Thursday, September 23, 2010

Clinton's Initiative

Bill Clinton's been on the news recently. Just this morning he was on "Morning Joe." (Yes, I'm back to watching Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski - especially when I wake up at 4 a.m.!). He is in the midst of the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual event that he created a few years ago in which he gathers people with money - buy-in - and gets them organized to not only talk about economic problems here and around the world but to propose and then implement plans to fix those problems - or at least improve upon them.

I've seen Clinton now on a couple of news programs - which is nearly a miracle, since I've hardly been able to tolerate the news at all, and so basically have not been watching it. And here's my conclusion: he's good. He's really good. He's clear, he's got practical ideas, and - beyond that - he's working towards implementing those ideas by bringing people together and moving them forward.

One thing this a.m. that was particularly interesting is how he described the "gap." There is what private business does, and there is what government does. Regardless of who you think should do more, there necessarily ends up being a gap between business and government, where things - people - can fall through the cracks. So his Global Initiative targets that gap, with an idea towards implementing experiments on fixing problems that, if successful, can then be adopted and implemented in the future by either government or private business with either government or business taking the risk of failure. As Clinton explained it - if you aren't risking the investment of taxpayers or shareholders, you have a lot more freedom to try innovative things.

What also was fascinating was the relief - felt by Joe (the former Republican congressman who used to fight with Clinton back in the 1990s), by Mika (Joe's co-host, who is always fighting with Joe), and by me - the viewer. Listening to Bill Clinton was like a breath of fresh air - a moment of no fighting, no malicious soundbites - just ideas that answer current-day problems.

Scarborough did say how much everyone listening in today would like Clinton to run for president in 2012 (an impossibility, given our constitutional limitations on presidential terms). And well, it is nice to have Clinton speak of solutions so elegantly. But there's a reason for that, in my opinion, beyond the fact that he is articulate - it is that he is playing the role of Elder Statesman. He is playing it effectively, and he is, as always, really smart. But it's a role. The tone and conversation, from Joe et al, would be completely different if Clinton were currently president. And the games people are playing today would be played on him, if he were president. And the games people did play, back in the 1990s, when he was newly president (in the middle of his first term, when the Dems lost midterm elections...) And it's funny that Joe said how the Obama administration should have been using Clinton before now - given how freaked out the pundits were, back when Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, by the idea that Bill Clinton might meddle (oh my!). So, you gotta love the pundits for their ADHD qualities, and inability to remember what they said a year ago - or yesterday, for that matter. (Though Joe and Mika are better than most.)

But my gosh, Joe's right. It's great to listen to Clinton now. The morass is less, when he speaks - and when his interviewers allow him to speak with concise solutions, and talking points, from which a true and rich debate is begun. I've seen Clinton on a few interviews these past couple of days, so I know.

But even as Joe laments with our former president the tone of politics today - and even as they discuss the impact the Internet has had, to change how messages get relayed - the ticker tape below the talking heads reads how Bob Woodward's new book "exposes" the White House's internal arguments over how to handle Afghanistan. "Exposes?" Not "discusses?" Doesn't the media yet understand that sensationalizing the headline - even by the use of one editorial word versus one more neutralized one - plays right into the hands of those who would prefer that political tones today be taken to extremes? Thanks Joe, for speaking about the need for moderate tones in politics. Now fix your ticker tape so it doesn't say "expose." It's not more descriptive. It's just more inflammatory.

I do think it says something that I'm turning off television news because of extreme tones. I'm not alone. There's a reason Jon Stewart is having the "Million Moderate March" (officially the "Rally to Restore Sanity") in Washington on October 30. There are a lot of us out here who just can't take the extreme rhetoric anymore. You exhaust us. And that goes for sing-songy tones too, by the way. I'm really tired of being treated like a child, whether it be through extreme rhetoric soundbites or reassuring political voices that take on sweet tones but tell me nothing.

This is why I appreciated President Obama's town hall meeting a couple days ago - he was real and spoke in paragraphs, with lots of information (though I wish he'd spoken more about the things that they are doing in the future). And this is why I appreciated Bill Clinton this a.m. - things are being said that I can chew on, digest, understand, use.

I will say this for Bill Clinton - he energized me. He made me imagine possibilities. He spoke of the trillions of dollars that banks and businesses have on reserve, that they could spend if they chose. He spoke of proposals that the president has on the table - small business incentive programs, technological research tax credits, education and training ideas that would allow us to fill the too-many job openings that require more skills than our workers currently have... He pointed out that all these issues have a liberal and conservative point of view - that both are worth hearing - and that it's time to address them, one by one.

