Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Ever Changing Face of Airline Safety

A few posts ago I had written about how a group of Imams had been escorted off of a flight last week due to their praying at their seats hence making many of the passengers seated near and around them a bit nervous. Early reports indicated that the imams were asked to leave the plane and they refused; they were then forcibly removed by airport security and police and the flight was allowed to continue on. Although the imams claim they were praying quietly, many of the other passengers on the plane claim that during the course of their prayers they continuously took the name "Allah" quite loudly. This in and of itself was enough to worry many airline officials as well and they took action to escort them off of the plane.

In the wake of this incident there are many who have suggestions as to how to make the situation safer for all of those involved, be they imams or passengers on the same flight as them. It is an unfortunate thing that we live in the type of world we do. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else. In regard to the imams and any other practicioner of Islam who would choose to dress in their traditional attire, here are some suggestions that would seem to make the rest of the passengers feel safer. Wear clothes that are more western in nature. Don't wear your traditional robes or headress, wear jeans, and t-shirts and don cowboy hats or baseball caps. Don't take Allah's name or pray. Sit as far from your family and friends as you can on airlines. When boarding a plane, be sure to ask for shackles or any other form of restraint that will help make you 'less of a threat' to other passengers.

These suggestions aren't made in any form of seriousness whatsoever; it is the type of escalation we're seeing in people as time goes on. Because the vast majority of us out there don't look Middle Eastern or dress in that way, it is easy to single out this minority and choose to pick on them. We can pass a finger over them and lay blame for the worlds problems at the feet of all of them rather than the few. A few years ago the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed. The immediate reaction was to look for all known or suspected Middle Eastern terrorists in the nation. It turned out to have been perpetrated by a white American Timothy McVeigh. In the months following this revelation, I don't think anyone will recall seeing white Americans being singled out for random checks at airports or being asked to leave aircraft for saying, "Jesus Christ" loudly.

It's all a matter of perspective and what we've come to see and accept. Yes, the terror attacks on September 11th were perpetrated by Islamic extremeists and yes, we must be vigilant against future attacks of this type. The imams on the flight were apparently overheard talking about Iraq, Osama bin Laden and other such suspicious topics. But I ask you to consider how often you think or talk about these things too. Just because you may not be Middle Eastern in complexion, does that mean that you are of pure heart? In the days following September 11th, I recall hearing so many people call for nuclear bombs to be dropped on the Middle East. It was just talk to help ease the pain, but is that an excuse? I talk with my family and friends about the war in Iraq and other such things. I have the complexion of a Middle Easterner though I am not one. Does that mean that I should be taken off a plane because I make someone nervous? What about the guy sitting in back quietly reading an issue of "Guns and Ammo" while a constantly wiping the sweat from his brow? Is he a nervous flier or the next terrorist? You decide.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Luxury Trade Sanctions

Anyone following the news these days knows that North Korea has drawn the ire of quite a few countries following their nuclear tests earlier this year. Given the fact that it is a regime that many countries view as a threat, the next obvious step was to impose sanctions against the country in an effort to force them to see that complying with the requirements of the United Nations was the only way to go. They imposed sanctions against them in terms of their trade goods. Weapons and weapons systems were obviously high on the list. Since North Korea had already detonated nuclear weapons grade devices, there was no need to provide them with weapons delivery systems capable of delivering these weapons to the rest of the world. It made sense. What also seemed to make sense from the North Korean perspective was the fact that they chose to thumb their nose at the U.N. and the rest of the world. It appeared that trade sanctions wouldn't work. Or would it?

One of the unforunate things in recent years is the fact that countries or people with enough money and connections can get their hands on almost anything they want in terms of weapons and the like. The enforced sanctions didn't seem to be having effect so the U.S. decided to impose further sanctions on what it termed as luxury goods. This includes items such as iPods, DVDs (legal, no word on pirated copies), cognac, water-skis and luxury cars. Apparently President Kim Jong Il is a sucker for these items and it is reported that he often has many of these items in his possession or that he enjoys giving them away to loyalist families as tokens of appreciation for their continued support.

