2005 notes from within

Latest in a series of annual blogs, begun in 2000. For past blogs, see my profile.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Is this letter fair?

Please help our readers understand what aspects of the following letter suggest inaccuracies...:

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

Dear Mr. Bush:

Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? Do you need help finding them? I once lost my car in a Sears parking lot. Man, was that a drag. Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiers are? We could really use them right now for the type of thing they signed up to do like helping with national disasters. How come they weren't there to begin with? Last Thursday I was in south Florida and sat outside while the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over my head. It was only a Category 1 then but it was pretty nasty. Eleven people died and, as of today, there were still homes without power. That night the weatherman said this storm was on its way to New Orleans. That was Thursday! Did anybody tell you? I know you didn't want to interrupt your vacation and I know how you don't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisers to go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore and smear. You sure showed her!
I especially like how, the day after the hurricane, instead of flying to Louisiana, you flew to San Diego to party with your business peeps. Don't let people criticize you for this -- after all, the hurricane was over and what the heck could you do, put your finger in the dike? And don't listen to those who, in the coming days, will reveal how you specifically reduced the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summer for the third year in a row. You just tell them that even if you hadn't cut the money to fix those levees, there weren't going to be any Army engineers to fix them anyway because you had a much more important construction job for them -- BUILDING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ!
On Day 3, when you finally left your vacation home, I have to say I was moved by how you had your Air Force One pilot descend from the clouds as you flew over New Orleans so you could catch a quick look of the disaster. Hey, I know you couldn't stop and grab a bullhorn and stand on some rubble and act like a commander in chief. Been there done that.
There will be those who will try to politicize this tragedy and try to use it against you. Just have your people keep pointing that out. Respond to nothing. Even those pesky scientists who predicted this would happen because the water in the Gulf of Mexico is getting hotter and hotter making a storm like this inevitable. Ignore them and all their global warming Chicken Littles. There is nothing unusual about a hurricane that was so wide it would be like having one F-4 tornado that stretched from New York to Cleveland.
No, Mr. Bush, you just stay the course. It's not your fault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in poverty or that tens of thousands had no transportation to get out of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with this!
You hang in there, Mr. Bush. Just try to find a few of our Army helicopters and send them there. Pretend the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are near Tikrit.
Michael Moore

P.S. That annoying mother, Cindy Sheehan, is no longer at your ranch. She and dozens of other relatives of the Iraqi War dead are now driving across the country, stopping in many cities along the way. Maybe you can catch up with them before they get to DC on September 21st.

Fair or Unfair?..your opinion welcomed

January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of
FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush
administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh
confirms that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal
disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement
program...." he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be
involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an
appropriate level."

2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the
three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country."

December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is
leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do
business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like
Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.

March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into
the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting
acts of terrorism.

2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA's preparation and
planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and
Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.

Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding
requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You would
think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program
called for. We were more than qualified for it."

June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New
Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter
Maestri comments: "It appears that the money has been moved in the
president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I
suppose that's the price we pay."

June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is
the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after
the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany

August 2005: While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion catastrophe, Bush
mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for Mark
Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his vacation.
When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the unfolding
disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat,
defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.

A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA.
Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to
be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately
downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce
the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and
planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size
of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did
happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate
Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan
loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush
administration in a nutshell.
(Attributed to Henry Breitrose, Professor of Communication, Department of Communication, Stanford University)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

just fer laffs

Friday, August 26, 2005

Byte by Byte: Putting it Together

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone working in the filmed and broadcast entertainment industry now “gets it”: digital technologies are a vital part of the production, post-production, and delivery models of today and tomorrow, and producers of Film and TV are eager to learn how their projects can benefit from “New Media” technologies. What members of the production team don’t want, however, is to be unnecessarily encumbered with technological detritus, representing much of “the latest”, but little or none of “the greatest”.

Over the past couple of years, I have been gradually expanding the focus of my column in "Produced By" Magazine – moving beyond “websites of interest”, into a more diversified exploration of what is “out there” in the landscape of advanced media and entertainment technologies and services. My interest has been, and continues to be, in unearthing what could serve as an invaluable resource to a producer of a feature film, videogame, or television property. With this in mind, this column has explored wireless entertainment, online film archiving, location tools, web-based production directories, the biggest interactive entertainment conference in the world, emerging residual revenue platforms, and much more. Each of these areas represents, in my opinion, another potentially useful tool in the producer’s kit: an opportunity for enhancing the financial, creative, operational, or technical potential of their initial concept.

One problem remains: bandwidth.

The obvious definition of the word, given the nature of this column, would relate to data transmission rates. I am more interested, at least for the purpose of this article, in the colloquial meaning The amount of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a given period of time”.

Producers are already stretched to the limits of their capabilities, what with every hat they already wear. To expect them to be able to understand, let alone manage, the diversity of technological innovations available to the production team is unrealistic. Let me refine that statement: it is unrealistic to expect a member of the production team to effectively assess and manage each and every facet of the production, post-production, distribution, and presentation throughline - on a creative, financial, operational AND technological level.

In the medical industry, Olympus has recognized the challenge facing hospitals: how can doctors possibly absorb, assess, and manage the medical, financial, operational, and technological advances in their industry, whilst also practicing their trade? The answer being “they can’t” - at least not without eventually becoming a patient themselves. Thus companies like Olympus have developed programs designed to inform their clientele of not just the product offering that they bring to the table, but also the context within which that offering exists, and the evolving nature of that changing environment. This consultation is offered in recognition of the fact that Olympus offers several products and services within that environment, and if their client or partners can better perceive the nature of that environment, they will better understand the value proposition offered by one or more of the products and services offered by Olympus within that particular environment.

A feature film producer often seeks the same sort of offering from a studio: what sort of products, equipment, and services will the studio offer to their production, during the various phases of development, pre-pro, production, post, and distribution? Not to mention later presentation or representation via DVD, VoD, Broadcast, Wireless, and game channels. A successful partnership will permit (if you’ll forgive the enormous oversimplification!) the production team to focus on the project’s creative needs, while the studio deals with various other aspects of the process. Studios today are, however, not yet equipped to respond to the evolving technological possibilities, present already in our industry. It’s as if we were to expect Cedars-Sinai hospital (to continue a previous analogy) to invent and build the latest MRI machines. Unrealistic. The hospital may be able to demonstrate and clarify a need, but they naturally look to their partner specialists to produce a solution.

In much the same way the studios, production companies, networks, and other entertainment and media entities in today’s industry are constantly in search of preferred partners, within areas they may not possess sufficient knowledge or market presence.

That’s why many studio marketing departments continue to rely on outsourcing for their website marketing: it’s cheaper, and the technology is so fluid, that it relies on specialist knowledge (do you know what versions of Dreamweaver, Flash, or Java scripting are currently in release?). It’s also why many production companies look for partners in the video game industry, and wireless entertainment industry. It’s why Kodak, Panavision, Avid, Technicolor, Grass Valley, and Discreet continue to operate.

The point of particular interest, however, is this: just as a producer will look to establish a relationship with the studio that can offer the most comprehensive and advanced parallel operational and distribution offerings for their project, so media and entertainment companies across the board are looking for partners that will be able to take care of the majority of their technological needs during that same process. The creation and distribution of entertainment and media properties is already so complex. To introduce myriad new platforms and channels and technologies in to this mix risks tipping the boat, unless you can rely on a specialist to guide you through the thickening forest of offerings. Consulting companies such as McKinsey and Company are hiring technology experts for just this reason. Precious few companies, however, are positioned to offer this A-Z service, from an operational POV.

This was why I was especially pleased to be introduced to a company recently that seems to be doing just that. Thomson is over 100 years old, and I had previously known it as a French consumer products company, identified mostly via its RCA brand. In the past 5 years or so, however, the company has been refining its ongoing legacy of technological innovation, to meet the evolutionary demands of the marketplace within which it chooses to operate. Chairman and CEO, Frank Dangeard, recently explained in an interview that the company’s ambition was to ensure that any TV show, film, or ad viewed on whatever platform, was produced or presented with the collaboration of one of Thomson’s divisions, which now include such storied brands as Technicolor and Grass Valley.

The company has aggressively reoriented itself, no longer as a B2C producer, but rather as a B2B partner, offering a mind-boggling array of products, equipment and services to every stage of the aforementioned production, post-production and delivery chain.

