Archive for September, 2008

Portland, Day Three

No wake-up call this time. Not even the one I had actually requested. Fortunately I am still insufficiently adjusted to the time zone change and thus I was awake in good time anyway.

Back to the conference center, wherein we discover we have gained two new faces. Well, not literally, nobody grew a second head or anything. But there were a couple of consultants there from a company named On Your Feet – this was to be a workshop on interpersonal communication, using the medium of Whose Line-style improvisational comedy.

The visual of one minorly befuddled human wandering around a room in search of a mysterious task while 40 others sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” at varying volumes will stay with me for many days, I’m sure.

After lunch, we reconvened at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) for a planetarium movie and a sneak preview of their Mindbender Mansion exhibit, which was all about puzzle solving.

Between improv comedy and puzzles, it was almost as though someone had tailored the activities to me specifically – this made for a great day out.

Unfortunately, I have another ludicrous o’clock flight in the morning and thus was disinclined to stay out for very long thereafter, but did join a small subset of the team for dinner at the Kennedy School. Their ‘Ruby’ beer may be among the greatest things I have ever had in my mouth, and I have probably had a little more of it in there than was strictly necessary.

Talked to D for a while using manager’s calling card (with permission) – L having an extremely hard time going to sleep. Not fun.

Assuming an uneventful flight back, I will probably not bother posting about the final piece of the trip, since I believe that at this point the fun has been had. Having said that, I’ll be glad to get home to D & L, and to sleep in my own bed.

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Portland, Day Two

I got punked. The person who had stayed in the hotel room before me had apparently requested a 5:45 am wake-up call, and this hadn’t been cleared from the system. I had been needing to be up at about 6:30 in order to be ready to head out by 8:00 for a day-long offsite meeting. But in a Lymanesque semi-slumber, I thanked the automated wake-up doohickey profusely and began to go about my day.

I’d like to state for the record here that the Hilton Garden Inn in Lake Oswego has an absolutely marvelous breakfast buffet, of which I partook quite liberally, to the amazement of one of my co-voyagers.

And so to Canby, OR, for a day-long meeting in which participants were exhorted to think outside the box, change the conversation, ideate on Agile approaches and above all drive revenue. Maybe it’s a function of my having an actual “real job” now, but some of these phrases have begun to make a creepy kind of sense to me.

We also got little monster-shaped finger puppets. And candy!

I couldn’t shake the business phraseology when lunch came around, and as such I made a fool of myself suggesting that we “leverage the cheesecake”. I’m positive that should be a euphemism for something, but I can’t quite imagine what.

Nevertheless, the meeting seemed productive, in that for the whole 8 hours nobody blamed anybody else for anything and everybody seemed to come away from it with a clearer idea of where we were going from here.

That being to dinner at the boss’ house. This is an absolutely gorgeous house up in the West Hills (not that this is very specific, we’re talking Portland). Knowing no people well and few people at all, I opted to be reserved and quiet while getting used to my surroundings.

And if you know me, you’ll know that’s total crap. I was my usual wise-cracking self, and flitted from conversation to conversation trying to get to know everybody at once, which is rough with 40 people in attendance. I had managed to add many of them to my Facebook/LinkedIn/etc. lists, though, so that I could also look like a creepy stalker. Yay me!

The beer was rather good also. Portland seems to be quite the city for beer, and this warrants further investigation.

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At 5:30 this morning, having woken up at ludicrous o’clock for shower and breakfast and the usual morning things, I was picked up by one of my co-workers on the way to the laughably-named Greater Rochester International Airport for a 7:25 flight. Since my last flight from a US airport had been back in 2001, the experience was rather different from what I had known. Check-in hadn’t changed much, other than there being a $15 fee for checking a bag. But hey, this is what expense accounts are for. I finagled relatively decent seats and made my way to the end of the already backed-up mass of humanity at the security checkpoint. I dutifully removed anything made of metal, took the laptop out of the bag, all of the things I knew to do. Then I saw everybody in front of me removing their shoes and putting those on the belt also. Hadn’t really thought of that, but considering the actions of one of my more moronic countrymen, it made sense. So. Off they came.

Fresh from Indignities ‘R’ Us, I procured coffee. I knew that bedtime was a long way off, and by the time of takeoff I would be sufficiently engaged in conversation and thought to make an in-flight nap unlikely. I did not, however, think to expense said coffee, even though this would have been a perfectly valid thing to do. Ah well. The recently-irradiated granola bars which I had brought along complemented the coffee as second breakfast.

The flight itself was uneventful, though I noticed the side effect of the $15 checked-baggage charge: a sea of identical black wheelie-suitcases being brought into the cabin itself, taking up space in the overhead bins and causing needless annoyance. That said, most things fit relatively well, we left on time and arrived in Chicago just a little ahead of schedule.

