Monday, April 30, 2007

Watch Out for Those Kids

By now most of the people in the world must have seen the video clip of 4-year-old Caden Thomas being tackled along the sidelines by the massive George Hill. Thankfully all reports have come back negative for brain injuries and other forms of damage that may have otherwise occurred had it not been for the quick thinking and foresight of player George Hill. For those not familiar with the incident, Hill was running a route for an end zone touchdown at a spring football festival at Colorado State when he after catching the ball he looked down to see he was headed straight for young Thomas who had wandered away from his father. In those few seconds, Hill had the presence of mind to drop the ball and wrap his arms around the boy to soften the blow. Still, the laws of physics tell us about how when a larger mass runs into a smaller mass at greater speed, there is bound to be some dangerous results. No doubt Hill will remember this lesson for a long time to come. Still, it brings up the point about safety in and around the sports we love to watch.

All too often it appears that the lot of us, the sports fans and freaks out there, tend to check our brains at the door and then get surprised when something out of the ordinary happens. How many times have you been watching a baseball game and see a game-ending catch get blocked by an overzealous fan reaching over the wall to nab what will undoubtedly be an out? In recent days incidents like this have led to the players loosing their cool and taking it out on the spectators, or at least the pizza slice that the spectators have in front of them. Is it fair to blame the athletes for their frustrations? Well, not exactly. In many of these cases, the interference comes from younger fans who are eager to get their hands on a foul ball which in these cases are a fair ball. I remember watching the Orioles and Yankees in a playoff game a few years back and seeing them robbed of a potential game-ending out by a fan who put his glove in front of the Oriole's glove along the back wall to rob them of a crucial out. It was an incident that forever cemented my ire against the Yankees.

That kind of interference is understandable since the kid may not have as much on the line as a player. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to be playing for your paycheck and having your performance being stymied by the very fans you are coming to entertain. Similarly, George Hill had the potential to make a difference in his game by catching a touchdown. In the annals of sports history it probably wouldn't have been remembered by very many people after this week but due to the 'interference' of little Caden, Hill will probably enjoy a bit more noteriety. Still, this incident does bring to light the necessity of having some rules and regulations be more strictly enforced with regard to spectators at sporting events. There are some sports that are inherently dangerous; chief among them is auto racing. In cases like this it is obvious that during the race, you don't want kids to go wandering about the track without keeping them under constant supervision. And even then it's rather dangerous to have them down in the pits or garages in the first place.

The same logic should apply to parents who bring their kids to events like a football game. While the sidelines can be relatively safe places, and while it may be even safer if your team is one that never makes a catch let alone run into the end zone, but it's definitely not a place for you to bring a kid and then leave them standing on their own. There are some out there who are blaming this incident on the sport itself for being so rough and out of control; there are others who are blaming the security guards for allowing the kid onto the field into the first place and there are still others who are blaming the father (and rightfully so) for bringing the kid there and then allowing him to walk around. Thankfully it turned out that Caden is all right and that he hasn't seemed to have suffered any major injuries but supposing he had been killed.

Had something that tragic occured then we would be hearing calls from all over the country for football to be banned. We would be hearing calls to have George Hill arrested and charged with murder and Caden's father being charged with accessory. We would be hearing endless debates on how sports safety needs to be increased. We would hear all these things where the only thing we should be hearing is the most obvious. When you're taking responsibility for a kid in a dangerous place like a football field, you take care of the kid. Whether you have to carry him in your arms or hold his or her hand, you don't let the kid go wandering off. If anyone is to be blamed for the incident it's Caden's father. I'm sure he's going to be dealing with this for a long time and I'm sure he won't ever let Caden out of his sight again for a long long time, but still, it shouldn't have happened in the first place. As it stands, Caden is all right and, as he relates, 'got bonked in the head with the football.' It's better to hear that he merely got 'hurted' rather than something more serious.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Richard Gere in "Pretty Woman 2: Don't Kiss Me Shilpa Shetty"

I think it is safe to say that India's democracy is one of the prime examples people should think of when they want to understand a government of the people. I don't, however, have too much faith in the integrity of some of the judges in India. This past week I have written two posts on the situation between Shilpa Shetty, Richard Gere and thousands of angry Indians. The news has circulated the major news circuits now so I don't think I need to get into details but the long and short of it is that Gere and Shetty have managed to raise a mighty furor in India for having done nothing more than kissed on stage. It's probably more accurate to say that Gere kissed Shetty on stage and this has sent shockwaves through the conservative corridors of India. Protests were raised, complaints were made, court cases were filed. I wrote about how the situation seemed to be ridiculous to me because as I watch Hindi movies (produced in India) I see women dancing suggestively, I see gratuitous violence, short of nudity, there is very little that you can't find in Hindi movies these days. Yet a kiss has managed to raise the ire in conservative circles.

I had previously stated my confusion as to why that should be the case and I got some comments back on my previous post to the effect that Gere was 'forcing himself' onto Shetty in a way that was just short of rape. There were comments that Gere was behaving like a colonial and 'taking advantage' of Shetty the way the British did during the height of the British Raj. All of these would be compelling cases if it wasn't for the fact that Shetty herself has said that the kisses didn't bother her and that she didn't find it inappropriate. Shetty has raised issue with the fact that people are protesting and burning effigies and now taking her to court. What we are seeing is a very hypocritical part of India. By no means does this represent the majority of Indian soceity or the Indian population as a whole. But because of the actions of a few, the entire nation is going to be viewed with some trepidation in the future.

A private citizen brought a case against Gere and Shetty stating that they broke the law by engaging in lewd and scandalous action. Despite a backlog of cases, a judge presiding over the case issued arrest warrants for both Gere and Shetty and now it's possible that Gere will either spend three months in prison, pay a fairly decent sized fine or both. In the grand scheme of things happening in the world, this is a very minor thing. Gere is an activist and an actor but his arrest probably won't make much difference to those other than his family and friends but it sets a dangerous precedent for the nation and shows that there are very hypocritical parts of the society that are being used to represent the voice of the nation.

What do I mean? Well let's look at an example. A few years back, the son of a prominent minister went into a bar and attempted to hit on Jessica Lal, a young model. When she rebuffed his advances, he grew angry and witnesses initially said that he pulled a gun and shot the young woman in cold blood. Due to his standing in public, his family connections and a bit of strong-arming, this known killer was allowed to go free after a minimum amount of time in prison. It took 12 years for her case to finally see justice. When you have cases like this, and this is by no means the only one, you begin to wonder why there is such a big deal surrounding something as simple as a kiss. Gere has not killed anyone, he hasn't done anything other than show affection in public which he should not have done. If this one mistake is enough to warrant such backlash since it is a slight against the morals of the country then why back down when the morals or standards of society are shown in a not so positive light.

When Deepa Mehta attempted to make her film "Water" in India she was faced with protests and complaints. Why? After all, this film went on to receive a nomination for best Foreign Film at this year's Oscars. Well, the protests were due to the fact that the film chose to focus on the treatment of widows in India during the 1930's. It was a sad fact that widows were often sent to ashrams and put into isolation from their families and society due to their having lost their husbands. The movie was not a statement against the practice or shown to be a reflection of all of society but because this was an episode in India's culture that best be stifled, protestors threatened to burn down the sets and stop filming if it occured in India. The movie finally was made outside of India in Sri Lanka and went on to get rave reviews. It was shown all over the world and there were no protests against India because people who saw it knew that this wasn't a reflection of the India of today or at least the mainstream India.

The movie was not shown in India and many continued to protest against it. It wasn't until the Oscar nominations were announced and "Water" was selected as Canada's entrant for Foreign Film, that the film suddenly came into prominence in India. All of a sudden people were shouting the praises of Deepa Mehta when just months before they were ready to kill her. They were proud that their Indian director had won such accolades for the film and it was decided that the movie would see a limited release. So this leads me to believe that perhaps the moral rules of the country can be bent to the convenience of those who would be affected by them. It's the height of hypocrisy and should be shunned rather than fostered.

