Thursday, December 25, 2008

Welcome Home

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Last night something uniquely wonderful happened - I got the chance to welcome someone to the Kingdom of God.

Lest you think I had anything to do with it, let me dispel any notion of my being an evangelist - at least not in this case. No, it was at the Christmas Eve service where I attend church that I got to witness this miracle.

Our pastor had preached a sermon about the Magi who searched for - and found - Jesus. Often times the Magi (or the three kings) are pictured as being at the manger in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The Gospel of Matthew does not bear that out. Matthew writes that the Magi from the east appeared about two years after the birth of Jesus . That's why Herod the Great ordered all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two murdered.

But that's beside the point of my story.

As I said, our pastor preached a message about the visit of the Magi and made an appeal for anyone who would like to invite Jesus to be born in them - the Bible calls it being 'born again' or 'born from above' - to raise their hand. Several people did, though my encounter was with only one of them.

At our church we give what's called a "New Believer's Toolkit" to people who have just come to faith. The kit includes a Bible, a Bible study, a notebook, a pen, and some other resources. I saw a teenager and her mother carrying one of these kits as the crowd - of about 600-700 people - made its way out of the church. I asked "did you just give your heart to the Lord?"

The young girl looked at me shyly and said "yes."

"Congratulations!" I said. "Welcome to the family of God. We are so glad that you are here. We have been waiting for you!" And I gave her a hug.

As I held this girl, I could feel her crying. I don't know her; I don't know why she was crying other than she was feeling the release of some emotion. But when I let her go, I saw her face was pink and a tear was running out of her right eye. I felt blessed to see the newness of life that I believe she was experiencing. Her mother had a great big smile on her face. Her younger brother looked like he just wanted to go home.

But I wanted to greet her and welcome her to faith. Jesus said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents that over 99 righteous people who don't need repentance (Lk 15:4-7). The word Jesus used for joy includes the idea of rejoicing greatly, of being glad. It's the same word the angelic messenger used when he told the shepherds he brought 'good tidings of great joy'.

So I wanted to make a big deal out of someone coming to faith. I don't know why I did it. I just did. Then I went home and had an argument with my wife over something stupid - like what to have for dessert. Thank God for His grace, huh?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Up Close and Personal

Visitors view Martin Schoeller's images of Barack Obama and John McCain at the National Portrait GalleryI got to do a report this week on Martin Schoeller's 2004 photographic portrait of President-elect Barack Obama.

The photo - which is huge by the way almost 62" tall x 50" wide - was shot in 2004 just as Mr. Obama was beginning his national political career.

It was taken with a Mamiya RZ 67 Pro II Camera using a 140 millimeter lens and was shot on film. The photo is what is called a digital C-print, which uses a special process that allows more detail and color variance that normal paper.

The photo is hanging in the National Portrait Gallery here in Washington. It is part of an exhibit called “Portraiture Now: Feature Photography." I interviewed the photographer - Martin Schoeller - as he was returning from a photo shoot of Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank on Tuesday.

The Eye is the Lamp

Schoeller told me he wanted to use film because digital has too much depth of field and gets everything in focus. He said he wanted to focus on the eyes and the mouths of his subjects, which he called the most expressive parts of the face. The Obama photo definitely draws you into the eyes.

Schoeller, a former assistant to Annie Liebowitz, told me that he shot this frame as part of an assignment for the QG Men of the Year issue in December 2004. The image is one of the 'in between' shots from that shoot - one of the moments when Mr. Obama is not realizing that he is in front of a camera.

Ironically, the image chosen for the magazine was another of Schoeller's photos - but it has Obama smiling .

"Often times he smiles," Schoeller told me, "because he has a great smile and people often put themselves into poses that they think they look good in." But the photographer said that this shot felt more natural and was a good image.

Gravitas

Anne Goodyear lectures on the Obama PhotoI attended a lecture by Anne Goodyear, one of the curators at the National Portrait Gallery. She said that she thought this image conveyed more of the strength and determination that Mr. Obama brought to the political campaign.

"We want future generations to come into contact with these traits when they come to the portrait gallery," she said. Ms. Goodyear said his determination and confidence are the traits the museum wants people to think about when they see his image.

Vince Aletti is the photography critic for the New Yorker, and he told me that Schoeller's images offer a much closer glimpse than we could get in real life. No one, not even our closest friends, get that close most of the time.

"I think Schoeller's work invites us to really kind of nudge in closer than we might normally do," he said. Aletti said that Schoeller's large format images give their subjects "a sense of nakedness in a away." He said there's nowhere to hide in a photo that large.

Covering this story was a real shot in the arm for me. I got to do some real reporting that didn't involve sweaty athletes or someone dying in a plane crash. Martin Schoeller was a joy to interview. There is something about creative people that fires my jets - it gets me out of the mundane work-a-day crud that I usually have to wade through. I look forward to more of it. I hope to do a TV report on the Tuskeegee airmen and their attempts to make it to the Inauguration.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Take the Train

Virginia Railway Express - VRE - is warning riders who want to take its trains on Inauguration Day that they need to buy their tickets in advance. The special Inaugural tickets are available by mail order only. Anyone who does not have one of these tickets will not be allowed on the train.

Riders will need to pick three choices on either the Manassas or Fredericksburg Lines for January 20th.

Tickets are $25 and are round trip only. No regular tickets will be accepted. There is a whole set of regulations on VRE's website. There are no refunds regardless of the reason and you can only use the tickets for the trains you choose - no substituting and no exchanges. Don't even try to buy a ticket on the platform - they will not be for sale. Also, expect security to be high - bomb sniffing dogs and stuff like that.

Schedules

The first rain leaves Broad Run in Manassas at 5:05 am and reaches Union Station at 6:18 am. The last train from Broad Run leaves at 7:50 am and reaches Union Station at 9:05.

The last train out might put a damper on your Inaugural celebration plans - it leaves Union Station at 6:50 pm and arrives at Broad Run station at 8:03. Again the time of arrival is an estimate, because it is highly likely that all these trains will be full.Manassas Line VRE Gallery Car (C) VRE.org

For the Fredericksburg line, the first train leaves at 5:15 am and reaches Union Station at 6:52. The last train in leaves Fredericksburg at 7:50 am and reaches Union Station at 9:19.

The last Fredericksburg train leaves Union Station at 6:40 pm and arrives in Fredericksburg at 8:08 pm. (Note: These downtown arrival times are estimates at best. Depending on how long it takes to load the respective trains at each station there could be delays. Also if there is inclement weather or if there is a mechanical problems, obviously arrivals will be later ).

When you arrive

The closest station to the Mall - to the West side of the Capitol - is L'Enfant. If you leave the platform on the 6th street side, you will see the Holiday Inn and the Federal Center in front of you and the Air and Space Museum is down 6th street to your left. Walk towards the Air and Space museum, past the Department of Education building and you will reach Maryland Avenue. Look to your right and you should see the Capitol.

Do not confuse this station with Metro's L'Enfant Plaza Station. They are not the same. VRE's L'Enfant station is between 6th and 7th streets SW and has visible railroad tracks above the street. You have to climb stairs to get to it. Metro's L'Enfant plaza is close by - Maryland Avenue and 7th street - but you have to go underground to get to it.

