Thursday, September 19, 2013

SEO is Dead

Greetings Friends,

Occasionally, I have to give props to my occupation, which, as I've feared for quite some time, has all but bitten the dust. Yes, ladies and gents, SEO is dead. Now, Social Media Optimization is what we have to practice. Well, we can choose not to, but if it comes down to capitulation or starvation, I'll choose capitulation. 

The life of a freelance writer is sort of like riding a see-saw on a playground. You experience ups and downs, and sometimes, you land squarely on your ass. The death of SEO has put me squarely on my ass for the past month or so, as regular work has dried up because of the passing of this practice. I knew in my heart that it was only a matter of time, since the technology train we travel on moves very quickly; much too quickly most of the time. That speed is responsible for many crashes, and the latest casualty is the craft I've been practicing for a scant four years. 

According to an article I found on the Guardian Web site, which links to this post, Google has all but murdered SEO by reducing the percentage of true, organic search results down to a meager 14 percent, while the rest of what appears on the screen is ads and garbage. I've been running Ad Blocker Plus pretty consistently on my Firefox browser, so I have not seen the ancillary garbage. I have, however, noticed the proliferation of sponsored links, which appear at the top of every SERP (search engine results page), and on the sidebar. I make it a practice not to click on these links, and their appearance has left me quite disconcerted. It seems that Google has decided to quash all efforts at honest SEO-ing, by giving preference to these ads, and not allowing prudent keyword placement in quality content to take precedence. So much for all the keyword research and quality copy writing I've done. It seems it's all been for naught. 

The light at the end of the tunnel is Social Media Optimization, which involves raising your profile on Facebook and Twitter, along with other social media sites. This seems much more palatable than SEO, since there is no longer a need for keyword-stuffed content, written by third world hacks masquerading as competent scribes. I can't say I'm sad about bidding SEO good-bye, especially since for me, I learned the "skill" during a time in my life when chaos reigned, and peace of mind was on hiatus. I never completely believed in SEO, but before Google trotted out all its spam-killing algorithms, it did work when executed properly. Unfortunately, those who chose the route of proper execution were few and far between. The "black hat" practitioners ruined it for everyone. 

The upside of leaving SEO behind, is that we will no longer need to write for robots and algorithms, but for humans. That's as it should be. I hope that optimization will fade in favor of optimism, and that social media will play a more positive role in how we humans search for information in the great electronic void. After all, how many more narcissistic selfies, cat photos, and emotional dramas can we endure? 


Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Page Out of the Clintons' Playbook

Greetings Friends,

I was just looking over my blog post from June 2011 that talked about Anthony Weiner's initial "sexting" scandal that cost him his congressional seat. Now that he's back on the political trail seeking to become the next mayor of New York City (what a surprise), should we really be that shocked by this week's revelation that he indulged in more unseemly online behavior as late as the end of 2012? What's more shocking to me, is how his wife, Huma Abedin is able to stand by him, yet again, in the wake even more inappropriateness.

Okay, the immutable fact is that no one is ever really sure what goes on in a relationship. Even best friends are never entirely certain what happens between them, and their spouses. The press has even less of a clue, especially when they quote "sources" that are close to their subjects. So, why is Ms. Abedin taking so much flak for standing by her man? The answer is simple: she's being coached by the champion loyalist herself, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It's no secret that Huma Abedin has been associated with Hillary Clinton since 1996, and that she bore witness to Mrs. Clinton's humiliation during her own husband's sex scandal. She stood by him, and look how things turned out for her. It wouldn't be so crazy to think that Ms. Abedin is taking a page out of the Clintons' playbook by showing solidarity to her own husband. Millions of women, however, are wondering how an obviously intelligent, accomplished woman can tamp down her self-esteem so completely as to stick up for him not once, but twice.

It's all well and good for the media to poll women about their feelings. You can say whatever you want on your lunch break when a reporter from the New York Times approaches you for a quote. But, in the privacy of your own home, and within the dynamic of your own relationship, you really have no idea how you would react if you were the one with the pervert husband. It's easy to have opinions about others, but when it's your life called into question, you realize the answers aren't always so black-and-white. And having children doesn't make the decision-making process any easier.

Although I have personally been party to spousal Internet philandering, I would never be brazen enough to tell Ms. Abedin (indirectly or otherwise) how she should handle her relationship. Sure, I, along with millions of other women railed against Mrs. Clinton for not spiriting her daughter out of the White House in the middle of the night and holing up in a painted cave in France for the rest of her husband's presidency. Even with Mrs. Clinton's subsequent political accomplishments, I don't think I could have stood by my own spouse through such abasement. Ms. Abedin also has a child to think about, albeit one who will have no recollection of what it was like for his mother to suffer through his father's improprieties.

