Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Christmas Season in NW Ohio......

....and the women are turning orange.

Yep, it seems this time of year tanning salons in NW Ohio do a booming business - women most likely trying to maintain the color gained during summer, but losing themselves in the effort, somewhat. I've seen people walking around in shades rarely found in nature, and it's creepy. Perhaps they all also have fluorescent lighting at home, and honestly can't see how orange they've become. I suppose this is the fashion effort of choice for people who've never lived in an area that gets sun in winter. One day, if I get gutsy enough, I'll snap some photo examples.......

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Local Service Organizations showcase......something...

The local paper today has published a really neat feature that I've not seen in other areas that I've lived in. It's a great service, and has even sparked my cynical interest on at least 2 occasions. It's an annual listing of area clubs and organizations. Many of these will be familiar to any city in the country: Kiwanis, Elks, Lions, and Rotary clubs to name a few.

What I found interesting is how the cumulative listing of organizations illustrates the community locally. And how odd (or unique?) it is. There are:

  • 3 magic groups
  • 1 for dolls
  • 1 for precious moments figurines
  • 2 for stuffed bear collectors
  • 3 quilting clubs
  • 1 for unicyclists
  • ...and most curious, to me as a woman, were the 13 womens' clubs - all to a degree promoting the advancement of women (not including the doll collecting, precious moments collectors, and quilting clubs).
My first thought was how much greater the potential impact (in terms of volunteerism and community service) and benefit (in terms of advancing issues that women face) these 13 clubs could be if they were consolidated. Then again, there would be at least two that wouldn't likely fit into a consolidated women's organization, promoting women's rights.

One is a society that seems to be historical in nature, but utterly ridiculous in logic. It is open to "women who descend from a male ancestor who lived during the 17th century." I'm assuming.....that would be almost any woman alive today.

Another doesn't seem to desire promoting women's rights much at all. It's an international club "
made up of foreign-born women of many countries ...who want to share their experiences since arriving and living in the United States. Any foreign born woman of any age is eligible to join. " This club includes an annual dinner night out with husbands. Because, as locals assume, you probably couldn't have gotten here on your own.

One group that sparked my interest - but only momentarily - is simply (or haughtily?) called...The Senate, dedicated to
"educate the mind and advance the social and intellectual welfare of the members." It goes on to detail the twice-monthly meeting process. Seems interesting, right? But wait - there's a coda: "Ladies nights are held on the second meetings of December and May". So, the one group that would appeal to a woman with an intellectual and cultural appetite would apparently only include her twice a year at a guest dinner.

Which probably goes a long way in understanding why there are 13 organizations aimed at providing opportunities for women.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Burma, Myanmar: What's in a Name? Besides human rights abuses, that is.....

Myanmar - a tiny history.
By now the world is aware of the latest series of public outcry regarding the pro-democracy protests in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Myanmar (formerly Burma). These flared up in August 2007 as a result to economic pressures squeezing local citizens, including a 500% increase in fuel prices, as well as renewed objections to military rule and repression. The military government responded with violence. For the first time, with the increases of technology and globalization, the real impact of such events was able to be shared with the world, almost instantly, through videoblogging.

What has been glaringly absent from recent news coverage is the reminder to the world (or at least within the US) that, in 1990, t
he National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won over 60% of the vote and over 80% of parliamentary seats - the first election held in 30 years. She earned international recognition for the return of democratic rule, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. At the precipice of democracy for the first time, the military government annulled the election results and has maintained its stranglehold on the country, placing Aung San suu Kyi under house arrest that has been renewed repeatedly.

The US responded with....sanctions, this week freezing the assets of 20-some military leaders (who had assets in the US). Despite the EU's sanctions, The French oil company Total is able to operate a natural gas pipeline from Myanmar to Thailand. Total and its American partner, ChevronTexaco are currently the subjects of lawsuits in French and Belgian courts for the condoning and use of civilian slavery to construct the named pipeline, with aid by the junta regime.

How does this fit in with "We can't allow the world's worst leaders to blackmail, threaten, or hold freedom-loving people hostage"? Or, "We will stand up for our friends in the world!" Let's ask Mr. Bush what he meant by those statements. Is there a silent phrase that continues the thought....."unless of course we don't demand significant natural resources from those freedom-loving people; or - by "friends" we mean "Israel" -- to the others, we say, Good Luck and Godspeed!" Credibility comes from doing what you say you're going to do, so if we're going to make blanket statements as a country that defends the fight for democracy and freedom wherever it happens in the world, then we should stick by it. If not, then we need to change our platitudes, or at least try harder to manage our President's 'from-the-hip' efforts at diplomacy. Or, to quote him again, "For diplomacy to be effective, the words must be credible."

Back to my point for making this post.....ahem.

