Sunday, July 4, 2010

Breakin' The :Law!

Ready to go: bamboo sparklers and some sort of Cone of Death. . .

It being July 4th, I figured what better lessons could I teach my sons in Being An American than these:
  • Ignoring laws you don't agree with;
  • Buying stuff from the Chinese.
Apart from the big spectacular firework shows we'd piled in the car to see on various Fourth of Julys, the dudes have had little experience with fireworks close up and personal. Until this year, being off work the evening of the 4th was a pretty rare treat, so it seemed like the right time to be a Right-Thinking American dad and load up on some "safe and sane" fireworks for a little evening pyrotechnical display. Nothing too extreme--sparklers, a pack of Roman Candles, a few firecrackers, and some Black Snakes.

I drove over the county line into Parker County--since fireworks aren't legal in Tarrant County--to a big steel building in the country jammed with fireworks and presumably Tarrant County residents loading up for the big day. They were doing a. . .wait for it. . .bang up business. I was curious to see a Tarrant County sheriff's deputy directing traffic. . .surely he had to know that pretty much everyone leaving the parking lot with their booty was headed south, back into Tarrant County!

It's our right as Americans, I guess, to just ignore the laws we don't agree with. And I found nothing wrong with setting off a few blasts before loading the family off to the Trinity River in Fort Worth to watch the evening firework displays. But first: let's light off a sort of double-ended rocket around 5" in length that would spin around, rise "around five feet" off the ground (according to the girl at the fireworks store) and spew sparks, smoke and noise. The kids were enthralled--it looked like a damned UFO. But then it kept rising, still belching fire--15, 20, 30 feet. . even 50 feet, and it headed right off our property to land on the neighbor's roof. Hopefully, their roof was fireproof!

This wierded the kids out. On one had, I. felt the display was "way awesome!" but E. was a bit concerned about dad ending up in jail for not only torching the neighbor's home, but for violating the anti-fireworks ordinance.

Saw the fireworks downtown. It was about average as firework shows go. I promised the boys we'd light off some stuff when we got home, but it was pushing on 11pm and they were sleepy, and E., well, he was now deadset against my breaking the law and suggested we throw away what was left of the $20.96 in fireworks I purchased earlier that day.

His demeanor changed when I broke out a few sparklers. Now he had a big grin and he and brother spun and twirled around the back yard spewing multi-colored sparks. Sprinklers aren't as I remembered them--now they're bamboo instead of galvanized wire you'd be sure to either step on in the lawn or burn yourself with afterwards. And, like everything else fireworky, made in China.

But they were still fun. Even though E. won't sleep easy tonight, dreaming of a father behind bars.

I. lays out a trail of fire. . .and he's lovin' it!

The ever-serious E. takes a more traditional approach to sparkler handling.

Our Night of Living Large. . .

Here we are, sealed in the Rangers Ballpark aquarium called "The Cuervo Club"
. And, man, am I filling out that fine leather chair!

Mary and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary Saturday night. Since we're not the Jet Set (we're more the Chevro-let set, as George Jones once sang), we didn't fly off to Cancun or Vegas or Oklahoma City to party with the hoi polloi. Not that we didn't think about it--actually, we considered flying to Chicago for a weekend and maybe splurge for good seats to a Cubs Game, but that was too pricey for us as well (understandably with two kids and 1.1 incomes).

So we decided to stay at home, and take in a Rangers game from some high-priced seats (we'd entertained a night in a fancy nearby hotel as well--if any of those exist in Arlington--but couldn't swing it as I was unable to get the next morning off of work).

So, I dropped a hundred bucks a seat each on Stub Hub for a pair of plush, leather recliners in Row One of the Cuervo Club, back of the 100 level behind home plate. It's a de luxe setup. The aforementioned leather recliners, air conditioning, seat-side service, an included buffet, etc., all behind thick windows to keep out the heat.

The all-you-want-til-the-fifth-inning buffet.

Certainly was fancy enough, but there were only a handful of butts in the seats, and I'm guessing most of the patrons weren't the ones who own the season tickets on them. We sat next to a 60-ish couple from Tyler, who bought the seats on line; apparently our seats are owned by a wealthy east Texas physician who releases many of his seats for sale on Stub Hub. Behind us were a couple of young moms with a toddler along.

