Saturday, June 30, 2007

A pure musical moment

Last night I was listening to the wonderful Indie 103.1 for a bit before I went out. And this is an aside but I'm now convinced listening to it is like being at your cool friend's house and every song he/she plays makes you ask "who is this?" Anyway, they played a song and I was like "well, that's cool" and so I hopped on my computer, bought it, listened to it again and then put it on my iPod. Hear music, own music.

Instant musification.

I know you can get music on your frikkin' cell phone now but it's never as easy as it sounds. This was easy and actually fun, not work. It was so good I bought several other songs and an album. More on that later.

I've been talking about that moment since the last time I sat on the floor of my chidhood room in front of my childhood tape deck and waited patiently for them to play the song again so I coud tape it. And, of course, invevitably a chunk of the DJ's voice over the first lyric. Granted that way was free, but then I suppose you get what you pay for.

Oh yeah, the song that started last night's episode was a song by John Doe, formerly of the Punk band X, and it's called "The Golden State." It's a good one. I'll try to Mog it up but right now it's being a little finicky and not letting me upload it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Green is bad for fishin'

I'm not even gonna say anything. It's funny enough on its own. I give you the senior senator from the great state of Mississippi as he debates (against, of course) the CAFE standards bill last week.

Makin' us proud. I like how he almost throws air quotes around "alternative energy." As if oil is the only thing that ever made something go.

So long as the fishin' is still good a couple hundred miles off shore, I'm fine with it. You know, 'cause that's where most normal people fish.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The new me

First off, many of you will be pleased to know the mustache met its end earlier this week. The fun had kind of run out of it and, honestly, it was itching like poison ivy pants. I’m back to normal. Oh yeah, and it also dawned on me that I was in the competition with two married guys. One of whom’s wife was out of town. Yeah, like I was gonna win that one.

Now on to more important matters.

Many of you thought I moved to Los Angeles for a job. Others thought it was for a girl. Turns out, you’re both wrong. Truth is, I moved here to play piano.


And I’ve got a new MySpace page to prove it:

Piano Mystique

Gone are the jeans, the flip flops and the t-shirts. From here on out it’s gonna be white suits and even whiter teeth. And hair gel. And highlights.

I guess this spring I’d just been looking around for some way to make a difference or a way to make the world a better place. LA’s a very progressive city, you know. And I thought to myself “what the world really needs is more straight up crap piano.” Especially now that Tesh is out of the new-age piano game.

So I bought a ridiculous white piano and I started out playing pretty decently. But thankfully I soon got bad. Real bad.

Next thing I knew I was playing hackneyed old movie scores and songs accompanied by a CD of the same crap played by the Cincinnati Symphony. I thought about getting the NY or the LA Philharmonics but then I thought “this is my dream, I’d better not screw this up.” Now I’m a multi-album selling piano player who looks like a woman and is totally gay! Yippee!

So look for me in Branson, you guys!


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mustache: The road show

Last night we took the mustache out for a little trip to Silver Lake for an art show at Cafe Stella. And since mustaches are most at home on the bus, that's how we got there. A long haul but no one said having a mustache was easy. And given the amount of Mexicans on the bus, the 'stache was right at home. Can you spot the 'staches?

Then we hit the art show.

Then we took silly mustache pictures.

And then a pic next to a stencil of something called "Mischief Photo." Lying on the ground seemed like a good idea at the time.

The ride home was fairly uneventful aside from a lot of drunks and a guy who swore he'd just been mugged and therefore couldn't pay the fare. Funny thing was, he was still carrying his bag, had two wallet-shaped lumps in his back pocket and managed to fish out the whopping $.75 fare from what sounded like 5 bucks in loose change in his pocket. Oh yeah, and he was positvely hammered and spilling Hawiian Punch everywhere from a 2-liter bottle. Nothin' but class!

It wasn't until we literally got to our stop that some drunk Mexican guys got into a shouting match with a couple of black guys and taunted one another with "get off the bus" that things really got interesting. We just laughed and got off the bus. Then we crossed the street and looked back to see the whole bus involved in total brawl. A complete melee had broken out and people were running from the bus. Right on Vnice Boulevard, mind you. This wasn't cracktown or violenceville. It was so bad I called 911. Never done that before. Fortunately, it took them a while to get to the call so I hung up before they answered. The fight had subsided and the bus ended up leaving.

