Thursday, May 31, 2012

John Edwards Acquitted In Corruption Case (And Pictured At Borders)

Former Senator John Edwards was acquitted on one count in his campaign finance fraud case today, and the jury was deadlocked on the remaining five counts. The judge declared a mistrial.

More interestingly, in their article on the Edwards' trial, the Washington Post featured a photo that showed Edwards signing books in what I immediately recognized as a Borders store. According to the caption on the photo, the event was at a Dallas location in 2006.

Our imprint on the culture lives on...even unfaithful lying politicians loved us.

Big News and Fun Photos From French Open

Photo: Reuters / Gonzalo Fuentes
We're almost through the first week of the 2012 French Open, and the big news coming out of the tennis world has been the shocking first-round elimination of Serena Williams, the top-ranked American player in the women's game.

Previously, Williams sported a record of 46-0 in the opening round of the four major tournaments in tennis. 

Not to be outdone by William's quick exit, American men have been cast out of the French Open faster than day old baguettes. 

Isner (l) and Mathieu (r)
Photo: AP /Michel Eueler
America's second-highest ranked player, John Isner, was defeated today by France's Paul-Henri Mathieu in an epic match that lasted a near-record 5 hours and 41 minutes. 

With Isner's departure, no American men are left in the draw to compete in the second week of the tournament.

Oh well, we've still got some great tennis ahead next week, and we'll always have this collection of 40 fun photos from week one of this year's French Open.

Defense of Marriage Act Is Struck Down, Kinda

Photo: Reuters / David McNew
A Boston-based federal appeals court has declared that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The three-judge panel, two of whom are Republican appointees, supported a lower court ruling that struck down part of DOMA in 2010.

Before my gay friends rush to their local courthouse for marriage licenses (and before my gay-friendly friends order those wedding gifts), you must look a little closer at the court's decision. This ruling doesn't legalize same sex marriage, it simply declares that the 1996 law enacted by Congress (and signed by President Clinton) defining marriage as a union "between one man and one woman" is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution. 

This is good news, for sure, but the rationale behind the ruling is a bit troubling. Here is the most salient segment of the court's decision.

"[M]any Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and most Americans live in states where that is the law today. One virtue of federalism is that it permits diversity of governance based on local choice...this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage."

In essence, the Court of Appeals declared DOMA to be unconstitutional, not on the grounds that it unfairly discriminates against gays and lesbians, but because it violates the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees individual states the right to determine legal questions, when the issues involved are not expressly within the jurisdiction of the federal government. 

In other words, today's ruling is a big step forward, but the logic used to declare DOMA unconstitutional relates to the protection of the basic rights of states in our federal system, not to the fundamental equality of gay and lesbians citizens.

For now, each individual state still gets to decide whether it will allow same-sex couples to marry, which is very likely the same ruling justices on the Supreme Court will make when this issue finally reaches them. In the end, I don't disagree with gay journalist Andrew Sullivan who believes the "federalist" strategy that allows each state to legislate same-sex marriage may ultimately be the best approach.

Daily Zen - Thursday, May 31

At the moment you are most in awe of all there is about life that you don't understand, you are closer to understanding it than at any other time.
                     - Jane Wagner

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Clinton's Tough Talk On Syrian Massacre Is Only a Good Start

Mass grave in Houla, Syria
Photo: Reuters
"Those who perpetrated this atrocity must be identified and held to account. The United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end."

- From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after learning details of the government-sanctioned massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Syrian city of Houla.

In light of United Nations reports that at least 49 children and 34 women were included among the dead, and recognizing that random artillery shelling, as well as point-blank shootings, were the methods used to murder the Syrian civilians, Secretary Clinton's tough talk is a good start, but it must be followed up by timely and decisive action.

Diplomatic officials are expected to exercise caution with their words, but there's no need to tread lightly when addressing the dictatorial regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who in Houla has sanctioned the execution-style murder of entire families in their own homes.

The United States has joined several European governments in expelling the top Syrian diplomat remaining in Washington, and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has indicated that American forces are ready to act, if asked to do so.

As with Clinton's words, these actions are steps in the right direction. Now the Obama administration must move with urgency to take an authoritative leadership role in influencing Russian policy towards Syria, which is currently favorable to Assad. With Russia on board, the United States, together with its U.N. allies, can then employ the tactics needed to arm opposition forces and empower the people of Syria to bring an end to Assad's reign of terror.

