Democratic National Convention – First Night

I watched some of the opening night coverage of the the Democratic National Convention, but I have to confess to channel surfing: Andy Griffith – the one where Opie is accused of burning down Jubal Foster’s barn – Kate and Jon plus 8 and Monday Night Football. I had mile high expectations for opening night in Denver, but it came off as little more than a high school football rally compared to opening night at Beijing. Ok, the comparison is unfair, but it also seems unfair or unfortunate that the Democratic Convention had to follow such an extravaganza as the Summer Olympic Games.

There were some dramatic and compelling moments, to borrow David Gergen’s word. The Carter tribute documented former President Carter’s humanitarian work and featured a segment on the failed Bush administration relief response to the victims of Hurricane Katina. We are left with the impression that the Democrats under Barak Obama would have had a much more effective and compassionate response. After Carter’s ringing video endorsement of Barak Obama, I was left wondering why he did not address the crowd. CNN pundits offered that given his controversial criticisms of Israel, he was not allowed to speak or perhaps he simply declined the opportunity. The brilliant tribute film to Senator Kennedy, produced by Ken Burns, a Bay State native and Hampshire College graduate, highlighted his legislative achievements and his love of sailing. The metaphor of Kennedy being a leader who is not afraid of sailing against the wind was repeated. Battling brain cancer, it was not known whether the Senator would be able to attend the convention, let alone speak. Fortunately, he had the strength to speak and gave another rousing oration bringing many to tears.

Michelle Obama’s introduction film, narrated in part by her mother, who has a sweet grandmotherly tone, was tremendous, on par with President Clinton’s ’92 introduction video where he was shown as a young man shaking President John F. Kennedy’s hand. It was that good. The film effectively highlighted her working class roots and debunked the myth of her as a child of privilege. In fact, we learn that she was a first generation college graduate. We learn of her commitment to her community where she has truly given back. We also learn of the positive influence of her father, who worked in a water treatment plant for 30 years and the support she received from both her mother and “little” brother. Clearly, she was portrayed as having strong family values and ties to the community. Her academic accomplishments were deemphasized, though they are impressive – Princeton and Harvard. After her compelling address which was delivered in a relaxed, natural style, we are left with the feeling that she would be a great First Lady.

Sandwiched in between President Carter and Senator Kennedy’s tributes came the speech of Representative Leach, who crossed party lines to support Obama. I agree with CNN and PBS commentators who argued that it was perhaps written by Leach himself and not an Obama speech writer and that it was not the kind of oration that made much of a impact. I have a long attention span, and I did find the address interesting and historic, but simply too long, and yes, I channeled surfed here – I believe San Diego scored a touchdown.

And what about the music? I thought I heard Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow and Still the One. Surely the Democrats can find some new theme music.

Ella Disturbed

The House Sparrows have been at it again, agitating Ella into a state of frenzy. When they flew off, Ella disappeared, no doubt seeking refuge from her nemesis. I found her hours later napping in a bedroom closet. Of course, as I peeked in, she awakened and was none too pleased. Where can a Calico go for a little R & R?

Birds in my Backyard

I’ve been birding now for a few months; nothing serious, strictly on the amateur level. To attract some birds, (and other creatures) I’ve set up 5 bird feeders which I fill with seeds once or twice a day. To see them better, I purchased an inexpensive pair of Nikon binoculars. To identify the birds, I bought The Sibley Guide to Birds. So far, here’s what I’ve seen:

What birds have you seen lately?

Tips for the New Cat Owner

Thinking of getting a pet? Torn between a cat or a dog? I recommend a cat, not that I don’t like dogs, it’s just that cats are a little easier to care for, in that you don’t have to walk them everyday, unless you have a big yard. I don’t want this post to be about cat vs dog, but rather a guide to cat ownership. The following 15 tips are designed for the new cat owner, or for those of you considering becoming one.

1) Go to your local animal rescue league. You should be able to find a great cat who needs a home. You can also arrange to have the cat spayed or neutered, and for its vaccinations; highly recommended.

