Friday, September 29, 2006

A Growing Problem

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is jumping in to combat childhood obesity. What? I know many of you probably had that same reaction as well. Why exactly is the agency tasked with keeping wardrobe malfunctions and foul language from our televisions and radios suddenly joining the fight against childhood obesity? Well, they are getting ready to launch into a multi-year study to determine if there is a link between ads for junk food and the increase in childhood obesity. If the findings are true, then the FCC, with support from many parents' groups, will push to have these ads pulled from television. This seems like the logical thing to do. Something is apparently the cause of an effect so if that cause is removed, the effect should not occur either right?

In physics they say for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. My reaction to this study is that it isn't going to suddenly change kids from being obese to being fine physical specimen. On the contrary; it will simply mean that there will have to be some other avenue to get the word out to kids. I understand that by pulling the ads, kids will not be aware of these fattening products so there will be less pressure on their parents to buy it. But therein lies the rub to this situation. Parents. Pulling the ads means that kids won't ask their parents to buy the product. But if the parent takes a few moments to find out a bit about the product and sees that it's not good for them, they shouldn't buy it in the first place. I can already sense that some parents will jump out and say that they don't have time to do all these things, and I completely understand. However, if you choose not to buy the product, the kids are stuck as it is.

I mean the moves by the FCC would make sense to me if it was aimed at teenagers since they have the ability to make purchases on their own or have their own income enough to buy what they want. But kids are generally not the ones making the runs to the grocery store or making the purchases at the checkout. You have to attack at the source. Rather than pulling ads that seem to cater to kids, have the pertinent information flashed on screen or print it boldly on the front of the boxes. 300 grams of sugar per serving? That would freak me out too!

And if the FCC goes this route, what is to stop them from going farther? Seen those SUVs flipped over in the snow? I would say that the FCC needs to pull ads that makes people think that SUVs are invulnerable machines that can take on anything with no problems. How about SUV ads that tell how little gas mileage they get or how they can flip over in a sharp high-speed turn. What about beer ads? Rather than showing all models and beautiful people who probably don't drink anything other than water, drinking and enjoying beer, why not show reality with an average Joe or Jane drinking beer and getting a beer belly. Make an attack or make a change where it counts. Promote activity in kids; limit their time on the internet or on games. Physical fitness often starts in the home, so lead by example. Don't rely on the FCC to make the change for you. As Gandhi said, "We need to be the change we wish to see."


Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Cliche By Any Other Name

After a long while, my dad and I went out to the movies together. We had a couple of choices out there but he pushed for the movie "Flyboys" since it is a subject that I am fascinated with and the fact that it is an adventure movie enticed me even more. The movie is a loose adaptation of the story of the American Volunteer Squadron of the first World War, the Lafayette Escadrille. These boys joined up with France since they wanted to do something to aid in the war effort. And though it may seem incredulous, a lot of what is depicted in the movie is true. Granted a lot of the characters in the movie are amalgamations of numerous people, but in our ADD society, you have to keep the number of characters to a minimum. But while walking out of the movie, I was struck by the thought about some of the cliches that were in this as well as many other war movies that have come out, and that will come out in the years to come. Here are some of them in no particular order:

The Big Brawl: This is the one fight in which the ragtag group of hellions finally realizes that they are all on the same side and that they are fighting for the same cause. Call it a strange form of male bonding but nothing seems to form comradeship like a good round of fisticuffs.

Letters: Soldiers or people in war movies who write letters are usually the ones who are either seriously wounded or killed. It's a good thing to keep in touch with the family but when acting in a war movie and you see that your character is very much of a writer, you'd better start keeping one eye on your back at all times.

The Religious One: There's always that one member of any squadron, squad, or unit that is deeply religious. They will typically quote passages from the Bible or any other religious text and will generally be seen as the most mature of the bunch. Even in the thick of battle, the Religious One will go with the knowledge that the Lord is on his side.

The Rebel: The rebel is usually the one that the audience is meant to like or side with. The rebel is typically the one who has either been forced into the situation of fighting or is so good at what he or she does that they don't need to stand on authority. Sometimes entire units within the system fall into this category and they are the ones who either are teamed with straight-laced units who enjoy discipline. Mayhem invariably ensues.

The DI: The dreaded DI or drill instructor is the one who always gets stuck with the most pathetic of trainees to ever stand before him. He will constantly encourage them to go back home to their mamas and to stop wasting time. He will push his trainees to the very brink and then they will come to understand just why he does it. While the DI is usually found in training, their personality types often continue beyond these times into the field with commanding officers or sergeants.

The Big Talker: The big talker is the one who is always shown to be the best in training; the first one to be picked as a leader and overall assumed to be the best of the trainees. And the big talker is almost always the one who freezes up in combat or in the face of the enemy. It usually leads to the small scrawny nerd to come up with the plan and lead his squadmates to victory.

The Gentle Giant: The gentle giant is the largest guy in the group who is actually very compassionate. The giant will leap into any fight to save his friends but speaks with a gentle tone that belies his enormous strength. These guys are the backbone of any unit and at the onset of the big brawl, the giant is the first one to step in to aid his friends.

The Grizzled Veteran: The grizzled veteran is the one who has seen it all and done it all and has seen too many of his friends die. He distances himself from the others and remains a loner. He will typically end up befriending one person in the new group who will then get him to open up and become human again just before he loses his life in combat.

These are just some of the many cliches in war movies. But in spite of it all, it just wouldn't be a war movie without it. And in the end, the importance of these movies is to honor the men and women who wear the uniforms of their country and choose to defend their homes and their loved ones by putting their lives on the line. That too may be a cliched statement, but the courage and dedication they show in the face of danger and adversity is one we could stand to see more of.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Who on the What?

Jon Stewart has made a career out of finding the funny in the usually mundane. He's become increasingly popular in recent year with his faux news program, "The Daily Show" which airs on Comedy Central. He has had numerous celebrities and notable people on his show in recent years but there was probably no one as powerful or currently important than his latest guest, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Now while "The Daily Show" is probably among the higher rated shows out there, it definitely isn't the most.... mature show out there. After all, it is airing on Comedy Central. So what was President Musharraf doing there in the first place? Working the crowds baby!

You see, President Musharraf has a new book coming out this week which are his personal memoirs. Why is he writing his memoirs now? Well, after two assasination attempts on him in the past few years, he's a bit concerned he may not see the end of his term. So, he took time out and commited his memoirs to paper and now we have it in published form. You may recall that in 1999, President Musharaff, then a General of the Pakistani army, led a military coup that eventually put him in charge of the country. Promising to return power once the country settled down, it is now six years since he took power and he's still in place.

Some view him as a controversial figure. He took power in a way that most democratic nations would frown upon but seeing as how he has quickly become an ally in the war on terror, some of those dailiances can be... overlooked I suppose. Some see him as the lesser of other evils. The state of affairs in Pakistan cannot be termed as anything but volatile and seeing as how they are a nuclear power now, it's probably a safer idea to have someone friendly in office. There has been talk that he knows where Osama bin Laden is hiding, that he hasn't done enough to end terrorist cells in his country or any of a dozen other accusations. In the face of all that, he's still around, attempting to keep his country in control.

