Monday, December 29, 2008

NEW IN 2009: A Monthly "One-Liner for the Road"

Dear Faithful Readers,

You may have noticed my most recent post "A One-Liner for the Road". Get excited folks! There's more where that came from.

When the ball drops Dec. 31 concluding the year that was 2008, "The Chicago to D.C. POV" will start a new series of entries called "A One-Liner for the Road".

Look for a new "One-Liner for the Road" each month in addition to weekly opinion posts.

A lot happened in 2008, who knows what will happen in 2009! Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

All My Best,

R.H. Levitin

A One-Liner for the Road [Dec. 2008]

The fear of failure is a solid mean of motivation.

- R.H. Levitin -

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Are you a Tigger or an Eeoyre?

I urge you to pick up Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture."

If you do anything for yourself this holiday season when preparing for the new year, a little self-reflection is the best medicine. Pausch takes you through his journey in an attempt to force others to participate in the same.

Not only did I read it in one sitting, but I was blown away by his love for life while having just months to live.

Pausch allows the reader to follow him around during his last days, rightfully bragging that he has achieved all of his childhood dreams.

Standout moments include smelling a crayon to trigger memories of youth and asking yourself whether you live life as a Tigger or an Eeoyre. According to Pausch, you should try to live life as a Tigger, it's more of a "glass half full" perspective.
I promise you, if you pick up this book you will not be dissapointed.

And with that said...

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and All My Best,

R.H. Levitin

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lost on Earth, Found on Titan -- The Meaning of Life According to Kurt

I know the meaning of life. It took me close to 20 years, but I found it.

You might be asking yourself, “How did she do it? She’s far too young to have figured out the greatest mystery of them all.” But I did, and now you can too.

Whoever came up the metaphor was a genius. The metaphor is the most important literary device. It has a larger role in society than people think. It’s not just a lesson in elementary school English class – it’s the only way to find answers to questions that aren’t a simple “yes” or “no.”

I know I’m not alone in saying that I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out what any or all of life means. It’s one of those questions everyone wants to know – like the actual definitions of “beauty”, “truth”, and “love” or “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”

It’s human nature to ask questions we don’t know the answers to. We like to pretend we’re the Sherlock Homes of day-to-day life. We like to think we can find the answers. It’s reassuring. It warms our hearts. It makes us feel good – just like the smell of a hot cup of cocoa on a bitter snowy night, finding answers to questions we don’t fulfills us in ways we can’t completely explain. It’s a gut reaction, a “you-know-it-when-you-feel-it” kind of experience.

I remember the first time I felt that way. I was 14 and convinced myself I was on the verge of discovering the answer to “one of life’s biggest questions.” My eighth grade English class was assigned our final book of our elementary school career – “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.

“Casual profanity and a rebel without a cause in the middle of his years as an angsty prep school teenager?” It was a match made in heaven.

Salinger read my mind. I never thought anyone could capture how I felt in writing – until then. That put me at east. I felt in charge and somehow obligated to question authority.

Five years later, during the summer following my freshman year of college, I decided to branch out and try my luck by reading a new author. I scanned the Barnes & Noble rack for at least a half hour until coming across a row of books by Kurt Vonnegut. I skimmed plot descriptions, searching for a story that struck my fancy and ended up snatching a copy of the Vonnegut-fan favorite “Cat’s Cradle”.

I didn’t leave the store until I finished “Cat’s Cradle.” I couldn’t put it down. So I took that as a sign – I had to buy another Vonnegut novel.

I decided my second purchase would have to appeal to my self-deprecating side. I didn’t want to be a tragic, misunderstood, brooding female equivalent to “Holden Caulfield” anymore. I wanted a new perspective. It turns out “The Sirens of Titan” had the answer I didn't even know I was looking for.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died in 2007 a few days before the shootings at Virginia Tech. Despite the horrific events experienced in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, I still think the day Vonnegut passed away was a giant loss for America and was overshadowed.

The Pall Mall chain smoking, science-fiction satirist who survived the bombing of Dresden and warmed readers hearts with quick-wit, clever one-liners, and honesty was smart enough to write everything he knew down.

Metaphors are the bullets Vonnegut aims at the human mind with the hope that people will find the pearls of wisdom he’s put inside. His metaphors are gems, each sparkling independent of one another, introducing the trials and tribulations of life as if it were a lotus emerging from its murky waters showcasing its growth into something beautiful. His novels are the means by which he distributes these ideas.

Literary scholars and academics have taken stabs at finding the deeper thematic meanings in Vonnegut’s prose. His stories, science fiction in theme but always about people’s treatment of one another and themselves, are as conversational (if not more so) than Salinger but teach simple lessons that characters learn while living complicated, drama-filled lives.

His novels are equivalent to sticking California pop culture heiresses Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie in rural family’s homes for the 2003 Fox reality show “The Simple Life” – judging the way the acted they might as well have been on another planet, but there was always some sort of moral to the end. Vonnegut’s main characters do the same. They leave their comfort zone after experiencing some form of trauma or drama, hoping to find answers elsewhere – whether that’s another planet or another state.

Vonnegut labeled himself with various titles throughout his life whether it was atheist, agnostic, or a free thinker. His interest in Humanism as a way to live life eventually landed him the role of honorary president of the American Humanist Association in 1992, a role he held until his death in 2007.

In a letter to AHA members, Vonnegut said, “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

With that in mind – I entrust you with following theory: Kurt Vonnegut is the only man to ever live who not only knew the meaning of life, but also wrote it down with the confidence that people would read it and apply it to their lives. He did this in his second published novel “The Sirens of Titan.”

There has never been such a simple and logical answer to such a complex question. What is the meaning of life? Vonnegut walks you through the motions of how to find the meaning of life for the duration of his 1959 novel, exchanging his words of wisdom with the reader near the story’s end:

"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."

It’s that simple.

It sounds disheartening at first, but this is a sentence worth reading between the lines to understand. Forget about who or what might be controlling the universe. That is irrelevant and unimportant concerning the meaning of life.

The meaning of human life is to love whoever is around to be loved.

The Bible teaches morals. It says to honor thy father and thy mother, thy sister and thy brother. It also says to covet thy neighbor. Since all people were made in the image of God, there’s no reason to not love everyone – whether they’re blood related or not. Vonnegut says people are people, so love them all the same just as long as they're around to be loved. It’s the same as the Bible only Vonnegut’s version is simplified.

People get caught up with life. When that happens, they search for answers in god, in science, and sometimes in illegal and illicit ways. But Kurt Vonnegut attempts to dispel human distraction by reminding people to take the time to love others. According to him, that’s all we’re required to do.

Care about people. Cry when someone’s sad. Yell when someone’s angry. Hug when someone needs it most. Don’t worry about how we got here or where we’re going. That’s not our problem to solve.

The problem with people is that they don’t know how to live in the present. They keep asking “what if” questions and wasting the time that should be spent on loving and living.

This is a lot to think about. After all, I’m not the first person to spend years trying to figure out the meaning of life. Don’t be discouraged though. This theory doesn’t mean there aren’t other possible answers. Keep searching for your own. Never stop.

Vonnegut opened "The Sirens of Titan" by telling readers "Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself. But mankind wasn't always so lucky."

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but know that the answer's there if you want. So it goes.

PREVIEW: Lost on Earth, Found on Titan -- The Meaning of Life According to Kurt

Ever wonder what the meaning of life is? Look no further than this week's blog entry when I not only tell you the meaning of life but explain why Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most socially aware people to ever live.

Stay tuned!

--R.H. Levitin

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Today's Unsung Hero of Songwriting -- Rachael Yamagata

The following is a concert review of Rachael Yamagata's headlining tour at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Va. in September 2008:

Rachael Yamagata is the unsung hero of songwriting today. She proved that point Tuesday night at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria.

It was a full house when the songstress, her family, and various fans from the Washington, D.C. area came to hear her newest tracks.

Yamagata debuted her latest double-album, "Elephants ... Teeth Sinking into Heart" to a sold-out crowd shortly after opening act Kevin Devine.

