Friday, December 14, 2007

Exploiting a Loophole

In England it was recently announced that in coming weeks there will be a ban on Samurai swords due to the number of high-profile attacks that have been perpetrated using samurai swords. However, they do throw in the caveat that a collector of these swords or a martial arts enthusiast will still be able to acquire and keep them at their home. Now I don't know about you but it would have probably been better if they hadn't even bothered passing the law in the first place! How can you tell who is a collector and who is a common criminal when they are coming at you with one? I guess if it's raised in supplication you're safe but otherwise.... watch out!

I caught on to this story because I am a martial arts enthusiast and I have a few swords at my home (okay okay... only two). Upon attaining my black belt I decided to invest in a real sword which I have used on several occasions in class for training purposes. Needless to say, I am quite careful when I wield it simply because I know how deadly it can be to someone if not handled properly. I find rules like the one being put forth in England to be a bit backwards because when you go to a store to purchase one or whatever, you rarely are asked by someone whether you are a practicioner of martial arts or whether you want one to maim somebody. When I purchased mine, I had a passing question from the cashier as to whether I had studied martial arts or not. I obviously said yes and didn't provide much more information which was enough for the cashier. If I'm not getting more questions or providing more information why would someone purchasing a sword as a weapon say anything more?

Plus I don't think that all martial arts enthusiasts are all that trustworthy of wielding swords either (real or otherwise). I have taught students of varying age and experience for a couple of years now and you quickly come to pick out students who enjoy learning the principles behind martial arts and those who merely want to swing their sword around like a wild man. When we were in class we used to use foam sparring swords which were meant to allow us to hit without fear of losing an appendage. We used to spar using our bamboo swords which hurt like Hell when you get hit with them but again, it showed us who had technique and who was flailing their sword around in a desperate bid to hit anything and everything. I remember one class where I was leading a set of practice drills meant to teach students how to attack and then parry a return strike. As I was going through the technique I had one overly enthusiastic student who accidentally hit me in the head. Once was okay but twice was too much; despite the fact that I asked him to put his sword down until it was time to practice.

Needless to say when time came to free spar in open matches he was enthusiastic and wanted to spar everyone. After hitting several of his opponents hard enough to sting them, I decided to step in. I'm not the greatest swordsman who ever lived but I have enough sense to know sort of when to duck and when to attack. In all of his matches, I saw the student simply attempt to overwhelm his opponent by flailing his sword about in an attempt to scare them. I reversed course and went on the offensive by screaming my lungs out and rushing at him in a crouch. Our swords collided and I nailed him once to the head which was enough to end the match. That being said, I knew then and there that there was no way I would trust him enough with a real sword to even give him a chance to use one given that he couldn't stand five minutes without hurting others or himself with a fake one!

I don't think that swords should be regulated or anything because quite simply, it's difficult in this day and age to conceal a sword for long. Perhaps two or three hundred years ago it was okay since many people used to carry swords around with them but these days everyone seems to prefer guns so chances are if you see someone walking on the street carrying a sword, you're more than likely either Viggo Mortensen practicing to play Aragorn or someone with a decidedly bad idea in mind for you. In either case, I think that if you're going to pass a law regarding swords, pass it with a definite answer. Either ban them completely or don't bother banning them with a caveat. It'll be better that way.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Key Issue for the Next Presidential Election

The upcoming Presidential election for 2008 marks the first time that campaigning and debating has started so early. Nearly two years before the actual election, many candidates had already declared that they were planning on announcing their candidacy. Candidates have come and gone and past hopefuls are now forgotten thanks to inadvertent comments regarding maccacas. With a dozen or so viable candidates from the major political parties, it's hardly any wonder that political fanatics are excited over all the debates and discussions that have resulted from having so many people running for President for so long. There are lots of issues out there that will directly affect the lives of Americans but apparently none is more important lately than how they take their coffee.

Yes, there is a new survey out that was distributed to the candidates in which they were asked to describe how they take their coffee. Some drink it black, others drink it with cream, some use artificial sweeteners and some, due to religious beliefs, don't drink it at all. Whatever their preference, I'm amazed to think what coffee has to do with anything remotely related to politics. I am wondering whether there are truly voters out there who are looking to relate to a possible future President based on their preference for coffee? Supposing I'm a rabid tea drinker, does that mean that I'm not going to vote for anyone other than the Green Tea... er... Green Party candidate? I think that voters are attempting to find something they like in the current crop of candidates because quite frankly, none of them has really stirred so much interest in anyone. Now that we are a little less than a year from the next election, candidates seem to be pulling out all the stops in terms of getting face time and recognition from the voting public.

