Thursday, December 28, 2006


So I'm in a hurry and I need some gas, so I pull into the gas station down the road. I hate going to this gas station, they are so slow, but I've got no other choice.

To back up just a moment, self service gas is illegal in Oregon because gasoline is a flammable material and you need special training to handle it. I don't know now those people in 48 other states (but not New Jersey) do it.

But getting back to my local filling station... I pull up, and the guy just sits in his shack and ignores me. After a minute, I get out of my car and wave my arms. No luck.

Finally, I realize that I am, indeed, perfectly capable of pumping my own gas. I get straight to business: swipe my credit card, pump my gas, flip off the station attendant, drive off. It was so liberating. I encourage my fellow Oregonians to try it some time.

But now that I am a blatant law breaker, I need to hide out for a while until the heat dies down. So we're off to Phoenix, AZ for a few days. Remember, it takes a village to get our babies on an airplane. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Christmas is supposed to be a joyous day, but starting the day with the news of James Brown's death is bound to put a damper on things.

There are loads of tributes to him airing on TV tonight, and they're all giving him his rightful place as one of the most important musical figures of the 20th century. He was the baddest of the bad, the coolest of the cool, and he single-handedly launched about a half dozen different musical genres. Oh, how I will miss that man.

I had a chance to see James Brown in 1994. It was at a country & western bar in Salt Lake City. An odd venue for the Godfather of Soul, but you take what you can get. James was well past his prime by the 1990s, but it was still a thrill to see a living legend belt out some classics.

My friend Sam had some promotional bootleg CD that contained a few songs from James Brown, and a few public service announcements that he likely recorded as part of some plea bargain at some point in his life. His anti-drug message was quite clearly something he just came up with off the top of his head, but it was memorized by my college roommates as if it was holy writ. We mostly found it funny, but none of us ever did drugs, so who's to say it didn't work?

With that in mind, as a memorial to the late, great James Brown, I offer you his advice on drugs:

Hi, this is James Brown, Soul Brother #1
Always fighting,
Now I'm fighting for your life.
I'm fighting for your life because if you use drugs,
You'd better leave it alone.

Drugs are contagious,
They're killers,
Every drug is a killer.
Stay away from drugs.

Drugs... will take your life away,
And if you want to live,
Stay away from drugs.

Because they are superbad

Goodbye James. You may be gone, but we've got a hell of a lot of good music to remember you by. And some good advice on drugs, too.

Monday, December 25, 2006


Christmas is upon us again, and we've still got a pile of Christmas cards to send out. If you haven't gotten yours, that puts you in good company with every human being alive.

The sun has not come yet, but I'm pretty excited about sharing Nate and Will's first Christmas morning. They've had a good holiday so far. Here's Will meeting his Jewish Aunt Hallie. Nate has spent the holiday season making more of his odd faces that make me laugh out loud... Julie and I can't help but reflect on just how different our lives are this Christmas. We rolled into Medford on Christmas Eve last year. We didn't know a soul. I spent most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at work. Julie occupied herself by unpacking our stuff in a dank furnished apartment we had rented.

We knew Julie was pregnant, but we didn't know that twins were in our future. We had no idea that there would be two little boys with us this year. We really had no idea that they'd be this cute, or that we would love them so much.

So in a few hours, we'll all wake up and open presents and listen to some holiday music. But the best gifts this year came in July. And even when Nate hits Will...Or when Will smacks Nate back...Julie and I know that we are the two luckiest people in the world, and that this really will be the best Christmas ever.

Merry Christmas to all of you. Here's hoping all the happiness in the world finds its way to you this season.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006


First off, the mob has spoken. Picture two is the clear favorite, and will go out with our (now late) Christmas cards. If you think you might not be on our Christmas card list, get me your address.

Second, the rigors of the holidays, work, and a nasty cold have severely curtailed my blogging time over the past week. I'll post more new stuff, soon. Until then, I came across something I wrote while still living in LA, and I was a bit amused by it, and I hope you will be, too. Some of the references are a bit dated, but, well, it's better than nothing.

Now I'm going to drink a whole bottle of NyQuil.

First published in the Northridge Daily Sundial, October, 2003:

If you’ve lived in Los Angeles more than ten minutes, you know that it is a complete cultural wasteland. While sophisticated New Yorkers take pride in their long tradition of world-class theater, music, architecture, and art, we’re lucky if we can produce an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” that’s actually funny. And then there’s Europe. They’re way ahead of us, although it’s really not fair to compare our scene to theirs. After all, they had a 1,000 year head start.