If I were still living in New York City, Anthony Weiner would not get my vote for mayor. Politicians don't have the most stellar reputations to begin with, but how could anyone possibly trust the judgement of a man who is obviously incapable of stopping himself from such lewd, irresponsible behavior? If he cannot take into account the effect that behavior has on his wife and child, how could he ever assure millions of people that he wouldn't fuck them over?


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Greetings Friends,

Since I last blogged, there have been a number of significant cultural events that have taken place. I am so weary of hearing/reading/talking about them that I don't even want to list what they are. What I will list, however, is why I am tired of hearing/reading/talking about them. I have gotten to the point where I posted, "I seriously don't know whether to shit or go blind" as a status update on Facebook, and I want to explain why I did so. I'm sure some of my friends think I have been struck by some exotic digestive ailment, but the problem is really in my head, not my stomach. Here's why:

Opinions are like assholes; everybody's got one: You'd think by now I'd be used to the prominence of Social Media in my everyday life. The truth is, I long for the days before this phenomenon existed. There was a time when the only opinions I was exposed to were the ones the neighbors expressed during loud conversations that were volleyed over respective porches. Growing up in an attached house was the precursor to Facebook groups and Google circles. Seven families bantered back-and-forth about anything and everything until one day, words turned into threats, and barriers went up between some of the porches. There's a lot of that going on these days, with many metaphorical barriers being erected.

The media is a joke: It has become almost impossible to differentiate fact from opinion in today's media. So many news outlets have let the "talent" run amok to the point where the news stories come in a distant second to the opinions of the talking heads. I just want to know what's going on; I am capable of forming an opinion without help from pseudo-journalists who allow their giant egos to dictate what they think I need to be aware of.

Us vs. Them: On the night of September 11, 2001, American lawmakers stood on the steps of the Capitol building and sang "God Bless America." They then declared that "there is no such thing as Democrats and Republicans, only Americans." Almost 12 years later, the exact opposite could not be more true. We, as a country, are so incredibly polarized on both sides of the aisle, that it isn't even about politics anymore. Whichever way we choose to live our lives comes under scrutiny by just about everyone. We take issue with everything from what we eat, what we drive, where we live, and what we do for a living. Nothing is sacred, not even our bodies or our privacy.

We do not live in a "post-racial" society: I recently came across the term "hipster racism," even though it has purportedly been in existence since 2006. What it means, in essence, is that it is okay to use irony and satire to mask racism. News flash: no one, no matter how hip or ignorant, is immune from expressing some form of racism. We are all guilty of it, no matter how hard we try to deny it. Paula Deen and George Zimmerman have been vilified for it in the court of public opinion, and there are millions of us who could just as easily find ourselves in the same scenario. In a world where we have countless options of self-expression open to us like 7-Eleven, it has never been more prudent to think twice before you act or speak.

It is not all Barack Obama's fault: Yes, we placed unrealistically high hopes on our 44th president. And, yes, he has fallen far short of many expectations. Government in general has become an unimaginably large boondoggle of corruption, patronage, hypocrisy, and, let's face it, outright lunacy and stupidity. There are no clear-cut answers to what it will take to raise us out of the muck we are drowning in. All we can do is hope for the best. If we don't, we'll all end up behaving like the worst caricatures of the most ridiculous individuals who make up the current landscape of American culture. Escaping them would mean parting with every electronic device we have come to rely so heavily upon. Trying to keep up with all the infuriating rhetoric they spew is nothing short of madness. I wish I had a better answer. In the meantime, I'm still trying to decide whether to shit or go blind.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Sad Reality

Greetings Friends,

Over the past few days, the Internet has been abuzz with Angelina Jolie's revelation that she had a preventative double mastectomy because she was at an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer. Additionally, Ms. Jolie, according to sources, is planning on having her ovaries removed, because she is also at high-risk for developing ovarian cancer, the disease that her mother succumbed to at age 56. I commend Ms. Jolie for her proactive choices, particularly because she is a mother of six, but also because she made informed choices based on genetic testing. While we can never be sure of our fates, it is sometimes a good idea to not tempt that very fate by doing nothing.

Conversely, what Ms. Jolie has done is not an option for the vast majority of women. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing she underwent costs more than $3,000, according to her New York Times op-ed essay. She did not mention whether or not the tests were covered by insurance, instead stating that those tests are an "obstacle" for many women in the United States. That obstacle is what I want to talk about.

