Friday, June 29, 2007

Strange Case

In a mystery that would certainly have Sherlock Holmes pacing his study furiously while Watson sat offering up his thoughts on the matter, the people interested continue to wait for more information. The case in question is that of wrestler Chris Benoit who was found dead in his home this past weekend. What makes the case unusual to begin with is the fact that Benoit's wife was found dead in one room, their son was found smothered to death in another and Benoit himself was found hanging in his bedroom, the final victim of an apparent murder-suicide. Immediately the media and critics began claiming that this was a result of Benoit's being on drugs to enhance his physique and that he was fueled by an excess of 'roid-rage' which is a medical condition in which users of steroids are prone to fits of rage.

Now an apparent murder-suicide is the most obvious reason for the findings but it isn't what makes this case unusual. Benoit was scheduled to wrestle on Monday night this past week but his match was cancelled for apparent personal problems. Over the weekend, several of his friends had received strange and cryptic messages from his cell phone that indicated his exact address and the fact that his dogs were locked up in the pool area and that the side door to the house was open. His friends became suspcious so they called police and police came to the house to investigate and discovered the bodies of Benoit and his family. The media immediately stepped in and soon he was being lambasted in public.

Benoit was a wrestler in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) company and had held several champoinship titles in his time. He met his wife through one of the story lines that was developed during the course of his time there and they married and had a son. Their son, diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, had been under their care at their Georgia home for some time. In making the announcement, the WWE's move to cancel Monday's show and air a three-hour tribute to Benoit was something of a surprise to many becuase the exact details of the crime had yet to be released. What is becoming even more of a curiousity to the police now is the fact that Benoit's biography on Wikipedia had been altered to include mention of the death of his wife.

Okay. So some fan put up the notice right? Not exactly. Apparently the post was made 14 hours before the bodies were discovered. The point of origin was discovered somewhere near the corporate headquarters of the WWE and so many are beginning to speculate whether or not management or someone within the WWE organization knew about what was happening in the Benoit house before it came to the public's attention. All over, fans of Benoit and the WWE are quick to jump to the defense of both stating that the messages that Benoit sent could be indicative of a burglary or someone entering the house without authorization. Whatever the case may be, it is unusual enough to have people jumping to both condemn him and defend him at the same time before all the details are out.

Now I'm not as big a fan of WWE as I used to be. I used to watch it when it was still the WWF (and before the World Wildlife Fund raised as stink about using the same abbreviation) and in the interim, it has changed into more of a Ricky Lake - Jerry Springer type show where rather than merely wrestling in a studio, they do it in an actual arena. The quips, the jibes and the violence are all just as bad as a Jerry Springer episode only thing is that there is less talk. In recent years more and more information has been coming to light about the organization that has prospered on men (and sometimes women) fighting one another for the entertainment of others. There has been some speculation that the organization itself forces wrestlers to go to extremes for their fans and these can lead to disasterous and deadly results. Now I'm not speculating that WWE had anything to do with Benoit's death, but it's worth looking into isn't it?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Preserving our History

A dirty undershirt. Apparently it is enough of a historical icon to make it into the Smithsonian Institution. Well, before you go running to the laundry to make your own contribution to the Institute, be aware that the undershirt in question was worn by actor Bruce Willis in the original 'Die Hard' film. Seeing as how it's been about twenty years since the movie was released (and coincidentally the latest sequel opening on the day the announcement was made by the Institute), it's obvious that this movie would garner a place as part of the 'Treasures of American History' exhibit. The dirty undershirt will appear alongside other such closet relics such as Rocky Balboa's boxing gloves and Dorothy's ruby red slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz'. Now is it just me or is it a bit... odd... to hear that the costumes and props from films are now being considered American history? It sounds more like a glamorized yard sale listing.

Now don't get me wrong, those films, among so many others, are iconic and do represent the country in a way. 'The Wizard of Oz' is a staple of most every childhood, you will rarely find someone who has not seen the movie at least once in their lifetime. Similarly with 'Rocky', you have a character that represents the average guy who is given a shot and proves that there is more to him than just his image of being a bum from the neighborhood. Bruce Willis' John Mclean character from 'Die Hard' is another representative of the average Joe found in extraordinary circumstances that leads to an adventure of exciting, though a bit exaggerated, proportions. Still, other than 'The Wizard of Oz' are these or any movies for that matter, 'national treasures?'

I have grown up with movies and still love them to this day. My brother and I have been so emmeshed in movies that we are virtually undefeatable in games of Taboo simply because we make so many obscure references to throwaway scenes in movies that we can guess each other's word without ever coming close to saying one of the list of unmentionable words. It's perhaps a bit disturbing that we know movies that well but hey, it beats getting into any other illicit activities. I've seen each of these movies at least, if not more than once in my life. Some of them, like 'Rocky' have been inspirations to me at times in my life when I needed something and others like 'Die Hard' have a special meaning for me and my brother. Strange as it is, it's one of our traditional holiday movies. While others long for 'It's a Wonderful Life', we usually watch 'Die Hard' on Christmas Eve. It's perhaps a bit disturbing to hear that but it's just a way to unwind and relax with a mindless movie with very little deeper meaning or thought required of the viewer.

But if we derive guilty pleasure from something, I don't think it makes it a national treasure. If that is the criteria then there are virtually dozens of other movies out there that warrant a label of national treasure and deserve a place in the museum. How about the shark from 'Jaws' which served to scare people from the beaches for a few summers or how about the sled, Rosebud, from 'Citizen Kane'? If not that, then how about the original R2-D2 from the original 'Star Wars' film? The list goes on and on and on and the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is possibly yet another way in which Hollywood gets the word out about movies. These days Hollywood seems to be running low on ideas. This current trend of remakes or 're-imaginings' is coming about due to the fact that the original ideas don't sell as well.

Most of the movie going audience that is targeted these days was not even born when the original 'Die Hard' came out in 1987. I remember seeing the trailers and seeing the explosion on top of the Nakatomi Building in the beginning and thinking that this was the sequel to 'The Towering Inferno' but it was something different. It is what the musuem terms to be 'the quintesential action film'. And while that claim is definitely subject for debate, I won't completely disagree with it. But in an effort to draw in the younger crowd who is not quite high school or college aged, they are attempting to tone it down in order to draw in the audience by rating it PG-13. Then you attempt to rekindle interest in the older set by showing that the original films are held in such reverence that they have earned a place in the Smithsonian Institution. While we're at it then why don't we add 'Transformers' in there too. I mean after all, the sale of the toys back in 1984 / 1985 is what defined Christmas. Plus that movie is coming out in a week too..... hmmmmm.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Potential Future of Tysons Corner

I have lived in Tysons Corner going on five years now. In that time I have come to appreciate the urban-suburban lifestyle that goes along with it. Technically I live in McLean but when people hear McLean, they mentally see visions of luxurious mansions against the backdrop of the Potomac River or Great Falls. While that is true for some parts of McLean it isn't necessarily true of the part I live in. So for the sake of simplicity I always say I live in Tysons Corner. Of course a statement like that could lead people to believe that I live in the mall itself and sleep on the beds in Macys after the mall closes which isn't true either. The beds in Nordstrom are much more comfortable. But I digress. I have lived here for five years and in that time I have constantly heard about how the Metro was coming and how there were visions of seeing Tysons become the ultimate pedestrian friendly, easily-accessible area in the region. Unfortunately the vision keeps changing every so often.

The latest votes have taken the proposed underground Metro and put it above ground. Council members and some of the engineers related to the project have indicated that costs outweigh the potential benefits of having Metro run underground. The original plan was to have the Orange Line extend from its current terminus in Vienna and continue underground to nearby Tysons. It would continue underground until it finally linked up with the toll road at which time it would pop back above ground and continue on to Dulles Airport and eventually the hinterlands of Virginia. The problem is that planners have also been touting the fact that they wish to make Tysons Corner a much more accessible area with more sidewalks and promenades that will encourage a greener lifestyle among residents and visitors. Somehow I don't think that either case is going to meet with much success.

One of the selling points that was emphasized when I was looking at homes in the Tysons area was that the Metro was to be constructed close by thus making it much more convenient for my commute. Now I work in Virginia out beyond the beltway so for me, a Metro connecting to DC is extraneous but I'm in the minority, there are probably more people who work in DC and so the Metro would be a major benefit to them. Still, the convenience of having a transit system so close by would likely encourage me to start using mass transit to the city more often on the days that I go downtown either for work or fun so as a resident that would be a benefit to me. Eventually as the line completes it would also be convenient in that I could catch the train to the airport and save time and toll by simply riding the rails. Plus fewer people working in the Tysons area would need to drive in. Or so it would seem.