All VRE trains run what are called Gallery cars, which are double-decker cars. The Fredericksburg trains tend to have the newer cars, which have better seats, better lighting and better bathrooms. The Manassas Line tends to have refurbished older gallery cars, which are adequate, but have older seats, poor lighting and fewer bathrooms. Fredericksburg Train interior

But for all the special steps necessary it is still better than trying to drive - one local radio station is reporting that the Potomac River Bridges in DC - the Roosevelt Bridge, the Memorial Bridge from Arlington Cemetery, and the 14th Street Bridge - the one that was hit by the Air Florida plane in the 1980s - will all be closed to traffic. Also several streets around or near the Mall in downtown DC are expected to be closed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Smell like the Man

There is a cologne being marketed by a group called My DNA Fragrance that purports to smell like Barack Obama's DNA. I am not making this up. The product is called POTUS 1600 Obama 08 - POTUS stands for President of the United States - and the selling point for this stuff is that it uses the subject's DNA to make the cologne.

According to their website, POTUS 1600 Obama 08 is a "clean fresh blend of citrus, green leaves and marine notes." The cutline below the name on the website says it is a limited edition, historically commemorative fragrance that highlights Hope for Men and Women.

This fragrance purports to use the buyer's specific DNA to form the basis of the cologne. You swab the inside of your cheek, send the sample in, and they use it to make a fragrance that is uniquely yours - no one else on the planet will smell like that.

My question is - how did they get Barack Obama's DNA? Did some ambitious staffer send it to them? Did they get it off a coffee cup after the California Primary (did I mention this company is in California?) Did they get his used toothbrush or something?

Anyway, it would almost be worth the $39.99 - plus shipping - to smell this stuff. Maybe it would make us all a little more hopeful. Or maybe the lightness we would feel is in our wallets from being ripped off.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Make Room for the President

Destination DC, formerly the DC Convention and Tourism bureau is reporting that an additional 4,500 hotel rooms have become available for the inauguration weekend. News reports and the bureau's website say that since contracts were not finalized, the rooms were not sold and now have been put back on the open market.

They are NOT cheap - starting rates are about $650. And you WON'T find them on Travelocity or Expedia or any of the travel sites. The best bet is to call Destination DC, (800-422-8644).

Also many of the Inaugural Balls are beginning to take shape. The National Conference of State Societies has a list of some of the goings on and some of the balls that are already sold out. The NCSS blog lists some of the celebrations from January 18th to the 21st. Some of the plans include operating rush hour service - trains about every three minutes - for 15 hours on Inauguration Day.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority - which runs Metro Rail and the Metro buses - has announced some of its plans for January 20th.

Metro also plans to stay open until 2 am January 21st to allow people to get home on the trains. Parking at all Metro lots will be free for the entire weekend - including MLK Day on the 19th and Inauguration Day on the 20th.

For those who plan to take Metro to the Mall for the Inauguration the closest station to the Mall itself is Smithsonian. Unfortunately the Mall exit will be closed that day, so you will have to go to the Independence Ave. side. This puts you out at Independence and 12th st. SW. Cross Independence to get to the Mall. The Smithsonian Castle will be on your right and the Washington Monument is on the left.

Also, L'Enfant Plaza is a good place to get off, particularly since it is a transfer station for four lines - Yellow, Green, Blue, and Orange. The Yellow and Green lines come in on the top level of the station and the Blue and Orange lines come in downstairs. Make sure that you get off on the Maryland Avenue exit of L'Enfant. It takes you to - of course - Maryland Avenue. The other exits take you to D St. SW, which is the wrong direction. As you emerge from the Metro station on Maryland Avenue, you will be able to see the Capitol Building and part of the Museum of the American Indian.The National Museum of the American Indian

If you want to continue on the Orange Line to Federal Center SW, you will need to take the escalator to the top to 3rd St. SW and turn left. The Mall is about 2 1/2 blocks down the street. You will be at the intersection of D and 3rd St. SW. There is a Starbucks Coffee and a Potbelly Sandwich Shop to the right as you come up the escalator. The Mall is to your left. As you approach Independence Ave., you should see the Capitol to your right as you pass the Department of Health and Human Services at 3rd and C St. SW. The Museum of the American Indian is the windswept looking yellowish building on the left at Independence.

Also, Metro's Red Line takes you to Union Station, the main rail station in DC. It is about three or four blocks from the Capitol depending on whether you are going straight to the Senate side or if you are going to the West Lawn. Union Station is also the terminus for the VRE, the MARC trains and Amtrak. (It is an impressive building, particularly the grand hall with stone carved warriors lining the top of the walls. It also has a food court on the bottom level as well as shops and restaurants on all levels.)

If you want to come in from the North side of the Mall, Federal Triangle would be the best Metro Station to get off the Orange and Blue lines. It is near the Reagan Building, the Old Post Office Pavilion and the FBI headquarters. It is also the closest station to Pennsylvania Avenue. The Archives Navy Memorial Station will be closed all day because it is right on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Secret Service has designated Inauguration day as a special national security event, so that station is closed for security reasons. Judiciary Square on the Red Line is another option.

Expect to see a LOT of police that day. DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said there will probably be an additional 4,000 officers - in addition to all of her 4,000 - working January 20th. Backpacks, strollers, thermos bottles, etc. are not allowed on the Capitol grounds - along with the obvious dangerous items like knives, guns or explosives. Expect to stand long hours in the cold. Even if the estimated 4-5 million people show up, even that much body heat might not help. The temperatures average 30 degrees in January - and it rains. However, there are exceptions to the rule - last January 8th, it was 73 degrees! More inaugural prep later. Stay safe.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Inaugration Prep

The Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States is about six weeks away. Washington is getting ready, with the inaugural stage on the West Portico of the U.S. Capitol almost finished. The Capitol Christmas tree is on the West Lawn, but that will be gone as soon as the holidays are over.

Only 240,000 tickets are available to attend the actual swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. I say only because as many as 4-5 million people are expected to travel to Washington for the inauguration and parade. The National Park Service and the Obama transition team announced this week that the entire National Mall in Washington will be open for the ceremony. That is unusual because often parts of the Mall are closed as staging areas for the parade. Giant television screens will be erected so people can watch parts of the President's swearing-in and speech.

Hotel rooms are still available for the ceremony. Friday, the Washington Tourism Bureau, Destination DC, said more than 1,000 rooms are available in the metro DC area. However, there are restrictions - including a four-day minimum stay at some hotels - and rates are from $100 - $1,000 a night.

Construction also continues near the White House, with the reviewing stand for the President and other dignitaries under construction.

If you have never been to Washington, DC before, remember that L'Enfant designed it to frustrate an invading army. It does that every rush hour for those of us who live here, so patience will be needed on Inauguration Day.

The city is served by three main public transportation lines - the Metro, the Virginia Railway Express, and the MARC trains (from Maryland). Metro is debating whether to stay open 24 hours a day for the inauguration. They do not plan to have the escalators running at the busiest stations, which means the stairways will be locked in place and you will have to walk.

VRE - which runs from outside Manassas, Virginia (to the West) and from Fredericksburg (to the South) to Union Station in Washington - plans to run on its modified "S" schedule. That means there will not be as many trains.

Both lines - Manassas and Fredericksburg - operate double-decker cars. The Fredericksburg line tends to have the more modern cars, though Manassas is catching up. Tickets vary in price based on how far from downtown you are. There are ticket machines at the stations, and they do accept credit cards, but sometimes they do not work or have difficulty reading the magnetic stripe on your card. It is best to try to get tickets ahead of time if you can.

The MARC lines operate between Perryville, Maryland (Penn Line - which goes to Penn Station in Baltimore), Martinsburg, West Virginia and Frederick, Maryland (Brunswick Line) and from Camden Station in Baltimore to Washington, but they - like the VRE - do not operate all day.

For the Inauguration, they say "Penn, Camden and Brunswick lines will operate between 5 AM and 9 AM and between 4 PM and 9 PM. MTA monthly and weekly passes, 10-trip tickets and previously purchased one-way tickets will not be accepted. All trains will be reserved and tickets must be purchased in advance. For the Penn Line, there will no service north of Penn Station."

