Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
McCain wins - this relieves me in so many ways. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to the dark side, but of all the Republicans, I can at least tolerate him, not wince when I see or hear him, and would appreciate the conversation and debate going forward. It would make an interesting election instead of a fearful, polarizing split.
The other two scare the living agnostic out of me in so many ways, and I'd hate to see the American Presidency "bought" by someone's private wealth, which Romney is in a real position to pull off. Huckleberry is just a an infomercial, Bible study, revival side show freak. You may as well elect Tom Cruise for the kind of beliefs he'll inflict into the Constitution and legal system.
But, the numbers that mean the most are delegates. Here is what CNN is predicting right now:
With a magic number of 2,025, Clinton has 232 delegates and Obama has 138. Edwards can't sustain this with only 62, and Super Tuesday is only going to hurt him further.
With a magic number of 1,191 for the Republican convention, McCain is now in the lead with 97. Romney is second with 74, and Huckleberry has 29. Guiliani is now trailing Ron Paul - ouch - that has to hurt.
Once again, BGE plunged my entire corner of the neighborhood into darkness with no warning at around 11:00 AM this morning. I've complained about this before here and here. You'd think I'd be used to it by now.
Since my land line was down, I used my cell phone to check with a neighbor, and their power was kaput as well. A call to BGE told me that 400 homes were affected and that I could expect the power to come back on around 2:30.
I had gotten up at 5:30 AM this morning for a 7:00 AM appointment, so by 9:30, I had already done my weekly grocery shopping, and was looking forward to running the dishwasher, doing about 4 loads of laundry, and cleaning the house in advance of a visit by my sister this weekend. All of those things require electricity.
Sigh.....it was dark and dreary, but by sitting on the couch, I had enough daylight to read. At noon, I realized I also couldn't make lunch or a cup of tea (BTW, I seem to have acquired a 10 cup a day herbal tea habit. I'm addicted to the stuff and can go through a box or two a week). I grabbed my coat and headed out for a walk in the drizzle over to On the Hill Cafe for a sandwich and a cup of their herbal tea. The place was crawling with MICA students. With all the dreadlocks, tatoos, and odd clothing, I felt like grandma in my "Mom" jeans, turtleneck and boiled wool jacket.
Home again, only now the house is getting cool, so I bundled up in a blanket, added two, 15 pound cats for warmth, and tried to read some more before I lapsed into a post prandial coma.
At 3:15 - we finally have power, and now I have to run around and reset all the clocks.
The Task is Ridiculous...But it Affords Me Unreasonable Joy
A few times a year, I am blessed with the opportunity to share a meal and some drinks with a few, like minded friends and neighbors, when one of our own returns to town on business. This normally would result in getting together at someone's home for great food, terrific conversation and cocktails, and, it does. But it takes on a bit of a different air, when the guest of honor happens to not only be an old, close, friend, but is also the US Ambassador to Algeria.
To us, he is just "Bob". I bought my house from him, and his mother in law is also a very dear friend and neighbor. But there's no ignoring the fact that "Bob" happens to play a major key role in State Dept. politics and Middle East goings on.
Naturally, the cocktail conversation is little bit different than the usual - "So, How's your job going"?
In July 2008, Secretary Rice has recalled him from his Ambassador post in Algiers, back to the post he had for 2 1/2 years prior to Algeria - as Sr. Political Liaison in Baghdad.
And that just sucks, frankly speaking.
He worked so hard to earn an Ambassador post, and NO one is more qualified than he is (fluent in French and Arabic, served 3 years in a jr. post in Algiers in the 80's), but because they're desperate for Arab speakers with good connections, he is literally the only game in town when it comes to negotiating with the local insurgent leaders and politicos.
The recent news is that he has received serious, legitimate, death threats from Al Quaeda insurgents in Algeria - right down to the streets he travels. That's got to be unsettling.
Even more unsettling is the fact that he is going back to a post with no raise, no improvement in conditions (a trailer in the Green Zone) and no incentive to work in a completely hopeless situation, other than the fact that his country has asked him to do so, while depriving him of a year of his ambassadorship post.
Meanwhile, friends of GW get posh Ambassador posts for France and Europe just for sucking up to him and don't even speak the language. I honestly think all Ambassador posts should be limited to Sr. State Dept. and foreign service professionals. If you think I'm kidding, just look at some of the people Bush appointed during his reign.
During the day, we talked about Palestine, Isreal, Iran, Iraq, etc....... it's not very hopeful for reasons all too familiar: Politics, religion, resources, and most importantly, thousands of years of hate and distrust. Add oil, and religious fantacism and you get a time bomb. You can't even discuss your way out of it, much less get your head around all the issues and factions.
