Monday, June 30, 2008

Gender Equality in the Workplace

I remember when I first saw the movie "9 to 5" lo those many years ago and recall the scenes where Lily Tomlin got ticked off at the fact that she was required to get coffee for her boss Dabney Coleman whenever the secretary, Dolly Parton, was running some errand. I remember thinking that Coleman's character was a jerk for expecting someone else to get him a cup of coffee simply because he was a group manager. It was a clear illustration of how men were slow to pick up on the fact that women would no longer play 'traditional' subservient roles in the workplace simply due to their gender or historical 'duties' but that they should be considered equals (and some would argue superiors). Now I'm not going to delve into that can of worms but I bring this up in light of a court case going before a federal judge soon.

In Philadelphia, birthplace of some of our nation's most important historical documents and seat of early governmental power, it should come as no surprise that a case seeking to put an end to 'gender discrimintation' should come to pass. Office temp and receptionist Tamara Klopfenstein was taken on by a company to do data entry and serve as a receptionist and assistant. Part of the duties that her bosses outlined to her included getting two of the bosses coffee every day at 3PM. Klopfenstein refused as she felt it was discriminatory and constituted harassment due to her being a woman therefore being 'expected' to do the work. Apparently she found it so demeaning and beneath her station that she fired off an e-mail to her boss which explained, "I (Klopfenstein) don't expect to serve and wait on you by making and serving you coffee every day." Nine minutes later Klopfenstein found herself fired.

Now I can understand both sides of the arguement here in that there are some office 'policies' which have changed over the years and not everyone feels that that should be the case. Take for example office dress codes. I have worked for companies where suit and ties were required every day regardless of whether everyone else was wearing shorts and flip-flops. Contrast that with times I've worked with hardcore scientists types who spend more time with their computers than actual people so dress codes be damned, they're going to be comfortable. I think back to the images from NASA from decades past where all scientists would at least have a shirt and tie (if not suit) when they sat for hours and hours in mission control or while doing work. Now looking at some of the hallowed halls of NASA, you wonder if you're on a college campus or in an office.

Similarly, I think it's wrong if someone assumes that just because they're a man and their receptionist is a woman that automatically the subserviant nature of the boss / secretary relationship implies that he will be waited on hand and foot. If it's an occasional thing, okay, perhaps it's not such a bad thing. Even if it's a regular duty, if the receptionist (be it a man or a woman) knows that this is part of the duty then there is no grounds (ha! coffee pun intended) for complaint. Now I don't know the exact attitude of the former bosses of Ms. Klopfenstein but apparently she felt strongly enough to come out and make a case of discrimination and harassment. The district judge who looked at the case dismissed it on the grounds that there was no clear evidence of either discrimination or harassment. But due to Klopfenstein's appeal it is moving up to federal court.

While I certainly think that the issue is an important one, from what has been released to the media and news networks regarding this case makes it very hard to believe that Klopfenstein was purposely put into a discriminatory environment or that this 'duty' was placed on her after the fact. If you don't like getting coffee for someone then don't take a position which could require you to do it. I myself have gotten coffee for my boss when she was stuck on the phone during a teleconference, it wasn't my duty but on occasion I did it. Had I been told that this was also a requirement of my position then perhaps I would have thought twice about it or wondered whether this was something I wanted to do. If I had that big a problem with it then I would have opted out. Still, if Klopfenstein had that big a problem with the act of getting coffee, she could have met with her bosses in person and discussed it rather than being a bit impersonal and sending off an e-mail. Face to face is always more effective and less harsh (in most respects) than over e-mail.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't Hurt the Profits

The Supreme Court of the United States passed what I consider to be a supremely unimpressive dictum yesterday when it announced that the total punitive damages amount for Exxon Mobil for the Exxon Valdez oil spill back in 1989 has been reduced from it's original $5 billion award to around $500 million. Now granted that $500 million is still a tremendous amount of money, but when you divide it up among those who are named in the original case as beneficiaries, you end up with people earning approximately $15,000 which is down from approximately $75,000 earlier.

Now one can argue all day as to whether a difference of approximately $60K is worth quibling over given the fact that 20% of those who stood to earn something from punitive damages case are now deceased, but it's the principle which I'm more in support of. At the time of the original case going to court, the award determined by a jury was $5 billion which represented the total profits for the company over one year. Even if one assumes an average inflation rate of 2% per year and assumes that Exxon's profits remain around $5 billion per year, that still only means that the total award due to those bringing the case would still only be around $7.3 billion that they would have to pay today. That out of record profit postings of $47 billion. Forty-seven billion!!!

When you finally get into numbers that big in terms of profit, isn't 15% of that marginal to be paid out to those whose livelihood was ultimately ruined by the oil spill? 33,000 fishermen residents, and governments in Alaska were adversely affected by the spill and continue to be so even today. Exxon complains that they have already paid $3.4 billion in reparations to the region and have taken great pains to ensure that they avoid any future disasters that could potentially ruin the environment but still, here they are quibbling over such a minor amount that it probably means nothing more to them than a moral victory.

And do they have any right to claim a moral victory? They ruined the environment and the area in which the spill occurred and they paid to support the clean-up effort. So what? Isn't that something they should have done anyways? Unless you're a two-year-old, cleaning up a mess you make is ulimately your own responsibility and no one elses. From my point of view, what they paid to clean up their mess has no bearing on how much they pay to the people whose lives they ruined to say nothing of the environmental impact they unleashed on the region. Though the decision by the Supreme Court was split with many of the judges abstaining or excusing themselves due to vested interests (some of them have investments in Exxon) they took a stance that ultimately looks to allow Exxon to get off scott free. The reduced $500 million award is 1% of their total profits for 2007. It's a shame and a travesty.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Practicing Your First Amendment Rights

I'm trying to think back to when I was 7 or when I was 9 and I can remember vague things. I can remember some of my friends from school, I can remember some of the trips we took. I can even remember the house we were living in. I certainly can't remember ever protesting anything, other than to my parents. I would protest simple things like having to eat foods I didn't like or going to bed earlier than I felt was appropriate. But I guess kids these days are a little bolder and wiser than I was because now they're already learning to practice their 1st Amendment rights in very public ways.

