There’s an amazing fat-burning, curve-sculpting exercise that doesn’t require a gym membership, doesn’t require annoying workout videos and can be done anytime in any weather: simply turning on the radio, iPod or on-demand music channel and shaking what God gave you to the sounds of salsa and merengue. Here are a few favorites I’ve got bookmarked that call you to dance no matter how much you try to resist.
“Bailando” — Enrique Iglesias featuring Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona
I’m of the opinion that Spanish-languge originals translated into English for an international market just aren’t as good as the Español version. I feel that way in general about Enrique Iglesias. “Bailando” — or “Dancing” — is a tribute to just that, sultry and upbeat at the same time. The video, shot in the Dominican Republic, also blends flamenco and sweet soccer skills in a most awesome way.
I’m upset that Boardwalk Empire, that gritty gangster drama that boasted some of the most brilliant production design, cinematography, directing and ensemble acting during its five-season HBO run, came to an end last night. But it ended with a bang, and throughout a season of flashbacks all of the pieces fell into place — and we saw where the moral downward spiral of lead character Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) began.
I’m glad that the series run ended well, unlike the final season of Homeland which has become utterly painful to watch with a storyline that has crashed and burned and characters we no longer care about. Boardwalk didn’t just contrive an ending to round out its contract, but the season was all about the story arc coming full circle, from Nelson Van Alden recapturing his inner lawman in the final moments of his life to cocky Al Capone believing there has to be a way out of his tax-evasion charges while admitting to his deaf son that he’ll be going away for a while.
As Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins, who has provided the best show reviews of the season, puts it: “More than any other finished series in television’s New Golden Age, Boardwalk Empire used its series finale to strip its antihero protagonist bare. Whether or not he was ever fully comfortable inhabiting the role, Nucky Thompson was a crime lord. The show’s final sequence depicted his first, and worst, crime. And as any actor from Hollywood’s hyper-regulated Golden Age could tell you, crime does not pay.”
And as Collins points out, Thompson’s assailant in the final scenes had plenty of opportunities to kill him before. What sent him over the edge was Nucky’s final, brusque lack of empathy — and trying to throw some money from his omnipresent wad of cash at the problem in hopes of making it go away.
Here are a few of the best scenes over the show’s run. Fans can think of many more.
Striking fear in the hearts of every Walmart protester in the world, German discount chain Aldi is apparently taking over the globe. And they have begun taking over my neighborhood, so I had to investigate.
I’m glad that I Googled the deep secrets of Aldi before heading over to the new store, which opened in a location once occupied by an Office Depot. Bring your own bags or pay for them at the register, so I stuffed several plastic bags from Wegmans (also known as the emergency Puppacita poop bag stash) into my purse. Bring a quarter deposit if you want a shopping cart, a small price to pay to avoid stray carts hitting cars in the parking lot. Make sure you’re paying with a debit card or cash, as they keep prices down by not accepting credit cards. And block off enough time to properly comb through the store.
Aldi stores are so minimalist there’s no ’90s soundtrack piped through the store, and you shop in silence through a fraction of the selection of a regular grocery store with mostly store brands. The bag-your-own-groceries model was nothing new to me; in California, a chain called Food-4-Less kept me equipped in $1.99 10-pound bags of potatoes and 10-for-a-buck ramen in college. Food was also displayed in the packing boxes or pallets, but that chain was a full-size grocery store with bakery and meat counters.
Aldi is the compact version. The name brands I did see weren’t offered at much of a discount — the Kraft chipotle mayo I picked up, for example, was slightly more expensive than at Walmart. The store brands were, for the most part, dirt cheap.
One of the products I tried, among a cornucopia of Sunday football snacks, was the faux Cheez-It. Horrible crackers with a weird aftertaste. However, the Chili Cheese Fritos knockoff was very close to the real thing, as my taste buds from 3 a.m. college cuisine remembered.
I confess I was hoping for piles of cheap greens to more economically feed my bunnies, but the produce selection was hit and miss. Four Anjou pears for $1.49 equalled a good find. Baby carrots for 69 cents rocks. A bag of very good grapes from California’s San Joaquin Valley was $2.49. I got one clamshell of baby lettuces, but the bagged salad was the same price as Trader Joe’s ($1.99) with superior selection and quality at the wonderful marvelous fantastic chain owned by Aldi.
In fact, I needed to set aside my deep, abiding love for Trader Joe’s to accurately judge Aldi.