All I know, is that he is the kind of person graciously willing to do what is asked of him by his country, for a political regime (Bush) he does not agree with, and with no personal gain whatsoever. Regardless, he is putting his life on the line, with not a lot of hope for improving the situation in the long run.
We are truly offering our best and brightest and we should all be very, very, grateful and proud of the people who do. I am.
This is an excerpt of an email that Bob's wife sent me nearly 3 years ago to the day - it says it all - including the fact that very little has changed since then:
".. It was a terrible, terrible day when the Governor of Baghdad Province was killed last week. Bob knew him very well. He says the man was the best and the brightest - a true Iraqi hero. He'd been attacked three or four times before, and left a wife and two young children. One of Bob's colleagues, who was here during CPA, had appointed the gentleman to his post. Andy was so upset he had to leave work for a couple of hours.
It's very hard to watch good people who you've worked alongside die. Two of Bob's other contacts were kidnapped a couple of days ago; no word yet on their fate.
"...Bob keeps right on going, just like the Energizer Bunny. Given an absolutely impossible task, he works away, maintains perspective (everything from his sense of humor to his fair and honest analyses), and continues to impress. People I barely know have stopped me in the corridors to tell me how much they enjoyed and learned from Bob when he briefed them; marvel at his cool and camaraderie under stress; explain how he was able to give an outstanding press interview in Arabic at two hours' notice; and compliment his leadership.
The job is extremely satisfying. The task is ridiculous. I wouldn't be here if I didn't fundamentally believe in our system at the macro level, but I do, and I am, and it affords me unreasonable joy."
These are the people that make America great, and it has nothing to do with politics - just the day to day development of personal relationships across vastly different cultures around the world. I cannot imagine a more noble profession, and these are two of the best representatives of that ideal that I have ever known.
My youngest sister lives in a 90 year old, authentic, Sears craftsman bungalow cottage in upstate NY about a mile and a half from the Lake Erie shoreline in a quaint little village. It gets cold there. And snowy.
The house has beautiful original Craftsman details like the unpainted wood trim around all the windows and doors, pocket doors with leaded glass, and built in bookshelves with leaded glass, but it does need some updating and maintenance. About a week before Xmas, she noticed the cat pouncing and chasing a piece of newspaper on the floor. Upon further investigation, there was a tiny brown bat underneath it. This was captured and placed outside after much freaking out I believe. A day or so later, she went upstairs to get a sweater out of her closet, which is under the eaves of the house, and discovered a large brown BAT hanging nonchalantly on her sweater. More freaking out ensued and she proceeded to sleep in the living room until she came home for the Holidays.
Naturally, I asked how her bat situation was proceeding, and this was her reply:
So since I had "self-styled home-schooling, 5-children-having wildlife nuisance control guy" here a few weeks back, I haven't had a bat in the house. He identified several places where they might be getting into the house and I found a few more. Any crack beyond a1/4" x 1/2" needed to be taped or sealed or blocked somehow.
There are two reasons bats enter a house in the winter: (1) the temps get super cold super fast and they wake up, move down from the attic into the walls, wake up, and decide to look for water for their one winter drink. Hence, the first bat who showed up the first night the temps went below 25 degrees. The second reason a bat wakes up and comes into the house is when the temps warm up over 45 degrees and they think it's spring. They follow air currents from the attic (or wherever) and can end up in the house, confused. Oh, and did I mention that the time when it's most difficult to tell if a bat has rabies is when it enters the house in the winter? It's either out of its mind with rabies or is confused by one of the afore-mentioned conditions. Luckily for me, the BIG brown bat hanging off my blazers in my closet was a week after the little brown bat I found under the newspaper on the first night we hit 45+ degrees in a while.
So, I have the bat guy here, he's pretty great (if talkative/excited about his job) and I spend the next day sealing up every tiny crack I can see in this old-ass home with all manner of screening and tape. But it's futile because he told me that the basement was "unseal-able" and they'd likely end up there and "you never know when they're just going to crawl through a heating vent." Did I mention I have old-ass forced air heating with heating registers of a good 1/2" grid size? Nice.
OK, bat guy leaves. Turn on the TV. We're about to have a five-day warm streak of temps way above 45 degrees. We go over 60 degrees in early January in upstate NY?! Every evening at dusk I turn on every light in every upstairs room, plus the radio in the bedroom and slink back downstairs to hermetically seal myself in the living room. This includes painter's-taping the basement door, the mudroom door, the pocket door between the living room and the front hallway and herd the cats to come with me.
