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Recent Posts

  1. Easy-to-follow investment tips for 2014
    Thursday, April 17, 2014
  2. Something to be grateful for on Tax Day: ambulances
    Tuesday, April 15, 2014
  3. 100,000 miles (continued)
    Thursday, April 10, 2014
  4. The death and resurrection of Archie
    Wednesday, April 09, 2014
  5. College sports are about to change (continued)
    Tuesday, April 08, 2014
  6. The Planet of the Apes pilgrimage
    Wednesday, April 02, 2014
  7. College sports are about to change
    Monday, March 31, 2014
  8. Why we should care about what happens in Ukraine
    Friday, March 21, 2014
  9. The Snackeez: Brilliant, or an abomination?
    Wednesday, March 19, 2014
  10. A post about nothing
    Monday, March 17, 2014

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Easy-to-follow investment tips for 2014

"History says stocks can keep doing well in 2014"
CNBC, December 26, 2013 

"Warning: Stocks will collapse by 50% in 2014", April 16, 2014 

"Why 2014 Should Be Another Great Year For Stocks"
ABC News, February 6, 2014

"Don't Bet Your Shirt on a Great 2014 For Stocks"
Associated Press, November 22, 2013

"Experts: stocks will go up"
CNN Money, January 6, 2014

"There's A Decent Chance Of A Stock Market Crash"
Business Insider, February 19, 2014

"Why The Next Stock Market Crash Will Happen Any Day Now"
Money News, April 16, 2014

"Now's a good time to start buying stocks"
Yahoo Finance, February 5, 2014

"Get Out of the Stock Market Now!", February 2, 2014

"Prepare For 'Massive Wealth Destruction'"
Money News, April 16, 2014

"This is the time to invest in emerging markets"
CNN Money, February 21, 2014

"Bad Time for Emerging Markets"
2417 Wall Street, January 24, 2014

"Why Now Is A Good Time To Be Investing In Stocks"
Bloomberg TV, December 31, 2013

"Buying Stocks Now May Not Be A Good Idea"
InvestorPlace, February 25, 2014

"Stock Market Freak-Out: Is Now The Time to Panic?"
Motley Fool, February 3, 2014

"Investors should stop freaking out"
CNN Money, January 30, 2014

"Markets Freaked Out"
National Review Online, March 19, 2014

"Dow still headed for 18,000, so get into stocks now"
Wall Street Journal Market Watch, February 3, 2014

"'Scared' and getting out of stocks for now"
Wall Street Journal Market Watch, April 8, 2014

"Five Types of Income Investments That Should Shine in 2014 ...
[Number 2] real estate investment trusts"

Kiplinger, February 2014

"Four Investments to Avoid in 2014 ...
[Number 2] real estate investment trusts"

Forbes, January 6, 2014

"'Not A Bad Time' to Invest In Ukraine Debt"
Bloomberg, February 20, 2014

"Ukrainian bonds were cheap for a reason, some investors are now finding out"
Quartz, February 21, 2014

"2014 'Year of the Boom!'  Bet On The Bulls Now"
Wall Street Journal MarketWatch, October 23, 2013

"Sell Signals for Stocks Seen as Bears Growl"
Bloomberg News, March 21, 2014

“We don’t see a bear market coming,” says Henry Smith, chief investment officer of Haverford Trust.
“We don’t see a bear market coming,” says Henry Smith, chief investment officer of Haverford Trust.
“We don’t see a bear market coming,” says Henry Smith, chief investment officer of Haverford Trust.
"'We don't see a bear market coming'"
Kiplingers, January 2014 (quoting Henry Smith, CIO of Haverford Trust)

"Tips on Surviving the Coming Bear Market"
Wall St. Cheat Sheet, March 25, 2014

"Market volatility ahead:  but don't panic!"
CNN Money, January 27, 2014

"Don't panic.  This is a correction, not a cataclysm"
Sydney Morning Herald Business Day, February 4, 2014

"Why You Shouldn't Panic About The Dow's 231-Point Drop Today"
Motley Fool, March 13, 2014

"No need to panic over last week's selloff"
CNBC, April 14, 2014

Stock market slide: Time to panic?"
Politico, April 14, 2014

Something to be grateful for on Tax Day: ambulances

If you're like me, and I hope you're not, you're having to write some tax checks today.  It's painful, but as I write them I always try to think of a reason why I'm writing them.

As I wrote them today, I heard sirens.  I looked out the window.  Fire trucks and ambulances were headed somewhere.

Living in DC, it's something we hear or see almost every day and don't really think about.  I pull over and let them go by.  In my Catholic grade school, they taught us to make the sign of the cross when we heard one.

I've ridden in one before.  I hope you never have to.  But you might, or somebody you know might, and people you don't know have to every day.  They come in handy when you need them.  

It's easy to forget how much goes into it.  You need a big, fast truck with sirens.  You need a way to call them and get them to where you are.  Then you need some EMTs, who might save your grandfather's life, or maybe your own life.

We take it for granted.  But none of it comes out of thin air.  Somebody has to pay for it all.  You did.  So, good job.

100,000 miles (continued)

Since my car reached 100,000 miles not quite one year ago, I have come to love it even more.  One thing I love is that it was manufactured in the years before your car arrested you and threw you in the jug for not fastening your seatbelt. 

You're going to the store on an urgent quest for milk or paprika.  It's 7 blocks.  Been a long day, so you don't bother with the belt.  As you start driving, the sirens go off and the lights turn on.  You ignore it.  Then the beeping gets louder and more frequent.  Emergency!  Emergency! 

Before long, you find your face planted in the asphalt and your wrists cuffed behind your back.  You have the right to remain silent, Dirtbag.  The result is that you drive all the way to the store without your belt, just because you want to stick it to the man.

I prefer the way of the 2002 4Runner.  I start the engine, neglect my belt  A stick figure lights up on my dash with a slash where the seatbelt should go.  There's no alarm or siren.  It's like your grandmother is sitting in the back seat.  A gentle, effective reminder.  It seems to be saying, In my day they didn't have seatbelts.  Seatbelts reduce the risk of death by 45 percent.  Somehow, the stick figure gets its way.

The death and resurrection of Archie

I was shocked to see they're going to kill Archie Andrews this summer.  Most of the shock happened because I thought he'd been killed long ago.  I assumed kids didn't read Archie comic books anymore.  I wasn't even sure if kids read any comic books anymore, so I was surprised to learn that he was still around to be killed off in the first place.

But maybe it's not the kids who have kept him alive.  Maybe it's older readers who couldn't let go of their addiction.

If you were born at the right time, you probably read Archie comic books.  It was a goofy and terrifically entertaining comic, stuck in the nondescript town of Riverdale in an unidentifiable time period (the football players wore 1940s uniforms and the girls wore 1970s bikinis).  Everyone hung out at Pop Tate's Chocklit Shoppe.  The plots revolved around the madcap adventures of Archie and his gang, usually the romantic tug-of-war between super-rich but mean Veronica, and poor but kind Betty for the affections of Archie — Archie, with the hash tags on the sides of his head and his broken jalopy held together with Band-Aids, who still managed to get those two beauties to fight to the death over him.    