Fans waited four years for Yamagata's latest studio release, after wearing down their copies of her 2004 release "Happenstance." But it was well worth the wait.

This September stop on her second national headlining tour is the cure for the itch fans have -- new music. Now that the wait is over and she's finally on tour, Yamagata treated her fans to an evening of old favorites mixed-in with her latest musical gems.

"Meet Me By the Water," "Be Be Your Love," and "Worn Me Down," were among the few token Yamagata-classics while the rest of the night was devoted to showcasing Yamagata's growth as a songwriter.

If there was only one song to hear the entire night, it would be safe to say that the title track and first single off of "Elephants" is it. Written after a long day of running up and down the mountains in Woodstock, Ny., Yamagata found serenity and awe in nature, prompting her to write how she felt in that moment. The song, which was originally composed by Yamagata a Capella, featured her now classic lush piano phrasings and cello accompaniment.

Yamagata, who admits she can't believe how easy it was to make a career out of making bad decisions and having her heart broken, has a way of commiserating with people about the most common human condition -- love ... or lack thereof.

Devine does the same. His driving guitar rhythms, often reminiscent of a young Bob Dylan, pay homage to the grassroots-style strumming and song structure of the evening. Devine rocked out as much as anyone can with an acoustic guitar in hand, with a style of reminiscent of Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo.

Besides songwriting, Devine and Yamagata share a passion for the written word. Fans and fellow musicians alike note Yamagata's emphasis on the written word in the forefront of her resonant melodies. Devine sticks true to the Yamagata tradition of storytelling through song, making Devine a solid choice for an opening act.

Yamagata proved that she can play just as hard as the boys during the second half of her set.

Although she's known for her soft, whimsical ballads, Yamagata revved up the room with what she called a couple of "feisty, little, sassy songs." The tracks "Faster" and "Sidedish Friend" are two of five rocking tracks on "Teeth Sinking into Heart" -- which is scheduled for an Oct. 8 release -- and were by far the best performances of the night.

The electric crunch and adrenaline rush of the rockin' jams were the yin to Yamagata's swan song yang, mixing the old and new song styles together for a perfect blend of songwriting gold.

In between conversations with the audience about "Lost" and "The Sopranos," Yamagata found time to bond with family as well. Yamagata celebrated her 31st birthday Tuesday night along side her fraternal twin brother Benjamin. She also closed out her encore set with fan-favorite "The Reason Why," which her grandmother shouted out as a request from across the room.

Exposed piano parts and honest vocals catch the ear's attention, but it's Yamagata's brutally honest lyrics that make her stand out among the rest of the artists writing songs today. "Elephants ... Teeth Sinking into Heart" almost guaranties that Yamagata will no longer go unnoticed.

# # #

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Black and White, There is No Grey -- A Look at Ethics in Journalism

Okay, I’ll admit it – the only reason I saw Billy Ray’s 2003 film “Shattered Glass” is because teen-heartthrob Hayden Christensen played the infamous role of a young reporter by the name of Stephen Glass. It wasn’t until my second year of journalism school that I realized how influential the actions taken by the reporter would be to my education.

Young reporters face the fear of failure every day – which explains why Glass felt the need to fabricate his stories. He wanted success.

According to the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, reporters must seek the truth and report it. And – ten years ago – Stephen Glass flaunted his expertise as a journalist to enough to make him one of the biggest names in the field despite his age.

How did he do it? Glass’s use of cinematic dialogue and first person accounts is what put readers in a reporter’s shoes. His youthful approach to storytelling enchanted his readers and left them wanting more. But soon after making a name for himself, he became careless and got caught. Sure, he could told great stories – but none of them were accurate.

Accuracy is essential to good journalism. It’s the salt to the journalism’s pepper, the ying to its yang. You can’t have one without the other. Glass didn’t see it that way.

As a journalism student watching “Shattered Glass” in class, I was dumbfounded as to how someone so smart and talented could be so ignorant to his own job description. It is a journalist’s responsibility to provide the public with reliable information that they can use to make important decisions. Storytelling comes in a close second.

Glass didn’t realize that when it comes to ethics, the answers are either black or white. There is no grey. It’s possible to write creative stories and being ethical.

Chicago Tribune columnist and author, Garrison Keillor, brings his stories to life with every piece he publishes. His conversational tone and humorous recounts of his daily routine generates a universal vantage point, making his work relevant and relatable for any reader.

New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, does the same. Her work is angsty but honest, leaving readers both entertained and informed.

The point is: there is no possible reason to ever fabricate a story. There are no excuses. Writers amuse and educate readers every day, without fail, while keeping their artistic integrity. It’s a shame Glass didn’t figure that out before turning news into fiction.

Journalists, young or old, are responsible for providing regular people with vital information to make important decisions daily. Journalists ask the questions that everyone needs the answers to, whether they’re tough or not. It’s their job. And – they do it for all of us.

If young journalists are looking for words of wisdom to follow in a post-Stephen Glass world of reporting, all they have to do follow the words of wisdom Peter Parker’s uncle told him in the first Spiderman movie, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” It’s that simple.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

South Park -- Still Naming Trends 12 Years Later

South Park continues to dominate television airtime and minds of pop culture gurus 12 years after it first aired for two reasons – it’s accurate and it’s funny.

The show continues to provide viewers with accurate summaries of fads in American pop culture. Each week Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Kenny McCormick, and Eric Cartman send fans and non-fans alike into fits of laughter through their witty-remarks and outlandish “potty” humor.

Not only that, but they’ve done this consistently for 12 years.

The final two episodes of this year’s season paid homage to the South Park tradition. They captured two American trends and taught America how to laugh at themselves.

“Twilight”, a young adult book series based on a young and attractive male vampire and “True Blood”, a television show revolving around the escapades of humanized vampires, appears to be the latest craze.

“Twilight” debuted this weekend, grossing $70.5 million domestically at the North American box-office, which makes it the fourth-highest November opening weekend of all time. “True Blood” isn’t as successful as the Stephanie Meyer book series hitting the big screen, but it’s impacted the clout of vampires on the mean streets of middle and high school hallways.

South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone nailed that point home last Wednesday night.

Their ability to take trends and mock how people act during the time of a trend’s popularity is the entire basis for why South Park is still on the air after 12 years.

South Park is the pop culture history book of the past decade. People should embrace South Park for its ability to capture a moment in pop culture. Some historians have trouble documenting wars and homeland security situations, let alone remembering what teenagers found cool on a weekly basis.

The season 12 finale, “The Ungroundable”, captures the new vampire trend at South Park Elementary. The always love-able and always awkward character, Leopold “Butters” Stotch, thinks he’s seen a vampire roaming the halls at school. Little does he know that these kids just think they’re vampires. He never figures it out and becomes a part of the occult against his will because all the cool kids are doing it.

That’s why South Park gets away with the degrading humor, constant profanity, and unresolved character conflicts – all the cool kids are doing it. Or at least, someone out there is.

Vampires aren’t the only pop culture moment icons with a staring role this season. The Emmy Award-winning Disney Channel Original Movie, “High School Musical”, hit South Park Colorado by storm during season 12, leaving every character on screen singing and dancing about their love for each other (or lack their of). For those out there who still have doubts as to why or how anyone in their right mind could ever enjoy “High School Musical” at all – just have to watch “Elementary School Musical”. It’s funny. It’s all a joke. And, the songs are so catchy that you can’t help but learn and then mock them over and over again.

When “Guitar Hero” was released, South Park added the rock star wanna-be video game to their season 11 arsenal of pop culture reviews. When young video game addicts found themselves chained to their computers playing “World of Warcraft”, South Park spent a half hour showing how pathetic some of the players really are. They even went as far as to do an entire episode about “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” – only the Queer Eye Guys end up being Crab people from another planet. Go figure.

With season 12 in the can, there’s a lot to look forward to next season. We just don’t know what’s in store for us yet. Comedy Central signed a contract with the South Park creators, extending its run to 15 seasons with 14 episodes each.

Either way, one thing’s for sure, South Park is a lot easier than sitting down with a history book. And, it’s a hell of a lot funnier.