In an effort to hopefully impose a sanction that will have more of an impact on President Kim, the U.S. is effecting this trade sanction very soon. I find it rather humorous that as we approach the holiday season this type of sanction is being put in place. As it is, there are many parents here in the U.S. who struggle to find all the items on the lists of their kids and family; one can imagine similar difficulties arising in North Korea if this sanctioning works the way it is supposed to. But will it be as effective as we hope? According to intelligence reports and eyewitness accounts, President Kim has a movie library of approximately 10,000 movies. Now, my collection is much smaller than that but still everything I own is a legal copy. Still, during my trips to India I have seen the latest and greatest movies already available on VCD or DVD, sometimes even before they are released here.

Given the fact that the pirating industry is still alive and well in these places, is it truly going to be effective to try and impose sanctions on exporting movies? And what about other goods such as cognacs and the like? Sure, they can complain, but people adapt. How long will it be before some other liquor or some other drink becomes the drink of choice? That's not to say that these sanctions aren't a good idea, or at least another way of getting the North Koreans to possibly see reason. My worry would be that this would help make the black market all the more prevalent in North Korea. Some would say that's the point or that is something we shouldn't be worried about, but the one thing I would worry about is that we would be portrayed as in an even more negative light because of it. These luxury sanctions are definitely something that we should try in the hopes of 'convincing' North Korea to come back to the negotiating tables, but we should also continue through diplomatic channels as well.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tis The Season

The turkey is done; the leftovers begun, now we enter crunch time for Christmas and Holiday shopping. It seems that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas would be plenty of time for shopping but for most Americans it is never quite long enough. The procrastinators among us make up the majority and as a result, we are struggling to keep up even when we start out ahead. And how far ahead! Black Friday is the traditional 'start' to the holiday shopping season. For those of you who didn't know, it's called Black Friday because most retailers can record the days sales in black (indicating profit) as opposed to red (indicating loss).

In years past, families with the shopping bug have gotten up before the crack of dawn to get in line or go to stores before the rest of the crowd converges. These days it seems the line up begins even before that. I was headed to a friend's house to celebrate Thanksgiving this year and I was surpised to see people lined up outside the local Best Buy early in the afternoon, long after the store had clsed for the holiday. I figured there would be several such 'die-hard' shoppers. As I was on my way home later that evening, happy and content on loads of turkey and other foods, I was shocked to see that there were now hundreds of people standing in line. Talk about getting a jump. It was more than eight hours until dawn.

All across the region and indeed the country, hundreds of thousands of people were lined up waiting for the chance to get some great bargains. Retailers aren't fools, they know that the earlier they open their doors, the more likely people are to come to their place to shop. I just find it sad that so many people are rushing through or skipping entirely, Thanksgiving just to go shopping. I agree that saving a couple of hundred dollars or so on a laptop is a pretty good bargain, but if you scan the papers in the days leading up to the holiday season, you'd realize that these same items are on sale for a similar amount throughout the year. There are the occasional bargains which will be for that night only, but again, it's a sign of group think.

There's just a little something in us that wants to be a part of the action as well. A lot of us begin to get that itching sensation at the back of the neck. "Perhaps if I stand in line too, I'll get a good bargain." I have only stood in line for a couple of such things before but never through the night and never at the expense of spending time or celebrating with my family and friends. Perhaps I'm a bit of a sentimentalist or perhaps even a traditionalist; but there was one thing that I remember hearing in a documentary on Thanksgiving and that was the fact that Thanksgiving was the one holiday that was relativly immune to commercialization and such. With the ever increasing numbers of people standing in line to get bargains on Thanksgiving evening itself, it may not be much longer before this festive time of family and friends gives way to becoming another shopping holiday.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

As I sit here in the early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day I would like to take a moment to think on the things I am thankful for this year. I have so many things that seem trivial at times but when one sits down to think on it, you realize that even the most simple of incidents can be of importance. I am thankful for so many things and so many people, that I felt today to be an appropriate day to talk on some of them.

Firstly, I'm thankful for my family. After an uncertain start to the year with my father and mother's health issues I am thankful that both have recovered and are doing better than before. I am thankful to have parents such as them in my life and I am thankful to have another year together and I look forward to many more. I am thankful and fortunate to have a brother who I care about very much and I am thankful that he is achieving the goals he set for himself several years ago. He's on the verge of graduating and beginning his career in movies. I am thankful that he worked to follow his dreams and that they are starting to come true. I wish him the greatest success.