Aldi has extensive stashes of organic and gluten-free products, and some “gourmet” products that I found intriguing, such as the gouda snack sticks for $3.29. Not the richest gouda in the world (try Trader Joe’s double cream gouda, mmm), but a nice change from string cheese. A big bag of faux Chex Mix in the “bold” flavor (when I make this stuff fresh, it’s drowned in Worcestershire sauce) was $1.49. Their fresh meat section did look fresh, and the frozen selection was vast (and creative if slightly scary — a gyro-making kit).
I found myself hunting for the German imports: big jars of Austrian beer mustard and Bavarian sweet mustard for $1.29 each, a tower of doppelkek cookies for $1.99, frozen cinnamon apple or fruits-of-the-forest strudel for $2.49, and a roll of pretzels that you bake like biscuits (complete with the rock salt) for $2.49. In other words, the Cost Plus World Imports grocery section gets walloped on price points.
I hear, too, that the German goodies increase exponentially when the holidays roll around, so much so that they need to reorganize the store to make extra room. Intrigued.
The next day, I drove to a different Aldi to see if products were the same at each store. Since I realized their customer service was so minimal, I accurately predicted that I could put the Puppacita in her tote in the child seat of the cart and no one would raise an eyebrow. This location had beer and wine, random brands at cheap prices — but I love the store that sells Charles Shaw two-buck-chuck, so who am I to judge.
The selections didn’t vary greatly, though I did pick up German dark chocolate for 99 cents and faux Sun Chips for $1.99. The middle of each store had kitchen and home goods, and even some plants. I understand that the “special buys” section rotates frequently and if you see something you like you should buy it. At both locations, I was pleasantly surprised by the low total at the register.
So Aldi is giving supermarkets heartburn wherever it goes. Have you tried this German import and found favorite products?
As the world’s attention is focused on ISIS, it’s easy for many to neglect the threat posed by their brethren in less-covered parts of the globe.
It’s also easy for many to dismiss the growth of al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa as a regional threat, even as Americans in Uganda were warned by the U.S. Embassy to shelter in place over the weekend because of an imminent threat from Al-Shabaab. “We remain vigilant to the possibility that some of the attack cell could still be at large, but we believe that it is appropriate to rescind the guidance to shelter-in-place,” the Embassy said Sunday. “We urge, however, that all U.S. citizens maintain heightened security awareness and continue to monitor email and news outlets for any updates.”
It could also be easy for some to assume that Al-Shabaab is significantly degraded after a U.S. airstrike on Labor Day killed its leader Godane, instead of noting how quickly they moved new leadership into place and renewed their fidelity to al-Qaeda.
That’s why the HBO documentary Terror at the Mall, which premiered on the cable network Monday night, is so important.
The Westgate mall in Nairobi, with its patrons a truly globalized mix of races, creeds, nationalities, and ages, was a microcosm of the greater al-Qaeda target. On Sept. 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab moved in on their target. Sixty-seven people were killed and nearly 200 wounded.
British documentary producer and director Dan Reed has experience showing the brutality of terrorism: 2009′s Terror in Mumbai and 2003′s Terror in Moscow.
In Terror at the Mall, he painstakingly pieced together footage from more than 100 security cameras around Westgate as well as the still photos of renowned Reuters war photographer Goran Tomašević, who gives the story behind some of his famous photos from that day. We also see him, in full combat photography gear, drift through security camera footage with plainclothes police as the bullets fly.
Reed sits down with some of the survivors seen in the footage, including Niall Saville, who was eating lunch at a patio restaurant when the attack began. His wife, Moon Hee, is badly wounded and he drags her into the restaurant and behind the counter as a security camera looks on. A terrorist eventually discovers the pair and shoots Saville. The couple lay on the ground in a pool of blood, the husband trying to stay conscious as his wife dies.
In the large adjoining supermarket, Nakumatt, we see a heroic man get ripped by bullets for venturing out into the aisles to get a bottle of water for a wounded man. We hear from his savior, who admits he learned how to put life-saving pressure on the wounds from watching movies. We hear the stories of the mothers with children who went grocery shopping that day only to cower behind the meat counter in a last-ditch effort to stay alive. An Al-Shabaab terrorist comes by and sprays customers with bullets as they try to shield their children.
Katherine Walton, who hid her three children under a mall kiosk table, speaks of her immediate realization that as an American, as a Christian, she would be a prime target for the terrorists. Another survivor from the supermarket recounts that one of the Al-Shabaab members asked a Kenyan mother if she was Muslim or Christian; she replied she was Christian and was immediately shot to death.
Some of the terror was out of the reach of security cameras, like the massacre at a children’s cooking competition on the roof of the parking garage. A few of the hostages were released after telling the terrorists that they were Muslim, but Muslims were also among the dead. Radio host Ruhila Adatia-Sood was one of three pregnant women killed that day.
