Friday, August 29, 2008

Juneau he's old

For the record, McCain is older than Alaska, the state his running mate governs. For other things that are younger than McCain, check out this site.

Cooler than Yao Ming

The accolade I once received in Xi'an. Apparently, Obama is bigger than China. He pulled a viewership of 38 million people for his speech last night. It was a larger audience than tuned in to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

wild goose chase

I had a second interview yesterday with the Pacific Council, where I met with the VP. I'm not so sure I have a job with them, as it seems they really want someone to do publications work (annual reports, etc) at work/study rates. We shall see. I seemed to have a pretty good rapport with the VP, and she said she would see about if the pres needs some more substantial research, editing and writing. I'm not holding my breath, but it would be nice.

I had my first freakout of the school year. I had really liked my 3rd class, the one on Conflict Processes, so I gave up my search into other classes. The class seemed very interesting and I liked the professor and style of the seminar. I went to print out the materials yesterday and buy the books. As I was ready to buy the books, I glanced at what the material entailed and was horrified to find that it was drab, obtuse IR theory. This was precisely why I chose Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, cause I hated impractical and removed IR theory that seems to have no basis in practical applications of world affairs. I decided to read our first week assignments and couldn't make a dent into it. It was so dense and theory-laden that it lacked any flavor.

At this point, I got really worried. It was 3:30pm, and the last class I wanted to sit in on started half an hour prior. I didn't want to stumble into a class thirty minutes late, especially because the teacher is a co-teacher of another of my classes and I didn't want to seem rude. I decided to try to pop in during the break, because the class was an 3 hours and usually has a break in the middle. Yet I ran into another problem because I couldn't find out what the room was. The room listed was the room for facilities, and the office person and I figured this to be a mistake. The office guy called, and was given the room number for another room. I went wandering to find that, but couldn't find it as well. It turned out to be the Annenberg office, where his office was located, but I didn't figure this out until being sent around again.

Once I found out that I was on a wild goose chase, I stopped in the Annenberg office and ran into another classmate named Kate, who is in the same class. She was equally perplexed by the material, and was a little worried as well. We were equally lost and disturbed. I went to sit in the Annenberg lobby to do the reading, and told Kate to find me if she needed any help that I wasn't sure I could offer.

As I was sitting there fumbling through the reading, who appears but Prof. Gilboa, the professor of the class I was looking for. I quickly explained how I had been searching for his class to no avail, and my predicament. He laughed and told me he would take me to the class once his break was over. I grabbed Kate and we both went to the class on contemporary Public Diplomacy with Prof. Gilboa. The class was rather interesting, and more importantly, the reading was readable. I will probably switch, but give both classes one more week. As always, the good lord grants you what you need.

Meanwhile, check out this post from Dan Schnur about McCain's choice as Palin. He is teaching at USC, and was part of a panel speaking last night. The really interesting thing is that a lot of this blog I heard last night in a conversation I had with him. I decided not to be snide and ask him during the panel, that as someone associated with the iconoclastic Straight Talk Express in 2000, if he was disappointed that the McCain 2008 campaign was running such a conventional Republican campaign. I waited till after and chatted about the issue with him, and also about who the VP would be. Similar stuff we chatted about last night is in the blog. However, he thought it would be Pawlenty, while I pointed to a female choice (I thought Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman, I was right on gender, but wrong on candidate).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Live from Denver, live from Annenberg

I'm watching the Obama speech at Annenberg, and it is packed to the gills. The place is filled and overflowing out the door, yet silent enough to hear a pin drop, save the constant punctuation of applause. The media is here, covering the student reaction and interested in the student perspective on the evening. The speech is phenomenal thus far. A deft combination of policy and personal, attack on what has failed and reflection on what has worked. My G-d, what an orator. Goosebumps, chills and the like. My Kennedy, at his best. I love "the promises to keep" theme, and I love the march into the "I have a Dream" memory. Yes, we can.

In my own accomplishments, I seem to have added one more to the roll. Adding one from the most unlikely of places, dear Deseret. Under the Banner of Obama!

For your reading pleasure, check out a wonderful op-ed about LBJ and MLK.

The school week that was

As amazing as it sounds, it's only Thursday and my school week is already over. On Tuesday I interviewed at the Pacific Council, a think-tank affiliated with USC, and it appears I may have some gainful employment. I had my first class for PubD 502- Historical and Comparative Methods in PubD, taught by Prof. Nick Cull, who directs the program. The class went over a broad survey of the history of Public Diplomacy, ranging from Alex the Great's use of culture as a conquering tool, through the Medieval, Renaissance and early modern period examples of PubD, and on to the 19th and 20th century. We specifically learned about British propaganda during WWI, and the role of British propaganda to sell its side of the war to the US, and the later backlash from this propaganda in the post-war period and lead up to WWII.

That night, I caught the metro down to Hollywood and went to the Hollywood Bowl with my bff Yael, her friends Ardenne and Sherine (who is deputy-director at the Center on Pub D) for a concert by the LA Philharmonic. It was a great night, as we had a box to eat our picnic and appreciate the great music. The show was a night of German Romanticism, and included works by Wagner, Schumann and Brahms. The normal conductor was sick, and we had the treat of his understudy, a Korean wunderkind who conducted with a lot of force and energy. The performance was superb, and the Hollywood Bowl was a real treat.

Yesterday, I spent the morning walking around campus, posting fliers about a watching party at Annenberg for Obama's speech at the convention. I had my first class for Pub D 504-Global Issues and Public Diplomacy. This class looks to be rather interesting. It is taught by Prof. Cull, as well as the Diplomat in Residence Mark Smith and Eytan Gilboa- an Israeli prof on loan from Bar Ilan University. The class is like a reality show, we are divided into 4 different groups and have a week to create a presentation on the PubD issue- say one group is Turkey, one is the PKK, one is the EU, while one group judges. We get judged by our peers for the class. Sounds interesting. Meanwhile, for the first class we received a guest lecture about effective presentations, where we received an animated lecture on the ins and out of presenting- including some things I would consider counterintuitive and opposite of what I always thought to be good public speaking (better to speak too fast than too slow). Anyway, an interesting presentation on fluency, pitch, body language and delivery style.