The buffet was nice, and all-you-can-eat, but plastic plates and forks. There were a couple of gourmet foot selections, the rest being cheese, crackers (not crackerjack!), fruit, salads and as you'd expect, hot dogs, nachos and brisket "sliders". We certainly made a few trips to the buffet line before it was taken down in the 5th inning.

Like I said, nice, but something was missing. . . such as the participation of those in the Club with the game. The glass was thick enough to keep out nearly any of the sound from outside. It was like watching a 150" high-def television three feet from your face with the sound off. The Rangers radio broadcast was piped into the club, but it just wasn't the same.

We both agreed: what's the point of going to the game if you're not experiencing what makes live baseball so great. We missed the sound of the ball on the bat, the roar of the crowd, other spectators getting up to get food and blocking your view. We missed the kid behind us tapping our seat with his foot, the smell of the beer, the cramped seating, and yes, even the wave.

Sure, it was a nice view from behind the thick glass. .

And we missed the heavy, humid evening air and the way it wrapped around us.
As Mary said, she felt like she was in an aquarium!

In the top of the eighth inning, with the Rangers up 3-0, and closer Frank Francisco headed to the mound with runners on first and second with no outs, we decided we'd had enough of the muted, detached ambience of the Cuervo Club and snuck out the side doors, into the thick air, the smells and the roaring crowd, and settled into some seats a couple sections down third base.

It was great. We watched Frankie throw a couple of key strikeouts and next inning our man Neftali Feliz breeze through the last of the White Sox batters for the save. THAT was the way baseball is meant to be watched.

I guess if you're not a fan, or like creature comforts, or want to impress dates or business clients (lord knows I don't have to impress Mary after 10 years!), then the Cuervo Club is fine. But put my ass in a hard plastic narrow seats, and me knees into the back of a stranger in front of me--and I'm a lot happier.

THIS view was better, down the first base line. Not only the view, but the ballpark ambience as well. . .

Oh Yeah, The Anniversary!

Yep, we made it 10 years. Knew we would. I'm committed to Mary and our family, and I'm here for the duration (whether she likes it or not!). Here's a few photos of our wedding on July 3, 2000, taken by my friend and fellow storm-chaser, the late Eric Nguyen. The only thing that hasn't changed is my hairstyle. Except that it's grey now, not blonde!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A New Season Begins. . .

E. is proud of his 1.00 OBP this year with the Braves. . .

We've survived winter--that long, cold, horrible Texas winter of 2010--to be reborn once again with the coming of the new baseball season.

That means, to our family, anyway, both Major League as well as Little League. And a bit down the road, probably some Minor League as well.

E. cheers on his teammates. . .

The Boys are Back in Little League

Both E. and I. are once more playing in the Pioneer Youth Baseball Softball Association in Saginaw. E. is in his second-year of Kid Pitch, I. in his first year of t-ball. My move to an afternoon/daylight schedule in the fall means that I will only be able to make about 1/3 of the boys' practices and 1/2 of their games; many thanks for duties Above and Beyond Baseball Momdom to Mary for driving the kids around, encouraging them, and keeping the house on an even keel as well.

(By strange coincidence, both E. and I. were going to play for teams named "Cubs," much to E's delight (Cubbies are his all-time favorite team, bless his Wait-Til-Next-Year heart), but some sort of drafting snafu found E. the odd-man out and relegated to a makeup team with a new coach wearing the Braves name and uniform. And so far, that's cool with him. I. is amused to find himself on the Cubs, the arch rivals of his favorite Cardinals, while his brother isn't. But I digress.)

E. has played three games so far, and has yet to make hitting contact during a game, but he's adopted a "Moneyball" philosophy of making the pitchers throw strikes, rather than the batter swinging at shitty pitches. So far, he's reached base on strikes most of the time. And in Kid-Pitch, at least for his age-level, the pitching pretty much favors the patient hitter. It's rare to see consistent strike pitching. And with PYBSA rules allowing them to steal bases, you might as well put a walked batter directly on third base.

Wow! Look at that energized, Ion-charged baseball looming behind the boys in these somewhat-cheesy portraits. Mary and I can't believe how big they're getting.