The official name of the country in the local language (called Burmese) is Myanma, and hasn't changed. Within the Burmese language, Myanma is the literary name of the country, while Bama (from which “Burma” derives) is the oral name. But, the US and the UK continue to use the name “Burma,” since they do not recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government nor its authority to rename the country in English. Perhaps insisting on the freedom and rule of the elected democratic party is too difficult - so we're going to make our stand by just referring to the country by its old British Colonial name.

But this is really splitting's the equivalent of referring to someone in French as the formal "vous" (or Myanmar, in this case) or the more commonly used "tu" (or Burma). Mr. Bush's insistance on calling this country Burma is a misplaced attempt to illustrate non-recognition of the military junta's name change in 1989. And for that thought, he gets 1 Culture Point. But on the reality of calling Myanmar Burma, which is lost on most of the world, and has little to no significance to the locals who speak Burmese, he gets -10 Communication Points. But then, expecting our President to correctly pronounce something is a lost cause, as we all have learned from his repeated refusal to learn how to say "nuclear".

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Careful what you read when you travel - it may get you watchlisted!!

I find these articles by Wired and a follow-up by the Washington Post funny, but not ha-ha funny - funny as in, "holy crap that's scary!" funny. As in, "I wonder if I'm on a watchlist......". I've traveled a bit, and while not so much recently, I've traveled in some countries that the US considers "areas of concern" or has had Department of State warnings against traveling to. Most of the time, my journeys through customs have been uneventful, and most of my travel through what the US considers questionable countries has been for personal reasons. Exploration.

But, I have received "special handling" at customs on two occasions: one pre-9/11, and one post. The Pre-9/11 event was during a flight change in Dallas, returning from Morocco via England, en route to Mexico (first class) with a back pack not much bigger than what kids carry to school. That time, I was questioned as to why I didn't have more luggage, and the customs guy - about my age - I think got a kick out of me explaining how to wash travel-hardy clothing by hand.

The second time, though, was quite concerning. It was post 9/11. And it was the one time I should have been least likely to be questioned by customs, compared to all of my other trips and destinations. In this situation, I was arriving in Houston from Singapore (business class), nicely dressed, with a very large and overweight suitcase. I was returning from my work assignment overseas. Fully, properly, probably over-documented - my passport had more work visa documentation for that assignment than you could shake a stick at. Yet I was the last person from that flight to be finally cleared through customs and immigration. This was quite frustrating as a U. S. Citizen - I literally felt criminalized. The officer was asking fairly routine questions, but in such a barking, accusatory manner I felt as though I were being interrogated. This was all happening while two people with white gloves were going through every item in my suitcase. I was asked about my work assignment, where I lived in Singapore, why I was assigned there - now, we're talking about one of the safest countries on the planet - it's the Disney of Asia!! But, while I was there, I had two vacations: a trip to New Zealand with a layover in Thailand and a trip to Nepal with a layover in Thailand. I also had a weekend trip to Cambodia, and took a few weekend ferry rides - all of 30 minutes - to Indonesia, and on one occasion, because I could, I walked across the bridge in northern Singapore to southern Malaysia and back. I was being questioned for an hour about my trips to these other countries - being quizzed, because the customs agent was holding my passport - as to when they were, their duration, their purpose, etc.

At any rate, last year, about this time, I flew from Detroit to Casablanca, Morocco, via Paris - and one of the books I had with me was "Tales from an Economic Hit Man". I wonder if I've made that list. It sure would be interesting to find out......

Mattel apologizes to China - how nice! What about the consumers of recalled products??

In a recent article describing Mattel's apology to China's Product Safety chief, I'm surprised at what is seemingly glaringly missing from this dialogue - from the consumer side of the issue. I have an appreciation for doing business in Asia, and what saving face is all about - which is surely the driver behind such a public kow-towing on Mattel's part. But, if Mattel's going to take blame for design flaws, then I would think there should be an apology to the core of the business - the consumers who have questioned their holiday purchasing and the parents, grandparents, schools, and other impacted parties who have recently done complete toy inspections to rid their inventories of potentially overly-leaden toys.

The article indicates that Mattel has shipped production of many of its toys to China for over 25 years - so, in theory, there should be fairly solid contractual and design communications processes in place, as well as quality control mechanisms. Perhaps Mattel needs to become more specific in its manufacturing specs: no paints shall contain lead, chromium, etc, or any other carcinogen ....and so on. Perhaps this is one of the lessons learned that China's Product Safety chief is alluding to - I can imagine, for the most part, they are manufacturing to the specs they are provided with, and can't reasonably be expected to assume acceptability levels above and beyond those that are indicated in the specs they're provided.

So, Mattel's apology will likely go a long way to smoothing the relationship that Mattel has had over decades and will likely continue to maintain with China as its primary manufacturer. Perhaps, as the article indicates, averting costly punitive measures as well. That would be just swell!

But, I'm still bothered by why the same level of kow-towing hasn't been made to the forces that keep Mattel in business in the first place - its consumers. Surely they aren't being taken for granted......