On the same lines, I am thankful for the friends and family I have all around me. These are the people who make such an impact on our lives that we often don't realize it. I had the opportunity to see just how much many of our family friends consider me family more than friends when I did my play. So many of them came to help me and give up their time to be a part of it because they consider me more of family than a family friend. Having such people around me makes me realize that I am richer in more ways than money could ever equate to. It is a type of wealth that I am always happy to have them; they are the best, the very bestest.

I am thankful for the brave men and women of our armed forces. Whether you support the war or not; we cannot forget that they are the ones putting their lives on the line to defend their country wherever they are sent. Whether it is to Iraq, Afghanistan or any other corner of the world, they do their duty and put themselves in harms way. We must take a moment to thank them and as we sit with our family and friends, we should all take a moment to remember them and wish them a safe and speedy return home. There is nothing like Thanksgiving and the holidays at home.

I am thankful to have another year to explore this life and seek to discover new things. There is so much to this world that we never see or hear. I hope to make a small dent in these things within my lifetime. I can only try my hardest. I will continue the journey as long as I can. I am thankful for all these things and so much more. Suffice it to say that we all are lucky in our own ways; it is up to us to remember it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

All Creeds and Colors

I was reading in the paper yesterday that on a recent flight, a group of six Imam's were asked to leave a flight because they made some of the passengers nervous with their behavior. For those of you who don't know, Imams are Islamic holy men and what three of these six gentlemen started doing before the flight left the terminal was to stand in front of their seats and say their evening prayers. Now I grant you, the world we live in today, unfortunately the Islamic culture has gotten a bad rap.

Some would argue that all one needs to do is look at the actions of some members of that community in recent years and that is all the justification they need to say that some or all of the members of this religion are 'evil'. I am not a perfect person, but even I hesitate in taking such a narrow view of a group of people. To stereotype someone based solely on the actions of some members of their religion is wrong and is not helping anyone move to gain a better understanding of these people or their culture.

For good or for bad, a great deal of what we learn or know about various cultures or religions or races comes from television and the media. That's not to say that some of what we learn is completely wrong but that's also not to say that some of what we learn is right to a certain degree either. Think about this, whenever any country is described on the news as having worked to develop a new missile the very next image shown is the army marching in the streets and the people cheering on their brave troops. This would lead one to believe that these people are completely obsessed with war and will seek to attack anyone who gets in their way. Similarly, any country that is undergoing famine or drought will only be shown in the worst possible conditions. People barely clothed will be seen sitting dejectedly in front of the camera, unable or unwilling to speak.

Many people come to take these images and these descriptions to be the only truth. As a result we perpetuate the ignorance we have about other cultures and other races and the other peoples of the world. Getting back to our six Imams; they had been returning from a conference of Islamic leaders in the United States. To avoid any possible problems with the FBI, the leaders of the conference (one of whom was on the flight in question) had notified the FBI of the conference and had them attend just to be put at ease. The actions of the three Imams could make anyone nervous; if you don't know or don't realize that Muslims pray several times throughout the day, the sight of a fully dressed Imam can be a bit disconcerting.

By the same token, one can argue that the sight of a passenger reading the Bible on a plane may be preparing their soul for death prior to taking a plane hostage. It all comes down to a matter of perspective and wanting to understand other races and cultures. The Imams were asked to leave after some passengers complained; the Imams refused on the grounds that they were not doing anything wrong. Eventually they were arrested and escorted off of the flight. Such incidents are becoming an unfortunate commonality these days. We must strive to learn more about one another if we wish to progress as a people and a society. Baby steps would be better than no steps at all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Prep for the Turkey

Only two more days before those of us in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving. My mom will tell you that she loves the theme of the holiday simply because without seeking to link to any particular religion or faith, this holiday celebrates family, friends and loved ones. It's a time when we can get together and remember that we are thankful for even the little things in life. I for one have many things to be thankful for. Still, many of us have things we regret being thankful for the day after Thanksgiving. You see, this is also the time of year when gyms all across the country will suddenly begin seeing an influx of people. Gym registrations and trial memberships soar and you'll be surprised if you don't see a commercial for a gym during every commercial break from now on. Being a regular gym-goer, I am thankful that I get to see the cycle and I'm just as thankful when the sudden rush is over.