One of the major dilemmas with most of the companies based in the Tysons Corner area is that very few of them actually have staffs that work permanently in that particular office. The corporate offices are located there but personnel come and go from the office to customer locations for either work or meetings. That being the case, it's much more convenient to use a car versus waiting for a train and then a bus to get to the site. The main problems is that the traffic in Tysons Corner is largely transitionary and what I mean by that is that it is there in heavy numbers for limited time in limited locations before it diminishes. The peak traffic times in the area that is to benefit the most from these improvements are in the mornings and in the evenings. During the day there is a relatively steady stream of traffic but then most people working in the area walk to where they need to go on most days.

By adding above ground tracks and re-constructing road interchanges, it's only going to make for more traffic problems. As it is, the area carries a lot more traffic during the peak hours and the reason for the backups are often that lights are out of sequence, meaning you can rush from one to the next and end up waiting again within a hundred feet. This leads to slow downs and even more delays. Some on the council argue that this problem will be diminished by the implementation of the Metro but I say it will reduce but not disappear simply because the number of people working in the corporate office and other sites outnumber those simply looking for people to come into the area. The picture included above is a classic example of the potential look to the area. This picture represents the Spring Hill Stop which will be located very close to my house. In the mornings since I go against traffic the commute isn't that bad but in the evenings, the same commute can take nearly three times as long because there aren't enough alternate routes through the area.

The picture illustrates what the area could look like and with more distractions and people moving here there and everywhere, it's going to make for a messier commute in the area. The views we currently have of natural greenery in the area are slowly disappearing. In the five years that I have lived here I have seen thick forests being levelled to make way for new homes and office complexes. The growth is outpacing the growth of the infrastructure and it's becoming increasingly difficult to cope with it. More companies coming into the area will only exaccerbate the problem. While the arguement continues over whether to make the Metro above or underground, we will continue to see traffic tie-ups and other such problems. If it's so expensive to contemplate putting the Metro underground due to lack of funds in the transportation department, how is it that we are going to manage to widen streets, add new sidewalks and such when money is so tight? Perhaps it's a case of more bang for the buck but somehow, Metro as a selling point isn't looking so hot anymore.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Resolution and Results

Well it's been an interesting legal week so far. Two cases which had drawn the attention of the media and therefore the public have been resolved though the ramifications of these cases are likely to carry on for some time to come. The first of the cases to be resolved this week was the case of Roy Pearson and his missing, mis-handled, mis-compensated pair of pants. You'll recall that Pearson was suing a local dry cleaning business for losing a pair of his pants and not living up to the 'promises' made by signs hanging in the window which included claims of 'satisfaction guaranteed' and 'same day service' among others. It was considered to be a very frivolous lawsuit considering the fact that the Chungs (the family owning the dry cleaning business) had already made attempts to compensate Pearson for his missing pants. They had in fact offered up sums that were nearly ten times the actual value of the pants. When one reads the details of the case it was painfully clear that Pearson didn't have a leg, let alone two to stand on.

This case brought to light for a lot of people the problems with taking things too far. Pearson claimed that he brought the lawsuit in an effort to represent the beleagured people of his city who may have also suffered under the dry cleaning regime of the Chung family. But as the Judge in the case properly stated, the only person who was to benefit in this case was Pearson and no one else. While he claimed that his case was built on the shoulders of others without a voice but who also suffered the same indignities at the hands of the Chungs he hadn't made provisions to share his requested $54 million. There have been cases in the past which at first glance may have been considered frivolous as well, case in point being the infamous case of Stella Liebeck versus McDonalds. You remember that case as well, that was the case of coffee being spilled and resulting in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

In that case, McDonalds had refused to pay $20,000 which was what Liebeck had requested as compensation for her medical expenses but they refused. When the case finally came to court, the judge and jury heard the case and awarded Liebeck several million dollars. One could argue that this is what led to the rise of so many ridiculous lawsuits coming out and you'd probably be right. Pearson had a case and could have kept it within the realm of reality but instead he decided to play the martyr that no one really wanted or needed and has now made a mockery of the proceedings of the law. The judge in the case rightly called him out on that point and made sure to point out that this was a case that was meant to benefit no one but Pearson himself. The Chungs are now considering counter-suing Pearson (who is already woefully in debt) for their legal fees. If he can't pay maybe they can just take some of his $1,000 suits as payment.

The other case finally being resolved this week is the case of Paris Hilton. You'll remember that she was sentenced to serve 45 days in prison for violations of driving on a suspended license (which itself was originally suspended for drinking and driving). After being sentenced to jail, Hilton freaked and ended up staying in the medical wing. I guess the Simple Life wasn't quite so simple after all. After a brief respite at home for a day, the judge in this case refused to go along with the Sherrif's decision to allow Hilton to serve her remaining time on house arrest. As if living in a mansion could be considered grounds for punishment. She's probably spent as many days at home after heavy bouts of partying anyways so what's the point? Hilton was ordered back to court by the judge the next morning and was immediately remanded to the prison. Hilton freaked again crying and screaming for 'mommy'.

In the end, Hilton only served out the 20-some days that she was originally sentenced to anyways. That in and of itself is a mystery to me. She was released early on good behavior even before setting foot inside the prison. And this decision was based on what? The fact that she tipped a valet a dollar for getting their car after chewing him out for no reason? Or maybe it was because after she slammed into a parked car while escaping the paparazzi after a night of partying and then left a note apologizing. Whatever the case is, you can see from the accompanying picture that she is a changed girl (I won't consider her a woman because she still behaves like a child). You can see that she shuns the media after making statements as to her puzzlement on why the media is so focused on her as opposed to the real issues such as our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It remains to be seen whether this 'change' in Hilton is for real or whether it can be chalked up to temporary insanity from her incarceration. Whatever the reason, it just shows that we are so crazed after celebrities that they are what matter more than anything else in the world. Perhaps we have a passing interest in the fact that Russia is testing new missiles or building up their intelligence apparatus to levels above what was in place during the Cold War but still, I'm more interested in finding out what Paris Hilton thought of the moisturizers offered in LA County Prisons. I want to believe that perhaps prison will have done something to add a few brain cells to Hilton's head but I fear that hope may be misplaced and a mistake. One can only hope that this trend by Pearson for frivolous lawsuits and by Hilton for 'celebrity justice' will change soon so that the average person can feel better that the justice system does work.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Is It Really An Issue of Race?

The film "A Mighty Heart" opened this weekend and it tells the story of Mariane Pearl who struggled to save her husband, Daniel Pearl, who was eventually executed by terrorists. But rather than focusing on the issues behind Pearl's struggle or the circumstances in which she found herself, a part of society is ticked off at the fact that in the film the part of Mariane Pearl is being portrayed by Angelina Jolie. I can hear some people out there saying, "So what?" Well the controversy comes in because Pearl is of mixed-heritage which includes African-American, Cuban and French among others. That being said, some people are up in arms that the part is being played by a white woman. Suddenly everyone is now concerned that racial prejudices in Hollywood (which are existant) are rearing their ugly heads and taking away from the true character of a person. I argue that that is complete nonsense.

Those who argue the opposite that it sets a double standard for Hollywood to have a white woman play a woman of mixed heritage while the reverse may not be possible. The arguement being put forth by some is that supposing Queen Latifah decides to make a movie on Hillary Clinton and wishes to play the part, the industry would then be in an uproar. I agree. There is cause for an uproar but not because Latifah is African-American and Clinton is white but because the physical resemblence (and I am talking size not color) is so different that unless there are some major changes on either front, the audience will have a hard time believing the story or relating the character to the real thing. Part of the difficulty in any form of acting, whether it is the movies, the theatre or television, is getting the audience to buy-in to the character. If the character is shown to be a starving homeless person, you would prefer someone who is looking emaciated as opposed to someone who looks like they eat four square meals a day.

Some people say that Jolie's playing the part is a modern-day version of a blackface which is when white actors paint themselves in exaggerated colors to portray someone of African-American descent. I don't agree with that claim. Jolie has stated that her production company had the rights to the book and film and that when it came time for casting, Pearl herself requested Jolie to take the role. Pearl herself has made claim that this isn't an issue for her and she can't understand what the big deal is. Generally the director of any production will take on someone they feel can encompass the role properly. Race is important but in this case, it isn't the only factor. The movie focuses on Pearl's struggle during and after her husband's kidnapping, not the struggles against racial issues.

But why only look at it that way? If one wants to make the arguement against mixing races in film and television then there are tons of other examples. The movie "Gandhi" was controversial at the time in the selection of Ben Kingsley for the title role. Kingsley is part Indian so that furor soon died down but what about the movie on Pakistani leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The film starred decidedly English Christopher Lee as the first Prime Minister of Pakistan. I didn't hear many forms of protest coming from groups at that time. Or what about the film "Memoirs of a Geisha"? The title role of a Japanese Geisha was portrayed by Zhang Ziyi, a Chinese woman who rose to fame after her staring role in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Eric Bana, an Australian, portrayed a Israeli Jew in "Munich" and the list goes on and on.