# # #

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Second Chance at Life Leads a Transplant Recipient to the Track

Linda Cheatham, 60, takes all the proper precautions when revving up the engine on her 1997 white Porsche Boxter and hits the track at Virginia International Raceway. It’s been an 18-year-habit to fasten her five-point harness, cover her peppered hair with a helmet, secure a neck brace, and zip-up her white Nomex racing suit.

Cheatham decided she wanted to learn how to race cars on Aug. 10, 1990 – one day after her kidney transplant.

Cheatham and her family share a hereditary disease known as polycystic kidney liver disease, which affects more than 600,000 Americans and is the second leading cause of kidney transplants in this country. Half of the people with this disease will suffer kidney failure and need a transplant – 10 members of Cheatham’s family have had kidney transplants as a result of the disease. And, on Aug. 9, 1990 Cheatham became number 11.

When she’s not racing her Porsche, Cheatham works as a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner in Alexandria, Va. – just outside Washington, D.C. – to pay the bills.

Transplantation isn’t as sexy as it was 15 to 20 years ago, Cheatham admitted. “It seems like every time I tell someone I have a kidney transplant, they say, ‘Oh I have a friend, co-worker, cousin who has had a transplant.’”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, over 17,000 kidney transplants take place each year in addition to the 18,659 overall transplants in 2008 so far. Surgeons perform kidney transplants more often than any other transplantation, the reason being that because people have two kidneys, they can act as what the transplant world calls a “living donor.”

Cheatham’s donor, Robin Ward, is among the living donor population. Ward and her husband were legally adopted by Cheatham’s family 25 years ago. Praised for her desire to help others, the full-time licensed physical therapist and Missouri community college professor was a worthy kidney candidate for Cheatham. Since every other Cheatham family member genetically contracted polycystic kidney liver disease, Ward was the ideal donor – still in a family but not blood related.

The surgery itself was the least of Cheatham’s worries. She wasn’t only close friends with her donor, but with her surgeon as well. Cheatham’s friend Dr. Hans Sollinger was and still is the head transplant surgeon at the University of Wisconsin hospital in Madison. It calmed her nerves to know that Dr. Sollinger, a man she trusts for his world-wide reputation and friendship, would be taking care of her during her kidney transplant.

Ward and Cheatham went into the hospital the night before surgery and were the first transplants the next morning. The procedure was as routine as kidney transplants can be and both donor and recipient were up and walking by the day’s end. “They purposely put donors and recipients far apart to force activity,” Cheatham said.

The University of Wisconsin’s recovery program didn’t have Ward and Cheatham in bed for long. Nurses in the Madison Transplant ward push donors to walk and visit recipient’s rooms and vice versa to encourage physical activity. Less than 24 hours later, the surgical team told their patients, “You’re well now, so no laying around and acting sick.” That’s how the university’s recovery program is designed – its purpose is to keep the patient active.

Back in the 1990s, the university hospital kept patients for a three-week period, Cheatham said, to ensure that all of their medications were regulated and that this did not have an early rejection episode. Rejection is the biggest fear transplant recipients face after surgery. While Ward’s road to recovery was a week, Cheatham’s was one day shy of two weeks. It was nice, Cheatham said, “Since I lived in town and the surgeon was my friend I was allowed to go home early and come back for daily labs.”

Cheatham’s main concern is that people today aren’t as astounded by the miracle of transplantation as they used to be. The once unimaginable medical procedure is treated as serious but doable, as far as she’s concerned, “Because it isn’t as unusual anymore.”

She isn’t alone in her thinking. TRIO, an organ transplantation advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. is full of transplant recipients like Cheatham who volunteer to spread how people can donate life.

When Cheatham met Mary Lamm, a founding member of the Nation’s Capital Area Chapter of TRIO at a Polycystic Kidney Disease annual conference in Kansas City, they were on a panel together. The two spoke and discovered that they lived less than one mile from each other.

After getting involved in 1992, Cheatham started serving on the National Board of Directors for TRIO since 1993 and is still on it today. All together, Cheatham has sat on the TRIO’s national board for 9 to 10 years and now helps serve as the assistant treasurer in addition to her duties as local chapter president for the Washington, D.C. area.

“The only thing we have in common,” Cheatham said, “is transplantation. We are very age, race, religion, and socio-economically diverse group.”

After her transplant, Cheatham wanted to give back to her community. Cheatham now spends a lot of time on raising awareness of transplant related issues. Her work with transplant issues does not rest with TRIO, Cheatham spreads the importance of organ donation. One of her favorite ways to do spread the word is by racing.

This year is Cheatham’s thirteenth time racing in the Cannonball One Lap of America. Cheatham, who’s first race was in 1994, takes great pride in her yearly completion of the eight day, cross-country racing trek.

Cheatham is known by her friends as being comfortable in many settings – hanging around the raceway is one of them.

The exhilarating and exhausting One Lap for America is where Linda divvies her time between the track and the rest of the raceway. When she’s not behind the wheel, Cheatham walks the around handing out donor literature to raise awareness.
Cheatham also uses the Porsche for holiday parades, health fairs, and company picnics.

The biggest misconception of people with transplants, Cheatham said, is that recipients are stuck in bed the rest of their lives with an IV in their arm. Cheatham is living proof, taking auto racing and SCUBA diving after receiving her new kidney.

Even though some people have criticized her for her dangerous hobbies, Cheatham takes pride in living life. “The only things my surgeon told me I couldn’t do for the first year were sky diving and tackle football,” she said. “The purpose of a transplant is to get your life back, not to live in a bubble.”

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blowing Out the Candles for Iraq

On March 20, 2003 all I could think about was my birthday. The next day, I would turn sweet sixteen. My parents would lavish me with gifts. My friends would serenade me over cake and soda with the birthday song. Every perfect detail that epitomizes a teenage girl’s birthday was scheduled to make an appearance in my life. But then, the celebration came to an end before it started. President Bush declared war.

Bombs flew over the airspace in Iraq while my parents and I watched the news from our living room. Scenes of bombs flying from the sky looked reminiscent of the post-attack battleground from the 1996 alien-thriller “Independence Day” with Will Smith and Bill Pullman. My 15-year-young stare focused in on the history being shot before my eyes. It was really happening. We were at war.

American occupation in Iraq is closing in on six years now. To me, this makes no sense. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure the majority of my fellow Americans have no idea why we’re still there either.

Iraqi’s don’t want us there. We’re spending money we don’t have during a vast economic decline on a war most people don’t want to fight. This needs to end.

The Wall Street Journal announced today that the Iraqi parliament hopes to pass a security deal that would call for U.S. troops to withdraw at the end of 2011[1]. If Iraq can take the initiative, why can’t we?

According to the New York Times, troops and equipment under the Bush administration were so overtaxed that the Pentagon does not have enough of either for the

fight in Afghanistan – a much more important war, at least for national security’s sake – let alone money to confront inevitable threats in the future[2].

So, not only do Americans have no idea what’s going on in Iraq but we also don’t have the money to do anything about it. President-elect Barack Obama faces this issue. The man’s got quite the juggling act to perform come Inauguration Day.

It will be no easy task to fix a frail economy and play Commander-In-Chief, but someone’s got to do it. And, given the historical significance of this year’s presidential election, let’s just hope we chose the right man for the job.

Let’s put this into perspective – consider the recent bailout. The government solicited taxpayer’s money to bailout the banks. Now, the auto industry is in a similar situation. According to the Detroit Free Press, the amount of money the auto industry needs to be bailed out of trouble is equivalent of what American taxpayers are spending in Iraq[3]. It’s up to President-elect Obama to eradicate this problem.

Reallocated federal spending may help here. But, no one really has a quick fix. President-elect Obama said he knows he must earn the military’s respect by delivering on

some of his promises[4]. The Obama administration is expected to draft and deliver its first defense budget within three months of Inauguration Day. Obama also promised a troop

withdrawal from Iraq within 16 months of taking office if the conditions allow. All America can do now is wait.

