The Family Truckster

Oklahoma is A-OK (and Arkansas isn't bad, either)

When thinking of places to go for the weekend, Oklahoma and Arkansas probably don't rank very highly. In fact, I'm guessing they're fairly low on the list, though surely above Kansas and maybe Iowa. But there are only a few states I've never visited, and both were on the list. Since ssullivan had to be in Little Rock for work, it seemed like the ideal chance for me to fly west and see what those two states have to offer.

And the answer? Well, not a lot, but enough to keep interesting for 48 hours. We started out in Tulsa, which is supposedly home to a lot of art deco architecture, though I only saw a few buildings in that style. In fact, probably the most interesting part is actually the Oral Roberts University, which is kind of a mix of a between Tomorrowland and the Jetsons, and certainly as dainted--yet as unique--as both.

The height of the trip involved a jaunt 70 miles north to Bartlesville, OK, which is home to...well, not much. ConocoPhillips used to be headquartered here, but they've since moved most of their operations to Houston. What's left in Bartlesville is the Price Tower, the first--and only--Frank Lloyd Wright-designed skyscraper. Like most of his buildings, it's an odd, over-designed structure that's very pretty to look at--assuming you like Wright's prairie style--but not particularly useful.

Sunday saw us having moved on to Arkansas, and specifically, the quaint town of Hot Springs, which at one point was a resort of some sort. Correction--it's apparently still a resort, just not quite of the same stature as a century ago.

Before flying out, we went to Little Rock, where we took in the sites, including the Clinton Library, which is apparently designed to resemble the world's largest double-wide. I generally think Presidential libraries are fairly masturbatory endeavors to start, so why Bill Clinton--who had no lack of women willing to take care of that problem for him--needs one is beyond me.

So now that I've been, I can't say I'm ready to rush back. But at least I can say I have visited, and that's two more states down on the map, and the third that I've added this year.

Stephen Colbert

Thinking Ahead

A quick WHOIS search reveals that the domain name is already registered to a Jay Griffin of Anchorage, AK. Lest you think too much of this, note it had been registered since August of 2007, meaning apparently some people had really high hopes of Governor Palin's chances for the next Presidential election cycle. And in case you're wondering who Jay Griffin is, well he's a member of the Alaska Republicans Central Committee, as well as a member of the now-defunct Mike Huckabee MeetUp Group. Unfortunately for Jay, while he might have more faith in Palin than he ever did in Huckabee, he doesn't share her taste for designer eye wear.

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Marion "Hizzonner" Barry

The Supreme Court Meme

Courtesy of thatwhichisgene and cheetahmaster...

As evidenced by Katie Couric, Sarah Palin is unable to name any Supreme Court Case other than Roe v. Wade.

The Rules: Post info about ONE Supreme Court decision, modern or historic to your lj. (Any decision, as long as it's not Roe v. Wade.) For those who see this on your f-list, take the meme to your OWN lj to spread the fun.

My pick is the aptly-named Loving vs. Virginia decision, which outlawed anti-miscegenation laws, and is arguably one of the most important historic cases to gay marriage today.
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Me at Work

These Shoes are Made for Walking

Putting on my new Muji shoes this morning got me to thinking further about the concept of shibui, which is as much about a sense of "perfect ordinariness" as it is about unobtrusive beauty. You have to go back to Plato's Cave to see where I'm going with this, but my thought is that products that are designed in the spirit of shibui also are as close to the ideal representation of a product as you are going to see.

If a trend of post-materialistic austerity were to catch on, it does bring up some interesting possibilities from the perspective of branding and marketing. Luxury and fashion certainly are not eponymous, yet the last 20 years ago has definitely seen the two go hand-in-hand. The ultimate expression would be t-shirts branded with a designer's logo or name; at the end of the day, they're really just utterly ridiculous, completely overpriced t-shirts that probably aren't even as good in quality as what you could buy at Target from Hanes for $7.99 retail. Considering the dour mood of the economy right now, the market for those kinds of superfluous "luxury" goods could easily dry up, especially if American consumers follow their European, Korean and Japanese counterparts by focusing once again on the idea of saving over spending. Being judicious with money, however, doesn't mean that people would want to give up style--it just means that you would need to divorce the idea of fashion from luxury.

Should that happen, there could be an increasing opportunity for brands that have cultivated a reputation for offering solid quality and excellent frugality with just a dash of style to really begin gaining customers across the economic spectrum. Quality is a key component of this, because the idea of "throw-away" goods flies directly in the face of consumers trying to economize. That's part of the reason, I suspect, that IKEA has recently begun improving the quality of its merchandise.