There are many others out there that you can point to and claim racism but to make claims on the one hand and not on others is itself a form of racism in my eyes. Groups who make claims that racism is at work need to point it out all over the place then and not just in instances where it most deeply affects you. There is definitely an inequality in Hollywood and it is bound to remain there for quite some time but one can't say that it isn't changing and for the better. I remember Forrest Whitaker from his role in the mostly b-movie "Bloodsport" which was a star-vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme, now he's an academy award winning actor and a well-reputed director. We as a society tend to get hung up in the question of race and are constantly on the lookout for perceived racial injustice. If we keep focus on that rather than attempting to understand the nuances of other cultures then all of this talk of equality is a sham.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Stop That Noise!

I'm slowly getting convinced that the vast majority of people out there are becoming more crotchety the older they get. For whatever reason, people's tolerances for things have been on the decline in recent years and it's evidenced by the number of times they complain but also the manner in which they complain. We already know about the case of Judge Roy Pearson who tearfully reported in court that he and his neighbors (most of whom never used the dry cleaning company in question) were victims of false advertising by believing signs that guaranteed satisfaction and same day service. Maybe he was ticked at the fact that he wants it his way right away or maybe he was just having a bad day but this isn't the only case of inane cases being brought to the forefront.

Earlier this week a case in a New Jersey court was ruled upon in favor of the harassers as opposed to the harassees. In this case, the harassment in question was being done by a 5-year-old and 11-year-old pair of sisters in their backyard pool. In the course of what can only be considered normal play, the kids were squealing and that was apparently enough to enrage some neighbors that they complained to the parents and then took them to court for noise ordanance violations. Are you kidding me? Taking kids to court for being kids? I can understand if these kids were in the pool at 3:00 in the morning and were screaming or that they do it every single day or that it is accompanied by loud music but come on! Kids are kids and no matter what they are going to make noise. There are only a few kids I have ever encountered in my relatively short life that ever sit quietly for more than half an hour.

To feel compelled to take the kids to court to resolve the issue strikes me as being a case of having too much time on your hands and not a whole lot of sense. I have a neighbor who prattles around in the condo above mine at odd hours of the night. It took a little getting used to but soon the noises became a normal thing to me and it stopped bothering me. There were occasions where she began vacuuming and running her washing machine at 1:00 in the morning at which time I complained to her but after that there wasn't anything out of the ordinary. For whatever reason, many people today are becoming much more insulated and self-centered in that they don't want anything to puncture their little shells of solitude.

What about the guy in Georgia who began calling a local airport which he lived near. He constantly complained that the noise from the low flying aircraft was bothering him and he began to regularly leave messages on the airport answering machine (it's a local airport for private planes) which eventually included threats to the effect that he would begin to shoot the planes down. Now only an idiot would make such a threat in this day and age. There are certain words which I hesitate to use in the vicinity of an airport these days lest some overzealous TSA agent take it to mean I am a terror suspect. To threaten to shoot down planes and then insist that it was only because you were frustrated is like making a bomb threat on a commercial airliner because you think your seatmate stinks.

When the people in New Jersey or Georgia moved into their respective homes I'm curious to know whether or not they knew what they were getting into. If you don't want kids anywhere close to you on the off-chance that they are making noise even louder than your five dogs (or so the New Jersey woman claimed) then you should look for an area where no one under the age of 55 is allowed to live. They have neighborhoods like that and they are bastions of silence save for the sound of garden sprinklers and the pitter patter of slow-moving arthritic feet along the sidewalk. Don't like airplane noise? Don't you think you should have checked to see what was in the area before settling in on a home? To buy a house close to a known airport and then complain about the noise is just stupid. If you know it ahead of time, you have nothing to complain against. The airport was there first and if you can't stand the noise, then move.

We could all do with a little more patience and understanding. Everyone is getting so stressed out these days that little things like this are liable to set them off at the drop of a hat. One can argue that these people who have complained have every right to complain and ensure that the space they live in allows them to enjoy every single minute in the very manner in which they want to enjoy it. I agree, were we living in a perfect world, I would say that that is exactly how life should be, but we don't live in a perfect world and unless we all begin to accept the occasional annoyance and then deal with it, we'll all turn crotchety real soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Too Immature to be Mature

Well add this incident to the list of reasons why one can fear for the future of the human race. Apparently Bahiyyah Khalilah felt it was a good idea to hold her 20-month old daughter on her lap while driving thus allowing her to steer while she worked the brakes and gas. Needless to say, the inevitable happened and the car ended up crossing the median and hit an oncoming pick-up truck head on. Miraculously, Khalilah and her daughter got off with minor injuries and the two occupants of the truck were taken away to local hospitals for broken bones, lacerations, and other injuries.

Police report that there are some discrepancies as to why Khalilah had the baby on her lap in the first place but in essense, she claims that the baby became fussy so she pulled over and changed the diaper and then decided to let the baby steer while she worked the gas and brake. This brings me to my point. There are lots of parents out there who have a lot of faith in the geniuses that are their progeny. Most any parent you talk to will speak of their child with wonder and delight and gladly regale you with tales of how smart they are, how well they're doing in school or what their latest achievement was in sports. They will tell you about how mature they are for their age and how they are destined for great things.

On the whole, that may be true, but if every single claim of this type was the truth, we'd live in a perfect society because these kids would come in and show us adults how to lead our lives smartly. Unfortunately, such real geniuses are few and far between and the vast majority of kids out there are your normal, every day average Joes. What's the point I'm trying to get at? Well, I'm not saying that Khalilah allowed her daughter to drive because she is a genius or that she's smart enough to drive, but something somewhere must have motivated her to make that idiotic decision to have her kid drive. And in a lot of cases, I think it's because parents want the best for their kids no matter what the cost is. Many parents noblely want more for their kids than they themselves ever had and they never want them to be denied the experience of something new. In this case driving at the age of 20-months.

I personally don't see the point of risking life and limb for the sake of pride or to coddle a crying kid. I was fortunate to have parents who always pushed me to try my best and experience all that I could and I know they thought that both my brother and I were exceptional, as all parents naturally do, but I don't think there were ever occasions where they took a decision to put not only us, but those around us in danger. For example, in my martial arts class, we use swords. When we first start out, we are taught to use a wooden sword that represents the actual blade. As we progress in style and experience, we move to using unsharpened metal swords before finally beginning to use a real sword for practice in cutting bamboo and straw mats. For most of the kids who join this class, they are interested in primarily one thing, using the real sword. But let me tell you, some of these kids, I wouldn't trust them with a plastic butter knife let alone a real sword.

I have seen some wild ones in my time and though martial arts are meant to instill a sense of maturity and honor in kids, it is not a substitute for actually ingraining maturity in a child. Many parents sign their kids up after reading about how martial arts are a means of maturing kids and that once they attain a black belt, they will be mature adult-like entities. Unfortunately there are many martial arts schools out there that will basically teach you what you need to know to go through the motions so that you can get your black belt. Does this method do anything for the maturity of a kid? Not really. There are those who understand the meaning behind martial arts, or driving, or other responsibilities and there are the others (the majority) who look to only the bragging portion of it. My kid can drive even at the age of 2. My six-month old is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

For the sake of parents pride in their kids, we often end up having nothing more than boasting rights. Are we that insecure that we have to put our kids up on pedastals and make them much more than they actually are? All kids want to experience everything but there are the right times and places for all such things. Letting a 20-month old drive a car because she is fidgeting and is insisting that she be allowed to drive is foolish. Why stop there? As a kid I always wanted to fly a plane, if adults had given in to my every whim and fancy back then, the population of this world would certainly be a lot smaller today. Your kid may be so mature at a young age that Paris Hilton could learn a lot from him or her but that doesn't mean they are ready for everything. Especially not driving an automobile in public.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Googling Microsoft Vista

In a move that is likely to have all anti-Microsoft people cheering, Microsoft agreed to change its Windows Vista operating system after getting complaints from Google stating that the default Vista desktop search engine was somehow slowing down other similar programs; namely Google's desktop search engine. In a move meant to show compliance with a ruling regarding anti-trust violations, Microsoft agreed to make the changes to Vista and is working to ensure that whatever is causing Google applications to run slowly will be taken care of in short order.

Now although this likely is a victory for Google, it just points out the fact that there are still many more problems out there where Microsoft is concerned. Now don't get me wrong, I think Microsoft is one of the shining examples in the American lexicon of companies that have shown how to take a great idea, modify it and then run the world with it. Apply to any office these days and you're required to know Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Any of the other members of the Office Suite of products are bonus skills but gone are the days when you were asked to state your proficiency with word processors, spreadsheets and computer slides. Though there are other products, Microsoft products are the standard which most of the world uses. There are a few bastions of resistance out there who rail against Microsoft's efforts to take over completely but they are still not as large a force as to challenge Microsoft's dominance.