The film also highlights the people who came to help, including businessman Abdul Haji, who grabbed his gun and joined plainclothes policemen trying to rescue survivors in the mall (he admits he didn’t have many rounds that day, but stresses it’s accuracy that matters most). The disorganized response of Kenyan authorities, including soldiers accidentally shooting at survivors and killing Kenyan policemen, underscores the tragedy.
It concludes with Al-Shabaab’s “message to unbelievers”: “God willing, there will be more Westgates. We have hundreds more volunteers.”
Terror at theMall is stark, unflinching, bloody and terrifying. It also couldn’t be a more chilling reminder at a more important time. It’s not about pundit commentary and lets the footage speak for itself. It will stay with you for a long time. And in a terror fight that has seen its share of fair-weather commitment, that is needed.
“We don’t know each other, we all come from different communities,” recalled survivor Valentine Kadzo, who hid under the kiosk with Walton. “But at that time we were one.”
And that’s exactly the approach we need to take in confronting the growth of Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Al-Shabaab.
From the moment I found the puppacita at the pound three years ago, she’s been a good eater. To the point where I don’t know where she puts it all, whether it’s a dish of doggie ice cream or begging diners for tidbits at outdoor cafes or foraging for spilled birdseed. But, alas, it caught up with her eventually.
She weighed 5 1/2 pounds when I found her, and naturally started eating a really good diet. But at a doctor’s appointment last September, she tipped the scales at 7 pounds. Lose a pound, the doctor advised, both for her internal health and to be merciful to her little tiny legs (which have asymptomatic patellar subluxation, common in chihuahuas).
Victory: at an April checkup, with full blood work to ensure the weight loss was healthy, she weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces.
It was not easy. Look at that face and try to say no. But I figured out some tricks that worked:
- She loved the Pill Pockets I was using to give her Benadryl and supplements, so I was also giving them to her as regular treats. Alas, they’re not low in calories. Instead, I now wrap her tablets in a bit of moist dog food.
- I keep other pets’ food out of reach so she’s not sampling.
- She only eats canned food because of her missing teeth. I’d never checked the cans to compare calories before, though. Turned out the chicken and rice and beef flavors of her favorite brand, Verus, had more calories than the turkey and veggie or fish and potato flavors. Switch.
- I also paid more attention to portion control from those cans. Truth be told, it takes her four days to go through a regular-sized can of dog food.
- I was giving her whole-meat treats because I thought no additives, just good old freeze-dried meat was much healthier. The problem is, she doesn’t expend enough energy to burn off the calories from all that protein. So I tried the Lean Treats by Butler at my vet’s office. They work like a charm and puppa loves them.
- Since the Lean Treats are soft, easily pinched off and maleable, I use one and throw the bits all around the living room for a puppa treasure hunt. She gets the exercise and finds them all.
- She doesn’t get any more people food. I’ll give her bits of a Lean Treat during meal time so she can be tricked (not) into thinking she’s getting people food. Or she’s at least satisfied at the alternative.
- It’s amazing to me that she lost the weight over the winter because it’s not like she wanted to go for any walks in the cold and snow. Her energy level was already good, but has increased even more since she lost the weight. So I got her a lightweight harness for summer so she can run without tripping on her leash.
- I stop into the vet’s once a month to say hi and use the baby scale (more accurate than the big-dog scale for her) to track her weight. And even though she wears clothes in the winter to stay warm and in the summer to protect her allergic skin from the grass, how they fit is also a great guide in ensuring that she’s not packing on the pudge.
Don’t get me wrong, she gets the occasional treat:
— Bridget Johnson (@Bridget_PJM) April 19, 2014
Share your own stories and tips about canine or feline weight control…
Everyone knows that I’m an advocate of pet adoption. But lately I’ve been questioning whether many animal rescues are defeating the purpose and driving prospective pet parents into the arms of breeders.
I didn’t really think much of the motives and modus operandi of rescues until after I adopted my chihuahua, Chi-Chi aka the puppacita. I found her at one of the last old-school pounds in the area. The shelter staff handed her to me, I asked a couple of questions about her history, and a minute later signed a spay contract, waited while they microchipped her, handed over a $70 check and was on my way to PetSmart to spoil the puppa with whatever she wanted.
No counselor screening, no adoptive matchmaking, no home visits, no drama (though I fully acknowledge people can pick a dog that’s wrong for their situation without some guidance). And puppacita’s perfect. And she knows it. I did the things a rescue might do: spaying, shots, dental extractions, and house-training. Rescue groups often note that for the price you pay you get a shelter dog that’s been fixed up, so to speak, with the necessary vet work and training.
