28 September 2007


Well, yesterday I got an email from a very cool potential employer telling me that he was planning on sending me an offer letter next week once he is back from a work trip. Prudence would have cautioned against taking action before actually getting that offer letter. But Prudence wasn’t around so we ignored her advice. (ha ha)

22 September 2007

It's Here!

The new novel by the lovely and talented Ann Patchett has finally arrived in bookstores. Despite my vow to not buy anymore books for a while (I have 104 unread books in my nightstand), I couldn't pass up Patchett's newest novel Run.

I am not going to read it just yet, I want to savor it. But I did want to make sure I got a first edition of the book before it was too late.

A friend of mine in New York gave me a copy of Patchett's novel Bel Canto back in 2001. I loved the opera singer angle and thouroughly enjoyed the book. I followed up Bel Canto by reading every other book by her that I could get my hands on. They are all good. One of the great things about Patchett is that she is a writer who writes about things other than becoming or being a writer. Don't get me wrong I love reading about literary lives, struggling or otherwise, but I am quite impressed by authors who write about worlds that are not noticeably autobiographical.

And I think she is as cute as a button. She looks like the kind of person with whom I want to sit in a cozy cafe drinking hot cocoa and gossiping. I have no idea why I think so. Maybe she just reminds me of friends I have had in my life over the years.

You may remember that this is not the first time I mention Patchett and her work. You can check out posts here and here.

Now do yourself (and Ann) a favor and go out and buy one or two (or all) of her books!

Man, am I grumpy this morning...

I made the mistake of reading the newspaper this morning which has me spitting mad about a million different things. Plus, our beautiful, fall-like weather has given way to heat and humidity.

So, rather than focus on the grumpies, I am just going to post these lovely photos we took while we were in Australia. No prizes for guessing the building.

15 September 2007

We told you so, we told you so, we told you so!

Alan Greenspan's new 500-page memoir, The Age of Turbulence, was provided to MyPorch by his publisher, Penguin Press, with a legal agreement that I wouldn't write anything about it until its official release date on Monday. But, since the Wall Street Journal bought a copy on the streets of New York ("hey buddy, you wanna buy some Greenspan?") and published excerpts on its website, why shouldn't I be able to do the same?

(Well, to be entirely accurate, you need to insert "the New York Times" in place of "MyPorch" in the paragraph above. And I haven't actually read or even seen the book, but why should that matter?)

At any rate, the excerpts that I read in the Times this morning, had me feeling alternately smug and furious. Smug because Greenspan is finally confirming what some of us have been screaming for years--that President Bush and the former Republican Congress did their best to bankrupt this country with reckless tax cuts and runaway spending. And furious because we only get to hear these things when it is too damn late. I know that Greenspan was in a more difficult position needing to remain as apolitical as possible, but surely he could have done something to inject some reality into W's twisted brand of voodoo economics.

Still, we can add Greenspan's post-employment, post-8 million dollar book advance critique of Bush's recklessness to a long line of former officials who only found their tongues and their spines after leaving office. Just think if Christie Todd Whitman had actually done her job as the head of EPA rather than wait until she was out of office to take a stand. Just think if Colin Powell had done the right thing while he was Secretary of State.

But then again I shouldn't blame these folks too much. Anyone willing to think rationally should have understood the damage being done to our country on any number of issues without the help of this kind of memoir. It didn't take a genius to understand what the Bush/Cheney administration and the Republican Congress were doing to the U.S., yet the electorate sent these jokers back to Washington in 2002 and 2004.

Greenspan saved his highest praise for President Clinton, noting his keen interest in economic issues and for his "consistent disciplined focus on long-term economic growth."

But again, it doesn't take an oracle to figure out the intellectual and ethical bankruptcy of George W. Bush and Company. In the 2000 election everyone wanted a president they could have a beer with. I didn't. I wanted a president like Bill Clinton or Al Gore, one that would show up for the job and take it seriously. The press and Ralph Nader told everyone that on policy, Bush and Gore were the same person. I knew better than that. I even did a Nader Trader vote. A friend of mine in Minnesota was going to vote for Nader because she believed the BS. Living in the Democratic safe state of New York at the time, I promised to vote for Nader if she voted for Gore in Minnesota which was threatening to vote red. Why were so many people fooled? Within weeks of coming to power Bush rolled back several environmental protections that showed just how different he was from Al Gore. Thanks Ralph.