With the lights and TV on in the living room, I sleep maybe 7 minutes each night. When I get up in the morning, I check the claw marks the cat has made in my various taping jobs (on the preciously preserved Craftsman woodwork) and go upstairs. Turn off the lights, turn off the radio. Turn on the closet lights and poke through each jacket with a broom handle. Crush each shoe toe for evidence of hibernating bats. Check the ceilings of every room, sleeve of every hanging coat, and shower curtain, hanging bathroom towel for hiding bats. I still feel icky.
BUT....and this is a BIG BUT....when I seal up the closet gaps with tape on a day when the weather is warm, the cat will not come when called and will not leave the closet post right under the crack where bat-guy said the bat might have entered. She is mourning her friends the bats or protecting one I sealed in the closet.. The only other time I found her sleeping in a weird place was when she was guarding a grounded bat she found this summer in the small bedroom.
SO... I FREAK OUT and call my home-schooling bat guy who lives an hour away because hey, this is no wheresville. He is down for the count with the New Year's cold/flu so I'm on my own. I seal up the room, stuff stupid felted sweater scraps under the door and don't enter my bedroom for two days until the more local, totally unexperienced wildlife control guy can get here. I instruct him to take the closet apart garment by garment and check every square inch of the room. No Bat. I feel foolish but safe. He leaves. It takes me two days to re-organize both closets but hey, it's January so a Goodwill trip was in the cards anyway.
Have I mentioned that I'm still sleeping (pretending to sleep) on my purple tweed 1970s pull-out couch from hell downstairs in the supposedly safe living room with many heating vents? Wildlife Control Guy #2 looks at me like I'm crazy to have just paid him $85 to destroy my closets and get a personal view of my wardrobe.
Home-schooling bat guy #1 tells me I have to call local Environmental Services since I had a bat in the house for 4 days before I discovered it. He tells me I'm going to need rabies shots---at $1,500 for the course of shots. Did I mention I'm already out $139 for his consultation plus the $85.00 for the other guy to go through my lingerie?
Environmental Services guy doesn't "recommend" shots if I didn't find the first bat flying around my bedroom. But he can't say for sure. So I get each cat a rabies booster (at $30 apiece) and take my own chances with the rabies on his advice.
So I guess, stay tuned for rabid emails from me. The incubation period is anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 years. That should make for some fun family diagnoses when I get out of line.
Am having home-schooling bat guy #1 come in April to seal the outside of the house and extract them "humanely". Oh, and get the skunk out from under my front porch and the groundhogs out from under the shed. Cost of bat removal alone?....$850.00 on top of the $139.00 consultation plus other fees plus booster shots plus plus plus. Seriously, a husband even for a year would be cheaper. Cost of peace-of-mind to resolve bat-induced insomnia? Priceless.
Moving, inspirational, heart wrenching, emotional, uplifting...all of it. It's too bad this isn't being shown in more theaters, because it's a really terrific film. They did an amazing job conveying fear, terror, remorse, joy, love, friendship, loyalty, all the most intense and basic human emotions - the actors were just incredible, and the two little boys who played the main characters, Amir and Hassan, were just mesmerizing.
They certainly didn't have to do much set dressing to Kashgar. They used scenes from the market, the main mosque, the narrow alleyways and courtyards downtown, the small street shops - it was marvelous to watch it again. It was like watching a home movie of my vacation. They also used the Karakorum Highway near the Pakistan border as the border crossing scenes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I recognized the salt water flat and some of the road scenery. In order to make Kashgar look like Kabul in the big kite flying competition, they used CGI animation to make Kashgar look about 10 times larger than it actually is from above. The actual city is in the very center, and everything else is filled in electronically to make it look bigger. The only real set dressing they had to do was: (1) create the upper class Afghani home compound of Amir and his father. No Chinese are that wealthy in Kashgar! And (2) create a war torn atmosphere, bombed out look to depict Kabul after the Russian invasion and the take over by the Taliban.
This is a real roller coaster of emotions kind of movie - take tissues, but you'll clap at the end - everyone in the theater did.
And I have to say, Inner Harbor East is really coming in to its own as a real upscale urban downtown destination. My friend and I had a workout and swim with a soak in the hot tub and a steam shower at the MAC, went downstairs for coffee at Starbucks, headed immediately next door to the theater, and then walked directly across the street to James Joyce Pub for a black and tan and some Irish Stew on a frigid Sunday evening. Made for a great Sunday afternoon / evening.
UPDATE: The Kite Runner was nominated for a best music score Oscar. I deeply disappointed that it didn't garner more than this. It could easily have won for best screenplay or best adaptation of a book to film, and that's not to mention the acting. Oh well, at least I have a movie list to knock off in the next month or so. I have yet to see: Atonement, No Country for Old Men, Juno, Michael Clayton or Days of Blood. My goal is to see all the best film contenders this year BEFORE the awards ceremony. I don't think I've ever done that before.