So then what was he doing on "The Daily Show"? Well a sad fact is that most people out there probably don't know who President Musharraf or where Pakistan is located. That's not a slight against Pakistan, but a sad truth. In his own country he is not popular among everyone. After all, one of the assassination attempts was made by members of his own military. Seeing as that is the case, book sales of his aren't likely to be high in Pakistan. That and the fact that there is rampant piracy in those parts means that income for the book will be limited. So what to do? Get your name out to the public. Crack a few jokes on a popular television show and make statements to the effect that your country was threatened to "be bombed back to the Stone Age."

According to President Musharraf, his Intelligence Director was told this by Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage. Is it true or false? I leave it to you to decide; but I am of the feeling that President Musharraf sees alliance with the United States as being a good thing. And although he probably wants to boost his book sales by having a bit of sensationalism leak in here and there, why would he do it by alienating his one most powerful ally nation? Something doesn't sit right does it? Maybe it will come to light someday that the statement was indeed never made and it was just a way to increase interest in the book. Whatever the case is, but it's a strange day when we have the leaders of nations on non-political shows all to help push the sale of their memoirs.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Danger Behind the Wheel

How many of you had toy cars growing up? I don't necessarily mean a pedal car or push car like the one pictured but just a regular old toy car. I'm sure that toy car probably has more miles on it than any other car you have owned or will own. It was your ticket to freedom when you were a kid. You could have adventures and road trips to anyplace your imagination could take you. Your car could do anything, and amazingly enough, it would always have enough gas. And no matter what, you were an excellent driver, so much so that you could literally get your car to fly with no worries. On occasion you probably had a little fender bender here and there too. If you did, then that may explain a lot of things.

What do I mean? Well, the University of Melbourne in Australia recently completed a 20 year study in which they successfully linked bad driving to childhood behavior and attitudes. What does that mean? Well when playing with your toy car(s) did you ever crash them or jump from the sofa to the floor bouncing the entire way? Then you are a prime candidate for being a bad driver. You are most likely aggresive behind the wheel and a general menace on the road.

But wait a second! Can anyone out there honestly tell me that they have never crashed a toy car or jumped it off of a table top to the floor below? Has no one out there pushed their car beyond normal speeds to get it from one side of the room to the other? Of course not! Everyone has and that is completely normal behavior isn't it? Well according to the doctors down under that isn't the case. Kids who show these signs are more likely to show bad driving habits and so they are advising parents to curb such tendencies.

Now I think we can safely say tha tthe majority of us out there have shown these signs as kids but I don't think that necessarily makes us bad drivers. If that were the case wouldn't we all be driving like madmen from one point to the next? Wouldn't there be more fender benders and accidents? Wouldn't there be more road rage? I grant you that there is already a lot of that out on the roads today, but to believe what the doctors are saying, there should logically be a lot more of that type of behavior out there.

I don't think parents need to worry too much about there kids if they show signs like that. I mean there are just some kids who enjoy destroying their toys too much. They're the ones who have action figures that are blown up or all bald Barbie dolls. They're the ones with broken toy cars and doll houses that have seen better days. If they're doing all these destructive things as kids, I would worry about them now even before I worried about them behind the wheel of a car.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Life Imitating Art or Vice Versa

It was an inevitability. Thankfully it happened in Canada as opposed to here, but still, I can already see the results of this latest case. What is it that happened? Well, a man in Canada was caught attempting to steal a car. When he was booked, it was discovered that he had been involved in several similar cases as well. When he was arrested and his mug shots were taken, the police discovered a tatoo which is rather... telling. As you can see from the photograph he has a tatoo which is the logo of the controversial game, "Grand Theft Auto" across his back. Now why the controversy? Well, the game series has been criticized for glamorizing crime and violence. With a name like "Grand Theft Auto" what else could it mean. Initially the game series was a game whereby a player controlled a car theft ring and attempted to build an empire. From there it grew and as games improved so did the scope of the games. There have been several versions now, each more violent and realistic than the first. With stories almost as detailed as a Hollywood movie, it can become difficult for people to separate fantasy from reality.

As a result, I'm waiting for the calls that will inevitably come out regarding this case and that will be calls for the gaming industry to be held accountable for the games they produce. To me, that arguement always seems so childish and stupid; especially when it comes from someone like a congressman. Games have been around for a number of years, but in recent years, the level of realism has been blurring so much that it's almost impossible to tell what is real and what isn't. Don't believe me? Check out some of the graphics on games such as "Madden 07" and then tell me whether you think it's real or not. As a result it's not only games with sports that are becoming realistic but other games as well. I grant you, violent games are probably desensitizing kids to a degree never before experienced, but I wouldn't place 100% of the blame on the gaming industry.

Are they to blame, in some degree certainly. Knowing that their games have been the inspiration for violent behavior or for inspiring crimes then we should stop these games from ever being released. But is it all bad? No, not really. I think games can be a good outlet for relaxing after a long day. It can also help people live out any dreams that they may have long harbored but could never pursue. I am a football fanatic but I was never strong enough or built enough to play the game. The term fragile comes to mind. Every fan of the game loves to be a Monday Morning Quarterback, and with games like "Madden 07" you can be the coach, quarterback and star wide receiver all in one. Games like "Test Drive Unlimited" gives you the keys to virtually any supercar. You can race all over the place, you can crash, you can drive off road.

Wait a second. Crash and drive off road, isn't that violent? Football, isn't that violent? I mean after all, no player plays without full pads so it must be violent. So then why aren't there calls for these games to be stopped? One can argue that there is a difference between those types of games and games like "Grand Theft Auto," "Doom" and a slew of others. But if we are going to blame those handful of shooting games for the ills of society and for fostering violence in the youth of the world then stop sports games since they teach violence, stop driving games because they teach reckless driving, stop shooting games because they foster violent tendencies. This has been the case from the beginning. I mean mankind has had a history of violence. Even back in the stone age, man had video games that taught him and fostered violence. Hence Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest is based solely on the fact that video games taught man that survival of the fittest is the law of the land.

Friday, September 22, 2006

So Long Maverick!

The year was 1986 and it was a good movie year. "Aliens" was in the theatres and so was the movie that probably did more for the U.S. Navy than any other picture since. "Top Gun" flew onto the screen and became a smash hit. It's fabulous aerial scenes teamed with Tom Cruise cheesing his way from scene to scene was a classic. Like any good Simpson and Bruckheimer film, it was full of pounding music, stunning visuals and low on story. But who cared? I certainly didn't! My 9-year old mind was still fixated on the one thing that still appeals to me about the movie, and that was the F-14 Tomcat.