I've been so worried about people in this economy. I've had a dream that, if I did have extra money (some day, I will!), I'd want to hire people to do community improvement jobs - a day's wage for a day's work. I've wondered why we haven't done that, as a nation - gone back to the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, that gave jobs to unskilled labor to improve national parks, etc., back in the Great Depression. The CCC provided a public service in two ways - it gave people work that had concrete results. The stimulus - for road construction - does that a bit, I suppose. And the grander scale likely touched more people's lives than person-to-job, one person at a time. But there would be a bigger sense of movement, I think - and more people would be employed - if we went to a one-person-one-job model, even if we had to modernize it for today's times, and even if that work was not permanent. And yes, I understand that if you pay unemployment instead, that frees people up to go out and find a job that lasts. But what about self esteem? It's exhausting to worry about having no job. There's got to be a way that the CCC model can be helpful today, as the economy remains in the midst of its own recovery.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Soccer season has begun for the Grand Masters League, of which I am a member. (Grand Masters = Old People...) Our first game was yesterday. We did well. We tied twice - right at the beginning of the game when it was 0-0 (;-)), and then sometime in the second half, when it was 3-3. And while we ultimately lost, we played with heart, and with - well, I can't actually call it "intensity," but with - well, a lot of effort for a bunch of - ahem - Grand Masters.

At one point, one of my players was fighting to get to the ball before it went out of bounds. He came so close... the other team's defender blocked the view of the referee - we only get one, no linesman, very rudimentary - and the ref let the play continue without a whistle for the ball going out of bounds. I had the angle that actually showed the ball go out of bounds - just barely, but it did.

Hence the title of this entry. What is the protocol - proto"call," - in recreational sports for such a situation? For as I watched the play continue and did nothing to interrupt it, I realized that such a protocol exists.

If it had been me chasing the ball, and I had realized the ball had gone out of bounds, I more likely than not would have presumed a whistle from the referee and given the ball over to the other team. This is because: (a) the ref was probably getting ready to blow the whistle anyway; (b) these games are really hard on the ref, because he (or she) can't see every play on the field with just one of their kind; and (c) why generate bad karma?

In this case, however, it was not me chasing the ball - it was my teammate. So I didn't say anything. This is because: (a) my teammate may not have realized the ball went out of bounds, so it wasn't a matter of principle and/or karma; (b) the other team failed to protest the play - other than make a few protest sounds, not enough to get the attention of either my teammate or the ref, so anything I said would just distract from the game, and not add to it; and (c) it simply wasn't my "call" to make.

As I watched the play, and realized what I was doing - and not doing - and the decades of sport experience that went behind my in-the-moment decisions, I realized that I love soccer. I love playing it, I love being with my team, I love hanging out with my team afterwards, at whatever bar we decide to fraternize. It's just a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Speaking of bars...

When I got to where we were going after the game - The "Rock," I think it's called - it used to be "Bottoms Up," but that ownership went out of business - I parked next to a car with a gekko on the side. Yes, it was a Geico business vehicle. I didn't realize people took their business cars to bars. It seemed like an odd sight, right there at The Rock, so I took a photo of it. And sat there, listening the final beats of "Desperately Wanting" blasting on the radio. "I remember running through the wet grass... And falling a step behind.. Both of us never tiring.. Desperately wanting..."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

and the winner is...

The winner of the $150 CSN Stores giveaway contest is...

... drum roll ...

Nancy Miller! From somewhere in these United States!

Almost two weeks ago now, I was asked by CSN Stores, an internet shopping site, to host a $150 giveaway of credit for their store (their money, not mine!). So I did. That contest ended Sunday at midnight. I got entries from all over the United States, and just now had a blind drawing of all the entrants. And Nancy won! Very exciting.

I did ask people to give me feedback about the CSN website and/or to tell me what they might do with the proceeds if they won. It wasn't a requirement, but most people did do just that. I had fun reading all the entries, and learning a little about people's lives, hopes, dreams...

As for what she might buy, Nancy - the winner! - told me, "I would use the GC for the OIA 30" laundry sorter, and the Farberware Classic Stainless Steel 16 quart covered stockpot, two things that would make things a lot easier around here." As for feedback on the site, she said, " I love the variety of things they offer, although there are so many products it takes a while to search there. Thanks for having this generous contest."

It's true. They have a ton of products. And while I hosted the contest, it was CSN Stores that was responsible for the generosity.

