Archive for April, 2009

The Thinker

The great Republican Party implosion

Newspapers and TV channels are busy writing stories about President Obama’s first hundred days in office. Were they a success? That depends on the tint of your lenses but most Americans would agree, “Hell yeah!” This is remarkable in itself because the economic news for those first hundred days has been dismal and there are only hints that it will improve in the months ahead. Nonetheless, when asked about President Obama’s performance so far, about 68% of Americans give thumbs up. Not only do Americans approve of President Obama’s performance so far by wide margins, about eighty percent also like him as a person. Really, what’s not to like? He’s got it all: charisma, a sunny smile, a low key manner, poise, manners, a trim and muscular body, good looks, two cute kids, a wonderful wife, a Portuguese water dog and (in marked contrast to his predecessor) a brain.

You do not even really have to like the guy to feel the ship of state quickly changing course toward smoother waters. This is happening because Obama knows the levers to pull to actually make it happen. He promised change and thanks to his expanded Democratic Congress, he is quickly delivering. Gitmo is closing along with those overseas CIA black sites where prisoners unknown were probably tortured. As for torture itself: banned. In addition, the Bush Administration’s torture memos have also finally see the light of day. Obama has ordered troop levels increased by 17,000 in Afghanistan. In Iraq, he has given the military instruction to remove all combat forces by August 2010. He shook hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and made overtures to hold talks with Iranian leaders. Cuban Americans can now legally travel to Cuba to see their families.

Domestically, Obama convinced Congress to pass a $787 billion stimulus bill which among doing vital things like fixing our deteriorating infrastructure and moving us to a cleaner energy future also provides extended unemployment benefits to those who were running out of them. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, making it easier for women to collect for past job discrimination. Many of the Bush Administration’s most egregious environmental regulations have been rescinded, including those ones that allowed mountaintop refuse to pollute Appalachian streams or mining in The Grand Canyon. He also convinced Congress to pass the largest tax cut for the middle class in history: $282 billion. Not bad for the first hundred days.

Republicans have a point on his record deficits, but offered no viable solution of their own on how to change the economic situation. In any event, Americans generally sense that Obama is a different sort of president, mindful that he cannot throw borrowed money against our problems forever, but also smart enough to know there are times like today when it is actually the smart thing to do.

A hundred days is just a number. You can be certain if the houses of Congress were divided, his successes would be much smaller. Myriad problems and issues lie ahead, like his promise to provide health insurance for all Americans. However, under a budget reconciliation agreement, the Senate cannot filibuster its health care proposal, meaning it is likely to happen more to his liking, and sooner rather than later. Not that it would have mattered now anyhow. Yesterday, on Day 99, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter found it politically convenient to become a Democrat. At this point even Norm Coleman realizes that his appeals will be for naught and that Al Franken will eventually become Minnesota’s second Democratic senator. That means Democrats will reach the magic 60 votes needed to prevent Republican filibusters assuming, as is always dubious with Democrats, that none cross the aisle.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party seems determined to implode. It is like they want to be politically irrelevant. Democrats held their nose and let Senator Liebermann caucus with them when he won reelection as an Independent in 2006. They pragmatically decided doing so just increased their share of committee seats and power is what the game is all about in Congress. When Senator Arlen Specter switched parties yesterday, some Republicans like Rush Limbaugh felt compelled to kick him on the rear on his way out the door. The message is clear: rather than be a “big tent” party, The Republican Party wants to become even more insular and actually enjoys being mean and nasty.

How Republicans can possibly become politically relevant again while maintaining these attitudes is unclear at best. There does not appear to be a new set of Americans waiting out there for which this message has any appeal. They don’t understand why Republicans have to be both insular and obstructionist. They want politicians to actually solve problems. Since The Republican Party is now essentially The Conservative Party, their only answer to today’s problems is to throw sand into the gears of government. The rest of us are pretty sure that since this didn’t work for the last eight years it probably won’t work very well in the next eight years either.

Moreover, many of these same conservatives, who just a few years ago we proclaiming “My country, right are wrong”, now want to secede from the United States. Apparently, to many Republicans loyalty to country only lasts as long as they are in charge. According to a Research 2000 poll, half of the Republicans in Texas prefer seceding to staying in the union. There is patriotism for you. I guess this is easier to take your chips and go home than it is to do what you have to do to regain power: accommodate others with many but not all of your opinions. A pragmatic Republican Party for example would be agnostic on gay marriage, since a new generation of Americans simply doesn’t understand why gays should not marry. This would not only encourage not only gay independents to become Republican, but also large number of Libertarians who don’t understand why in a free country gays cannot be as free as the rest of us. Since they cannot, they hamstring themselves into what looks like a long period of political irrelevance.

Normally a midterm election means the opposing party picks up seats. The omens do not look good for Republican pickups in 2010. Democrats are likely to increase their majority with the retirement of Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. With only 23% of Americans identifying themselves as Republican (versus 33% as recently as 2003), it is hard to see where Republicans can pick up seats. It certainly doesn’t help when Republicans pick Club for Growth candidates to field in the general election. It only makes them look more extreme.

It remains to be seen how long The Republican Party will choose to be out of power. If they are waiting for America to become more conservative, it is likely to be a long wait. Their best hope as always is to hope the other guy screws up. Unfortunately, President Obama is proving to be the most politically adept president since Ronald Reagan. He will doubtless make mistakes, but it is unlikely he will make large and egregious mistakes due to not thinking through an issue sufficiently. His poll numbers speak for themselves.

The way things are going, The Grand Old Party may soon become The Grand Dead Party.

 
The Thinker

Review: Cthulhu (2007)

Word among my wife’s circle of friends was that the 2007 movie Cthulhu was wretchedly bad. If you are bad movie fanatics like we are, this was reason to place the movie on our Netflix queue. No question about it, Cthulhu is a stinker of a movie. However, it languishes somewhere between mediocre and abysmal. I have seen much worse than this, but certainly not recently.

Perhaps I would rate this clunker lower if it were not that some of the actors actually seem to be trying. Jason Cottle plays Russ, a reputedly brilliant university professor in the Pacific Northwest who is reluctantly drawn home because of the untimely passing of his mother. That and there is the small matter that Armageddon is at hand. While we see him driving home to the funeral, we hear on the radio all these terrible things about the end of the world, like rising sea levels and global anarchy. Not much of it is actually borne out on film though because that would, like, cost money, although the budget was big enough to include one overturned car.