2) Dry food is best. Go with a quality brand. If your kitty likes it, stick with it. You can try some varieties, but cats are pretty finicky, and may prefer only one flavor and one brand. Dry food is good for their teeth, and keeps them regular. Wet food on the other hand stinks. The problem with wet food, especially the seafood flavors is that your cat may become addicted and demanding of say tuna to the exclusion of anything else. At least that is the danger. I’m sure there are many cat owners out there who will beg to differ, but this has been my experience.

3) One brand of cat litter will do. Find one you like and stick with it.

4) Catnip. Get some catnip laced toys. They love it.

5) Don’t pick up your cat too much – resist the urge.  Some felines will throw a fit, others are more docile, but I am convinced they don’t like to be picked up.

6) Cats are not dogs. They don’t like rough house. If you have kids, make sure they don’t chase or scare the cat. Cats will self-defend and will scratch and bite you and your kids if threatened.  They will.

7) Play with your cat. You can roll a small ball or toy around for them to chase. You don’t need to buy a bunch of expensive toys – cats will play with anything: garbage ties; rolled up balls of aluminum foil; a hacky sack ball; golf balls, – this can get pretty loud – and plastic pens.  Be careful with anything small that could be a chocking hazard.

8) Buy a scratching post. This is the best and perhaps only way to save your furniture. Cats love them. It helps to both clip and sharpen their claws.

9) Don’t have your kitty de-clawed. This is just cruel and unnatural in my judgment. Without claws, they are basically stripped of their kittiness and their best defense against an enemy real or imagined.

10) Keep you cat inside if you can. Indoor kitties live longer. They are less susceptible to disease, fleas and injury from other animals. They learn to adapt to their environment. Make sure they have access to a window for viewing birds, squirrels and other creatures, an activity they love. They also enjoy basking in the sun.

11) Two is a crowd. Don’t feel the need to get another cat to keep the one you have company. Cats are both sociable, some more than others, and solitary. They are not pack animals. Adopting two from the same liter is probably the best way to go if you really want more than one.

12) Don’t overfeed your cat. Cats can become overweight pretty quickly, especially if you keep them indoors. About a bowl of dry food a day is all they need. Don’t fill up the bowl every time you notice it empty.

13) Keep your kitty hydrated. One thing I’ve noticed is that my cat won’t drink from the water bowl next to her food. She only drinks from the water bowl we keep in our bedroom. So you might try moving the water bowl to another location. Keep the bowl clean and full at all times.

14) Don’t bathe your cat. Unlike dogs, cats can keep themselves clean. You may have to clean up your kitten a little with a wipe for a few weeks as they learn to use the liter box, but they quickly learn to groom and bathe themselves.

15) Beware of stairs. Kittens do not see very well for the first few weeks or so, and could easily tumble down a flight a stairs and suffer an injury. Keep your kitty secure in a closed room during the night and block off the stairs if you aren’t at home during the day, at least for the first few months.

I hope these tips are helpful. Enjoy life with your kitty!

If you would like to read about my kitty, tap on this link.  Ella the Cat

No Dynasties at Summer Olympics

The Summer Olympic games are more competitive than ever. Gone are the days of a country’s domination in the gold medal count. In the history of the games, the most dominant performance came in the St. Louis games of 1904 at the end of which Americans had won gold in 77 of 95 events – a staggering 81%. Only 9 other countries medaled in those games. Talk about a home court advantage.

The second most dominant performance came during the 1908 London games where the Brits took home 56 gold medals in 110 events – 51%. Athletes from only 19 countries earned medals.

The third most dominant performance came in the LA games of 1932, when Americans won 41gold medals in 116 events – 35%.

Since the 30’s, only the USA in 1948 and the USSR in 1960 came any where close to dominating, each earning 28% of the golds awarded.

While the host country China won the gold stakes in Beijing, they only pulled in 17% of the total awarded, not exactly domination, but the most dominant performance from a nation since the 1992 games in Barcelona, when the United States also earned 17% of the gold.

That aside, clearly the Summer Olympic games are more competitive than ever before. Athletes from more countries are competing in more events. In the Athens games of 1896, there were 43 events; in the 2008 Beijing games there were 302 golds awarded. And more countries medaled in Beijing, 87, than in any previous games.