In-flight movie: none.

In-flight book: “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” – Deborah Grabien. Highly recommended if you’re into murder mysteries.

In-flight listening: the From Where You Are album by Catchpenny. Highly recommended if you’re into music.

And so to O’Hare.


O’Hare is an incredibly large and sprawling edifice. This is one of the nicest things I can say about it. That said, it was kind enough to provide me with a bagel (which I again forgot to expense – I may yet be able to recoup these things, though) for elevenses.

Had a really good seat on this one. When a guy my height can stretch out his legs on a plane without causing bodily harm or property damage, you know it’s a good seat. I was seated next to two elderly ladies who appeared to be friends despite not knowing a word of each other’s languages (English and Spanish). On the one hand, this meant that there was quiet for much of the flight. On the other, it meant that on the occasions when something needed to be communicated in both languages, I was suddenly pressed into service as an emergency backup United Nations.

Not far from our destination, the pilot called our attention to the view. Yellowstone National Park was beneath us, then later were spectacular views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier. On the surface, it can be easy to forget just how phenomenal certain things are, and I would later comment that the trip caused me to fall in love with this country all over again.

In-flight movie: the splendor of America from 33,000 feet. There might have been something on a screen, but if there was, I didn’t notice.

In-flight book: none, just the latest issues of Spin and Games.

In-flight listening: the Catchpenny album, twice more. It’s that good. Some other stuff afterward, which I allowed the iPod to choose for me.

I like Portland airport. It seems to run a lot more efficiently than most, and (at least at that time) was refreshingly devoid of arseholes.

Portland Itself

“Ocean in view, O! The Joy!”
  Lewis & Clark, reaching the West Coast

I had been warned of what to expect as far as traffic in Portland. The warning did not do it justice. 25 minutes from the terminal to the car rental place, with 20 of those being on a single street. (NE Airport Way, for anyone familiar).

Nevertheless, car was found and hotel was reached with a minimum of fuss, and co-worker and I were to present ourselves in the office. But we were starving, so we went to Applebee’s. She expensed lunch. (Oh, right! Expensing. I oughta be doing that.)

We didn’t play hooky all day, and indeed went to the office after lunch, feeling rather more refreshed but still disinclined to accomplish anything. So for the most part, the office time consisted of my being introduced to the West Coast team, at least those who were not participating in the game of musical meetings already in progress.

So quitting time came, I talked to D (using Co-worker’s cellphone due to unlimited long-distance plan) about the impending challenge of getting L to go to sleep, and headed out for hotel via dinner. There were a couple of quick stops along the way, one at Goodnight Room to pick up a toy for L, and one to get some white chocolate covered gummi bears, half of which are being saved for D along with a few souvenirs. Dinner at Qdoba, thus satisfying a long-running jonesing. This place needs to open up a location in Rochester. Soon. And I remembered to expense it!

Way too tired to attempt a night out in Portland, so came back to the hotel and talked to D online for a little bit, then attempted sleep. Failed. Went downstairs to the lobby and walked around for a bit, pausing briefly for a complimentary cookie. Back upstairs. Need sleep now.

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Perhaps the only silver lining to the twin catastrophes of Ike and Lehman is that the media dust is finally settling on McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for running mate. With that in mind, I’m going to try to look at both tickets with as strong a hype-filter as I can muster.

First of all, I should say that McCain made a risky but brilliant move in picking Palin, for a variety of reasons: she’s young and fresh; she’s attractive and charismatic; and she’s a member of a “minority demographic”. These three things collectively neutralize a massive piece of Obama’s media advantage, while also giving McCain some much-needed credibility with the less moderate elements of his base. Many of the nation’s “likely Republican voters” care about a candidate’s views on only three things: guns, gays and God. To which Palin gives them a longed-for yes, no, and hallelujah.

Obama, in choosing Biden, has made a sensible choice, but one which is too safe, too pedestrian, to fire the imagination of today’s news junkies. Living as we do in the era of the ever-shortening news cycle and 24-hour coverage, Obama’s choice still barely made a splash compared to the hype preceding it. Joe Biden has strong economic and foreign policy credentials, both areas in which Obama needed bolstering, but he still went with what is being perceived as a boring option. After the weeks of “will they, won’t they” regarding an Obama/Clinton ticket – the suspense almost reaching Mulder and Scully levels – the press were rather more disillusioned than they would have been with Clinton, Kaine or Sebelius.

McCain has, with his choice, largely abnegated his own attacks on Obama’s lack of experience. Obama, with his, has severely damaged the credibility of his message of overthrowing the Washington establishment. With both of these central thrusts rendered impotent, it is hardly surprising that of the two now-completed tickets, the favorable coverage has predominantly been on the more audacious – and more glamorous.