"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream." - Edgar Allen Poe
Hey - you folks out there in Baltimore. Did anyone else get a text message on their cell phone last night about a "rave - in" (get it?) down at Annabelle Lee's Tavern for the annual Poe grave watch?
I didn't see it till this morning, or I might have checked it out.
For those of you non-Baltimorons, hanging out at Edgar Allen Poe's grave site on his birthday is considered a good night out. Everyone waits to see if they can catch the mysterious visitor who has been leaving roses and cognac on his grave every year since 1949, and they never do.
Lo and behold, the mysterious figure got away with it again last night....
In the current TV programming vacuum caused by the writer's strike, set your Tivos folks. Just when you thought there wasn't anything left worth watching except Anthony Bourdain's new series on Monday nights......
The show looks at life in a post apocalyptic world - presumably when man is wiped out by a pandemic. Using the talents of engineers, scientists and Hollywood animators, they create a post human world to see what will happen after we're gone.
Cool. Pass the popcorn.
UPDATE: I forgot the link to the website - the videos are really cool.
There has been an enormous outpouring of grief and outrage over the death of Zecariah Hollback, and the Baltimore Sun has been covering it.
At the vigil, Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pleaded with city residents to help police catch Hallback's killer.
"This was a good kid," Cheatham said, "a good kid who was doing good things with the Algebra Project. ... He was killed senselessly. ... If a young good child like this can be killed - not a bad child, not a kid doing something wrong - then it could happen to any one of us."
Last weekend I helped to moderate a public forum for the League of Women Voters featuring all the freshman Senators and Delegates to discuss their priorities and plans for the upcoming General Assembly in Annapolis.
Present at the forum, in rather large numbers, were members of the Algebra Project. These were inner city African American high school kids who impressed the hell out of me. Yeah, some of them wore their jeans around their knees, had their caps on backwards, and had their iPod earbuds hanging out of their T-shirts, but as soon as they opened their mouths - the stereotype vanished. Well spoken, well informed, passionate and articulate, they grilled the representatives on education reform, school funding, literacy, "No Children Left Behind"...you name it. These kids were leaders. Cream of the crop. I was completely and totally impressed with every single one of them for being there and speaking their mind.
Sadly, it seems there is no easy escape from the means streets of Baltimore. One of those bright young men, Zachiriah Hollback, 18, was shot in the head while he was waiting for a safe ride outside of City Community College the other night. He is listed in critical condition at Hopkins and is on a respirator. Police believe robbery was the motive and they have no suspects.
This kid was just one of the many good ones. They're killing their own future leaders. It's so, so sad. And so, so senseless.
UPDATE: Zachiriah Hollback has died. That makes him the fourth murder victim of 2008 for Baltimore. In other depressing news, I looked up the number of murders in my zip code for 2007. There were a total of 281 homicides in Baltimore last year, 32 of them were in my zip code. 26 shootings, 3 stabbings, and 3 blunt force traumas. Nice.
I'm an absolute sucker for Hollywood awards show. The narcissism, capitalism, anorexic Barbie doll actresses, and fashion disasters are always worth tuning in for. It's a spectator sport and a guilty pleasure that requires popcorn and a bottle of wine.
I watched this on Saturday night and was blown away. It's French, with English subtitles, and it lends a much greater air of authenticity to the film. Piaf's life was so hard and so sad, raised in a brothel, and then on the road with her father - a circus contortionist - she had a horribly adult youth and grew up hard and fast on the mean streets of Paris. Later on, years as a cabaret singer, smoking, drugs, and alcohol took their toll, and she died at 47 looking as if she were 77. The physical transformation Marion undergoes for the film is nothing short of remarkable, and she truly gets across the phenomenal voice and stage presence that made Piaf (Little Sparrow) a national treasure in France.
If you're scratching your head trying to remember if you've ever heard of Edith Piaf - you have. Your grandparents played her music all the time.
Put this in your Netflix queue or download it from On Demand - it's more than worth it.
I had the very real pleasure of meeting Sir Edmund 4 years ago when he was in Washington to speak to the National Geographic Society marking the 60th anniversary of his ascent on Mt. Everest.
I had gotten tickets through a friend, but it was a relatively small hall, so it was quite intimate and he shook hands and answered questions long after the presentation was over.
He was really tall - I remember that, and I was also thinking how dashing he must have been in his early years. He had a full head of wavy grey hair, and a real twinkle in his eye.
What many people don't realize, is that Sir Edmund's humanitarian efforts far outweigh his accomplishments in conquering Mt. Everest.