Look for more updates on this blog as the Day draws nearer. We will try to post as much information as possible and give an everyman's view of the celebration.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Capitol Christmas

Tonight was one of those cold, bracing nights in Washington that make you walk faster and hunch against the wind. I walked through Capitol Hill from the Library of Congress past the new visitor's center that opened earlier this month. It is quite impressive. It reminded me of the approaches to the Palace of Versailles in France - only in that it was a long, paved expanse that leads to an impressive building.

Venus and Jupiter were clearly visible in the Southwestern sky. They are not as close to the moon as they once appeared, but both were visible. Part of their visibility was due to the sub-freezing cold in DC. And the wind was blowing.

The Capitol Christmas tree is illuminated. It was as about as attractive as any they have had there, but the cold made me rush for my car and warmth. The inaugural preparations continue, with the stage nearly completed. There have been reports that as many as five million people are coming for the inauguration. That would fill the mall all the way to the Lincoln Memorial. Radio reports here are asking where the city plans to accommodate the tour buses that are planning to deliver thousands of tourists.

I hope for the people's sake it is not as cold then as it was today.

Friday, November 21, 2008

You have got to be kidding me.

Check out the video of Alaska governor Sarah Palin at a turkey farm. She pardons one bird, but the rest are getting ready to meet God.

I especially like the way the guy in the back is killing the birds no questions asked and Palin just goes on as sunny as can be. It's a great day to be a moose-huntin, gun totin', turkey pardonin' hockey mom! Not so great if you're a turkey. You betcha!

Friday, November 14, 2008

DC Fog

The fall colors are fading here in DC, and the Obama Administration is hard at work making sure that the transition to power will be as smooth as possible. Yesterday, Vice President-Elect Joe Biden and his wife met with Vice President Cheney and his wife at the Naval Observatory.

Construction continues on the West Portico of the Capitol. Workers are building the stage for the inauguration. The newspapers are filled with stories of people who live in the District charging exhorbitant fees for their apartments for Inauguration Day. There have been so many calls for tickets - which are available through Members of Congress - that some members have stopped taking requests.

Inauguration day can be a mixed bag here in DC. The weather can be rain, snow, bone chilling cold or part of the January thaw. This year it comes right before the Right to Life day, where thousands more people are expected to march to the Supreme Court to mark the anniversary of Roe v Wade.

The DC Police Department is calling in an additional 4,000 officers for the Inauguration. They are also asking for help from several other police agenices around the country.

Hotel rooms in DC that week are unavailable. Don't even try. I heard one report that people are paying more than $40,000 for a room, a ticket to the parade, and a place at one of the inaugural balls. That's crazy! But I have no doubt that people will pay more than that to get close to the new President.

I must commend the Obama transition team for its efficiency. The transition team is letting everyone know what is coming and how things will go - not how they might go - between now and January 20. Terrorism remains a main challenge, and the economy is still reeling. I can only hope that President Obama runs the country as efficiently as candidate Obama and his team ran their campaign.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Civic Duty

"I'll take the next five," the poll worker said. She was young, Asian American and was wearing a blue sweatshirt and jeans.

My wife and I had arrived at the polls at a local elementary school around 10:10 Tuesday morning. We thought that it would be better to go that time of day than earlier or later in the day. The morning rush hour would be done by then and the lunchtime rush would not have started.

Reports of long lines at polling places were posted on the local all-news radio station's Internet site, so we allowed at least 90 minutes to vote. My wife even took a book to read in case there were long lines.

It took all of 10 minutes.

There was a short line in the school. It was a diverse group - a mother with three children, one of whom was intent on playing paddleball. Her mother kept saying "stop that sweetheart, it's not appropriate." The woman's two sons were immersed in their Nintedo DS games. Another person was a Sikh man in a burgundy turban, with a black moustache with flecks of white in it. He strode into line and seemed very purposeful in his walk. Another heavy-set, pale woman wore a blue bandanna on her head. Whether it was to represent the Democratic Party blue or not I don't know. She was very pale, the kind of pallor that people undergoing chemotherapy have.

The polls themselves were in the school library. Colorful kites made to look like sailing ships, and fishes, and dragons hung from the ceiling. The room was crowded with workers and voters. A bank of computers for the school children divided the room. On the floor in blue tape was the word "VOTE" with an arrow made from the same tape on the carpet. A blue line separated those waiting to vote from those voting. A sign next to the door said "Positive Attitudes Only Beyond This Point."

The registrar sat just inside the door. A volunteer directed us to the first station. In Virginia we have to use our driver's license and the poll workers matched me to my name in the registration.

"Okay, thank you, now step over there," she said. She handed me a yellow card that said "Voter" on it. I handed that to another woman at another table who took the yellow card, inserted a plastic card with a computer chip into a reader, and typed some numbers on a computer. She handed me the computer card and said to step over to another line. In less than one minute, a man said "right here sir," as he directed me to the electronic voting machine.

The act of voting was simple. No hanging chads, no marks to make. It wasn't as complicated as withdrawing cash from an automated teller machine.

"Does this machine give you a receipt of your vote?" I asked the poll worker.

"No, just put the card in the yellow slot and make sure you push it all the way in. It will show you how you voted before you leave," he answered. I put the card in the yellow slot marked "VOTE" in black letters. The screen came up with all the candidates for President, Vice President, Senator (in Virginia we are electing a senator to replace the retiring John Warner) and Representative. I made my choices, hit a button that said "Next" on the screen, and the machine showed me my choices. I looked them over and hit the Next button again. The screen then said "PLEASE WAIT WHILE YOUR VOTE IS REGISTERED."

It took just a few seconds and it was over.

The magnetic card ejected from the machine, I handed it to a poll worker who placed it in a small plastic basket and gave me a sticker that said "I voted."
And that was it.

After more than two years of campaigning, interminable calls and e-mails from both Democrats and Republicans, discussions at work about who would be the nominee(s) and all the wrangling. After Interstate 66 was jammed for miles the night before the election as people crowded to my local fairgrounds by the thousands to see Barack Obama; after an election day call from John McCain's campaign urging people to get out and vote, it was over.

My wife immigrated to the United States from Germany and became a naturalized citizen in 1988. Her first election was Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush in 1992. She has voted in every election since. She told me that not being able to vote made getting the right to vote that much more important, because she has a say in how the country goes. Now we both wait to see if doing our civic duty has made a difference.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A certain man ....

This is the video of a woman in Texas who bought another woman's house at auction and then turned around and told her she could have it back. The first owner - Tracy - lost the home to foreclosure when she lost her job at the Postal Service. The woman who bought the house - Marilyn - said she did it "just because people need help."

Nice example Marilyn!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Does Anyone Really Care??????

I'm watching the VP candidates debate. Sarah Palin looks better, she has a better media presence, but is she smarter? Does anyone really care that these two people are a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Palin is younger, Biden is more experienced. Can someone please teach the Republicans that the word is NU-CLEE-ur not NU-KYOO-lar. I mean for goodness sake, the word is spelled N-U-C-L-E-A-R. There is only ONE U in the word!

That being said, I don't seem to think that anyone has the whole pie. They all seem to have a slice, but no one seems to have the whole thing. I would like to see the two VP candidates say more about what THEY would do, instead of what the lead office - Obama or McCain - would do. I mean, we're trying to determine what THEY would do. Let's say that McCain has a heart attack and Palin is it. What would she be like as president? What if Obama gets sick and can't complete the office of president? What would Biden be like as the MAN? Come on, let's see more of them.