In the 2004 election I spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania and Ohio knocking on doors for John Kerry. In the five days leading up to the election I was pounding the pavement in Cleveland to boot this buffoon out of office. Again, one didn't need tell-all memoirs to understand the damage Bush and Co. were doing to the country. I was amazed at the number of people who, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, believed that Bush was doing a good job in the war on terror and a good job in Iraq. We knew in 2004 just how bad things were going on both fronts so why were these people so confused or blind? I wonder if they still are?

As for Mr. Greenspan, it appears that his book was written with rose colored glasses. Not about the Presidents he served with, but about his own culpability in shaping economic events. He has given himself a pass on many things including being clueless about the subprime mortgage implosion. Well, he wasn't clueless, he chose to ignore warnings that would have clouded his rose colored view of the "free" market. I know that on at least one occasion he was warned about the securitization of the mortgage industry and the potential impacts that that could have on homeowners, the mortgage industry, and the economy. He was dismissive to say the least.

I don't take any comfort in being able to say "I told you so". Too many people have died and too many truly bad things have happened to our treasury, our Constitution, and our planet over the last six years to feel any joy in having been right. My only hope is that people will wake up enough to think and vote rationally in 2008. Forget about folksy, we need someone with a brain capable of more than just sustaining vital functions and basic motor skills.

03 September 2007

Australia Part IV: The Recap

This was our first trip to Australia and it exceeded our expectations in every way. The natural beauty of Australia and its beautiful cities were only surpassed by the friendliness of Australian people.

We were also very lucky and had pefect weather everywhere we went. The Austrlian winter (North American summer) is definitely the time to go to the Great Barrier Reef. (In the Australian summer the GBR gets pretty hot and the stinging jelly fish are apparently everywhere.) Melbourne with its chilly, fall-like temps was a wonderful change from summer in DC and the weather in Sydney was perfect for walking around and enjoying the city. The winter shadows also made for some beautiful views throughout our trip.

The quality of life in Australia makes it a little hard to come back to the crumbling, crime-ridden streets of the 'richest' country in the world. Australians may be taxed to high heaven, but at least they have something to show for it.

Now if I could only get over this killer jet lag...

Australia Part III: Sydney

I am glad we went to Melbourne before we went to Sydney. Melbourne is a wonderful place but Sydney was so fabulous that it would have been a let down if we had gone to Sydney first. Not only that, but if we had reversed the order we would have been rained out in Sydney. But, as it turned out, we had beautiful weather while were in there. They were having unseasonably warm days in the mid-70s.

I know I am prone to hyperbole, but Sydney has got to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I know Travel+Leisure magazine thinks so. I could live in Sydney in a heartbeat--if only it wasn't located half way around the world.

The pictures above were taken from our hotel room. The views were amazing and we could easily walk downtown, take the CityRail which was right next door, or walk through the great neighborhoods of Potts Point, Paddington, Surry Hills, and Woollahra.
Normally we would not do so, but we ended up staying at the Holiday Inn. We were originally scheduled to stay at a cheapish boutique hotel in the same neighborhood, but the bathroom was so moldy it set off the other Mr. MyPorch's allergies. Not only was the Holiday Inn close, clean, and comfortable, but the views were great and it only cost $50 more a night than the depressing boutique where we spent our first night. It is making me rethink my automatic bias against big chains.

Sydney Harbour

Sydney Skyline

Sydney Neighborhoods

There was a lot more old building stock than we expected to see in Sydney. The neighborhoods surrounding the central business district were felt like a combination of San Fransciso, New York, and Portland. Pleasant and walkable with lots of shops and cafes everywhere.

Parks in Sydney

Like Melbourne there are is a lot of wonderful greenspace in Sydney. The main difference is that in Syney much of the park space is found in one big chunk of green downtown with fewer parks scattered throughout the city. Sydney's Botanic Gardens and Hyde Park form an enormous green park on the harbor right in the heart of work a day Sydney. There are very few U.S. American cities that have this kind of access to green space in the central business district. Given the wonderful weather while we were there the Sydneysiders who worked downtown to good advantage of the park on their lunch hours.

