Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Know Your History: Outrage at All Key Times of Change

Almost always, it pays to know your history when trying to judge what's happening in the present. And so it is today.

Think things are getting a little crazy up in here over the current healthcare debate?

Well, if you know your American history you'd know that this ain't the first time. Nope. The truth is, any time there is big change on the agenda in America, the extremists and paranoids come out to play...often spurred on by monied interests wishing to continue their spectacularly good thing and playing to the fears and prejudices of everyday people. It's happened over and over in our history.

Authentic, organic if confused outrage by a sector of the citizenry? Sure thing. Manipulation of hysteria by those who know better? Also true. Both true, both against change...untied in "stopping" something they commonly seen as an "assault" on American values or way of life.

But don't take my word for it. For a good overview of this uniquely American historical record, check out an article from Sunday's Washington Post by clicking here.

For another "Know Your History" post, click here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Great Summer Weekend in Seattle

Diane and spent a great summer weekend in Seattle over the last couple days - a testament to how much fun stuff there is to do just minutes from where we live in the Ballard neighborhood.

Here's what we did...

Friday Evening
After long and trying week at work for both of us, we ventured over to Senor Moose near where we live in Ballard. If you haven't been to "the Moose" and you like Mexican food - go! For those of you who've been there, well, you know. Diane had the carne asada and I had the enchiladas suaza (sp?). And margaritas of course.

Stuffed to to the gills with some of the best Mexican food north of Mexico, we packed in for the night.

With temperatures once again warming up, we got our exercise in the morning. I went for a nice six mile run on the Burke Gilman trail. Diane went to a class at our gym.

After some yard work and a rest, we then went to the Majestic Bay theater in Ballard to see the movie, Julie and Julia. This is true story movie about a) a young woman in New York City who in 2002 decided to cook every recipe in Julia Child's famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking cook book and to blog about it, and b) how Julia Child became, well, Julia Child as she learned to cook in 1950s Europe. The role of Child is expertly played by Meryl Streep and is alone worth going to see this movie. Anyway, this was a much better movie than I anticipated. However, I could never quite get over how the younger woman, Julie, ends up (SPOILER ALERT) getting a book deal and becoming famous for....nothing. Link

All she did was cook the recipes in the book and blog about them. That's it. I guess that's how our society is today. You don't need to do something original. All you have to do is use something that somebody else has already done and then just comment on it or add a little something on top and, boom, you're famous and rich. This happens all the time in music these days where "DJs" take music that someone else wrote, performed and recorded and then the mix it around using different sections and portions to create a "new" song. Right.

None the less, amply inspired by Julia Child's French experience and efforts, we went for an outdoor French diner in the garden at Sambar. Sambar is a tiny but cool place right next to the Le Gourmand restaurant at the base of Phinney Ridge. In the summer, they open up a delightful little garden dining area that is nice green oasis right in the middle of the city. We shared a wonderful salad, beef shank and pasta, a chard greens souffle, and slices of pheasant. All of these dishes were divine. They were also small...which is perfect for sharing.

Another warm sunny day in Seattle. After a trip to the Ballard Farmer's Market in the morning to pick up some berries and flowers, we decided to take a bike ride on the Burke Gilman trail from Gasworks Park in Seattle to the Redhook Brewery in Woodenville and back. It's about a 50 mile round trip, but along the well paved path you get to see great views of Lake Washington, a lot of neat houses and the halfway point is the brewery for lunch! There, we both had a brew and a brat. Delicious.

Following our return ride back to Seattle, we decided to stop by Molly Moo's Ice Cream on 45th Street for a hit of cold goodness. Diane had a scoop of the balsamic strawberry and I had straight away chocolate. Very, very good.

We finished the evening off with a Margherita pizza pie from Veraci Pizza - also a few short blocks away (across the street from Le Gourmand and Sambar actually).

Obviously, we had a great time. But on top of that, it's great to live in a city and neighborhood where so much goodness and fun is so nearby and so easily accessible. A great weekend indeed.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The new photo of the week for the blog is also a picture I'd like to highlight here.

(Photo taken by: Marc Osborn)

In this picture you see the people of the Hoi An area participating in an activity that has taken place for centuries - the early morning rush of brining goods to market via the river. It was one of the many wonderful scenes Diane and I saw on our trip to Vietnam in 2006.

Here, I thought that the activity, accompanied by the mass of people wearing the conical hats made for a very interesting picture.

