Monday, May 28, 2007

Honoring the Fallen, Philly style

First off, a proper musical backdrop while contemplating the real costs of war.

With Philly's Constitution Hall (see pic) providing an iconic back drop, A Memorial Day visual/vigil was set up to honor the men and women in uniform who have died in war. A broad coalition of peace activists from across the Delaware Valley gathered this morning to set up a stunning and evocative tribute in the form of several thousand wooden "tombstones" in honor of the Iraq War dead.

I had the privilege of being a steward of the New Jersey section of the memorial.
In the second picture (click to enlarge) I kneel next to the memorial to Army Specialist Marlon P. Jackson of Jersey City who died much too young at 25, the victim of a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Spc. Marlon P. Jackson was a quiet young man of simple pleasures: basketball, Chinese food and Caribbean music. From Iraq, he asked family to send music magazines and sports clippings. And he never forgot to say thank you. "He always thanked me for everything I did. He was so appreciative," said Vanessa Selby, his self-described stepmother. He was stationed in Vilseck, Germany. He is survived by his mother, Lois La Grenade, and father, Leighton Jackson. Before joining the Army in 1999, Jamaica-born Jackson attended community college. He had become a big brother to Selby's son Khabir, 22, and tutored him in his free time. "He was just becoming a young man, trying to be responsible," Selby said.
I was also touched by the tombstone dedicated to Marine Major John C. Spahr who's from my hometown of Cherry Hill. (see last pic) Needless to say it's sad and moving to consider the toll the Iraq War has taken on the great state of New Jersey.

Isn't 57 too many already?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Media meets Old Politics. Wackiness ensues.

There's some fun stuff going on at my other blog Blue Jersey including me covering all the madness at our statehouse in Trenton. We're even getting our videoblog thing on pretty soon too.

Here's a teaser.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I was a Teenage Ballkid

Back in highschool, I was a ballkid for the pro tennis tour stop in Washington D.C., near my childhood home. I got a chance to be on court with the brightest lights of the tennis constellation, including Hall of Famers Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles anong others.

I pretty much knew I was gay when I saw Chris Evert's panties, and it did nothing for me. But tennis skirts are very short. And when you're down on the court with the players, and they're bending and lunging, you can't help but get a panty shot or ten. I've seen some pretty famous panties.

The name of the tournament was Virginia Slims of Washington. Thinking back, the idea having a cigarette maker sponsoring sports seems crazy. But it was a lot less politically correct back then and frankly I never saw the irony. If you look at the picture of my credential, you can see the image of a lady holding a cigatette in one hand, a racket in the other.

The players did have a canned answer for the press if asked about the obvious contradiction between a smoker and a tennis champion. According to Martina's autobiography the players responded, "I don't smoke. But if I did, I'd smoke Virginia Slims."

Nowadays the tour's title sponsor is Sony, which doesn't have the same P.R. issues as a tobacco company.

Anyway, the tournament came around each February, and it was a huge thrill to take part. Growing up in a military community in Southern Maryland, I was starved for an urban fix, and hanging out in Washington (an hour away from where I lived) was fun and exhilirating. Anyone who remembers their first time in the big city, knows what I'm talking about.

As I write this, the memories are flooding back, but one stands out.

One year, a player named Natalia Zvereva asked if I knew how to find Tower Records, which was a few blocks from the event. I ended up walking over her over, and we chit chatted along the way. I don't speak Russian, and her English was dodgy at the time.

When we got to the record store, she thanked me and I wished her luck in her next match, at which point we went our separate ways. Needless to say I was buzzing.

I went over to the "listening station" to check out the (latest) 1980's hits and was jamming out, when all the sudden someone tapped me on my soldier.

I turned took off my headphones and turned around to find two burley, mustaschioed men wearing black overcoast and dour expressions. They looked really out of place. And really pissed.

"What did she say to you?" one demanded in a Russian accent, clearly refering to my chat and walk with Ms. Zvereva. Keep in mind this was the 1980's and the Cold War was still in full swing. Natalia was from the USSR, and the guys accosting me were her "minders." I was convinced they were KGB agents.

