five years ago. Maybe they'd be good!

I sincerely doubted this "six degrees of electricity" game would yield us any kind of monetary break, but I didn't have any better connections, so at 6:20 this morning, I dialed the office number that the electrician had posted on his website. A woman answered, and was largely unimpressed by the "Who's Who in Montgomery County" explanation that I offered. She was, however, able to get her brother-in-law to stop by less than an hour later.

The doorbell rang (hey, the doorbell works!) at 7:15, and within 10 minutes, the friendly electrician had diagnosed the problem. There was nothing wrong with the wiring in our house... the problem came from outside - Somewhere, the local power company, Pepco, must have blown a fuse, because only half of the electricity that should be coming into my house is actually coming in.

I was thankful for the diagnosis, but not the bill. The ten-minute service call, in which nothing was repaired, cost me ten bucks a minute. Sigh. I don't begrudge the electrician, and in fact, I'm thankful because they did a great job of getting to me quickly. But that doesn't ease the pain that I dropped a hundred bucks for something that ultimately was the power company's fault.

I called Pepco and received automated service over the phone. Some disembodied entity will be fixing the problem sometime today. And while this repair will not (I hope) cost me any additional money, I do not expect to receive any apologies or offers to cover the cost of diagnosing the problem to begin with.

I guess you really DO get what you pay for! (grumble, grumble, grumble...)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where Turnabout Is Not Fair Play...

Blogging on race is potentially one of those deadly "third rail" topics, but I feel comfortable enough about this one to post it as is, with just one note from me.

I find this kind of "us vs. them" mentality to be depressing. This is not about "empowerment". It's about self-segregation.

ATLANTA - It's been two months since 2-year-old Cori pulled the gold stud from her left earlobe, and the piercing is threatening to close as her mother, Maggie Anderson, hunts for a replacement.

It's not that the earring was all that rare—but finding the right store has become a quest of Quixotic proportions.

Maggie and John Anderson of Chicago vowed four months ago that for one year, they would try to patronize only black-owned businesses. The "Empowerment Experiment" is the reason John had to suffer for hours with a stomach ache and Maggie no longer gets that brand-name lather when she washes her hair. A grocery trip is a 14-mile odyssey.

"We kind of enjoy the sacrifice because we get to make the point ... but I am going without stuff and I am frustrated on a daily basis," Maggie Anderson said. "It's like, my people have been here 400 years and we don't even have a Walgreens to show for it."

So far, the Andersons have spent hundreds of dollars with black businesses from grocery stores to dry cleaners. But the couple still hasn't found a mortgage lender, home security system vendor or toy store. Nonetheless, they're hoping to expand the endeavor beyond their Chicago home.

Plans are under way to track spending among supporters nationwide and build a national database of quality black businesses. The first affiliate chapter has been launched in Atlanta, and the couple has established a foundation to raise funds for black businesses and an annual convention.

"We have the real power to do something, to use the money we spend every day to solve our problems," Maggie Anderson said recently at a meet-and-greet in Atlanta. "We have to believe that black businesses are just as good as everybody else's."

Now, the Andersons are following up with 4,000 people who signed up for the experiment on their Web site to gauge their commitment and set up online accounts to track their spending. Hundreds have also joined the experiment's Facebook page, Maggie Anderson said.

Gregory Price, chairman of the economics department at Morehouse College, said black visionaries like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey made similar calls to action.

"The idea is a sound one, given that black Americans are still underrepresented in the ranks of the self-employed and that entrepreneurship is a key component to wealth," Price said.

There are one million black businesses in the United States accounting for more than $100 billion in annual sales, according to the National Black Chamber of Commerce. The latest U.S. Census numbers report that blacks have more than $800 billion in expendable income each year.

The Andersons track their spending on their Web site and estimate about 55 percent of their monthly spending is with black businesses for things like day care, groceries, car maintenance and home improvements.

One of the businesses highlighted by the Empowerment Experiment is Brenda Brown's Atlanta wine boutique, a shop with a growing black clientele. She said the project can help overcome the problems many black consumers lament.

"When we were a community of black folks who could not go to the white stores, our community of black stores flourished," Brown said. "When we were given the opportunity to go into the white store, it was like nothing else mattered anymore and we wanted to go to the white store, regardless of what the black store provided. We could have the same or better products if we supported (black businesses) in the same way."

Lewis Peeples, 45, lives in a black neighborhood in southwest Atlanta but didn't think to spend his money with black businesses until a friend told him about the project.