"Besides writing and lecturing, he formed a foundation, the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust, that raised millions and built more than 30 schools, a dozen clinics, two hospitals, a couple of airfields, and numerous foot bridges, water pipelines and other facilities for the Sherpa villages in Nepal."
Before international aid agencies or geo-political struggles, he simply recognized a need for the people of Nepal, and did everything in his power to help them, and at great personal sacrifice. In 1975, his wife Louise and daughter Belinda were killed in an airplane crash on their way from Katmandu to help Sir Edmund build a school and clinic.
I found him to be genuine, kind, gracious, and self deprecating. Having your entire adult life be defined by a singular act must be very difficult. He did it well, and never promoted all of his other accomplishments loudly.
That's too bad, because I think I'll remember the humanitarian even more than the hero.
And so it ends. It was a terrific trip, made all the more so by the fact that I was able to experience China through someone who is actually living there. It made all the difference in the world in terms of really knowing what it's like to live in Beijing (albeit as an expat), and to experience day to day life in terms of the frustrations and triumphs surrounding such basic things like transportation, meals, laundry and living conditions, which are all shrouded in nearly incomprehensible cultures, traditions, and Chinese bureaucracy. And then there's the language! Makes international travel and communication a whole new ball game.
I could never have done so much, or been able to have an experience like this had it not been for the gracious hospitality of my friend in Beijing, and I am forever grateful. To pick up and relocate her entire life to China for nearly two years is undeniably brave and fearless. I'm not sure I could do the same given the opportunity, but then again, I'd welcome the opportunity!
Here's a chronological index of the China posts in case you missed any. This was a fun blog project, and I'd love to do more like it. Maybe next year....
All good things come to an end, so here are just a few shots of my last day in Beijing where I went to the famous Silk Market, the Pearl Market, and the Temple of Heaven.
First, the Silk Market. Larger than most department stores, and five stories tall, each floor is crammed to the fire marshal's limit with bolts of silk and warrens of stalls with clothing and tailors just waiting to sell you something. I will say, this was the one place during my entire trip where the vendors got downright aggressive. They shout "Hey Radie!, Hey Radie! - You Buy?", and they think nothing of grabbing your arm to keep you from walking past. I got a little uncomfortable at times, but the fabric is entrancing. My host had nine silk blouses hand tailored (three individual fittings), for about $400 US - THAT my friends is a bargain.
And it goes on and on and on...
From there it was on to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is a Taoist temple built at the same time as the Forbidden City in 1406 - 1420. Located southeast of the Forbidden City in a large park, it was used to celebrate the harvest, and the seasons of the year by the emperor and his court. Once again, the number nine comes into play a lot, in fact, there is a lot of numerology here, and the colors are also important, like the color dark blue representing Heaven.
Before you get to the Temple, you enter a lovely city park, which was just alive with local Chinese enjoying the nice fall weather. It had been very rainy earlier, but the late afternoon was very nice.
This woman was doing gymnastics with ribbons of silk and the woman behind her was doing some version of tai-chi.
There is a very long covered walkway to get to the Temple entrance, and it was just crowded with older folks playing cards, checkers, singing and playing instruments. You just show up and join in - it was wonderful to watch.
Local card sharks:
At the temple, as there were everywhere in Beijing, a lot of Chinese tourists were exploring their own heritage. I saw this ethnic woman. I'm not sure which of the 56 ethnic minorities she represents. She may be Li, but she is certainly from the south somewhere:
Apparently, it is very auspicious to stand on the center of the "Earthly Mount" the main altar in the complex. This family was trying to cram everyone onto the center at once, and I motioned for the father to get in the photo so I could take it of everyone. Wrong. Once I did, I became the unofficial family photographer for the next 6 groups. I had cameras slung around my neck like Annie Liebovitz until I politely begged off.
So there you have it. I took over 900 photos on this trip. I've whittled that down to about half of that, and I obviously haven't posted any photos of myself or my friends posing in front of things or just goofing around, but I hope you get the picture (hah!).
When the feminist that other feminists love to hate doesn't like you, then who will? She even uses the term "feminazi".
"Hillary's willingness to tolerate Bill's compulsive philandering is a function of her general contempt for men. She distrusts them and feels morally superior to them. Following the pattern of her long-suffering mother, she thinks it is her mission to endure every insult and personal degradation for a higher cause -- which, unlike her self-sacrificing mother, she identifies with her near-messianic personal ambition."
Hillary's disdain for masculinity fits right into the classic feminazi package, which is why Hillary acts like Gloria Steinem on catnip."
She is backing Obama for the same reasons I find him attractive, not the least of which is that while, unlike Camille, I may actually like Hillary as a person, she is too polarizing and threatens to divide this country into an even deeper red / blue divide.