Friday, August 03, 2007

Price Gouging

Price Gouging can refer either to prices obtained by practices inconsistent with a competitive free market, or to windfall profits. We heard threats of this but not necessarily much action in this regard (despite record profits in the oil and gas biz, despite the rising cost of oil). I have, however, found a postcard example of price gouging: the rental car industry.

If for some reason you opt not to purchase the tank-fill option, and return your rental car with less than a full tank of gas, you can be charged from $7 to $8 a gallon for the rental car agency to fill it for you (despite the price at the pump being $3 at the time of my experience). That is more than 250% above market price. Granted, I filled my tank before returning my rental, but have some difficulty in perceiving this pricing strategy as anywhere near fitting within the parameters of "legal". Just curious if any one else has observed such obscene pricing strategies.

Oh, Those Poor Northwest Pilots....

In July, as in June, at the end of the month, hundreds of flights were canceled because, according to Northwest's pilots, there were not enough pilots to fly the planned routes for the airlines. This, apparently, resulting from recent layoffs and furloughs of said pilots. So, nearing the end of the two recent months, in a non-strike strike move, the remaining pilots called in "sick" and were unable to fly the remaining flights (for which thousands of tickets had been sold, undoubtedly).

Yes, there's a labor contract at play here. Of course, nothing says 'market manipulation' like a union deal. The irony is, the Pilots ratified the contract last year that they're - ahem - calling in sick about, conveniently, at the end of the month for, this year.

Northwest ended a 20-month bankruptcy in May, and used its Chapter 11 reorganization to cut labor costs by $1.4 billion annually. In May 2006, the nearly 5,000 pilots ratified a contract that saved the airline $358 million a year and averted a possible strike. That contract cut the pilots' pay by 23.9 percent, but raised from 80 to 90 the maximum number of hours per month that pilots could be required to fly. (The FAA allows them to fly up to 100 hours a month, any flying that exceeds the maximum is "voluntary", yet is paid at a 150% rate).

So, when pilots are hitting their 90-hour mark, they're calling in sick.

Boo - Friggin - Hoo. 90 Hours? In 3 weeks??? Some people work that in a week and are glad that they've been able to get work done in a week under the triple-digit mark. In a Week! These pilots are relatedly working part-time - the equivalent of 30 hours a week. How can they afford to do that?

Looks like I need to take flying lessons. No wonder they're called NorthWORST. They've earned it!


So, the news reported recently about cigarette lighters being allowed through security scans now by the NSA. It appears that no one bothered to tell the NSA this. On a recent flight, I felt sorry for the folks forced to fish out their lighters from their carry-ons that had gone through the security screening machines at the security checkpoints in the various airports I traveled through.

Speaking of broken communications, it seems that the NSA can’t effectively work within its network from one airport to another. We’ve heard the gripes about liquids and gels, and are pretty much aware that “Travelers may now carry through security checkpoints travel-size toiletries (3 ounces or less) that fit comfortably in ONE, QUART-SIZE, clear plastic, zip-top bag.” (

But some airports are more militaristic than others in what they define as “toiletries”.

One definition outlines toiletries as “Any article or preparation used in cleaning or grooming oneself, as soap or deodorant”;

…another as ” An article, such as toothpaste or a hairbrush, used in personal grooming or dressing.”

But in airports, the TSA apparently overrides Random House or the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and each location seems to determine for itself what a toiletry is. Thank god neither of them opt to classify a hairbrush as one, as the American Heritage Dictionary does.

The objective in starting up this panic movement was concern that explosive gels or liquids could be carried upon a plane, and then ignited. Despite the news programs announcing lighters being re-approved, the TSA does not allow them on planes. Despite the safety precaution of tiny packaging and clear-bagging and scanning of any carry-on gels or liquids, as intended initially, here are some examples of what the TSA are requiring in some airports to be bagged in those zip-locks (and god help you if the bottle itself is bigger than 3 ounces, even if the remaining amount of liquid – like, say, a perfume – is only perhaps 20 drops):

  • Lipstick (I think of this as more of a creme than a gel or a liquid, but what do I know. I’m a girl.
  • Deodorant. Unless it says “gel” or “liquid”, I’m guessing it’s not a gel or a liquid (eww, anyway) and do not bag it as such.
  • Gum. yes, chewing gum.
  • Hairspray.
  • Medication. Again, unless it says ‘gelcaps’ or comes as a syrup, I’m not going to think of medication as a gel or liquid.

Here’s another fun fact: a one-quart-size bag. I saw people’s belongings thrown away because they were in a non-clear, store type plastic bag, not of the clear, zip-lock top kind. Now really. How much safer are you going to feel knowing that the evil Kroger plastic bag is not in your neighbor’s carry-on baggage?