Take for example the Viper FilmStream™ Camera from Thomson’s Grass Valley division: one of the most compact and versatile cameras on the market, it has three 9.2-million pixel Frame Transfer CCDs, and delivers an RGB 4:4:4 10-bit log output which has not been compromised by electronic camera signal processing. In English – it kicks a***. This camera sees images at night like the human eye does - Michael Mann used the camera in his latest feature film, “Collateral”.

The Technicolor division continues to offer best in class services in film processing; post production (including digital intermediates, visual effects, and international versioning); and DVD compression, authoring, replication and distribution.

Thomson’s Access Platforms and Gateways division is a worldwide leader in access solutions for satellite, cable, terrestrial broadcast, and telecommunications networks. Simply put, they’re one of the world’s largest suppliers of resources for that last mile, on the road between a producer’s vision and the audience experience.

I haven’t even mentioned the company’s 45,000 industry-related patents, or their role as co-developers of mp3 technology, digital satellite technology, and video compression technologies. Space permits me only to mention in passing their remarkable Film Grain Technology, which is capable of creating a life-like quality to compressed video and has been selected as a tool in the HD-DVD standard.

Thomson is the first of what I believe will be several companies, offering soup to nuts - or as company CTO, Jean-Charles Hourcade, put it so eloquently, “glass to glass: lens to display” - solutions for the media or entertainment project looking to take advantage of the latest innovations in their field. Other companies, such as Gannett and Hearst are beginning to build up their capabilities in the multimedia/cross-platform communications services arenas, but I get the impression that Thomson is the only company offering solid and full spectrum service in the production, post-production, AND delivery stages of media and entertainment properties.

Members of the Guild will be pleased to learn that, when I asked Thomson whether they would be interested in interfacing with the Producers Guild, they expressed great enthusiasm in collaborating with the membership. They have even extended an invitation to Guild membership to come visit their facilities in Burbank, when they open officially in December, and have promised to extend a formal invitation at the time, with an exclusive event!

As storytellers, our interest is to ensure that our stories are told to the widest audience, in the purest form. We want to ensure that our creative team is given every tool and resource available to maximize their capabilities, and that we are able to deliver the results of their creativity with maximum impact and cost-efficiency. Partnerships with companies such as Thomson make sense, given that focus. What they offer are the very tools and resources we may need to produce and present our stories.

From a friend



Do you keep falling asleep in meetings and seminars? What about those long
and boring conference calls? Here's a way to change all of that.

1. Before (or during) your next meeting, seminar, or conference call,
prepare yourself by drawing a square. I find that 5" x 5" is a good size.

Divide the card into columns-five across and five down. That will give you
25 one-inch blocks.

2. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block:
* synergy
* strategic fit
* core competencies
* best practice
* bottom line
* revisit
* expeditious
* to tell you the truth (or "the truth is")
* 24/7
* out of the loop
* benchmark
* value-added
* proactive
* win-win
* think outside the box
* fast track
* result-driven
* empower (or empowerment)
* knowledge base
* at the end of the day
* touch base
* mindset
* client focus(ed)
* paradigm
* game plan
* leverage

3. Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those words/phrases.

4. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, stand
up and shout "BULLSHIT!"

Testimonials from satisfied "Bullshit Bingo" players:

-- "I had been in the meeting for only five minutes when I won."- Adam W.,

-- "My attention span at meetings has improved dramatically."- David T.,

-- "What a gas! Meetings will never be the same for me after my first
win."- Dan J., New York City

-- "The atmosphere was tense in the last process meeting as 14 of us waited
for the fifth box." - Ben G., Denver

-- "The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed 'BULLSHIT!' for the
third time in two hours." - Ernie Morrow, Milwaukee

Monday, August 15, 2005

Why I'm taking a break...

I couldn't have said it better myself, so I won't bother...:

Lifecycle of Bloggers
Filed under: General — 9:59 am

Having blogged in one form or fashion for the last 6 years or so (not including personal journals that I’ve written in, on paper even, with crayon even, since I was six years old), allow me to personally provide you with a rundown on the lifecycle that I’ve observed from personal bloggers.

#1. Start reading blogs.
You start out as a lurker and by either having met a blogger or run accross an intriguing and challenging post from someone else’s blog, you start mulling about in your head for either a forum for response, challenge, or agreement. You *could* start by commenting on other folks blogs first, but you start having a gradually increased desire for a space of your own. Like when you’re living in your parent’s basement and the rest of your friends are making weekly trips to Home Depot and using words like “mulching”. You begin to wonder if you want to belong.

#2. You start a blog.
Maybe at first it’s on blogspot or livejournal. You start writing about cheese sandwhiches. You use your full name and the full names of your friends that are involved in your occasionally mischievous exploits. These things satisfy you. Hubris starts taking a more significant part of your site as you develop your tiny homestead online. The notion of fleshing out your online personality becomes important.

#3. You become a stats whore.
Daily stats/referrals and meme participation for webrings, quizlists, personality profiles, and the occasional sepia toned webcam photo to make you look all “emo” and “sultry” and “sensitive” or at least a little bit thinner. And definitley like a Kpop music video still image. You voraciouslly groom your links list as you build a posse. The wishlist makes it’s initial appearance and creepy strangers start sending you gifts when your birthday comes around. You consider this slightly weird, but hey, then again, you *did* get that Star Wars Box set that you always wanted. You *start* memes just for the additional traffic. Perhaps you even start a webgame of sorts.

#4. You become really personal on your site as the online and real-life worlds start confusing you.
As you recognize the possibility of being an opinion leader in your personal circle, people flame you. You occasionally flame back. You cry about comments that certain people make to provoke you. You bitch about these things as well. Then you take into consideration that comments were made by pimply 14 year olds who post jpegs of their warcraft characters online and realize that these lOZeRs aren’t worth your time. This gives you an sense of superiority. Haha! you say to yourself. I have a posse and a blog and you don’t. So fuck off, you lame twat. Hazzah!

#5. You faux “retire” from blogging.
Having temporarily exhausted the emotional reservoir from which your personal blog has released, you post about retiring. Or a vacation. Or a hiatus. Or a sabbattacal. You say this will be permanent. Or last a month.

#6. You cave back into blogging in less than 72 hours.
You candy pants blogging crack addict.

#7. You decide to “get serious” about blogging.
You seek out “The A-List” of bloggers and start reading more of them, and news about them, and news about blogging in general. You come to the conclusion that if you ever hope to join their rank, then you need to atleast register your own domain. Afterall, http://candypantsnewbiebloggeraboutcheesesandwhiches.blogspot.com will not get you linked by Kottke.

#8. You have a pseudo flirty im/blogging/flickr flirting relationship with another blogger whom you have never met.
This will likely end badly. Very badly.

#9. You decide that you must meet other bloggers.
SXSW seems like a good way to go about it. Or attendance at Fray Day. Or finding any excuse possible to move to San Francisco. At least a trip, after all. With a visit to SF, meeting other “celebrity” bloggers is just as tasty a tourist destination as going to Fisherman’s Wharf. Or more so. Definitley more so. Your blogroll grows threefold.

#10. You take a step back and metablog about blogging and what blogging has done about your blogging.
You become pedantically navelgazingly annoying. For some reason, your blogger readership eats this shit up. This does not convince you, however, that you want to do something silly like smoke weed with Marc Canter. Because even *you* know that’s a bad idea.

#11. See step 5. Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

#12. You decide that as a result of step 10 and having repeated step 5 more than 3 times in the course of your lifecycle as a blogger, that you need to sanitize or reinvent your blog. You purge or hide archive entries and take more note to remove full names of your friends/crushes/accidentaldrunkenfondels from your site and links list. Your blog goes back to cheese sandwhiches. But this time your site validates.

#13. You either lose your job because of blogging, are afraid of losing your job for blogging, or join a company that builds blogging tools. Either way, your blog either dies a horrible painful death, or becomes significantly less personal to the degree of trite and uninteresting compartmentalization or subject matter discretion.

#14. You decide to start an anonymous livejournal blog. Here is where you still talk about your crushes, the he said/she said crap, and that you really really really really really really really like Maroon 5. And it’s on your wishlist.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Ill-fated signage

Worth a giggle...Click here to see some supporting evidence in the "fact is stranger than fiction" sweepstakes.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The world according to Peanuts

This is one you may have seen before, but worth revisiting...:

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America.

4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winner for best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:

1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.


The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care.