Public transporatation. Catch it!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Macho? No so much macho?

It’s occurred to us that we never set any parameters for judging the mustache contest. Fullness? Bushiness? Shape? Style? Or is it simply who keeps theirs longest? We’re not sure. All I know is my lip itches and I’m extremely aware of it. I know it's there.

When I’m talking to anyone all that’s going through my head is “they’re looking at my ‘stache, they’re looking at my ‘stache…” Probably admiring it, but looking at it nonetheless. And people keep saying it looks like a porn star ‘stache. Although we did have a grand time last night as we had a table of mustaches at the OtherRoom. I think people noticed.

Yesterday we had a lengthy conversation about the implications and ramifications of mustache wearing. A lot of responsiblity comes with it. I mean, it says things about you whether you like it or not. It takes a certain kind of man to wear a 'stache. A certain sense of machismo. Which is kind of nice when you work in like the whitest collar industry known to man.

That being said, I don’t know that it’ll make it through the weekend.

Maybe Friday night.


And mad props to my man Mike for keeping it mustache-real in Dallas.

That's a nice Chicago-style 'stache. A real Dytka 'stache. The kind that says "hey friend, let me hold that sauerkraut for you while you finish that Polish sausage. It'll be here when you're ready."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Quien es mas macho?

You're lookin' at him.

In honor of the first day of summer or the fact that all of our bosses are in France or something like that, we're in the midst of a mustache contest amongst a few of us here at work.

I'm at least in second place.

Maybe third.

Out of an original four.

We lost a man early on who felt his "looked bad." Yeah, like a mustache makes anyone look "better" or more "trustworthy" or "upstanding."

Some "you look like..." comments I've received so far from co-workers who've evaluated our 'staches: "a dirtball", "a porn star", and my favorite "a seventeen year old with a gold chain."

I'll be in my Camaro if anyone needs anything.

Monday, June 18, 2007

June gloom

There's a little phenomenon here on the west coast called "June gloom" which basically involves a marine layer of moisture that in the late afternoon/early evening rolls in off the ocean and, mercifully, cools down the city. And then it sticks around until about noon the next morning. It's kind of nice in terms of temperature regulation and all that. I mean, we don't have air conditioning so we should be thankful for it.

But to hear people talk about it you'd think it was "June locusts" or "June toxic cloud" or "June everyone-gets-audited."

To the people who started warning me of the impending gloom in mid-April upon my arrrival and still talk of its horrors, I say this: move to Austin, TX. Move to Atlanta, GA. Hell, move to NYC. June gloom's got nothing on heat and humidity that make you feel like a Peep in the microwave.

But then again, I imagine people in heaven still wish their flowing robes were softer or the cloud on which they sleep had a little better back support.


She's an elusive little thing isn't she?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Strange days

Sorry for not writing much the past couple of days but something’s been on my mind. Constantly. And, honestly, there’s no good way to say this other than I’m an idiot.

Somehow last fall between all my traveling and the holidays and whatever, I missed seeing a little movie called “Stranger than Fiction.” I know, I know. No idea why as it came highly recommended from like three separate sources—one I should have trusted for sure. But I didn’t. I finally watched it the other night now that my Netflix is all address changed and back in the groove.

And I gotta admit, between me and you, it kinda blew my mind. So much so I watched the whole thing, credits-to-credits, again last night. I even rewound several scenes. Several times each. And I’m convinced I’m in love with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Sweet mother of Jesus. Not since Uma Thurman in Tarantino flicks has someone exuded such cool.

This scene is goddamn incredible.

And the ending is pretty much as solid as it gets.

I’ll be analyzing it for years to come. It works on so many levels: fate, the effect of numbers and measures on our modern lives, the whole “little did he know” discussion, life/art reflections, God. It’s even way better the second time with all the foreshadowing making sense. Killer art direction and a soundtrack loaded with Spoon songs? And that The Jam demo playing while he reads his ending on the bus? Are you kidding me?

