Friday, February 29, 2008

Wait for it...

Yeah, that's me. Thank God they got my good side.

It's not easy to wrap your mind around three consecutive Foo Fighters concerts and write a legible and entertaining review. 1500 miles and 5 days after embarking on this trip, I am still falling asleep at my work station and having trouble hearing anything over the ringing in my ears.

I am not complaining--though to the casual observer is certainly does look that way. I am merely letting my legions of fans (both of you) know that I am working on my review(s) and will have them posted soon--ideally before Dave's next tour.

I did have time to see that my sign Cheeseheads Love the FF made it on to the Detroit Black Box. As if I didn't have enough problems with fame already. Is that the phone ringing again? (Since the band and techs all hated the Leather & Lace side, that picture, taken by their photog when I was on the front rail in Chicago, didn't make the cut.)

As the immortal Bette Midler says: "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Dave flipping off the front rail on behalf of the acoustic stage in Minneapolis, 2-27-08
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last Stop: Minneapolis

Here is Dave enjoying a personal moment with his Gibson last night at the Chicago show. Oh, to be that guitar...

And here's Pat Smear with his wife and son watching the last song, Best of You. They came down right in front of the rail just as the song started, and looked just as excited as the rest of us. It was pretty cute.

Wait for it.
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Second Stop: Chi-Town

It's snowing in Chicago, but I'll be warm tonight!

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

First Stop: Motor City

The boy sounds good in blue.
About to take the plunge with Dave.
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Tunes

Lunar eclipse at 6 minute intervals over Wisconsin's State Capitol last night. (Photo by Matthew Povich of the UW-Madison Department of Astronomy)

Last night we (and by "we" I mean all inhabitants of planet Earth) experienced a TOTAL lunar eclipse, which is of course TOTALLY cool. It carries special significance for me (like you care) because I bought my
Percheron, Julian, during a total lunar eclipse back in May of 2003. The moon flamed red over our heads as we haggled the price for 1700 pounds of prime horseflesh. (I know, I know--I'm a maudlin fool.)

Lunar Eclipse on May 15, 2003 (Photo by Sid Leach Phoenix, Arizona)

I wasn't stargazing with Julian last night because at 10 degrees below zero I preferred my drafty house to the draft horse barn 15 miles away. I also doubt he was marking the event as keenly as I was. Being a guy, he doesn't always remember our more sentimental anniversaries. If he had noticed, he would have just pointed out that it was about 90 degrees warmer during that eclipse, as we were still living in Arizona then. (Rule #1: Never agitate a 1700 lb horse if you can avoid it.)

I suppose it is a fitting reflection on the status of my current diet Eat Healthy Campaign that my first thought upon viewing the waning lunar eclipse was that it resembled a cookie which had narrowly escaped the clutches of the Cookie Monster. Or maybe it just reflects how much Sesame Street I've been watching with my niece, Jordan. In either case, it is troubling.
The moon is seen partially covered during a lunar eclipse from Montevideo, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Marcelo Hernandez)

I noticed on Yahoo! last night that everyone in the world that could view the eclipse was determined to catch it in close proximity to whatever famous landmark they found closest at hand. Personally, I viewed it through a window on my stair landing, in between dangerous-looking icicles hanging from my roof. Others viewed it from slightly more interesting locales:

Here is AP photog Dan Balilty's view from the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Here is AP Photog Kevin Frayer's view from below a statue of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus at Notre Dame Cathedral outside Jerusalem's Old City.

Here is Ap Photog Petko Momchilov's view near a golden domed cathedral in the town of Varna, east of the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

And the view below the Empire State Building in NYC by AP Photog Seth Wenig, which could have been enhanced with a little cooperation from King Kong.

A personal favorite is the PacMan effect from behind the Chrysler Building in New York (Seth Wenig):

Above the National War Memorial in Ottawa by Reuters Photog Chris Wattie.

The Wrigley Building and the moon as seen in Chicago, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

I know you'll be disappointed to learn that I have no pictures of Dave Grohl or any other Foo Fighters mooning the general public. You'll just have to use your imagination. You know I am.