One thing is certain, Gere will likely not return to India again for quite some time. At least not until the arrest warrant is canceled. The sad thing is that the reason he was in India in the first place was to speak at a rally meant to raise awareness of AIDS and help spread the message of prevention. His actions were certainly not acceptable in a society where public displays of affection are frowned upon but to elevate it to the level of a national crisis of morality is too much. I think foreigners have come to India have always appreciated the culture and the values but when you start showing a double standard then that's where you should draw the line. If you want to protest then protest everywhere and every instance where such violations occur. Go to the beaches of Goa and issue arrest warrants for the people smoking drugs or doing nude sunbathing. Go to various temples of India and destroy any images of nude Gods and Goddesses. Go protest every single movie coming out of Bollywood because they all affect the morals of the country then. I rather expect to get some comments back on this blog and I welcome the logical ones. I am proud of my Indian culture and I have defended the homeland of my parents from ignorant statements and misconceptions for a good part of my life. But when I see incidents like the furor surrounding Gere, I feel ashamed to have to try and defend it.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nip It in the Bud

One thing I love about my gym is the fact that they have so many televisions in the cardio areas that it helps time go by. Most evenings that I'm there, all of the televisions are tuned to the news, music video station or ESPN. I generally try to get one which is close to the news and ESPN so that if I get bored of the news I can catch the latest sports highlights and talk shows. One thing that gets aggravating though is to see the media, both liberal and conservative, complain about those on the opposite side by airing clips meant to highlight how stupid the other side is and how this attitude that 'the other side' has is so much worse than their side. After the shootings at Virginia Tech last week there were clips shown by the liberal media highlighting the times and incidents that the Bush Administration or Republicans voted down on gun control and conversely, the conservative media aired clips of Democrats altering their stances or saying one thing while doing another. In the end, none of it is helping change any minds, in fact it is merely serving to polarize an already polarized part of the population.

What isn't helping either is the way some networks are choosing to focus on those on the extreme right or left to use as 'benchmarks' for the opposition's stance on key issues. Case in point is Rosie O'Donnell's constant presence on Fox News. Last week and so far this week I have seen her and video clips of her outlandish and inflammatory statements being shown on Fox News followed by a few minutes of complaints and protests by reporters and viewers from that network. Here's a fascinating idea, why not ignore her tirades and air something else instead. One thing many of these networks tend to forget is that by airing Rosie's constant complaining and muckraking on their networks, they are helping her get her message out to an audience that normally wouldn't bother watching her show. If someone is truly conservative, I doubt they watch Rosie on "The View" during daytime television. So she says increasingly inflammatory things in order to get a rise out of the opposition and it seems to be working.

One sure fire way to defeat someone making a lot of noise like this is to ignore them. The Neilsen Ratings for "The View" have probably jumped since Rosie got on the air and it's largely due to so many conservative networks tuning in to hear what Rosie's going to say next. Here's something, try shutting it off! If you ignore her and stop making a big deal about what she says, soon enough people will forget who she is and what she is saying. I'm curious to see the latest numbers now for "American Idol." With the loss of Sanjaya, I'm sure viewership is probably down. Why did it go up in the first place? Because people wanted to know for themselves how truly bad Sanjaya was or wasn't in the first place. Had they chosen to not make such a big deal of it, he probably would have been eliminated much earlier and life would have gotten back to normal much sooner. Similarly with Rosie, if the conservative media stops choosing to make a big deal out of her statements, then the general conservative public will soon forget that she exists.

That's not to say Rosie doesn't have the right to say what she wants to about anything at all. That right is one that is protected by the Constitution and so many people choose to exercise it as often as they can. Some do it through responsible means without attempting to betray any bias whereas others use this freedom to push others to see their slant on things. This doesn't just go for Rosie but for all media in general. I don't see any liberal media outlets giving as much coverage to Rosie as Fox News does. Perhaps this is because they don't agree with the drivel she is putting out and choose to ignore what she says. It means that they don't give creedence to what she says and are trying to distance themselves from her often insane tirades. When we constantly point out why the other guy is wrong and continuously provide examples and point and whine, we reduce ourselves to the level of children. No scratch that, we go even farther below that.

Perhaps it was due to pressure from the networks or perhaps it was because she grew disenchanted at being blamed for a lot of the comments that she makes on air; whatever the reason, Rosie has announced that she will no longer appear on "The View". Barbara Walters seemed particularly vociferous in trying to explain how sorry they were to see her go from the talk show but I somehow got the sense that perhaps they were crocodile tears. Whatever the case may be, networks like Fox News will now have to find some other example of 'extreme liberalism' to use as a scapegoat for their rants. I couldn't believe the amount of time they spent talking about how Rosie would no longer appear on television. After weeks of calling for her to be fired, rather than simply announcing the fact and moving on with life, Fox News began airing segments chronicling Rosie's time on the show and what all inane comments she had made. Perhaps it was a slow news day or perhaps they wanted to beat their point that liberalism is wrong to the ground.

A news network, whether liberal or conservative still has a responsibility to report the news in as unbiased a manner as possible. It's something that is difficult to accomplish, especially in light of all the division that has occured with regard to political affiliations in the past two decades. When a network begins to show leaning towards one side versus another it can have a major impact on how that network is perceived. I know people who completely shun Fox News for being a 'conservative' supporting network while those on the opposite side shun CNN for being a 'haven of liberal drivel'. Whatever the case, we need to strive towards equality or at least a balance in what is reported. Stop focusing so much on the words of the other side and report what you know, not what the other guy is thinking.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Land for Sale

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big proponent of air and space travel and research. As such, I'm a fastidious supporter of projects that are meant to improve on space travel and space exploration and likewise for earth bound travel as well. One big arguement that opponents have is that there are enough problems on this planet so why not solve them before taking our problems to another world and potentially beginning them there. It's a valid question and it is one that begs consideration before answering. It may be a question we would have to ask ourselves in the future. I hesitate to say either the near future or distant future simply because the rate at which technology is improving is not equal to the level at which we are seeing increases in the space program. Why am I bringing this up now? Well, scientists revealed this week that they have found a planet 581c orbiting the red dwarf sun Gliese 581 somewhere roughly in the constellation Lira.

What is exciting the astronomers even more is the fact that this planet seems to meet the criteria set down by scientists as factors in determining whether or not a planet will be similar enough to Earth to sustain life. Some of the basics are that the planet be of similar size and that it contain an atmosphere which can allow us to breathe. Apparently planet 581c is likely to have both. Another important factor is water and though the investigation is currently underway, there is the strong possibility that the planet may have water as well. With all of this potential, it's possible that the planet could indeed sustain life; and being a measely 100 light years away, it is one of the closest planets to Earth that has the potential to continue human life.

Therein lies the rub to this discovery. The fact that the planet is 20 light years away means that by the time any probes we sent there arrive at the planet, we'll have either developed the technology to get there faster or we'll have simply disappeared from the universe from the current exploitation of our own planet and the current lack of interest in the space program. At the height of the Cold War, the tense rivalry between the United States and Russia drove both countries to be the first to achieve what seemed impossible no more than 70 years before and that was to land a man on the moon. With 50 years of the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, man was in space and within ten years of that, we were on the moon. There are those who doubt that man has walked on the moon, for whatever reason, but naysayers aside, the reason we haven't returned to the moon is partially because of lack of money and the fact that there are no potential 'rivals' to entering and colonizing space.

Last year, China launched its first manned space mission into orbit and returned the astronaut safely to the Earth. While it will definitely be some time before the Chinese establish a space station they do have the potential to reach space and go beyond. Perhaps they will act as the catalyst to reinvigorate support for our space program. With the collapse of communist Russia and the lack of 'competition' to achieve other 'firsts' in space, our program has stagnated. The shuttle fleet is serving its purpose but the fleet has served well beyond its expected lifespan and is due to retire. There are plans to return to the moon within the next two decades but the furor and the drive to do it again are not as strong as they once were. The world has certainly changed from the 1960's and there's a different focus and understanding of space from that time until now.

As an admitted proponent of the air and space programs of this and other nations, I can see why people don't see it as a priority. Our planet is dying due to our exploitation of its natural resources, constant pollution of its atmosphere and overpopulating it. Will the discovery of 581c make a difference? Perhaps or perhaps not. Perhaps we will continue to think of the planet as being a constant and looking to the immediate future as opposed to the distant future. Younger generations often accuse the previous generation of not caring for them. They think that they merely seek to serve themselves for the time that they are here and not worry about things how life will be impacted later on. That paradigm is changing but it will be sometime before we see those benefits. Could we export our problems to a new world like 581c? Certainly we could, after all, we're only human.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Kiss is Still a Kiss

The fallout from Richard Gere's 'tasteless' and 'shameless' act continues and apparently the outrage in India is still alive and well in some areas too. For those who don't know the news or failed to hear the hubbub from about two weeks ago, Indian actress Shilpa Shetty, famous for her steely demeanor in the face of racist remarks on Britain's "Celebrity Big Brother", brewed a different kind of controversy when she was kissed on the hand and both cheeks by Hollywood actor Richard Gere at an AIDS Awareness rally. The outrage expressed by some in the most conservative of areas has called the act lewd and scandalous and members of protest groups have called for the punishment of Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty for their indiscretions. I had blogged on my puzzlement at the outrage that this little event had created and apparently my puzzlement is to continue based upon some of the e-mails and comments I received on my original blog on this incident.