I remember a time (and mind you I'm not that old) when candidates would discuss the issues and not their issues with other candidates. I understand enough about politics to know that until a single nominee for a party is announced, there will be attempts within the parties by members to get their name out in front so that they get the nod to run for President. So until that glorious day we will be privy to endless hours of discussions on whether someone's had too much experience, too little experience, no interest, no knowledge, no religion, or no coffee. If we are getting to the point now that we can't go into a Starbucks and order a cappucino without it becoming a potential campaign trail destination then we're well and truly in trouble. I remember when people used to kid that Bill Clinton loved to go to McDonalds to eat, not just to schmooze with the customers.

There are so many important issues out there and in all the debates I have seen over the past few months, there is no real headway being made in any of them. All the political pundits and experts out there seem more interested in finding faults or foul-ups by candidates or to tear down their image so that the true nature of the person is revealed. Rather than describing their plans for the future of the country, they are more interested in discussing how they are better than their opponents. Not only that, they are more interested in trying to convince us of why their answer to a question (which they rarely directly answer) is better than the answer provided by their opponents.

Still I must say I'm surprised at the relative brevity of some of the answers provided by the candidates regarding their coffee preferences. I would think that some of them would have launched into a long, drawn out discourse on how coffee is valuable to the future of our nation and how it is up to each and every person out there to know that coffee is important for our future. They could have launched into debates once again. I mean when I first heard about the poll I was half expecting someone to come out and castigate Mitt Romney for not partaking in coffee due to the teachings of his Mormon religion. I figured some candidate would use that to explain how Romney couldn't possibly make a good President since he couldn't drink copious amounts of coffee required by the Office of the President to function!

And given the political correctness running rampant these days, I'm amazed that some of the candidates referred to their preference for black coffee in just those terms considering that there is an African-American candidate in the running. I'm surprised because there is usually some idiot out there who will see this as an implied slight against Barack Obama and use it as a basis to harken back to the days of slavery and how African-Americans are still paying for the mistakes made against them in the past. See? Coffee truly can be a political maelstorm of 'hot issues' if one truly chooses to dig deeper and analyze something to its absolute limit. I'm hoping that perhaps someday in the future, after the primaries are done, that the eventual candidates for all parties can finally start discussing issues that pertain to the future of our nation. I honestly don't care if someone prefers their coffee with or without cream. I'm looking for a President, not a barista at Starbucks.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jury Duty -- Every Citizens Bane

I haven't had the opportunity to serve on a jury in the past and I'm somewhat neutral as far as where I stand on this issue. Not that it's an issue but sometimes I wonder why it is that so many of us shirk our civic duty when it's not like we are being sequestered for the rest of our lives. Sure there are occasional cases that drag on for months at a time but for the most part, the commitments to serving on a jury are very short term and fairly easy. I have had my batch number pulled a couple of times but luckily for me the day before (when required to check in) I was told that my batch was not required to come in so I was free from being potentially called for at least a year. Part of me was relieved at that but part of me was also disappointed.

I think everyone has strange views of what life on a jury must be like thanks in large part to television and the movies. Maybe that's why we try to get out of it so often. Still, when trying to get out of serving on a jury, it's best to do it honestly rather than illegally. What I mean is if you have some prior commitment or duty which precludes you from serving on a jury, make that fact known rather than trying to commit an act of wonton foolishness which could lead to your arrest. What do I mean by that? Well take the case of 40-year-old New York juror Vladislav Lisetskiy. He was called in for jury duty and he showed up at court walking with a cane. As he was getting ready to pass through the security screening checkpoint he drew the attention of the guards, or rather his cane did. Guards noticed double bands on the cane which indicated that perhaps it was hollow and contained something inside. Deciding to check it out, the guards were surprised to discover that the cane actually concealed a sword.