Did Biden almost cry when talking about being a parent who understands with a child who might not make it? I mean he does know, his son was gravely injured and almost didn't live. And Palin has a special needs child. That's a huge challenge in itself. But I think when I step into the inner sanctum of the voting booth in a month, unless someone brings more to the table, I will have a hard time voting for either one of them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It was seven years ago today...


Like many people I mark this day as one of reflection. Seven years ago the biggest news story - until around 8:30 in the morning eastern time - was Chandra Levy. She was an intern for a California congressman and she had turned up missing. With the hubub of the Clinton administration and interns, the reporters were wondering where Chandra was and what had happened to her.

That all changed one Tuesday morning in September.

I remember I was at my desk in the newsroom and one of the engineers shouted from our audio intake center "hey, turn on CNN, something just hit the World Trade Center."

We all tuned in and were watching when the second plane hit the second tower. We stayed glued to the televisions for the next few days.

I remember how quiet Washington was that afternoon. I had to walk to Union Station to catch the train to Alexandria, where I would catch another train to my home. But walking across the Mall in DC, there was no murmur of traffic. Only silence. I remember the wind was blowing a little bit from the Southwest, because pieces of paper skittled across the Mall as I walked. But it was so quiet.

It would remain quiet for the next few days. The FAA grounded all air travel to make sure there weren't any more terrorist attacks. My home is near Dulles airport, so planes passing overhead was something that we got used to. Sometimes I joke that I should paint a big arrow on my house with the word "Airport" above it.

But not on that Tuesday. Silence. Only the wind, and the leaves beginning to fall, and the bewildered look of people who had lived through a very long day.

The White House sent out a press release today outlining the Bush Administration's accomplishments since September 11, 2001. The development of the Dept of Homeland Security, the reauthorization of the FISA, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

But the capture of Osama Bin Laden was not on there. The bad guys are still around. And even if they aren't they have disciples more than willing to carry on their evil schemes.

And they are evil. Osama Bin Laden was quoted in an interview with a Pakistani reporter shortly after the war in Afghanistan started seven years ago. He said "the bombs may fall and we may be killed, but it does not matter. We love death. In the U.S. they love life. That is the major difference between us."

If that doesn't cause you to wake up, I don't know what it will take.

So when I vote this year - and I will vote - I will remember this day and that Tuesday seven years ago. Who has done the most and who has done the least to change the target painted on our country. I'm not sure I will be able to vote for either candidate.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

My Best Man

Here's a video tribute someone did about my friend JR. It brings tears to my eyes to hear his voice again, but it's bittersweet. I am truly blessed and loved to have had this man as my friend.

Olympic madness

The Olympics start this week in Beijing, China. I am SO glad that I did not go. The photos of the air over there shoudl give us pause. Like this one by Kevin Dooley. That's not fog - it's smoke. SMOKE.

The Chinese Olympic organizers have instituted a policy to cut down on the crud in the air, but it might be too little, too late. The Chinese government has an even-odd license plate policy to reduce the number of cars on the road. China has also shut down or temporarily closed some of the factories that belch the toxic mess into the air.

The air is so bad, that there has been talk of issuing MASKS to competitors so they won't ruin themselves by competing in the toxic soup. Christine Brennan of USA today said today that it was "pea soup" out there. It had been clear the past two days, but not today.

The IOC, because they want their party to go well, has said that the air quality should pose "no significant risk" to competitors. But some American track cyclists arrived there wearing face masks, something they later had to apologize for.

For my part, I will be writing about the Olympics from here - DC. I have no plans to go to Beijing any time soon, especially not to work 16-18 hours a day for three weeks. Nah, that's not what I call fun.

But I look forward to the competition. I hope Michael Phelps can win his 8 gold medals. It's a Herculean task, but he could do it. Whether the Chinese or the USA or Russia will top the medals table is not really of importance to me. I hope to see a good competition. I do want Americans to win, but I know we can't win everything.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reflections

I haven't posted in a month.

It's been that long since my friend J.R. died.

I miss him.

I miss being able to call him on the phone and talk for hours; I miss getting together for coffee or breakfast. Everywhere I look around me I see reminders of him. Even writing this post, I see a small mixer board next to my computer that I was going to use to do a podcast with him. We never did it. We wanted to, but somehow "life" crowded it out.

I haven't been overwhelmed with the waves of sadness like I was at first. I served as an usher at his funeral last month. My prayer that day was "God, get me through this day." He did. It wasn't easy, but we got through it.

The World Keeps Turning

I stopped by to see J.R.'s widow Candee a couple of weeks ago. I dropped in unannounced, but she seemed glad to see me. She is not the kind to ask for help much. But I hope she will take it from those of us who loved her husband so.

This month has been like being on the end of a whip held by some invisible hand. I can't act as presumptuously as I did before; life is too fragile to me now. I find myself thinking that if a good man like J.R. can die young, what about the rest of us who aren't as shining an example of following Christ? David says in the Psalms that "all my days were written in your book before ever one of them was." But none of us has read that book. We only see the pages as they turn.

I didn't think fear would be part of this process. Fear of bad things happening, things out of my control. I find myself wanting to hold my wife tighter now; sometimes I feel scared to let go of her. I want to get more richness out of life because it could be over so soon. I also went back to therapy.

Victory in Jesus?

Sometimes I hear people talk about how triumphant they are in Jesus, how they have the victory in everything, how they can do "all things through Christ who strengthens me!" I'm not sure they're reading that verse right; Paul was talking about how he could handle all the horrible things that happened to him as well as the good things through Christ. Right now I just feel shattered, like someone who survived a plane crash or a car wreck.

I find myself wondering about people I read about or hear about on the news, people who were killed in car wrecks, in the war in Afghanistan, in storms or floods or earthquakes. Do their relatives feel the overwhelming sadness I felt? How are they living? What do they do to cope with the pain of loss?

What on Earth am I here for?

I also find myself asking whether what I am doing is what I am supposed to be doing. Is the work I am doing what God wants me to do or am I just occupying space? I read an article about five signs of a lousy job on MSN's careers page and I have four and a half of the five at my work. Kind of made me wonder.

I've had that thought too, since J.R.'s death. Many people try to console themselves by saying he 'died doing what he loved.' I even said that. But what if tragedy befell me? Would they say that about me or would they say "He died doing what he had to do." What an awful thing to have written or said about you. There's no life in that, no love, no joy, no peace, no kindness. Only neccessity. And for what? For money? For the praise of others? Because I don't know how to do anything else? I know there is more. I have to find that life that my friend talked so much about. The abundant life he always pointed to. That's what I need more than anything.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

There is a friend....

My friend JR that sticks closer than a brother. I have lost such a friend this weekend. He was my best man, he was my best friend, and I don't know how to think of the world without him in it.

A new friend

J.R. Davison and I first met when I was one of his clients at Grace Ministries in Manassas, Virginia. He had a gentleness of soul and a kindness that I have found in very few people. Most of all he was always pointing me to Jesus as the answer to all of life's problems.

He was the kind of friend you could call at 3 in the morning and he would be there. Now he's not here any more. J.R. died over the weekend from a massive heart attack while doing what he loved to do - talking with men about Jesus.

Ordination

J.R. - an ordained minister, though he held the titles that go with that lightly - was instrumental in starting the Northern Virginia Tres Dias Community. He attended Reston Bible Church, and was a friend to everyone who knew him. When my wife and I sang at his ordination, I joked "am I going to have to call you the Reverend Davison now?" In his typical style, he smiled and said, "no, I just want to be called your friend."

Last good byes

The last time I saw J.R. was at Fairfax Hospital. My wife and I had just suffered a miscarriage, and I called him to talk to him. In his typical style, he talked to me at length in a gentle and reassuring way. Then later he called me back to say he would be there when my wife had surgery.