As I've blogged about in the past, you will suddenly see a jump in the number of people going to the gym or exercising at this time of year. Many of us realize that there is a problem when our pants no longer seem to fit long after Thanksgiving turkey and all the leftovers are but a distant memory. See the meal may last only one afternoon or evening, but the effects can last a lifetime if you aren't careful. Unfortunately there are many of us out there who let things go and then pay the consequences later on. For some among that group, 'later on' can occur even earlier if we're not careful. What do I mean? Well, if you read the latest trends in health magazines and such you'll see that the incidence of heart trouble, diabetes, obesity and other ailments associated with over-indulgence are on the rise.

What this means is that the problems that affected our parents and their parents at the latter stages of their lives is affecting younger people a lot sooner. Some would argue that we lead healthier lives now than they ever did, but that doesn't excuse over-indulging on a regular basis. A lot of what we consume these days is above and beyond what our parents may have ever considered consuming during their time. Chemical compositions of every sort are in many of the foods we consume; we're either so busy or so lazy or so uninterested in cooking that many people have nothing but fast food all the time. So many of these things end up contributing to the problems we experience today.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case it can be the literal truth. If one were to start visiting the gym before the holiday season started, for one thing there would be time to get the body in 'tune' for weight loss or weight maintenance. If one were to follow the trend and try to cram a year's worth of exercise into a few days there will be plenty of sore or pulled muscles, aching bodies and nothing else the loss of will to continue the exercise. So why not do yourself a favor and get out for a walk. There's two days to help strengthen your resolve. Think twice about that extra plate of food and maybe save a bit of the pie for later.


Monday, November 20, 2006

In Hot Pursuit

It was probably a good idea at the time but sadly the day of the Porsche Police Pursuit Special seems to have passed. The police in Germany had started using Porsche 911's as their pursuit vehicles several years ago and although they helped in getting officers to and from crime scenes quickly, it just wasn't practical to have such a car as this for police work. I guess the Autobahn won't be the same. But looking at the situation I suppose it makes perfect sense. Anyone who has seen a Porsche 911 or at least seen pictures of the car will know that other than the two front passengers there isn't a whole lot of room for anyone or anything else. As a pure pursuit cruiser I'm sure it fit the job like a glove. But there's more to police work in Germany than merely driving fast. No really!

Well let's say for the sake of argument that an officer is in hot pursuit of a speeder on the Autobahn. Errr... let's make that a reckless driver since that makes more sense than speeders. So the Police catch the criminal thanks to their turbo and hot wheels; subsequently they realize that the driver is a repeat offender. Uh oh... off to prison with you! So why wait for transport or a paddy wagon when you've got a perfectly good (and fast) transport standing by? Just take that criminal, fold the seats forward and stuff that ne'er-do-well in the back "seat." To me that is a perfect crime deterrent. I mean you stuff anyone over the height of four feet in that back seat long enough and even those with no history of clausterphobia will go nuts! Don't think it's possible for such a thing to occur? Why don't you drop by your friendly neighborhood Porsche dealer and test it out for yourself and then tell me what you think then!

Okay, so as a criminal detterent it works, but what about for other things? Again, I grant you that it isn't the most practical vehicle out there for transporting things. Being the proud owner of a Porsche Boxster I know that I'm fortunate to have two trunks. The deep trunk in the front is perfect for larger bags and suitcases and the rear trunk is perfect for transporting a decent set of golf clubs or in my case, my Gumdo equipment.

But what about the German Police? Well, the 911 only has the deep front trunk and from my understanding, even that isn't enough to carry all of the gear that police often have. Don't count on the backseat because you'll occasionally need to have it occupied by a prison-bound prisoner. I have attempted to carry items such as my snowboard in the car and even with my two trunks I don't have enough capacity to carry it anyplace other than the passenger seat. I gues that means that the next time I go snowboarding I will have to choose between taking a friend along or my board. Oh well, I think I'd prefer the company of a good friend along rather than my board.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pretty Pink Prisons

Prison. Jail. The slammer. The lock-up. There are so many names for it that one already has visions when they hear the word jail. You see images of tough looking, violence-prone individuals staring at you. You rarely think of some of the cast of characters you see in films like "The Longest Yard" or anything like that. Movies like "The Shawshank Redemption" and the like provide you with a lot of motivation not to want to go to jail. Still, for those that are in there, there are quite a few who are looking to serve their time and then return to society. Jail is tough no matter what anyone chooses to say. Unfortunately, some of the officials over in Kansas City believed they had to give the inmates a little helping hand.