My basic conclusion at the end of my last blog was that while I understand the conservative nature of India (I am after all an Indian-American) I am curious to understand why there is such great outrage over this incident. Perhaps my puzzlement stems from the fact that having been raised in a Western culture my whole life, I have come to accept kissing as a natural form of greeting among friends. People who have protested the incident have accused Gere of 'forcing' himself upon Shetty as if what he did to her amounted to rape. Shetty claimed to have been surprised by the incident but has not come out in public to protest or express her displeasure at what has occured. If you read the one comment that it on my blog with regard to the incident, the reader compares Gere's actions to be akin to the colonial attitude of forcing themselves onto an unsuspecting India and taking advantage of the situation.

For us to reach this conclusion is beyond me and it seems to be leading to the desire to make this incident much more than it needs to be. Already there are reports that court orders are being passed to prevent Shetty from leaving the country. While this may not seem like a big deal for some, given the fact that Shetty is an actress and as such, films dance scenes and films in other countries, it would definitely serve to stifle a career that got a boost thanks to her previous media-frenzied racism incident in London. I can understand wanting to censure Shetty and let her know that as a representative of India through her acting and movies, she should set a good example but to ostracize her and make her a victim of something akin to rape seems utterly ridiculous and foolish to me.

Western culture is something that is fast becoming a part of Indian culture. When I used to visit India during my childhood I used to get lonely for the things I took for granted in the US. As a kid, I wanted to see the same cartoons I had at home, watch the same movies and enjoy some of the same luxuries. As I got older and India began to get older too, life over there changed. I have now been to clubs and restaurants where the dress is far more risque than anything seen in clubs over here and people are packing away drinks as if their life depended on it. You can call it a result of Western influence on Indian culture but don't put the whole blame on the West. I choose to look at it in this manner; if you like something then you will continue to do it and accept it but if you don't like something, you will naturally not want to do it.

Large cities that have a great deal of Western influence due to business such as Bombay, Pune and Bangalore have seen a growth in Western lifestyles. Still, it seems that in some cases this lifestyle is elevated to something more than that. I had a friend who, like me, was born and brought up in the United States. She travelled to India quite often and some trips, the team she worked with in India would take her out to celebrate the completion of a project. Now she is what I would term a hardcore party person but I have heard her relate how she couldn't keep up with some of the Indian team members. This too coming from a place relatively conservative like Bangalore.

For people to complain that Shetty is a person of loose morals or that Gere is a horrible Colonial who is attempting to 'spread' his loose morals on the rest of India is stupid. While it's true he made a mistake by doing something that he clearly takes for granted back here in the States, to label him something akin to a rapist is seriously flawed logic. If Indian society, specifically that section that is burning effigies, is so conservative or upstanding in their morals, in addition to ending such incidents in public, end such incidents in the movies and television as well. Stop producing and supporting movies about extra-marital affairs (Kabhi Alivda Na Kehena), or relationships outside of marriage (Salaam Namaste) or films that glamorize the underworld (Sarkar, Company, and Satya). Censure the politicians who carry on extra-marital affairs with the full knowledge of the public. Stop the artists and performers on television who use scantily clad women as nothing more than a means of drawing in more viewers. We in the West can accept some of the blame but don't use that as a means of making a mountain out of a molehill. If Shetty were truly that bothered by the incident she would have smacked Gere right then and there.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Sail Away With Me

My parents and some of their close friends went on a cruise in Alaska last year. They spent several wonderful days on board a large luxury liner that sailed them along the Inside Passage of Alaska and when they returned, they raved about the experience. Earlier this year they were planning to take another cruise though they weren't sure where they wanted to go. There was debate over whether they should take a trip where they would spend most of their time on the ship or take a trip where there would be numerous ports of call. Part of the reason for the debate stemmed from the fact that there is just so much to do on a ship that it isn't necessary to get down at any port of call since there are restaurants, casinos, shows, movies, and almost anything else, available to the passengers. That being said, it's a very sharp contrast to the cruise that Reid Stowe and Soanya Ahmad began this past Saturday. Stowe, a veteran sailor for over forty years is taking his girlfriend Ahmad, a college student who has never sailed beyond the Hudson River ferry, on a cruise around the world for 1000 days.

The catch is that there will be no ports of call and the pair will not set foot on land until 1000 days have elapsed. According to Stowe, the journey is comparable to a journey to Mars and therefore he feels it would be 'cheating' to land somewhere and resupply. They have stuffed Stowe's 60-foot schooner with as much food and supplies as it can carry. They have a device that the ship drags that will help catch fish, they will use tarps to catch rainwater and use desalinization to make drinking water from seawater. They have bags and bags of rice and pasta and hopefully, a large amount of patience. Stowe has been looking to make this journey for a long time and he invited Ahmad along when they met on the waterfront in Manhattan four years ago. In that time, they began to date and soon after decided to take the trip together.

You must admit that there is a bit of romance in this concept. I mean aside from the fact that a guy is taking his girlfriend on a cruise around the world, there is something romantic about returning to the earliest days of exploration of man. Much of the world we know today was discovered by sailors and sea-farers who made the dangerous journey into the unknown to find new destinations. And although the ship on which Stowe and Ahmad are travelling has conveniences such as e-mail and satellite-based communication, they are trying to sustain themselves on the journey as much as possible. To hear that they'll be on board a ship for 1000 days in and of itself doesn't sound like much but when you add it up, that's nearly three years. Imagine spending three years of your life confined to your room; pretty soon that concept of a romantic journey goes out the porthole and you begin to think that perhaps this wasn't such a good idea afterall.

Like anything in this fast-moving modern world we live in, this story will likely make news for a few weeks and then it will be forgotten until something tragic occurs (which hopefully it won't) or until they complete their journey. One good thing is that at least this journey won't be like the ones early explorers took where when they crossed the horizon, there was rarely ever a sign of them until they returned. In this case I'm sure that Stowe and Ahmad will keep in contact with their families and let their well-wishers and corporate sponsors know how the journey is going but I'm sure it's going to be an adventure that neither one of them will forget. I just hope the ship has more than one bathroom.

Friday, April 20, 2007

What We Think Makes a Killer

So the speculation has begun already. In less than a week since the murders at Virginia Tech, the media and society has begun looking for things to pin the blame on for the slaughter perpetrated by Cho Seung-Hui. With the release of photos and video which he mailed to NBC prior to the second part of his killing spree, speculation began as to the basis for the photos. One image that struck a chord with some people was the one with Cho holding a hammer in a threatening manner. Almost identical to the image shown with this blog. This image is from the movie "Oldboy" which is a South Korean movie that won many accolades including the Grand Prix Prize at Cannes in 2004. It tells the story of a youth who is snatched off of the streets and locked into a cell for 20 years with no explanation. When he finally gains freedom he goes off seeking vengence with a fire in his heart and a hammer in his hand. An automatic link to the violence that led Cho on his killing spree correct? Wrong. The film lacks any significant gunplay which would have also 'inspired' Cho to shoot up his campus and as far as we know right now, he never used a hammer at any point other than for the photograph taken at some previous time.

Yet, the media and those of us with too much time on our hands are looking at this as a means of finding a rationale behind what happened. We're looking for someone or something to blame for what happened. Movies and video games are the most obvious choice. The movie "Oldboy" is just one of the examples that everyone seems hard pressed to point the finger to. Given the fact that it's a Korean film and that Cho was a Korean, the automatic assumption is that he would have understood it without the need for subtitles and as such it would have likely resonated with him much more. I agree that he probably understood it in greater detail but how does that make it any different than any other movie someone sees in their native language. Because Cho was Korean doesn't make it any different.

Films such as "Fight Club" and "Swordfish", both American made films made after the Oklahoma City bombings depict the bombing of public buildings and the slaughter of innocent bystanders and yet, these films are pointed to a as possible inspirations for others like Timothy McVeigh. At the time of the bombing there, the public was worried that this was a terrorist attack perpetrated by someone outside of the country such as a foreign terrorist group and yet when it was discovered that the bombers were Americans, the furor died down just a bit. There were no calls for the ending of violence in movies or anything of that sort. There were cries for better protection of chemicals and materials that could be used in bombs but not the movies.