One tip: If you happen to have small sized toiletries from any other country, they are likely in metric, so go ahead and make a TSA agent's day by bringing in a 50ml tube of sun screen!!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ode to the Asterisk……..We Hardly Knew Ye

What ever happened to our old friend, the asterisk? This used to be a favorite symbol of mine. We’ve all grown up – for the most part – using this wonderful little symbol as a rover, of sorts, to indicate or fill in or signify all manner of items: a break in the flow of thought, a rating system, a bullet-listing mechanism, a vulgarity-filler (s**t!!), a footnote, a grammatical or spelling correction indicator, emphasis, multiplication, and even for sports scoring.

Anymore, though, in our mass-media, litigation-infused society, the asterisk has become a double-agent. Any marketing material, publication, billboard, banner, pamphlet, coupon, advertisement, website, or other form of visible print media has usurped and corrupted our friendly asterisk into a sign of dubious connotation.

Take, for example, a seemingly innocent Burger King drive-through. I went through one today, even though I’m not a big fan of fast food, because I was raging for something salty and a giant bucket of Dr. Pepper, but didn’t want to actually park my vehicle to go get it. I noticed a placard advertising a Creamy Iced Coffee type of drink – that looked pretty good on a hot day – but only after I’d made my purchase. As I was driving by the placard, I noticed a super-tiny asterisk next to the word “Creamy”. Of course, this drink is not on the Burger King website, so I’m guessing it’s being test marketed. At any rate, making an exception marking next to the word “creamy” just seemed so……cheesy. Let’s look at this logistically. From, the definition(s) for the word “creamy” include the following:

cream·y /Pronunciation Ke[kree-mee]
–adjective, cream·i·er, cream·i·est.
1. containing cream.
2. resembling cream in consistency or taste; soft and smooth.
3. cream-colored.
4. Informal.
a) beneficial or profitable: a creamy arrangement for profit sharing.
b) slick, facile, or superficial: His later movies are too creamy.

[Origin: 1425–75; late ME. See cream, 1 —Related forms
cream·i·ly, adverb
cream·i·ness, noun Unabridged (v 1.1),
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

So, by asterisking the term “creamy”, what exactly is Burger King trying to protect or exempt itself from? Liability from a lactose-demanding customer potentially irate at the use of a non-dairy cream-type material, instead of real milk? Protection from the irritable bowel of a lactose-intolerant consumer frustrated at the use of “actual cream” in his or her iced coffee-drink?

How far beyond the reasonable will we continue to endure punctuation abuse, as a society? I’m curious to know. I rarely trust my old friend the asterisk nowadays. It seems that any time I see him, it’s as though he’s providing me with a friendly wink of caution -

“Beware! This commercial is about a beautiful auto lease, but I’ll be followed by 3 rolling paragraphs of 1.5 font fine print scrolling by in 2.3 seconds flat and you, as the idiot consumer, will be expected now to have been fully informed of your rights and obligations as a lessor!”


“Free”! (but only if you use our store card 34 times and send in 17 receipts dated within a 6 month period hand-signed by our store manager that works on the odd-hour day shift, mailed in an 8 x 10 envelope filled with the front page of your local newspaper’s Front Page). You get my drift.

So, farewell, fond asterisk….for I can no longer appreciate you as a friendly “come-hither, I have bonus material for you!” flag. Instead, you have been manipulated into a trickster that I have come to regard with a small amount of dread. You are the crossed-fingers behind the back of a shady salesman, the wink of a shyster, a flower....... hiding a lie. May you rest in peace, next to your brother, Truth in Advertising (which, unfortunately, you’ve been subjugated to nullify - sorry to break the news to you).

* * *

Friday, July 06, 2007

Only 12 Hours Left to Vote for the New 7 Wonders of the World!!!

Voting ends tonight in the global campaign to identify the "New 7 Wonders of the World." Of course, I've got to throw in my own bragging rights here, so places that I've been fortunate to visit are coded in blue...

Right now, with 90 million votes cast, organizers say the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome and Machu Picchu in Peru are leading the pack. The final results will be announced tomorrow in Lisbon, Portugal. So, get to crackin' and VOTE!!!

Here's the list of Seven Ancient Wonders that was created 2,300 years ago:

Lighthouse of Alexandria
Temple of Artemis
Statue of Zeus
Colossus of Rhodes
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
Pyramids of Egypt

What would be on your list of wonders at the dawn of the 21st century? Vote here.

AP's list of the 20 finalists:

ACROPOLIS, GREECE: The Acropolis, a flat-topped hill standing above Athens, draws around a million visitors each year to walk among its 5th-century-B.C. marble temples and admire the statues of Greek gods and goddesses. The largest temple is the columned Parthenon, which was used as a church and then a mosque until it was heavily damaged in a 17th century war.

