Saturday, July 29, 2006

Don't Forget the Little Guy

I had the opportunity to experience the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as they performed the famous Symphony No. 9 of Beethoven. That particular composition has always been one of my favorites and I was thrilled at the chance to see it being performed live at the Strathmore! Thanks so much to Staci and Charles Schwab for the tickets! It's such a thrill to see a symphony I had heard on CD so many times being performed live.

Seeing a full orchestra and a chorus of approximately 150 people gives new light and revelation to just how complex the performance of a symphony is. You also come to realize just what level of practice and perfection is involved in such a thing. Watching the string section bring out notes of varying volume, the majesty of the woodwinds and brass section giving instrumental voice to the chorus that eventually joined the music. It made me fondly remember the days when I played violin in the school orchestra. I played for a couple of years until finally giving up since I was eventually the only string player for the entire school. There's a difference between being a soloist due to skill versus being a soloist due to lack of other interest!

Still, as I watched the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra draw forth inspiration and play the wonderful number 9, I also realized that there are many other instruments that don't get much prominence yet play an integral role. After the concert I began to wonder how those musicians finally got to play those instruments. I mean some of the more popular instruments like the sax, trumpet or violin are obvious choices. So are the flute and clarinet. But what about the bassoon or even the triangle? How do you get into that!?!

I knew that the triangle has a small role in the final movement of the symphony but I sat in wonder as the triangle player (a trianglist?) sat for over an hour waiting for his cue. He sat and sat and sat. At least the four vocal soloists had time to relax backstage until the third movement began and were sitting face forward for only fifteen minutes before their time to shine. But the triangle player remained on stage throughout. Maybe they didn't want to draw attention to the fact that he was there? I mean here come the soloists and then there's the triangle guy... I guess that would be a bit.... odd.

Still and all, the symphony wouldn't have been complete had he not been there. It may have been for less than thirty seconds, but the great Beethoven added that little bit for the triangle guy. Maybe the immortal beloved he wrote of in his final cryptic letter was not a woman, maybe it was an instrument that he loved yet felt that was underutilized. Maybe the triangle was one of the simplest instruments he first mastered and decided to give it a moment to shine in his greatest work. He often referred to the ninth symphony as his greatest work. It's probably all the more special for the triangle guy since he has a moment of solo glory in the work as well. I guess it's good never to forget the little guy!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Flunking Tests

Well now isn't this a can of worms? After all the years of complaining about Lance Armstrong and the possibility of his having used performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour De France it seems that the rumors have finally come to pass. Fortunately the multi-year winning rider isn't the one who is guilty or accused this time. Floyd Landis who won a stunning come from behind victory apparently flunked a drug test earlier today when high amounts of testosterone were found in his system. For years the watchers of this storied race had accused the Americans of using such drugs to ensure their victories.

Armstrong had to endure these stories for years after winning his second and subsequent races. It was like the accusations against Ferrari in earlier years where they were accused of using driving aids to help their racers out race their competition. But whereas it's a bit easier to hid things in a complex machine like an Formula 1 car, it isn't so easy to do in something even more complex, the human body. Now I don't know whether or not Landis did or did not use drugs and therefore I won't applaud the discovery nor will I damn him for this revalation.

What I will do instead is shake my head in disappointment. All too often these days, there appears to be a growing trend where doping appears to be the way for many athletes to get ahead and make a name for themselves. Baseball players who shoot substances into themselves with 'no knowledge of what it is'. Football players shooting up for that added strength and endurance. It just doesn't seem to end. It's not a good trend. I didn't live in the good old days where a players vice was typically tobacco or an excess of food or alcohol. But these days it's sad how often these accusations are coming true.

If the findings against Landis are true then I will have to hang my head even lower. Despite having been found to have done nothing illegal; the spotlight will again focus on Armstrong and doubt will remain as to whether or not he did indeed use drugs to ensure his record-breaking victories. I have confidence and faith that he hasn't, but it doesn't really matter. The public tide goes one way or the other and often we are just swept up in the fervor. What many of these athletes often fail to realize is that the people looking up to them are kids.