Flash forward a few years to Columbine; a name that will now always be linked in American conscience to another shooting tragedy. The two shooters there were also American kids who had apparently suffered a great deal of ridicule and ostracization during their time in school and were finally lashing out. At that time again the blame was thrown in the laps of movie makers and video game producers. They blamed films like "The Matrix" for inspiring the killers to go on a similar killing spree and I just don't think that's fair.

I'm in no way saying that all of these killers were right for what they did; they were absolutely and completely wrong and their desire to kill people who may not have even been connected to them was unjust and unfair. But to blame their actions on someone else is not fair either. Harris and Clebold in Columbine were apparently targeted by some of the other kids in school. They were often the butt of jokes and were targets for pranks and the like. Same thing apparently happened to Cho if you read some of the incidents he endured when he was in high school. It's probably the one tough time in an adolescent's life and being the victim of bullying isn't making it any easier. So why don't I think this is connected to the movies? Because the anger and frustration these guys felt towards their peers was already manifest and it wasn't made stronger by the movies. People made attempts to reach out to them but when the majority outranks the minority by a large amount, frustration builds up a larger barrier and makes it difficult to penetrate.

Cho's actions while reprehensible, were not apparently directly relatable to any movie so for people to want to lay the blame on Korean movies or Hong Kong action films is premature. Violence in movies is not going to go away because of incidents like this. It's been there before and will likely be there a long time after the shock of the Virginia Tech shootings dies down. We all have a short term memory and while at this time we will call for movies to tone down violence and for video game developers to stop glorifying violence in their games, it will also die down and we'll be back to where we were prior to Monday's awful events. People like Cho will continue to be ostracized and will become angry because they are misunderstood or have problems that we have not yet learned to diagnose. One can hope that the type of frustration and anger that welled up inside him will not happen again but it could happen.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lead by Example

Last week the Governor of New Jersey, the Honorable Jon S. Corzine was involved in an accident which has left him in critical condition in a New Jersey hospital. What makes this case unique is the circumstances in which the accident went from bad to worse. Last year, there were approximately 271,182 tickets issued for drivers in violation of New Jersey's strict seatbelt laws. The seatbelt law was one of the pieces of legislation for which Corzine was best known and it was helping to make a difference in decreasing the severity of accidents on the road. After all, seatbelts can mean the difference between walking away with a few bruises and ending up in a hospital. Unfortunately, Corzine decided, for whatever reason, not to wear his seatbelt that day and as a result finds himself in the hospital now. This brings up a very good question; do we listen to our leaders when they themselves choose not to follow the law?

If you've ever driven on the New Jersey Turnpike or elsewhere on the highways and by-ways of New Jersey you will occasionally see signs touting the need to 'Click It or Ticket' which basically means buckle up or get a ticket. Now granted there are times when drivers will argue that there's no point in buckling up. Driving from the house to the corner store to pick up milk is not that far a trip and it doesn't mean you have to buckle up since the speeds are so low, but it still makes no difference; one should buckle up regardless of the circumstances or distance of the trip. After all, you may be travelling at no more than ten miles per hour but the guy who runs into you may be speeding enough to cause some serious damage.

Along those same lines, while I won't admit to being a driver who drives at the speed limit, I'm also not one who speeds on a consistent basis. Keeping with the general flow of traffic is a good practice and helps you neither become a moving roadblock nor draw unnecessary attention from the police. So it was with some surprise that investigators into Corzine's accident discovered that the Governor was travelling at approximately 91 miles per hour at the time of his accident. For those of you who are curious, the speed limit in that area was no more than 65 MPH. In most states that's fast enough to have to go to court to answer charges of reckless and dangerous driving. In this case I suppose Corzine could issue himself a pardon but it yet again brings up the question as to whether people will put stock in their leaders when their leaders don't listen to their own rules.

Think about it. There are times when you're on the highway cruising along at speeds above the speed limit when suddenly you look behind you and see a cop car with the lights off. Your heart enters your throat and for a brief moment you think that the lights are going to flash on and that siren is going to wail to pull you over. But then nothing happens and the cop flies past you only to pull off onto the shoulder and then park to keep watch for speeders. I can understand urgency in wanting to get to your station along the highway but to speed well beyond the speed limit and then turn right around and issue tickets for what you just did seems a bit... well... two-faced.

Lawmakers in New Jersey have realized that they definitely have a situation on their hands whereby people are going start asking these very same things given the fact that it was someone as high ranked as the state governor who was breaking the law. A year or two ago a similar incident occurred in California when Arnold Schwarzenegger was involved in a motorcycle accident and it was revealed that he wasn't even authorized to drive motorcycles. As an actor it could have been overlooked but as the Governor it warrants a bit of a looking into. Now given that New Jersey has a reported rate of 90% of seatbelt usage, I'd say that it hasn't affected usage all that much but I will say that it will make a difference to those who are ticketed in the future. They could very well appear in court and say that if the governor wasn't ticketed for not wearing his seatbelt then why should anyone else be? I believe there is talk of issuing the Governor a ticket. I hope it's true because it would set a good example for the rest of the people.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech: The Next Big Story

The shooting on the Virginia Tech campus earlier this week left 32 people dead and thousands of others mentally scarred for many more years to come. In the wake of all this there are probably two people in the world who are feeling less pressure and that would be Don Imus and Sanjaya Malakar. What do I mean by that? I don't mean that they are happy with the tragic events at Tech but rather, they are no longer in the media spotlight as they had been just prior to Monday. As soon as Cho Seung-Hui opened fire on defenseless students on campus on Monday, the focus of the media shifted from these two onto the story of the moment and once again the media, both liberal and conservative, have seen fit to bombard us with constant images of what's happening in Virginia Tech. While I agree that it is news and that we should gain as much insight into the incident to help prevent such a tragedy from happening again, the stance that the media often takes in cases like this is enough to drive anyone insane.

At the gym and on any news channel you were likely to tune into in the DC Metro area and across the country, the only story was Virginia Tech. Suddenly anything and everything connected to the shooting was fair game and the media seems Hell-bent on flooding us with a dearth of knowledge, something more than many of us want. From out of the woodwork come the interviews with family and friends of those who were murdered in cold blood and those who knew the shooter. They throw around words like "obviously" and "clearly" about the killer as if now that they know who it was, there was no doubt about what Cho had always intended to do. He was a disturbed person and although there were signs that he may have had fatalistic plans in his future as highlighted in the various class ramblings and writings he produced, there was very little that was within the powers of the university or police.

People write crazy things all the time; don't believe me? Look up some of the things on the internet and you'll see that it's true. From what the media tells us, it puts a spin on the incident to make it appear that the problem was long known and ignored or that it was just not a priority for those in charge. They'll try to find out every shred of evidence that they can to figure out why this person did what he did. Outside the high school Cho attended several years back, news trucks and media are parked all over the place wanting to film news stories from the place where the killer apparently went to high school. "Is this where killers are made?" they seem to be asking us to consider. They'll talk to teachers and then play for us momentary sound bites that will play into what they want us to hear which is that Cho always has been a person with a killer mindset.

The media and others will use this tragedy for their own devices. Already Governor Tim Kaine responded to media reports that his opponents plan on using this to show that Kaine's stance on gun control issues is to blame and that had the rules been different under candidate X then the world would be safer and that the shooting never would have occured. Vultures. There's no other word to describe political campaign planners who use events such as this as means to push their candidate to the forefront. Thankfully the Cho was a South Korean immigrant; had he been from North Korea I'm sure there would have been calls stating that this was a terrorist plot by the North Koreans. Within 48 hours of the shooting we already have people second-guessing one another as if it's going to make a difference. In the wake of the shooting in Columbine there were calls to take assault weapons out of the market again. What happened? The assault weapons ban which had been in effect was allowed to expire. Why? Because we as a people have a very short attention span.

Show us a tragedy and we, fed by media and politicians, call for immediate action. Rhetoric is spouted and everyone seems to be on the course for change and then we all come to a stop in our tracks and want to keep things status quo. Then you get gun nuts who argue that just because some "clearly" disturbed kid bought a gun legally and shot 32 people in cold blood doesn't mean that I should lose the right to own and use a massive machine gun to protect my home and for when I go hunting. The call for legislation is only one of the knee-jerk reactions that seems to come from events such as these. The others are calls for figuring out what led to this crisis.