It seems that someone in the Kansas City Police department had read a report back in the 1990's that stated that pink supposedly helps to calm inmates. So, without much further ado, all of the jail cells were painted in various shades of pink to determine whether or not there was a calming effect on the inmates. Now I don't know about you, but to me this just seems like it would make the situation worse rather than better. Like I mentioned earlier, most of the visions you have of prisoners is that they are tough and mean; now we are going to have to envision them in pink cells? Something tells me that rather than calming them, this is just going to aggravate them further. I mean here you have a bunch of criminals looking to serve out there time and once they're released, do you think their peers are going to congratulate them on serving time in a pink room?

I would think that this would further motivate violence. I mean can you imagine the conversation between a newly released inmate and his old gang friends? "So Biff, we heard you served time in Kansas City. How were the pink cells?" Biff is probably quite embarassed and would seek to avoid the question seeing as how he's been largely rehabilitated. "Come on Biff, we know it must have made you quite the docile one." Biff would continue to evade the question but over time it would be difficult. Most guys love to tease other guys about their toughness and this inevitably leads to fights. With criminals it will probably lead to much more than that; even for rehabilitated ones.

There are certain things which we as a society come to accept; death and taxes are probably the most well known, but dingy jail cells is probably somewhere there too. To see pink jail cells would probably shatter many of the norms we as a society have come to accept. If we see pretty pink jail cells then what other societal norms will be shattered? No more waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles? No traffic on the highways during holiday weekends. Politicians who actually do what they say they are going to do when they are attempting to get elected? The possibilities, the scary possibilities are just too much to consider. A person could go mad trying to imagine the possibilities. Mad! Mad! Mad! The officials in Kansas City came to realize that there was no real effect on prisoners and soon all the pink cells will be painted over. I just shudder to imagine what this could have led to. ;-)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Quarterback Controversy

When Washingtonians are not busy discussing politics, the one other topic that is near and dear to their hearts is the quarterback of the Redskins. Since the last time the team visited the Super Bowl way back in 1991 (I'm sure some readers weren't even born at the time), there have been a dearth of starting quarterbacks and some able backups, but to no avail. The team never seems to find a happy medium and part of that is due to the fact that we fans are so Hell bent on winning that we often fail to exercise a bit of patience. Now some may say that we've been more than patient in waiting for a Super Bowl. To put it in perspective, I was not even in high school when they last won a Super Bowl. I am currently doing my Masters. I think I've waited long enough.

The Redskins have had some good quarterbacks in their time. Sonny Jurgenson, Joe Theisman, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien to name a few. We've also had some great backups who went on to bigger and better things. Trent Green and Stan Humphries are among them. A couple of years back we had a good one in town in the form of Brad Johnson. Things were beginning to progress with him when we reached the playoffs. The very next year we got a new coach who had a new style of offense in which Brad Johnson didn't fit. We got Jeff George in play and things seemed to be going better but it still wasn't good enough.

The fans in Washington are impatient for a win and when it seems that the team is starting to head in the right direction but something or the other falls through. It doesn't help when the team owner, Dany Snyder, makes decisions like a fan as well. Ask a casual fan of any sport and they'll more than likely name for you the most well known players in the sport. Even more typically is the fact is that most of these players are good at what they do. A few years ago, that choice was parlayed into getting a team made up of some of the best names in the game. It was assumed (rightly or wrongly) that with a line up of such talented and well-known players that the team would be unstoppable. Unfortunately no one considered whether these players would play well together. And there is where again the quarterback comes in.

A leader is someone who commands authority and leads by example. Some of the greatest leaders have been those who have led from the front and a quarterback is no exception. When a coach believes in his quarterback, that quarterback will give his all to make sure that the team succeeds. One of the problems in Washington over the past so many years is that the team and the fans have demanded immediate results. We rarely give time for our quarterbacks to develop or become comfortable in their roles on offense and as a result, they go before they can make a difference. The Redskins decided this week to put backup Jason Campbell into the starting spot replacing veteran Mark Brunell.

Now this may be a good or bad decision. Part of me believes that it will be good because Campbell knows the offense but he also is an unknown quantity. Opposing teams will not be familiar with all his styles of play so he may experience some moments of brilliance. In the past that has meant a good performance and a victory or two or three. If this is what happens over the next few games, we fans will have visions of the Super Bowl but it may only be a flash in the pan. We fans have got to be patient and understand that making a winning team takes time. The eventual victory will be worth it. The Democrats are one team in Washington that will agree to that!