It's a cliche I grant you, but it's a true cliche. Hard work has been something many of us try to avoid. Some more skillfully than others. But when we reach a point where we feel that a little bit of a boost, whether it be drugs or something else, is needed, then we not only cheat ourselves but we cheat those who look up to us or depend on us. I certainly hope that the accusations against Landis are false. Like it or not, America isn't on the good side of many other countries, and it would be a shame to give another reason for people's opinion to sink lower.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Something Special

Sometimes it doesn't require a reason to do something special for someone. It doesn't have to be extravagant or showy. It doesn't have to be elegant or glamourous. It doesn't even have to be something tangible. But the fact that you are doing something unasked, or out of the goodness of your heart, or for the want of doing something is what makes it all the more special. It can be romantic or friendly. It can be heartfelt or just plain happy. Why? Because it is a good thing to do.

The world is full of cynics who look at all actions as being brought about out of the desire for something in return. The philosophy I follow is that if you choose to do something, do it for fulfilling the desire to do it and not because you desire the rewards for such an action. Living your life with that attitude can never lead to fulfillment or happiness. You'll never be satisfied because as you work harder, you'll expect bigger and bigger rewards, and if you don't receive what you feel you're owed, you either end up hating the fact that you did the action, or are so disappointed that you never feel the desire to help again.

It's totally understandable and not wholly unreasonable to feel that way. After all, we are all human. But consider what uncalled for random acts of kindness can do for someone. Helping someone stranded on the side of the road. Visiting a friend at the hospital. Raising someone's spirits if they're down. Helping someone by volunteering your time. Spending time with someone not seeking anything more than having a bit of companionship. All these things are what we should all seek to find in ourselves. It will make you feel better about yourself and the world around you. And in time, you'll find that more and more people will join the cause. You'll never run short on cynics but perhaps if we all band together, we can cut down on the numbers we see out there.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I Just Work Here

Anyone who knows me or knows my family knows that we love theatre. We've been involved in theatre at some point or the other almost every year. My parents were founding members of the Washington Area's Hindi Theatre group, Natya Bharati and as a result, both my brother and i were exposed to a lot of the fun that goes on in front of the curtain and behind it during a show. This past weekend I was lucky enough to be involved in another one; this time I took my place behind the curtain.... although I was actually in front of it. But more on that later.

The program was put together by two of my aunties who are distant relatives (or so I like to say); Vandana Gupte and Rani Varma. The two of them, who are sisters famous for their acting and singing, put together a show which is about the life of a woman. Any woman. As the play describes through video clips, live acting and song, the life of a woman is quite unique, yet there are elements of it that are so universal that it can truly be said that all women are sisters and that no one else can understand them as well as another woman. (I suppose that's one of the reasons why so many of us guys suffer from foot-in-the-mouth disease).

Although the two of them have performed the show on numerous occasions, they travel from city to city and count on local support to help them out. There are usually many willing volunteers to help out with a show and as such, it presents another opportunity for the comradeship of the stage to bring together a group of people for a few hours of tension, nervous anticipation, but overall, entertainment and fun. I had volunteered to do anything needed in and around the play. I am good at general help or something in particular. Somehow, word got out that I was able to program my VCR and set the clock on it so it didn't perpetually blink "12:00". As a result, I was asked to help out with the technical side of things, namely the lights and the sound.

Now I believe Jerry Seinfeld said it best that guys often don't have a clue about technology, but we generally look and hope for a sign that makes it so obvious what to do that we don't have to ask for instructions or directions. In this case, the job was made easier by the fact that the light cues were designed to be controlled from a pair of buttons so that was set. Prior to any show, you always try to get a handle on what will be needed, what logistical concerns may arise and basically, who will be doing what. But no matter how much planning you do, there are always little problems that crop up.

