Wednesday, October 31, 2007

An American werewolf in London, the nightdragon version ...


I got into the spirit last night. I wore the same mask and cape as above as well as my kilt. I told the folks at work that I was a vampiric werewolf from the Scottish Highlands.
I have pleasant memories of Hallowe'en. I consider it a duty to honor the kid in me who loved this day so much by keeping the Hallowe'en spirit alive. Who cares that I'm nearly 38?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Time to burn that yoke

This is what it's all about. This, dear reader, is why some people are avid sports fans. Whatever your favorite sport is, you follow it passionately in the hope that your team will make it all the way. In a way, their victory is your victory too, because you invested so much personal emotion into your team's affairs. You are part of another nation.
In my case, I am a member of Red Sox Nation. I started following the Sox, and baseball, in July 1988, during the summer of "Morgan Magic." I saw the Sox through various shades of good and bad since that summer. I was also aware of 1918, the last time we as a team were truly the best. The Sox never seemed to reach a certain plateau, that is, a spot in the World Series. And, if they did, they were doomed to fail. After the Yankees defeated us after 11 innings in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, I was so upset and despondent that my father had to call me and say, "Look, son, you know what being a Red Sox fan entails. Get used to the heartbreak. There's going to be a lot more of it to come."
Oh Dad, how wrong you were. The next year, when it seemed like we would be the Yankees' doormats once more, we responded. Won four straight. Then, won four more straight. Hello 2004, goodbye 1918!
Three seasons later, and just two nights ago, a Red Sox team that was probably even better than the 2004 squad—if that's even possible—brought the trophy back to Boston. Two World Series victories in four years. To don Red Sox clothing is to wear the colors of a winner, of a team that scares the pants off everyone else in the league.
For 16 years, I wore my Red Sox cap as a mark of my die-hard status. A person wearing Red Sox colors seemed to say, "I'm one angry, frustrated, inferiority-complex ridden motha, and I'm proud of it!" No more of that.
But you know what? I miss it. The Red Sox are winners, the Yankees are in disarray—the tables have turned in a way no-one would have dared to predict—but I always thought the Red Sox were the perfect team for me to follow. They gave me something to be angry about. It was like a yoke around my neck and shoulders that I grew accustomed to, a burden I actually began to carry with more than a measure of perverse pride, and once it was removed, I felt naked. I don't feel complete anymore without that chip on my shoulder.
Now I cannot believe what has transpired. Like the Jeffersons, the Red Sox have moved on up. And even when Boston becomes a dull team again, as has got to happen someday, no-one will talk of the Red Sox as loveable losers, of a team that is cursed. Those days are history.
But three years ago, and again Sunday night, I felt part of a victory that no-one can ever take away from us. We won it with hard work and faith. Both events were things of pure beauty to behold.
I am a Red Sox fan. That statement no longer means what it used to—and I'm grateful for it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

On this day, men should be wearing black

Today in Britain is Breast Cancer Awareness Day, sponsored by the Breast Cancer Campaign.
The theme this year, as it has been for several years, is pink. As in, Wear It Pink. Our workplace operated in observance of this campaign too. But I was in a black shirt and blue jeans. I don't "do" pink, dear reader. Never have, never will. I have had enough of these coiffed, ear-ringed, pink-shirted metrosexual men with highlights in their hair. It's just unnatural.
But I digress ...
What about prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is as much of a menace to men as breast cancer is to women. Yet we have a "wear it pink" Breast Cancer Awareness Day. No similar event is held to highlight prostate cancer and how devastating to men it is. In the U.S., nearly as many men (30,000) die from prostate cancer as women do from breast cancer (40,000) and the ratio is roughly the same here in Britain. In both countries, prostate cancer research lags significantly behind that dedicated to breast cancer. As Alan Heller states in this article, "Commercials, public service announcements, news segments and magazine articles address the issue of breast cancer, but rarely touch upon health issues affecting men ... Fundraisers and events for prostate cancer are rare, at best."
Now, I have serious issues with vivisection. No animal would be sliced up in the name of examining any cancer if I had my way, but that's not really the point here.
The point is sexual discrimination and the politicization of disease. While it's true that men themselves are partly to blame for shying away from discussing their problems—health or otherwise—it's still not right that I should be expected to take part in an event which promotes research toward a cancer I'm unlikely to ever get while a cancer that could very well strike me down is largely ignored.
It doesn't matter that men don't like to think about prostate cancer. The resources for fighting it should exist in the same proportion to those used to fight breast cancer nevertheless. But, as we men are quickly learning day by day, we are losing out to the Goddess of Feminism.
So, no offense ladies, but I won't be wearing pink nor donating £2 of my hard-earned money until my gender's cancer menace is treated as seriously as yours is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Plz use English correctly b4 i cry k thx

