Thursday, December 30, 2010

"A Tale of Two Houses"

This isn't new - it's just awesome. (And it's true, too!)

House #1

A 20-room mansion (not including eight bathrooms) heated by natural gas. Add on a pool (and a pool house) and a separate guest house, all heated by gas. In one month this residence consumes more energy than the average American household does in a year. The average bill for electricity and natural gas runs over $2,400 per month. In natural gas alone, this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home. This house is not situated in a Northern or Midwestern "snow belt" area. It's in the South.

House #2

Designed by an architecture professor at a leading national university, this house incorporates every "green" feature current home construction can provide. The house is 4,000 square feet (four bedrooms) and is nestled on a high prairie in the American southwest. A central closet in the house holds geothermal heat-pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the ground.

The water (usually 67 degrees F) heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer. The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas and it consumes one-quarter electricity required for a conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected and funneled into a 25,000 gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land surrounding the house. Surrounding flowers and shrubs native to the area enable the property to blend into the surrounding rural landscape.

HOUSE #1 is outside of Nashville , Tenn,; It is the home of the 'Environmentalist,' Al Gore.

HOUSE #2 is on a ranch near Crawford, Texas ; it is the residence of former President George W. Bush.

That might be a good definition of "An Inconvenient Truth."

(h/t: Tom H., who passed along this Internet nugget, which has been vetted by

The sergeant wants to know, "WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION?!"

...Mr. President!

"I'm Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor, from now on you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and the last word out of your filthy sewers will be 'Sir.' Do you maggots understand that?"

Hollywood has given us a vast pantheon of inspirational American military men, real and fictional, over the years: George C. Scott in/as “Patton”; Medal of Honor WWII vet Audie Murphy; the Special Forces operators in “Blackhawk Down”; and, of course, John Wayne (films too numerous to list) are but a few who come to mind.

Perhaps no other in recent memory, however, has ingrained himself in various aspects of modern culture the way that retired U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor R. Lee Ermey has.

Ermey, who burst onto the scene as the hectoring drill sergeant in the 1987 Vietnam pic, “Full Metal Jacket,” has carried that persona into nearly every role he’s played. And that’s OK. Ermey isn’t supposed to be a cookie-cutter method actor, drawing on the deep well of raw emotional memories. His job, which he always does pitch-perfect, is to be the gruff drill sergeant/leader.

In short, he’s a no-nonsense guy who is supposed to shape “weak and worthless (fill in with your favorite adjective and/or expletive)” into “fine-tuned killing machines.” That stare, that voice, that ramrod-straight posture and those eyes that burn laser-like into the skulls of his charges does all that...and more.

Ermey was at a Toys for Tots event recently. Beyond asking those in the audience to aid the charity, the world’s most famous drill sergeant lights into the current administration. (He starts about 2:19 into the clip immediately below.)

It would behoove certain politicians to listen to the sergeant...

Video bonus (below): Ermey's hilarious Geico commercial. In it, he plays himself as a therapist...

Friday, December 24, 2010

A story for Christmas...

During this past year, I have been fortunate - no, make that blessed - to have met many new people who I have now come to call "friend."

Because many of these people are reporters for/colleagues from the radio show I'm involved with, I've never met them face-to-face. They are sometimes in far-off corners of the globe covering wars, foreign intrigues and events that will one day occupy places of importance in history books (and in legends parents pass down to their children).

One of these people, Salena Zito (who writes for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), is someone I have gotten to know quite well during 2010. Salena possesses a quick wit, a sharp eye and a well-tuned ear. She also works harder and writes smarter than most journos I've had the pleasure of knowing in my career.

All this to say, when I first read this piece by Salena, I was touched. This lady writes like nobody's business when it comes to the world of hardscrabble politics in the rough-and-tumble Rustbelt of America. More importantly, though, she can write a story that not only makes you think but also makes you feel.

And those are the kinds of stories that matter.

So with that, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Almost home

By Salena Zito

Reprinted from Sunday, December 21, 2008 (used with author's permission)

Three weeks ago, I felt certain that this year that wouldn't feel a lot like Christmas.
After 18 months of political road trips, press buses, press planes, hotels, motels, bad food, good food, two back-to-back conventions and the constant, sometimes desperate search for an electrical outlet to juice up my laptop computer, nothing thrilled me more than finally being back home.

Call it fate, an act of God or really old electrical wiring, but "being home" wasn't in the cards.

The day after the election, I made one more road trip: a 10-hour drive from Pittsburgh to St. Louis to watch my daughter in the Atlantic Ten playoffs, her final college soccer game.

This is the kid I've watched tear up the field since she was 2 (I fudged her age so she could play on the 3-year-olds' team). Even though she was the runt, I knew I was on to something when she pushed and shoved her way downfield, knocking over all the boys and scoring the game's only goal.