MY opening game, Thursday. Section 22, row 13 at The Temple. Temperature upper 60s. Nice!

Rangers vs. Blue Jays, Game 3: at least the weather was nice. . .

With the boys in school and Mary working, I invited friend Lance along to the Temple to catch the third game of the Rangers-Toronto Blue Jay season opener. Ranger fans are once again sounding like Cubbies faithfuls: This'll be the year. And well it might? Though the California Angels are still expected to win the AL West, their dominance isn't as assured as in years past with quite a bit of off-season tinkering. Among those cast off the roster were DH slugger Vladimir Guerrero and speedy Chone Figgins, picked up by Texas and the Mariners respectively.

It could be the tightest AL West race in a decade. And with the lowly Blue Jays (how can they compete in the big-money realm of the AL East against the Red Sox and Yankees?) here to start the season, I'm guessing the faithful were anxious to get all that Tom Hick ownership and Ron Washington first-time-using-cocaine-and-I-was-caught-oh-what-a-sad-coincidence talk behind them with a good ass-whoopin' on the Canucks.

It wasn't going to be that easy, it soon became clear. The Rangers needed a thrilling walk-off win to save opening da. The Rangers pitching let down a good offensive performance in game two (sounds familiar?) featuring back-to-back solo homers from Vlad and Nelson Cruz. Thursday's game featured the debut of C.J. Wilson in a starting pitching role for the Rangers, against Toronto's Ricky Romero. Surely they'd win the rubber match, wouldn't they?

It isn't tough to get good seats for cheap to Jays games, as cheap Stub Hub deals no doubt follow them across the country. We got great seats 13 rows behind home plate for about half-face value. It was a beautiful day for a ballgame with a 1pm start.

For the first six innings, neither Romero nor Wilson allowed runs. Though Wilson struggled early on to keep his strike count ahead of balls thrown, he was particularly strong in his final three innings, leaving in the seventh after striking out nine while walking two and allowing five hits.

Former closer C.J. Wilson looked pretty good through six innings. . .

The Rangers broke the impasse in the seventh, scoring on a Romero wild pitch in the seventh. Then the bullpen took over. Neftali Feliz, atoning for two shaky relief appearances previously was lights out--three strikeouts, toying with 100mph in the eighth.

Enter closer Frank Francisco. And you can guess the rest.

. . and Frank Francisco, who took C.J.'s closing job last year? Well, not so good. . .

Wheee! There go the wheels off this train! Toronto's Vernon Wells homered in the ninth to tie the game, ultimately giving up three earned runs in 2/3rd of an inning before Darren O'Day and Darren Oliver came to his rescue. The anemic Ranger bats--hitless aside from Vlad going 3/4, and Cruz and Murphy each contributing doubles--didn't show up when it was time for a rally, either. Game over. Jays, 3-1.

But, it's a long season. And after the winter we had, it was just great to be outdoors for a game of baseball. Too bad only 14,000 others agreed with us!

We really love this portrait of I.. . .

A Photo To Share

Usually, I'm not too excited about class photos of the boys. Hell, I've got a box of my own up on a shelf in the closet, and they're interesting "slice of time" photographs, but not usually much more. The artistic expectations of the group shot and individual poses aren't too high, and parents usually feel compelled to purchase them as some sort of historical record.

So allow me to share this year's photo of I. from his Mom's Day Out class photo shoot. I'll give credit where it's due, as this portrait of our five-year-old was taken by mzkids. They did a fine job and I admire the non-traditional class photo pose. Actually, it's probably our most-favorite studio photo of our kids yet.

. . .and there's that "farmer smile" again.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where Were You, 30 Years Ago?

A Young Man's Fancy: Train 201, Change Creek, Washington Cascades, summer 1979.

In just a few days, March 15, while I'm enjoying the warm sun of the Gulf of Mexico with my family on Spring Break in Galveston, a landmark anniversary will pass for me.

While I may not always remember my siblings birth dates, and sometimes confuse my anniversary date with the 2nd of July instead of the 3rd (it is the 3rd, isn't it Mary?), I have no trouble remembering where I was on March 15, 1980. So, excuse the self-indulgency of this post.