When the clock strikes midnight on the 6th anniversary of the war in Iraq, the voice inside my head will silently pray for resolution. Who knows, maybe if I shut my eyes real tight and keep my fingers crossed while I blow out my birthday candles 24 hour later, that wish will come true.

# # #

[1] Chon, Gina. “Iraqi Cabinet Approves Security Deal.” The Wall Street Journal.

[2] Editorial. “A Military for a Dangerous New World.” The New York Times.

[3] Dzwonkowski, Ron. “What the critics of an auto bailout don’t get.” Detroit Free Press.

[4] Maze, Rick. “The Army under Obama.” Army News.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Dawn of a New Day in America -- Barack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th President of The United States of America

I never find myself glued to a television anymore. But on Tuesday night I huddled around a friend’s television set in Washington, D.C. eagerly awaiting the millions of votes to trickle into the news stations.

Millions upon millions pieces of paper are what determined the outcome of this year’s historic presidential election. When the predictions started dominating the airwaves close to 11 p.m. on the east coast, my friends and I saw history – Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America.

I found it necessary to never take an obvious side in this election. My stance on politics is a trait that I internalize unless my last nerve goes awry. Last night, I watched the faces of six other 21-year-old American University students as our country ushered in its new and unknown future.

Our generation and every other generation of American citizens were promised change. We elected the man who said he would help us get there. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of our country as a whole than today.

One story stick out in my mind from Election Day. Rain misting from a gray Washington, D.C. sky didn’t keep voters away from the polls. A class of mine at AU wrote and conducted an exit poll for voters in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia polls nearby. I was stationed in a precinct in Northwest Washington.

There, I saw parents toting their small children to the booths and elderly couples linked by the arm with umbrellas in hand. Young, old, white, black, Asian, Hispanic – everyone voted.

I won’t lie, I was fearful for our country until the announcement that Sen. Obama became the President-elect. Not once during the 21 month election did I ever tell anyone which candidate my vote was going to. But watching Chicago's Grant Park on CNN last night made me proud to be an American.

My city of Chicago ushered in a new era of American history and I wasn’t there to see it. That's why it's a good thing there will be many more historical days to come. This chapter in our history books has only just begun. From here on out, it’s our responsibility along side President Obama to make the changes we seek for the future.

I tip my hat to you today, Barack Obama -- despite the fact that you're a White Sox fan. Here’s to a new day dawning in The United States of America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Time to Unite the United States -- Enter Election Day 2008

The following piece was written as a "dissent" to a pitch by a classroom editorial board in Professor Nick Clooney's Opinion Writing class at American University in the Fall of 2008:

Let’s face it – America has a lot of problems right now. Families are stressed by finances, individuals are scared about what outcome we’ll reach on Election Day, and the only thing anyone can agree upon is the fact that America is a lot like a confused teenager.

I agree with fellow editorial board member, Dory Samuels, that we need to get the economy back under control – bank regulation and restoring accountability on Wall Street are guaranteed weights on the new president’s shoulders. But it’s important to note that the problems facing the economy could have been avoided. Now we have to fix them. But I don’t think that the economy is necessarily the number one problem to fix on the new president’s list. We need to unify our country first.

We can all agree that one of the greatest freedoms our country enables us with is the ability to vote. Democracy has worked for over 200 years in America. It’s been reliable even in times of doubt and fear. We’ve gotten through two World Wars, The Great Depression, assassinations, the atomic bomb, September 11th, and many more historically notable experiences. But now, we’re at a point where Americans have unknowingly taken sides. We’ve become far too extreme in our vantage points. Bi-partisanship has been lost.

"This presidential cycle would not be possible without the sacrifices and the courage of those people on the bridge," said Selma, a resident of Malika Sanders-Fortier, to the Daily Monitor in reference to Obama. "This is the time to put our right to vote to the test. To pick a side isn’t the answer in this year’s election. It’s picking who’s right for our country.

I realize that in order for Democracy to work, more than one side needs to be represented and heard. However, our nation is so divided when it comes to the political spectrum that all hope for compromise is gone. It’s either black or white, red or blue,never any shade of gray anymore. Moderation is the key to getting America back on track. We need to empower our nation’s citizens to become a united force once again.

Our country is a joke around the world. A survey written by the Pew Global Attitudes Project center in the spring of 2006 and conducted in 15 nations, found that global perceptions of the United States continue to worsen. The percentages said that the British favorability of Americans fell from 56 percent to 83 percent in 2000 and, even the brief era of good feeling in 2005 that stemmed from the U.S.-led Asian tsunami relief effort seems to have faded in countries such as India and Indonesia. That isn’t good.

Don’t forget, we were named the United States for a reason. Let’s unite on Election Day to the best of our abilities. Let’s make it a point to give America the future it deserves. Let’s not get held up with focusing on the little hiccups along the way. We can’t let hiccups like the economy, education, energy, and the environment weigh us down or define us. We can fix all of it, we just have to come together to do so.

Never forget, what the goal is. It’s in our name and it always will be. So, be proud – unite.

# # #

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Heros Get Remembered, But Legends Never Die": Stop Poking Fun At The Cubs

I hate to admit this, but the Chicago Cubs are the crowned princes of failure. I know that. The city of Chicago knows that. And, the entire country saw them crumble. There’s no denying the truth any longer, the Cubs know how to choke and they do it every season. It’s like clockwork.

What irks me about the Cubs’ ability to choke isn’t the fact that they do it, but the responses the Cubs get from newspapers. And, more specifically, The Chicago Tribune.

Now, I know that journalists need to remain independent of association to anything as to not portray any bias, but come on. The Tribune Company owns the Cubs. If anything, I expect a little bit of sympathy for the Cubs fans that read the paper. I don’t want to pick it up if it’s just going to depress me.

Mike Downey, a columnist for the Tribune’s sports section, forced steam out of my ears this fall with almost every article he wrote. His October 9th piece titled “A look back on a Chicago baseball season gone bad” got on my last nerve.
He opened the piece with: “I know thousands of you must have had a World Series with the Cubs on your bucket list—things to see before you croak. Sorry, my friends. It doesn't matter how much lipstick you put on this goat. Your Cubs are still baaaaad.”
For starters, I thought we were done with all of the goat references. Why harp on something that clearly has no affect on the team’s standings? It’s not a curse. We’re just bad. No need to bring out the goat. It will only make sensitive Chicagoans angry.

Ryan Jaster, a blogger for – which is a partner of the Tribune, posted his commentary on this year’s embarrassing sweep of the Cubs by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. The blog, written on October 16th, didn’t relish the highlights of the Cubs’ 97 win season this year. It didn’t harp on the fact that the Cubs won the most games out of any team in the National League. There wasn’t one drop of inspiration left for Cubs fans reading Jaster’s work.

Part of being a Cubs fan is having faith. It’s a trait that comes along with the territory. Jaster doesn’t get that. He wrote: “…we should all know now that in the end, suffering a third straight 3-0 sweep is just as likely as erasing a 100-year World Series championship drought. If not moreso.” After reading that, if I wasn’t a Cubs fan already, the one thought on my mind would be that the Cubs are losers and so are their fans.

I’m sick of the social sport that teasing Cubs fans has become. Pat Sullivan, a Cubs beat writer for the Tribune touched on this in his October 17th article “Cubs become national punch lines again”. The ending of the piece takes the mockery one step further, “Time marches on, but poking fun at the Cubs never seems to go out of style.”

Well I’m going to throw it out there now – poking fun at the Cubs does go out of style. Their fans are fed up and sick of the jokes. We’re proud of who we root for and where we’re from. Just let us have it.

I’m reminded by a quote from the children’s baseball movie The Sandlot. “Hero’s get remembered, but legends never die.” That’s how I like to see the Cubs and that’s how I think everyone else should too.