A thin waxing crescent Moon is seen just after Sunset, in Tyler, Texas on Friday, Feb. 8, 2008, one day after the Moon passed in front of the Sun causing an annular Solar eclipse. The nightside of the Moon is lit by reflected light from the dayside of the Earth and is known as Earthshine. (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ben & Jerry's founders endorse Obama

Well, if I had any lingering doubts about whom to vote for, they have been put to rest.


By LISA RATHKE, Associated Press Writer
Mon Feb 18, 7:12 PM ET

BURLINGTON, Vt. - The founders of Ben & Jerry's endorsed Barack Obama on Monday, and lent his Vermont campaign two "ObamaMobiles" that will tour the state and give away scoops of "Cherries for Change" ice cream.

"If there was ever a need for real change, and if there ever was a candidate to inspire us and make that happen, it's now," said Ben Cohen.

Added Jerry Greenfield: "Barack is showing that when you lead with your values and follow what you have inside that good things will happen."

Echoing Obama, Greenfield said he and Cohen succeeded when they opened their ice cream shop 30 years ago in Burlington by doing things differently, instead of copying the "tired ways" of doing business.

"What we saw is that when you want real change it's not a marketing slogan. You have to do things differently. And that is not going to be done by someone who's been involved in the system for years and years," Greenfield said. "It needs to come from inside and Barack Obama has it."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and his wife joined the ice cream duo to announce their radio campaign backing the Illinois senator.

Cohen initially supported John Edwards, who dropped out of the race earlier this month.

Rob Hill, director of the Vermonters for Obama campaign, said he looked forward to getting behind the wheel of one of the two ObamaMobiles — retrofitted Honda Elements.

If you are in Wisconsin or Hawaii today: VOTE!!!
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Sunday, February 17, 2008

There's snow, then there's SNOW

Joe Palmer, a maintenance worker at Mt. Rainier National Park, Wash., is dwarfed by the amount of snow covering the Jackson visitors Center at Paradise Thursday afternoon, Feb. 14, 2008, as he shovels out an entrance into the building. Palmer and scores of other park staff have spent hundreds of hours removing snow along the road from Longmire to Paradise trying to re-open the road to the public.
(AP Photo/The News Tribune/Dean J. Koepfler)

If this is supposed to keep from from complaining about the amount of snow I've had to shovel this winter, it's not going to work.

Rudy Rozman of Crested Butte, Colo. stands on a snowbank as he shovels a roof and window entrance on Monday, Feb. 4, 2008. A storm that dropped nearly 2 feet of snow in parts of Durango and closed several mountain passes in southwest Colorado moved into the central and northern part of the state.
(AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

Still not feeling it.
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Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Leather and Lace," a moving duet by Dave Grohl and Will Ferrell

Exclusive Video: Dave Grohl and Will Ferrell perform "Leather and Lace" at an 826LA Benefit in January of 2007:

Have a Kleenex handy. You're going to need it.


826LA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. 826LA services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

To donate to 826LA, or to sign up to volunteer, please visit

Foo Fighters are coming off of a performance and winning night at the 50th annual Grammys. The band picked up awards for Best Rock Album (Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace) and Best Hard Rock Performance ("The Pretender"). Foos are currently on tour in the US, with shows scheduled all over the world in 2008. Look for the band in Australia, Japan, Europe, and back in the States again this summer! For a complete list of shows, visit

See Will Ferrell in the new comedy "Semi-Pro", in theaters February 29th (

I'm not kidding--it's fucking hilarious. Watch it!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Cynicism is a sorry wisdom."

Photo courtesy of Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Section 311, seat 17.

For those who don't know, that is the last row on the third tier of seats at Madison's 17,000 seat Kohl Center. Nosebleed section. From the picture above, go towards the upper left-hand corner of your monitor, then twelve inches further, and that's where I was last night.

I left Columbus at 5:45 p.m. and passed thousands of well-wrapped penguins shuffling towards the center around 6:30. Found a $5 parking spot (Thank God I grabbed that bag of quarters from the kitchen!) at the top of a nearby ramp that supported me as an undergrad back in 1985 ($3.10/hour).