One of the reasons for this is that Microsoft has been around far too long to have an immediate impact from non-Microsoft companies. When Windows came out, way back when, sure it was a rip on the visual interface pioneered by Xerox and then Apple, but Microsoft took it to the next level and made it readily available to everyone out there at a bargain price. When personal computers first came out, I remember that my Dad bought one of the first ones and though it was powerful for its day, it was not as user friendly as today's PCs are. For example, unless you knew the basic commands for DOS, you were lost in the water. As it is, most people have trouble making sense in English, do you really think that the non-IT people out there are going to want to learn yet another language? Apple's Macintosh computers were good but not popular due to their closed architecture. Basically you could modify your system when you bought it and then that was it. You were done.

Microsoft jumped on the PC market with a fury and ended up packaging their operating systems with every new PC that came out and now you are hard pressed to find a PC that doesn't already have a Microsoft operating system already loaded. There are always complaints in the market about how there are superior prouducts to Windows that are available to the general public. One of the most popular these days is the Linux operating environment that takes all of the features of Windows but puts it in open source so that means anyone can modify it and then put it out for the world to see and use. It's a novel concept that is driving innovation and development a lot farther and faster than many people realize but the problem is that when the average computer user is faced with a choice of a known quantity versus something unknown, they tend to go with a brand name.

Linux and the like are probably much more stable, have more capabilities and will someday possibily surpass Microsoft's hold on the market but it isn't likely to happen very soon. While these Anti-Trust cases are in place on Microsoft and they are serving to hinder their dominance of the martket, it can't undo the years of ruling the market that Microsoft has enjoyed. If rival companies had good alternatives years ago then they should have started the way Microsoft did. Join with like-minded PC developers who feel that Microsoft has an unfair advantage on the market and begin packaging their operating systems with those PCs. Once that's done, sell like the Dickens and get your product name out there. Mac is trying with their attempts at cuteness with the Mac and PC commercials but still, cute isn't enough to knockout Microsoft.

Google is like a boxer who has managed to stagger the untouchable heavyweight who has never been knocked out. Their arguement that Vista is 'doing something' to slow down the downloading or running of non-Microsoft products is true. Try downloading a rival program to a Microsoft program and see how difficult it can be. I remember in the old days with Netscape. Though it is in use today, a few years ago it was the only choice for web browsing. Compared to competing products, Netscape was the best but then Windows made it difficult to download it for the first time on PCs with Windows running. Soon the average user got frustrated and began using the default Microsoft Internet Explorer and soon Netscape degenerated into what it is today, a good product that is still struggling to keep pace. Mozilla is attempting to fight back, hopefully with a little more success but the sad truth is that until the majority of users out there (the non-IT gurus) give up on using only the default tools and products, Microsoft isn't going to feel any hits other than glancing blows.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Breaking the Law with a Sippy Cup

Being a fairly frequent traveller I have experienced first hand the frustration that can occur when you travel these days. Have your boarding pass and photo ID out for inspection. Remove your shoes, belts, jackets, pullovers and anything else which could conceivably conceal a weapon. Remove laptops from cases and then place them on the x-ray belts for scanning. Walk through the metal detector and if necessary, you will also be subjected to a hand scanning and/or pat down by an officer to make sure that any suspicions are allayed and that you are safe to travel. Once you're through, you have to quickly reassemble yourself and your things before heading off for your plane. It can be stressful enough but it can be even more stressful with kids.

These days there are so many new restrictions coming up that you can almost make a career out of reporting the changes to travelers. There are so many businesses out there looking to make a buck off of the new regulations that it isn't even funny. New laptop cases that speed up the removal and return of laptops while going through security. Little lanyards that hang around your neck to display your ID and boarding pass so that you can keep your hands free for shuffling your belongings about. All this is there but there are still little things that haven't been changed or improved to make things better. For example, thanks to a group of terrorists in London who sought to smuggle chemicals on board a plane and then mix them on board to create an explosive, liquids, gels and other such things are no longer permitted through security.

Once you pass through the mythical gates of security you can purchase drinks to your hearts content but until that time, you are to have a parched throat I suppose. This rule has been around for a long while now and though there were mix-ups in the beginning, I think the average business traveller knows not to carry anything of the sort with them and most travellers who travel infrequently also are aware of the regulations enough to know not to carry such things. Even if you aren't aware of such things, most airports have enough signs, announcements, illustrations and explanations well before, during and in the lines for security that somewhere along the lines, one would expect that a person would realize that liquids of any kind (barring those that have written medical necessity) will not be permitted through security. Despite all those efforts, there are still those who don't feel that the rules apply to them.

Case in point is the case of Monica Emmerson. A former Secret Service agent from Arlington, Virginia; Ms. Emmerson was on her way out of town through National Airport in DC when she was stopped by TSA security for carrying liquid in her child's sippy cup. Now I grant you, it's incidents like this that stir up the emotions of people everywhere when a child's drinking cup is scrutinized as a possible source of terroristic activity but rules are rules and should be applied across the board. Who's to say that a 19-month old child will be any more or less deadly than a full-blown fundamentalist adult. Anyone who has sat for eight hours next to a screaming kid may have something to say about it but that is another blog. In any case, Emmerson was stopped by security who informed her that the sippy cup was too large to carry through security and that she would have to empty the cup and then pass through security again.

It is at this point that stories differ but according to Emmerson, she was told to empty the cup and then come through security again. She was so upset that when she unscrewed the top of the cup, she accidentally spilled the water on the floor and was then detained by authorities against her will for apparently breaking the law and violating sterile area rules in security. Suddenly the parents of America were up in arms over this latest effort by the TSA to enforce the rules, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. The TSA wasn't going to take this lying down though and they responded by posting video of the security lines and issuing statements online. They paint a somewhat different picture.

According to incident reports from TSA and surveillance footage, when Emmerson was confronted about the water in the cup, she flashed her secret service credentials and stated that the rules were stupid and ridiculous. The TSA officers in question remained firm and escorted her out of the area to empty the cup at which time, from video evidence, she purposely opens the sippy cup and dumps the contents on the floor. At this time TSA officers and an officer from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority approaches Emmerson and informs her that she is breaking the rules once again at which time Emmerson again flashes her Secret Service credentials and complains against the rules. With all this going on, the TSA and airport police have no choice but to detain Emmerson who then misses her flight. Now everyone is looking to take sides on this issue and point the finger at the wrongdoers. I would say point them at both parties.

Now most people will side with Emmerson for being a mother and attempting to make sense of rules that don't make any sense to a rational human being. That being said, she has no reason to be treated any better or different by TSA and security even if she is a former secret service agent. Whether you are the police, military or President of the United States, if you are going through the airport like the average Joe then you need to undergo the same scrutiny as everyone else, screaming kid or not. The TSA shouldn't have had asked Emmerson to leave the area and go through security again, they could have taken her to the side and had her empty her cup into a trash can. Sometimes the rules are taken too literally and so it leads to bad blood on everyone's part. Sometimes the TSA officers have to act that way because if some members of the public see perceived preferential treatment to someone versus another then you get into cases of perceived racism or the like. It's a sticky mess all around.

The TSA have a tough job and the rules are there so many times when they themselves must question the sanity of the rules they are asked to enforce but to blame them is ridiculous. You occasionally encounter the overzealous ones who like making people's lives Hell just for the fun of it but for the most part they are doing these things to keep everyone safe. When an incident like Richard Reid (the shoe bomber) or the London attempts at toilet terrorism occur, we the public are quick to blame the TSA and other such agencies for their apparent lack of professionalism and security accumen but when we, the general public, are inconvenienced we rail against the system and call the rules stupid. I get aggravated and ticked with the general state of security these days but I know that it's more or less for my security. If I am detained for breaking the rules, then I try to cooperate to the best of my ability and prevent the situation from getting worse. I know I'm not a risk to security but if they think I am, it's my job to make sure I don't do anything to firm up their beilef.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Deeper into the Surreal

Is it just me or is life truly turning surreal now?
I mean you've got Paris Hilton in jail suddenly finding religion and voicing concern for our troops in the war zone. You've got conflicts breaking out all over the world. And most importantly, you've got the case of the $54 million pants. Judge Roy Pearson, who I've written about in the past continues to make headlines over his efforts to sue a dry cleaning business for apparent false advertising and mental distress. Personally, what I find most distressing in this case is the fact that it's even in court in the first place. To hear Pearson's testimony and arguements (he's representing himself here since no one probably wanted to take the case, even the cheap lawyers) one would think he's out to save the legal system of the United States. Instead, he is making a veritable mockery of it.

