Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Cuba thing

Forgotten among this week's stock-market flattening and Barack Obama's subsequent call to halve the national deficit by the end of his first term was an intriguing item from the desk of Indiana senator Richard Lugar.

The senate's longest-serving Republican called for a re-thinking of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

In a 23-page report that will be handed over to Congressional members later this week, Lugar wrote "We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests."

It's basically a proposal to end the 47-year embargo of the island, and idea that's time has come.

Although it seems its been conservatives who have been most adamant against Cuban reconciliation, I'm not surprised to see Lugar be the one to propose it.

Despite my liberal leanings, I've always held a great respect for Lugar, a sober-thinking and candid foreign-relations master among the first to criticize former President Bush's handling of Iraq.

He's also worked closely with Obama. When the prez was in the senate, the two collaborated on the Lugar-Obama bill that diminished nuclear proliferation.

(The pair are so tight that scuttlebutt at one time suggested Lugar would be tabbed for Secretary of State, a position that eventually went to H-Rod).

Despite the closeness of the prez and the Senate's eldest Republican, I don't think the Cuba idea will get much traction.

For one, given the economic turmoil, a Middle East in disarray, the energy crisis and our current two-front war, the last thing Obama needs to do is stir up that hornet's nest.

And electorally speaking, the last thing Obama needs to do is stoke sentiment against him in South Florida, a state he won in no small part because of his support from Cuban Americans. To approach Cuba now would be akin to deserting that support.

A better solution would be if the idea of ending the embargo is shelved until Obama's second term.

Then, he has no electoral issues to worry about, and better, the odds are pretty good the Castro regime will be finished. Once Castro's gone, the road to re-establishing economic and diplomatic ties becomes far easier.

For now, the groundwork for such a scenario has been set into place.

I, for one, hope it gets done.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Zeeland represent

In addition to being a swell guy and my cousin, Keith Reimink is going to go down as one of history's great vagabonds.

He splits his life between Alaska and Antarctica working as a cook/chef/dining manager. Each summer, he runs a kitchen for a lodge in Denali National Park, a stone's throw from the place Into The Wild was filmed.

Each fall, he travels down to the world's least-populated continent and hunkers down on an iceberg for the winter, plying his culinary trade for a bunch of scientists. Occasionally, he graces us with his presence in his home state of Michigan.

This winter, Keith is upping the ante.

He's spending the entire year at the South Pole. He's one of 44 people in the entire world who are staying the winter in Antarctica at the Amundsen-Scott research facility.

In order to do this, he had to pass a battery of psychological tests that prove he's up to this task, which in my opinion, is silly. Anyone who wants to do this must be completely insane.

I'm writing this not only to give my cuz some kudos, but also because two days ago he started a blog to chronicle his many months of darkness. You don't have to be related to Keith to find that it's fascinating reading.

Here's the link -- it's also added to my list on the right -- and I look forward to reading tales of drunken shenanigans from the bottom of the world.


Keith's brother, Troy, is also due some belated kudos.

Troy is not only also my cousin, but a fellow Boothie. He works at the Grand Rapids Press as an entertainment reporter, and writes a pretty funny blog, Medium Fidelity, on our shared statewide Web site.

A column that he wrote while still in college on why Gov. Jennifer Granholm is hot may have been the funniest thing I've ever read -- he wrote it at a time I didn't even live in The Mitt and I still fell out of my chair laughing.

So I'm linking to Troy's blog here, and adding it to the right as well.


A couple people have asked when Squawking VFR will break down the recent crash of Colgan Air flight 3407. Rest assured, a post is in the works. It's a more complicated accident than some others, so more care is required in the re-construction of this awful accident.

Also, keep an eye out for an upcoming post on the arrival of Baby VFR and the general greatness of fatherhood.


If you've noticed some stylistic changes here at Squawking VFR lately, they're not intentional.

I'm really annoyed with whatever recent software update that has implemented. I can no longer fiddle with the point size of my text, bold the first letter of each entry or center my asterisks.

I used to have all sorts of options for centering, bolding and point-sizing in the toolbar above this little text box. Alas, they have all vanished. It's really irksome.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

The Pretenders rock the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor

(Photo courtesy of

Chrissie Hynde stood in a downtown Ann Arbor shop a few hours before Monday's show at the Michigan Theater and eavesdropped on a conversation between a man and a college-aged girl.