HAGIA SOPHIA, TURKEY: The soaring cathedral, also called the Church of Holy Wisdom, was built in 537 A.D. at Constantinople, today's Istanbul, under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. In 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, it became a mosque with minarets, but Turkish President Kemal Ataturk ordered it turned into a museum in 1935, allowing the Christian mosaics that had been covered by the Muslims to be revealed again.

KREMLIN AND ST. BASIL'S CATHEDRAL, RUSSIA: Onion domes with golden cupolas surrounded by red brick walls are at the heart of Moscow's Kremlin, a Medieval fortress converted into the center of Russian government, and the symbol of communist dictatorship at Soviet times. The red brick Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed on adjacent Red Square featuring nine towers of different color, was built by Czar Ivan the Terrible in the mid-16th century to celebrate the capture of the Mongol stronghold of Kazan.

COLOSSEUM, ITALY: The giant amphitheater in Rome was inaugurated in A.D. 80 by the Emperor Titus in a ceremony of games lasting 100 days. The 50,000-seat Colosseum, which has influenced the design of modern sports stadiums, was an arena where thousands of gladiators dueled to the death, and, as tradition would have it, Christians were fed to the lions.

NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE, GERMANY: The inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Neuschwanstein is a creation of "Mad King" Ludwig II of Bavaria, who had it built in the 19th century to indulge his romantic fancies, long after the age of castles. Perched on a peak in the Bavarian Alps, the gray granite castle rises to towers, turrets and pinnacles and contains many paintings showing scenes from the operas of Richard Wagner, whose work Ludwig admired.

EIFFEL TOWER, FRANCE: The 985-foot tower, built by the engineer Gustave Eiffel for Paris' International Exposition of 1889, has become the city's symbol. Made almost entirely of open-lattice wrought iron and erected in only two years with a small labor force, the tower -- Paris' highest construction -- demonstrated an important advance in building techniques and at first was considered by many to be an eyesore.

How and why this circular monument of massive rocks was created between 3,000 B.C. and 1,600 B.C. is unknown, but some experts say its builders aligned the stones as part of their sun-worshipping culture, while others believe it was part of an astronomical calendar. Today it is a major tourist attraction and has spiritual significance for thousands of druids and New Age followers, some of whom gather on June 21 each year to celebrate summer solstice.

ALHAMBRA, SPAIN: The palace and citadel, perched above the city of Granada, was the residence of the Moorish caliphs who governed southern Spain in splendor until King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled them in 1492, ending 800 years of Muslim rule. Mosaics, arabesques and mocarabe, or honeycomb work, are stunning features of the decoration.

GREAT WALL OF CHINA: The 4,160-mile barricade running from east to west is the longest man-made structure in the world. The fortification, which largely dates from the 7th through the 4th century B.C., was built to protect the various dynasties from invasion by the Huns, Mongols, Turks and other nomadic tribes.

KIYOMIZU TEMPLE, JAPAN: Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera, which means Clear Water Temple, was founded by the Hosso sect of Buddhism in 798 and rebuilt in 1633 after a fire. It features a three-stream waterfall which is believed to confer health, longevity and success to the drinker.

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, AUSTRALIA: Situated on Bennelong Point reaching into Sydney's harbor, the opera house with a roof looking like a ship in full sail was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon and opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. The building, whose roof is covered by over 1 million white tiles, features 1,000 rooms and hosts 3,000 events every year.

ANGKOR, CAMBODIA: The archaeological site in Siem Reap, 143 miles northwest of the capital Phnom Penh, was the capital of the Khmer (Cambodian) empire from the 9th to the 15th century, and served as administrative center and place of worship for a dynasty that ruled over a vast domain reaching from Vietnam to China and the Bay of Bengal, the most prosperous kingdom in South Asia's history. Featured are Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, two impressive temple ruins dating from the 12th century.

TAJ MAHAL, INDIA: The white marble-domed mausoleum in Agra, Uttar Pradesh state, was built by Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan between 1632 and 1654 for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. The complex -- an outstanding example of Mughal architecture combining Indian, Persian, and Islamic styles -- houses the graves of the emperor and his wife, as well as those of lesser Mogul royalty.

TIMBUKTU, MALI: Two of West Africa's oldest mosques, the Djingareyber, or Great Mosque, and the Sankore mosque built during the 14th and early 15th century can still be seen at the ancient city of Timbuktu in the northern Sahara Desert. Founded about A.D. 1100, it was a flourishing caravan center in the Arabic world and a leading spiritual and intellectual center in the 15th and 16th centuries, with one of the first universities in the world established there.

PETRA, JORDAN: The ancient city of Petra in southwestern Jordan, built on a terrace around the Wadi Musa or Valley of Moses, was the capital of the Arab kingdom of the Nabateans, a center of their caravan trade, and also continued to flourish under Roman rule after the Nabateans were defeated in A.D. 106. The city is famous for its water tunnels and numerous stone structures carved in the rock, the most impressive of which is probably Ad-Dayr, 'the Monastery,' an uncompleted tomb facade that served as a church during Byzantine times.