Or Jughead Jones and his insatiable appetite and his beanie.  Or naughty Reggie Mantle, who frequently got his ass kicked as he was caught in unfortunate situations with Midge, Big Moose's girlfriend.  Or the principal Mr. Weatherbee, with his three-haired toupee.  Or Miss Grundy.

I'm not embarrassed to admit I remembered all those names without even looking them up, because I bet you remember them too.

Cheesy as they were, Archie comics were impossible to stop reading if you were a tween in the days before the Disney Channel was invented.  You could kill a whole summer afternoon with one of the digests, which were phenomenal.  You even read the Lil' Jinx parts, which really weren't that good.

I thought those were all relics of the past.  So I was surprised that not only had Archie and the gang survived all these years, but they've had multiple spinoffs that still continue, including Life With Archie, a series of books that play out Archie's future — what would happen if he'd married Veronica or Betty, for example. 

Now we're told that in the series finale coming out in July, Archie is going to die.  It will happen as he's saving the life an unidentified friend.  "Archie dies as he lived — heroically," the CEO of Archie Comics said. 

I was a little relieved to learn that it's just the end of Archie in the Life with Archie series, not the end of Archie for all time.  He, Jughead, Reggie, and Miss Grundy will live on in the other Archie comic books.  I'm not sure why I was relieved about it, but I was.

College sports are about to change (continued)

I received a lot of interesting comments after my post about the recent NLRB decision that Northwestern University football players are school employees allowed to unionize.  For example:

In general I have been a proponent of paying college athletes.  As you write, everybody except the players makes money, so why shouldn't they?  The one thing I cannot fully figure out, though, is it's not like the players are not getting anything.  Here
is what I found as far as the cost of attending Northwestern: (Northwestern's tuition costs, about 60K a year). 

So, if the players are "working" at football 50 hours per week, 50 weeks a year, that equates to 2500 hours per year.  Since the cost of attending Northwestern is around $60,000/year, in a way they are getting "paid" $24/hour.  That isn't bad for having only a high school degree.  However, on the flip side, what the players are being "paid" may not be of value to them, or as transferrable as money.

It's a great point.  I don't think a scholarship is worth nothing.  But I think a scholarship that forces athletes to struggle for a real education is pretty close to nothing when you consider the dollars involved. 

Here's the opposite side, by Patrick Harker, University of Delaware president and member of the NCAA's board of directors:

Turning student athletes into salaried employees would endanger the existence of varsity sports on many college campuses.  Only about 10 percent of Division I college sports programs turn a profit, and most of them, like our $28 million athletic program at the University of Delaware, lose money.  Changing scholarship dollars into salary would almost certainly increase the amount schools have to spend on sports, since earnings are taxed and scholarships are not.  In order just to match the value of a scholarship, the university would have to spend more.

Harker goes on to say the real culprits are professional leagues like the NFL and the NBA, who prevent high school athletes from turning pro.  "If players are good enough to earn a living at that age, I say, let them.  Very few, however, are that good." 

I think Harker shot his argument in the foot with that last part.  It's true that very few college athletes go on to play professional sports, and even fewer achieve the kind of salaries that allow them to make a living only by playing that sport.  And yet the NCAA treats its marquee events as if they were professional sports, full of promotional potential.  Take
the Final Four

On Friday, as players from the Final Four teams — Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Kentucky — worked out and held news conferences, the tournament branding was omnipresent.  The day’s events were sponsored by Reese’s, the official candy partner of the N.C.A.A.  The company’s mascot, an oversize Reese’s peanut butter cup, took the court at AT&T Stadium to rev up the fans between practices.

Off-court activities presented another branding opportunity.  When five Wisconsin players met journalists in separate rooms, each had at least one Powerade sports-drink cup on the table in front of him, regardless of whether he actually drank from it.

Who wins from that?  Besides people like me who enjoy watching college sports, I guess it would be the sponsors, the networks, the players who become pros, and the NCAA.  I don't see many benefits for the average college athlete, who won't go pro but still has to compete at the level the networks, endorsers, and fans expect. 

Does Harker, the NCAA status quo defender, really think we can go back in time to the 1950s, when all student-athletes actually were student-athletes and there was no such thing as ESPN, March Madness, or a Powerade endorsement?  Does he really believe the NCAA would be willing to surrender all that cash and just oversee what would amount to good intramural sports?

Even Harker acknowledges, "On some campuses the pursuit of athletic dominance has eroded the ideal of the student athlete.  Players at these schools have every right to complain, particularly when the demands of competition effectively prevent them from being students."

Exactly right.  The NCAA loves to use the term "student-athlete," but in the regime they've created it's difficult for an 18-year-old to be both.  If the NCAA wants to accept all the cash but still use the term, then they need to figure out a way to really make them "student-athletes" again.

The Planet of the Apes pilgrimage

We were in Los Angeles.  The first day, we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway, around Malibu.  It had been a long, cold winter in Washington, and we needed to see the ocean.

We pulled up to a lonely beach, gathered some shells as mementos.  It wasn't especially warm, but we walked on the sand and felt the ocean air.  That is why they invented spring break.

Later, we both thought the beach looked like the last scene of The Planet of the Apes, the classic 1968 movie.  If you've seen it, you can't forget it, cheesy or not.  It makes almost every
top ten list of great film endings

I'm not sure if you can spoil the end of a movie that's almost 50 years old, but if you can, I'm about to:  The astronaut played by Charlton Heston, carried away in a time warp to a land ruled by talking apes, is escaping from enslavement along the shoreline.  He rounds a corner and sees the ruins of the Statue of Liberty.  He realizes he's been on post-apocalyptic Earth the whole time.  It's a legendary conclusion to one of the most imaginative movies of all time.  But who knows where they shot it?  It could have been any beach.

Then we realized we were in LA, and there was a good chance we might be right.  As it turns out, we were close:  the scene had been shot just a few miles east, on Point Dume.

When they shot the beach scenes for the movie, they had to chopper in the actors who played apes because driving there took an hour, and they suffocated in their costumes and makeup.  That's what it took to make that movie.  Somebody thought it was worth going through all that to make a movie about apes ruling the world.  And aren't we grateful they took the chance? 

Later in the week, we went to Point Dume, because why not?  And there it was: the big rocks and the cliffs, the same distinctive and abandoned Pacific beach.  Charlton Heston had pounded his fist into this sand and damned humans to hell for destroying the Earth and leaving it to the apes.  I was sure of it. 

The sun was sinking alone, except for one young couple on a blanket.  You could feel the tension between them, as if he was about to propose.  He had picked the perfect place to do it.  That's a beach where anyone would say yes.

In the parking lot, there was a crew taking advantage of the light to film a commercial.  I approached a crew member, an older guy who looked like he might know some history.  Is this where they filmed Planet of the Apes?  Yes it is, mate.  An Australian would know.  They're always right.  This was the place.