Pearson contends that the signs that were hung in the store that promised "Same Day Service" and "Satisfaction Guaranteed" were false promises that the Chung family (who own the dry cleaning business) should be held accountable for. Based on the fact that they lost his pants (though they were later found and offered back to Pearson with compensation well in excess of the actual value of the pants) Pearson did some number crunching and came up with a total of $54 million for the case. If one were to examine the breakdown of the requested money, one will see that Pearson was seeking compensation not only for the pants but numerous other 'expenses' that would have been occured thanks to the Chungs. This included compensation for violating the better business practices rules in DC, legal fees, mental distress fees, and cost of renting a car to go to another dry cleaner across town. Okay. What?!?

Yup, you read that right. Apparently the Chungs have caused Pearson so much anguish that he feels justified in going to another dry cleaner. Okay, that makes sense, you don't like the service, go someplace else. To sue for the cost of legal fees involved in the case, okay, makes sense. To sue for wanting to go someplace else? A bit of a stretch but okay, I get it. To sue for the cost of renting a car to go to the aforementioned other dry cleaners? That's just stupid. The judge in this case has agreed to render a verdict by the end of the week and I for one hope that he doesn't accept this compensation package. If he rules in favor of Pearson (which is a possibility) he still shouldn't accept the costs as Pearson has laid them out.

This would help set a dangerous precedent because from henceforth, people could sue for things that they deem necessary. I mean I could sue my local Pizza place for not serving me authentic Italian pizza despite their claims that they offer pizzas 'just like the old country.' Well I didn't think it was. I am going to sue them for the cost of a roundtrip first class ticket to and from Rome every week so that I can truly experience authentic pizza. I will further sue for additional compensation over the fact that I was caused mental distress in tasting fake pizza being passed off as true Italian pizza. Plus I will have to see a taste-ologist to have my tastebuds examined for permanent damage. $54 million? Pah! I can make a billion off of this case.

Pearson apparently broke down on the stand when he spoke about how the pants that the Chungs claimed to be his were revealed to be someone else's pants. He cried that he just wanted his pants back. He cried?!? I mean if the saying is that one should 'never cry over spilt milk' then what do you think they say about lost pants. Were they his lucky pants? Then shouldn't he also be suing for millions and millions more in lost revenue? I mean if they were his lucky pants then think of the number of lottery tickets he could have won, instead he's still in the same boat.

I can understand Pearson's desire to bring this case to court and I can understand his wanting to represent others who may have received shoddy service from the Chungs but I don't understand his proclamations that he represents the beleagured residents of Fort Washington in their fight against the tyranny of the Chungs. Where are we? Back in 18th century Washington getting ready to declare our independence from the British? I've said it before and I'll say it again. This case needs to be thrown out of court and Pearson's standing as a judge needs to be examined. As a judge of administrative law, he should have better judgement than what he's shown thus far.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Power of Money

When I was growing up I didn't always have a need for money. I was fortunate enough to have parents who provided all the basics for me and on occasion, if an occasion called for it, both my brother and I would get a little reward. Whether it was a toy or going out for ice cream, the result was the same, we came to the realization that the reward was something rare and meant to be appreciated. When we got a bit older, our parents gave us a weekly allowance. These days kids earn a lot by way of allowance but when I was earning it in the early days, I wasn't getting more than a dollar a week. Kids may read this and laugh now but I think it was a major step in helping me learn to appreciate the value of a dollar.

While I won't consider my life to be of the same order as Paris Hilton or other such rich debutantes, I will say that I lived a comfortable life when I was under the care of my parents. One could argue that it gave me a taste of the good life and thus skewed my expectations for myself in the long run. What I mean is that perhaps it meant that I got used to certain things and would accept no less when the time came to be on my own. I think that perhaps that would have been true had it not partially been for the fact that I earned a dollar a week. Although my parents bought things for me once in a while, after I started getting an allowance, I realized that I could buy things on my own but that I would have to spend wisely otherwise it would be a long while before money built up again.

I am a music fanatic and every so often I would go to the music store and buy some music. Still, there were many CDs that I would have liked to have bought at the time but I hesitated because I knew I would have to wait a long while before earning back my money. At a dollar a week, a CD costing $16 meant that it would be nearly four months before I earned back what I spent on the CD. I could go and bug my parents (which is what a lot of kids do) and had they given in then I would never have appreciated what I was earning.

There are some parents out there who always complain that their kids don't know why its important to save money or to spend wisely. There was one boy who I taught in my martial arts class who was notorious for breaking his wooden training swords. Although they are made of fairly strong wood, they are not indestructible. Still, this boy would practice his cutting techniques on trees and end up breaking the sword after a few days. Although the swords aren't all that expensive, at the rate of two a month, he was basically throwing money out the door. We let his mother know that she shouldn't keep buying him new swords since he didn't appreciate the value of the sword or the money used to buy it.

His mother told us that she wasn't buying them but rather leaving it up to the boy to purchase from his allowance. She told us this and then spotted him an advance for his purchase of yet another sword. If I could get such advances from my job then I wouldn't be living in a two bedroom condo but rather in an uber-beachfront mansion. Even though I'm earning decent money these days I still think about what I want to spend it on and whether or not these things are really necessary. Sure I could afford to buy extravagant things but in doing so, I'm sending money out the door and potentially not saving enough for later on. And at this stage in my life, I shouldn't be looking to my parents to bail me out. I think that's a valuable lesson that parents can help teach kids and it will help ground their thinking in reality.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Foiling Speed Traps

If you've ever been driving on most any major highway in the United States this has probably happened to you. You're happily cruising along above the speed limit when all of a sudden you hit upon a rash of cars braking hard as if something has just jumped into the middle of the road. If it's a deer or some other stray animal it's okay, but most of the time it ends up being a cop sitting on the side of the road with his speed gun out. They usually sit in spots where they will be hidden from view until the last possible second and by then it's usually too late. What many of these brake happy drivers who slow down at the sight of cops often fail to realize is that if you've been scanned, even if your speed at that moment is below the speed limit, the gun can uses several readings to determine your average speed. That being the case, if you were cruising along at 90 miles per hour and suddenly slow to 45 in view of the cop on the roadside, don't think you're being smart, you're likely being a greater danger by suddenly disrupting traffic by an abrupt slow down.

I have been pulled over for speeding after being scanned by a speed gun once and when confronted with electronic evidence you can't always argue. Thankfully I didn't have to go to court and I got off with a warning, but had it been a more extreme case, I could have gone to court and protested on the grounds that perhaps the speed gun wasn't calibrated properly on that day. There's always the off chance that the officer in question may not be in court or may not have the calibration report for that day. That being the case you'll likely be able to get out of the charges unless of course you have a horrid driving record or the judge is in a foul mood which is also a possibility.

So what do you do to avoid such bad luck scenarios? I could state the obvious and say that we should all obey the speed limits but if I choose to say that I may as well also tell everyone to exercise more, eat healthier, stop greenhouse gas emissions and many other little tidbits of obvious advice that very few people actually follow or adhere to. So then what? Well, some of the techniques I use allow me to continue along above the speed limit but not to the point where I'm driving dangerously. Stay with traffic, that's the key. If you find you are moving significantly faster than the rest of the traffic around you, slow it down. When you blend into the crowd you draw less attention to yourself. We're not racing for the checkered flag at Monaco so no need to push the peddle to the metal.

Next, don't hog the left lane. The left lane is typically the passing lane and if you're not passing the slower car in front of you then stay out of it. Occasionally you have drivers who don't follow the first rule and speed past everyone and that allows you to have the attention drawn away from you. But when you have a driver who is driving at the speed limit in the left lane, you create an impediment to the flow of traffic. I know there are drivers out there who argue that while we feel we have the right to speed, they have the right to drive at the speed limit and while I agree that that is there right, it doesn't mean drive the speed limit in the left lane. If you find you're not passing the car on your right, move to the right and be happy. Don't force your driving style on us. If you're driving slow and someone passes you, he's respecting your space. If you wish to have mutual respect then stay out of the passing lane unless you deem it necessary to exceed the limit and pass someone.

What about when you see a cop on the side of the road? This is one of my pet peeves because the results of these cases are almost always the same. If the cop has not pulled someone over or is not dealing with an emergency, he's probably on the lookout for someone who is clearly breaking the law. Now one thing to remember is that you may not like cops but don't ever consider them idiots because they aren't. If they see traffic building up and slowing down near their vicinity they'll know that you were speeding because if you weren't, traffic would be flowing by normally and not as if it is going through a bottleneck. Because many times, once they see that, they let the cop farther down the road know to be on the lookout for cars suddenly picking up the pace and speeding off.

