Saturday, January 17, 2009

Welcome, New Year

Into the lake

Sea kayaking on Lake Michigan
On New Year's Day, I flew to Michigan to spend a few days with Greg's family at their home near Traverse City. It was a relaxing time for all of us away from TV (well, mostly away from TV) and the news and cell phones, and the short, cold, cloudy days made for great beer drinking. In fact, we reverted to old Prague habits and elected for the "steady drip" method of consumption. In our estimation, most events - including sea kayaking and snow mobile touring - were better done with at least a little help from the liquid jacket.

Cross-country skiing right down to the water

My flights up were quick and easy - and free because I'd been bumped from a flight earlier in 2008 - and as I walked out of the airport, Greg and his mom pulled up to the terminal. For the next few days, we ate leftover Christmas cookies and drank fancy beer. We also checked out the peninsula via snow mobile more than once. On our second night, Greg led me on a 3-hour tour that started at midnight and involved racing up and down a snow-covered grass airstrip before some hill climbing through trees in the dark. The next day we visited some of the same places by daylight with his family, and before the end of the night we were jumping the snow mobiles over a levee near Greg's house.

Specially designed sea-kayak suits

We figured it'd also be fun to spend some time on unfrozen water and got out the sea kayaks for an afternoon of drinking and paddling on the high seas. Because it was so cold outside, we donned wetsuits under our clothes and rain suits over our clothes. I think mine was designed for an 8-year old girl - I couldn't really inhale deeply - but it did keep me warm. I don't know if you've ever tried to get out of a sea kayak while it's floating, but it's tough. I almost ended up in Lake Michigan when we landed to take a leak, but that didn't go as poorly as Greg's attempt to, uh, relieve himself without first removing the top half of his wetsuit.

Greg catching some air on the snow mobile

Yes, we had matching snow-mobile suits

Between great adventures, we watched Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman's documentary film - Long Way Around - of their adventures riding BMW motorcycles around the world - from London east through Europe and Asia and eventually America to New York. It's worth a look. We worked in some cross-country skiing to do something semi-active, and we even tackled the icyest sledding hill I've ever experienced. We chopped wood for the family fireplace, and you can see some excellent instruction from Greg below. He even managed to sneak a piece into my luggage before I left. I suppose that's his way of leaving me with something to remember the trip by, as if that could ever be an issue. Thanks to Greg and his family for welcoming me in as one of their own and sharing an awesome couple of days with me. I hope to visit again sometime.

One of the sweetest sounds you'll ever hear...

Greg demonstrates the correct technique to split a log.

An action shot of Greg doing what Greg does

The ever-popular "hand split."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Autumn Film

On Wednesday night, I stopped by the Oriental Theater in Denver with some friends to see a local band called Paper Bird. They were entertaining, but I'd say their eclectic mix of folk-Americana and beautiful women was more of a one-time affair, even for the price ($11). However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear another Denver-area band, The Autumn Film, playing in the run-up to Paper Bird.

The Autumn Film are Tifah Al-Attas on vocals and keyboard (from which I think she simultaneously plays the bass line), Dann Stockton on percussion and Reid Phillips on what I'd describe as mostly rhythm guitar (with some additional keyboard on selected tracks). Imagine Amy Lee from Evanescene singing to a musical mix between Sigur Ros' driving rythms and Coldplay's piano-driven riffs, but without the Euro-wuss factor. Hmmm... Maybe it's just better if you listen to them. Click here to redirect to their free download page, where you can have 8 DRM-free tracks. Their homepage also streams a few tracks not available for free.

Anyway, I liked these guys enough to see them again last night at the Marquis Theater in Denver - that's where the pictures and video (pending) are from. Forgive the poor quality on the video, by the way, because the light was low and the microphone on my camera isn't really designed to pick up the bass coming from the venue's speakers. If you like them, they'll be playing at the Fox Theater in Boulder on 11 December (it's a Thursday night).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Following Suit

Mike recently stumbled onto something interesting that he discussed on his blog, Beautiful is Safe. The Typealyzer is designed to "read" your blog and from it, determine your personality. Mike felt like his was pretty damn close. Does anyone who actually knows me think that the analysis below accurately describes me?

INTP - The Thinkers
The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

An Open Letter to Mr McCain

Dear John,

When I arrived home last night from an election party, I had to check my phone to make sure it wasn't Friday. You see, although it was indeed Tuesday, the streets were filled with the sound of music. Well, excitement and happiness, anyway. It seems that people - many of them young - were and remain quite excited by the recent election results, which were as much a rebuke of our current President as they were about the campaigns you and Mr Obama have only now finished. I must say, in both regards, the right man won.

