Friday, September 28, 2007

Lost in Translation

More and more ethnic groups are taking on prominent roles in American society and as such, it promotes the fact that this is a very culturally diverse and open society. You are more or less allowed to practice whatever religion you choose and are not under the strict control of the government. It's for these very reasons that so many people have come here since the founding of this country and it's the reason why so many people continue to come here. That being said, there are often instances where statements that people make are taken in the wrong context simply because over time, the definition of the word that is being used has been overused in a particular context and so, the original meaning may become lost in time.

Take for example the case of Dr. Esam S. Omeish, a former member of Virginia's Commission on Immigration and president of the Muslim American Society. Dr. Omeish tendered his resignation to Governor Tim Kaine yesterday following the release of a 2006 video on YouTube in which he makes denouncements of the invasion of Lebanon by the "Israeli war machine" and states that the only way to free your land is "the jihad way." Now there's the magic word that led to his resignation. One word. Five letters. Two syllables. Now I'm not arguing that Omeish is correct or incorrect but what I mean is that his use of the word jihad led to pressure for his resignation and not necessarily what he stated. In it's original usage, jihad is meant to define any struggle to make oneself better in the eyes of God. It is the exercise of self-betterment and that struggle can encompass anything from helping the planet to fighting a holy war.

Unfortunately in this day and age, the statements of a fanatical few has led to the widespread belief that anytime the word jihad is used, it means that a war of terror is being promoted. I won't defend what Omeish since I can't really fathom what he may have meant by it but because the word has taken on such a negative connotation, it is immediately assumed to be bad. I guess the talk in Congress and in the government on fighting 'jihadists' as they were referred to some time ago, has helped lead to that understanding and so anytime the word is used now, watch out, you'll probably end up on a terror watchlist. But it's not just words like jihad either. Some words, which have no linkage whatsoever to racial epiteths have also come under similar fire in recent years. Don't believe me? What about the case of former Washington, DC mayor Anthony Williams' associate David Howard.

Several years ago Howard (who is white) was in a meeting in which he used the word 'niggardly' while referring to the budget. A less grammatically informed member of the mayor's staff (who was African-American) took offense at this word that sounded very similar to another n-word with definite racial meaning. Immediately there was a call for Howard's resignation which he tendered immediately and within a short time he was out on his ear. Who should leap to his defense? Why the NAACP of course! Now I'm sure people must be wondering why the NAACP of all organizations would leap to defend a white man for using a racial slur. Well it turns out that the context in which Howard used the term meant that the budget was miserly or very restrained in its scope. The word never had any relation in the history of the English language to the n-word but because it sounds like it must be related, everyone was up in arms about it. Even the mayor.

Unfortunately, those of us who are a little more robust in our use of the English language find that there are some words that just don't get across to people. Either they don't understand it or the meaning is just so skewed with time that it means something completely different to those who read it or say it. I mean even simple unobtrusive words which define a feeling no longer can be applied in the same way because of the 'guilt-by-association' that seems to occur. Don't know what I mean? Think about the last time you ever called someone 'gay' who wasn't homosexual. Most people would hesitate to even contemplate using that word in relation to someone's demeanor on the off chance that it is interpreted to mean that the person being referred to is a homosexual. All it proves is how powerful or damaging words can be. Perhaps it's true then what they say. The pen (or the word in this case) is mightier than the sword.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Outbreak of Foot-In-Mouth Disease

The case of the Jena 6 teenagers down south has many people talking race relations again. It's just one of the many stories with racial overtones in the news these days. The treatment of Michael Vick is another that seems to be drawing the ire of those who feel that he is being targeted harder simply because of his race. Now these claims may have some merit but many out there, like Fox News reporter Bill O'Reilly are convinced that that cannot be the case and that there truly are no differences between races anymore. Despite his seeming desire to speak in defense of racial harmony, O'Reilly has apparently generated more sour notes that have many people talking.

On a recent airing of his radio program, O'Reilly was discussing the topic of race relations in this country and how it seems that people are clinging to old ideas. He brought to light the fact that many parts of society still hold racial stereotypes about one another and that this has led to a continued strained relationship between the races. One of the comments that O'Reilly made was that he had gone to a popular restaurant in Harlem and that he was 'surprised' that there were no patrons in the largely African-American crowd who were stereotypically shouting to one another and using profanities with more regularity than a Quentin Tarantino movie. The watchdog group Media Matters jumped on this as quickly as they did when Don Imus made racially charged comments on his talk show months ago.

O'Reilly contends that his comments are being taken out of context and used against him simply because of who he is and not what he talked about. In having heard the comments O'Reilly made on the radio, at first listen or first read-through, one gets the sense that he is offering up genuine surprise at the fact that the African-American clientele at a predominantly African-American restaurant were not acting in a stereotypical manner. He didn't express remorse at this fact; on the contrary, if one carefully examines what he has said then you get the sense that perhaps he was being sarcastic in his remarks as a means of calling on people to realize that there are really no inherent differences at all between races. However, because parts of the media have jumped on the fact that there were possible, subtle racial overtones in his statement, O'Reilly is now struggling to keep pace with the accusations and defend himself as well as he can.

Now I'm no fan of Bill O'Reilly; I'm fast becoming no fan of any media in this country simply because both the liberal and conservative media continue to put a spin on their news to the point that those who have not read the accounts of O'Reilly's comments or have not heard his radio program excerpts will simply read the headlines and he will be put out to be sniped at by any and all who don't like him. So does that mean that no one should ever make any comments on race relations? Absolutely not, we have to keep the topic to the forefront because if we don't, things will never improve. We are only about 40 years removed from the civil rights movement and there are still sections of our society that still harbor feelings of ill towards people of other races. The door on that debate swings both ways and it's a simple matter that no matter what, stereotypes are being carried forward from generation to generation, but not by the media but by the families and societies out there.

The media simply does what it does to increase readership and promote their own agendas in order steal ratings and sales figures. If you don't like O'Reilly, you'll tune into those programs or read those papers that are bashing him. Your feelings of anger at the state of race relations will continue to fester until one day you are simply passing on these feelings of disgust to the next generation. I have been fortunate in that my parents never prevented my brother or I from associating with anyone in our neighborhoods. I had friends from practically all races growing up, some of them are my very best friends. Unfortunately it seems the seeds of racial tension are planted at a young age and when those seeds are planted that young, it is difficult to root them out and plant new ones later on.

People like O'Reilly are trying to bring these facts to light by talking about these things on the radio or on TV. Still, it all depends on the presentation of the facts or who is presenting it. Had the comments O'Reilly made been delivered by an African-American reporter, the sarcasm would have come through loud and clear but because it was a white-American, the statement becomes 'racially charged'. Perhaps I'm being naive and not really understanding the underlying tension. That may be the case but I certainly don't believe it is. O'Reilly is the target of ire for many people and not just for this case. He and other reporters in the conservative media are under greater scrutiny simply because opposition media groups are looking for reasons to bring accusations to the forefront. Looks like O'Reilly played right into their hands.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Protecting Our Children in the Friendly Skies

Do you remember Heath Shuler? Those of us in Washington certainly do. When he was chosen as the number one draft pick and subsequently named starting quarterback for the Redskins, there were high hopes that perhaps he was the answer to the team's search for a leader. Needless to say, the acquisition of a Pinto in Porsche clothing was not as great as was hoped. After several seasons of musical quarterbacks, we ended up with a continuing quarterback controversy that led to endless debate on whether we overspent or underspent on acquiring a bundle of potential that eventually fizzled out even before a fuse was lit. I will say this though, even if he didn't perform up to expectations back then when he was a Redskin, Shuler never headbutted a concrete wall in celebration resulting in a mild concussion. So what happened to our supposed star? Well he did what any number one draft pick does when retiring from football. He became a representative in congress.