And he was. He was there. I cried on his shoulder and he sat with me for hours while my wife was in surgery. He later went into the recovery room with me and talked to her. He was an extraordinary man. When talking about the whole thing later, as we cried, I told my wife "Jesus knew whom to send, honey. He sent J.R."

I write this through tears because I can hardly believe it. The experts say the first stage of grief is denial, and I'm in it. I can hardly believe that it's true. I knew this day would come some day. I just didn't think it would be today.

Semper Fidelis

J.R. was a former Marine. He served as a forward observer in Vietnam, and said his job involved strapping on a 12 foot antenna that said "shoot me." But he survived.

I thank God that he did. I would never have known him as a friend. My life has been enriched because of him. He was a priceless friend in every sense of the word. I will miss him terribly.

I know J.R. would smile - that smile that always seemed to say "it's good to see you," and you knew he meant it - and say "why are you making such a big deal? I'm where I have always wanted to be. I see now the source of my life, and I celebrate His grace." I guess I should envy J.R. more than cry for him. But the world is a poorer place without him.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dust on the balance

It is amazing how small many of the things we think are so important become when tragedy strikes. Like the flooding in our neighborhood.

One family had survived previous floods, including one from Hurricane Agnes in the 1970s that washed most of the neighborhood away. Another family decided to declare a total loss on their property - ironically they had just finished improving it so they could apply for a home loan in order to add another story so the part that flooded this month would be the basement. Now it's a loss.

There are things beyond our control - floods, rain, storms. Sometimes I wonder if we contribute to these disasters - through cutting down forests in order to build townhouses or apartments. That lets the water run off into the rivers and creeks where it has nowhere to go.

Or like cutting the mangroves that helped prevent some of the violent shifts that contribute to hurricane damage.

I was struck this week by two things (1) gasoline is getting way out of hand - even though we burn it like we will never run out; and (2) we have a lot to be thankful for.

The first point was driven home by rush hour. Car after car after SUV after truck lined up for miles. Every day for at least 8 hours a day. Don't ask why gas is so expensive - look around. That's why. I started taking the train to compensate. I might even start to ride my bike again.

The second point was driven home when I came home to my wife and dogs and they were healthy and happy and glad to see me. That made the commute worth it. They are why I do what I do. Whether I can figure out the latest tune on the Gospel charts or not is not really all that important. The people I love and the life we share are precious, even if I sometimes forget that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The rain damage

My neighbors are in the process of cleaning up from this week's flooding. One person has decided to call it a total loss and deal with FEMA (God help them). Another person has the Boy Scouts coming in to help her family clean up. She and her husband are both almost 80 and their home is the log cabin in the photo with the fire department standing on the banks trying to decide what to do. I don't know what's happening with Mr. Sun and his family.

The news trucks are gone now and the local radio station still has some photos of the damage in the area. In Dale City, a huge chunk of one of the main thoroughfares gave way in a sinkhole. Other folks had subsidence and lost pieces of their homes. There was even a tornado in one county, though we never saw that kind of wind here.

The sun is out today and it's a glorious morning. Yesterday was beautiful, too, with crystal clear skies, and temperatures around 65 degrees. My wife and I walked the dogs around the neighborhood and could see the residue of the flooding. One family's fence had a water mark about three fee high on it while others had debris from who knows where in their yards.

The thought that struck me is how long recovery is going to take - way after the story is out of the news. People have to pick up their lives and try to rebuild, or decide to move away, or try to clean up. The insurance companies are sure to be their normal "helpful" selves - lining their pockets on the suffering of others. But the damage and the shock will still be the same. But one thing is for sure - it will never be the same. And more rain is predicted.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You're Welcome

So the folks who I used to go to church with deleted me as a contributor to their missions blog. Didn't bother to ask me not to post, didn't call to tell me they were going to. They just deleted me so I can no longer post on Dashboard.

Nice, huh?

The thing that's really kind of small is I built their missions blog. Did all the links and maintained it while I was going to church there.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised - nobody bothered to comment about any of the postings.But I don't go to church there any more. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Flood photos

The Manassas Park and Yorkshire fire departments try to decide how to rescue someone trapped in a house across the lake that Lake Drive became.

One neighbor who probably lost everything in the flood of Bull Run Creek. His house is right next to the culvert.

Ironically this boat was on a trailer when the floods came, so it could not be moved out of the danger zone.

Here we go again....

This is my neighbor Sun Kyun. He is from Vietnam and his house just got flooded. It sits next to what used to be the lake of Lake Drive in Manassas. But now the Lake is in his basement. The sad thing is he has transformed this house. I have seen him and his son out in the yard working diligently to clean the lot, and change the basement and the sun room and spruce up the driveway.

Now he has no power, his freezer (in the basement) is full of water so his food is rotten. And he's not even got the worst of it yet. His neighbor across the street has water up the mid level of his windows. Two years ago when a similar heavy rain flooded the neighborhood, my wife and I bought flood insurance because of something similar. But I don't think Mr. Sun and his family have it. I know one thing they don't have - electric power. The NOVEC representative came and took the meter off their house to keep someone from being electrocuted. But it left them with no power.

They have cell phones and Mr. Sun's granddaughter said they can call relatives, but his son said they have no family except the one that lives in the now flooded house. I am sure theirs is just one of many such stories here in Northern Virginia. But theirs is the closest ones I know. The house is - or was - beautiful inside - hardwood floors, tile in the kitchen, the dining room overlooks the lake - except now the lake has covered the stairs. The hardwood stairs in this immaculate little home. The Red Cross or the County will not allow them to stay there - probably won't allow them because the basement is full of stinky brown water. I don't know what will become of them, but I hope to be a friend to them. It sure puts alot of the crap that I have been worried about in stark perspective.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The least of these ...

Like many of us who watch the news, I am taken aback by the rising death toll in Myanmar (Burma) from a cyclone there this week. The latest reports I have seen say the toll could rise above 100,000. The UN says that as many as 1 million people are homeless after the storm. The ruling military junta in Burma has even asked for help, something they rarely do.

The questions we have to ask ourselves include:

Why didn't people get the warnings? (State run media did not issure them. First Lady Laura Bush said this week that people did not even know the storm was coming unless they listened to Radio Free Asia or Voice of America).

What is the Burmese government doing to help? From what I can tell, not a whole lot. The military government does not allow very many outside organizations into the country and so aid is slow in getting there.

What should be done? I think the answer to that is obvious, unless you're dead spiritually. The photos of the devastation and the body count are enough to appeal to the hearts of even the coldest person. We cannot afford to NIMBY this one. These people are desperate.

What can be done? Plenty. The easiest thing to do is give money. There is a plethora of aid agencies that need the money. The most important thing to do is pray, pray that the aid gets to the people that need it instead of being hoarded by evil men. Pray that disease and drought and famine don't kill more people than the storm. Write to your Congressman or Senator(s) and ask for the U.S. government to help with aid. The First Lady is calling for help in caring for those devastated by this storm.

The thought would be easy "why should I help them; nobody helped us with Katrina, and there are still people homeless in New Orleans. Can't we take care of our own first?"

Legitimate point. There are deep needs in the USA as well. But we have very few places that are as desperate as the situation now in Burma. Let us - once again - be the ones with open hearts and open hands to help those in need.

If you would like to give here are just a few agencies:

World Vision

Tearfund


Christian Aid

Catholic Relief Services

World Food Program

Friday, April 25, 2008

1,2,3 ... you're dead

Count to three. I'm not joking; count to three. You know: "1, 2, 3"? In the time that it took you to do that, people died. Of curable diseases, of hunger, of AIDS, of poverty.

I am not making this up.

