Friday, August 29, 2008
Just got done watching Obama’s acceptance speech. In case you missed it, I wrote down a few notes in shorthand. If my notes are right, this is the speech that he gave, although not verbatim:
“My fellow Americans”
(Clapping, screaming and fainting from the audience for about 23 minutes)
“I want to start by giving a shout-out to the coolest girl I know, Mrs. Hillary Rodhaaaaaam Cliiiiiiintoooooon!”
(Cheering for about 10 minutes. Hillary waves to the crowd with her right hand while signaling a hired sniper with her left.)
“Before I begin my speech tonight, I want to talk a little bit about the times in which we live. This is a time when people are struggling. Jobs are limited, natural disasters are occurring seemingly every week, homeless people beg in the streets, wars are occurring everywhere, misery and abominations surround us, the earth groans with wickedness, the moon is darkened with blood, and the seventh angel has sounded forth his trumpet to call together the battle of Armageddon.”
(confused looks from the crowd)
“That’s from the Bible.”
(relieved nods and smiles of recognition from the crowd)
“Naturally these things are all the fault of George….W…..BUSH.”
(Sustained booing from the crowd, sufficient time for Obama to get a drink of water, towel off, and make a visit to Colorado Springs to raise campaign funds)
“Let me continue. One thing you may not have realized is that all of these difficult times are also the fault of a man you might have heard a little about. One John S. McCain.”
“You see, I believe that John McCain is a good man, but he just doesn’t understand the problems of normal people like you and me.
“Let me give you an example. John McCain thinks that it’s enough for the poor in this country to live off of food stamps and Medicaid. Well, I ask you, what good is a government aid program if it requires you to be stigmatized as a recipient of government aid?”
“Fellow Americans, shouldn’t we all be on some kind of welfare program? Is it fair to poor people that they have to feel singled out as some kind of dead weight on our country? Well there’s only one solution: We’re all poor people now!!!!”
(Loud and boisterous applause)
“That’s right, people. We all have needs and wants. Why should we have to pay for them ourselves? In Barack Obama’s America (don’t worry, we’ll test-market the name change before it becomes official), there will be no need unsatisfied, no want ignored. Pain will cease, and evil will evaporate from our land like the sweat on a camel’s back.”
(Obama smiles) “I wrote that camel line myself.”
(Applause and shouts of “Yes, We Can!” and “Viva la revolucion!”)
“Let’s talk about pain for a moment. My first memory of pain came when I was 6 and my pet goldfish died. My mother flushed it down the toilet”
(tears, wailing and gnashing of teeth from the crowd)
“Ladies and Gentlemen, no child should ever have to go through the pain I went through. And no goldfish should ever have to suffer the indignity of burial by commode. In Barack Obama’s America, that cannot be allowed to happen. That’s why tonight I am announcing that, starting on January 20, 2009, every American child whose goldfish dies will have it taken to a government veterinary hospital (we’ll tell them it’s just not feeling well), and then surreptitiously replaced by another pet that looks almost exactly like it.
“Not only that, every kid who wants a new pet can have one. And I’m not just talking about dogs and cats. I’m talking really freaking weird pets like llamas and emus, if that’s what floats your boat. John McCain would probably tell you that an old basset hound is good enough. That just shows you what an old, crazy coot John McCain is. And I mean OLD.”
“I have just a few questions for you, Senator McCain. Didn’t you have a llama at your granddaughter’s sweet 16 party?”
“You did, didn’t you? That’s right, you had a llama and a big old bouncy castle that you have stashed away in the attic at one of your seven houses. Well, if your granddaughter deserves a llama, don’t all American boys and girls, poor and rich, black and white, handicapped or handicapable, right-handed or left-handed, with the butter side up or the butter side down, don’t they all deserve a llama of their own?”
“Llamas and bouncy castles for everyone!!!!”
(Cheers even louder. The Arizona delegation starts fainting at the mention of free bouncy castles.)
“Now, this brings me to my next issue: hunger. You see, when I lived in Indonesia, we couldn’t have had llamas as pets because we would have had to eat them. Well, I don’t want any American child to look at their new pet llama and wonder how he would taste with a side of tater tots. We are going to solve this hunger problem by sending every child, rich or poor, to buy as much food as they want at the nearest Whole Foods. There they can find all of the dried fruits, tofu, wheat germ, kale and other tasty treats that they need to grow up to be as good-looking as I am. Because every child should have a dream.”
(Crowd cheers; women who start thinking about Barack’s good looks immediately have trouble breathing)
“Of course, if they want Big Macs, who are we to judge? Eat whatever you want.”