"So often, we make purchases and decisions and aren't even mindful that there is a a need to support our own businesses," said Peeples. "Now, I'm reaching out and making sure I know that I have an option when I look to make a purchase."

Two months ago, he committed to patronizing black businesses and found a black dry cleaner 10 minutes from home. Even when he was dissatisfied with his black doctor, he was able to find a new one. He suggests both to friends and refers others to the experiment's Web site, where he tracks his expenses.

Dallas Smith, who owns a commercial real estate firm in Atlanta, said mainstream retailers have undervalued black consumers. He lives in a black neighborhood in southwest Atlanta, where he tries to dine at black restaurants. He lamented the lack of quality businesses catering to black customers and said blacks should appreciate such businesses more.

"We've still got that 'the white man's water is colder' mentality," he said. "We can't take us for granted. When we go to our establishments, it's almost like we're doing a favor. That ought to be a given for us."

The Andersons remain encouraged by their momentum online and in the media. At the end of 2009, they hope to show $1 million in spending with black businesses among supporters across the country.

"The response has been so huge," Maggie Anderson said. "We think so much can come out of this. We're in movement-making mode now."

Price, the Morehouse professor, said defining the project's success won't be easy, since the real barriers to black advancement are poor access to capital and lack of training opportunities. "It would be nice to see some real, hard data," Price said. "Otherwise, it could just be an episode of ethnic cheerleading."

Give It A Rest, Wanda...

I'm trying for a second time to post my thoughts about the jokes told at the White House Correspondent's Dinner over the weekend. I tried writing this for more than an hour yesterday, but stopped when I just couldn't make my my writing convey what my brain was thinking. My grouchy friend, Jen, encouraged me to give it another shot, so here I am.

For the most part, I really enjoyed President Obama's monologue. He had some wickedly funny lines - my favorite being that Rahm Emanuel was struggling with using the word "day" after the word "Mother" because he's so used to using a more vulgar suffix. Very funny stuff. The President also made light of the fact that the media continues to idolize him, and he did it in a friendly "I-get-the-joke" kind of way.

My review of Wanda Sykes is not so kind. I will not pretend to be outraged or offended by what she said, but I did find the whole routine to be a bit tiresome.
The reaction of Democrats after the November election was completely understandable. They were celebrating a determined victory after eight years of a Republican administration that they clearly could not stand. They took a commanding lead in both the House and Senate, and essentially ensured their party's dominance on the American political landscape for at least the next eight years (short of some unforseen disaster). They gleefully picked apart the bones of what was left of the GOP, and danced on the graves of their opponents. And God bless them. To the victors, go the spoils.

But here's my beef. The election was seven months ago. The Democrats won. Do we really still need this kind of partisan venom-spewing? President Obama campaigned on a promise of change in America. A lot of moderates swung his way on the hope that this kind of partisan divisiveness would, if not go away, at least be removed from the spotlight. Wanda Sykes' performance at the Correspondents Dinner just served as a reminder to me that nothing much has changed.

One of Sykes' biggest targets was Rush Limbaugh. Again - I won't speak to the appropriateness of her jokes directed at Rush. Frankly, I could care less about the content. My frustration lies in the fact that even as the Democrats try to demonize Limbaugh, they are empowering him. He's like one of those creatures in Star Trek that feed on phaser power, and only grow more powerful as they are attacked. The more attention Rush Limbaugh gets in the national media, the higher his ratings will become, and chasm that divides the nation will only continue to grow wider.

Rush Limbaugh exists to divide America. I do not hold him to blame for this. It's what he does. It's how he makes his living. It's what ALL political-opinion radio talk hosts do - from left and right. And no - it does not serve my personal idealistic higher goal of getting Americans to stop hating each other, but it does serve my even greater jones for the First Amendment.

The Democrats have created this "Rush Limbaugh is the face of the Republican party" lie. It is no more true than to say Janeane Garafalo is the voice of the Democrats. Most Dems have never heard Garafalo speak, and 90 percent of Republicans do NOT listen to Rush on a regular basis - or want him running the country, for that matter.

President Obama is enjoying incredibly impressive popularity ratings in the polls these days, and with Congress behind him, he is possibly the most powerful President we've seen since FDR. He has it within his power to quell the kind of divisive humor that Wanda Sykes spewed out this past weekend. All he would have to do is tactfully drop a mention that he would like to see some of the venom to die down - and I think it would to a great extent. If Mr. Obama is going to meaningfully lead the nation, he would go a long way to help heal the nation first.

