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Road trip!

I’ve always loved our family vacations. My dad is a road trip planning wizard, and he’s taken us on some doozies over the years…

One year we drove from Maryland to Wyoming and back — over 4,000 miles roundtrip — for a family reunion. I’ll always associate that trip with The Lion King, as that was the year it came out, and we listened to the soundtrack at least 30 times.

Another year we flew into San Diego and drove up the west coast to Seattle and back. That was the trip of my parents’ now-infamous brainchild, the “seatbelt game”, where we four kids were given five seconds to un-buckle our seatbelts, rotate seats in our rented minivan, and re-buckle.

Then there was the Phoenix to Denver trip where we checked out some great towns in Arizona and Colorado to possibly live in, and where we had an elaborate competition to see who could make the best road trip mix CD.

Being in the car with my family is one of my favorite memories of childhood (and even adulthood). Playing 20 Questions, the License Plate Game, or appreciating putting up with each other’s music selections — all while seeing the most beautiful places in our country — was a great experience, and one I can’t wait to continue with Drea and our kids.

Next week, we’ll do it again. My parents arranged us one of those timeshare deals in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Sounds like a fun place — miles of bike trails, lots of tennis, and the beach — but I’m looking forward to the drive down as much as our destination. Granted, instead of desert canyons or the Rocky Mountains, our backdrop will be the conglomeration of Waffle Houses, Cracker Barrels and other obesity-inducing establishments along the I-95 corridor. But we’ll still have a blast (assuming this doesn’t happen). Plus, I can’t turn down some greasy food from time to time.

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Filed under: Travel,

Unimaginable.

I’ve been hearing the news about the riots in Tehran over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection over the past few days, but recently seeing some photographs of the protests has invited a little more personal reflection on the situation (for lack of a better, less insensitive word) in Iran.

(For those unfamiliar, the short story is that Ahmadinejad’s victory was a slap in the face for supporters of reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose platform called for more social justice and freedom of expression, and a healthier relationship with the West. The protests in Tehran are the result of suspicion that Ahmadinejad’s “reelection” was a sham.)

Marches, riots, both violent and nonviolent protesting. Should I be happy? Angry? Hopeful? A proper reaction eludes me, besides being simply dumbstruck. It’s not easy at all to look at the faces in these photos, the emotions, knowing that this brutality is being endured as we speak to actual people.

He was surrounded and pleading for them to stop but six men with clubs, batons and metal rods kept battering a young Iranian man with ruthless force. The swing that keeps replaying in my head was the black baton that smashed the man in the skull behind his left ear.

Seconds earlier the man had dared to stand up to the baton wielding men because they had shoved a 14-year-old girl. For his chivalry he got one of the most savage beatings I have ever seen at the hands of four Iranian riot policemen and members of the Baseej, Iran’s plain clothed volunteer militia.

“To hell with Iran,” he said as he sat beaten and battered along the sidewalk. “This is not my government. This is not my country.”

A grown man who watched the beating burst into tears.

CNN witness report

Unimaginable. To struggle this hard, to endure such brutality for your own freedom is an alien concept to me. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have had your dignities and freedoms trampled on so excessively that you, like this Tehran man, simply can’t take it anymore.

I don’t have any conclusions or definitive points to make about the election or its legitimacy, only to say that people fighting for their freedom is a profound thing to watch and reflect on.

Here are a few of the aforementioned photos from Boston Globe:

Courtesy Boston Globe

Courtesy Boston Globe

The rest of the images can be seen here.

Filed under: Current issues, , ,

Book review: “Three Cups of Tea”

I finally picked up Three Cups of Tea after hearing such great things about it from family and friends. This is the true story of Greg Mortenson, an American mountaineer who stumbles into a remote Himalayan village after a failed attempt to climb K2. Grateful for the kindness and hospitality of the villagers of tiny Korphe, Pakistan, and moved by the poverty and lack of education available there, Mortenson promises to return to Korphe and build them a school.

The book recounts Mortenson’s quest to build the school — his return to the States, striving to raise funds, living out of his car, learning about Pakistani culture, networking with people who share his vision. Without any prospective investors in his school, he sends dozens of individually type-written letters requesting funding from famous people he thinks might be interested — Tom Brokaw, Oprah Winfrey, etc.

After finally finding an investor, silicon transistor pioneer Jean Hoerni (who suppplements his $12,000 donation with a personal instruction to Mortenson: “Don’t screw up”), Mortenson gets the go-ahead to start work on the school. Returning to Pakistan, he hits a few roadblocks: the near-impossibility of transporting building materials through the perilous terrain around Korphe, the high costs of sturdy materials that will withstand Himalayan winters, the opposition from conservative Muslims to the idea of educating girls. But with the grant money from Hoerni and the help of his Pakistani cohorts, and after many detours along the way, Mortenson reaches his goal of building the Korphe school.