Language is a pretty important thing. We couldn't hope to communicate with each other effectively enough to maintain our society's infrastructure without it. So it's rather nice if people deign to use it correctly.
For instance, this gets to me: If I select a bottle of wine for £2.99, take it to the counter to pay for it and am told, "That'll be two ninety-nine, please," I should by all rights be confused. I am always tempted to reply, "It will be 2.99? Well, what price is it now?" (Of course, I would then have the enriching experience of seeing the yout' behind the counter regard me like he would a space crustacean for a second before going, "Uhhhh ... ummmmm ... hold on, let me get the manager.") Some cashiers do get it right the first time and announce, "That's 2.99, please." But it's the "gonna be" and "will be" that irks me. At what point in the history of English did people decide that using the future tense to refer to the immediate present was acceptable?
But the misuse or total exclusion of apostrophes is what really gets my dander up. I experience a brief but intense flash of temper everytime I see one out of place or dropped altogther. For instance, in our kitchen area at work, there's a sign above the counter imploring us to "please rinse out your bowl's/plate's before putting them into the sink." I used to think that this was commonplace in America due to our dumbed-down liberal education system, but the disease has taken place here too. And then you have corporations like Tesco, a dominant supermarket chain, who announce their line of clothing as "Mens," "Womens" or "Childrens." The writer Bill Bryson excoriated them for this and I am pretty disgusted and alarmed by it as well.
Honestly, is it so hard to use an apostrophe correctly? Is it that taxing on the brain to know when to use "its" versus "it's" or "your" versus "you're"? In fact, I'm beginning to think an ever-increasing number of folks are completely unaware of the form "you're."
Then there's "could/would/should of." I wish people would stop to analyze this. Does "could of" make any orthographical sense? Does it make any sense at all? The problem, of course, is that the past tense "have" is often shortened to -'ve, which sounds exactly like "of." But they are two completely different syllables.
Don't even get me started on this curse known as texting. I could write 100 pages in a state of high piss-off about how much I deplore it and the effect it's having on people's ability to speak, write and spell properly.
Now defending the proper use of English can go too far. The British anchorman John Humphrys gives a classic example in his book "Beyond Words." He writes of people who scoff when offered a nice cup of tea. "What these people want," Humphrys says, "is a cup of nice tea." Even though, he continues, it doesn't take any effort for an English speaker to deduce that it's the tea, not the cup, being referred to as nice, some people are adamant about the correct word order. This could be seen as extremism. After all, the cup of tea is regarded as a collective whole; it's the cup containing the tea that makes it nice. Indeed, if you really wanted to be a schtickler for the correct use of language, you could say that "nice cup of tea" makes no sense at all. Cups of tea aren't charitable nor do they pat us on the back and tell us what a wonderful person we are. A good cup of tea is what we should offer people. However, "nice cup of tea" just became such common parlance in the language that it became accepted to the point where no-one thinks about it.
Which brings me back to my original point. How long can it be before society enshrines "your" to mean you are, "it's" as the possessive form of it, and "could of" to denote could have, because no-one, not even people in positions of power, knows any better? How long, indeed, before we drop the apostrophe, such a useful tool?
Now, dear reader, you may understand why I get annoyed at being told that my bottle of wine "will be" £2.99. That casual misuse of tense just reminds me of the inexorable slide toward a form of English that I no longer recognize, one that will make me weep because I love the language too much to see the scars of its abuse become official.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