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Monday, November 13, 2006

When is a Burrito Not a Burrito?

When reading the news headlines, you will occasionally come across a headline that seems so ridiculous that you read the article again just to make sure it's real. I ran across such a headline this morning and felt that I had to share it with you. As if we don't have more important things to debate in the world, we are not apparently occupying court time by debating the definition of what is a sandwich and what is a burrito. In the Superior Court in Worcester, Massachusetts, this very topic was being debated and argued.

According to the Panera Bread company, the agreement they had when renting the location they occupy in the White City Shopping Center, was that the landlord would not rent space to any other business that made sandwiches. Enter the Qdoba chain of Mexican restaurants. They were seeking to open an outlet in the same shopping center when Panera Bread jumped in and protested. According to Panera Bread, Qdoba violated the agreement that the landlord had with Panera Bread. How so? Well, according to Panera Bread, Qdoba's chief product is the burrito and this is a sandwich. Now I am sure I'm not alone out there in scratching my head at this arguement.

Though I am not a culinary master nor am I an expert in Mexican cuisine, I do know that a burrito is not, and never has been considered a sandwich. The judge presiding over the case seemed to feel the same thing and ruled against Panera Bread and allowed the landlord of the White City Shopping Center to rent to Qdoba. According to the papers released by the judge, a sandwich has been typically described as being a food made of stuffing held between two pieces of bread. A burrito, taco or quesadilla is made up of a single tortilla which does not meet the definition of a sandwich and therefore does not fall in the same category.

Panera Bread was not ready to take this lying down and countered by saying that a flour tortilla is a type of bread and is stuffed, similar to a sandwich so although the judge provided a very broad definition of a sandwich, the burrito still falls within the definition of a sandwich. I don't know, but it seems that ever since former President Bill Clinton requested the word 'is' to be defined during his Monica Lewinsky testimony, people all over the United States have been emboldened to question everything. It's almost like "The X-Files" have taken on a new meaning and that the truth that is supposed to be out there is more about maintaining monopolies more than anything else. I don't consider, nor will I ever consider a burrito to be a sandwich but who knows, perhaps next week they'll make moves against Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs on the same grounds.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Winning at All Costs

Every parent I know always wants the best for their kids. They want them to be the best in whatever it is they pursue; they want them to be the best person they can be. I remember when growing up, my parents would always push my brother and I to do our absolute best. There was never pressure to only ever win, but to give it our every effort and let things happen as they will. As such we always knew that win or lose, whatever happened was a result of our hard work or lack thereof. I didn't always win nor did I always come out on top, but it taught me that if I wanted something I would have to work hard to achieve it. Whether it was school or work or anything else for that matter, I had to work hard for it. Lately it seems that the desire to be an all-rounded person is going away and the belief that winning is the only viable option is leading to some rather disturbing trends.

In Northern Virginia, the head of the South County Youth Association Football League, Dan Hinkle, e-mailed his dictum to the coach of his son's football team. According to the e-mail published in the Washingon Post, Hinkle demanded that his son play on defense during every practice and during every game. It was Hinkle's belief that his son was good enough to play on defense and only defense and that the coach should play him as such. Anything else was unacceptable. Now I don't know all the circumstances around Hinkle's 'decision' to give this ultimatum to his son's coach, but I can say this; it was a stupid decision.

In earlier blogs I had talked about how so many kids these days are so groomed to win that anything else is just an alien concept to them. Parents, regardless of what many people choose to believe, can either reinforce or break this belief. If parents constantly tell their kids that winning is the only acceptable outcome then anything less is seen as failure. For a lot of people out there they will say that this is exactly why so many people out there don't win at anything. They seem to think that accepting anything less than victory is a defeatist attitude. I, on the other hand, see the occasional loss as something that will make a kid a well-rounded person. I have been to a number of martial arts tournaments and it is sad to see so many parents out there being so hard on their kids that they begin to cry if they earn second place.