From the time I can remember, I was always fascinated by aviation. Even today, I will spend hours upon hours in the Air and Space Museums in DC just walking among them. I still have tons of simulators at home and I still read up as much as I can on aviation history. So it was with a bit of sadness that I read that the last 'combat experienced' F-14 was finally back home here in the states and was off to retirement in (wait for it!!)... Florida. There's just something so fitting about the fighter that helped define naval aviation for the past two decades go into retirement in Florida. The Tomcat's successor, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is just as accomplished a fighter though movies featuring it in prominence ("Independence Day" among others) have not given naval aviation the boost it experienced with "Top Gun."

There's just something about the plane that is appealing to aviation nuts. It is large and ungainly, it doesn't look like it would be agile at all, but the fact that it remained in service for nearly 30 years is a testament to the fact that the fighter was a well designed plane. At the height of the cold war it was one of the first lines of defense for our aircraft carriers and it was a task to which it was well suited. One can wonder if it hadn't been for Tom Cruise, would the plane have enjoyed as much noteriety as it garnered after 1986. It's a mystery, but I can tell you that mention the Tomcat to most people as being the "Top Gun" plane and there will be instant recognition. Try that with any other fighter in the U.S. inventory. Not so easy is it?

In a way it's a good thing that the Tomcat is retiring now. Although we still have enemies around the globe, the way modern war is being fought you need troops on the ground rather than planes in the air. I mean you won't use a gun to kill a tick (or maybe you would) so similarly, you can't really use a fighter plane to fight a terrorist. And it's fitting too because Tom Cruise, the pilot behind that popular plane also seems to be on the decline these days. What with his strange outbursts, dancing on sofas and going on and on about the ill effects of perscription medicines, it's probably best that the plane enters retirement before Tom Cruise can take it down with him.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Deadly Weapons

As if we needed further evidence of the world taking a turn for the surreal. Most everyone knows that there is a zero-tolerance policy regarding guns and weapons in schools these days. In a post-Columbine world it is only logical that there be such a strong stance against such things. And it's comforting and great to know that school officials all over the United States are taking this responsibility seriously. Apparently no where is this more so than in Kansas City, Missouri. School officials there came down and set an example by suspending six-year old Tawann Caskey for bringing a 'weapon' to school. Oh, don't let the picture to the right fool you. That's not the gun he brought to school. No, the weapon he had was indeed a gun. It was a two inch, plastic squirt gun.

Now I don't know about you but that just seems blatantly stupid to me. While I understand the need to have strict enforcement of the rules, there has to be some measure of common sense involved. We as a society seem to be quite good at punishing the kids who are honest about what they've done or who have done something less severe. How many times have you heard in the news about kids getting suspended over a pocket knife or a piece of plastic cutlery. I mean we've had kids get suspended from school for holding a chicken nugget in the manner of a gun for goodness sakes! Are we that sensitive or are we that freaked out about warping kids that we don't even want to let them be exposed to anything violent. If there's one constant in human nature it is to be violent but kids with squirt guns don't reach that level, at least not in my estimation.

If one takes the time to examine the 'gun' that young Mr. Caskey brought to school and compares it to the real gun above, you cannot help but laugh. According to officials, a girl in Mr. Caskey's class apparently saw the 'gun' in his hand and told a teacher. The teacher fearing the worst confiscated the gun and took the student to the principal. Based on school policy and rules, Mr. Caskey was immediately suspended for ten days with a permanent note in his record. A six-year old with a piece of plastic! We have kids walking into schools with automatic and semi-automatics and here we are punishing a kid for having a water gun in school. Maybe he had malicious intent, maybe he didn't know it was in his bag, or maybe it was planted in his bag. Whatever the reason for the water gun being there, it is definitely not enough to warrant suspension and a permanent record.

We all have to remember that kids are innocent, it is as they come to associate more and more with adults that they become enmeshed in the ways of adulthood and that innocence is slowly lost. They don't all start out with evil minds or plots to hurt their friends. Even Darth Vader was a whiney little snot before he grew up to be mean and powerful. We should help kids understand why certain things are bad so that they don't repeat their mistakes. Had it been a real gun in Mr. Caskey's bag, by all means, suspend him. But for a piece of plastic? Personally? I think the school board and teachers are the ones who should be suspended.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Eat More Spinach? No Way Popeye!

For years, many kids grew up with the image of Popeye gulping a can of spinach and gaining the strength to beat Bluto and save Olive Oyl. It was an inspiring sight for parents in that they used the example of Popeye to promote the consumption of spinach with kids. As time passed, the familiarity of kids with characters such as Popeye declined and others took their place. I remember the rise in pizza consumption in my youth soon after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came into popularity. But it seems as though Popeye will be needed again if people are ever going to eat spinach after all that's happening. It's not fair to blame the entire spinach producing industry nor is it fair to stigmatize a veggie that is inherently good for you. Still, given the number of E.Coli illnesses spreading across the country it will be a while before spinach consumption returns to normal levels.

For those of you who may not know the whole story, a little more than a week ago, cases of E.Coli related illnesses began popping up and were quickly linked back to farms out in the Salinas Valley in California which provides fresh lettuce for grocery packs. The disturbing part of the case is the fact that so far there has been no real reason behind the outbreak. Although canned or frozen spinach is not yet affected, there is concern that it may be something that isn't readily apparent that is causing the illness to lay dormant. Needless to say, consumers and farmers who grow spinach are concerned about the ramifications.

It brings to mind similar cases that have been popping up around the world relating to bird flu disease. At one time there was grave concern tha tthe virus would be absorbed if contaminated chickens were consumed. Suddenly overnight the entire chicken industry seemed on the verge of collapse. In India, there was a sudden dearth of chicken; and with a population of over a billion people, you can imagine what that would mean for the chicken population. Costs for chicken dropped so dramatically that they were practically giving the birds away. With time people came to realize that the cooking of chicken effectively killed off the virus and made it safe for consumption.

So far there have been no such statements issued regarding the spinach. I'm sure that whatever the cause for this outbreak, it will soon come to light and will soon thereafter be corrected. It will be a while before the public in general will be feeling safe in their purchasing of spinach, much to the delight of kids everywhere I'm sure. Popeye will probably be brought out of retirement to help promote the cause. Or maybe we'll all finally realize that when he said, "I yam what I yam," he was actually saying, "A yam! What a yam!" Perhaps we should all go out and get some!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What Are You Trying to Say?

I was reading about the Iranian-American astronaut, Anousheh Ansari, who became one of only a handful of private citizens who have made the journey into space on their own tab. Word is that she paid in excess of $20 million for the ride into space in a Russian capsule bound for the International Space Station. She is scheduled to spend ten days in orbit. What does that have to do with today's blog? Well, as I was looking at articles regarding Ms. Ansari I happened upon this picture that you should be seeing on the right. Most of you will be shrugging your shoulders and saying, "so what" but there will be some out there who will be tittering.

Why should that be the case? Well, in India for example, the gesture she is making indicates she wants to go to the bathroom. It's a common enough gesture and in this case completely harmless but it brings light to the fact that there are so many things we do out there without thinking that can be misconstrued or misunderstood. Look up the term 'gesture' in wikipedia and you'll find a wealth of information on what various gestures or actions can mean to different culture. For example, over here in the U.S. we often give a thumbs up as a meaning of something positive or acknowledging something in the affirmative. As such, in Iraq, when soldiers are confronted with the gesture there is a belief that it is all meant in good form. However, there are some who believe the gesture to be the Middle Eastern equivalent of giving the finger. Vast differences and totally different meanings.