Pass this on to those people who have made a difference in your life. "Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia," (Charles Schultz)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Monday, June 27, 2005

Real stories from travel agents

Following are some actual stories about Americans traveling, provided by travel agents:

I had someone ask for an aisle seats so that his or her hair wouldn't get messed up by being near the window.

A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, "Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?"

I got a call from a woman who wanted to go to Capetown. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information when she interrupted me with "I'm not trying to make you look stupid, but Capetown is in Massachusetts. "Without trying to make her look like the stupid one, I calmly explained, "Capecod is in Massachusetts, Capetown is in Africa." Her response ... click.

A man called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that is not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state. He replied, "Don't lie to me. I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state."

I got a call from a man who asked, "Is it possible to see England from Canada?" I said, "No." He said "But they look so close on the map."

Another man called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas. When I pulled up the reservation, I noticed he had a 1-hour lay over in Dallas. When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, "I heard Dallas was a big airport, and I need a car to drive between the gates to save time."

A nice lady just called. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20am and got into Chicago at 8:33am. I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of llinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally I told her the plane went very fast, and she bought that!

A woman called and asked, "Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know who's luggage belongs to who?" I said, "No, why do you ask?" She replied, "Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said FAT, and I'm overweight, is there any connection?" After putting her on hold for a minute while I "looked into it" (I was actually laughing) I came back and explained the city code for Fresno is FAT, and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.

I just got off the phone with a man who asked, "How do I know which plane to get on?" I asked him what exactly he meant, which he replied, "I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them."

A woman called and said, "I need to fly to Pepsi-cola on one of those computer planes." I asked if she meant to fly to Pensacola on a commuter plane. She said, "Yeah, whatever."

A businessman called and had a question about the documents he needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded him he needed a visa. "Oh no I don't, I've been to China many times and never had to have one of those." I double checked and sure enough, his stay required a visa. When I told him this he said, "Look, I've been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express."

A woman called to make reservations, "I want to go from Chicago to Hippopotamus, New York" The agent was at a loss for words. Finally, the agent: "Are you sure that's the name of the town?" "Yes, what flights do you have?" replied the customer. After some searching, the agent came back with, "I'm sorry, ma'am, I've looked up every airport code in the country and can't find a Hippopotamus anywhere." The customer retorted, "Oh don't be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!" The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, "You don't mean Buffalo, do you?" "That's it! I knew it was a big animal!"

Friday, June 24, 2005

Notes from Perugia

I always promised that this would be an eclectic blog, so - in that vein - here is the latest diary entry of a peripatetic friend of mine, Dino Deconcini. As with each of my entries, may it inspire you to a pleasant experience you might otherwise not have thought of pursuing:

The first thing we see every morning looking out our 4th floor bedroom window is the Campanile di (bell tower of) Santa Maria Nuova, added to the church in the 17th century by a locally renowned architect named Alessi. The church itself was built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 16th. Our apartment is on the 4th and 5th (top) floors of the adjoining convent cloister, built in the 18th century. A few years ago the owners, the Frati Servi di Maria, closed the church, moved some of their great art to the National museum, and sold off two sides of the cloister to private interests. Franco and Anna C_______, our landlords and now friends, bought the top two floors and did an exquisite restoration - into a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment.

When I go upstairs to the kitchen every morning to make coffee and breakfast, the first thing I see out to the Northeast window over rooftops and the deliciously green Umbrian paesaggio, is Mt. Subassio with Assisi on its flank, about 25kms away. From the dining area of the great room on this higher floor, I see the Campanile again and some more rooftops with tiles of varying age and colors of red along with chimneys and TV antennas. The Southeast window overlooks some terraced, overgrown gardens leading up to the massive, medieval city wall with a park at the top. The railing of the park is lined with flower boxes, now blooming bright red, and there is a gazebo where we sometimes go for a picnic lunch. From the terrace where we have breakfast and supper, we look to the Southwest and can see a broad jumble of rooftops, churches with their campaniles, a few construction cranes (mostly involved in restoration projects), and the Palazzo Galenga, the main headquarters and main building of the University for Foreigners, about a 5-minute walk.

Palazzo Galenga was built in the mid 18th centure by the Antinori family, now more famous for fine wine, and sold sometime later to the Galenga-Stuart (as in Stuart dynasty) family. It was acquired by the University a few years after it opened in the 1920's.

Beth and I are both having a good learning experience. I'm at the 5th level on the Linguistic track, which is a bit esoteric but provides a good way to think about the language and hear it spoken extremely well. There are also lots of classes on history, music, art, literature. Beth is on the second level, having started at zero two years ago, and is making very good progress. The University provides more extra-curricular activities than we can absorb--concerts, movies, lectures by eminent authorities, and weekend trips to all over.
See stu@unistrapg.it for more information if you wish. Beth has turned up two other Italian teaching institutions of good reputation, but we have not had time to check them out yet.

Perugia is a neat little city with architectural reminders from Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Fascist and modern periods. It was a fortified hill town that seemed to be mainly interested in warfare for most of its life, but now provides every type of desirable peaceful pleasurable product and activity, e.g. numerous museums from the Etruscans to the National Museum of Umbria, with an unsurprising large collection of paintings by Piero Vanucci, aka Il Perugino. Umbria Jazz deserves its worthy reputation and Spoleto is only an hour away. Other music, art and agricultural festivals are going on all over Umbria.

The micro scale is even more interesting. Most neighborhoods are like an upscale village with restaurants, coffee and wine bars, grocery stores, delicatessens, green grocers, pastieros (turning out all varieties of fresh pastas daily), butcher shops, internet points (the fastest growing industry in Italy), clothing boutiques, book stores, arts and craft shops, and on and on. We've gotten acquainted with some of the owners and really enjoy the walking\shopping tours.

Perugia also enjoys a great location on a hill overlooking the Tiber valley--two hours from Rome, 90 minutes from Florence and Urbino, 60 minutes or less or less from Siena, Orvieto, Spoleto, Gubbio, Cortona, Arezzo and a dozen other hill towns and places worth visiting, all reachable by bus and train as well as car. We got around a lot the first two years but are now content to spend spare time just walking around Perugia.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Some chocolate recipes to pass the time...

These recipes should update to the day you are visiting this site...let me know if this doesn't work.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Well-adjusted malapropisms

As a follow-up to my posting of May 9th, here are the top “redefinition” entries to the *other* Washington Post's Mensa Invitational, where readers were asked to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition:

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

5. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:

18. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

Monday, June 06, 2005

my excuse for sporadic entries...

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
Henry David Thoreau

Friday, June 03, 2005

Cultural events side note - courtesy of QofV

Fri, Jun 3 6pm-12am $5 donation
405 Mateo St, Downtown L.A.
Kickoff event for a free outdoor community arts festival that runs through Sunday featuring art, music, performance and culture.

* * * * *
Sat, Jun 4 11am-2pm Free
Food, music, games & other kids activities, plus raffle ($5 a ticket) for a complimentary 2-night stay at Hacienda Hot Springs Inn.
Proceeds benefit Bridges Community Charter School.
Westside Children's Center, 4600 Lindblade Dr, Culver City

* * * * *
Sat, Jun 4 7-10pm Free
“4 dudes, 4 Holga cameras, 80 film rolls, 3 weeks, 7 boards, 1 van, 2 new friends...”
Presented by Freshjive, GONZ!, The Propagandist and VICE magazine
The Lab101 Gallery, 8530-B Washington Blvd, Culver City

* * * * *
Sun, Jun 5 7-11pm $15
Music, dance, ritual and community in support of Earthdance & The World Festival of Sacred Music.
Writers Boot Camp, Bergamot Station, Santa Monica

* * * * *
Mon, Jun 6 8pm Free
Meet director Catherine Harcwicke (Thirteen) and screenwriter Stacy Peralta.
Based on his documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys," their feature film follows a group of teenage surfers who pioneered a revolutionary new style of skateboarding.
Vidiots, 302 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica

* * * * *
Sat, Jun 11 7-10pm Free
ARTIST RECEPTION & “VENICE BEACH” BOOK SIGNING Paintings by Corinne Chaix and Shirley Kaufer; "Venice Beach: California Carnivale" photography by Helen Kolikow Garber.
801 Ocean Front Walk, Venice
$5 Parking 2 blocks north at 601 Speedway (@ Sunset)
Info: 310-255-1905

* * * * *
Sun, Jun 16-Wed, Jun 26
"Championing the cause of independent film and raising awareness for emerging artists...”
Check out the schedule -- some great films and events. Tickets on sale now!
DGA, Leammle Sunset, Ford Amphitheater and other locations

* * * * *
Sun, Jun 19 10:30am $5 Members/$10 Non-members
Bagels, lox, and old-timey Jewish music by The Workmen’s Circle/Sholem Community Klezmer Orchestra and Mit Gezang Yiddish Chorus.
Call (310)552-2007 to RSVP
The Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd, L.A. 90035

* * * * *
Fri, Jun 24-Sun Jun 26 Free
Performed by members of the American Guild of Organists. The event will feature the church's 3-Manual, 45 rank Rosales pipe organ, built by the builder of the new Disney Hall organ.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem Church, 15520 Ventura Blvd, Encino

* * * * *
Sat, June 25 12noon-10pm Free
An outdoor festival featuring live entertainment, dancing, food, booths and a costume competition.
Windward Circle, Venice

* * * * *
Sat, Jun 25 9pm-? $10
Following the Carnevale festival, join friends for this Venice Centennial celebration at a great, fresh venue just minutes away.
Stay tuned for line-up, directions & other details.