And the rest is history.

Just as intriguing as Mortenson’s transition from mountaineer to humanitarian is the perspective this book provides into the Islamic world. While Mortenson has his share of encounters with the anti-American extremism that plagues the area, he finds much to value in the peaceful Muslims he interacts with. Mortenson sees that despite their poverty and relative “backwardness” to American ways, the villagers have much to teach him about the importance of community and a simple life. Most of the villagers, in turn, see in Mortenson a defection from America’s reputation for arrogance and disrespect toward Muslims. The knee-jerk stereotypes (i.e. all Muslims are jihadists; all Americans are culturally illiterate demagogues) are beautifully deserted.

After 9/11, Mortenson’s school-building quest takes on new meaning. From his perspective as a American intimately familiar with Pakistan, we’re granted a unique vantage point on the war on terror, and the vital long-term role that education can play. It’s brilliant, really. Mortenson observes how much terrorist organizations recruit the uneducated rural poor of Pakistan and Afghanistan, building radical madrassas and brainwashing the kids to become terrorists. Mortenson “competes” with the madrassas by building schools where the kids can get a quality, well-balanced education. He believes in fighting terrorism not with reactive (or preemptive) violence, but with pursuing education and literacy, particularly for girls, as he’s often quoted:

“You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won’t change.”

Three Cups of Tea is co-authored by Dalid Oliver Relin and Mortenson himself, with Relin as the ghostwriter through which we see Mortenson’s emotions and personal experiences. This being the first such biographical/autobiographical hybrid book I’ve read, my biggest complaint would be that the writing feels cumbersome and incohesive at times, particuarly when we’re whisked back and forth from objective history-telling to Mortenson’s emotions.

Literary awkwardness aside, I thought this book was fantastic — compelling story, faraway places, adventures of every kind, true tales of goodness. The fact that Mortenson (who’s been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize) is able to promote peace in such a hostile place is remarkable. No doubt he put himself in unnecessary danger at times and dealt with personal weaknesses along the way, but his story is classic heroism — a climber’s endurance coupled with unrelenting compassion.

I loved this book; I’m actually kind of sad to be done with it. (That’s how you know a book is good.) Here’s hoping you go buy it right now.

Now, I said — do it!

Filed under: Books, Current issues, ,

On having a photographer wife

— Crossposted on the AJP Blog —

I often get asked the question, “So what’s it like being married to Andrea of Andrea Jae Photography?”

Okay, so I never get asked that question. But it can be interesting having a wedding photographer as a wife. Please allow me to explain.

When you’re married to a wedding photographer, you’d better be a good model, because that’s the role you’ll assume. Your spouse just bought a new lens or flash or something, and she needs your face in front of the camera to test it out. Even if you’re an average-looking guy like myself, it won’t be long until you feel like a regular Derek Zoolander – posing, strutting your stuff, shooting looks of every kind at the camera. A little flirty look here, a pensive one here…let’s see Magnum!

Also, be ready to stop the car at a moment’s notice so your spouse can take a picture of a cool-looking door or field or dumpster or something. Or, prepare to drive like a maniac for the sake of capturing a shot. Two Christmases ago, we were driving with my family up to the Poconos. Drea had just gotten her first lens and was determined to get this shot: from our car, looking at our reflection in the hubcaps of another car. So imagine, if you will, barreling down I-81 while your wife dictates driving instructions so you can get right beside (and going the exact same speed as) another motorist. A little faster! No, slow down! We’re passing him! Of course the window is down so a clear shot can be obtained (and so the other passengers can experience a nice icy blast of 30-degree air at 75 mph).

Sarcasm aside, I actually love being a part (however small) of this photography adventure. Behind the blog posts and images and marketing is a vibrant, intelligent, authentically good-hearted person I’m proud to call my wife. You all should be jealous. 🙂

Filed under: Slice of life,

Movie review: “Frost/Nixon”

I wasn’t alive in 1977 and am admittedly rusty on my U.S. history, so I had never heard of the Frost interviews until this movie came out. (My ignorance, for better or for worse, probably made the movie more enjoyable/suspenseful for me.) Based on the Broadway play of the same title, Frost/Nixon retells the events leading up to Richard Nixon’s long-awaited confession of his involvement in Watergate.

Nixon, three years after resigning from the White House, is holed up in his beachside villa in California. British TV personality David Frost — a 1970’s Ryan Seacrest as it were — is interviewing the Bee Gees, partying, signing autographs, and picking up women on airplanes. Taking note of the 400 million people who watched Nixon’s resignation on TV, Frost is convinced that an interview with the former president will be a sure-fire success, and offers Nixon $600,000 to oblige. Eager to “set the record straight”, and seeing Frost’s apparently low intellectual caliber as the perfect opportunity to regain the public’s trust, Nixon accepts the bid.