"...[Obama] is a rational, centered personality who speaks the language of idealism and national unity. Obama has served longer as an elected official than Hillary. He has had experience as a grass-roots activist, and he is also a highly educated lawyer who will be a quick learner in office. His international parentage and childhood, as well as his knowledge of both Christianity and Islam, would make him the right leader at the right time. And his wife Michelle is a powerhouse."
His oratorial skills are daunting, but I also like his ability to appear unflustered and diplomatic at all times. He has an even temperament and an ability to listen. He also has undeniable world wide appeal, and that's something the US could really use right now. Not another President who is viewed as a right wing Christian conservatist. There's a sure way to engender more fear and loathing in the Middle East.
Well that didn't take long, and this is exactly how I felt about him:
"He portrayed his campaign as a job application for president, and ran clever ads that showed a bored interviewer unimpressed with his dazzling resume."
Unfortunately, he never did anything with the resume'. He just left it hanging there as if it said everything it needed to say about him. Sadly, many Americans can't read and need to have it spelled out to them in quite a bit of detail which he never provided.
I'm not sure why the media is focusing on the primary wins instead of delegates captured. At the end of the day, this is all about how many delegates you bring to the Convention. After Tuesday, the breakdown looks like this:
Obama is still leading the overall race by a single delegate, so it could truly go anywhere from here. And if Edwards does well as he is expected to do in his home states of the Carolinas, then it could be really interesting.
Sadly, Romney and Huckabee still have a sizeable lead over McCain. He needs to keep this momentum going, or it's going to be a short lived surge for him. I would love to see him get the nomination for the Republicans. The other two just scare the living daylights out of me.
Domestic tourism is indeed booming in China. As economic development swells the ranks of the middle-class, there is increasing demand for new destinations. The number of domestic tourists ballooned from 740 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion last year (emphasis mine), according to figures from the China National Tourism Administration and the China National Tourist Office. Amid the tourism boom, previously untouched areas are attracting traveler attention.
That's almost double in just seven years. Can you imagine 1.2 billion tourists in the US?? The fact that China observes all of its Holidays at the same time nationally creates a tsunami effect during three weeks of the year. EVERYONE goes on Holiday at once. Transportation jams, hotel jams, and most tourist sites are increasingly unable to handle the influx. Unlike the US, where Holidays are observed on certain singular days, the two worst for travel being Thanksgiving and Xmas, the entire country of China shuts down for a week at a time and everyone has a week or more off.
Even if Obama doesn't capture the primary for some reason, the very fact that that an African American Presidential candidate may win overwhelmingly in two rural, overwhelmingly white states out of the gate, is something that all Americans should be very, very proud of.
When we last left the China Chronicles, we had ventured out from Kashgar along the Karakorum Highway towards the border of Pakistan along the highest international paved road in the world. Our destination was Karakul Lake. Definitely one of the most beautiful, if not harsh, places on earth I have ever been.
Prior to this trip, the harshest, most remote spot on earth I have ever visited, was in the heart of the Australian Outback in the mid 90's, when I had a chance to visit Idalia National Park, about 1,000 km west of Brisbane to help a friend work on her PhD research. We spent 3 weeks living in tents, putting radio tracking collars on red kangaroos, and being part of an Aussie TV special on kangaroo research.
Lake Karakul is more remote than that, and yet, it is more accessible. To get to Idalia National Park, we had to drive hours over open Outback on rutted dirt roads in specially equipped SUVs called "Troopies" i.e. Oz speak for Izuzu Troopers. We got to Karakul Lake in a modern tour bus on a decent highway.
But once you get there - it takes your breath away:
We had one of the more memorable meals of our trip up here. Here, at the top of the world, in the middle of quite literally nowhere, we were ushered into a small yurt with about ten tables. I was expecting hot tea, maybe some rice and bread, but these local women kept coming in with plate after plate of steaming food, noodles, vegetables and meat. It was simply wonderful. I have no idea how they even cooked food at that altitude, it must take a half hour just to boil an egg, but it was amazing.
The top of the yurt:
A shy girl sneaking out the side of the yurt:
A Uighur woman. This woman's face absolutely embodies the beauty of the Uighur people.
As does this woman. I borrowed this photo from my friend in Beijing who took it:
Not only were the people stunning, so was the landscape:
The very few people who live here, live a very simple life:
The water was just this incredible Cerulean Blue color:
Well, after we came back to Kashgar that evening, we had dinner in a lovely local restaurant, and since we were there during Ramadan, it was quite festive with families gathering to break fast and eat a good meal. Early the next morning, we bordered a flight back to Urumqi, and that evening another flight all the way back to Beijing - we were exhausted.