When you see someone who has already been pulled over, move one lane over so that you don't crowd them on the shoulder and so that the officer doesn't run the risk of getting hit. While doing that though, don't slow down to a crawl again just to see what it is. Northern Virginia is notorious for that. Half the time there is back up on Route 66 it's usually because a cop has pulled off on the shoulder to help a stranded motorist or keep an eye on the HOV lanes, as a result, everyone freaks out and drives past the cop with trepidation. Again, all you're doing is slowing down traffic and not helping allay the delays that are already in place. You're just making it worse.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Party Girl to Political Activist?

"If you blog it... it will happen," or so the saying should be. In my last blog I wrote about how the 'punishment' which Paris Hilton had suffered which was to serve out her remaining sentence in her home was not very fair. Soon after I posted it, I got word that the Judge in the case had summoned her back to court on Friday morning. It seems that the decision to let her go home and be on house arrest was a decision made by the Sherrif's Department in an effort to help allay Hilton's health concerns. The Judge was might peeved that this decision was taken without his expressed permission and so Hilton was hauled in to court on Friday morning and ordered back to prison for the full 40 days.

Hilton cried and screamed for her mother before being taken back to the county lockup for the start of her days in jail. Soon thereafter a statement was issued by her attorney in which she stated that she already was learning her lesson and that she hoped others would learn from her mistakes. She was grateful for the support she had received and wished to thank all those who took the time to write to her. She also indicated that she was shocked to see how much coverage was given to her when there were so many far more important issues going on in the world such as our troops serving bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes. You read correctly. Hilton apparently is aware that there are troops from the United States serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and that there is an actual war going on and not just something that is shown on those 'news channels' between HBO and the rest of the premium cable channels.

So what changed in those handful of days to turn Hilton from a pure party girl to a suddenly politically active girl? Probably nothing. To think that jail time has had such a profound impact on Hilton is like saying that baseball owes everything to Barry Bonds. It's just not true. I view it at clear and obvious spin and popularity control. They want to make sure that in 40 days Hilton is not forgotton or marginalized. After all, her friends are all going through issues right now. Britney Spears is finally out of rehab and her bald head is finally filling out. Lindsay Lohan is apparently still in rehab after pictures of her passed out in a car (not driving thankfully) and holding knives to people's throats were released to the public. Hilton must have realized that she can rise to the top of this sordid pile by appearing more concerned about world affairs than we think she is.

I find it highly ironic that statements such as these are coming out now when there have been so many opportunities in the past for her to make such statements or make a difference. Hilton and the rest of her contemporary party animals and darlings of the media didn't become famous overnight. They have graced the gossip columns for years and there usual revelations were things like what style of purse is best while sipping Cosmopolitans and discussing "Sex and the City". Now they're making political statements? Watch out Al Gore. I think your Nobel Prize nomination is about to be supplanted by Paris Hilton's pleas for concern for America's military.

Hilton's exact medical condition has not been revealed to the public and so it's not certain where exactly this statement is coming from within that brain of hers (if it even is her brain coming up with the concept). She's currently confined to the medical ward so that she can remain under supervision. I guess this is the closest she can come to a normal lifestyle for a while. Even though she may not have her usual servants around her, I guess a doctor and team of nurses doting on her is probably better than being confined to a cell all day. If her statements are real and genuine then perhaps we should send more party girls like Hilton to prison. After all, many of these girls end up being bad role models for young girls and if prison is going to knock some sense into them, then by all means, open up the doors to county and make it the newest fad for celebrity women.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Some Punishment

Let the circus begin. I was walking through the atrium in my office building yesterday when I noticed a news flash coming up. The sound was turned down but I knew that the G-8 Summit was currently in progress so I thought perhaps there had been some big decision made or something else worth reporting with such urgency. It was something even bigger. After having served a little less than three days (arriving one hour before midnight at the end of day one doesn't count as one day) Paris Hilton was released from prison on the grounds that she had a 'medical condition'. Hilton was released on the grounds that she remain under house arrest for 40 days. Now I don't know about you, but that doesn't seem like any kind of punishment to me. Forty days in a luxurious mansion with the tons of servants and visitors galore? Let's see how many times her attorney and psychiatrist visit her this time.

I frankly don't care about Hilton or her lifestyle but I feel that this case is one of major injustice. So far the courts and attorneys involved have not come forward to specify what exactly this 'medical condition' was but I think I have a pretty good idea. For a person like Hilton who claims to shun the media on one had but shows up at the MTV Movie Awards just hours before reporting to prison, her condition was probably lack of attention. She had been locked in a 96 square foot cell in isolation, mainly for her safety. Being confined to a room that's probably the same size as her shower stall, I guess it's easy to understand why she would start losing it mentally but that still doesn't seem like a good enough reason to let her go. Had this been a male celebrity, they would have ignored his complaints and left him in prison. Just because it's a person of celebrity status like Paris Hilton, concessions are made.

Prison is enough to make everyone lose it to a certain degree but isn't that the point? Why treat her like a celebrity if the point is to make her think about her mistakes? She knowingly drove on a suspended license and then expected to get off on the charges and prison time? I can't think of a compelling arguement that would lead me to believe that she had a sudden pressing need to go out at the time she was arrested. I mean it's not like she needs the money to support herself. Have you stayed in a Hilton anywhere? Even if she gets a portion of whatever is charged to the room per night, she's still going to be rolling in dough so I don't think the need to support herself is a reason for her to have broken the law. Neither is she on the verge of some major research that will suddenly reverse the effects of greenhouse gases or cure cancer. I'm sure she'd probably be surprised to know that there is no 's' in 'cancer'. So why then was she out there? Simple. She craves the attention.

And it's this constant craving for attention that is probably what is contributing to her apparent mental collapse. Whatever the reason, I don't think it's fair or even reasonable to give her such specialized treatment. If the actor Robert Blake (who is in prison for murdering his wife) complained that he is losing his mind mentally due to his confinement, I really doubt if they'll place him on house arrest in his mansion. I know that the difference between serving time for murder is much different than serving time for driving on a suspended license but you see the point I'm trying to make. By 'reassigning' Hilton to home confinement isn't going to solve anything and will probably not do anything other than lead to her breaking her confinement again anyways.

I mean I wouldn't put it past her to get into her car (on her property) and then board a plane of hers and go somewhere and then stay in a Hilton Hotel (it's got her name on the marquee) and then claim that she never left home because all of these things are her home and property. Martha Stewart tried to get out of her home confinement and go to work and the judge in her case denied her. At least in Stewart's case she served her time for her crime. Before going in Hilton had boasted about how she was going to serve her time rather than pay to stay in a 'country club' prison for extra money. Rather than seizing the opportunity for an idea for the next season of "The Simple Life" she lost it in a matter of hours and proved once again that celebrity status means more in this country than anything else.

I am happy to note that a judge has ordered her to court at 9:00 AM Pacific Time in order to re-examine the decision to reassign her to home confinement. The number of conflicting statements coming out right now are leading many to question what exactly was the basis for the decision. If I were the judge in the case, I would order her back to jail but barring that, I wouldn't order her to stay in her house, I would order her to stay in a normal suburban dwelling with no servants and no visits from friends. Let her survive on her own rather than having all the conviences of such a pampered life. Let her work an actual job rather than just strutting for photographers at one party then the next. We'll find out what the judge thinks in a few hours. If you want to punish someone for a crime then punish all criminals in such cases equally and not on their standing as a celebrity.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Motivation to Workout

It's been a long day and you're tired and bored of sitting in meetings all day and going home is looking more and more appealing versus going to the gym for a few hours. I get asked all the time how I manage to make it to the gym when I have so many other things going on in my life. To me, it's a question of motivation and rationale for wanting to go. It's also a case of simple economics. I began working out full time during my last year in my undergraduate studies in college. At that time I had access to the campus gym which was a new facility filled with the latest equipment and the best features. We had a large pool, an indoor running track and loads of equipment. Plus at the times I went (either mid-morning when I didn't have class or early afternoons before even classes let out) I usually got to use all the equipment I wanted without having to wait a long time to get on. At the time I was going to campus anyways so I used to keep my gym clothes with me and then go to the gym after class on the way back home. That time, it was easy to get motivated and seeing as how my last few semesters were not too strenuous in terms of time or study commitments, I was able to workout a lot.

For a lot of people that motivation comes from seeing success and realizing goals in your workout. For most people who go to the gym, losing weight is the primary motivation. I know that in my case, that was my primary motivation. I was probably borderline obese or at least out of shape enough to know that I was taking the quick route to a major coronary or other health issue if I didn't change track quick. While issues like heart disease and all were not at the very forefront of my mind I still knew that I wanted to reduce my weight and get in better shape. By the time I finished my final year I had dropped more than fifty pounds and was in far better shape than I had been in a long time.