I joined the penguins--Man, it was slippery out there!--and waited another 45 minutes in the snow and 15 degrees to get in, waiting all the while for them to declare they were at capacity. They would reach it shortly after I entered. 2000 additional supporters were herded to an adjacent pavilion to watch via monitor, while the rest were presumably turned away to shuffle back to their respective igloos.

It's been a long time since I've been in a stadium full of (sober) university students. That may have been the most enjoyable part of the evening. I got reacquainted with the wave, the "slo-mo" wave, and the supersonic wave. Too bad they banned beach balls or we REALLY would have had that place rockin'. The eclectic choice of music didn't hurt, either--though we could have done without the one country song they threw in for the rednecks. (I know, I know, rednecks vote too. But they never punch their chads all the way through.)

We waited patiently as Obama's UW campaign dude gave his overly-starched speech, then again as his regional something-or-other led us in lame cheers of "Fired up!" and "Ready to go!" (By that time, I was truly "ready to go," but feared losing my seat if I scrambled for the bathroom.) I felt my age showing when I grew upset that the young regional guy wore faded jeans under his suit coat. I know you're pushing the "youth" movement, but this is a possible president you're introducing. Couldn't you have found an old pair of Dockers in the back of your closet?

After being entertained by Obama's new music video by Black Eyed Peas', we were greeted by Guvna Jim Doyle (whose senior picture, I'd like to point out, is in the yearbook right next to my dad), who looked very bald from my altitude. Yeah--my dad has more hair than our governor. So there.

Several more minutes lapsed as the Secret Service checked, double-checked, and triple-checked the stage for stink bombs and whoopee cushions. I noticed at least one pacing the upper rafters of the stadium, but no sniper rifle, which was a little anti-climactic. Still, it was starting to feel a little like a taping of a "24" episode. City cops were scattered here and there, but they all looked puny and ill-equipped from my vantage point. I don't care if Obama has to travel in a pope-mobile--I don't want anything happening to this guy now that we've found him.

And then, finally, the man himself. He took a while getting to the podium as he stopped to shake hands and exchange contagious illnesses with every runny-nosed supporter that started lining up outside the Kohl Center last fall to be right up front.

WI Gov. Jim Doyle and IL Senator Barack Obama
Photo courtesy of Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Let me just say: He looked mighty sharp. I know--irrelevant. But damn!

We soaked in 25 minutes of Obama's booming voice, and I thought it was very telling that the loudest outburst was when he started a sentence by saying, "George Bush will not be on the ballot in November..." and the place went wild. You would have thought it was the first time we'd learned this. I guess we all assumed by now that W had figured out a way to get the Supreme Court to re-appoint him.

Anyway, it underlined to me that--as talented and promising as Obama is as an individual--we are SO disheartened by 7.5 years of Bush-shit politics that we are absolutely starving for change. The mere reminder that, no matter what else may happen, Bush will be GONE soon, was almost more than we could bear. I do believe tears were shed.

If was all over before it began, of course. Obama was shaking hands and slapping backs on his way out, which most of us watched from monitors as we made our way to the chutes we worked so hard to get into just a few hours before.

As I filed out with the rest of the cattle, I gathered the adjectives that best summed up the Senator after my brief, and only, encounter with him:

Confident. Articulate. Determined. Focused. Bold. Humble. Thankful. Thunderous. Soft-spoken. Charged. Relaxed.


I also got the distinct impression that he is an exceptionately good speller, which I find critical in any presidential contest. That is, as long as we don't ask him to spell (or pronounce, bless his heart) the last name of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Every man has his limits.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Here are last night's remarks, as prepared for delivery, courtesy of my friend Stephanie from Texas. Apparently he ad-libbed "Cynicism is a sorry wisdom," but it stuck with me immediately. Maybe I'm just hearing voices, again...

"Today, the change we seek swept through the Chesapeake and over the Potomac. We won the state of Maryland. We won the Commonwealth of Virginia. And though we won in Washington D.C., this movement won’t stop until there’s change in Washington. And tonight, we’re on our way.

"But we know how much farther we have to go. We know it takes more than one night – or even one election – to overcome decades of money and the influence; bitter partisanship and petty bickering that’s shut you out, let you down and told you to settle.