Twenty years, hundreds of games, one state high school championship, four regional cup championships, 14 states, two Europe trips and a scholarship to a Division I university later, I was not about to miss her final game.

What I returned home to was a house choking in smoke, on the verge of going up in flames.

I can still see my practical-engineer father's horrified look when I bought the century-old place. The windows were original and rattled, the hardwood floors covered with a ghastly black varnish, tacky wallpaper splashed every room, the kitchen was an obscene green and yellow, and the entire house had an odd slant to it.

I don't remember seeing any of that. Instead, I saw potential.

It was where I taught Shannon and Glenn how to hit a baseball, kick a soccer ball, throw a football - and broke countless windows learning to do all three. (I remember a hockey puck sailing through the front door's stained-glass window when the kids were playing roller-hockey in the driveway.)

It was where the entire girl's high school soccer team came before practice because pasta was always waiting for them. It is where my son's football teammates inhaled boxes of pizza and watched the movie "Braveheart" after three-a-days.

It was the place to sleep-over after homecoming dances and proms.

And it was where my extended family celebrated the Italian Christmas tradition of eating seven different fish for good luck in the next year.

And now, it would never be the same.

In the hours and days following the fire, I didn't say much but I did cry - a lot. Not bawling-like-a-baby crying, but random tears just fell when a memory crossed my mind. What saddened me most was that Christmas was coming fast, and gone were all of our ornaments, many that the kids made over the years and many that were my grandfather's. No live tree, no decorating the mantle, no placing candles in all 32 windows, no luminaries dotting the driveway.

The week after Thanksgiving was particularly tough. Sitting in the loft apartment rented for me by the insurance company (State Farm really is there when you need it) with the kids still away at college, I indulged in feeling really bad for me.
Never mind that no one was hurt, not even the cats, and that the house eventually will be restored to better-than-before: I still wasn't home.

Then an email from an old high school classmate popped up, letting me know that he had heard about the fire and asking if he could help. I thanked him and said that unless he had a magical way to bring Christmas to my house, I would be OK.

Apparently, he took me literally: 12 hours later, Damon Blankenship, a buddy from high-school, and Lorraine "Ray-Ray" Gumble dropped off a huge Christmas tree with lights and ornaments, a snowglobe, and a dozen Christmas candles.

And, just like that, I realized all the things I thought were missing never really were gone in the first place.

Home may where things happen, but home also is the space within you. It is who you are, how you treat people, what you give with no thought of getting something in return.

Home is a state of mind and, just like Christmas, you never really lose it - unless you never really had it to begin with.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More TSA fun: pilot punished for pointing out flaws in airport security

Remember when telling the truth and trying to fix problems was expected - and appreciated?

From a report by George Warren at News 10 in Sacramento, Calif. (complete news report/video at end):

SACRAMENTO, CA - An airline pilot is being disciplined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for posting video on YouTube pointing out what he believes are serious flaws in airport security. The 50-year-old pilot, who lives outside Sacramento, asked that neither he nor his airline be identified. He has worked for the airline for more than a decade and was deputized by the TSA to carry a gun in the cockpit.

Hard to believe...but then, it is the TSA.

Three days after he posted a series of six video clips recorded with a cell phone camera at San Francisco International Airport, four federal air marshals and two sheriff's deputies arrived at his house to confiscate his federally-issued firearm. The pilot recorded that event as well and provided all the video to News10.

At the same time as the federal marshals took the pilot's gun, a deputy sheriff asked him to surrender his state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon.

A follow-up letter from the sheriff's department said the CCW permit would be reevaluated following the outcome of the federal investigation.

The bottom line - the pilot is punished for pointing out flaws in security that could lead to future incidents.

The YouTube videos, posted Nov. 28, show what the pilot calls the irony of flight crews being forced to go through TSA screening while ground crew who service the aircraft are able to access secure areas simply by swiping a card.

"As you can see, airport security is kind of a farce. It's only smoke and mirrors so you people believe there is actually something going on here," the pilot narrates.

Video shot in the cockpit shows a medieval-looking rescue ax available on the flight deck after the pilots have gone through the metal detectors. "This looks a little more formidable than a box cutter, doesn't it?" the pilot asks rhetorically.

It is a bit of a farce, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

That's some fine police work there, Big Sis...

In her own words...

According to Janet "Big Sis" Napolitano, the "esteemed" Department of Homeland Security Secretary, her department has been working hard to protect American citizens, "24 hours/day, 7/days a week, 364 days a year."

Thank goodness the really bright ones are in Washington...running things. (At least we know where they are so we can keep an eye on them.)


Monday, December 20, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

He was against pork before he was for it...