People point to video games saying they desensitize us and make us immune to the effects of violence and suffering. Others say that the music and movie industry are to blame for glamorizing violence in their lyrics and depictions. Psychologists come on television and radio and begin talking about how it's all the fault of the parents or the sibling or some other reason. Anything. As long as it is a reason for feeding the flames and keeping the stories going. Blaming things like video games and music is ridiculous simply because that is one facet of what is leading to incidents like this. It's all a matter of interpretation. Some blame Goth music or heavy metal or rap. The lyrics may not tell us explicitly that you should go and get a gun and kill 32 people but someone may interpret it that way. Forty years ago a guy named Charles Manson listened to the Beatles and decided that the lyrics were 'speaking to him' and inspired him to attempt to begin a race war in America while he and his followers hid in the desert of California. Now I don't know, but I don't think the Beatles popularity ended after that and I haven't heard anyone else come out and say that they should be banned because they have inflamatory lyrics.

The real tragedy of this whole thing is that Cho Seung-Hui probably will get more attention in the coming weeks than he may have ever received in his life. Had even half of this attention been focused on trying to understand why he was so withdrawn or what exactly was bothering him would have been more beneficial than simply pretending as if the case was clear but nothing could be done. The never ending coverage by the media will continue for weeks to come. The campus is closed for the rest of the week and so the crews will simply run images from the day of the shooting and the aftermath until they can move on to the next story which would be the continuing search to pin the blame and the eventual reopening of campus. It's a never-ending barrage of images and stories that will raise awareness but will not likely make any change simply because we don't want it. Politicians will use it for boosting campaign platforms and the media will use it to boost ratings. I myself will try to avoid a lot of it by reading the newspaper when I want and leaving the television tuned to something else. Let the families and friends of those lost grieve. Stop putting microphones in their faces and let them deal with the turmoil this week has brought and let them move on with their lives.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Short Road from Martyr to Miscreant

Back in January of this year, Shilpa Shetty could do no wrong. Appearing on the British show "Celebrity Big Brother" news of her apparent bouts against racist behavior came to the forefront and she became the poster child for racism against Indians in Britain. There were immediate protests all over India about how Jade Goodall, the instigator of the incident, should be banished and punished for her actions. Effigies of Goodall were burned in some of the conservative portions of India and protestors took to the streets seeking justice against the 'crimes' against Shetty. Bowing from tremendous international pressure, ministers and politicians all over Britain issued apologies to Shetty for her mistreatment and the British public ended up leading Shetty to victory against the 'Imperialist' British and showed them that even a little Indian woman can stand up to the might of the British Empire.

For weeks, that was all you would see on television. Just images of Shetty crying and the harsh image of Jade Goodall spitting vehemence in her direction followed by scenes of protest all over India. While there weren't many in the major cities, in some regional areas the protests over the incident were elevated to incidents of national crisis and people who probably never even heard of the show were protesting this fact. While I think it's admirable to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a fellow countryman in the face of such blatant racism. I also think it's admirable to at least have a vague understanding of the facts simply before you protest the fact that someone has behaved in a supposedly racist manner. Does this mean I condone the racist actions against Shetty? Not in the least but having never seen the actual incident for myself, I can't see myself getting up in arms enough to spark a national protest. Perhaps if I knew more then I would.

Regardless, the incident helped push Shetty up into the winner's circle on the televised competition and so all was well in the world of Shilpa Shetty right? Well, apparently not. Shetty had previously stirred up a bit of controversy when she starred in the film "Phir Milenge" (which means "We'll Meet Again") which was a loose adaptation of the original Tom Hanks film, "Philadelphia". It was one of the first mainstream films in India to deal with AIDS / HIV awareness and though the movie was generally well received, many of the conservative sections of Indian society were a bit leery of the subject of the film. Still, the movie was applauded by critics and those who bothered to see it realized that the film dealt with the topic in a manner which helped raise awareness and spoke on the needs for increasing public knowledge on the dangers of contracting AIDS / HIV.

Since that time Shetty has become a spokeperson for the the AIDS / HIV awareness campaigns in India and recently she spoke at a seminar in New Delhi where one of the guests invited to speak was Hollywood Buddhist Richard Gere. Gere has often visited India to meet the Dalai Lama but also for his religious retreats and for occasional vacations. He is viewed as a westerner who appreciates Asian culture. So it was a bit of a shock for the ultra-conservatives of India when Gere kissed Shetty's hands, then here cheeks then took her in his arms and gave her yet another kiss on the cheek in full view of the audience and cameras. The result was immediate; the ultra-conservatives of the nation were up in arms and effigies were burned once again. However, this time Shetty wasn't the victim but the effigy being burned. People began protesting that this shameful display was against all Indian culture and that Gere and Shetty should be punished for doing so in public.

Now the reaction of most people would be that a kiss on the cheeks is nothing so big but apparently in India this is a major no-no. We can say that India is a very conservative country and that this was an unnecessary display by Gere and Shetty but I stand confused because I watch Hindi movies and there are more displays of suggestive dancing by scantily clad women all over the screen than this side of an MTV Spring Break special. On television, Indian serials are full of women carrying on affairs, murdering family members, and plotting world domination yet a kiss between two friends on stage at a rally meant to raise awareness apparently is now a slight against the conservative morals of the country. If that is not the most hypocritical thing I have ever seen then I don't know what is. I guess Shetty could always go back to England and meet up with Jade Goodall. At least they have something in common now.


Monday, April 16, 2007

A Window on Me

I have often been asked what life was like for me growing up as the child of immigrant parents who came to the United States after spending their entire lives in India. It was a difficult question to answer because it was simply not something you could answer with one sentence. When my parents and many other families who came here in the late 1960's and 1970's, they came with the intention of staying here and raising their family in order to take advantage of the many benefits that come from living in this country. Life was different from what they had been used to in India and despite the hardships, they struggled and persevered and managed to firmly establish themselves in American society and American culture. That's not to say that they forgot their roots and origins or that they let us forget it either. These days, it's a lot different than it was when my parents came here. There are Indian grocery stores in almost every city; there are just as many Indian restaurants. There are Indians in most every conceivable part of society and for good or bad, they are now quite mainstream.

For those coming afterwards, those who have immigrated here later on life has most certainly been a struggle, but it was a different type from what my parents and others from their generation experienced. Their life, their culture, their ideals had never been properly portrayed in my estimation. Whenever you looked at Hindi movies which had themes of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) returning or visiting India, you invariably had scenes of egotistical, evil people who could care less for their culture and cared even less for those around them. Those of us born and raised here were often cast as the villains and that always bugged me and continues to bug me to this day. I often wished that there was some medium out there to show people what life was like for my parents' generation when they first arrived in this country and this past weekend, I finally saw a movie that does just that.

"The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri was published several years ago and was quite well received. When I heard that they were making a movie version of the book I was even more pleased. The book tells the tale of a Bengali family in which the husband and wife are married and emmigrate to the United States. The book chronicles their life and their struggles and the family that they raise in this country while attempting to hold on to the cultural ties to their home. For the movie, the timeline was altered slightly and it ironically meshed with the timeline of my family and our lives. While watching the film this past weekend there were so many scenes and incidents that reminded me of my life that I felt as if I was watching someone put into film what my parents had talked about when they first came here.

From the struggles of figuring out the washing machine to the desperation of using cereal to create salty snacks available on the streets in India for pennies; the movie shows so many things that my family could relate to. Although we aren't Bengali, I think there are enough common themes in this film that those of us who grew up in this generation can identify with the story. Indian actors Tabu and Irfan Khan are so understated in their roles that they give a needed dose of reality to the roles of the husband and wife. The choice of casting Kal Penn as the son, Gogol, was not an obvious one. Given his roles in movies such as "Van Wilder" and "Harold and Kumar" it may be difficult for people to think of him as anyone else, but he manages to encompass the conflicts that many American-born Indians deal with all the time. Director Mira Nair's eventual choice of casting an actual American-born Indian as opposed to casting an Bollywood star was a wise one. No matter how good the actor, it's difficult to portray something you may never have experienced.

As newer and newer generations of Indians come to this country, they tend to want to insulate themselves from Americans simply because there is such a large and diverse Indian population now that they don't have to involve themselves with Americans. That's not to say that they are anti-social or anti-American but it's simply a case where because Indian culture has now firmly been established here, it is easier to re-create life like in India in this country. When my parents came here they knew that they were here to stay and at that time, although there was a sizeable Indian community, it was ridiculous to attempt to stay away from all other non-Indians. As a result, we have many many non-Indian friends who are as close to us as any family member might be.