This fateful day marked the end of railroad operations on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad on the mainline east of Tacoma, Washington. That evening, the final eastbound train departed the empty Tideflats Yard, towing the final boxcars, log flats, cabooses and locomotives east. After 71 years of operation, the bankrupt Milwaukee Road was abandoned west of Miles City, Montana. Hundreds lost their jobs. At the time, it was the largest single railroad abandonment in United States History. That record didn't last long--within a couple weeks, the entire Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was abandoned. The failure of these two railroads was one of the last gasps of Regulation Era bankruptcies, which began in the late 1950s; it was the low-ebb of American Railroading, seven months before the signing of the Staggers Act deregulated rate-making and ushered in a new era of prosperity for railroads. It arrived a little too late to save the Milwaukee or Rock Island.

And on that evening of March 15, 1980, myself and a few others watched that last train leave town. Thirty years. Thirty-fucking years. Where did all that time go?

Self-portrait of the self-absorbed artist: Garcia, Washington, Cascade Mountains, 1978. . .

Being two weeks short of 20 years of age at the time, I knew of the historic significance of the event, but wasn't savvy enough to place it into the context of the past, the present, or the future. I'd only been on personal terms with the railroad a few years, since moving to the Seattle area in 1976. And while the Milwaukee attracted its share of attention from me, it had to share time with Burlington Northern's exotic F-units and Alco locomotives. But while my interest in the BN was largely superficially centered on locomotives, it was the Milwaukee Road itself--its route, its engineering, its operations, its locomotives (of course) and its people--that attracted my camera.

I was a Community College student in 1980, two-years into studies at Bellevue Community College. I was hoping to transfer to a four-year school to finish a degree in journalism, and worked on the school newspaper when I wasn't working 30 hour weeks at the Daily Journal-American newspaper in the production department. My free hours were typical of young men of the era: partying after hours with co-workers in a local tavern or nightclub, smoking dope in the "grotto" at the community college, and trying to keep a woman interested in me for more than a couple of dates. Then there was the Milwaukee Road.

Hotshot 201 westbound on a decrepit railroad: Roxboro, Washington, on "The Gap" in August, 1978.

Railroaders on the Milwaukee, I know now in retrospect, were unusually welcoming of the long-haired teenage railfan who turned up in the strangest places, always snapping photos, asking questions, and generally being a pest. Usually, most railfans were looked upon as vermin--the very name, railfan, seemed a derisive term to many of them. Why don't they get another hobby? they seemed to ask. Why the hell do they hang around here? But a teenager was perhaps "less threatening" to them than the typical middle-ager hanging around taking photos. For whatever reason, I was more accepted into the world of the Milwaukee railroader than the older fans, and the cab rides, hours spent following the roundhouse foreman around, or just hanging out with train order operators or dispatchers not only made me a somewhat familiar figure on the property, but planted a seed that took fifteen years to germinate before I, too hired on with a railroad (and, by strange coincidence, ended up working with a few ex-Milwaukee men I'd photographed years before!).

A favorite: Train 200 in summer rainstorm, Hansen Creek Bridge, Washington Cascades, 1978.

Train 201 leaves Snoqualmie Tunnel, Rockdale, Washington, December 27, 1978.

The last train order granting running authority for a Milwaukee Road train issued at Maple Valley, Washington, on March 15, 1980.

For an aspiring photojournalist, I was in the right place at the right time to document in words and pictures the demise of the railroad in west. Being somewhat obsessed with following my heroes Ted Benson and Dick Steinheimer into the pages of TRAINS magazine, I sold editor David P. Morgan a feature in 1978 on the Milwaukee's Tacoma Hill helpers, bestowing the nickname "Mr. Clean" on engineer Gordon Russ. But it was the feature story "Of Ryegrass and Evergreen," concentrating on the mainline between Cedar Falls and Othello, that really caught editor Morgan's eye. He gave the photo essay a full 17 pages (plus front and rear covers) in the June, 1979 issue. Needless to say, I was on cloud nine. Needless to say, I was probably a self-centered arrogant little prick for a while afterward as a result. The article extolled the wonders of two mountain passes rarely covered in the railfan press, while warning readers that the railroad's precarious financial situation could well render scenes history in short order. The old-guard railfans in Seattle thought I was crazy: Milwaukee Road? It'll never fail. Sadly, I was unusually prescient for a 19-year-old.

