Sunday, November 7, 2010

Short Takes

The volcano is still erupting in Indonesia.

The drones are back in the skies over Yemen.

held an election that nobody thought was legit.

In India, President Obama promises “mid-course corrections.”

Hawaii is on the verge of passing same-sex unions.

There was a data breach at the GSA, so if you work there, check your credit cards.

Did you reset your clocks if you were on daylight saving time?

Tropical Update: For its exit, the system known as Tomas turned into a hurricane again as it heads out to sea.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Take A Walk, Man

Via TPM:

This is a little like hearing someone died but you’d already figured they’d been dead for a while. Sony has announced it’s ceasing production of the Sony Walkman, the once revolutionary cassette music player that debuted in 1979. There will still be MP3 ‘Walkman’ and the CD version. But for the original, real thing, the cassette player, that’s it, though a Chinese company has licensed the name to sell a similar product in Asia and the Middle East. Sony says they’ve sold over 200 million of the things over 31 years.

See, I told you cassettes were a fad.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Long Ago Was 1992?

Two of my former college classmates have kids going to the University of Miami; one is about to graduate, the other is entering as a freshman. In honor of that, Beloit College is out with their annual Mindset List.

Born when Ross Perot was warning about a giant sucking sound and Bill Clinton was apologizing for pain in his marriage, members of this fall’s entering college class of 2014 have emerged as a post-email generation for whom the digital world is routine and technology is just too slow.


The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since “digital” has always been in the cultural DNA, they’ve never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat.

Some samples:

For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.”

4. Al Gore has always been animated.

5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend.

10. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

Feel old yet?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here To See It

The buzz is that somewhere near five billion people will watch the inauguration of Barack Obama today. Not all of them will be in Washington, obviously (although the police and Secret Service seem to be ready for them), but the whole world will be watching on TV or over the internet; gathered in small homes in the middle of the Kenyan savanna, in public places on Jumbotrons, including in downtown Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center, and over the radio. I’ll be watching from my office, and like all historic events, this will be one of those good times that I will always remember where I was when I witnessed it, like the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

I hope that this will be a moment that we all share and remember. Regardless of our political beliefs, whether we voted for Barack Obama or someone else, we know that this is truly an event of history. If you’re old enough to remember past inaugurations that were considered historic, such as FDR’s in March 1933 or John F. Kennedy’s in 1961, you may not have thought — at the time — that they were meaningful; most thought they didn’t really mean that much at the moment except for great speeches of inspiration and bold new programs. But as we’re being told over and over again, nobody can deny that today we take the first step into a larger world.

Five billion people is a lot of people who will witness this day, including some people to whom today means a great deal, including the Little Rock Nine, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the next generation of African Americans to whom the torch is being passed. And there are some who won’t get to see it because they’re not here with us. As Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) noted last night on NBC News with Brian Williams, a lot of people who helped create this moment are no longer alive: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, A. Philip Randolph, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Shirley Chisholm, Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Viola Liuzzo, and the many people who sacrificed their fortunes or their lives for trying to achieve the self-evident truth promised to them and to us.

And in a way I’m sorry that there are some people who are not around to see this only for the fact that it would teach them that they were so wrong to stand in the way of history; people like the late governors of states in the South like Orval Faubus of Arkansas and George Wallace of Alabama. Both Mr. Faubus and Mr. Wallace later changed their views and expressed regret for their actions, so this would be a time for them to see that the bitterness they engendered has turned to good. Some, however, like Lester Maddox and Jesse Helms, went to their graves without repentance, and today would be a good day to have them here to show them that despite their best efforts, nothing they did could stop this day from coming. In fact, they may have even hastened it by reminding us in stark terms how their racism and intolerance made us resolve to banish it and prove them so wrong.

So I am grateful to be here today to see this, not just for the moment of history, but for knowing how long it has taken us to get here and the responsibility that we now have to make it worth the effort, the sacrifice, and the hope.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back / Looking Forward

It’s time for my annual review of the predictions and prognostications for the coming year.

A year ago I looked ahead to an election year and said:

– A Democrat will be elected president and the Democrats will increase their numbers in the House and Senate. Yeah, that’s an easy one; the trick is, which Democrat and by how many seats? If Hillary Clinton is the nominee (and the Iowa caucuses are three days away), then it will be a close race against whomever the GOP finally lands on and the shitstorm of negative, childish and outrageous campaigning from them will make everyone reel in disgust. If it’s not Hillary Clinton, the shitstorm of negative, childish and outrageous campaigning from them will make everyone reel in disgust. Which means that the GOP will go ballistic on anyone, even if they choose to nominate someone who isn’t a cross-dressing thrice-married adulterer, a sluggish and thuggish good ole boy from Tennessee by way of Law & Order and Curly Sue, a flip-flopping automaton with magic underwear and a rather odd way of packing a station wagon, a war hero who thinks being a maverick is sucking up to the current administration, or a folksy former governor from Arkansas who sells himself as a “Christian leader” and lumps gays in with pedophiles as “aberrant.”