Ms. Jolie has evolved since entering the public eye in the mid-90s. At first, she was the quintessential "wild child," but has since become a United Nations ambassador, and a dedicated humanitarian, who advocates for the populations of underdeveloped countries. She has adopted children from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ethiopia. She has given birth to three biological children. She is an Oscar-winning actress, and an accomplished director. Oh, and let's not forget about Brad Pitt. But, what has she done to advocate for American women?

At first, you would think that American women do not need help from the likes of Angelina Jolie. But, the sad reality is, we do indeed. The United States might be the leader of the industrialized world, but we are sorely lacking when it comes to taking care of our health. While the women in the countries Ms. Jolie fights for have much less than we do, we are still woefully ill-informed, and dangerously unprotected when it comes to managing our health. That is something someone with a high profile needs to do something about.

It is very easy for celebrities, and people who are financially secure, to tell their stories about genetic testing, preventative mastectomies, and other procedures that will potentially save their lives. But, the sad reality is that the majority of the population in the United States does not have access to the same choices as the wealthy and influential. Why? Because those choices are not covered by your average health insurance policy. If a nondescript American woman in Ms. Jolie's position (a woman in her late 30s, married with children, and a history of breast and ovarian cancers in her family) wanted to make those same choices, you can bet that those choices would involve much greater financial hardship and sacrifice. It's all well and good to talk about it, but who is stepping up to the plate to do something about it? Yes, women in places like Haiti, Guatemala, Tanzania, and other parts of the world need help, but the sad reality is, so do women here in the world's richest nation.

It is very easy for me to sit here banging out blog entries to bring attention to this dilemma. But, the sad reality is, my influence does not stretch beyond a very small corner of the Internet. Someone like Angelina Jolie has a global voice; when she speaks, people pay attention. The same goes for other women who use their celebrity in ways that help people all over the world. Here in America, that help is forsaken, because it is assumed that we don't need it.

Here is what I would like to see happen: I would like Ms. Jolie, when she is fully recuperated from her surgeries, embark on a campaign to stop the healthcare insanity in this country. Someone needs to snap Congress out of its bipartisan bullshit behavior, as well as stop the insurance behemoths from denying coverage to women for the important procedures they need access to in order to protect their health. That is a monumental, almost insurmountable task, but it at least needs to be attempted. This country needs to learn to take care of its own, instead of indulging in rampant paranoia about having its rights compromised by the likes of "Obamacare." We need to stop paying astronomical insurance premiums for shitty coverage, and find some way to provide healthcare for each and every person in this country. Obamacare is imperfect; that is a given. So are the government healthcare plans in many other countries. But, the difference is, EVERYONE HAS ACCESS TO THEM. You don't have to live in fear of losing your insurance along with your job. And, from personal experience, I can tell you that is a great feeling. Unfortunately, that is something we know nothing of here in the U.S.

Since I returned to the U.S. from Canada, I have no health insurance. I have no access to the care I need, as a 46 year-old woman, to protect myself the way Angelina Jolie has done. As a freelance writer, I cannot afford to get a mammogram, let alone pay a visit to a general practitioner. Yes, as a Canadian citizen, I can still cross the border back into Canada to access healthcare, but why should I have to? Why should I have to leave the greatest country on earth to seek healthcare someplace else? Why should anyone? Why should it not be available to each and every person in this country? It's great that I am asking these questions, but really, who is listening to me?

There is much that needs fixing here in the U.S. and the healthcare system is one of the major broken cogs in American life. Hillary Clinton tried to fix it 20 years ago; Barack Obama is attempting to once again. Instead of working something out that will benefit everyone, politicians are crying Armageddon, while insurance companies are running scared, thinking that their multi-billion dollar policy scams might dwindle away to nothing. Pharmaceutical companies are terrified because they might not be able to charge $50 a pill for some of their best-selling drugs. Oh, the humanity. Yes, humanity is suffering because of all this.

I just re-read what I've written and noticed that I used the phrase "sad reality" a number of times. I thought about editing a few out, but I realized that from a health perspective, our reality is very sad. And that speaks volumes about what life in this country is really like. We might appear to be a shining city on a hill, but when you peel back the facade, most of us are really suffering. Some of us are even dying because we lack the wherewithal and the means to gain access to the lifesaving options people like Angelina Jolie have access to. We don't want to just hear about them; we want to use them as well.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Cuban Missile Crisis?