When President Obama made the decision to actively involve the U.S. in the toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, he was reportedly motivated, in part, by the story of former President Bill Clinton's biggest regret. On more than one occasion, Clinton has apologized for the most significant policy mistake of his presidency - failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide of the mid-90s, an event that resulted in the killing of more than 800,000 people.

As President Obama and Secretary Clinton develop and guide American foreign policy regarding the looming civil war in Syria, they should be reminded, once again, of the story of Rwanda in 1994. Caution and prudence may be diplomatic virtues, but when thousands of civilians are being ruthlessly murdered by their own government, an abundance of patience can be deadly.

Click here to see more opinions and video of the attack on Houla. Be forewarned, the video is gruesome and includes images of some of the children killed in the attack. I couldn't watch it for more than 30 seconds, and I felt it was too horrific to post directly on my blog. Nonetheless, it's part of the truth of what is happening in Syria and should be shared.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, May 30

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the now the primary focus of your life. 

                       - Eckhart Tolle

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Turn Style - Earthquake Stops Time In Italy

An old clock tower, damaged by last week's earthquake in Finale Emilia, Italy.
Reuters / Giorgio Benvenuti

You can click here to see more of the most unique photos taken last week.

Turn Style features highlight compelling images and other amusing content related to art and fashion.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, May 29

It is hard work and great art to make life not so serious. 

                            - John Irving

Monday, May 28, 2012

Exorcist-Style Dancer Surprises and Moves Audience To Tears

SYTYCD contestant Hampton Williams
Last summer, I wrote about how surprised I was when dance performances on the Fox reality show So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) made me cry.

Since then, I've reflected on the moments in the show that I found most emotionally charged, and I detected a fairly predictable pattern: a few weeks into the season, after I've begun to appreciate the contestants and their personal struggles, someone dances a beautifully choreographed contemporary piece that reenacts a devastating heartbreak (like the one linked here), and I get weepy.

None of those of conditions were present during the SYTYCD season 9 debut last week, which is why I was so completely surprised to find myself moved to tears when a man named Hampton Williams performed a routine in his original "exorcist" style of dance.

Hampton's unusual style of movement is difficult to describe, but if you imagine an over-caffeinated drug fiend dancing a ballet-inspired hiphop routine, then you're getting close. The total commitment of every inch of his body to this unique genre is partially what makes this performance work, and the element of surprise he brings adds something too. But more than any of that, I was touched by Hampton Williams' ability to convey something honest and devastatingly painful through his movement, his face, and his eyes.

As one Twitter fan of SYTYCD said of the performance, "I don't even know why, but I was crying at the end."

I won't spoil any more for you, but suffice it to say that after viewing this, you will owe a humble young man named Hampton Williams a debt of gratitude for his willingness to so beautifully put his private pain on public display.

To get the full effect, I recommend that you turn up the sound and click the title bar at the top to view this full screen.

Memorial Daily Zen - Monday, May 28

The greatest concerns of men are these, to make him who is an enemy a friend, to make him who is wicked righteous, and to make him who is ignorant learned.

                       - Zend-Avesta

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Week In Review - May 26, 2012

In American politics, everything is for sale – including a vial of blood drawn from former President Ronald Reagan. If the GOP ever chose a king it would have been Reagan, but in America we’ve never supported the idea of monarchy. That’s partly why I argue that the U.S. should adopt term limits for Congressman - to keep the influence of power and money in politics in check.

In Miami, King James and Dwyane Wade are working to establish their dynasty, but like so many monarchs, so far they’ve mostly only managed to piss people off, becoming arguably the least popular franchise in professional sports.

Dharun Ravi was sentenced this week for crimes that contributed to the death of Tyler Clementi. I managed to blog about the details about Ravi’s 30-day jail sentence, but upon a little poetic reflection, I was left with nothing more than the idea that a boy is dead who shouldn’t be.

On a lighter note, the Golden Gate Bridge turns 75 years-old this week, and we enjoyed these stunning photos from the early days of its construction to the fog-banked present day.

Music had a big presence on the blog this week. We laughed at a humorous and clever parody of a cover of the Gotye song that has taken over the world, and we smiled and wept with joy as we witnessed an incredibly kind and beautiful moment between a street musician and an 8 year-old blind boy who suffers from autism.

As always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why Do We Hate the Miami Heat So Much?

Bosh, Wade, and James
Miami's "Big Three"
A popular theory Miami Heat fans propose about why their team is among the most hated franchises in professional sports is that great talent and success often breed petty jealousy and contempt among the less talented and less successful.