Maybe we’re not Derek Jeter who’s racked up countless of memorable October pressure plays. Or, maybe we’re not Reggie Jackson who got his nickname “Mr. October” for a reason. And no, we’re not any team that has won a World Series in the last 100 years. But, people are still talking about us. And that’s what makes the Chicago Cubs a baseball legend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halloween on a Budget

Crisp leaves are starting to fall and sweater weather has begun. It is fall in the District of Columbia, which means Halloween is swiftly approaching. Soon, children will go door-to-door searching fun-size candy bars to stuff their faces with and fill their stomachs. But, Halloween isn’t just for the kids anymore.

College kids in D.C. wait for Halloween each year for the infamous storming of Embassy Row. Rumors of Swedish chocolate and Russian vodka as treats consume the minds of students at American University. The sad part about this dream-filled Halloween excursion is that it’s just a dream and nowhere near a reality.

“The only embassy that actually gave us candy from their country was Korea,” Mady Nichas, 19, said, “all the other countries gave us American Candy. It was a definite let down.” But, students aren’t letting the let downs set them back. Halloween in a new city is exciting, so they try to make it that way.

“This year I’m making my own costumes,” Julia Goldstein, 20, an American University junior said. “I’m putting myself on a budget and letting my imagination run wild.”

The recent economic crisis is prompting college students like Goldstein and her roommate Paige Brown, 20, also an American University junior, to take a different approach to Halloween this year. The two-some found inspiration in an article run in the October 12 edition of The Washington Post’s Sunday Source “Trend Spotter” section. The Trend Spotting team visited five D.C. area thrift stores to find the best possible selection. This caught Goldstein’s fancy.

“Free on Sunday?,” she remembers asking her roommate. The second Brown said her Sunday was open, the choice was set in stone. Goldstein decided, “We’re going thrifting!"

Goldstein and Brown made their way to two of the five thrift stores visited by Washington Post writers Holly E. Thomas and Michelle Thomas Sunday afternoon with the hope of bringing their Halloween costume ideas to life.

“We’ve recently gotten really into that FX show ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’,” Brown said. “There’s this one episode when one of the characters Charlie wears this full-body neon green suit and calls himself Greenman. We decided to try and replicate that in every color possible.”

Eager for adventure, Goldstein, Brown, and their third roommate Brookes May – also a junior at American University – saddled up for a wild ride in their friend’s Honda Civic that they borrowed just for the day trip. Justin Timberlake boomed from the speakers as the trio cruised down Connecticut Avenue in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. May couldn’t embark on the roommate adventure; she had a can’t-miss hair appointment.

After dropping May off, Goldstein and Brown pulled out the Sunday Source to map out the rest of their day. “Where to first,” Brown asked Goldstein as the two scanned the paper.

“Which ever’s closest, I guess,” Goldstein responded.

The Goodwill Retail Store in North East D.C. became the first stop on the thrift store tour. Chosen for its proximity, Brown booted up her cell phone’s GPS application to navigate the trip. “I don’t think my parents will have a problem with me downloading a $10 phone application so I can find my way around a big city while driving,” Brown said. “I like to see it as a solid investment on my part.”

The points were mapped and the destination set, it was time to invade the Goodwill.

Sunday Source Trend Spotters Michelle and Holly enjoyed their trip to the Goodwill, but Goldstein and Brown weren’t that impressed – until they found exactly what they wanted.

Greenman became Purpleman with the blink of an eye when Goldstein turned around to find Brown wearing purple spandex arm covers, an essential item of her desired Halloween costume.

“This is great,” she said. “This is perfect! All the random things at thrift stores, this is gold! That’s why I love ‘em.” The grand total of the “perfect” costume buy -- $1. “I’ll be honest, it doesn’t get any better than a one dollar buy,” she said.

Next on the thrift store tour – Unique Bazaar. There is no questioning the fact that it was the best stop of the day. The minute she stepped inside, Brown deemed it the “Costco of thrift stores”. A thrift store on one side a bazaar on the other, the entire store took over two hours to sort through the immeasurable amount of variety inside.

Children’s Taco Bell Chihuahua slippers, a Balley’s Total Fitness silver workout suit resembling a cheap T.V. spacesuit from the 1950’s, and a Barbara Streisand Christmas music cassette tape, were just a few of the plethora of garage sale-esque items flooding the store’s aisles. “It’s hard to not have ADD in here,” Brown said.

The girls ran through aisles petting fur-lined jackets, trying on Indiana Jones style fedoras, jumping up and down on pogo sticks, and paroozing the never-ending racks of vintage items.

The roommates even caught the eye of one bystander in the store who admired how much fun the pair appeared to be having during their two hours stay at Unique Bazaar. “I was watching you,” fellow shopper named Cheryl, 51, from Silver Spring, said to the girls. “You look like you’re having so much fun…keep on having fun!”

To top it off, the grand total spent on the day – $12.50 on costume supplies for Goldstein and $16 for Brown.

As the day came to a close and the girls sped home down the highway blasting John Thorogood’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” on D.C.’s classic rock station, they patted themselves on the back. “Job well done,” Goldstein said. “Second,” Brown said, “Mission accomplished!”

# # #

Your browser may not support display of this image. Pictured: Julia Goldstein rummages through tons of tights, seraching for the perfect Halloween pair at Unique Bazaar.

Photo by: R.H. Levitin

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

COMING SOON -- The D.C. "Fall Classic": Halloween (on a budget)

Have you ever read the Sunday Source in The Washington Post? Then you've seen the "Trend Spotter". On October 12, Trend Spotter took a day tour of 5 D.C. area thrift stores. Stay tuned this week for a feature piece on Halloween thrifting among college students in Washington, D.C.

Pictured: Paige Brown (left) and Julia Goldstein (right), both juniors at American University, scan over thrift store options to customize their Halloween costumes.
Photo by: R.H. Levitin

Monday, October 20, 2008

America at a Crossroads: It's time for some results

America is at a crossroads. It’s time to ask ourselves the biggest question of the past eight years – who do we need to be the next president of the United States?

Colin Powell abandoned the GOP on Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press to answer that question. It’s official – Powell’s endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for president.

Powell said, "I strongly believe that at this point in America's history, we need a president that will not just continue basically the policies we have been following in recent years. I think we need a transformational figure. I think we need a president who is a generational change."

According to a Gallup poll done last week, 84% of Americans foresee that the next president will face new and demanding challenges that are more serious than previous presidents have.

Our country is in need of a transformation. We haven’t been this scared and vulnerable as a nation since September 11th. What we need is a call to action. We need to see results. That’s what this year’s election is all about.

This year was chock full of firsts. There’s the first African-American nominee for president and the first woman candidate for vice president. But, these firsts cannot be viewed as a distraction from the matter at hand. America is in dire need of help and the only way we can fix it is from inside the White House.

Party lines keep bleeding together because all anyone wants is a little change. Powell isn’t the only example of this. Two days before Powell spoke to Tom Brokaw Meet the Press, The Chicago Tribune endorsed their first Democratic nominee for the presidency – ever.

The Tribune, because of its mid-west location, can provide some reassurance. They’ve tracked Sen. Obama since he entered political zone twelve years ago. They’ve seen him work and grow as a leader in Illinois and rise to the occasion as the Democratic nominee for president.

“We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions,” the Tribune said in their endorsement, “He is ready.”

Election Day 2008 epitomizes a catalyst for a new kind of American Revolution. People will cast their votes with the hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is close. The only thing anyone can be sure of is that we have the choice to make. It’s in our hands. We just have to make sure we use it wisely.

A vote for Sen. Obama ensures that America will be in the right hands. So, go out a vote. America’s future is on the line if you don’t.

# # #

"Rays" the Roof?

To try and pick the outcome of this year's World Series is much harder than trying to pick the potential winner of the presidential election. Obama's been up in the polls for close to a month now, while the Tampa Bay Rays just scooped up their first shot at an actual World Series win. Who could've seen this coming?

As a Cubs fan, I have to say that I saw this coming awhile back. It was around July when I found myself hoping for a Cubs vs. Rays series. It seemed appealing. But it also made for a good old fashion story line -- two underdogs seek post-season baseball success but only one can be the winner. Both have a good historical back story and an interesting fan base (one being devout and one full of band-wagon jumpers). It's too bad I was only 50% correct.