Now for a number of years in cities like London, canes were all the rage and while walking around deadly parts of the city, it was a good form of protection because unlike the firearms of the time, the sword was still a preferred weapon and could easily be concealed and carried within the cane. Still, unless Mr. Lisetskiy is a person fascinated with the past, there's no need for him to carry that sword into court unless he was looking for a reason not to serve on a jury. Now instead he may end up being tried by a jury of his peers rather than serving on one. I've heard of lots of different excuses for wanting to get out of jury duty and some of them are valid objections but quite often, the excuses are lame. I have gotten jury duty letters around finals weeks during my college days and I would always request a pardon on those days simply because I couldn't serve on a jury on the day I was taking a final.

Others come up with other reasons or methods of getting out of serving. Let's face it, most people are looking for an interesting case if they end up having to serve on a jury. They would rather be involved in a murder trial and any other type of case but those cases aren't as common as people think. Or at least the people I have spoken to have never been on a jury for that type of case. That's not to say that it can't happen but when the odds aren't in your favor, you start looking for ways to get out of it. How though? You're potentially already on tap to be part of a jury, how can you get out of it? Well my dad had a novel solution that didn't require weapons (concealed or otherwise) and that was basically stating that you would support the death penalty even if the case was a traffic violation trial. Most lawyers would either find you too extreme for their case and unless they themselves were of a violent retribution ilk, the likelihood of staying on a jury would be much further reduced.

I'm sure sometime in the future I will have to serve on a jury. The state can only believe for so long that I'm in the midst of final exams. I guess the idea of jury duty is bothersome to some people (myself included) simply because we are so involved in other things in our lives that it seems more like a distraction (and a seemingly unnecessary one at that) than anything else. I mean with the amount of work so many of us have to do, it's no wonder that any of us would happily take part in jury duty. There are a million things I could think of to do in place of jury duty, unfortunately the state won't view those in a very civicly minded light.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Prosperous Vacation

Okay, sign me up. I want to go to Arkansas for my next vacation. Now before you start checking my temperature and before I get inundated with complaints from people wondering why I'm potentially knocking the great state of Arkansas let me elaborate. I have been a fairly frequent follower of the news for a long time now and one story that keeps coming up is the one about the fact that someone has found a diamond at Crater of Diamonds National Park which is located in Arkansas. See the great thing about this national park is the fact that whatever you find you keep. It doesn't matter how big or small, if you find a diamond you keep it.

Well earlier this week a man visiting the park on a fairly frequent basis turned up a diamond and with that the park officially marked the 1,000th diamond found at the park this year. Generally the park has a varied number of finds per year and before you get excited (like I did) with visions of diamonds scattered around like hundreds of thousands of pebbles, be aware that it does take some work. As you can see in the picture, the park is fairly large (obviously since it is a national park) and there are lots of other people aware of this fact as well. Since the park opened in 1972 to the public, there have been a handful of years where this many diamonds have been found. It would appear that 1994 was the banner year for the park because that was when the public uncovered approximately 1,421 diamonds. The largest discovered so far (and again... kept by the finder) was a 16.37 carat diamond found in 1975.

I think it's fascinating that the park has remained open all this time and has remained a place open to the public for the digging and discovery of diamonds. The park was originally privately owned before it was turned over to the state at which time it opened to the public and the digging began. If one visits the website they will highlight the fact that the park also has wonderful recreational facilities including campgrounds and such but the real allure of the park comes from the fact that the park allows you to dig and keep any diamonds (or other precious stones) you find at the park. Kids has young as 13 have found fairly decent sized diamonds there and as such, the park has become a major source of revenue for the state. This doesn't mean that everyday someone walks out of there with a diamond. You certainly have to do your share of digging and searching and hoping but still, there's always a chance.

There's something mystical about a park of this type. Mystical I think in the sense that it helps return us to our childhood when searching for buried treasure was a game but in this case the game has become a reality. Thanks to geological fortitude and a generous state, the Crater of Diamonds State Park has allowed many people to live out their fantasies of digging for buried treasure. Now while I am not necessarily interested in digging up the largest diamond ever unearthed there, I wouldn't mind finding a small one simply because I would want to enjoy the feeling of discovering a true treasure from the earth. Sure you can go to a store and get one but it must be a real thrill to go and unearth one from the ground itself knowing that it has made it's way from the depths of the earth to your hands.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Field Trips May Soon Be a Thing of the Past

I remember back when I was in elementary school, the first time I heard someone refer to a field trip, I thought that they literally meant we'd be taking a trip to a field (most likely the football field behind the school). That was fine with me since I figured that meant extra recess time. I was even more excited when I realize that the field trip was an actual day-long trip to some place else and that we'd get to go on a school bus. During those years I went to a variety of places such as museums and famous landmarks. I remember getting to school at about 6:00 in the morning in fourth and fifth grade because we were going to be spending the day out of the state. We would drive up to Williamsburg or Philadelphia and do the usual touristy thing. We would see the sites and try to learn a little bit too. They were fun times and best of all, it was a different way to learn. Unfortunately, it seems that in some districts it may soon become a thing of the past.