Democrats also need to be mindful that politics go in cycles in America. Just as surely as the Obama era replaced the Bush era, the Bush era supplanted the Clintons. What goes around come around. The GOP will live to fight another day, and as the saying goes, "an elephant never forgets". The mud you fling today will most certainly come back to soil your faces soon enough, so maybe it's best to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

But perhaps I'm being too idealistic. There are a lot of people keeping score out there - people who want their pound of flesh for enduring the Bush administration, and politicians who don't know how to govern or legislate without first busting a gut to knock down their political opponents first.

Still - imagine how much energy we could all save if we didn't spend the majority of our time hating on each other!

Kumbayah, y'all!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Backstage Reality

I try not to discuss it TOO frequently, but I am a fan of select "reality TV" programs. I have been watching some of them, including "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" from their inceptions, and I know I'm not alone, because these two shows in particular are perennial top 20 programs.

I can't help but be defensive about being a reality TV fan because many people who DON'T watch these shows are so damn judgemental about them. I have more than one family member who rolls his or her eyes at the mere mention of these programs, as if reality TV is beneath them. I just want to say here and now that having THAT kind of reaction without having ever seen any of these programs, to me just brings reality TV's critics down to the level of reality TV - so it's all good. (You know who you are!)

For the rest of you who DO watch reality TV, and "Survivor" in particular, I wanted to bring something to your attention that may enhance your enjoyment of the program. Most of these shows have websites that offer added video clips - many of which are of dubious value. However, "Survivor" goes a step further, and shows behind the scene clips of each contestant as they are thrown off the show. These ousted contestants are taken to a nearby camp, known as "Ponderosa", where they recover and rest as they await the end of the show. You get to see how each player reacts to being ousted, and how the nastiness of being on the show quickly melts away with the promise of food and a hot shower.

You can find "Ponderosa" on the Survivor web page at! Enjoy!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Food Nostalgia!


I was trolling around Facebook (shocking, right?) , and happened across the "Farrell's Fan Club" - a tribute to the long-forgotten Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour chain. Boy, that took me right back to Junior High! When I was a young teenager, our family would often pile up in our 1970 Pontiac Safari station wagon and make the ride up the road to Wheaton Plaza for ice cream at Farrell's.

The parlor had a turn-of-the-century motif, and the wait staff all wore red vests and brimmed straw hats. The menu featured all manner of ice cream specialties, including the world-famous Farrell's Zoo sundae... 16 scoops of ice cream, eight toppings, whipped cream, nuts and cherries, which would be brought to the table by two waiters on a stretcher-type device and with sirens blaring.

We, of course, never ordered the Zoo sundae outselves - With all of us kids being pudgy, I think we were all way too self-conscious to do that. However, there were many a time when my friend Jeff Kitzler and I would split a "Pig's trough", which was actually a banana split made for two. Sometimes, I would order the "Hot Fudge Nutty Nutty" - a hot fudge sundae that came with two cups of fudge and two cups of salted spanish peanuts. Dee-lish!

The other great thing I remember about Farrell's is it's candy counter, which you had to pass as you walked out the door. We always made sure to take home a few black licorice ropes, which were delicious and a bargain - three feet for a quarter!

During its local heyday in the DC area, Farrell's was owned by Marriott, which eventually sold the chain. That led to Farrell's downfall, and by the mid-80's, it was gone. Now just three Farrells are still in existence - one in California and two in Hawaii. A few years ago, we hunted down a Farrell's near San Diego and stopped in for lunch. It happened to be my birthday, and they blew the siren for me. It was all great fun.

Thinking about Farrell's with its straw hats and early 20th Century motif reminded me of another childhood family haunt - Shakey's Pizza. For me, Shakey's goes all the way back to kindergarten or so. My father - back when he was still a middle-class slob like the rest of us - used to take the entire family to the Shakey's in Adelphi, just up the street from Tick Tock liquors.

Shakey's also had a retro motif, but it was a much more barebones place, with long wooden tables, and backless benches to sit on. There were sarcastic wooden signs lining the walls, and an actual oldtime player piano that played ragtime tunes on long rolls of paper, and I remember asking my parents relentlessly for money to play the piano.

We'd meet our family friends, the Chatfields, and Mom and Dad would order pitchers of beer and soda while we kids would stand on benches in front of the kitchen window and watch the chefs make the dough and the pizza. It was all quite a show!

