Friday, December 29, 2006

Better You Than Me

So the debate has begun. The Food and Drug Administration announced recently that cloned animals are safe for consumption. And as usual, this has created quite a large schism with a large gap between those who support the idea and those who are sickened by it. It's an interesting concept though the ramifications of it are a bit more than what many people may expect. As it is, people have a big problem with the fact that animals have been cloned in the first place. They argue that this means that in the near future, scientists would begin cloning people as well. Not that the cloned people would be used for consumption but it all comes down to the fact that people feel that it is going against God and nature to do such a thing.

This arguement makes the assumption that everyone out there is as equally religious as the next guy. It sounds a bit daft that all people are created religiously equal when we have so many wars stemming from religion going on anyways. But I digress; the issue here is whether or not eating cloned animals is a good thing. In listening to the reaction of people there are many who think that if scientists say it is safe for consumption then it must be true and they would be willing to try. Others say that it wouldn't be real meat and therefore, how can it be claimed that it is safe for consumption? The expansion on that arguement being that some of what makes Angus Beef so good would be lost because of the cloning process. I can understand if the beef in question is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. But if you are looking at a first generation clone, where's the harm in that?

Right now it is a vast unknown. We have not had the opportunity to consume anything cloned (or perhaps we have and have just not known it) and so it will be difficult to say with absolute certainty whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. From my standpoint, it is like making the meat industry more like the manufactured food industry. What do I mean by that? Well let's think about it. If you buy a bag of Oreo cookies in DC and the fly out to San Francisco and buy another bag, you're not likely going to be able to tell where they came from. They all came from the same source and so they taste the same. Similarly, I believe that if we clone a cow and then prepare steaks from it, it should taste the same as the original. If the original was tasty then there's no reason why the cloned copy should be any worse.

As far as the safety and sanity of eating a cloned animal, be it a cow or lamb, it is just this initial outcry that is going to slow down the process. Growing up I was always told that you should never eat raw foods or anything not cooked properly. Now I'm not Japanese nor am I so much a bachelor that I don't know how to cook meat properly but I'm not so blind as to realize that sushi and rare steak are very popular dishes. I'm sure when sushi first came to Western civilization it was looked upon with a certain amount of hesitancy given the fact that it was basically raw fish. Now it is a common place. Who knows, maybe in a few years people won't want to eat anything but cloned meat.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I'll Be Home for Christmas... If Only in My Dreams

Well, Christmas has come and gone and for some of the folks who got stuck in Denver during the blizzard, it certainly made for a memorable Christmas. As I was churning out the calories on the elliptical machine at the gym this evening, I was watching the news and as usual, leave it to the media to put a spin on an already frustrating event. One of the big stories (besides the passing of President Ford) was how people were still struggling to get home after spending days in Denver. For many who were in transit or at the beginning of their journey, it was a no-win situation. Many people decided to stick it out in the airport and hope that the flights would resume soon. Suddenly it was like the Tom Hanks movie "The Terminal" only multiplied by about 4,700.

The spin that the media was choosing to put on the situation was that while the situation was handled as well as possible, the airport authority and the airlines in Denver didn't do all they could to accomodate the passengers stranded in the airport. As expected, the interviews with people at the airport were the usual story regarding how they were stranded and the airport didn't do anything. I have been stuck at an airport for 15 hours due to a weather related problem and so I know how these things affect passengers. While 15 hours is a small amount compared to several days, the same still holds true. Most major airlines have a fine system of CYA (cover your a$$), in this case, most major airlines will have a clause in their ticket agreements that state that barring acts of God, which in this case is a blizzard, they will have limited liability.

What this means is that they will provide as much support for you as they can but there's a limit to it. When my flight was delayed the 300 some passengers were provided lunch and dinner by the airline. The meals themselves were only the normal meals that happened to be served on regular China as opposed to the plastic trays but still, the airline took care of us. Contrast that with nearly 4,700 people. Sure the airlines can take it on the chin and say that we'll provide meals, but as I blogged about some time ago, economically speaking you're looking at a big time loss, and that's even without doing the math; and just in case you forgot, the airline industry isn't doing as well as it had been some years ago.

So what about the airports authority? Given the circumstances, I would tend to think that they did all they could to take care of the passengers stuck at the airport. They have the staff and the equipment to clear the snow and handle business, but what about getting the workers to and from the airport. Some would say that they could have stayed there. True, they could have stayed at the airport but don't forget that's another several thousand people all stuck there at the same time as the 4,700 people already stuck there. Simple logic says that that's a bad idea. Airports in regions like Denver are generally equiped to handle usual amounts of snow and bad weather. Storms such as the one that hit during Christmas were flukes and not all that common. To quote Mel Bakersfeld in "Airport", 'you don't purchase equipment that you may use once in ten years; you deal with the weather with what you've got.'