* * * * *
Sun, Jul 31-Thu, Aug 4
The 32nd International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Los Angeles Convention Center

Monday, May 30, 2005

Do you want to know a secret?

Found a very compelling exercise in cultural self-commentary/emotional community voyeurism...


Saturday, May 28, 2005

This Blog is worth Bucks!

Can you believe it?! My blog is listed on a "Blog stock market index"???
Buy! Buy! Buy!

Listed on BlogShares

Friday, May 27, 2005

Dragging the Net

Looking for the big fish in a sea of interactive media

Friday May 20th, 2005 - For the first time ever, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is set to award an Emmy® statuette to the winners of the 2005 Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Television. While the Interactive Television category is in its fourth year, this year’s recognition in the form of a statuette will cast in stone (or a mixture of copper, nickel, silver, and gold, to be exact) the TV industry’s acknowledgment of interactive media as a peer component in television entertainment.

One might be tempted, at this juncture, to infer that interactive entertainment is at last considered on a par with the more conventional forms of mass distribution entertainment. Experience suggests otherwise, however. While “New Media” has unquestionably grown well beyond its “newness”, many people in the film and television industry do not perceive video games, mobile entertainment, and other forms of interactive media, as full-fledged partners in the larger entertainment arena.

What luck that the LA Convention Center was festooned this week with over 2 million pounds of rigging, and nearly 6,000 monitors and screens; blanketed with 20,000 feet of power cable and 200 miles of cabling; and draped with more than 2.5 acres of banners – all covering more than 540,000 net square feet, the equivalent of 2,700 city blocks, and all dedicated to celebrating the power of interactive entertainment as a global industry. E3Expo 2005 was in town, hosting more than 400 exhibitors from 90 countries, and literally thousands of new or imminent productions. What a shame that most of Hollywood didn’t attend.

The world’s largest interactive entertainment trade show was conspicuously lacking in Film or TV figures. OK, Michael Chiklis was there for a bit, signing “Fantastic 4” posters, and a few non-union actors got a couple of days of work dressing up as characters from lesser-known video games. E3 doesn’t trot out a tantalizing coterie of star actors and directors, à la ShoWest and NATPE. The explanation for this lies in the fact that Interactive entertainment focuses on immersion, rather than passive observation. The fastest growing sector of the entertainment industry has dedicated itself to the proposition that the viewer IS the cast. As a result, game players do not respond well to megastar casting trends, preferring instead to worship at the altars of renowned game designers, programmers or platform developers. There has finally been a strong shift toward emphasizing deeper story richness, but one should not hold one’s breath, in the hopes of hearing how the latest Tom Cruise game broke all sales records. Gamers are sold on gameplay, story, and -- in such cases as Tiger Woods and Tony Hawk -- real-life personalities playing themselves. But interactive entertainment holds fast to the principle that the audience is the star.

Several years ago, I moderated a panel of industry prognosticators, including a high-ranking executive from the Screen Actors Guild. I took the opportunity to discuss Video Game production with the SAG executive, encouraging her to enter into dialogue with game development companies, in order to preemptively establish SAG actors as a crucial part in the creative development of game production. The executive with whom I spoke made it very clear that SAG did not consider such dialogue a priority at the time. At that time, I believed that the still emerging game industry – willing to sacrifice a measure of operational liberty, in exchange for entrée into new distribution opportunities - might be willing to partner with organizations already strongly established in the entertainment industry. It was a classic case of “they need us, more than we need them”. The SAG executive on my panel gave me the distinct impression that she believed this would always be the case, and was not interested in hearing suggestions to the contrary. I wonder how she feels today?...

Producers of TV and film properties still have an opportunity to engage in serious dialogue with game developers and other interactive entertainment producers, as we continue to explore the relationship between “Hollywood” and the interactive entertainment arena. How that dialogue is conducted may professionally affect us all far more deeply than we might imagine.

The leadership at the Producers Guild of America is fond of referencing the "producing team," and rightly so. But ask yourself, producers, does your producing team encompass new media producers? If it doesn't, it should. It's always a challenge to expand our frame of reference and embrace new modes of telling our stories. But it's a challenge that every single producer will have to face. The real choice is: Will you face that challenge proactively or reactively? That said, interactive entertainment producers in the US are themselves faced with an opportunity: to engage in dialogue with their international counterparts at such organizations as Australia’s GDAA, and Europe’s TIGA, in order to keep communication, production, and distribution channels open in all directions.

The interactive entertainment industry wants to work in partnership with the TV and film industry, as attested to by such lauded upcoming game releases as “King Kong”, “24”, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and even some classic titles such as “Taxi Driver”, “Dirty Harry”, and of course, the much anticipated EA game, “The Godfather”. Yet the *really* hot titles have nothing to do (yet) with TV or film properties. Games such as "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess"; "Madden 2006"; "Spore"; "Nintendogs"; "F.E.A.R."; and "Civilization IV”. Suffice to say, game developers have plenty of successful titles to keep them going, without tapping into film or TV properties. As one game developer rep who-shall-remain-nameless quipped at E3, “it would be nice to work on some more film-related games, but not crucial for us”. While I believe this confidence may come back to bite this executive in the server-side output channel, film and TV producers would do well to recognize the relatively strong position of their interactive entertainment counterparts, as and when they explore possible alliances and co-productions.

I sat with David Hufford, Global Group PR Manager for XBOX, to discuss the company’s vision, with respect to how it would collaborate with Hollywood. “When you combine games with movies,” he said, “you immerse the audience in the world of that story…forever”. When questioned about the recently announced XBOX Live Marketplace, he enthusiastically invited Hollywood to bring their stories online, via the XBOX 360. “The episodic nature of online gaming establishes an interactive relationship with the audience for as long as the story is being told, which could be forever.” Hufford invited producers to consider releasing trailers and other footage via the XBOX Live community. Imagine releasing your feature trailer hand-in-hand with the first few levels of that story’s online component. Imagine getting the characters and themes in front of a guaranteed 4 Million plus eyeballs, and initiating an INTERACTIVE relationship with a community whose fervor for a well-told story is unquestionable…

Game on.


E3 Insider

GDAA – Game Developers’ Association of Australia

TIGA – The Independent Games Developers Association (UK)

XBOX 360

Monday, May 09, 2005

Neologisms 2005

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Cultural events side note

Just got the latest QofV list of LA area events (with a definite Venice Beach area focus), and thought it might be useful to post the info for y'all:

Fri, May 6 9pm-4am $15 advance
CIRQUE BERZERK BURNINGMAN CAMP BENEFIT PARTY "Release the Freaks" will feature ethno breaks + progressive electrofunk by DJs Karsh Kale, Janaka Selekta, Patrick Harvard and David Starfire. Also aerialists, stilters, skaters, jugglers, fire spinners, massage tables & more.
2210 Lincoln Blvd (just N of Venice Blvd), Venice

* * * * *
Sat, May 7 10am-5pm $50 advance/$60 at door 11TH ANNUAL VENICE GARDEN TOUR This showcase of unusual and delightful gardens was conceived by landscape designer Jay Griffith and Venice community leaders Linda Lucks and Jan Brilliot as a fundraising event for Las Doradas Children's Center. Your tickets are tax deductible.