Shakey's Pizza had a very distinctive taste - The sauce was not as sweet as others I've tasted, and the crust was very thin - almost crisp. In my youth, I thought it was superior - but I wonder if I'd think the same today. The memories of the times spent there quite likely mask the taste of the food.

In later years, as I turned into a teenager and then into young adulthood, I would frequent the Shakey's in Rockville, which was similar to the original Adelphi location. My friend Bob and I spent many an afternoon with pizza and beer commisserating over one broken teenage dream or romance or another... Later on, I was a regular at the Shakey's in Gaithersburg, which had a more modern design and was more of a buffet than a pizza joint. Alas, they all left the area years ago as well, and now there are just a couple of Shakey's east of the Mississippi.

After doing a bit of web searching, I have discovered that Shakey's is making a comeback in California, where the chain originated. In fact, there's a new location just a couple of miles away from Disneyland, which I'll be visiting this summer. You can bet we'll be stopping in for dinner there!

The End Of A Long Week...

For the first time in a while (since the Inauguration, more or less), I had such a busy work week that I was able to actually able to say "TGIF" with a sense of legitimate relief. (That also explains why my blogging trailed off so badly in the past few days!)

Not only did I work three days at two different employers, but I was also crushed with a late deadline to get a separate freelance writing/producing project done. In the grand scheme of things, I have had much more hectic weeks in my career, but it was still pretty packed - and I was quite pleased to sleep in this morning.

It actually felt good to feel tired from working - and it's a feeling I wish I had on a more consistent basis. Fortunately, as Memorial Day approaches, so does vacation season. I have already added on a new freelance client, and I am hoping for a very busy summer.

Part of the reason for my fatigue was unexpected stress at WMAL. For the first time since returning there as a freelancer, I was assigned to anchor the afternoon news. I didn't think much at first about the assignment. I was News Director there for 13 years, and the newscasts they do today are essentially the same as the ones I used to keep watch over. BUT - it did not really dawn on me until I was in the middle of working my first day that I had not actually worked that shift in perhaps a decade.

I had no problem at all going back to WMAL after six months away to work in mornings, because I had been a morning regular. But afternoons turned out to be a different story. The newscasts had different intros and outros. I had to learn how to play commercials, which I did not have to do in mornings. The type of stories and the source of stories are different in the afternoon than the mornings. And most importantly, I had NO sense of rhythm working in the afternoon - There was not a routine in place. In the morning, I could tell whether I was ahead or behind totally by instinct. Working the afternoon, even though there is less actual work, I felt like I was running late the entire day. That proved to be quite stressful, and I bit off more than one innocent colleagues' head. By the time the shift was over, I was beat.

The second day in the afternoon proved to be much better, but still just a bit of an out-of-body experience. I get one more shot at PM drive on Monday.

But first, I'm going to enjoy the weekend - like regular people do!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Would You Wet Your Pants For A Million Bucks?

I'm a longtime fan of the Amazing Race... My wife and I both enjoy the fantasy of jetting around the world - especially the part where we could run more than a couple of hundred yards without keeling over and dying. We especially enjoy envisioning which tasks each of us would take on. In our case, Robin would definitely get all of the "weird food" eating challenges, while I would do the bungee jumping/scary height stunts.

This week, the race presented an unusual conundrum for sisters Kisha and Jen. They faced the opportunity to make it to the final leg of the race - the final run for the one million dollar prize. The only problem - one of the sisters had to pee. And while she was in the Porta-John, another team passed the sisters and eliminated them.

I find this truly hard to believe... If I was that close to winning a million bucks - hell, even if I was just that close to making it to the end after racing tens of thousands of miles - I'd gladly let the pee flow down my leg as I ran to the finish line!

Watch the video and think about what YOU'D do! As for me - pass the Depends!

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Was (And Still Am) A Teenage Drama Nerd!

No time to write my own blog entry today - I've been called in to work! - So I'll follow the leads of all the great writers and just steal material! I read this essay written by Cheryl Kravitz of Silver Spring in this morning's Washington Post - She was responding to a challenge by the Post to complete the sentence, "You know you're really a nerd when..." Here's a portion of Cheryl's response...

When I was growing up in Chicago, we lived in a blue-collar neighborhood on the South Side. It was not unusual to hear about fights at some local schools that involved things like switchblades and brass knuckles (whatever they are). This was around the time "West Side Story" hit the movie theaters, and my equally nerdy friends and I decided we were similar to the Sharks. I have no idea why, except we loved Bernardo's purple shirt and we thought Anita was cool.