Team competitions have been more competitive as well. The USA men’s basketball team did win in Beijing, but as the redeem team; the dream team days are over. Spain gave team USA a run for their money. The world has not yet caught up to the USA women’s basketball team, but will in time, as the game becomes more widely played.

With the exception of table tennis and diving (China), track and field events – relays and 400m are two examples (USA), there are no clear dynasties. After a stunning loss to Japan, even the USA women’s softball team can no longer be considered invincible.

I leave you with this: Can Great Britain repeat their 1908 feat in 2012? The home court advantage is powerful!

*stats compiled from:

A Day in the Life of a Calico Cat

Ella has had a tough day. She woke up, ate a little dry food and sat in the living room window for about an hour intently watching some scrappy jay birds. After a while, I found her pawing a startled black ant. Exhausted, she fell asleep on top of my bedroom desk only to be abruptly awakened by a family of flighty sparrows nesting outside our air conditioner.

Kick the Coffee Addicition with Yerba Mate

Coffee, Tea or Mate? I drink coffee everyday; I guess you could say I’m a coffee addict. I don’t care much for tea, unless I’m sick. Mate, pronounced (MAHtay) is a tea-like herbal drink made with dried Yerba leaves that are put into a gourd like vessel, steeped in hot water and sipped from a metal straw. Enormously popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and to a lesser degree Chile, mate is enjoyed by children and adults alike. Somewhat bitter, mate is often prepared with sugar, hot milk instead of water, or a sprig of spearmint; I like it with a dash of cinnamon.  After sipping the liquid down, you add more hot water or milk; after the first few refills, the mate tastes much smoother. Drinking mate is generally a social activity so it is common to pass the cup around after taking some sips, almost like a peace pipe. I dig mate!

Introducing Ella the Calico Cat

Ella is a great cat! Here she is as a kitten, obviously.

And at 5, 33 in cat years.

Ella has a youtube video. Here she shows her friskiness.

Unlike most cats, Ella rarely meows – she’s practically mute. The only time she makes a sound is when she is alone, or thinks she is, and then, only a faint, feeble, mew. She’s an indoor kitty, but has escaped a few times – once in a snow storm; she must have darted out when I returned from an errand – why, I’ll never know. My wife and I had no idea she was missing until we heard her crying outside hours later, trying to find a way to get in. Since then, she has not ventured to the out of doors, but does like to stand by the front door and peek out, when it’s opened. Once she jumped onto the screen door and just stuck there, splayed. I wish I had taken a photo.

For more news on Ella, stayed tuned. I’ll try to post frequently.

Olympic Athlete Sideline Interview Blues

I imagine the job of the sideline reporter is a difficult task. Not only is the journalist expected to interview the victor, but has an obligation to interview the popular athlete who performs poorly, or not up to expectations. But to be honest, I have not been pleased with some of the interviews during the Beijing Olympic Games.

Sideline reporter Bob Newmeyer has had some good interviews during the games, and some embarrassingly bad ones. Unfortunately, the bad ones stand out. Case in point, Jeremy Wariner. As the defending 400 meter Olympic champion, Wariner finished second, but was gracious enough to grant Newmeyer an interview. The interview was going fine, until Newmeyer asked Wariner about a coaching change. In doing so, Newmeyer insinuated that the change was a factor in Wariner’s silver medal finish, but Wariner said that he didn’t want to talk about it and that the coaching change had nothing to do with his performance. You may say that Newmeyer has an obligation to ask the tough question, but I didn’t think it proper or respectful immediately after the race, when it was clear Wariner was so disappointed.

Another example of awkward interviewing came when Newmeyer spoke to Allyson Felix after one of her qualifying rounds and then again after her silver medal run in the 200 meter final. Apparently being fed information from the broadcast booth by Ato Boldon, Newmeyer asked her about her mechanics, implying that she might be less than 100%. She said she was fine. He asked the same question after the 200 meter final, saying that Ato Boldon had noticed a hitch in her stride. Again, she said she was fine, speaking with humilty and grace.