The man told her The Pretenders were in town, to which the girl responded, "Who are they?"

"Some 1950s band," he replied.

"Fuck," Hynde chuckled as she recounted the story a few hours later in front of a near-packed house. "It's the '80s! Get it right."

Then she kicked her hard-driving band into a fervent sequence of songs that proved, no matter what decade it is, The Pretenders sound as rollicking and relevant as ever.

Touring off the first band's new album in more than six years, Hynde could have played it safe and trotted out the band's greatest hits catalog. Never one to overly care about what others may think, she instead largely omitted the old warhorses from the set list (notably My City Was Gone, Middle Of The Road and Stand By You).

Which was just fine, because the seven tunes Hynde and The Pretenders played from their new disc, Break Up The Concrete, wonderfully showcased the band's trademarks: her ropy vocals, Martin Chambers' rhythm-dictating drum work and full-throttle guitars.

If that sounds just like the combination that made The Pretenders a power-punk-rock force in the 1980s, well, that's about right.

But in its current form, the band has added a pedal steel guitar that brings weeping flecks of country and western to the new songs and re-casts some of Hynde's older work in a more melancholy layer.

The live result of that addition was a show that mixed tender moments with hard-edged punk and batten-down-the-hatches guitars.

"Boots of Chinese Plastic," the up-tempo lead song on the new album, kicked things off, followed by another newbie, "Don't Cut Your Hair." Hynde slowed things down or a while with an oldie, "Talk Of The Town," followed by "Nothing Maker" and the radio-friendly cut from the new album, "Love's A Mystery."

Then came my favorite moment of the show.

Sending up a tribute to "Dr. Bob," the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, The Pretenders played "The Last Ride," a sad and beautiful song off the new album. On the recorded version, the song is largely piano-driven. But live, with no ivory on stage, guitarist James Walbourne carried the song hauntingly on a mandolin.

It was one of those rare moments where music was both spooky and poignant and new, which just sent chills up my spine.

Hynde got back to the pop, bringing the crowd to its feet for the first time with "Stop Your Sobbing," which was followed by the familiar "Brass In Pocket," and a tribute to fallen guitarists James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, "Back On The Chain Gang," which might be one of the best songs ever written.

There were some light moments, with Hynde cajoling both pedal-steel guitarist Eric Heyood and Chambers into exhibiting their bird-calling expertise.

At an earlier point, Hynde got a good laugh from the crowd by saying, "It's nice to see so many old faces here tonight."

One of the fresher faces was Walbourne, who absolutely stole the second half of the show with his furious, Red Bull pace that even upstaged Hynde, who seemed gracious and happy to relinquish the spotlight.

Walbourne, a U.K. guy who has recently played with indie pop's The Pernice Brothers, dished out a punishing solo during "Thumbelina," and that was just his warm-up. He revealed more and more of his considerable ability as the show progressed.

By the end, he brought the crowd to its feet on multiple occasions, and took command during an encore comprised of four songs from The Pretenders debut album -- "Kid," "Precious," "The Wait," and "Up The Neck" -- all probably written when he was in diapers.

Walbourne alone was worth the price of admission.

When you factor in the rest of the show, it was a very, very good night in Ann Arbor, a place that is proudly the home town of punk legend Iggy Pop, as Hynde noted.

My only complaint would be that The Pretenders probably just cleared the 1-hour, 30-minute mark from start to finish. Considering all they compressed into that time and the fact they left me wanting more, it's barely worth mentioning.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Facebook's 25 things

I know all three of my readers are also on facebook, and you've probably already seen this there, but I thought I'd nonetheless post it on Squawking VFR as well.

  1. For reasons unknown, babies, little kids and dogs are huge fans of mine. I am their pied piper. Sharon and Ericka think I should start my own TV show called “Meet Mr. Pete” and pick up where Mr. Rogers left off.

  1. My favorite smell: Jet A fuel at the airport.

  1. My favorite places in the world, in no particular order: Telluride, Colorado, Moab, Utah, Hanging Lake east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado and The Presidio in San Francisco.

  1. From a young age, I’ve been a big Cleveland Browns fan. I never lived in Ohio. I have never had relatives there. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. My loyalty to and frustration with the franchise continues to this day, albeit at a lesser obsessive-compulsive pace than in my younger years.