"We know our road will not be easy. But we also know that at this moment the cynics can no longer say our hope is false. We have now won east and west, north and south, and across the heartland of this country we love. We have given young people a reason to believe, and brought folks back to the polls who want to believe again. And we are bringing together Democrats and Independents and Republicans; blacks and whites; Latinos and Asians; small states and big states; Red States and Blue States into a United States of America.

"This is the new American majority. This is what change looks like when it happens from the bottom up. And in this election, your voices will be heard. Because at a time when so many people are struggling to keep up with soaring costs in a sluggish economy, we know that the status quo in Washington just won’t do. Not this time. Not this year. We can’t keep playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result – because it’s a game that ordinary Americans are losing.

"It’s a game where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns record profits, while you pay the price at the pump, and our planet is put at risk. That’s what happens when lobbyists set the agenda, and that’s why they won’t drown out your voices anymore when I am President of the United States of America

"It’s a game where trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart. That’s what happens when the American worker doesn’t have a voice at the negotiating table, when leaders change their positions on trade with the politics of the moment, and that’s why we need a President who will listen to Main Street – not just Wall Street; a President who will stand with workers not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard

"It’s a game where Democrats and Republicans fail to come together year after year after year, while another mother goes without health care for her sick child. That’s why we have to put an end to the division and distraction in Washington, so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

"It’s a game where the only way for Democrats to look tough on national security is by talking, and acting and voting like Bush-McCain Republicans, while our troops are sent to fight tour after tour of duty in a war that should’ve never been authorized and should’ve never been waged. That’s what happens when we use 9/11 to scare up votes, and that’s why we need to do more than end a war – we need to end the mindset that got us into war.

"That’s the choice in this primary. It’s about whether we choose to play the game, or whether we choose to end it; it’s change that polls well, or change we can believe in; it’s the past versus the future. And when I’m the Democratic nominee for President – that will be the choice in November.

"John McCain is an American hero. We honor his service to our nation. But his priorities don’t address the real problems of the American people, because they are bound to the failed policies of the past.

"George Bush won’t be on the ballot this November, but his war and his tax cuts for the wealthy will. When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice.

"John McCain won’t be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.

"If we had chosen a different path, the right path, we could have finished the job in Afghanistan, and put more resources into the fight against bin Laden; and instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Baghdad, we could have put that money into our schools and hospitals, our road and bridges – and that’s what the American people need us to do right now.

"And I admired Senator McCain when he stood up and said that it offended his “conscience” to support the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in a time of war; that he couldn’t support a tax cut where “so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate.” But somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, the Straight Talk Express lost its wheels, because now he’s all for them. Well I’m not. We can’t keep spending money that we don’t have in a war that we shouldn’t have fought. We can’t keep mortgaging our children’s future on a mountain of debt. We can’t keep driving a wider and wider gap between the few who are rich and the rest who struggle to keep pace.

"It’s time to turn the page. We need a new direction in this country. Everywhere I go, I meet Americans who can’t wait another day for change. They’re not just showing up to hear a speech – they need to know that politics can make a difference in their lives, that it’s not too late to reclaim the American Dream.

"It’s a dream shared in big cities and small towns; across races, regions and religions – that if you work hard, you can support a family; that if you get sick, there will be health care you can afford; that you can retire with the dignity and security and respect that you have earned; that your kids can get a good education, and young people can go to college even if they’re not rich.

"That is our common hope. That is the American Dream.It’s the dream of the father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills. He needs us to restore fairness to our economy by putting a tax cut into the pockets of working people, and seniors, and struggling homeowners.It’s the dream of the woman who told me she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill. She needs us to finally come together to make health care affordable and available for every American.

"It’s the dream of the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt. He doesn’t need bankruptcy laws that protect banks and big lenders. He needs us to protect pensions, not CEO bonuses; and to do what it takes to make sure that the American people can count on Social Security today, tomorrow and forever.

"It’s the dream of the teacher who works at Dunkin Donuts after school just to make ends meet. She needs better pay, and more support, and the freedom to do more than just teach to the test. And if her students want to go on to college, they shouldn’t fear decades of debt.