According to Tearfund:

"Currently, 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation and 1.1 billion people lack safe water. As a result 2.2 million children aged less than five die from diarrhoeal diseases each year. Women and children in poorer countries spend hours each day collecting and carrying water. The weight of water carried can be more than 25 kilograms."

So let's do the math. Just from lack of clean water: Two-point-two million divided by 365 days a year = 6,027 a day. Okay then divide that number by 24 for how many each hour (251). Then divide that by 60 for how man each minute (4). And that's just from a lack of water. That's not counting a lack of food or from disease.

That also doesn't count those killed in war, those who die from disasters, those who are killed in accidents, or those who take their own lives. That's just the folks who died each minute because they didn't have clean water to drink.

There has been a lot of press recently about the world food crisis. Most of us in the USA would probably not notice except if we tried to buy rice at Costco. But there is a real crisis out there. Some of it is out of our control - storms, El Nino, La Nina, earthquakes, droughts, etc.It even made the cover of Time Magazine.

But some of it - most of it - is under our control, or at least we can do something about it.

Currently, nearly one-half the world's population - 2.8 billion people - live on less than two dollars a day. Two dollars! I spent that on soda and pretzels; these people live on it. Another 800 million people go hungry every day!

Anyone want to go to McDonalds?

We worry about not being able to defend ourselves from terrorists (to the tune of 481 billion dollars this fiscal year to the Defense Department). We need to be more concerned about things much more basic - like the world starving outside our doors.

The debate about the rain forest and growing corn for fuel and the need for control on global warming is legitimate, but it skirts the real issue. The real problem is greed - a large part of the so-called crisis is caused by speculators hording food to drive the price up.

Trade liberalization policies - where the rich countries force the poor ones to open their markets to products from the developed world in order to receive aid from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund - have decimated the subsidies that poor farmers got to help stabilize the prices for their products

As a result, the poorer countries are now dependent on imports rather than home grown. Which of course means farmers in the developing world can't sell their products at competitive prices because the imports are cheaper because they are more abundant. So people don't farm. So they might as well blow themselves up - but that's a few steps down the road.

The poor also suffer from climate change. They are the ones who have the least ability to cope with nasty weather, cyclones, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, drought, or disease. The hundreds of thousands who perished in 2004 stand witness to the devastation that is "normal" for most people. They live in shacks or in poorly built houses, so when disaster strikes, they have no recourse. Disease follows - including cholera, typhoid, tetanus, and any number of other diseases.

And we wonder why the rest of the world seems to be turning anti-American? Maybe if we lived up to the motto of caring for the "tired, poor, hungry, teeming masses yearning to be free."

But we are often more worried about who won on American Idol.

I says this to my self as much as to anyone. A long time ago someone said to me "you are not responsible for what you do, you are responsible for what you KNOW." Jesus made a similar point. If you want the pants scared off you, read Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats. The sheep were the ones who responded with the love of Christ to the poor, the naked, the hungry, the lonely, the stranger, and the prisoner. Jesus said "as much as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." The goats got the same answer - but a much different result. Jesus called them cursed and said they were to go to the "eternal fire reserved for the devil and his angels."

So I guess who we really serve - what we really believe in - shows in our actions, not just our words.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nope, sorry you can't come in

US CapitolI have some friends who live in England but are running afoul of the visa requirements to come to the United States. They are part of a missionary group that comes to the USA for the National Day of Prayer and they are basically itinerant preachers.

But the State Department says they can't enter the country. I don't know all the particulars, but apparently two of the five team members are not getting visas to get in.

I did some research on the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security web sites. I even checked with my congressman's office. Apparently the U.S. branch of this ministry (of which I am a member) would have to file a form with the Immigration and Customs and Border Protection department.

Come to find out that this form - of course - had to be filed months ago. The team in England is appealing to the U.S. Ambassador, but he is likely to say that rules are rules. Who knows?

Apparently the R-1 visas they are seeking - for religious workers - have been abused by people who wanted to come here illegally. People would say they are priests, nuns, religious workers, etc., and then of course would disappear. The must have felt "called" to stay in the USA illegally and make money. Who knows. Maybe some of them are plotting to kill our people and blow up more buildings. It wouldn't be the first time.

But the State Department says that basically its guy on site has the final say. If you are out under section 214 (B), you are out until you can prove otherwise. And of course, the team of missionaries is supposed to arrive here in the United States next Monday. Whether they will come or whether they will have to cancel (like they did last year) remains to be seen.

When I look at this situation, I sometimes feel like quoting Lawrence Fishburne in The Matrix: "Welcome to the REAL world." I hope that doesn't mean I am being faithless. God is obviously greater than the State Department. But this might fall under Romans 13 where it says the officer is God's messenger and "bears not the sword in vain." Rules are rules. We might not like it, but in this situation, if every "i" is not dotted and every "t" not crossed then the missionaries might be 214(b)'d out of a trip. And they already have bookings in several churches up and down the East Coast.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Biggest Loser?

Before you get too inspired by the winner of the biggest loser - you know the woman who lost 112 pounds or nearly half her body weight - remember this: she was working out 8-10 hours a day towards the end of her program.

WHAT!?

Who has 8-10 hours a day to devote to exercise? No wonder you lose weight, your'e too tired to eat! And think of this, the guys who were in The 300 did their workouts six hours a day for six months. That's 2-4 hours less a day than this woman.

Can anybody stay fat working out 8-10 hours a day? I don't think so. But Jillian (her trainer) can point to this season as an advertising blitz and say "see, I can make you literally half as big as you are."

But c'mon. How about exercise for the REAL world, where most of us spend most of our time sitting on our butts at computers, in cars, or in front of the television.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nature's first green is gold ....

Monument Cherry Treesand I'm sneezing my head off.

It's that time of year, time to get out all the garden implements and start hacking away at the wilderness to try to tame it for another few months.

The cold is (almost) over and the new life has begun springing up all over the yard. Including dandelions, clover, and other undesirables. And the rats might have come out of hibernation - under my house. Last Tuesday was set traps day. Get under the crawl space with lethal, spring-loaded monsters and peanut butter. Then listen for the snap - or wait for the smell as summer comes along.

And it's time to order ant bait for the traps outside. At almost $100 for a gallon of Uncle Albert's Ant Bait, it's almost as a expensive as filling up my car.

Yesterday was the first mowing of the season. Time to roll out the Honda-powered mower with the bag on the back and go at it over my 1/3 of an acre. It wasn't too bad, but it reminded me that less grass is better than more.

And I'll be 46 in two weeks. Not that that will matter to the weeds, and the dandelions and the bugs and the rodents and my neighbor's rabbit that isn't supposed to be running loose in the neighborhood.

The Final Four was enjoyable, although it was work, not a pleasure trip. My editor's one comment? "Would have been nice if you had sent back photos of the celebration." Nice, huh? Except I was busy doing RADIO what they sent me there for.

The counselor at work told me that if I am looking for affirmation from my bosses, I am looking for the wrong thing from the wrong place. My bosses could give a damn as long as their fiefdoms remain safe and no one causes them to be uncomfortable.

So I will get back to the yard, now. There are still bushes to trim, beds to rake, plants to re-pot or dig holes for. And sneezes to sneeze, coughs to cough, and pills to take.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Two Faces of College Hoops

These women represent two faces of the college basketball final tonight in San Antonio. This lady is a Kansas fan, cheering her winning Jayhawks and coach Bill Self.

This woman is a Memphis fan. The Tigers came closer than any team I have seen in years. But Kansas was too much, too tough.

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y

Rock Chalk Jayhawk Y'all.

Kansas has beaten Memphis, 75-68, to win the men's basketball championship for the first time in 20 years.