The gesture is generally thought to have originated in Rome during the days of the gladiators and although there is debate on which was good and which was bad, the thumbs up and thumbs down had a lot to do with a gladiator's fate. Similarly, the ever-popular middle finger is a gesture believed to have originated in Rome during the same years. It is thought that both of these gestures gained popularity with the second World War as more and more Americans came over to Europe and saw these gestures in common usage.

A simple action of scratching your chin or biting your thumb are very serious offenses in Europe. Just as anyone over in the U.S. would understand a finger across the throat being a threat of death against someone, similar interpretations would abound about the chin scratching and thumb-biting in Europe. I'm almost afraid to imagine what rubbing your temples might mean someplace. One gesture that seems to have a universally positive meaning is the placing of the palms together and holding them as if in prayer. No matter what part of the world you go to, it is amazing to see that this gesture means the same thing.

Now in examining the picture of Ms. Ansari again, I'm sure it wasn't her intention to make that gesture and indeed, if you look at her thumb, it too appears to be extended. This could mean one of two things. She is giving the shaka gesture, more commonly known as the 'hang loose' gesture from Hawaii; or she could be giving the gesture for horns which is the universal gesture for devils and demons. I don't think the latter is what she was attempting to 'say' but it just makes you realize just how much can be said with nothing more than your hands.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Classic Rivalry? Washington vs. Dallas

Everyone who knows me knows that I pride myself on being a born and raised Washingtonian. Despite the fact that I have lived in Maryland most of my life and that I currently live in Virginia; those of us living here know that we refer to ourselves as Washingtonians. As such, my loyalty remains with our much-loved though controversially named Washington Redskins. Football season began two weeks ago and with it came the renewed hopes that Washington would make believers out of all their die-hard fans and begin winning again. For those of us who fondly remember the heydays of Theisman, Riggins and and Hogs, it is sad when you realize that the last time Washington won a Super Bowl was in 1991. Many of us have resigned ourselves that it will still be a few more years before that happens again (though it's only week 2 and I'm still hopeful). These days we're content to make it to the playoffs. But the true spirit of a Washington football fan comes from when they think of the two games that matter the most during the season, those are the games against Dallas.

The rivalry between Washington and Dallas has been a long standing one with the balance in favor of Dallas by about twenty wins. But every year there is the hope that this will be the year in which we'll push the balance a little more in our favor. My mom is the one who got me so interested in football in the first place and she and I are among those who feverently hope to beat Dallas every year. We've been burned by the team so many times that we've sort of become numb to the whole situation but we try to remain optimistic. Still, all that was for naught at the end of the game yesterday. Washington handed the game to Dallas by helping them move down the field by committing ridiculous penalties that ended up costing them the game. But even at it's lowest point, when it appeared that there is no hope remaining, we still remained hopeful because of what happened last year.

In 2005 the same situation was in play. Washington had lost its first game of the season and looked ready to lose the second to Dallas. It was a Monday night game so I was up late watching the game flipping back and forth between the game and "Speed 2". I didn't know which one was worse. As the last five minutes of the fourth quarter began counting down I decided to watch and go down with the ship. What I witnessed in that short time was nothing short of a miracle. In fact, that's what many consider it to be. The Miracle of Moss. Santana Moss caught two passes from Mark Brunell that seemed impossible. It was almost 1:30 in the morning and I was sitting on the floor with my jaw laying beside me. I went to sleep happy that night in the miracle that was to be the turning point in our season that year. The icing on the cake was that this happened in Dallas where the din of the normally noisy stadium was reduced to nearly a murmur.

The second meeting with Dallas was even better since it was at home and we trounced them completely. Last night I know there were many Washington fans hoping for a repeat of last year. Many of them, myself included, probably kept looking to the corners of the screen wondering where that ball would come flying from to reach the hands of Moss. At the end, we remained looking up. At the post game conferences there were a lot of the same statements that we've been hearing for the past fifteen years. "We have to come together," or "things aren't meshing well," or "it's a totally new offense," or the ever popular, "had INSERT NAME HERE been playing and not been injured, it would have been a different story." Now that last one was interesting to me because there were at least four individuals hurt who could have made a difference in the game; primarily our star running back Clinton Portis. But the fact that he was out should not have meant that our entire team would collapse under its own weight.

One cliche sports movies tend to focus on is the fact that there is no "I" in "team." If that is true and if that lesson is to be carried over into real life then why can't Washington get that into their heads as well. Washington's roster of players and coaches is often times dynamite on paper but in real life, the concept doesn't work out so well. You can have all-stars on your team but if they don't play together then there's no benefit to having them. There are some sports where without a good team playing together, there is no hope. Football is definitely one of them. I had truly hoped that this year would be the year Washington. After all, the Washington area has been in a slump as far as all teams go. The Capitals aren't up to par in Hockey, the Nationals are hit or miss, the Wizards are improving and will undoubtedly get better and better. But the Redskins, they are the ones I really hold out hope for. There may be no "I" in "team" but there's definitely and "I" in "patience" which is something the fans in Washington have been showing a lot of.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Driving to Unwind - No Low Ego Here

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm a sucker for driving. I have had fairly decent commutes these past few years although there are the occasional SNAFUs where I'll get stuck in traffic for a long while but it's never for too long. I usually pump up the music and try to zone out. Given all the activities I have going on you'd think I'd try to take things easy at home as well. And for the most part I do. I'm like most any other person in that once I get home I'd like to do something to relax and unwind. For some, it means a glass of wine and some food, for others it's hitting the gym. For me? I jump back in my car and hit the road!

What? After all that talk about sitting in traffic I turn right around and purposely drive into it? Well, no, not exactly. You see I recently got "Test Drive Unlimited" for the XBox 360 and let me tell you, this is exactly the way you drivers out there can unwind after a long day. The game has digitized and rendered almost the entire island of Oahu in Hawaii. You can literally drive from one end of the island to the other in real time. Now following the speed limit is okay but where's the fun in that? The game can be played either offline or online via XBox Live and although I have not actually played it online, I can already see how much fun it would be. I have been playing in single player mode simply because it allows me the freedom to move about the island doing my own thing, with the occasional race or courier mission thrown in to earn some virtual cash.

But how does this help you unwind? Well, I have a wheel and pedals and I usually pull my chair up before the screen in order to play the game with as much of the sensation of driving as possible. The wonderful thing is that you don't have to drive through traffic; cops are about but generally leave you alone unless you're causing excessive mayhem and destruction; and best of all, your car can easily be repaired (and it won't take weeks!). So the call of the open road is there and you can respond to it to your heart's content. With all manner of sports car and super cars available to you, you can literally drive to the limits. Highways abound on the island so it's possible to build up a good amount of speed.