I started to meet other dog owners after the puppacita and I became attached at the hip. When I’d take her to the pet store on what happened to be one of those crowded adoption days, people would ask me which rescue I got her from. She’s a pound puppy, I still proudly say. I like the fact that puppa and I picked each other without whatever screening committee might have been at a rescue. Still, it’s befuddling when rescue groups ask me if I want another chihuahua when it’s clear that the puppacita isn’t into other dogs.
One of the neighbors I met had a big, beautiful dog that was a foster with one of these rescue groups. The neighbor eventually confessed that she couldn’t afford the care that would be required if she adopted the dog, but if she continued to foster him she’d get the paid vet visits and some food. When one couple expressed interested in adopting the dog, she indicated that she’d discourage this adoption from her end if she could. Months later, I still saw her with the dog.
When my bunny Napoleon Bunaparte needed a buddy, I first approached the local rabbit rescues. One of them would only adopt out bunnies that bore microchips listing the rescue’s contact information instead of the new owner’s. Some didn’t even respond. So I went to a local city shelter that let me match Napoleon with his favorite: a spayed French angora, Josephine. The application process was perfectly reasonable: questions about pen size, how much out-of-cage time she would get, how much I expected to spend on food and vet visits each year, other pets and whether or not I’d surrendered pets in the past. It’s great if a shelter asks the basic questions to know if a person will be committed to a pet and knows optimal care.
I’ve heard stories from friends and colleagues over the years, though, wondering if they were denied for adoption because they answered a question wrong on a rescue’s application. Emily Yoffe at Slate confessed, in a piece worth reading in its entirety, to buying a puppy after not clearing any of the adoption inquisitions, and got a lot of solidarity from other pet owners:
Ari Schwartz, a business development manager from Tarrytown, N.Y., and his wife, Lisa, a medical student, ran up against these Jeopardy-like quizzes when they went looking for a shelter dog. After filling out a multi-page online application from a local group, they got a follow-up phone call from a representative who noted they hadn’t given the name of their veterinarian. That was because the couple didn’t have a dog, Lisa replied. In Joseph Heller-esque fashion, the rep said that in order to adopt, a referral from a veterinarian was necessary. The representative went on to note the group preferred that one owner be home full-time. They also didn’t like to give dogs to people who lived in apartments, like the Schwartzes. The couple was told to get a cat. “My wife is deadly allergic to cats,” Ari notes. So—surprise!—they decided to go to a breeder. They now have a Shiba Inu named Tofu. “We absolutely love him,” Ari says.
If an applicant manages to get approved, the adoption papers should be read carefully before signing. It turns out the contract often specifies the adopter is not the actual owner of the animal. Sure you’re responsible for the pet’s food, shelter, training, and veterinary care, but the organization might retain “superior title in said animal.” This means the group can drop in unannounced at any time for the rest of your pet’s life and seize Fluffy if it doesn’t like what it sees.
Valerie Jarrett said Wednesday morning that she was behind convincing President Obama to do the “Funny or Die” video to encourage young people to sign up for Obamacare.
“What is it like to be the last black president?” Hangover actor Zach Galifianakis quips in the clip.
“What is it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?” Obama responds.
Obama gave a pitch about signing up under the healthcare law by the end-of-the-month deadline, to which Galifianakis zones out and quips “Is this about drones?”
Jarrett told MSNBC “it wasn’t hard to get him to participate” and “so far has been overwhelmingly successful.”
“I was checking how many hits were on the site last night. When I went to bed it was 10 million, which I’m sure breaks all kinds of records,” she said of the video, which has 12 million views today. “But, also more importantly than that, the traffic on our website has gone up 40 percent between yesterday and today. And that was the goal.”
“The goal is to help reach that young audience, and Zach and the guys at Funny Or Die they have huge followings,” Jarrett continued. “Every young person I know watches their videos on YouTube. And so how we reach them in a way that was amusing and entertaining, but yet informative. And the fact that the website traffic has gone up is really an indication that it’s working.”
Department of Health and Human Services officials, though, reported a .6% conversion rate Tuesday afternoon with 19,000 visitors following the link to heatlhcare.gov when the video was at 3 million views. That doesn’t indicate how many of those visitors actually signed up for Obamacare.
Jarrett claimed, though, that “people are signing up.”
“We released yesterday our numbers for the month of February, so 4.2 million folks have signed up. And, we now still have several weeks to go. March 31st is the deadline… I hope you go on the website today, healthcare.gov. It’s working just fine.”