There can be no forgiveness for the wicked

Got to hand it to the Austrians. They sure love their history. Especially World War II history. They appear rather fond of that. It explains why the Austrian government refuses to prosecute a Nazi war criminal living in their nation.
British historian Guy Walters tracked the former female concentration camp guard, Erna Wallisch, down while doing research for his book "Hunting Evil". Not only is she living comfortably by the Danube in Vienna, but her surname—Wallisch—is to be found on the push-button for her residence.
"For too long, the Austrians have been unacceptably lenient with these evil men and women in their midst," Walters explained after his encounter with Wallisch. "I suspect their reluctance to confront these criminals is because it would only highlight the extent of Austrian complicity with Nazism."
In other words, the Austrians think it's better to ignore the monsters in their midst than to come clean with their past.
A surviving prisoner in the Polish death camp remembers Erna Wallisch and how she meted out beatings even when she was with child. "The pregnant Nazi monster woman who went crazy and attacked us did not appear among those tried in Duesseldorf after the war," says Jadwiga Landowska. "The pregnant one hit a young boy lying on the floor with something harder than a whip. Blood was pouring from his head and he gave no sign of life or reaction. The sweating, breathless face of that monster was something I will never forget."
Erna Wallisch is number seven on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of Nazi war criminals who are still at large. The Centre's head, Dr Efraim Zuroff, was told by Austria's Justice Ministry that it could not prosecute Wallisch under its statute of limitations with regard to war criminals. Poland, however, has no such statute of limitations, and Dr Zuroff is encouraging Poland to take action against her, as her crimes took place in Poland and against Polish citizens.
For it seems justice won't be served in Austria. One of Wallisch's neighbors couldn't understand why anyone would raise a fuss. "It’s all in the past and should be forgotten. People should learn to forgive.
Forgive someone's complicit participation in the 20th century's worst case of genocide? Perhaps someone should spread this message of forgiveness to Pol Pot's surviving victims or those who went through Stalin's pogroms. It's all in the past, right? So let's just throw the concept of justice in the rubbish bin and be done with it.
Honestly, if I had my way, these Nazi war criminals would be tied up and dragged by their feet to jail cells while awaiting their prosecution. And if this treatment proved too much for their fragile, elderly bodies and they died en route to their sentencing, so be it.
Here's hoping Poland will do what Austria will not and set the wheels of justice in motion for all the people Wallisch ever beat to death.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of smiles and simpletons

Smile, they say, and the world smiles along with you. Smiles spread sunshine.
Or, as I prefer to think of it, smile and everyone wonders what you're up to.
I don't smile enough, it's a fact. I laugh quite a lot. That's because I've got a very dry—almost bordering on dark—sense of humor. I like caustic, sardonic, pissed-off humor, so there's always something that tickles my funny bone. I have no problem laughing.
Smiling, however—that's a different story. I've always considered smiling to go hand-in-hand with stupid, simple humor and the happy-go-lucky idiots that possess it. Y'know, the sort of fools who laugh at "Full House" or "Everybody Loves Raymond," and think that Tim Allen is a comic genius. Forrest Gump would have nothing on these folks.
If they're not the sort of bumpkins that happily cackle at the moronic gutter swill that so often passes for American sitcoms, then people who smile a lot so often turn out to be really arrogant. It's as if they're saying, "hey, world, nothing you do can faze me." I make a habit of shoulder-barging these types of people just to knock them down a peg, just to remind them that life isn't all roses and blue sky. I consider it doing them a favor.
If you want me to smile, you've got to give me a reason to.
You see, I am atypical for an American in that I don't automatically assume a level of friendliness with strangers. As Polly Platt wrote in her book French or Foe?, with regard to the French: "Stranger (étranger) means danger (danger). The two words rhyme in French too. There isn't even a word in the language that means 'friendly' with its resonance of spontaneous warmth toward everybody." Platt also mentions her French son-in-law who once told her: "You Americans have banalized the smile. Americans smile all the time, always the same. For us there must be a reason ... When I am introduced to another man, if he smiles, then I think to myself that he is one of three things: he is making fun of me, he is hypocritical or he's very stupid. If it's a woman, there's a fourth possibility—she wants to flirt."
All very true, in my opinion. Forgive me, dear reader, for daring to agree with anything in French culture. But I do agree very much with the French on this. Smiles have to occur for a good reason, for a shared joke or moment, or something else of an intimate, personal nature. Smiling for no reason, in public? Just makes you look simple-minded or arrogant, depending on the look in your eyes.
I learned a long time ago that my smile is a signal to people that they should take advantage of me. Like the French, and very much like dragons themselves, I started to equate "stranger" with "danger." Needless to say, I soon changed tactics. These days, total strangers receive a glaring, "don't-even-think-of-fucking-with-me" look. It works. People leave me alone, which is how I like it.
This does not, dear reader, mean that I am incapable of friendliness. If you were standing next to me at the train station, for instance, and started talking to me about the Red Sox, running, draconity/dragons or anything else dear to my heart, I'd talk to you for hours. I'd ask for your e-mail address to continue the conversation. That sort of thing actually happened once. I gave one guy my usual "piss off" scowl. But I was wearing my Red Sox cap. The fellow turned around and asked me, "hey, are you a Red Sox fan?!" I was soon talking with him as if I'd known him for years, delighted with his company.
It's also why I adore the Ramones. You never saw any of those dudes smile. They didn't need to. Their loud, fast, no-nonsense punk-cum-surf rock was joyous enough. If they had smiled, it would have been overkill.
Again, give me a reason to give you a smile and I will. Tell me that you're a dragon trapped in this life too. Tell me that you want me to be your running coach. Tell me that you'll give me £5 million so that I can live the rest of my life in complete resplendence.
Otherwise, like the French, you will find me difficult to deal with, even if I do speak your language.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Not your father's—or grandfather's or great-grandfather's—Red Sox?

