Monday, February 26, 2007


This is another edition of my 491 part series on the relationship between the UK and the US, a subject that has fascinated me since I first laid eyes on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

What roused my curiosity this time was a viewing of the 6 hour mini-series (7.5 hours if you have to watch the commercials, thank you TiVo!) The State Within on BBC America. It is a rule in our household that any British mini-series broadcast in the US will be viewed by someone living under our roof. Almost without exception, that someone is Julie. But this time, the show was set in Washington DC and it involved skulduggery inside the US defense community and all sorts of nastiness, so I was prevailed upon to watch... just this once.

Before we go any further, you should know that I enjoyed the show quite a bit. It wasn't perfect (first 2 hours were a bit slow), but I was happy to go along for the ride and found myself thoroughly entertained. Second, there will be spoilers galore in this post, so if you've got it sitting on your TiVo and you're waiting for a snowy weekend to watch it, stop reading right now.

You didn't stop reading, did you? Alright, then, we'll move on.

The State Within details an elaborate plot hatched between a Halliburton-like company and highly placed Defense Department officials to start a war with a post-Soviet Central Asian state. The show begins with a jumbo-jet blowing up just after taking off from Dulles International Airport. It's a dramatic scene that shows the British Ambassador to the US heroically attempting to save people before narrowly escaping the crash scene with his life.

The ambassador slowly unravels the plot through a series of twists and turns and double-crosses and a even a few political assassinations thrown in for good measure.

As an American there were moments that had me alternately scratching my head and giggling.

First, there were the accents. All the lead roles were played by Brits, and while Limeys are supposedly famous for being able to do spot-on American accents, well... not everyone is Helen Miren. Let's just say some people overdid it. I had always wondered what the US equivalent of the bad British accent sounded like. Now I know:

"I neeed to speeek with yourrrrrr Brrrritish Ambaserrrrderrrr right now, misterrrr!"

There were also some small misunderstandings about how American government works. The US Defense Secretary was shown making public comments in support of law enforcement techniques employed by a state governor. The implication was that, if she wanted, the Defense Secretary could have shut down a domestic law enforcement action. In fact, the Defense Secretary can't do jack squat on American soil. (Unless that American soil is located in Cuba, but that's another story.)

But apart from accents and plots, the most interesting thing about The State Within is what it tells us about the British self image.

One can see the American self image on display in just about any Hollywood thriller. It usually involves someone at the fringes of his organization, a rebel, a guy who makes his own rules. He's been on the force/agency/bureau/organized crime family for a long time, and his co-workers tolerate his ticks. But when disaster strikes (often in the form of a foreign plot) the maverick is brought to center stage due to some sort of specialized knowledge of the enemy. In the end, the maverick's unorthodox methods provide the key element, and he emerges the hero.

(There's a sports version of this movie, where some mean team owner decides to assemble the worst sports team in the world--because he needs to lose money for tax reasons or something like that. So the owner gets the outcasts from every other team in the league and puts them together. But guess what? That rag-tag bunch of losers finds a way to pull together and prove that they're really winners. They eventually beat the best team in the league. Rah, rah!)

The State Within portrays Britain as the conscience of America. The Ambassador is constantly trying to find ways to keep America's unbridled power in check. At one point, he single-handedly tries to broker a peace deal. By the time the show is over, Mr. Brit Ambassador is in the office of the US Secretary of Defense. He's basically blackmailing the Secretary into doing the right thing and turning back American bombers before they start ANOTHER war under false pretenses.

In the world of The State Within, the only thing that can save America from itself is a healthy dose of British common sense.

On the other side of the coin, it's fascinating to see how the Americans are portrayed. They are, with one small exception, bad guys to the core. They're renegade cowboys with little in the way of morals, restraint, or even manners. The best example is the rogue Secretary of Defense. She's just a few notches away from being a live-action version of Yosemite Sam. She's a rootin', tootin', itchin' for a fight, live wire... and she has access to the most powerful army in the world. Be afraid, Brits, be very afraid.

It's possible that the exaggerated accents and cartoonish buffoonery of the American characters is just a little payback. I've heard numerous complaints that villains in American films tend to have British accents. Even in space, the bad guys speak the Queen's English. So perhaps it's time we Yanks have to sit through a drama where all the villains speak with "R"s so hard you could cut diamonds with them.