While there may be some elements of truth to this notion, especially as it relates to LeBron James, there is just as much evidence against it.

Consider that the history of sports is rife with athletes we loved precisely because of their unexplainable near supernatural ability to execute flawlessly and dominate their sport. Every great competitor has some detractors, but masterful athletes like Roger Federer, Jack Nicklaus, Walter Payton, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan are overwhelmingly beloved by fans in their respective sporting arenas. Not so for the Heat.

The Heat's extreme unpopularity among NBA fans is also not due to their "success." After all, there are a dozen teams who have been to the NBA finals more often than Miami, and if winning championships spawned haters around the league, no team would be more despised than the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have won four titles since 1999, and while more than a few NBA fans might say the Spurs team-style of play can be tedious to watch, the team is far more respected than hated.

The real reasons behind the anti-Heat bias among NBA fans are diverse and myriad. To better understand them, let's take a look at something Americans love about sports - the underdog.

- An established older golfer in the twilight of his career shoots three amazing rounds and finds himself in contention for the win on Sunday. We pump our fists wildly when that last putt falls. 
- A young tennis hopeful strings together a handful of wins and finds herself on the sport's biggest stage in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. We cheer for every winner she hits.
A small-town college basketball team with modest talent but giant desire topples a perennial basketball behemoth and makes their way into the NCAA "elite eight." We leap from our seats when that last second three-pointer drops.

In almost any sporting contest that doesn't involve our preferred team or favorite player, we almost always pull for the underdog - but, why is that?

  • Because underdogs often overcome incredible obstacles just to be in contention.
  • Because they earn it. Nothing comes easy for the underdogs.
  • Because underdogs don't expect to win, but if they do, they don't feel entitled to it. 
  • Because we appreciate athletes who perform at the pinnacle of their capacity. 
  • Because it's more rewarding to cheer for less talented players who give their all in a loss, than for naturally gifted players who win with a three-quarter effort. 
  • Because while underdogs work hard, it's their willingness to dig deeper than anyone believed possible that sometimes pushes them across the finish line first. 

Those are many of our motivations for loving the underdogs, but does that explain why some many of us harbor such intense dislike for the Miami Heat?

Weekend Zen, May 26-27

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. 

                            - Lao Tzu

Friday, May 25, 2012

Turn Style - Happy 75th Anniversary Golden Gate Bridge

Before I relocated to Northern California, I visited San Francisco and had the typical tourist's reaction to the architectural beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I was overwhelmed by the imperial size and majesty of the bridge, and I was awestruck by the magnificent views the bridge affords of the Marin headlands to the north, and the city of San Francisco to the south.

Beneath the Golden Gate Bridge
Photo: Jeff McKown
Since I moved here, my appreciation has only grown. I've seen the Golden Gate from every possible angle now, and still, each time I make the short drive to the city, I feel a tingle of electricity when I first glimpse the bridge in the distance.

Whenever I cross the bridge, I experience the same humbling sense of infinite smallness I feel when I gaze up at the stars in a clear nighttime sky.

In the grand scheme of the wider universe, we humans may not amount to much. But while we were here on Earth, we built a glorious bridge that bestowed at least a little grace and beauty on our world.

On May 27, 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge was officially opened for business. In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the opening, the San Francisco Chronicle has published a collection of photos of the bridge in all its breathtaking splendor.

Below is a small sample of pictures from the Chronicle's archive. You can view the entire collection here.

The Marin tower of the bridge in 1935.

A worker looks on as cables are spun in 1936.

Under construction.

Opening day in 1937. Pedestrians cross
 the bridge while planes fly overhead.

Daily Zen - Friday, May 25

If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security. 
                       - Jon Krakauer

Could Term Limits Fix Legislatures and Our Broken Congress?

In light of California’s penchant for over-regulation and the state’s annual budget crisis, it’s hard to make the case that the United States Congress should look to Sacramento for an example of effective government.

There is one guiding tenet California has adopted though that may be worth replicating at the national level– term limits for legislators.

California is one of fifteen states to mandate maximum term limits for state-level Senators and Assemblymen. With the approval of a 1990 ballot measure, voters in California limited state legislators to serving a maximum of two four-year terms in the Assembly and three two-year terms in the Senate, for a total of 14 years in the legislature.

On June 5, Californians will determine if those limitations will be amended when they cast their votes on Proposition 28, a ballot measure that would limit legislative careers to a total of 12 years, but that would allow politicians to spend their entire time in either, or both, of the state houses.