I was still young and fearless at this point, and I simply told them "she asked for directions" and went back to listening to my Depeche Mode, and that was that. Thinking back, it seems a little creepy. Fact is, the tournament I was ballboy'ing was at George Washington University, just a few blocks from the Soviet Embassy. There were agents and spies trolling all over in that neighborhood.

Such was the life of a teenaged ballboy: fun, rich glamourous people, geopolitical intrigue, free Reebok from head to toe, a week off from school, a chance to flirt with cute GWU guys, I could go on and on!

Anyway, thanks to Mom for sending me the badge from the 1990 tournament which got me thinking back. She found the badge while cleaning out her attic.

For more about Natalia Zvereva and her dramatic struggle with Soviet system, check out this article.

Good Riddance

Nothing but nothing says "Humble servant of the Lord" like a life-sized painting of yourself. On the wall. In your office.

Nancy from Pams House Blend envisions this scenario for Falwell when -- and if -- he makes it to heaven. (Personally, i have my doubts.)
When he arrives for his admission interview with God, and finds that Godself has decided to appear as a black woman.

Falwell: Where's God?

God: Here - and everywhere else.

F: I don't see God.

God: That's YOUR problem. You've got to lighten up a little and appreciate the afterlife - you screwed up down below, biggest pain in the posterior for a whole lot of people. So chill and open your eyes. Don't blame me if you get an ulcer in the afterlife.

F: I don't appreciate joking about this very serious matter!
Now take me straight to The Old Man, NOW!

God: Oh, all right.

(God escorts Falwell to elevator, pushes button gets out with Falwell.)

God: Here's The Old Man. (gesturing toward seated impressive-looking old man with white beard)

F: FINALLY! (stalks off in a huff, towards T.O.M. At the same time, God turns and starts walking toward the elevator)

God (shouting over Her shoulder to T.O.M.): Thanks, Nick! See ya later!
Moreover, according to Nancy, "Falwell was his own worst enemy while alive. He missed out on meeting a lot of good people and going to a lot of good parties, and for what? The joy of pursing his lips and tsk-tsking at the world. Jesus hung out with all sorts of characters, and even provided the booze once, but Falwell only wished to dine with "the elect". Too bad for him."

And for the rest of us too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Obama Rocks Trenton (and I was there)

I have nothing against people getting rich, but our economy is only as strong as the middle class. As president I won't just pass laws that favor workers, I'll use my "bully pulpit" to be a friend to working men and women.
--Sen. Obama, click to enlarge


Senator Barack Obama was in Trenton today, part of the "Working Families Vote '08" campaign launched earlier this year by the AFL-CIO.

The campaign -- which looks to engage rank and file members in Labor's endorsement process -- is a series of town hall-style forums with each of the Democratic presidential candidates in different cities throughout the nation.

(The campaign culminates in August with a multi-candidate forum in Chicago. The AFL-CIO's endorsement will follow shortly thereafter.)

How lucky are we to get Senator Obama here in the Garden State? Several NJ Union members each got a chance to talk to the the Senator about what's on their mind.

A steelworker asked Obama how he might handle future trade negotiations.

Obama said he'd start by enforcing trade policy against counties like China for example, which manipulates its currency.

This not only makes Chinese goods artificially cheaper on the export market, it also puts American imports out of reach for most Chinese consumers. God knows if we had 1.2 billion Chinese buying American-made good, that would be a helluva lot of manufacturing jobs, huh?

Obama's observations on healthcare were compelling. Reminding the audience that only 5 cents of every health care dollar (all 2 trillion of 'em) is spent on preventative care, he wondered how this would be better allocated if so many people weren't uninsured to begin with.

Access to affordable health care would keep many from having to rely on the emergency room for their primary medical care, he noted. Chances are by that point, patients are a lot more expensive to treat. Which is money wasted.

By the end of the forum, Obama had hit all the right notes on issues like healthcare, retirement security, and good jobs with freedom to form unions.

Judging from the crowd's reply, Obama was a huge hit. I counted several rousing ovations. I even got goosebumps a few times.

All in all, Sen. Obama looked sharp and well-rested. His connection to the audience was apparent and I suspect when he and his campaign look back on today's event, they'll be very satisfied indeed.

(Crossposted over at Blue Jersey)

Friday, May 11, 2007