Greetings Friends,

The impression I would get of the image above, if it were not of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un, would be of a young Asian guy who is most likely a college student, or a geek who sits in his bedroom in mommy and daddy's house coding Web sites 24/7. The cherubic face and affable expression belie the fact that this kid thinks he's going to initiate a nuclear holocaust and incinerate most of Asia and "strategic targets" in the United States. Oh really? Has anyone told him it's not wise to play a game of "chicken" if you don't have the goods to back it up?

Unfortunately, Kim, who is rumored to be about 29, doesn't remember what it was like to live through the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, if he is even aware of the historic significance of that event. Nor does he have any recollection of the Korean War, even though he is the grandson of Kim Il-sung. No one is really sure what exactly Kim is aware of, but if he considers Dennis Rodman a friend, it can't be much.

The reason I bring up the Cuban Missile Crisis is because that is the closest we've ever come to nuclear war. After the Bay of Pigs invasion failed to remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba, Castro got on his sassy horse and gave Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev a few empty spots in which to park some nuclear missiles aimed at the United States. This action resulted in a very tense two weeks for Americans.

As anyone who lived through the cold war remembers, the Soviet Union was truly a force to be reckoned with. North Korea, however, we're not so sure about. At this point, we're not clearing out the old bomb shelters or dusting off the post 9/11 gas masks and duct tape, but we should be concerned. The so-called "hermit kingdom" of North Korea is more like a shy wallflower at the senior prom, despite all the bombastic rhetoric that's been spewing forth lately. Reports of legitimate firepower, juxtaposed with reports of rampant malnutrition among its people, make North Korea a nation to be pitied, rather than feared. The same might have been true of the Soviet Union, but it was a different time, and the United States was a very different place.

I get the feeling that the powers that be in Washington are laughing at Kim, rather than looking for a way to shut him up. We know our military might is legitimate, but we also have a dangerous amount of hubris to go with it. It took decades to achieve detente with the Soviets, because we knew what they were capable of. Now, however, it seems that all the years, lives, and money sacrificed trying to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan hasn't taught us much. We still think we're capable of firepower and diplomacy, even though neither has worked very well in the recent past.

What should be done about Kim and his threats of annihilation? Well, if the United States was able to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden for his acts of terrorism against us, maybe Kim deserves the same fate. It's been my own personal experience that when dealing with people who are a few cans short of a six-pack, swift, decisive action is the only way to shut them up. Reason; diplomacy; sanctions; anything short of a bold move, is worthless. And I'm sure you know what I mean when I say "bold move."

More Americans need to be aware how we are perceived by the rest of the world. Our isolationism has become our worst trait, by far. Make no mistake - we are not a hermit kingdom - we are an ignorant one. And that ignorance will be our undoing.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Clown Prince of Politics

Greetings Friends,

The image above is of Beppe Grillo, known as the "Clown Prince" of Italian politics. The title is apropos, as he really is a comedian, and he wants to be Prime Minister of his country. 

We could learn a thing or two from the Italians, and any country with a parliamentary system of government for that matter. Here in the United States, a clown prince of politics is someone like House Speaker John Boehner, who favors spray tans, and bungles his sentiments almost as badly as George W. Bush. I could easily add to the list of American political clown princes (in both parties), but I don't want to put off my readers. I merely want to explain the difference. 

Italians went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new government. Voting in a country with a parliamentary government is even more important than voting in one that is a constitutional republic. Your vote actually counts, and is used to determine which party, if any, gains control of that country's parliament - the governing body. Unlike the United States, where our elected representatives merely promise to try to work together (a lot of good that promise is), parliamentarians must agree, officially, to form what is known as a coalition, in order to get down to the business of governing. The formation of coalitions is necessary when one party does not score a clear victory in a federal election. I've seen this happen repeatedly in Canada, and the result is what is known as a "minority government," where nothing of substance can be accomplished. The benefit of a minority government to the Prime Minister is one similar to a utility employee controlling a power grid in a large city: One flip of the switch and your neighborhood goes dark.

While I was living in Canada, I watched Prime Minister Stephen Harper control Parliament in a way similar to the metaphor I just used. He and his Conservative party presided over several minority governments before winning a majority in the 2011 federal election. Living under minority rule can be a bit unnerving for an American; the plug can literally be pulled at any time, which is something we are not used to. We are used to more order in our electoral process, with regular elections taking place every year, and set terms for our elected officials. Canadians, and citizens of countries like Great Britain and Italy are considerably less bothered by minority governments, but don't appreciate having to schlep to the polls every time the plug gets pulled. This is exactly what Italy is experiencing right now. 