So it’s time to go out on a limb here and predict that it will be President-elect Hillary Clinton when I write this piece a year from today, with a strong majority in the House, ten more Democratic senators, and a whole new cottage industry of right-wing nutsery in full bloom. George W. Bush will retire to Crawford to watch someone else clear his brush. He will grant interviews to fawning sycophants from Newsweek and Time and portray himself as the next LBJ without the charm.

I’d give myself a B on that one; I missed on the Democratic nominee (but then, Barack Obama was still behind in the polls), but I sure got the Republicans’ and the right-wing nutsery’s number.

As for Iraq:

– We won’t be any closer to getting out of Iraq, and at 12:01 on January 21, 2009, it will become the Democrats’ war.

True. And now we can add Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and — as always — the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Surprises: The Economy. The warning signs were out there about the economy a year ago. I certainly knew that the housing bubble had burst because my landlord was on the lam and I had to move out in June. But not being an economist, I didn’t see the rest of the dominoes lined up, and neither, apparently, did John McCain, the Bush administration, and Wall Street.

The silly stuff:

– We will continue our obsession with the trivial. Several more white women will disappear and get coverage on Larry King Live, while no one will notice when it happens to countless other people who aren’t beautiful or packing diapers in the back seat. More and more politicians will be caught with their pants down, literally and figuratively because they are human; the fun stuff is when it happens to people who have made a living demonizing those whose practice they are emulating.

That’s too easy; people are people, and our obsession with fools craving their fifteen minutes will always be with us, be it a plumber from Toledo or a governor from Alaska. The one surprise was that the politician caught with his pants down was John Edwards.

So it’s time to boldly go forward with my predictions, being careful to be general enough to get some right so I can do this post a year from now and call them good.

– President Obama will get a honeymoon for a few months where he will actually get some things done. He knows he has only eighteen months at the most to do his most effective work; by June 2010 Congress will be gearing up for the mid-terms, then before you know it, it will be 2012. So expect a big economic stimulus package like FDR’s New Deal and a middle-class tax cut, and expect a lot of blow-back from the GOP who will scream about socialism and boondoggles. There will be set-backs and issues taken off the front burner, including health care reform, and getting out of Iraq will be harder than we thought. Of course some foreign government will test the new administration — like they’re not already — and we will be surprised at how the new president handles it. The economy will show signs of recovery by September, thanks in part to the stimulus by the government but also from the ingenuity and resilience of the American people.

– In spite of setbacks like Prop 8 and Amendment 2, the march toward equality for the queer community will continue. I think we’ll see the repeal of DADT within the first year of the Obama administration and a continued shift in public attitudes about the treatment of gay and lesbian citizens. There will be bumps, bruises, hurt feelings, and setbacks, but the tide is turning.

– The rest of the world will welcome us back like the prodigal child, and we will reach out to them, recognizing that we have a lot of atonement to do. This will be in part to try to bring peace, but also to help get our economy back on track; you can’t sell things to people when you’re calling them part of the axis of evil. In that vein, the Obama administration will take steps to ease the travel and money restrictions on Cuba, which will infuriate a few loudmouths on Calle Ocho in Little Havana and make farmers and auto parts distributors very happy.

– Jeb Bush will run for the Senate here in Florida and win in 2010. But he will become the Ted Kennedy of the Bush family; the Senate is as far as he will ever go in national politics; the only way he would ever get beyond that is if he changed his name to John Ellis Obama.

– Meanwhile, Florida will still struggle with a lousy economy and the fall-off in the housing and tourist trade. The state legislature will refuse to consider raising taxes and will probably end up taking even more money from education, all the while wondering why test scores are falling. D’oh.

– The Detroit Lions will actually win a football game. And while I make no predictions about how the Tigers will do, they — along with the Yankees — proved that spending a lot of money on star players doesn’t buy you a winning season.

– 2009 marks some interesting anniversaries: the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon — where were you? — and the beginning of the Nixon administration and all that came with it, something that still captures our imagination today.

– I wish I could predict what new fads, obsessions, words, and trends will pop up to distract us for the next year or so, but trust me, they will be there, and just as we got tired of hearing about “game changer,” “lipstick on a pig,” “Joe the Plumber,” Twitter, and the rest of the words that should be banished, like “First Dude,” “maverick,” “bailout,” “carbon footprint,” and anything else that came and stayed too long, I hope a year from now we can dump them onto the ash-heap of history.

– Personal predictions. Last year I boldly predicted that I would finish writing Small Town Boys. Wrong; it’s on hiatus while I take care of some other business, including finishing another story. I promise to get back to it this winter. I also predicted that I would do some restoration work on the Pontiac, but that was before my physics experiment with the Mustang in downtown Coral Gables. In a sense, I have restored the Pontiac, but only to keep it running well as my only car. My job has had some interesting twists and turns, and last month came full circle, bringing me back to the same place I was at this time last year but with new responsibilities and an appreciation — on both sides — of finding out that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone (thank you, Joni Mitchell).