Of course, none of the above even begins to address the question of anyone’s fitness for the position to which they aspire. Swiftboating aside, there are of course pros and cons to both of them.

The Vice-Presidency of the United States has in many cases been a position of great prestige and little actual responsibility. The President has a chief of staff, a communications department, a wide-ranging and experienced Cabinet, an Attorney General, a Surgeon General, the Joint Chiefs and the various intelligence agency heads from whom to draw information. Amongst all of this, the opinion of a single person, even a Vice-President, does not necessarily carry much weight. Historically the role has often been to perform largely ceremonial duties, staying out of the way while the actual governing gets done. These have been Vice-Presidents whose sole purpose has been to continue sucking air longer than the President, should the need arise. However, it is this last function which is perhaps the most terrifying of all; it is simply flabbergasting to think of some of these people being thrust into the position of running the country should that “heartbeat’s distance” abruptly shorten. I imagine that very few people were thrilled with the notion of a President Quayle, and I confess to great trepidation regarding the possibility of a President Cheney.

While other Vice-Presidents have executed their offices laudably and very much to the nation’s benefit, I would not wish to lose sight of the fact that the primary duty of a Vice-President must be to step in and fulfil the constitutionally appointed duties if the worst should befall a President. A Vice-President should be someone solid, reliable, just as much “ready to lead from day one” as the President; what happens if on January 19th, as the President-elect jets into DC, the plane has an accident? I, for one, have to trust that at any moment, the second-billed actor in the great play will be in the starting gate and ready to run the same race. Mixed metaphors aside, I believe that Biden would be the more capable President of the two VP candidates, were anything to happen to Obama. Given the continued existence of white supremacist movements in this country and others, this possibility cannot and must not be ruled out, sickening though it seems to civilized people. In a crisis of such magnitude, America needs someone with the experience to act as the nation’s guiding hand. A fresh face still finding her expensively-shod feet would be a catastrophic backup should McCain’s advancing age get the better of him, saddening though that prospect is.

So with the question of the Vice-Presidency taken care of, who would make the better President? As I mention above, I believe that the vice-presidential choices ultimately put a point in Obama’s column, but that is merely one point among a great many. How do they stack up?

There are a number of deciding factors which will make or break the election for a candidate. The American public’s willingness to vote based on race or gender alone is a worrying one; a reading of online political forums quite clearly shows that there is a small but vocal subset of the population who intend to do just that, regardless of the issues. This, however, cannot be gainsaid by any words or actions by the candidates, and I can only hope that these particular groups cancel each other out enough to leave the rest of the playing field level. The deciding issues, I believe, will be Iraq (and the broader “war on terror”), the economy, and religion.

Yes, religion. Let us admit here and now that the idea of separating church from state is a myth. The new President will be sworn in on a Bible, the Pledge of Allegiance he speaks will refer to “one nation under God”, and it is inevitable that the very convictions that have shaped his views for much of his life will carry over into his actions as President. It will take at least another generation for there to be a paradigm shift of such magnitude that a candidate will be elected without any scrutiny of his or her religious beliefs, and many of the voting public want to know that the country’s top dog believes in their God just as ardently as they do themselves, in order to be able to put any trust in his decision-making. And this is what will guide any talk of same-sex marriage, of abortion, of any of the political issues where we are splintered by religion. Republicans have an edge here, since the more “conservative” positions tend to be better aligned with the Christian viewpoints. But there is a broader issue here: typically, those of us who are non-religious simply roll our eyes and try to logic our way through questions of religion. Those of us who are religious stand firm in the sure knowledge that Holy Scripture has already provided the answers. It is not hard to see that the latter angle inspires more passion in its adherents. At most, the former resent the intrusion of religion into their political arena, but the latter fear its removal from theirs – a much more powerful motivator. Many of these people will vote for the candidate who appears to most closely follow the guidance of the Divine, and this is a sufficiently large group as to significantly benefit McCain.

On Iraq, the candidates will inevitably be pigeonholed into the “bring ’em home” and “stay the course” boxes. The soundbite-driven news outlets will not allow any room for nuance and subtlety. As such, this part of the vote will come down to the gap between those who believe we are doing more good than harm in the Middle East and vice versa. The debates will allow them to say more, of course, but even those will be restricted to mini-speeches of pre-determined length and content rather than a frank and equal exchange of ideas; there’s no such thing as a real political debate any longer, merely a fencing match between two advertisers. However, short of a major event in the war on terror, I believe Obama has the edge here. A lot of us are sick of this war. Sick of hearing about it, sick of paying for it, sick of their country being viewed with suspicion and contempt by other nations. Truman once used the metaphorical line “Don’t spit in the soup, boys – we all have to eat.” America has been spitting in the international soup for too long now, and I believe Obama will be considered less likely to continue the spitting.