People criticize Los Angeles, and maybe there's something to it — traffic, smog, plastic surgery, the Kardashians, and all the rest.  But I saw it through different eyes.  We don't know how lucky we are to live in an era with the movies and shows and imagination we have at our fingertips.  It's a golden era.  To me, Los Angeles, spring break 2014, felt like Paris in the 1920s, where the view of the world changed.  It's hard to see when you're in the middle of it.  But when I was really in the middle of it, I saw it.

My nine-year-old daughter hasn't seen Planet of the Apes, but she ran around the beach, touched the rock wall at the base of the cliff in the background of that final scene.  Watching her, I hoped a little of the imagination of the place where we were standing might rub off.

College sports are about to change

I think the recent ruling that Northwestern University's athletes are employees with the right to unionize rang the death knell for the current state of college athletics.  And no matter how it turns out, that is probably a very good thing.

The National Labor Relations Board's 23-page ruling lays it out in plain English — legal English, but still English.  Although the ruling addresses the specifics of Northwestern's football team, it probably summarizes every athletic program at every NCAA Division I school.  Even if you're a casual fan, nothing in the ruling should be especially surprising.  And yet it's an eye-opener.  In the regime it describes, everybody — the NCAA, the university, the coaches — makes out quite well, except for the people who actually play the games. 

Northwestern's football program generated $235 million in revenue between 2003 and 2012 (Albama's earned almost $78 million in 2013 alone).  In 2011, Northwestern's head football coach Pat Fitzgerald made $2.2 million. 

Meanwhile, the university pays for the players' tuition, fees, books, room, board, and costs for mandatory game-day suits.  Upperclassmen get a monthly stipend of $1,200 to $1,600 to pay rent.  In return, according to the NLRB ruling, Northwestern football players devoted 40-50 hours on football every week during the season (much more during pre-season training camp), although as I understand from players I've known, that is likely a low figure when you count travel, conditioning, films, and everything else that goes into playing at the level fans like me have come to expect.

The NLRB concluded that the Northwestern scholarship football players "are not primarily students."  They are university employees.  And although I'm not a labor attorney and there might be plenty of errors in the ruling, it's hard to argue with the logic. 

Virtually every moment of the players' days are controlled by the coaches and the university.  Their schedules are run by the coaching staff.  They are prohibited from denying coaches' "friend" requests on Facebook, so their posts can be reviewed.  The players are required to enroll as full-time students, and Northwestern's student-athlete handbook suggests that "players' academics must take precedence over athletics."  But as somebody who found college challenging even without 50-plus hours of football mixed in, that's hard to believe.  What happens when a test is scheduled when you're supposed to be boarding a plane for a road game?   According to the ruling:

In situations where a player has a game that conflicts with a test or quiz, the player will talk to the professor about the possibility of taking it at some other time.  If the professor refuses, the Associate Athletic Director for Academics and Student Development will then speak to the professor and inquire if the test or quiz can be taken at the institution where the game is held. 

Most of the time, professors go along with it.  Last season, one refused.  Seven players had to take a separate bus to a game in Iowa so they could take the professor's quiz.  Another player was allowed to skip practice and the Nebraska game last season so he could catch up on his studies.  But according to the ruling, "no other examples were provided of scholarship players being permitted to miss entire practices and/or games to attend to their studies."

Most egregiously, although Northwestern grants full four-year scholarships to its players, universities have no obligation to offer anything more than one-year deals.  If a player is hurt or doesn't perform as expected one season, their scholarship can be discontinued the next. 

I don't know if college players should be paid.  I kind of like the idea of keeping it amateur.  But at the very least, they deserve to get a full education, undistracted from the demands of sports, even if that means allowing them to attend classes on scholarship after their athletic eligibility ends.  I'm hoping the Northwestern case will put an end to the charade.  CBS will pay the NCAA $771 million for March Madness this year.  Can't they give some of that to help the athletes?

I'd take another radical step and allow athletes to major in their sports and earn a degree in football or basketball.  That's probably heresy and sounds a little silly, but why not let those who have a passion for a sport get a degree that would help them pursue related careers?  Ninety-nine percent of college athletes aren't going to get multimillion-dollar NFL or NBA contracts, and many will choose to do something else with their lives.  Why not help them become coaches, physical therapists, journalists specializing in a particular sport?  Colleges award degrees in all sorts of obscure fields.  Why not volleyball?

If I'm honest about it, I'd like to know that college athletes are treated fairly because I'm one of the enablers:  I watch plenty of college football and basketball, drink in the commercials that help subsidize the whole sordid scheme.  I'll probably watch the Final Four next weekend, and all the Final Fours as long as I live, but it would be nice to do it with a clean conscience.

(Photo by Gene J. Puskar, AP)

Why we should care about what happens in Ukraine

Whenever I hear tough-guy foreign policy talk, I remember Christmas Eve dinner, 2002.  I was sitting next to a relative whose opinion I respect.  It was just a year after the 9/11 attacks.  Almost 3,000 had been killed and we were still in shock.  We were at war in Afghanistan and we were gearing up to invade Iraq.  

My relative and I started talking about all this at our Christmas Eve table in Boise, Idaho.  The problems were a long way away.  We were eating 
Aunt Bene's codfish and drinking some good wine.  And out of nowhere he asked a question that stuck in my mind:  How did we get from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein? 

It was an excellent question and right on the money.  It was the question that was never really answered well before the U.S. invaded Iraq a few months later, before we ended up with almost 4,500 military personnel killed and spent one trillion dollars.  Those in favor of invading ignored that question.  The question instead was whether we were going to take it or not.  What kind of man are you?  There was a popular country song at the time, "Have You Forgotten?"

I hear people saying we don't need this war
But, I say there's some things worth fighting for
What about our freedom and this piece of ground
We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down

There might have been a good reason to invade Iraq, but it shouldn't have been because we were afraid of looking like we were backing down.  I thought going in to Iraq was a bad idea, but I wasn't out on the National Mall protesting.  It was clear we were going in whether I was on the Mall or not.  Maybe history will judge differently, but it's pretty clear now that Iraq was a colossal mistake.  I suppose that it will influence the way I and many of my generation look at foreign policy for the rest of our lives.  And that might be a good thing, within some boundaries.  It's made us think things through a little more.

One morning you wake up and things in eastern Europe have gone to hell.  Ukraine is in chaos and the Russians have occupied Crimea.  After you've found Crimea on the map and read up on it a bit, it strikes you as a travesty.  As they greet Russian troops on their way to polling places, Crimeans vote by more than 90 percent to join Russia.  The annexation is rubber-stamped by
the Russian legislature, signed by President Vladomir Putin, and it's a done deal.

Suddenly in the United States, Vladimir Putin becomes the new Saddam Hussein.  But this time, there's a strange element of admiration for him among some U.S. politicians and journalists.  Former New York Mayor Rudy Giulliani 
says "Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day."  He describes Putin as "big, strong, muscular on a horse."  Sarah Palin says, "People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil.  They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates."  It's as if they're egging on Obama to send in the Marines.