I am an unaffiliated voter. I did not make a final, fill-in-the-oval-next-to-the-name decision until late Sunday night in order that I might deliver my mail-in ballot Monday before work. I liked you a lot in 2000. If that version of you had run this year, you may have received my vote. I also liked your stances on such things as immigration, crime and (eek) taxes; no one debates your credentials as a man who loves his country and has served her for over 50 years. Your consolation speech last night was gracious, your manor admirable.

So let me tell you where you - in my eyes - went wrong. For the previous three months, I've heard nary a positive campaign commercial from your camp. While Mr Obama is certainly no saint, I distinctly remember watching at least a few of his adds that didn't mention you; that is, they spoke of what he would do if elected instead of trashing the credibility of his opponent. Your demeanor during the debates, which I tried hard not to watch, was often condescending, especially considering your close ties with Mr Biden. You avoided questions, often answering with statements clearly designed to change the subject, and continued ad naseum trying to paint Mr Obama as a radical who regularly communed with terrorists. Had you instead advanced your own platform - or at least stuck to the facts about Mr Obama's distinct lack of experience in national government (especially relative to yours) - you may have fared better.

And let's talk Veep. Mr Obama made a qualified decision to select a vice-Presidential running mate who excelled where he did not, most notably in foreign policy. You, on the other hand, burned the remainder of your credibility at the stake, selecting a running mate who's service to her country makes Obama's limited credentials look something like Cal Ripken, Jr's continuous-games-started streak. Mrs Palin's appeal ends where it begins - with her looks. Her experience as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, is comparable to that of the head of a PTA in a local school district, and let's be honest, Alaska isn't that contentious a place to govern. Let's not get into the allegations of misuse of power during her short term there, or her inability to answer direct questions when prompted, or the frightening thought that if you (God forbid) should die in office, she would be the leader of the free world.

Just what segment of the American people where you trying to woo with Mrs. Palin, anyway? You're a moderate Republican with a legitimate record of bi-partisan behavior. You're certainly right, but you're much closer to the "center" than Mr Obama. You've spoken against your party on numerous issues, including torture, the environment, and campaign finance. These issues did not go unnoticed by me. However, your record as a moderate was damaged when you picked a candidate farther right that Mr Obama is left. Were you worried about losing the ultra-conservative vote? Who else would they support? They'd have to jump over you to vote for Mr Obama, and that would never happen. They may have been cranky, but you were still their man! Instead, you passed up the man I believe may very well have won you the election, the man who is running as an Independent but is a registered Democrat, the same man who ran with AL GORE for Veep in 2000 on the Democratic ticket!!!! Are you nuts? Joe Lieberman would have only helped your image as a man capable of crossing party lines, but instead - by your own misjudgment or from capitulating to your party - you chose poorly, and I - as an unaffiliated voter - felt insulted by your selection.

Finally, and mostly because this is already too long, I must comment on a few last subjects that also influenced my vote. They were not abortion, your "faith," gun control, gay marriage or any other of the host of hot-button issues that likely aren't going to change regardless of who's President. Your admission that your knowledge of economics and the economy was misguided. When men such as Warren Buffet back your opponent, you're doing something wrong. He has much less to lose with your tax policy, and yet he backed your opponent. Many different panels of economists said your economic policy was inferior to Mr Obama's. This is unacceptable at a time like this. Although no one factor (or person) can be blamed for today's economic situation, very few people "in the know" liked your plan. And that's a big, big deal.

In January, Mr Obama will become the first black man to be President of the United States. Many people have said that we're overdue for such an event. I don't necessarily believe that to be the case. Instead, I believe the best candidate in this election won, and he happens to be black. This is indeed historic for our nation, and the significance of this event must not be underplayed. Internationally, we have sent a message that the American Dream lives on. Nationally, we've reiterated the message that racism is not only wrong, but unfounded, and that anyone from any background can ascend to the highest position in - arguably - the world. White, black and brown, all Americans should be proud of Mr Obama today.

Mr Obama energized the young demographic, and in many ways, you insulted it. His message of hope and optimism captivated our country, and like any good grassroots movement, it only built on its own momentum. You tried to play catch-up, and it showed. What seemed effortless to him seemed pained to you, and we noticed.