"Twenty-one short months ago, President Obama demanded that Congress act immediately to reform the process of earmarking in order to avoid 'another massive, last minute omnibus bill' like the one he grudgingly signed in 2009. 'Neither I, nor the American people, will accept anything less,' he said, before concluding that '[the 2009 omnibus bill] must mark the end to the old way of doing business and the beginning of a new era of responsibility and accountability that the American people have every right to expect and demand.'" (h/t: Guy Benson)


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Global warming wreaks havoc...

Al Gore unlikes this...

Global warming strikes again!

News item: "The Metrodome [in Minneapolis, Minn.] collapsed early Sunday morning after a blizzard dumped 17 inches of snow on Minneapolis. Because of the damage to the stadium, Monday's scheduled New York Giants-Minnesota Vikings game was moved to Detroit's Ford Field. Cameras were positioned inside the stadium and caught the collapse on tape. The roof over the Metrodome is inflatable, not hard. It's the same sort of bubble you see over swimming pools or tennis courts in the winter, making this collapse almost like a deflated balloon imploding onto the field. Heavy snows in Minnesota closed the Minneapolis airport, which left the Giants stranded in the midwest. The game between the Vikings and Giants, originally scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on Sunday had been moved to Monday night because of the delays. Any ticket holders for the game in Minnesota will receive preferential seating at the 50-yard line if they can make the journey through the snow-ravaged Midwest." (Yahoo! Sports)

Looks like Al's Global Warming predictions aren't following his script. Thank goodness he has those royalties from inventing the Internet to fall back on...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Exit...stage right

Count this among the greatest miscalculations of President Obama's career: “I'm going to let him speak very briefly,” Obama said Friday, upon introducing Bill Clinton in the White House briefing room for his triumphant, self-adulating return. (TIME)

(photo: Associated Press)

While stumping for Obama’s maligned tax deal at a White House presser Friday, the master triangulator taught his successor a lesson in the art of persuasion. Let’s hope the president was taking notes. Once Barack Obama ceded the podium, there was no stopping him. Bill Clinton, back in the building he called home for eight years, offered a tutorial in how to sell a legislative package in simple terms. Obama watched intently as his predecessor rambled on, perhaps convincing him there was no point in continuing, and that he’d better hustle off to a Christmas party. (The Daily Beast)

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said MSNBC’sCenk Uygur after cutting back following a press conference on the tax plan. It had begun with a surprise appearance by President Obama who then brought in a further surprise, none other than Bill Clinton, to help him explain the deal. However, after introducing Clinton and letting him begin to talk, Obama suddenly announced that he was leaving for a Christmas party and vanished, letting Clinton talk for 25 more minutes as if it was 1996! I guess it could have been worse. Obama could have left to go play hoops.
(h/t: Mediaite)

The Washington Post saw it this way: "If not a transfer of power, the whole show seemed at least a temporary hand-off. An embattled president, fresh off an electoral shellacking and struggling to sell a controversial tax deal to members of his own party, turned to a former president who, exactly 16 years ago, was struggling to right his own presidency after a defeat of almost similar magnitude. President Obama had invited former president Bill Clinton to the White House for a private talk, the details of which neither man chose to describe. But their public appearance will be long remembered. The sight and sound of Clinton going solo in the White House briefing room, as Obama slipped away to a holiday party, was certainly a head-turner on a slow Friday afternoon. After brief remarks by Obama, Clinton slid behind the lectern as if he'd never left the building. For a time it looked like he might never leave, as he fielded questions from a White House press corps eager to keep him as long as it could. He stroked his chin. He folded his arms and looked pensive. He gesticulated expansively. He was part professor and full politician enjoying the spotlight. After a few minutes, Obama seemed to conclude that he would be better served by being out of the picture than as a bystander. "I've been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour, so I'm going to take off," he said. Clinton responded, "Well, I - I don't want to make her mad. Please go." And with that, Clinton had the stage to himself.

Nature does abhor a vacuum...

We are all...Swedes.

From the New York Times: STOCKHOLM — One man was killed and two other people were injured when two explosions hit the heart of Stockholm’s city-center shopping district on Saturday evening, the police in the Swedish capital said. The country’s foreign minister called the blasts a terrorist attack, and an e-mail to news organizations minutes before the blasts seemed to link them to anger over anti-Islamic cartoons and the war in Afghanistan.

From the Los Angeles Times: A car parked at a crowded intersection in central Stockholm exploded about 4:50 p.m., followed by another blast a short distance away, Swedish news media reports said. At the scene of the second explosion, a witness reported finding a young man on the sidewalk with wounds to his midsection and a Palestinian kaffiyeh-style scarf tied around his face. The man, who has not been identified, later died. Minutes before the explosions, a Swedish news agency received an e-mail that contained a call to arms to Muslim fighters and a threat to take revenge for Sweden's involvement in the war in Afghanistan and for caricatures of the prophet Muhammad by a Swedish artist. The e-mail came attached with audio files in Swedish and Arabic. "Now your children, daughters and sisters will die just like our brothers, sisters and children are dying," the e-mail said. "Our actions will speak for themselves." The e-mail lashed out at Swedes for their "war against Islam," for "denigrating the prophet" and for their "stupid support of the pig Vilks," a reference to the artist Lars Vilks, whose drawings of Muhammad as a dog sparked controversy in 2007.