Now before those of you who were unaware of this fact spill coffee all over yourselves, please remember that there have been other former football players in all levels of government before. I mean if we can have a B-movie actor for president, a action-movie star as governor, a former feather-boa wearing wrestler / Navy SEAL as a governor, then a football player as representative seems mild by comparison. Plus, at least he seems more comfortable in this role than he did as a quarterback in Washington. Though it's the same town, I think the pressure on a representative is less than the pressure on quarterbacks. I think the expectation levels are lower for Congressional leaders than they are for the town's sports teams and that's truly saying something.

Still, Shuler has been making strides in his first years in Congress. He recently introduced the Shuler Bill or the Family Friendly Flights Act. What this act states is that airlines will no longer be able to show violent or questionable content films on their flights in order to 'shield' children from objectionable things. So before you get excited at the prospect of seeing the latest film in all it's uncensored glory on board your next cross-country flight, just remember, there may be someone underage several rows back without a view of your screen who needs to be protected so do the right thing and flip to the Disney movie a few channels over. I can see the need for such a thing in light of some of the movies coming out these days. It's part of the age-old debate on whether violent movies and games lead to violent children. I have my own views on the matter as do most people but I think this Bill has its merits but it's just one thing that needs to be changed.

These days, the flying public is a bit more spoiled than they used to be. That seems a contradictory statement considering that the niceties that once hallmarked air travel are becoming less and less of a nicety and more of a luxury but it's the truth. Fly cross country or internationally and you'll be treated to meals that (while not the tastiest) are probably better than the $5 boxed meals they currently serve you. You have your choice of entertainment now as opposed to being forced to watch the single screen in your section. I remember flying to India in 1990 and always being in the section that was showing the Robert DeNiro - Jane Fonda movie "Stanley and Iris" as opposed to "Batman" with Michael Keaton. From a child's perspective isn't that torture enough?

I think the effort to protect children no matter where they are is commendable but it's also a bit much. As an adult, I should have the ability to choose what I wish to see or do. If I want to watch the latest violent movie, I should have the right shouldn't I? I mean if I'm stuck in a metal cylinder for hours on end, I'd rather be able to watch something I choose to rather than something I'm forced to. If we're seeking to protect children from what someone else may be watching several aisles over then shouldn't Shuler seek to expand the bill to protect us adults from being distracted and forced to watch "Blue's Clues" while stuck behind mini-vans in heavy traffic? Isn't it sort of the same thing? I've been on flights before where the flight attendants have switched off certain channels so that kids couldn't get them on their own screens. Isn't that good enough? If a passenger wanting to watch a violent movie is seated near children can't he be moved? I'm sure there are other passengers who wouldn't mind switching seats. I mean if people have a choice whether or not to sit in the emergency exit aisle can't they choose to watch a movie that they want to?

I think some of these things should go into the Passenger's Bill of Rights that is being bandied about Congress. Passengers, adult passengers, should have the right to view what they want. Someone may have an objection to cola and other such drinks on the grounds that it promotes tooth decay, does that mean that we need to start banning these drinks from flights now as well? What about my protection from the idiot in front of me who enjoys eating his meals with his seat fully reclined in my lap? How about some protection from the people who watch comedy movies (without nudity) and laugh so loud that even the captain and first officer locked up in the cockpit can hear them? That's disturbing to my peace and quiet isn't it? And it's detrimental to the children in some way shape or form too isn't it? Perhaps Shuler should take a look at this proposed bill a little closer before putting it forward. After all, though he's in Washington, he's no longer the quarterback. There's no pressure from the public and there's no pressure from the coach or play clock. Take your time and make the right play Mr. Shuler.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Coffee Can be Good for You

Okay. So you've gone to all the right pre-schools and prep-schools. You've attended the most prestigious private schools to prepare you for following your parents and your grandparents footsteps into Yale. You graduate and you land a high-paying job. Suddenly the market takes a downturn and you begin looking for an alternative. That's the situation that faced Michael Gates Gill, who then decided to look into Starbucks as that very same alternative. Only thing was he wasn't interested in running the company. Just the milk steamer. Michael Gill went from an executive making hundreds of millions of dollars per year to taking on a job that earns him a little more than $10.50 per hour. Not bad but also not what one would expect from an executive who has Yale-credentials. I mean he can hobnob with the President for goodness sake but he probably prefers to hobnob with his regular customers.

And that's precisely what Gill claims led him to take on the job. He found the experience so enlightening that he even wrote a book on it. Now for most baristas (as the coffee 'chefs' are called in Starbucks) I think writing a book on the side is something of a dream that many rarely see fulfilled. Still, how many people are really interested in reading about a kid who went to a regular high school and then decided to put his life on the right track by becoming a coffee barista at his local Starbucks? Not many. And I don't think it's the kind of story that would draw on directors like Gus Van Sant or actors like Tom Hanks looking to film the story of Gill's book in movie form. So then what is it that seems to be drawing in such fascination with the story? What about it is so unusual that publishers felt it was a story worth printing versus the hundreds of others put together by Starbucks employees?

I think the most significant factor is the fact that the person writing the story is a person of 'privilege' who really shouldn't have to take the job because of his situation. According to Gill, he was released from his position as an advertising executive for what he refers to as a younger model. That's not to say suddenly Kate Moss was brought in, but someone younger and full of 'new ideas'. Gill then decided to start his own business which didn't do as well and was subsequently diagnosed with a brain tumor. Desperate to secure a job that would at least provide income and health coverage, Gill interviewed with a nearby Starbucks and was hired on. Soon he found he enjoyed making coffee more than making ads. Though there will likely be a spate of jobs being fired his way considering he is making waves with his forthcoming book, it's not likely that Gill will leave Starbucks for 'greener' pastures in the executive world.

I think this is the perfect case of the 'grass being greener on the other side'. For many people who haven't gone to Harvard or who may never even go to college, working at places like Starbucks or McDonalds or Target are opportunities to excel and get into management roles through hard work and dedication. These people also have the potential to lead multi-million dollar corporations but because they haven't had the opportunities as some of the people in the upper strata of society, they don't get the same chances. They look on those from 'privileged' families with some degree of envy but as Michael Gill shows, perhaps it is they who are to be envied. Working in advertising, Gill was looking for interaction with people and the cameraderie that comes from working in that type of environment. And given the number of Starbucks I have been into, I can tell you that this is certainly the type of atmosphere it promotes.

Gill, whose father was a writer for the New Yorker, claims that though his father was a high achiever he probably wouldn't understand why his son is happy doing something that pays a less than half of what he was making in advertising. I think it speaks well of Gill that he is sticking with what makes him happy because in the end, that is what helps define one's career. I have worked in a variety of jobs over time and one thing I can say is that unless you work in an environment in which you feel happy and productive, you will never be happy. Do the things you love and work in a place that will foster it. Pay is an important part of the equation but as Michael Gill has shown, it's not how much you get paid, but what you do with the opportunities that are presented to you. Perhaps he got a leg up in getting his book published considering he comes from a 'privileged' background but at least he's continuing to do what makes him happy.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Sunday Traditions

Every family has some tradition or the other on Sunday. Whether it is going to church and then enjoying a family meal together or sleeping in until all hours of the afternoon, everyone has something or the other that they enjoy doing on a Sunday. My family is no different though the way we choose to do it probably covers the wide gamut of interests that we have. It's no secret that I'm a long-suffering Redskins fan (and after yesterday's unbelieveable loss to the Giants I continue to suffer). However, the source of my interest in the Redskins is my mom. From as long as I can remember, she's been the one in the family who has kept the interest in sports alive. Whether it is watching the Redskins or watching tennis, some sports or the other are a part of our traditional Sunday and it's something we enjoy together. Still, that's only part ofthe traditional Sunday that we usually share. Here's a window into what makes it special.