Russ turns out to be gay, which is fine by him, but not so fine with his weird dysfunctional family. Russ’s domineering father is particularly unhappy with his sexual orientation but as we learn later it is not because he is particularly homophobic. Nor does he seem particularly broken up by the passing of his spouse. Russ’s sister Dannie (Cara Buono) tries to play family peacemaker, but everyone at the old homestead seems very concerned about Russ passing on his DNA to another generation. That’s pretty hard when the idea of making love to a woman gives you the hives.

Russ does find himself rather curious when one evening he sees a row of hooded priests, looking like they came out of The Da Vinci Code, climbing out of boats and into an old warehouse along the wharf. Curiosity leads him inside where he finds outlined on chalk on the floor the names of many of the townspeople. What could it possibly mean other than they were being cheap? Should we care?

For someone who seems to want to rush back to academia he seems to ask many questions and spends inordinate amounts of time in and under creepy warehouses. Part of his motivation for hanging around is to catch up with an old family friend, whom he conveniently seduces. Through his friend, he learns about a mysterious book that could explain all the weird things going on in town. A clerk at a convenience store warns him to stay away from the old warehouse by the wharf. However, if he is crazy enough to investigate the place would be please look for her younger brother who disappeared some years earlier?

It turns out what Russ really has to worry about is Tori Spelling. Tori plays Susan, the friend who allegedly harbors the old book that explains the weird things Russ is witnessing. Tori’s presence in a movie is almost an imprimatur of its badness. She is sort of like Adrienne Barbeau’s was in movies a few decades back, and she comes with Barbeau’s ample cleavage. Susan has a husband who is conveniently paraplegic and sterile. In fact, his visit is a setup because Susan is on a mission to become impregnated. Of course not just anyone will do, as we learn later. It’s got to be Russ.

So Susan plays the role of hussy. This one seduction scene is very strange and is perhaps the comic highlight of this lowlife movie, rendering what is probably the silliest scene filmed in the last decade. Fortunately for bad movie buffs, there is plenty more here to wallow over. The movie is tangentially related to H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories wherein Cthulhu apparently is a pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings. No such critter is manifested here of course, as there was no budget for that, but there is a sort of Swamp Thing scene at the very end of the movie. Russ’s father and his kind live near an island off Antarctica and spend most of their long lives in the ocean. They apparently manifest as humans from time to time, and use human females to procreate. Yeah, this is pretty convoluted but it explains why Susan is putting the moves on a gay guy.

The movie suffers from the classic symptoms of a bad movie: no budget to speak of, mostly unknown actors, an incoherent script, dialog that doesn’t make much sense and a director (Dan Gildark) that doesn’t give much of a damn. What’s puzzling is that in spite of these problems some of the actors are trying to do something with the material. It is all for naught but perhaps it somewhat immunized them from having careers completely destroyed. Every actor is entitled to at least one clunker. Unfortunately, this one sinks like deadweight.

Cthulhu then comes across as something like a Coen Brothers movie if the brothers were drunk while making the film. It is undeniably an odd little movie. Do not spend too much time trying to connect the plot points because you really cannot. Marvel instead that even though this is a really bad movie, it could still be plenty worse.

If you like an occasional bad movie though, this is definitely one to add to your list.

 
The Thinker

Review: The Soloist

Prediction: the crowds will be staying away from The Soloist. It is not because the movie is bad; it is both very good and very moving. What The Soloist lacks is marketing appeal. There is no reason for teens to see it. It has no special effects or hot young actors. There is no compelling reason for most middle-aged people to see it either. It is not in the least bit escapist; in fact, it makes us inhabit the gritty and depressing world of the thousands of Los Angeles homeless in and around its Skid Row. Skid Row in Los Angeles feels more like Armageddon is already underway, yet it is very much a part of our American experience. Skid Row is a crowded, crazy and noisy place that resembles anarchy.

What The Soloist does have are two compelling actors at the top of their form. Robert Downey Jr. plays Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez, who happens to stumble on a homeless man playing a violin with only two strings left. The homeless man is Nathaniel Ayers, played with surreal realism by Jamie Foxx. Granted, playing the part of a homeless man is made easier when the set is on the actual Los Angeles Skid Row and you are surrounded by hundreds of homeless people, many of whom were cast as themselves in the movie.

Ayers though would be just another homeless man had he not had a way with a violin and caught Lopez’s attention. Ayers fascinates Lopez because he doesn’t understand how a man can have such talent and have been living on the street for decades. What belongings Ayers possesses he pushes around in a shopping cart. He eventually learns that Ayers, an African American, studied for a while at Juilliard. Unfortunately, his potential, which seemed limitless, was broken when he acquired schizophrenia.

However, classical music still consumes Ayer’s soul. Even as a homeless man, he seems to spend much of his life feeling the strains of Beethoven coursing through his body. Ayers makes for a compelling series of columns by Lopez. A reader provides Lopez with a viola cello, which he gives to Ayers on the condition that he can only play it at LAMP, a nearby refuge for the Los Angeles homeless. LAMP also provides the potential for Ayers to acquire some therapy and perhaps an apartment of his own.

Foxx has the lead role, although Downey gets more screen time. Of the two, Foxx’s acting is the more notable. Not only does Foxx come across convincingly as a homeless person, when he plays an instrument it is like we are inside of Ayer’s mind. That is great acting. Ayers is lost inside his own schizophrenia, but he remains the talented musician he once was. Seeing his talent, Lopez goes out of his way to try to rehabilitate Ayers. I will not spoil any surprises for you but you can be sure it is a rocky journey for both Ayers and Lopez.

What the film does very well is demonstrate the fundamental humanity within all of us. Many of you reading this could be homeless too, had life taken you down some bad alleys as it took Ayers. From the most privileged to the homeless wretches of the world like Ayers, we are not that far apart. The distance between us is of our own creation.

The story of Ayers and Lopez is true and the movie is based closely on a book that Steve Lopez wrote of the experience. Director Joe Wright does an amazing job, not just with getting the chemistry right between Ayers and Lopez, but of making us inhabit, if only for a couple hours, the often terrifying world of life on the street.

A good movie should open our eyes to parts of the world we do not normally see. Your eyes will open watching The Soloist. Your heart should open wider too by the time you leave the theater 109 minutes later.

3.3 on my 4.0 scale.

 
The Thinker

There’s a storm not coming!