Discussion of the war, and the resulting drain on the US Treasury, will bring us to the economy. This is of course among the most complex issues that anyone faces; there are three hundred million people in this country who want their government to do more for them but still leave more cash in their wallets. This dichotomy is the core around which such phrases as “big government” and “fiscal conservative” orbit at breakneck speeds. Ultimately, though, despite the plethora of small things which make up economic policy, the intricacies of the federal budget and appropriations processes, this will boil down to which candidate does the best job of selling their policy: the one who’s trying to give you bang for your buck, or the one who’s trying to reduce the buck in the first place. Generally I would say that McCain would have an edge here, but Obama has a convenient Republican administration to blame for a national debt spiraling out of control and for gross budget deficits, and that accusation may stick.

On the whole, then, I think Obama has what it takes to make it through. Not necessarily in the landslide which some Democrats have optimistically predicted, but without having to worry too much about hanging chads.

Is he, however, the better man for the job? From what I’ve seen, I don’t think he’s perfect by any stretch, but I do believe that America needs the kind of change he purports to stand for, and I do think he can pull it off. I have a fair amount of respect for McCain (certainly more than for certain other noteworthy Republicans), but I can’t bring myself to trust in him as much as I can Obama.

You’ll notice that I left health care and education out of the big-issue list. These are important issues, but I personally believe that they will be more in the nature of tie-breakers when Super Tuesday rolls around.

I’m sure I can find more to say on all of the above, but I think I have at this point been loquacious enough to get at least an implicit “tl;dr” from pretty much all of you, so I’ll stop here. 🙂

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I may be the first and only Englishman ever to write these words; indeed, even to think them might be called heretical if not downright treasonous.

That said, England haven’t given me much to shout from the rooftops about, unless I wish to spend a great deal of time shouting ‘fuck’.

Besides, I tend to appreciate good soccer above and beyond any national/club rivalries. It’s an easy high road to take when one’s team is shit.

As would be expected of a Tottenham fan not far from 30 years of age, I learned the name Osvaldo Ardiles almost as soon as I knew what soccer was. While Mario Kempes’ bright star had already begun to fade by the time I was truly taking an interest, there was a parade of incredible talent coming to Italy from Argentina throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and I took full advantage of the nearby San Siro stadium to witness the likes of Caniggia, Batistuta and (of course) a young man named Diego, whom my countrymen regard with a mixture of superstitious awe and absolute horror, largely due to two goals scored within ten fateful minutes in 1986.

Wow, that was a long sentence. Almost as long as Maradona’s run to score the second of those goals, during which I am pretty sure he beat at least 12 English players.

I was fortunate enough to meet Maradona once, during his Napoli days, and to this day have cursed my bad luck in not having any form of writing implement to get an autograph.

In any case, the flow of talent has not by any means dried up. While Brazil are frequently considered the kings of South American soccer, from Leonidas right through to Kaká, most teams consider a fixture against Brazil to be a prestige game and a fixture against the Albicelestes to be a dangerous proposition, and with good reason. If you’ve paid any attention to soccer in the last few years, you have heard the names of Agüero, Tévez, Mascherano and Messi – the latter especially being a name to leave even seasoned defenders quaking in their boots, especially after slicing into the Brazilian defence again and again as Argentina racked up a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the Olympic semifinal just recently.

One to watch in the future, too: Andrés Ríos. This kid’s going to be terrorizing English defences himself before long.

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Something to remember…

As the world limps on through an unending torrent of bloodshed and pain, it would perhaps behoove us all to think about what this date is the anniversary of.

One hundred and two years ago, on this very date, a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi organized the first of many efforts at non-violent civil resistance. His efforts ultimately led to a huge increase in peaceful relations between ethnic groups in South Africa, a movement which subsequently helped to inspire the more recent anti-apartheid movement.

Gandhi then went on to inspire millions of people to lay down arms, believe in the power of peace and “be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Gandhi inspired three hundred million people to work for a lasting peace and a better life in a non-violent way.

What this world needs is another twenty Gandhis.

I say this not to discount the horror inflicted on America five years ago, but in response to the far greater horror which the United States and others have inflicted upon far-flung nations in the name of revenge for an act not perpetrated by those nations.

Perhaps we should be celebrating Gandhi Day on this date, rather than the cringeworthily jingoistic Patriot Day.

Perhaps if we did, three thousand lost lives might ultimately find their meaning in a greater good rather than an increasing spiral of evil.

So here’s my thought for the day: What Would Gandhi Do?

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