Unless we have been up late the night before, our Sunday begins with breakfast and a long session reading the paper. All of us at home try to catch up with the latest in the world and around the country. It's a long standing tradition that mom and dad have had for as long as I can remember. When we were younger, they would sprawl out in the living room with the radio on, tuned to an Indian radio program that played old-time songs while they read the paper and sales inserts. As we grew older (and the radio program went off the air) we moved it to our now traditional morning breakfast session. For this part at least we are all together and then we begin our day. While we're all doing things around the house, mom and I move to one of our first traditions which is flipping through the various Sunday morning political talk shows.

That's another interest I have definitely developed because of her. Though I'm not as politcally well-versed as some people out there, I am familiar enough with the issues to take an active interest in what many politicians and pundits talk about on the air. When we have our second cup of coffee around mid-morning we are all usually steeped in talk of the latest ramblings of the latest politico trying to salvage his career and make a stand for his political party. Mom and I can often be found discussing it even after the show goes off the air and though we are never at odds with what we discuss, we talk about everything regarding the latest polls to the endless debates which seem to hallmark this year's run up to next year's presidential election season.

Afternoon is usually when our next tradition takes over and when the real fanaticism in the two of us comes to the forefront. Depending on when the Redskins are playing, we'll take our seats in the family room hoping that our latest positions will somehow bring the team luck. It seems to vary from game to game and so many other things seem to hinge on the balance of where we sit and on what we're doing. I have my own Redskins jersey which I attempt to don while watching games but even that seems to have some impact on how the team does. Dad constantly ribs us that if the team is so dependent on the posturing of their fans then they have a lot more to worry about than their opponents. Still, it's part of our love for the game. We watch on pins and needles a lot more these days simply because the team isn't as dominant as it was during the 1980's when I remember cheering as the team won game after game. It wasn't so much a questions of 'if' they would make the playoffs but rather 'when'.

As the team has declined, our love for them hasn't and though we are often frustrated and at a loss as to what to say or do to 'help' the team win, we keep on watching because it is something that we enjoy doing together. We'll share our umpteenth cup of coffee while dad pops in and out of the room noting our latest position in the house and whether I'm wearing my jersey or not. Seeing this helps him figure out whether the team is winning or not. Mom and I will talk strategy in the finest sense of arm-chair quarterbacking this side of the local tavern. We hesitate moving from our 'lucky' spots for this particular game simply because it gives us the feeling that we're doing something for the team too. We haven't quite figured out the positioning yet though we think we have some idea. Both of us take our respective seats on our couches in a reclined position; I don't wear my jersey if I'm at mom and dad's place though I should wear it if I am at my place but only during the second half of the game. All those situations being met, the team has a chance. It may seem inane and ridiculous to put so much stock in such fanatical beliefs, but it's part of the fun that defines football season for me and spending time at my parents place.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Careful What You Blog

I have been blogging for over a year now and have posted nearly 330 articles on various topics. I have gotten hits from nearly 7,000 places and dozens of countries around the world. Now I know some of them are my family and friends but some of them are complete strangers and isn't that the point of having a blog? Putting your opinion out there so that anyone and everyone who stumbles across this portion of the web can get a bit of your opinion whether they want it or not. If they don't want it or don't need it then they'll move on to the next one but the point is, your opinion is out there. What many people tend to forget is that though you are putting your opinion out there, even if it is for a select few, it is still accessible to anyone with the time and inclination to find it. Don't believe me? Google your name sometime and you'll be surprised at some of the places that come up with your name. Hopefully none are incriminating.

Many people out there, even those who should know better, seem to think of the web as Vegas, that what goes on on the web stays on the web and that's really not the case. I mean I moved my original web page, the very first one I created back in 1995, to GeoCities and there it has remained. I abandoned it to a degree a few years ago after I realized that it takes time and effort to listen to soundtracks and review them on a regular basis. Writing blogs is not much easier but at least in this freeform it gives you the opportunity to write on whatever it is you wish. But I digress. What I'm trying to say is that the efforts I undertook in 1995 are still on the web and unless someone or something comes along to remove it, it will probably remain there for the rest of the existance of the internet. Or at least until Yahoo sells of GeoCities and they delete all old files. Still, the fact remains that those looking for soundtrack reviews will probably stumble upon that site after some searching and then whatever opinions or writings I may have made back then will still be available for perusal by anyone wishing to see my opinion. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. It's good from the standpoint that your opinion will remain out there through the annals of time. The bad thing is that your opinion will remain out there through the annals of time.

Take for example the case of Karl Brauer, an editor with; the online car magazine. He was recently pulled over for speeding and given a ticket. Being an internet reporter, Brauer posted his experiences on the website replete with pictures and description of the incident and his take on the case. He decided to go to court to contest the ticket on the off chance that the officer in this case would not be able to make it to court and the ticket could then be thrown out. Unfortunately his plan backfired. Before their docket began, the officer approached Brauer and asked if he really wanted to go through with the case in court and when Brauer admitted that he did, the officer pulled out copies of Brauer's blog with passages highlighting his admitted guilt at speeding. Needless to say the blog entry was allowed by the judge and Brauer was found guilty. He paid the fine and took the punishment but he finally realized that others probably peruse the web as well and that being the case, they can find what they're looking for too.

Now Brauer goes on to argue in a follow-up blog that while the judge accepted the officer's side of things and took the blog as evidence of guilt, the judge didn't use all parts of the blog. In particular, the judge ignored facts that contradicted claims made by the officer which could have helped sway the verdict in Brauer's favor but still, these legal matters aren't what concern me, rather the fact that an opinion and admission of guilt posted on the internet can be used against you. Still, this isn't the first time things like this have happened. I mean there have been cases where stores have been robbed and then the idiots perpetrating the crime film it and post it on YouTube or their MySpace page. I guess they figured no one but those in their 'circle of trust' would see the videos. Search for 'idiot robbers' on any of these sites and you'll probably find the videos.

That being the case, I would never post anything that I wouldn't stand in public shouting out. I know that those reading my posts probably can figure a particular slant one way or another in favor of one thing and against something else but for the most part, I try to remain as neutral as possible. I mean anyone reading closely will still see I hold some very strong opinions on important topics such as whether coffee is healthy for you or not; whether "Star Wars" is the best movie ever made and whether the "Redskins" will ever make it back to the playoffs. Whatever it is I write about, I keep the thought in the back of my mind that someone looking for me will find what I've written but also the fact that someone not looking for me may find what I've written too. It could so happen that a crazed "Star Trek" fan is looking for dissenting opinions on their show and they want to take out their ire on someone, perhaps that someone would be me. I have been referenced on pages regarding my opinion on the future of Tysons Corner and on the kissing incident between Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere. I didn't know of course that I was being referenced and though I'm given credit, I was both flattered and shocked that someone found my page and felt it good enough to quote from or at least reference. Guess that means I have to think about what I say even more now right?


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The World is at an End

Perhaps my title for today's blog is a bit extreme but sometimes I begin to wonder if the sign of the Apocalypse isn't going to be the Four Horsemen but the continuation of the news that propagates the airwaves these days. I guess in some ways, news about crazy celebrities such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan tends to take away from the near constant focus on the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the state of the economy, the state of some of the other nuclear powers in the world and the fact that there is no end in sight for many of these issues. I guess we have some desire to see that while the world is messed up as it is, there are people in it who are even more messed up than we are. At least that's my theory on why we're obsessed with them and celebrities in general.

