Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Overseas Surgery

With the state of medical care in the United States constantly being questioned, it's no wonder that so many Americans are looking for alternatives to going to the doctor. One of the practices gaining popularity these days is to visit doctors overseas and have surgeries performed while on vacation. The idea being that you are visiting accredited doctors with top facilities while enjoying recovery time in an exotic location where the value of the dollar means you can live life comfortably and enjoy. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. A typical scenario that has been popular in the past has been to take a trip down to South America where plastic surgery is popular and relatively inexpensive when compared to the United States. Patients come down, have the surgery and then spend the next two weeks recovering on the beaches of Brazil. Sounds fabulous doesn't it? Well, it's often a bit too good to be true.

Reports have surfaced where unlicensed doctors have performed surgeries and the results have been nothing short of catastrophic. Doctors who aren't even close to being plastic surgeons have performed surgeries or given injections of substances claiming them to be botox when it is actually something else. The results have led to some deaths but the majority have resulted in the need for extra surgeries at greater cost and more pain. There were several cases shown in the news over the past few years where patients headed down to Brazil or some other such country and had the surgery done and several days later, began to experience pain and swelling and it turned out that the surgical site was infected and the patient was now in danger of dying from blood poisoning.

In other cases, the doctors performing the surgery used substances that were supposedly substances like botox and such when in fact it was nothing more than a diluted mixture that was mixed to increase the volume. The results were that many patients began to suffer from massive swelling and rejection by the body. Suddenly it doesn't appear as if this is a viable alternative after all. This is not to say that there are no good doctors anywhere outside of the United States. On the contrary, there are many fine and gifted doctors all over the world. The problem comes when people attempt to skimp a little when it comes to something seen as an extravagance.

There are rare instances where plastic surgery is considered a necessity. One can almost think of it like a car. You can buy a practical car or you can buy an exotic. Both will serve the same purpose but one costs a lot more. If it's a necessity the majority of people will go with the practical but others who want it, they will spend more to get the exotic. Same with cosmetic surgery. If you're going for something of an extravagance it's probably best not to skimp and try to save a few bucks. Sure the trip down to Brazil may be worth it but do you really know who you're putting your life in the hands of?

But why only Brazil? Asia is also experiencing this boom and India is one country where many are turning to for surgical procedures. A number of companies have begun arranging medical vacation packages where a patient can come, have a surgery done and then enjoy a vacation in a new and foreign country. Many expatriates already make occasional trips for the purpose of having some work done but many non-Indians are doing it as well. The risk lies in the fact that here too there are no guarantees of who is going to be performing the surgery. Two recent cases come to mind where the patient was misled to believe that a certified doctor was to perform the procedure when in fact someone else did it. In the first case a doctor had his son perform the surgery in the hope of setting a world's record for the youngest surgeon. A second was by a well-reputed doctor who allowed his daughter-in-law to perform a surgery when she's never even had any medical training.

I don't know about you but I'd prefer not to have my life be used as a test bed for an unlicensed doctor or someone seeking a world record. Here also one can argue that there are cases where doctors are doing nothing but experimentation on patients but I don't believe that it is so blatant. When you go overseas to have a procedure done you are essentially walking into the unknown. It may seem like a bargain to have a vacation and an expensive surgery for less than the cost of both separately, but is your life really worth saving a few thousand dollars?


Monday, July 30, 2007

What's Happening to our Sports Stars?

For those of you out there who don't follow baseball much (0r not at all) you may still be familiar with the name Barry Bonds. The star player of the moment for the San Francisco Giants is currently making headlines because he is on the verge of breaking the home run record previously set by baseball legend Hank Aaron. With 755 home runs hit, the completion of just one more will set Bonds apart from the pack and will place him as the king of the home run. What stirs the controversy among many people is the speculation that Barry Bonds has used steroids to attain his current physique and as a result, he's much stronger than he should be. That being the case, many are left to wonder whether Bonds' achievement is even in the same league as Hank Aaron's.

It's a difficult thing in sports to compare athletes of different eras to one another. In baseball there is particular difficulty given the fact that players in the modern era can play many more games than the players from the past. The advent of stadium lighting and night games means that players play more games on average than they did a century ago. That being the case, one can argue that it is easier to achieve a record than it previously was. Still, one can also argue that the ability to achieve records today is much harder than it was in the past. Again, in baseball, the pitches are faster, the stadiums larger and the players are more powerful than they were before. I mean can you imagine someone as portly as Babe Ruth playing the game today? He may have been one of the greatest players ever but if he were to play today, it would most likely be a different story. As it is it is difficult to compare the eras and the players that they produced, but it is even more difficult when you have players who are artificially enhanced.

Whether or not Bonds actually takes steroids is still up for debate in many circles, but the fact that his arms have gone from having the girth of a ballpoint pen to the girth of your average tree trunk means that either he has been working out extremely hard or that some assistance was provided. It's sad to think that in this day and age we are so pessimistic about the skills and abilities of athletes that we call into question their skill, ability, and dedication at the drop of a hat. Perhaps it is that we sports fans have also become so jaded that we have little or no faith in our favorite players and teams. When you have cyclists in the Tour de France pulling slightly ahead of the pack it's not because he's a good cyclist anymore but because it is more than likely that he used drugs.

If you see a player whallop a ball out of the ballpark, the speculation immediately turns to the fact that perhaps he has taken some steroids or other drug to increase his performance. Times have changed from when parents would point to an athlete and use them as an example of dedication and skill in sport. There are still of that old guard around and they continue to be shining examples of the true meaning behind athleticism but it's disappointing to hear fans proclaim that perhaps these legends were possibily users of performance enhancing substances too. I can think of the talk behind legendary Baltimore Oriole star Cal Ripken Jr. Recently inducted into the hall of fame, Ripken set the league record for most consecutive games played and has always been a symbol of what was good about baseball, but even now his image is being tarnished by whispered talk that perhaps he too took drugs to play in so many games.

Whatever it is, I hope that that's not the case. More and more frequently we are losing faith in our heroes and thinking only the worst. It's hard not to when you have players of skill like Michael Vick being convicted of crimes, stars like Barry Bonds coming under fire for supposedly cheating his way to the top, and cycling stars from all over the world being challenged about their skill and endurance and being labeled guilty until proven innocent. It's sad but true that we are so jaded and accepting of the fact that an achievement is likely due to any other reason than the player themself. Whether it is the desire to perform and achieve great things in order to make more money or to be proclaimed 'the best', players continue to struggle to figure out some way to be at the top, it's just a shame that they have to cheat to do it.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Will They Take a Stance on Extremists?