"That’s why I’ll make college affordable with an annual $4,000 tax credit if you’re willing to do community service, or national service. We will invest in you, but we’ll ask you to invest in your country.

"That is our calling in this campaign. To reaffirm that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes us one people, and one nation. It’s time to stand up and reach for what’s possible, because together, people who love their country can change it.

"Now when I start talking like this, some folks tell me that I’ve got my head in the clouds. That I need a reality check. That we’re still offering false hope. But my own story tells me that in the United States of America, there has never been anything false about hope.

"I should not be here today. I was not born into money or status. I was born to a teenage mom in Hawaii, and my dad left us when I was two. But my family gave me love, they gave me education, and most of all they gave me hope – hope that in America, no dream is beyond our grasp if we reach for it, and fight for it, and work for it. Because hope is not blind optimism.

"I know how hard it will be to make these changes. I know this because I fought on the streets of Chicago as a community organizer to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant. I’ve fought in the courts as a civil rights lawyer to make sure people weren’t denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from. I’ve fought in the legislature to take power away from lobbyists.

"I’ve won some of those fights, but I’ve lost some of them too. I’ve seen good legislation die because good intentions weren’t backed by a mandate for change. The politics of hope does not mean hoping things come easy. Because nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody, somewhere stood up when it was hard; stood up when they were told – no you can’t, and said yes we can.

"And where better to affirm our ideals than here in Wisconsin, where a century ago the progressive movement was born. It was rooted in the principle that the voices of the people can speak louder than special interests; that citizens can be connected to their government and to one another; and that all of us share a common destiny, an American Dream.

"Yes we can reclaim that dream. Yes we can heal this nation. The voices of the American people have carried us a great distance on this improbable journey, but we have much further to go.

"Now we carry our message to farms and factories across this state, and to the cities and small towns of Ohio, to the open plains deep in the heart of Texas, and all the way to Democratic National Convention in Denver; it’s the same message we had when we were up, and when were down; that out of many, we are one; that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; and that we can cast off our doubts and fears and cynicism because our dream will not be deferred; our future will not be denied; and our time for change has come.

"Please help us continue to build off of our success and grow this movement across the country. This campaign is fueled by all of us -- please donate and make your voice heard in this historic moment.

"Yes. We. Can."
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Learning to Believe

Image courtesy Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute

I have been anxious to post my review of Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea. Unfortunately, no sooner had I finished it than I was compelled to start re-reading it. I cannot shake the feeling that this is the most important book I have read in years.

It is no secret to those who know me that the year I spent in Cairo (1993-1994) was a life-altering experience for me. (And frankly, I think they're a little sick of hearing about it.) Life in America is blinding with all its taken-for-granted comforts and readily-available basic needs. I remember being "poor" as a child in Kentucky, only eating Thanksgiving dinner one year thanks to a few bags of groceries (and the toughest chicken I have EVER attempted to chew) delivered unexpectedly by a local church group. I recall passing beggars on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin during my high school and early college years, and sympathizing with the plight of the homeless. But I knew nothing of poverty.

Images haunt me still from the streets of Cairo. There was the boy of eight or nine, dirty and completely naked, darting terrified through an extremely busy intersection one morning as I made my way to the university. His body carriage suggested he was severely handicapped. Traffic moved haltingly around him but never stopped. A traffic cop shot him glances as he ran past, but had to remain focused on preventing pile-ups, as traffic lights that were installed in the 1980's work perfectly but are still ignored completely by drivers. From my low perch in my black and white taxi, I soon lost sight of the boy.

Photo courtesy of Pexi from Helsinski Rock City

There was another boy, this one perhaps going on twelve, standing inside Midan at-Tahrir (Cairo's central square and most congested area of the city) beating a horse who quite clearly had suffered a broken leg. An ill-fitting harness suggested a cart nearby, though I could not spot it. The underweight chestnut, one of his front ankles dangling uselessly, could not walk, and his eyes rolled back frequently in pain. The boy's face showed only fear as he repeatedly lashed the horse with a loose rein, trying in vain to move the beast out of traffic and towards home--where he would have to tell his family that the cornerstone of their family's income had been destroyed on his watch.