There is reason to believe things are changing. First, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be our governor next month, and his absence on the movie scene for the next three years can’t help but improve LA’s cultural output. But that alone won’t allow us to catch up with places like France with their 35 hour work week, café culture, and state funded arts programs. We are becoming more sophisticated, however. Observe the three following developments: 1) Workers at Southern California’s three major supermarket chains are on strike and there’s no reason to believe it will end any time soon. 2) MTA mechanics are also striking and have effectively shut down the region’s public transportation system. 3) Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies, prohibited by law from going on strike, are coming down with cases of the “blue flu.” Deputies in certain positions have been calling in sick and disrupting work in many courthouses around the county.

Culture mavens like me see this as a deliberate move toward the French way of life. One of France’s most enduring images, behind that of the Eiffel Tower at night and the street mime, is the striker. Every summer, one can turn on the news and be treated to pictures of Frenchies sitting on the mighty A1 freeway outside of Paris. They’re eating baguettes and drinking wine having what looks like a merry time. They can’t go anywhere because striking truck drivers have blocked all major streets going into town. Apart from having a tasty lunch on the roadside, these stranded travelers are obviously writing plays and novels and poems and designing nifty new buildings and otherwise adding to their country’s rich cultural heritage. This type of creative output only comes when large portions of the population have nothing much to do.

Despite the strikes here in LA, I have yet to see anyone sitting on the side of the 405 chewing on an In-N-Out burger while composing haikus about the Screen Actor’s Guild. Clearly we are not up to French standards yet but, again, they’ve had a lot more time to get their act together. France is on the cutting edge of strike technology. They’ve developed something called a “general strike” where everybody stops doing everything. It’s not clear exactly why they stop working, but there certainly must be a reason.

I’ve even heard a story where the unemployed in France went on strike. This action raises several vexing questions. First, how does an unemployed person stop working? What do you stop doing? Do you stop not working and begin doing somebody else’s job? Also, what type of bargaining power does an unemployed person have? Sure, people care if a striking worker doesn’t pick up their garbage, but do they care if someone has stopped being unemployed? Is there an unemployed union in France? The most amazing part of the story is that the unemployed people apparently succeeded in their strike and exacted concessions from the French government including the 35 hour work week.

It may be some time before we reach that level, but I think the workers of Los Angeles have made a good start. Might I suggest a few other workers who could (please?) leave their posts for a week or so. CSUN staff and faculty (wouldn’t it be nice to have a “fall break?”), CSUN parking enforcement (just because), John Ashcroft, and whoever came up with the idea for “The Next Joe Millionare.” I hope to join you all dining on the side of a local freeway soon.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


So using suggestions from friends, family, and some of you who posted comments on this very blog, we had another crack at the holiday photo thing. Julie and I decided that nobody really wanted to see a picture of us, so we just went with baby pics. We snapped a bunch of pictures, and we've narrowed it down to two. Now we need your help, Internet. Let us know which one you think is best.

First up, a little number in which Will looks like a turtle, and Nate just looks surprised...

Our second offering is a more moody affair. A study in blue...You can look at this one horizontally, but we decided we like the vertical view better.

So let us know which one we should send out with the Christmas cards. Pop a note in the comment's section. If you do, we just might send one to you.

Let the democracy begin.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006


I usually don’t write about my job because that’s generally considered a bad idea. But I’ll break my rule tonight. Just this once.

I’ve spent most of the past week covering the story of the Kim family. They got lost in the mountains west of here while driving to the coast and wound up stuck in a snowstorm. Nine days after they got lost, rescue crews found the mom and two children. Two days after that, they found the father dead about eight miles from the family car.

While the search only became national news in the past few days, a small band of local reporters (including me) had been working the story for almost a week before Wednesday’s terrible conclusion.

It was a draining story to cover. You get wrapped up in the story as the days tick by and things get more desperate. You cheer when the good news comes. Then when the news turns bad, you’re sick. You’re sick, but it’s your job to display a steely reserve on air and appear concerned, yet professional and somewhat detached.

In the year since I moved here, I’ve already covered a few missing person stories that gained national attention. This one captured the imagination of people like nothing I’ve ever seen, perhaps because it’s easy to put yourself in the position of the Kim family. They just took a wrong turn at the wrong time.

In the days since the search ended, my mind is still swimming. I’m haunted by the image of the four members of the Kim family trapped in their car, hungry, tired, probably a bit frightened. I can hear children crying and parents trying to reassure them that everything will be ok. I can see a husband walking away from his family for the last time, hoping his journey will save their lives. At times it’s all too awful to contemplate, but it still doesn’t go away.

When I’m up in the wee hours of the morning feeding the twins, I’m overcome by emotion as I think of them hungry, lost, and alone. I keep thinking about what I would do if faced with the same dire circumstances the Kims were.