I’m convinced it’s my new favorite movie.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What are we so scared of?

Yesterday I finally got around to reading the Newsweek cover article regarding America beyond the Bush years. And it turned out to be the most inspired piece of journalism I've read since this all began. If only our leaders were as enlightened and free of political stupidity as Fareed Zakaria. If only our president had left the goddamn country like once before he took office we wouldn't be living in the fear we are.

Honestly, it kind of encapsulatates my thoughts on the matter over the past couple of years. And pay attention to Obama's response to "what if we had another terror attack." Someone's actually thinking.

Here it is:

Beyond Bush
What the world needs is an open, confident America.

By Fareed Zakaria
June 11, 2007 issue

In the fall of 1982, I arrived in the United States as an 18-year-old student from India. The country was in rough shape. That December unemployment hit 10.8 percent, higher than at any point since World War II. Interest rates hovered around 15 percent. Abroad, the United States was still reeling from Vietnam and Watergate. The Soviet Union was on a roll, expanding its influence from Afghanistan to Angola to Central America. That June, Israel invaded Lebanon, making a tense situation in the Middle East even more volatile.

Yet America was a strikingly open and expansive country. Reagan embodied it. Despite record-low approval ratings, he exuded optimism from the center of the storm. In the face of Moscow's rising power he confidently spoke of a mortal crisis in the Soviet system and predicted that it would end up on "the ash heap of history." Across the political aisle stood Thomas (Tip) O'Neill, the hearty Irish-American Speaker of the House, who personified the enormous generosity and tolerance of old-school liberalism. To a young foreign student the country seemed welcoming and full of promise.

Today, by almost all objective measures, the United States sits on top of the world. But the atmosphere in Washington could not be more different from 1982. We have become a nation consumed by fear, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed. While the Bush administration has contributed mightily to this state of affairs, at this point it has reversed itself on many of its most egregious policies—from global warming to North Korea to Iraq.

In any event, it is time to stop bashing George W. Bush. We must begin to think about life after Bush—a cheering prospect for his foes, a dismaying one for his fans (however few there may be at the moment). In 19 months he will be a private citizen, giving speeches to insurance executives. America, however, will have to move on and restore its place in the world. To do this we must first tackle the consequences of our foreign policy of fear. Having spooked ourselves into believing that we have no option but to act fast, alone, unilaterally and pre-emptively, we have managed in six years to destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face.

In a global survey released last week, most countries polled believed that China would act more responsibly in the world than the United States. How does a Leninist dictatorship come across more sympathetically than the oldest constitutional democracy in the world? Some of this is, of course, the burden of being the biggest. But the United States has been the richest and most powerful nation in the world for almost a century, and for much of this period it was respected, admired and occasionally even loved. The problem today is not that America is too strong but that it is seen as too arrogant, uncaring and insensitive. Countries around the world believe that the United States, obsessed with its own notions of terrorism, has stopped listening to the rest of the world.

More troubling than any of Bush's rhetoric is that of the Republicans who wish to succeed him. "They hate you!" says Rudy Giuliani in his new role as fearmonger in chief, relentlessly reminding audiences of all the nasty people out there. "They don't want you to be in this college!" he recently warned an audience at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. "Or you, or you, or you," he said, reportedly jabbing his finger at students. In the first Republican debate he warned, "We are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us." On the campaign trail, Giuliani plays a man exasperated by the inability of Americans to see the danger staring them in the face. "This is reality, ma'am," he told a startled woman at Oglethorpe. "You've got to clear your head."

The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and—by some definitions—torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?

The presidential campaign could have provided the opportunity for a national discussion of the new world we live in. So far, on the Republican side, it has turned into an exercise in chest-thumping. Whipping up hysteria requires magnifying the foe. The enemy is vast, global and relentless. Giuliani casually lumps together Iran and Al Qaeda. Mitt Romney goes further, banding together all the supposed bad guys. "This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hizbullah and Hamas and Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood," he recently declared.