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is dreadfully concerned about gay marriage. I was hoping that maybe they were dreadfully concerned about the quality of marriage in this country for a change, as evidenced by our national divorce rate being between forty and fifty percent. I expected that all the bad marriages, divorces and the wreckage they cause would be of huge concern to NOM.

Ha ha! Of course not, at least not that much compared to the evil that gay marriage means … well, I am not sure exactly what it means to them except that they are afraid. If you haven’t already, watch their 60-second commercial and see if you can figure it out.

There’s a storm gathering. The clouds are dark. And the winds are strong. And I am afraid.

So some people are afraid, but of what? Oh, here we go:

Some who advocate for same sex marriage have taken the issue far beyond same sex couples. They want to bring the issue into my life. My freedom will be taken away.

So some people are afraid because same sex marriage will mean they will have less freedom. Perhaps they are worried that if their state can let gays marry then their state can also take away the right for heterosexuals to marry.  That doesn’t seem too likely as homosexuals comprise about three to five percent of the population. What other freedoms then could they be talking about?

I am a California doctor who must choose between my faith and my job.

Apparently, a doctor in California did not want to treat a lesbian patient who wanted to be artificially inseminated. The doctor refused because her patient was not married and that violated her beliefs. In this case, the California Supreme Court declared that the rights of the patient were more important than the rights of the doctor. The NOM seems to be arguing that physicians should be allowed to violate the law of the State of California and their Hippocratic Oath when it violates their personal beliefs. If all acts of conscience are excusable, can I decline a ticket for driving without my seat belt because it is against my beliefs? However, what really matters here is that this is a red herring. It has nothing to do with same sex marriage. The issue was facilitating having a child out of wedlock.

I am part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can’t support same sex marriage.

This is one of these cases that is much ado about nothing. A New Jersey Methodist church owns a square mile of property along the Atlantic Ocean. The church is inland. They built a boardwalk and pavilion along the beach. The church allowed public weddings in the pavilion.  Two lesbians asked to use the pavilion for their wedding because it was for public use and were refused. Because the church allowed the pavilion to be used by the public rather than for church purposes, the state said it was taxable property. The church itself remains tax-exempt. The dispute here has to do with public use of property owned by a church and whether such property should be taxed. The lesbian couple has sued the church, but that is a civil suit. It is not an action by the government to lash out at those who object to gay marriage. Once again, the issue as portrayed in the ad has nothing to do with government being vindictive against churches that are against gay marriage.

I am a Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is okay.

The concern here is that a public school teacher can say in the classroom that gay marriage is legal in the State of Massachusetts, which in fact it is. This is not advocating gay marriage; this is stating the truth. It is also a fact that gay marriage is not (currently) allowed next door in New York State. It would be factual for a teacher to state that too, but I bet this Massachusetts parent would not object. It sounds like this parent really wants to restrict which facts teachers can communicate to students. This is not freedom; it is censorship, which is its antithesis.

But some who advocate for same sex marriage have not been content with same sex couples living as they wish.

Say what? In most cases, same sex couples are not living as they wish; that’s why they and those of us who agree with them are petitioning for their right to marry! Moreover, if the U.S. Supreme Court had not invalidated all state sodomy laws, some of these gays and lesbians would still be lawbreakers and possibly in jail for the “crime” of having oral or anal sex.

Those advocates want to change the way I live. I will have no choice.

If the issue is gay marriage, since you are not gay how will that change how you live your life? If the issue is one of facing the law for doing things against your conscience, you are free to follow your conscience providing you do not mind being prosecuted. You can also petition to change the law. News flash: we are all required to obey the law. It is nondiscriminatory. We are required to obey the law even when it is inconvenient, even when laws are stupid. Are you requesting the right to choose which laws you will follow? If so, will you extend the same privilege to gays and lesbians? If not, why not?

The storm is coming. But we have hope. A rainbow coalition of people of every creed and color are coming together in love to protect marriage.

As a heterosexual married man, I can state for my wife and I that the vitality and continuance of our marriage has no relationship to whether gays can or cannot marry. It amazes me that anyone who is married could possibly believe otherwise. If you are married, do you really think that your marriage is more likely to crumble because gays can marry? In the event I divorce, it will not be because I turned gay. I would have found this out by now. If I divorce, I will still be allowed to remarry should I choose. What I do know is that other citizens just because they are attracted to their own sex do not have the same right, and this is just as unjust as laws that used to prohibit interracial marriage.

This commercial reminds me of that Dr. Seuss story, “The Pale Green Pants with nobody inside of them”. NOM is chasing a bogeyman that exists only in their fears and not in reality. Here is my suggestion to those opposed to gay marriage: talk with gay and lesbian people. You will discover they are real people just like you. They bleed just like you. They have 46 chromosomes just like you. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you. They feel, just like you. They cry, laugh, get angry, feel happy and have fears and insecurities just like you. They are not worse than you. They are not better than you. They are just human beings, like you. As such, it is inexcusable to deny gays and lesbians the same legal privileges as anyone else.

Maybe it’s not storm clouds these people are afraid of, but the sunlight.

 
The Thinker

Eating out is hazardous to your health

Since I started my diet in late January, I have lost 16 pounds. That’s good for me, of course. My blood pressure is now about normal. I hope that in three months when I am retested my cholesterol will be within normal ranges again too.

16 pounds amounts to about 7 percent of my weight. As you might expect, my diet has changed. Not only do I consume fewer calories than I used too, the portion of my calories from fat and processed foods has nosedived, and the amount of fiber in my diet has gone way up. Perhaps because of my own dieting adventure, I am also watching the eating habits of others. For most, their habits appear to be a lot like mine were at the beginning of the year. I too was largely mindless of the total calories and fat I was consuming.

A certain loved one of mine complains of lower back pains and of feeling tired all the time. Now it all makes sense. I would be tired too if someone gave me a heavy backpack to wear every day, which is in effect what happens if you are obese. Your body, designed to support a certain weight, is now hefting many more pounds everywhere it goes. Your spine carries most of your weight so it doesn’t surprise me it would manifest itself in lower back pain. If I were obese I would probably be complaining of back pain pretty much every day of the week.

