Thursday, January 28, 2010

Solemn Anniversary This Week

I did not realize it until Thursday, but Wednesday Jan. 27 was the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz death camp in Poland by the Red Army in 1945.

Diane and I visited the camp grounds in 2002 on our trip to Poland. We felt that it was important for us to see the camp - especially since we were staying in not-too-far-away Krakow, Poland. (Below: The entrance building of the huge Aushwitz II camp.)

You can see pictures I took at and a few other places in Poland by clicking HERE.

The primary reaction I had when visiting the site in 2002 was that this was ground where evil was performed, systematic murder. Seeing the site live, in person is such a overwhelming experience. I mean, the mere SIZE of the place just puts you back. The Germans spent a LOT of time, energy and money to create a way to kill off huge elements of their population - mostly Jews. And a large amount of that happened at Auschwitz.

Sure, you read about this place in history books and even get a glimpse of what it might have been like in important movies like Shindler's List. But, to actually stand in this enormous, sprawling, massive camp you know for sure evil was afoot.

The next thing I remember thinking as I walked through the prison quarters and viewed the ruins of the gas killing chambers dare anyone deny this happened! It is here. It is real. It is tragic. It was genocide. We need to remember.

Related to that, another sensation I felt was that despite the big time problems and issues that the USSR had itself with totalitarian government (especially under Stalin) and anti-semitism...even THOSE GUYS realized this place had to be preserved for history and indeed did a good job of making sure the grounds were kept in tact for people like us to see and experience all these decades later.

Look, I am a firm believer in seeing things for yourself if you can. Want to know about China? Go to Xian, the Great Wall and Beijing. Want to judge Cuba? Spend a few days in Havana. Have issues with India or the third world? Go there. See it for yourself. Inform your view.

Visiting Auschwitz is the same. Yes, you know about it at some level. But seeing it in person drives. It. Home. Like nothing else. A lifetime experience. The suffering. The death. The evil. Premeditated mass murder. The location of scene of so much killing. The desperate perseverance of the survivors. The final liberation by the Russian. The elation of having survived. The sorrow of knowing loved ones were killed. All of things are surfaced in a least as much as they can be for someone who was not even alive when this all happened.

And on this solemn anniversary, I am here to tell you as someone who saw the remnants that for these reasons Auschwitz is a place that is well worth remembering.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Reaction to the Obama State of the Union Speech

I watched the speech. I'll make my review short...

Nice speech. Well said. I agree with most everything he said. Now go DO SOMETHING about it, Mr. President. Use your position, clout, big majorities in both chambers of Congress and still decent popularity to MAKE YOUR AGENDA HAPPEN. Lead.

Talk is cheap. Action is gold. Go.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Obama Inaction = President Palin?

OK, the following editorial from The Root is certainly caught up in the post-Scott Brown Senate win hysteria, but there is a germ of truth in it's premise that today's Obama slow motion failure to lead the U.S. could end up in consequences that are really, really not good for the country.

Read, recoil, and ponder the U.S. voting public...

Friday, January 22, 2010

What If You Threw A Super Majority And No One Showed Up?

I've been pondering the U.S. Senate seat win by Republican Scott Brown earlier this week. His victory means that Senate Democrats no longer have a filibuster proof, talk-to-the-hand "super majority" in that legislative body. This has, as I'm sure you've seen, caused quite a stir in the media about what this will mean for Obama's agenda and Congress generally.

I've been asking myself - what's surprising about this development? And, what does it mean?

To me, it's not surprising that the people of Massachusetts would elect a Republican - even to Kennedy's old seat. Despite the perception of it being a "liberal" state, the populous there has certainly elected Republican governors (remember Mitt Romney?) and Senators before.

No, that's not unusual.

And, it's not surprising that Brown seemed to get a cushy ride by the media desperate for an "upset" storyline to help them cover "a controversy." No, seen that before too.

What's surprising - and a growing concern to me - is how this win by Brown seems to reveal a backlash against Democratic party governance. The Ds are in the rare position of having the citizenry of the nation in 2008 vote them a large majority in the House, a super majority of 60 seats in the Senate and, oh by the way, the Presidency. These advantages were bestowed on them on the notion they would bring change to the nation in sore need of it after eight long years of rule by the other side. And, what have the Democats done with that? Not much. Here we are one year in and no legislation has been passed on healthcare reform, significant financial market reform, investment in job creation, substantial change in foreign policy, a new energy policy or other meaningful "change we can believe in."