So this is what it's like to root for a winning baseball team with a confident, angst-free fan base? Even after the exhiliration that was 2004, I'm still getting used to it.
It's amazing how often the Red Sox find themselves crawling out of holes. Oops. Did I say "crawling?" I meant blasting. After the Indians had us down three games to one, we finally recovered and slaughtered them by a combined, three-game score of 30-5. As sports columnist Dan Wetzel writes, "Now [the Sox] are the team with so much talent and tenacity that if you get them down you need to drive a stake through their heart. If not, they'll come back and break yours."
I also love Wetzel's observation that:
"The Red Sox, the team that forever used to dig their own grave, now just dances on their opponents' ...
Whatever you once knew about the Red Sox is gone. This is no cuddly underdog, no loveable loser trying to change history.
This is Goliath."
Amazing, isn't it? After decades of heartbreaking defeats and constant team-manager shake-ups, the Red Sox get to swagger into the World Series, while the Yankees find themselves in disarray and despondently searching for answers. Oh, how the tables have turned!
I wouldn't say that we've become like the Yankees just yet. After all, in 2005, we got bounced out in the first round and in 2006, the Yankees themselves delivered a late-season, 1978-style Boston Massacre II, killing our chances of making the playoffs.
But I'm loving this year. This is even more justice for all the fans of the past who suffered. Bring on Colorado and let's start this World Series! Boston has another trophy to win!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Proud member of the RA: Runners Anonymous

Did I ever mention how much I love to run? Did I ever tell you, dear reader, how much of a lift it gives me and how it allows me an escape hatch from the world, even if it is for only half-an-hour? (If I had more time, I'd surely run longer, as I do on the weekends.)
In this excellent piece, the author envisions her running as "a place where I can escape my problems and enter into a world where I am invincible." This is what I have always thought and said myself, and yet people who aren't runners think of it as torture and wonder how we have not just the stamina but the will-power to pound the earth every day as we do. Sometimes I just want to scream at their ignorance.
Runners are not fools; they are not suckers for self-torture; they are not mad. They are free. I remember once when a runner passed me by as I was walking home from work. "This is the best part of your day, isn't it?" I called after him. "Hell, yeah!" he replied. I didn't have to ask why.
The brain has a chance to clear itself out during a long run. You think about anything and everything and by the time you're finished, you realize that your mind has just had a dump. You feel able to put some thought towards what you need to get done today, as you're not still thinking about yesterday.
And, of course, there's the exhilirating high. I've mentioned this one before, and it's no myth. So, yeah, we runners, when you see us out there, are getting our fix. But what a wonderful, natural and perfectly harmless fix it is. This is the high I am literally chasing after.
It is also why, no matter what the weather—I'll even run in gale-force winds—I'm out there at 4 a.m. every day. I spend the first half of my worknight looking forward to it. Not even when my arthritic right knee flares up do I stop. I just throw my compression brace on and I tell that knee that it is going to help carry me over the course of a 3-mile run whether it likes it or not.
When 4 o'clock arrives, that's my magic hour. That's where I not only step out of the office, but I step out of my life as well. The five minutes worth of stretching before my run is like foreplay. And, once my legs start pumping and my feet start slapping the asphalt (or pavement, grass or dirt), I become a different creature. I actually become the dragon I'm meant to be. Or at least it feels that way. I'll run anywhere, anytime, in any weather—except for heavy downpours—and I'm always thrilled at the chance to do so. For me, this is like spreading my wings.
After my run, as I stretch to cool down and as I freshen up, you can hear my cheerful whistles or humming resonate throughout the entire building. At no other time during the day or night do I act like this. At no other time are you likely to catch me in such a good or friendly mood.
I just wish everyone was "in the know" about running the way we are. Some of us may have started off running for completely different reasons—some just wanted to shed a few pounds, some wanted to build their legs up, some did so to compete with themselves or others—but the addiction was the same for us all. We all fell deep into its clutches. You can find us everywhere.
Running is the heroin of the exercise world. It's not a habit I'm looking to break.
And now you know why we, the great Runners Anonymous, do what we do. We run in order to bite off a sizeable chunk of inner contentment and peace from life's great wheel. And we are always successful.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Because of me some scumbag lives? No, I think not!