Fair enough. But next time, let's make a movie where all the bad guys have Scottish accents. They make me giggle.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Diapers have been in the news a lot recently, what with that crazy astronaut driving across the country in a pair of diapers and the subsequent revelation that ALL astronauts wear diapers during takeoff and landing. Later that week, Stephen Colbert said all high achieving people wore diapers, and proclaimed himself a Diaper Achiever.

Well, this has been great news for Nate and Will, who find themselves looking to the skies, dreaming of flying to the moon...
OK, so they're not quite looking out the window because there is an extreme distraction in the form of a man with a camera right next to them. I guess I'll have to go outside to get a better angle. That's not quite the effect I'm looking for, either. But hey, we can't all be blurbomat.

The point is that Nate and Will are very good at wearing diapers. (Just this evening, Nate let a fart whose volume and velocity would not have been out of place at a frat party.) And now that diaper wearing is a sign of excellence, both boys are ready to make the most of it.

While it will take a little more age and schooling before blast off, Nate is working on what he can do right now...That scene may seem like chaos, but Nate is actually in a yoga pose called "upward facing gerbil." (having pants half removed is part of the pose) Nate is getting very good at stretching into weird poses, and eating his own toes. Strange, I know, but I understand Nate became self actualized over the weekend, so who are we to judge?

Will is taking his talents a different route...Will has reinvented himself as a matinee idol type. A drooling matinee idol who takes a lot of naps, but a matinee idol still the same. He's wowing the ladies with his big blue eyes and toothless smile. Of course, Nate is the big flirt and Will really isn't, but I don't have pictures to support that. And if I've learned anything from working in TV news, it's that the picture is king.

So while they may be some 30 years away from their first space flight, Nate and Will really are proving that they're Diaper Achievers. Good work, boys.

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Friday, February 16, 2007


This evening I was listening to an artsy-fartsy Australian podcast when I learned of a fabulous website out of the Netherlands. (I know what you're thinking, and you're absolutely right: "That Matthew Workman certainly is a worldly and sophisticated gentleman.")

The site is called Sound Transit and I'm completely addicted to it. The site is a huge library of field recordings taken from all over the world. That alone probably wouldn't move me, but it's what they do with the recordings that's so cool.

The site is set up much like Travelocity or Orbitz. Users book audio trips selecting starting and ending points. The site spits out itinerary with possible connections. On my first trip, I decided to travel from Burma to Canada. (I chose those two countries because they seemed so different.)

Once the itinerary is settled on, the site creates an mp3 file with your trip. Sound Transit didn't exactly book me on the most direct route. I started in Burma, then flew to Boston. From there, it was off to Zurich before finally landing in Montreal. (You can listen to my trip here.)

The trip starts with the sound of goats being herded near a temple site in Burma. Soon, the noisy streets of Boston's Chinatown can be heard, followed by a the sound of a lone tree near Zurich (yeah, it actually makes a noise). Finally, listeners hear cars passing over the Champlain Bridge in Montreal. The whole thing takes about six minutes.

It seems like a simple thing, but I find it completely engrossing. First off, many of the sounds have a hypnotic quality. A recording called water under boats captures the rising tide lapping across pleasure crafts at a Greek harbor. I love that sound. I don't know why, but I love that sound.

But the site turns these sounds into something bigger. During your customized audio trip, the sounds of your various destinations slowly fade into each other. Listening to the sounds using a good set of headphones feels like floating over the Earth as you drift from destination to destination. It's very, very cool.

I love to travel, but being a parent has put that habit on hold for a while. I really want to get back out and see more of the world. But for now, I'm happy to book a few more trips on Sound Transit.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Oh, what a tangled web.

So there's this really really famous blog written by an ex-girlfriend of mine, and this woman in Salt Lake City is an avid reader. Eventually, the woman in SLC begins reading another blog written by the famous blogger's husband. I have been known to leave a comment or two on that site, so the woman in SLC begins visiting my site on a regular basis. She leaves some comments here, and eventually I check out her site.

After a while, I realize that she knows a reporter from Portland who I had bumped into while covering various regional stories. So we trade a few emails back and forth to see if we have any other common friends or acquaintances. Turns out we had about a dozen or so.

But then came the real shocker. This woman didn't know me so much as Matthew Workman, but as my evil radio Alter Ego Sizzlin' Steve Sargent. I invented Sizzlin' Steve with the help of this guy. Sizzlin' Steve was the sum total of all that was awful about Top 40 radio in the 1990s. Our specific target was a station called Hot 94.9, which was pretty awful. Looks like they're still pretty awful now.

