Monday, November 27, 2006


In which we visit Sin City... and have no time to sin

I was called to a conference in Las Vagas two weeks ago -- Webmaster World's PubCon Vegas 2006. It was a fine conference and I actually learned a lot and met a number of good contacts.

I stayed at Harrah’s, which, except for the piece of artwork pictured here, is in desperate need of demolition.

Vegas is Vegas. What can you say? You can gamble if you like (I don’t), eat all you can eat, drink yourself to death, and even get a hooker of just about any type imaginable, male, female and in-between. But it’s hard to do any of that if you’re also working the whole time, spending the bulk of it in your hotel room that looks out onto a parking lot hacking out copy. Ah, well.

There was one highlight to the trip, however. On Tuesday evening, our company threw a party in the new tower at the Palms for our partners. Little did I know that this was to be held in the $30K per night Hugh Hefner suite, just beneath the new Playboy Club. It was a gas.

If you’re one of the six or eight people who actually read this blog, you’ll know I’m a bit of a Hefster fan, especially from the old, Playboy After Dark days.

Hef's PoolAs you might expect, the master bedroom includes a fireplace, a kicking hi-fi, a large, round rotating bed with a large, round mirror on the ceiling above. The suite is surprisingly tasteful in a post modern, moderne sort of way. The pool, which is cantilevered out of the building 30 stories in the air, sports a large Playboy Bunny logo.

The closest I actually came to sinning, however? Nearly buying a $1,000 pair of Louis Vuitton loafers.

How pathetic is that?

Friday, November 10, 2006

It's Time for National Service

In which we get a wee bit political

LA Times columnist Rosa Brooks has penned an excellent piece calling for a universal public service program. “Why not call on every young American to spend a year or two serving our country?” she asks. She continues:

Some could serve in the military or in the Peace Corps; others could choose to
help with post-conflict reconstruction, teach in our schools, staff our public
health clinics or screen passengers at our airports. Universal national service would help us fill hard-to-fill jobs and create a culture in which service is the norm, not the exception. Just as important, a well-designed national service program also would help break down some of the barriers that keep us from a healthy and mutually respectful political discourse.

Participants should be given some choice of how they serve, but not much — and everyone should be required to go through several months of basic civil defense training. As in the military, participants shouldn't be able to choose where or with whom they would train — they should have to mix it up with people from other walks of life — and the training should be genuinely useful, focusing on the core practical skills every citizen ought to have: first aid training, emergency response and survival skills, for instance.

I’ve often thought such a program would be a boon to our democracy… and I’d take it even a step further. I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of forcing people into national public service. Instead, I think we should make it an option and offer a reward. And the reward would be the ultimate prize in a democracy—the right to vote and to hold public office.

If I were Supreme Dictator for Life*, I’d set it up this way. There would be two basic legal classes in society—Residents and Citizens. Citizens would be people who complete, after successfully graduating high school or its equivalent, 18 months of national service, public or military. Residents would be people who choose not to go through with their national public service. Residents and Citizens would share equal rights under law, except that only Citizens would have earned the right to vote and hold public office.

To assure equal opportunity to anyone who wishes to participate in the national public service program and earn citizenship, assistance would be offered on sliding scale to those in material distress, who have family hardships, and so forth.

Participants would be fed and housed and offered a small stipend, and perhaps be offered savings accounts that they would be able to access later for higher education, should they choose to pursue it.

In the program, rich brats from places like Palo Alto might be sent into the inner cities and to poor rural areas to assist the needy, helping them understand that not all are as fortunate as they. Likewise, poor kids from the inner cities might be sent to places like the national parks to work in the sun and help them understand that there are other ways to live. People would be able to participate at any time in their lives in the event that they missed or passed up the chance to earn citizenship when they were young.

Citizens might also be granted the right to wear some symbol of their citizenship, such as a lapel pin or ribbon. Such a visual identifier would act as an added incentive.

*Of course, if I were Supreme Dictator for Life, we wouldn’t need to do any of this, because everything would be perfect. Right? Right?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Make Voting Day a Holiday

In which we declare that flag_rossvoting Tuesdays should be holidays

Why? To increase participation for one. But that’s only part of it. Voting day should a celebration day for our democracy, a kind of second Independence Day that comes once every other year; a day for festivities and fireworks, picnics and parties, conversation and colloquy. It should be a day to reflect on where our democracy has been and where we -- each of us -- want it to go. It should be a day to be unabashedly patriotic, but in the very finest sense of the term; a day to be partisan without pique, devoted without demagoguery.

Let’s put a little party into our "political parties"

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Travels Past: Alabama Hills, Owens Valley

In which we revisit favorite places, with the help of modern technology.

Alabama Hills Arch

This graceful arch serves as a kind centerpiece to one of the most remarkable places in California. You’ll recognize it if you’ve seen a lot of old western movies, and even Gunga Din, but unless you’ve been there, you probably don’t know its name.

The place is called the Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley, just east of the little mountain town of Lone Pine, off of Highway 395. I camped there last year while taking in the annual Mule Days celebration in Bishop, about 30 miles to the north.

The arch is about 7 ½ feet tall—a person of ordinary height can touch the top. At this angle, the arch frames one of the Sierra Nevada peaks near Mount Whitney.

The stone that makes up Alabamas is a fragile granite, and will crumple in your hand. It is a harsh, beautiful, haunting sort of place.

Alabama Hills Camp Site

Our tent on the lonely plateau beneath the hills.

Alabama Hills Flower

Even the desert blooms.

(Click on the images for a larger view.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Face of Evil

Or at least mind-numbing stupidity

In the face of last week's Esperanza arson blaze, which has burned more than 60 square miles in the lovely San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs and killed five brave firefighters, I wondered whether the the crime of arson could carry the death penalty.

Apparenly it can. Thirty-six-year-old Raymond Lee Oyler, of Beaumont, was arrested and charged with arson and murder in connection with the Esperanza fire and two other fires in the Banning Pass area in June. The charges carry the death penalty or life in prison.