Kids need to know that winning anything less than first place is acceptable. They need to know that there is a difference between being given a place on a team and earning it. Anyone can be given something, but it never means as much as when it is earned. It's so fulfilling for a person to earn something, anything, that comes out of hard work and perseverance. Parents do a lot of things to shield their kids from disappointment or from feeling less than the best that they can be. It's for a good cause, but in the end, it shields them from reality as well. Commissioner Hinkle of the SCYA may have wanted to make his son a perennial winner but the way about which he went doing it was wrong.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bond: Reality or Fantasy

Next week the new James Bond, Daniel Craig, will be springing onto the screen in the latest James Bond adventure, "Casino Royale". This story follows the trend of many recent movies which is to 'reboot' the movie series. After over twenty films, the producers have decided to restart the series and explore the beginnings of James Bond as everyone's favorite super spy. If one goes back and re-reads the original novels of Ian Fleming, we'll be surprised to find that the James Bond in the original novels was a lot harder and harsher than the version seen in some of the more recent Bond adventures. It was getting to the point now that James Bond was a superhero as opposed to a spy. Instead of a cape, he wore a tuxedo and as a result, many people lost interest in his movies.

The producers of "Casino Royale" decided to take a new approach and bring a harder edge to the character. Some may argue against this approach and complain that it takes the character away from what people have come to enjoy. As a fan of both the novels and the movies (most of them) I can honestly say that I am hoping that this new direction works. Why? Well, one thing is the fact that James Bond was straying so far from reality, it wouldn't have been surprising to see him interacting with Scooby-Doo in a future adventure. I started getting worried about the time he adjusted his tie as his boat dove under the waves in the river Thames. I really got worried when he started driving an invisible car.

That's not to say it's a bad idea, but it isn't what people seem to want these days. Part of the appeal of movies like "The Bourne Identity" or "The Bourne Supremacy" is that it shows spies in more or less a real light. They have their own little bits of fantasy in them too, but for the most part it is not something that someone out there with the proper training couldn't do. I would much rather believe that a spy can use his bare hands to fight an opponent rather than having him rely on the latest gadget. That is what reality is. Although we are getting to the point where such fantastic weapons are becoming a reality, nothing will ever surpass the fist.

It seems that this trend will lead to a much more human James Bond. One who will be hurt or harmed. He may still take on 500 armed troops with merely a pop gun, but we can at least expect him to come out with a couple of scars. Some people may argue again that heroes such as James Bond are necessary because we already deal with the realities of life on a daily basis. One can't turn on the TV these days without seeing what is happening to the U.S. troops in Iraq. Good or bad, for or against; no matter what your stance on the war, you cannot deny that the young men and women over there are not facing reality day in and day out. The same goes for those men and women of our nation's clandestine services. Their jobs may not be as fantastic as a James Bond film, but showing the reality of the situation is sometimes much more honorific than any fictionalization could ever be.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Stagecraft: From Script to Stage - Volume VII

This will be a continuing series of blogs that will cover the development of the play I am working on. Inspired by the Production Diaries and Behind-the-Scenes videos on newer DVDs, I have decided to showcase some of the drama behind the dramas that are put up on stage.

The final performance of the play I began working on so many months ago was a great success. It was wonderful to see a full auditorium and that too, filled with so many friends. My family has been involved in the Indian stage here in Washington from the time they arrived back in the 1970's. Having grown up in the wings and watching my parents both on stage and off, I gained an affinity and desire to be a part of the action. I started off helping usher during performances and then moved into areas of more responsibility. Having always loved music, I naturally gravitated towards doing the sound design for many plays.

Over time I took part in performances as an actor. Not speaking the language presented certain challenges but I took them on and did my best. Directing was one of the last challenges I had long dreamed of. Many years ago, when I was still uncertain of where I wanted to go with my career I always considered directing in the movies. I watched the documentaries on how various directors worked long before they became part of DVDs. I used to watch them and as time went on I got a greater appreciation for the role of the director.

I eventually ended up in another field altogether but the bug of being in theatre stayed with me. I watched my dad direct so many plays and I realized that it was something I would love to do. I am a very hands on director. I love to show what it is I'm envisioning. It's a very personal thing and not all directors do it, but I wanted to try it. I was fortunate to have a great team of actors and on the production side who were there supporting me. For a first time director, you can't ask for more. My parents and my brother all kept me grounded and I had friends who always supported my efforts. These past months have been fun, stressful, exciting and nervewracking. But it's an experience that I would never trade for anything else.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Stagecraft: From Script to Stage - Volume VI

This will be a continuing series of blogs that will cover the development of the play I am working on. Inspired by the Production Diaries and Behind-the-Scenes videos on newer DVDs, I have decided to showcase some of the drama behind the dramas that are put up on stage.