About three weeks ago, a trio of self-proclaimed Christian protestors interrupted the invocation prayer of the Senate that was being led (for the first time ever) by a Hindu priest named Rajan Zed. The protestors were quickly removed from the chamber and Zed managed to complete his prayer within the allotted time (less than two minutes) but the ramifications of the incident are still creating ripples like a stone thrown in a calm pond. Although the majority of people across the country are likely ignorant of the fact that this speech even took place, it seems that there have been protests and complaints popping up from both sides of the arguement.

When Harry Reid (a Democrat from Nevada) announced that he had invited Zed, a Hindu priest from his home state of Nevada, to give the invocation prayer in the Senate, there was a stirring in the extremely conservative portions of the nation. They felt, and quite wrongly I might add, that this was just another step in the ruination of this country. They felt that the founding fathers of this nation founded the country 'Under God' and not multiple Gods as in the Hindu pantheon and so this was flying in the face of the establishing principles of this nation. To quote the protestors, this was considered an abomination against God. Their God.

Now that the prayer has taken place and the protests have occured, Hindu practicioners across the nation are calling for their Senators and representatives and the candidates for President to take a stand on this issue. They are calling for them to condemn the protests and state that this flies in the face of the founding principles of this country. Seeking freedom from religious persecution? Come to the new world. Isn't that what the founding fathers did? I seem to remember that there is a stipulation of separation of church and state. I guess that means any other church that doesn't fall within the Christian religion. At least this is what those against the Hindu prayer will have you believe.

It's interesting to me that candidates and incumbents are being put on the spot and are being asked to take a stand. It's something that seems to fly in the face of being a politician. Especially these days. When you have politicians lying under oath (both Democrats and Republicans) and perjuring themselves. When you have candidates who flip flop on issues, do people actually think that they will take a stand on whether or not the protest of a Hindu prayer was wrong? To a group of Hindus they may proclaim that they are appalled by the actions of the protestors. To a group of Christian conservatives they may proclaim that this is just another example of how the excess of freedom given to other religions is eroding the religious identity of this nation.

I personally think that it's a load of crap to expect them to take a stand. Take a look at the protests behind Mitt Romney and the fact that he is Mormon. So what? If he is a good leader, if he has a strong head on his shoulders and seems as if he is a good candidate for president, why shouldn't he run? The fundamental problem here is the fact that unfortunately, for all our talk in America for being tolerant and understanding and the nation of the free, there is still a majority of the population that clings to the ideas and ideals of 1807 as opposed to 2007. Raised on fixed ideas and misconceptions perpetuated from generation to generation, these misguided souls believe that the problems of this nation are by those who are outside of their belief system.

The truth is that this continued misconception and misunderstanding is exactly what is preventing us from continuing forward. The Democrats have a slew of candidates right now and none of them is really a front runner as far as I'm concerned. This country is not ready for a woman president so you can take Hillary Clinton out of the running. We are definitely not ready for an African-American president so remove Obama as well. Romney's a Mormon and so the stigma attached to that takes him out and so basically you're left with a bunch of other candidates who have nothing really going for them other than their religion. Isn't that what it all boils down to in the end? We have a President in office right now who has already proclaimed that he answers to a 'Higher Father'. Had a non-Christian leader ever made such a statement, the nation would have been in an uproar.

There is a quote in Islam that says something along the lines of 'there is only one God, and Mohammed is His prophet'. That being said, I guess we can alter our Constitution and fundamental beliefs to state that 'there is only one God and He is Christian'. As a rule of ettiquette you are generally told to refrain from two topics when you are meeting some new group of people for the first time and those topics are politics in religion. It seems that most politicians follow that guideline all the time these days. Have them protest the protest of a Hindu prayer? There's a snowball's chance in Hell of that happening.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Friends Make Friends Gain Weight

Every once in a while I really wonder about the studies that are being conducted all the time by medical professionals. Some of these studies are really subjective and could swing either way. I remember that at one time doctors announced that popcorn was considered a healthy snacking alternative. Suddenly people were buying buckets of the stuff at the movies; even if they didn't want to actually eat it. What the reports on the study didn't say was that this was normal, butter-less popcorn. Not the stuff drowning in salt and butter at the movies. Of course the general population could care less for the details but suddenly new studies came out that stated that popcorn wasn't as healthy as initially thought; especially movie theatre popcorn. Overnight the industry went in the opposite direction and there you suddenly had change.

There are so many such studies that if you wait long enough you will likely find one that suits your style. Like coffee? Coffee is good for preventing heart disease. Don't like coffee? Coffee is bad because it promotes caffeine overload. You can play this game all the time and then you begin to wonder, have the doctors and researchers conducting these studies actually done anything? I mean have we reached an actual conclusion or are we taking a step forward and then a step back so that we end up in the same place again? Not only do these cases and studies never seem to reach any conclusion but they often delve into the realm of the most obvious. I can understand if these results come from something like the Cecil County Community College of Junk Food Medicine but from a prestigious journal like the New England Journal of Medicine? I think not yet it happened.

In a study published earlier this week, the New England Journal of Medicine found that studies had shown that the general disposition of your friends was a good indicator of your lifestyle. Yes, you read correctly, you are like your friends. In this case, the similarity had to do with weight gain or general fitness levels. The study concluded that if you have friends of the same sex who are overweight or begin to gain weight, you will likely experience the same gain. Now I'm probably going to be out on a limb here for asking this but shouldn't that have been extremely obvious? I mean of course you'll have things in common with your friends! I don't think it should have taken a study by doctors at places like Harvard to reach that conclusion.

I mean look at other cases besides obesity. If you smoke, likely you'll have friends who smoke. If you drink, you'll have friends who drink. The connection of this sort can go on and on forever. This is mostly because we like to hang out with people who have similar interests. Again, shouldn't that have been obvious? If I don't like to smoke would I be hanging out with someone who does? By that same token, if I didn't see eating as anything more than a necessity for survival would I hang out with people who lived to eat? Probably not. So it stands to reason that the reason I hang out with someone is because I have similar interests to them.

I'm not saying that there isn't any importance or good conclusion to this study but I just feel that it's an exercise in finding out what we already knew. And again, I find that it is an easy out for many people. What I mean is that now that there is scientific, medical reasoning behind the fact that weight gain is likely linked to your friends, many people are not finding motivation will have yet another scapegoat to their lack of physical fitness. "I didn't exercise because Kelly didn't exercise. We both decided to have a milkshake instead." The actual motivation is within each of us, it's just a question of how to get it out of you. I guess soon we'll find a study that says that there is a link between friends and their physical fitness level. There. I've gone and given some med-student the thesis for his final paper.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Death by Diet Soda

I can freely admit that I am a former soda-holic. My parents and my brother can attest to the fact that I used to drink soda by the gallons growing up. Every evening after school upon getting home I wouldn't have water but a tall glass of soda. Whenever we went out to eat I would have a Coke or Pepsi and on occasion I would have a Sprite. The main thing was that I needed to have the soda. It wasn't so much for the caffeine kick (although I'm sure that may have been part of it) but it was my alternative to bland, tasteless water. Because of the carbonation and sugar and all, I began to have kidney problems and soon I gave up soda cold turkey. That's part of the reason why I knew I wasn't addicted as much to the caffeine as just the fact that I was drinking it. Still, after the problems arose I switched to water and juice and such and in time, I not only beat my kidney ailments but I began to feel better too.

