“FAIR GAME”—Go see it!!

I just saw perhaps my favorite movie so far this year, the political thriller “FAIR GAME”, based on memoirs by Valerie Plame (My Life as a Spy) and her husband, Joe Wilson (The Politics of Truth). I was glued to my television set when the events were actually happening in 2004 because of the nakedness and brutality of leaking a spy’s identity. This wasn’t a John Le Carre fictional thriller. The subject matter in this reenactment of events is inherently more dramatic and spellbinding!  Go—no run—to see it!

FAIR GAME focuses on what unfairly happened to this couple, rather than preaching about the Bush Administration of 2003-2004. Plame‘s cover as a spy was blown in 2003 by the White House. In a Washington Post op-ed piece, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” former UN ambassador Joe Wilson (beautifully nuanced by Sean Penn) writes that the Bush administration distorted information about nuclear weapons to justify war against Iraq. In retaliation for that bold offense, the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame (superbly played by Naomi Watts) is leaked to the press. Karl Rove reportedly told Chris Mathews that Valerie Plame was “fair game.”  Hence, the title.

A suspense-filled, sometimes terrifying glimpse into the bowels of political power, FAIR GAME is riveting. Both Plame and Wilson are relatively apolitical. Valerie especially is portrayed as an unwilling, seemingly bewildered, but loyal civil servant who finds herself betrayed by her beloved CIA. Her career is destroyed, her marriage strained to its limits, and her life and those she loves are threatened when her identity is exposed. Yet still she is not as outraged as her husband becomes.  We see a few chilling clips of actual footage of Bush and Cheney giving speeches which underscore the deception they are about to play.

The acting by Watts and Penn is so sharp that, when Valerie Plame was interviewed, she said that her friends told her Naomi Watts nailed her personality and character. I guarantee Naomi Watts will be up for an Academy Award! And Director Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity”, “Mrs. And Mrs. Smith”) directs fast-paced and furious, always reminding us of the power in government, illegal abuse of that power, misinformation, manipulation, and character assassination. Watching this movie is unbalancing and disturbing: the personal drama overshadowed by the arrogance and brutality of absolute power.

Off & Away: Travel Auction Sites—Why Am I Not Surprised?

I discovered the auction site, “Off & Away”, after reading a New York Times article in June.  Off & Away has what seems like an ingenious business model: bidding on hotel suites for what could be pennies on the dollar. I thought I would give it a try.

Being susceptible to becoming obsessed over the idea of bidding in an auction –one of my favorite things to do– but I rationalize that my bidding is usually going to a good cause such as a school fundraiser or a nonprofit charity—I had some fear and trepidation about getting my feet wet in an anonymous free-for-all public “penny” auction online. So, I first researched the website:  www.offandaway.com.  Two former executives from Amazon.com and Amazon’s venture capital firm invested in it.  Not too shabby so maybe it was legitimate, not a scam.  Each day at least two or three  hotels are listed as well as upcoming auctions for planning ahead.  Almost all of the hotels featured are in the U.S. with the vast majority in three cities:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  All three happen to be some of my favorite destinations so I was hooked.

With each bid you cast, the price of the suite goes up by $0.10 and up to 20 seconds is added to the timer.  There is a “hot zone”: usually about thirty minutes before the auction is scheduled to end.  Depending on how many other bidders decide to hop on board and start bidding during the “hot zone”, the auction time can be extended for hours.  I have watched it extend over five hours with the so-called  “last minute” rush of bidding.  This jacks up the price considerably.

Being the addictive personality type that the Internet further enables, I researched the site, looking for trends in time and day when traffic was heaviest. No trends were spotted, with the exception that perhaps the three cities I was looking at were the most popular and had the largest swings in final bids, anywhere from a low of $30 to a high of over $1000.  I was undaunted and jumped in.

My first and only bidding pitted me against at most four other bidders. My heart kept pumping.  I would read my name on the screen, after placing more than $50 in bids on the desired target suite.  The message was something like:  “Don’t give up.  Hang in there.  You’re the top bidder so far.”  It was hard for me not to be carried away by the excitement and emotion of the moment.  I didn’t win.  The suite went for way over the final price I was willing to pay.

Are you still with me?  I can see travel auctions becoming addicting.  I started wondering if there were software programs that helped some bidders place their bids more successfully.  Things called “bid bots”, automated bidding programs that help either the bidder or “sniping programs” which help the seller place bogus bids to inch up the bidding war.  Perhaps when the host computer sees a frenzy of bids from one bidder (let’s say me), the auction site plants a bid, jacking up the price by ten cents, so I won’t walk away.

The upside of all of this bidding is that the bids you have spent can be applied to any of over 100,000 hotels in Off & Away’s inventory.  I checked out the hotel rates.  Off & Away definitely matches hotels.com so there is nothing to lose in terms of booking a reservation using up your bids, within seven days of the auction closing.          Wondering… is hotels.com far behind in acquiring this formidable competitor?  Hmm…. that wouldn’t surprise me one bit!

Blogger Nube—What’s Up with That?!

This Friday, November 19, will be my blog’s two-week anniversary.  So, for those of you out there who have been contemplating writing a blog, here are my Top Ten tips from my past two weeks’ blogging experience.  Obviously, I need to do a lot more blogging to give advice to non-nubes.  But what I learned in my first two weeks is very fresh, so I want to pass it on to those of you in the midst of what can be a rather scary process! As my experience grows, I will be adding more suggestions.  If you’re a nube at this too, by all means send me your comments!

1)    Read others’ blogs to get a lay of the land. Blogging is a time suck!

2)    Set aside time to write at least two times a week. The week goes by quickly! Blogging is a labor of love. One of my friends with an award-winning blog takes her laptop on vacation to make sure she gets her new posts uploaded on time!

3)    Use a simple, free version of WordPress or Blogspot for your “beta site” (Silicon Valley jargon for “testing site”) to see if you like it. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice—lots of it! The upside to a free blogging site: less time to get accustomed to the templates and software.  The downside:  WordPress is sandwiched in between the blog title and “.com”.   My blog had the middle name “wordpress” (www.unhealedwound.wordpress.com) until I hosted my own website.

4)    When you graduate to wanting a blog without the word “wordpress” or “blogspot” or whatever blog hosting site you are on, then you have to go to the trouble of re-entering all the information onto your own hosted site.  I use www.godaddy.com because their customer service is outstanding.  This costs money: about three times as much for a two-year contract.  So, make sure you want to do this!

5)    On your own website, make sure you look at it frequently to see if the appearance and content are what you like.  Again, read more blogs by others.  See what you like and ask yourself why.

6)    Set your “comments” section to  “needs approval” first.  I was so excited when I got comments from people who were not my friends. However…

7)    Comments need to be screened! I received requests to be guest bloggers.  When I tried to respond by email with follow-up questions, my email bounced back—a bogus email address!  What’s up with that?!

8)    Some comments from strangers seem really nice, even complimentary.  Go to their URL address (if given) to check the commenter’s background.  I did. One was a porn site!

9)    For possible strategic alliances read blogs and links you may want to be associated with.  Be careful out there in cyberspace.

10)  Most of the blogging tips online are still too technical for me. For additional tips here is one website I found that’s down to earth and really helpful: www.toptenblogtips.com.