For instance, last night I had a bit of time so I decided to drive to the various dealers around the island and take some cars out for a spin. As in real life, you can't afford to buy these super cars straight away. You must first earn enough cash to buy them. But of course, that doesn't mean you can try them out. The game is called Test Drive after all, isn't it? Over the past few days, I have managed to take an Enzo, a couple of Lamborghini's, a pair of TVR's, a McLaren F1, and so many more with nary a glance at my insurance cards, credit cards, or heck, even my driver's license. As much as I want to, I can't drive at top speed in my car on the way too and from work. Although, as in the game, I am close to the highway, there are just somethings that you can't do. Hitting the pause button is definitely not one of them. So after driving 20 miles to get home, my real home that is, I hopped in my virtual car and drove another 30 miles to get to the nearest Ferrari dealership. Of course, it didn't take more than 10 minutes seeing as how I wasn't limited by the posted speed limit! Now if you'll excuse me, there's a Ferrari 360 with my name on it.... well... virtually.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

No Nuts Served on the Flight

A few days ago another plane made an emergency landing at Dulles Aiport in Virginia after a passenger became unruly. Now is it me or have we suddenly started seeing an increase in the number of such incidents. There used to be a time when such occurences were so rare that they truly were news stories. However, these days it's not uncommon to see one happen once a week. In a post-9/11 world where no one is quite sure of anything anymore, it is better to be cautious rather than risking something.

In this latest incident, a man dressed in military fatigues (though in no way was he affiliated to the military) began acting strangely a little over three hours into the flight. He began making fists and punching them into the air and soon afterwards he got up from his seat and began trying to open the door on the plane. Several passengers who happened to be standing nearby (undoubtedly waiting for the bathroom) interceded and managed to subdue the man quickly. Air Marshals joined the fray quickly and the man was soon subdued. There is still no reason behind this individual's actions but soon enough there will be some medical rationale behind it.

But this is by no means the first incident where a passenger has gone.... nuts while in flight. Some months back there was a case where an individual began shouting that he had a bomb as his wife ran after him shouting that he did not. Marshals who were undercover on that flight subdued that man as well by using lethal force and shooting him. And last month, a woman began suffering clausterphobia and demanded to get out of the plane. It became so bad that the pilot decided to make an emergency landing at some other airport in order to difuse the situation quickly.

Gone are the days where someone like William Shatner (or John Lithgow in The Twilight Zone) can go a little nuts and act crazy on a cross-country or international flight. That even more so if it is a flight eventually headed to Dulles. Although Dulles is about 20 miles from the city, it seems that most of the people who are having such breakdowns are invariably headed in to Dulles. That being the case, I think one can safely assume that these people aren't terrorists. There were more safety procedures implemented on flights orginating and ending at Washington National than there were at Dulles and as a result, you rarely, if ever, heard of such incidents there.

What is it about Dulles or the flights arriving here that makes people so insane? Whatever the reason, it is a disturbing trend and one that will hopefully become less frequent. One solution would be to end flights to Dulles to see if these folks stop flying. Of course the people who frequently use the airport might get a little ticked. The other thing is start requiring passengers to have medical clearances to get on board the flight. I can already sense psychiatrists beginning to drool at that prospect. Whatever it is, there is an increase in the number of these cases and we need to figure out what it is. We as a society already elminated peanuts from flights (much to the delight of allergy sufferers) so it's time to get rid of the other nuts as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Torture at the Gym

So I have been stepping up my workout routine lately. I have been trying to get back into the flow I had going prior to the play starting. Usually at lunch these days you will find me in the gym, trying to stave off the munchies or do a little bit extra to reach my goal. It's hard to stay motivated sometimes, but the good thing is that I no longer have the temptation of office provided snacks in the kitchen anymore. In my previous company they were kind enough to have snacks for the employees and as you can likely imagine, they were quite popular. Here though, other than the occassional time when donuts or bagels are brought in, it's a bit easier to maintain control. There is a gym on the ground floor where I have been going for the past few days.

I have been working out for quite some time now. I started during my final year in my undergrad and have been working out ever since. I have been lucky in that I have been able to (somewhat) maintain my weight though I am nowhere close to where I was a scant 8 years ago. As such, I can safely say that I am somewhat knowledgable when it comes to matters such as going to the gym and all. One thing almost any gym-goer will tell you is how much they hate doing cardio workouts. Cardio workouts include doing the bikes, treadmills or my favorite, the elliptical machines. You're basically not going anywhere no matter what speed you set; and if the scenery isn't moving, you sure are going to feel the time drag by.

When I first began working out I also used to walk on the treadmill my parents had bought. We had situated it near the TV so that it was possible to watch while working out. That was a huge motivator right there. I watched anything and everything and soon, my complaints of having to walk for 30 minutes disappeared and I began regularly walking for 45 minutes or more. When I started going to the gym full time I was happy to see that TVs were in the cardio room there too. However, when you aren't in control of the content, that's when it can become a bit.... torturous.

For example; I was at the gym yesterday and normally the television is tuned to either the news or something mindless enough that it is a sufficient distraction to make the time pass. When the World Cup was on, it seemed as if every treadmill, elliptical or whatever, was moving that much faster. In any case, it helps pass the time. Usually the elliptical I choose is situated such that I have a good view of either ESPN or the news (what can I say? I'm a nerdy sports fan). Yesterday, either by mistake (or intentionally) the program was tuned to the Food Network. Now I don't know about you, but I do enjoy eating good food and I do enjoy cooking. It was so hard to not get hungry after watching all this. The fact that I had my headphones on and was listening to music was good in that I couldn't hear the appetizing descriptions of what was being prepared but it was agonizing.

Finally, 45 minutes after I began, I hopped off the elliptical and dranks a tall glass of water. It helped re-hydrate me, but it also filled my stomach to prevent me from binge eating something I really shouldn't be. I found it funny how many times previously I had seen food commercials while working out but they never really affected me. But the sight of food being prepared was such a temptation that I was going nuts! One other thing I noticed about the channel was that there were such ironies going on. The cooking show chefs would always say, "Now add a leetle beet of budder" and then drop an entire stick into a pot. "Now stir; an' wee bee righ' back' after thees commercial," would be their words before a commercial break and then the first thing shown would be an ad for a weight loss company like Jenny Craig or Nutri System (Dan Marino, are things really that bad?).

I finally made it through the whole time and I showered and left the gym. I felt proud for having stuck things out and not breaking down (not completely breaking down anyways). It's a true test of will power and it's a good way to break that habit of eating all the time or eating the things that may not be good for you. I think I'll keep watching things like "Fear Factor". I definitely don't have motivation to eat roaches or beetles so I think I'd be motivated to keep running then.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Musical Experience

I was lucky in that growing up, my parents always listened to music. They mostly listened to old Hindi movie songs but Dad would occasionally listen to some Indian classical music. I didn't really pay much attention to it when I was younger. In our house for the first few years, the kitchen was where we did our homework and gathered as a family in the evenings. As such, while mom cooked and my brother and I did our homework, music was always a part of our homework routine. After getting our own rooms, my brother and I found it hard not to study with music on. I realized that I couldn't listen to songs with lyrics since I concentrated more on the words in the background rather than the work. So I started in on instrumental music. Mostly soundtracks and such but also classical music.