A new study that has come out this week proclaims that what I'm feeling is true because according to the study that was done, those who drink diet soda are more prone to have heart disease and other problems. This comes as a shock to many because for decades, diet soda has been seen as the 'healthy alternative' to regular soda. I guess it's a psychological thing because the word diet is included in the whole description. Still, considering the amount of soda that is contained in even a diet soda versus what's in a regular soda is enough to make you realize that this is all a case of semantics versus scientific fact. According to the study, researchers feel that because many consumers of diet soda are taking in relatively less sugar in the drink, they are more prone to crave sugar from other sources hence over-intaking sugar by way of junk food.

This may be true as think about the last time you went to lunch with your co-workers or friends. There are so many out there who will have a large burger, extra-large fries and a diet soda. As if the combination of heavy food and diet soda is some sort of chemistry experiment where two oppositely charged particles seemingly cancel one another out. You may think that you are consuming less by drinking a diet soda but if you get one from a place like McDonald's you're literally drinking the equivalent of several cans in one glass. The extra extra large quantities that you get here are enough to fill you up with enough sugar that you may as well add a few drops of water to a sugar bag and then consume that.

There are a lot of people out there who are taking this news with a grain of salt (or a spoonful of sugar... whichever you prefer). Opponents to the study claim that the information is misleading and false and that there is no proven link between the consumption of diet soda and heart disease or obesity. Still, I can speak from personal experience. I have never had an overactive metabolism where I could consume mass quantities of food and then continue to weigh only ten pounds. I have had to work at it and previously when I worked at it, I never really used to see any results. Then when I cut out the soda, the change was dramatic. Suddenly a source of sugar in my diet was eliminated and my overall craving for sugary foods went down. In time then so did my weight.

Some will argue that even this is just one example and that there is no evidence to prove that there is a link between the two events. After all, I'm no scientist or biologist; I'm not even a scientologist but the fact remains that after I (and my brother as well) gave up on our normal soda consumption habits, our overall disposition took a turn for the healthier. I can't say for certain that soda was or wasn't the culprit but it may have had something to do with it. Do I suddenly eat healthier now that I no longer consume soda on a regular basis? Define healthy. Does that mean no fast food, no unhealthy foods and nothing bad for me? Not exactly, but like everything, I try to enjoy it in moderation. Nothing is good for you in excess but in moderation, you definitely can enjoy without paying the consequences later on.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Equality for Some with Virginia's New Driving Fees

I like to think that I'm a fairly safe driver. I have been driving for about thirteen years now and in that time I have had a handful of incidents that required my being pulled over. In all cases it was exceeding the speed limit. I paid my fees and went on my merry way and thankfully I didn't get any demerit points. It's a good thing too because with the new driving fees being enforced by the state of Virginia, such driving infractions can lead to high costs for drivers. But only if you're from the state of Virginia. Under the new driving rules, any violations of the law will have new, higher cost fees associated with them. The hope is to deter drivers from breaking the laws anymore and driving safer. Unfortunately, by enforcing these rules against only Virginia residents, the laws will hit residents harder than out-of-state visitors and this is not sitting well with many Virginia residents.

What we in Northern Virginia tend to forget however is that if we travel a little farther south, Virginia gets much larger and continues on for another few hundred miles. That being said, it's not like drivers from Maryland and DC are driving all the way down there to break the law. Sure there are many transitory drivers that enter the state at times but they are not constantly coming in and breaking the law. On the whole if we choose to look at the number of people from Maryland or DC entering Virginia on a daily basis for work, you'll likely find that the number of violations by non-Virginia residents is far less than the violations by Virginia residents. Still, that doesn't mean that only Virginia residents should be penalized for their infractions.

By selectively applying the driving fees to only residents what you have is a situation where there is no longer equality under the law. Essentially, the situation is akin to applying the death penalty for murders committed in Virginia but only if the murderer is a Virginia resident. That is an extreme example and isn't really the case but it helps illustrate the point that what is being applied is not fair and legal. As I said, the majority of infractions within the state will naturally be applied to Virginia residents but by limiting to them, the state is not carrying favor with neighboring states nor is it helping to enforce safer driving rules within Virginia. Sure, Virginia drivers may stick to the speed limit from now on but then if someone from out of state comes in on the highways is it going to turn into a speedway? Probably. That's because the rules won't be applied to outside drivers.

As far as the idea and concept of higher penalties for driving violations go, I think the fees are a step in the right direction. Knowing that I could pay up to $700 for going 10 miles over the speed limit will certainly have me think a bit longer before pushing down on the accelerator but then again, if I know that at the most I'll get a ticket and a warning (if I'm from out of state) then the only delay will be in the microsecond it takes the impulse to go from my brain down to my foot to push the gas. If the state of Virginia truly wishes to make the roads safer they need to apply the rules equally to all. Perhaps it's a Northern Virginia mentality that there just as many non-Virginia drivers around as there are Virginia drivers but if the rules are applied to everybody and not just residents, there will be greater acceptance and who knows; perhaps the roads will become safer.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Obsession over Harry Potter

This past Friday, book stores across the country were filled to the gills in anticipation of the latest Harry Potter book. Not only were kids eagerly lined up to purchase the book but a fair number of adults were waiting to get their copy as well. I can't think of any book release in recent history that garnered as much attention as that. Perhaps only the previous Harry Potter book. I think it's commendable that J.K. Rowling has managed to take a character and elevate it to the point of iconic within a few short years. I can remember hearing a bit of buzzing about the books when the first one was released several years ago. In that time it's gone from a book appreciated by children to something even adults are waiting to read. I will admit that I have put my name in the queue to borrow a copy from the library. When I started, I was approximately the 1,100th person in line for the book. Oh well, at least I'm certain that I'll manage to read it before the next movie comes out.

Still, despite the hype and the excitement surrounding the book, there is a bit of anti-climax building in the whole thing. Part of the reason for it is the fact that many are beginning to realize that other than a few new tidbits here and there, the characters themselves are reliving the same plots each and every time. As my brother likes to say, the most original Harry Potter book would have been for him to withdraw from Hogwarts and spend a semester abroad doing something else. Perhaps then all the evil minions of Voldemort would have taken pity on Hogwarts and left the other students alone for a change. Still, what's a year at Hogwarts now without Harry Potter and all the adventure he seems to drag along with him?