After class, some of the class went out with some of the second year students for a drink. A few of us returned to Annenberg to watch the Dem Convention, and caught Bill Clinton's speech. Fantastic job by Mr. Clinton in bringing the party back together and passing the mantle to Obama. Biden proved his mettle and should be a good attack dog in the upcoming race. Can't wait for Obama's speech tonight, it should be something special.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to school

"Back to school! Back to school, to prove to Dad that I'm not a fool! I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don't get in a fight! Ohhhh, back to school! Back to school! Back to school! Well, here goes nothing!"
Adam Sandler in "Billy Madison"

After a five year hiatus, I am officially back in school. Luv it. I am class shopping this week for my third class. I sat in on a class on the European Union's Public Diplomacy, but decided that it wasn't for me. The class was okay, but I studied enough about the EU in undergrad and in Prague to feel that it wouldn't be too stimulating. The first class just didn't get me overly excited, with a lecture on basic principles of International Relations (Realism, Liberalism, Constructionism). I did however come to a startling discovery: the Russia-Georgia war ends the McDonald's Peace Theory. The McDonald's Peace Theory holds that no two countries with the Golden Arches in their territory have ever gone to war. This was skirted with the NATO bombing of Serbia, because the branch closed prior to war, and also with the Lebanon-Israel war in 2006, since technically the two states were still at war when McDonalds opened in both countries. However, the Russia-Georgia conflict marks the first time that two nations formally at peace, and with McDonalds respectively have gone to war. Now on to the Starbucks Peace Theory...

However, the second class I sat in on today seems to be a keeper. It was a class on Conflict Processes. I was already enrolled in the seminar, so it seems that my initial reaction (Blink) was correct. The seminar deals with conflict, crisis and war- via empirical data and case studies. The seminar looks into ethnic conflicts, crisis escalation and management, diversionary theory, terrorism and war. Should be fascinating.

I also made the discovery today that I am truly a Luddite. I bought a spiffy, new laptop so I could type up all my notes in class, only to discover that I really don't like typing up notes and prefer to do it the old fashioned way (with plume and inkwell). Oh well, I will still get considerable new use out of this fancy typewriter, even if I don't bring it to school.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

palate differences

The weekend began with some interesting cultural differences on display. I was having a black-bean quesadilla for dinner, and I gave a bite to my roomie Ha to try. Ha just recently arrived from Vietnam. She ate the morsel with chopsticks and remarked that it was good, except for that she associates black beans as a sweet food. Apparently in Vietnam, they eat a sweet black bean soup, and for her the taste of black beans as a savory food was strange. I ran into a similar situation to this when I lived in Morocco. My host brother was making a milk shake out of avocado. I took a taste and said blech. I then made him some guacamole, and he took a taste and gave the same reply I had. He associated avocados as sweet, while I saw it as a savory food.

Anyway, I went out again with Chaya, the blind date from the previous night. We went to a place called Temple Bar for some latin music that wasn't so hot. The place had a cool buddhist decor, but the performance was surprisingly lackluster.

Saturday I went out to lunch with my roomie Marcos and his twin brother Luis (I figured out how to tell them apart) for some delicious Brazilian food. A great place in a brazilian part of town that had delicious feijoada (black bean stew), meats like picanha (churrasco) and salads. My eyes were far bigger than my stomach, and I had enough to save for dinner too. I washed down lunch with guarana soda. After lunch, we went to a brazilian market, where I got some brazilian coffee and malgueta hot sauce (vinegar and little red peppers).

After a mid-day nap, I adventured to the LACMA. I took the metro, blue to purple, then caught a bus to the giant museum. After 5pm, the museum has a great Marx policy (each according to his capacity, need) and you can pay what you want. I had $2, and that got me in. I saw an awesome exhibit by Philip Lorca-diCorcia over various polaroids. His collection had some real gritty imagery that was still filled with beauty and humanity. I also visited the Chicano art exhibit and a stunning exhibit of Japanese work. The Japanese paintings were collections of panels of cranes, tigers and dragons, and were hung in a circular museum walkway that allowed you to ascend and descend past the various panels. The museum also had a fantastic outdoor piece of columns of intricate streetlamps, that are lit up by solar panels. I found that last bit out because I chatted with a fellow who worked at the museum on my commute back.

The other interesting thing is that the museum is next to the La Brea Tar pits, which scared me when I was a child. A mammoth is falling into the black tar, with his family watching. That image was etched in my 5 year old mind as something horrific and sad.

An expected quiet night turned a little boisterous as it was spent hanging out with the roomies, drinking micheladas (tecate with lime, soy sauce & worcestershire) and smoking jasmine hookah out on the veranda. This morning, I woke up early and drove down to Redondo Beach to have breakfast on the beach with my Aunt Phylis. We sat out at a sandy cafe, eating veggie omelets and watching the surf come in as we chatted about the real estate meltdown and assorted politics. Today has been a lazy last sunday before school starts.

Permanent Interests

"There are no permanent allies, only permanent interests"
-Lord Palmerston

I was listening to a fascinating radio program about Georgia, the oil component to the conflict and the Neocon role in the debacle. The program was "Live from the Left Coast" with Ian Masters and the interview was with Prof. Scott Orton, of Columbia Law School. He happened to be a professor of President Saakashvili.

Orton discussed the geo-strategic component to all Georgia-Russia war. Apparently, Putin wrote his Master's thesis about how Russia could exert power over its neighbors in Europe and Central Asia by mastering control of the natural resources of the area. Such scenarios have already been playing out, with Russia shutting off energy to both Georgia and Ukraine in the past over disagreements with each countries' respective leadership.

Another component in this is Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which was built as an alternative for oil shipment across Central Asia and to give viable options beyond Russia. A natural gas pipeline was also in the works. In part, this alternative pipeline project is what Russia was seeking to sink, and explains why Russia went into Gori, which is just north of the pipeline and also in Poti on the coast where supplies are shipped out. British Petroleum, which owns the largest stake and operates the pipeline, had to turn off the spigots of their oil pipeline just in case the fighting got too close.

Meanwhile, McCain's top aide Randy Scheunemann was also a lobbyist for Georgia. Apparently, the Georgians may have believed from him that NATO membership could be more likely than was the case. The Georgians thought their Neocon allies were making the decisions. The low-level aides at State were saying one thing, not very forcefully, while the Neocons were saying another to the Georgians about what was on the table, and the Georgians thought they had an "in." In reality, the Bush administration was caught asleep at the wheel yet again.

As we now know, the Russians were waiting for any provocation, and promptly rolled a thousand tanks and APCs into Georgia. All of the factors of geo-strategic resource interests, Georgian hubris, Russian deigns and plots, and puerile leadership from the Bush Admin combines for the current fiasco. I will post the interview once it becomes available.

In other news, a good man in Africa passed away last week. Levy Mwanawasa , the President of Zambia, died from the heart attack he suffered when at the African Union Summit over the crisis in Zimbabwe. He was one of the few African leaders to stand up to Mugabe, and the continent will miss his leadership.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama-Biden

Joe Biden, eh? Works on some levels, I guess. If ever there was a long-winded man to shore up foreign policy credentials. Sort of an un-Cheney. An old white Washington insider to help shore up the message of "hope" and change." I personally would have preferred Bill Richardson or Chuck Hagel. Maybe even Hillary instead, but she had her um, baggage. But I do understand the pick and can respect it. I'll keep telling myself its the Leo McGarry pick for Matt Santos. Just be warned Mr. Biden, don't go plagiarizing my stuff.