But Iran is a Shiite power and actually helped the United States topple the Qaeda-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Qaeda-affiliated radical Sunnis are currently slaughtering Shiites in Iraq, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are responding by executing and displacing Iraq's Sunnis. We are repeating one of the central errors of the early cold war—putting together all our potential adversaries rather than dividing them. Mao and Stalin were both nasty. But they were nasties who disliked one another, a fact that could be exploited to the great benefit of the free world. To miss this is not strength. It's stupidity.

Such overreactions are precisely what Osama bin Laden has been hoping for. In a videotaped message in 2004, bin Laden explained his strategy with astonishing frankness. He termed it "provoke and bait": "All we have to do is send two mujahedin ... [and] raise a piece of cloth on which is written 'Al Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses." His point has been well understood by ragtag terror groups across the world. With no apparent communication, collaboration or further guidance from bin Laden, small outfits from Southeast Asia to North Africa to Europe now announce that they are part of Al Qaeda, and so inflate their own importance, bring global attention to their cause and—of course—get America to come racing out to fight them.

The competition to be the tough guy is producing new policy ideas, all right—ones that range from bad to insane. Romney, who bills himself as the smart, worldly manager, recently explained that while "some people have said we ought to close Guantánamo, my view is we ought to double [the size of] Guantánamo." In fact, Romney should recognize that Guantánamo does not face space constraints. The reason that President Bush wants to close it down—and it is he who has expressed that desire—is that it is an unworkable legal mess with enormous strategic, political and moral costs. In a real war you hold prisoners of war until the end of hostilities. When does that happen in the war on terror? Does Romney propose that the United States keep an ever-growing population of suspects in jail indefinitely without trials as part of a new American system of justice?

In 2005 Romney said, "How about people who are in settings—mosques, for instance—that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror? Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping?" This proposal is mild compared with what Rep. Tom Tancredo suggested the same year. When asked about a possible nuclear strike by Islamic radicals on the United States, he suggested that the U.S. military threaten to "take out" Mecca.

Giuliani praises the Bush administration's aggressive approach for preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil after September 11. Certainly the administration deserves credit for dismantling Al Qaeda's infrastructure in Afghanistan and in other countries where it once had branches or supporters. But since 9/11 there has been a series of terrorist attacks in countries like Britain, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia—most of which are also very tough on terrorism. The common thread in these attacks is that they were launched by local groups. It's easier to spot and stop foreign agents, far more difficult to detect a group of locals.

The crucial advantage that the United States has in this regard is that we do not have a radicalized domestic population. American Muslims are generally middle class, moderate and well assimilated. They believe in America and the American Dream. The first comprehensive poll of U.S. Muslims, conducted last month by the Pew Research Center, found that more than 70 percent believed that if you worked hard in America, you would get ahead. That compares with 64 percent for the general U.S. population. Their responses to almost all questions were in the mainstream and strikingly different from Muslim populations elsewhere. Some 13 percent of U.S. Muslims believe that suicide bombings can be justified. Too high, for sure, but it compares with 35 percent for French Muslims, 57 percent for Jordanians and 69 percent for Nigerians.

This distinct American advantage—which testifies to our ability to assimilate new immigrants—is increasingly in jeopardy. If leaders begin insinuating that the entire Muslim population be viewed with suspicion, that will change the community's relationship to the United States. Wiretapping America's mosques and threatening to bomb Mecca are certainly a big step down this ugly road.

Though Democrats sound more sensible on many of these issues, the party remains consumed by the fear that it will not come across as tough. Its presidential candidates vie with one another to prove that they are going to be just as macho and militant as the fiercest Republican. In the South Carolina presidential debate, when candidates were asked how they would respond to another terror strike, they promptly vowed to attack, retaliate and blast the hell out of, well, somebody. Barack Obama, the only one to answer differently, quickly realized his political vulnerability and dutifully threatened retaliation as well. After the debate, his opponents leaked furiously that his original response proved he didn't have the fortitude to be president.

In fact, Obama's initial response was the right one. He said that the first thing he would do was make sure that the emergency response was effective, then ensure we had the best intelligence possible to figure out who had caused the attack, and then move with allies to dismantle the network responsible.