Indeed, there is still a great deal of interest in the character and the books. The latest movie (the 5th of an expected 7) opened to good reviews and great box office numbers but now those numbers have already begun to dwindle. Perhaps it was because no one went to the movies this weekend because they were all reading the book. It's quite likely since it seems quite unfathomable for a movie as highly anticipated as a Harry Potter film would suddenly drop out of the box office draw that way. Still, perhaps the marketing wizards are realizing that they should have released the two a bit farther apart although I'm certain that after the die hard fans complete the books this week, they will return to the theatres in record numbers to watch the latest film again and again.

What I find fascinating is the fact that the mania for this book series and these characters seems to grow each time and part of it is simply because of what I consider to be 'group think'. What I mean by that is that there is a general hubbub that builds around the release of the new movie or book and kids suddenly want to be involved and take part. I can't tell you the number of adults I saw walking around on Sunday afternoon at various stores with a copy of the book in their hands. No matter what the critics have to say about the quality (or lack thereof) of the books, no one can argue that no other character has as much draw as Harry Potter. For example, I ran into one lady who was purchasing two copies of the book from Target. When asked why she had two copies she admitted that she has twin daughters (their ages were not revealed) and that the books were for them. However, she also added that she had already ordered an additional copy that was due in at her office on Monday and so she wanted to be able to read the book along with her kids. Three books sold to one family. If that's not a way to make money then I don't know what is.

There is something about owning a piece of history that increases the appeal of items like this. Years from now (or perhaps not even that long) you may look back at your copy of the book and wonder why it is that you have so many copies sitting around the house. You may wonder why it is that you were so hard pressed to get the book even though it wasn't such a great story. You may even wonder what the appeal of the character was when you realize just how narrow and limited the development of the character is. Still, at this moment, with a wellspring of enthusiasm for the book rising among the populace like a geyser, you may get caught up in the moment and toss all thought like that aside. In the end, it is that desire to be part of the moment that takes you over and you end up buying the book and seeing the movie simply because you want to remember where you were when it came out.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Fearing What We've Never Read

Tonight at midnight, millions of children will begin reading the (supposedly) final book of the Harry Potter series. Not only kids but adults will be reading to find out the fate of literature's most recent and famous wizarding student. However, for those hoping to eventually find the books in their libraries, you might want to hurry, the call to ban these books is gaining momentum. The latest case in the efforts to ban books comes to us from Laura Lopez of West Palm Beach, Florida. She is one of the many who have taken a case to court in an effort to get subversive books banned from schools. What do I mean by subversive? Well, in this case, Lopez defines that as being any book that promotes sin and the ills against God. This includes homosexuality, abortions and aetheism. Interesting that these are subjects in books she wishes to ban. I wonder what she considers 'safe' then? The Bible? At least it will eliminate the need to have a knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system.

Lopez is just one of many people who is making motions in court to have certain books banned. Harry Potter is just one of many on the list to be banned for it's apparent promotion of Paganism. As I've stated before, having read the books, there is nothing in there that seems to suggest to me that Paganism (which is never even mentioned in the books) is being touted as a religion. If kids find it that appealing that they wish to pursue it, I would say that one, they have successfully learned to research something beyond the scope of what they're reading and two, they are probably disenfranchised by what they have been grown up to believe and follow at this point in their lives. Is that the fault of the books? No, it's the fault of the environment that they are in.

Lopez freely admits that she has not really read any of the books that she is looking to ban. She did an internet search for books containing the terms 'abortion', 'aetheism' and the like. Having done so she then found out which ones were in her library and then filed the claim to have them thrown out. Still, since she has never really read the books, she was unable to cite objectionable passages and so the result was that the school board was hesitant to take any action simply based on her criticism of the book rather than the actual content. I think that's a good thing. When you object to something or don't agree with something, it's always better to be specific. I can say that I don't like Harry Potter because the plots are more or less the same and the characters have progressed relatively slowly but that's a comment, not an objection.

Most counties and school boards across the nation agree that there is a need to present material from 'all points of view' in order to promote a better understanding of the various viewpoints out there. In seeking to ban books on subjects outside of the mainstream are we really then any different than the Madrassas out there that simply teach their interpretation of the Koran? I'm not implying that these people seeking to ban books are subversives or extremists but isn't this stifling the very freedom of expression that we are hoping to bring to Iraq? We are setting a higher precedent here if we allow this type of ban to begin and then settle itself. Soon it would follow that anything that goes against or seemingly goes against our personal principles will be called in question and pegged for removal.

I can understand these bans if they have a specific purpose. Perhaps a book specifically calls for an incitement of violence against the government simply because the author believes that neo-Communism is the wave of the future. Okay, so it calls for it, but does that mean that anyone who reads it will suddenly decide to become a neo-Communist? (I don't even know if that's a real political affiliation). If we are looking to ban something, the key first step is to first understand what it is we are looking to ban. When we blindly go about proclaiming that this, that and the other thing should be banned, all we're really banning is our independent thoughts.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Shaking Up the Airline Industry

When he first entered the airline industry, British billionaire Richard Branson was under tremendous scrutiny. Here was the founder of a record label who was looking to expand his business into areas where he had no knowledge. Most were expecting him to fail within a short time, especially considering he was hoping to establish an international airline in England where British Airways had long ruled the skys. In a move that was the equivalent of the Battle of Britain for the airline industry, Branson and Virgin Atlantic Airlines helped change the face of air travel forever. And now he's hoping to do it again over here in the States.

Virgin began operating Virgin America some time ago and are hoping to begin competing with regional carriers for some of the more popular routes and city destinations. The hope that Branson and his investors have is that by fulfilling the promise of greater service and more luxury, passengers who had previously been disenchanted with the airline industry of late would make a return. These days the airline industry has degenerated from the once luxurious mode of transportation to something as common as a bus. What was once convenient is no becoming more and more inconvenient due to traffic and security regulations. At one time it was a simple matter to get from DC to New York by plane. In about three hours you could be there. These days it may take twice as long to make the same trip due to the delays at airports and the security checks. You may as well drive.

When Virgin Atlantic first entered the international air travel arena, they offered the promise of business class service at coach rates. At the time, the services they offered were state of the art and had never been seen before on any other airlines. In-seat entertainment systems for movies and games, seat massages, and more attentive staff made the experience of crossing the world a bit more like it was in the early days. The key was that Branson realized that by offering his customers more of what they wanted, he effectively drew in more customers and eventually, changed the way other airlines do business as well. Now some of the additions to his planes have been surpassed by upgrades and such by his competition, but by now, Virgin has established itself as a great airline and the industry has had to change its pace to keep up.