Friday, August 22, 2008

do-se-do

I had a blind date yesterday that actually went pretty well. I was set up with a girl named Chaya, who is friends with my bff Yael. We went out for tapas and flamenco music at a place in Venice. She had studied in Spain, and is pretty well traveled. We swapped travel stories and sipped really good sangria that had spiced hints of cherry. After dinner we wandered around the canals. Really one of the better blind dates I have had- helps that she is a most lovely (Yael's apt description), quirky Jewish girl of Moroccan descent. I'm supposed to catch up with her again tonight.

Today was the Annenberg Round-Up, an open house of sorts that was complete with a country band, bales of hay and good bbq. I did the shmooze with Yael, and we sat at a table filled with freshmen girls. Holding court with the froshes, my lord, they are young- I might have to stick to seniors . Anyway, the round-up was a hoot. I played horseshoes with my fellow PubDniks, and did some country line and swing dancing with Kimberly- a Mormon from Utah who I am trying to franchise the Tales series out to. She basically led the dance, and did a few crazy steps like balancing on my hip, and later spinning on the ground and then up on my back, and circled down until I was holding her horizontal to the ground. Thank Moroni I didn't drop her on the concrete. After, I made an appearance at Hillel to figure out about services and met the staff there.

It's amazing how life can seemingly speed up after a period of stagnancy. I have an interview with the Pacific Council on International Policy on Tuesday, keeping my fingers crossed for that one. For now, just enjoying the end of free days. Off to the hammock for some Atlas Shrugged, before I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Shabbat Shalom!

Waiting for Obama

Given the energy of the primary battle, the general election campaign was expected to be a bit of a letdown. It's been frustrating to watch Republicans seemingly successfully pull off the same old tired tricks of division and fear. It's sad to find out that McCain is not the maverick he portrayed himself to be. He is the same shrill Republican that fits in the mold of the 8 year running joke we have been dealing with. It's galling, to say the least, to see Republicans try to paint Obama as elitist when Mr. McCain owns more houses than his senility will allow him to remember. As Carville once said, it's the economy, stupid- and we need to be hammering that home. McCain is simply too out of touch and lacks the economic wherewithal to fix our current crisis- so his campaign has to distort about Obama's tax plan. We need to hear more on the economy and more of the hope theme.

I have full faith and hope that Obama will find his stride. I'm not worried about the national polls. Both Gore and Kerry had more substantial leads at this time, but weren't polling as well in the swing states that mattered or states that weren't in play like VA and NC. It's electoral math that matters, not national polls, and I like Obama's odds at picking off some longtime Republican bastions.

In the meantime, good article by David Brooks, every liberal's favorite conservative, on why Obama should pick Biden as his VP. It would be a good Leo McGarry pick, although not my first choice. I'm still hoping for a Obama-Hagel unity ticket, and think Biden would be better as Sec o' State, maybe even heading up DOD.

PS: new photos up, of my neighborhood and campus.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

By any other name

I had the work/study job fair today. It was a clusterf-ck of students jammed into too narrow a space. I applied for three jobs that sounded promising. The first for the Pacific Council on International Policy- a thinktank affiliated with USC, the second was with the Study Abroad office, and the third was the library.

For braving the hordes, I rewarded myself by visiting the Rose Garden at Exposition Park. I wandered barefoot through the blossoming and dying roses of various shades (pink, yellow, red and white) in beds named Marmalade Skies and Daydream. I just sat, sifting through ideas and stopped to smell the proverbial and literal flowers.

The Great State of....

Wisconsin. I had a Public Diplomacy shindig last night at a nice restaurant called Ciudad in downtown LA. I sat next to a loquacious fellow named Mike, who was busy promoting "Cheese Diplomacy," ie the greatness of Wisconsin. Too funny. Especially considering that Prof. Cull warned the class of my prolific blogging and that the class could find themselves discussed in cyberspace. Anyway, I offered up some words for a toast to our class, I said: "To new classmates and friends; to new opportunities and ideas." We also tied a ceremonial Indian knot, which was added to the rope of previous classes. I made the comment that if I failed, I would hang myself with it. Thanks Groucho and the ties (You Bet Your Life), but that's a different story.

Meanwhile, after two long and almost precarious years, I finally have health insurance again. I'm off to play in traffic...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

disorientation continued

I have semi-officially begun my academic career at USC (Fight on!), with the beginning of orientation on Monday. The show kicked off with the full grad school orientation, which began with a bbq. I munched veggie chili fries, while my roomie Elizabeth and I shared a table and held court with a group of Chinese exchange students. We laughed over ancient Chinese riddles, and watched a girl turn a straw into chopsticks to eat ketchup-covered french fries.

I went to a few orientation sessions about campus services, and did a walking tour around the lush campus. Also a social for the whole gradschool, which quickly ran out of cheese and left the grad students to munching garnishes. My cohorts and I made friends with a server, and she managed to snag us a few rounds of chicken wantons and taquitos. Meanwhile, we chatted with one of the waiters, who was an extra on the tv show "Dexter" and was going to be killed in an upcoming episode- only in LA.

Yesterday I caught the school bus (tram) to campus and had the Public Diplomacy orientation, and got to meet my fellow Pub D classmates. A very interesting group, comprising a wide variety of people: a few Iranians; one fellow ex-con from the Israeli FM; a Mormon girl who did mission work in Russia (Under the Banner of Putin); a fellow who was USAID in Iraq; a girl who was in Intel in the Navy; a radio DJ, among a whole cast of characters. We met the faculty involved in the program, as well as the diplomat in residence- Mark Smith, who served in Rome and Berlin among other places.

We received an interesting powerpoint lecture by Prof. Cull (who apparently reads my blog, so I will tread lightly ) on what Public Diplomacy entails- the lecture was a repeat of the one for the preview, and I already wrote about it here. We then met Dean Ernest Wilson, who stopped in to say hi. He was involved in USIA and on the National Security Council, among other projects; he seems to be a cool character, a real smooth diplomat.

After, we heard from Prof. Geoff Wiseman and Sherine Walton, who head up the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Lots of interesting stuff on tap like a lecture from the former Under Sec-Gen at the UN, Shashi Tharoor, and programs focusing on middle power PD efforts (Canada, Norway) and small, dynamic states' pd (Singapore, Switzerland). Meanwhile, the irony was pointed out that a program that was conceived in part to focus on American PD is run by an Englishman (Prof. Cull) and an Aussie (Prof. Wiseman). Prof. Wiseman teaches a class on transnational networks and PD, which sounds interesting and I might take later. We then heard from Mark Naylor, the President of the Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars (APDS), which is the student org that represents the program.