We will never be able to prevent a small group of misfits from planning some terrible act of terror. No matter how far-seeing and competent our intelligence and law-enforcement officials, people will always be able to slip through the cracks in a large, open and diverse country. The real test of American leadership is not whether we can make 100 percent sure we prevent the attack, but rather how we respond to it. Stephen Flynn, a homeland-security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that our goal should be resilience—how quickly can we bounce back from a disruption? In the materials sciences, he points out, resilience is the ability of a material to recover its original shape after a deformation. If one day bombs do go off, we must ensure that they cause as little disruption—economic, social, political—as possible. This would deprive the terrorist of his main objective. If we are not terrorized, then in a crucial sense we have defeated terrorism.

The atmosphere of fear and panic we are currently engendering is likely to produce the opposite effect. Were there to be another attack, politicians would fulfill their pledges to strike back, against someone. A retaliatory strike would be appropriate and important—if you could hit the right targets. But what if the culprits were based in Hamburg or Madrid or Trenton? It is far more likely that a future attack will come from countries that are unknowingly and involuntarily sheltering terrorists. Are we going to bomb Britain and Spain because they housed terror cells?

The other likely effect of another terror attack would be an increase in the restrictions on movement, privacy and civil liberties that have already imposed huge economic, political and moral costs on America. The process of screening passengers at airports, which costs nearly $5 billion a year, gets more cumbersome every year as new potential "risks" are discovered. The visa system, which has already become restrictive and forbidding, will get more so every time one thug is let in.

Unfortunately, our fears extend well beyond terrorism. CNN's Lou Dobbs has become the spokesman of a paranoid and angry segment of the country, railing against the sinister forces that are overwhelming us. For the right, illegal immigrants have become an obsession. The party of free enterprise has dedicated itself to a huge buildup of the state's police powers to stop people from working.

For the Democrats, the new bogeymen are the poorest workers in the world—in China and India. The Democrats are understandably worried about the wages of employees in the United States, but these fears are now focused on free trade, which is fast losing support within the party. Bill Clinton's historical realignment of his party—toward the future, markets, trade and efficiency—is being squandered in the quest for momentary popularity. Whether on terrorism, trade, immigration or internationalism of any kind, the political dynamic in the United States these days is to hunker down.

To recover its place in the world, America first needs to recover its confidence. For those who look at the future and see challenges, competition and threats, keep in mind that this new world has been forming over the last 20 years, and the United States has forged ahead amid all the turmoil. In 1980, the U.S. share of global GDP was 20 percent. Today it is 29 percent. We lead the world in technology and research. Our firms have found enormous success in new markets overseas. We continue to generate new products, new brands, new companies and new industries.

We are not really in competition with Chinese and Indian workers making $5 a day. We want Americans to make things that they can't, move up the value chain and work on increasingly sophisticated products and services. We have an educational system that can help make this happen. Of the 20 best universities in the world, 18 are American. And the quality of American higher education extends far and deep, from community colleges to technical institutes.

Perhaps the most hopeful sign for the United States is that alone among industrial nations, we will not have a shortage of productive citizens in the decades ahead. Unlike Germany, Japan and even China, we should have more than enough workers to grow the economy and sustain the elderly population. This is largely thanks to immigration. If America has a core competitive advantage, it is this: every year we take in more immigrants than the rest of the world put together.

In many senses, the world is moving in the right direction. In continent after continent, countries are adopting more sensible policies. That is why we see the extraordinary phenomenon of truly global growth. America, Europe, Japan, China, India, Brazil, Russia, Turkey are all growing robustly. Even in Africa, the mood is different these days. Fifteen countries on the continent—with about a third of its population—are growing at more than 4 percent a year and are better governed than ever before. True, the United States faces a complicated and dangerous geopolitical environment. But it is not nearly as dangerous as when the Soviet Union had thousands of missiles aimed at American, European and Asian cities and the world lived with the prospect of nuclear war. It is not nearly as dangerous as the first half of the 20th century, when Germany plunged the globe into two great wars.