In America, Virgin's American branch is hoping for much the same. These days service on board airlines is no longer worth the money you shell out. For a six-hour cross country hop, you'll be lucky to get anything to eat other than your snack pack which itself is about the size of a postage stamp (or so it seems). The airlines argue that these 'perks' are being cut in order to pass the savings on to the customer but it still doesn't seem like it's doing much good. I'm still shelling out a lot more for my ticket than I should be if the airline is cutting costs as they say they are. They also add the arguement that rising fuel prices have led to increases in costs because they need to keep the airline going. Still, it doesn't make me feel any better when I have to pay more and get less.

Branson is starting his American branch off slowly with a limited number of routes and destinations but in time, he is hoping to expand it to serve as many cities as the rest of the domestic airlines. While he will not likely expand the service to the smaller regional airports, he will likely ply the routes between major cities and serve as an alternative to the big carriers like United, Delta and American. I for one welcome the competition and the change. Having flown on Virgin Airlines before I know that they do provide you more service than you might expect. In doing so perhaps Branson can change the domestic market here the way he did the international market. Maybe not all airlines will get massage chairs, high tech seat entertainment and improved food and meal service, but one can either try to keep up or fall behind. American air carriers beware... the British are coming!


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reading the Wrong Signs

There are times when you have to watch what you say because you never know who is listening. For those who communicate through sign language, the time is coming to start watching where you sign because you never know where people are watching... and whether they actually understand what you're saying. Recently in Anchorage, Alaska, a man pulled up to a stoplight and observed three people in the truck next to him. There was one person in the back of the truck seemingly making gestures that the man in the car interpreted to be signs of disrespect and so he proceeded to honk his horn, flick off the three in the truck and drive off. What he failed to realize at the time is that the man making the signs in the back of the truck was in fact, deaf and was communicating in sign language with the people in the truck.

Now the first mistake in this incident was being egotistical and thinking that of all the random places in the world, at a traffic light, someone is going to start showing you gang signs or something to show you disrespect. The egotist in this case was 26-year-old Raymond Keith McWain who believed he was being slighted. Rather than choosing to ignore the jibes, even though they really weren't, leads me to think that perhaps McWain was hoping to capture some of the thug life attitude that pervades many major cities. Not that Anchorage isn't a major city but somehow, you don't hear gangsta rappers talking about the thug life in Alaska. An eskimo perhaps but not a gangsta rapper. So McWain cemented his mistake by giving the trio in the truck the finger. Digitus impetus. The middle finger; the one sign that most every American knows.

The second mistake in this incident was the reaction of the trio in the truck. They should have ignored McWain and allowed him to continue on his own pissed off way but instead they decided to confront him. Following McWain to a pizza parlor a short distance away, they began a pushing and shoving match trying to ascertain the problem of the other party. This quickly degenerated into a physical fight. McWain's cousin, Daniel Harris, who worked at the restaurant, suddenly sprang into action and came after those assaulting his cousin. While two of the men beat McWain, Harris went to work on the deaf man. Apparently things were so intense at one point that Harris pulled out a gun and hit the deaf man with it and then fired several shots. The police were called, people fled and Harris was found huddled inside the restaurant crying and whimpering and carrying a whole lot of drugs and drug paraphenilia. Needless to say, he's in trouble.

The investigation continues and it seems like this is only the beginning but I can only think that had McWain let the whole signing thing go and admitted to himself that he doesn't know enough about what was being 'said' in the car to feel offended, his cousin Harris probably wouldn't be looking at lots of jail time right now. I'm sure Harris sees it that way. It's insane to think that this whole thing quickly spun out of control due to such quick rising tempers. Had all the parties calmed down and attempted to think through what was happening, it's more than likely that the situation wouldn't have ended the way it did. The more important thing is that McWain and all of us should learn one thing important for the rules of the road and that is to learn to read the signs the right way. If someone in the car next to you suddenly starts gesticulating wildly, our natural instinct is to figure out the significance.

If you determine that it isn't some sort of plea for help or assistance, go back to listening to music, thinking about your day, watching the traffic and dealing with your own troubles rather than looking to other cars for more trouble. It just makes sense. Sure at that moment it's difficult not to get upset, especially when you feel that you have been disrespected but come on. I will admit that I don't know much sign language but from what I remember learning from childhood and all, there are no real gestures or signs (other than the obvious ones) that should have been misinterpreted as gang signs or insults. McWain seems like he was looking for trouble and that's exactly what he got.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Getting Kids to the Gym

There are times when I read the news and begin to wonder if people really want change or if they are simply looking for more excuses not to do what they know to be right. Case in point is the arguement about kids and reading. For years teachers and educators have been stating that kids are no longer reading as much as they should and that's hurting their educational process. Parents were in a quandry as to what to do or what to get kids to read. Enter Harry Potter and his literary adventures and suddenly kids who had scarcely picked up comic books were suddenly reading books that would put Stephen King to shame in terms of volume. Then there was the outcry over the fact that the books were promoting paganism and worship of magic and wizardry which was subversive and wrong. People called for the books to be banned and denied to kids. The arguement continues today and rather than looking at whether the books are truly subversive or not, some opponents simply argue the point because they want to. Same goes for kids and working out.

I grant you that as a kid growing up, I never used to work out as such. I used to play outside a lot and expend a lot of energy in a lot of normal 'kid' ways but there was never a consideration of going to the gym. I paid for that fact in my later years when I gained weight a lot faster than I was able to burn it off and with my rather sedentary lifestyle, my health began to suffer. When I got to college I began working out more routinely and it is now a part of my daily routine which when missed, makes me feel guilty rather than anything else. With growing numbers of kids suffering from obesity at a young age, not only is it affecting the health of these kids but setting a dangerous trend for the future. Enter the debate over whether or not it is healthy (and wise) to use video games to encourage kids to work out.

When I was growing up, video games consisted of sitting in front of the tv and vegging out. These days there is a rising trend in getting kids to work out is to make some video games more interactive. Gaming systems such as Nintendo's Wii are especially good examples of this. The controller eschews the usual hand held controller for something a bit more interactive. The motion of arms and such are then translated into the game and so if you perform a good forehand while playing virtual tennis, you have a good chance at winning the point. While it is obviously not a replacement for actually playing tennis, at least it is more activity than some kids ever otherwise get in a day. Still, many are worried about getting kids to exercise using video games simply because there is no guarantee that the results will stick with kids after they outgrow video games.

Now the influence of video games and the question of outgrowing them are two separate arguements. The influence of games is definitely something real because if games and their peripherals didn't affect kids and all, they wouldn't still be around. But as to whether it has a lasting impact, I think that is something that varies on a case by case basis. The arguement against the influence of video games on kids can be seen in the results of the US Army's attempts to stimulate recruitment through the use of video games. They worked with developers to make and release (free of charge) a series of video games that allowed players to create virtual soldiers who then progressed through the military. The game was meant to serve as a recruitment tool for the young and in the end, it didn't help recruit in the numbers that they military had hoped for. Strike one arguement in favor of video games helping effect change in kids.