That's fine.  Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin are just doing their job, which is to make Barack Obama look weak and to continue appearing on Fox.  The problem is that they're making this a joke and turning it into December 2002.  The problem is that what's going on in Ukraine is a very big deal.  It will probably influence our relations with Russia, and many other countries, for at least as long as Putin's in office, and that could be a very long time.

I've read about all this and thought about it with Christmas Eve 2002 in mind.  And even though what self-interested clowns like Rudy Giulianni say makes you want to do the opposite, I think we need to smack Putin now, and smack him hard. 

Because of my background, I'm as sympathetic as anyone to the right of people to determine whether they want to be independent, or whether they want to join another country.  Maybe Crimea should go to Russia.  But it shouldn't happen at the barrel of a gun, or contrary to local or international law. 

What Putin has done in Ukraine is an outrage.  He said, Crimea is ours, we're going to take it.  We need to make him feel some pain.  That might take sacrifices by everyone including the European Union, but if we don't do it now, why would he stop?  I don't trust him when he says after Crimea, he's done.

It doesn't help when we have prominent Americans admiring Putin and his shirtless horseback riding.  It dumbs down the many good reasons we should respond firmly.  But in the end I think we should make Putin regret what he's done, so we don't end up being the ones with regrets.

The Snackeez: Brilliant, or an abomination?

Chicken Nuggest and Fries

When 3M invented the Post-it note in the 1970s, some people thought it was ridiculous.  Why would I buy that when I already have a piece of paper and some tape?

Now the only question anybody asks is this:  Where would we be without Post-it notes?  Well, we'd be looking for a piece of paper and some tape.

That thought ran through my mind when I saw 
this commercial for Snackeez, the new combination drinking cup and snack holder.  The announcer says Snackeez is "sweeping the nation."  He describes it as "the ultimate snacking sensation," a "party in a cup."  Now you can hold your favorite drink and the snack you love all in one hand.  Room for a 16-ounce drink and a bag of chips.  And you're not just confined to two things.  You can keep chicken nuggets, fries, and a drink all in one container.  You have a hand left over.

It's quite an ingenious idea.  One of the people who tested a Snackeez summed it up:  "I'm buying four.  Done."

I spotted some problems immediately.  First, the mechanics.  The commercial claims that Snackeez will end "chip bowl disasters," illustrated by a guy dumping nachos all over his floor.  But I'm not seeing it.  When you tilt the cup to take a drink, won't your nuggets spill out?  Who's going to remember to shut the lid over the snack every time they take a drink?

And even if they're designed perfectly, those cups never last.  The little hole where the straw goes always expands a little, and some of the drink comes out.  The fatal flaw with Snackeez is now your drink is going to leak into your snack.  Your pants are wet and your snack is ruined, and it's all just a disaster.

Then there are the imagery and dietary problems.  When I saw the commercial, I wasn't really paying attention and it looked like the people were swilling chicken nuggets and Fritos.  It's just gross.  Like hogs at the trough.  We may be a nation of grazers and overeaters and junk food piglets, but we still have some dignity, don't we?  I'd like to think we want to keep our snacks and drinks separate. 

But in 30 years, will I sound like the guy calling it a dumb idea while he's searching for a piece of paper and some tape?  And will I regret all the productive things I might have done had I not been stuck holding my drink in one hand and my snack in the other?  It's easy to scoff.  But I bet the Snackeez inventor is counting money with both hands.

A post about nothing

Sometimes I try to think about nothing.  My brain is filled with nonsense and pollution most of the time, worries about things that will never happen or that don't really matter.  It's time to dump it all out.  I find a quiet place.   

It should be easy.  It isn't.  I breathe.  Focus.  I can feel the worries slip away.  I'm almost there.  I feel close to having nothing in my head.

But not really.  No matter how much I relax and concentrate, things start flying around up there, appearing out of nowhere like a bad neighbor.  I remember my unpaid parking ticket, how unfair it was and how the signs were completely insufficient.  Am I saving enough for retirement?  I'm filled with anger, shame, and bitterness.  I wind up feeling worse than I did at the beginning.  And that's not nothing.

Try it:  Try to sit there for 60 seconds and think about nothing.  You can't do it.  Your head isn't built for nothing.  It's built for hoarding.

These fancy-pantsed yoga and meditation masters who claim they can travel to a state of nothingness?  It's bunk.  On the outside, they give the appearance of being far away in a space of blissful emptiness.  Their eyes roll behind their lids and their faces are blank. 

I don’t buy it.  You know that despite their act of serenity, their minds are filled with the same chaos as ours.  They hear the same voices in their heads.  And they're reminding them that they forgot to get soy milk.  They were just at the co-op yesterday!  Now they’re going to have to go back and fight the traffic and wait in line and they’ll probably forget their cloth bag so they’ll have to use the co-op's paper bag.  Dammit! 

One day you open your closet and a debate trophy from junior high falls on your head.  This closet and your life are filled with junk:  your Ab Terminator and your unsuccessful macramé lessons and all the Christmas sweaters.  In a frenzy, you empty it all out, take three truckloads of rubbish to the Goodwill.  You get your donation receipt and go home and look at your closet.  There’s nothing in there.  Nothing!  And it feels good for some reason, like you've accomplished something by going back to the day you were born, when you had nothing.

But the feeling doesn’t last.  You've got all this space.  It's time to go to Sam’s Club.  They have crates of electrical tape, 200 rolls for 20 dollars.  That’s a hell of a bargain.  You know eventually you’ll need electrical tape.  You pick it up.  Collections of spatulas.  Three Stooges DVDs.  A dozen jugs of Crisco.  It won’t go to waste.  You take it all home and store it in the closet you just emptied out, where it will sit until the distant day when you try to reach nothing again.

It’s the night of the big gala, and you’ve got nothing to wear.  The problem is that you do.  The problem is that you have to confront your spasms of bad taste in all those department stores.  That's not nothing.

She dumped you by text after two years together.  You're left with nothing.  But not really.  You're left with months of regrets and memories of all those times together.  And then, after a while, another text from somebody new who asks you to dinner.

My wall is filled with drawings and paintings by my daughter.  Your parents' walls were (and maybe still are) filled with drawings and paintings by you.  That is definitely not nothing.

If you shut your eyes, you still see something.  It might be blurry, but it's still something.  Your natural state isn't nothing.  Your natural state is doing and creating.  Amid all the dumb things you've bought or said or done and the things that didn't work out the way you planned, try to remember that a lot of the time you've made and done things that surprised you and filled others with a lot of happiness.  I'm grateful that there's no such thing as nothing.  Even if that means that much of the time, it’s always something.

It's unanimous: Conservatives love their red meat

mitch gun cpac zoom

Washington, D.C. is a company town, and the company is politics.  Even if you're like me and don't work for the company, it's always there.  You can't ignore it.  You get into a cab and you and the cabby talk about the company.  