(Applause. Bill Clinton, watching from home, calls off Hillary’s sniper at the mention of free Big Macs.)
“Some of you may be wondering how I’m going to pay for all of this. That’s an excellent question. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to go through the budget…”
(Democrats seize up in fear)
“And I’m going to cut the programs that only Republicans like! I’ll let you know which ones I’m talking about some other time!”
(Clapping and relieved sighs)
“Up to this point, I’ve only discussed domestic policy. Now I would like to talk to you about my proposals on foreign policy. Senator McCain has implied that I’m not tough enough to be Commander-in-Chief. Well, I have a few words for you Senator. First of all, I grew up on the mean streets of Kansas. I’ve tipped some cows in my day.”
(Shouts of adulation from the Kansas and Oklahoma delegations)
“Furthermore, how dare you talk about the difficulties you faced during your five-and-a-half years in the Hanoi Hilton. You think that makes you tough? Let me tell you about the lousy room service that I had to deal with when I was staying at the Radisson in Des Moines…”
(Joe Biden walks up onto the stage and whispers in Obama’s ear.)
“My running mate has just informed me that the Hanoi Hilton isn’t actually a hotel, but a POW camp. My mistake. However, I still think I’m tougher than you, John McCain. First of all, if I am elected president, I will probably be lot tougher with the Russians than you would be, in ways that I can’t quite describe right now. I would also kick your rear at basketball. Haven’t you seen my And 1 mix tape? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-3ROv_MsNs)”
“Furthermore, what kind of wussy middle name is Sidney? My name is Barack H. Obama. The H stands for Hopeandchange. Beat that, John Sidney McCain!!”
“In closing, I want to tell you about the American Promise. We haven’t kept the American Promise over the last eight years. The American Promise is a promise to everyone by everyone. To do everything. Forever. It won’t be easy, but if we just have hope, we can accomplish this change. And if hope isn’t enough, we’ll sell six of John McCain’s houses and pay the Chinese to keep the promise for us!”
“God bless you, and God bless the United States of Barack Obama’s America © 2008!!!!”
Thursday, August 21, 2008
This is the view of the city from up on a hill. If you were able to see about 30 degrees to the right, you would see a few hundred teenagers at a filming of the Italian version of Total Request Live. I am not making that up. (And yes, it's just as bad in Italian.)
The Duomo from up close
The highlight was Michelangelo's David. Taking a picture is not permitted so...don't tell anyone. Actually, while most famous works of art are way overrated (Yes, I'm looking right at you, Mona Lisa) there were two big exceptions on this trip: David and the Sistine Chapel. Both of them were waaaaaaay beyond anything else we saw, by any meaningful measure. Between those two works, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Moses statue (also in Rome), Michelangelo was easily the greatest artist in history. Plus his ninja turtle was the coolest. Cowabunga, dude.
P.S. Dang it, forgot to log in as myself.
Our awesome kitchen also comes with a dishwasher...loving that.
The bathroom with our one towel to share.
Living Room with functional fireplace. This is where we've been sitting to eat meals.
Dining area/Front foyer...Can you see our modem and wireless router?
Sunday, August 17, 2008
The Colosseum. Simply must be seen to be believed.
From up close:
The famed Appian Way, the ancient highway leading into Rome. I believe those are the original stones, although I could be wrong:
The Pantheon. If you can believe it, those pillars are cut directly out of stone; they are one solid piece of rock:
St. Peter's Basilica. An impossible fusion of exquisite craftsmanship and astounding proportions. The sheer size of the place made me envious of Catholicism. I immediately wanted to write a letter to President Monson suggesting that we build something on a similar scale in Utah. Then I calculated in my head what it would cost to build such a place today. I would estimate that you couldn't build a similar structure for less than $100 Billion, and then there is the matter of bringing Michelangelo back to life...
Ok, here's the story, and then I'll ask my question. On our first full day of sight-seeing, we finished up at the Colosseum around noon and walked across the street to the Forum. (Yes, as my sister Sariah pointed out, a funny thing really did happen on the way to the forum). When we got to the entrance of the Forum, we saw that the line extended down the street, so we turned to go to the end of the line. Just as we were walking away, I saw two Italian men (or at least, they looked Italian; they were European for certain) dragging an Asian woman away from the entrance by her arms. Her feet were dragging behind her. The men were not, it appeared, wearing any kind of uniform. They opened up the back door of their unmarked white passenger car and started trying, unsuccessfully, to stuff her in the back. She was not yelling or even speaking, but she was definitely resisting them.