In order to begin reorienting America's strategy abroad, any new U.S. administration must begin with Iraq. Until the United States is able to move beyond Iraq, it will not have the time, energy, political capital or resources to attempt anything else of any great significance. The first thing to admit is that our mission in Iraq has substantially failed. Whether it was doomed from the outset or turned into a fiasco because of the administration's arrogance and incompetence is a matter that historians can determine. The president's central argument in favor of the invasion of Iraq—once weapons of mass destruction were not found—was that it would be a model for the Arab world. In fact, the country has fallen apart. Two million people have fled; more than 2 million are internally displaced. Shiite extremists are in power in much of the country, imposing a thuggish and draconian version of theocratic rule. Normal life for nor-mal people—schools, universities, hospitals, factories and offices—is a shambles. If anything, Iraq has become a model in exactly the opposite sense from what Bush had hoped. It has become a living advertisement of the dangers of illiberal democracy.

Things could improve in Iraq over time. But that will take years, perhaps decades. It would be far better for us to reduce our exposure to the current civil war, draw down our forces, let Iraq's internal political forces play themselves out and restrict our troops to certain limited but core missions. We need to continue the battle against Qaeda-style extremists, maintain a presence to reassure and secure the Kurdish region, and continue to train and keep watch over the Iraqi Army. All this can be done with a substantially smaller force—about 50,000 troops, which is also a more sustainable level for the long haul.

The administration has—surprise—tried to play up fears of the consequences of a drawdown in Iraq (which is always described as a Vietnam-style withdrawal down to zero). It predicts that this will lead to chaos, violence and a victory for terrorists. When we listen to these forecasts, it is worth remembering that every administration prediction about Iraq has been wrong. Al Qaeda is a small presence in Iraq, and ordinary Sunnis are abandoning support for it. "If we leave Iraq, they will follow us home," says the president. Can they not do so now? Iraq's borders have never been more porous. Does he think that Iraqi militants and foreign terrorists are so distracted by our actions in Iraq that they have forgotten that there are many more Americans in America?

As for the broader Sunni-Shiite civil war, even if we improve the security situation temporarily, once we leave the struggle for power will resume. At some point, the Shiites and the Sunnis will make a deal. Until then, we can at best keep a lid on the violence but not solve its causes. To stay indefinitely is simply to keep a finger in the dike, fearful of the outcome. Better to consolidate what gains we have, limit our losses, let time work for us and move on.

There is a world beyond Iraq. The primary challenge we face in the Middle East is the rise of Iran. No country has caused greater panic among American elites—of both parties. There are many influential voices arguing for military attacks on Tehran. But let's keep in mind that this is a poorly run, internally divided oil tyranny that is increasingly antagonizing the rest of the world. It is insecure enough to have arrested Iranian-American civilians and warned its own scholars never to talk to foreigners at conferences abroad. These are not the signs of a healthy system. Iran is a serious and complex problem, but it is not Hitler's Germany. Its total GDP is less than one third of America's defense budget. A nuclear-armed North Korea has not been able to change the dynamics of global politics. A nuclear-armed Iran—and we are still far from that point—will not bring about the end of the world as long as we keep it tightly contained.

After years of empty threats and foolish rhetoric, the Bush administration is moving toward a more sensible containment strategy on Iran, though one that faces continued resistance from hard-liners like Dick Cheney. The United States should ensure that the reality of a resurgent Iran brings together the Arab world. The focus should stay on Iran's actions—and not U.S. threats.

I have no magic formula to stop Iran from going nuclear, nor to change Iran's regime. But the strategy we have adopted against so many troublesome countries over the last few decades—sanction, isolate, ignore, chastise—has simply not worked. Cuba is perhaps the best example of this paradox. Having put in place a policy to force regime change in that country, we confront the reality that Fidel Castro will die in office the longest-serving head of government in the world. On the other hand, countries where we have had the confidence to engage—from China to Vietnam to Libya—have shifted course substantially over time. Capitalism and commerce and contact have proved far more reliable agents of change than lectures about evil. The next president should have the courage to start talking to rogue regimes, not as a sign of approval but as a way of influencing them and shaping their environment.