The game was electric, coming down to an overtime win. Kansas was down by nine with about two minutes left to play and then Mario Chalmers hits a monster three with less than two seconds left.

Memphis wasn't able to answer in overtime, and Bill Self and Kansas took the title. This is the first time Kansas has won the title since before Roy Williams was the coach - 1988.

It was a GREAT game. The largest lead the whole game was nine points. By Memphis. It was like standing in the midst of a hurricane when Chalmers hit that shot. Magnificent!

Monday, April 07, 2008

OT!

We're going to OVERTIME!

Mario Chalmers of Kansas hits the three with less than two seconds left and the game goes to an extra five minutes!!!!!

The joint is rocking. The building is literally moving. It's electric and like standing in the middle of a tornado.

Hall of Famers

Dickey V - Dick Vitale, Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon et al inductees to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

In addition to the above mentioned heroes of the game, Adrian Dantley, Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson and Immaculata University women's coach Cathy Rush will also be inducted into the Naismith Memorial National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

There was a lot of greatness there. Lots of points scored. Lots of hoop dreams. Kansas leads the game at halftime, 33-28.

Ohh rah

The joint is going nuts. Right now it's a see saw game with the teams tied at 26.

Kansas just took a two point lead on a huge jam by Kaun. Memphis answered with a two-pointer from Chris Douglas-Roberts. Both teams are running it as hard as they can. Memphis looks like the bigger team. Tied at 28 with 4:09 left.

Taggert, Anderson, Douglas Roberts - who throws up a brick and Kansas ball. Wee hah. Time out on the floor - no doubt to sell you cars or chips or insurance or something. None of that here - except you can't take a cup into the building without Dasani written on it.

Game On

San Antonio, Texas, 15:36 in 1st half. Memphis 9, KU 5. Crowd is yelling "Go Jayhawks" at least the Kansas fans. The KU band is playing the team's fight song and the KU fans are clapping along. Thousands of pairs of hands clapping in rhythm to the song. You cannot understand the words except "Go" and "KU". The horn has sounded for play to resume and Memphis is looking tough.

Kansas just tied the game at 9-9 and the crowd is loudly cheering. To my right are the KU fans. The folks behind me and to my left are a mixture. The Memphis folks are mostly on the same side I am.

A'int nothing like being there

You might have seen an NCAA final on TV. It's not the same. Not even close to what it's like to be here.

First off the building is a football stadium. The court is set in what would be one of the end zones with huge bleachers on what would be the 10-15 yard line. The building is full to the rafters - even the upper deck on the sides to the opposite end - except of course for those seats behind the massive bleachers. But the farthest seats are going for something like $50 face value. Yeah, try to get that on the street.

The building echoes. It's like someone turned the volume up on your TV real loud and left it there. No recourse from the noise. And when someone scores, it sounds like a jet engine is blasting next to your ear. Especially on a dramatic play like an alley-oop dunk.

People are wearing all manner of regalia. The Memphis fans have on blue beads that illuminate - like a flashlight. They are sparkling all over the building. Guys are dressed in suits and ties, too. Everyone wants to be Pat Riley, huh?

The music from the bands is thunderous as well, made even more so by the size of the building. There's security everywhere and the atmosphere is like something great is about to happen.

Which it is.

Stay tuned.

Courtside seat

8:43 pm EDT Monday April 7 2008, San Antonio, Texas

Surprise, Surprise. Court side at the NCAA men's basketball championship game. We're about 30 minutes from tipoff between Memphis and Kansas and the Jayhawks have just taken the court for warm ups. It sounds like there are more Kansas fans in the Alamodome than Memphis fans. The Jayhawks are trying to win the title for the first time since 1988. Memphis has never won the men's championship.

Jesse Jackson is here. I saw him on the front row as I was coming back from the men's room. He talked to the Memphis team earlier this year (according to coach John Calipari). The Rev. Jackson was in Memphis for something else and Coach Calipari asked him to talk to the players about the Civil Rights struggle, MLK, and the press. Apparently it had quite an effect on the Tigers.

I finally broke down and bought a wireless contract for today. $16.50 of the taxpayers dollars for me to do my job. I will have to redo my authorization, but so what. How much would it cost for me to spend the time it would have taken to go across the street to file?

Anyway, my seat is way better than Saturday night. I'm right behind the players towards the KU band. Cool. I have a direct view of the rim near the KU cheerleaders. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Pony Express anyone?

There are so many people trying to use the INternet in my hotel that the server cannot handle it and crashed. Great. Now how am I going to file? I guess teh same way I am typing this - FROM ANOTHER HOTEL!

The folks at the Alamodome charge for wireless access, and the bosses in DC don't want to spend too much on "a sports event" so I have to find ways to get the job done on the cheap. Like this portal. $6.00 for 20 minutes, which works enough to get the job done.

I understand the wireless network is up and running in my hotel, so what I will have to do is cover tonight's game, get everything written and produced, and then go down to the lobby with my laptop to file using wireless. It's not as fast as the ethernet cable, but it should work. Let's hope so. The American people sent me here to send stuff back.

Otherwise I will do what I did this morning - trot across the street to the Mariott and file from there. Jump driver madness.

I hope it's a good game. I'm picking Memphis. They look so much stronger and BIGGER than Kansas. But Bill Self might have the boys ready. It's been 20 years since KU won the title. But Memphis has never won it.

A little less conversation and a lot more action. Got my boarding pass printed already. Laundry day now.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

NCAA Shotz

Here's some photos from the NCAA,

The first is Big Jay, the Kansas mascot. Don't know who's in the suit, but they were working the whole game.











Next some fans celebrate their Jayhawks' win over North Carolina.










Finally here's some Memphis fans cheering the Tigers at the Alamodome Saturday.

Hoop Dreams

Kansas basketball fans - including Abbey Stockstill and Adam Harley in this photo - had plenty to cheer about tonight in San Antonio. The Jayhawks gave North Carolina a whooping like they have not had all year. Though the final score was an 18 point difference 84-66 the game was nothing like that.

Kansas blew out of the blocks and never looked back. The Jayhawks led by as many as 28 points and though Carolina put on a strong comeback - they got to within four points - it was not enough.

Sad for Carolina fans, but exciting for fans of basketball. The game was a see-saw contest and Kansas seemed to shut down in the second half until late. But they revived in time to win and move on the the finals against Memphis.

The Tigers looked really good against UCLA. They had the joint rocking. Monday night's game is going to be a great one - unless you're from UCLA or UNC. They're probably booking their flights home right now.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

River Walking

I ate dinner last night at the Original Mexican Restaurant on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. What a crowded, noisy, place. Turns out it was right below the Coyote Ugly bar on the Riverwalk.

The Riverwalk is cool, but not when you have 100,000 noisy basketball fans in it at the same time. Okay so maybe there weren't that many. But there were a lot of folks. And it took a LONNNNNNNG time to get my food.

The waiter forgot my chips and salsa, left me sitting there - by the door I might add - and left my beer empty. When the food final did get there, it was luke warm. So won't be eating there again.

Granted, it was crowded and the crowd was so loud that you couldn't hear your table announced over the PA system. So I cut the kid some slack - I did give him a tip, but not 15% by any means.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Electric atmosphere

Williams HansbroughI made it to the final practice for North Carolina before the semifinal game against Kansas today. The game promises to be a great one, and I really can't wait.

I talked to one guy from Galax, North Carolina, who along with his two sons and his brother drover 23 hours to get to San Antonio to see the game. Now that's a fan. Turns out this guy is a probation officer and graduate from UNC in 1983, the year after Carolina won the national title with Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Sam Perkins.