Now...just a few days before we left, I saw a news report about a tourist who had almost died in Rome when some robbers poisoned him. Let's just say that I was on the lookout. There were hundreds of people at the Forum and thousands within sight of it. No one seemed to notice what was happening. I thought "Chill out, it's your first day of sightseeing. They are probably undercover cops. No one else is acting like it's unusual, so it probably isn't." Then a second thought entered my mind: "Everyone else here is a tourist like you. They are probably scared to react or they think this sort of thing is normal. Maybe they don't even see what's happening."
I decided that while I had know way of knowing if these men were police, I could draw some attention to the situation in hopes that the locals would know what to do. I walked up to the car (where they were still trying to stuff her inside) and said, "What's going on here?" Neither of the men acknowledged me. I then put my hands on the door to keep it from closing before I got an answer and yelled, "WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?!"
Now I had everyone's attention, including people in line at the Forum. The skinnier of the two men turned to me and said, "What do you want me to do? She is under arrest." When he turned to talk to me, I saw some lettering near the bottom of the man's T-shirt which read "Policia" and had a phone number below it. That would have been comforting, except that "Policia" is Spanish. The Italian word for police is "Polizia". I couldn't see the rest of the writing on his shirt, so it may have read "Polizia" elsewhere, although nowhere obvious. I looked at the other, heavier-set man, and he was wearing only a button-up shirt and some trousers.
I took a step closer and yelled, "Are you the police?!" Now, I realize that fake police would say that they were the police, but I wanted some proof. I also thought that by raising my doubts, someone else in the large crowd would either know that they were not police and help me stop the whole thing, or that they would know that they were police and let me in on the secret. The skinny man was now quite angry and yelled, "What do you want me to do? We are the police and she is under arrest!" He and the other man then pointed toward a siren sitting on the dashboard of the car. I should note that this was just about the only indicator that their car was a police car. Although it was about the right size and color for a police car it had no markings, and no cage or bulletproof glass divider between the front and back seats. It was even a little messy with papers.
I should mention that during most of the confrontation, Michelle was yanking on my backpack and pleading with me to leave. At that point, with no one in the crowd having emerged to dispel or confirm my suspicions, I walked away. Since this was the first time I had been outside the country, I was acutely aware that I might be overreacting, and the siren was enough evidence to convince me to give up.
However, after we got in line, we saw the car speed away, only to stop when the back door opened and the Asian woman got out. The Italians (or Spaniards, or who knows what) stuffed her back in. If it was a police car, it was the first one I have ever seen which can be opened from the back where criminals are sitting. When we saw this happen, another American tourist (who did not see my kerfuffle with the "cops") told us, "Some people up there said she was a pick pocket." He had not seen this for himself.
Michelle and I have been debating ever since that fateful day whether these men were police or not. Every time I settle my mind one way, I seize upon another fact which renders it impossible. In retrospect, I should have taken down their license plate number and called the real cops, but it happened too fast for me to think of it. As far as I can tell, these are the points which indicate that they were police, and that they were kidnappers.
- White car, similar in color and model to other police cars we saw in Rome. Most other cop cars were marked, although not all.
- Asian woman didn't yell for help or make a sound at all. This is probably the strongest fact in favor of thinking they were cops.
- The siren.
- There was a huge crowd and we were in the broad daylight. Not ideal conditions for a kidnapping unless you assume complete apathy on the part of everyone there (not impossible), in which case your escape is somewhat easier.
- No one in the crowd except for me thought that this was unusual. I'm going to give Italians the benefit of the doubt and assume that if they really thought a kidnapping was happening, they would have at least said something.
- Reports that she was a pickpocket.
- The lack of uniforms. They could have been undercover, but don't the police usually try to make their presence felt in big crowds in order to prevent crime and maintain order? Also, we saw several more police cars in Rome, and none of them were driven by anyone except uniformed officers.
- "Policia" v. "Polizia". Veerrrrry fishy.
- Wouldn't a real cop have restrained me from interfering with the arrest? There were two of them, but the portly guy just stood there while I yelled at his partner.
- The lack of a barrier between the front and back seats.
- The fact that the back door of the car can be opened from the inside.
- No one came up out of the crowd to politely inform me that this was a normal arrest, and that I should leave the police alone.
Right now, I'm leaning "kidnappers", but then I come back to the Asian woman not yelling. If you were being kidnapped, wouldn't you yell? But on the other hand, WHAT KIND OF POLICE CAR DOESN'T HAVE A BARRIER BETWEEN THE FRONT AND BACK SEATS?! I can't decide.