A police forensic officer photographs the scene in Stockholm. (photo: Sky News)

Sky News reported: A short message commenting on the terror attacks was posted on Vilks' website late on December 11. Last March, an American who called herself "JihadJane" was charged with plotting to kill Vilks and using the Internet to enlist co-conspirators. In May, arsonists tried to set fire to Vilks' house.

Let's stop forgetting...

Late add: From my radio colleague John Batchelor on the who the bombers are...

He's a regular James Bond...

What else is behind (those) blue eyes?

From The Mail Online: "Is there no end to Vladimir Putin’s talents? The Russian Prime Minister already has a reputation as an accomplished fighter-jet pilot and Siberian tiger-hunter, and is a black belt in judo. Now you can add jazz crooner to the list. The 58-year-old former KGB chief stunned an audience at a charity event on Friday that included Sharon Stone and Kevin Costner with his rendition of 'Blueberry Hill.'"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Do as I say...

...not as I chew.

News item: Congress Approves Child Nutrition Bill - WASHINGTON — Congress gave final approval on Thursday to a child nutrition bill that expands the school lunch program and sets new standards to improve the quality of school meals, with more fruits and vegetables. Michelle Obama lobbied for the bill as a way to combat obesity and hunger. About half of the $4.5 billion cost is financed by a cut in food stamps starting in several years. Mrs. Obama said she was thrilled by passage of what she described as a groundbreaking piece of legislation.

While it seems that a bill to reduce obesity - specifically among youth - would be a laudable goal, there are some elements of the typically "fattened-up" bill that have more than a few folks unhappy with it.

According to another report, "Some, and not just the big mama grizzly [meaning Sarah Palin, who came out against the proposed law], fault the bill as being too restrictive because it eliminates not only junk food sold regularly in school, but also limits school fundraisers," according to ABC. Alexa Marrero, spokeswoman for House Education and Labor committee Republicans is quoted as saying, the new rules 'wouldn’t just apply to school meals but things like bake sales that are also used as fundraisers, or concessions sold at sporting events.'”

Ms. Obama's campaign to help America eat and exercise its way to healthiness is a step in the right direction. Americans of all ages are heavier and less physically active than ever - and it's getting worse by the day. The associated costs for everything from healthcare to industrial redesign are a huge burden on the nation's economy. But if we're going to work on improving the nation's collective waistline, blood pressure, etc., let's do it the right way and target the real sources of the overall problem.

Otherwise, the next thing you know even holiday treats might end up on some "watch list."

I'm sure those holiday cookies are made with arugula...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Farewell, Joe Cerrell...

Joseph R. Cerrell, 1935-2010

The sun shines a little less bright on the American political landscape right now, especially in Los Angeles. Public policy, publicity, politics and punditry lost a pioneer and a real pro on Friday.

Joseph R. Cerrell, "a legendary political consultant and consummate schmoozer whose unrelenting but principled style won respect from allies and opponents, died of complications related to pneumonia at St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo, Calif. He was 75."

Cerrell’s roster of clients and friends read like an almanac of U.S., California and Los Angeles politics: "from the 1950s forward — [including] John F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Al Gore, Dianne Feinstein, Willie Brown, Jesse Unruh and both Pat Brown and his son, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown."

I was fortunate to have interacted a number of occasions with Joe and his colleagues at Cerrell Associates - the vaunted political consulting and public relations firm he founded in 1967. During the times I worked with Cerrell, I was lucky enough to not only hear his stories of great historical/political figures and events, but I also had numerous opportunities to learn from one of the best.

While he was a lifelong Democrat, the man they called "the Dean of LA political consultants," also counted well-known and powerful Republicans among his many friends. He and his firm had a solid reputation for integrity, diligence and smarts. He did politics the way it should be done.

In a LA Daily News obituary for Cerrell, remarks from two prominent California politicians said it all:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, called him a "true California legend. He was the indefatigable wise man of California politics. You could always count on Joe to give it to you straight."
  • County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Cerrell was "a legend and giant in the world of politics and public affairs...Joe gave politics a good name. He loved the game and we has a master of it."


Cerrell, with his hands on the car's windshield, was a force behind many major politicians' campaigns. Cerrell served as the youngest-ever chairman of the California Democratic Party. That experience caught the eye of John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960, and he became Kennedy’s California campaign manager.

For information regarding the memorial service for Joseph R. Cerrell, go here...