While I don't believe any one person can solve all of our problems - especially in this day and age and in this country (we're not in a dictatorship or monarchy) - Mr Obama will gain a favorable Congress and will likely advance many of his causes. I wish you the best in the future, and hope you will strive to fulfill the claims you made last night in your speech conceding the election to our President-elect.

Here's to the future,


Monday, November 03, 2008

And Your Winner Is...

Make you voice heard. Vote now.

And think about giving this site a read before you actually vote.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Republican Party

Presidential Candidate: John McCain
Vice-Presidential Candidate: Sarah Palin
Party Founded: 1854
# of registered voters: 55 million

Yar, maties. It be time for the final post of me breakdown of the candidates on Colorado's 2008 Presidential ballot. In the pirate garb, fighting for the Republican Party, it be John McCain, war hero, career politician, and former cap'n of the "Straight Talk" schooner. There's no debating John McCain's credentials as an honest, trustworthy American who honestly believes he's doing the right thing for the country. His valor has been proven in the line of duty and his service to his country has extended from the time he returned home a war hero.

John McCain has broken from the Republican Party ranks on numerous occasions, but recently - for many reasons - he's seemed a bit more reluctant to stray too far from home. His work in the past, such as the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act (2002; which is why each advert during the election includes the statement, "I'm ____________, and I approved this message), is considered to be an example of legitimate bi-partisan work, helping to work "across the lines" within the Senate. Other examples of his bi-partisan work include work with Joe Lieberman on the 9/11 Commission and Fritz Hollings on the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. According to a Gallop poll, McCain's "favorable" rating from 1999 - 2008 has remained largely above 50%, recently rising above 60%.

In another recent series of polls, Americans gave John McCain the nod - should he be elected President - on issues such as national security, the wars, immigration, crime and values. He is a moderate Republican, and while he voted with the President - and other Republicans - 90% of the time, his party was obviously concerned with securing the "far right," and chose Sarah Palin as his VP candidate.

McCain is generally more of a state's rights supporter, believing many issues should not be regulated by the Federal Government. This stance applies to issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. He is for stem-cell research, believing it's going to happen either way, so it might as well be regulated. He has broken with Republican ranks on many issues related to the environment.

But John McCain has stuck with the GOP on a number of topics, such as his affirmation of the Patriot Act, his support of the wars in Afgan and Iraq, and his general financial and economic policies. He famously admitted that he "doesn't know as much about the economy" as he should. Even if this is true, I didn't need to hear it, not right now, anyway. He should try and fake it if he must, because The Economist's recent poll of economists felt strongly that Mr Obama's economic plan was stronger than Mr McCain's - and it wasn't even close.

When it comes down to it, most people will vote for the wrong reasons. They'll vote for the candidate they believe is "doing God's work (they're both 'Christians')," or the one who's not black, or the one who speaks the best. They'll vote about a candidate's stance on an issue that's never going to change, or their party affiliation, or they'll cast a vote most popular with their friends, who aren't guaranteed to make an educated vote, either.

I guess you need to figure out what's most important to you, personally. Read through Obama's and McCain's platforms, look into the qualifications of their second-in-line, and see which you think will help lead our country toward a more prosperous economy and sustainable future on a world stage. See where they come out on education, crime, the wars and anything and everything else you believe is important for our country's future. And heed the advice of well-qualified experts in said fields. Your friends - while influential in your day-to-day life - may not be qualified economists (the same can be said for your family). And if they are, they may not be the best person to talk with about values, foreign policy, or immigration. There's simply too much information for anyone who doesn't spend their entire life analyzing all of the issues.

It's easy to become passionate about the election. The adverts would have you believe the fate of your life hangs in the balance. But lets be honest. Life will go on. The election - and your support for or dislike of any given candidate - shouldn't come between you and friends and family. Often times, we don't make good decisions when we're too close to any issue, or too emotional. Respect other people's opinions, actually look at each side of an issue you find important, and make a qualified decision. Remember, just because someone you know votes for Obama doesn't make them stupid, and just because you vote for McCain doesn't mean you're incapable of thinking for yourself. Don't perpetuate stereotypes, don't vote emotional, and do your best to make a grown-up decision. Voting without researching the issues is as deplorable as not voting at all.

Please come back tomorrow and cast your vote - keeping in mind that we're pretending to be in a fantasy world where we live with a multi-party system - and vote for the candidate who'd be elected if only your vote would be counted. Don't worry, I won't judge.

JM is and will be 72 in January.

War Hero Website
Republican Party Website