My latest excursion in dieting has made me realize that we are all literally what we eat. Not only do we gain weight by what we eat, what we eat perturbs our body in many ways that are not obvious. If your body were a car, would you put high-test gasoline in the engine, run with a quart of oil in the engine and drive around with 10 psi of tire pressure in each tire? If you did your car, which is designed for 200,000 miles, would be lucky to make it to 100,000 miles. Yet many of us Americans are doing just this with our bodies. The result is predictable: we are throwing a wrench into our innards. The result: obesity, lots of aches and complaints, higher health costs and for many ultimately a shorter lifespan.

Now when I look at a slice of pizza, the shiny fat glistening on its surface is like a neon warning sign. I think to myself, “If I eat this, most of this fat will not be burned but will quickly get stored in my fat cells. The more fat I eat, the more I will weigh. Moreover, some of these fat cells will be converted into cholesterol, and some of it will stick to the walls of my arteries and veins. This could result in all sorts of problems, including heart attack and stroke.”

I am now also vigilant of just how calorie-dense modern American food is. Restaurants go out of their way to add (and hide) fat, calories and sugar. This is easy to understand: we will enjoy the food more if it is tasty, and if it is tasty and satisfying, we will want to revisit the restaurant. You would think a restaurant salad as an entrée would be a safe bet, right? Wrong. My daughter and I recently had dinner at Champps, a sports bar. The BBQ Chopped Salad with Chicken, which I had for dinner, is 742 calories. (Ostensibly, it consists of two servings but of course, it comes out as one salad.) It was a good salad but it amounted to about a third of my daily calories. Moreover, it was loaded with over 40 grams of fat.

The salad though was one of the healthiest dishes on the Champps menu. Have a craving for the Champps Cheese Burger? Supposedly, it serves two, but it does not come out sliced in half. If you eat the whole cheeseburger, it is 1162 calories with 78 grams of fat. Doubtless, the fries that come with the entrée were at least five hundred more calories. Hankering for their Cajun Shrimp Penne? It has 1322 calories and 73 grams of fat. Want a steak? The New York Strip is almost something of a health food, as it is only 1008 calories. However, if you are a woman that one steak is probably more than half your daily calories. Naturally, none of this information is actually printed on the menu. You have to dig it out from their website.

I suspect the human body does pretty well in adjusting to variations in diet. In the past, we would exercise off the calories through activities like hunting deer or tilling soil. Today, we have oriented our lives to minimize exercise. Why walk if you have a car? Why work in a hot and sweaty field for little money when you can sit in an air-conditioned cubicle and make much more? Today these choices catch up with us. They are manifested in many overweight or obese people in symptoms like excessive tiredness, listlessness and lower back pains. In my case, perhaps because I exercise regularly, they were manifested in high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which generally go unnoticed unless you look for them.

You are what you eat but who you are is a result of what your parents ate. This link goes on back until the dawn of time. Your particular chromosomes are a result of natural selection, and natural selection includes the eating choices of past generations. If you are childless but planning to be a mother, you are shaping the destiny of your children by your eating choices. If you are an overweight woman, you are more likely to give birth to a child who will grow up overweight. Moreover, that child is more likely to have more health issues than children born to healthy mothers who are of normal weight. Dads, you don’t escape either. You provide the sperm and the quality of your sperm is affected by your diet and exercise. Whether you even father a child may be a consequence of your weight. Studies show that obese men and women have a lower sex drive than people of normal weight, which is likely a result of many of them having adult diabetes. Aside from the listlessness that often accompanies obesity, obesity also tends to make you less attractive, making intercourse less likely.

There are no Surgeon General warnings on restaurant menus, like there are on cigarettes. There should be. As a public service our next surgeon general could insist that restaurant menus come with warnings like this: Warning: the surgeon general has determined that most of the entrees in this restaurant are dangerous to your health. Some restaurants have little icons to indicate items that are relatively healthy, i.e. low in calories and fat. Perhaps there should be easily understood icons next to each entrée. Perhaps a scull and crossbones would do the trick for entrees that are high in calories or fat. As a start, simply putting the number of calories, fat and dietary fiber per serving for all items on menus would be helpful.

I know now that eating out can be dangerous to your future you. So I eat out less and try to research restaurants before I got there to find entrees that are relatively healthy. Often there are no healthy entrees on the menu. Sometimes you can convert an entrée to something healthier by asking it to be cooked or served differently. For example, a baked potato is healthy, if you skip the sour cream. Eating the potato skin adds important nutrition. Restaurants could actually increase business if they emphasized their healthy entrees. A small Wendy’s chili, for example, is 190 calories and has 6 grams of fat and 5 grams of dietary fiber (doubtless from the beans). Almost everything Panera Bread serves is unhealthy, but their Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean soup is delicious and has 250 calories, 9 grams of fiber and just 2 grams of fat.

The reality is you must be a very careful shopper if you wish to avoid packing on the calories. My guess is that four out of five products served in our modern supermarkets would not qualify as healthy food and that includes many of the products with “reduced fat” on them. If you care about your health, extreme vigilance is required.

I hope with our new administration and congress we will see new progressive legislation so Americans can easily make informed choices on restaurant eating. I bet the restaurant industry would adopt. McDonalds is trying, although their menu is still rife with calories and grease. Not only should all restaurant menus be labeled with their calorie and fat content, each restaurant menu should include a simple weight chart indicating the recommended daily calorie and fat allowances for men and women of various ages and weights. Except in a few cities and states, right now we diners have the odds stacked against us.

 
The Thinker

The future of newspapers and what comes next

I moved to the Washington D.C. area in 1978. Before I moved, I picked up a copy of The Washington Post from my local newsstand. I wanted a taste of the area that I would soon call home.

I found it fascinating. The newspaper in Daytona Beach (where I was living at the time) was unaffectionately known as The Mullet Wrapper, because about all it was good for was wrapping mullet. It has almost no news in it, and what “news” it had was dreadfully uninteresting. Even back then, you had to hunt for a movie review within its pages. As for culture and arts, there was no virtually no such thing in Daytona Beach. The Washington Post, on the other hand, was awash with news: national, international and local. It was hard to find a wire service article in the paper because they had staff deployed all over the world who were reporting it firsthand. The Post bulged with insightful information.

In 2009, The Washington Post bulges a lot less. Like most American newspapers, it’s declining and in its case it is particularly painful to watch. I still have it delivered daily. Retrieving the newspaper off my driveway first thing in the morning is reflexive. Most recently the Post’s business section was shrunk and subsumed inside the A section. The comics were shrunk too, from three pages to two, and were reduced further in size as well. The Metro section is looking thinner. The Sports section has trimmed coverage and reduced the number of stories and tables. In short, while it is not close to being The Mullet Wrapper, it becomes less valuable every day. Only on Sundays does the full glory of what The Washington Post used to be reappear.

