What We Value

whew! i just survived one of the most over-hyped awards show seasons in history! you too? yep, i’m pretty sure that we were all subjected to the never ending cycle of self-aggrandizement, self-adoration and selfishness that attacks the nation during the winter months.

january begins with wall street bonus season. the bonuses are voted on by the board of directors for each firm based on nothing at all and meted out in an obscene fashion that rewards both “success” and failure. recently these bonuses were even paid out using taxpayer money. the fashion is not the best and the red carpet is the red line though the returns in your investments as these firms skim off their share of your investment earnings.

sometime later in january are the golden globes. these are awards voted on by the “hollywood foreign press”, basically a group of less than 100 journalists and photographers who cover entertainment. here’s the definition of the actual requirement: requirements for active membership include primary residence in southern california and a minimum of four published articles per year. in golden globe voting there is no rule or regulation about interested parties in the entertainment industry paying bribes to these voters. kind of like congress. actually, the best part of these awards is that someone like ricky gervais or tiny fey and amy poehler have been tapped to host and their humor is directly to the point about the self-aggrandizing nature of the entire affair.

in early february the grammys show up. although, there doesn’t seem to be any timeliness to the nominations for the grammys. often music that was released years ago is nominated alongside taylor swift music that was timed to be released and make piles of money just before voting begins. the performances during the show end up being more important than the show itself and once-in-awhile a performer actually sings live and drives home the point that only 99% of music is auto-tuned. this crowd doesn’t seem to take themselves as seriously as actors, or take the awards as seriously, except for kanye west who, as we all know, is the only voter whose opinion counts.

finally, there is the award show to beat all awards shows: the academy awards. this show is hyped for months beforehand but in the days before the show there are nightly specials highlighting everything about the actors and the show and fashion and the never ending list of satellite industries that leech off of the oscars. the odd thing is that the oscars were designed to get us out of the house and into the movie theatre but oddly, the nominated movies aren’t usually in the theatres around the time they are being hyped for the oscars. need any more evidence that the academy awards are about self-aggrandizement? here’s the best quote about the academy awards from troy cambell, a social scientist at duke university: “the event allows artistic elites to indirectly praise themselves by praising others and the magic of art.”
consider that three of the four best picture winners in the past four years were movies about movies or acting. he goes on to caution that there’s a lesson for all of us in that we tend to only offer praise to those who look, act and think like us.

well, what’s wrong with offering praise to those who are like us? shouldn’t we praise the teachers, police officers, fire fighters, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors, friends, temporary workers, truck drivers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, office workers… you get my drift.

i want the real hero worship to be about everyday people who create, build, run, teach, inform and advance themselves, their families and us all by what they do every single day. we all don’t get awards, but we certainly all deserve them.

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Filed under Heroes, image, movies, music, success, work

Whiners, Bullies and First World Problems

louis ck has some brilliant standup making fun the culture of whining, which seems to be a mainstay of our modern world. at one point he talks about how people constantly whine and complain about their phones and he points out that just a scant few years ago we didn’t have the privilege of walking around with the very same “phones” or mini computers about which we all now complain. scathingly to the point.

i thought about louis ck’s routine as i read marc vetri’s tirade about food journalism.

marc vetri really has a problem with perspective here.

for those of you not familiar with vetri, he’s a 2005 james beard award winner for “best chef mid-atlantic”, named one of food and wine magazine’s “ten best new chefs”, owner of multiple restaurants in the philadelphia area, food blogger and prolific foodie on twitter, instagram and every other social media platform. he’s also very involved in the philadelphia schools and community.
i’ve only been to one of his restaurants and the food was delicious, the service excellent (except for the requisite snooty sommelier) and the bill substantial. c and i have long wanted to go to his flagship restaurant, vetri, but that would involve almost a mortgage payment. i’m not kidding (speaking as someone whose mortgage payment reflects a house purchased in 1989). vetri has a prix fixe tasting menu that costs $155 per person. yep, $155 per person. you can add wine pairings for $90 which will buy you 1.5 glasses of wine or you can purchase a bottle, which could run you about the same or substantially more. so you spend $310 for the food, say another $100 for the wine, $90 or so for tip and another $30 for parking or $60 for uber ride.

clearly, if you’re charging that kind of dough for a meal, the meal had better be every superlative anyone can think of (and maybe even then some). understandably, vetri he wants fine dining to have a different rating scale than other dining and he wants the food writer and reader to be as invested in all of his magnificence as he is.

not surprisingly, food writers piled on in retaliation against vetri and yet another food fight began.

at the end of the day, though, this is whole lot of whining and fighting over a simple necessity (food and nourishment) that has been turned into not just a first world problem, but a first world problem for the fraction of a percent who would be able to luxuriate in vetri’s bastion of fine dining.

while vetri spends his time whining about how food journalism is as stale as day old bread, i wonder how much of the world’s hungry belly would gladly accept that day old bread.