I also remember that I watched this scene unfold as I sat with my American roommate waiting to catch a minibus to the Pyramids. No doubt we were going riding. We both grew ill witnessing the pain of the horse, the fear of the boy, and anticipating the heartbreak of an already impoverished family--but I don't remember our jumping off the concrete traffic barrier we sat upon to offer our help.

Really, though--what could we have done? This was before cell phones and I'm quite certain calling 911 would have gotten us nowhere. We could lead a horse with a broken leg no better than the boy--and we certainly could not cure him. There was no point in trying to explain to the boy in our broken Arabic that his horse was fatally injured and needed to be put down. He knew that well enough. His instincts just could not allow him to abandon that horse--the single most valuable asset his family owned--to die alone in multiple lanes of high speed traffic.

Something inside us--inside me, anyway--told me not to interfere. It told me I could not change the course of events, nor could I fix them--all I could do was bear witness. And maybe there is some truth to that, but not enough. I am tired of being nothing more than a witness. I am sick from inaction--sick in mind, and sick in body.

Greg Mortenson, co-author of Three Cups of Tea and Director of the Central Asia Institute, witnessed similar levels of poverty as he wandered down from K2 in the Karakoram mountain range of northwest Pakistan--roughly the same time I was learning about poverty in Egypt. Greg was lost and broken by his failed attempt at the summit, which he had intended to dedicate to his younger sister, Christa, who had passed away the year before. Disoriented and exhausted, he stumbled into the small mountain village of Korphe and, in the course of the next few weeks, transformed from witness to agent of change. His tale is of an amazing man, but not a superhero. Greg Mortenson is a man, and that, I believe, is the underlying message that should be taken from his book.

We are raised believing that only superheroes can change the world--not simple men. And this becomes the perfect excuse to not even try. Thankfully, Greg was never taught this disabling message. Raised to believe that he could achieve anything, he did something--something extraordinary.

I don't believe that I can "do anything," and I'm not convinced that I ever did. Even after getting my Masters degree in Arabic in 1995, I failed to land a position with UNESCO and was too intimidated to even try the UN. My forays into the business world of Arabic-to-English transtaion never transpired to much of anything, and eventually petered out until I was left working in a profession whose only connection to Arabic was Arabian horses. And finally, despite the stated demand for Arabic speakers, I could not get a job with the FBI or State Department following 9/11. Even those of us (you might know us as bleeding heart Liberals) who stood firmly against our narrow-minded and war-hungry administration and sneered at government positions all through graduate school came to feel a strong obligation to provide voices of moderation on Capitol Hill and in US embassies around the world. I'll never forget summoning the courage to follow-up with the main office of the FBI after receiving my rejection letter to ask why, despite my education credentials, I would not be considered for an interview. They told me my application lacked self-confidence, and they needed people who believed they could do anything.

I may not be that person, but maybe I can learn to be more like her. I have sat and watched as 41 years of my life has passed--much of which I dedicated to helping people who didn't ask for it, didn't want it, all the while turning my back on the ones who did.

On April 5, 2008, Greg Mortenson will be speaking at a fundraiser for the Central Asia Institute in Downers Grove, IL. I don't know what's going to be on the menu, but it must be tasty at $100 a plate. Joking aside, that money will go far in the poorest, war-torn reaches of Afghanistan and Pakistan to educate children or provide their communities with basic services, such as safe water sources and basic medical care.

And maybe, just maybe, I can shake this man's hand, look into his eyes, and learn something that will make me believe that I can do anything.

Image courtesy Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute
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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Kite Runner a Feast for Heart and Soul

Recently I was painfully reminded that just because I think a certain book is amazing, not everyone will agree with me. Looks like I’ll be apologizing to my sister for years after taking her to see the movie, “The Kite Runner.”