The Italian election, although not yet officially decided, looks to be heading towards a minority government. In this case, however, the number of votes cast have added up to virtual gridlock, and a coalition between the parties with the most votes might not solve the problem. Not only will the Italian government be hamstrung, it will be powerless with the country on the brink of financial ruin so dire, it could send the rest of Europe into a serious tailspin. 

Into the middle of all this comes Beppe Grillo, who, in America, would be compared to someone like Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, or Ron Paul. Except, Beppe Grillo isn't a consumer advocate, a wealthy businessman, or a doctor. He is a comedian. Yes; imagine if George Carlin, were he still alive, wanting to be president. That's who Beppe Grillo is. His Five Star Movement party has captured the hearts of many Italians who are fed up with their mainstream politicians and want change. Unfortunately, Grillo's party did not get enough votes to govern; instead, the people who voted for him have deadlocked the two mainstream parties, the ones headed by former philandering, conservative-leaning Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and his opponent, the more liberal Pier Luigi Bersani. The one positive thing Grillo and his followers did accomplish, is they made their feelings known about how disappointed they are with Italy's history of corruption, which has lead the country down the same path as Greece and Spain. If austerity measures are not enacted, Italy's economy will fail, and will have to be rescued. In an effort to avoid this, Italians might have to go to the polls again, and start from scratch. A minority government that cannot form a viable coalition under these circumstances is unacceptable. 

As ruinous as American government is, and as intractable as both political parties are, I would not want to be an Italian citizen at this point in time. Don't get me wrong, I love everything about Italy, but right now, the country is in the midst of a political pickle I want no part of. Comparisons of Silvio Berlusconi to Benito Mussolini are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing what has actually gone wrong. And, don't for a second believe that the United States doesn't own a few kernels of responsibility for the sorry state of the European economy. Hello? Mortgage-backed securities? Toxic debt? 

As far as Beppe Grillo is concerned, I would love to see a comedian become Prime Minister of Italy. I've always been a firm believer in truth disguised as comedy. Remember, if you will, the Shakespearean fool: he might be the clown prince of court, but his humor disguised the truth. Beppe Grillo has shown us that humor rings truer in politics than the best stump speeches given by the most articulate politicians. Sometimes, it takes a fool to help us see things clearly. 


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cruise Vacation? Hell, No!

Greetings Friends,

When I was a kid, my next-door neighbors in Brooklyn were semi-regular cruisers. I remember once going to the west side of Manhattan to see them off on a cruise aboard the Oceanic. I don't remember where the ship was headed, but I do remember how glamorous and sophisticated they seemed, setting sail on a big ship to an exotic locale. Back in those days, a cruise was not considered a commonplace vacation.

I've been on two cruises in my life: the first one, a Disney cruise, which ironically turned out to be aboard the very same Oceanic, only this time the ship was painted bright red. It didn't seem quite as big to me in my early 20s, as it did when I was younger. The stateroom I was in was so tiny, I had to go out in the hall to change my mind. The voyage was incident-free, unless I count the traumatizing experience of getting groped by someone dressed up as a giant chipmunk.

The second cruise I took in 1997 was my honeymoon. It was on a Royal Caribbean ship that sailed to Bermuda. I got married on the ship, and my now ex-husband and I sailed with another couple.We had a great time, save for a bunch of passengers who interrupted the tail-end of our reception, helping themselves to the hors d'oeuvres and cake that were meant for our guests. That and a minor, non-fiery engine malfunction were the only black marks on that trip.

The cruise industry has changed greatly since Kathie Lee Gifford did all those excessively perky ads for Carnival cruises, touting the company's "fun ships" as affordable, casual vacations. Lines like Holland America and Royal Caribbean wanted to hang on to the glamor and sophistication by requiring formal dress during dinner, and set times for all activities. Carnival introduced what became known as "freestyle" cruising to the world, scaling back the formality of their cruises, and in effect, cheapening the experience both literally and figuratively. As someone who was glued to "Love Boat" every Saturday night during the late 70s, going to dinner on a cruise meant getting all gussied up, not wearing the same clothes I had spent the day in. I always envisioned a cruise exactly as it was depicted on that show; the Carnival experience never appealed to me.