The interview with Tyson Gay immediately following the botched baton exchange in the 4x100m qualifier was difficult to watch. Perhaps being fed by the booth, Newmeyer asked Gay if he had been practicing the baton handoff with his partner, which I felt was an unfair question to ask at that particular moment. Tyson appeared to be in shock because of the disqualification, but somehow pulled it together and got through the interview. You had to feel for the American relay team, one of the favorites to win the gold in the event and especially for Tyson Gay who will leave the Beijing games without a medal of any kind, but with his head held high, like the true champion he is.

You could argue that Newmeyer has to ask the tough questions; that you, as a spectator and fan, have a right to the information. I don’t have a problem with a tough question, I just think it shouldn’t be asked immediately following a race. Athletes need time to digest and reflect on their performances. I’m ok with  open ended questions like: “tell me about the race, or your race strategy, or what was going through your mind as you crossed the finish line”, but leave the tough stuff for the presidential candidates. You could also argue that Newmeyer was giving the athletes an out – an excuse for not winning gold, but not a single athlete I heard interviewed took the bait. The great ones never do.

The interview with 16 year old diver Haley Ishimatsu, took a dramatic, and perhaps unexpected turn. After Ishimatsu failed to qualify for the 10 meter platform finals, Andrea Kramer asked about her Olympic experience. Haley became so overcome with emotion that she could not finish the interview. To Andrea Kramer’s credit, she tried to console the tearful Ishimatsu telling her that she should be proud of her performance, and indeed she should be making it to the semis in platform and placing 5th with her partner in platform synchro. But in my view, the interview should not have aired. There’s no shame in crying, but I felt like Haley should have had some support during the interview, particularly given her age. Couldn’t she have been interviewed with Laura Wilkinson, who has been like a big sister figure?

And the Phelps interviews – about 4 too many. After the third inteview, there was nothing more for him to say that hadn’t already been said. The photo finish interview was the best of the lot I thought.

Olympic Coverage Update

As I’ve written previously, I think NBC has done an excellent job of covering the Beijing Olympic games. The reporting has been first rate. I have a sense of what it would be like to be an Olympic visitor in Beijing. Granted there is more to China than the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and learning to eat with chopsticks – just a few of the featured reports – but for those of you like me who have never been to China, NBC has been like a friendly tour guide, careful not to stray too far off the beaten path. There was one compelling beaten path feature in which a college student (from Iowa I think) strolled through a typical Beijing neighborhood outside the manicured zone of the Olympic village to experience an authentic slice of life. Kudos to NBC for airing it.

After watching each slickly produced athlete spotlight, I became an instant fan, and hoped they would do well. These hook stories definitely snagged my attention. Most of the spotlights have been on American athletes, however. While I have not seen every minute of NBC’s coverage of the games, I would have liked to have seen more stories on athletes from other countries. I understand that NBC is an American based corporation and is covering the games for an American audience, but we should not lose site of the fact that the Olympics Games are a global event.

In particular, the sideline reporting could have featured more athletes from countries other than the United States. Chris Collingsworth, who I think has been a refreshing addition to the NBC Olympic broadcast team, interviewed the men’s Beach Volleyball duo of Dalhausser and Rogers, but he could have interviewed the Latvian team who handed the American team their first loss. Instead, one of his first questions was “how did you guys lose to the Latvians”? Rogers answered simply that he didn’t play well and let his partner down. The rest of the interview was fine, but that first question was disrespectful to the Latvians who actually finished ahead of the U.S. team in Group B.

To be fair, athletes from other countries have been interviewed and featured. There was an interesting profile of Guo Jinging. Bob Newmeyer interviewed Usain Bolt didn’t he? Also, one of the sideline reporters interviewed a Russian athlete immediately following her performance. And wasn’t a Canadian diver interviewed as well. But why didn’t anyone interview a Chinese diver after a round? If this happened, I didn’t see it. Perhaps the Chinese have forbidden its athletes to have direct contact with Western media? If it had been simply a language issue, with a little planning, NBC could have arranged to have interpreters at the ready to assist. For better or worse, English has become the lingua franca of international commerce – call it English language imperialism if you want – and most of the athletes, Americans excepted, are multilingual, therefore the language barrier could not be a legitimate explanation as to why so few European and Asian athletes have been interviewed.