The 2008 World Series match-up is against two eastern division teams. The Phillies fought the entire season down to the wire to get there and the Rays were on top most of the season until giving baseball fans a nice nail-biter this past week. I'm sure Red Sox fans are devastated, but they'll live. They have two Worlds Series in just the past four years. They should at least be thankful for that.

So, who's going to win this year? Part of me wants to say the Rays just because I called them at least going to the series a long time ago. They're an American League team so that keeps my National League alliances strong with the Cubs. I'd rather not "cheat" on my team with another National League team. Sorry Phillies, I have to say it, let's "Rays" the roof and see Tampa Bay take home that ring for the first time in franchise history.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Real Winners in Chicago are the Cubs Fans 2.0 (Edited and Re-Cut version)

This year in America we've had a lot of firsts. We've had the first African-American nominee for president. We've had the first woman candidate for vice president. We've cheered as Michael Phelps won the most gold medals in an Olympic games. We've seen the Tampa Bay Rays snatch their first playoff berth. Among all that change, one thing remains consistent – the Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series.

The Cubs have been out of the playoffs for what feels like a century. But wait, that's not even just a state of mind anymore. It's a reality.

It's been 100 years since the north side Chicago team won a pennant. The last time they set foot on a World Series field was in 1945. Needless to say, disappointment is a common feeling for a Cubs fan.

My experience as a transplanted Cubs fan who is coping with this year’s embarrassing shutout against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS is a bit different since I was in Washington D.C. during the playoffs. I can only assume that most North Side residents' heads hang low and jaws are still dropped. Harry Caray would be ashamed.

So they lost. They lose every year. And, they have for a 100 years. I hate to say it Chicago, but I think you secretly love it.

Take a minute and think about it. If the Cubs ever won a World Series, what in God's name would you do with yourself? You would probably say something along the lines of, "Good! I can die happy now." You'd parade around the streets of Chicago bragging to every White Sox fan you saw or you’d high-five any Cubs fan you ran into. From October to next April, you would wear your pin stripe jersey with pride because you have a World Series Champions patch stitched into the sleeve. You would smile and say, “All my dreams have come true." But ... then what?

Your expectations are set by the win. Greed would consume you. One successful trip to the fall classic and you’d want more and that’s because -- as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have shown -- just one World Series championship is ever enough.

It would be a shame to see such passionate fans go from bleeding Cubby bear blue to turning green from greed. That's not what Cubs baseball is about.

Face it, there are no other sports teams in all of America that have the same passion for their team. Cubs fans are a rare and special breed. Red Sox fans claim that they understand, but they don't. The Yankees, whose past is as deeply rooted in history as the Cubs club, are winners and the Cubs are not. But that’s just it. That’s Cubs baseball.

Losses don’t define the Cubs. They stand for more than that. They are the heart and soul of a huge harem of people from Chicago. Consider yourself lucky Cubs fans, you have the only good story left in baseball that continues to be told and isn't finished yet.

Think of it this way -- as long as there's baseball in this country the Cubs will always be on top -- not because of World Series wins, but because of their fans and their love for the game and team. The Cubs created the history, but the fans created the legacy.

So, to all the Cubs fans out there...'til next year.

Chicago Gets an East Coast Treat

If there's one thing I've learned while being in D.C. it's that people my age love a good, cheap burger. They want something tasty, they want something fresh, and ... they usually go to Five Guys.

This burger joint is ideal for the student on a budget. Heck, you even get free peanuts at your table while you wait for your good ol' wholesome American meal. It's like being at a bar sans the beer -- same solid eats and constant comrade for a mid-range price.

Today the Chicago Tribune wrote that Five Guys will be opening two locations in the Windy City this fall/winter -- one in Oak Park and one in Lincoln Park.

The #1 burger in Washington, D.C. for the past five years has been Five Guys. It's important to keep in mind that the nation's capital is no Chicago. The melting pot that is D.C. makes international dining a comfortable choice. But, in Chicago, the residents go for a more familiar taste.

Chicago is known for two types of food -- pizza and hot dogs. So, bringing Five Guys into the mix will shake dining up a bit. Let's just hope Chicagoians welcome the new flavor.

For more on Five Guys in Chicago visit:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Real Winners in Chicago are the Cubs Fans

It's mid-October now and the Cubs have been out of the playoffs for what feels like a century. But wait, that's not even just a state of mind anymore. It's a reality.

I can only speak from my experiences as a transplanted Cubs fan who is learning how to cope with the loss from Northwest Washington, D.C. I can only assume that most North Side residents' heads are hanging low and jaws are probably still dropped. Harry Carrey would be ashamed.

So we lost. We lose every year. And, we have for a 100 years. I hate to say it Chicago, but I think you secretly love it.

Think about it for a minute. If the Cubs ever won a World Series, what in God's name would you do with yourself? You would probably say something along the lines of, "Good! I can die happy now." You'd parade around the streets of Chicago braging to every White Sox fan you saw or high-fiving any Cubs fan you run into. From October to next April, it would be your time to shine and it would feel better than any happiness you've ever known because your team finally did the unexpected. But .... then what?

Your expectations would then be set. You would get greedy. You would want them to keep winning each and every year for the rest of your life. Because, as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have shown, just one World Series championship is ever enough.

I would hate to see such a passionate group who bleeds Cubby blue turn green from greed. That's not what Cubs baseball is about.

There is no other sports team in all of America that has the kind of fans the Cubs do. Red Sox fans can claim that they understand us, but they don't. The Yankees are just as rooted in history as the Cubs club is, but they're winners and we're not. But, those are the Cubs. They're are team. I'm proud of them either way and you should be too.

The Cubs stand for a lot more than just losses. They stand for the heart and soul of a giant herum of people from Chicago. Consider yourself lucky Cubs fans, we're the only good story left in baseball that both continues to be told and isn't finished yet.

Think of it this way -- as long as there's baseball in this country the Cubs will always be on top -- not because of World Series wins, but because of their fans and those fans love for the game and their team. The Cubs created the history, but the fans created the legacy.

We'll know by Friday night which two teams will enter this year's fall classic. But I'm somehow okay with the fact that the Cubs aren't going to be swinging there bats in that one.

So, to all my fellow Cubs fans out there....

'til next year.

Photo By: R.H. Levitin

Monday, October 13, 2008

Every Rose Has it's Thorn, But Bret Michaels has "Rock of Love"

Imagine this – 14 rock star groupie wanna-be’s living under one roof. They are all taking lessons in “being a lady” Black Sabbath front man Ozzie’s wife, Sharon Osbourne. This isn’t any one person’s imagination, this is reality. Well … reality television that is.

VH1 debuted their new series “Rock of Love Charm School” last night, which is the third show based on the rock star lifestyle associated with Poison front man Bret Michaels. “Rock of Love” lasted two seasons worth of the some of the most outlandish material seen on a VH1 reality show.

The first episode served as a tribute to the girl’s past lives on-air with Brett, which allowed VH1 to show personalized DVDs highlighting each contestant’s worst moments while on the show. The entire premise is essentially a sorority house situation gone terribly wrong.

The season will play host to what VH1 calls, “The hard-partying gals of Rock of Love 1 and 2 are in major need of a manners lesson, and who better to tutor them in lady skills than metal mama Sharon Osbourne?” But really, what COULD be better than that?

These girls are no rocket scientists. They’re divorcees, ex-strippers, and one even worked for NASA once. But at the end of the day, their offered an open bar that guarantees that this reality show turns into one giant party every week, usually ending in a physical fight or verbal brawl.

To go along with the rock star theme of this specific charm school, the girls not only wear cutesy yet scantily clad infused school girl outfits – a la Brittney Spears’ “…Hit Me Baby One More Time” video – but they must wear their charm school pin at all time and follow the school’s 10 Commandments:

  1. Thou Shalt Rock Together
  2. Thou Shalt Rock It With Style
  3. Thou Shalt Be Takin' Care of Business
  4. Thou Shalt Not Rock Rude
  5. Thou Shalt Rock Thy Body
  6. Thou Shalt Rock At Love
  7. Thou Shalt Express Thyself
  8. Thou Shalt Know Who Thou Art
  9. Thou Shalt Rock Unto Others
  10. Thou Shalt Be Fully Rockin'

If someone’s getting paid to do this, sign me up. These girls are being wined, dined, and housed with a camera stuffed in their faces at all times. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And, to top it all off, the girl who changes herself the most and becomes a lady gets a super-sized $100,000 check.