I can't say that the movie is a one-hundred percent accurate portrayal of my life or the life my parents experienced when they first came to this country, but I can say that it is more accurate than any other film I have ever seen. Reactions within the Indian community have varied with many younger Indians complaining that the film wasn't all that great and that it's not a picture on the average life of an Indian. It isn't. It's a window on the lives of a generation of Indians who came to this country before much of the current crop and helped open many of the doors that now stand wide open for many others to walk through and exploit. If you see the movie and don't take anything away from it, that's okay, but for those of you, like me, who grew up with parents who dragged you from cultural show and family gatherings to trips with other Indian families and made you do reports on Gandhi and dressed you up in Indian clothes on holidays and put up a Christmas tree so that you wouldn't feel left out of the merriment of the season and did so many other things for you, then you'll see a part of yourself in this movie too.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday the 13th

Today is the 13th of April, it also happens to be Friday the 13th and the very concept of that day seems to drive the superstitious among us absolutely batty. Now I have been known to be a bit superstitious from time to time. In high school I had a 'lucky shirt' that I would wear to class on the days I had an exam. Every time I wore it, the exam would go better than expected and then I'd feel less anxiety. That didn't mean that I didn't blow off studying and sit there with full confidence in only my shirt; that would have been ridiculous. For me, I think it was part psychological and partly the shirt. I even believe that the power of the shirt was corrupted one day during the summer when two of my friends and I were going for lunch from our summer jobs. Being the only one with a car I drove us to the mall for a quick bite and then we grabbed tickets for an evening movie. During the course of conversation we all realized that we were each wearing our respective lucky shirts and because of this, the powers of the universe were too much and the positive energy of the shirts was nullified and reversed. Consequence? My car wouldn't start and it refused to start for the rest of the evening. We had to come back and get a jump for it from my Dad in the evening.

So does that mean that I lost faith in the power of a lucky shirt? Absolutely not! It became a case of trial and error until I landed upon the new lucky shirt which helped get me through college. I still have it to this day though I keep it in storage for a special occasion. So what's this got to do with Friday the 13th you ask? Well, it's just one example in some of the crazy inane things many of us tend to do when we are seeking to have good fortunes. Whether it's getting up on only one side of the bed or putting the right foot down first; wearing no socks or two pairs of socks; carrying a rabbit's foot or any number of things that we do out of no other reason other than wanting to have good luck, we exhibit this want to be lucky. Now some argue that we each make our own luck and that is true to an extent too.

Had I not studied for some of those exams, even if I had worn my 'lucky shirt' it wouldn't have made one bit of difference. If I don't know the material at all, I can't expect a piece of stitched cotton to suddenly fill my brain. So then why do it? Why keep up with these silly little things? I attended a lecture last year by a gentleman named Dr. Dhabolkar from India who was seeking to find an answer. It turns out that in villages and cities around India there are people who establish themselves as 'seers' or 'mystics' and through one or two acts of faith, they end up convincing people of their powers beyond those of normal people. The natural reaction for many is to look upon these people with reverence and utter belief. The consequence of that is that many people use this power for negative purposes. Dr. Dhabolkar related how some villagers had basically tortured their fellow villagers to determine if the drought affecting their area was due to that person's negative energy and 'spells'.

It sounds insane to us to think that someone could believe that a person could be responsibile for a drought simply through negative energy. I mean I grant you, humans as a race are probably messing around with the environment enough as a whole to cause major climatic changes, but to blame it on one person? That's just too much. But when we see something or hear someone who says or does the things we want to see and hear, we tend to believe them. We tend to check our brains at the door and accept things as signs and follow them blindly. We all need to have faith, but it's important that we determine where that faith is being kept and with whom. One could say that that means that God and religion can be interpreted as blind faith. I tend to think the opposite. God and religion can do only so much. It's like the lucky shirt, you can wear it but if you don't do your end of the work, it won't matter. Similarly, you can pray all you want, but if you don't take the effort to make a bit of change then it won't make a difference.

So today is a day when many people will take extra precautions not to bring themselves bad luck. They'll avoid stepping on a crack (to avoid breaking their mama's back), they'll not let a black cat cross their path, they won't walk underneath a ladder, they won't pick up coins that are face down, they won't do a lot of things. And in the course of all this anxiety about this one day, they'll miss out on a lot of things as well. The 13th is just like any other day but it's got a fairly bad reputation. I mean for one thing, don't go camping at Camp Crystal Lake. After years of murders occuring on Friday the 13th at the same place year after year, you would think that people would get it in their heads that there's something non-kosher about the joint and avoid it like the plague! Still, I guess you could say that they had faith that nothing bad would happen to them.

Treat today like a normal day. I mean there's nothing wrong with the 13th. Look at Caesar, he was assassinated on the 15th of March yet the 15th is treated with absolute nonchalance. Caesar was warned by a seer, a known seer because Mark Anthony referred to the seer as a seer! This guy had forewarning against the plot by the senators to assassinate Caesar and despite that he didn't take heed. So now the naysayers will say that we need to believe in saints and mystics and leave all else to fate. I say that Caesar was like the rest of us, a believer in his own fate and destiny and though he could avoid death, it was his time. There's nothing wrong with the 13th other than having a bad reputation. If you drop a mirror today....oops; you'll have to buy a new one, not fret over it for seven years.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Getting Along

It seems that the incident with Don Imus has raised such a furor with people that once again, issues of race and race relations are coming into question. People all over are chiming in regarding the incident in which radio 'shock jock' Don Imus made racial remarks regarding the Rutgers Women's Basketball team. Although Imus has issued apologies and has been attempting to make amends, he is still in a very bad way. His show which was simulcast on MSNBC in the mornings has been cancelled; numerous sponsors have been withdrawing support; many of his celebrity and political guests have been rescinding their pledges to be on the show, simply because they don't want to be associated with such racial remarks. Still there are others out there who seem to think that there's no big deal regarding what Imus said. The argument being that people use such racial epithets against one's own race all the time, so when someone outside that race uses the word or words, why is it treated like a big deal? Is it a double standard? Certainly it is, but it doesn't make what Imus did right.

People in positions like Imus, Howard Stern and the former Greaseman (who was also kicked off the air for such remarks) often make their name based on the more outlandish and controversial views or remarks they make. It's true that the reason they are put on the air is because they stir up controversy and make such remarks. At the outset, Howard Stern was pulling in as many detractors as fans simply because everyone wanted to hear what next bit of trash was going to be coming out of his mouth. It was a draw and many people, whether good or bad, seem to get a rise out of it. Whether it solidifies their feelings on the subject one way or another is up to them to decide, but it's not helping relations in this country.

Still, for many of us out there, it seems that it isn't a big deal unless that commentary or racism is directed towards us. For example, take a look at what happened in England on the show "Big Brother". According to those who watched the show, disparaging and racist remarks were made against Indian celebrity Shilpa Shetty who was suddenly transformed from a third tier actress to a martyr in the fight for an end to Indian racism in England. Everyone from the Home Minister to the Prime Minister were issuing statements to the effect that the racist remarks made by other members of the cast on the show were not a reflection of the population as a whole. There's an old saying, that just because someone calls you something, doesn't make it true. Well, along similar lines, just because someone issues a blanket statement like that, doesn't make it true either.

Like it or not, there is still a lot of deep-seated racism from all sides in this country. Part of it is a product of our background and where we've grown up and the environment in which you were raised. I grew up with friends from all races and I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged us to have friends who liked us for who we are and not what we owned, where we lived or what we did. I grew up gaining an appreciation of the contributions of various people to this country and it made me understand that working together we can accomplish more than if we constantly divide ourselves. Perhaps that view is through rose-tinted glasses making the whole world appear happy but it's the truth.

Don Imus' actions shouldn't be condoned. Is he being made an example of? You bet he is. Is that a bad thing? Well, it's bad for Imus but it isn't a bad thing for the rest of us. Don Imus' job as a 'shock jock' was to say things that were controversial and on the edge but for him to make remarks at the expense of others isn't right. It projects an air of superiority that isn't deserved, it's earned. Imus has done a lot to help raise money during fund raisers and has been close enough with many famous people for them to come on his show and give out personal tidbits on their lives. That may be the downside to his being taken off the air, but the good thing is that it is sending a message that everyone needs to be careful in what they say. In the long run it will be better to get along rather than divide people.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Can Your Freedom of Speech

There is understandably a big furor this week surrounding the recent firing of radio shock jock Don Imus by Viacom and NBC this week. His removal comes on the heels of yet another racist remark to slip his lips regarding the Rutger's Women's Basketball Team. The remarks, which I refuse to repeat here, were of such clearly racist ilk that it's surprising to hear him attempt to defend himself by saying that his remarks were taken out of context or that he was misunderstood. Some may argue that he is the voice of many people or that he only represents the minority. Whatever the case may be seen as, the one thing that is clear is that he should not be allowed to continue his brand of filth on the air. I have heard a few of his shows in the past and there is a difference between teasing someone in a good-natured way versus teasing someone with the sole intention of hurting them. There are many radio shows out there that touch on content that many would rather not have on the air, but the fact remains that these rights are protected by the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights within the Constitution are probably among the most heavily debated pieces of literature outside of religious texts. The Founding Fathers of this nation left those portions very vague at the outset because they knew the document to be a 'living' one that could be adjusted as each subsequent generation saw fit. Up until a few decades ago, this was considered a normal act and quite within the power of the Congress, however, in recent times this attitude has changed and any interpretation of the Bill of Rights that seems to be a little off of the beaten trail ends up being viewed with scrutiny and scorn. The right to bear arms is part of the Constitution and gun supporters will tell you that it simply means that you can have a gun and use it too. Keep in mind that this was written at a time when the country was still expanding and Europe still had its sights set on the 'new world'.