There were about 5,000 people watching the practice. There was also a huge media contingent through which and with which I will have to wade into the game tomorrow. The Alamodome is sure to be rocking. I look forward to it.

San Antonio Final Four

United HeavyI'm in San Antonio, Texas, this week for the Final Four. Getting here was no fun. The plane was delayed 90 minutes by weather and because it was too heavy.

The jet seats 66 people but only 52 were able to fly because United had loaded extra fuel on the plane in case it had to divert to another airport because of thunderstorms between DC and Texas.

Then when we got to San Antonio, we had to sit on the tarmac because there was no where to park the plane. So all these delays made me late for the final practices for the games. So I missed the players and coaches, and the fact that Roderick Stewart broke his knee cap while trying to do a funky dunk during warm-ups.

So I have to play a little catch-up. Carolina was practicing by the time I got to the Alamodome, but I couldn't talk to players or coaches. So I will have to get audio from a local affiliate or something.

Thus is the life of a government reporter. I probably should have come here yesterday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Religio et politico

So Hillary is trying anything she can to sling mud at Barack Obama by saying that Jeremiah Wright would not have been her pastor. So maybe she should stick to making sure she tells the truth about her record instead of trying to sling mud. She was not under sniper fire when she went to Bosnia-Herzegovina. She was walking with U.S. troops!

So Hillary is trying anything she can to deflect interest away from the fact that she lied about where she went and how she got there. She is behind, and is trying anything she can to make herself look presidential. But lying is not presidential - unless you are Hillary's husband. He certainly has a doctorate in deception.

I really wish they would all go away. None of them seems to have what it takes to lead the greatest nation in the world. Not that McCain would be that much better. A vote for McCain is more of the Same (sounds like Jesse Jackson, huh?)

And the 4,000th U.S. soldier died this week in Iraq. Four troops got blown up by a roadside bomb, and that put the total over the 4k mark. The Iraqis seem to let someone else do the heavy lifting and the dying and they will take advantage of what is left. And the corruption in the oil markets in Iraq continue to rise. Pipelines are busted, the oil is drained, and then when the stuff is refined, the truckers dump water in the tankers instead of diesel fuel. And this is what our tax dollars are paying for.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon reported that it mistakenly shipped the nose cone of a Titan Missile to Taiwan instead of a case of helicopter batteries. Excuse me? They Titan nose cone looks nothing like a helicopter battery. And we want to export this crap to other countries?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Superman got into the kryptonite

So Tiger lost - big whoop. Did we really believe that anyone - even Tiger Woods - could go undefeated? Nah. C'mon. He didn't lose by much a couple strokes.

But people thought the New England Patriots would go undefeated, too. And we all know how THAT worked out.

But Mr. Woods is still the baddest man to swing a bent stick and get through all the horrible stuff in the way.

So the Masters is in two weeks. Look for Tiger to be back on the prowl.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hoops and pickers


One of the pleasures of this job is that you actually get to do something that you would want to do if you didn't have to work. One of the things I like to do is talk to musicians, about music, about their work, maybe play a little.

I have had the honor of talking to Dr. Billy Taylor, the late James Brown, George Clinton, and Victor Wooten. This week, I got a chance to chat with country star and Grammy winner Vince Gill.

Turns out Vince is a big fan of the Belmont Bruins, the Nashville, Tennessee school that was playing Duke in the first round here in Washington at the Verizon Center. I saw him on the big screen and grabbed my recorder and chatted with him at halftime of the game.

I have to admit I was a little intimidated to talk to him. I mean he's not here for an interview; he's here to watch a basketball game. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we have a mutual friend. A good friend of mine went to church with Vince's wife Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Brown Bannister when she was in school at Vanderbilt. So I screwed my courage to the sticking point and asked him a few questions. I also had to remember, he's a musician, I am a musician, we have that in common.

"How are you liking the game so far," I asked.

"It's a lot of fun, I think these teams match up pretty well, so far. Duke is obviously a better ball club, with better players," he said.

"Did you graduate from Belmont or are you on the faculty there?"


"No I am just great friends with (Belmont Coach) Rick Byrd. We have been friends and I have been going to their games for about 20 years now. I tease him and say that 'I am your Jack Nicholson; the Lakers have Jack Nicholson, and you have me."

"What's your latest project, what are you working on right now?"


"Well, I just last month won a Grammy for the last record I had out called These Days. And I will probably work on another record and get out and do some touring. My world doesn't change much from year to year, it's pretty similar, " he answered.

It was LOUD where we were talking. The Pep bands from both Belmont and Duke were blaring away and there were about 20,000 people in the building.

But we kept chatting.

"So, I was talking to a Belmont student earlier today who is a music business major. What advice would you as a working musician give to young kids who are coming up and hoping to get into the music business?"

"You know, the funny thing is, the way I grew up, the business is not that way any more, so my advice is almost pointless, because the era of today is not really comparable to the era I grew up in. The bottom line is, great music is great music, and if you can find a way to steer towards that and bet on that, and always put art before commerce, it will benefit you greatly.

I asked him about the American Idol phenomenon, where some folks seem to get fame at a younger and younger age - especially this year. Vince told me that its very different now.

"To compare the music business of today to the music business of 30-35 years ago when I started is crazy. But it still holds true, today is such a visual age. Everybody watches music, even in the way you record it, with the computerization, the way it's done it all shows up on a screen. And you look at music more so now than you listen to it and I grew up in my bedroom just listening to music, figuring out with my ears how they did it. And its very different because people want to see it. But once again, hard work will create an awful lot of good luck. But the things like American Idol that you are seeing, it doesn't matter how you get your foot in the door. The bottom line is once you get your foot in the door if you have talent you've got a chance. That's never going to be any different."

"So it's like 10% inspiration and 90% hard work, right?"


"Yeah, you gotta work really hard, You've got to be willing to starve. A lot of people aren't. A lot of people want - the age today people want to be famous. You know people like Paris Hilton are just famous for being famous, not necessarily for doing anything. And I think there's a lot of singers, and musicians and rappers that are the same way. But a true musician just wants to be great at what they do."

I could tell I should wrap things up - I mean I didn't want to take all Vince's time - he might have to go to the bathroom or something. But I wanted to get in a couple more questions.

"So tell me, I have friends - and myself included - who would play music for free because it's their passion. Is that true of you?"

"I would and did and will again (Laughs)." With that, I thought I had enough and walked back to my seat. But it was great to chat with him. God help you when two pickers get together. There's much I would have loved to ask, but maybe later.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

N-C-blah, blah, blah

Okay sports fans, it's that time of year again. Time to fill out brackets and watch games and suffer heartbreak and feel the rise of hope. Time to believe in the impossible - until your team plays North Carolina or Duke.

I write this from the press room at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, where Xavier has just disassembled Georgia and Purdue is wiping the court with Baylor. It's the same setup as the last time I did this - the Wizards' practice court is converted into a press work room and interview room. Big tables, lots of people with laptops, expensive food, cheap snacks and lots of waiting.

The excitement is actually on the court - especially if you are a basketball fan. But here in the press room it is all about pouring over stacks of stats, trying to produce audio reports, watching three different games at once and putting up with BS from editors.

But it is a chance to get out of the office. For that I am deeply grateful.

I got the chance to talk to some Belmont fans - their team, the Bruins, plays Duke in the first round. Belmont could be the new word for bye bye in a couple hours. But the fans made the trip from Nashville. One of them - a music business major - said that while Vanderbilt might be better known, his school will give it's best.

I fear it will not be enough. Duke is a second seed, and former champion. Belmont is where????????

And so the games will most likely go to the better teams - Duke, North Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, Xavier, UCLA. But Cinderella has to try on the shoe anyway. Back to work.

Later.