When you live in a company town, the company's news saturates everything.  In Washington, D.C., national news is really local news.  The perfect example is one of the biggest political events of the year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which finished this weekend.  CPAC features speeches by all the Republican stars, including those considering presidential runs.  And here, it's covered like the Super Bowl.

All that coverage makes you notice things.  And one thing I've noticed is that every — and I mean every — bit of coverage about CPAC describes speakers throwing political "red meat" to the audience, as if they were satisfying a pack of hungry dogs.

If you Google "CPAC red meat," you get 18.1 million hits.

The networks report CPAC red meat:

"Conservatives descended on Washington D.C. Thursday for an annual gathering replete with ideological red meat."
NBC News

"[Senator Mitch] McConnell delivered a red meat speech to the conservative activists."
ABC News

The big newspapers report CPAC red meat:

"The audience [at CPAC] was hungry for red meat."
The Wall Street Journal

"McConnell's speech at CPAC focused on 'red meat' conservative issues."
Chicago Tribune

"CPAC applause lines: Red meat for the faithful"
Christian Science Monitor headline

The Hispanic media report CPAC red meat:

"Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R, served up a familiar portion of conservative red meat."
NBC Latino

At least one African-American blogger reported CPAC red meat:

"It’s probably got something to do with the conservative red-meat diet ’cause these girls have way more junk in the trunk than your average kale-chomping liberal."

The Washington Post can't get enough CPAC red meat:

"[Texas Governor Rick Perry] kicked off Friday with
a red-meat speech that received enthusiastic applause from the audience."

"McConnell ...
filled his speech with red meat rhetoric."

"New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie [gave] plenty of red meat and conservative lines to the crowd."

"... heaping chunks of red meat."

The Beltway political industrial complex loves CPAC red meat:

"Chris Christie’s red-meat speech scores at CPAC"
Politico headline

"[McConnell delivered] a speech full of conservative red meat."
The Hill

"And that’s red meat for [Senator Rand] Paul’s followers."
The Nation

A bunch of publications I'm not familiar with also love CPAC red meat:

"[CPAC] is a multi-day festival of dogmatic red meat."
The Week

"Watch Ann Coulter Serve Up Jokes And ‘Red Meat’ During Her CPAC Speech"
Media ITE

The liberal and public media cover CPAC red meat:

"Anti-Obama red meat expected from conservatives."

"Top conservative event opens with big names, red meat, and fun"

Highlights from Reince Priebus's CPAC 2013 red meat speech"
Daily Kos headline

But the conservatives do too:

"GOP hopefuls serve red meat, audience eats it up"
Fox News headline

"CPAC Red Meat: Perry, Trump, LaPierre" headline

"[Senator Ted Cruz] launches CPAC political convention with a "RED MEAT" crowd-pleasing demand to abolish Barry's IRS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Patriot Action Network headline

"McConnell's speech was packed with red meat ..."

"Former Arkansas governor ...
Mike Huckabee threw out red meat to social conservatives."
Washington Times

"[Texas Governor Rick] Perry’s remarks were full of red meat."

"Serving Up Red Meat at CPAC" headline

Food metaphor lovers love CPAC red meat:

"Christie’s address here was a heaping serving of red meat."

"At [CPAC], the red meat was served as the second course."
The Fiscal Times

"The special served all day on day one of [CPAC] was red meat." [Atlanta] headline

"[CPAC] afforded an opportunity to feed conservative Republicans the red meat they craved and expected."
The Washington Examiner

"'Mama Grizzly' Sarah Palin dishes red meat to CPAC conservative activists"
Christian Science Monitor headline

Every region of the country covered CPAC red meat.  Ohio:

"And so the corruption-filled, jelly-roll of a big man [Christie] included just the right amount of fictitious red meat."
Akron Beacon Journal


"Former Governor Mike Huckabee offered plenty of red meat at [CPAC]"
Salem radio headline


"[Cruz] tossed red meat to cheering activists."
Dallas Morning News


"Christie ditched his purple-state prose for red meat."
California Political Review

The media love CPAC red meat so much they mix it with other metaphors: 

"But even that red meat came off as a bit flat."
The New Republic

"You can’t ... expect people not to notice all the chewed-up red meat and low-hanging fruit on the floor."
The Guardian

"You can't put lipstick on red meat."

And they love CPAC red meat when it's not even there:

"[Mitt] Romney didn’t exactly throw red meat to the crowd of conservatives."

"By the standards of recent Republican rhetoric, [Senator Marco Rubio's] speech was no red-meat stem-winder."
New York Times

I'm now a vegetarian. 

In sympathy, many reporters write with a deadline, so they probably can't help but use clichés like "red meat."  The problem is that "red meat" starts out meaning nothing to anybody but becomes a caricature that means a lot to everybody.  It means that CPAC attendees are a bunch of slobbering idiots.  

I don't have to use clichés like that.  The advantage of an occasional blog is the time to think carefully about what I write.   You wouldn't catch me using a cliché, even if my life depended on it.

Chad gets another shot at red carpet fashion commentary, and fails again

Some people weren't impressed with my last red carpet critique.  But there's no stopping my passion for fashion! 

That gown must have been designed by Chef Boyardee, because it's red, tangy, and saucy.

If I bought a picture frame, and the person in the pre-packaged photo were wearing that dress, I'd hang it in my living room as-is.

That's a very comfortable looking gown.  Sensible.  And that's what the Oscars are all about.

My goodness, look at her glitter and shine.  Like the tinfoil on your campfire Jiffy Pop.  And yet deep inside, you know she's hiding black, smoldering popcorn that's burned to hell. 

When Adam and Eve committed the first sin, and God punished humans by damning them to wear clothes for eternity, I think that dress is what He had in mind.

See, when I look at her, I refuse to believe that bridesmaids' dresses can't be recycled.

She's taken a chance with that gown, and people should be rewarded for taking chances.  Las Vegas casinos reward chance takers.  Sometimes, they'll comp losing gamblers' hotel rooms.  But with the small timers, they just give a coupon for the buffet at Circus Circus.  That dress is a loser's Circus Circus buffet coupon.

As I listen to the interviews of the stars on the red carpet, I'm struck by how good the questions are.  Tough.  Penetrating. 

Quick:  Somebody call Dora the Explorer.  Her haircut's been stolen.

Tweet me:  What is it like not to belong to the glitterati?  Must be tough on a night like tonight.

If you stare into the sun and close your eyes, you can still see the sun.  If you stare at that dress and close your eyes, you're relieved.

Ouch, where did she get that monstrosity?  Wilford Brimley, paging Wilford Brimley.  You're wanted on the white courtesy phone. 

They really do a good job of vacuuming this red carpet.  Then it just gets trampled on and looks tacky.  Shag would solve that.

If we were watching a French film, and that dress was worn by one of the actresses as she said her lines, the subtitles would read:  "Who wants to hit the Jack in the Box?  Because I'm buying."

When the movie stars sit and watch the Oscar ceremonies in that theater, do you think the floor is sticky?  Do they remind them to turn off their cell phones?

If I had to make a choice between her gown and the Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast, that would be a hard choice.  And I mean that as a compliment, because you can't beat the Grand Slam for both flavor and value.