And speaking of that phrase, I'm becoming a bit disappointed in President Obama. I know he was handed a horrible economy and overall situation courtesy of the Bush team, but given the set up in Congress, I'm not seeing the leadership I thought we'd have out of him. Certainly, he's a far better alternative than McCain would have been, but still. Call me impatient, but what do you think LBJ or FDR would do (and did) with Congressional majorities in their first year in office? Or, how about W (OK...Cheney) or Reagan with the Rs running Congress? Action. Good or bad, like it or not - action. That's what would happen.

So, seriously, I have to ask another question, "What if you threw a super majority and nobody showed up?"

What would that mean? Among the answers you might find are: a squandered opportunity, gains by the opposition (starting with what we saw this week) as the public gets fed up...and ultimately, inaction and a government and nation in stasis at the exact moment it should be changing. All of that seems to me to be the case now. It seems to be increasingly clear that if Obama and the Ds aren't going to get it done with all the advantages they have - even with 59 seats instead of 60 in the Senate - it isn't going to happen. Not with the parties and mindsets we have in DC now.

Why? There are probably any number of reasons. I don't claim to be an expert or know them all. But, one that seems so obvious to me...that explains why a party that talks change, runs on it, even wins big time on the premise that it will deliver it, but then does nothing to effect that big business, finance, pharma and key special interests have locked up the Democrats just as they have the Republicans. That influence means action to better society generally is outweighed by action (or, more aptly inaction) that beneifts business and special interests.

Going slow or even turning the clock backwards suits the nature of most Republicans as they are mostly conservatives after all. That's their bread and butter. Conversely, most Democrats and/or liberals are supposedly "progressive," and seek to change things. This seems to have come to a trickle so their version of inaction sticks out like a sore thumb - or, perhaps, rings like an alarm bell.

Look, despite the biggest financial and jobs crisis since the Great Depression having been brought upon us by the religion of "free markets" and deregulation championed by conservatives, there has been no meaningful counterbalance to that crisis in my mind. Sure, banks and car makers were bailed out with tax dollars, but unemployment is still high and hindering recovery, and the middle class still shrinking. (I did see that Goldman Sachs recorded big revenue last quarter and is giving out bonuses that are 47% higher than last year, however.) And, despite healthcare costs skyrocketing and threatening the financial and actual well being of millions of Americans, we don't have a meaningful change in our system yet. We're still in Iraq, we're still lagging the modern world in education. I could go on, but I think you get it.

No, the super majority party thrown by the electorate in 2008 has been ill attended and therefore I fear the opportunities have been missed. 2010 election campaigns are upon us and that also does not bode well for action this year. Expect an ticked off public to elect more Republican such as we witnessed this week by Brown. But, on the other hand...what's the difference if that comes to pass given the inaction happening anyway?

In the end, I am prepared to be impressed. I am prepared to take back what I've said above. I am prepared to give credit where credit is due. I want action. I want to see us change. I want to write a blog post in January 2011 saying, "Boy, I really had it wrong back there in 2010. My bad...glad to see healthcare reform, job creation, a lower deficit, financial market reform, etc."

But, as of Jan. 22, 2010, count me as increasingly dubious that happening.

Hey, at least the goverment is hard at work to pass legislation to limit the volume of TV commercials. That may be what I need to settle for as change I can believe in.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Remembering MLK, Jr.

Today is the day we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and all that he did to bring civil rights to black Americans and, more generally, civil justice for all Americans through is anti-poverty and anti-Vietnam War campaigns.

His efforts, the hard won results those efforts produced, and the inspiration they give to millions today are what I feel are best to remember about King.

Another thing that I think is important to remember is that for his actions, King was ultimately assassinated. This happened in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968. Someone or some group of people did not like that King was rallying the poor, the working class and the minorities of the United States into an organzised resistance against inequality, injustice, poverty and war...even if he championed a peacful protest model.

My wife and I visitied Memphis a few years ago, and among other things, we visited the site where King was killed. Today, that motel is now a Smithsonian civil rights museum. The combinatio of the somber site of King's murder with the soaring monument to what his and others' efforsts produced for civil rights made for a very compelling experience.