STATUE OF CHRIST REDEEMER, BRAZIL: The 125-foot statue of Christ the Redeemer with outstretched arms overlooks Rio de Janeiro on Brazil's Atlantic coast from atop Mt. Corcovado (the "Hunchback"). Created by Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski, the statue weighing more than 1,000 tons was built in pieces in France starting in 1926 and shipped to Brazil. The pieces were carried by cogwheel railway up the 2,343-foot mountain for assembly. The statue was inaugurated on Oct. 12, 1931.

EASTER ISLAND, CHILE: Hundreds of massive stone busts, or Moais, are all that remains from the prehistoric Rapanui culture that crafted them between 400 and 1,000 years ago to represent deceased ancestors. With some standing more than 70 feet tall and weighing 60 tons, the statues gaze blankly out on the south Pacific Ocean more than 1,000 miles off the Chilean mainland.

MACHU PICCHU, PERU: Built by the Incan Empire in the 15th century, the giant walls, palaces, temples and dwellings of the Machu Picchu sanctuary are perched in the clouds at 8,000 feet above sea level on an Andean mountaintop overlooking a lush valley 310 miles southeast of Lima. It remains a mystery how the huge stones were moved into place for the construction of the remote city.

PYRAMID AT CHICHEN ITZA, MEXICO: This step pyramid surmounted by a temple survives from a sacred site that was part of one of the greatest Mayan centers of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Built according to the solar calendar, it is placed so that shadows cast at the fall and spring equinoxes are said to look like a snake crawling down the steps, similar to the carved serpent at the top. An older pyramid inside features a jade-studded, red jaguar throne.

STATUE OF LIBERTY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The 305-foot statue holding a torch has towered over New York Harbor since 1886 when it was dedicated as a gift of the French government, welcoming immigrants and Americans returning from abroad. An elevator inside takes visitors to the 10-story pedestal observatory, but access to the inside of the crown and torch is no longer permitted.

Ancient world wonder in addition to the new 7 wonders:

PYRAMIDS OF GIZA, EGYPT: The only surviving structures of the original seven wonders, the three pyramids were built as tombs for 4th dynasty pharaohs about 4,500 years ago. The largest of the three pyramids, the 452-foot-high Great Pyramid, was built for King Cheops. Nearby is the Great Sphinx, a limestone statue with the face of a man and the body of a lion.

It will retain its status as a wonder of the world in addition to the seven new wonders.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Need a Vacation? Me, Too. And Apparently Everyone Else in the U.S.A.

Recently (well, in May), the Center for Economic Policy and Research published a report exposing what we all fairly well feel, even if we weren't particularly sure of the details previously: we live in a "No Vacation Nation".

For those who have worked in or with professionals from other countries, that awareness is often driven home by our contemporaries who ask about the vacation situation in the U.S.A as though it were some sort of urban legend. "Is it true that you only have two or three weeks of holiday, for an entire YEAR?" they ask, in quiet fear - as though a confirmation of this feared assumption might ultimately ripple into their country's work-life balance and cause irreparable damage. Mon Dieu!

But, alas, I don't think that will be the case. It seems much of the world has its priorities straight when it comes to the importance of establishing and maintaining a valuable time separation from work that is adequate to provide a willingness to return, and long enough to allow a full disconnect from the day-to-day requirements and responsibilities that each of us shoulders in order to make our companies more profitable, more efficient, more productive, more......more. And, most countries allow this to occur multiple times in one calendar year. In fact, most of them even legislate it.

Just to illustrate the point, here's a wonderfully sad graphic from the "No Vacation Nation" report by the good folks over at the Center for Economic Policy Research (click image to enlarge):

Yet here, a flurry of recent blog and news articles over the last few summers have been reporting increasing connectedness, even during our all-to-short vacations. According to a recent AP poll, about 20% of respondents indicate taking work with them on vacation, often in the form of their laptop. 20% also called or checked into work regularly, 40% check their email, and 50% check personal messages. I imagine the numbers may be higher than that based on the quantity of my co-workers who are attached at the hip to their blackberries. Keep in mind, their survey sample population was only 1000 people.

The point? Lobby your _______ (workplace, legislators, leaders, co-workers, etc) for vacation time commensurate with the other strong economies around the world, to maintain global competitiveness. And to give yourself a break! You deserve it. I know I do.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Patience vs. Action

....When to draw the line?

I think this line becomes blurrier with each new generation - whether that generation be human or technological. I've encountered this issue repeatedly in the last year or so, in varying ways, and find that I'm running out determining the appropriate go / no-go moment of action.

Personally, I am a creature of action. The best way that I can sum this up is to Tim Leary's comment, along the lines of an album playing: "If you don't like what you're doing, you can always pick up your needle and move to another groove." I've been fairly able to do this most of my life, until recently, in which my needle seems to have become mired in a groove seemingly filled with peanut butter, and my view of other grooves obstructed by my own mental clutter.

