Archive for category: Idiosyncratic Celebrations

The XX Winter Olympiad: Let the Politics Begin

11 Feb 2006
February 11, 2006

NBC’s Brian Williams waxes political at the Turino Olympic Opening Ceremonies (Quicktime, 2.1 MB). Click image to begin video.

Last night I sat down with my family to watch the opening ceremonies of the XX Olympic Winter Games. A glass of Chianti and a nice fire. Perfect.

Perfect until Brian Williams, NBC’s Nightly News anchor and co-host of the program began editorializing during the presentation of the Italian flag. Watch the video. We’ll talk in a minute…

Theoretically, the Olympic games were meant to temporarily put aside politics and national jingoism in exchange for loftier ideals of athletic competition. During ancient times a truce (in Greek, an ekecheiria) was called so that athletes and visitors could safely attend the games. Wars were suspended during the events.

Politics certainly were a part of these ancient competitions. And that tradition has never been far from contemporary Olympiads (Munich and Mexico City to name just two examples). But William’s pandering to some vision of his demographic seemed woefully out of place during the celebratory Opening Ceremonies.

In four short sentences he managed to embrace older Italian-Americans (I wonder if younger generations really do remember World War II) and pro-Iraqi War supporters (a dwindling demographic). What was he thinking?

Brian Williams sullied the spirit of the Games with his remarks. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect the Olympics to be a place for lofty ideals, even the hope that on some small level they will rise to the top despite our human foibles.

I was hoping to take a few weeks off from depressing front page news to watch the games. Am I too altruistic? Ok, let the politics begin!

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Five Years of Sticking it to the Man

05 Feb 2006
February 5, 2006

Five Years of Sticking it to the Man. Click on the image above to watch a self-tribute to my years in the blogosphere. (Quicktime 4.5 MB). And don’t forget to take a look at the inspiration for this little parody.

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Life Outtacontext. On February 9, 2001 I wrote my first piece, I am COTR, a reflection on the power of being a Contract Officer’s Technical Representative. Translated from government-speak, I was learning how to advise lawyers on the technical aspects of writing contracts for new media projects. Not the most auspicious of subjects for my blog debut.

In fact, my second post, Underground Magic, more accurately conveys one of the directions I have developed over the last five years. Writing about my family, both past and present, provides the genesis for many of my pieces.

I started blogging before software like Moveable Type, Typepad, and Blogger made blogging ubiquitous. Early on each piece was done “by hand.” Back then I included a horoscope with each entry. These were painstakingly produced in Photoshop from daily readings in the paper. I would cut and paste each word to make a sentence that was both appropriate to the post and a little off-the-wall, in an ethereal sort of way. This was fun for a while. But soon I realized I was spending more time on these graphics than my writing. With local and world events demanding my full attention, I abandoned these illustrations by the beginning of 2003.

My first design of Life Outtacontext made way for my present one in August 2004, when a found post card from the 1940s threw me into a frenzied two week redesign blitz. Designers will know what I’m talking about when I say the muse hit me right between the eyes. “Suddenly” I woke up with a new design, one I am still pretty proud of.

My loyal readers (the 10s of you) might have noticed a new graphic in the lower right of each page: a link to the 9rules Network. Recently, I was asked to join this group of bloggers –a network of writers and designers who, despite their diversity, share their good writing and design. I am honored to be a part. As the blogosphere has grown and the number of blogs increased exponentially, it has become important to look for new ways to connect with others (both those of like mind and those who might be interested in what I have to say). In a way, this network is like being in “old world” syndication. You write and the network passes your work around.

Life Outtacontext isn’t a traditional blog. I don’t post short, daily quips and links. In fact, if I write four posts a month I consider myself prolific. From the beginning I have enjoyed creating a place where I could write about things that are important to me, whether it be political or something humorous. At heart I am a storyteller and telling a good story is what’s central to LO. Thanks for letting me share that with you. Family and work responsibilities require most of my daily attention (after all I’m still a COTR!). But, here, I am “the man” –this is a small place where I make all the decisions. I have a few friends whose advice I often seek. But there are no committees here. And that is a powerful place to create.