Among other brands, the aforementioned Target has certainly done this, and should only continue to grow once the downturn begins to slow. Other companies also offering that "solid work ethic" would include JetBlue and Hyundai. Hyundai has already been advertising its Genesis using the rationalization that, in a post-materialistic structure, a car that offers all the features of a typical luxury sedan--minus the $20,000 surcharge of the luxury badge--makes perfect sense. If it were me in charge of the ad campaigns, I'd go one step further to make that claim explicit instead of implicit, and would then figure out how to extend that messaging into every other vehicle in the portfolio down to the Elantra; unfortunately, I have not quite yet grasped how to turn my PR career into a marketing one, and therein lies the problem. Perhaps I'll take a walk to further break-in those new shoes, and think about the solution to that next.
The Family Truckster

It Has Nothing to Do with the Shoes

Brooklyn Bridge
Originally uploaded by vwvortexer
I could talk about last weekend's trip to New York by writing about how ssullivan and I stayed above the World Trade Center site, how we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and into that Burrough, or how we spent a day at the Met, with its truly amazing collection of work from Van Gogh to Warhol, Monet to Yves Tanguy.

But instead, I'll tell you about the shoes I purchased.

There's nothing intrinsically remarkable about these shoes. They're white cloth with white laces and a taupe sole. There are no markings, no labels, and no branding.

In other words, they're from Muji.

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Evil Empire

The Circle of Life

Today, Palin's people announced that there's absolutely no truth, no truth whatsoever!, to those horrible, vicious, slanderous rumors that son Trigg is actually the child of daughter Bristol. The proof is simple--at the time Sarah was giving birth to Trigg, then 16 year-old high school junior Bristol had already been knocked up for a month herself.

Of course, the McCain camp is appalled, appalled, I tell you!, that liberal blogosphere would stoop so low as to even report the initial rumor in the first place. Never mind that where there was smoke, there really was fire... Or how when other teenage celebrities have gotten pregnant, the media has jumped all over that with more ferocity than they did the Russia-Georgia conflict. And lest anyone think otherwise, Bristol Spears--uh, I mean, Palin--is now a minor celebrity, the result of her mother's bid for the Vice President slot. Maybe Sarah was still so busy figuring out what a Veep does that she hadn't had a chance yet to even think what might be involved for her family regarding a campaign. But just as has happened with Jenna and Barbara Bush, Chelsea Clinton, Amy Carter, and Jack and Caroline Kennedy before them, Bristol Palin is certainly a minor celebrity.

And speaking of Chelsea Clinton, can you imagine the field day the press would have had if she had become pregnant at the age of 16 while her father was still in the White House? Certainly, the calls from the conservative media about how Bill and Hillary Clinton were obviously not fit to live in the White House if they couldn't even properly raise their own family would've been deafening. But now that it's an ultra-conservative Governor from Alaska who doesn't believe in a woman's right to chose nor anything other than abstinence-only sex education, we're supposed to just leave off and let the soon-to-be-married Bristol have her peace.

I'm perfectly fine with letting Bristol have that peace, too--even if the wisdom of making a high school senior marry seem pretty questionable. But this doesn't change the fact the questions of irony around her mother need to be asked. How exactly can you support a policy of abstinence-only education when it so clearly failed for you, Governor? And how can we expect you to raise a family and serve as the Vice-President at the same time, when you haven't done a great job with both so far as Governor?

And to McCain and the conservative blogosphere, I say: give up the hypocrisy already. You gave up the right to criticize long ago, even before you upbraided your own conservative press for failing to go after John Edwards, even though the only evidence that existed was a story from the pay-for-sources, PhotoShop-happy National Enquirer. It even started before you lambasted Al Gore's pothead son. These stories are only a small part of the political landscape of what voters should consider, but you've been equally--if not more so--complicit in making them an issue. If you want Palin's daughter's pregnancy taken off the table, then the same has to be said when it comes to Democratic politicians as well.

Until that happens--and considering how dirty a business politics has become, it'll certainly be a while--don't complain when what goes around comes around.
Mother of God

The Newest Failure of the Conservative Media

Why, oh why hasn't the conservative media reported on the growing Sarah Palin baby mama drama? Does anyone really believe that a woman who's water had broken would jump on a plane to fly eight hours back to Alaska--especially when she's in the middle of what is medically considered a high-risk birth? (Answer: No) Or that her daughter was spirited away because she had mono for five to eight months? (Again: Not a chance) Or that those pictures that show a slimmed-down Sarah when she was supposedly five months pregnant also just happen to prove nothing more than that her daughter is an oddly-shaped fattie?