Last evening was the final rehearsal before our last show this weekend. For the team of actors I had working with me, it was part of the end of a long journey that began in the early summer. For me personnally, it was the end of a journey that had begun much before that. For almost a year I had worked on just translating the script. It took time to come home after work and then make dinner and sit down in front of a laptop for another few hours while watching the video and translating and adapting the dialogues that way. I took it on as a challenge and then decided to see how far I could take it.

Within a short time I had finished translating it and then proceeded to get feedback on it. In short order, I decided to present it to Natya Bharati and seek their approval to commence with the project. I was thrilled when I got the call stating that I was given the go ahead to proceed with the project. I can still recall the excitement I felt at realizing that I was going to be directing a play. I had been thinking about the project for so long that there were ideas already ready to explode by the time we got started. At the time, back in February, it seemed like there was plenty of time before the fall. But time flies fast as it is wont to do under such circumstances. I knew the type of music I wanted, I had ideas for the types of sets, and lighting.

The hardest part is casting. After any show, there are always dozens who come up to the stage and profess to wanting to take part in the next drama. We welcome those people with open arms. Unfortunately what happens most often is that these folks don't realize the commitment that comes with being part of a team like this and they don't want to take part. I was lucky enough to have a team of actors who was ready to work with a first time director and who worked well together as a team. A sign of that was the fact that they were able to joke around and still get through the rehearsal without missing their lines.

As we finished up the last scene last night the realization hit me that this would be it and that there would be no more rehearsals for a while. After spending so many hours together with people you sometimes long for the end; in this case, I know I'm going to miss the weekly gatherings. It's a different kind of comradeship that comes and there are stories which will always remain funny to those of us who went through them. As we packed up the props and furniture in preparation for Saturday, I took a look at the basement at mom and dad's place and realized that it was back to being a home. It had served us well as a stage for our rehearsals and now it was time to return it to a home. There's still one last performance to be done. At the end of it, I'm sure the audience will be applauding the team on stage because in the end it is their hard work and dedication that makes or breaks a play. I think they have definitely made it.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Scary is as Scary Does

Halloween is over and by now most of us are regretting having that extra bit of candy that 'put us over the edge.' Not much can be done about it. No matter what we say, every year, every single holiday that passes, we vow not to eat so much the next time. Invariably, we end up eating just as much if not more. But I digress. I was thinking about it last night since Halloween is the night for scary movies. Probably one of the all-time scary movies on my list is "The Exorcist." I remember it took me a number of years to build up the courage to watch it and even now, though it isn't one of those gore filled slash fests, it is still enough to be scary to me. For most people over the age of twenty or those of whom were fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to see it in the theatres when it first came out, it still stands as one of the scariest movies of all time.

Going back to what I wrote earlier probably gave you all some pause. It isn't gory; so why would it be scary? It seems these days that most people associate gore with horror. If it isn't gory it probably isn't scary. Those were the thoughts that many of the kids in the audience had when my dad, brother and I went to see "The Exorcist" in the theatres when it was re-released a few years ago. I remember being creeped out by the noises and sounds emanating from the newly surround sounded soundtrack. Knowing exactly what would be coming up next was still not enough to keep me from being creeped out. A few seats away, a group of kids, the oldest of whom was probably no more than thirteen, sat with their mother and constantly complained that the movie wasn't scary.

The kids compared how tame it was to movies like "Freddy vs. Jason" and the like. After the movie I thought about it with some regret. I realized that we as a society have become so desensitized to violence or horror that if there isn't blood on the floor, we have nothing to be scared of. Movies like "Jaws" terrified audiences; not because of what we saw, but because of what we didn't see. The mind is more creative than any writer or special effects artist can ever be. My version of a psycho killer may be worse in my mind than the next guy's but the end result is that our imagination is what makes the image scary. In films like "The Exorcist" we end up having our imaginations making things worse than they actually are. I realized then that the kids in the audience were disappointed because they didn't allow their imaginations to create any horror for them; they were waiting for it to be brought out to them.

An imagination is a powerful thing and it can make even the most mundane of things scary. The unknown is what scares a lot of people and knowing that something evil is lurking in the next room is enough to get some of us frightened. Perhaps in a few years some of these same kids will realize the genius in the direction of the old school horror movies. They may realize that gore and cheap shock scares aren't what is scary, nor is a visibly gory looking villain. Perhaps then they'll realize that the biggest horror is within ourselves.