Such a loose interpretation means that everyone interpreting that way will think that every single person in the country is privy to having a gun. Now I don't know about you, but I can think of a few people I know that I wouldn't trust with a plastic butter knife let alone a gun but still, because we have allowed this right to remain so ambiguous that one can argue either side of the case. I mean some interpret that to mean that they can bear any and all arms this side of a nuclear arsenal or that they need weapons that would put Rambo to shame. I understand the desire to protect your home and your loved ones but honestly, when is the last time you read about a situation like in Die Hard or some such film where the need for firearms outweighs the need for common sense?

Similarly, the freedom of speech has been given such a varied interpretation that it's likely never to be changed. If you go one way, people on the other side of the fence will jump up and protest and vice versa. So what do you do with guys like Don Imus who use their positions to spout volatile rhetoric? The simple answer is that you ignore him but that doesn't solve anything. He upsets people because of what he says and the scorn with which he says it. It also upsets people because he is using his freedom to hurt and divide people. Racial issues are among one of the worst problems in this nation and while things are nowhere near as bad as they were a few decades ago, when you have people like Imus on the air spewing such trash, it doesn't appear to be going away any time soon.

Does that mean that Imus is the only one on the air saying such things? Of course not; in fact I have heard what could be termed as racist remarks from non-white radio talkshow hosts as well. Now while that may not be the standard fare that we hear from them all the time, the fact remains that they too are saying such things. So what's the solution? It's not an easy thing to determine but one thing is certain, we need to look at ourselves as well as the people saying such things. For my part, there are certain shows or radio stations that I don't listen to simply for reasons like their comments are directed towards people with the intent of simply maligning them and insulting them. There are others who are just plain obnoxious and others still who are just so stupid that it makes you cringe as you listen to them.

All of these stations are local and their remarks are limited to the immediate area which is a reflection of the place in which we live. Go to a different part of the country and you'll hear a different type of radio program. Sure the gist may be the same but the issues and topics they discuss may surprise you. In other parts of the country it may be very likely that you'll hear things that could very well be interpreted as racist but they are accepted because the pervading attitude of the area is a reflection of it. On a nationally broadcast show like what Imus had, your audience is much larger and due to his relative celebrity status among radio hosts, it's not surprising that he's been on the air as long as he has. For whatever else, he's used his show as a platform to say the things that many people in this country may agree with. If that's the case then we are in trouble and we haven't let the mistakes of our past get away from us. They're still there. If this isn't the attitude and opinion that we want people to get from our country then we need to change it and ourselves collectively.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Excessive Fanaticism

Naming a pet can be a difficult thing. I remember a friend of mine decided to name her pet dog, Icy, because she was 'cool'. Bear in mine that this friend was a young girl of about nine who was naming a virtual pet for her Nintendo DS NintenDogs game. Still, her logic was quite sound and I couldn't argue with the name. Along similar lines, but far more important is naming a child. When one has a child you have to remember that while we think it's cool or meaningful to have a name deeply rooted in something that appeals to us, the kid is the one who is going to have to live with the name for the rest of their life; or at least until they are old enough to change their name legally.

I bring this up because I recently read an article in which a family in Ohio named their son after the last names of two of the Ohio State coaches; Coaches Tressel and Hayes. Now don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this logic either. But Tressel Hayes is a bit... well... 'off the beaten path'. Again there's nothing wrong with it but you hope that these coaches don't end up ruining the program at Ohio State or causing some other incident. I mean the kid may never know who Tressel and Hayes were but for those of us old enough to remember, we may end up taking it out on the kid who has no choice in the matter. I mean honestly think about it and tell me, when was the last time that anyone named their kid Adolph? There's probably nothing wrong with the name but it's association with one of the most hated men in history means that anyone naming their child that will undoubtedly be faced with a stigma whether it is deserved or not.

Naming a child can be a very tough decision and there are those out there who seek to make it easier by associating the name with something good that has happened prior to the child being born. Whether it is naming the child after the city where their parents met, after a distant relative or a favorite team, it's important to ensure that the kid isn't going to grow up resenting the name. In my case, I love "Star Wars" but I would hesitate to call my son Chewbacca or Yoda. They're cute names and probably would make good nicknames but I really can't see Yoda Tipnis being on a birth certificate. To me, that ranks up there with borderline insanity. There was a case a few years ago where a woman on the jury in the White Water Trial of Clintons came to the court dressed in the uniform of a Starfleet officer from "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

Her justification was that as part of her constitutional right of free speech, she was wearing the uniform of an entity of which she was a part of. She came to court every day wearing her full uniform and carrying her 'communications badge' and 'phaser'. Now fanatic or not, that's a bit too much. When people complained she complained back that it was her right to dress up that way. Now while I respect the ideals that Star Trek has established, I don't think the mainstream population has accepted it to that extent. At least not to the point where we can have jury members in a Federal trial dressed up like they're en route to a comic convention. In my youth I have been a member of the Jedi Order but that doesn't mean that in my adult life I show up for work wearing robes and carrying a pipe made up of old machine parts hanging from my belt. Everything has a proper time and place and fanaticism is no different. If you are that crazy about something then by all means name your child Anakin Vader Shatner Kirk or Scotty Spock Jones but when the kid comes home with a black eye or with pent up anger directed towards you for such an unusual name, don't act surprised.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Don't Fly Angry

There are lots of new rules coming out across the country, in various cities and other jurisdictions regarding the use of cell phones. One of the reasons behind it is that people are becoming so engrossed in their conversations that they're not paying attention to anything else they're doing. That has led to calls for hands free headsets or ordinances ordering people to the side of the road when having conversations. Still, one thing that has always been promoted is that one should never get behind the wheel of a car when angry. I guess a corollary to that would be that one should never fly angry either. It's not only bad to be up in the air with a bad frame of mind, it's worse for the passengers in back who are wondering if the person flying the plane will take them to some other location just out of spite.

On a recent Northwest Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit, the pilot of the flight was seen standing outside the gate to the plane having a very heated discussion with someone on a cell phone. The conversation became so heated that the pilot began screaming obscenities and cursed at a passenger who came to him at one point as well. Upon boarding the flight, the pilot continued his phone conversation and then locked himself into the forward lavatory near the boarding door to continue his conversation in 'private'. I guess what the pilot forgot was that lavatory on an airplane offers about as much privacy as a couple of sheets of paper. Anyone who has sat on a long haul flight near a lavatory will tell you the number of times they were awakened either by the toilet being flushed, the sink being run (hopefully) and the struggle to open the plastic doors. That being said, what was the pilot thinking by entering the lavatory to continue yelling at the other person on his cell phone.

I'm sure that whatever the reason, there was some purpose behind his wanting to finish the conversation but it was enough of a problem for the airline to take the decision to cancel the flight. I for one believe that this was the right decision to make. It may have been an inconvenience to the passengers but you'd rather have a pilot who is in a good frame of mind rather than one who is on edge and upset. It's not very different from having a pilot trying to fly after having one drink too many. It causes impairment and it can be a dangerous thing. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with Northwest to figure out how to deal with the situation now that it has happened and determine what measures need to be taken to prevent this from happening again.

I'm sure there will be new regulations for pilots that will seem utterly ridiculous in the long run. The currently have restrictions on their intake of alcohol about 24 hours before a flight, now this may also be widened to include heated cell phone conversations. It's going to be like astronauts being herded into isolation prior to a space mission. With all else they have to deal with in their jobs these days, it seems like just one more added burden. In this case, the cause for any new regulations is certainly justified. I mean the Captain of an airline is the absolute authority just as a sea captain is. No matter who is on board the plane, the Captain of the plane is in ultimate authority. However, when the Captain of the plane is under stress and not behaving competently it's time to take action akin to "The Caine Mutiny" and ensure that the saftey of the passengers and crew is kept at the forefront. I daresay that pilots are going to have to do a lot more saving face with passengers on Northwest but hopefully it is all for the better.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Is He an Idol?