She's supposed to walk the red carpet, not wear a red carpet.

The N word

A couple weeks ago, I was having dinner at a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C.  When I went into the men's room, there were two black men at the sinks talking about something.  Over the few minutes I was there, they dropped the N word at least a dozen times. 

Maybe they were saying it to egg me on.  Maybe they weren't even paying attention to me.  Either way, it was a downer.

I've heard that word used in different contexts, but I've heard it most since I moved to DC, which is about half African-American.  I've only heard it here among African-Americans. 

It makes sense to me why some blacks embrace the word and use it as a point of pride.  It turns the tables on an ugly word and an ugly history.  It's a powerful word.  It's more than a word.  As a white guy, I can't even bring myself to write it here.  Maybe that's part of its appeal.  It's a place I'm not allowed.  As the rapper Common said recently, "There's certain people who shouldn't use the word.  This is something that's off limits to you."

The NFL has proposed to penalize use of the word among players.  I don't know about the wisdom or the enforceability of that, but it's highlighted use of the word, for better or worse.  It's brought some interesting insights, including the perspective of some African-Americans who would like to see it go away too.  The columnist Jason Whitlock writes, "Check the behavior and attitude of the people most in love with the word in the 1950s against the behavior and attitude of the people in love with it today.  There's no difference.  The violence, disrespect, hostility and affinity for ignorance are all there."

To me, that word is a wall.  Maybe it's a justifiable and necessary wall, but it's still a wall.  I have to accept that it's there for a while.  I also have to accept that it doesn't matter what I think.  What does my opinion on the N word matter?  Zero.  What would I have accomplished if I'd told those men at the sinks that I wish they'd stop using it?  Less than zero. 

On the other hand, it's disappeared among all but the most racist whites.  Maybe it could disappear among everyone.

Like all words, it will have to go away on its own, regardless of (or in spite of) what the NFL or I think.  I don't expect it to go away anytime soon, probably not in my lifetime.  But I'm hoping the N word will follow all the others in the English language that have disappeared because they don't serve any purpose, like snirp, maffle, mufflefubble, freck, quagswag, and snoutfair.

The Mexican and Indian game

Basketball 2: Basketball basket in a gym

There's a lot to be said for playing individual sports like tennis or golf when you're young.  It's an early start on something you can do forever.

Team sports aren't as useful.  Most people don't go on to play football or baseball or volleyball past high school, at least not in games that matter.  Maybe that's exactly the reason to choose team sports.  You only have so many chances in life to have that experience.  Sometimes that experience is good and sometimes it's bad, but you rarely capture it during other parts of life. 

In eighth grade, our basketball team made a road trip to a town about an hour from Boise with large Native American and Mexican communities.  God alone knows how it got scheduled.  We usually just played other Catholic schools around the area.  Our parents drove us to the games and then drove us home after.  We wore our uniforms the whole time.

But one Saturday morning in February we got to board a yellow school bus like the high school guys did.  We carried our uniforms in our bags.  The cheerleaders came with us and sat up front.

We got outside town and there were crop fields covered in snow.  It was quiet except for a boom box playing an REO Speedwagon cassette.  REO Speedwagon: It was that kind of time in history.  There was a song playing that somehow still gets played during 80s weekends or in department stores or movie soundtracks.  You've heard it dozens of times and can sing every word.  Even decades later when I hear it, I'm 13 on a school bus, nervous, watching winter pass by. 

The gym was ancient.  Shiny floors reflecting the lights and a seven-foot wall and a rail where the stands started.  Our cheerleaders faced the wall, invisible to the few parents who had made the trip.  Their fans leaked over onto our side.  It was us against the world.

Everything in the visitor locker room was painted in light gray, including the hooks where you hung your clothes.  The paint job couldn't hide the scent of every uniform that has passed through the room over the decades.  It was the scent of fear.  We put on our red polyester uniforms.  Short shorts under our sweats. 

Our host team was already doing layups when we came out.  They were big.  Feathery black hair.  When you snuck a peak, you saw the beginnings of mustaches.  Puberty happened earlier here. 

From the opening tip, which was more of a handoff from their center to one of their guards, it was clear we were in over our heads.  Ugly.  I don't remember the numbers, but I'm sure they put up 15 before we even got on the board.  At halftime, we must have been down at least 25. 

When we went back into the gray locker room, there was the silence that only comes with a thrashing, and everyone was thinking the same thing:  These Mexicans and Indians are handing us our ass.

That's what I mean about team sports.  Individually, you suffer a drubbing alone.  In a group, you never know what can happen. 

I've always thought the mark of a good coach was the ability to convince a team to never give up.  You have to believe you always have a chance.  Ours convinced at least one of us that the second half was his moment. 

Dominic.  He wasn't much of an athlete.  Short, slow, freckled.  He wore glasses with a little elastic band around the back.  But at least for that second half, he put on a clinic.  He hit from the corners and from the top of the key and everywhere else and didn't miss a free throw.  The rest of us were just there to get him the ball.  It was a masterpiece.

When the final buzzer sounded and we looked at the scoreboard, we saw that we had still been shellacked.  

The teams shook hands and talked for a while.  Good game, good game, like you always say.  They were gracious victors.  Maybe it was because they had been in our place in their lives.  I think they felt a little sorry for us.  But they didn't feel sorry for Dominic.  They didn't just tell him good game.  They said great game, and you could tell they meant it.

We didn't shower but just put on our clothes and got on the bus for the long trip home.  The last of the sun was behind the trees.  We were quiet at first, depressed, but little by little people perked up.  We replayed Dominic's half.  I think that we all appreciated that in the middle of a humiliation, he had left us with a little bit of dignity to cling to.  The cheerleaders sat with us.  I don't remember what we listened to.  It was probably Van Halen.

Sweetheart candy messages that didn't make the cut




Le Pew

table wine


Bite into



3rd grade
my peak
from the whole class

Romantic dinner
on me
got a coupon


Poetry book
on tape
for truckers

Romeo &
without the



ring should =

100% sugar
purple tongue


Grocery store 
are still roses

Is the Catholic Church sustainable?

That's probably a ridiculous question.  The Catholic Church has been around for thousands of years, has survived persecutions and wars and plagues and schisms and controversy and everything else, and yet it's still there and growing.  If I had to bet, I'd put money on there being more Catholics on the day I die, or even 100 years from now, than there are today.   (Never mind that I wouldn't be around to collect the winnings — a win is a win.) 

this very interesting article got me wondering about what such a win would mean.  It summarizes a poll by Univision of 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries that shows a significant split about teachings on essential matters such as contraception, abortion, the ordination of women, and other issues.  Some of the findings:

Seventy-eight percent of Catholics across all countries surveyed support the use of contraceptives, which violate the church’s teaching that sex should always be had with an openness toward procreation.  ... More than 90 percent of Catholics in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Spain and France support the use of contraception.  ... Overall, 65 percent of Catholics said abortions should be allowed. .... [Only] 30 percent of Catholics in the European countries and 36 percent in the United States agree with the church ban on female priests. 