In the face of rising gas prices and a greater emphasis on standardized testing, more and more schools are opting out of field trips simply because they don't want to fall behind academically. Now the unfortunate thing is that not all students absorb all learning by simply reading. I should know, I'm one of them. I learn a lot by doing and in taking field trips, I was able to see the sites that served in our history or I was able to talk with people who knew so much more about the subject I was interested in. I remember going to the Air & Space Museum in downtown DC back in the third grade. I was so excited I remember going to the library a few days before and asking my mom to help me pick out some books on airplanes. We went through the selection and I wrote down my favorite planes in looking at the books. Then when we go to the museum I was naming them all one after another. I was even more thrilled to speak to one of the docents there who happened to be a pilot.

That type of interaction really solidified my love of the subject. To see the planes that had made history and to talk to someone who had actually flown was so exciting to me that I couldn't believe that I was actually learning since I was having way too much fun. For me it was a chance to expand on my pre-existing love of history and aviation but for some of my classmates, it was the first time many of them had a chance to visit some of these places. Whether because their families were never interested or because they didn't have the means to visit, many of my classmates had never left their city and for them, these trips were something even more special. It gave them a chance to see the world beyond their normal one. Perhaps I'm waxing poetic a bit but still, I can't tell you how often my friends and I would be excited over the fact that we were getting out of school for a day to see something new.

That's not to say that we didn't have standardized testing back then as well. On the contrary, we had plenty of tests back then too. Still, I think over time the emphasis has shifted from teaching kids to give them knowledge to teaching kids to pass an exam. It's commonly referred to as 'teaching the test' and many schools and teachers do it. They will spend weeks and even months teaching students they types of problems they will face and what the expected answers are. I don't mean that they have the answers to the exams but that they teach the students about the most common types of questions and then teach them only the correct answers so that they are more likely to get the question correct on the exam. Why the interest in boosting test scores. Well while for some teachers it is probably for the noble purpose of getting students to do well, it's more often a question of funding.

It's a sad fact that these days schools that don't do well on standardized testing don't get as much in terms of funding for projects or programs in comparison to schools with higher averages. How do you counter it? Simple. By ensuring that your students do the best out of the area in these standardized tests. As a result, so many schools are funneling their efforts into these methods. When you're faced with not having enough funding for new books or materials for students or a trip to the state capital, you begin to see the merits of one versus the other. Still, while I feel standardized testing is important, I don't think it should be seen as the end-all-be-all of everything related to a child's education. Actually going out and seeing the places that you usually only read about in books is what makes it real and easier to understand.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 07, 2007

Another Disgruntled Teen, Another Debate

In the coming days, the last note of 19-year-old Robert Dawkins wrote prior to his shooting in an Omaha mall will be scrutinized and discussed ad naseum. There will be experts on TV discussing how there were signs of this tragedy in the making and that his family, friends and teachers ignored them. There'll be discussions on how to prevent becoming a victim of random shootings and violence during this shopping season. And there will be renewed discussions on gun control. From the early reports coming out in the news media, Hawkins had recently been dumped by his girlfriend, he had lost his job and had a long history of emotional, alcohol and drug problems. His family had already kicked him out of their house and now he was living with a friend's family who were trying to help him. Unfortunately their efforts were for naught when Hawkins stole an AK-47 assault rifle and entered a mall in Omaha and began shooting anything he could see. His shooting resulted in 6 deaths and injuries and finally, as with most of these types of incidents, it ended with Hawkins taking his own life.

What I often fail to understand in these situations is why shooters like Hawkins choose to kill others before taking their own life? If you are suicidal that means you're interested in taking your own life, so then why become homicidal before taking the suicidal step? I'm not trying to make light of the situation but I'm trying to understand why that is. Do a bit of research and you'll find that in the majority of the cases (if not all) the killers eventually turn their gun on themselves and kill themselves. No more than two days have passed since this tragedy and already the discussion has been renewed. Groups are calling for increased awareness and treatment of teen depression and substance abuse. Others are calling for an end to assault weapon possession. Still others are calling for increased security at malls during this busy season.