Still, these little 'set-backs' are what make theatre so exciting. It's amazing what the audience doesn't realize. It's enlightening to be backstage at shows like this. Most of what the audience sees is solid in appearance but it is often held together with lots of masking tape and a little bit of luck. (Incidentally... if you are ever taping something down on a wood floor.... 3M's Painter's Masking Tape is quite good!). Although I ended up watching the show from the side of the stage, ducking down on occasion to avoid distracting the audience, I marvelled at the wonderful story and acting and singing and was happy to have been a part of it. It just reinforces what I love about theatre.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Close to Home

Over the past few days, evacuees from Lebannon and the region have been trickling back into the United States. After a week of what can only amount to war, Americans are returning home after being in the line of fire for the opening volleys. I can't imagine what it must be like. Some will argue that they knew that this was a possiblity when they went to the region. Others would say that they shouldn't have gone in the first place. But do they know that people do have family there? That despite the overwhelming desire to believe that the region is a war-torn landscape that people live there too? As hard as it is to imagine, when there isn't shooting going on, it can be a normal place like the one we live in as well.

It's unfortunate for us that we don't get exposed to that side of things in the media as often as we do everything else. But talk to the Americans returning home and they will often speak of the horrors that they saw over there. But the media won't always show us the other part of the interviews where they talk about the people they have left behind over there. Families like themselves who can't really evacuate anywhere because that is there home.

Imagine the horrors of war in our own country. Terrible thought isn't it? The attacks on September 11th and similar such incidents have shaken our belief in being safe in our own country. Perhaps that is what is driving both sides in the conflict to seek some sort of resolution to the points of contention. I am not a politician, nor am I a policy maker or military leader. But what I do know is that families on both sides of the line are being affected by this conflict. They are losing loved ones and friends who may probably don't have any direct impact on what's going on in the political machine of their respective countries.

I can only hope that the two sides in this war can come to an agreement on how best to deal with the situation. Continuing escalation will only lead to greater violence and loss of life. The people there can't be evacuated. The people there may not want war. They may not like their enemies, but I'm sure they'll like the horrors of war visited upon them even less. There must be a way out of the madness which seems to be arriving on their doorsteps every hour of every day over the past few weeks. One can only hope... and pray that such horrors never visit us upon our doorsteps. September 11th was enough.... we never need more.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lost.... and Found

I am usually not one to jump on a bandwagon unless I thoroughly believe in something. The "Lost" bandwagon was something I wanted to jump onto, but having missed episodes of the first season, I never got into it. I don't like being late either. One thing my friends will all tell you is that I'm usually a punctual person. I never mind waiting for others, but I don't like to make others wait for me. In this case, I let almost two full seasons of "Lost" pass me by before I finally caught on and joined the fever. I am now a full season into the show and I can honestly say that it is one of the most clever shows on television today.

I have been a loyal viewer of only a handful of shows in my life. Usually I ended up following the show because I loved the premise, I loved the characters, or I loved the world in which the story existed. The first which i watched nearly to completion was "NYPD Blue". It was a show that both my dad and I watched regularly and it was our thing, we always watched it together. It was a nice bonding experience.

The next was "ER". Mom and I started watching this show from the first episode. We stuck with it for a number of years before the two of us slowly stopped watching. Not due to the late hour or hour-long duration, but simply because the story no longer held our interest. I mean you can only take so many love triangles before you decide that enough is enough. And coming from someone who watches Bollywood movies, that's truly saying something!

For the past two years I have been faithfully watching "Battlestar Galactica". I love that the show is a new spin on the original 70's version and I love that they take modern story lines or plots and weave them into a fictional world. I am proud to say I was on that bandwagon from the beginning and I have enjoyed every bump in the road so far. With "Lost", I am a bit late in arriving but I have enjoyed the rush to catch up. The mystery and build up is wonderful and every episode leaves you wondering even more. I have yet to delve into the second season but I'm sure I shant be disappointed.

The problem with such shows is that when starting out, you can go in so many different directions. You can seemingly jump to any device and it will be plausible. The only drawback is that with each passing season you build up expectations more and more. With a show on TV, that can be a smaller problem. With something like the prequels to "Star Wars", we had nearly 20 years to anticipate and the end result was a little less than what we'd hoped for. Still and all, I have high hopes. I'm sure the ending will be worth the journey.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Beat the Summer Heat

So summer is officially upon us and already we're beginning to bake. I just love the interviews with people that are often shown on TV, they stand drenched in sweat with a bottle of water (often half-full) complaining about the heat and wishing that it were winter already. On the flip side, if you see these same folks in the winter they will be bundled up with only their eyes visible and a cup of coffee (again.... half full) steaming as they complain about the cold and wish for the heat of summer. You just can't make some people happy I guess. But still, we are reaching near record temperatures along the eastern seaboard and we haven't even made it through to the dog-days of August as yet.