Still, if recent events in the news are sign enough that something foul is afoot in the world then I don't know what is. I mean Britney has been through rehab about ten times now (perhaps not that many exactly but you know what I mean) and in that time she doesn't seem to have learned anything. Earlier this week a judge ordered her to clean up her act otherwise he would turn custody of her two sons (are these kids going to be messed up or what?) to her ex-husband, Kevin Federline. That right there is a sign of the coming Apocalypse if nothing else. Not that fathers don't have the rights to their children but that a judge is actually thinking of giving custody of children to an even bigger child. A couple of years ago it was a joke to think that Kevin Federline was anything other than a slacker whose career in rap music lasted about as long as OJ's hunt for the 'real killer(s)' of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman's killers.

At one point in the not too distant past, Federline was viewed as the man least likely to be a good father and now judges in our legal system are threatening to turn full custody of children over to him. Now those kids are going to be really really messed up. Speaking about messed up. What about Paris Hilton and her efforts to create a foundation and home for ex-convict women? I mean she made a vow after doing hard time in her small cell that she was going to take the experience and do it for good. Her partying ways were done and she had a newfound respect for her life and what she had. I guess she lost it again. In the time since going to prison, she's been hitting the partying circuit harder than before though she probably isn't attending as many parties as she previously did. I guess the public isn't supposed to pay attention to that.

And what about Lindsey Lohan? At one time she was touted as the original Dakota Fanning or the new Anna Pacquin or Natalie Portman and now she's more or less just the next Britney Spears. After numerous trips to rehab, court, and other places too disturbing to mention, Lohan continues her efforts to clean up her act and salvage her career. On the set of some of her previous movies she made diva actresses like Jane Fonda look like saints in comparison. Showing up late and getting a stern letter of warning from the head of the studio (that's like a personalized letter from the Principal) regarding her conduct, Lohan has been taking a bullet train to the end of the line. Never a good sign. Still, despite taking drugs while in rehab, some of her fanbase still longingly supports her and fights for her no longer being singled out for bad behavior. She was framed I suppose.

I guess it's like they say, history repeats itself. About ten years ago OJ was making the news for allegedly killing his wife and then taking off in fear that he would be sent to jail. The gloves didn't fit so the jury did acquit. Now he's back in the news again. This time for stealing sports memorabilia from a hotel in Las Vegas. Of course he says he didn't do it despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary but still, he maintains his innocence. I guess the dialogues that Johnny Cochrane had him memorize during his murder trials are still stuck in his mind. I guess that is one skill he learned during his days as a serious actor in the "Naked Gun" series of movies. Still, if this is just one sign of history repeating then that means we will be inundated with more Southern celebrity news. That truly is the newest level of Hell isn't it? Write on that Dante!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Where's Matlock When You Need Him?

I thought I had heard it all when I heard about the case Judge Roy Pearson had brought to national attention regarding his misplaced pair of pants. As odd as it seemed, it wasn't surprising that someone would take to suing a dry cleaning business for a missing pair of pants. Still, the fact that he was claiming $67 million in damages is what garnered the attention. Though the case was (thankfully) thrown out of court, there was still one benefit in that it probably helped raise awareness of the type of frivolous lawsuits that innundate the Justice system with countless cases that require time, money and effort to clear. At least that's what Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers assumed. Unfortunately, he was disgusted when he read about a recent case in his home state of a woman suing a federal judge for barring the words "rape" and "victim" in a sexual assault trial. Now I don't know the exact reasoning behind that decision but suffice it to say, the woman bringing the case forward claims that exclusion of these words from the trial are stifling her rights to free speech. Enter Senator Chambers.

Disgusted by such lawsuits, Senator Chambers decided to bring a case of his own to court in the hopes of bringing even more awareness to the fact that the Justice system wastes much time in even hearing some frivolous lawsuits. So he decided to make an example of this by suing God. Yes, Chambers has brought a lawsuit against God for the countless hurricanes and calamities that have 'attacked' he and his constituents and have threatened their lives and livelihood. Chambers is seeking a permanent injuction against the Almighty in an effort to protect himself from further harm. Now I'm sure the deeply religious out there are probably deeply offended by the very mention of this type of case but it stands to reason that if you can sue someone for $67 million in damages for a pair of $2,000 pants which were then found and attempted to be returned along with ten times the original value then you can bring a case against God.

Some in favor of this case may feel that perhaps it will finally open people's eyes to what a litigious society we've become. I mean sure the number of courtroom reality shows have dropped since a few years ago when everybody from Judge Judy to Judge Brown had their own shows but still, the number of frivolous lawsuits still abounds. Some may argue that it isn't plausible to sue God simply because even if the case goes to court, how are you going to collect or enforce the judgement? Does a victory for Chambers mean automatic entry into the afterlife? Chambers himself has spoken out against Christianity and some of its ideals and purposely avoids the morning prayers in the Senate chambers whenever he attends so does he really seek salvation by 'winning' his case?

I'm sure there are going to be many religious people out there who will be hurt and offended by Chamber's case and will argue vehemently against it even being brought to court. It's a case of religion being brought to the absolute forefront of our legal system. I suppose one could argue that if it's okay to swear to God before testifying in a trial that you will tell the whole truth, why not bring a case against that very same God. They say God works in mysterious ways; would a judgement against God mean that Nebraska would be a perfect weather state? If that happens, even the most non-religious out there would have to take pause and wonder if perhaps there isn't truly a Supreme Being watching over everything and keeping the peace. Perhaps God is vengeful and would take that vengence out on Chambers for being so presumptious as to assume that he could bring a case against Him.

Whatever happens, vengeful God aside, I just hope that people keep focus on the real reason behind Chambers wanting to take this case to court and that is to show people what a mockery we are making of the legal system in this country. It's our right to bring a lawsuit against something we see as unfair but that doesn't mean we have the right to be unreasonable or ridiculous when it comes to the letter of the law. That's what is disgusting Chambers and that's certainly what's disturbing me. I think somehow we need to realize that while going to court is certainly a viable option, it shouldn't become our fallback option for anything and everything we do. Don't like something? Sue. Don't agree with something? Sue. Want to blame God? Sue Him. Just beware those bolts of lightning during the next thunderstorm!


Monday, September 17, 2007

Educational Television

Who says television can't be educational? I mean after all, I learned lots of important things from television. I perfected my use of the English language by watching Sesame Street. I learn about the world around me on a constant basis by watching the news and shows on the History Channel. So who says that television is subversive or sending the wrong message? Well, perhaps the good officers down in central Kentucky. This past weekend they arrested 36-year-old Michael Hobbs on suspicion of robbery. When taken into custody and interrogated, Hobbs revealed that he learned how to break into houses watching the show "It Takes a Thief" on the Discovery Channel.

What's the show about? Well, I myself have never watched it but in reading descriptions, the show is hosted by two ex-burglars who have seen the errors of their way and have taken to helping homeowners understand where the vulnerable points of their homes are. Basically in each episode they come to a house and run through a scenario which they would use to rob that particular house and then go through a practical demonstration. None of the property is actually stolen but the hosts show that they could easily get to it and they then offer up advice on how to prevent such theivery. Interesting huh?

Some will undoubtedly look to this article and call for the end of such a show but I think it argues for itself. One can say that the show helps would-be thieves gain an understanding of how to penetrate houses and do so in an efficient manner but I also contend that it shows would-be victims how to defend against incursions into their houses. You can argue both sides effectively but I think the case for keeping this type of show on the air is stronger. How so? Well think about it. Shows like this have educated people on the effects of smoking over the long run and how not wearing seatbelts can be hazardous (and deadly) to your health. No one argues there that it is educating you in a bad way.

That doesn't mean that I'm encouraging people out there to watch the show so that they can quit their jobs or take up burglary as a profession. On the contrary, I think it will encourage us to take more steps to protect our homes from such incursions. A few years back when the Club was touted as the most effective deterent to car theives, television journalists did reports to determine if it truly was an effective protective device and the found thieves who then demonstrated how easy it was to still bypass the protection and steal the car. Even at that time there were people who called for the banishment of such 'educational' shows since it showed thieves that they could still steal a car despite apparent protection.