After, we had a session with Mark Smith, our dip-in-res, about life as a diplomat. He discussed USIA and its mandate to present the full spectrum of American public opinion, and mentioned a concept we heard a few times about how showcasing dissent can actually further PD because it displays openness and increases credibility. I asked him a question about possible friction between career diplomats and political appointees.

We had an academic advisement session with Joy Oaks, who is the academic director of the PD program.

We finished the evening with an engaging working dinner, discussing our Summer reading on Soft Power by Joseph Nye. We had another interesting powerpoint on the history of the components of PD: Listening- from Sun Tzu; Advovacy, from Herodotus and Xerxes outreach to other Greek states during the Persian invasion (THIS IS SPARTA!); Cultural Diplomacy, from St. Cyril and the Byzantine Christian outreach into Eastern Europe; Exchanges, from the Celts and Norse- who exchanged kids to enhance fellowship (from where we get the term "foster parents"); State-funded news, from Frederick II who would send out newsletters across Europe about how much he hated the Pope; the concept of Soft Power, from Confucius. I liked this component, because it was interesting to be reminded that none of this is new. We learned about how "Public Diplomacy" was a hollow phrase filled with benevolent meaning to counteract the conception of propaganda.

Our dinner discussion turned to differentiating between "Soft Power" and "Public Diplomacy." Soft Power is defined as the quality of "attraction," ie a way to get what you want because people identify with you through values and symbols, not because of force or coercion. Soft Power and PD can overlap, but soft power is a static resource. We learned about states like North Korea, which have Public Diplomacy but not Soft Power, vs. states like Ireland, which have Soft Power (Bar Diplomacy) but not PD efforts. There is also the interesting concept of "Restaurant Diplomacy" exercised by Thailand through its numerous Thai restaurants (due to the popularity of Thai food, Thailand exerts more influence on the world stage than similar states like Malaysia and Indonesia). We also discussed rebranding the term "soft power" because things labeled soft don't always sell in a macho world (try smart power instead).

The powerpoint concluded with a few handy lessons:
1) PD matters- but some spend little
2) Listening matters- listen first, then speak...
3) Openness matters- you don't have all the answers
4) Time matters- success is long term
5) Individuals matter- PD is about relationships
6) Information matters- others will quickly fill the void of info and shape your image
7) Dissent matters- open systems are attractive
8) Success matters- when one Western nation drops the ball, we all lose
I won't be posting all my class lectures, but for now I am afforded the time to do so.

Anywho, my question about all this was similar to one I once asked of my professor Robert Reich at Brandeis, namely what did Nye do to further Soft Power when he was Assistant Sec of Defense during the Clinton years- maybe we can invite him for a lecture and I can ask. All and all, a great opening to what looks to be a fascinating two years. It's nice to feel the cogs of my mind working again, and I am already brimming with projects and ideas. I think this will be good...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Krauthammer on Putin

Great piece by Charles Krauthammer on what the US could be doing in Georgia. I hate him when I disagree, but he is so good when we are of like minds.

As for Musharraf, truly an amazing turn of events. When I was in Pakistan some two years ago, something like this was truly far-fetched. He was firmly in power, and people were still pretty positive towards his rule. Then he overplayed his hand by sacking the Supreme Court judge and sending the dogs out on the lawyers. The rest is apparently history. As always, hubris is man's eternal downfall.

Meanwhile, we are left looking at yet another Bush foreign policy debacle, with a ton of aid going to support the Musharraf regime. Don't bother asking for the receipts. At this point, I think the Bushies are probably just counting down the days, hoping to get out before something else goes wrong.

Monday, August 18, 2008

disorientation

Yesterday I hung out with an old friend named Anne, who I worked with as an intern at the Israeli Consulate in Boston. We headed down to Venice, and I spent my last day of freedom down at the freakish carnival that is Venice Beach. She had lived there over the summer, as she was studying for the Bar Exam. We wandered around the Venice canals, and down to the madness that is Venice Beach. We spent the day strolling past street performers, punk regalia, and other assorted oddities. A nice day to spend my fleeting freedom. Now I'm off to my first day of orientation.

PS: Good luck to Dr. Julep, who is off to the chaos that is India. You can follow her travails from the link at my sidebar or her Exiting America blog.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summertime, and the livin's easy

"Life is too short so love the one you got cause you might get
runover or you might get shot
Never start no static
I just get it off my chest
Never had to battle with no bulletproof vest
Take a small example
A tip from me take all of your money and give it up to charity
Lovin's what I got
It's within my reach
And the sublime style's still straight from Long Beach"
-Sublime, "What I got"

The Daniel Pearl lecture was rather interesting. It involved hearing the perspectives of two Daniel Pearl Fellows discuss their impressions of America. The Fellowship offers foreign journalists to come work at major American papers; we heard from a Turkish journalist at the LA Times, and a Pakistani journalist at the NY Times. The discussion was moderated by the editor at the Jewish Journal of LA (who asked if I was related to Simon Rockower), where they also spend 10 days. The discussion was interesting, if at times a little predictable. When asked what they liked most about America, both fellows had interesting answers. The Turkish journalist commented about how Americans always take leftovers from restaurants and parties, and that wasn't something that normally happened in his country; the Pakistani journalist talked about his love for the 1st amendment, and how that was the greatest thing about America (the Patriot Act, he said, was the worst). And yes, Dad, I asked a good question.

After, Yael and I went to the Las Filles neighborhood, where we had some Indian food and wandered through indy bookstores and a cute French bistro.

On friday, I headed down to Long Beach to help the Obama campaign do voter registration. I took the blue line metro, which snaked through South Central LA, past Compton and Watts and down to the LBC. There were three of us volunteers at the Farmers Market in downtown Long Beach, and for a few hours I stood on the street corner trying to register people for their civic duty. Some were pathetically apathetic; some were illegal and scurried away from my registration offers; many were simply already registered. In total, in three hours, I signed up three voters (plus another two more who I gave the form). I rewarded my good civic behavior with a trip to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, the famous LBC jaunt. I had three wonderful chicken wings and an incredible waffle to make it all worthwhile. Friday evening was spent sitting on the porch with the roomies, sipping nana tea, mate and grolsch, and a macanudo slim.

I woke up early this morning and went for a bike ride through West Addams. I watched the neighborhood fade from Latino to Korean to Black and back to Latino as I biked around the quiet Saturday streets. For lunch, I had the perks of being a guinea pig at the UN, and received homemade pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) from my roommate Ha. I have been sitting in my hammock-between-palm, trying to figure out who is John Galt and enjoying the easterly soft breeze that still has the hints of the Pacific it rolled off.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

LA on my mind

I played Lance Armstrong yesterday, with a new (for me) bike. My roomie Roberto was going to throw his old bike out; I gladly took it for free-ninetynine. I drove down with Rick (Like an LA Ray) to the gas station to fill an empty tire, and I was off. It's been years since I had a bike, but it was just like....

riding a bike again. I biked all over my neighborhood and into downtown. I was peddling away, then I realized I was on a flat again. There are minimal gas stations downtown, so I walked around a bit until I found a gas station. Alas, no air working. I took a bus (while putting my new bike in that cool bike rack in front), gratis on to the last stop. I tried to fill the tire again, but it quickly went flat. I pushed the thing for a good forty minutes to the nearest bike store and got a new tube ($5).