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Filed under Business, Food

In Search of the Perfect Killing Machine

america is hard up for a way to kill people. seems unlikely, doesn’t it? what with all the guns we have on the streets you’d think it would be easy to kill someone. and, unfortunately, based on the murder rate, it still is. but when the state wants to kill someone, they’re more likely to go wanting these days.

for decades the electric chair was the tool of choice to kill a convicted criminal, but with the rise of lethal injection, the electric chair, along with other forms of capital punishment fell out of favor. besides, lethal injection just seemed so much more humane, civilized, easy, not gruesome – kind of like when you put down your pet. unfortunately for the states, some recent news stories highlighted the grisly details of executions by lethal injection that went terribly wrong. since lethal injection has been the preferred method of execution for decades now, why has it gone wrong all of the sudden? primarily because drug companies began refusing to supply drugs for lethal injection and compounding pharmacies refused to compound drugs for such purpose not to mention that physicians refused to participate in executions. something about those pesky oaths health professionals take to use their knowledge and skills to heal rather than kill…

a dear friend sent me an article about methods of capital punishment in this country and was astounded to find out that jut recently utah passed a bill mandating firing squads to mete out capital punishment in the event that lethal injection is not available. so, what that means… wait, what?! what?!

are we really living in this kind of a country?

apparently we are.

we are in the business of killing people for crimes for which they were convicted of committing. not necessarily that they actually committed, but for which they were convicted. we all know how fair, unbiased, reasonable and affordable the justice system in america is, right?

look, i’m as much of a revenge seeker as the next person, but i’m not a supporter of the death penalty. death penalty supporters will say that it acts as a deterrent, yet the 18 states without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates.

after witnessing some recent verdicts in capital cases along with the work of the innocence project, can we really say with 100% certainty that the person convicted actually did the crime?

so if the death penalty is not a deterrent, then it only serves as revenge, like old testament stuff, eye-for-an-eye all that.

you know, the kind of stuff we’re condemning other nations for.

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Filed under crimes, death, history, politics, terrorism

Silly Citizen, Opinions are for Big Bank Accounts

money bags photo: money bags money_bags.jpg

I’ve been writing emails lately. A lot of emails. Emails in favor of things, emails opposed to things, emails reviewing things, emails complaining about things and emails praising people and things. Most of the time I get canned responses to those emails: “Thanks for your opinion!” “We value what you have to say!” and an occasional “So sorry we can’t respond personally…”

After reading the State Department report and numerous other reports, articles and analysis, I wrote a carefully crafted and passionate email to Senator Toomey (R) Pennsylvania opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Before you jump all over my hide and namecall, just know that I try to be a risk vs. benefit kind of person rather than an ideologue and my risk vs. benefit analysis here leads me to oppose this project. I read this particularly good analysis.)

Anyway, I emailed Senator Toomey, which was probably a fruitless exercise since he’s co-sponsor of the bill to construct the pipeline, but I just couldn’t tamp down my inner Leslie Knope*. I made sure to title the email “NO Keystone XL Pipeline” so it didn’t get counted among the emails in support. When you send an email to a Senator or Representative, you have to first choose a category for your email, which I’m sure routes it to a folder. Then, hopefully, the emails get sorted based on title for a count, since I’m sure no one actually reads them. Then I’m guessing a staffer just delivers a count to the Senator or Representative and assumes that every email supports whatever position the Senator or Representative is supporting.

I know the emails are never read because I stated quite clearly that I do not wish for my email address to be placed on his newsletter or fundraising list. You can guess what happened next.

A couple of days after my email I received a response back from “Senator Toomey” thanking me for my support and continuing to enumerate all the positives of the Keystone XL pipeline. So yeah, my email just got counted among the supporters of the pipeline so now the Senator can continue quote that “the American people are in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline”. Dammit.

I’m going to wager that the Senator would never get the opinion of a Canadian oil executive wrong and I’m also going to wager that he would actually sit down and answer an email from a Canadian oil company executive, or more likely enjoy a lovely meal with said executive.

Kind of sums up elected officials in America today doesn’t it? I’m not picking on Senator Toomey particularly because I think he’s probably no different than any other Senator or Representative. The process is rigged so that the only side of the argument they hear is from those to whom they bother to listen and it just so happens that those to whom they listen are not those of us out here in the great unwashed.

The next time your elected official votes for or against something, make sure you run the cost vs. benefit analysis and ask yourself why they’re taking the position they’ve taken. Don’t settle for all the highfalutin’ talk of “liberty” and “constitution” and “rights” but two simple questions without cynicism: what do you have to lose or gain by voting the way you are voting? And what do we the people have to lose or gain by the way you are voting?”

*Leslie Knope, former Pawnee City Council member and current head of the National Parks Department, is the fictional eternal optimist from the sitcom Parks and Recreation for the role of government to enhance the lives of all citizens.