The New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan said it best in her August 27, 2007 review of the show that said, “VH1’s ‘Rock of Love With Bret Michaels” is a carnival sludge: a nauseating paste of fried dough, cigarette ash, salt and grain alcohol.” They even go as far as to say, “This series has trudged along like a heart broken drunk…” But, that’s what the people are watching. There’s even a third season of “Rock of Love” in the works – only this time, it’s on the Bret’s tour bus going on a cross-country adventure to find love.

Production for the third season of “Rock of Love” paused in September after a driver for the show fell asleep behind the wheel, killing Southern Illinois University student Kevetta Davis. Davis was 19.

According to the Chicago Tribune and VH1, Michael’s asked that “his participation in the series be temporarily suspended in deepest sympathy as he attempts to reach out” to the victim’s families.

This season of VH1’s Charm School is destined to provide the reality television watching community with a tasty treat of sass and attempt at class. So, for all you rocker’s out there, if you want a reality television show full of sex, drugs, rock and roll, Sharon Osborne’s shrill English accent, and glammed up groupies fighting each other for your amusement, stay tuned into VH1 each Sunday night at 9 p.m. for “Rock of Love Charm School”.

# # #

Edward R. Murrow Could See the Future

“Our history will be what we make it.” That is what Edward R. Murrow believed in 1958 when he spoke in Chicago to address the annual convention of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. That’s as true and as honest as it gets.

It has been over 50 years since American’s started receiving news over the airwaves and on screens in their homes. The boxes full of wires and light broadcasted the stories of the American people and of people all over the world. And, that world which was once so big became a little smaller once television came into our lives.

Today, the television is still a staple of American life – but, for different reasons. There are Saturday morning cartoons, Thursday night prime-time, daily talk shows, and so much more. It’s all entertainment – minus a few specialty news stations such as CNN and C-SPAN.

I hate to think we’re a society that dug its own grave when it comes to educating its public in a swift and productive way. Murrow would hate to see that we haven’t changed at all. The year 2008 is exactly what he said it was going to be, so why didn’t we try to change it before now?

American’s have become a nation of couch potatoes, according to a May 2008 article on The future of television is not only in sitcom programming but online. First radio, then television, and now the internet – can we ever just settle and focus on one thing at a time? I think that’s our problem. We keep looking for active change when what we really need is to fix one thing and not create new problems.

The attempt to “fix” what is aired on network television is a definite failure. Murrow would not be proud. Day after day, reality television trash is aired and consumed by the American public strictly for entertainment purposes. We’ve lost all sight on the things that are important. We’ve even attempted to desensitize the news. This, in itself, is the problem that needs to be remedied.

“I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers,” Murrow said. That’s the prescription for the problem we still have 50 years later. American brains have been numbed by what they watch. Often times, what is aired is not of the most valuable importance. This is where the heads of the major broadcasting corporations are cheating the American public. And somehow, we let them get away.

Well, I say, no more. We can’t. We’ve let this go on for far too long. Murrow put it the best when he said television is an instrument that can teach, illuminate, and even inspire, “But, it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.” He was right. So, that’s what we have to do. We have to seize control and make it happen.

# # #

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Say it Ain't So, Chicago

I don't even know what to say. I'm speechless. What was supposed to be the greatest sports story ever written, never will be. The Chicago Cubs lost their 10 consecutive post-season game, forfeiting their chance at winning a World Series. It is now 100 years since the Cubs last won a ring.

The residents of Sheffield are going to have to change the sign atop the townhouse. An extra number slot needs to be added to the "A.C. sign" that lists how many years since the Cubs have won the division, the pennant, and then the World Series.

All curses aside, this years Cubs team are solely responsible for ruining the opportunity for this inspiring sports story. I have two words: 97 wins. They had 97 wins. They were the number one team in all of the National League, and they blew it.

I'll be honest. I haven't read any articles about the game that ended the Cubs' chance at playoff history. I was camping in the woods and was nowhere near a TV. I'm grateful for that. I don't think I could have stomached watching it.

Cubs fans have been saying for years that "Wait 'til next year" or "Next year is here". But, I'm sick of hearing it. Lou crafted an impressive team of great team players. It was a strong line-up all around and their showed results. They got the job done. And then, they just fall apart? This was the year ... or, at least it was supposed to be. The Cubs ruined it.

Everyone could imagine the Cubs winning it all this year. It was almost a universal feeling that deep down in the gut, people all secretly wanted the Cubs to win. It was like the greatest guilty pleasure type story in baseball. And now, that's all foiled.

Who even knows what Cubs fans would have done had the the team won the series? I think the whole charm that is being a Cubs fan would be lost. Maybe it's a better thing that they lost. At least we have something to try and look forward to next year. Because, like Cubs fans have been saying for well ... a century ... "Until next year."


It will be a few days before I decide to find out exactly what went wrong during the third game of this year's NLDS against the Dodgers, but I'm okay with that. Right now, I just want to live in that dream world that will never be.

[More to come in the next few days with this on-going story regarding the Cubs collapse this post-season]

Friday, October 3, 2008

Is 9 Lives All the Cubs Will Get?

The not-so-magic number of losses rose to nine last night as the Cubs failed to beat the Joe Torre's Dodgers at Wrigley field. This puts them in a 0-2 deficit when entering Saturday's game in L.A.

The thought that's on all Cubs fan's minds right now is: "Why?...Why!...WHY!"

Well, I'll be honest, I don't know why. I don't think anyone does at this point.

At least this year no one's obsessed with the curse. I think that our regular season record of 97 wins speaks a bit higher of the team than being cursed. So, if there is an upside, I think not being pinned as a team with a curse is a good thing.

Now, the downside -- our entire infield played like Alex Gonzalez in game 4 of the 2003 NLCS. It was embarrassing. Error after error in the second, it was as if each player had forgotten the fundamental rules of playing in little league. Remember guys, keep the ball in FRONT of you. Go into the game with a LITTLE confidence, not a hot head. Stay patient. And, most of all, make sure you watch the ball come INTO your glove. Don't be cocky ... if you can't see the ball coming to your glove, than it probably isn't. Fundamentals were nowhere to be found on the field yesterday.

The Cubs defense last night was sloppy. As far as I'm concerned -- and don't get me wrong, I love this team -- this is a waste of a playoff berth. The Cubs that America's been watching in these two games are not the Cubs that were the division champions and number one team in all of the National League this year who had been slated to win the World Series and allow journalists to write the greatest sports story of all-time.

Instead, the Boston Red Sox 2004 recovery from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS will remain the point in time where baseball fans and baseball history finally got their underdog story. I remember watching the third game of that series. It seemed like the run was over and the game was up. But, they came back the next four games -- for the first time in baseball history might I add -- and then went on to win the ring.

Now, with the Cubs down in the NLDS, whose to say they don't pull off an underdog moment? People can't say, "It's never been done before," because it has. Does that make the Cubs' chances higher or lower? No one can really say. But, what they can say is that the Cubs have been given the past nine playoff games to do something with themselves and have failed.

Do the Cubs deserve ten chances at inscribing the book of baseball history with their name? Most definitely. They just need to step up to the plate Saturday, have Rich Harden pitch the game of his life (which he is capable of), and swing those bats hard and early.

So, if any of you see Lou sometime before Saturday, let him know that we want his 2008 team back. Get those guys out of hiding because that's the team who should be on the field winning games and not crushing spirits.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Win or Lose, I'm Still a Cubs Fan

And now, the Cubs loss streak in the post-season rises to eight.

Chicago Tribune staff writer, Mike Downey, says it's just the Cubs being Cubs. That I buy.