The economics of the shrinking newspaper market give The Post little choice, although their actions are counterproductive. The more they shrink The Post, the less content it has and thus the less reason there is to buy the paper in the first place. The way things are going, one of these days I will be canceling my subscription too. They will have reduced the value of its information below what I am willing to pay. I sure don’t need to wrap any mullet.

Newspapers look like goners, but I am not so sure. The Washington Post has a good chance of surviving, and I expect certain other major papers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal will as well, although they may evolve into electronic-only copies. I also expect many niche community newspapers will survive and possibly thrive. It is a lot less costly to deliver bits to a display screen than it is to physically print and distribute a newspaper, and electronic versions are doubtless far more carbon-friendly. I am dubious that any electronic version of a newspaper will provide quite the same experience as its physical manifestation. Newspapers can be browsed; they invite your curiosity. Electronic versions are far less so, simply because you are limited by screen size, resolution and portability.

Newspapers are all desperately searching for the right formula to survive in the information age. What form of electronic content would be good enough to make you want to spend a quarter or two a day (plus the advertising) to get it? Based on the websites I read none of them is quite there. My suspicion is that a completely new revenue model will evolve. The bad news for the newspapers is that they will probably will not control it.

What timely news might we pay money for? The closest on-line entity that resembles a newspaper to me is The Huffington Post. It is part opinion, part news (with a left-wing slant) and part entertainment/scandal sheet. Aside from its opinions, much of its content comes from elsewhere. Their layout has opinion (blogs) in the left column, news in the middle column and entertainment in the right column. It also has a big and somewhat garish headline (usually with an image) at the top of the page. In general, the most topical news is toward the top of the page. As you scroll down the news gets a little bit less interesting and less timely.

Huffpost though is missing a few things you really need to replicate the newspaper experience. First, it has no sports section. For many it is the only reason to buy a newspaper. What it is really missing though and what makes newspapers so valuable is timely local news. If a content provider like Huffpost could figure out a way to integrate sports, local reporting and reviews of the local arts scene, you might have something that is functionally equivalent to a newspaper.

Perhaps what is most valuable about Huffpost is its template. The right newspaper template for the web can serve as a substitute for any newspaper and Huffpost’s is real close. Once we agree on the best newspaper template, it might make perfect sense to let a company like Google provide the web hosting, but let various content providers fill up parts of the template. Let users decide the slant, if any, they want from their news. The Huffpost template would work just as well for The Drudge Report (which IMHO is a seriously ugly and garish site). Say you want your center column to have news from The Drudge Report. Matt Drudge could provide the content (and the advertising) for that portion of the site. Say you like your sports from ESPN. The sports section (say on the right column) could contain its news and ads.

Some of the more tech savvy of you are saying, “What you are describing is a portal. It’s already here!” That’s true, however it is hard for an out of the box portal to give quite the same look and feel as the Huffpost template. We need that right mixture of typography, white space and pictures. We also need editors to uphold quality standards and to select appropriate imagery, something sorely missing from most news web sites on the web. It would be jarring if the content style looked one way in one column from provider A and another way in another column from provider B. Hence, to work, content providers and editors would have to adhere to common stylistic standards, and we would need some style czars to make sure integrated content is consistent. We are not there yet.

Local news is a harder nut to crack. However, I can see teams of regional reporters forming local content syndicates. Just as many towns are now one-newspaper towns, many areas are going to be small enough where only one content provider could survive. Cities though should attract many local content syndicates. Hopefully, there would be enough revenue from the advertising stream to support a quality content, although that remains to be seen.

Would you pay extra for featured comics like Dilbert, prominent advice columnists, local reviews and obituaries? That remains to be seen, but I suspect many people would not mind paying a bit extra for these features providing they were already on the web page and they did not have to go hunt for them. Just as it is inefficient to subscribe to multiple local newspapers to get a full spectrum of news, it is also inefficient to visit multiple web sites to get your news. You will prefer it in one web space tailored to your needs. The time savings from having it in one place may be worth paying for.

Many like me still crave a quality newspaper. We are frustrated by having to visit so many web sites to get the information we want. We also want the opportunity to learn about issues beyond our parochial interests. The right metaphor for the electronic newspaper may be closer than we think and my suspicion is that Huffpost is close. You will know which one it is when it works. (I might add that Huffpost is now one of the web’s biggest web sites, which may say something.) Meanwhile, if I were an unemployed journalist I would be working with other journalists to create rich local content like what used to be available in our newspapers. Providing there is a market, being first to market could be the key to not just surviving, but thriving as a journalist in the 21st century.

The information age gives us many more information choices than we had before, and we are busier than every trying to keep up with them. We will still want timely and relevant summarized information that is well written, insightful and well researched. Give that to us on the web and we will not only come, but open our pockets too.

 
The Thinker

My first Seder

Last Thursday, President Obama hosted a private Passover Seder in the White House. It was news because in the 232 years we have been a nation, no President had ever hosted a Seder before. Of course, we never had a Jewish president before so that might explain it. While the Seder was welcomed by America’s Jewish community, they can be forgiven for wondering why it took so long. The most likely reason amounts to tacit Anti-Semitism. Supporting the state of Israel and all that is fine, but actually participating in some solemn Jewish customs in our most public of houses somehow seemed a bridge too far to its previous Christian chief executives.

President Obama host the first White House Seder

President Obama hosts the first White House Seder

While Seder is a Jewish tradition at Passover, as I discovered you don’t have to be Jewish to have a Seder and find meaning in the event. For some reason, I got through fifty-two years without having attended a Passover Seder. That changed last night when our friend Fox, who also happens to be Jewish, invited a small group of us mostly Gentiles to her brownstone apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland for a belated Passover Seder. It was probably significantly toned down from Passover Seders in most orthodox Jewish families, but it was a Seder nonetheless from dipping sprigs of parsley in a bowl of salt water to the washing of hands (twice), to the matza ball soup (quite delicious!) to the singing of Next Year in Jerusalem.