To get the shot, I woke up early and took a short taxi ride from our South China Sea-side hotel into the town. From there I walked to the market and then across a bridge directly across from the market. Even at this early hour, the town was beginning to hum, getting business done before the major heat of the mid-morning started to kick in.

At any rate, now in position, I used my telephoto lens. Zooming in I started taking shots. Of the two dozen or so pictures I took, I think this one came out best. I'm proud of it.

You can see more of the pictures I took in Hoi An by clicking here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Admiring the Conservative Approach

In my last couple posts on political topics, I've definitely called out what I feel are some shortcomings of the conservative position to healthcare reform - if not politics generally.

However, I want to give conservatives and Republicans their due. While currently in the political minority, there is much to be admired about their approach to getting things done. Whether its planned out in advance, organic in nature or some of both - it doesn't matter. They kick ass. By comparison, your average liberal or Democrat is lazy, unmotivated and full of long-winded messages that are lost on listeners the moment they start.

So, with no irony or malice here are four things I like about the conservative and Republican approach:

Oh yes, conservatives are passionate. When one of them is debating an issue, there is no f-ing doubt they believe what they're saying and think the opposition is plain wrong. This conviction is seen not just in elected officials, but indeed everyday people such as those attending the recent town halls on healthcare reform. Passion translates as credibility - even if the facts don't back up what's being said.

By comparison, liberals and Democrats try the "explain" things and "reason" things out with "facts" or "data." If there's one thing I've learned in my years doing PR work it is this: emotion trumps facts EVERY TIME. Actually, emotion takes fact out behind the woodshed and completely kicks its ass. Always. So, guess who wins most arguments?

I'm not sure how it gets done, but Republicans and conservatives seem so much more organized than their liberal and Democratic adversaries. They're at all the right places at all the right times with all the right talk points and all the right props and numbers of people to make an impact. Boom, there you go. Organization brings a political message and perspective to bear right when and where it's needed - in person, online, on the phones, over e-mail. This is a major advantage over liberals who seem to think, again, that facts, reason and logic mean certainly that people must agree with them so they don't do much. How lame is that?

This might be part of being organized, but conservatives and Republicans seem more willing to get off their ass and do something - march, protest, write, call, attend precinct meetings. Whatever. They're willing to do it in more numbers than liberals or Democrats. Actions speak louder than words. Enough said.

This one I am sure is not organic. Rather, I'm pretty sure that there is a way that the "talk points" on different issues are rolled out systematically to conservative operatives and talking heads - and then by extension the general public. None the less, it's admirable.

Quick, what's the Republican take on healthcare reform? It's socialized medicine where the government will be in control of your care - including deciding when you live or die. You know it because you've heard it a million times. OK quick, what's the Democrats message on reform? Uhh, well, uhh, care costs too much and not enough people have access so we need to...zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I think you get the point.

And what is the big upshot of being passionate, organized, on-message and action oriented? You get to win most debates and have more influence on how things get done. My opinion is that healthcare reform will be significantly watered down if not derailed completely by this approach. You know that I think this will mean bad things for the country, especially for the very people protesting against reform, but in any case my bet is that we'll see the very admirable approach of conservatives pay off for them.

And for those out there who might say, "yeah, if Republicans are so great at this how come they lost the '08 election?" I would say this...they lost because they had a very flawed incumbent (Bush), weak candidates (McCain, Palin), and a bad economy courtesy of their running of the government. All the organization and passion could not overcome that when put up against a more compelling and - at least for the election time frame - on-message candidate. Frankly, I'd rather my party be passionate, organized, action-oriented and on-message and take my lumps every once and a while than have to rely on a "super candidate" (Bill Clinton, Obama) and a bad economy just to squeak out an election win every now and again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SI Cover Jinks - Real or Imagined?

OK, so now for a break from the serious topic of my last couple posts.

I want to move on to something just about as important. Yes, college football. It's only three weeks away!

My Alma Mater, the University of Oregon, is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week for their college football preview issue with some statement like, "Oregon has enough firepower to shake up the BSC."

But rather than get into the UO vs. other teams kinda thing, I wonder what people think about the supposed SI cover "jinks" in which all too often athletes or teams appearing on the cover go on to have poor performances or seasons.

Will this happen to the Ducks? How about the teams gracing the cover for the other regions of the nation (Penn St., Old Miss and Oklahoma St.)? Is the SI jinks real or should I ignore it?