I never knew James Kim, but his actions during the last days of his life speak volumes about the man he must have been. I wish it was in my power to write some fitting tribute to the man. It isn’t. However, NPR’s Scott Simon wrote a moving tribute here. It is a very worthy read/listen.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


We got the brilliant idea to send out Christmas cards this year. We had the same idea last year, so we took this picture of us in Norway (actually, I think it was a slightly better version of this photo, but let's pretend): Then we added the caption: "HAVING A GREAT TIME, WISH WE WERE THERE." Then we printed 100 copies.

At the time, we were living in Texarkana, and the card was a not-too-subtle way of saying that we wanted out. Just a few days after we printed the cards, I got a job offer in Oregon and we were gone in a matter of weeks. We never sent the cards out... but we might this year, just to justify the expense of creating them.

But a new year requires a new picture, and nobody wants to see a picture of us without the babies, so we tried taking another picture this year. We thought we'd go for cute...But the babies kept moving around and our volunteer photographer kept moving around and creating blurry pictures. So we went a more traditional route.But I didn't like this picture because there was too much empty space around the sides and it was framed all weird and we were off center. So we took one last stab at it.But Julie was bouncing Will to keep him happy, and our volunteer photog (who really had better things to do than deal with our crap) was still a little weak on the whole concept of "framing."

After that, we gave up. I guess we have no other choice but to don matching sweaters and Santa hats and head off to the JC Penny portrait studio. There must be a better way.

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Friday, December 01, 2006


This week, I have seen a most odd and spectacular thing. A thing so glorious and weird, I’m not sure I have the language skills to describe it to an audience. It completely wiped out my supposed knowledge of one culture, but simultaneously allowed me to make sense of every Monty Python sketch and Black Adder episode I’ve ever seen. I’m speaking, of course, of the State Opening of the British Parliament.

I’ve previously written in this space that I’m a big fan of the British Parliament. I watch Prime Ministers Questions on C-SPAN religiously, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw on my TiVo this week. We don’t have anything remotely like the State Opening of Parliament. We have the State of the Union Address, where the president goes to congress and gives a speech where half the room applauds, and the other half doesn’t. There’s not a lot of ceremony behind it. The House Sergeant at Arms says, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States,” and that’s about it. We don’t do much when a new congress is seated, either. Just some back slapping, a quick oath, then they can start arguing about whether gays should marry.

But the State Opening of Parliament is all about ceremony. It starts with the queen arriving in a horse drawn carriage. She’s greeted at Westminster Palace by some guy called the Lord Great Chamberlain. Then a procession of people with names like Black Rod and Gold Stick in Waiting head into the building. Somewhere in the crowd, there’s a Great Mace and a Sword of State. (I have no idea what these are used for.) At one point, BBC commentators point out a man named Lord Falconer, who was dressed in an elaborate robe and carrying a velvet purse. The purse, I’m told, contains the Queen’s speech (written on … goatskin?).

According to media reports, the US spends more on defense than all other nations combined. Some have said this frees up other nations to spend their money on socialized medicine or public transportation. In the UK, I believe this money is spent primarily on costumes.

There are about 3 dozen people in the royal procession, and each more spectacularly outfitted than the last. I was most amused by the Heralds, who appeared to be civil servants dressed up like characters from Alice in Wonderland. Then there’s Black Rod’s outfit. He’s dressed in a black jacket with white ruffles, short pants, and black knee socks. As you might imagine, he carries a black rod.

After the group enters the building, the Queen goes into some room and changes into a MORE elaborate outfit and puts on a big grown. By this point, I figure the Brits are ceremonied-out, but they’re not even halfway there.

A bugler plays a song and there’s ANOTHER procession that leads to the House of Lords, which is peopled entirely by stereotypes from Monty Python sketches. Then a servant waves a 20 foot wand and Black Rod marches towards the House of Commons. Then comes another odd tradition. The MPs slam the door on Black Rod, then Black Rod starts banging on the door with his rod… which is black.

All this time, the BBC commentators are narrating the whole event, saying things like, “oh, here comes Black Rod. Things won’t go well for him at the Commons entrance.” I’m sure the guy holding the black rod has a real name, but only calling him Black Rod makes him sound like a lesser known superhero, like Green Lantern.

But back to this odd British dance.

Black Rod eventually enters the House of Commons and instructs the MPs to see the Queen in the House of Lords. Then comes another tradition. Some old guy makes a wisecrack. Dennis Skinner makes a habit of mocking Black Rod each year. This year he yelled, “Is Helen Miren on standby?” The BBC guy called the joke, “cheap, but funny.”

Then everyone walks at a leisurely pace (that’s a tradition, too) to the House of Lords.

I found the whole ritual so puzzling that I rewound the TiVo and watched it all over again. I didn’t’ bother listening to the Queen’s speech, though. There’s no way it could compete with what came before.

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