According to one of the papers I read last night, two people, who did not know each other, surprised British doctors by requesting a live organ donation—to complete strangers. They both gave their reasons as wanting to reflect human kindness.
Which my cynical brain kicked around like a football for several seconds before completely rejecting it.
Forgive the pun, but I wouldn't be caught dead giving my organs to someone else, unless I knew everything about the person who was to receive them. I'd do it, like most people do, to save the life of a loved one. But a complete stranger? No, never.
Why? Because Murphy's Law has always seemed rather fond of me. And I know that bitch will strike if I ever donate anything, even blood, to help save the life of a stranger. I have this petrifying fear that stranger will turn out to be a fanatical Muslim. Or an animal researcher. Perhaps an illegal immigrant who has no right to medical treatment in this country (but, saps that the British are, get treated anyway). Maybe even a violent prisoner. In fact, there's no end of reasons why I would shudder to think that I helped out someone else that I didn't know.
So, I've never been big on carrying a donor's card or giving blood. I won't even break up fights, not because I'm scared but because I honestly don't care; if I see a battle going on, I cross the street and let the combatants continue their skirmish in peace.
I guess I've never been big on this whole "milk of human kindness" rubbish. And, considering what I am and the sad history of my species, that's hardly surprising.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Another one in the eye for meat-eaters

I was very pleased to read through the "11 Foods Men Should Eat Every Day" article on MSN's Health & Fitness section. Not only did it contain a lot of things I myself ingest, but there wasn't one reference to poultry or mammal meat.
Aside from fish, the list was refreshingly vegetarian. In fact, some of the 11 foods weren't even food, per se. The 11 things essential to male health, according to the article, are:

11. Milk or Vitamin D-fortified orange juice (for calcium and Vitamin D).
10. Coffee (reduces risk of liver cancer and helps to move the bowels).
9. Red wine (contains anti-oxidants and resveratrol which are anti-ageing and heart-friendly).
8. Eight glasses of liquid (moves bowels, hydrates, keeps skin healthy).
7. Fish (low-fat protein, omega-3 fats).
6. Baby aspirin (can reduce arterial ageing by 36 percent).
5. Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds (heart-healthy omega-3 fats).
4. Tomato sauce / tomatoes (heart-friendly, reduces arterial ageing, may fight cancer).
3. Folate (decreases arterial ageing, blood pressure and cancer rate).
2. Fiber (good for bowels and proper digestive function).
1. Fruits and vegetables (rich in minerals and vitamins, good for bowels).