Milwaukee #19 leads the way on the 19-year-old's first--and best-known--TRAINS cover story.

That was a long time ago, and many, many thousand photographs ago. Maybe a half-million miles of traveling. I've since lived in Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Texas. Written magazine articles on BN F-units and Alcos, Utah copper mines, the Great Basin, Soldier Summit, and Australian Alcos. I've authored a book on railroads in Utah (book authoring: a never-again experience!). And I've certainly made better photos than those early Milwaukee efforts. And even though many of those have been published, it's been the Milwaukee Road photographs, and usually the TRAINS article, that I'm perhaps best known for. Given the subject matter, the rawness of the photographs, and the beloved history of the railroad itself, I'm guessing I couldn't top it if I tried. I'm sure if someday I rate an obituary in the pages of TRAINS, it'll mention that article on the Milwaukee Road from the summer of 1979.

Imagine that: a has-been at age 19!

Over in the closet is a big box containing my black and white negative collection. Most of what I shot on the Milwaukee Road was done in black and white; very little of that has ever been printed. I've been telling myself for years that I need to get back into the negatives and see what I can glean from my four years along the Milwaukee. Those past 30 years have gone by like a flash; I only hope I have 30 years more to enjoy this good Earth.

From the distance of middle-age, about the only words of advice I can give to the 19-year-old railfans to today who dismiss 50-year-olds like myself as fossils from another era are the final words from that photo essay from 30 years ago:

"Dig it while you can."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sick of politics? Read this, Americans. . .

I'm sick and tired of the divisiveness of politics in America today. Years ago--not too many, actually--folks could disagree about the policies leadership was putting forth in this country and then go about their business. No longer. I've never seen such a foaming-at-the-mouth group of people in America as the right wing--the conservative arm of the Republican party. These folks are delusional about how the Democrats are out to "wreck" America. Obama is the Black Devil--facts be damned, he WAS born in a Muslim country, and thus must be doing the dirty work for the terrorists!

Below is a column by Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington. Now, I will admit Huffington is a democrat, and probably considered a liberal in the grand scheme of things. But she's certainly been quite critical of the Obama administration.

Read it and decide for yourself. The world isn't black and white. And the GOP isn't really the party for the little guy, despite what the tea-baggers would have you think.

by Airana Huffington,

It takes awhile to make sense of the entrails of the Republican Party, partly because they are just so toxic, but also because it's actually difficult to comprehend that an American political party can so deliberately sabotage its own government and nation.

But after observing their behavior and their policy of, "Just Say No" -- sometimes to their own suggestions, one can only surmise that they long ago left the business of governing and have instead agreed to a covert game plan of destruction while simultaneously playing an overt game of seduction with the American public. The seductive part of their plan is the one more familiar to the public -- constantly talk about what the people want to hear. No more taxes. Defend the country. Go Conservatives. Minimal government.

Meanwhile, the depth, width, and long range planning of the Republicans' dark strategy should have every American shaking with terror, especially since it is picking up momentum once again.
As I observe the constant aggressive and non-cooperative behavior of the Republican Senators that is so outlandish as to border on choreographed (if not near-treasonous), it's blatantly obvious that the long term Republican agenda is to sabotage this Democratic administration so successfully as to make it appear responsible for all the failures of the Bush administration while simultaneously preventing this administration from accomplishing anything on its own merit, even to the detriment of the good of this nation.

If their plan succeeds -- and it's certainly gaining ground, unfortunately -- the Republicans have a good chance of returning to the White House. How tragic for this nation to find itself returning to the dark days of "rule by fear". Just picture Cheney and Rove laughing behind the scenes. That one image alone should be enough of a reminder as to why the American people should wake up and recognize these political spell-casters for what they really are -- corporate loyalists with Fascist leanings.

That Republicans honor corporate loyalties over their loyalties to the Constitution are beyond question and these policies became publically official with the passing of the recent Supreme Court ruling last month. With that ruling, Republicans have succeeded in outsourcing our own government, as corporate interests are international as well as national. That ruling alone makes their Tea Party gatherings a real head scratcher, as the last folks in line for any Republican benefits are the common folk, which largely comprise their army of modern day Brown Shirt Tea Party hysterics.