Having lived in DC for the majority of my life, I know how wild the weather can get. It goes from extremely hot to extremely cold. The years that I spent at the University of Maryland taught me that all too well. You hiked from one end of campus to the other with your bags and your books weighing you down slowly sweating away the pounds. With limited time and transport to shuttle you around campus at times, it became almost a necessity to walk fast in the summer heat and winter cold in order to avoid missing class.

As such it also became an indavertant necessity to come up with ways to stay cool. Everyone has their methods, but I thought I'd share some of mine with you. One of the easiest and most obvious is to stay hydrated. Drinking water by the bottle full is a good way to make sure that you replace the liquids you'll sweat off. Some people swear by cold soda. At one time I would have agreed with them but the fact is that soda actually serves to dehydrate you even more. you can drink it continuously but it won't help you over the long run. That and the fact that you're ingesting large amounts of sugar which is completely counter if you're attempting to workout and lose weight!

So how else to stay cool? The consumption of ice cream is definitely appealing as well but as with soda, you end up with an abundance of sugar in the system. The side effect of this is that at least you have the energy to continue bounding from one place to another. As a college student it was quite easy to resort to rather.... unique methods of staying cool. At times it must have seemed a bit strange but when you're stuck out in the summer heat looking to stay cool you will do almost anything. One of the popular methods was to buy a drink from the dining hall and then once it was empty, pour the ice into our caps so that it would melt and drip cold ice over our heads.

Another method which was rather childish I grant you, but still loads of fun (and effective in cooling you off) was to run through the sprinklers on campus and allow the water to evaporate as you walk along. The key to using this method successfully is ensuring that you do it with enough time to dry out because no matter what, it's no fun sitting soaked to the bone in an air conditioned classroom. Even in the height of summer it's possible to catch a cold!

Common sense is probably the wisest course of action and should dictate the best way for you to stay cool. Wearing long pants and a heavy sweater is probably not the wisest course of action but to each his own. I suppose we have yet to find a better method of staying cool than making a journey to the beach and staying cool in the surf. There is something to be said of going to the beach. I think Kennedy said it best when he said that since we are supposed to have come from the ocean, it is only natural that we would wish to return there. I'm inclined to agree....

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Just a word to my non Washingtonian readers prior to delving into today's blog. Although I talk about a bridge specific to Maryland and Virginia, in the grander scheme of things it is a comment on commuting and driving throughout the world I suppose. So in that sense, we can all relate to some of the things going on in Washington this weekend.

So what's going on? What are we celebrating? It's much to late for the Fourth of July and much to soon for Labor Day and such; so what could it be? Well, the simple and short answer is that it's the opening of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge spanning the Potomac River, linking Maryland and Virginia. Why is that cause for celebration? Well, if you are to believe the news reports and propoganda being bandied about, it's due to the fact that this bridge will solve all the woes that have plagued commuters for years now.

Anyone who has spent any time in Washington is familiar with the Wilson Bridge. It's almost guaranteed to back up no matter when you go. It's just a question of how far back you'll start lining up. On the days (which are rare) where the bridge opens, you can almost expect to sit in traffic for miles and miles. Having driven from Maryland to Springfield / Ft. Belvoir for two years, I know that pain all too well. It was bad enough to help inspire me to move to Virginia. I have lived here happily for three years now though that doesnt' mean my commuting woes are any less woeful. But that's a different blog for a different time.

So this bridge is supposed to help ease congestion. Back when the bridge replacements were being proposed they had suggested everything from a tunnel to a suspension bridge to a draw bridge (which is what we had and what we ended up with). That point in itself is not so much at issue as is the fact that there are a tremendous number of commuters who use the bridge. Unfortunately, geography is such that there are numerous exits and entries on both sides of the span often necessitating split-second lane-shifting, rapid deceleration / acceleration and overall driving skills... sadly something many of us are lacking. In the years that the bridge has been put up, there have been numerous other traffic tie-ups and delays and through it all one thing remains the same... traffic caused by bad or negligent driving.