I've been working on cleaning out the mental clutter - I think some of that accumulates naturally with age - but am struggling with the peanut butter in my current groove. This is because of a number of factors that are somewhat beyond my control to scrape away. Some of these factors are aspects of the society in which I find myself currently living: a quiet, serene, somewhat rural town, with a work-ethic that is similarly paced. For most of my working life, I've lived in populations of a couple of million people plus, and the pace of life, and adaptability to change, have been relatively quick. It has been something of an adjustment for me in a quiet town to realize that people in this environment simply choose not to function at the same speed of business. They prefer not to be as embracing of change, innovation, or - perhaps - there is a lacking comfort level, bordering on fear. As a result, the additional effort required to escort people through a business change - even if the end result is significantly beneficial to the individual or a business unit - can become exhausting and repetitive to someone used to championing change in a change-oriented society.

Most often, what I hear is along the lines of, "great idea, let's sit on that for a bit." Other things notwithstanding – like organizational developmental saturation for other change initiatives already in progress, and such – this idea, of “ let’s sit on that” – really stops me in my tracks.

I don’t know what to make of it. It does not logically flow, in my mental processing capacity (pending, again, no other barring activities). I cannot understand why anyone would desire waiting to do something later when it could be done now. Is this a generational issue? Not in my family. Not in the strong work-ethic parental generations of families I know. Not among my parents’ friends.

Where does this desire to “wait to act” come from? Now, I can see the value in this for something that is political or has other consequential risk or consideration – such as rushing into an unsubstantiated war – but in waiting to enact an efficiency, an improvement, or a betterment – that ultimately saves time and money, or creates a safer work environment, or streamlines the effectiveness of information or communication – I fail to see the value of waiting to enact an improvement. This is what has me currently mired. I cannot determine the obstruction, so I cannot, as a result, develop a solution. Which means, for the time being, beyond all that is natural and instinctual to me, I am forced to wait, to swim through mud, to skip through peanut butter, and hope that some aspect beyond my control can open up a channel of clarity for me through which I can forge a continued path of efficiency.

So, for now, I must practice patience. This is the hard part. I can do this, but the difficulty is determining the appropriate time to allocate to Patience, before once again taking the path of Action. Whether that be forging ahead with my "great idea", or engaging in a workaround and developing my own new path remains to be seen. For now, I suppose, my actions during my time of Patience must be comprised of developing my plans to forge my own, new path.

So much for the success in clearing out the mental clutter - I'm about to start creating a bit more!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spring Wish List

Spring is almost - kind of - here. And I'm starting to think about Shopping. Not your typical girly-girl type of shopping. Not even grocery shopping (last time I remember doing that more that a quick stop is January). Not updating my work wear. Not picking out a few flowers for the outside planter. Not another dime toward home improvement.

I'm in the mood for a little updating to the music library. And, since I'm often like a kid in a candy store when I go into a music shop, which is why I often don't go into a music shop (horrified at the amount I end up spending, which is what keeps me away for a year), this time, I've started a little list. And, I'm proud to say, it's not super long. But I've only been working on it for a day - so that could change.

For now, it is - in no particular order:

Prarie Wind - Neil Young

Jet - Shine On

Rogers Sisters - Never Learn to Cry (maybe)

Johnny Cash - A Hundred Highways

Alejandro Escovedo (an actual person I've met) - formerly of the Nuns, Rank & File, and the True Believers with his new solo out - The Boxing Mirror. In one of those "small world" moments, I was reading his website this weekend to check on any new releases. I didn't know he was a huge fan of John Cale's, and that as their friendship grew, so did one with Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground (before his passing), who's the cornerstone of one of my pivotal Houston stories. That was a good head-shaking realization. So of course that cd's a must-have. **Playing at the Black Arts Swamp Festival in BG, Sept. 8, in BG - and maybe, just maybe, John Cale will be playing alongside....**

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones

Scritti Politti - White Bread and Black Beer

Miles Davis - The Cellar Door Sessions 1970

Ray Davies - Other People's Lives

Son Volt - The Search

Daniel Lanois - Belladonna

Los Lobos - The Town & The City

Drive By Truckers - Blessing & A Curse

Anyone wishing to contribute to my musical treasure hunt is more than welcome to leave a comment for contact. Oh, and Happy Almost Spring.

South Park'sTop 25?? Hilarity Ensues!

Well, I'm a latecomer to South Park, but recently found this link to the 25 funniest moments - some of which I've yet to see, but a good list to start from none the less!

And yes, I realize how shallow it is going to seem posting this adjacent to the post below. Such is life.

Holi of Holies! March 3, Nepal - Holi Festival, Full Moon, & Lunar Eclipse. Can you say Trifecta Festival Event?