The main question that people ask is how long did it take me and when I tell them that it took me personally about seven months. Upon hearing that most people assume that from the time I started working out to the end, I was losing a steady stream of weight and that's not the case. During the first few weeks that I was working out, I never saw any results. I would workout regularly and fairly intensely but the initial results were disappointing. I used to work out about three times a week (and walk every day) and by the end of the week, I would have lost about a pound of weight. After the weekend, I would come back and weigh myself only to find that the weight had either returned or that I had gained back more weight. It was frustrating and I couldn't figure out why it was taking so long.

I cut back on my intake of food while still maintaining a balanced meal plan. I never skipped meals completely but I did reduce the amount I took in. I determined that to lose the weight efficiently I had to 'take out' more than I was putting in. By the end of the first month I had finally reached a point where I would lose a pound or so a week and then keep it off during the weekend as well. If I hadn't kept going then I probably wouldn't have continued to work out the way I did. Getting to that point was the hardest part though. I can understand why most people lose the motivation to go to the gym after not seeing results. Many people think there is some miracle weightloss program in your body that kicks in every time you go to the gym. Unfortunately the only miracle program I know of is you.

You only get out of your workout whatever you put in. If you are walking along at a snail's pace on an extremely slow treadmill and then guzzling down a soda to get a quick energy boost you are putting in more than you're likely taking out. This is a common thing I notice about people who come to the gym shortly after heavy intake holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's. At those times of year you suddenly see an influx of people who join and then workout beyond normal limits to the point that they hurt themselves or don't see results and then just quit altogether. Most trainers I have spoken to don't ever tell you that you have to train your body to start burning fat. They do great jobs of pushing you and getting you into the fitness mode but very few ever told me that it is hard work.

I have been working out for several years now and though my weight has fluctuated a bit in the past few years, I haven't returned to the shape I was in my early college days which is a good thing. I look at those old pictures of myself and can't recognize the face looking back at the camera. Watching old videos and seeing old pictures makes me realize that I don't want to be back in that shape ever again. I want to keep pushing myself and keep pushing past the next plateau so that I stay in shape. For those of you out there who may have stumbled upon this page while looking for advice about joining a gym or going to a gym, believe me when I say that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Don't expect to lose weight in a week starting in your first week but stick with it and you'll see results soon enough.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

False Advertising?

Well it's always refreshing to hear that the legal system works and that judges out there are reasonable people. At least that's the conclusion we can make in the latest update on the case of Judge Roy Pearson and his lawsuit against the Chung family dry cleaning service. He appears to have come to his senses and has reduced his original request for $67 million compensation down to a more reasonable $54 million. His change of heart comes from the fact that he realized that perhaps $67 million was a bit excessive so he decided to reduce it but still holds the case that the Chungs violated their own advertisements in this case and that they should be held accountable. A quick recap of the case for those who came in late. Pearson was a relatively frequent visitor to the dry cleaning shop run by the Chung family. During one transaction, the judge realized that a pair of pants was missing and so demanded that the Chungs pay for the lost garment. They agreed, however a week later the Chungs found the pant and returned it to Pearson and said that they were no longer liable for the pair of pants and so shouldn't have to pay. Pearson disagreed.

Pearson informed them that he was bringing a lawsuit against them for not meeting their own claims posted in the window regarding "Same Day Service" and Satisfaction Guaranteed." Pearson said that he wasn't satisfied and that their repeated violations were prosecutable to the fullest extent of the law. When all was said and done and tallied, the total suit came to approximately $67 million. Prior to this coming to the forefront the Chungs had offered to pay for the pants in ever increasing sums. At one point they were offering Pearson thousands of dollars for a pair of pants not worth more than $200. One can argue that Pearson is attempting to make a point by saying that the claims made in signs around the Chungs business are false and therefore justify his lawsuit. I argue that if that's the case, I've got a beef with quite a few businesses out there.

Pearson is a judge and therefore should understand how this case makes him look. For him to claim that the sign constitutes false advertising is true on the one hand but a bit of a stretch on the other. I would ask you to consider the number of times you've walked into any dry cleaning business where they have not claimed 'same-day service' or your 'satisfaction' being 'guaranteed'. It's almost a staple of any such business. If you don't have those signs people are more likely to be wary than consider you to be honest in your claims. Most every such business states same-day service but there is often a disclaimer that the clothes must be brought in at a certain time or some other such caveat. That's a given and it's also something that needs to be clarified when dropping your stuff off. But if Pearson claims that this forms a legally binding case then I've got some others for the rest of us to go after.

The eye glasses company "Hour Eyes" has the word 'hour' in its title due to the claim that they will prepare your glasses in one hour. This was a similar claim to companies like LensCrafters as well. If that's the case then I should sue them for false advertising as well. Apparently the 'one hour guarantee' only holds for certain frames at certain times of day and in certain cases. If I hold them to that guarantee then I can sue them for false advertising. Okay, so there's a couple of million for us (if we are to use Pearson's rationale). Verizon Wireless claims the best service in nation in terms of widest coverage and the largest wireless network. Is that so? Then why is it that when I'm out in portions of Northern Virginia that I seem to lose my signal? Perhaps you can claim that I'm beyond normal coverage zones but then doesn't that mean that your claim of the largest wireless network is false?

The Washington Post used to claim that "if you don't get it, you don't get it" which is to say that if you don't subscribe then you won't know what's happening in the world. I don't subscribe but I think that I'm still reasonably well informed of what's happening in the world. Again, false advertising. Look at any company and any service out there and they all make claims like this; it's part of advertising and part of what makes a business work. I agree that there are times when advertisements and claims don't live up to what customers expect but that doesn't mean that we should get litigious and start suing every company out there. I haven't gotten the details on what exactly Pearson reduced in his lawsuit but it apparently wasn't something big. Maybe he reduced the number of times he felt the guarantee was violated by the company and then adjusted his end number accordingly.

I think Pearson's case is one of pure nonsense. I find it offensive as a taxpayer to think that court time is going to be spent in the prosecution of this case and that there is going to be debate. Pearson himself is a judge and should know what it will cost. He is going to be acting in his own defense and wants to make his case known. In the grand scheme of things I don't think that this will lead to a world wide revolution in advertising at dry cleaning outlets but perhaps it will bring light of the fact you should be careful what you claim. Perhaps we could sue Pearson for taking the guarantee of the Justice System to the extreme. "...And Justice for All?" I don't think so.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tyson in Bollywood

There are times when I have my doubts about the film industry around the world but especially in India at times. This latest bit of news to come out of Bollywood just serves to solidify that doubt in my mind. So what's the story? Well, in a forthcoming movie, former heavyweight boxing champ and ex-con Mike Tyson, will be appearing in a dance sequence. Now anyone who has seen a typical Bollywood movie knows that dance sequences are often in the movie with little or no reason other than to have a song. The hero and heroine may look at one another and suddenly realize they are in love and so they will sing a song to declare their love. Another typical dance item is the one in which a guest star will appear simply to boost the noteriety and fame of the song. Usually it's some hot new actress who has not yet 'earned the right' to act in the movie so she's relegated to songs. In this case, the new girl is actually Tyson and if statements coming out of Bollywood are any measure of the future, then it may not be the last time that we see him in a Bollywood feature either.

Tyson has been a bit hard pressed for work lately. After having lost several of his last few matches, he is no longer the driven boxer that he once was. Looking for something to do, he was approached by Bollywood producer Firoz Nadiadwala with an offer to appear in one dance sequence. These sequences are usually the first to be filmed so that the songs can then be marketed to the audience in order to raise awareness of the movie and increase interest in it. It often works and in this case, I'm sure the movie, "Fool n' Final" will definitely have some benefit to having Mike Tyson in the film. It's strange to think though how or why someone like Tyson (who is playing himself) will make an appearance in the context of the film.

Not that there has to be any reason for logic in Hindi movies. The usual response I have for anyone asking about Bollywood films is that most of them require you to check your brain in at the door and leave logic to another time and place. That's not to say that there aren't some great films and some brilliant actors and directors out there in India but for the most part, the industry panders to the masses which often leads to a dumbing down of the plot and overall quality. I can understand if this applies to kids movies where the main purpose is to have fun and enjoy but when adult fare also does the same thing, it's a bit harder to swallow.

Case in point, there's a movie out there called "Hindustan Ki Kasam" and it's about a secret agent who is stealing information from India and selling it to terrorist countries. It starts off with all the action and adventure of a James Bond film and leaves you thinking that perhaps this will be a great action film. In a subsequent scene you have the famous Indian screen idol Amitabh Bachchan speaking the praises of patriotism and teaching children in the scene what it is to love your country and to serve it honorably as his character did in the armed forces. Again, patriotic stuff that makes it seem like the film is going to be a knockdown drag-out adventure in which the virtues of the country and concepts of honor will be touted left, right and center.