You might be thinking that HAS to be Stephen Green’s bird. But no, this is my fairly new kakariki who simply has a fondness for exploring bar recipes (chewing bar recipes, etc.).
Shortly before Christmas, my lineolated parakeet Iggy passed away. If I brought another parrot into the house, I wanted one that was fairly quiet, not a biter, and not laden with the weighty emotional needs of some birds.
The kakariki, meaning “small parrot” in Maori, is a grass parakeet from New Zealand, where it is now endangered in the wild. Keeping and breeding the birds there requires a special permit. In the U.S. they’re not all that common. I could see this lively, fun, sweet bird catching on as a popular pet, though.
Poukai — which means giant man-eating bird in Maori — is a red-front cinnamon kakariki who hatched on Sept. 29. I brought her home a few days before Christmas, and by now she shares ownership of the house with the puppacita. She’s even jumped on my chihuahua’s back to go for a ride, which the puppa didn’t really appreciate. At least she was wearing a sweatshirt to shield her from talons.
Kakarikis need a large cage because they have so much energy to burn. Poukai has a medium-sized cage with a play gym next to it, and the front and terrace doors are almost always open. She’s basically earned these free-cage rights because from the very start she’s had amazing self-discipline about going to bed each night and jumping in the cage so I can close that door before opening the nearby patio door. Her wings are clipped, which is good because they’re fast little things. She has a swift ground game, taking advantage of her springy legs and climbing whatever she chooses with her beak. They’re about 10.5 inches to 11.5 inches in length and eat seed mix and pellets in cockatiel size. Her food cups — those great white crocks they sell at Pier One for a buck — are on the floor of a rather deep cage bottom because they scratch through food like chickens. She uses her left foot to hold raisins and lettuce and the like while she gnaws at leisure.
Are you ready for some football? Who isn’t? (Or as Saints fans are screaming now, who dat?) Seattle’s getting ready for an earthquake, and the cameras are getting ready for Tom Brady. San Francisco’s prepping for a much warmer game than last week, and the Chargers are aiming for a mile-high upset.
Today, 4:35 p.m. on Fox: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
Today, 8:15 p.m. on CBS: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. on Fox: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. on CBS: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
Here’s how the guys at ESPN are feeling going into this playoff round:
Here’s how Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, budget BFFs, feel going into this round:
And, naturally, here’s how I feel (#QuestForSix):
A Kuwaiti academic is stealing the thunder out of the Obama campaign’s favorite talking point in 2012:
Abdullah Al Nafeesi, a former Kuwaiti deputy and political science professor in Kuwait University, said the US lied when it said its forces killed bin Laden and dumped its body in the sea during the May 2011 attack following more than 11 years of a search operation to find the most wanted man in the world.
“The US announcement that Sheikh Osama bin Laden was killed in not true,” Nafeesi told Rotana Khaleejia TV channel in an interview carried by Saudi newspapers.
“I doubt that Sheikh Osama has been killed. I believe that he was kidnapped and is still alive. It does not make sense that a big power like the US searches for a man for 11 years and when it finds him, it just shoots him. This is an amateur rather than professional work. Otherwise what is the use of having all this suffering and spending billions all this time to find the man? He has been abducted and is now with them but they made us think that he was killed and dumped in the sea.”
Experts told Al-Arabiya that the scenario is unlikely because news would have dribbled out by now from the leaky U.S. government. Michael Ryan, author of Decoding al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America, told the network that the decision to kill bin Laden was probably spontaneous. “If the order was capture first but kill if you need to… one can make a very logical case that the operators on the ground made the logical choice in light of having just lost a helicopter and wanting to make sure that this mission was accomplished,” Ryan said. “If anything else happened, I believe we would have some third-party evidence by now.”
Rumors are fueled by the fact that the U.S. never released photos of Osama’s body even when requested by news outlets, though photos purporting to show bin Laden’s body were released by Pakistani TV.
Think terrorists have reached the lowest of the low? Meet 10-year-old Spozhmai from Helmand province. On Sunday night, her kin strapped a bomb on her and sent her on a mission. From Afghanistan’s Tolo News:
Based on initial investigations, the girl’s brother was serving as a commander for the Taliban and he coerced her into carrying out a suicide attack on Afghan security forces.
“My brother, who serves as a Taliban commander, asked me to wear my dress and then the suicide jacket,” Spozhmai said. “After that he left me outside, I was there for several minutes and was shivering from cold, then I shouted and the security forces picked me up.”
…Reportedly, Spozhmai was unable to operate the button to detonate the suicide vest. Despite such issues with reliability, the Taliban has long used preadolescent, uneducated boys to carry out suicide bombings. It is rare to find a young girl wrapped up in it though.