In early March, the globe enjoyed a full moon, and some parts more than others were able to enjoy viewing a full lunar eclipse. In addition to this, in Nepal, it was also the Holi festival. This is often a time of mayhem. Young people wear old clothes and finish the evening in a decidedly multi-coloured look. Holi, also known as the festival of colors, has roots in various Hindu myths and is celebrated in Nepal in a myriad of methods.

(this photo is a bit blurry: no tripod, pre eclipse)

I understand in prior days, people used to hurl buckets of paint at each other, or water balloons of dyed water. Nowadays, it seems, the paint seems to be more of the Halloween make-up version, and it seems to be relatively self-applied - at least from the start. The festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil and heralds the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

I like to think of it better thusly:
As nature blooms into the colors of spring, so do the people of

Of course, many of the people - particularly the malefolk - seem dourly serious in the photos attached, this is fairly common. Most of my friends in
Nepal are male, and most of my photos of them are similar in nature to those of men in the old west U.S. at the turn of the century - By God Serious. But this belies the nature of some of the warmest people on earth.

Even so, with the myriad of traditional theatrics that go on - you can see the tension in these young boys. They live with daily "disappearances", political ambiguity, an uncertain future, and being citizens of one of the 3 poorest countries on earth while their King is one of the richest rulers on the planet. They will either go into the army to fight the maoists, join the maoists to fight the corrupt government, become monks, become petty criminals to support their families, or become one of an ever-growing population of locals who feed off of the tourist industry. Tourism, incidentally, is suffering intermediary to long-term damage due to the violence that the maoists have embraced initially to get their message heard, but have been reluctant of late to release now that they have driven change in the country.

The future is less bright for the young women and girls of Nepal. Many are being forced into prostitution or kidnapped across the border into India, never to see their families again, doomed to an early diseased death. Gloomy, huh! And Nepalis, despite this, are still the most genuinely warm people you could hope to meet.

I hope that the leaders in Nepal working on an Interim Government truly bridge their differences and work toward a Republic, as they've stated, rather than let things disintegrate further into tribal friction and further fractionation of such proud, hard working, talented, culturally and geographically wealthy people.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Emerson Bell - Rest in Peace

How appropriate that I happened to be listening to T-monk when I learned the news. Hope you've picked your new incarnation. Unfortunately I'm behind in hearing about this. Like most, I mourn the passing of a wonderful person and masterful artist, but in addition, a talented jazz impressario and creative muse. Must be why I've been seeing so much of you in my dreams. Bon voyage, man - you've played it well.

Taken a few months before his passing. Thanks for teaching me to smelt my own metals, the fun between acetylene and butane burning, and the key to the perfect patina.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mommy, Where do Stereotypes Come From?

Reading a letter to the editor in a small town paper (I was reeeeeaaaalllly bored while eating lunch one day) I was gobsmacked by what struck me as incredulous. Several stereotypes sprung to mind. First, the scenario.

I’ve always tried to pride myself on being one of those people who is hesitant – resistant, even – to falling back on unimaginative, degrading, insulting stereotypes. But today, that’s all that flooded my mind when I read the article.

There is obviously a bigger story and situation than is portrayed by the brief clipping, but in it, a woman writes about her distress in dealing with the child welfare system after her young child has been removed from her care.

Probably very correctly she espouses that protective service organizations do this as a result of physical, mental, or emotional abuse, as well as neglect such as improper nutrition, care, or clothing.

The core of her letter, however, indicates that once a child – particularly a baby – has been removed, the hurdles for the parent to regain custody seem to be tremendous, and according to the complainant, surmountable only with considerable financial assets to ease the way. She uses several examples to try to persuade the reader to the woes of parents in such a predicament.

What caused my jaw to drop, however, was her last argument.

“And what about the parents who didn’t even get a chance to abuse or neglect their children?”

The stereotypes?

Awww, that poor hillbilly, redneck, nascar-watching, budwiser-drinking, white-trash, meth-belt mom didn’t even git a chance to beat her babies yet before them social workers done took ‘em away from ‘er……….

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Insanity? You Decide!

Just remembered this old favorite quote from Einstein (or as I like to call him, ol' One Cup):

doing something over and over expecting different results - Albert Einstein

I guess the perfect current example would be sending 20+,000 more troops to Iraq without a change in strategy. Some would question what, exactly, our strategy might be. The best part: - wait for it - is doing so:
  • without utilizing REQUESTED feedback from the other assembled strategists that have contributed to provide alternative solutions such as
  • the Iraq report
  • feeds from members of Congress over the last 4 years
  • while denying that there have been any other suggestions
  • and while also stating, "there is no plan b"
  • ...and that "failure is not an option".

So, apparently, we're going to keep on doing what we're doing, with no change in strategy, but this time - somehow - it'll work, by god. In other words, doing something over and over and expecting different results. Or, insanity without strategy.