Oh, and in case you're wondering...my prediction for the Ducks is 9-3. We'll lose one of our non-conference games, one of USC or Cal, and then one just out of the blue that they really should win. That's probably not BCS bowl territory, but it would be a good season.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Healthcare Reform Protester Irony 101

Last week I posted an entry here about the current healthcare debate and the rowdy protesters that are showing up to town halls on the subject.

My approach was to take the healthcare protesters at their word that they're just simple middle class people concerned about what could happen to their insurance and care - not ringers planted by conservative groups against reform. With that in mind, my assertion then was that the people protesting reform of the healthcare system so loudly are the very people who likely need reform of the healthcare system most...and by extension are not part of an admirable rebellion or icons of free speech. They're ignorant at best, used at worst.

And now we have a real life example of this. At one of the more rowdy town halls about reform last week in the St. Louis area, a scuffle broke out between protesters and supporters of reform. In the melee one of the conservative protesters was roughed up enough that he needed to be taken to a hospital for care of his injuries.

Well, guess what? This guy was recently laid off from his job and does not have any healthcare insurance! Hmmm. And what is he doing to try and pay for the services he needed? Asking other people to pay for it! Huh! Yep, he's asking for donations from other people to cover his costs. Check it here.

What happened to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps?" All of a sudden it's OK to ask others to help you out in a time of need? Hmmm. How quickly those conservative ideals of the "rugged individual" disappear when one of them actually needs help. Oh, and there's the little matter that more and more of us will be reduced to begging for charity to cover our healthcare costs if healthcare reform does not pass.

Look, if you can see the many ironies in this situation, you get what I'm saying about ignorance breeding bad decisions and...in the case of healthcare reform...hurting the very people it would help.

And if you do not see the irony in this situation, I suspect you may also think that tax cuts for the rich magically "trickle down" to create a wealthy economy for all classes, that voting for socially conservative politicians somehow saves jobs from being outsourced of deficits to be reduced...or that the Apollo moon landings only ever took place on a sound stage in LA. In other words, you won't be convinced, facts be damned.

And so the circus continues.

Thanks to my buddy Marcus for pointing out the above action to me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Observations from Baseballville

My buddy Sean and I went to the Mariners game Sunday afternoon. It was the first game I've been to this season, and I was hoping to see Ken Griffy Jr. play one last time. However, that was not to be as he did not play that day.

Right about game time the sun came out and all was good as we settled in for what we hoped would be an entertaining game against the defending American League champs - the Tampa Bay Rays (they used to be the Devil Rays, but the fine folks of Florida compelled the team to change their name to just "the Rays" to get that "Devil" out of their name.

Anyone who follows the Ms probably knows by now that they won the game, scoring 11 runs...including a grand slam homer by first baseman Russell Branyan. Suffice it to say, the game had a lot of hits and a lot of runs, with the good guys prevailing 11-2. It was a fun game and we had a great time.

As anyone who has read my blog before knows, I find sports outings a facinating place watch and observe behaviors...occassionaly taking a stab at what might be motivating them. For example, click here and here.

Based on my experience Sunday, here are a few thoughts on what I saw:

The club level experience is the way to go. This isn't an observation about people but about where to sit. Between the lower deck and the upper deck of Safeco field there's a small "200 level" club section that offers nicer seating, more food options and fewer crowds. Sure, each ticket is $65, but for someone who goes to one, maybe two, games each season, this is no problem. Why it's great is not only do you have great view seats, but you can grab a bite or a drink and continue watching the game live from one of the many stand up bars overlooking the filed in this section...and do so without being crushed by thousands of people.

Talking during the game. OK, on to my first observation. In my years going to baseball games, I've noticed that your real baseball fans...the ones really into the game (you know them when you see them)...do not want people around them talking during the game. And so it was again Sunday as one focused couple sitting in the bleacher seats in front of us as we tipped our beers and talked about baseball - and non-baseball - topics in the club bar got up and moved to other seats. I've seen this before. Ask my frind Rich about our experience at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

I find this behavior ironic in a couple ways. First, baseball is the ultimate spectator sport to talk and hang out with your friends. Why? Because virutally nothing is happening at any given time during the game! It's pefect. And besides, isn't that the traditional perception of the sport...as a pastime? This ain't the NHL folks. Second, everywhere you look around you there are screaming, fidgeting or talking kids. Any way you slice it, there's no way you're gonna be able to sit and focus in on baseball without hearing what's going on around you. My guess is that your true and dedicated baseball fan is an introvert. Baseball with all it's statistics and calculations of probabiliites has an appeal, I think, to introverted and/or left brianed people. These are not people who want to talk or be bothered.