So Frost jets off to the States to begin his venture. After failing to convince the American networks to air his interviews, he borrows money from friends to finance the interviews himself. Not to be discouraged, though, he’s compiled a team of talented researchers who are bent on outfoxing Nixon. They’ll provide the facts, Frost will bring the charisma. Despite a few setbacks, things are looking okay for the fast-approaching filming dates.

After months of hype and preparation, the first three of the four interviews are disasters. Nixon knows Frost is an intellectual lightweight, and he dominates the dialogue, countering Frost’s questions with long-winded, sympathy-garnering responses, much to the chagrin of Frost and his team. Frost throws a few curveballs — emotionally-charged Vietnam montages, etc. — but Nixon knocks them all out of the park, even turning the blame on Frost when he breaches contract by asking a Watergate question prematurely. Nixon is a master of mind games and subtly chips away at Frost’s self-confidence — making sly off-camera jabs at his struggle to raise money for the interviews and commenting on his snazzy Italian shoes. (“You don’t find them too affeminate? I guess someone in your field can get away with it.”)

Frost’s frustration grows. He’s having trouble selling ad space for the interviews, his professional career outside the interviews is waning, and his new female companion is starting to see his successful veneer for what it is. His team is worried about how the interviews are going, and whatever constructive criticism they offer is brushed aside by an increasingly agitated Frost.

Frost gets a phone call the night before the final interview from his opponent, who tells him, in essence, that he’s going to open up a can of ex-presidential whoop-ass on him the next day. Realizing maybe for the first time that he and Nixon aren’t involved in an interview but rather a boxing match, Frost decides to step up his game, and spends the whole night cramming in preparation for the final interview.

We all know what happens the next day: Nixon confesses, Frost’s previously under-credited career is catapulted into legitimacy. But the movie has invested so much time exploring the personalities and vulnerabilites of these two men that it’s impossible not to feel the weighty suspense of this final showdown. The means by which Frost gets Nixon to confess is less stirring than the contrition on Nixon’s face as he concedes that what he did amounted to more than “making mistakes.” He broke the law, he dishonored the presidency, he let his country down. And while the disgrace of his actions can’t be overlooked, we (I, at least) can’t help but feel sorry for the guy as he wallows in self-defeat for the world to see.

A highlight of the movie, of course, is the interchange where Nixon abruptly (accidentally?) reveals his true colors of political philosophy:

Frost: Are you really saying the president can do something illegal?

Nixon: I’m saying that when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.

In the bonus material, one producer makes a brief but interesting (perhaps inevitable) comparison of the abuses of power by Nixon with the more recent example(s) of the Bush Administration. If the president believes he is acting in the country’s best interest, should he be permitted to violate laws (including human rights laws) to do so? On one hand, you could argue that desperate times call for desperate measures. (The Patriot Act comes to mind.) But when the integrity and good intentions of the president are legitimately called into question, this argument erodes quickly.

The rest of the DVD bonus material (unlike most such material) is worth watching. They show us clips from the actual interviews, which of course are less emotional than the movie. Real-life Nixon isn’t as easy to sympathize with, and real-life Frost doesn’t seem nearly as charismatic. However, the actual dialogue is evidently portrayed pretty accurately in the film.

It’s harder to tell how much creative liberty was used in portraying the personal dynamics between Frost and Nixon outside the interviews, but in any case, this is a fantastic and captivating movie. Great character development. It’s crazy that Nixon went into that final interview with no intention of confessing, and in a single vulnerable moment, he decided he had to. It’s like for those few minutes, the smoke and mirrors of politics and television were gone, and the whole world got to witness a moment of bare humanity. Even though I know it wasn’t as “Hollywood-ified” in real life, I kind of wish I had been there to see it.

Filed under: Movies,

Thanks (in advance) — you’re a good sport

Drea is at the Outer Banks with Smizzle this week, leaving me all alone! I’m kickin’ it Kevin McAllister style this week. I’m doing okay (staying pretty busy) but I still miss her. As such, I’ve elected to write a haiku to chronicle this time…

North Carolina
Has my wife for the week and
I miss her a bit

She prepared me though
Did my laundry, cleaned the house
I have a good spouse

I’m not enjoying
Having the bed to myself
As much as I thought

She’s having good times
With a good friend, so that’s cool
Beaches, spas, chick flicks

She left me a list
Of stuff to do while she’s gone
“if I have the time”

I’ve done none of them
I’m a terrible husband
I hope she’ll forgive

She’ll be getting back
Tomorrow in the afternoon
So I still have time

I’m just rambling now
You’re probably bored to tears
Thanks — you’re a good sport

This is what happens
When I have too much free time
I write crappy haikus.

Filed under: Marriage, Slice of life, Travel,