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Filed under civil rights, economy, patriotism, politics, united states

Everything Old is New Again

is adnan guilty or a just a young victim?

was it jay, did jay do it?

what about the anisha call?

and finally, will the law professor’s theory prove true?

if you haven’t figured out what i’m talking about, you’re not participating in one of the hottest whodunit discussions right now. what is it? serial, the podcast.

maybe you saw the dead-on spoof on snl a couple of weeks ago and binge listened to the podcasts after that. if you still haven’t downloaded and listened to the podcasts, i’m warning you right now that this blog post will do one or both of the following: spoil some of the story and/or experience or pique your interest and get you to listen.

serial is a 12 part podcast from sarah koenig at npr about the 1999 murder of hae min lee for which seventeen year old adnan syed was convicted of the crime and is currently in jail serving a life sentence. in the words of the prosecutor of the case, “it’s just another run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder.” and i have to admit that when my daughters told me about the podcast it didn’t strike me as all that interesting. but i listened anyway. me and about 1.26 million other people around the world.

why did this podcast capture such a huge audience?

there has been quite a lot written about serial, all reaching a similar conclusion that the popularity of the podcast is because the story was presented in a serialized fashion, in twelve bits meted out to the audience over many weeks. not a new idea, since serialized stores were a regular part of newspapers and magazines throughout history, but maybe a fresh idea for a podcast.

what is new for serial is that it exists in this age of rapid information, fans of serial were only able to download an installment weekly but in between they were able to facebook, twitter, reddit and otherwise endlessly discuss the latest installment for days before more information surfaced. to say that the audience became very much engaged is an understatement.

it also proved one of my favorite sayings – that there is no conclusion people are unwilling to jump to.

many have written that koenig’s serial is a primer on investigative reporting, but i wholeheartedly disagree. koenig’s style is scattered, a bit disorganized, inconsistent, not terribly thorough and at times just plain loopy and not in a columboesque kind of way.
others wondered why serial garnered such a big audience when the documentaries on crimes have been a mainstay for years. the difference is that koenig doesn’t know the conclusion before the end. she doesn’t even have an ending at the end. and that feeling of “live” resonates with the audience.

the appeal of serial for me is that it turns the entire form on its head — investigative reporting and podcasting. it doesn’t feel canned, or scripted because there are mistakes and dead air and dead ends and endless sidebars and each podcast is not even the same length of time, all of which all very live and sincere. it feels as though you are moving through the discoveries with koenig rather than being fed what has been carefully scripted.

the other appeal of serial is an inside glimpse of how our criminal justice system really works. what we have been taught to believe about the system is candy coated and white-washed –the real story of the justice system in america is that it follows the line of expediency and least resistance. just look at the statistics from the innocence project and try not to get sick.

you know how judges give instructions to the jury to disregard some evidence or not draw any conclusion based on whether the defendant testifies or not? yeah, well it turns out that juries just disregard what judges say and some of the jurors in this case explicitly said that they thought adnan was guilty because he didn’t testify. so much for taking your juror’s oath seriously. i used to think that the justice system is really only about money, but not even money can compensate for case overload, laziness, prejudice or incompetence – one or some of these that may be at play here.

serial is over now, but the sensation it created continues and in its wake there may be chapters to add to the story of adnan syed and hae min lee.

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Auld Lang Syne

new year’s eve is such a strange tradition — this way of staying up to usher in what for any other day would be just another day. But, apparently we humans have been doing this for centuries so who am I to part with tradition.

c and I don’t go out on new year’s eve and we’ve always had a tough time convincing friends that they would want to come out somewhere with us (even when we offer a comfy place to stay overnight). so, over the years c and I have made our own fun on new year’s eve: enjoying a evening of hors d’oeuvres, champagne and dancing in the kitchen. c is a very good dj. we’re usually asleep by five minutes after midnight though.

since visiting scotland, i have learned that edinburgh is home to Hogmanay (hog-mah-NAY), a rousing Scottish new year’s celebration, making it one of the best places in the world to celebrate new year’s eve. Here’s a description from infoplease.com:

“One of the traditions of hogmanay is “first-footing.” Shortly after midnight on New Year’s eve, neighbors pay visits to each other and impart New Year’s wishes. Traditionally, First foots used to bring along a gift of coal for the fire, or shortbread. It is considered especially lucky if a tall, dark, and handsome man is the first to enter your house after the new year is rung in. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebration is the largest in the country, and consists of an all-night street party.”

I can tell you that after visiting Edinburgh, this is most likely one hell of a good party.

but this year though I feel as though c and I have already had a new year’s eve moment. while we were in Scotland, we took a tour of the highlands and the tour guide/driver offered some history and highlights of his country. of course, he spoke about the Scottish song we all sing on new year’s eve: “auld lang syne”, written by the Scottish poet Robert burns. our passionately patriotic scotsman guide/driver sang the song in in his thick brogue and spoke of the true meaning of the words, telling us that the song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness. then he encouraged us all to sing with him.

as the sun was setting, our little tour bus filled with twelve belgins, two Argentinians and we two americans wound our way from the Scottish countryside back to Edinburgh, singing a soulful version of “auld lang syne”. It was a moment to remember with fondness.

“For auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet.”

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Filed under family, history, Love, New Year, travel

Merry Christmas

May you enjoy all the blessings, closeness and love of this season.

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Filed under Christmas, family, holiday, Uncategorized