I really enjoyed reading a little about how people would use the winnings if they won. There was the couple who recently bought an 80-year-old house, and could use extra cash for an exterior light to the main entrance, and another one for the hallway. There was the soon-to-be mom (is my assumption) who wanted to order an Atlantic Furniture crib. There was another young woman who will be married soon, and probably needs just about everything, but was hoping to buy some luggage for the honeymoon...

People talked about buying CDs, or new sandals, or a Le Crusseut Dutch Oven, or a comforter set (as a birthday present for Mom), or a kid's bookcase, a food mill, new pots from the Circulon line, Abilene cowboy boots, a new office chair, a wall clock...

I wish everyone could have won.

As for CSN Stores, people said things like:

"I love CSN, they ship fast! They always email me back when I have a question and they have been so awesome, with these giveaways they do!"

"This site is extensive. Looking forward to getting back to shopping."

"CSN Stores have so many great items and deals..."

"I like the website. I found something I have been looking for for six weeks, so thanks."

"I have bought quite a few things from CSN already - everything from toys to lights to kitchen items. I love their products and they have great customer service."

"I have lost track of time when I have gotten onto the CSN site before. There is so much to look at."

Some people provided links to their own blogs, which I read and enjoyed immensely. I particularly enjoyed Nicole-Lynn's site (the one who's getting married soon). It was just fun to see all she's doing to get ready for The Big Day.

Thank you, CSN Stores, for giving me the chance to host this giveaway and meet people around the country who I would never have met otherwise. And congratulations Nancy for your win!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Escaping Death

And you think I exaggerate...

The other day - a beautiful day - I was driving to my office from Coeur d'Alene. I pulled into the parking lot, thought about parking towards our building (an old mansion), then changed my mind and decided to park away from it, facing downhill. I swung the car around towards a number of empty spots, and went to park in one place that would have given me space between myself and the next car towards the building, but then - don't know why - I decided to park in the spot next to that car instead. This was just a little weird, since I usually like my space (so to speak). But there it was.

Now normally I'd open the car door and get out of the car with my hands full of whatever stuff I need to cart into my office. Isn't that what we all do? But this time, I decided to call a friend instead - a friend who works in this building too, though I didn't see her car in the lot...

My friend answered (what if she hadn't answered?), and we started talking.

Just then, a black truck barreled past me, backwards, on the driver's side, like someone was driving it in reverse. It rolled over the curb and down the grass, towards the (historic) building in front of me. It crashed into a tree that stood right before the building. It had missed my car by a couple inches.

Turns out, there was no driver - just a bad emergency brake that decided to take that day and give out.

It all happened fast, and slow, all at the same time. I didn't have to jump back into my car, because I hadn't gotten out of it yet. I didn't even have to watch the truck tear off my driver's side door because I had decided to sit in the car with the door closed while I had my phone conversation.

But what if I had parked one spot further away from our building? My car would have been rear ended, maybe even crushed. Or what if my friend hadn't answered her phone, which delayed my getting out of the car for just that extra few moments? Or what if it I had opened the car door and stepped out while I talked to her? As the truck came racing backwards, aimed right at me...

Or what if the tree that the truck hit - which was almost right in front of me - had just toppled forward, crushing my car, with me still in it?

I can't decide if God likes me enough to spare my life, or is yelling at me about something.

Already outside was Chris Wooley, from the upstairs photo studio (Beautiful Photo - it was his dad Larry Wooley who took the photos of my office a few months ago). Chris said it was like watching a movie in slow motion - nothing he could do to stop the impending crash... Right after, he came and took photos of the scene. Here's one that he took:

And, just to give some perspective, these are some photos I took the other day. My car was in the spot where the red car is - the tree that the truck hit is the first one off to the left of the car - as I recall, the truck leaned a little away from me as it went over the curb and into the grass, which is how it got to that tree:

And the truck came backwards towards me from the spot where the maroon vehicle is parked in this photo (that's my little white car next to it):

As you can see, the parking spots don't line up. The truck likely crossed over the white line - or was near it, at the very least. It really did miss me by just inches.

The young woman who owned the truck came out of the building from her appointment and saw the mess. I guess she was pretty upset. Our building's owner told me later that he went over with her how amazingly lucky she was - not too much damage to her truck; nobody hurt; no other car rear ended (this parking lot is usually full!); no damage to the historic building in the line of fire because a tree stood in the way; no tree crashing downward...

