James Stockdale

Jan Brewer’s meltdown

Jan Brewer’s meltdown

It will go down as one of the most painful openings to a political debate in recent memory. Gov. Jan Brewer stumbled and stammered through her opening statement during a televised debate Wednesday night, suffering through an embarrassing, cringe-eliciting pause that lasted more than 10 seconds. With her hands clasped in front of her, she […]

Haitian-Americans wait for news on relatives

Alourrde Pierre stood inside a Little Haiti community center, wringing her hands as she waited for news of her parents and 15 siblings in Port-au-Prince. Her children ask what happened to their grandmother, but she has no answer.

“It is so hard not knowing,” said 37-year-old Pierre. “What can we do?”

It is a scene replaying countless times among the roughly 800,000 people in the U.S. of Haitian descent, desperate for any morsel of information about loved ones on the earthquake-devastated nation. Feverish calls, texts and e-mails largely go unanswered as the distraught try to muster a reason to hope as bodies pile up on Haiti’s streets.

Pants? We don’t need no stinkin’ pants

Hundreds of New Yorkers have been riding the city’s subway trains in their underwear.

They stripped down to their undies on Sunday for the ninth annual No Pants Subway Ride.

The idea is to act like nothing unusual is going on.

Participants met up at six locations throughout the city. They formed groups and dispersed to subway stations to catch trains. Once inside the subway cars, they began calmly removing their pants and folding them up.

Most people read magazines or chatted with their companions like any other straphanger.

The event started in 2002 with just seven people. It has spread to other cities.

The stunt is organized by Improv Everywhere, a group that says its mission is to cause “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.”

Animals struggle in cold weather

Americans hoping 2010 will be better

The bank account is thin, but the future looks pretty good.

That, oddly enough, is the view of many Americans who predict 2010 will be a better year than this one, even if they fear that the U.S. economy and their own financial circumstances won’t improve.

A whopping 82 percent are optimistic about what the new year will bring for their families, according to the latest AP-GfK poll. That sunny outlook seems at odds with other findings.

Nearly two-thirds think their family finances will worsen or stay about the same next year. And fewer than half think the nation’s economy will improve in 2010, even though Americans rated 2009 as a huge downer.

Holiday shoppers get creative in bad economy

With the holiday season in full swing, Americans hit by the recession and unemployment are remembering “it’s the thought that counts” and finding budget-friendly ways to give their loved ones gifts.

“People want to know how to manage the holiday on a budget without offending anyone. This is a huge topic right now,” said Anna Post of the Emily Post etiquette school in Vermont.

Nearly one in two Americans — around 45 percent — plans to spend less this year than last on their Christmas presents, according to a study by marketing bureau Retail Forward.

Fully 62 percent say that price will be their top consideration in weighing a purchase, according to another survey by research firm NPD.

Got a light? Not much longer in Virginia eateries

The bluish haze that has hung over Richmond’s Third Street Diner’s bar and booths for decades finally lifts next month as a new anti-smoking law takes hold in Virginia, a huge shift for a state whose tobacco habit dates to the Jamestown settlement some 400 years ago.

Starting Dec. 1, Virginia will join dozens of other states that ban smoking in restaurants. Restaurants in Virginia will be allowed to have a smoking area only if they segregate smokers into rooms with ventilation systems separate from those that heat and cool nonsmoking patrons.

For most of its history dating to colonial times, tobacco was Virginia’s premier crop and economic staple. Frescoes of the golden-brown leaf adorn the ceiling of the Capitol rotunda, a short cab ride from the massive factory that supplies the world with Marlboros.

Yet this year, strict new curbs on lighting up where food and drink are sold were enacted by lawmakers in Richmond and in Raleigh, N.C., major tobacco capitals where cigarette giants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have been accustomed to getting their way.

Americans consider economy in Thanksgiving travel plans

The Miles family is changing it up this year in the annual American race to make it to the table for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of booking plane tickets, they opted to take the 1,100-mile trip by train.

Airline tickets seemed too pricey, so they paid $800 for the five of them to travel roundtrip by train from their Syracuse, N.Y., home to Omaha, Neb. to see family. Airfare would have totaled more than $2,500, the family said.

“Economic considerations topped the list for us,” Maureen Miles, 44, a doctor’s office receptionist, said sitting with her husband and three kids at a crowded Union Station in Chicago before their train departed Tuesday afternoon.

“If the price was right, we would have considered flying,” she said.

Texting behind the whell: The real road rage

A short time ago I was stopped in traffic when a car behind me rammed into the rear end of my car. The driver was texting his wife that he was late for work.

Thankfully, nobody was injured. But my lovingly maintained car was damaged, and the other driver was even later for work.

Not long after that, I was walking up to an intersection when a woman using her BlackBerry almost stepped in front of a car driven by a man who speeded up to make the light while holding and talking on his cell phone, although such a practice is banned for all drivers in the District of Columbia.

Thus, I was pleased to hear that the White House, learning that 6,000 people were killed last year because of distracted drivers, has decided to put its weight behind finding solutions to the problem.

Speed bumbs: A honking annoyance of life

Speed bumps are a minor irritant of American life. Now there’s another, more major irritant — drivers who honk when they come to one.

Being something of a modern-culture laggard, I was unaware that honking at speed bumps is a broad, seemingly spontaneous protest movement. Drivers have taken to honking their horns every time they cross a speed bump in reprisal for the neighborhood that presumably asked that the bump be installed.