My final prediction from last year:

– One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

I’m sticking with that. Happy New Year and best wishes. I hope we’ll all be here to do this again a year from today.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sense Memory

Between 1976 and 1986 I spent my summers as a camp counselor in the Colorado Rockies. Every morning I woke up to the music of KVOD out of Denver, which back then was one of the few remaining commercial classical stations. Every morning they signed on with Rapsodia Romana (op.2) by George Enescu. To this day I can’t hear this music without remembering those cool summer mornings in the mountains and the sunrise lighting up the valley below the camp.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Life in the Post-R.V. Era

Garrison Keillor reflects on what life will be like when Winnebagos go the way of the covered wagon.

So we will need to amuse ourselves in new ways. I predict that banjo sales will pick up. The screened porch will come back in style. And the art of storytelling will burgeon along with it. Stories are common currency in life but only to people on foot. Nobody ever told a story to a clerk at a drive-up window, but you can walk up to the lady at the check-out counter and make small talk and she might tell you, as a woman told me the other day as she rang up my groceries, that she had gotten a puppy that day to replace the old dog who had to be put down a month ago, and right there was a little exchange of humanity. Her willingness to tell me that made her real to me. People who aren’t real to each other are dangerous to each other. Stories give us the simple empathy that is the basis of the Golden Rule, which is the basis of civilized society.

So when gas passes $5 and heads for $8 and $10, we will learn to sit in dim light with our loved ones and talk about hunting and fishing adventures, about war and romance and times of consummate foolishness when we threw caution to the wind and flung ourselves over the Cliffs of Desire and did not land on the Sharp Rocks of Regret.

Some of my fondest summer memories were just sitting on the back porch watching the lightning bugs dance through the deepening twilight, with nothing but the sounds of the crickets, the cicadas, and Ernie Harwell on the radio calling the Detroit Tigers game.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Reord of Voyager

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1.

Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 space probe — a one-ton robotic craft whose long antennas make it look rather like a spider the size of a school bus — was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a mission to reconnoiter Jupiter and Saturn. To succeed, Voyager would have to survive five years in the vacuum of space, where it would encounter cosmic rays, solar flares, the hurtling rocks and sand of the asteroid belt, and Jupiter’s intense radiation bands.

The probe did all that, transmitting back reams of scientific data and memorable color photos: of the sputtering red and yellow volcanoes of Jupiter’s moon Io; of the shimmering blue ice that shrouds Io’s fellow satellite Europa, beneath which a liquid ocean is suspected to dwell; of Saturn’s myriad rings and the murky mysteries of its orange satellite, Titan, whose hazy atmosphere is thought to approximate that of the early Earth.

Having accomplished its mission, Voyager 1 might have quietly retired. Instead it remains active to this day, faithfully calling home from nearly 10 billion miles away — so great a distance that its radio signals, traveling at the speed of light, take more than 14 hours to reach Earth. From Voyager’s perch, the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion, and the Sun’s planets have faded to invisibility.

Like its twin, Voyager 2 — which dallied behind to examine the outer planets Uranus and Neptune and is departing the solar system on another trajectory — Voyager 1 is approaching the edge of the solar system. That limit is defined by a teardrop-shaped bubble called the heliosphere, where the solar wind (particles blown off the Sun’s outer atmosphere) comes to a halt.

If all continues to go well, Voyager should pierce the heliosphere’s outer skin by around 2015. It will then depart into the void of interstellar space, where it is destined to wander among the stars forever.

Mindful of this mind-boggling fact, the astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake persuaded NASA to attach a gold-plated phonograph record to each of the Voyager spacecraft.

Containing photographs, natural sounds of Earth and 90 minutes of music from all over our world, the record was intended to preserve something of human culture beyond what an intelligent extraterrestrial, encountering the craft at some far-distant time and place, might infer from the spacecraft itself.

The information etched into the grooves of the Voyager record is expected to last at least one billion years. That’s a long time: A billion years ago, life on Earth was first venturing forth from the seas.

As for the Golden Record itself, it may be the only thing left of our civilization for anyone else to find. The inscription on it reads, “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”

Right now I’d settle for making it to January 2009.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Has It Really Been Ten Years?

It’s hard to believe that ten years have past since my friend Brian first came to visit me and my ex in Albuquerque. We went for a balloon ride in one of the city’s trademark hot-air balloons, he got his first taste of real New Mexico food, played with Sam, and watched the amazing sunsets over the West Mesa.

Albuquerque sunset

We hung out in the back yard and talked about him moving out there, which he did a couple of years later…only to have me move to Florida a year after that.

But still…an entire decade. That’s hard to believe.

Oh, yeah; something else happened that weekend.