Yes, she was lucky. As. Was. I.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

CSN Stores Giveaway - $150!


From kitchen tables, to the plates that go on top of them, from exercise bikes to a nice pair of shoes.... it seems they have everything.

Who? CSN Stores.

About a week ago, I heard from CSN Stores, an online shopping store based out of Boston, complimenting this blog and wondering if I would be interested in giving one of my readers $150 (of their money, not mine!) to spend at their Internet store. Well, yes - yes I would. What a great deal for someone! And from CSN stores too. I'm not a big online shopper, but I had heard their name before. After spending some time on their website this past week, I can say that I'm truly complimented by their choice to ask me to host this giveaway. CSN Stores is an interesting combination of offering a huge number of products while being easy to search. On the shoe front, for instance: I did a random search for white high heels, and pulled up such pretty shoes! And when I went through the kitchen tables, I found some very sweet ones. There are a total of 200 stores (meaning, links to online shopping categories). Very cool. Check them out by clicking on the logo.

If you win the $150 giveaway, it can be used for whatever. Shipping is on you (though most shipping seems to be free on the site). But what a great opportunity, right?

TO ENTER: This is what you do. Email me at, with your name and contact information (though I guess I'll already have your email), and say that you are entering the CSN contest. It would be nice if you gave me feedback on CSN Stores - the product you might buy, your thoughts about the site - though feedback is not required to enter the contest. Enter by midnight PT on the night of September 12th. Only one entry per person. I will announce the winner shortly thereafter. The winner will be picked randomly from the entries.

Good luck! And enter by September 12th, before midnight PT.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

One American

There's that song: "I'm proud to be an American, because at least I know I'm free...."

I really like the music. I'm not so crazy about that line. "At least"? Doesn't he mean something a little more enthusiastic? And - I don't know - does that line mean that "being free" is the only good thing about being an American?

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be an American recently, especially as I read hyperbole (and actual lies) about the Islamic Community Center being planned blocks away from the World Trade Center, and wonder how it is that the majority of people oppose it (rather than rush to embrace it, glad to show the world that America is about freedom of religion and expression, and inclusion). And maybe that's another reason that line in that song bothers me - it acknowledges the singer's freedom, but not the freedom of those around him. Well yes, freedom for everyone would be implied. Except - well, the line's egocentrism seems to be just a microcosm of a larger view in the United States these days - that it's all about protecting my freedom, and keeping you under control (rather than free as well). At least, that's how it's been feeling around here.

I think of us as a young country - like a country filled with juveniles - enthusiastic, energetic, sometimes idealistic, almost always impatient. I find it hard to imagine being from someplace else. And I'm proud to be from here. But these days, it feels like we are losing our idealism while hanging on to our impatience. It makes sense. It's a scary time. Our impulsivity, as a nation, and especially since the year 2000, has led us into some tough spots. I have compassion for people who react out of fear. But I wish we could regain our idealistic roots.

I think back to 2001 - September 11, and the mornings after - and remember how beloved we were, across the world. It was a crossroads. We could choose to be brought into the fold, or we could choose to circle the wagons. In the end, fear won out over goodwill, and we circled the wagons. Such an image. Can you see it? The majority of the world reaches out to us as we turn inward. I get it. I have compassion for the wagon work. It was a scary time. But it makes me sad, that our collective better halves did not win out that day, and in the days after.

There was a line in an op ed piece the other day: "More and more of the American people are choosing to live in closed circles of collective concurrence..." It's true, isn't it? I know I personally find comfort in the impulse to find like-minded people. It still matters, though, to imagine the other person's point of view. I guess I still believe that, one on one, I can find common ground with virtually anyone - and ultimately that person will be able to see at least a part of the world from my perspective too.

I'm the kind of person who will not say "under God" when saying the pledge of allegiance, out of respect for American atheists, or who will defend in court the person who burns the flag in protest. But I am also the kind of person who looks with pride at that same flag - my flag - as it waves in the wind over a baseball field, as the national anthem plays. I swell with pride, looking at that flag and knowing the ideals that it represents, knowing that I belong to a nation that represents those ideals. Maybe that's why I fit right in here, in America. I am, at heart, an impatient, idealistic, enthusiastic soul.

Sorry. This rambles. But here we are, on the first of September, getting deeper into a recession, with our neighbors losing jobs, and with our juvenile nature kicking into the dirt - in a moment less than optimistic - and I just thought I'd pause and reflect.

One American. A multitude of emotions.

photo credit: melifaire, found here