All that being said, did Michael Hobbs have anything from the houses he broke into? Well when police searched his house they didn't find a single piece of evidence that indicated that he had stolen anything. The evidence that police had, prior to his confession of learning his skills from the Discovery Channel, was that he had been offering gutter cleaning services in the neighborhoods where the burglaries occured. The case apparently came together from there though the debate on the status of the show continues. There hasn't been any statement by the Discovery Channel as yet with regards to whether the show will be yanked off the air or not but my gut feeling is that the show will remain on the air.

As I said, I think it's beneficial in the long run to have such a show on the air because when you watch a few episodes you'll most likely be inspired to secure the homestead. Sure there will be those, like Michael Hobbs who will want to see if the methods of breaking into a home are as 'easy' as they're shown on television but that doesn't mean that this will lead to a sudden rise in home invasions. What it will likely mean though is that the Discovery Channel will definitely see a brief rise in viewership as more people tune in to see what this show is all about. True story or an attempt to boost ratings? You decide.


Friday, September 14, 2007

YouTube, ITube, WeAllTube

You can call it a passing phase or you can call it the flavor of the month, but the fact that the website YouTube is hosting presidential debates (no matter how inane they may be) proves that the latest cultural technological phenomenon is here to stay. At least for a little while. For those who have been too busy at work to discover this website, basically YouTube is a site where anyone can go and post videos of themselves (or others) thus making it available for the world to see. Now this can be a good thing or a bad thing but it's definitely something. I mean suddenly the world has been populated by wanna-be Cecile B. DeMille's. The quality of the videos varies but on the whole, there is a wide variety of video footage available out there.

For example, do you nostalgically remember some show, commercial or music video from your childhood? Chances are you will be able to find it on the website. Now before you rush of to find the most vulgar stuff you can, be aware that this is a relatively family friendly site so no smut will be readily available to those of you seeking it. That being said, YouTube is not without some controversy. What piece of technology ever is for that matter? Though I leave most movie matters to my brother, I do know a little bit about how movies are made, that being said, I can understand some of the problems associated with YouTube; one of the main ones being obtaining permission of those you film.

Whenever you produce a movie, you have to obtain permission from those within the frame for use of their likeness. Now this includes everyone from the main stars to the guy standing in the background with a cup of coffee as an extra. With YouTube, since it is more or less a free for all, the line gets a bit blurred. There was recently a case of a teacher in North Carolina, a Ms. Keri McIntyre, who contended that her image was illegally used on the internet site. Apparently someone filmed the teacher at a fifth grade 'graduation' ceremony and set the entire scene to the Van Halen song "Hot for Teacher". Now what could have been funny had permission been taken is now grounds for harassment simply because the person who filmed the video did it without McIntyre's knowledge of what had been done with it. Now this case has been called under review for privacy violations and thankfully the site complied in removing the video to prevent further embarassment to Ms. McIntyre.

However, the reaction of the site also depends largely on how big your purse string is apparently because the bigger the star, the faster the video will be pulled. Singer Beyonce successfully got video footage of her tripping on stage removed when she cited copyright infringement. Okay. Makes sense. Most concerts to have announcements and notices that forbid making videos of the event. But still, stars such as (The Artist formerly known as Prince then known as the The Artist and now known as) Prince have been working hard to 'reclaim their art on the internet'. Previously you could easily find music videos and the like on the site. Many older music videos (and some newer ones) were often posted on the site and readily availble for immediate viewing. Prince is leading an effort to have all of his material removed from the site in order to protect it from falling into the hands of those who haven't paid for it.

Seems fair right? In a way it is I suppose. I mean if you'll recall the case against sites like Napster where brand new material was often available for download immediately upon release (sometimes before release) in stores. As such, artists contended that their art was being subverted and they would no longer be able to make ends meet if their records were selling. The digital music revolution definitely changed the way in which the entertainment industry viewed and used the internet and now, this is why you have exclusive agreements with sites such as iTunes to sell exclusive music and movie tracks to paying customers. I think YouTube may start going in that direction very soon too.

There are some videos that could be charged for such as new music videos of movie footage that is still generating revenue but for older stuff and things put out by the average Joe, why charge for it? I don't want to pay to see video footage that has a chance of appearing on America's Funniest Home Videos. I think the site needs to be regulated to prevent incidents like what happened to Ms. McIntyre but I think it's going to be much harder to enforce. Who is going to check to see if the participants within the video had consented to their image being used? It's much harder when you're dealing with non-celebrities and strangers. Still, despite the fact that the company is dealing with cases of copyright infringement amounting to millions of dollars, the site continues to go strong. It may be a passing fancy, but it isn't passing off all that quickly.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thank You Judge Pearson!

I'm sure you remember Judge Pearson. Judge Pearson! The one who tried to sue a drycleaning business for $67 million (later revised to $54 million) for false advertising? Needless to say the judge threw out the case and the appeals and anything else that Pearson tried to bring to the forefront. In a case of Tort gone wild, here was a classic example of someone looking too far into a statement that a business made. The drycleaning business had signs up which said, "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and Pearson had claimed he wasn't. He claimed that this was false advertising and for various reasons that have been blogged on before, he decided to sue. When details of the case came to light, the utter stupidity of the case led to its being thrown out of the court but it definitely set many businesses out there on edge.

In college I took a course in marketing as an elective. In it we discussed how businesses use their slogans to convey stability or steadfastness that should appeal to a consumer. I mean you'll rarely (if ever) here an auto manufacturer advertise the fact that their car looks elegant but drives like crap. Or that the fast food restaurant you're watching an ad for buys sub-prime ingredients. You always want to build your slogan on something that will inspire a consumer with confidence to come to your store and make a purchase. Now Wal-Mart is one company that has definitely catered to the bargain shopping crowd out there and I will admit, I have been there to get a few items in the past. On the whole though, I don't frequent the place. One thing that I can't help but notice or hear incessently in their ads is the fact that they claim, "Always Low Prices. Always." Well, I won't be hearing that for much longer.

A long standing claim on their part, Wal-Mart executives are now considering revising the slogan to "Save Money. Live Better." Now to me that seems like generic advice that is being spewed and is about as non-commital as you can get. The change comes on the heels that some people may claim false advertising against Wal-Mart for the fact that their box of diapers was actually cheaper at Target than at Wal-Mart and so, due to false advertising, they are eligible for millions of dollars. Now ordinarily I would say that this type of case would also be tossed out by any halfway decent judge, but I don't know any more.

Although Pearson's case was eventually dismissed along with his attempted appeals, it just goes to show what a tenacious person can accomplish when they set their mind to suing someone for millions. It seems as though Wal-Mart is taking some pre-emptive measures to ensure that though there may be cases against them in the future, false advertising shouldn't be one of them. Some people wonder if this is truly a concern for a company like Wal-Mart and all I can say is that it should be. I mean there was recently a case where a man purchased a bottle of Brut cologne almost three years ago and he sued Wal-Mart when the cologne caught fire. Nevermind that he was the reason the cologne caught fire or the fact that bottle warns that the cologne is highly flammable. Wal-Mart is liable because they sell such a dangerous product.

It's interesting to see just how some industries are affected by the actions of a few determined but mis-guided souls. I mean an idiot who is suing for $67 million for a $2000 suit has managed to have some small part in causing a multi-billion dollar corporation like Wal-Mart change it's long-standing slogan for fear of what someone reading between the lines may think. If you think about it, most major corporations have changed their slogans to be that way now. McDonalds claims "I'm Lovin' It" so if you're not, that's not really their fault. Technically they're lovin' it, not you. So they've got their bases covered. Hmmm. Perhaps the industrious letigious ones out there can go after Burger King. I mean after all, they claim that you can "Have It Your Way" though the last time I went there and ordered a medium rare whopper with extra pickles, it came to me medium. That's false advertising isn't it?