The brother has fled the area, and luckily the girl is in custody and was transferred to Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.
That’s an Instagram of San Francisco 49ers quaterback Colin Kaepernick and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (formerly of the 49ers practice squad) hitting the range in the offseason.
Yesterday, as Wisconsites crowed that the frigid temperatures and the not-at-all-green field in Green Bay would be too much for the California team, Kaepernick hit his target. He played without any sleeves under his jersey and led the team to a 23-20 victory in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The game was sealed in the final seconds on a 33-yard field goal from veteran kicker Phil Dawson, acquired last year from the Cleveland Browns.
The Wild Card round this weekend certainly had its nailbiters and surprises, with the Indiana Colts edging the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 and the New Orleans Saints topping the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24. The San Diego Chargers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 27-10.
Next weekend the playoffs head to the divisional round. The first game on Saturday is the Saints and Seahawks, followed by the New England Patriots and the Colts. On Sunday, the Niners play the Carolina Panthers and the Chargers face off with the Denver Broncos.
As a longtime 49ers fan back to my childhood and the Joe Montana era, I’m pretty partial to this assessment by ESPN NFL writer Kevin Seifert:
The 49ers are the best team in football, and if they continue to play the way they did Sunday, they will win Super Bowl XLVIII next month.
Their offense is poised to outscore the Carolina Panthers next weekend in the NFC divisional round. Their defense is a good matchup for the Seattle Seahawks, their likely opponent in the NFC Championship Game. They’re tougher than the Denver Broncos and more versatile than the New England Patriots.
I don’t regard this prediction as particularly bold, at least not to an audience that has paid attention to the NFL over the past two months. Sunday marked the 49ers’ seventh consecutive victory and their 12th in the past 14 games. Their two losses during that period came against two playoff teams (the Panthers and Saints) by a total of four points.
…I realize that a 20-point victory Sunday might have filled the 49ers bandwagon more quickly, but to me a championship-caliber team is measured best when it faces adverse conditions. No one cruises to the Super Bowl title. At some point, you must overcome circumstances that would otherwise sink you.
You know where my fidelity is at. It was a tough season last time around when my Niners made it to the Super Bowl and my Fighting Irish made it to the BCS championship and both lost. Now it’s all about the Quest for Six — and, today, the many Packers fans here in D.C. (yep, there are a lot of them in the nation’s capital) who hate me. Share your thoughts about where you think the race to the Vince Lombardi Trophy is headed.
No 2013 would be complete without Secretary of State John Kerry using the official department Twitter account to retweet a fist-bumping Christmas party video with Snoop Dogg:
— Department of State (@StateDept) December 27, 2013
Like the official White House account, personal tweets are signed with the initials of the person in charge, in this case JK.
This Christmas season likely won’t be remembered as much for how Lodi residents helped replace the gifts stolen from the family of a soldier returning from Afghanistan as it will for the debate over the race of the fictional bearer of gifts.
It started with culture blogger Aisha Harris’ Dec. 10 op-ed for Slate in which she suggests replacing “a melanin-deficient Santa” with a multicultural representational penguin. Then it escalated when Fox’s Megyn Kelly empaneled three guests on her primetime show to discuss the piece and declared “for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” Both women later said their comments were tongue-in-cheek.
Last week, I was pulled onto NPR, where I’m a regular contributor, to discuss the fracas with Harris and others — the fracas being an argument about the race of a fictional character who lives at the North Pole with elves and pilots a flying-reindeer sleigh to slide down a chimney with presents. Reactions there were varied.
My first thought was that, over the centuries, portrayals of Jesus and the saints have tended to reflect the culture of that region. The Netherlands’ Sinterklass looks wholly Northern European without much hint of the real St. Nicholas’ heritage in Asia Minor. Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew, yet cultural representations around the world range from a Jesus with Asian features in the Far East to a black Jesus in Africa and a white, flowing haired representation in Europe. However the cultural interpretation, the legacy of the individual or meaning of their symbolism is not diminished. I doubt either Jesus or St. Nick care about the color of their skin as they do people emulating their works and listening to their words. Unfortunately, the black Santa debate has brought out a lot of ugly in what’s supposed to be a more inspired time of year, with comments left behind the cloak of anonymity on other sites’ stories including racist cracks about black Santa being on welfare or stealing toys instead of leaving them. That is definitely something neither Jesus nor St. Nicholas would utter.
Which leads to my ultimate conclusion about the great Santa debate, which I’ll explain on the next page.
The governor of the state where A&E’s Duck Dynasty is filmed said the network was violating reality show star Phil Robertson’s rights when it suspended him for comments made to GQ.