To commemorate my five years in the blogosphere I have created a mashup or remix of my favorite TV commercial du jour. My wife doesn’t understand why I think the original Sprint commercial (which is the inspiration for this remix) is so funny. But my eldest daughter and I have memorized both parts and put on impromptu theater, usually at the dinner table. In this online version I play both characters. While I aspire to write, I don’t think voiceover work is in my future.

Like the main protagonist of this video tableau I often feel I play both roles: I am the man, but I don’t mind sticking it to myself. Well, maybe.

This just in: The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s blog Eye Level (which I designed and for which I serve as managing editor) has been nominated in the Blog category at the 9th annual SXSW Interactive Festival Web Awards in Austin. Congratulations Team Eye Level!

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A Visit from the Salad People

01 Jan 2006
January 1, 2006

My family and I usually spend New Year’s Eve quietly together. No loud parties and no dodging the inebriated on the roads. We are not on everybody’s party list. In fact, I don’t think we’re on anybody’s party list –it’s been years since we were invited to a New Year’s Eve celebration.

So last night we decided to buck tradition, but buck it in our own special way. We still opted for a quiet night at home. But this year we invited our friends Liz and Doug, along with their daughter to join us for that sip of Zin to ring in the new year (fruit punch for the kids of course).

Early yesterday I made a beeline for Trader Joe’s, our favorite self-serve party caterer. Our Trader Joe parties are legendary. We sit around the coffee table with hors d’oeuvres of Trader Joe’s brie, Trader Joe’s artichoke dip, plastered on Trader Joe’s assorted crackers with a bit of guacamole (you guessed it, also from TJs). It’s the modern family’s recipe for a successful party: easy to put together, inexpensive, and it tastes great. With a little vino, we were all set.

At first we thought we’d make tacos for dinner. Fun for the kids and everyone could fill their tortillas with whatever they wanted (a good dish for our mix of light meat eaters and vegetarians). But then Susie had an even better idea. After filling up with pre-dinner snacks, was a big meal really necessary? Instead let’s make use of our new cookbook: Salad People And More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up. Let’s make salad people for dinner!

So we lined up all the ingredients (a little lettuce, pears, raisins, melon, cheese, olives, cashews, tomatoes, carrots, and some curly pasta) and let loose. Here are the results of our New Year’s Eve repast:

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And Days of Auld Lang Syne

31 Dec 2005
December 31, 2005

New Year’s Eve: a time to reflect on what was and look ahead to new possibilities. Well, I’ve never been one to follow tradition. Why, I’ve already started my annual January clean and tidy around Chez Gates and it’s still December!

Yet writing allows you to document these transitory points in time. Without them I would remain consumed with the moment-at-hand: working on my most pressing deadline or putting out sibling rivalry fires at home. And so today I took a few moments to reread my entire year’s posts from Life Outtacontext.

2005 started with a trip downtown to a swearing in. What I didn’t mention in that piece was that later that night my friend Randall and I met up with his wife Phyllis for dinner. And it was on Inauguration Day that she introduced me to apple martinis.

When she offered to buy me my first one I replied: “I don’t like martinis they taste like perfume (not that I’ve ever imbibed Chanel) and I don’t like sour apple.” But then the waiter brought hers to the table and I marveled at the simplicity of its design and color: a conical glass filled with chartreuse liquid with a bright red cherry resting sublimely at its lower tip. I was sold. I have always been a sucker for a good visual.

And for the next few months I went about introducing the drink to my family and our friends. In each case it was as hard a sell as Phyllis had with me that first night. But after one they too were hooked. Every holiday was marked by a shaker of vodka and apple pucker. That is until Thanksgiving when the family requested my bartending skills before dinner. After two we were ready for bed and the turkey was still roasting. 2005 may have been our year of the “Appletini,” but after that, we’ve decided to move back to more traditional liquorial pursuits. Tonight we will be sipping small amounts of a nice old vine Zinfandel to say hello to 2006.

As I raise my glass to ring in the new, here’s a bit of old: some of my favorite posts from Life Outtacontext this past year. A jigger of public commentary mixed equally with a few stories about family. Stirred gently, never shaken.