Baseball is "family central"...why is that? Per my previous point, am I at a baseball game or just intruding on a large scale babysitting convention? Man, there are a lot of children at a baseball game. And I'm not talking about your 8-16 year olds here, although there are plenty of them too. No, I'm talking 0-5 year old kids. There are a lot of families who bring their really young children to a baseball game. And hey, that's their right...no arguement from me. But, I'm wondering why? What is your infant or toddler going to get out of the game? And, guess what, you're going to probably miss 2-3 innings because you have to deal with thier diapers, feeding or meltdowns. What's the fun there?

This is not what I see when I go to a football, basketball, soccer or hockey game. Sure, there are some kids around, but not to this degree and not so young.

So, why is baseball so family oriented? I'm going to give four guesses, but I'd love to know what others think:
1) Tradition. Baseball has a long history and through the years it has just developed a reputation of being family friendly. That's it. It is because it is.
2) Fans aren't as rowdy as other sports. They just aren't. At least not here in Seattle. Perhaps people in Boston or New York would disagree, but out here baseball is G rated.
3) It's not as expensive as football or basketball. More affordable means bring the family. Although I have to say there were plenty of babies present in the relatively expensive section we were sitting in Sunday.
4) The leisurely pace. Baseball is slow. There are lots of breaks. This gives parents time to police up their kids without missing too much action.

God Bless America. I get why the national anthem is played at the begining of a game, and I understand why people like that. I do. I think it's good. Especially at at time when we have soldiers, sailors and airmen (and women) in harm's way.

But, at least at a Mariners game, that's not enough. No, in the middle of the 7th inning, the same person who sings the anthem before the game comes back and sings "God Bless America." Everybody is expected to stand up and pay attention while this is happening, even though it's not the anthem. Look, I'm as American as they come. I love my country, and I don't want to live elsewhere. But, really? Do we really need another helping of mom, apple pie and God during a baseball game? What's the point? Is it Major League Baseball trying to further position itself around tradition and a rosy picture of "America?" Not sure. What followed the song was the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and at that point I had to assume that the whole thing is just a big nostalgia play appealing to a sense of Americana...all as positioning for baseball.

So there you go. A few observations from baseballville.

Friday, August 7, 2009

But Anyway...Thoughts on Healthcare Reform

I've been seeing on the news this week how some of the town hall meetings that members of Congress are having about healthcare reform are being disrupted by loud, obnoxious and pissed off citizens. Interestingly it seems that through some sort of cosmic fate that this is only happening where Democratic members of Congress are holding meetings.

But anyway.

Since most of these meetings are being held during the daytime, I'm seeing via media coverage that a lot of older people an others not at work seem to be filling up these meetings.

But anyway.

There's been debate on whether these rabble-rousers are part of a coordinated effort by the Republican Party to gin up some fake "astro-turf" (as in fake grass roots) protest against health care reform so as to kill it on behalf of the big business health insurance and pharma companies that are so important to the Republican campaign coffers.

But anyway.

Yes, but anyway...lets pause for a moment on this. Lets assume that the people causing all the ruckus are not the unwitting pawns of the right wing. No. Lets give them their due and assume that they are, in fact, simple middle class citizens and the retired concerned that reforming the healthcare system is a scary proposition that they don't want to see happen. Lets take their word on that.

My assertion is, if this is all true, that these people are gravely misguided and offer a look at what's wrong with the USA and not some sort of rebellion to be admired.

Lets analyze a few aspects of this for a minute:

Fighting for what's hurting them the most. It's funny (as in tragic) how people are so ready to defend the very system that is killing them. In some cases actually killing them. In the same way that people are duped into voting for conservative politicians espousing "family values" only to have them - once elected - ignore that and bend over backwards for the big business that are outsourcing jobs, enabling huge tax cuts for the rich and getting us into wars that kill mostly poor kids...people who could REALLY benefit for healthcare reform are willing to line up against it in the name of vague notions of "America" or "freedom." Lets be straight here. The free market is strangling our healthcare system. It is the reason we're in such dire straights with healthcare, not the answer to our problems. For indeed, the primary motivation of our healthcare system is spectacular and short term (quarterly) profit and it is not providing insurance, access and care. You can see where that has got us. Like those HMOs? Until incentives for profit are aligned with providing access to care and actual care (or eliminating those incentives) nothing will change.

So I ask, why do people defend the very thing that's bringing us all down?