* * * * *
Sat, May 7 1pm $10
A powerful and moving documentary about farm animals, described by many viewers as “a life changing experience.” (90 min) Laemmle's 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St, Santa Monica

* * * * *
Sat, May 7 5–8pm Free
"Organic Remains of A Former World: New Paintings" – New work by the artist, production designer and former puppeteer (on PeeWee’s Playhouse.) Western Project, 3830 Main St, Culver City http://www.western-project.com/news/MainNews.html

* * * * *
Sat, May 7 6:30-8:30pm Free
Gallery receptions, open studios, music and a new site-specific performance by Osseus Labyrint.
18th St Arts Center, 1639 18th St, Santa Monica

* * * * *
Sun, May 8 5pm Free
A Hammer tradition featuring steamy readings by renown writers.
Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Westwood

Sat, May 14 10am-7pm Free
Featuring an eclectic lineup of music, theater and dance on two solar-powered stages in a outdoor setting, + arts workshops and more.
Clover Park, 2600 Ocean Park Blvd, Santa Monica

* * * * *
Sat & Sun, May 14 & 15 12noon-11pm $20 advance 13TH ANNUAL CRAWFISH FESTIVAL & BAYOU BASH Featuring cajun and zydeco music, dancing, entertainment, children's area, cajun food (including 6,000 pounds of crawfish) and beach bar.
Redondo Beach Seaside Lagoon, 200 N Portofino

* * * * *
Sat, May 14 6-8pm Free
"Baghdad Pizza Hut" - On a ranch an hour outside of L.A., Ehringer creates art investigating the multiplicity of images with which we are constantly bombarded. (Show runs through June 11.) Berman/Turner Projects, Bergamot Station, Santa Monica

* * * * *
Sun, May 15 11am-4pm $65 advance/ packages available
Featuring contemporary homes by architects Michael Folonis, David Hertz, Koning Eizenberg and Vaughan Trammel. (Palisades tour June 5 and Santa
Monica+ tour June 26.)
For tickets, call 213.639.0777 or visit:

* * * * *
Sun, May 15 4pm $15 (kids $5)
YUVAL RON ENSEMBLE ~ CONCERT PERFORMANCE "The Legend of the Baal Shem" - Klezmer meets mystical music of the Middle East in this kabbalistic story about having children, the magic of prayer and finding true love.
Christian Fellowship Church, 269 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga RSVP & more info: info@yuvalronmusic.com

* * * * *
Sun, May 15 5pm Free
The award-winning playwright, novelist and actor reads from new novel, Wasted Beauty.
Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Westwood

* * * * *
Tue, May 17
Please vote for our next mayor and council member!!!

* * * * *
Sat, May 21 12noon-4pm $75 /$100 Weekend Package VENICE ART & ARCHITECTURE TOURS Self-driving "On the Fringe Tours" showcase notable artists and homes on the Venice Canals and Victoria Avenue.
Part of the Venice Art Walk. Saturday includes Art Auction Preview Reception.

Sun, May 22 11am-6pm $50
Venice Art Walk & Auction
Featuring art auction, food faire, cocktails garden, live entertainment, drawings and more to benefit the Venice Family Clinic.
Begin at Westminster School, 1010 Abbot Kinney

* * * * *
Sat, June 25 12noon-10pm Free
This outdoor festival focuses on the art and artists of Venice and features live entertainment, dancing, food, booths and a costume competition. A Venice Beach Centennial Celebration event.
Windward Circle, Venice

Thursday, April 14, 2005

In absentia no more

I've been remiss in my entries lately, for a variety of reasons with which I won't bother to bore you.

One thing I have done, in my absence, is watch a bunch of movies (some of which I would never have deigned to pay $2 for, let alone $9). So, here is the first of about 10 reviews:

Garden State – I’m not sure whether Zach Braff would take umbrage at this assessment, but I found his directorial debut (if you don’t count his short “Lionel on a Sunday”, or 2 episodes of “Scrubs”) to be “cute”, albeit in the best sense of the word, but is that enough?

The press has compared this film to “The Graduate”, and for several valid reasons, including Braff’s musical parallelism (or is it channeling?) via Simon & Garfunkel. This is as close to today’s generation’s cinematic “state of the union” as any film produced in the past few years. For that alone, it deserves lofty accolades.

I know Mike Nichols, though, and Mr. Braff is no Mike Nichols.

The trouble begins when you try to critique the work extant its contextual sensibilities. Is this a great character piece? While Natalie Portman does give a luminous portrayal, the characters, as a whole, are rather hesitantly drawn: short of caricature, but not quite fully fleshed. The saving grace lies in the fact that the author imbues every moment with a sincerity that betrays his innocence and naiveté, while protecting him from overt affectation and narcissism.

Is this a great socio-political work? No, although any portrait of a society – or segment thereof – truthfully rendered, can indirectly become a socio-political expression of its time, so let’s see where it stands (and IF it stands) 10 years from now.

Is this an interesting film? Most of the time. It was created by an obviously intelligent and witty person, whose earnest desire to express the views and characters that reside in his imagination led him to cash in his markers, be they from “Scrubs” or well-connected Columbia High School alumni.

This is worth watching, though, to better comprehend the confusion of our young adults - still slackers, but with a little more of a sense of humor perhaps. It’s a good movie, not great, but definitely good…and that goes a long way when compared to most of the stuff on offer today.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

There is no "right", is there?...

MARCH 19, 2005

"Last fall my nephew Isaiah was sent into combat in Iraq. He is there now. A tall and gentle young man in the reserves, he has been accompanying Iraqi foot patrols in Fallujah and Mosul. A couple of weeks ago a mortar round blew a hole in his foot. He is recuperating at a base camp and soon will return to combat duty.

He and I are the only members of our family who have been to Iraq - me with a peace team and he with a war one. (To read Rabia and my letters from Iraq during the build-up to the war, visit www.boulderinstitute.org)

I feel close to Isaiah because of this shared destiny, though we are worlds apart. His letters are full of striking descriptions like this:

"We passed small shops with their metal shutters locked down, the shutters buckled and scorched with gaping holes of every size rent through them. The truck skittered and jumped around the ragged holes torn by mortars in the pavement. Buildings with black soot marks streaking up from windows where fires had burned uncontrolled, walls that looked like the surface of the moon pockmarked from countless bullets."

I would like to write Isaiah a letter, but I can't. I don't want to undermine his belief that he is doing some good over there - a belief that helps to keep him sane. But if I could write him, I would write something like this:

Dear Nephew,

I called your mother today to congratulate her on becoming a grandmother. So now you are an uncle! Your little niece stares up from her cradle somewhere far from where you stare up from your cot, your foot in its air bandage. I remember once you were just like her, the smell of angel all over you. Now you rest in Camp Cuervo, and the smell of war is all over you. Isaiah, what have your baby's eyes seen? What has this world done to you? To all of us?

As I write it is the second anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. Two years and two weeks ago Rabia and I left Baghdad, pulling out before the bombs dropped. I remember vividly the faces of our Iraqi friends as we said goodbye. Perhaps you have seen some of them.

I remember when I asked our friend Ahmed in Baghdad what would happen if the Americans invaded, he answered, "Look, if Americans or anyone comes to Iraq as friends, we will be friends. But if they come with guns, then Iraqis will fight them."

Isaiah, why are you in Iraq? Do you know? I can't believe it's for the reasons the politicians talk about. Your mother tells me you have the nature of a warrior - not the Rambo type but the kind of man who feels most real when he can be of help to others in an extreme and dangerous situation. The smell of cordite and the whiz of bullets, the intense awareness, as you wrote about in your first combat: "My nervous energy was almost palpable, neither scared nor excited, simply very aware."

What is this awareness that is so charged for you? Is it the nearness of death that amps your feeling of being alive? Is it the opportunity to prove your worth? Feeling so alive because you did something brave to help somebody?

You have an identity now-is that what you wanted? When you get home people will know you're a combat vet. Nobody will mess with you. And privately we'll worry that what you have witnessed and done over there is brooding inside you, saddening your gaze.

I imagine you think I judge you negatively for being an American soldier in Iraq. I don't. Actually I think America, and the world, owes you an apology. We owe an apology to you and all the young men and women fighting there against each other, on both sides of the conflict. We failed you.

Twenty or thirty years ago each of you, soldiers and insurgents alike, were as trusting and angelic as your sister's baby. Now you hunt each other down in dusty alleys. And twenty years from now, will your little niece follow in your footsteps, her eyes like yours "scanning for danger" across the rooftops?

It doesn't need to be this way. It doesn't need to continue. The better world you want to create is crying out to be created everywhere you turn, but not down the muzzle of an M-16. Like the father, who himself was beaten as a child, lifting his hand against his own son and then stopping, we must stop trying to change the behavior of the world through violence.