Adding security to a mall is not going to solve much. If you look at it from a practical standpoint, unless you have daily or semi-daily attacks going on or know of customers regularly bringing in firearms and weapons into a mall, why beef up security or have a SWAT team standing by in the mall all the time for rare emergencies? Remember Seong Hui Cho? No? He was the shooter at Virginia Tech (who also took his own life at the end). After his shooting spree people wondered whether campus police and state police needed to be beefed up. They already had armed police forces on campus but when you have an unexpected or sudden shooting breakout like Hawkins or Cho, an entire army isn't going to help unless they can prevent someone in this sort of mental state from even getting close to hurting someone. Unfortunately, it's not a practical reality.

So how can we prevent something like this from happening? Well this brings up the next big debate that is all over the airwaves and that's the banning of assault weapons and guns. Now this is something that has been discussed probably since the passage of the Constitution way back when. The gun lobby won't let this type of ban take place simply because they argue that by allowing people the right to bear arms, they can then defend themselves. Others argue that if guns were banned completely then they wouldn't be able to keep guns for recreational purposes. I can understand wanting to keep a gun in order to defend yourself or for hunting season but do people really need assault rifles to defend their home or hunt geese? I mean it isn't as if we're living in a war zone despite what some rhetoric would have you believe. If you're interested in defending yourself, a handgun should suffice shouldn't it? They have simpler hunting rifles too don't they? Do we really need people out there with rifles designed by the Soviet army for their soldiers when hunting geese? Last I heard they don't carry weapons other than their droppings.

Still, people will argue that it's their 'God-given right' to have a gun and all while others will argue the opposite. In the end, the debate comes full circle when the gun lobby will declare that had it been legal to carry firearms, no one but Hawkins would have been killed because someone would have shot him first because in a gun lobbyists world, we all would be packing heat. People interested in carrying or possessing guns like AK-47 or similar weapons should join up with the military and head over to Iraq or Afghanistan. There are plenty of other AK-47 owners over there and they are more than willing to join you in shooting them. You'll probably just have to check what direction they're firing in before jumping for joy.

What about helping the person? I am not a psychologist so I can't speak intelligently about what could or should have been done to detect and possibly prevent Hawkins from reaching this boiling point. Perhaps his depression over his losing his girlfriend was more than he could bear. But why was that? Was he so starved for affection due to the loss of his family that he felt that the loss of his girlfriend was the last straw? It wasn't as if he was completely on his own. He was staying with a friend's family who attempted to cheer him up and keep him on the proper path but it seems that perhaps it wasn't enough. It is so subjective a topic as to whether or not medicine or any other form of treatment could have prevented this. I guess it basically boils down to the fact that someone who is so determined to carry out a course of action will go to any and all extremes to achieve it. If not? Then it will be a small victory for the rest of us.

I don't know how future tragedies of this sort could be prevented. Unfortunately with so much going against us in the fight to prevent it, we are not making much ground in the right direction. For a time this topic will be front and center. People will be looking to put the blame whether it's on the gun lobby, mall security firms or video game developers. Whatever the case, it will only be there for a little while. For those of us not directly affected by the shooting at the mall, we'll listen to the stories on the news and then forget about it when the next big news item comes along. We'll argue about it for sometime and then forget about it again until the next time someone takes a gun and decides to shoot up others before turning on himself. That's the real tragedy.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Commercialization of Schools

When I was in elementary school, my friend's mom used to be the manager at a McDonalds close to our neighborhood. Now this was in an era prior to the explosion of McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner and so when we said McDonalds generally everyone in our neighborhood knew which one we meant. Anyways, as part of a rewards program for students who attended her son's school she teamed up with our elementary school and offered quarterly rewards for students with good grades. She apparently handed out a lot of the certificates for a free burger, fries and a drink because eventually, everything we were awarded as students, came with a certificate for free McDonalds food.