As for whether kids outgrow video games? Perhaps it is true in the case of girls, but guys? Check out the number of older guy gamers you see in video game stores during lunch hour on the weekdays and at various times on the weekends and you'll soon realize that it is something that isn't quickly going away from males. Does this mean that kids will continue to use video games as adults for exercise purposes? Hard to say but there is always the outside chance. Still and all, nothing will ever be a good substitute for the real thing. The thing is to find a place that caters to kids without treating them as such. There is a growing number among kids to want to work out and get in shape but many gyms either talk down to kids or don't offer up adequate services. It's important to find a place that treats kids with respect and that will help them get influence to start working out and staying in shape. It's better than relying on Super Mario Brothers for the rest of their lives.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Practice What You Preach

It seems that no matter how far we like to believe we've come in terms of becoming the moral compass of the world in terms of sanity and tolerance, all we have to do is try something different and portions of our society still go nuts over change. What am I talking about? Well, yesterday, as the Senate prepared to spend another day debating the war in Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) had invited a Hindu priest, Rajan Zed, from his home state of Nevada to lead the traditional morning prayer before the session began. The decision on the part of Reid had already been under fire but this was made even more apparent when the priest began his prayer and three protestors began shouting that 'this is an abomination' from the viewing gallery. They were escorted out and Zed managed to complete his prayer and the Senate continued it's work.

I find it highly ironic that in the Senate, where a debate on the situation in Iraq is continuing on and on, that we are seeing similar religious debates occuring as are occuring in Iraq. Ask the average person what the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni is and they'll likely stare at you blank-faced. If you get any answer besides the obvious knowledge that both practice Islam then you may have a somewhat knowledgeable person. What we have failed to understand in Iraq is that there is a fundamental difference in styles of practice that has led to generations of fighting amongst themselves. In Iraq it is often fought with suicide bombs or other violent means but on the whole, it comes down to believing one way is the right way and the only way and anyone not following those rules is not worthy of living.

Thankfully here we aren't quite so violent but I can see that there is still a great deal of ignorance and misunderstanding about a lot of religions outside one's own. Case in point, the protest over a Hindu leading the morning prayer in the Senate. Some, such as historian David Barton of the WallBuilders Association (dedicated to teaching the history of our nation and it's founding fathers with religion and morals) claims that there is no business for a Hindu to lead a prayer session. He claims that because Hinduism is not a mono-theistic religion it has no place in a Senate whose founding principles (and the principles of this nation) proclaim "one nation under God". Barton contends that if Hinduism doesn't have one God but many, then how is it possible that he should be allowed to offer up a prayer. What I think Barton, and many like him fail to remember is that this country was founded under the belief that men, women and children should have the right and the freedom to practice what they believe in and not what someone else says they should believe in.

The protest against Zed making his prayer seem ridiculous to me because in reading the opening lines of his prayer, there is no mention of anything remotely classifiable as a Hindu belief in many Gods or anything of the sort. At no time did he invoke the name of a Hindu God or Goddess. His reference to the 'Supreme Diety' is no different than any Christian reference to 'The Almighty'. It's like the whole po-tay-toe po-tah-toe debate. What difference does it really make when its the message and the spirit in which it's delivered. I understand the frustration of many Christian groups in this country. Many of them feel that in the quest to promote religious equality, their belief systems are made to suffer. And perhaps it's true, perhaps in an effort to give everyone else a 'fair shake' they are forgetting to take a turn themselves. The fact of the matter is that Christians make up the majority of this country and so for them to protest the fact that a Hindu priest is delivering one of many prayers that have been delivered in the Senate is itself a problem to me.

Of course, I can blanketly call all Christian religions the same. I can say that there is no difference between Catholocism, Protestantism, Presbyterianism or any of the other -isms. I can say that they are all essentially the same but then that would just convince people out there that I'm completely ignorant when it comes to the Christian religion. I don't believe that I'm completely ignorant but I do feel I have enough knowledge and more importantly tolerance to interact with these religions. What do I mean by interact? I attended public college at the University of Maryland in College Park yet every event, big or small, was started with the National Anthem and then a convocation by the campus priest. We ended each and every convocation by declaring 'Amen'. In all my limited practice of Hinduism, I have never ever had to say Amen and I could conceivably say that this was forcing another religion on me but I'm not because I know that's not the case.

If you have faith in your religion then no matter what anyone says, your religion will continue to survive. If your faith is so weak to think just because someone says something against it or does something which you are not used to, then you have no faith that your religion is worthwhile at all. It's like the advice every parent gives their kid at some point or another in their lives. "If someone calls you stupid, are you automatically stupid?" By the same comparison, if another religion makes a statement, does it decrease the standing of your religion? Not if you don't let it. We claim to be tolerant and accepting of all religions in this country. We pride ourselves on the fact that most anyone can come to this country and practice what they want but there are times when those seem like empty promises written on paper when you see that we still don't know what the other guy practices. Should we really then be preaching tolerance when we ourselves really aren't?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Plausible Case?

Like many adult males out there these days, I am the owner of an Xbox 360 gaming system. And though I don't spend inordinate amounts of time playing games, I do enjoy the occasional diversion that the system offers. When I was faced with the choice several years ago of getting an Xbox or a Sony PlayStation 2, I remember weighing the options and seeing which one appealled to me more. Although there were several games that definitely made the PS2 more appealing, I decided to go with the Xbox simply because it had a wider variety of games that I was interested in. I haven't regretted the decision since then. However, there have been times when I have felt that by having such a prominent place in the market, and one that hasn't really been challenged by the PS3 yet, Microsoft may be taking advantage of the situation in much the same way that it has in terms of computer operating systems.

What do I mean? Well, I was reading in the paper the other day that a man in Florida, Jorge Brouwer, had filed a lawsuit against Microsoft alleging that the Xbox 360 he owned had scratched up two of the game CDs he owned and so he was suing them. Microsoft had previously offered to replace both games for a $20 fee but Brouwer felt that it was unfair of him to have to pay for shipping or service charges for games he shouldn't have had to replace in the first place. So he did what most any of us would do and he decided to sue Microsoft.... for $5 million dollars. Now I can understand suing them for the cost of the games and the shipping but to sue for $5 million? That is a bit much isn't it?

According to the suit, it is alleged that Microsoft has long known that their system is defective and can and will scratch discs while being played. Microsoft denies this allegation but isn't this the same type of allegation that was levelled against them for their Internet Explorer program? The main beef that most people had with the company in that case was that they pre-loaded Internet Explorer with Windows and as a result, they had to use it to download any other internet programs. What was further alleged in that case was the fact that it seemed as if the program would either crash or slow any attempts to download competing programs. Again, in that case as well, Microsoft denied that there was any such problem, but still doubt lingered.