In college I began listening to Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka. During the intervening years I continued to take a passing interest in Indian classical music, but it wasn't until I happened upon the CD, Sampradaya that I really took an interest. This album was a duet by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and his son Rahul Sharma. The instrument they play is called the santoor and it is a hundred string instrument that is native to the valley of Kashmir. On this particular album was a composition known as Raag Janasamohini. The Indian system of music, known as the raag or raga, is a system whereby which certain pieces of music are meant to be heard at certain times of day. This piece was an evening piece but the first time I heard a sample of it in the music store, I was hooked. I picked up the CD right away and put it in my CD player at home. There it remained for months as I listened to it over and over and over again.

Something in the music almost spoke to me. The sound of the music was almost like droplets of rain falling onto the strings of the instrument. Played with a pair of light wooden mallets, this CD created such a mood of 'lightness' that I often began playing it when I needed a bit of cheering up. It remains one of my all time favorite pieces of music. So when I heard that this pair was going to be in concert at the University of Maryland, I didn't hesitate in getting tickets. We were lucky enough to get seats so close that again, we could smell what brand of baby powder the tabla player liked to use to keep his hands and the tabla dry (Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder!).

Seeing the pair in concert was an amazing experience. The artists in Indian classical music seem to feed off of their accompanyists. In this case father 'fed' off of son and and vice versa. There was such enjoyment in the two of them that you could almost sense the joy in them as they played their pieces. There were no words ever exchanged between them. In fact all their transitions from one playing to the other supporting was through a series of gestures and smiles. It was as if they truly spoke to one another through their instruments. It also made me think on the relationship I have with my parents and my brother. I have been luck to have a family that nurtures and encourages me and in a way, I could relate to the relationship I could see being played out in front of me on stage. There are so many things I never need to say to my parents or my brother. They always seem to know it anyways. It was so good to see that relationship played out musically on stage to the sweetest music I have heard in a very long time.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years On....

It's hard to believe that it's already been five years since that terrible morning on September 11th. It's hard because the events of that day and how it affected so many of us is etched in my mind so deeply that I can still recall everything that had happened. I had been working at my first job out of college for close to two months. I was at the Defense Logistics Agency in Virginia and the day had started out like any other. I had recently been given a permanent position within my team working with a crotchety old man who I was a little nervous of. I wasn't looking forward to another day of spreadsheeting but I figured it was such a beautiful day outside that it couldn't hurt. I had a meeting first thing in the morning with some of my government bosses; one of them had a television in the office and she had the TV tuned to the news. Having been there since 6:30 in the morning, I was already on my second cup of coffee for the day when we heard about the first aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. We were watching incredulously as a second plane hit the next tower. In that instant, we all knew that this wasn't an accident. It was an attack.

The entire building was transfixed to the televisions that were located in every atrium. I stood with my co-workers and for a long while, none of us could say anything. In the two months I had worked there, that was the quietest it had been at any time during the day. Soon thereafter we heard word that the Pentagon had been hit. That was only ten miles down the road from us. Not very close, but not so far either. No one knew what was going on or whether it was over or this was just the prelude. As a precautionary measure, we were all evacuated into the basement of the building. We stood there for hours, with no televisions, wondering what was happening in the world outside. Finally we were told to evacuate immediately and get home to safety.

I remember the traffic and the gridlock. My usual route to get home usually took me through DC and right past the Pentagon. The road was closed and stern looking police officers barred the way. As traffic crawled along I realized that I had been staring straight ahead for the longest time; not really focussing on anything but just going through the motions. I knew my family was safe since no one was in and around DC. My brother was home from the University of Maryland and my parents had come home too. I called them every so often to let them know I was still okay and still on my way home. After a time I realized that a car near me was having engine trouble. The woman's window was down and out of concern and courtesy I asked if she needed help. The look I got in return was one of sheer terror and I realize right then that every one of us on that road were scared.

I got home after three hours (a trip that normally took 45 minutes) and on TV the images continued over and over and over again. As much as we wanted to look away, there was a part of us that kept hoping that things would turn out all right. After the Towers collapsed we could only watch the smoke and debris for so long. Dad and I went out for a walk to try and get away for a while. Our normally brisk pace and conversation was slowed to almost nothing. We went about two miles before turning back for home, not feeling any energy or anything for that matter. The rest of the day passed that way too.

I didn't know how many people would be back at work the next day or anything but I got up at my usual time and left and I was surprised and heartened to see so many people on their way to work. It was a return to a bit or normalcy in a world that had been changed. One can say that until something affects us directly, we have no concern in the matter. I can see why that would be. There have been so many situations in the world that have come and gone and unless there is an Oscar winning movie on the subject, we may never know about it at all. It's a sad state when that happens. Five years ago we experienced something in America that will hopefully never happen again. Life for many is slowly returning to normal, but we must never forget what got us to this day and be thankful for all those that we have left to us.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Photo Opportunities

Given the subject matter of my last two blogs, I wouldn't want you all to think that I spent my entire long weekend waiting at the airport. On the contrary. Considering we flew from one coast to the other, I think we managed to do quite a bit in about two and a half days. After arriving in San Francisco on Saturday morning we grabbed our rental car and arrived at my brother's apartment in downtown San Francisco shortly thereafter. We spent a half hour or so decompressing and then we went out to get lunch. It was rather early by California time but it was already late afternoon back home in Washington. Plus the fact that coffee and a small muffin weren't enough to stave off hunger, we all were quite hungry. We grabbed lunch and then did some wandering about the city.

The next day we had dedicated to going up to Napa and Sonoma. Now for those of you non-alcoholic-drink-drinkers out there, these two valleys are quite well known for their wineries. Along a stretch of two-lane highway, they are literally lined up from field to field. Having seen the sites I can only assume that this is what portions of Europe look like in terms of wine grape fields. It was charming and one could hardly believe that we were only an hour or so away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Now not being wine experts by any stretch of the imagination, we were in a quandry as to what winery to visit. When in doubt go with a known quantity. So one of the first on the map was Robert Mondavi. We'd had their wine at one time or another so we decided to go there and take a tour and do the wine tasting thing. We arrived and as usual, our punctuality meant we had to do a bit of waiting. We decided to wait in the arrival archway until our tour was called up. The winery itself is situated in a lovely spot and there was a wonderfully cool breeze that made it just heavenly to wait there.

Being an amateur photographer, I was constantly on the prowl for nice pictures to take, unusual architecture or something that caught my eye. As we sat and talked and waited, we all realized that there was a certain spot under the arch that virtually everyone chose to take a picture in. It was odd how many people came up at random in their groups and took pictures on that exact same spot. I asked Amar to take my photograph there to see if our theory would hold true. Hey, we had the time before our tour started so we figured it would be a funny way to pass the time. Sure enough, shortly after I took this photograph another couple came up and took their photo there, on almost the exact spot I had pointed out.