Passover Seder is something like a Jewish Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims gave thanks having made it to the New World and for their first harvest. The Jews celebrate their miraculous escape from Egyptian slavery as well as remember its horrors. Unlike Thanksgiving, which is primarily an occasion for overeating and maybe a little giving of thanks, Passover Seder commemorates the liberation of a people, which is perhaps a lot more meaningful. (I grant you the Pilgrims in their own way went to the New World seeking their own liberation, or at least an escape from religious persecution.)

Christians today are busy celebrating Easter, their holiest of days. Many of the more devout ones also celebrated Holy Thursday last week, infamous of course for The Last Supper. I was one of the many people who had largely tuned out that The Last Supper was a Passover Seder with Jesus as the guest of honor. Just as Christmas was timed around Winter Solstice to bring in the heathens, the timing of Easter over the Passover seems a trifle suspicious. What are the odds that Jesus just happened to die on the cross during the Passover? (One in 52, actually.) The Catholic mass strikes me at least in part as a way to co-opt and disenfranchise Passover Seder. Jesus broke matza on Holy Thursday and shared it with his disciples, the closest thing he had to family. During a mass, priests break the host into parts, and hosts are shared with the faithful during Holy Communion. (By the way, while matza is pretty boring bread, I prefer it to communion wafers.) In a way, Catholics celebrate Passover Seder every time they go to Mass.

Thanksgiving really is a holiday-come-lately. Passover Seder was already an ancient custom when Jesus held The Last Supper. Perhaps that was why my first Seder yesterday felt special, because I was participating in a ritual far older than Christianity. Moreover, its message is timeless. Who cannot feel joy at the miraculous liberation of a people? Who cannot feel touched that the Jews over so many millenniums take time once a year to never forget their enslavement, their long years in the desert and their return to the Promised Land?

Passover and Exodus, like many religious events, likely has a core truth to it, but is probably mostly myth. It is likely that not all Jews went to work in Egypt and even after the Diaspora we know some Jews still lived in Palestine. Few actually believe that the waters of the Red Sea parted for the Jews, although they may have found a relatively dry path on their way to the Sinai over the Reed Sea, while Pharaoh’s armies got stuck in the muck. Whether Yahweh sent plagues or Egypt was going through a bad time is hard to say. I doubt any plague disproportionately spared the Jews. It is doubtful Jews were interminably lost in the desert for decades. It is much more likely that, like Gypsies, they were treated as uninvited guests wherever they went and kept roaming but stayed near sources of known water. In any event, Exodus makes for a compelling story and likely does speak to the reality that large numbers of Jews were enslaved in Egypt and managed to break free. Much of Jewish history and law derives from Moses’ oversized presence.

In fact, as bad as enslavement was back in Pharaoh’s time, the Holocaust was much worse. The state of Israel does celebrate a Holocaust Memorial Day, which in their calendar falls between April 7th and May 7th. The Pharaoh’s sins against the Jews were relatively minor compared with Adolph Hitler’s: Pharaoh wanted to enslave and abuse the Jews, not annihilate them. Passover is so established that it will never go away, but perhaps in time Jews will elevate Holocaust Memorial Day to a holiday of similar stature and magnitude.

More Gentiles like me should consider incorporating Passover Seder into their annual customs. The Unitarian church I attend hosts an annual Passover Seder. I had never considered attending before. I will be more likely to attend them in the future. My experience is that it is impossible to attend a Seder without feeling some of the suffering, oppression and liberation that Jews have experienced. In my opinion, Americans of all faith should routinely practice Passover Seder. So plaudits for President Obama. As acts of leadership go, this is a minor but important one. Let us hope it will be celebrated annually in The White House from now on.

 
The Thinker

Some Mad Hatters plan some tea parties

What’s with all these teabagging parties planned on Tax Day, April 15th? Fox “News” seems to be urging Americans — well at least their brand of “real” (read “white and conservative”) Americans — to come together for “tea parties”. The aim of these parties is to protest what they perceive as onerous new taxes enacted recently as well as express their concern about the perceived new socialist administration and congress. As I pointed out after the elections last year, these folks apparently do not know what real socialism is. To them, anything the government does to help those making under $50,000 a year is socialism.

The way Americans voted last November could not possibly be a natural reaction to the last dreadful eight years of largely Republican control. Teabaggers are greatly alarmed, not just over hikes in cigarette taxes, but also over Obama’s $3.5 trillion dollar budget. They say Obama is taking federal debt to new and stratospheric new levels.

However, all the debt accumulated before January 20, 2009 is completely forgivable, particularly the massive debts accumulated during the Bush and Reagan administrations. See, it’s good debt if it goes to national defense or to show American muscle in hellholes like Iraq. It is bad debt if money goes to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure or to give low-income working parents affordable childcare. Is that clear? It makes perfect sense to the teabaggers. The rest of us think they are worthy of derision. I will be chortling while watching their rallies on television on April 15th.

These teabaggers suffer from one common characteristic: cognitive dissonance. In their peculiar world, cutting taxes is always good. Apparently, government could function just fine with no taxes whatsoever! You can bet all the teabaggers out there, who are now so concerned about our burgeoning national debt, would be okay with more debt if they were back in charge, providing they got more juicy tax cuts and it could be used to get rid of more of the Axis of Evil, perhaps North Korea this time.

So let them congregate and wave their teabags. The right to peaceably assemble is protected in our constitution. Americans are entitled to their opinions, no matter how crazy and ill informed they are. I, along with millions of other Americans, have the right to laugh at their lunacy. Of course, if we had had some of their new found fiscal conservatism back in 2001 we would not have gone on a tax cut binge and raised the national debt up to ten trillion dollars. We could have used some of that extra tax money to fund things like bridge improvements so people did not have to fall headfirst from their cars to a watery grave in the Mississippi River. Perhaps rather than add another trillion dollars to our debt, we could have levied an Iraq War tax. Instead, our Republican Congress did what other cowardly Congresses have done and put it on the national charge card. After all, Dick Cheney told us that deficits don’t matter. What he meant to say is they don’t matter until your party is out of power and it can be used for political leverage.

Today many of these self-professed patriots want to start a new American revolution. Apparently, working through the democratic process is fine only until you become overwhelmingly marginalized. Then it is okay to have a revolution. Hence, the need for tea bag parties to allow their nut jobs to connect and perhaps actually bring about a new American revolution.