No matter what we do to the roads: add ten lanes, create HOV lanes, give carpoolers incentives to continue carpooling; it all boils down to the person behind the wheel. And if that person can't get a grip on driving properly and safely (yielding to incoming traffic, obeying traffic laws and such) we will end up right where we started.... gridlocked!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Senseless Act

The news about the deadly train bombings in Bombay came out of the blue yesterday. Having been to Bombay numerous times I have seen the trains click-clacking by so many times that it is almost part of the background. Yesterday, that normalcy was suddenly and violently changed forever with the bombings that have killed close to 200 people and will have likely killed so many more.

The attackers, whoever and wherever they are, chose to detonate the bombs at a time when they would have been packed with the most people, and that time is rush hour. Most of us here think of rush hour in terms of traffic on the road or packed buses and trains. In India that takes on a whole new meaning as public transportation is often filled to the gills with people. That makes any such attack most assuredly a deadly one with a high fatality rate. But in the face of all this, one question remains. Why? Why were these targets chosen? What message was trying to be sent?

Whatever that message is, it has gotten through loud and clear; but at what overall cost? No matter what side of the issue you take on topics such as Kashmir, Korea or any of the other hotspots around the world, it does not justify attacking civilians to get your message out. Every victim of yesterday's bombing was someone's husband, wife, father, son, mother or daughter. Some may have had a very passing association with whatever problem may have driven these terrorists to bomb the train. However, at the time they were doing nothing more than attempting to get home.

The world isn't a perfect place, nor will it become so in the short run. I have hopes that the world will someday become a safe place for our children and their children. Slowly but surely we are beginning to head in that direction but with these senseless acts of violence erupting around the world, that goal seems a bit farther off. The further tragedy is that the deaths of these hundreds of people, as well as the deaths that are occuring around the world, will have a short term impact. We will sense the tragedy of the situation before moving on with our lives; but nothing will change until we change it.

Gandhi once said, "We must be the change we wish to see." For these terrorists, if they are seeking change, they are going about it in the wrong manner. Killing innocents to gain attention to spread a message spreads only one message in my mind; and that is that death and destruction is a sad way to make a point, that too when it is against innocents. Remember, the next time it could be your mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter out there who is killed because someone wanted to make a point. Isn't there a better way of doing it rather than squandering the one precious freedom we all share.... Life?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sports on an International Level

The World Cup ended this weekend and Italy came out on top after winning the penalty kick shootouts at the end. The final match was a very heated affair with some controversial calls and some memorable incidents that will likely be remembered for years to come. Zidane's headbutt is the one that comes to mind most vividly. But incidents such as that aside, one aspect of the game stuck out at me the most and that was the way in which the players and indeed the world, seemed to come together to enjoy a month of competition among some of the best players in the world. Whether you follow football (that's soccer to us Yankees) or not, it was hard not to get caught up in the action. And it also revealed to us the very nature of ourselves.

Despite the competition and rivalry between France and Italy in this final, players from opposing sides helped on another up when they fell, exchanged embraces and smiles for having played against one another in competition on the world stage. Sports are unique in that way. I always found it fascinating that you could give a child anywhere in the world a ball, and without saying a word, that child knows what to do with it. It is something innate and basic in all of us and it's something that we should always remember. We will always root for out home team but it's just as much fun to cheer for someone else as well. I'm sure of all the thousands of fans in the stands in Munich this past weekend, not everyone of them was either French or Italian but they all united for one day for the simple love of the game and of the competition. And this isn't only limited to football by any means.

It was announced today that Juan Pablo Montoya is leaving Formula One to join his old team boss, Chip Ganassi in NASCAR. Many look at it as a step down from the pinnacle of auto racing but look at the deeper meaning behind it. Once every four years, for a month, everyone in the world comes to know of the skill involved in 'the beautiful game' that is the World Cup. With the addition of Juan Pablo to NASCAR, the fans of the world will soon come to know of the popularity of NASCAR. One can argue that NASCAR remains a relatively American sport, but with the addition of firey JPM, I can only imagine how many more people will tune in.