Steve was invented to liven the tempo of a radio talk show that Sean was hosting. Sometimes the pace would get a little slow, or nobody would call, and things would drag... that's where Sizzlin' Steve would come in.

Steve would call in from teen hot spots in and around Provo, Utah. Just like the lame Top 40 DJs of the day, Steve would speak in a loud annoying voice, end his sentences with stupid rhymes, and get very excited about the possibility of someone winning Boyz II Men concert tickets.

Of course, it was all fake. I was calling from the next room, and a few friends would yell and scream to imitate crowds. It was pretty fun, and effectively served the purpose of filling up some dead time.

As the talk show grew in popularity, there were more callers and fewer dull moments, but Sizzlin' Steve survived. We started a feature called "Pantry Raid." At the start of the show, a listener would win a prize. Sizzlin' Steve (and his trusty pal Dan Dorfler... Sizzlin' Steve didn't have a car in college) would then be dispatched to the winner's home to deliver the prize, do a live remote, and steal something from the winner's pantry. By the end of the show, Steve, Dan, the the show's host would be dining in the studio on the stolen food. It was all good fun.

Then one day, we got the call we were all hoping for. Someone living in Helaman Halls won a prize. Not just someone... a woman. Helaman Halls was (and still is, as far as I know) a dorm complex on the campus of a school I never quite graduated from. As you might expect from a Mormon school, there were pretty strict rules about men being in the women's dorms, especially late at night. But our naughty little listeners smuggled us into their dorm room, and at 11:34 PM, we did a historic live remote from inside the women's dorms at BYU.

And during the course of my email exchanges with that woman in SLC last month, I discovered that it was HER dorm room I snuck into some 14 years ago. She even took a picture of the blessed event. It's obviously a photo of a photo, so the image quality isn't the best, but you can clearly see a clock radio, $5 prize coupons for Tommy's Burgers, a ska concert poster, and my bangs (which could probably make the list for Most Awful Things of the 1990s).

Moments after this photo was taken, there was a knock on the door, and I had to scurry under the bed for fear of being caught. Good times.

Before this photo arrived in my inbox, I probably hadn't thought of Sizzlin' Steve in 8 years. But now that he's back, the old instincts have returned. I'm overwhelmed by the urge to speak loudly in public and compose sentences that include phrases like, "The home of hot rockin' hits, on your 24 hour tower of power!" But most importantly, I feel the need to accost random teens and give them free Color me Badd t-shirts.

That's natural, right?

2/14/07 SIZZLIN' UPDATE: A friend sent me some audio files of Sizzlin' Steve on the radio. 14 years later, I'm really struck by how annoying that character was. I know he's supposed to be annoying, but still...

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


Some time ago, I read a New York Times article that told the story of people who had lost their iPods or had them stolen. It said the people actually went through the stages of grieving one might expect if they had lost a family member. I thought it was all a bit silly, until last Thursday.

I came home from a lovely day of skiing up and went to sync my iPod up with my computer when I get a distressing message. It says that my iPod had become corrupted. At first, I can’t figure out what that means. Had my iPod floated no-bid contracts for Iraq reconstruction to Halliburton? Had my iPod accepted campaign donations in exchange for a peerage? (That’s an appointment to the British House of Lords, for all you non-political nerds.) These scenarios strike me as unlikely, so, without really knowing it, I enter:

Whenever my iPod won’t sync, I just unplug it and plug it back in. In a matter of seconds, I’ll see that little circle and slash that tells me that all is well. But it’s not working this time. I repeat the process a few more times, with similar results, then I reset my lil’ buddy. No luck.

Finally, I resign myself to more drastic measures. It’s time to “restore” the iPod. This maneuver wipes out pretty much everything on an iPod and brings it back to its factory settings.

I really don’t want to do this, because I have about 6,000 songs on my iPod and I don’t want to wait 12 hours for them to re-sync. But I love my little iPod. Julie gave it to me for Christmas in 2004. It was a beacon of light during my dark months in Texarkana. When Apple began supporting podcasts, it weaned me completely from broadcast radio (which is a good thing in Texarkana).

I hold my breath and hit the “restore” button on iTunes. After a few minutes, it instructs me to disconnect the iPod from my computer and plug it into a wall outlet. I do as instructed and plug my iPod back into my computer. That’s when I arrive at:

Some software updater comes up on my screen, and moments later, my computer crashes. Once things are up and running again, I try once more. iTunes instructs me to “restore” my iPod again, but I get an error message that says I don’t have enough software to restore it. But of course I don’t have enough software! That’s why I’m trying to “restore” it!