What's the difference in the two cases? Well in the case of Internet Explorer, it is a case of it being 'forced' upon users. When you purchase most any PC these days, it comes loaded with Windows and therefore it automatically has Internet Explorer. The average user, who is not always computer savvy, will generally not want to go to the trouble of trying to download another program so they will continue to use what is already there and as a result, many competing companies feel that this is creating a monopoly for Microsoft. It is a plausible case but I am not sure if it holds that much water. Though it certainly holds more than the case that they are knowingly putting out defective game systems in an effort to get more money.

There have been cases where Xbox consoles have burned out or have failed due to various reasons, there have also been cases where the system has damaged discs but to say that this is a scheme concocted by Microsoft to milk more money from consumers is a little hard for me to swallow. If we examine the case of Jorge Brouwer we'll find that the two games in question are not Microsoft products so therefore, it is plausible to assume that by replacing these products for a small fee, they are not making a tidy profit to keep Bill Gates pockets lined with gold. I seriously doubt that they are purposely making their system finicky to the point that they will get more sales in consoles. Given the fact that they are already among the top competitors in a market which they entered later, it's not like they are attempting to push out competitors. Sony PlayStation and now the Nintendo Wii are fairly well established and I doubt they will suddenly disappear. I think sometimes people bring cases for the sake of bringing cases.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Defining New Words

It seems that every time you go to open the dictionary there are a slew of new words that you may never have heard of before. Now most would say that that is the express purpose of looking something up in a dictionary anyways and it's true. You look up most words in the dictionary in order to ascertain the meaning and find out how it should be used. Well, the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster's are readying their next copy of their dictionary and it is set to include some terms which have staying power but others that appear to be more like 'flavors of the moment'. I leave it to you to decide.

One of the words being included in this edition is the term 'ginormous' which is an amalgamation of the words 'gigantic' and 'enormous'. In recent years with President Bush's apparent penchant for producing neologistic disasters, one may think that the inclusion of 'ginormous' would be a sign of currying favor with the Bush Administration. But in this case, the term finds its origins in the British Army around 1948. It was originally a slang term which was later accepted into the mainstream. Now there in itself I have issue with the inclusion of the term. Slang may be current and in the moment and a reflection of the time, but is it necessary to consider it mainstream enough to include in the dictionary? I mean think about it. About eighty years ago, if you called someone 'gay' it meant that they were happy but today, despite gay people still being happy, it doesn't mean exactly the same thing.

Words are very powerful. They can hurt of they can help. I remember a few years ago a DC politician came under fire for using the word 'niggardly' which was misinterpreted to mean the N-word and suddenly everyone was up in arms calling for his resignation for his apparent racist remark. However, when some sane person decided to go look up the word in the dictionary, they suddenly realized that the term and context in which the word was used was correct and in fact, the word had absolutely no connection to the racial epiteth. That being said, it was a clear case of snap judgement in the face of ignorance. Had the council member not attempted to speak so eloquently, he would have undoubtedly saved himself a lot of headache and heartache.

This year terms such as 'IED' (or Improvised Explosive Device), 'DVR' (or Digital Video Recorder), and Bollywood (India's Hindi Film Industry) are among those terms being added to keep the current version current. But I wonder if old terms are being removed. I mean I remember when I said Walkman, there was a time when everyone would have known what I was talking about. Now it's like speaking Greek in an Italian town in the middle of Russia. You'll be lucky to find anyone under the age of 27 who will know what you're talking about. Sure we can include terms like iPod but these are terms that have no staying power and they need to be defined now, but not thirty or forty years from now. I have used the dictionary to understand a word I may have found or a term I am not familiar with but to say that I'll need to look up what an IED is means that I dont' follow the news at all and I can consider myself fairly ignorant.

I'd like to think that I'm not that bad when it comes to my perspicacity but there are times when I call it into question. There are times when I feel that perhaps I'm not making my point in the most effective manner but there are other times when I feel that perhaps I am speaking at too high a level for people to understand what I am talking about. Now I am sure there are some out there who are looking up some of the words I have used in this blog to find out what exactly I am talking about and that, to me anyways, is the best use of the dictionary; not to define moments of pop culture that will soon be a long lost memory of the past.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Much Do You Eat?

There are many traditions associated with the Fourth of July in America. Fireworks, barbeques, and trips to the beach; they are all things that I would associate with the Fourth of July. Still, quickly gaining popularity is another form of contest that has been gaining momentum the past few years and that's the annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. This contest, sponsored by Major League Eating (MLE... yes they have a league for it) and has been dominated the past six years by Japanese native Takeru Kobayashi. This year marked the return of the championship to America. American Joey Chestnut, a runner-up in 2006, managed to beat Kobayashi this year. Part of the advantage to Chestnut came from the fact that Kobayashi was suffering from jaw arthritis. In an announcement that can be compared to Roger Federer announcing his withdrawl from Wimbledon for tennis elbow or Any other athlete withdrawing for injuries, the announcement came a few days before the actual contest was held.

Kobayashi had previously held the record of 53 and 3/4 hot dogs in 12 minutes but this year saw him shatter his own record by ten and yet fall to Chestnut by three dogs. Despite the arthritis in his jaw, Kobayashi still managed to finish in second place and vowed to work through his injury and return again to reclaim his title. The entire time this contest was going on, I couldn't do anything but sit in slack-jawed amazement at the fact that this contest was getting so much coverage. ESPN devoted an hour to this contest despite the fact that the actual competition lasts no more than 12 minutes. The competitors (I will never call them athletes) were all given the types of interviews and montages that are typically reserved for the Olympics. Chestnut proudly explained how he practiced for the contest by scarfing down 40 hot dogs once a week in the months leading up to the contest. I wonder if he also practiced self-inflicted chest compressions for when his heart stops.

To see these guys eat is something of a mix of wonderment and utter disgust. dipping the dogs and bread in water (to make them easier to swallow) the whole contest is a gluttons dream. Seeing as how there are so many homeless in the country, don't you think that a better contest would be to see who can distribute the most hot dogs in the least amount of time to those who need it? I grant you that some of the competitors are barely pushing 120 pounds but there are also those who have easily surpassed the safe weight limit for humans. There was one competitor who weighed in at nearly 425 pounds in 2006 and yet he lost. But I can only think about the fact that we have a growing (excuse the pun) obesity problem in this country and to promote a contest where over-eating is iconized rather than shunned just strikes me as being utterly and completely ridiculous.