Robertson told the magazine, “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
When the reporter asked what he believes is sinful, Robertson responded, “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.” Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?” he also said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential 2016 contender, issued a statement this morning stressing “Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana.”
“The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV,” Jindal said. “In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive.”
“But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”
I’ve stuck with Showtime’s Homeland through three seasons of thick and very thin. To highlight one of the shallower reasons for doing so, see exhibit A: brooding yet hot CIA black ops guy Peter Quinn, played by British actor Rupert Friend. Other reasons — especially on a Sunday night when it competed with AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — wore thinner and thinner as this third season, which concluded last night, wore on. It seemed that the main purpose of Homeland this year was to discover the new Showtime series in the next time slot, the skillfully written and acted Masters of Sex dramatizing how William Masters and Virginia Johnson chose and pursued their field of research (and each other).
But the main storyline this season gave me a sliver of hope that if President Obama finds out things by reading the morning paper, maybe he’d learn a bit about the Iranian regime as portrayed in some of Homeland‘s episodes. Regime stooge Majid Javadi, played by Tehran native Shaun Toub, is a brutal man who arrives in America to track down his ex-wife and kill her with a broken bottle to the throat after shooting his daughter-in-law to death — justified, he coolly reasons, because she broke Islamic law and fled from him. Javadi is later recruited as a double agent by the CIA with the hopes that he can go back and become commander of the Revolutionary Guards.
When Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) crosses the border into Iran on a CIA mission, he is lauded and paraded by the regime. The Tehran government is portrayed as welcoming a character accused of committing a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil — after knocking him around a little bit to ensure he’s loyal to jihad — and giving him asylum. The Iranian regime is also accurately portrayed in the show as giving safe haven to al-Qaeda — in this case, the widow of a fictional al-Qaeda commander. After Brody is caught he’s promptly executed, strung up on a crane before murals of the Ayatollah Khomeini and a desecrated American flag as crowds cheer on the death of the agent of the Great Satan. It’s a tense, cold, horrifying scene, and it left me hoping that it would make some viewers hit the Google — where they’d find at least two dozen, with likely many more unrecorded, have been hanged this year alone in Iran for the crime of moharebeh. This general law encompassing heresy, offense against Islam, subversion and cooperating with foreign governments has been used to dispose of those the regime finds inconvenient: government opponents, dissidents and protesters, gays, and ethnic and religious minorities.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) just said that his chief of staff is under investigation for child porn.
“I was just informed by the United States Senate legal counsel’s office that law enforcement agents are conducting a search of the personal residence of Ryan Loskarn, the chief of staff of my Washington, D.C., office regarding allegations involving child pornography,” Alexander said in a statement.
“I am stunned, surprised and disappointed by what I have learned. Based on this information, I immediately placed Mr. Loskarn on administrative leave without pay,” he added. “The office is fully cooperating with the investigation.”
Alexander named Loskarn, a former staff director for the Senate Republican Conference, his chief of staff two years ago.
Loskarn’s Hill career began in 2000 in the office of former Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.). He has also worked for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) as well as the House Rules Committee.
Sailors off the Horn of Africa have actually found a use for Britney Spears songs:
Her hits are blasted out to deter kidnap attacks, merchant navy officer Rachel Owens revealed.
Spears’s chart-toppers Oops! I Did It Again and Baby One More Time have proved to be the most effective at keeping the bandits at bay.
Second Officer Owens, who works on supertankers off the east coast of Africa, said: ‘Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most.
‘These guys can’t stand Western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect.’
…Ms Owens, who regularly guides huge tankers through the waters, said the ship’s speakers can be aimed solely at the pirates so as not to disturb the crew.
‘It’s so effective the ship’s security rarely needs to resort to firing guns,’ said the 34-year-old, from Gartmore, near Aberfoyle, Stirling.
‘As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can.’
Steven Jones, of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, said: ‘Pirates will go to any lengths to avoid or try to overcome the music.’
He added: I’d imagine using Justin Bieber would be against the Geneva Convention.’
Somali Pirates, by the way, is the name of a punk band in San Diego — but Britney is surely greater torture on the ears of would-be hijackers.
Wikipedia announced today that it’s investigating “as many as several hundred” users who may have been paid to promote organizations or products on the massive online encyclopedia.
“Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options,” Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement.
Wikipedia said it has already blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts for “non-neutral editing.”
Available in 287 languages, Wikipedia contains more than 29 million articles contributed by a global volunteer community of roughly 80,000 people.
“Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature. Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a ‘black hat’ practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people,” Gardner said.