To say I was captivated by the book is an understatement: it is more accurate to say I was kidnapped. After reading 75 pages the first night, it was all I could do to get through work the next day and back to the book. After speed-walking the dogs, I settled in and read until I finished it, shortly before midnight. Early the next day I handed it to my mother, who corresponds with several soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan. As a result of their letters she harbors much curiosity about Afghani history and culture. As soon as she had finished it, we invited my sister to the movie. Having a two year-old gives her little free time to read much of anything, so she did not have the written story to fall back on when we entered the theatre. Accordingly, the movie hit her like a runaway freight train.


This story is filled with suspense and elaborately-fleshed out characters that we are allowed to follow from childhood to adulthood. This much I told my sister. I think I left out some of the violence. The unimaginable horrors and heartbreak, along with the main character’s struggle for redemption, are what make it impossible to put this book down. In a theatre, however, all it drew from my sister was tears and multiple icy stares in my direction. I shrank as far as I could into my seat, but it was to no avail. A conciliatory offer of Kleenex was met with a solid flip of the bird. She was not happy. A little earlier she had leaned over and whispered that if there were subtitles along with the heavy drama, my life might be in danger. It was at that moment that the characters began conversing in the Pashto language. It was very hard to enjoy comparing the Pashto to my fledgling knowledge of Farsi with my sister throwing daggers at me throughout.

Though author Khaled Hosseini provides breathtaking descriptions of the cities and countrysides of Afghanistan and Pakistan, my mother and I were still anxious to see the book come alive. Part of me just wanted to see how—or if—they could even accomplish it. Tense personal stories woven seamlessly into Afghanistan’s dramatic political changes make this story require a seven-day miniseries instead of a two-hour movie.

Thankfully, the cinematography provided us the visual backdrop we craved. The aerial scenes of dueling kites were utterly mesmerizing, and I still haven’t figured out how they shot them. Though personally disappointed at the numerous scenes that had to be cut for time’s sake, later we were relieved that my sister was at least spared some heartbreak—a fact she didn’t seem to fully appreciate as we left the theatre. I hadn’t even left the bathroom afterwards when a text message appeared on my phone. “You suck. I am never going to another movie with you. Ever.” I kept telling her, “If only you’d read the book…” but something tells me that is never going to happen.

I’m still playing with the idea of getting her a kite for her birthday this summer. I’ll let you know how that goes…

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Three Cups of Tea and a Treadmill

My new treadmill has given me vertigo. I assume it's the elevation.

After walking a mere 45 minutes, I have "traveled" only 1.5 miles--roughly half the distance I'd cover in the same amount of time outdoors in fair weather. Still, as I sit and write this with my legs elevated by my coffee table, I feel my muscles twitching, waking up as if they have been asleep for ages--the Ice Age known as a typical Wisconsin winter.

Outside, my neighborhood is still as death, slowly disappearing beneath yet another white blanket; but inside I can finally feel alive again. The relief is overwhelming, as is the dizziness I find unexpectedly as I step off the ungainly behemoth taking up a quarter of my poor dining room. Its towering blackness and smell of new plastic provides sharp contrast to the warm hues of my plank table and antique wooden chests. Yet despite its glaring incongruity with my furnishings, when I look at it I see a lifeboat; a modern-day version of Sterling North's canvas canoe which spent at least a year occupying the center of the North family home in Edgerton, Wisonsin, not so many years ago.

Since a trip to the Columbus Fireman's Park was out of the question this evening, I traveled with Greg Mortenson to the peak of K2. Well, almost. We made it within 600 metres of the peak before finding it necessary to turn back to save a friend suffering from a near-fatal brush with pulmonary edema. On the arduous journey down, Greg becomes lost and finds himself--literally and metaphorically--in the mountain village of Korphe, Pakistan. It is here that Greg discovers his life's calling when he discovers that the village has no school for its children.

As Greg struggles to navigate the ravines and avalanches of fundraising (now back in California) I march onward to the entrancing beat of Phil Thornton and Hossam Ramzy's "Immortal Egypt." Occasionally, a song carries a pace close enough to my own that I can match it precisely by increasing or decreasing my speed in small increments. A rhythm for my workout. A current for my canoe. A rope for my ascent.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Greg Mortenson and students from one of the new girls' schools in Pakistan.

"Image courtesy Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute"
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Monday, February 4, 2008