Today, I took the metro downtown (blue to red) to go to the MOCA There was a black woman carrying a black head around like a bundle. rrrraaasssttt! I got lost on to my stop and went too far. Lost, I inquired about walking to City Hall near MOCA, to a confused why-would-you- walk look. I hoofed it around Chavez Blvd, past a Mexican Art center and little fair. There was a windpipe version of Coltrane's Favorite Things. A few of my favorite LA things: the hummingbird out my morning window, sucking nectar from the purple flowers; the light, unexpected afternoon rain; hammocks tied to palm trees.

Back to the adventure at hand, and a chapter of Galeano's the voyage-not-the port, the MOCA was okay. Most of it was closed, and it wasn't free on thursday like my guide book said (ok, after 5pm it was). The one exhibit that was open was a South African painter named Marlene Dumas (Not A&W Dumass). Lots of paintings of naked people and babies, of a fair variety. The most exquisite work I saw was an intricate flame on the brown lower back of another art patron.

Now off to an event for the Daniel Pearl Fellowship with Yael.

Georgia on my mind

It doesn't take a blind piano player to see what is taking place in Georgia: a daylight mugging. And this is the second to take place in successive months on the Global street. Last month, it was Zimbabwe where autocracy pulled off a naked power play. So much for Bush's vaunted "Freedom Agenda."

For all of President W's tough-talking swagger, he proved to be nothing more than a paper cowboy while the neighborhood bully wails away on the little guy. A pathetic and utterly feckless display by the gung-ho Texan, whose big holsters proved to be just for show.

Make no mistake, the world watches as the US does nothing of real substance to come to the aid of Georgia, an ally and friend. A truly sad display of leadership and courage as Putin and the Russian Bear run roughshod over the Pretender-in-Chief and his toughguy facade.

For a different perspective, Larry Derfner of the Jpost offers a very different opinion, one that is worth a read for a different perspective.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

lalala

I met my old counterpart yesterday, Yael who was Press Officer for LA. She just finished the Pub D program. She was previously a photographer in Somalia, Rwanda and other locations. We bonded quickly (BFF) and she took me on a tour of LA. She took me through an Art Deco section of LA, which was beautiful. We passed a Jewish temple that looked like a coptic church, and an art deco building that looked like it was from Moorish Granada. There was also a beautiful building that reminded me of the Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa.

We headed on to the Farmers Market, and had boereks (like pide) of spinach and cheese, and parsley and tomato. A bff exchange took place, Borges for Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari. After lunch, we had coffee on Rodeo Drive at a Frenchy place called Euro Cafe. Then nana shopping at the Persian Jewish market. I returned for a nap, then a low key evening of netflix movies via computer.

Today I ran errands, of my sort such as posting the last of my transcontinental photos. I visited the US China Institute, where I met the director and discussed my upcoming article on China's Jewish community with my roomie Chelsea.

Afterwards, I wandered down Fig st, taking photos. I stopped in the ornate San Vincent church, where I was greeted with golden silence. I was practically the only one there, and I enjoyed the tranquil silence that is hard to find in LA. I enjoyed the ornate silence, amid marble florid carvings and various statues, and I was wondering specifically, what if Jesus' crucifixion was merely fiction. What if it meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. What if all that was created was nothing he planned or would recognize. I wondered if he would have any concept of all that was created in his name. What if it was all idle, idol worship? But there is a God of devotion, who does know; a God of faith who accepts all prayers, regardless of whose name they are chanted in.

I left and wandered my way past a house that belonged to Fatty Arbuckle. A lovely old Tudor-style house in the middle of LA. From there, I wandered through Mount St. Mary's campus and on home to a bbq.

We had a bbq out back of my house to get all the housemates social. We had burgers and hookah and spent the night hanging out to further the social experiment. One of the strangest occurrences happened when Marcos' identical twin brother appeared. He hadn't mentioned that he had a twin, and I only found out when I saw his doppleganger standing right next to him. They were dressed in identical clothes, save different color stripes on their identical track jacket. They both study the same subject, however his brother studies at UCLA. Too bizarre. Now I'm off to bed. So far so good.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Social on Sunday

I spent yesterday enjoying LA's finest aspect, its weather, at a pool party in West Hollywood with some old friends from Year Course. I was a minority at the pool party, cause I was the only one who didn't fancy pool cues. Anywho, we all sat on out the roof and had margaritas under the cloudless azure. It's amazing how much less smog there is on weekends in LA, I could even see the mountains that surround the city.

I spent the afternoon wandering around my neighborhood and USC campus, taking photos of the day's fading sunlight painting the domed church and mosque-like auditorium. The night was spent bonding with the roomies over melon and strawberry banana hookah, greek wine and pear vodka tonics served in a flower vase. My roomies seem pretty cool, this has real potential.

I am living with an assorted cast of characters. There are two Brazilians, Rhoberto and Marcus; Rhoberto is getting his PhD in mechanical engineering, while Marcus is getting his in computer science. There is also Danny, who is a special ed teacher in south central LA. I also got to meet Chelsea, who is getting her MA in East Asian Studies. She recruited me to submit an article to USC's China Jounrnal, so I am going to write an article on China's Jewish community (The Dragon's Yarmulke). There is also a girl named Dana, who has been living here for the summer, but is leaving in 4 days to go back to school in Washington State. There is also Rick, who works at Hebrew Union College. There are a few more who I still haven't really met yet.

Apparently, all of us out last night on the front porch was more social than the previous year. We are making plans for a bbq tomorrow. My job is to bring the potato salad.

Disgusted

It is shameful the way the West is simply standing back as Russia runs roughshod over Georgia. Pathetic cowardice by the tough-talking Bushies. Wasn't Condi Rice supposed to be a "Russia expert"? Didn't Bush see Putin's soul? Amateurs. The Bushies are sitting back while Russia invades Georgia, offering little more than stern warnings. The EU and NATO are equally responsible for being truly unresponsiveness in Czar Putin's naked power play. Good article by Robert Kagan about the realities of what this war is about. Even better on the help that Georgia was waiting for on George W. Bush street. And one more from William Kristol, who I usually part company with, but we seem to agree on this matter. The reality is that Bush is both reckless and feckless, and doesn't know when to stand up and when to go away.

Meanwhile, it's apparently "say goodnight gracie" time for President Musharraf in Pakistan. Another Bush failure for backing the wrong horse, then leaving him to the wind when they realized he was not as tough as he posed to be.