I spent my last day in Beijing visiting the Silk Market and the Temple of Heaven before packing for an early morning flight back to the US the following day. It was quite an adventure.
I'll post some of the last photos of the people I saw in the park at the Temple of Heaven, and then I will post a link to all the China Chronicle posts in one post since they have been spread out over the last 3 months.
When I got back from China, it had seemed like I had experienced enough in three weeks to fill three months, and I guess I did!
After largely sitting on the sidelines watching the fervor surrounding the Iowa caucuses and primaries, I finally lept into the fray yesterday.
So far, I've avoided most of the debates. Largely because I'm annoyed at the media overkill this early on. Therefore, I haven't formed a strong opinion about any of the candidates either way, except for perhaps eliminating Romney and Huckabee based on their overriding evangelical Christian tendencies. I refuse to elect someone who graduated from a Bible college or was an ex-minister. Too close for comfort. Right or wrong - that's my decision.
Yesterday however, involvement was unavoidable. I started the day by hosting a Legislative Breakfast Forum for the League of Women Voters, which provided the public an opportunity to meet their new incumbent State Senators and Delegates, and get a feel for their stances and priorities for this year's General Assembly in Annapolis. We had a terrific turnout (SRO), and the delegates were all very engaged and interested in both getting their points of view across and listening (occasionally pandering) to their constituents.
By then end of the day, I was both inspired and dejected. While all of them gave heart felt lip service to wanting to promote and provide better education, health care, lower taxes, and same sex civil unions, it was clear that:
(1) The monies available for all these competing needs is like giving our legislators a gallon of paint and asking them to paint a three story building. It can't be done, and when attempted - the finished product looks like crap. (2) Their plans for increasing the revenue base and cutting spending are unclear to say the least, and when pressed for specifics, they reverted to sin and luxury taxes as the easy way out. Did you know that slots will be the revenue base for Baltimore schools and urban renewal?
So I left with an improved impression of some of these people as people. They are good, decent folks. I just don't have a lot of faith in their ability to get anything done.
Then I came home and sat down to the four hour debate on ABC last night. First off - I have to tell you that I ADORE Charlie Gibson. Just the nicest guy on the planet.
After listening to everyone poke at each other, I came away with better feelings towards some candidates, not so much for others, but still haven't developed a clear favorite. I can tell you this however:
(1) The constant use of the words "change" and "hope" strike me as totally lame. Change HOW? Hope for WHAT? That's like Baltimore's lame slogan "Believe". Yeah - that made a HUGE difference in our crime rate now didn't it? (2) I had thought that Bill Richardson was actually the most qualified based on his experience, and I think that's still true on paper. But that seems to be ALL he is relying on, instead of explaining what he plans to DO as President. He's off my list.
Here's what I want to hear from my candidate:
(1) That you support a woman's right to choose. Period. (2) That you support the notion of same sex unions. You can punt this to the state level - I don't mind, but you have to be solidly for the idea in general. (3) Healthcare reform is a top priority - starting with insurance reforms, physician reimbursement reform, and better incentives for drug companies instead of letting the foxes run the hen house. (4) That "No Child Left Behind" needs to go away and fast. (5) That the war was a mistake, and that we need to develop a plan for withdrawal and rebuilding Iraq. I recognize the Iraq people's responsibility to get their government up and functional, but the US didn't have a functioning government for a number of years after the Revolutionary War - takes time. And we didn't have 10,000 years of tribal ethnic and religious strife holding us back.
But most importantly, I want to hear not that these things are going to be important to you, but precisely HOW you plan on achieving them and more importantly, PAYING for them. Where's the money coming from? How are you going to fill that bucket of paint and make it deep enough for two coats of paint?
For the right plan - I'll pay more taxes. I just want my monies worth.
I also want back the 8 hours of lousy sleep I had with all the candidates jumbled in my dreams.
I finally fell into a deep sleep around 6:00 AM, and dreamt I was taking a basket of laundry to the basement. The basement was unfinished and had a cement / dirt floor, and there were these HUGE rats the size of groundhogs that started chewing on my arm - painfully.
That's when I woke up and found the cat with his teeth sunk into my arm playing with me as I flailed about under the covers.
After being displaced from their homes due to massive wildfires this fall (many of them permanently), Californians are now being asked to evacuate in the face of a huge winter storm.
With the fires having cleared all the vegetation from the hillsides, and rains predicted to be in excess of 5 inches in Southern CA, I hope they learned something from the earlier evacuations - cause it's too late now. Massive mudslides are pretty much certain.