And that wasn't all. There was a reading program that I think is still around called Book-It. If you read a certain number of books within a certain number of days you were awarded a certificate and a coupon for a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut. Again as with the McDonalds, everyone knew where this Pizza Hut was so we used to go there on occasion. Surprisingly I wasn't as voracious a reader then as I am now but I was quite good nonetheless. Still, I probably earned more McDonalds coupons than I did Pizza Hut coupons but needless to say, I could have easily survived on McDonalds food had I not had the good fortune to be living at home. And therein lies the rub. Not the fact that I was living at home but rather, I was being 'enticed' by fast food to perform well at school. That seems to be a major issue that many parents are having with their local school districts.

There are parents all across the country who are upset over the fact that schools are continuing to tie rewards for good performance in school (whether it's for good grades, perfect attendance or what have you) to fast food rewards. Some parents believe that this is merely the further commercialization of our school system and the opening of doors for corporate America to get involved in schools and enhance their hold on students. Now I argue that point simply because I don't believe it's the truth. Sure there is a caveat in awarding a kid a free meal at McDonalds in that it isn't going to be enough to feed the entire family. So now obviously if the parents are taking the kids there to redeem their award, won't the parents be incensed over then being lulled into buying some food as well? At least that's what some parents would try to argue with you.

Still, I don't see it that way or for that purpose. Sure companies like McDonalds may be doing it to drum up more business revenue for themselves but on the whole, what's the harm in their wanting to do it? McDonalds continues to donate money to various schools and organizations as a form of charity and community service. Thanks now to the bad rap that childhood obesity has been giving fast food, any and all support by McDonalds and similar companies is being viewed as a negative thing. Heck! Plenty of adults are livid with Microsoft for the various bugs and problems that their software generates but that doesn't mean that parents are calling for an end of Microsoft's involvements in school donations or computer donation programs. Why not? Besides doing schoolwork, aren't computers game systems as well? Don't most parents frown on that as well?

I think the key thing that can come out of this scenario is a lesson in moderation. Parents need to instill in their kids an understanding of why things are better in moderation as opposed to excess. If a kid wins a coupon for free food it doesn't mean that a parent should immediately yield culinary control of the child over to McDonalds for every coupon he or she receives, rather it should be a rare treat rather than an everyday occurence and thus kids and parents will both probably learn to appreciate the reward a lot more. Schools should definitely look at how some of these companies are getting involved in schools but they shouldn't completely block it. Public education needs more and more financing and if corporate America is looking to give some to schools, they should accept it with open arms. They should maybe just hold a bit shy of allowing their gymnamsium being renamed the McDonalds Gymnasium but other than that, I'm all for it!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Panic in Washington

Perhaps my title for today's blog is a bit misleading. I'm sure that people searching for political blogs or blogs on the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran or a blog on the latest mis-statement by a political candidate for the 2008 Presidential Election will be disappointed but the purpose of my blog is to discuss the real cause for panic today in Washington and that's the weather. People hit hard by snow in Colorado and up north in New England probably enjoy laughing it up when they come down here to see just how much we panic but I think part of the reason is because of the type of town Washington is.

It's a long held notion that when snow is in the forecast for the DC area, the entire area gets in a tizzy. You tend to avoid the grocery stores because some people stock up on toilet paper, bread and milk. Suddenly the entire town acts as if it's going to a prison or something based on the menu and personal items they hit hard. I have never understood the need to stock up on these particular items in greater quantities. I can understand if Washington was located in Anchorage, Alaska where it's possible for several feet of snow to fall or in parts of New York which were hit so hard this year that they couldn't leave their home for weeks on end. Still, here in DC we haven't had a storm that bad in a long while. This storm that is currently hitting our area is no different. I guess maybe part of the reason is because people have lost faith in their forecasters.

I have lost faith in forecasters; or perhaps that's not quite accurate. I have learned to take what they predict with a wink and a smile. It's been my experience that when they call for two feet of snow, we'll very likely only get 2 inches. When they call for a few inches, we'll get a few feet. If the snow is supposed to last until noon and then the sun will come out, it will end up snowing for several days. Today's storm was no different. Before going to bed last night I checked the news one mroe time and heard the same thing that they had confidently been beating into our heads the whole day in anticipation of the storm and that was that any and all snow would accumulate on the grassy areas and not on the roads. Lo and behold, a fine layer of snow had covered up all the roadways from my house to the office. Big surprise huh?