That response may be somewhat flippant or smart-alec but it's the truth. The fact remains that there are going to be rare occasions where people are going to be inconvenienced. An airport is not the most comfortable place to spend several days. My sympathies go out to those people who were stuck for so long (and may yet be stuck). But my sympathies also go out to the folks who work at the airport and airlines in Denver who undoubtedly caught Hell from people who blame them for the weather and subsequent delays. You can yell and scream all you want at the lady behind the ticket counter but it wasn't her fault that snow came and fell in Denver. One can hope that people remembered it's the holiday season and as such, it would be good to thank them for coming in and helping as best they could. After all, they could have curled up at home too.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Being Neighborly

I've been living in my condo for over three years now and in that time I think I've been a rather decent neighbor. I was among the first to move into my building after all the units were sold. After about a month or so, the rest of my neighbors began to move into the building and into the surrounding buildings as well. Soon we had a true community. I hadn't lived in a condo or apartment since I was a baby way back when and it was a bit of an adjustment moving from a single family home into an apartment, most especially when it came to making noise. I'm not the usual noisy neighbor that some would take me for. Seeing as how I'm a male, people automatically make the assumption that I'm loud and boisterous at all hours of the night, but other than the odd party at my place, I haven't been all that troublesome to my neighbors.

When I watch movies in surround sound, I tend to tone the bass down if it is after 9:00 PM so as not to disturb my neighbors. When I've had parties I have usually let my neighbors know that I will be having guests. There has been only one occasion in my memory where I didn't let my neighbors know and though we weren't partying loudly, some of my friends talking on my balcony apparently disturbed the lady living next door to me. We moved our conversation indoors and to the other balcony so we wouldn't disturb her again but it made me realize just how much even a little noise could bug someone. True some people are so sensitive to sound that even the sound of the air conditioner (in the summer) or the heater (in the winter) is much too loud for them to fall asleep. I can only pity those guys.

I say all this so that I can explain why I feel a bit put out by one of my neighbors. This woman moved into the building a year or so after I had been living there and in that time she was rather quiet. Most of the folks in my building keep to themselves and don't cause a major stink. We help one another as and when we can and try our best not to disturb one another. A few months after my upstairs neighbor moved in, there was another young lady who moved into the third floor above mine. The distance between us is quite large and so I am generally never bothered by any noise she creates so I was rather surprised when my upstairs neighbor came along with a petition asking me to complain against Ms. Third Floor. Apparently Ms. Third Floor had been having parties that were a bit too loud for my upstairs neighbor. I explained that I hadn't been disturbed so I couldn't complain. She seemed a bit upset by that, but she let it go.

I also felt it necessary to explain to my upstairs neighbor that I couldn't sign a petition in her defense because I told her she was guilty of the same thing. I work early hours at my job and I try to get enough sleep so that I don't drag during the day. However, many is the time that I have been awakened late at night by the sound of heavy objects being dropped upstairs; the vaccum cleaner working late into the night; the washer and dryer doing their things in the wee hours of the morning. I have complained to her on numerous occasions that she tends to make a lot of noise at times. I never mind even if it's relatively late in the day like 10:00 or 11:00 at night but beyond that is pushing it. She's been getting better, but there's still a ways to go. I've always believed in leading by example. Hopefully she will get the hint soon enough.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Time Flies

I remember when growing up that the days seemed to pass by so slowly that days you were waiting for seemed to take forever getting there. It was as if the days we were waiting for, be it, birthdays, vacation or that ever popular Christmas. The weeks seemed to drag on until only a few days remained and then those last few days seemed to flow slower than molasssas in January. Finally when the day in question arrived it was such a joy that you had that hope in your heart that time would drag on forever and let that one day of happiness or fun or joy last forever and ever. As time goes on, it seems that time reverses itself and though it is all quite psychological, it still seems to happen. What do I mean? Well take for example this year. I can still remember what I was doing last Christmas when all of a sudden lo and behold, we're already at the next one. In fact, the next one has come and gone already.

As we get older and take on more responsibilities and have more work, more and more time is spent doing other things and not so much on the things we want to do. I began to realize it about six years ago when I began working full time. You begin focussing on the work you have to accomplish and the other responsibilities and there is never enough time to see all of them through. You sometimes find yourself wishing that time would stretch out and that the due date for your work would be a little farther out. Perhaps it is a cosmic result of adults and kids wishing for opposite things that seem to either make time drag or fly depending on your perspective.