What I don't buy is how everyone can easily shake off the history of this team. Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe was quoted for mentioning that he's heard a lot about the Cubs 100 year World Series drought, and he's not alone. So yes, it's been mentioned. But, I think the sadest part is that people are trying to forget it.

How can you?

It's a Catch-22 by baseball standards. The Cubs are a team rooted in history and history has continued to define the team. They haven't been able to shake it. That's just how it is.

A poll on the Chicago Tribune's webpage said that 57.4% of Cubs fans still think they will beat the dodgers in the NLDS 3-1. Now that's what I like to hear.

I'm sick and tired of hearing the players, the managers, and franchise officials say things along the line of, "This year's team has nothing to do with the past 100 years. This is a new team. This is a different team. We have to base their success on the positives and just on this season alone."

Well here, I'll do that right now so that we can all get it out of our systems:

"Dear 2008 Chicago Cubs,
You've had a great season! Your win to loss ratio was not only stellar, but a force to be reckoned with in the National League. You came out as #1 in the league and in the division. You worked as a cohesive unit. You had a spring in your step. And, you made all of your fans smile. It was a great run. To top it off, you even got into the playoffs for the second year in a row. Kudos! So, on behalf of the city of Chicago, I say 'Thanks!'"

Okay, now with that said, sorry 2008 Cubs ... and every other Cubs team until we win our third franchise World Series. You will be compared to every player of every team who has ever put on a Cubs uniform. History is what keeps tourists hanging around Wrigley Field. History is what keeps fans around the four street radius that is Addison-Clark-Sheffield-Waveland. History is what influences families to talk baseball on the North Side. You just have to face it, the Cubs are a team based on history. And, until this team wins a ring, that's all they'll be.

I'm still proud to call myself a Cubs fan. I don't care if they lose. It may hurt. There may be tears. And, lord knows all Cubs fans hate once the season's over, but we'll all still be there next year and we'll all stick around until the end ... no matter what flag flies above the scoreboard after the game.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

100 Years and Waiting

***UPDATE: For more information on this year's intense line-up of teams in the MLB post-season check out the following link***

***For more on the Chicago cross-town rivalry in this year's post-season check out the following article put out by the Chicago Tribune today***,0,5772269.story

I've learned some of the hardest life lessons by being a Cubs fan.

People usually laugh at me when I say that, but it's true. I have spent 21 years watching, agonizing, sitting, smiling, transitioning from Pepsi to Old Style, plan hot dog to Chicago style ... I like to think I've done a lot. And, although my time as a Cubs fan is perhaps a lot shorter than most North Siders (or transplanted North Siders scattered around the country/world), I like to think I have some credibility when I go to say, "CHICAGO'S GONNA WIN TODAY!"

Today is October 1, 2008. This officially marks the first back to back playoff appearance by the Chicago Cubs franchise since the last time they won the fall classic ... 100 years ago.

Now, two Cubs managers will go down in history for taking the team to the playoff's in consecutive years -- Frank Chance (1906, 1907, and 1908) and Lou Pinella (2007, 2008).

Sweet Lou, this is where I tip my metaphorical hat to you. On behalf of all Cubs fans I would first of all like to say "Thanks." Second, "Please keep history repeating itself. Because, if you do, we're on track for the greatest lesson anybody has ever learned and I think it'd do a lot for the people of this country."

See, I'm not trying to sound corny here. I'm just being honest. I mean, let's take a moment to imagine the possibilities here.

Since the Yankees last World Series win in 2000, each year has been a surprise when it comes to who wins the ring at the end of the season. The Marlins fried the Cubs in '03. The White Sox took their first series home since the Black Sox scandal in '05. St. Louis rose to the occasion in '06. Heck, the Red Sox even won 2 in less than 4 years. So, all I'm saying is that the Cubs have it coming. And this time, they deserve greatness.

It's been said that this year's team has a swagger. I can't speak from that much experience since I only went to one home game at Wrigley Field this year (where Rich Harden, Carlos Marol, and Kerry Wood put on QUITE the pitching spectacle), but they definitely have a spring in their step. They're confident. And that, I like.

But, it's not just about winning. It's about the game. It's about what it does to people. It's about fall. It's about how there's one October. These are important things that people forget.

Baseball is America's past-time and the Cubs are their "Lovable Losers". Thanks to the Cubs I've learned how to deal with heartache. I've shed tears over games and haven't been ashamed. I've seen friends and families united even after a losing seasons. But no matter what, no matter how good or how bad the Cubs are doing, everyone comes together to celebrate them.

Due to the team's long streak of losses and historical collapses, each and every Chicagoan that calls themselves a Cubs fan has this funny sense of pride that I've never seen anyone else (not even a Red Sox fan) emulate.

It's something inside us. A flicker. A flame. It ignites us when spring training starts and stays lit long past the last days of October. In a way, it's eternal. The season may end but the spirit never leaves. And that to me is Cubs baseball.

It's a feeling. And a damn good one at that.

So, even though I can't be in Chicago just a 15 minute walk from what I consider to be the greatest spot in America (Wrigley Field) to watch my Cubbies take on the infamous Joe Torre and his Dodgers, I'll be there in spirit rooting from my couch.

Welcome to next year baseball fans, get ready for the Cubs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Women as Columnists

This piece was written in response to learning more about women in the field of journalism but more specifically as columnists.


A female columnist is just that – she’s a writer. And, she’s a woman. This generation is unlucky, they’ve always lived in "the world of opportunity" and never the world of having to work to have a voice.

As a woman, I have to say it’s nice to have a voice in today’s society. Before this century, women wrote but the overall tone of women as a whole was mute. This was, of course, a fault of unequal opportunity and the fact that women we’re thought to be not quite as smart as man.

It’s that difference though – that women are women and men are men – that makes a woman’s writing that much stronger.

Women see the world through a different lens. As much as we would all like to think that we are all just human and see things just about the same way, we don’t. That’s why women having a voice – both vocal and written – is imperative.

Perspective is a pesky little sneak. It finds its way into each piece of writing whether a man put it there or a woman did. But, no matter what, it always finds its way in.

Ruth Marcus, a columnist for the Washington Post, has a perspective. She’s a mother. She’s a writer. She lives in Washington, D.C. In her August 29th piece for the Post titled “A Heartbeat Away from Cynicism”, she goes as far as to say “I write this as someone who…” a couple times. But, what stands out in this piece in particular is her personality.

Marcus wrote: “About the woman thing: ‘We should all be proud,’ Hillary Clinton said in a statement, of this ‘historic nomination’ Sorry, but count me out. I found Palin's selection, and her calculated shout-out to unhappy Clinton supporters, insulting.”

Reader’s get two things from that chunk of writing – the perspective and the personality of a woman.

The recent announcement of Britol Palin’s pregnancy is also a situation that Marcus can shed light on. And, that’s mostly due to the fact that she is a mother and a woman. She can bare a child and she has raised children. That key difference between men and woman allow a certain elaboration of a point in an opinion piece.

“The Lessons of Bristol Palin”, released in the Post early this month, Marcus makes use of her role as a parent to shed light on the pregnancy situation. She writes her piece from the lens of a parent, which gives what she’s saying further credibility and validity. She even ends the piece by mentioning her two daughters and what she wants them to learn from their mother writing an article about the Palin pregnancy. It’s her perspective that people can relate to if they choose to read her column.

The voice of a woman is a thoughtful gem. It’s a vantage point that only half of the world’s population ever gets to see. It’s a lens that very few choose to use. But Ruth Marcus is among the group who does.

Whether she’s driving her kids to school and listening to a conservative talk radio show bash her for being a liberal journalist (see the Post’s September 10th column, “Palin Hits the Motherload”) or she’s just giving voice to those in the public who aren’t writers, she’s sharing thoughts that other people definitely share.

We’ve come a long way since the first books were printed and distributed. Women not only read them but write them too. The written word is the strongest entity a person can produce. Once something is put to paper, it’s as if it’s been set to stone. Anyone can read it. You just have to make sure it’s something worth saying.

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