Transit in Sydney

The transit system in Sydney relies a lot more on buses than the system in Melbourne. It might turn out to be just as convenient, but for the visitor it is a little more difficult to navigate the buses in Sydney over the trams in Melbourne. There is one tram line in Sydney but it feels much like the one- or two-line light rail systems in North American cities. I guess it makes up for gaps in the heavy rail system that runs throughout the Sydney central business district and the suburbs, but it seems rather isolated. The heavy rail system moves a lot of people throughout the metro area but it has limited reach in some parts of town and bus use becomes a necessity. But even this doesn't seem like much of a problem given the quantity, frequency, and quality of the buses in Sydney.

Even more isolated than the one tram line in Sydney is the monorail system. It consists of one loop that hits the core of downtown and the convention and entertainment districts. I think I saw a few Sydneysiders riding the monorail, but it seemed to be the domain of tourists. It must get a good workout when there is a convention in town but it seemed pretty sad when we were on board. An added annoyance is that the cars are broken up into small comparments that seat about 8 people with no connections between cars. No doubt this is because a monorail isn't wide enough to have a center aisle, but the feeling was pretty confined, not to mention dated and kind of ugly.

An integral part of the commuter transit system are the ferries that move people from the Circular Quay in dowtown Sydney (right next to the Opera House) to various suburban neighborhoods outside the city core. We took a ferry one late afternoon out to Manly. Within about 35 minutes (30 minutes on the ferry and 5 minutes on foot) we were sitting on the beah. One can only imagine what it must be like to live in Manly, steps from the ocean and yet be to work in downtown Sydney in less than 45 minutes.

02 September 2007

Australia Part II: Lizard Island and the Great Barrier Reef

Lizard Island: Reefs and Beaches

Being part of the Great Barrier Reef system, Lizard Island is great for snorkelling. Ten feet from the shore and it is like the entire cast of Finding Nemo is swimming by through the coral. Unfortunately, we have no pictures of the life under the water but no picture could really do justice to how beautiful it is anyway.

The resort also has little dinghies stocked with a made to order picnic hamper that guests can take out on their own to one of the secluded beaches.

We also went on a full day snorkelling excursion to the outer reef where we saw even more spectacular ocean life. It was like having National Geographic Special play out before your eyes.

Lizard Island: The Resort

The only thing missing at Lizard Island was Mr. Roarke and Tattoo. (Well, and the supernatural fantasy fulfillment as well...) After an hour flight from Cairns in a single-engine plane we were greeted at the airstrip and whisked off to the resort where we were greeted by the General Manager, a waiter holding a tray of drinks and a table with delicious canapes. And this was all before we even checked in. Beside the research station, the only thing on the island is the 40-unit Voyages Lizard Island Resort and living quarters for the extremely helpful and always cheerful staff.

This was my first time staying at an all-inclusive resort and I must say that I liked it. Unlike all-inclusive resorts in other parts of the world, on Lizard Island there is no local economy or indigenous population so one doesn't have to feel guilty about giving all of your money to a large company. Of course that is a bit of a narrow and simplistic view of that topic, but I am sticking to it.

Our Sunset Point Villa was beautifully simple and spacious. Our room had views of two different beaches and a verandah with a chaise lounge and a hammock. Our king size bed was very comfy and the large bathroom with a wondeful shower. Being all-inclusive, everything in the mini-bar was included in the cost of the room. The only problem was that our three meals a day were more than enough to keep us sated so their wasn't much call for dipping into it.

The place was pricey, but worth every penny.

Lizard Island: The Sunsets

Oh yeah, the lizards...

They call it Lizard Island for a reason. These monitor lizards are ubiquitous on the island. The largest one that we saw was about 3 feet from tip to tail.

Australia Part I: Melbourne

Melbourne is easily one of the most livable cities I have ever been to. The place is clean, green, and prosperous. The people are friendly and polite with just enough hip to keep the place from feeling provincial or square. Neighborhoods are beautiful, well connected, and chock a block with cafes, bookstores, and small shops. The central business district is lively, the river front is lined with arts, entertainment, food, shopping, and recreation, and the Docklands area is coming to life with glossy offices, condos, and restaurants. And there is not a Gap or Banana Republic in sight.

The city is like an amalgam of the best of the best of North America and Europe. A lot that is shiny and new integrated with a lot that is quaint and old. But it has its own distinctive style. The language, cultural references, flora and fauna, and temporal and geographic isolation from North America and Europe make it seem like some odd, wonderful, parallel universe. Things seem very familiar yet very different at the same time.