Fast forward through the millennium to cruising becoming one of the most affordable, sought-after vacations you can take. Dedicated cruise junkies will set sail several times a year, looking for the best deals on vacation packages. Some lines even offer what are known as "repositioning" cruises, which visit ports on the way to a different location from the one the ship departs from. Add to that the number of ports these gargantuan boats now leave from, you can catch one in so many places, it often does not require an additional plane trip to get to them. But, with convenience and a good bargain, disaster often accompanies the experience, as the unsuspecting passengers on the Carnival Triumph found out this week.

What happened on the Carnival Triumph is nothing new in the cruising industry. For years we've been hearing about outbreaks of norovirus and other illnesses due to the less than sanitary conditions aboard some of these vessels. When the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing 35 passengers, many people stood up and took notice of the dangers of cruising. But, the story, although major, did not impact the cruising crowd that sets sail on the fun ships. Today, for less than $500, you can embark on a 4-day jaunt on one of these floating hotels, and expect to have the time of your life - until the boat malfunctions and you're stuck relieving yourself into a trash bag.

After a few cheesy vacations taken in my early 20s, including the voyage on the mouse boat, I've always liked to research my vacation destinations/travel options before embarking on something as potentially disastrous as what these people have been through. Sure, things can go wrong on planes, and in trains and automobiles, but when you're being held captive on a floating hotel out at sea, the experience can be even more torturous and perilous. After all, a plane crash can kill you instantaneously; five days stuck on a debilitated cruise ship with raw sewage sluicing though your midst, little food, water, and no power, not only has the potential to kill you, it might actually drive you insane.

So, the lesson we learn from the Carnival Triumph, and all the other cruise ship cautionary tales out there in the great electronic void (I'd start with this one), is: do your homework. And always keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Deprived of the Telly

Greetings Friends,

Ever since I traversed the world's longest undefended border in a southerly direction, I've been catching up on all the "premium" television I missed while living up north. It is a sad fact of life that Canadians pay larcenous amounts to cable, satellite, and mobile phone providers, making channels like HBO, Showtime, and Turner Classic Movies unaffordable luxuries for many; myself included. Now, I have access to all the television I could possibly want, so much so that I have forsaken books for the time being to stream shows like "Boardwalk Empire," "Downton Abbey," and others that I had no access to because I refused to choose between the occasional sushi supper and the boob tube. Sushi won out because spicy tuna rolls give me more pleasure than forking over my hard-earned money to thieving entities like Rogers Communications.

"Downton Abbey" and "Boardwalk Empire" have kept me riveted to my laptop in my spare time; especially "Boardwalk," since it is "The Sopranos" re-imagined with Tommy guns and lots of liquor. Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is every bit as evil as Tony Soprano, with the added bonus of spot-on period backdrops. It's not so easy to re-create Atlantic City of the Roaring 20s, but Terence Winter and his HBO cronies do a fantastic job. He must long for the days when location scouting consisted of trolling Teaneck, West Orange, and Garden State Plaza, as opposed to having to create a genteel version of Atlantic City that no longer exists. The New Jersey of "The Sopranos" is still pretty much the same; Nucky Thompson's Atlantic City might as well be the underwater island of Atlantis.

The same goes for Julian Fellowes' addicting World War I British period drama, "Downton Abbey." I've always been a sucker for British television (hello "Absolutely Fabulous" and "Monty Python's Flying Circus"), so this was a no-brainer for me. And even though "Downton" is hopelessy soap operatic, it goes where "Upstairs Downstairs" never did. The characters are extraordinary; who doesn't love Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley? And Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora Crawley, the lone American in a group of stuffy Brits? Amazing. I literally spent an entire weekend watching all the previous episodes, so I would be ready for the eagerly anticipated third season. So far, it does not disappoint.

In case you haven't figured it out, HBO is the channel I missed the most. Besides "Boardwalk," most of its original programming, save for a few stinkbombs like "The Comeback" and "Flight of the Conchords," is stellar. What cemented that for me was the original film "Game Change," which stars Julianne Moore as Governor Sarah Palin, Ed Harris as Senator John McCain, and Woody Harrelson as creepy used car salesman -er, senior campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt. Julianne Moore's portrayal of Sarah Palin was at once brilliant and downright scary. Even though I didn't want to believe that she could be that dumb, it would have been an unmitigated disaster had that woman accompanied John McCain to the White House. No other broadcast entity would have had the balls to portray Governor Palin in all her blockheaded glory than HBO. And big, big kudos to Julianne Moore for the brave performance that snagged her Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe awards. She is one of my all-time favorite actresses.