See? No hamburgers, no steak, no poultry. Everything on that list, aside from the fish, is suitable for vegetarians. And I eat most everything on that list, including the fish—because I (unlike Squirrel) am a vegetarian who eats fish and other seafood: a pescetarian, in other words. So, although I like to say that I am a vegetarian, I know I'm technically not. But I don't eat turkey or chicken, I don't eat pork or bacon, I don't eat beef or lamb. I don't want any bird or mammal flesh. So at least I share disgust with true vegetarians, like my wife, over red or white meat. That stuff really does make me sick. (I feel I should mention that I don't eat lobsters because, although they are seafood, I am appalled by the way they are treated. So lobster, like pork, lamb, beef or chicken, is off my dietary list.)
In fact, I would even argue about needing fish. Walnuts, almonds and avocadoes provide lots of omega-3 fats and you can even get healthy margarine like Flora Lite that has omega-3 fats mixed in. The truth is, I still eat fish because I love it and am just not ready to give it up yet. Maybe someday soon I will, and then I can be an honest vegetarian. I hope so.
I just eat lots of nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables and drink milk, fruit juice, and several thousand mugfuls of water at work. I quaff coffee at night and red wine (or Guinness, the black liquid aspirin) in the morning, and have fish and/or seafood two to three times a week—and I am as healthy as I can be. I run 21 miles a week. If I was weak, do you think I'd weigh 170 pounds of solid muscle—I stand 5'5"—and be able to run an average of 3 miles every day?
Great list, "Dr. Oz." I don't know if this was conscious veggie-thinking (or pesce-thinking) on your part, but thanks nevertheless for doing your little part to expose the fallacy of "needing" meat.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

British High Court: Schools must tell the inconvenient truth

Stewart Dimmick is only a part-time school official, but he has earned a major personal victory. Dimmick disagreed with the practice of showing Al Gore's film An Inconveient Truth during science classes in British high schools, arguing that this was dishonest and was teaching young students to accept a politically driven agenda as scientific fact.
A UK High Cout judge agreed with Dimmock's assertion, and ruled that while schools may continue to show the film, a disclaimer must be issued first, alerting students to the fact that An Inconvenient Truth promotes "partisan political views" and that the movie should be seen as a political film and not a scientifically valid documentary.
Dimmock wanted the film banned, but is happy nonetheless with the Court's decision.
This was a good decision by the Court. I don't see the harm in letting adolescent students watch An Inconvenient Truth, as long as they are told that the movie contains only a smidgen of science and that the film is largely political propaganda and speculation. The film will allow students to become aware of environmental issues, but the disclaimer will help them make up their own minds instead of taking everything in the film as fact.
As long as students are aware of the political partisanship with which Gore made the film and that it contains several inaccuracies and mistruths—if they are told the truth about An Inconvenient Truth—then I consider the case of showing the film in British high schools solved.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Why, that must be a lizard scorpion!

OK, there is just no excuse for stupidity such as this.
A family in Northern Ireland found a scorpion climbing one of their living room walls. The beast had come home with them on a bouquet of flowers that they bought at the supermarket chain Tesco.
Now that's not what's stupid. That's careless on the part of the supermarket and their supplier, and it's scary for the family who say they were petrified at the sight of it.
Here's what's stupid:
In the article in the Belfast Telegraph, the reporter referred to the scorpion as a reptile. Twice.
Silly me. And here I was thinking that scorpions were arachnids. You learn something new every day, don't you?
But what I learned is not that scorpions are reptiles. What I learned this morning is that the reporter who wrote the article and the copy editor who I assume checked her work are both dumbkopfs.
So here's a lesson in natural biology for those of you at the Belfast Telegraph: Reptiles are vertebrates; they have backbones. Arthopods, such as arachnids (and insects), don't have backbones; they have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton.
I knew this much as a boy.
Perhaps the Telegraph could consider employing a ten-year-old with a grasp of basic science to check their articles when they have anything to do with earthly creatures. Because it seems the adults are clueless.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Our nine-year-old world

On Wednesday, my boss asked me if I could work overtime this Saturday, as I did last week. I had to say no, because my wife and I would be in a small cathedral town in Cambridgeshire celebrating our 9th anniversary.
"I don't know what there is to celebrate," I told him with a wry smirk. "It's just been torture."
Seriously, though, I wouldn't have it any other way. Despite the homesickness, and the inevitable arguments and disagreements that come with living closely with another person, I have no doubts whatsoever that I made the right choice on that sunny day in Boston, May 1998, when I told Squirrel over the phone, "I do." After all, if you can say that your spouse is not just your lover or the person you share a house and the bills with, but your best friend as well, then clearly you have made the right decision in deciding to get hitched.