At this point, it’s 6 AM. I have been at it for more than 8 hours. I go to bed for some brief, fitful sleep. I dream that my iPod is better, that all I had to do was give it a little rest, and it would come back to me. (I wish I was joking about that last detail.)

I wake up 3 hours later, head back out to my computer, and find myself:

With no food and little sleep over the past 14 hours, I’m starting to lose my mind. I can’t stand the thought of my little iPod dying. But I can’t seem to bring it back from the dead. I’m also starting to realize that I’m being completely irrational, but it doesn’t calm my anxiety.

After spending hours going through Apple’s customer support menus online, I feel I may have made a breakthrough. My computer recognizes my iPod, and I’m allowed to rename it, and all that’s left is a single button push to complete the restoration process. I hit the button, and the waiting game begins. Hours pass. I get on my knees and start praying to my computer.

“Please. Please. Let this work. I’ll do anything. Please.”

Then the bad graphic comes up again, and it’s obvious that all is lost.

The last page on the Apple site tells me my iPod must be mailed in for service. I start filling out forms and contemplate life without an iPod for 6 weeks. I’ll have to lug around CDs. I’ll have to listen to (say it isn’t so) the radio. I’ll only be able to listen to programs when they’re actually broadcast. I t seems too awful to imagine. Then I get to the part where the web site cranks out a price estimate: $255. The cost of a new video iPod: $249.

I rest my head on my computer keyboard and fight back a sob. (I really wish I was making that last detail up.)

About this time, Julie walks into the living room. She’s been busy working all day and has watched this drama unfold from afar.

“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

“Bring my iPod back to life.”

“I can’t watch this anymore, let’s go.”


“Valentines Day is two weeks away. We’re getting you another iPod.”

We drive to the store. I’m dressed in black. I pick out a black iPod. I feel like owning another white one would be too much like trying to replace a beloved pet. I am still grieving! A little respect for the dead, please.

I get the new iPod home. I name it “Matty” after me, but with a “y” at the end. All my songs sync overnight. But can I make myself vulnerable again? Can I allow myself to be hurt again? Time will tell.

I’m growing to love my new iPod, but I will never forget my first. Bon voyage, my beloved storage device. Bon voyage.


Monday, February 05, 2007


It has been brought to my attention that I have left the poo-nami thread hanging for more than a month. This is an attempt to remedy that.

If you recall, I was nervous because we were about ready to step onto a plane when neither of our kids had pooped in almost a week. Bad luck and bad karma dictated that a disaster was looming. Fortunately for all, Nate and Will actually slept through most of the flight and the plane never smelled like an outhouse.

So what became of the expected poo-storm? It did arrive, but I was lucky enough to be at work when it happened. The stink of it did linger around the home for some time, however.

Since then, the boys have triggered several poo-namis, so much so that I feel they may be agents of the devil. You see, these boys like to poop at church. They say the smell of Satan is the smell of sulfur, and this morning, Will filled a chapel with a stench much worse. It is quite likely that the faith of many good Mormons was shaken at that moment. I know mine was.

The poops and farts are much more toxic these days because we are introducing new foods every week or so. Here we see Nate and Will after eating a pile of whatever nasty glop we feed them.

I liked things better when we just fed them bottles. You would take a kid, cuddle him up to you... he'd suck it down, puke some of it back up, and you were done. Nice. Straightforward. Relatively clean.

But now that they're eating solids (if that's what you call wallpaper paste), feeding time is an all-out assault on the senses. The smell of the stuff can be pretty nasty, then some baby will stick his hand on the stuff and then touch you, coating your hand with an orange slime that scars the mind as well as the skin.

How is sight affected? Well...Will has been getting a lot of stuff on his face, and it's not a very appealing sight. Then there's Nate:Nate gets less stuff on his face, because he sometimes goes on hunger strikes, apparently to protest the food... like we're feeding him prison meatloaf or something. The fact is, he's right, this food is complete crap. But he's too young to know that. Either we have a very advanced child, or one royal pain in the butt. Too early to tell just yet.

As for me, I guess I should be less concerned about how nasty the food is going in, and work on trying to be out of the house when it comes back out. Because we all know that the poo-nami could strike anywhere, at any time. And when that happens, "duck and cover" ain't going to cut it.

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