If these people could only see through the real agenda of the Republicans, they would realize that they are merely being used as upstart noisemakers, no more than public distractions to create havoc for the Democrats. They actually believe that the Republicans are on their side, listening to their issues and protests when all the Republicans want them to do is make noise. Listening is not part of the Republican bargain. Don't they get that? Why don't these people remember the Bush/Cheney administration?

Bush and Cheney were the closest Americans ever came to being ruled by dictators. Don't these people get that the Republicans are against health care because they are fundamentally against any and all forms of assistance? If they could take away Social Security and Medicare, in all likelihood, they would. How is it possible that these Tea Party Brown Shirts do not understand that in supporting the Republicans, they are in fact supporting their own demise?

How soon these people forget that they have lost their jobs and homes and are continuing to lose both because of Republican de-regulation policies (among other policies) that the Republican House and Senate could have stopped - but didn't. Why? Because common folk do not and never will matter to the Republican Party any more than the Constitution does. Just review what the Bush/Cheney administration did to our Constitution for proof. They took a weedwacker to it. One more Republican administration and the coup will be complete. Wait until these Tea Party Brown Shirts gather and try protesting if -- God forbid -- the Republicans get back into office. They'll be met with police armed with weapons and the Patriot Act and that will be the end of those little social gatherings, or would they be called "uprisings" then?

Certainly the Clinton administration added to the deregulation debacle but let's face it, the inspiration and fuel behind these policies picked up steam under the Bush/Cheney administration. The Democrats have their own list of sins against the American system, to be sure, which is long and historic, without a doubt. But by comparison to the present agenda of the Republicans, the greatest crime that the Democrats are presently committing is that they are not doing the job that they were sent to Washington to do - which was to represent the Democratic agenda and take on those Republican bullies.

Next, we have Sarah Palin, one of the more covert schemes of the Republican agendas. What makes Sarah part of Republican covert strategy? Simple-Sarah doesn't even realize that she is being used by the Republican brain trust as their Vamp distraction - the poor thing. She actually thinks she has something to offer this country when, in fact, even her own party is probably laughing at her behind the scenes. She is the Republican Court Fool, an idiot mouthpiece who writes notes on her hands in order to get through an appearance and lacks the insight due to an over abundance of vanity and ambition to realize that her own party intends to toss her to the wolves as soon as her usefulness as a Vamp distraction is done. Anyone who doubts this has only to wait and see.

Now that the Republicans have good looking, smooth talking Scott Brown, they are not going to risk their money on Palin again. No way. As soon as they no longer need someone to make outlandish, ridiculous, uneducated, near-illiterate statements that cause controversy, they'll ship her back to the big A. Republicans are known for being ruthless but when it comes to Sarah, ruthless is fine with me.

That the Republican tactics are working is not surprising, though it is unfortunate. Given that the Democrats had the majority in both Houses and the White House, they still have acted like the minority party since Obama's swearing in, bullied by the Republicans, unable to get their policies and agendas passed. Compromise is one thing but the Democrats have turned compromise into an act of apology for winning this past election. As for those so-called Blue-Dog Democrats, why don't they just admit they lack the backbone to be anything at all? Lieberman certainly comes to mind.

One has to wonder if the browbeating the Democrats took under the Bush/Cheney years so battered them that they forgot how to stand up with dignity and represent their party. Or perhaps they are just old, useless cowards, incapable of doing battle any more or are they waiting for their President to end the politics of compromise and repeat the disrespect for Congress that Bush/Cheney turned into an art form? Perhaps it's a mixture of all the above. In the meantime, however, we are left with a blockade in Congress that has gone well past the critical point. How do we proceed?

As much as we Americans have this cultural tendency to want to detach from the past as quickly as possible and get on with a new future - in this case, in the form of a new Presidential administration -- sometimes such detachment lacks all wisdom. I heard a discussion among newscasters just the other day, for example, in which they bantered about whether the war in Afghanistan had "officially" become Obama's war, meaning, of course, that the nation could now shift all blame and anger from Bush for starting this massive debacle to Obama. These half journalists/half pundits decided that, indeed, the time had come to declare Afghanistan "Obama's War". If nothing else, such a decision would certainly get Republican support and fuel their much needed media controversies.