I must admit that I feel enormous guilt over forsaking the written word for so much television, but hey - it's not like I'm spending countless hours watching Honey Boo Boo or the Kardashians. If that were the case, I'd gladly undergo shock therapy and a full-frontal lobotomy if necessary. For me, the best check-your-brain-at-the-door activities are ones that still make me think. It's when the thinking stops that I begin to worry.


Monday, January 14, 2013

How Old Are We, Really?

Greetings Friends,

In my first post of the new year, I shared the fact that I am turning 46 this year, and mentioned that I neither feel nor look my age. This morning, it dawned on me that looks can be deceiving. Many people can look or act older than they actually are, and for even more, the exact opposite holds true. While many of us strive to look our best no matter what the date of birth on our drivers licenses, we are sometimes guilty of acting much younger than we are. And that, more often than not, can be a very bad thing.

When a person attains the age of 40 or older, one of the most oft-lamented sentiments you hear is how glad that person is to be so far removed from the high school-stage of life. I've uttered that statement many times, even though my high school experiences left me relatively unscathed emotionally. My most traumatic experience from that era occurred when I was 16, when I had to watch my older brother marry a woman who, to this day, most likely still thinks I am the same 12 year-old girl she met in late 1979. Other than that, I was fortunate to not have to endure many of the traumas most teenagers must experience. I believe those experiences used to be referred to as "rites of passage." Today, they're known as bullying.

What strikes me about people my age is how reluctant we are to share our experiences with those who came after us. We are, after all, the last generation to grow up without computers, cell phones, flat-screen televisions and the Internet. When I was a kid, I had a black-and-white TV in my bedroom, and my brother had an 8-track tape player as part of his integrated stereo system. Making long-distance phone calls to Canada was still frowned upon, so I wrote letters to my cousins. I wore Buffalo sandals with my Faded Glory jeans, and for my tenth birthday, I received a powder-blue t-shirt with an iron-on decal of John Travola as "Vinny Barbarino," which promptly peeled off the first time my mother washed it. My friends and I sometimes referred to each other as "flat-leavers," and one of our favorite things to do was to go to the corner candy store two blocks from my house to buy copies of Tiger Beat magazine and Goldenberg's peanut chews. That right there pretty much encapsulates my childhood.

Today, I sometimes feel like I am enduring a second childhood. Unfortunately, this soon-to-be-46-year-old childhood does not include such innocent treats like peanut chews and Tiger Beat. It consists instead of juvenile behavior from my contemporaries I can honestly live without. Instances of perceived backstabbing, "flat-leaving," and the forming of clique-ish factions of friends are the things I was hoping were gone for good from my life. While these modes of behavior are expected of children, another expectation is that said children will eventually abandon them. That, sadly, is not the case. I am acquainted with some people who are shining examples of how not to behave in your 40s and 50s. And, what strikes me as really ironic about that, is their adolescent behavior is exponentially more vicious now than it likely was when it was somewhat appropriate to act that way. Experience is supposed to accompany age; part of that experience should be learning from past actions so as not to repeat the ones that can potentially hurt others. Instead of gaining the necessary maturity we need to thrive during the post-adolescent stages of our lives, we regress, finding infinite ways to hang on to the adolescent angst we should have left behind years ago. Technology hasn't helped on that front; with its assistance, we are now able to inflict ourselves on others with a degree of cruelty unmatched by previous generations.

If a genie were to appear (virtual or otherwise) before me, my one wish would be to eradicate this behavior in all who feel they must cling to it so late in the game. I'm not naive enough to believe that those older than I are not capable of it as well - I once met someone who worked in a nursing home who playfully referred to it as a "high school with wheelchairs" - but I do find myself easily exhausted by watching those my age who are stuck in perpetual adolescence. If I'm this exhausted now, it will certainly be interesting to see how I'm feeling 30 years from now.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Sickness

Greetings Friends,

The writer Marcel Proust once said (when he wasn't too busy eating cookies), "Three-quarters of the sicknesses of intelligent people come from their intelligence. They need at least a doctor who can understand this sickness." 

I consider myself an intelligent, reasonable person, but when it comes to sports, I abandon all reason and morph into a sheep, guided only by my instinct to follow the rest of the herd. In my case, the herd I follow is made up of other mostly intelligent people who can't help themselves when confronted with football, basketball, soccer, baseball and hockey. We might as well be drooling vegetables in the presence of our chosen poison. 

After enduring yet another National Hockey League work stoppage, the realization has never been more apparent that being a sports fan is a sickness. Anyone who must stop the world to turn on a baseball, football, basketball, or hockey game has got some major issues. Further, anyone who spends thousands of dollars every year in the form of season tickets has a few screws loose. And, any individual with the financial resources to actually purchase a professional sports team should take that money and donate it to a worthwhile charity. Supporting unionized, professional athletes in today's world is like giving candy to a blind, diabetic amputee. 