Yes, there are some circumstances when violence is the only course to stave off more violence, but those circumstances are already evidence of our failure to act soon enough and in a more enlightened way. I am certain that the community of nations could have either neutralized Saddam or gotten rid of him without having to devastate generations of men and women on both sides of this conflict.

I have been traveling in the Middle East and around the world for many years and have witnessed first-hand the decline of America's reputation following the invasion of Iraq. Yes Arabs still offer us as individuals their hospitality, but they are deeply hurt and angered by our country's policies and never waste an opportunity to tell us.

Imagine if we were spending the present war budget of four billion dollars per month on projects that would heal rather than destroy. Imagine the good will that would generate-like the aid we gave Muslim nations after the tsunami. Imagine if our government had given scholarships to five Iraqis to come to your furniture workshop back home in Massachusetts and learn from you your skills and your gentle way of relating and your love of the salt air blowing in from the sound?

There is a great work waiting for you, Isaiah, a conquest more challenging than all the wars that have ever been fought. A world is waiting to be built, one that truly cares for the children. This is a work that will take centuries and the sacrifices and creativity of countless Isaiahs.

If you want to build character and a brave identity, here's one for you: be a peacemaker. If you want to feel exquisitely alive, here's a way: hold your baby niece in your arms. Or, in an alternate reality, hold in your arms the baby daughter of one of those Iraqi men who is out there waiting to kill you, only in this alternate reality he is standing next to you smiling at his new friend.

And if you want danger, there's plenty of it. Join a peace team in Sri Lanka or Columbia or the Philippines that provides nonviolent protective accompaniment to people whose lives have been threatened. Monitor a cease-fire in Palestine. Bring supplies to earthquake victims. Be a firefighter. Teach at-risk kids in the inner city.

Take care of yourself, Danny. Don't kill anyone if you can help it. And if you have to kill, ask the Universe for forgiveness. It's a hard thing to carry. Being in a war doesn't necessarily build character, in fact it can easily destroy it. I've heard some of the stories of Iraq War vets once they've come back-a lot of these kids are broken by what they've done or seen others do. You went over there to find your manhood-don't lose it now. You're a kind and brave man. Come back to us whole. We need you."


Monday, March 14, 2005

Sharing is good...

Well worth checking into! However, make sure you own a microphone, before signing up! It may seem obvious, but I have loving parents in Europe who almost threw their computer out the window when they downloaded the software, signed up, and then called me - only to hear my crystal-clear voice repeatedly advising them that I couldn't hear them!

Free Internet telephony that just works. Skype.com

Monday, March 07, 2005

Queen of Venice happenings

Tue, March 8 6:30pm Free
"HOT SET" ~ ART EXHIBITION & CONVERSATION W/ GEORGE HERMS A conversation between Beat generation artist & poet George Herms and legendary curator Walter Hopps, moderated by writer Anne Doran.
Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station

* * * * *
Wed, March 9 7pm Free
DAVID BYRNE: "I HEART POWERPOINT" ~ PRESENTATION The former Talking Heads singer uses Microsoft’s presentation software as the medium for original visual art accompanied by electronic music.
Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Westwood

* * * * *
Thu, March 10 7:30pm Free
Featuring a talk by scholar Adam Rubin on the relationship between language & progressive & radical political traditions.
Yiddish Culture Club, 8339 W Third Street

* * * * *
Sat, March 12 11am-1pm Free
Owners & pets compete for Best Tricks, Cutest Dog, Best Dressed, & Look-Alike Pets.
(Now registering pets.)
West Hollywood Park, 647 N San Vicente Blvd
(323) 848-6534

* * * * *
Sat, March 12 2pm Free w/ Admission
"GREENE & GREENE: THE ART OF ARCHITECTURE" ~ SCREENING Paul Bockhorst's documentary looks at the Arts and Crafts Movement in America when Charles and Henry Greene took an intensely artistic approach to the design of houses and interiors.
LA County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd

* * * * *
Sun, March 13 12noon-5pm Free
Featuring the launch of a 25' kite, live music, taiko drummers, yo-yo contests, Tae Kwon Do demonstrations & more.
Redondo Beach Pier

* * * * *
Sun, March 13 12noon-6pm $69.50
Tour guide Charles Phoenix says, "Rediscover Downtown... it's just like Disneyland!" Tour includes transportation, snacks, dessert, souvenirs and no-host lunch at Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria.
Meet at Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St. Check-in begins at 11:40am.

* * * * *
Tue, March 15 7pm Free
Historian Ralph Cantos presents a slide lecture on the famous Pacific Electric rail cars which used to provide transportation all over Los Angeles County.
Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library, 501 S Venice Blvd, Venice
(310) 821-1769

* * * * *
Wed, March 16 8pm Free
Screening of Bob Fosse's "Lenny" starring Dustin Hoffman & rare Lenny Bruce clips & Terence Healy's intriguing animation "Andy."
Sponto Gallery, 7 Dudley Ave, Venice

* * * * *
Fri-Sun, March 18-20
"Over 40 Filmmakers, 2 Screens and a Party Every Night" are featured at this local film fest founded by Reuben "Ruby" De La Casas, Gary Ellenberg and AJ Peralta.
The Electric Lodge & Switch Studios, Venice

* * * * *
Sat, March 19 @ Westwood Federal Building & Sun, March 20 @ Santa Monica Beach "EYES WIDE OPEN" ~ COMMEMORATIVE EXHIBITION The American Friends Service Committee’s exhibition on the human cost of the Iraq war features a pair of boots honoring each U.S. military casualty, a field of shoes and a Wall of Remembrance to memorialize the Iraqis killed in the conflict.

* * * * *
Sat, March 19 6-9pm Free
"FEAR DUST: FALLOUT OF THE INVASION" ~ GROUP ART SHOW Presented in observance of the second anniversary of the war in Iraq.
(Through April 16.)
Track 16 Gallery @ Bergamot Station

* * * * *
Sun, March 20 1pm-?
An excellent opportunity to purchase contemporary art and photography in an auction setting and often far below regular gallery prices.
Santa Monica Auctions at Bergamot Station

Fri-Sat, March 25-26 8:30pm $15
“FANCY” ~ VLADIMIR LEVITANSKY PERFORMANCE “One clowns journey into the absurd; inspired by Marceau, Clouseau and Cousteau.”
Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St, Santa Monica

* * * * *
Sat, March 26 2-5pm Free
El Pueblo Historic Monument, Olvera Street, 845 N. Alameda St., Downtown A celebration of all that the animal world provides humanity; with a procession of pets, domestic and exotic animals, entertainment, displays & exhibits.

Shared with you in memory of rancher, artist, architect, patriarch, party host extraordinaire and enthusiastic lover of life, Col. Jirayr H. Zorthian (1911-2004), an annual participant in this event.

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Sun, April 10
Enjoy music, art, desserts and teas and send-off celebration for delegation traveling to Iran.
Warszawa Restaurant, Santa Monica
Stay tuned for more details at:

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Summer 2005
Abbot Kinney's "Venice of America" turns 100 and is commemorated with numerous neighborhood events. The festival kicks off Saturday, June 25th with CARNEVALE VENICE BEACH followed by the VENICE 100 AFTER-PARTY. If you'd like to volunteer to help with the party, please contact Regan Kibbee at regan@qofv.com

Sunday, March 06, 2005

...I heard it in the news today...

Beats Out Harvard Business School as Top CEO Destination

Domestic diva Martha Stewart, who saw the value of her stock soar since she began serving a five-month sentence at Alderson Federal Prison, has apparently now worked her magic on Alderson itself, which today reported a twelve-month waiting list of CEOs eager to do time there.
"Our phone has been ringing off the hook, and a lot of these CEO's haven't even committed a crime yet," said Alderson spokesperson Lucinda Colwin. "I'm like, rob a liquor store and then we'll talk."

Randall Trestman of the University of Minnesota's Graduate School of Business said that Ms. Stewart's stunning comeback has turned Alderson into "the place to be" for America's top corporate leaders.

"What Harvard Business School was in the eighties and the Internet sector was in the nineties, Alderson is today," he said.

CEOs whose companies' stock have sagged in recent months may face increasing pressure from shareholders to commit crimes in order to snag a precious one-way ticket to Alderson, Mr. Trestman said.

"Becoming a convicted felon is no longer a stigma for CEOs," he said. "It's their fiduciary responsibility."