Then we meet the hero who, in typical Bollywood style, is an exact twin of the villain. Shocker! He meets and falls in love with the main actress (again no surprise) and the two of them then get stuck in traffic. Being a fashion model, rushing to get to airport to fly to Europe (usually Switzerland) she is dismayed that she may miss her flight. So far the movie plot and story is developing in the usual fashion and there is still a good grounding in reality. Hearing the complaints of the heroine, the hero tells her that he will get her there in no time and that she should get on his motorcycle. Now rather than seeing a sequence filled with motorcycle stunts through traffic and such, the hero suddenly launches his bike into the air and then transforms it into a 747. Reality goes out the window along with it.

I shut off the film right then, not wanting to see anymore. The director of that film stated that this was his dream and his vision of a story that would promote the ideas of peace and patriotism to movie audiences. To me, all it showed was what can happen when you start writing a story and then continue drinking something which leads to ideas like motorcycles turning into 747's or Mike Tyson showing up to dance with you. It's sad when you think about it since the Indian film industry is one of the top industries out there. They produce more movies than any other nation in the world but seeing as how the majority churned out is crap, it's no surprise that they are able to meet that record. It's a clear case of quantity versus quality.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Cheating to Get Ahead

A recent study at Rutgers University concluded that of all the cheating students in the University today, none are cheating more than the business majors. Thinking about the reasoning for it I guess I can understand the motivation and rationale behind some of it. All one has to do is look at the recent history of what's been going on in the business world to know that this isn't all that uncommon. For example, it's all too frequently now that we hear about companies like Enron or WorldCom reporting that their books have been doctored and that the record profits they originally reported were actually record losses for the company. But what is the reason for it? Simple, making money for yourself is what motivates a lot of these guys. Many businesses these days have incentives for executives who perform or increase the profit margins of a company. Like professional athletes who get bonuses or pay increases based on performance, executives are also incentivized in a similar manner. However, the biggest difference is in the fact that athletes have to perform on the field to earn their pay; executives can achieve the same results with a spreadsheet and some creative number crunching.

But besides money is there any other motivation for this falsification or trend towards cheating in business majors? I think part of the motivation to cheat is to get ahead and stay ahead. With the best grades and best results, you are far more likely to land that plum job with the signing bonus and corner office. Previously it was probably enough to have a degree from a university with a reputable name but that name on the piece of paper hanging on your wall is no longer enough. More and more companies are finding that it isn't necessary to hire someone from Harvard if you're looking for Harvard material. Smaller universities and colleges are churning out students with just as much capability with just as much, if not more skill, than some of the traditional big name schools. Although this trend seems to be on the rise, there is still a bit of the 'old boys network' whereby grads of a particular alma mater may have more appeal for a recruiter than others.

That being the case, there is more motivation for students out there to cheat in order to have a better grade point average, higher academic credentials or even a more diverse class listing. Whatever the case, in business you can doctor your books and be a winner. Similarly, you can doctor your test scores and still yield the results you want. What are the consequences? Well, in the case of cheating on business exams, if you're not caught, probably nothing at all. This is because in the business world, depending on what kind of deal you make, you could single-handedly sink a company but if your contract leaves you in the clear, you have nothing to worry about. What do I mean by that? Well take a look at some of the recent scandals with companies like Enron and such. The executives in the company knew the end was near but they used their insider information to set themselves up to make a profit despite the knowledge the company was in big trouble.

These executives and business leaders encouraged the average worker to continue investing in the company and when the bottom fell out, the employees were the ones bearing the brunt of the loss and the executives were sitting smuggly in court smiling at having turned a profit while remaining relatively unscathed by the turn of events. This goes back to their college days where the only person likely to suffer is the person who doesn't cheat while the business student has everything to gain. In business there's no clear case of life or death. If you're a doctor and you cheat on your physiology exams, you're probably one of the most dangerous doctors out there. If you cheated in school you may have gotten the best grades but when it comes time to apply that supposed knowledge, you'll more likely end up maiming someone rather than saving them.

Similarly, an engineer or scientist can also deal in life or death circumstances. An aerospace engineer designing a plane will probably want to pay more attention rather than cheat because if they cheat, they may end up designing a plane which wouldn't be able to lift a feather. In that case, it could have disasterous results. I think the motivation of a lot of business majors to get ahead is solely based on the fact that they have that in-built desire to win at any and all costs. Some of the people I went to college with were very much in that vein where everything was a competition and if they lost they took it much harder than anyone else did. It certainly pays to be a winner but it also pays to be honest and ethical in your work.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Dangers Behind the Wheel

I was reading the paper this morning when I came across an article that caught my eye. Apparently in Washington State, a 71-year-old woman got onto the highway and realized she was going in the wrong direction. Instead of doing the safer thing and taking the next exit and getting back on in the opposite direction, she went ahead and made a u-turn and started heading back. Against traffic. After a few minutes of heading into oncoming traffic she again realized her mistake and then proceeded to make another u-turn on the highway before finally getting off the highway and disappearing. Luckily the only accident was a car that swerved to avoid the runaway granny but thankfully no fatalities. Police were able to track the woman down after a vigilant driver reported the license plate number to the police. Although she won't be arrested, she is going to be going back to driver's school to take a refresher. Now had this been someone about thirty years younger, we'd be seeing pictures of them in jail or being beaten to the ground after police make the arrest but because it's an old woman we are showing compassion and sympathy. I feel that's a double standard.

I am all for testing drivers again at periodic intervals. In most states to renew your license you have to have your eyes examined and that's pretty much it. I feel that this doesn't ensure that a person who passed their driver's test years ago is still competent or even aware of the rules. I remember taking driver's education in high school because it was a requirement since I was under 18 when I went to get my first license. I had been driving under my parent's training since I was about 14 so I was quite aware of the rules of the road and a lot of the regulations. Still, when it came time to take the test, I reviewed everything they provided and then took the test on the state's closed road course. It was more nerve wracking to have a stern looking state trooper sitting with you than it was to actually take the test but that's also part of it I guess. Still, looking back on it, it was now 12 years ago that I did that. It was the basic stuff, parallel parking a car, performing a three point turn, making a u-turn. All these things are basic but important.

I would take it a step further in later training by having re-tests every ten years or so. A driver would be taken out on the roads and they would be observed by the trooper. It may take longer and cost a bit more but at least you can be evaluated by a trooper then on the spot and know how you're doing. There are so many driver's I have encountered out there who are completely ignorant of the rules out there that it is simply awe inspiring. There are a number of people out there who believe that simply by giving their indicator (or turn signal) that that means they are free and clear to change lanes. So many SUV drivers these days just go ahead and start making lane shifts that the rest of us have to be on the lookout to make the adjustment to accomodate drivers.

How about the number of times you see beauty parlors on wheels driving beside you. By this I mean the women who are busily putting on make-up, putting on mascara, applying lipstick, eye-shadow, rouge, the whole thing. I bet if car companies made a full size vanity mirror in the sunscreen then they would sell more of those car models. Some people are bad enough at driving that they aren't helping the situation by diverting more attention to applying eyeliner. Not that guys are any better. I have seen lots of men out there who seem to think it normal to read the paper while driving on the highway. I'm not talking about in traffic but rather out on the highway. What is so important that these guys can't wait to read it? After all, so many of them show up to work and then take the paper into the toilet for half-an-hour after arriving anyways. What's the rush to read it in the car then? To get in the mood?

By testing people again, perhaps they'll remember that these things aren't normal and shouldn't be allowed. Now one which applies to most drivers out there is cell phones. I grant you that it is undoubtedly one of the greatest modern conveniences out there since sliced bread and frozen pizza but it appears to be turning so many people into mindless drivers out there that's ridiculous. If you ever come across a car that is incessently showing its brake lights every few seconds, when you pass it you will likely see someone engrossed in conversation on the phone. This also applies to when you see a car weaving in its own lane and straying into others. The person is likely to be on the phone again (or at least turning to the back seat to scold the children.

Many states and the District of Columbia have taken steps to make it illegal to drive and talk on a phone without a hands-free device but people still try to get away with it. And while it's illegal in most states, what amazes me even more is that knowing fully well that talking on the phone is illegal while driving, why would anyone think it's okay to type a text message? I mean there may be those rare geniuses out there who can type up messages without looking at the keys like Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Departed" but on the whole, most of us aren't so techno-savvy. That being said, why would anyone think that it's perfectly okay to do so? Like I said, ridiculous. I enjoy driving a lot. I don't enjoy sitting in traffic but I do enjoy being behind the wheel on a road trip, perhaps it's a bit of nomadic trait in me but with all of these things to be on the lookout for on the roads, it can be tense at times. Maybe it's a conspiracy by the anti-oil-company companies as a means of getting us to go green faster. It may work.