Below are two pictures I took while we were there. The first one shows the hotel as it was when King was killed by a gunman shooting from a building across the street. He was shot just outside his room on the balcony just behind where the white wreath not hangs. The lower pictures is the original sign for the Loraine Hotel.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Elvis!

Today is the 75th anniversary of the birth of the "King of Rock and Roll," one Elvis Aaron Presley.

While it is a slogan, the saying that "Elvis did everything before anyone did anything" is pretty much true in terms of what we consider rock and roll. Elvis did owe a LOT to the black blues, jump and gospel singers and performers...but, everybody in "rock" does.

And hey, you think Green Day were the first rock and roll band to wear eyeliner? Think again. Elvis did it in the 1950s.

If you're reading this and you're young enough to have the attitude of, "yeah, Elvis, whatever" I would encourage you to listen two these three albums:

Yes, it is original ain't hip hop, funk or or death metal. But, it is the genesis. It moves, it swings, it dials up the outlaw and rebellious spirit.

Happy birthday Elvis, wherever you are.

Long live The King.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Football Grades - 2009 Season

With the football season now officially over for the teams I follow, I've given each a grade and a brief statement on what next year may bring.

Oregon Ducks....GRADE: A-
The Duckies had a very good season in which they achieved more than they were expected to. If you remember back to last summer, USC was tabbed as the favorite to win the Pac-10 with any combination of Cal, ASU or even Arizona cited as contenders to the throne and the following spots in the pecking order. It was generally presumed that Oregon had too much to replace on the offensive line and key spots on defense, as well as a rookie head coach, to mount a serious challenge.

And what did Oregon go out and do? They went 8-1 in the conference, beating all conference teams except Stanford. Throw in a couple nice non-conference wins vs. a ranked Utah team and Purdue and that's very solid business.

Any year you win the league and get to the Rose Bowl is a "A" season for sure. I deduct some from the grade for a) the really poor showing in the first game vs. Boise State and b) not winning the Rose Bowl.

Outlook for next season: Very good. I truly believe the Ducks will be in serious contention to repeat as Pac-10 champion. I think another 10 win season is very possible.

Iowa Hawkeyes...GRADE: A
Iowa had a great and unexpected season and were one game away from winning the Big 10. They lost for the first time late in the season when their starting QB went down with an injury vs. Northwestern and then lost the next week vs. Ohio State in a close one despite not having their top QB in the game. Ironically, if they had somehow won one of those games they would have lined up against my Ducks in the Rose Bowl. While this would have presented some conflicts for me considering my allegiance to Iowa (I was born at the university, parents graduated from there) - in hindsight - I think the Hawkeyes would have been a MUCH better match up for the Ducks than Ohio State proved to be. Oh, the irony.

The Hawkeyes earn a straight "A" for overachieving to go 10-2 in the season, reaching the Orange Bowl and then winning it as the underdog vs. Georgia Tech. Iowa does not earn an A+ because they did lose those two league games and, therefore, did not win the Big 10. What could have been deducts a little.

Outlook for next season: Good. Perhaps not Big-10 champs, but 8-9 wins and top three in the league is likely.

Washington Huskies...GRADE: B-
While I am not a Husky fan (how could I be as an Oregon alum), I do keep up on their progress as a longtime Seattle resident and Pac-10 fan. And, you know, it's good to know how good - or bad - one of your arch rivals is.

Winning only five games would not normally earn a "B" grade of any kind, but going from zero wins in 2008 to five in 2009 is a very good progress - especially when you consider the UW were in position and could have won at least two more games (Notre Dame and ASU). So, give the a "B" for upping their game significantly. Deduct points for finding ways to lose two very close ones and then not even showing up to their game against Oregon State.

Outlook for next season: A lot to look forward to for Dawg fans. I predict seven wins (but one of them will not be vs. the Ducks) and a bowl game.

Seattle Seahawks...GRADE: D
The Seahawks were horrible. They appeared unprepared and unmotivated and only beat teams just as bad as they were. The only reason I don't give them a straight out "F" is that they actually won more games this season (5) than last (4). The team is broke and an overall re-building is in order.

Outlook for next season: More of the same. I won't believe a turnaround until I actually see it. I predict 4-6 wins and missing the playoffs again.