The month of December in particular seems to have gone by so quickly that it's hard to believe. The month kicked off with the team party for the play which was loads of fun. It was good to kick back and relax with the whole team after working so hard. Within days of that I was off for California to help pack my brother's things and move him back home. Within a short time of that I was back home starting my new job and finally, here we are on Christmas Night with a week remaining in the year. It's been a whirlwind year for me from so many perspectives. Some great events and some not so great events. Things I will always remember and things I would like to forget. They are all experiences that make up a person and they are key to any personality. I wouldn't lose them for anything. Even the ones we wish would hurry up and get here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Join the Mayhem

After a week in San Francisco I returned to the east coast and realized I had yet to complete my Christmas shopping. I am usually quite ahead of the game and unlike most males my age, I'm often times done almost a full week and a half to two weeks before Christmas. I know that some would argue that that's still cutting it very fine but I usually go in knowing exactly what I'm getting and where I will find it. My dad refers to it as shopping with military precision. So without wanting to lose more time, I set out this evening with a plan in my head and the hope that there wouldn't be too much of a rush. By the time I set out from the gym it was late enough that I was hoping that the odd day of the week would mean less crowd but seeing as how there is less than a week to go, there was a crowd.

As always, I knew what I was looking for so I was able to gather the items in time. I next headed over to the dreaded line. At stores like Best Buy and such they have now made things much fairer by having a large line where everyone waits and cashiers call upon the customer as and when they're free. To me this means that not only do all customers have to wait, but cashiers handle a relatively equal number of customers as well. It can sometimes be aggravating standing in line for long lengths of time but it's part of the season and you eventually learn to live with it. As you stand you can do what I always enjoy doing and that is people watching.

You can see mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters all trying to figure out what to get one another. You can tell from the blank stares that they have no clue what the item in question is. I am especially intrigued in watching parents who are trying to figure out what video game to get their kids. With titles being similar, different consoles abounding, and so many varied ratings, it can be a chore choosing the right game. I try to lend a hand to parents in those instances because I know that their kids would appreciate getting the right thing on the day in question. I mean can you imagine seeing "A Christmas Story" with Ralphie actually ending up with a matching bunny nose for his bunny pajamas instead of the coveted Red Ryder bb gun (with compass in the stock and a thing that tells time?). I know; me neither.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

From Sea to Shining Sea

About three years ago my brother moved out to the west coast to the city of San Francisco to pursue his masters. At the time he basically moved out there with his clothes and the basics we figured he needed at the time at the start of his masters program. Three years later he's completed his degree in film and television and is ready to move back to the east coast while he searches for a job. Seeing as how I had some time, I decided to head out to San Francisco to give him a hand in moving back home. I had visited him several times during his stay here and in that time, I realized that he had made his home here quite comfortable.

When we moved him out here to San Francisco three years ago, it was a relatively simple affair seeing as how my parents, brother and I each packed two suitcases with his stuff as well as some of our own supplies and then flew it over. We spent that first week helping acquire the things he would need. Pots, pans, and various paraphenilia. That year that we moved him out here was a year filled with moving. Earlier in the year I had moved out of the house into my condo in Virginia. In August we moved him out to the west coast and in October my parents moved into their new home. I had had my fill of cardboard and packing tape for some time. I guess the absence of it from my life for so long was also part of my desire to wanting to help him move.

After flying in over the weekend we began the daunting task of beginning to clean out his roommate's room and then rid ourselves of a lot of trash. We then got ourselves some moving boxes and slowly over the course of only two days, we are already living in a home of cardboard boxes and packing tape. Three years is a long time and in the scheme of acquiring any possessions, it's a very long time. Think about it, in the course of a week you acquire something here and something there. Over the course of a month, all those things add up. By the time you have hit twelve months, you have a nice pile built up and multiplied over three years, you have a huge pile of stuff. It's fun going through all the things and trying to organize the bits and pieces and prepare to move it back home. It's all part of the adventure of going from one coast to the other.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Basics of Bond

Since childhood I've usually had moments where I'll suddenly be on a 'kick'. I use this term to describe when I suddenly get it in my head to ensure that I'm well versed in a particular topic or subject. While I was growing up, this primarily meant playing nothing but the subject of my kick. At one time it may be Superman, at another it may be Star Wars. For good or for bad, James Bond has been one of my kicks as well. I grew up watching the films and as time went on, I tried to verse myself in all things James Bond. I have read through all of the novels, I've seen all of the movies and I like to consider myself as more than a regular fan.