Surely the American public cannot and, in fact, should not be allowed to forget that this nightmare of a war begun under false pretenses by a president obsessed with oil and his ex-president father combined with a paranoid and devious former vice president is not just "one of those problems" another president just inherits and manages to resolve within a year. But that's exactly what suits the Republican agenda: Make this war look like Obama's failure, not ours. And while you're at it, make the economic crisis and the housing crisis look like they started with Obama instead of the truth -- that he inherited more Bush/Cheney crises that need years to resolve -- not one year.

No doubt President Obama has made several decisions in his first year that he would not make again now that he sees the consequences and now that he also realizes many in his own Congress want to see him go down. How tragic if not borderline treasonous is that? If his administration had chosen to investigate all the crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration in public view, perhaps that would have made these Republicans a bit more cooperative. But since that's just a pipe dream, maybe the Democrats should mirror some of the Republican strategy. When the Republicans say, "NO", the Democrats should yell back, "NO WAY". You are not getting the White House back and you are not turning this nation into a complete corporate state in which the Constitution is a thing of the past. The Republican creed of "less government" is in truth one of "corporate government". Their covert destructive policies need to be publically exposed again and again until even their Brown Shirt Tea Party minions can understand that this party is fundamentally dangerous to the future of this nation.


A random sampling of the residents of Chatroulette. Some of which, apparently, use their computer while not wearing pants (click for full-sized version). . .

It's not French.

You don't pronounce it "Chat-roulee". It's "Chat-Roo-let," a combination of chat and. . .well, roulette. Which is exactly what it is: you enable your computer's web cam, click on the website, push "play" and you're connected randomly to another netzien somewhere in the world.

Call it the "anti-Facebook." There's no social network here. Many of the folks you'll encounter are scary. Anti-social. Foreign. Or naked. (But that's usually men. Women like to keep their clothes on, usually.) It's disturbing, definitely. Like watching a car wreck. But it's also like a Lay's Potato Chip: betcha can't watch just once. Internet writers are raving about it.

These on-partnerships are dissolved at the click of a "next" button, and the dice are rolled again. It's completely anonymous. Mostly fleeting. You probably won't develop any long-term friendship with anyone on here (and maybe, you should be glad for that). You might develop some phobias involving penises. There's lots of those on there. Apparently, a good percentage of human males are proud of what God gave em. And there's no registration or age verification, which is a bit worry some.

In a couple hours of just randomly clicking through Chatroulette (without a web cam--I guess I'm either just shy or too much of a voyeur), it seemed as though most of those on the site were either:

  • bored young men

  • bored young women

  • groups of titillated teenagers

  • hand-written messages of the "show me your tits" variety

  • middle-aged men proud of their masturbatory technique

  • people of undetermined age or sex wearing interesting masks

The strangest glimpse was of a naked man wearing a Richard Nixon mask pleasuring himself. One stop showed a still-life scene of a bathroom shower, empty but for a ripped shower curtain and a spray of blood on the shower wall. And others danced, made faces, flipped the bird, or played music. One couple made love, though I wasn't too sure that wasn't just a porno film captured on web cam.

After a bit, I dipped my toe in the chat waters and attempted to engage a few folks in conversation. Since I didn't have a web cam, most dropped me. But I did trade messages with a middle-aged man in China (we didn't speak each other's language, but he smiled when I typed "Yao Ming), two college students in Turkey (who agreed there were "too many dicks on here"), and a college student in Taiwan studying Japanese and English who was fearful of Red Chinese military buildups. After awhile, it became sport to try to get a reaction from people with my initial message: "This is the FBI!" or "Your wife knows you're on here!"

I guess it's only a matter of time until this site--which supposedly sees upward of 30,000 computers hooked up to it at a time!--implodes, either under its own traffic, some legal issue related to use by minors, or advertising. Already, a few Chatrouletters are somehow linking their web cams to advertising messages. And some are calling it the one event that will open the door to widespread on-line video conferencing for the masses.

This is the Wild West of the internet. So far, anything goes. You can get away with anything, it seems, and there is no consequence of doing so. If you're a little brave, give it a look. But be warned. And by all means--keep your kids away.