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Commercialization of a Tragedy

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the attacks on September 11th. I can still vividly remember a lot of the events of that day with startling clarity. For my generation, it probably stands up there with the day Pearl Harbor was attacked or when President Kennedy was assassinated. I mean ask most people old enough to remember that day and they can probably tell you where they were at the time they heard or saw what was happening in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. I know I can. And even though we move farther and farther away from the event in terms of time, there's still a part of me that holds those memories in mind and I intend not to forget about it. But that's not the case for everyone.

Since the actual day of the attacks itself, there have been innumerable documentaries, 'specials', investigative reports, movies and television shows linked to the attacks. They range from investigations into the various conspiracies, or discussion on the heroics displayed by people or on the harrowing tales of survival of those who were there on the scene of the attacks. However many shows are produced, there seems to be a never-ending dearth of more coming down the airwaves. Now I can understand the desire on the part of some people to watch these types of shows over and over again. At least it will provide some insight for some as to why the towers collapsed the way they did or why the Pentagon was damaged the way it was. These shows provide us some inspiration into the heroics of the passengers aboard United flight 93 which ultimately ended up in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But whatever the reason, it should be to honor and understand, not to garner ratings.

In the days leading up to the anniversary date, most major news channels had at least several stories or specials on the upcoming anniversary and though the date is merely the sixth and not a milestone like the fifth or tenth or anything, it is still treated with a certain amount of fervor in terms of wanting to cover the story from an angle that hasn't been seen before. That I can understand as well if there is some new information, but over the past few years, the coverage of most major networks seems to be going away from understanding the tragedy to using it for commercial purposes. Coverage of the memorial services is one thing but what MSNBC did yesterday was... well... you decide.

From about 8:00 yesterday morning until about 11:00 or so, the channel re-aired the exact coverage of the day in 2001 minute by minute so if you didn't get to experience every tragic moment six years ago, you could certainly relive it again. I fail to understand the reason or rationale behind it. For those of us not directly affected by the attacks, it's okay because there is still that disconnect between what happened and how it affects us. I mean the families of those who lost loved ones in the attacks don't need to remember the incident minute by minute do they? We have this unexplainable fascination for the events. We've seen the planes hit the towers numerous times, we've seen the fires burning at the Pentagon innumerable times, do we need to go through them over and over again if we have nothing new to report?

A year after the events, there was still some reverence with the events. People took a few minutes to pause and reflect. But as time has gone on, it seems as though the state of affairs is going from reverential reflection to sensationalism. Hearing journalists speak of what passengers aboard the doomed flights may have seen in their last moments or how those in the towers jumped to their deaths rather than risk burning to death is macabre to say the least. Now I'm not saying that we need to live in a perpetual state of mourning but rather than attempting to outdo one another in terms of what sort of coverage can be provided and how sensational reports can be made, let's pause and remember the loss of life with respect. It may not have affected us directly but there are lots of people out there who were. Let's treat their day of mourning and reflection with respect and not worry so much about how we can corner the market on coverage.


Monday, September 10, 2007

The Starbucks Workout

Two of my common topics in my blogs are coffee (generally Starbucks) and working out. It's a rare occasion when I'm able to combine the two subjects into one but an article I happened across allowed me the opportunity to do just that. Keeping employees healthy has always been one of the top priorities of most companies over the past few decades. This is mostly because of the rising costs of healthcare and the loss in revenue when you have an employee not able to work. In an industry like Starbucks, that can lead to a tremendous impact in terms of overall revenue. I mean if you have one barista who is so good that he can whip up three ultra skinny no-whip, extra-hot, double squirt chai peppermint lattes with one hand and then you have his back ups, if he's out sick then you've got customers who are going to wait longer for their drinks of choice. And given the number of Starbucks locations out there (especially in the United States) that means that your customers will go elsewhere to get their fix.

In an effort to reduce such incidents, Starbucks in implementing a pilot program to attempt to increase the overall health of employees and thus reduce healthcare costs and absences due to health related issues. For a period of eight-weeks, employees are being given memberships to health programs with the overall goal of increasing fitness and reducing weight. After the eight weeks are over, employees are encouraged to continue the programs on their own and the company is hopeful that the overall betterment of employee health will lead to less sick time and other health related issues for employees.

I think it's a good idea and definitely one that speaks to the concern of the company when it comes to the health and well-being of its employees. True there have been issues in the past few years regarding the rights and unionization of Starbucks employees to fight coroprate dictatorships but on the whole, the company seems to be taking efforts to ensure that the health of the company is not adversely affected. Not having worked in a Starbucks, I can't speak to the amount of stress and standing that they have to do during their shifts, but all I know is that at peak times, namely in the mornings and evenings, employees must be running themselves ragged. At other times, the temptation to indulge in their own coffee and sweet dish must be overwhelming. I mean have you seen those sumptious chocolate chip cookies they have?

Having worked in IT and in the IT-related industry, I know of the tendency for workers to end up grabbing whatever comes into their reach at moments of hunger. Generally the stuff is not all that healthy for you. I remember working in one office where trays used to be set up in the kitchen filled with quick snacks and other junk bits. The idea being that work would get so busy at times that it would be easier to grab a quick bite to keep going rather than stopping work to get something healthier from nearby restaurants. In the time that I worked in that office, I found that my overall health levels dropped and I wasn't working out as much as I used to be. Working out is an option for many, but with crazy work schedules and other impediments and distractions to time, it's not always possible to combine the two.

Starbucks is by no means the only company to implement this type of plan. There are other companies out there who sponsor contests within the company to promote working out and overall weight loss. I think these types of activities being promoted by the corporate world are much more favorable then the constant stream of celebration luncheons, birthday cake extravagances and other occasions that promote over-eating and overall health impediments.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

iRate Over iPhone Costs? Join the Crowd

Let me be clear to start with, I don't own an iPhone and nor do I feel the desire to own one. I think the last cell phone I felt like owning was the Motorazr and I currently do have one. As for spending $600 on an iPhone? Forget it. But apparently there were enough people out there buying into the hype to stand in line overnight to buy one. I remember the day before the release there were hundreds of people camped out for the phone in places like Times Square. I think perhaps there is some appeal to doing something like this once in your life. Still, you only gain noteriety when you are the first in line or the first to buy something new like this. The rest of us are...well... groupies. Still, the iPhone is a neat little piece of technology that seems intriguing to a tech conscious person like myself but as the product stood at it's launch it wasn't so appealing to a guy like me.

I have been a loyal customer of Verizon for a number of years now and while I get annoyed with their "Can you hear me now?" ads, I will say that they have one of the better networks out there. That being said one of the immediate points of disappointment was the the phone was only available over the AT&T network. Now I know of quite a few people who are on that network and they aren't all that happy with it. What's the point then of having a high tech phone if you can't make and receive calls anywhere you want? Strike one! Then there were reports that the other great appeal of the phone was the fact that it could interface with iTunes so that you could use your phone as an alternate iPod. Great! No need to pay for the same music again! Your library can be on the phone now! Uh... no. Not exactly. There were reports that the interface didn't quite work that way and so you couldn't import your playlists to the phone. Strike two! And the final nail in the coffin, the price! Six-hundred dollars for a piece of technology that, while unique, doesn't function exactly the way you would expect? Strike three!

Now my tech knowledge has largely been an outgrowth of my father's interest in all things technical. Though he is a civil engineer by profession, he is a techophile by hobby. He has created virtual networks and wireless servers throughout his house and every weekend he seems to be on the forefront of some other technological discovery. One of the things he always taught me was that when new technology is released, it doesn't pay to be the first one to shell out money for the product. For one thing, (and being an economist I understood this principle), when there are a limited number of suppliers of something on the market, you can't search around for bargains. Apple is definitely one of those market monopolies. Sure there are other MP3 players just as good (if not better) than Apple's iPod but because of the hype and appeal of the iPod, it remains at the forefront. And because they are a monopoly, you will not find comparable products out there for any less. You pay for an iPod in England exactly what you would pay in America.