Across the country, crimes involving CEOs, from accounting fraud to car theft, have surged over nine thousand percent in the past two months - a trend that does not surprise Mr. Trestman.

"If, instead of buying Compaq Computer, [former HP CEO] Carly Fiorina had stolen a Compaq computer from a Circuit City store, she might still have her job today," he added.

Elsewhere, after circling the globe without being able to eat, sleep or move, millionaire Steve Fossett said now he knows how it feels to fly coach.

(c/o Henry Sargent)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

So much for economic rebound

Trash day today...

I'm working from home, and happened to look out my front window just as I saw a reasonably well-dressed gentleman dive headfirst into my large recycling bin. I watched him come up for air, cans and bottles in hand, and observed him then move on to the next bin on the street, to retrieve whatever bottles and cans my neighbours might have discarded. After I watched him do this to a couple more bins, I decided I didn't want my street becoming known as dumspter-diver heaven, so I wandered out and politely asked the man to refrain from pursuing his goals on our street. He was very cordial, well-spoken, and apologetic, but also proud. He explained that he was unemployed, and needed to buy his mother a birthday card. My initial sense that this was a decidedly weak-ass explanation was balanced by his clean-cut appearance, and the fact that the car in which he was storing his trophies was a late-model sedan. This was either truly a man down on his luck, doing the best he could; or a wily entrepreneur who knows of a bottle bank somewhere in the SF Valley that pays more than 5 cents per...

Either way, I take it as ominous that we are now seeing well-dressed dumpster divers in upper middle class neighborhoods, collecting the detritus of their peers, with impunity. Makes me long for Sweden...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Enough already

Are we so starved for fulfilling personal lives that we must barge so tastelessly and relentlessly into the lives of others, beyond the usual crass measures now commonplace via tabloid news?

Two examples: Prince Charles’ wedding plans and conservative blogs.

First, that wedding:

  • Here is a man who in 2004 alone was directly responsible for raising over $200 Million for charity.
  • He runs 17 Charities of his own: : The Prince's Trust, The Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation, The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, The Prince of Wales's Phoenix Trust/Regeneration Through Heritage, In Kind Direct, The Prince's Drawing School, The Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum, Duchy Originals, Business in the Community, Business and the Environment, Scottish Business in the Community, PRIME-Cymru, PRIME-England, The Prince's School of Traditional Arts, The Prince of Wales Foundation US, The Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust, The Prince of Wales's Arts & Kids Foundation, Youth Business International and The Prince of Wales's Education Summer School.
  • He is President or Patron to over 360 other charitable organizations, each of which relies confidently on his active involvement.
  • He annually undertakes over 600 public engagements internationally, and has devoted his life to serving his nation.
Yet, despite all of this, people find they are entitled to not only criticize his love life, but the great unwashed public feels it has the right to dictate who, how, and indeed WHETHER he should be able to marry!

It would be interesting to see how much noise would be made if criticism were only permitted from individuals who have been happily married for 30 years or more, have never had an affair, and have never been previously married….I would venture to guess the current uproar would be reduced to stone silence.

Let the man marry in peace, without dissecting and vilifying his and his family’s every intention. Of course, some critique is called for, as his actions reflect on the nation he represents, but let’s be a little fair.

Personally, I’ve no idea how he continues to commit himself to the British people, when all gets in return is scorn and plebian disparagement. I would have dumped the British People long ago, and taken myself off for a well-deserved private life.

Second, bloggers from the right.


Blogs were, for the briefest period, a shining sword of truth in the murky depths of news reporting. When Conservative journalists uncovered the CBS Evening News document scandal, it seemed that a new and exciting system of checks and balances was born. That this incident led to the resignation of Dan Rather, and the firing of four producers and CBS execs, while perhaps a little harsh, was seen as acceptable consequence. Unfortunately, this was only the first hinge-creaking peek into Pandora’s box. Now the lid is thrown back, and the monsters are beginning to creep out.

With nearly 24 years of admirable journalism and integrity under his belt, Eason Jordan, former chief news executive at CNN, had impeccable credentials. He is, however, also human. So, when he made certain remarks at a panel discussion in Davos, Switzerland, this past January, the reasonable response would have been to ask for clarification.

Instead, the Zyklon-Bloggers launched into another ‘purge” campaign, effectively squashing any reasonable investigation into Jordan’s comments, in favor of gleefully engaging in another witch hunt. Unsurprising. After all, this was the evil liberal news outlet, CNN!

Shame on all the bloggers out there, who cannot differentiate between commentary and rabble-rousing. Shame on Jordan’s bosses at CNN, for so quickly accepting his resignation. Shame on us all for not having the intelligence and integrity to call a smear campaign when we see it.

I do not pretend that this blog of mine influences global policy. It is merely my own rambling repository, awakened and updated as the mood dictates. I do not presume that millions tap into my observations on a daily basis. As such, I am free, I believe, to express myself as I see fit. However, the moment I demand any form of action from others, I take on a measure of responsibility that cannot be denied. I would love to demand that unsubstantiated claims made by bloggers (or any reporters) be qualified, at the risk of server shutdown, penalization, and ISP account closure. That would be censure, and I do not advocate that. I would love to demand that we all do such-and-such to so-and-so, but I would have to give reasons for my call to arms, above and beyond my own personal political, social, or psychological motivations. A responsible writer, however, finds a way to convey their point of view within a framework of reasoned argument or, as Gustave Flaubert described, “Objective Subjectivity”.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

And they said global warming was a hoax...

My parents in Europe have regularly expressed their envy at the idyllic sunshine lifestyle I enjoy in Southern California...or should I say "enjoyed" - past tense.

For the past few weeks, the sun has been himself our fair weather friend: reminding us on rare occasions of his charming company, but remaining both elusive and unreliable. Most recently, he has been a veritable deadbeat.

I just came in from - once again - piling up the furniture on my back patio, in an effort to keep it from the liquid tendrils of flood waters, washing through even our flat neighborhood. Last night, my 4-gallon watering can was filled to overflowing by the rainfall, and tonight, our patio - our covered patio - is awash in over 2 inches of water (yes, I measured it). It would be deeper, if it weren't for the fact that the patio is slightly graded toward the driveway. As it is, even with the grading, over 2 inches flow in before the water can get out the other side...

I can't begin to imagine, as I fret over my poor drowing succulents and snapdragons, what the residents of truly seriously affected neighborhoods must be going through. Somewhere in Sun Valley, there is a 100ft-long and 60-ft deep sinkhole, and it's growing bigger by the minute. Somewhere near Irvine, people are reportedly missing, after a massive landslide. Communities in Long Beach and elsewhere are being evacuated, and sections of Los Angeles have been out of power for days.

The rain is here for a while, as is the thunder that rumbles for what seems eternities at a time. The sunshine idyll is no longer, perhaps receving a long overdue washdown.

I can't wait for the spin cycle.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Lying In The Search Of Truth?...

Do you agree, or disagree?
Your thoughts welcomed and appreciated:
Our Godless Constitution
-by Brooke Allen

It is hard to believe that George Bush has ever read the works of George Orwell, but he seems, somehow, to have grasped a few Orwellian precepts. The lesson the President has learned best--and certainly the one that has been the most useful to him--is the axiom that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. One of his Administration's current favorites is the whopper about America having been founded on Christian principles. Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent.

Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate, in spite of Alexander Hamilton's flippant responses when asked about it: According to one account, he said that the new nation was not in need of "foreign aid"; according to another, he simply said "we forgot." But as Hamilton's biographer Ron Chernow points out, Hamilton never forgot anything important.

In the eighty-five essays that make up The Federalist, God is mentioned only twice (both times by Madison, who uses the word, as Gore Vidal has remarked, in the "only Heaven knows" sense). In the Declaration of Independence, He gets two brief nods: a reference to "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God," and the famous line about men being "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." More blatant official references to a deity date from long after the founding period: "In God We Trust" did not appear on our coinage until the Civil War, and "under God" was introduced into the Pledge of Allegiance during the McCarthy hysteria in 1954 [see Elisabeth Sifton, "The Battle Over the Pledge," April 5, 2004].

In 1797 our government concluded a "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, or Barbary," now known simply as the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 of the treaty contains these words:

As the Government of the United States...is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmen--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no
pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

This document was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and President John Adams. It was then sent to the Senate for ratification; the vote was unanimous. It is worth pointing out that although this was the 339th time a recorded vote had been required by the Senate, it was only the third unanimous vote in the Senate's history. There is no record of debate or dissent. The text of the treaty was printed in full in the Philadelphia Gazette and in two New York papers, but there were no screams of outrage, as one might expect today.