“What is clear to everyone is that all material on Wikipedia needs to adhere to Wikipedia’s editorial policies, including those on neutrality and verifiability. It is also clear that companies that engage in unethical practices on Wikipedia risk seriously damaging their own reputations. In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia’s educational mission.”
I started my education in Catholic school, where I was lucky to get a start with phonics, foreign languages and the spelling bee. Nail polish wasn’t allowed but critical thought was encouraged, with a heavy grade-school emphasis on compassion and generosity toward others. Not all students sent to a Catholic school are Catholic, and each one I attended featured a curriculum that studied different religions and stressed the common ground of shared values. The only negative learning experience I can remember is a school librarian not wanting me to check out science books she thought were too advanced for one so young.
Living in California in seventh grade, I was pulled out of Catholic school and sent to public school for the first time. First came the culture shock — being clad in plaid day in and day out doesn’t give you much guidance on how to dress, never mind that 1988 wasn’t exactly a banner year for fashion anyway.
Once I slowly got the hang of those vile acid-washed jeans with zippers on the ankles (and bows, in case anyone is trying to forget), I got the hang of staking out my place in this new world. And I did the best thing possible: made friends who were supposedly bad for me. Yes, we did things like flip through issues of Cosmo at the drug store, pass notes in class and talk a lot about boys, and sneak in to watch Pretty Woman, which was the only thing bordering on not legal (though I don’t see an MPAA-ratings police at theaters). I learned how to do makeup, went through the awkward junior high dances where friends matchmake (“my friend thinks you’re cute…”), and had my first big crush on a boy from one of those dances (the song: Def Leppard’s “Love Bites”).
And though the education itself was fine — as was the teacher who thankfully told me that even though I was 8th-grade-awkward I’d be better looking my freshman year of college (trust me, I held onto that) — the greatest education came from meeting people who were so different. My dear friend Heather’s life was a complete mess: her mom was in prison for drugs and prostitution, her stepfather had raped her, she lost her virginity when she was 10 years old. Yet as hopeless as her world was around her, she was always keen on being there when others needed a shoulder, ready with a smile and a joke, and being a veritable encyclopedia on Guns ‘N’ Roses. I learned more from Heather about resilience and kindness than I did about Axl Rose.
The best learning experiences we have in school aren’t always the ones adults would have picked for us.
It’s also an extreme reminder that school serves as a necessary refuge for many, many kids whose parents range from mediocre to functionally nonexistent. You may decry these families, both single- and two-parent, or futilely try to convince less-than-stellar parents that they’re not the model families they may make themselves out to be, but the fact remains that kids need a place to escape and grow into adults.
What Books Does PJM’s Washington DC Editor Bridget Johnson Recommend for 2013?">What Books Does PJM’s Washington DC Editor Bridget Johnson Recommend for 2013?
I’ve noticed the requests to bring back Furry Friday, and what can I say other than it’s been a crunch of busy news cycles that bring me to 8 p.m. on a Friday with no furry text and work still left to do. There’s also been a lot of bad news out there, so what better to interrupt our cycles of chemical weapons, terrorism, and perpetual Washington infighting with something every lover of furriness can appreciate: bunnies.
Last year I moved into a bigger place along some of the Beltway’s ubiquitous urban woods, and also lost a few of the animals I’d previously written about due to old age: rat, guinea pig, hamster. Instead of getting more rodents, I wanted to bring different critters into the mix.
Checking out a new pet store in the neighborhood a year ago, I paused by their bunny pen, surprised that a chain pet shop was selling rabbits. The enclosure was tiny, the bunnies were without any hay, and the workers didn’t know which were male or female. Naturally, they called every breed thrown together “dwarf bunnies,” to lure kids wanting a tiny fluffy thing and mislead parents into thinking they wouldn’t get too big or take up much space. I noticed one cowering in the corner away from the lops and lionheads — a little Havana rabbit with grey feet bottoms that looked like he hopped through dust. The saleslady handed him to me, and as I rubbed behind his ears he gave me this definite look: Get me outta here. I always believe in adopting before buying, but I considered this a pet-store rescue: not only was I going to get him the nutrition, healthcare and space he needed, but I was saving him from being bought for some kid who’d probably pick him up by his cottontail before the family decided he was past his 15 minutes of Easter-gift fame and turned him into a shelter, like so many other unfortunate bunnies.
So Napoleon Bunaparte came home with me. The next morning, I took him to the best exotics-only vet in the area, which happens to be close to my home. Napoleon weighed in at a pound and was estimated to be eight weeks old. A couple months later he was old enough to be neutered, and lost an entire ounce when they took those away from him.