Squirrel and I in Barcelona, 2001

I've learned a lot in these nine years. After seriously thinking that bacherlood was in the cards for me, I am still somewhat amazed to find myself a happily married man—well, a dragon in a man's form—for nine years.
Our marriage has been about togetherness, about teamwork, about a deep understanding between us that we could have with no-one else. Squirrel and I have a world of our own making and nothing will shatter that. This world acts in tandem with the world outside our door, but it's also a world none other can take part in. It is completely ours and that's the way we like it.
After nine years, I can honestly say that still I love that girl with all my heart, and that there are still plenty of moments when I gaze upon her the same way I did the day we first laid eyes on each other. We now begin our journey toward our tenth anniversary and I'm sure it'll be no less precious to me, or her, than all the others have been.
Happy Anniversary, my love.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Viva España: Land of the British car commercial

Or, why I'd appreciate a little visual truth in auto advertising

You, dear reader, are in the marketing business. (I know, you're no whore to consumerism. Well, neither am I. Just pretend, OK?) Now then, it is your job to advertise cars, be they Fiats or Fords, to the great—wha ha ha! Oops, pardon me—British public. You make sure your filming crew is ready for the TV commercials you intend to produce. And so, with lights and cameras and not forgetting plenty of action in tow, off you go—to sunny Spain. ¡Hasta la vista, baby!
Make sense yet? I thought not.
Now perhaps I shouldn't make too big a deal of this point, because I honestly have yet to see a car commercial, in America, Britain or anywhere else, that didn't make me want to commit hari-kari so that I may never again have to suffer such an undignified assault on my senses. The point is, television (and radio, and newspaper) ads for automobiles are the height of absurdity. Actually, seeing Michael Moore on the cover of GQ would be the absolute height of absurdity, but car commercials come in at a pretty close second.
Think about it. As I said, your job is to market cars to the British. If you had any sense at all, you'd make sure that the commercial you produced would contain lots of rain-stained concrete, slick asphalt, grey clouds and downright miserable-looking people in greasy-spoon cafes drinking tea. But lo!, here comes the latest model Vauxhall Corsa, driven by a happy, smiling Rastafarian with reggae playing on his iPod-compatible car stereo, and suddenly the sun shines and people pour out into the street, partying in its wake!
Sound ridiculous? It's supposed to, it's a car commercial! But seriously, that's the sort of thing I'd have in mind if I was to market a car to the British.
Yet, in the nearly eight years that I've made my home in the U.K., I have yet to view a car commercial that didn't contain date palms, suntanned people and architecture that doesn't instantly sink the soul in the background. Hell, there's one Ford commercial that takes place in Barcelona. How do I know? I've been to Barcelona, and, the first time I saw it, I clearly recall exclaiming to myself, "Hey, there's La Sagrada Familia! Hey, that's La Rambla he's driving along! And, oh!, there's Barceloneta beach!"
The point is, I'm getting really tired of seeing the subtropical south of Europe in car commercials when all I've seen for weeks on end is cold, rain and wind. On most days, I have trouble remembering what the sun looks like, though I've heard you can't stare at it too long.
For Pete's sake, if you want to sell me an environmentally unfriendly product—bad enough as it is—at least don't patronize me by thinking I'm going to jump at the chance to purchase one just because some numbnuts was driving it along a palm tree-lined road.
How anyone living in Britain can see their own lives reflected in a commercial shot in Spain, Italy or the south of France is beyond me.
Methinks auto advertisers have been beber mucho sangria. It's the only explanation.

The eco-friendly house is £865,000, but the hypocrisy is free

The Curtis family of Lewes, England are selling their self-built eco-house which won an award for the "greenest" home in the UK from mortgage providers Norwich and Peterborough last year.
Aaron and Raphaella Curtis have five children.
To sum up: This family, made up of seven members, claimed residence in Britain's most environmentally friendly house.
Now for the million-dollar question: What is wrong with that picture?!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

We may have won, but the fun has only just begun

The Red Sox have finally won their first division title since 1995. A few weeks ago, it looked as if they were going to roll over and hand it to the Yankees—on a silver platter, no less—but they preserved their lead and prevented New York from winning the AL East ten seasons in a row. (We also share the best record in baseball this season with the AL Central champions, the Cleveland Indians, at 96-66.)
Even when we won the World Series in 2004, we won as wild-card contenders.
I know, what would I rather have? A division title or a World Series championship title? It's no contest. Still, it'd be nice to win the whole deal, knowing that we weren't shoe-ins but truly the best team in the American League East.