We have reports of childhood obesity, heart related diseases are on the rise, cholesterol numbers are through the roof and despite it all, there is still that mad rush for lionizing those who are taking part in the contest. And this contest is by no means the only one. The MLE organizes a series of events throughout the year in which eating the most in the least amount of time is often the goal. The foods range from hot dogs, to hamburgers, to cow's brains. All of these contributing to the prestige and prominence that comes with being an eating champion. I find it disappointing to see that there was very little protest against this sort of contest. In sports like boxing and racing and such, there are protests all the time from those who say the sport is dangerous, or polluting, or not serving any purpose. I agree that most sports contests are inherently tinged with a bit of danger but I don't think it's as dangerous as watching grown adults (you have to be at least 18 years old to compete in the MLE) stuff themselves to the point of injury. I guess the follow up contest will be to see who has the most sucked out of them via angioplasty and cosmetic surgery.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy Fourth of July!

The Fourth of July holds an important place in history for America because it was the day that our founding fathers declared their independence from the British monarchy and sought to become an independent nation. From the signing of the document through the revolutionary war to the eventual formation of the country and its expansion, no other event has held as much unifying significance to the country as this one date. Sure there are historians who will argue that there are more important dates in history and despite the fact that the country is rather 'young' in comparison to longer established countries like Britain, Italy and the like, but still, in the short time that the country has been in existance, there have been changes that have affected the world and it can all be tied back to this date in history.

The British monarchy had been the face of the oppression felt by many of the colonists. The actual decisions may have been made by the King's advisors and all, but it's the ultimate authority that draws much ire in any timeframe, whether it is King George during the Revolutionary War or Saddam Hussein in the current war in Iraq. What is significant in the actions on the fourth of July is that it was one of the first times in history where a group of what were in essense, separate nations, unified to jointly protest and stand up to the unfair rules of the King. This was a significant action in and of itself because previously any smaller uprisings had been quelled due to overwhelming numbers and not enough support. What is significant in this case is that while there was some reluctance to rally against the King, there was enough action to ultimately stimulate the people into action.

What was of importance too was the first use of the media to foster support for the cause. 'The Shot Heard 'round the World' may not have killed more than a handful of people but the story was enough to raise the anger of the people. In reading accounts of the incident (that were undoubtedly blown out of proportion after repeated tellings) were enough to cement the fact that support for the war. From a handful of people, the media eventually had entire towns being killed and slaughtered during a peaceful rally. While this may have been true to a certain extent, it wasn't as much as it was a means of building momentum towards war. Why is this significant? Well becuase this is still being done even today. The media blitz we experienced in this country was enough at that time to convince most people that war in Iraq was not only required, but necessary.

However, the one glaring difference is that during the Revolution, we were fighting for our freedom. In Iraq we're fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people. The motivation is a little different and so is the fervor in this case. Humans as a species are naturally self-centered so when confronted with such a choice, they will ask 'what's in it for me?'. In the case of the revolution it was the chance to be free and in Iraq it was to quell a dictator and staunch the possibility of an attack against us. Back in the early days of this country, the media continued to serve as the catalyst for continuing to foster support for the war by relating tales (real or exaggerated) of the victories of our army and how we were driving the British out.

We seem to be driving the British out of Iraq too but not because we're fighting them, but because support in Britain for the war is flagging just as it is here. In the Revolution we had a clear set of goals. Drive out the British and establish our own form of government. In Iraq we sort of had the same thing. Drive out Saddam Hussein and establish a government. Unfortunately the one major difference is that we didn't really ever see the difference between democracy in America and democracy in a country where religion has played a part in government from the beginning of recorded history. Because of this, the end goal is sort of muddled. Will Iraq eventually have a date of significance like the Fourth of July? Possibly. But one thing is certain, it isn't the same as it was back then.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Living in Fear of Terror

I sometimes feel that the efforts being undertaken by terrorists around the world these days are succeeding but not quite the way we are expecting. The attack at the Glasgow airport this past weekend highlights the fact that no area seems to be immune from the possibility of attack. From the streets of New York to the airports of Scotland, there appear to be targets aplenty for terrorits out there. Now I'm not a defeatist nor am I one to shy away from saying that terrorists need to be taken care of quickly before they take the lives of more innocent people. What I am saying though is that perhaps if we stop and think about it, the mental terrorism they seem to cause to people these days can be just as terrifying as the threat of a bomb or any other such device. Don't believe me? What about the case this past weekend at JFK aiport in New York? Police and security forces were on alert as it was due to the incident in Glasgow so it was not very surprising that they were soon called upon to deal with a suspicious package outside the American Airlines terminal.

The bomb squad and police units came out to check what it was and it turned out to be nothing more than a box of cologne that had been left behind but for a significant time, the terminal and surrounding area were affected by the possibility that there could be an explosion or a chemical or biological weapon. Can you imagine the fear and uncertainty that must have gripped the people stuck inside the airport or even those who are outside waiting to get in? Think about the flight delays and other such problems that would have affected the airport and people there. All over a box of cologne. True it is better to be safe rather than sorry but how can we not think that the terrorists are winning when our very lives are being affected by something as simple as a box dropped by someone going on a trip?

I remember a time not so long ago when you could go through security and then virtually up to the gate and see your loved ones off. My mom told me that there were times not so long ago when visitors could virtually come up to your seat on the plane to see you off. These days for parents dropping off unaccompanied minors that in and of itself can be a miracle. We go through as much security as when entering a military installation. We are reduced to wearing quick remove shoes and minimal amounts of clothing to prevent unnecessary delays. We can't carry our own drinks or food without undergoing scrutiny. We are all subject to search and seizure if we do anything out of the ordinary or give cause for suspicion. Who says we all aren't victims of terror.

If you have ever read any of the statements that some of these groups have issued to the media, you will find that most of them talk about wanting to change the lives of their intended victims and in a sense, we are all victims of their actions. Think about it. This past weekend at JFK, someone saw the package sitting there and became concerned enough to contact security. Security checked it out and didn't want to be responsible for failing to respond to a possible terror issue so they call the bomb squad and authorities. You have an airport under lockdown and preparation for something on the magnitude of Glasgow airport only to discover that it's a bottle of CK One. All the time, money and expense in making that discovery means that there were other places that could have been struck and very well may have been struck. It's like the trick of magicians where they show you something with one hand while the 'magic' is going on somewhere else. While the authorities were dealing with the cologne, isn't it possible that elsewhere in the airport, a suspected terrorist could have been getting through to where he needed to be?

I have confidence in our authorities and security forces and I know that even with the limitations they have in terms of budgets and all, they will do the best they can to keep our people safe but there is only so much even they can do. It's sad when we are getting to the point where we are jumping at shadows or making snap judgements about people based on their skin tone. Now I'm an Indian-American but because of my skin tone, I resemble someone coming from the Middle East, parts of Europe or other parts of Asia and as such I am sometimes viewed with a bit of suspcion. About fifteen years ago security wouldn't have batted an eyelash at someone like me but even now, I undergo a bit more scrutiny. When you look at it that way, aren't we all turning into unwilling victims?