Speaking of driving, I think that's part of the reason for the panic too. I don't think it's quite so much a fear of driving in the snow as it is having overconfidence in one's ability to drive in the snow. For example, watch TV around this time of year and you'll be innundated with endless commercials for SUV's blazing new trails through tons of snow with no trouble whatsoever. They love to make commercials that tout the rugged durability of their trucks by showing off everything from it's off-road capability to it's towing capacity to it's ability to go through snow banks like a hot knife through lukewarm butter. The reality is that drivers here and across the nation are not 'trained drivers on closed tracks' driving specially modified trucks. Sure your 4x4 may be able to tackle everything in commercials but if you don't buy the 4-wheel drive option on an SUV your SUV goes from being an SUV to being a V.

I can't think of the number of times I've seen daredevil drivers in SUVs zipping through traffic like nobody's business even in the worst of conditions. I guess they figure that if the truck can do it in commercials then it can do it in real life too. One thing they tend to forget or ignore is the fact that when driving in snow, okay a 4x4 is good but when you hit ice? You may as well drive straight into a ditch and save the trouble of eating humble pie later. I passed at least three or four SUVs spun out on the side of the road today and one more that was flipped over in a ditch. When I was stopped at a stop light this morning I was passed by a speeding jeep that then quickly zipped onto the highway. I shook my head in awe that someone would drive that way with the roads being a bit slick. About ten minutes later I hit a spot of slow traffic (the first of many I'd see this morning) and there was one car which had run into the side retaining wall and in front of it, spun out was the same jeep. Oops.

People around here tend to have the memory of a piece of cabbage. It's not the first time snow has fallen in this area and it will undoubtedly not be the last. So then why is it that every time the weather turns a bit nasty people either speed up to show that they're unafraid of the conditions or slow to a crawl becoming slow moving impediments to the flow of traffic? I want to do nothing more than drive my reserved pace and make it to the office on time. I know my car has rear-wheel drive and as such it takes a bit of different driving skill to maintain a steady course in bad weather. I've fishtailed with the best of them and I'm not interested in ending up with more damage than I can handle for my car. So then why people insist on trying to race me on the highway in the snow I'll never understand. Perhaps some of these insecure people driving their SUVs think that this is the one time they can outrun me? Well good for them... they'll still be in that ditch though when I pass them five minutes later.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Another Can of Religious Worms

Just when you thought the furor surrounding the naming of a teddy bear after the Muslim prophet Muhammed had died down, internet Evangelist Bill Keller comes along to stir up the fires. Of course he's over here in the United States and not in the Sudan so I guess his actions can be a little more inflamatory but still, I think that once word of his actions leaks out, it's going to stir up a major storm. What did he do? Well, Mr. Keller recently aired an internet piece in which he sprang to the defense of, British teacher Gillian Gibbons when the irate people of the Sudan called for her death for allowing students in her school to name a teddy bear Muhammed.

In his piece Keller named a stuffed pig after the Islamic prophet and made various statements and proclamations condemning the Islamic faith and recommending bombing Khartoum (in the Sudan) with pig intestines. Keller states that there will be those of both the Islamic and other faiths who will state that the protests and actions are by people who practice an extreme form of Islam though Keller himself doesn't believe that. He claims that this is merely a convenient way for people to 'accept' the actions and statements of people who demand death as a form of retribution for a slight against their religion. Keller provides daily prayers and answers prayer requests on his website, I decided to check out the website to understand where Mr. Keller was coming from and to understand what would drive a man who claims to be a tolerant Christian into such an obviously inflammatory path of action.

I read his devotional for today and in it he states that those who simply stand by and 'respect the beliefs of others' are denying their faith and the chance to spread their faith to others. On his website there are proclaimations and statesments that in essence state that it is the duty of someone who believes as Keller himself believes to spread the 'truth' to the non-believers out there. Frankly, I feel Mr. Keller can keep his truth to himself because in my view he is no more accepting than the very people he is claiming to condemn. Sure he can claim that he is standing up to Islamists by insulting their religion the way they insult his by demanding the death of a non-Islamist. Sure he can say that his religious beliefs are the truth and are the true path that all people should follow. Sure he can claim that his way is the way to bring non-believers to the correct path but if his path is the 'right path' then I'd rather continue walking on the wrong one.