There are many specific issues that the United States needs to get far more engaged in, from the Israeli-Palestinian problem to global warming to Darfur to poverty alleviation. Most important of all is the shift of global power toward new countries in Asia, and what that means for international order and cooperation. But to succeed at any of this, we will need greater global legitimacy and participation. We are living in new times. As countries grow economically and mature politically, they are demanding a greater voice in global affairs and a seat at the high table. The United States should make sure that it is listening to these voices, new and old, and recognize that to function effectively in this new world, it can lead only through partnerships, collaborations and co-operation. The Bush-Rumsfeld model of leadership—through declarations, threats and denunciations—is dead.

Above all, the United States has to find a way to send a powerful and consistent signal to the world that we understand the struggles that it is involved in—for security, peace and a better standard of living. As Barack Obama said in a speech in Chicago, "It's time to ... send a message to all those men and women beyond our shores who long for lives of dignity and security that says, 'You matter to us. Your future is our future'."

Some of foreign policy is what we do, but some of it is also who we are. America as a place has often been the great antidote to U.S. foreign policy. When American actions across the world have seemed harsh, misguided or unfair, America itself has always been open, welcoming and tolerant. I remember visiting the United States as a kid in the 1970s, at a time when, as a country, India was officially anti-American. The reality of the America that I experienced was a powerful refutation of the propaganda and caricatures of its enemies. But today, through inattention, fear and bureaucratic cowardice, the caricature threatens to become reality.

At the end of the day, openness is America's greatest strength. Many people on both sides of the political aisle have ideas that they believe will keep America strong in this new world—fences, tariffs, subsidies, investments. But America has succeeded not because of the ingenuity of its government programs. It has thrived because it has kept itself open to the world—to goods and services, ideas and inventions, people and cultures. This openness has allowed us to respond fast and flexibly in new economic times, to manage change and diversity with remarkable ease, and to push forward the boundaries of freedom and autonomy.

It is easy to look at America's place in the world right now and believe that we are in a downward spiral of decline. But this is a snapshot of a tough moment. If the country can keep its cool, admit to its mistakes, cherish and strengthen its successes, it will not only recover but return with renewed strength. There could not have been a worse time for America than the end of the Vietnam War, with helicopters lifting people off the roof of the Saigon embassy, the fallout of Watergate and, in the Soviet Union, a global adversary that took advantage of its weakness. And yet, just 15 years later, the United States was resurgent, the U.S.S.R. was in its death throes and the world was moving in a direction that was distinctly American in flavor. The United States has new challenges, new adversaries and new problems. But unlike so much of the world, it also has solutions—if only it has the courage and wisdom to implement them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Things people at work today said regarding the Sopranos series finale and my responses to them

"I heard a guy hit his wife because he thought she sat on the remote at the ending when it went black."

Yeah? I heard a guy took his tv and then got on a plane and flew to the HBO offices where he smashed the screen in, poured gasoline into it from a can he bought at a nearby Wal-Mart and then lit it all on fire and threw it through their front window. And then he flew to James Gandolfini's house and peed in his petunias. Or something like that. I heard it.

"I heard people are cancelling their HBO subscriptions because they're so upset."

I heard people are being pretty stupid. I mean, like that's gonna show them. Frank the HBO accountant's all like "hey Tom, it looks we're short like $10 this month. You don't think someone, somewhere dropped their subscrition do you?" Surely not.

"I wish someone shot a video of people watching the finale. I bet it'd be crazy."

Yeah, that would be like the 5,948,973,028-bazilionth most popular video on YouTube. The ol' searches for "people watching Sopranos finale" would be flying off the hizzy, I tell ya! People'd be all like "dude, search for '30-somethings in an apartment watching the ending of the Sorpanos'. I wanna see if they like yell stuff." Riveting 'tube, I'm sure.

"I watched it again immediately on OnDemand."

I went and saw "Knocked Up" and it was frikkin' hilarious. You should see it too.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

LA and all her crazy charms

Went to the local awards show last night to eat, drink and watch everyone since I obviously wasn't entered. The best way to go if you ask me. Check out these two little :60 short films Ignited Minds made for LA's alternative weekly, LA Weekly.

I thought they capture the city pretty well.

Enough to share them with you.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Lick of the Fingers

It's been a while so I thought I'd give a little shout out to a new food I found particularly enjoyable. Fortunately, I've not eaten anything too unpleasant recently so no "tip of the trashcan" for now. Surely something will earn its way into that esteemed position soon. Hopefully not too soon, of course.