And now, it's on to Pac-10 basketball and the Winter Olympics, and then the World Cup early this summer. And after that? Well, before you know it, it'll be football season again!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hawaii 4-0! The Series

Below is a compilation of posts from our trip to Maui in late November to celebrate my 40th birthday.

Just click on the headlines to access the stories and pictures.



Part 1 - "It's Out of My Hands"
Our trip gets off to a surprising start

Part 2 - Lets Go Surfin' Now (And Other Aquatic Adventures)
We hit the waves...hilarity ensues

Photo Feature
Check out the pictures I took while on Maui

Part 3 - Eating on Maui
Not just a lot of fish stories

Part 4 - A Birthday to Remember
Relive my big 40th Birthday Party


Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Rose Bowl Re-Cap Report

Well people, I'm back from my trip to Los Angeles to watch Pac-10 football champs the Oregon Ducks play in the Rose Bowl on New Years Day. I had a great time meeting up with friends, soaking up some sun and watching the game. While my Ducks did not win, I am really glad I took the time to go to the game.

You can see my pictures from the game by clicking HERE.

Focusing specifically on the game, I truly believe that the Ducks were beaten by a better team. Not a vastly superior team, but one slightly better in key areas...and that made all the difference in the Ducks losing as they did by nine points vs. winning by even one point. I think it's easier to stomach a loss such as this when you know, in the end, your team was beat by a better team. For example, ask LSU fans if they think they got beat by a better Penn State team in the Capital One Bowl the other day.

Anyway, having seen the game up close and in person, I think you can boil why the Ducks lost down to two key points. Sure, there are a lot of individual plays, other elements (like the OSU defense) and certainly what appeared to me to be very spotty officiating that one could debate, but I think the following two elements really are at the core of the outcome:

1. The Play of Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor. As far as I could tell, the Oregon plan of attack on defense was to stop the run and dare Pryor to beat them with his arm. Well, he did. He played better in this game than he had in his entire career, doing things through the air in the Rose Bowl that he had not done in two seasons worth of play for the Buckeyes.

The Ducks did indeed manage to decently contain the Ohio State running backs enough to force the Buckeyes into numerous third-and-longs. However, virtually every time Pryor came up aces either throwing spectacularly accurate passes or dashing to the first down marker. The later type of escape was somewhat expected, but it was Pryor's ability to heave a ball (sometimes wildly it seemed) just about anywhere at any time under any circumstances and have it hit the intended receiver for a catch that was so uncanny. And this is why Ohio State controlled the clock and therefore the score and - ultimately - the game. Kudos to Pryor and the Ohio State offense.

2. Turn Overs. Despite all of what I just said about Pryor and despite all the talk of the great Ohio State defense, the Ducks did have a lead in the third quarter. After relinquishing that lead to be down by just two points, the Duck O drove efficiently down the field and were poised to score at least 3 or 7 to re-take the lead late in the third quarter. But that did not happen because...the Ducks fumbled the ball near the goal line and out the back of the end zone. No points for the Ducks. OSU retained the lead and they got the ball back.

Before this play, I KNEW the Ducks were going to win the Rose Bowl. I knew it. Score and take the lead and the clock-killing strategy by Ohio State goes out the window. Momentum would have been on the Ducks' side and all things possible. But, this did not happen. Instead, Ohio State took the ball and killed more clock with their offense and the Ducks continued to play from behind. At this point, I KNEW the Ducks would not win. Sure, there was still time on the clock, but this was such a momentous play that I realized it wasn't happening for my Ducks.

The other turn over that hurt was a deflected pass from Oregon QB Masoli that Ohio State picked off in the first half. After a short drive they scored a field goal. At the time it felt good that the Ducks held the Buckeyes to only a field goal, but looking back on it you have to realize that Oregon only lost this game by 9 points. Take that early field goal away and it's a six point difference in the fourth quarter. One score and a win. That is a LOT different than how things went down.

So, there you go. Not being able to stop a hot QB and turning the ball over. That's what killed the Ducks chances ultimately in my opinion. And, it's why Ohio State was the better team. Again, not by much...but they were. Hats off.

With virtually every player back on offense and most of the defense back too next season, I look for the Ducks to be a legit contender to win the Pac-10 again. But, I think they're going to have to really work on their pass rush defense and also be better at handling the ball on offense if they hope to repeat and/or then win the Rose Bowl next time.