Until these allegations are put to rest, there's no way Palin could be considered fit to be, "one heartbeat away from the Presidency." Even if the baby is Sarah's, one still has to question the recklessness with which she hopped onto a plane after labor had begun. And if it's not hers, then it just reeks of "Desperate Housewives"-quality shenanigans without any of the humor of the now ironically-named Juno.

Oh, why won't the conservative press report on this? What does this story take--finding out that John Edwards is the baby daddy?
The Family Truckster

In the Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire
Originally uploaded by vwvortexer
If you follow my Twitter feed, you know that I did a lot of shopping in Las Vegas over the weekend. You'd be perfectly reasonable in thinking all I did was shop, in fact--and considering my haul (an Eddie Bauer sling bag, a Johnston & Murphy briefcase, a Merkur safety razor from Truefitt & Hill, a pair of Bostonian leather-soled dress shoes, and my big score, a Ted Baker suit), you'd be justified in my thinking. Over the last few years, Las Vegas has turned into a bit of a shopping mecca, attracting not only the best stores in the country, but also stores you simply can't find anywhere else: The Truefitt & Hill shop is one of only two in the US (the other is in Chicago), and the Ted Baker outlet is the only one in all of North America, period.

Las Vegas has morphed quite a bit in many other ways, too, becoming home to some truly world-class dining and some equally terrific entertainment, even if the Cher show wasn't nearly as good as I had hoped. Too many costume changes--17!--created constant breaks in the performance, and the dozen poorly-choreographed Cirque Du Soleil dancers who served as Cher's back-up not only failed to fill the empty spaces, but weren't even on their marks most of the time. I am now convinced that Madonna's rejects must make their living working for the Cirque mafia, which apparently inserts itself into any show that isn't done by the Blue Man Group.

There's life in Las Vegas off the Strip, too, and a short rental car ride away will find it. One of the things we tracked down was the Neon Boneyard, which works to preserve the old neon signs from now-demolished Vegas hotels. I'd first learned about it after Ford shot the promos for their Interceptor Concept there, and had been wanting to locate it ever since. My eagle-eyed sister spotted it while we were driving on the far north part of Las Vegas Boulevard, and it was definitely a sight to behold, even from outside the fence. Next time I have time in Vegas, I definitely plan on taking a tour.

Another sight not to be missed is a little farther north still--the Valley of Fire state park, located a mere 20 miles north of the city. One of two excursions we made--the other was to another pair of state parks just west of town--Valley of Fire absolutely lives up to its name, with blood red rocks stained with black that eventually change to yellow, peach and finally a pure white. Braving the 104 degree heat--the car's outside thermometer read 111, but I think it was being a tad over-optimistic--we walked around and took in the literally hundreds of petroglpyhs scattered nearly everywhere. Photographs can't do it justice, in terms of width or height; the scope of this blasted paradise on the edge of the Mojave is truly unimaginable.

Speaking of photographs, I took about 300 on the trip, but uploaded less than half that. Being as I was using the cheap Sony digital instamatic I bought from veetor, I was unable to really do much with night shots, which is why what's left after extensive deletion has such a fuzzy feel. As for the rest, those were lost when the extra memory card I bought at the Sony Style store in Caeser's turned out to be defective, something I only learned well after I got back to Atlanta. I'm quite annoyed, because it ruined some really great shots, and now I'm definitely going to have to go back there to take them all over again.
The Family Truckster

I fell in love again

Marina Towers
Originally uploaded by vwvortexer
Chicago in August isn't usually the place to be--it's hot, humid, and just everything you generally associate with swamp-like morasses of cities such as New Orleans or DC. But this time, the weather was absolutely lovely, with temps hovering around the 70s, dry winds and lots of sunshine.

I was in town two weekends ago for work, a very stupid project my boss' boss is running that I generally try to avoid at all costs. Attending the event was mandatory, though, so I attempted to make the best of it, and had my sister, who hasn't been to the Windy City in two decades, come up to join me for a long weekend.

The work-related project went as poorly as I expected (more on that later), but the rest of the trip made up for it. We mostly played tourist, taking in downtown, the Art Institute, Navy Pier and the view from the Hancock. Carol also went up the Sears Tower while I was busy, and then we both headed out to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright homes.

Chicago is an amazingly photogenic city, especially when you're not freezing your ass off, so even though I don't think these photos are great, they're still pretty good. I probably should have gotten some shots of Wrigley Field, too, since we had a private tour of it as a part of our work event, but truthfully, I wasn't in the mood.

Being in Chicago reminds me how much I miss living in a city. There's a certain energy and vibrancy that an overbuilt suburb like Atlanta can't replicate. And while I don't miss Chicago's winters, there's plenty there that more than makes up for the cold, cold temperatures.