It was almost like being at Disney World where everyone wants a picture with Mickey Mouse but in this case there was nothing there other than an arch and some beautiful scenery in the background. There was no magical sign pointing the spot out nor was there a line of people following one another blindly to that spot. There was just a steady stream of people coming up there and taking pictures. There's something inherently beautiful with certain spots in the world. Even the worst photographers in us seem drawn to those spots; so much so that even if we only ever take one good photograph, it will be at that one spot. It's heartening to know that sometimes, some of the things we think are beautiful are seen as beautiful by everyone else as well.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

More People Watching at the Airport

Yesterday's post was just a sample of the kinds of people you can observe anytime you visit the airport. There are so many varieties of people that it's almost a science unto itself. You can either consider it science, or the product of having too much time on your hands and having an over active imagination. I blame part of it on the fact that when I used to walk home in middle school and high school, I didn't have very many friends that lived in the same direction I did so I often ended up walking home on my own. Who else is there to talk to other than myself so internal monologues became a fairly common occurence. Sometimes that could be a bad thing but most of the time it allowed for my creative powers of observation to flow. As such, they help me pass the time these days; especially at the airport and some of the other types of people you may encounter.

Drifters: No, these aren't those racers, that have for some unknown reason begun to gain popularity, rather these are people who have a tendency to not walk in straight lines. It isn't as if they are moving to avoid anyone or anything either. They just have a natural tendency to weave as they walk. They become yet another obstacle to your progress through the airport and as a result, it can be difficult to get in and around where you need to go.

Gabbers: These are the people who love to talk whether it be to you or to a friend on the phone or even to themselves. They are the type of person you'll usually end up sitting next to on the plane, especially if you are exhausted and need some sleep. They aren't necessarily bad people, but you often wonder how they can say so much at a stretch. Travelling in groups they will congregate outside the gate and become progressively louder as the talk and laugh with one another. Travelling solo, these folks with try to talk with friends on the phone and if they are lucky enough to get in contact with one, they will give blow-by-blow color commentary on what all they are doing. If you see one seemingly talking to themselves, check their ears. They may not really be schizophrenic, just using a bluetooth earpiece.

Whiners: They are the ones you often see complaining to anyone and no one about the state of affairs of air travel. They make it a point to be such a nuisance that flight crews often end up rolling their eyes or getting ticked off to the point that they end up having a rotten flight. The complain about every little thing they can find, big or small. They will complain about the lack of flavored creamer even if they don't drink coffee. They will complain about the price of food even though meals are being served for free. They will complain about lack of pillows even if they spend the whole flight wide awake and whining. It's often a deep-seated need that they are fulfilling.

Gluttons: I grant you that the state of food aboard airlines has dropped in recent years to the point that even the bag of pretzels is becoming a commodity. We've reached the point now where we have to bring our own forms of sustenance or risk starving on cross-country flights. Some would look at this as being a blessing in disguise. Think of it like extreme starvation dieting with the added benefit of racking up frequent flyer miles. Bringing food on board is the only logical solution. A sandwich or something from McDonalds is fine. But Gluttons are those who bring on entire meals replete with all courses one would expect for a royal banquet. I once saw a gentleman take out three jumbo Twix bars and a large bottle of cola for a flight that had an expected duration of one hour. Food is good but remember, we're all crammed into little seats, don't occupy more than your tray table can hold.

FOFOs: No, I haven't resorted to name calling. These are the guys (and ladies) who will fight tooth and nail to be First On/First Off the plane. As they stand at the gate they will hover around the ticket stand to ensure that they beat everyone else to the head of the line. On airlines without assigned seats I can see why this would be a concern, but in most cases, that's not an issue, so why the rush? We're all eventually getting to the same place. It is the inevitable destiny of these folks to be constantly harassed to get up as their seat neighbors eventually catch up. FOFOs will never sit in the window; they couldn't make fast escapes that way.

It's easy to see all these types of characters, and so many others, just by sitting and watching the world go by at the gate of the airport. It almost makes you wonder about what stereotypical category I end up fulfilling. Hmmm. Makes you wonder doesn't it? I guess I would fall into the category for the guys that read books and listen to music while waiting for that moment when I'll be able to take the next step in my journey and eventually get home.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

People Watching at the Airport

I am a stickler for time and as such, I prefer to be a bit early rather than being a bit late for most everything. The airport is probably one of the ones where I'm particularly keen on being on time. With security the way it is these days you never know if getting checked in and screened will take you five minutes or fifty-five minutes. As such, I try to get there ahead of time. And as is usually the case, on the days that I arrive ahead of time, I barely spend anytime at all either checking in or getting through security. Not that I'm complaining; I'm more than happy to have that chore behind me. But getting through so quickly means you have time to do other things. There isn't a whole lot to do at an airport but you can get creative.

So sitting there outside the gate, sipping on coffee and eating a light breakfast, we ended up having about 45 minutes before we would be boarding the plane. You can polish off a couple of cups of coffee in that time or you can do what I enjoy doing and that is seeing people in their natural surroundings, doing what they do, and seeing just how funny people can be when they travel. So many people fall into stereotypical categories that it can be sad though a bit humorous when you think about it. Here are just a few of the ones I have observed:

Pass Rushers: These are the people you see rushing from one end of the airport to the other. Nothing ever seems to move fast enough for them. They carry enough equipment to be an actual pass rusher like in football (American football that is) but as opposed to wearing their gear, these Pass Rushers like to either carry it or drag it along. Their list of gear often includes, a jacket thrown over one arm, a laptop bag or messenger bag, a rolling suitcase, and in the case of women Pass Rushers, a purse. Advanced Pass Rushers will be yelling into a phone about something or the other. Never make the mistake of getting in their way otherwise they will see you as grass and will mow you down.

Sunday Drivers: These are not people in their cars but people who walk like they probably drive and that's slow and steady. No matter how close to departure time it may be, these folks are the very definition of carefree. They shuffle and saunter rather than walk. They become moving islands in a stream of flowing people. Icebergs have been known to move faster. It is an unwritten rule that Sunday Drivers will impede the progress of Pass Rushers as often as possible.

Sleepoverists: Air travel isn't the most comfortable of experiences. It's no wonder that so many people turn out to be closet clausterphobics. After being strapped into a narrow seat for hours on end, it's enough to drive anyone insane. Some people deal with it by by dressing comfortably in order to relax and at least be a bit less constrained. They prefer to wear clothes almost akin to pajamas in order to maximize comfiness. They will be dressed in clothes more ideally suited to a sleepover more than cross-country travel. Advanced Sleepoverists will be seen taking the illusion to the max by carrying a stuffed animal. It's cute for a five year old girl to do it, it could even be cute for a 25 year old girl to do it. It's just downright scary when a 55 year old does it.