Ten FEET of snow?? Ski resorts are closed in Northern CA and Lake Tahoe due to blizzard conditions. Six inches of snow an hour are predicted during the height of the storm. Since one inch of rain generally equals about ten inches of snow, that's 12 inches of rain......a flood by any other name - especially in the mountains.
The ski resorts may be closed now, but when they reopen? Kowabunga dude!
Question: If Pacific tropical storms are called Typhoons, and Atlantic storms are called Hurricanes, why is this storm not classified as a Typhoon? It should have a name. It is predicted to have Category 4 strength winds in some areas. That alone should have triggered coastal and regional evacuations. I mean 145 mph winds are deadly no matter what causes them.
PS: I have been trying to plan a trip to LA to visit an old friend/mentor but between the October fires, the Holidays, and now this storm, it's not looking likely anytime soon.
PSS: And don't get me started on the resiliency of Californians and their money to weather repeated disasters like this compared to Mississippi and New Orleans. The richest of the rich live on the CA coast, and the poorest of the poor live on the Mississippi Delta. Options: hotels, transportation, access to information, and most of all - $$$, make all the difference during a crisis.
My cell phone died again. It died back in October when I misplaced the charger for a couple of days and the battery discharged completely. Even after hooking it back up to the charger, I couldn't turn it on and had to take it in to the ATT repair shop. At the time, they diagnosed it as a bad battery and sent me a new one overnight - problem solved right? Wrong.
This time, I left the AC charger at home over Xmas and haven't been driving around town enough since then to recharge it with the car charger (and you sure can't leave a cell phone in your car in my neighborhood) and the battery discharged again and the phone went dead.
Back to the ATT store to complain. THIS time, she said "Oh, yeah, that's a problem with this model (Cingular 8125). You can't let the battery die, or it's dead forever." WTF? I thought most cell phone lithium ion batteries are supposed to be completely discharged every now and then to improve their longevity.
Whatever. They're sending me another battery, but it won't be here till Monday. I feel like I've been cut off from civilization or something.
AHA! God bless Google. A quick Google search of this predicament provides answers. Apparently, I may be able to jump start the old battery by following these instructions, and the phone's inability to recover from this state is caused by the battery dying while the phone is on. The phone "freezes" and the operating system gets hung up and can't restart on its own. So it's NOT a battery problem - it's an operating system problem. GRRRRRR.
The last time this happened, I assumed the old battery was bad and tossed it. Not so this time. I'm going to charge it up and keep it for backup.
Every now and then you come across something that blows you away with its utter simplicity and beauty. So it is for Mark Khaisman's packing tape art:
From the artist's website:
Artist Statement I work on the light easel, applying translucent brown packing tape on clear Plexiglas panels, the layers built up to create degrees of opacity. My main motivation is my love for classics. The images are archetypes derived from the cultural heritage: art, architecture, movies. I am trying to be faithful to the source, but in the process of interpretation all kinds of things happen. The reason is submerged in the shadows, the purpose is absorbed by the light, the cultural icon has become the personal experience.
I meant to post this over the weekend, but got caught up in Holiday preparations and travel, so here we are. I downloaded these from my sister's Flickr site. She had the nieces and nephew do some paper crafting over the holidays to make giant paper stars, and they were fantastic!
Here's the work in progress:
And here are the finished stars hanging on the side of my Mom and Dad's fireplace.
For instructions on how to create your own snowflake - go here.
Kenya has spiraled downward from one of the most stable, peaceful African nations into a police state after the riots from last Wednesday's election. Perhaps the most aggregious event was the burning alive of 50 people in their church - where they had gone to seek refuge from the violence.
As usual, the best roundup of all the news going on in Kenya, by Kenyan bloggers, can be found at Global Voices Online.
All live broadcasts have been suspended by the government. The order was released as ODM was addressing their press conference. This is now officially a police state. So we have no idea what ODM is saying, and what the security situation is around the country.
Happy 2008! Everyone has a week to keep writing 2007, or '07 on their paperwork before scratching it out and remembering we're in '08 from now on.
Had a delightful NYE enjoying a "Moveable Feast" with the neighbors. Everyone had to clean up their house and host a course: Appetizers (me), main course, salad, dessert, and champagne toast. Great way to get to know people better, and a great way to spend NYE walking around the neighborhood. Yesterday, we indulged in another neighborhood tradition of the "Un-dinner", where we gather at a neighbor's house for a feast of roast pork, sauerkraut, kielbasa and holiday leftovers in sweat pants, no makeup, or the most comfortable thing you own. Sit around and drink wine, watch football and eat. Twas awesome.
Personally, I'm looking forward to the Chumby, but I'm a little worried about the impact that the 23 and me project might have. And look no further for a positive New Year Resolution than becoming a member of the World Community Grid.