Seemingly legitimate arguments have been made both for and against Proposition 28.

Supporters of Prop 28 include groups like California’s League of Women Voters and California Common Cause, a nonpartisan citizens' lobby organization. Proponents of the measure arguethat the current system, which requires more experienced lawmakers to change legislative houses in order to continue their careers, forces politicians to spend too much time running for office, limiting their ability to focus on providing quality governance.

Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, also notes that the high rate of turnover among legislators caused by the current term limits system leaves a perpetual crop of rookie lawmakers vulnerable to the superior experience and tactics of powerful corporate and industrial lobbyists.

Opponents of Proposition 28, citizens like Anita Anderson of the group Californians for Term Limitsassert that the new rules are “deceptive and misleading” and are nothing more than “a sneaky way of increasing the terms.”

To the degree that Prop 28 simplifies the re-election process for politicians who would no longer have to switch legislative bodies and districts in mid-career, this claim may hold true.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Daily Zen - Thursday, May 24

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

                         - A.A. Milne

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Selling Ronald Reagan's Blood

The vial of blood and accompanying
document from GW University hospital.
"I was a real fan of Reaganomics and felt that President Reagan himself would rather see me sell it rather than donating it."

- From the anonymous owner of a vial of blood purportedly drawn from President Reagan immediately after the failed assassination attempt of March 30, 1981. 

The sanguine sample is currently being sold by a British auction house, with the highest bid to date at $15,000.

It's nice to see the owner of the vial assuming personal responsibility for his own financial success, rather than waiting on some theoretical "trickle down" of wealth that will probably never come.

A Musician's Simple Act of Kindness

Sometimes I post things on my blog because they're interesting or cool, and I hope they'll increase traffic to the site. That's not the case today. I'm posting this video because it feels good to share something this fundamentally beautiful.

Jacob, an eight year-old blind autistic boy, "feels the music" of a sidewalk musician with an acoustic guitar. Somehow, their simple interaction becomes a moving act of human kindness and generosity.

You can view a larger version of the video by clicking the title bar at the top of the video, and you can learn more about Tyler Gregory, the guitar man, by visiting his website here.

(Hat tip to my friend Adam Sheridan for finding this video.)

Daily Zen - Wednesday, May 23

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different. 
                       - Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Play With Tomorrow's Google Doodle Today

Tomorrow's Google doodle is a very cool interactive tribute to Bob Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer.

Thanks to the folks at (and the fact that the doodle has already gone live in the Pacific parts of the world) you can play with tomorrow's doodle today.

Click here today to create your own unique sounds with Google's Moog doodle.

(Hurry - if you wait too long, that link may take you to regular Japanese Google!)

Daily Zen - Tuesday, May 22

Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.

                 - Dalai Lama

Monday, May 21, 2012

Still a Boy Is Dead

By Jeff McKown

No one was murdered.
No physical violence was inflicted.
No weapons were used, save for a webcam.
Still, a boy is dead.

No one was shot.
No punches were thrown.
No deadly intent or premeditation, save for humiliation.
Still, a boy is dead.

No battle was waged.
No crimes of war committed.
No declarations or gauntlets thrown down, save for harmless taunting.
Still, a boy is dead.

No one was there.
No last minute plea was made.
No way out, save for the cold water below.
And now, a boy is dead.

Related Posts:
The Sad Death and Short Life of Tyler Clementi
Jury Reached Verdict In Webcam Bullying Trial
Dharun Ravi Receives 30-Day Jail Sentence

Dharun Ravi Receives 30-Day Jail Sentence In Tyler Clementi Webcam Case

Clementi and Ravi
Former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi was sentenced today to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service, and 3 years of probation for using a webcam to illegally spy on his college roommate having sex.

Ravi was also penalized with a stiff fine, as he was ordered to make a payment of $10,000 to a community-based organization that assists victims of bias crimes.

This seems reasonable, harsh even, until you consider that the roommate involved in the incident, Tyler Clementi, was a vulnerable 18 year-old boy grappling to come to terms with his homosexuality. Clementi, who was mortally embarrassed by the webcam spying, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge a few days later.

In March, Ravi was found guilty of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy, crimes which carried up to a ten-year prison sentence. After his conviction, a great deal of debate ensued about how much responsibility, legal or otherwise, Ravi should shoulder for the death of Clementi. Ravi's actions did, in all likelihood, lead to Clementi's decision to kill himself in September 2010, but the Rutgers student had no other direct involvement in the suicide.