So here's our poll. Do you think they were cops or kidnappers? Give your answer in the comments.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The hike we went on was spectacular. We hiked along Exit Glacier (not on it, since that would require ice picks and funny Swiss hats) up to the Harding Icefield, which is the source for a lot of the glaciers which you might see crashing into the ocean on National Geographic Explorer. I am not sure whether the Harding Icefield is named after Warren G. or Tonya (I mean this Warren G: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_G._Harding, not this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_G). Anyway, it was one of the most surreal sights I've ever witnessed. Michelle said it looked like "the end of the earth" and I agree. It's probably the closest I will come to seeing what Antarctica looks like. Wikipedia told us this expanse of ice is approximately 300 sq miles:
Here are some pictures we took of the glacier itself:
The most dangerous part, however, was where the trail started to narrow and turned into a foot-wide (sometimes less) ice trail. So that you understand our unpreparedness, every map we had seen of the trail had nothing but green along the trail itself; only the glacier was covered with ice on the maps. Apparently the trail only looks like this for about four days a year. What a bummer that the cartographer happened to show up one of those four days. Anyway, we hiked across the icy slopes in our tennis shoes. In some places there was a steep drop which I would rather not think about right now. Meanwhile, everyone around us had these snow/hiking boots the size of a Geo Metro., along with ski poles. Advantage: rich hikers.
When we got to the top, we were joking about how much we would pay to have a helicopter carry us down, so as to ensure that we made it back alive. The ranger said it was $20,000. We were hoping to pay something more like $300, so that idea fell by the wayside.
It was even harder to stay on our feet on the way down. Michelle was a lot more brave than I was, and I ended up sliding down most of the iciest steepest parts of the trail on my bottom. Cold, yet strangely exhilarating.
We are very glad we went. However, I pointed out on the way home that this was a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience because there's no way we are hiking up there in tennis shoes again.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
In preparing to come to Alaska and to visit Mt. McKinley, I thought it prudent to research what precautions one must take with bears. Here are some of the rules which I found:
If you encounter a bear, don’t run. That would trigger his chase instinct. Stand tall and slowly ease away.
If a grizzly bear runs at you, run away. He may lose interest.
If a black bear runs at you, fight it. It won’t stop chasing you for anything.
Don’t ever get between a mama bear and her cubs.
On Saturday, I went for a run near our apartment while Michelle went shopping with a friend. It was our ninth day in Alaska. Just a few miles from our apartment, just beyond a strip mall, is a city park with a municipal golf course on it. The highway where I was running ran along the north side of this park. On the other side of the highway is a housing development. I assumed that I was fully ensconced in the middle of civilization. Then I heard the brush a few feet to my right a loud rustling sound. “Hmm, too big to be a dog…”
I looked and saw two black bears, one adult and one cub, tumble out of the brush and trees perhaps ten feet away. I first uttered an obscenity to myself (I only use such words when I stand a decent chance of being eaten). Then my mind immediately reverted to the rules. Number 1 is: Don’t run. OK, don’t run, OH CRAP I’M ALREADY RUNNING! Better to just keep doing what you’re doing, no sudden stops.
I started to cross the street at my same even running pace, although I was halfway across the road before I realized that I ought to look out for cars. The bears started crossing the street as well. They also neglected to look out for cars. Luckily none of us were hit. More importantly, the bears seemed to have no interest in me. (Although if they had, it would have made for a funny joke: Q- Why did the black bears cross the road? A- To eat me).
I got about 50 yards down the road when a young outdoorsy-looking woman on an expensive-looking bicycle (you know the type*) rode by and yelled, “That was cool!”
“Um, yeah,” I responded. Then she had the audacity to ask, “You were pretty scared weren’t you?”
“Silly me,” I responded. “Yes, silly me for being scared of a wild carnivore THE SIZE OF A RIDING LAWN MOWER!” Actually all I said was, “It was my first time.”
In talking with people at church the next day, I found that my experience was a rare one. You typically have to go into the wilderness (or a zoo) to run into a bear at such close quarters. The amusing part of all this is that President Wappett told me that I had to visit Fairbanks in order to see “the real Alaska.” Apparently in “The Real Alaska” they ride the wild black bears up to the Arctic Ocean, where they go ice fishing for blue whales. You just have to watch out for the Yeti.
*You know the kind of girl I’m talking about. The one who started running ultra-marathons because she was “bored with marathons.” The one with a $7,000 bike affixed to a $2000 bike rack that sits on the top of her 1988 Volkswagen Rabbit that she bought from her college roommate for $850.
P.S. Still working on editing Europe video. We will have some stuff up by the end of the week.