PS: Someone made a great comment, "the world notices when Guilliver is tied down."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday News Roundup

Some good articles that I am posting. First, about the reality of a Chinese superpower
. From my travels there, I got to see first-hand the issues that China faces, ie pollution, poverty, and political discontents, and concluded that the notion of China becoming the next global dominant power was little overblown and better suited as a ploy to sell newspapers. It's not that I am dismissive of China, and how far it has come, I just think that there are a lot of issues in its rice bowl.

Meanwhile, as the Olympics took off with pomp and circumstance, Georgia and Russia kicked off a different kind of "Great Game." It seems that President Saskashvili and Georgia finds itself fighting the Russian bear. I happen to like the young, reformist Georgian president, but he seems to have overplayed his hand by hoping that feckless Europe or bogged-down America might come to Georgia's defense (see under: Czechoslovakia). Some good articles about what is going on: one from the NY Times called "Taunting the Bear" that explains some of the conflict's history, and one from Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post that puts the conflict in a geo-strategic context.
I don't see a good way out of this one for Saakashivili, and it is truly a pity that this pro-American democracy is getting battered around. I put some of the blame squarely on the shoulders of Mr. W, who got us so enmeshed in a war in the desert that we can't do a thing elsewhere around the world. The one highlight of Bush's foreign policy- the Color Revolutions in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Lebanon are all falling apart because we don't have the capacity to help sustain what was started.

Finally, a great post by Nicolas Kristof, about America's diplomacy deficiency.

And an addendum on whale oil, the crude before crude.

Saturday Night on the Sunset Strip

I went out tonight with my old roommates from Israel, who were in town along with another friend from Young Judaea who lives here. After getting lost in the search, we found our way to a trendy place on the strip named Ketchup. The chic place was complete with a large open window out to the LA night life and glamorous beautiful people. The place was quintessential LA, we had an appetizer of 3 different types of french fries (sweet potato, cajun and parmesan-didn't try) along with 5 different types of ketchup (mango, chipotle, and other assorted flavors). For dinner, I had a supremely LA dish of a sloppy joe made from Kobe beef for $20. Yes, I had a $20 sloppy joe, and it was incredible. Only in LA, and only allowed on my student budget as a welcoming treat.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

On my own

"Truth lies in the voyage, not the port."
Eduardo Galeano, "The Upside Down"

As my journey of 3,100 miles is now truly over, I am just settling in to my new home. I had been a little racked by nerves at the prospect of the newness, but the muse sent me some comfort in the form of wise words from Mr. Marley: every little ting's gonna be alright. I had an "a-ha" moment last night as I realized I could really enjoy this town; this revelation came after some absolutely incredible sushi at a little sushi joint called Hide that had no frills and incredible sushi. Walking around with my Dad after dinner through the Japanese market and snacking on a sweet honey peach, I decided that this could be fun.

My Dad left this morning, back to DC. Before I dropped him off, we had the fluffiest, freshest donuts at a place called Randy's Donuts- a famous spot near the airport with a ginormous donut on the roof. Now it's just me here, left to my own devices.

"LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there's a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle."
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lala land

Aka home. My Dad and I finished our journey yesterday, arriving into snarled LA parking lot traffic. I have been setting up, and getting acquainted with the barrio. The house is nice, there was just a hummingbird outside my window that flew away when a ghetto bird flew overhead. My room is definitely smaller than my Houston apartment, no shock there, but is larger than any of my dorm rooms in college. The house has a subtle charm to it, and the neighborhood seems interesting. More to follow on my new life here.

Now that my journey across the country is over, I will dispense some notes on the country. While I loved the ever-changing landscape and scores of wonderful, friendly people, I found the homogeneity of each town to be a tragedy- the same scores of Mickie D's, Burger Kings, Home Depots, Wal Marts that make every town indistinguishable. It strips the country of its soul when everything is the same from coast to coast. People who would have once worked at the mom and pop places are now serfs in corporate America's machinations. Meanwhile, the rampant materialism that corporate America has sold is a cancer. As stated by Rabbi Zemel, "materialism is idolatry." I would agree. But I will save the rants and raves for another day, because the friendliness and charm of little town USA is still so warm and welcoming that it helps overcome the great and terrible conformity. I think that is what I will take away my trip from sea to shining sea.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Zion b'ayin

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof."
-Psalm 137

We woke up early and drove on into Zion National Park. The drive in was beautiful, with the sharp jutting mountain tops bathed in morning light. We arrived to Zion National Park, got our bearings and headed in. We took the tram to the Court of the Patriarchs- three giant mountains named for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as a Mount Moroni. From there, we went on to the Zion Lodge and began our hike through the Emerald Pools. We took the Middle Emerald Pool path, a nice ascent up to clear green pools. The view of the canyon and its colored walls was beautiful. We continued our hike to the Upper Emerald Pool and took in the scenery of pink stone and white limestone with ribbed colors streaking down from water erosion. There was a nice waterfall that fed into the emerald pool. We continued the hike down the Kayenta trail to the grotto.

We took a break for lunch, then caught the tram past the Angel's Throne- a huge sandstone cliff- to the Temple of Sinawava and the Riverside walk. This was a leisurely stroll along the river, with far too tame squirrels coming up close to try to obtain food. We walked to the end of the trail then into the river and walked along the river for a while over rocks and in between the canyon walls.

Zion was was gorgeous, with its towering cliffs and vibrant colored canyon. Meanwhile, every other person was from France or Germany. Due to the weak dollar and strong euro, it seemed that half the EU had descended upon Zion.

After our day at the park, we drove off and out of Utah's beautiful landscape. We crossed into Arizona and drove through a majestic mountain pass that was littered with cacti. The pass drove through giant mountains that was awe-inspiring. We stopped to take pictures and were practically overwhelmed by the 110degree heat. I have never been in 110 degree heat; even if it is a dry heat, it is intense. We drove out of Arizona and through Nevada, stopping briefly to pass through Las Vegas (Lost Wages) but the inability to park made us decide to skip the gambling expedition so we trudged on. We crossed into California, where it was still 104 degrees at night and ended our long day in Barstow. Today we will arrive to my new home Los Angeles.

"Destruction leads to a very rough road
But it also breeds creation
And earthquakes are to a girl's guitar
They're just another good vibration
And tidal waves couldn't save the world
From Californication."

-Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Californication"

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Rocky Mountain High

We woke up to a considerably chillier Colorado morning. The temperature had dropped by 50 degrees between the dry, scorched plains and the cool mountains; the air was crisp and fresh, and filled your lungs and nostril with piney oxygen. We headed off on the road again, pushing my little corolla that could up the Rocky Mountains. We crossed the Continental Divide, the second we crossed this voyage. The verdant green trees covering the craggy mountains stood in stark contrast to the previous days's prairie scenery. We drove past the naked ski slopes of Aspen, Breckenride, Vail and other snow bunny havens.