Many followers of the trial, including some gay rights advocates, believed that imposing the full ten-year sentence would be unduly harsh.

A Parody of a Cover of Pop Sensation Gotye

Walk Off The Earth
Created a popular Gotye cover
Often in contemporary music, an original song gains enough popular recognition to be regularly reinvented and re-recorded by musicians other than the original artist.

Occasionally, an original song becomes so popular and well-known, that it not only gets covered, it gets humorously parodied.

Rarely though, does a song become so deeply anchored in our collective consciousness that even its cover versions are successfully parodied.

Gotye's hit song "Somebody That I Used To Know" has spawned dozens of professional cover versions, not to mention hundreds of YouTube videos of toddlers, teens, choirs, and other groups putting their spin on the tune using everything from wineglasses to saw blades as musical instruments.

No cover of the song is more well-executed and innovative than this one performed by the group Walk Off The Earth, who performed their version with all five band members playing a single guitar. You've probably seen this video, which has been viewed an astonishing 110,000,000 times on YouTube.

Just in case you haven't, it's pretty damn clever.

The musical comedy show, The Key of Awesome, has now parodied the Walk Off The Earth cover version of "Somebody." It's a hilarious tongue-in-cheek effort that's worth a look, and with just under a million views on YouTube, maybe, just maybe, you haven't seen it yet. Enjoy.

Daily Zen - Monday, May 21

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

                       - Douglas Adams

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Week In Review - May 19, 2012

Did a soft liberal California Democratic Senator really call directly and explicitly for a killing? Yep, she did. Did former POTUS George W. Bush really offer helpful personal counsel to Vice President Joe Biden? No, but in this hilarious SNL comedy sketch he did. Could the 2012 general election be the most boring of our lifetime? Maybe, and here’s why.

NBC/Sony fired Dan Harmon, creator of the sitcom Community, without even the courtesy of a phone call. Some insiders viewed the move as unfathomably rude, while others saw the incident as an incredible asshole finally getting his comeuppance. Either way, Harmon’s response to the incident was brilliant. Hollywood weirdness also made its way across the Atlantic this week, as actor Will Smith showed up at a professional tennis event in Madrid to promote a movie by presenting the oddest and least useful gift ever to tournament champion Roger Federer.

Glee star Jane Lynch guested on Rachel Maddow’s show this week. The two women chatted thoughtfully about politics and shared their very personal reactions to President Obama’s same-sex marriage support. In Kansas a nine year-old boy inspired us all when he staged a one-man counter-protest against hate-spewing Westboro Baptist Church picketers.

As always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dan Harmon Fired From NBC's Community

I have a confession to make. I have never watched a single episode of NBC's Community. Not even one. What's even worse? I've never even tried. I know, I know. I should watch, you're right. I just haven't.

I mean, I've heard about Community, and I have more than a few friends who are incredibly passionate about the show.

I read all about the sitcom's huge and loyal cult following, a cult which is apparently large and vocal enough to snatch the show from the jaws of cancellation. I know Community is hip and meta and parody, the cool kind of television that not everyone "gets." What's not to love, right?

But somehow, none of that has piqued my curiosity enough to give Community a shot. Nothing has, until today.

Today, I read that NBC has picked up the show for a fourth season, but that the network and Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, sort of fired the show's (sometimes asshole-ish)  creator Dan Harmon. I say "sort of" fired, because apparently, they didn't actually fire Harmon, they just stopped calling him.

The network and Sony ended their relationship with the Harmon pretty much the same way sophomore boys break up with their girlfriends. You know how when a high school guy comes to the ambiguous conclusion that his current relationship is just "not working out," instead of having the balls to actually tell his girlfriend it's over, he just shuts down communication until the poor girl figures it out. Apparently, it works the same way in network television.

In response to the network's hasty "breakup" with him, Harmon wrote an incredibly funny and bitingly sarcastic blog post (read Harmon's rebuttal here). It's a pretty brilliant piece, and oddly enough, now that I've sampled his writing, I think I'm motivated to give Community a chance.

Of course, I'll start from the beginning and watch my way forward. I have no doubt the first three seasons, the episodes where Harmon's skilled hand guided the creative process, will be of significantly higher quality than the upcoming fourth season without him. Now that I think about it, maybe I'll watch those first three seasons on Netflix, and then just lose interest and walk away when the fourth season of Community starts on NBC next fall.

Weekend Zen, May 19-20

A human life is like a single letter in the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be part of a great meaning.