Just check out any Formula One race and see how the fans of the world come together to cheer on their favorites. Similarly, once JPM begins racing in NASCAR, I'm sure there will be a similar rise in popularity. Sometimes all it takes is one little thing to peak our interest and we begin to look into something. Soon that fleeting interest can become a full blown obsession. It's just another example of the power of sport and how it can ignite the passions in all of us.... no matter what language we speak.


Friday, July 07, 2006

What is Acting?

Johnny Depp returns to theatres this weekend as the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow in the sequel to "Pirates of the Caribbean". The first film was a straightforward 'check-your-brain-at-the-door' type of deal and the sequel is no different. It's a great movie and it lives up to what a sequel is supposed to be. Johnny Depp continues his spin as the indomitable Captain with his usual style and again the debate raged as to whether you can call it acting or not. The debate stems from the fact that rumor has it that Johnny Depp based his portrayal on the famous Rolling Stone... Keith Richards. Whether that's true or not is beside the point; many folks argue that basing a characterization on someone is not truly acting.

I have done a bit of acting on and off over the years and I don't consider myself an expert by any means. There are those who go in for method acting or deep background research into roles. I just try to understand the character in the context of the story and base my portrayal on either someone I know who fits the mold or someone who resembles the character I am portraying. That's sort of what Johnny Depp did. But is that truly acting?

I would argue that it is. If you're basing your character on someone or something, you are still working to convey that characterization. Johnny Depp deftly portrays Sparrow as being all there but with a few screws missing. Seeing how he has acted in other roles proves that this isn't Johnny Depp in another costume but rather as another person. That's what acting is; being able to convince someone that you are someone else. Johnny Depp has been around for a number of years and has played a variety of characters. We have numerous roles to compare to say that indeed he is able to portray a wide variety of people.

But what about someone who isn't as exposed? Take for example Brandon Routh, the newest Superman. Many of those who have seen the movie have commented on the fact that his portrayal and mannerisms are eerily similar to the late Christopher Reeve who essayed the role during the late 70's and early 80's. One could argue again that this isn't acting but look at the movie as a whole. "Superman Returns" was to be a tribute to the Richard Donner classic. I think it succeeded because we saw a successor to Christopher Reeve. Brandon Routh being a relative newcomer is a fresh slate with a handful of roles. We can't say whether he can do any other roles, but his efforts to harken back to Reeve have been successful. That was the goal and I think he and Bryan Singer were successful.

Routh took inspiration from Reeve, Depp from Richards. These characters do come alive with their portrayals. The success of this method is based on the fact as to whether you spend the movie wondering who they based their character on or if you are fully invested in the story. I for one was invested in the story and would consider their works of acting a success.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Brother to Brother

It's hard to believe that it is 26 years today since my brother was born. I've doted on him since the beginning. I don't know what it was but mom and dad had both told me at the time that I now had a baby brother that I had to help take care of. I don't know what in that statement made me the way I was but I took that statement to heart. Over the years we've had our tiffs and spats like all siblings will but deep down we always end up having a soft spot for one another. In the beginning I looked the part of the older brother, I was bigger and stronger and made sure that no one messed around with him.

As time has gone on, these roles have reversed, and Amar has become one of the most mature young men I know. He's also bigger and stronger than me so now I rely on him to bail me out of trouble when trouble comes calling. Soft spoken and reserved at time, he has a wonderful wit and sense of humor which when released, can come out in torrents. He restrains his laughter to the point that when it is released, you can be sure that it is for good reason. He is caring and considerate and having been away from home for some time now, he has a great appreciation for his family.

Having grown up with little family in the country, we were more or less just the four of us; mom, dad, Amar and me. We always had our fun and the fact that we didn't have loads of family around always meant that the four of us tried that much harder to make birthdays and holidays even more special. Seeing as how he's finishing up his Masters in San Francisco makes celebrating a bit hard but it just means we have something else to celebrate when he comes to visit.

I consider myself very lucky to have a brother like him. He's well grounded and is a good counter point to my insanity. He's a good friend to talk to and discuss things with. And he's a good brother to have. I miss him and with that he were here to celebrate with but I'm sure he knows that mom, dad and I wish him a very happy birthday and we wish him continued success and we know that it won't be long before we see his name up on the big screen! Have a happy birthday Amar!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Speek N' Spell - Simplified Spelling?