Timothy McVeigh might have fired the first shot, so to speak, when in 1993 he killed 168 people and destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Other incidents suggest some other right-wingers take revolution seriously. Just last week, a well-armed man in Pittsburgh murdered three police officers and wounded two others when police responded to a disturbance at his house. According to a friend of the alleged shooter “Pop” Poplawski, “always said that if someone tried to take his weapons away he would do what his forefathers told him to do and defend himself.” Many teabaggers are apparently convinced that President Obama wants to take away their guns, even though he has explicitly ruled it out. Teabaggers though are a paranoid bunch and are buying guns and ammunition in record numbers anyhow. Demand is so high that police are having a hard time buying ammunition.

After President Bush won reelection in 2004, many of my liberal friends including my wife made noises about moving to Canada. They were convinced America was entering a new dark age. Some of these people actually moved. Now, just four years later, some teabaggers apparently want to throw in the towel when democracy becomes inconvenient. Perhaps they could move to Alaska and join the Alaska Independence Party, like Sarah Palin’s husband. Since they are now looking at a prolonged period of being out of power, to some of them revolution is both acceptable and justified. As for us other Americans, who apparently are satisfied with the way government is now being managed, since we are wrong our opinions do not matter. It appears that the many Americans are armed to the teeth and could facilitate such a revolution if they chose. Moderating some positions to return to power is not an option.

I doubt too many teabaggers will actually take up arms, although they could inflame enough of the nutcases in their midst to cause more terrorist incidents like the Oklahoma Bombing. Some might call for a new civil war, or at least a partition where the South rises again as its own country. There taxes will always be low, gays will be kept in the closet, global warming can be blithely ignored and Ward and June Cleaver will always sleep in separate beds.

It will not happen. What will happen is that, over time, the pendulum will swing back their way again. It is inevitable. They just need to exercise some patience. This is America. One party never controls all the levers of power for long because, as Republicans proved, corruption eventually ensues. The inevitable result is a backlash. To regain power, compromising their so-called bedrock principles must happen eventually, and that will be hard for teabaggers to accept. Whites are quickly becoming a minority and nothing can stop this change in our national demographics. The Republican Party will likely evolve into a more libertarian and less religious party.

Teabag parties speak to Republicans’ political impotence, which for now is very real. Thus far, Americas are quite happy with their Democratic Congress and Administration, perhaps because they are working in the best interest of the American people for a change. We will never return to the way things were. The way things were was never the way teabaggers thought they were anyhow. We have always been a multiethnic and pluralistic culture.

The mixture in our national melting pot is changing once again in the 21st century. Political parties that hope to prosper in this century had best put down the teabags and instead start appealing to our new and changing demographic groups.

 
The Thinker

Virginia, just say no to Terry McAuliffe

My dinner was interrupted tonight by a phone call from the Terry McAuliffe for Governor campaign. In case you haven’t heard, Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is running for governor of Virginia. No doubt, his campaign wanted my support and likely my money too. Just hearing whose campaign was calling me was enough for me to hang up the phone. While I am a good Democrat, I simply cannot abide this man. I will hold my nose and vote for him in the general election if necessary, because the Republicans will doubtless field someone worse. However, I refuse to vote for him in the upcoming Democratic primary.

You ever see a picture of someone or just hear them and instinctively not like them? I feel that way about Terry. So in part, my reaction is not logical. However, it is not hard to find logical reasons to hope this guy’s campaign flounders. Let us start with the biggest one: despite having a house here in Fairfax County for twenty years, in spirit he is no Virginian. Rather he is a Washington insider intimately connected with national politics.

Nevertheless, let’s not be too hasty. Let’s look at his resume. How did he do as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005? It depends on whom you ask. Friends and partisans like Donna Brazile have plenty of nice things to say about Terry. He was good at raking in the money. During his tenure, the DNC raised a record $578 million. He also compiled a computerized database of over 170 million voters for targeting. It takes money to win elections, of course, but the money he raised apparently was squandered. In the 2002 election, Republicans gained eight House seats and two Senate seats. In 2004, Republicans picked up three more House seats and four Senate seats. In short, all that fundraising prowess was for naught. He left the Democratic Party significantly politically weaker than it was when he assumed chairmanship. The party was so out of touch with many of us Democrats that many like my wife had to be coaxed (or in her case, pushed) into the voting booth. The slate we were given was milquetoast.

What did he do wrong? Clearly he had to deal with some strong Republican headwinds, flamed by 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. It does not matter because he had the responsibility to change the dynamic, and he failed. He lacked the imagination to properly harness the power of the Internet. He raised money the old fashioned way, with rubber chicken dinners for wealthy donors and by sending out fundraising letters to targeted demographics. Nor did he give the Democratic Party a clear and positive message to distinguish its brand from the Republican’s. When he left the DNC, the Democratic Party still looked like Bill Clinton’s party. What it needed was a chairman willing to remake the party into a newer and better brand.

It took Howard Dean to change the dynamics. Dean was somewhat reluctantly elected DNC chairman in 2005, almost as a consolation prize. Dean however had a grasp of the bigger picture and the changing dynamics. Dean may have irritated the party establishment, but he proved to be a focused and agile leader of the party, putting recruiters in all states, not just the swing states. The results in 2006 and 2008 were telling. Democrats now control Congress and the White House. Most importantly, Dean connected with the disenfranchised Democratic voter, people like me who wanted a progressive agenda, not more of the Democratic-lite brand popularized by Bill Clinton. The result was apparent not only in the voting booth, but in bulging DNC coffers and an energized Democratic Party on both coasts and many states in between. Today, compared with a few years ago, significantly more Americans identify themselves as Democrats than they do Republicans.

In short, despite his protests to the contrary, McAuliffe represents the Democratic Party that was, not the Democratic Party we are today. Apparently, he figures he can use his old-school skills to buy his way into the governor’s mansion. With his well-practiced schmoozing, he will likely have little trouble raising more funds than his two announced primary challengers. He also looks trim and dashing in his three-piece suit. To try to connect with Virginians beyond the Capital Beltway, who he knows tangentially at best, he is trying to do a Mark Warner thing and visit every part of the state. The problem is that he comes across as a Washington insider because, well, he is.

Call me old fashioned, but if I am going to vote for someone for governor, can they first have experience in state and local government or running a business or large non-profit in the state? McAuliffe has none. He knows as much about the Virginia beyond the beltway as he does about city council elections in Fargo, North Dakota. At best, he only dimly understands the culture of the state, which is complex and very polymorphic. How would he get along with the Virginia legislature, which has one house firmly in Republican hands? Many prominent Virginians who have spent many years in public office do understand the dynamics of our state government. McAuliffe appears clueless.