                       - Talmudic Zen

Friday, May 18, 2012

Will 2012 Be Our Most Boring Election Ever?

GOP voters listening intently.
Photo: Edward Linsmier / Getty
Every four years in American politics one presidential candidate or another is likely to characterize that year’s contest as “the most important election of our lifetime,” and of course that sentiment is, almost always, untrue.

Nonetheless, self-important politicians imagine that the world events and domestic issues with which they must wrangle are the most grievous in history, or at least that's what they'd like voters to believe.

For this November’s general election, the "most important" moniker rings particularly hollow. While the election is shaping up to be a close race, it's not piling up the necessary political tender to catch fire and become an impassioned barnburner. Perhaps it all feels anti-climactic compared to the historic aura that surrounded the 2008 election, or maybe it's simply pre-convention summer doldrums. For whatever reason, this year’s presidential contest is showing early signs that it may be the most boring, not the most important, election of our lifetime.

Maybe it’s the choice of candidates that make this election feel like a potential snoozer.

It’s no secret that Mitt Romney has struggled to unite the Republican Party. With key policy positions that possess Gumby-like flexibility, the Republican establishment and GOP rank-and-file voters have been slow to warm to Romney. Primary turnout has been low, and while the GOP base has finally rallied around its frontrunner, they did so reluctantly, committing to Romney only after test-driving every other candidate in the market.

The caution and control Romney practices in his daily interactions with the public have enabled him to avoid any significant political pitfalls, but they have also added to his robotic demeanor and inhibited his ability to forge meaningful connections with his audience. As for Romney’s bank of engaging ideas, they sound distressingly similar to the strategies of our last Republican administration. “Yay,” cried the GOP, “more of what we used to do.”

Democrats, meanwhile, continue to be periodically inspired by President Obama, but some of his luster has most assuredly worn off.

Daily Zen - Friday, May 18

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

                        - Charles Darwin

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jane Lynch Guest Hosting On Maddow Show

What do you call it when two lesbians appear on television to discuss politics? MSNBC. More specifically, The Rachel Maddow Show.

I wouldn't normally share a 10-minute video, but this clip was utterly enjoyable from start to finish. First, Lynch guest anchors the show's "Best New Thing In the World" segment (and does an admirable job), and then Maddow joins the set for a two-woman roundtable conversation about politics.

The discussion includes their reactions to President Obama's same-sex marriage announcement, the value of coming out, and the importance of never underestimating the dorky kids in high school.

The banter is so genuine and personal that it almost feels like you're spying on Maddow and Lynch enjoying a coffee together. All-in-all, a refreshing moment for 24-hour news channel programming.

Daily Zen - Thursday, May 17

What is truth? A difficult question; but I have solved it for myself by saying that it is what the “voice within” tells you.

                    - Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Turn Style - 9 Year-Old Boy Stages Counter Protest vs. Westboro Baptist

"God Hates No One."      

You go, boy.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, May 16

Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Take heed: do not squander your life.

                    - The Evening Gatha

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Federer Receives Odd Gift From Will Smith

Tennis trophy presentation ceremonies are incredibly rote affairs. Usually.

Upon completion of the finals match, the tournament director and CEOs from the event's major sponsors take the hastily erected stage at center court, and they proceed to spout off about what a great week everyone has had. Next, the bigwigs present crystal or silver something or others to the losing finalist and the champion, and then the players take turns at the mic thanking their respective teams, the sponsors, ball boys, and most importantly, the fans.

That's pretty much how it goes at tournaments from Cincinnati to Shanghai, everywhere professional tennis is played, except apparently, in Madrid.

Djokovic was not a fan of the blue clay.
Photo: Reuters
As we learned last week, Madrid begs to be different in every way.

Fans debated the merits of the unique blue clay courts, players lamented the unexpected slipperiness of the surface, and event organizers struck a bizarre marketing deal that resulted in actor Will Smith being on stage to promote his new movie during the trophy ceremony.

On occasion, other tournaments have invited the rich and famous to join the lineup of dignitaries on the trophy stage as a means of glitzing up the proceedings, but the typical luminaries are former tennis stars, national royalty, or celebrities who love the sport. They are not usually actors who attended the match primarily to garishly promote the release of an upcoming film.

Tennis gets very little television respect, so it probably doesn't hurt that big Hollywood types show up to watch a final. Viewers see a famous face in a crowd shot or two, broadcasters mention the celebrity's latest "project," and everyone wins. But for Ion Tiriac, the Romanian billionaire, publicity hound, and former tennis player who runs the tournament in Madrid, that wasn't enough.