According to the devotional I read, and from what I took from it, to simply shut up and listen to when someone says that 'they respect the beliefs of others' is to quietly accept the wrongs that they believe and not do anything about it. He claims that people who believe as he does should stand up and show non-believers the true path. In a respectful manner of course. I guess his version of respecting others is to insult their religious beliefs and then expect them to suddenly snap to a different tune and accept Keller's true path. The unfortunate thing is that while Keller views Islamists as being one extreme, he is an extreme on the other end of the spectrum and it is for these reasons that there has been so much religious strife in this world for so long.

Who says one system of beliefs is better or more accepting than another. If your religion teaches you that as a believer in your faith you are on the path to salvation shouldn't you simply rejoice in that fact that you will be saved? Why do you need to go down the path that says tell others that they are wrong for not agreeing with you and if they still don't believe you, open a can of whup-ass on them? I have never claimed that my religion is better than anyone elses. When I say I respect other people's religions I mean just that. I respect it for what it is. I have not been in a situation where another religious belief or system has been forced on me or been to a place where my religion was frowned upon and fate willing, I will never end up in such a place. Even if I do, I have the faith that whatever higher power is there will accept me for my devotion and not because of the number of people I've brought to the fold. Unfortunately there are not too many others who believe that and as long as people like Keller and others like him continue to hold sway over vast majorities, the religious problems of this world will never cease.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Death by Overtime

Most anyone who has worked has, at some point or another, done some overtime. Work in an office long enough and your time will come up. There are some people who are on perpetual overtime. They come in before most everyone else and are there for hours beyond everyone else too. It's not because they can't finish their work within a normal eight hour period but rather, in the case of many middle management types, it's simply because they number of extraneous responsibilities they have outside of their normal work routine is enough to have them spending extra hours at the office. Some argue it's because they want to stay ahead while others are just looking for an excuse to avoid going home to an unhappy home life. Whatever the reason, more and more people are doing it. The question is, is this really a healthy thing?

There was recently a court case in Japan where the wife of a Toyota employee sued her local Labor Ministry claiming that her husband died of exhaustion from all the overtime he was putting in at work and was thus eligible for Worker's Compensation. The Labor Ministry saw it differently. Kenichi Uchino was the quality control manager at the Toyota Factory in Toyota City. According to his wife, Uchino was regularly working over 80 hours beyond his normal working day and at times spent upwards of 115 extra hours at work per week due to his responsibilties. That being said, it's little wonder that Uchino collapsed at work in February 2002 and died at the young age of 30. After his death, Uchino's wife went to claim compensation for his death and was refused on the grounds that there was no proof that his death resulted from overwork. In the end the courts ruled in her favor and nearly six years after the fact, Uchino's wife was compensated for the loss of her husband to the office.

Apparently the epidemic (if it can be considered one) is serious enough in Japan that they actually have a word for 'death by overwork' and that word is "karoshi". I find it a bit disturbing to hear that there is actually a word for this type of death. I mean think about it; we have lots of causes for death in the world but only the most serious or most common get descriptive names that are mutually exclusive to that form of death. The fact that the work culture in Japan is apparently such that overtime is not an exception but an an expectation is what makes it not so surprising. Over here in the states there are certain rules to how long a person can work but it doesn't always get enforced as it should.

Case in point are doctors and med-students who work for hours and hours on end. My question has always been that while this requirement gets a doctor ready to think on their feet while struggling to save a life, does it make them a better doctor? By keeping someone up for hours and hours and then asking them to consult a patient or perform a surgery, isn't that a bit dangerous? I don't know about you but I'd rather have a doctor who had a good night's sleep rather than a dozen cups of coffee looking me over before surgery. Whatever the reasoning or rationale it is something that I often feel fortunate not to have gone through or experienced myself.

I have worked overtime on numerous occasions. I have been stuck at the office due to pending deadlines and a dearth of work. Some of the stress that comes from this situation is what ultimately takes a toll on someone. It's partially because you are so stressed out in wanting to complete your work while worrying about non-work related things at the house that you begin to get stressed. As it is, we are gaining reputations for having increasingly sedentary lifestyles which contribute to heart disease and other problems. If we're sitting on our butts for even longer than 80 hours a week, aren't we only going to exacerbate the problem? If the levels of stress or deadlines that some bosses implement on their staff can somehow be brought to normal or manageable levels, perhaps the rest of the world will avoid having to develop a word in their respective language that's the equivalent of "karoshi".

Labels: ,