It's good to stand out in a crowd. It's good to be different from time to time because it ensures diversity. Why swim with the tide when you can swim against it? Well that appears to be the philosophy of the Simplified Spelling Society as well. What is the simplified spelling society you ask? Quite simply (pun intended) it is a group that is advocating that the spelling of words be simplified so that they way the word sounds is the way we spell them. Now what wood that meen? Well, we'd spell wurds this way which will make it easier to teach kids to spell. Now I don't know about you, but this idea scares me a bit. Not because it's different but because it's leading us down a scary path from which we would have a difficult time returning from.

Many groups are advocating this type of spelling in the hope that it will help promote literacy and better grammar among new readers and writers. I can see how that would be beneficial but it would be a crutch rather than a help in my view. Already we have kids who are net savvy and who use the internet like nobody's business. These kids use instant messaging and e-mail; webcams and MySpace and such are just some of the latest ways kids are communicating with one another. But what's worrisome is that already we are seeing a trend where kids are using abbreviations to save from having to type up words while typing.

Brb, ttyl, Lol, are just some examples of the 'net-speak' that is used in common parlance (Be right back, talk to you later, and Laughing out loud... just in case you didn't know). There's nothing wrong with that when one is speaking to friends or relatives using an instant messaging system, but where the problem appears to be cropping up more frequently is in schools and on assignments. Kids are starting to use these abbreviations in lieu of actual words and although many teachers know what these shortforms translate to, they are deducting points from papers and assignments for using the shortform.

One could argue that if the meaning is clear, there is no need to deduct points, but is the meaning really clear? If we begin to accept these papers soon we'll start seeing papers written with nothing more than a string of letters across the top. Dan Brown will have nothing with "The DaVinci Code". Every teacher would have to use their logic and skill to decipher what students have written and recorded.

Domestic issues aside; what about when we go to foreign lands? I don't believe that there is such a strong push to accept this style of English elsewhere in the world and if we are to implement this system here, it will only create problems for us in the world arena. How are students of thise new spelling system going to know how to read anything outside of the country? How are we going to communicate with other countries? English is a common language but it stands on the verge of being not so common anymore.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Third Time's A Charm?

The space shuttle Discovery had another launch scrubbed again this weekend. NASA officials are now hopeful that the shuttle will lift off on Tuesday, the fourth of July. It would be quite appropriate for America's space program to return to the stars on her birthday. I for one am hopeful that the mission is successful. From childhood I have been a fanatic of air and space related things. I had feverent hopes that by the time we reached the 21st century that space travel would have been closer to reality than it currently is. Still, the continued delays and the constant push to meet launch deadlines highlight some of the failings of our current program.

The space shuttle is an aging ship, still operating past what was supposed to be a limited lifespan. Seemingly following the old adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' we continue to use these shuttles. However, it is time to invest in newer technology that will be cheaper, and easier to maintain. We have the technology we just lack the funding. Interest in space seemingly waned shortly after the Apollo missions that took us to the moon came to an end. It seems that most of the public is content that our explorations of the stars be limited to the adventures on the movie or TV screen.

At one time, President Bush made overtures about landing a man on the moon again and then on to Mars. Again there was varied support. Bush's timing of his statement couldn't have come at an odder time. With the economy not on level ground, it seemed ill-advised to suddenly invest billions in a new high-risk space adventure. It is something that we need to pick up on but we need to take steps. Establishing the space station was the first step. It takes far less fuel and energy to get to the moon or Mars when you're already in space. So, let's continue to support the space station. In addition, let's come up with a new space shuttle system that will be easier to work with than what we currently have.

The continued problems or issues that are coming up with the current attempts to launch Discovery shows that while the system works, it is not free of flaws that can help question the safety of the fleet. In space travel, there are no guarentees and no constants. One launch varies from the next and because a sensor fails today doesn't mean that it will fail tomorrow. That is something we need to understand. Foam will fall. When something shakes and rattles as much as the shuttle, there is bound to be something falling off. We must continue our quest into the stars, we must reach the moon again...and then onwards to Mars.... and beyond.