Federer, Smith, and the "gift."
Photo: AP
At Tiriac's tournament, Will Smith attends the match, mugs adorably for televised crowd shots, appears on stage during the trophy ceremony, and then presents tournament winner Roger Federer with a "gift" - a glass-framed Men In Black suit, presumably worn by Smith during filming.

Nothing says "congratulations" like a tacky unusable gift that promotes the giver's self-interest, right?

I like Will Smith and I've enjoyed much of his film work, but his presentation of that suit to Roger Federer on the center court in Madrid makes about as much sense as Ron Popeil presenting Sally Field with a RonCo Pocket Fisherman after her win at the Oscars.

As I moved beyond the surrealistic image of Will Smith's presence on the tennis dais, I began to obsess even more on the awkward worthlessness of the gift itself.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, May 15

Be sincere; act according to your thoughts; and you shall surely succeed.

                     - Ramakrishna

Monday, May 14, 2012

SNL - Will Ferrell's George W. Bush Visits Biden

Will Ferrell returned to Saturday Night Live to guest host last weekend. In the show's hilarious opening skit, Ferrell reprised his role as President Bush in order to console and commiserate with an adolescent-acting Vice President Biden.

I particularly enjoyed when Bush draws a distinction between "smarty pants" types like Obama, and "speak first" guys like Bush and Biden.

"They're all brains. You and me, we're all gut and balls."

Turn of Phrase - Senator Feinstein Talks Tough on Fox News

"I am hopeful that we will be able to, candidly, kill this bomb maker and kill some of these other associates, because there is a dangerous process in play at the present time."

- From Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, speaking to Fox News about an operative from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who has created at least two difficult-to-detect non-metallic explosives.

At a different point in the interview during a discussion of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan, Feinstein called out the neighboring Pakistani government, noting the Taliban "have a safe harbor in Pakistan and the Pakistanis are doing nothing to abate that safe haven." 

I guess the old "soft" California liberal thing ain't what it used to be.

Daily Zen - Monday, May 14

A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

                        - Lao Tzu

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Week In Review - May 12, 2012

If you have been living in a cave this week, you might have missed President Obama’s coming out interview. There was more than ample media coverage of the event, although nothing in the news about the President’s support of same-sex marriage entertained as much as the celebrity Tweets I fabricated about it. Who knew Kim Kardashian and Jesus would ever Tweet about the same topic?

The President hopes to fare better for honestly stating his position, than Phillies’ pitcher Cole Hamels did when he told the truth about intentionally targeting a rookie with a 93-mph fastball.

Death loomed large in this week’s news. We commemorated the passing of Maurice Sendak by sharing five defining facts about the author’s life, and we were surprised by the tragic details we learned about how artist Thomas Kinkade died. On the thirty-first anniversary of Bob Marley’s death, we celebrated his life with a classic Marley tune performed Sesame Street-style.

Lastly, we enjoyed seeing pictures of our most prominent writers in some rather unusual settings.

As always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Weekend Zen - May 12-13

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Featured Daily Zen contributor

For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness. 

                      - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, May 11, 2012

Turn Style - Photos of Writers In Strange Places

Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut
It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, what are unique pictures of your favorite authors worth? has assembled a collection of interesting photographs that capture some of our greatest writers in odd circumstances and poses.

Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, Maya Angelou, and more.

Click here to find more images like the pic on the left of lit giants Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut.

Turn Style articles highlight compelling images and other amusing content related to art and fashion.

Turn Up the Sound - Remembering Bob Marley

Today we celebrate the life of reggae singer Bob Marley, who died of cancer on this date in 1981 at just thirty-six years of age. When Marley was buried a few days later, the final eulogy at his funeral was given by the Jamaican Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, who said this:

"His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind."

The track "Is This Love" is among the more well-known Marley classics. I particularly enjoy this Sesame Street-esque video for the song, which features footage of Marley smiling and dancing and frolicking with happy children.

Daily Zen - Friday, May 11

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Featured Daily Zen contributor

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. 

                   - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, May 10, 2012

10 Best Fictional Tweets In Response To Obama's Gay Marriage Endorsement

Since President Obama's declaration of support for same-sex marriage on Tuesday, a wide of array of reactions have flooded the public airwaves.