After we crossed the Rockies, the landscape changed yet again as we were now in the sun-baked Southwest. We drove past Grand Junctions, Colorado, which lookd more like New Mexico than the middle of the state or the eastern Kansas-like section. This painted desert landscape of vast horizons is my favorite. We set off into the desert that was equal part Negev of Israel and the Great Karoo of South Africa.

We crossed from Colorado into the Mormon Kingdom of Deseret, and were welcomed with signs bearing bee hives, vast splendor of red, pink, orange and golden cliffs and clouds painting sun spots on the barren, beautiful landscape. I felt as if now I had truly shaken off the east behind and I was now awakening to a new western reality.

We stopped at a few lookouts, the San Rafael reefs and other stunning spots of stark splendor, as we made our way through the open seas of stone. We drove on through the Lake Fish National Forest, which was at times none of the above, and crossed out of the desert and into a more lush area with trees, vegetation and pockets of humanity. The rains settled over us and produced another set of brilliant rainbows above us as we crossed Cedar City. We made our way to our night's sojourn, just outside Zion National Park. On to Zion.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Auntie Em, Auntie Em

"If your bull jumps the fence, come get your steer"
-sign on a fence along route 70 Kansas

We got up early, drove down main street Abilene and went straight to the Eisenhower museum. There was an interesting little video on Ike's life and then we walked through his boyhood home. We visited the museum about his life, and collection of presidential memorabilia. The museum was interesting, but similar to every other presidential museum I have ever visited.

We got back on the road and drove through the heartland of America. As my Dad was driving, we hit a construction zone and he didn't slow down fast enough and got pulled over by a Kansas State Trooper. We were real friendly with the officer, and I tried to play up the father/son-bonding-Americana-road trip-gotta-get-to-the-baseball-game-road trip. We managed to dodge what would be an expensive bullet with just a warning, and continued our drive through fields of swaying soybeans and prairie grass undulating in the wind. The days have been super hot, reaching over a hundred degrees of dry prairie heat, and there were cows along the side of the road, wading in little pools of water.

We took a detour in Lucas, Kansas to visit the Garden of Eden. See, I had read the Garden of Eden was believed to be in Bahrain, but who knew it was in the middle of Kansas. My old roomie Jeff had given us a tip that we could find it there. We got off in Lucas, and drove past the Wilson dam to arrive at the Garden of Eden. We toured the bizarre house with its concrete statues depicting S.P. Dinsmoor's view of heaven and hell, with concrete statues of Adam and Eve, and an octopus with its tentacles on the oppressed classes. The statues looked a lot like Owl House in Nieu Bethesda and reminded me a bit of the Dali of Gamian in Patagonia. Freakishly fun.

We got back on the road and continued our drive through the prairie's simple beauty and past large wind turbines. Somewhere near the end of Kansas, we got another scare as the "check engine" light came on in my car. I was a little freaked so I quickly pulled off. I walked into a Phillips 66 and asked the cashier where the nearest mechanic was located. He pointed to a fellow having coffee. Wally the Car Doctor, as his shirt said, went to get his computer to check what the problem was. With his diagnostic kit, he was able to ascertain that we had put some fuel mixed with E-85 in accidentally, which my Dad had done back in Abilene. There was something curious that the 89 grade fuel was cheaper than the 87 grade, but luckily we just had to burn it out of the engine. Doc Wally saved us and we drove on out of Kansas and into Colorado. We dodged a second bullet, and figured it was a good time to buy lottery tickets.

As we drove into Colorado, we were greeted with more flat plains. Interestingly, Kansas hadn't seemed as flat as we figured, and Eastern Colorado seemed more of what we imagined Kansas to look like. Meanwhile, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois were also more of what we had pictured for Kansas, which was surprisingly pretty in landscape Back to Colorado, and its flat plains and the storm that rolled in and out on us. To the north, the sky was dark blue gray, while to the south the sun shone golden threw the storm clouds. The rains came and went, and we were greeted with a few gorgeous rainbows. As we approached Denver, the sun set golden yellow through the clouds over the backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountains.

We arrived into Denver just in time to catch our 4th baseball game in 4 days. The Nats were playing the Rockies, and we were dressed for the occasion and ready to be the only two fans there supporting the Nats. We walked up to the ticket window, but I managed to scalp us two tickets for $15, down from $20 which the guy originally wanted. We walked in and took "our seats" in the lower concourse on the 1st base side. The Rockies struck first for 3 runs in the 1st inning, and we thought it would be a groaner, but the Nats stormed back and trounced them. We cheered wildly throughout the game, to the jeers of the Rockies fans. Meanwhile, I tried some Rocky Mountain Oysters, which were actually pretty good. See the quote above. My Dad took one bite and went a little green. Of course, they tasted a little like chicken, but you eat them with cocktail sauce and they taste a little like fried clams too. We left the game and the Rockies fans jeered us some more: Nats suck! Yup, but I screamed back the words of my brother Harry, "Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut."

We drove out of Denver and began our ascent through the Rocky Mountains. Back on the road and the majestic mountains ahead.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Give em Hell, Harry

"I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets fell on me."
-Harry Truman

We woke up in the middle of Missouri, in New Florence for some biscuits and gravy. We had thought that there wasn't a game in KC, but when we checked the schedule, there actually was, so we quickly got back on the road to KC. We drove through Missouri's nondescript landscape, and took a detour in Independence, MO for the Harry Truman's home and presidential museum. We toured the interesting museum and saw Truman's papers. Fascinating tour of an accidental president who rose to the occasion and presided over some pretty pivotal moments as WWII ended, the Cold War kicked off, the Koreas duked it out and Israel came back into existence. I was pretty moved by the letters back and forth between Truman and his old buddy Eddie Jacobson over the recognizing the Jewish state, and also the letters between Chaim Weizmann to Truman.

We left the museum and headed to Kaufman Stadium to watch the Royals play the White Sox. We arrived to the waterfall-bedecked stadium to the middle of a Royals rally. The Royals pounded the White Sox for most of the game, as we sat under the shade in the 100 degree heat. We grabbed some incredible bbq at the game, from the KC institution named Gates BBQ. Really some of the best bbq this side of Texas.

The Royals were up 7 or 8 in the middle of the game and the bases were loaded, the White Sox pitcher Hector Carrasco came in from the bullpen and promptly threw behind Miguel Olivo. The next pitch hit Carrasco, and he charged the mound. Both benches cleared, which got the crowd on its feet. A few punches and ejections later, the game got going again. The Royals continued pouring on the runs, and we headed out for a breeze-through tour of KC.