Having watched all twenty of the previous movies I can say that the recent re-launching of the franchise with "Casino Royale" has been just the shot in the arm that the series was needing. As many fans and movie-goers felt the recent entries in the series had taken a turn for the ridiculous. Moviefans were looking to get back to a bit of reality as opposed to the fantasy world James Bond had seemed to inhabit. For a number of years, the series had at least a passing tie in to reality but about the time of "Goldfinger" the audience wanted to see bigger, better and more insane situations for Britain's superspy to extricate himself from. As a result, the plots headed off in that direction.

Interestingly enough, you can trace this in the musical stylings of the movies as well. The score is one element of a movie that is the silent actor. Along with my other aspects of my 'kicks' music was also an important part. In listening to the music of Bond, you can almost hear the transition as the music became more and more over the top. For a time there was a return to some sense of normalcy during the last two outings of Roger Moore and the two outings of Timothy Dalton. John Barry, the man most associated with the series along with Monty Norman was responsible for some of the most memorable Bond scores. At the end of his tenure, the music had returned to a bit of seriousness that had previously been missing.

David Arnold was the latest in a string of composers to take over the musical reigns of the series and with his first entry, "Tomorrow Never Dies" he quickly established that he was looking to take the series back to where John Barry had left it. His first entries were almost modern-day tributes to John Barry's style. But in interviews with Arnold, he revealed that he felt the movies were constricting in that it was almost expected that at key moments the Bond theme would come bursting through. With the new movie, with the fact that Bond is still establishing himself, it allowed Arnold to work in the theme in subtle ways yet keep some resonance with the rest of the series. Listen to the subtle way in which the title song by Chris Cornell and the score itself has subtle references to the Bond theme. Although the actual Bond theme isn't heard until almost the end of the film, it eventually comes in to tie this new movie to the rest of the series.

As a long time fan I'm happy to see the films back where they needed to be. A bit of the extraordinary with the ordinary. Seeing a hero who can take a beating and bleed is so much more realistic than seeing a hero walk out of an exploding building with nothing more than the bit of dust on the shoulders. Realistic heroes are those we can relate to. It's great to see that the character himself is returning to his original gritty roots. Here's to hoping we see many more!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Airline Economics

As an economist, I read up on a lot of cases whereby the simple matter of changing one factor could either help make or break a business. For example, there is a famous case in the airline industry whereby the caterer who provided the meals was asked to remove the olive from the pre-packaged salads. As a result, cost savings of several thousand were saved per flight and multiplied over the entire business, this meant that the cost to the airline was reduced tremendously and as a result, the airline began turning a tidy profit. As a result, many airlines have sought ways over the years to reduce the cost to the airline while increasing the profit to themselves and keeping the passengers at least moderately happy.

A couple of years ago this led to the advent of airlines that offered a minimum of services to passengers while helping getting them from point A to point B at a minimum of cost. Southwest Airlines was among the first of the no-frills airlines. With a very laid back and friendly attitude, the crews of Southwest provide the minimum of refinements while taking you where we need to go. These days you're lucky if you get your mini snack bag and drink before it's time to start fending for yourself. Gone are the days where passengers complained about stale nuts as in the movie "Airport", the many allergy sufferers out there complained and we've been heard. As a result, no more peanuts.

But I can't help but wonder if perhaps this decision was motivated more from an economical standpoint too. I mean after all, pretzels last a lot longer than peanuts too. Now if they can figure out how to limit the grains of salt, then perhaps we'll be on to something big here. Travel anywhere domestically these days and if you're looking for something to eat in air, you will be out of luck in terms of complimentary meals. Nothing big will be coming your way, and if you do want something big, you should be ready to shell out for it. A snack box, something akin to a kids meal in most fast food restaurants, is available to you for about the cost of an adult combo meal in the same fast food restaurant. And with security restrictions these days, you'll be lucky to get that jumbo soda through security.

In the face of rising fuel costs here and around the world, the airline industry is always on the lookout for ways and places to save money. Whether this is by reducing weight allowances on airlines or cutting back on the number of meals they carry, there is always some new way. An airline in China has hit on something new that worries me. According to reports, the airline has calculated approximately how much fuel is burned everytime a toilet is flushed on one of their planes. The way they figure it is if they can reduce the number of trips to the loo the passengers make then the cost to the airline will be further reduced! I guess those domestic flights are going to be a little more uncomfortable. Perhaps those air sickness bags will begin to double for something else. I guess in a way it's a good thing we can carry liquids onto flights anymore. Soon enough we may begin wishing we didn't drink so much. Then again, that bottle could come in handy!