At least in that way then you know how much you will have to spend. The same thing happened with plasma and LCD televisions. At the outset, they were prohbitively expensive. It became the latest hype. You had to have one of these because it was the wave of the future. True, but it was also expensive as Hell. Sure I'd like to have one but I don't want to take out a second mortgage to pay for it. Over time, more and more companies entered the market and now, you can buy one for about as much as a couple of paychecks. What happened? Competition drove down the market price because there were options. Sure a Samsung might be better than a Sony but at these prices, you have the choice. Not so with Apple. An iPod is an iPod and there is no other. I guess the same could be said of the phone. Still, those desperate enough to want one on the first day would buy it no matter the cost or the bugs.

Steve Jobs, head of Apple, thought that the iPhone would tap into the same hype market as the iPod and so figured that as an exclusive product, they would be able to corner the market. Make a gizmo and they will pay! Unfortunately with the word getting round that the reality in no way lives up to the hype meant that people were getting ticked off and demand was dropping. Suddenly there were images of stagnating sales and losses in profits. What to do? Cut the price of course! Earlier this week, Apple announced that the company was cutting the 4 GB version of the iPhone and cutting the cost of the 8 GB model by $200. Well, seeing as how the product has been on the market for only a few months, you can imagine how this went over with the people who paid $600 a few weeks back. Yup. Not well at all.

According to statements by Jobs, this was always in the works and was always planned. And from an economics standpoint this theory makes a lot of sense to me. The basics of economics teach us that the perfect price for a product is at the market equilibrium where supply equals demand. Charge more and the company can supply more but demand will be reduced. In this case, Apple was selling the image of cool and by shelling out $600 you could have something that not everyone could have. I mean look at the iPod. You can hardly go anywhere these days without seeing those ubiquitous white earbugs sticking out of people's ears everywhere they go. Not so with the iPhone. You were going to be unique. At least until they decided to lure more people to the market. Again, this can be seen as a market correction to return the market to normal. You get buy in from the over excited hype believers and then get those on the periphery.

Remember the XBox 360 about two years ago? Sure Microsoft didn't produce enough to meet demand and I remember hearing so many people yell angrily at store managers and personnel as to why it was their fault (and not Microsoft's) that the store in question didn't have ample supplies of the product. Hype built and the supply eventually met demand and so the market stabilized. Now Microsoft also cut prices to the 360 by about $50. What was the result? More sales but not as many ticked off people. How come? Well, simply because it's been on the market for close to two years now and the demand has been largely met, now by cutting the cost by a bit, you appeal to those who may be on the fence. I think my 360 was a decent investment and I'm happy I have one. I waited for the product to also stabilize and the bugs to be worked out as anyone seeking to buy technology should.

People are ticked off now because they are buying a product that is not so different from other phones out on the market. Sure the iPhone has a slick interface and looks cool. I mean you honestly feel like James Bond with this thing but if you want to be James Bond, join the secret service or buy an XBox and play the game. It's going to be cheaper. Apple seems to have made this move a bit prematurely because they cut the price too soon on the heels of product launch. They also cut it by a lot. If you chop $50 from the cost (as Microsoft did) you can think in relative terms that it isn't much. When you cut $200 from the cost, then people are going to be pissed. I mean after all, what's the point in standing in line overnight to buy a phone if someone can now just walk into a store and buy one? Where's the sacrifice?


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dress for Success... And Your Next Flight

Most people taking flights across the country probably spend no more than a couple of hours on a flight. I mean you sometimes spend more time in security than you do on the actual plane but be that as it may, you want to be comfortable right? I have taken trips where I have spent eight hours flying the first leg, fifteen hours in an airport (due to various delays) and another eight and half hours on the final leg. Do you think I'm insane enough to make that flight wearing a three-piece suit? Not in the least! Still, when dressing for a flight these days, I also take into account the fact that I have the possibility of being subjected to various security inspections so rather than wearing a complicated outfit, I might as well wear something comfortable and simple that will facilitate a quick trip through security. That's what most people think. That's what passenger Kyla Ebbert thought too.

On a recent flight with Southwest Airlines to make a doctor's appointment in a nearby city (nearby enough for a quick flight but too far to drive). Now there's no problem in doing that. Heck, business travellers make such jaunts with such regularity that it's almost like catching a bus these days. Seeing as how the temperatures were over 100 degrees, Ms. Ebbert dressed in the outfit pictured above. The outfit, as she describes it, was a mini-skirt and tank top with a light summer sweater on top. She also happened to be wearing high heels. Now as I've said, most people these days are generally normal in terms of what they wear but there are two extremes too. Business travellers who are required to wear their suits since they generally go to and from their meetings straight from the airport, and then there are those who fly in what amounts to their pajamas. Now I'm all for people being comfortable on a flight but don't come on board as if you came from the bedroom straight to the plane and are looking to continue your nap.

Now seeing what Ms. Ebbert was wearing and reading about the way she was conducting herself (which was in a normal way) it should be a bit surprising to hear that she was stopped, not by security but by the airline itself. Apparently, one of the gate agents saw Ms. Ebbert boarding the flight and came to her as she sat waiting in her seat to inform her that she was dressed inappropriately. When she asked what was inappropriate about her attire, the gate agent apparently responded that the whole thing was inappropriate. He said her skirt was too short and her top too revealing. A discussion ensued and the airline requested that she change her clothes (which she couldn't since she had no luggage) or that she go home and change then return for a later flight (which she couldn't in light of her appointment) so the airline grudgingly let her fly.

This seems to be a rather arbitrary and uneven enforcement of some rules which aren't really spelled out for passengers doesn't it? I mean when I purchase an airline ticket I have never seen explanations of dress codes for passengers. I mean there's a ton of information in the smallest font size imaginable which describes how your seat can be given away under certain circumstances or how you won't get a refund and may have to pay additional money for cancelling your booking. That being said it's not surprising that Ms. Ebbert wasn't aware of the apparently unwritten rules. One assumes that most people apply a bit of common sense when getting dressed for a flight. Well, most people do anyways; but in this case, I don't find anything wrong with what Ms. Ebbert was wearing.

If she had been acting in a lewd and lavicious manner or doing something that apparently made fellow passengers that uncomfortable then by all means, detain her and deny her the chance the fly. I mean if you ever watch a single episode of the reality show "Airline" chronicling the life and times at several airports serviced by Southwest you'll see at least one drunken passenger being taken off a plane per episode. I have yet to see an episode where a passenger is yanked off a plane for the way they're dressed. I mean if we're getting into dress codes here then what about the way some flight attendants are dressed on Southwest flights. If you're talking about appropriate and proper attire then is there a need for attendants to be wearing shorts to work? Sure they may wear a collared shirt with it but doesn't that give a different perspective on the professionalism of the crew? I mean what sort of message would it be sending if the flight crew arrived in cabana shirts and flip-flops?

I admit that certain passengers can make it difficult for crews to maintain an air of dignity and decorum in the air but by singling out a person based solely on their dress, isn't that a bit much? I have flown with passengers who have dressed as if their occupation is dumpster diving. I mean if we're talking the appropriateness of dress and appearance, what about people with piercings or tatoos that someone may find offensive. Common sense is not so common but for the most part, people are dressed okay. If we start delving into what is or isn't appropriate dress for passengers then we might as well issue everyone jumpsuits with their tickets so that there will be equality and non-provacativeness among all who choose to fly the no-longer-so-friendly skies.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Snacking is Deadly to Your Health....No Seriously

It's getting to the point now the no one is safe anywhere or from anything. No I'm not talking about terrorists or military invasions. I'm talking about snacks. Yup. Snacks. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise since it seems like doctors in organizations from the American Medical Association to the Snack Food Council have weighed in on one side of this argument or the other for years. At one point it was a good thing to have coffee every day and then within a month that ruling was overturned and it was declared that too much coffee could cause heart attacks. Then a few months later that ruling was again overturned. I think at present coffee is good for you so drink up while you can!

