Friday, September 26, 2008

Brain on vacation!

Some days, you just don't want to be a grownup anymore. Today we had the largest bank failure ever, and we're approaching a global financial panic. (Or at least the media keeps alleging, to keep us watching.) I could be all Chicken Little, watch endless coverage on CNN or CNBC or BBC or some other unholy acronym, but my brain says, no, let's go on vacation! If Congress can't be grown-up, I don't have to be, either! So here are some of my favorite ways to send my brain on vacation. And yes, I know there are lots of cats involved.

1. I Can Has Cheezburger: A website filled with funny pictures of cats, accompanied by silly captions. You can browse their hundreds of pics, caption someone else's pic, or upload your own. Here is one I contributed:

funny pictures

2. Cats Who Look Like Hitler: Yes, there is an entire website devoted to cats who have funny mustache markings. Again, it's mainly user-generated, with photos uploaded by cat lovers whose felines look like one of world's most famous and reviled ailurophobes. (Ailurophobe=cat-hater. The irony is delicious.) What always amuses me is how many of these owners name their cat "Adolf" or even "Hitler." I suppose it's a big "up yours" to turn the world's most notorious dictator into a fuzzy pet:

3. Then there's Stupid Videos, which is as advertised: full of dumb stuff. I like to browse the animals section, and see the stupid stuff people do with/to animals, or that animals do to them. (I love the "Adopt-a-Pet" TV segment in which a cat almost castrates the control officer, or the Sleepy Kitten, or the TV ad with a cat on a ceiling fan.) My favorite, though, is a silly, stupid song someone submitted:

I apologize if this silly song is now stuck in your head like it is in mine (and the 6+ million people who have also viewed this video), but sometimes your brain just needs to take a break!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm Diane, and I disapproved this message

There are only 39 days left until the presidential election, which means only about 39,000 more political ads I have to sit through. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but living in a projected swing state means it feels like I'm sitting (or fast-forwarding, thank God for TIVO) through a zillion ads every day. I read somewhere that Detroit is the #2 market nationwide for all campaign ads, and #1 for Obama ad buys. (He likes us, he really likes us!) Some of the Obama ads actually treat us like grownups, speaking plainly about what he wants to do and asking us to read his whole plan on his website. But then there are the ones that just scream: Michigan lost JOBS overSEAS and it's MCCAIN'S FAULT! (But wait, other ads say Michigan lost JOBS overSEAS and it's the FAULT of OBAMA and those LIBERALS in CONGRESS! I'm so confused!) I thought maybe I'd get a break today because McCain said he was halting his campaign during the financial crisis, including not airing ads, but no, they were still interrupting my breakfast, as were the annoying anti-stem-cell-proposal ads (they're GOING to SPEND your MONEY!).

So during this bombardment I can't help but look back wistfully on my time in London. We spent the entire 2000 campaign overseas, as well as most of the aftermath, which probably helped my sanity. Then we saw the British system at work the following year, as I summed up on my website:
First of all, a five-week election season! The government calls for an election, and it happens in about a month. So no constant political nattering about something that won't take place for eighteen months. Second, hardly any political ads!! They get equal TV time for party broadcasts, but these are scheduled so you can avoid them if you want. No watching TV and having it interrupted by nasty, slanted, mean-spirited political ads. There was plenty of coverage in the news media, oftentimes with a particular slant, but for the most part it was informative. Third, there is a viable national third party, the Liberal Democrats, as well as viable local parties (Green, Scottish & Welsh national parties, even one who ran—and won—on a "Save Kidderminster Hospital" platform) so you really had a decent choice.

The most notable difference, however, is that in Britain you don't vote directly for prime minister, you vote for your member of parliament (MP), and then the leader of the party (or coalition of parties) with the most MPs becomes prime minister. So you can't "split" your vote like you do in the States, by voting for a senator of one party and a president of another. This led to an interesting phenomenon, fueled by the internet: "vote trading." Suppose you were a Liberal Democrat (left) who lived in an area where the Lib Dems ran a distant third to Labour (central left) and the Tories (right). If you couldn't have your candidate, you'd still rather have a Labour MP than a Conservative one, right? So, via the internet, you could find a Labour supporter who was in a similar situation: Labour running third to the Lib Dems and Tories. The two of you agree to "swap" your votes, and hopefully the Tories lose in both areas.
Sounds much more sensible, doesn't it? I can't say as I think that their parliamentary system is better than our federal one when it comes to governing, but it's hard to argue that a five-week campaign system wouldn't be a big improvement on our increasingly lengthy (and increasingly meaningless) sound-bite, horserace-over-issues campaign. Oh, well. Only 39 more days, right? Wake me up when it's over (and pray it's over on November 5th).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall is here!

Yesterday was the first day of fall, my favorite season. Some people love summer for the heat and lazy days; others prefer spring, with its fresh breezes and new flowers. There are even some crazy people who prefer winter and love being in the snow. (I will admit that I missed snow just a little bit while I was living in London.) But for me, fall is the season that tops them all.

First of all, there's the weather. The days are temperate, even warm, but not very humid, so I can enjoy the outdoors without wheezing like a broken vacuum cleaner. As a bonus, the nights are nice and cool, so I can sleep easily. (I think I've mentioned I like my sleep.) I received the first notice of fall last week when I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I couldn't move my legs because the cat was sleeping on them. She never does that when it's warm.

Another thing I like about the fall is the sense of possibilities. Sure, spring is the time of rebirth. (If you remember how messy birth can be, maybe that's not such a great analogy.) For me, though, fall holds more potential. When I was a student, fall meant the beginning of a new year—new classes, new friends, new things to learn. (I was a nerd, so I liked school.) I'm not a student any more, but I still get that feeling: there's new music to learn at band practice and new students to teach at the TKD studio. Fall is also the beginning of football season, when all my teams have the potential of being champions. (Okay, maybe not so much for the Lions, but a girl can dream, can't she?)

Then there's the bonus: my birthday is in the fall. Okay, maybe not technically, since it's two days before the equinox, but anything after Labor Day is "fall" for my purposes. I like my birthday. I get presents. People say nice things to me, like "You don't look 43!" I get cake.* So hurray for fall! Let the days get a little shorter and the leaves turn crimson. I'll just sit back and enjoy it.

*Well, not this year, but I made a tray of Rice Krispie treats instead. It's a good substitute, especially since Boy and TSU have left it mostly to me. Or did I beat them away with a stick? In any case, I do believe I ate the whoooole thing. Because breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Photo of the Week--9/15/08

It was kind of intoxicating, living in London, because a free weekend meant we could go anywhere in Europe within about three hours. We had a long weekend in January 2000, so we decided to go to Prague. For people who born in the 60s, growing up with the Iron Curtain, traveling to a former Soviet client and seeing the transformation democracy had brought in just a decade was fascinating. Prague is a lovely city, and now it's a major tourist destination, especially in the summer. Since we visited in the very low season, it felt like we had most of the city to ourselves. (We even took a walking tour, similar to the famous London Walks, in which we were the only clients, so we could ask the guide all the questions we wanted.) This photo is of the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, seen from atop the Old Town Hall in the city's main square. We had beautiful weather, and I love the way the angular towers reach into the blue sky and skewer the clouds.