The Founding Fathers were not religious men, and they fought hard to erect, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "a wall of separation between church and state." John Adams opined that if they were not restrained by legal measures, Puritans--the fundamentalists of their day--would "whip and crop, and pillory and roast." The historical epoch had afforded these men ample opportunity to observe the corruption to which established priesthoods were liable, as well as "the impious presumption of legislators and rulers," as Jefferson wrote, "civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time."

If we define a Christian as a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, then it is safe to say that some of the key Founding Fathers were not Christians at all. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists--that is, they believed in one Supreme Being but rejected revelation and all the supernatural elements of the Christian Church; the word of the Creator, they believed, could best be read in Nature. John Adams was a professed liberal Unitarian, but he, too, in his private correspondence seems more deist than Christian.

George Washington and James Madison also leaned toward deism, although neither took much interest in religious matters. Madison believed that "religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize." He spoke of the "almost fifteen centuries" during which Christianity had been on trial: "What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution." If Washington mentioned the Almighty in a public address, as he occasionally did, he was careful to refer to Him not as "God" but with some nondenominational moniker
like "Great Author" or "Almighty Being." It is interesting to note that the Father of our Country spoke no words of a religious nature on his deathbed, although fully aware that he was dying, and did not ask for a man of God to be present; his last act was to take his own pulse, the consummate gesture of a creature of the age of scientific rationalism.

Tom Paine, a polemicist rather than a politician, could afford to be perfectly honest about his religious beliefs, which were baldly deist in the tradition of Voltaire: "I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.... I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." This is how he opened The Age of Reason, his virulent attack on Christianity. In it he railed against the "obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness" of the Old Testament, "a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind." The New Testament is less brutalizing but more absurd, the story of Christ's divine genesis a "fable, which for absurdity and extravagance is not exceeded by any thing that is to be found in the mythology of the ancients." He held the idea of the Resurrection in especial ridicule: Indeed, "the wretched contrivance with which this latter part is told, exceeds every thing that went before it." Paine was careful to contrast the tortuous twists of theology with the pure clarity of deism. "The true deist has but one Deity; and his religion consists in contemplating the power, wisdom, and benignity of the Deity in his works, and in endeavoring to imitate him in every thing moral, scientifical, and mechanical."

Paine's rhetoric was so fervent that he was inevitably branded an atheist. Men like Franklin, Adams and Jefferson could not risk being tarred with that brush, and in fact Jefferson got into a good deal of trouble for continuing his friendship with Paine and entertaining him at Monticello. These statesmen had to be far more circumspect than the turbulent Paine, yet if we examine their beliefs it is all but impossible to see just how theirs differed from his.

Franklin was the oldest of the Founding Fathers. He was also the most worldly and sophisticated, and was well aware of the Machiavellian principle that if one aspires to influence the masses, one must at least profess religious sentiments. By his own definition he was a deist, although one French acquaintance claimed that "our free-thinkers have adroitly sounded him on his religion, and they maintain that they have discovered he is one of their own, that is that he has none at all." If he did have a religion, it was strictly utilitarian: As his biographer Gordon Wood has said, "He praised religion for whatever moral effects it had, but for little else." Divine revelation, Franklin freely admitted, had "no weight with me," and the covenant of grace seemed "unintelligible" and "not beneficial." As for the pious hypocrites who have ever controlled nations, "A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law"--a comment we should carefully consider at this turning point in the history of our Republic.

Here is Franklin's considered summary of his own beliefs, in response to a query by Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale. He wrote it just six weeks before his death at the age of 84.

Here is my creed. I believe in one God, Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them. As for Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure.

Jefferson thoroughly agreed with Franklin on the corruptions the teachings of Jesus had undergone. "The metaphysical abstractions of Athanasius, and the maniacal ravings of Calvin, tinctured plentifully with the foggy dreams of Plato, have so loaded [Christianity] with absurdities and incomprehensibilities" that it was almost impossible to recapture "its native simplicity and purity." Like Paine, Jefferson felt that the miracles claimed by the New Testament put an intolerable strain on credulity. "The day will come," he predicted (wrongly, so far), "when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." The Revelation of St. John he dismissed as "the ravings of a maniac."

Jefferson edited his own version of the New Testament, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," in which he carefully deleted all the miraculous passages from the works of the Evangelists. He intended it, he said, as "a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." This was clearly a defense against his many enemies, who hoped to blacken his reputation by comparing him with the vile atheist Paine. His biographer Joseph Ellis is undoubtedly correct, though, in seeing disingenuousness here: "If [Jefferson] had been completely scrupulous, he would have described himself as a deist who admired the ethical teachings of Jesus as a man rather than as the son of God. (In modern-day parlance, he was a secular humanist.)" In short, not a Christian at all.

The three accomplishments Jefferson was proudest of--those that he requested be put on his tombstone--were the founding of the University of Virginia and the authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The latter was a truly radical document that would eventually influence the separation of church and state in the US Constitution; when it was passed by the Virginia legislature in 1786, Jefferson rejoiced that there was finally "freedom for the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammeden, the Hindu and infidel of every denomination"--note his respect, still unusual today, for the sensibilities of the "infidel." The University of Virginia was notable among early-American seats of higher education in that it had no religious affiliation whatever. Jefferson even banned the teaching of theology at the school.

If we were to speak of Jefferson in modern political categories, we would have to admit that he was a pure libertarian, in religious as in other matters. His real commitment (or lack thereof) to the teachings of Jesus Christ is plain from a famous throwaway comment he made: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." This raised plenty of hackles when it got about, and Jefferson had to go to some pains to restore his reputation as a good Christian. But one can only conclude, with Ellis, that he was no Christian at all.

John Adams, though no more religious than Jefferson, had inherited the fatalistic mindset of the Puritan culture in which he had grown up. He personally endorsed the Enlightenment commitment to Reason but did not share Jefferson's optimism about its future, writing to him, "I wish that Superstition in Religion exciting Superstition in Polliticks...may never blow up all your benevolent and phylanthropic Lucubrations," but that "the History of all Ages is against you." As an old man he observed, "Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been upon the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!'" Speaking ex cathedra, as a relic of the founding generation, he expressed his admiration for the Roman system whereby every man could worship whom, what and how he pleased. When his young listeners objected that this was paganism, Adams replied that it was indeed, and laughed.

In their fascinating and eloquent valetudinarian correspondence, Adams and Jefferson had a great deal to say about religion. Pressed by Jefferson to define his personal creed, Adams replied that it was "contained in four short words, 'Be just and good.'" Jefferson replied, "The result of our fifty or sixty years of religious reading, in the four words, 'Be just and good,' is that in which all our inquiries must end; as the riddles of all priesthoods end in four more, 'ubi panis, ibi deus.' What all agree in, is probably right. What no two agree in, most probably wrong."

This was a clear reference to Voltaire's Reflections on Religion. As Voltaire put it:

There are no sects in geometry. One does not speak of a Euclidean, an Archimedean. When the truth is evident, it is impossible for parties and factions to arise.... Well, to what dogma do all minds agree? To the worship of a God, and to honesty. All the philosophers of the world who have had a religion have said in all ages: "There is a God, and one must be just." There, then, is the universal religion established in all ages and throughout mankind. The point in which they all agree is therefore true, and the systems through which they differ are therefore false.

Of course all these men knew, as all modern presidential candidates know, that to admit to theological skepticism is political suicide. During Jefferson's presidency a friend observed him on his way to church, carrying a large prayer book. "You going to church, Mr. J," remarked the friend. "You do not believe a word in it." Jefferson didn't exactly deny the charge. "Sir," he replied, "no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir."

Like Jefferson, every recent President has understood the necessity of at least paying lip service to the piety of most American voters. All of our leaders, Democrat and Republican, have attended church, and have made very sure they are seen to do so. But there is a difference between offering this gesture of respect for majority beliefs and manipulating and pandering to the bigotry, prejudice and millennial fantasies of Christian extremists. Though for public consumption the Founding Fathers identified themselves as Christians, they were, at least by today's standards, remarkably honest about their misgivings when it came to theological doctrine, and religion in general came very low on the list of their concerns and priorities--always excepting, that is, their determination to keep the new nation free from bondage to its rule.