Techies: Techies are those that go around fixing computers; no, these Techies are the ones who enjoy showing off their electronic prowess by using their laptops and PDAs every single second that it's allowed. From the time the enter the airport to the time the flight attendants come around telling them to shut it off, these folks are constantly typing away on something that is of such importance that they will use every minute available to them. Some of them are genuine workaholics while others like to put on their air of importance and appear as if they are working on the project that will save their company. Honest Techies, though rare to find, are the ones who use their laptops in the way that makes them most useful to a traveller and that is by either playing movies or games to help pass the time.

Pack Rats: These are the people you often see climbing into the cabins of planes lugging seemingly endless numbers of bags onto the plane. Regardless of size or carry-on limitations, these folks hate to check luggage in and will bring everything onto the plane with them. That's fine for small items like a rolling overnight suitcase or a laptop case but some of these guys carry duffel bags that would put the army to shame. They have enough stuff that it often appears that they could feed and cloth the entire plane for several days, if needed. They hold people up while boarding because of the number of bags they have to find space for and they hold everyone up while leaving since they're running all over the plane looking for all their bags.

You can see almost all manner of people out and about at the airport; these are but a few. Some people may think it wrong or rude to classify people this way but hey, for me, it helps the time passby that much faster.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Pushing the Rules

This past Labor Day weekend my parents and I took a spur of the moment trip to visit my brother in San Francisco. We are usually not so last minute or impulsive but thanks to quick research conducted by Mom we managed to get some great deals on airfare and car rental and we had a good two-and-a-half-day trip to the left coast. Since this was the first time in a long time that I had travelled by air, I got to experience the new rules of travelling first hand and got to see that some of my methods of keeping the guards happy do seem to work.

When passing through security, I always try to be ahead of the curve. I have almost all metal objects in my bag and I wear shoes that are easy to put on or take off. If I'm carrying my laptop I am sure to take it out of the case and keep it in a bin on its own. I was gratified to see the guards in DC and San Francisco give nods of approval at my dilligence in keeping things moving. You may think that this is merely an attempt to suck up to the guards, but if it means that I get through security without being pat down or scanned with a wand or any other method they see fit to ensure our safety, then I figure I've won. I also got to experience the new rules regarding liquids and all during my passage through security. Recent incidents have made carrying liquids a taboo. Nothing is above suspicion and it's understandable that security will take such a threat or violation so seriously.

Signs, placards and announcements are all over the airports informing people of the new rules and the upgraded threat condition status. Despite all that, there are still some stubborn souls who wish to test the rules by carrying drinks through security. My original thinking was that hold off buying drinks until you're through security, then you can buy pretty much anything you want and carry it onto the plane right? Wrong. It turns out that once you get close to boarding, the flight, the crew informs you that you cannot bring drinks or liquids on board. Despite these additional warnings people still tried. It's such a double edged sword though. The flight we caught out to San Francisco was an early morning one which required us to be at the airport by 6:00 so we were on our way by 5:30 or so. Needless to say in the rush, we didn't have much time for coffee so thankfully, right outside our gate, there was a Starbucks. Freshly infused with our jolt of java, we got ready to board.

Knowing that liquids and gels were verboten, we gulped down the last of our coffee and jittered our way into the line to board. Some latecomers also had the same idea but weren't about to gulp down an expensive coffee so they tried to carry it on board. Didn't work out so well. They were tossed or made to stand to the side and finish before being allowed to board. Now here's where the two dogs begin vying for power. Who will yield first? The airline or the passenger? In this case it has to be the passenger. The flight can leave without you, the crew is within their rights to deny you access; so knowing all this, why try and push things so far? You're only delaying yourself and everyone else on your flight.

Stop bringing gallons of water and then acting as if you didn't know. I can understand someone who hasn't travelled in months or years doing it, but most of the offenders are business travellers. With laptops in one hand and colas in another, you can't tell me that they aren't aware of what's happening. They're the same ones who often try to rush through security without taking out their laptops or emptying their pockets or anything of the sort. They become belligerent when asked to step through the metal detectors again and then huff and puff like a big bad wolf when made to undergo a bag screening or additional investigation. You're just like the rest of us, so calm down and give in. It's for everyone's safety and you aren't going anywhere unless the captain and crew agree that you aren't a threat. So relax, they have coffee on the plane, be nice and you will indeed be flying the friendly skies.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Now Pay Attention 007

Word is coming out that Ford has begun considering selling off the Aston Martin brand which they purchased a few short years ago. If the name Aston Martin sounds somewhat familiar to you non-car people out there that's because James Bond famously drove the DB5 model in "Goldfinger" and the pictured Vanquish in "Die Another Day." Aston Martin had long been among the top British luxury automakers and had built a reputation and image thanks in large part to the British superspy. During the late 90's and early part of this century (that's fun to say isn't it?) the Ford Motor Company began latching on to these British companies in the hope of adding a bit of luxury luster to their image.

During this time, British brands such as Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover came under the control of Ford and the previous marquee of British engineering went the Good 'Ol American Know-How route. Although Jaguar and Land Rover are quite popular the Aston Martin brand has been one that hasn't done as well for the Ford folks. Had one thought about the situation, it would have been obvious from the beginning that this would be the case. That's not to say that Aston Martin's aren't great cars. On the contrary, I'm sure their fabulous cars but they are insanely expensive luxury cars whose sales can be tallied with a few sheets of paper as opposed to spreadsheets to coallate the annual sales of Fords and other such brands.

To give you an idea of just how expensive these brands can be, there are houses in the Washington region (albeit in not-so-chic neighborhoods) that sell for less than what the cost of one Aston Martin. No wonder Q would get upset with James Bond when he wouldn't blow his cars up, that's a lot of tax-payer dollars right there! I remember when I picked up my car at the dealer; his office overlooked the Aston Martin dealership. Sitting in the showroom at that time was a brand new Vanquish. It was a beautiful car and it sounds great when idling or roaring down the roads. Out of curiousity I asked how the cars had been selling as the showroom seemed unusually quiet. The salesman told me that although sales were steady, in the grand scheme of things they weren't selling as well as they should have.

What could be the reason? Well, part of it is the fact that British engineered motor cars are no longer truly "British engineered." I mean sure, the cars are designed in England, but the engines in a lot of these vehicles are manufactured by other companies and not necessarily all by Ford. One of James Bond's other brands of choice, Lotus, released the fast and fun Elise last year to much ballyhoo. However, the engine is a Toyota Celica engine. Fast and reliable, but it isn't truly British is it? I mean it's like a kit car; sure the outside looks like a Lamborghini or Ferrari Testarossa but underneath it's only a Pontiac Fiero or Volkswagen. In the case of Lamborghini that may soon become true too!

Costs for luxury and exotic cars is on the rise and in a big way. These cars aren't the most fuel efficient and in having prices up so high, it isn't surprising that a lot of these companies are having difficulty making sales. I'm sure if the costs were a bit lower, there would be tons of drivers looking to get behind the wheel of these beautiful machines. As it stands, it's just out of the league of the average Joe. But at least there's some silver lining to the situation. In buying an Aston Martin (for a short while longer), Jaguar or Land Rover, you can proudly say that you're buying an American car!