On Death and Waiting,
Soviet America Resampled,
On Writing That Last Story,
Revising the Pledge,
Don’t Get Mad Get Even,
Living on a First World Edge,
Getting a Freeway Education, Hollywood Style,
High Adventure in Disney’s Tomorrowland,
We’re Old Enough to Know Better,
The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable, Act 7

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Not Lost in Translation

09 Oct 2005
October 9, 2005

On our recent family trip to Disneyland I noticed something new: all the announcements and cautionary instructions for rides were both in English and Spanish. The all-American theme park had changed in a remarkable way.

My Southern California friends are surprised when I tell them that bilingualism is very much a part of our lives in Washington, DC as well. No, not in those hallowed halls of the Capitol but on the streets and the marketplaces around town. Signs on our busses and at retailers like Home Depot and Ikea are in Spanish and English (the only holdout of any major proportion is the subway). “Friends,” I say, “we have a sizable Latino population here in DC, primarily Central American.” We enrolled both our daughters in a Spanish dual language program at school. Math and reading are taught to them in both English and Spanish (and instructions for their homework often are in Spanish only).

The push by Anglophiles and organizations like English First, to make English the official language of the United States is countered not by “commie liberals” bent on destroying our American way, but more simply by demographics and commerce. We are becoming a bilingual nation by default. Retailers (and theme park owners) realize that it is simply good business (i.e. more lucrative business) to make it easier for large portions of our population to shop their stores and use their services.

Columbus Day sign on my bank's window

Commemorating an event from two very different points of view.

So it wasn’t surprising my local Bank of America would post signs in both English and Spanish stating it would be closed for the Columbus Day holiday. What was interesting was that their sign was not just a translation of the language but a translation of the cultures to which it spoke.

Posted on entrance doors and windows big red signs proclaimed the bank’s closure on Monday, October 10 for not only Columbus Day but for El Día de la Raza (“Day of the Race”). Two holidays celebrating two very different aspects of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World.

To a large number of Americans Columbus Day commemorates the explorer’s landing in the Bahamas in 1492. Italian Americans celebrate it with pride. But to an ever growing part of the population it represents the beginning of a 15th century holocaust and the advent of slaves in the Americas.

The second Monday in October celebrates two very different aspects to the discovery of the New World. As cultural identity bumps into assimilation, NAFTA, and globalization we are experiencing a very different America. Some fear these changes while others embrace them. This presents a quandary to both the Republican and Democratic parties (but especially the Republicans) as fiscal policy (let the market determine our direction) conflicts with social policy (in order to succeed immigrants must assimilate and accept the basic tenets of the dominant culture).

I was reminded of this clash as I walked into my neighborhood bank to cash some checks. If you didn’t speak Spanish you wouldn’t pick up the clue this sign gives us about the changes in this country.

Columbus Day has become a holiday that represents exactly where this country stands at the beginning of the 21st century.

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Resetting My Monthly Calendar

01 Oct 2005
October 1, 2005

A new month: time to reset my internal calendar to remember birthdays and pay bills for October. If your birthday happens to be at the beginning of the month, you might not get your birthday greeting from me on time. I can only start thinking about October events at the beginning of October. I’ve set my credit card due dates to be about the 10th of the each month so I don’t incur late fees when I remember on the first of the month that I even owe money. I’m a typical overwhelmed modern who has compartmentalized his life into twelve easier-to-cope-with installments.

Typing my Zip Code into GooGhoul yielded some interesting results.

Typing my Zip Code into GooGhoul yielded some interesting results.

But if your event happens near the end of the month, you’re in luck. I’ve got plenty of time to come up with that perfect gift or greeting. Yes, four weeks is just about the right amount of time. So, I’m pleased that Halloween is on the 31st. This gives my wife and I plenty of time to consider Halloween costumes for the girls. Ok, our children are on a completely different schedule and decided in July what they want to be this year. But I only start listening to them today.

If you too need a bit of help in preparing for All Hallows Eve today’s the day to type your Zip Code into GooGhoul, your official Halloween Search Engine. I did and I’m headed for Number One on my list: a very haunting, I mean haunted mansion a few miles away. It, too, needs to plan ahead for the end of the month as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald decides whether to take his CIA leak findings to the grand jury by the October 28 deadline.

Now that’s really scary.

(Via Airbag)

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