Anyway, we formed a gang. We also called ourselves the Sharks and wore outfits made from our fathers' old undershirts. We drew sharks on them that looked like inebriated porpoises. One day we went to a playground with a layout similar to the one in the first scene of "West Side Story" so we could sing or dance our hearts out.

Years later, I told a colleague this story, and he shook his head in disbelief. "Are you saying you were in a gang that performed scenes from Broadway musicals?"

You can read Cheryl's entire essay here.

I can completely relate to Cheryl, because I used to, and in fact, STILL do the same kinds of silly things - especially with music. My college choir used to take over restaurants when we'd be out on tour, and sing impromptu (and often drunken) concerts on demand. I also enjoy humming or whistling the "Colonel Bogey March" in crowds, just to see if I can get others to join in!

It's the same kind of nerdiness that prompted me to create my own choir website... and also to launch "singalongs" among my friends on Facebook on a regular basis.

And I will confess that on more than one occasion, I, too have found myself stealing a dance step or two from Jerome Robbins and snapping my fingers at the sight of a barren playground.

I'm a nerd!

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Heck Of A Week For High Schools In MoCo!

Take your pick... Knives, Bombs or Swine Flu! It's been a heck of a week for Montgomery County High Schools!

First, on Monday, one kid at Sherwood decided to deep-six the rest of his high school experience by bringing a knife to school and taking a slice out of another kid. The victim will recover. The suspect - I hear he's already 19 - faces expulsion, but I think that's the least of his worries. He's going to go to prison!

That incident put the rest of the school on lockdown for the rest of the day. My oldest son, Brad, didn't mind that at all, because he was stuck in web design class. He got to goof off on the internet for a couple of hours!

On Tuesday, my alma mater, Springbrook, had a much more serious scare. Two students were rounded up, suspected of setting a couple of small fires at the school... On further review, police uncovered a plot to kill the principal and maim a school counselor, and to start a fire by breaking a gas line in the school auditorium. It was the most Columbine-esque threat we've had in the area in quite some time.

Finally, late last night, the county made a decision to close Rockville High School until further notice, because one of the students there has apparently come down with the swine flu. Mind you, this student has not been in school since Monday, and no one else has become ill. But it's Friday, and I guess the county figures if they have a long weekend to see if anyone else incubates, it won't be so bad.

I personally think this whole swine flu thing is another embarrassing moment for the media, which is overreacting in the extreme, and leading the public to believe the threat is much much greater than it obviously is. At least in the United States, even the people who have gotten sick HAVEN'T gotten THAT sick!

I also blame the public. Somehow - and I'm not quite sure when or how it happened to this degree - people have become totally drawn into a pack mentality. It's almost like people don't have minds of their own any more. Laugh if you will, but the same thing that has people blindly panicking over swine flu is responsible for making Susan Boyle a youtube sensation. It's almost like people don't have the time or the will to make their own discriminating decisions.

The swine flu will pass... as did SARS... as did the bird flu... And the chances that any of you will end up with it are minuscule, so please - grow a pair!

As for the violence, I personally find that to be much scarier. Not the knife incident, per se. The act of kids bringing knives to school is hardly a new phenomenon. I certainly don't condone it either, but pragmatically speaking, teenagers have been doing stupid things for as long as there have been teenagers, so don't expect society to fix the problem any time soon.

As for the threats at Springbrook. That's pretty scary stuff, isn't it? I've had some conversations with some of my fellow alums on Facebook, and most of them say things like, "We were so innocent", or "That never could have happened when we were there". I kinda disagree. I do think kids today are affected by their surroundings. We didn't have violent video games or cable TV or gangsta' rap back in the day. We didn't have the internet or chat rooms or the exposure to the kind of poison that our children today have.

But we did have bad apples. I knew a few kids from grade school all the way through high school who were bad eggs all the way through. We also had kids with "special needs", but we didn't have that label back then. If those same bad kids of my youth had been raised today, they certainly would have been capable to the kind of violence that was plotted at Springbrook.

At least that's what I think. I personally believe we ALL go through life in a constant state of denial. It's an effective coping mechanism, because if we didn't have denial, we'd all have to face the fact that what we've built as our lives could all end without notice. Wiped out by a car wreck. A massacre. A tornado.

Hell - even swine flu.