Virginia, don’t be mesmerized by this fast-talking Washingtonian. McAuliffe’s real destination is the White House. The governor’s mansion in Richmond is just a way station. Elect someone who understands our state. Just say no to the slick and superficial Terry McAuliffe.

 
The Thinker

The years, they pass so quickly now

So I was wasting time in my hotel room this week and found the TV Land Channel. It was M*A*S*H night and they were playing shows from its first season, which by my recollection was 1972. I must have been watching one of the very first episodes because it was full of characters that would disappear within a few years including Major Burns, Trapper John and Colonel Blake. I knew it had to be first season because the show was pure comedy and had yet to take on a serious tone. In this episode Hawkeye and Trapper were spending inordinate time annoying and embarrassing Majors Burns and Houlihan.

It was great to see an old M*A*S*H episode. Like most families back then we were glued to our TV when M*A*S*H was on the air. The show lasted much longer than the actual Korean War, embarrassingly long, in fact. The actors that made it to the show’s end eleven years later by then looked really aged. Jamie Farr was 48 and Alan Alda was 47 when the last episode was filmed. But in 1972 they all looked fresh. Alan Alda, who I remember most recently playing Senator Arnold Vinick in the last two years of The West Wing, looked in The West Wing about as old as John McCain. There was a logical explanation for this. They are about the same age. (Alda is actually a year older and is 73.) Nearly forty years have passed since the first episode of M*A*S*H was aired. Alan Alda was actually 36 in 1972, but looked much younger. Alda though is one of the lucky ones. At least he is still alive. Larry Linville (Major Burns) died in 2000. McLean Stephenson (Colonel Blake) entered immortality in 1996. Harry Morgan, who was already pretty old when he played Colonel Potter, passed away in 2008 at the age of 93.

Age happens. Aging is fine when it happens to others, but not so fine when it happens to me. Because I, like most of the baby boom generation (and our remaining parents still with us) actually remember when M*A*S*H was on the air. Goodness, Richard Nixon was president when it first aired, and it did not go off the air until Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office. Likely, most Americans have little or no memory of M*A*S*H, or The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or Laugh In, or the original Star Trek, or The Bob Newhart Show because they were not even alive or more interested in Saturday morning cartoons. Some small minority of them might watch an episode of M*A*S*H on TV Land but are unlikely to try to follow the series forty years later. It has about as much appeal to them as The Lawrence Welk Show did to me. What was with all those dancing ladies in high heels and champagne bubbles anyway?

I was fifteen when M*A*S*H first aired and I remember it like it was yesterday. Like most of us aging boomers, I am having a hard time grasping that nearly forty years have passed by since then. Where did all those years go? My recollection is pretty hazy, but I guess I must have been busy because they passed in a haze. Mentally, I am 18 or so but a glance in the mirror confirms that I am age 52 instead. Little incidents like this bring home how quickly life passes. I don’t look for them; I just stumble across these incidents periodically. When I do I get a feeling of vertigo. I want to look at myself in the mirror and pinch my face to verify I am still in this world. I mean, it’s practically 2010 already!

Another incident occurred at the hotel on Monday night. I found myself at the front desk talking with the hotel manager, a woman named Kelly. I did a double take when I saw her title because I figured she was a clerk. Gosh, she looked awfully young to be the manager of this large hotel. Before I could check myself I blurted it to her aloud. “I’m 26,” she said cheerfully, and then she went on to tell me that this is the fifth hotel she has worked at. She is 26 and running a suites hotel for one of the Marriott hotel chains. When I was 26 I was making my first acquaintance with a Wang 2200-T “calculator”. It would transform my life, leading me into a career in information technology. I sure was not up to the task of managing anything, particularly a hotel. Paying the rent was challenging enough.

Twenty six is exactly half my current age. I was 26 in 1983. This woman was born in 1983. In fact, she is just seven years older than my daughter, who may be attending community college and who is quite responsible but is someone who (in my mind at least) is maybe fourteen or so. Some part of my mind was also 26 while I was talking with this manager. Some part of me had not spent the last twenty something years married to my spouse and was checking her out. Then I realized: I am probably older than her father!

I wish there was a pill I could take that would tell my brain, “Well, you are basically an old coot now.” I need this wakeup call because my brain continues to disbelieve the facts. The body may be temporal but the mind likes to operate under the illusion that it is immortal. The incongruity can at times be wrenching. I saw my mother go through this process during her long decline. Mentally she was pretty sharp until a few months before she died. Her body could just not keep up with her mind.

Will I even be alive in another 26 years? According to insurance actuary tables, because I am a male I am more likely to be dead than alive at age 78. Most likely I will beat the odds, as both my parents lived into their 80s. My father is still amazingly spry at age 82. One thing is for sure: should I encounter another hotel manager age 26 when I am 78, I will not only be old enough to be her grandfather, but potentially even her great grandfather.

My oldest brother recently announced that their daughter was pregnant. She has several more months before she delivers her baby (she is 21) but when this blessed event occurs it will also mean that I will be a great-uncle. Doubtless in time other nieces and nephews will follow her as parents. My daughter says that she has no plans to get married and she finds the whole idea of having a baby ghastly, so I am unlikely to be a grandparent. Yet at 52 I am a virtual great uncle already. I am likely to have this title for others of Generation Z.

So perhaps this is why whenever I travel anywhere I am scouting for possible retirement communities. On Sunday my youngest brother, who I was visiting prior to enduring the business part of my trip, took me to Fort Collins, a city about an hour north of Denver. It is rated as one of the most livable retirement spots in the country (unless you don’t like snow). It hugs the Rocky Mountains and has a beautiful and expansive main street, plus it has all the advantages of a college town (Colorado State University is located there). While I am not sure living in the west agrees with me it is a place to consider. My wife and I also plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest in the next few years. Along with seeing places like Crater Lake and Mount St. Helens we will be watching the towns and cities we pass through, and wondering if any will call to us as a beacon for our retirement years.

Perhaps acting my age will work if I take active steps toward fogey-hood. I need to purchase striped shorts, Hawaiian shirts, golf shoes and white socks that go halfway to my knees. I need to check the prices for Polident and the cost of AARP membership. Age is calling me but I am proving amazingly tone deaf. It is telling me to accept that I am a rapidly aging American.

Right now I mainly prefer to remain in my state of denial.

 

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