So, let's do this!

M&M's Ogre Sized

The whole "Ogre" thing has been done to death in like three short weeks (I mean, I love a good pun as much as the next guy but come on) but when you're quickly searching for plain M&M's at the checkout counter you don't always notice the special promotional packaging. In fact, it's not until you shake out the first couple of M&M's that you realize either your hands just got a lot bigger or your M&M's have up and done gone Ogre-sized themselves! Yes! So you eat one and it hits you: goddamn, these things is delicious! Same delicious chocolate-y goodness, just more per M&M. And ain't nothing wrong with that, am I right? Try some before they go and regular-size 'em again.

Hell, while we're here let's do another one!

Reese's Big Cup

There's that old saying about if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But I tell ya, the good folks at Reese's have done gone fixed themselves up a taste sensation with this little piece of chocolate-y, peanut-buttery goodness. Yowzers! The ol' chocolate to peanut butter ratio finally achieved perfection. I dare you to eat one. Go on, try it. Your mouth will never be the same.

Why is it when I write about food I write like a yokel? I don't know either. Them's just the words that come out, I guess. Just go with it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Queen of the Stone Age

London unveiled the 2012 Olympics logo and people apparently are up in arms about it.

What strikes me is we're passing judgment on something that has to be relevant and stylistically in place with the designs of those times. The times 5 years from now. Not to mention the 5 years leading up to that where it will be placed on everything from construction signs in and about London to baby's booties. No small feat. No pun intended.

So naturally, it's gonna be hard to get it right now. Who knows, maybe by then we'll all be in those snazzy one piece reflective suits like Mork used to where. I want one of those. Today.

At any rate, the logo:

Personally, I like it. Interesting type. It's a little Barney Rubble but at the current rate we're going that should be right in with the times then.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Casa de Me

Well, folks, I’m finally in the new place. Moved it all in yesterday. Then last night I watched some tv on my own couch, listened to my own stereo, and slept in my own bed—all for the first time since April 13th. No more storage unit, no more sublets, no more couch hopping, no more car full of clothes and stuff like a goddamn homeless person.

In other weekend news, rode bikes Friday night along the beach (full moon and all) on the way to dinner in Santa Monica at the delicious Toi Thai on Wilshire where they played the Doors the whole time. Ran into Portfolio Center bud Craig Evans randomly at a barbecue on Saturday afternoon because he lives here now (he’s been here like 3 days) and we both have friends in common so that was a surprise. And then later that night we hit the Viceroy (ahh, memories) to pass judgment on a friend’s date (the verdict: total dork) and then hit up a party (more like a get together at your grandma’s house, but to the hostess's credit, it actually was her grandma's place) up in Pacific Palisades where we were entertained with the world’s most awkwardly long Jack Sparrow imitation. Apparently the dude did some pirate stunt work at some amusement park here. Which I’m told is similar to acting. Sort of.

I mean, the whole time my mouth was wide open in shock and I was just thinking “that’s a pretty good imitation buddy, but now that we’re solidly into like minute number 4 of you not being Johnny Depp but acting like one of his characters, what do you say we give it a rest and go back to being you so I can go back to not being shocked that you’re still doing this impersonation. Still.”

And he had on a sleeveless shirt. I’m just sayin’.

And while I rarely do this in these pages, I want to send a huge thank you to one person who made the whole transcontinental move far more bearable than it would have been without him: Justin graciously met me at like 9 in the morning to help me load the truck up in Atlanta (and he brought coffee) and get me on the road at a decent hour. You the man.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Mystery Tree

I was given a little gift recently of a “Mystery Tree” which “grows” when you put a little packet of “water” in its little base and let it go. Kind of “awesome.”

Check it out.

If you're wondering why the water is kind of milky, it's because Grant felt some coffee might speed its growth. I assured him nothing about this tree is "alive." Not as far as coffee helping its foliage, anyway. Ain't no photosynthesis happenin' here.

Basically it grows a lot of little spores on it that make you think “what am I breathing in?” But, in lieu of a real plant, it’s made the office quite homey.