We crossed into Kansas and stopped in Lawrence to catch up with my old friend Jeff. We stopped in Lawrence at the Bourgeois Pig for a few pints with Jeff, who was one of my roomie in Prague. He is studying Neuro Linguistics at KU, and living out his bohemian days. I last saw him in Tulsa a few years back, as we partied it up in the vampire filled streets of downtown art deco Tulsa. Anyway, Jeff gave us the tour of KU, and we saw the only hill in all of Kansas.

We headed on from Lawrence to a quick stop in Topeka to snap some pics of the capital and see the school that was the impetus for Brown v. Board of Education. From there, we drove on until we pulled in to Abilene, KS to stop for the Eisenhower Museum. Abilene lured us in, and we sat out watching the teens fill up the local drive-thrus and DQ to hang out the Kansan night. Now, off to Ike.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

In Lincoln's footsteps

We stayed the previous night with a college buddy of my dad's, named Steve. He works for Caterpillar as their chief medical officer. He lives in a little subdivision in Aggrestic, right off Wysteria lane. We had a tour yesterday through Peoria, which was essentially a tour through such pure Americana that it could have been painted with Rockwell's brush. We drove down by a nice vista overlooking the Illinois River (or to the Native Americans, "Pimiteoui" or Fat Lake). The view of the river over a lush ravine was lovely, as the morning sun shone down and shimmered over the "fat lake." We drove past some enormous houses overlooking the river. Some of the houses were even made to look like castles, complete with turrets and spires (nothing exceeds like excess).

Then we drove down through the city center and past the riverfront. It reminded me a little of Rochester or Buffalo with lots of closed down factories, some of which now being converted to loft space to try to attract the creative classes. The city itself has two main employers, Caterpillar and a few hospital systems (the Catholic hospital and the Methodist hospital don't get along). We continued our tour through a part of town that looked straight out of Great Gatsby. Old mansions from the 1920's that were built when the city had a lot of bootleggers coming down from Chicago; Al Capone even used to spend time in Peoria. Our tour ended with a quick drive through Bradley University, home of Hersey Hawkins.

From Peoria, Steve joined us and we headed past more amber waves of grain, down to Springfield. In Springfield, we first visited the tomb of Abraham Lincoln. The tomb was a marble edifice with a large obelisk with statues of Lincoln and different civil war scenes. Inside their were various statues of Lincoln as well as his marble tomb. As Stanton stated, "Now he belongs to the ages."

We drove into downtown Springfield and had lunch at Joe Rogers's chili parlor, a place famous as the best chili in America. They serve chili ranging from mild to firebrand; if you eat the firebrand, they put your name up on the wall. Of course, I was down for the challenge, so I got a bowl of the firebrand and got down work. The chili was very good, and definitely hot, but nothing that I couldn't handle. I think I have had spicier chili in Texas, and spicier foods in Thailand or India. I finished the bowl without breaking a sweat and went back to the counter to show the clerk so that I completed the challenge. I then got the attention of the entire restaurant to announce that I had demolished a bowl of firebrand and my name would be inscribed on the wall of fame, which brought me a loud ovation.

After lunch, we went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential museum, a new interactive museum about the life of Lincoln. The museum was very interesting, with good displays including a great "news broadcast" of the election of 1860, complete with the late Tim Russert playing host. After the museum, we passed by the old state house, law office of Lincoln and inside the new state house.

From Springfield, we drove on to St.Louis, Missouri to hang out under the Gateway Arch and take in a Cardinals game. InBev Stadium, er sorry Busch Stadium was packed and all we could get were standing room tickets. We managed to snag some bench seats in the outfield and enjoyed a good game between the Cards and Phillies. Observation note, Cardinals stadium was one of the whitest places I have ever seen. It was a sea of white with blond hair, dressed in red. Children of the corn are apparently Cards fans. The Cards lost 2-1 in a close game. After the game, we drove on into the night and we are on our way to Kansas City for some bbq.


Since I spent yesterday walking in Lincoln's footsteps, I will post the Gettysburg address below, which always gives me chills:

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Playing in Peoria

After crossing Maryland, West Virginia (twice), Pennsylvania and Ohio, we woke up early today in Lebanon (Indiana) and got on the road to Chicago. My Dad and I planned to make it there for the day game at Wrigley. We drove on as the morning fog still lay on the flat earth and endless farm fields, and clung to the barns and silos with an orphic glow. We crossed into Illinois, and headed into Chicago. We left Indiana early, and gained an extra hour since we forget that Chicago was an hour behind, so we met up with an old friend of mine from Houston, one Naturaleza aka Aleza.

We caught up with Aleza in downtown Chicago, near her office where she works as a paralegal and went out for tea. I met Aleza while we were stuck in traffic in Houston, basically because she had her feet on the steering wheel. She was a student at Rice at the time, and about as quirky as they come. She turned her jallopy of a car into a breast cancer awareness mobile, painted hot pink with Rosie Rivets on the hood, and rode it through the Art Car parade the afternoon following her graduation. She was the reason I went to Patzcuaro in Mexico for Dia de Los Muertos, as she had been and told me of the festivals that take place there. We lost touch as she went off to teach English in Japan through the JETT program, but reconnected recently and managed to catch up.

After tea, my Dad and I caught the "El" to Wrigley and braved the scalpers to get tickets. We waded through the scalpers, who all wanted 3x face value, and ended up buying tickets at the box office. We thought we got great seats, in the terrace area, and they would have been great- if not for the steel girder directly in front of our seats. Anyway, the game was still great even if we had to cock our necks sideways to see the game. We enjoyed chicago dogs (with sport peppers, pickles and onions), italian beef sandwiches and old style beers amid the sea of blue and white cubbies fans. Cubs fans are real baseball fans. It was a friday afternoon game, and the place was packed- not an empty seat in the house. Cubs fans actually follow the game and know when to cheer; they don't need a scoreboard and pa to exhort them to cheer.

Unfortunately the Cubs lost 3-0 to the Pirates. We caught the El back to downtown to grab my car and headed out in Chicago rush hour traffic on south, through more endless fields of corn to Peoria. We ended our day in Peoria, where my Dad has a friend. Peoria appeared from seemingly out of nowhere from the corn fields. It looks a little like Hartford, and actually seems kind of charming. Now off to interview the local Peorians to see what plays in this representative town.

Midwestern Hospitality

I was ready to write off Columbus as "not much" but on our way out, we passed through some fun looking streets filled with yuppy restaurants and cool bars. Maybe Columbus might not be a "one time." On our way out, we got lost amid construction and detours. As we were driving lost, we asked a driver at a light for directions to route 70. He told us to take a left at the next light, and didn't get to finish the directions before the light changed. We turned, but it didn't seem correct as we were going down a small street. As I was turning into a lot to go back the other way, a car pulled in behind me- it was the same guy I had asked directions. He had pulled off and followed us to finish giving directions. He pointed us in our way and drove off, back the other way. Midwestern hospitality at its best.