In general it goes like this:
- Gay folks are grateful for the affirmation.
   (and nervous about the general election)
- Liberals are proud.
   (and nervous about the general election)
- Conservatives are not surprised.
   (and nervous about the general election)

In light of the ample coverage these real reactions have received, I think it's high time we look at what I imagined people might say.

Here are 10 of the most interesting (fictional) Tweets I read (made up) in response to President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage.
  1. "I hate to say I told you so. No, I don't." - Rick Santorum
  2. "I really don't see what all the fuss is about." - Kim Kardashian
  3. "POTUS said what?" - David Axelrod
  4. "What's next? Legalized marriage between a man and a dog?" - Snoopy
  5. "It's not like you have to marry a guy to have sex with him." - Larry Craig
  6. "Nyah, nyah, nyah." - North Carolina
  7. "This means all four of my marriages meant nothing." - Rush Limbaugh
  8. "That's what I meant when I said I opposed gay marriage." - Mitt Romney
  9. "Is anyone going to finish that sandwich?" - Chris Christie
  10. "Finally, someone actually did what I would do." - Jesus
Okay, so I made all that up, but not this.

According to Bristol Palin, it would have been nice if President Obama had not been so influenced by the thinking of his wife and daughters and had instead...

"...been an actual leader and helped shape [his daughters'] thoughts instead of merely reflecting what teenagers think after one too many episodes of Glee."

Good to see Bristol dishing out parenting advice to the President. If anyone knows about raising kids properly, it's a 21 year-old single mom whose baby's father just announced that he and his new pregnant girlfriend will name their baby after an Italian handgun. (Oh yeah, that last sentence is true.)

Daily Zen - Thursday, May 10

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Featured Daily Zen Contributor

Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth.

                    - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama Supports Marriage Equality for Me

Thank you, Mr. President. Not just for supporting my right to marry, but for acknowledging the okay-ness of who I am.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, May 9

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Featured Daily Zen contributor

Nothing external to you has any power over you.

                      - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Five Defining Details of Maurice Sendak's Life

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012
Photo: Joyce Dopkeen/NY Times
Favorite children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died today at the age of 83.

Prior to his passing, I knew what most people know about Sendak - that he authored the children's classic, Where The Wild Things Are, and that he was a legendary curmudgeon.

Media outlets offered abundant coverage of Sendak's life and death today, and NPR re-ran a series of interviews Sendak did over the last twenty years with Terry Gross on Fresh AirI had the incredibly good fortune of hearing those interviews, and I've linked the highlights here for you.

Sendak, the author/illustrator of numerous children's titles, fathered no kids himself, and never wished he had. 

He also hated bookstore events, because as parents shoved their unknowing children forward to his signing table, his presence as a stranger sometimes frightened the kids. 

Sendak presented himself as a tough growly man, who didn't gladly suffer fools, or people in general given the choice, but underneath his abrasive exterior, he sheltered a scarred but tender heart. 

That's some of what I learned today about Maurice Sendak. Here are five other salient details of the author's life that surprised me.

Turn Style - Kinkade's Death Ruled an Overdose

Thomas Kinkade's "Candlelight Cottage"
Stone walkway? Check. Vibrant colorful flowers? Check. Murky lavender sky? Check. Candlelit window panes? Check. There you have it - the artistic formula that made millions of dollars for painter Thomas Kinkade.

Regardless of what you think about Kinkade's work, thousands of arguably not-so-refined art lovers related to his pastel pastorals (and, they paid for them). Unfortunately for Kinkade, the art world was less kind in its judgment of his seemingly manufactured images of bucolic serenity, and that criticism, said Patrick Kinkade, the artist's brother, contributed to the artist's ultimate demise.

According to an autopsy report from the Santa Clara County coroner, Kinkade's death last month resulted from an accidental overdose of valium and alcohol. Patrick Kinkade explained to the San Jose Mercury News that decades of mean-spirited artistic criticism, along with the heartbreak resulting from the 2010 dissolution of his nearly thirty-year marriage, took a heavy toll on the painter, leading to his ongoing struggle with alcoholism.

With a prior arrest for DUI and other instances of public embarrassment (like urinating on a Winnie the Pooh statue at the Disneyland hotel), Kinkade's trouble with alcohol abuse was nothing new. Nonetheless, Kinkade's death by overdose represents a dark ironic end for the artist known as the "Painter of Light." Once again, it really is strange, the way things turn.

Turn Style articles highlight compelling images and other amusing content related to art and fashion.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, May 8

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Featured Daily Zen contributor

Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy. 
                       - Ralph Waldo Emerson