It seems that the oddsmakers are truly scratching their heads with this season's American Idol. Despite the cries and protests of faithful viewers of the show, the lanky young Indian-American, Sanjaya Malakar has stuck around and is now officially in the final eight competitors on the program. Now having never watched more than a few episodes here and there when there was truly nothing else on TV, I cannot say that I am a huge fan or even a passive one. Still, it's difficult not to hear some news here and there about the show and the cries of agony and protest over the fact that Sanjaya is still there while better singers have come and gone. Having only heard him sung once, and that too a song by "The Police", I was disappointed to hear the rendition be slightly off-key. Everyone has their off days but it seems as if Sanjaya is having more than others.

Viewers and longtime fans of the show have protested the fact that he's still there and that he's continuing on through the various voting stages. Now everyone can blame the viewers for what's happening but for me, something else seems to be afoot. As someone who has long avoided the show, I am surprised that I know so much about what has been happening this season. With all else that's going on in the world, isn't it amazing that I still know who Sanjaya is and why he's being protested? I'll bet that in a completely unscientific survey of people out there, more people would know who Sanjaya Malakar is versus the young woman British sailor who was held captive in Iran until yesterday. (Don't go and Google it... her name is Faye Turney).

I'm sure the producers are also very upset about the fact that their show is garnering so much attention and controversy. You see, the thing is, when you hear so many protests and complaints about a person, most of the curious people out there would want to see if the complaints are valid. I'm sure that there has been a surge in the past few weeks in viewership due to people tuning in to hear the 17-year-old kid with crazy hair and an occasional off-key voice. Just as many people must be turning in to see if he'll finally get voted off as well. People keep reacting after every vote with surprise and dismay to find out that he's still there. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if all of a sudden, he makes it to the final round and then is voted off.

Whatever the final reason ends up being for his long-lasting run on the show, I don't think it's fair for everyone to 'beat up' on him the way they do. Sure he's a bit gawky and awkward but that's the way everyone was at 17 years old. If you don't think so, then harken back to your younger days and try to remember how well you seemed to fit in with all your peers. I think he's done a great job sticking around and continuing to try and make it farther on the show. Even if he wins the whole thing, I'm sure he knows that there's not much of a fan base out there for him. But regardless, he has a small and faithful fan circle that is pulling for him and hoping that he wins every week.

I feel that he's being used as a pawn by the producers on American Idol and at Fox. Earlier in the season there was the whole controversy over contestant Antonella Barba and her nude pictures from several years ago. It stirred up enough controversy at the time to divert everyone's attention from the whole singing part of the show and wonder if the producers would ask her to step down. She was eventually voted off and although she didn't make much of an impact as a singer, she managed to stick around a while longer than people expected. When her scandal failed to raise viewership she was let go and then the whole apparatus appeared to shift focus to Sanjaya. It makes it seem all the more like a setup. Whether he is truly and idol or not remains to be seen but I think for what it's worth, he's got more guts to sing up there despite the fact that people are ripping into him at every turn. Part of me hopes he does win and that Simon Cowell, that stuffy stuck-up Brit finally quits. In which case Sanjaya will truly be an Idol in my eyes.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

An Extreme Case of the Mondays

I know it's Tuesday but I had to relate an article I read this morning regarding the epic lengths some of us apparently feel the need to go to in order to miss work. The title of today's blog comes from the classic office comedy "Office Space". Anyone who has spent a moderate amount of time in an office will know that there are so many typical moments in that movie that you immediately begin to relate to it. One of the classic lines in the film was regarding a particularly depressing morning and how that look translated into 'a case of the Mondays'. Now there are times when you get up and drag yourself out of bed to start the day. There's nothing quite as hard as that. You're like an actor seeking motivation.

For 26-year-old Brandy Killin of Kearney, Nebraska, she was struck by what must have seemed like a bolt of lightning when she hatched her scheme. Working for credit card service, First National Omaha, she was expected to report for work at 10 a.m. Now for those of us who are at our desks by 7:30, this seems like a heavenly time to arrive since you would be getting extra hours of sleep. Even for those of us who come in at 9:00 or even 9:30 this seems like a good time since it again means a little extra sleep. Apparently is wasn't enough for young Ms. Killin who then proceeded to call her employer and make a false bomb threat. Calling about 8 minutes before her reporting time, Killin reportedly called from a pay phone and indicated that an explosive had been sent to the office.

Now anyone who watches a bit of TV these days knows that in this highly charged and security conscious atmosphere we now live in, it's nearly impossible for the average person to pull a fast one on the cops in this way. I mean there are most certainly ways that a clever person could make a phone call without being caught but it certainly won't be as easy as going down to the pay phone in front of your place and making the call. Naturally the building was evacuated after the call and work was cancelled for the day but once the investigation began, it was quite clear to the police who was responsible for the call.

I will admit, there are days when I am so tired or sleepy that I literally fall out of bed and crawl my way to the shower to get started for the day. Statistics have shown that a large number of people have made false sick calls to get out of work and they continue to do so. I remember in elementary school there was a day when both my brother and I were just feeling plain lazy and didn't want to go so our dad and mom also stayed home and the four of us enjoyed an impromptu day off. I remember going to the library with my dad and brother on that day (hey... it may seem nerdy but I am an avid reader so what can you do) and the librarian checking out our books asked if schools were closed today. He knew that we had skipped school that day and although I wasn't freaked out or concerned that I would get in trouble, there was that small feeling of guilt that motivated me to want to go back the next day.

It's that guilt of missing work or delaying some project that motivates the majority of us to work through our cases of the Mondays and get to the tail end of the week. I can only surmise that being desperate enough to make a bomb threat, even a false one indicates a severe lack of understanding and imagination on the part of coming up with an excuse or indicates someone who is very very very unhappy with work. If your job is that bad and is leading you to make false bomb threats or bio-terrorist attack threats, then I would suggest the easiest thing would be to start searching for new work. Mondays can be bad enough, it doesn't help the rest of us get through if we are dealing with false bomb threats... then we begin to question ourselves too. "Why oh why didn't I call in sick this morning?"


Monday, April 02, 2007

It's the Simple Things

This past weekend, the Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off in DC. For those who aren't familiar with it, the Cherry Blossom is a type of tree that was donated to the US by Japan as a gift of friendship and every spring, these trees blossom into a bright pink hued extravaganza that beautifies an already beautiful DC. Every year, tourists by the thousands come to the city to see the spectacle and take part in the excitement. Most locals treat is as something all too common simply because it's taken for granted since we live so close by. Still, there are the occasional events that seem to draw on all walks of people in the area regardless of what they do and that's the Kite Flying Festival. Typically held on the first weekend of the weeklong Cherry Blossom festival this event features thousands of different types of kites being flown by anyone and everyone.

There is usually an area that is cordoned off for the professional kite flyers with their massive kites to fly their often enormous works of flying art and then the rest of the National Mall is left open to the public to come and fly their kites. What amazes me more and more each year is the fact that in this fast growing, technologically advanced (and continually advancing) society of ours, a simple cloth and wood contraption can still manage to fascinate people to no end. View any picture of the event and you'll see young and old, big and small, rich and not-so-rich all enjoying the spectacle of seeing their kite take to the air or come sailing to the ground.

On a normal day it's difficult at best to get kids to leave their games systems, TV or laptops to come outside and enjoy a day but it's this one day that seems to draw everyone out there. To me it proves that there is more to this world than all the technology and that no matter how advanced we become, there is still a part of us that is fascinated with the simple act of flying, whether it is a fancy kite or a simple one. You see that same twinkle in the eye of the 'pilot' when their kite takes to the wind and takes off for higher and higher vantage points. You can see the joy in their eyes and see the smiles erupt on their faces. It can be a frustrating endeavour for some, but once that moment comes where your kite takes to the air, there's nothing like it.

I think it's important that we cling to these things and ensure that days such as these are celebrated and enjoyed by everyone. You tend to become jaded when you sink into all the technologies of daily life. Some of the work has gone out of life which can be a good thing, but it's the simple things, like going and flying a kite, that makes you a kid again and helps you unlock that fascination that resides in a part of each and every one of us. We sometimes try to lock those parts away but it's important to cling to them and let them out every once in a while. After all, it's part of what makes it great to be a part of the human race.