Early Sunday morning, the NHL announced that its labor issues have been resolved, and it will soon embark on an abbreviated season. My head told me to ignore the news and get on with my day. My heart, however, was rejoicing with the knowledge that there would soon be hockey to gnash my teeth and bite my nails over. That is my sickness. It has been with me since childhood, and it won't be going away any time soon, despite my level of intelligence. 

 Speaking of intelligence, one of the most intelligent athletes to ever play professional hockey, former Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden, put down some very astute words about the NHL lockout for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. I've always admired Mr. Dryden for his intelligence - he became a lawyer after retiring from hockey in 1979 - but he never achieved great success as a front-office hockey guy, or as a politician (he was my Member of Parliament for a short time when I lived in Toronto). Maybe his calling was to be one of the greatest hockey players of all time; maybe he is an above-average lawyer; maybe, just maybe, he is as stupid as the rest of us, waiting for the puck to drop on the first game of the 2013-2013 season. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Superstitious New Year

Greetings Friends,

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is slightly (who am I kidding - it's way more than slightly) superstitious about the dawning of this particular new year. The number thirteen is a symbol of bad luck to some; myself included. I try to avoid it when I can, and when I can't, I shudder with fear of what havoc this offensive number might wreak on my life. These thoughts, on what should be a propitious day of new beginnings and resolutions, have instead lead me to take stock of what it is I am afraid of, and what I might be able to do to quell those fears, as I have no choice but to live with the number "2013" for the next 364-and-a-half days. Here goes:

Fear of Running Out of Gas: The vehicle in my possession at the moment has something of a "sticky" gas gauge. I've noticed that when the needle gets close to the "E" side of the display, it engages in a bit of wiggling, causing the gas tank image to light up, when in fact there is at least one-quarter of a tank of gas left. It was quite worrisome at first, but when I realized the multitude of gas stations in my midst, I will never be too far from one even if I do actually drain the entire tank. The price differential, I'm afraid, is another fear factor; The price per gallon varies about 30 cents depending on where you go to fill up. Ponderous.

Fear of Aging: In five months time I will celebrate birthday number 46. Where the hell have all those years gone? I don't feel 46, nor do I think I look 46, although I will never look as good as some famous women my age or older. Admittedly, if I had the financial means to have a personal trainer, chef, and top-flight plastic surgeon at my disposal, things might be different. But, reality says I have to make do with what I have. That means not thinking about the number of my next birthday, but how I feel instead. I have a lot of work to do on that front, and it's time I got cracking.

Fear of Being too Zen: The digital lifestyle I find myself living has made me think about all the material possessions I used to have that are now superfluous. I don't have any records, CDs or DVDs in my home at the moment (all those items are in storage), because I've finally realized that all I ever want to watch or listen to is housed in an electronic device. All my music is on my laptop hard drive or in my phone, and any movie or television show I want to watch can be accessed online. I literally sleep with my laptop instead of falling asleep to the sound of the television. I am afraid that one day, the extent of all our possessions will be reduced to a few pieces of necessary furniture and a handful of electronic devices. The presence of a console television and a rack stereo system would be such a comfort to me.

Fear of Not Being Heard: In April, I will be writing this blog three years. I appreciate each and every one of my readers, even though I sometimes feel this is just another byte of unnoticed bandwidth in the great electronic void. Someone very special in my life keeps reminding me how important it is to write for myself. I promise to try to keep that in mind and focus more on writing what I want to, instead of just writing what I have to.

Fear of the Future: With all the recent events of destruction and violence, both natural and man-made, I fear that the future will be darker, rather than brighter. I don't want to feel this way, but sometimes it's unavoidable. I want to be positive and hopeful, but when I witness things like destructive weather events and unspeakable acts of murder, I worry. Will tomorrow really be better, or are we kidding ourselves? I sincerely hope not.

Fear of too Much Visibility: There are countless cautionary tales about people who have gotten burned online. I've come to the conclusion that the Internet is both a blessing and a curse, and it is up to each one of us to choose how much or how little we share on it. There are literally no secrets anymore, hard as we try to keep them. My only hope is that the mistakes I made in my past will stay there, and the things I hope to achieve will be celebrated. I must also toughen up and realize that all of this is completely beyond my control.

Happy New Year, friends; and try very hard to be healthy, prosperous and happy, despite the lousy number.