Popcorn was the subject of another such study. It seems that we are on a constant search for munchies that we can eat to excess without having to worry about whether or not it's good for us. And since things like chips and fries and other finger foods are generally on the unhealthy side, popcorn seemed like the likely alternative to these unhealthy options. But just like coffee, it seemed that no one could decide whether it was good for you or bad for you. A few years back a study was released which stated that popcorn that was air popped and had minimal salt and butter was healthy for you. When reported in the news, the main headline was released which said that popcorn was healthy. I guess it would have taken too much time to report about the salt and butter levels so those comments were conveniently left off but the immediate result was that people began to devour popcorn at levels not previously seen.

Movie theatre popcorn is often swimming in a buttery substance that adds a bit of flavor to the otherwise often bland snack. Compound that with the fact that salt is sprinkled on in copious amounts and you've just turned that healthy snack into a bite-sized coronary preparation kit. It's no wonder then that people soon declared that popcorn was no longer on their list of healthy foods and that medical associations rallied against popcorn being considered a healthy snack. A few months after the bottom of the popcorn market fell out and once clarification on the issue was provided, it was declared that popcorn was indeed a healthy choice though not in excess. It seemed then that the issue of healthy popcorn was resolved right? Wrong.

Not content to study only the effects of eating popcorn, doctors have studied the effects of breathing popcorn. Now I'm not talking about some drug junkie so high on drugs that he's attempting to snort popcorn kernels, rather I'm talking about the inhalation of popcorn fumes while being popped. Anyone who has worked in an office in rather close proximity to the department microwave or kitchen area will tell you that it can be a blessing or a curse. The blessing comes from the fact that you are usually close enough that you can quickly warm up your food or coffee should the need arise. The curse comes from the fact that if you are on a diet, you are going to be sorely tempted by the number of people cooking some food at some point during the day.

That being said, the recent study on the effects of popcorn fumes declared that potential health issues could arise from the fact that breathing in acrid popcorn fumes could contribute to lung disease over time. Yes. You read correctly. Apparently the stink of burnt popcorn that sometimes fills offices is also enough to kill you over time. Wonderful isn't it? Your healthy snack is killing you with its enticing smell. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (it's a real entity!) apparently took the announcement seriously enough that they recommended that companies that use the butter additives limit the amounts they include in their products to the greatest extent possible.

If we are to believe the study, a patient who was exposed to popcorn fumes every working day for several years began to see a marked decrease in lung capacity and breathing ability and this was somewhat reversed after stopping his daily popcorn habit. That being the case, new concerns are arising over whether or not office workers seated near the kitchen or microwave need to be provided safety cards like in airlines when you're seated in an emergency row. You may soon have to declare your understanding of the fact that your office's proximity to the kitchen could pose health threats and you are willing to accept those risks. Will that mean teenagers who work at the concession stand at movie theatres will have the chance to seek compensation to being exposed to potential health risks?

Does this mean that we're going to see a rise in the number of cases where teens with the potential to have become the next great sports legend of our era can now sue snack food companies based on the fact that by breathing in popcorn fumes while preparing a bag is now grounds for suing? I mean after all, they were preparing popcorn as a healthy choice and they didn't know (until now) that the fumes were reducing their capacity to be top-class athletes. Call up your lawyer! There's the potential for lawsuits here. Does that mean I finally have the right to yell at co-workers who make (and burn) popcorn at the office during the working day? Does this also mean that people can sue their companies (out of spite) for forcing us to work in hazardous conditions? The potential for millions... nay... billions of dollars in compensation is out there! Now if we can combine this with blaming McDonalds for serving hot coffee... we'll be set for life!


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Taking Method Acting a Bit Too Seriously

I have acted in a variety of plays over the course of my life. From my first role as one of the three wise men in a nursery school pagaent to larger roles in Hindi dramas when I was a young man, I have had the opportunity to make humble attempts at acting. In that time I've also had the opportunity to observe some very good actors and learn from their acting techniques and skills in an effort to improve upon my own. I think one of the most over-used terms in the realm of acting these days is method acting, simply because I don't think many people understand exactly what method acting is. In a nutshell, method acting is when an actor attempts to 'live' the experiences of the character they are portraying in order to fully bring out the reality of the character. Attempts at this can vary from extreme to mundane things and whether or not it is an effective means of acting or not is still up for debate but there are those who steadfastly believe in it.

There are stories of how actors such as Robert DeNiro or Dustin Hoffman have done things to accurately portray the characters they have been. For example, in preparation for his role as the troubled Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver", DeNiro actually did drive a cab for a number of weeks in order to understand the lifestyle that these drivers experience. Another story relates how for the filming of the famous Russian Roullette scene in "The Deer Hunter" DeNiro insisted that at least one real bullet be put in the gun to heighten the tension. This is of course only rumor and DeNiro has denied it but the fact that he is so into 'the method' that it's not out of the realm of possibility.

In other films, this type of conditioning is like when the actors undergo abbrieviated 'boot camp' in order to appreciate the conditioning soldiers go through before portraying them in films such as "Black Hawk Down" or "Saving Private Ryan". The reality maybe so subtle that those of us outside of those experiences may never fully realize the depth of preparation these actors go through but it certainly makes a difference for many of them. However, some people tend to take it a bit too far.

In a recent performance of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", the actors were depicting the famous 'Ides of March' assassination scene of Caesar. For an added touch of realism, the director insisted on real knives for the scene but the scene was staged in such a way that none of the blades would ever come close to the actor thus avoiding injury. At least that was the plan. The scene went off quite well and the actor portraying Caesar collapsed to the floor 'dead'. However, shortly thereafter, the actor portraying Brutus, Kent Hudson Reed (who was also the director of the production) began flubbing his lines. It was then that the rest of the cast noticed the blood running down the leg of Reed. Apparently at the conclusion of the scene, in his enthusiasm, Reed ended up stabbing himself in the leg with his own knife. "Et tu Brute" indeed.

Needless to say, the production was immediately halted and Reed was rushed to a nearby hospital but for a while at least, there will be no more real knives on stage. Using such props is inherently dangerous. In my production of the Marathi play "Double Game" last year, there were numerous scenes in which guns were involved. In two scenes there was a need for a gun to be fired on stage. Now I'm not insane enough to insist on real bullets in the gun but the level of safety we attempted to instill on stage was quite extensive. We had rehearsals where the actors actually handling the gun would practice and were familiarlized with the guns. Safety also included aiming the gun away from the actors so that on the off chance that there was some mishap, it would not be aimed at anyone or anything. Even then, there was always a bit of tension.

Thankfully in the case of Reed, he ended up being okay and has since returned to the stage, albeit with a pronounced limp. For some actors out there, that is a testament to bringing reality to the stage or screen. I'm all for reality. In plays where I've had to be angry or show a villainous slant, I attempt to think about things that put me in that frame of mind. I am at a loss as to what to focus on when playing an out and out villain but when looking for some inspiration for being angry, you can always come up with something. One of the great things in acting is that you are afforded the opportunity to let others believe that the character you are portraying is real. I think a true testament to an actor's ability is when the audience invests itself so much in the story that they tend to forget that you aren't really that person but rather that it's 'you' on stage and not a character. Still, if you can achieve that without stabbing yourself, all the better!