"I want my country back!" This is one line chanted by the crowds. Yeah, get your country back from what? What do you not have now that you had six months ago? The only thing that's changed is that there's a different president from a different party and that same party controls Congress. Is that what those people are talking about? Upset that McCain/Palin and the Republican party took a beating in 2008? OK, well, fine. But, that's not a reason to abdicate your senses. Or, is the notion here that people want to go back to the good old days of W? Or maybe an earlier time than that? Is that what these people want back? Good old boys running things? That worked out pretty well for most of us. The whole "I want my country back" rings quite hollow to me and is a give-away that many of these protesters are disconnected from reality at best.

The claim that "this is socialism." Bibles in hand, protesters say that the proposed healthcare reform is socialism and soon people in government will be passing judgement on who lives or dies. First off, the USA has is such a conservative country that it has no conception of what socialism is. Literally, one guy said, "Get the government out of my Medicare." Really? As Bill Maher said, that's like driving across the country to protest highways.

In reality, some of the most successful and rock solid programs in our nation's history are "socialism" by the definitions being bandied around these days. You like a little thing called the US Army? How about your local fire department, police force or public trauma center? Oh, and how about those roads you drive on to go to Starbucks and to see your family? You think having some money coming your way after you retire or get laid off is good? And how about the healthcare your grandmother gets from Medicare? What if all these things were private and to get the services you had to subscribe to a private company to get them...if you could afford to?

All of the services I've named above, and many more, are by definition "socialized" programs in the good old U.S.A. that we all benefit from. Most the rest of the civilized world has long ago figured out that healthcare is one of the things that we all benefit from having too...and yes, many have socialized that to some degree or the other. Want to know what most of the 36 countries rated with better healthcare systems than we have in common? Most have a socialized component of their system and guaranteed coverage.

Finally, you want to wave around your Bible as some sort of protest to socialism? Jesus Christ. No literally, Jesus Christ. He was, by the modern definition of it, a socialist. Read the frickin' book.

A broken system will yield sharp objects. In the end, protesting against healthcare reform for whatever reason is the ultimate folly because the current system is broke to the degree that it is not good for anyone. Sure, there is more than one way to reform healthcare, but any way you slice it...if reform fails now and status quo holds serve, the problem will not go away. And the problem is so intertwined with the rest of the economy that letting it rot further is not the answer. Nope. It's only gonna get worse if not tackled now. Think about this: when that Baby Boom Generation really starts to hit in there and sucks up healthcare dollars and services, the shit's really gonna hit the fan. You think that mob is not gonna be waving Bibles and signs? I don't. I think they'll be wielding more potent instruments.

I think you can see that, taking the town hall disrupters at their word, my assertion is that they are misguided and way off base. I'd bet you a beer (a decent one too) that 100% of protesters this week actually benefit from a socialized service and that the majority either know someone or themselves directly benefit from Medicare or Medicaid. Ignorance breeds bad decisions and I think that's what we're seeing here.

But anyway, I'm sure Twitter, John and Kate (plus their eight) and Paula Abdul will solve all these problems. What am I all worked up for?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

People Make the World Go Around

People, in all their great diversity, make this crazy old world go around.

Click here to see a set of pictures of people I've taken in various places on the globe.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mt. Rainier Hike

This past Sunday, Diane, my brother in law Matt and I took a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Under sunny skies and 80 degree weather, we headed up the five mile Rampart Ridge loop trail from the Longmire base. The hike starts off with 2 miles of pretty steep incline through the forest up to the ridge line. Once there, the trail flattens out for about a mile, and on this section you can get some great views of Mt. Rainier.

Here are some pictures I took during the hike.

After a leisurely lunch with a view of the mountain, we headed back down the 2 mile stretch back to Longmire.

All told, the hike took about 2.5 hours which included time for lunch.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hot weather in Seattle? Bring it!

After a couple years in a row in which we've had poor summer weather, it's been great this year to have long stretches of sunny days in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and - on a couple occassions - above 100.

Sunny summers are one major reason people live here, and, having grown up here, is how it almost always was "back in the day." Sure, it rains quite a bit in the fall and winter, but come late spring/early summer you simply cannot beat the beauty of this area when it warms up. Cannot.

Which is why I for one am not complaining about how hot it has been this year. Yes, above 100 is uncofortable, but what did that last? One, maybe two days?

Hot weather? I say bring it! We deserve it after this past winter. Besides, it'll be 50 and raining soon enough. Enjoy!