That there was disagreement didn't surprise me, but the size of it did.  When 70 to 90 percent of your congregation doesn't follow essential beliefs, can you still call it a congregation? 

I'm in way over my head asking something like that, much less answering it.  There are more than one billion Catholics around the world, so there are probably more than one billion ways of being Catholic.  The Church must not be blind to that, and maybe that explains its success.  You don't need to fill out an application to become a Catholic.

But it got me questioning when the line gets crossed.  At what point does it just become pretending?  The Catholic Church is not a democracy.  It doesn't hold a vote on whether women should be priests, or whether gays should marry.  It moves at glacial speed.  Still, seeing these results, are we approaching the time when people will start voting with their feet?  And does the quantity of Catholics really matter if a majority don't believe in what being a Catholic means?  Shouldn't people be kicked out if they don't believe in what the religions stands for?  Otherwise you're just touting the number of members in a very loosely formed club.

Catholics don't get to vote for their leader, but cardinals do, and last year they voted for Pope Francis.  When I saw the results of the Univision poll, it occurred to me that Francis may have been exactly the right choice at the right time.  The Church needs him right now. 

Deep down, people may want the pace of glaciers in their spiritual lives, but that doesn't mean they like the glaciers.  Yet they seem to like Francis.  The cardinals may have been wise in electing a man who so far has addressed, not ignored, the divisions highlighted in the poll.  He's also focused emphasized other aspects of the Church that almost all members can agree on and that seem to get to the core of the faith — like remembering the least among us . 

Maybe nothing will change among major issues of the poll as the result of his papacy, but in the long run the Church is sustainable because throughout history it's seemed to produce people like Francis when it needs them the most.

What to watch: Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead?

One of the blessings of our time is never having to choose what to watch.  You can see shows during their original airing or you can store them up and watch an entire series over a binge weekend.    

But what if you had to choose?  I was thinking about that last night when Downton Abbey and the premiere of the latest Walking Dead season aired head to head.  What if it were the 1970s and I only had one chance at either?  I thought about it a bit, and it was a little troubling to realize that I'd go with the zombie apocalypse show.

I've never been the kind of guys who likes zombie movies.  So what is it about The Walking Dead that's sucked me in?  It's hard to explain.  There's a lot going against it. 

For one thing, it's filled with gore and violence, usually close-ups of one of the few human pandemic survivors sticking a sword or a knife or a shovel into a zombie's head (it's the only way the Walking Dead zombies can be killed).  Or going through the intestines of a dead zombie to see if it's eaten one of the young members of their group.  Or turning a corner and seeing a zombie with the entrails of a victim hanging from its mouth. 

And I don't particularly like the characters or their development, which many critics and fans have praised about the show.  The humans can be unlikable and unbelievable.  Like the Governor, a loathsome sociopath who for the past couple seasons has been a regular fixture, commanding a small group barricaded against zombie invaders.  He's crazy.  He keeps his young daughter, who was bitten by a zombie and therefore become a zombie herself, in a closet in his apartment.  He dresses her as his little girl and brushes her hair while black goo oozes out her mouth and onto his shoulder.  It's all pretty gross.

But once you start, you can't stop watching the thing.  I think what makes The Walking Dead is not the zombie scenes (which I admit are pretty fun), but the survivors' facing the devastation of the almost total annihilation of the human race.  The buildings of Atlanta, around which much of the story takes place, still stand, but the city is dead.  Thousands of zombies stagger through the streets, looking for stray dogs or human cadavers (apparently zombies don't eat other zombies). 

One brilliant part of the show is that it only hints about the pandemic that killed most of humanity.  They show a freeway leaving Atlanta bumper-to-bumper with cars trying to escape.  They are now parked there forever, filled with bodies and essential belongings.   Meanwhile, the freeway into the city is empty.  You never really know why.  You have to use your imagination.  As gratuitous as the violence can be, there is also a captivating restraint about how they got in that situation in the first place.

The few survivors, which the series revolves around, roam around the area on a constant hunt for food and water and shelter against the zombies.  I think that's what keeps me watching.  They have to pilfer from the remaining canned goods at a grocery store that was raided long ago, or look through the suitcases and coolers of cars stuck on the Interstate, their dead drivers still at the wheel.  They go back to their towns to get pictures of family members who died long ago, trying to capture happier days that they'll never have again.  They have to scrounge gas.  They have to steal books from kids' bookshelves.  Nothing is owned anymore.

The opening scene of a season three is a perfect example.  There's no dialogue.  The characters barge into an abandoned home and kill off a few zombies camping there.  They raid the cupboards, and one of the boys finds only dog food.  As he opens a can, his father looks at the others, embarrassed and resigned.  Is this what we've come to?  Is this our existence now?  You can't help but wonder what you'd do in that situation, and that's what sucks you in more than anything else.  

The scene ends as more zombies are approaching and the survivors have to escape, blending into the opening song and credits, which are the most terrifying 25 seconds on television.

I suppose it's a little twisted to choose The Walking Dead, with all its gore, over Downton Abbey, with its beautiful scenery, wardrobe, excellent story lines, acting, and writing.  But is it any more twisted than Downton Abbey, which tells the story of coddled nobility who spend their days commanding second-class-citizen servants, who help their employers get dressed for six-course dinners while they live in attic dorm rooms and work six and a half days a week?  It reflects a hierarchy and time that really existed.  The Walking Dead is all a work of the imagination — a warped imagination, but a pretty good one.

Ray Guy in the Hall of Fame: a victory for everyone

Lost around the Super Bowl was the election of longtime Oakland Raiders' punter Ray Guy to the NFL Hall of Fame.  It took him eight tries but he finally made it, the first punter to get elected.

As I've
written before, I thought this was a well-deserved award, since Ray Guy might have been one of the best to play his position, and maybe one of the best football players ever.  In his 13-year career, he stuck opponents inside their own 20 yard line more than 200 times.  It was like the Raiders had an extra defensive player, and as Hall of Fame Joe Horrigan put it, "He's the first punter you could look at and say: 'He won games.'"

It's hard to explain why I would care about Ray Guy making the Hall of Fame.  Part of it's probably my own experience.  If you grew up watching the NFL in the 1970s and 1980s, you understand.  He was a fixture.  He played before the spread of domes and artificial turf, when a punter had to stand in the cold mud of Oakland Coliseum in those black cleats with the white stripe at the top and there was no ESPN to record it.  There was no multimillion dollar contract.  Fog out their mouths, dirt on their uniforms.  Nobody cared about you.  It was ugly, but there was a beauty about it.  That was football.  You played it in heat and cold and rain and everything in between. 

He also deserves election because he represents the breadth of the game.  Offense and defense are the core parts of football, there's no doubt about it, but the kicking game is important too.  It changes games, scrambles them.  There's a reason they call it football.