  1. I once went four-and-a-half years without drinking a caffeinated or carbonated beverage. Not surprisingly, I had never been healthier than during that stretch. Now? Dr. Pepper is nectar from the gods.

  1. When it comes to IT savvy, gadget assembly or general handyman competence, I am a failure. A complete and unmitigated failure.

  1. A lot of people have asked me if, given the Michigan economy and state of newspapers, I regret moving here two years ago. Honest truth: Not for a second. Do I regret purchasing a home 20 months ago? I love our place, but that’s a different answer.

  1. That said, there are things I miss from Colorado deeply. There’s a lot of family and friends there, not to mention skiing and hiking. And the sun.

  1. I’ve got five 14ers under my belt, but the hardest hike I’ve ever done was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison with Kevin.

  1. I think a lot of my friends who I worked with in Colorado would get a kick out of working with me now. I’m not the outspoken pain-in-the-ass I was before. Pretty much the opposite. Apologies to Foster, Hempy and Mike.

  1. Contrary to what most people think of sports writers/editors, etc., I don’t golf. And it’s probably been about three years since I’ve watched Sports Center.

  1. Covering the NFL was a dream job, but I quickly realized that the daily grind of injury reports, quarterback quotes and coach-speak inevitably consumes your time and inhibits opportunities to do real journalism. I lasted four seasons on the beat.

  1. On our first weekend trip together, I got Ericka lost in the Moab desert for hours. We ran out of water and, as dusk set in, couldn’t see 30 feet in front of us. Lucky for me, she stuck with me after that.

  1. Academically speaking, I was a screw-up in college. So when I started studying for my FAA tests, I viewed it as a second chance to give it my all. I got so stressed out studying for my IFR checkride that I gave myself mono.

  1. I got a perfect score on the instrument written, commercial written and CFI written. After the IFR checkride, which came in 30-kt winds, the examiner told me it was one of his best three rides ever. I went from total slacker to total overkill.

  1. On my first flight as a student, my instructor took me directly over the Statue of Liberty, and then the World Trade Center. It was a proud moment, and it’s hard to reconcile that personal satisfaction with the sadness that now accompanies those memories.

  1. I worked at a funeral home off and on during college. Yes, I did a little bit of everything. One summer, I organized a mass burial at sea for hundreds of unclaimed cremains. We dumped them not far from the splash-down spot of Flight 1549.

  1. At some point in college, I got mugged at gunpoint on Central Avenue, about two blocks from my house. Who’s dumb enough to mug a poor college student? You’ve got to love New Brunswick.

  1. Two of my favorite wedding moments were unplanned: When we were getting out of the car to take pictures, a little girl looked at Ericka, and gasped with pure innocence and wide-eyed amazement: “Look Daddy! … A princess!”

  1. The other: I’m a terrible dancer. Between the ceremony and reception, Ericka and I took a few minutes to practice our well-rehearsed dance. We were standing near a creek doing our routine, and a deer came out of the woods, stood within about 15 feet of us and watched for several minutes as I twirled my beautiful bride.

  1. Although I lived in Jersey for 24 years, I didn’t become a Springsteen fan until late in college. Since then, I’ve seen him 10 times in five states: New Jersey, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Florida. I’m spoiled now – I’ve been in the pit for my past four shows.

  1. I’m a fanatical cereal eater. Often, I have a bowl for breakfast. I absolutely must have one just before bedtime.

  1. At various times, I’ve played the piano, guitar and trombone. But I’m a jack of all trades and master of none.

  1. Ericka and I have been so fortunate to travel to Belize and India in the past two years. Seeing the poverty abroad is heartbreaking, but seeing the joy people possess despite their lack of material possession is priceless. What do I remember most? Their eyes.

  1. There are about five dozen more places overseas that I am dying to see.


  1. Being a dad is the greatest thing ever.

  1. I miss my two deceased grandfathers, and would love to kick back and have a beer – or Dr. Pepper – with them today. I’m grateful that I’m in my 30s and still have two grandmothers who are very much alive and in good spirits.

  1. I wish I lived closer to my parents and sister. Wait. Flip that. I wish they lived closer to me.

  1. My perfect retirement scenario: Each day begins with a hike of Mount Sanitas followed by a Goony Bird sandwich at Mountain Sun, with Mrs. VFR by my side.