But for some reason Ray Guy's place in the Hall of Fame seems right just from a human being's perspective.  Punters represent the unrecognized people who come in and fix things when they're at their worst and everybody's frustrated and depressed.  Or maybe they don't even know the threat they're facing and don't even know the job was done.  People like deserve an award.  

Kickers get plenty of recognition.  They score points and win games.  They start the game, when people are pumped up at the beginning of games and the music is blaring.  Then they do it again after touchdowns.  They can also lose games, or seasons, or millions of dollars.  But you remember them.

Nobody likes to see the punter.  Nobodyremembers the punter.  When they jog on to the field, it means your team is surrendering.  Punters are the face of failure.

But could you live without them?  People hate sports metaphors, but sometimes they fit.  Punters are the people in life who clean up our messes for us or get us out of jams and then are forgotten.  When your computer crashes at the worst possible moment.  Or when the power goes out.  The garbage collectors.  Plumbers.  Land mine sappers.  People that save you or fix things without anyone giving a second thought, or maybe a first thought.  The Atticus Finches of the world.   

Anne Frank's tree

Sometimes when I'm complaining about things, I'll think about a story Anne Frank told.  She wrote it in her diary while she and her family were hiding from the Nazis in the upper floors of an Amsterdam office building during World War II.  She was a teenager stuck in those few rooms for more than two years, like a prisoner.   She must have wondered every day how her life had turned out that way.

Even now, after all these years, there's no easy answer to that.  Her father, Otto Frank, had been an officer in the German Army in World War I.  In most situations, he might have been considered a hero and led a long, happy life as a respected veteran and businessman.  But then the Nazi party won control of the German government in 1933 and before long Jews like Otto Frank were required to wear a yellow Star of David at all times and stick to a curfew. 

Sensing that the winds were changing, he moved his family to Amsterdam, where they had several peaceful years until the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940.  As Anne wrote, "then the good times were few and far between." 

She had always loved movies.  She thought maybe she'd become an actress.  But after 1941, Dutch Jews were banned from theaters.  With the dexterity of a young teenager, she switched dreams and thought maybe she'd become a journalist.   For her 13th birthday, she received an autograph book.  It was bound by red and white cloth and had a lock. 
She decided to use it as her diary and began to record her thoughts. 

A couple weeks later, in July 1942, Anne's older sister Margot received a summons to report to a Nazi work camp, which they knew was a death sentence.  The next day, the family put on as many layers of clothing as they could fit on their bodies.  They didn't want to tip off anyone by carrying suitcases.  They went to Otto Frank's office in central Amsterdam and hid on the top floors behind a door concealed by a bookshelf. 

During the more than 700 days she was stuck in those rooms, Anne passed the time by writing in her diary.  "I've reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die," she wrote in February 1944.  But she kept writing and studying, observing her family and the newcomers that came.

In August 1944, the Nazis discovered the hiding spot and arrested everyone, sent them off to concentration camps.  Anne and Margot spent several months at Auschwitz in Poland, hauling heavy stones.  The girls were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany and died of typhus within a day of each other in March 1945, a few weeks before Russian soldiers liberated the camp.  

The entire two years she was in hiding, she never went outside.   She was confined to those same few rooms, the same walls and the same floors, day after day.  One small escape was the attic, where she could see a chestnut tree outside the window.  She couldn't open the window, but she could look outside and see the tree change through the seasons.  It was a small contact with nature.  She wrote about it in her diary:

Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs, from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.  As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.

There will always be dark days, but the happiest people are those who are able to sift through and find something to admire in life, even in the worst of circumstances.  Anybody can if they try hard enough.

(Photo from

Chad, failed red carpet fashion commentator

That dress looks really sharp.  That's a really nice twisty thing on the side. 

Woah, look at her!  If two trucks hauling nothing but organza crashed head-on in the middle of the night, that’s what the wreckage would look like.

There’s only one word to describe that gown:  really sharp.

As I watch the guys walk the red carpet, I wonder what happened to cummerbunds.  None of the guys are wearing them.  I always thought that they looked sharp.  I will admit that at prom I had a hard time figuring out which end went up.  And then it kept poofing up my stomach.  Plus, it really didn’t secure my pants.  So now that I think about it, never mind about cummerbunds. 

I like how that poofy sash hides the midriff.

What do you think they do with these gowns when the night is over?  Do they wear them to the next wedding?   You know what I think would be a good idea?  They should donate them to people who have been through a tornado.  It would give them something to wear.

That dress gives off the feeling you get when you find the surprise money in your pants while doing laundry.  And not just a one dollar bill, but more like a five.

The Downton Abbey girls look better in their 1920s English gear.  I can’t put my finger on it.  Without the costumes, they just look like American chicks who are faking an English accent.  And faking is unattractive.

You know what I like about tuxedo pants?  There’s a belt that you can expand a little bit if you’ve put on some weight.  And when you take them off, you can wad them up and kick them around and then throw them in the corner, but when you put them on the next day they don’t look any different.  Like you just got them back from the dry cleaners.  Really crisp.

His outfit is okay, but he worked too hard on getting the right amount of facial stubble.  You know what guys think of a guy who spends too much time trying to get his stubble right?  Well, they’d like to kick his ass is what they think.

He should have asked his wife if that tuxedo made him look fat.  Women always tell the truth and then everybody wins.

That’s what Mother Teresa would have worn on the red carpet.  The difference is that Mother Teresa would have pulled it off.

That outfit reminds me of the story of the two hoboes who were walking down the road.  The first hobo says, “I really like your suit.  Can I try it on?”  And the second hobo says, “Sure, if I can try on your suit.”  So they switch suits.  They both like their new outfits and feel great, so they keep them on and continue walking.  The moral of the story is that she may feel great in that outfit, but it looks like two hoboes who switched suits. 

Just an aside:  These awards shows offer a really nice opportunity to acknowledge people who don’t get enough recognition.

You'd think a famous actor would work harder to look like he has a six-pack.  But that suit makes him look like he just had a six-pack. 

Colonel Sanders just called.  He wants his tie back.  And his bucket of chicken too.

Colonel Von Trapp called.  He wants his lederhosen back. 

lonel Klink called.  He wants his Sergeant Schultz back.

I've just been informed that Von Trapp was actually a captain.  But she still needs to give the lederhosen back.

Imagine a kid who is trying to make the varsity baseball team.  He works his heart out, sweats by the gallon, grinds in the dirt and dust day after day.  When the tryouts are over, the coach calls him into his office.  I’m sorry son, he says, it just isn’t in the cards for you.  I have to let you go.  The kid returns to his locker in tears and stuffs his sweaty, dirty, blood-stained clothes into a duffel bag, and walks out alone and brokenhearted.  The dress she’s wearing looks like that duffel bag.

One more great thing about renting a tuxedo:  the shoes.  They are not very comfortable, I’ll admit that.  But boy do they hold their shine.  You can walk home in a blizzard, shuffle through mud, but do you think it makes those shoes any less shiny?  Not a chance.  I think more guys should have rented those shoes.  They’re sharp.

The texture on that gown is just fabulous.  It's like a warm bowl of Rice-a-Roni.