I ran across an article in the paper today about 9-year-old Sadie and 7-year-old Pyper Vance of Salt Lake City and their pictured protest on the streets downtown. What they're protesting is the fact that due to rising fuel costs, their parents have been forced to take cost saving cuts and among the cuts was cable television. The impact was immediate and profound; though money was being cut, for the two young sisters it was a chance to take to the streets to voice their opinion on not being able to partake in their daily intake of cartoons and shows. Now you can argue the pros and cons of such actions but one thing remains true in this whole thing and that is that two sisters who haven't even finished elementary school yet are taking to the streets to protest before the rest of adult society even thinks about it. Why is that?

I think part of the reason for kids to do so is the fact that TV is probably the one thing that they will be affected by the most. If you don't have TV, that too cable TV, and are forced to watch... oh the horror!... local broadcasting you are okay for now but come February 2009, you're going to be seeing snow unless you're hooked up to a digital receiver. Perhaps it's a good thing that people are starting to cut back on TV. As it is, our society is often ridiculed and mocked for its over-reliance on television as a means of doing everything from babysitting to education. Maybe it is a bad thing that such 'activities' have such a great impact on us but it illustrates one point quite clearly and that is that until some course of action affects our means of happiness quite directly, we are wont to adjust until it reaches the boiling point.

By that I mean that as adults, we'll complain about rising fuel costs, we'll read articles on how to save a few bucks by cutting down on the number of times we eat out or the number of vanilla lattes we drink but we adjust. We don't protest because there are usually counter protests. Don't like the fact that fuel costs are on the rise? Too bad... the tree-hugging 'green lovers' out there will start cheering on rising fuel costs because it will mean more people will be finally cutting down on the number of gas guzzling vehicles they drive. More people will ride bikes to work; pollution will decrease. And Arnold Schwarzenegger will be elected US President in 2008. Though a lot of these things are possible, they aren't necessarily likely.

I think it's wonderful that two kids are out there protesting the state of the union in such a way. It's a shame that these two kids will only get a passing mention here or there and that if any politicians make an effort to meet with these two girls, it will give them ten more minutes in their fifteen minutes of fame and will do some wonders for the politician come election time. "He cares for kids issues," will be the statements that will be most often heard. Never mind that the basis for the original protest had to do with something else completely. Perhaps someday we adults will get our act together and learn to protest the way these kids do. I know it's a dream right now but one can hope can't he?

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Getting a Free Ride

It was recently reported in the papers that in the DC area, government members of the state and counties that have toll roads, or that use the remote toll systems EZ-Pass or SmartTag are given free transponders so that they don't have to pay for the tolls they incur going along the roads. Police and emergency vehicles and public transportation also receive these transponders and it helps them move around a bit faster and take roads that would ordinarily be clogged like other arteries around the area. Now while I think this is fine for the police or emergency crews, I don't think it's quite fair for government officials to get the same benefit and here's why. If you don't get affected by the policies that you make, you have no business making the policy in the first place.

What I mean by this is that the government officials who have the ultimate authority over how much people pay in tolls or charges do not have to pay a cent. Sure they'll have to pay once they leave office but generally they don't leave office until they are thrown out or they retire to Florida in which case it doesn't matter how much to toll is. I remember the press conference sometime back where President Bush was asked about how he felt about the fact that (at that time) fuel costs were looking to reach at least $4 a gallon. His reaction astounded me because he seemed to be in utter shock that the cost per gallon of gasoline was so high. I'm sure as President he doesn't have to fill up the tank on his limo or on his other forms of transport, but not knowing what your constituents are paying on average gallon of fuel shows either disinterest or disregard for the common man.

Sure the President has other issues that are of greater concern so perhaps it's understandable but that still doesn't excuse the fact that state and local officials are able to use these roads for free. Same goes for Metro fares; it was recently reported that Metro officials who determine when to raise fares apparently don't have to pay a dime to ride the system. So they can ride the rails and see the problems and then raise the fares to fix them while ignoring the fact that its hitting the pocketbooks of everyone else. People can say that this is a benefit or perk of being in office and that what they pay amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of things. But I ask you then to consider why anyone else's dollars should matter any more than the next persons.

Why are people willing to take toll roads or mass transit? Because with rising fuel costs, it makes more sense to take the way that means less fuel expenditure for the average trip because lets face it, you burn less fuel when you're moving at a steady pace rather than at a standstill in traffic. But if the costs of using these alternatives keeps going up then how are we to look at the alternatives. It costs an arm and a leg (soon to be two of each) to fuel up the car every week or every other week if you're lucky; it's getting to the point that perhaps the cost savings ways will also end up costing just as much. Still, while the officials determining when to raise the prices may not feel the pinch financially, if they could only see how much they're paying for how little improvement overall, perhaps they'd begin to reconsider.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Office Peeves

I've been working in an office environment for at least the last sixteen years. I was a young fresh-faced (though somewhat pimply) kid who had just finished his sophomore year in high school when I was introduced to the working world through my summer job at a local aerospace company. I lost out on most of the summer working but I formed many new friendships and got valuable work experience that has helped me advance my career even up to today. It also managed to do a good job in preparing me for the wonderful world of office peeves which are more numerous than I would care to admit but as I have already experienced several of them on this glorious Monday morning, I figured I'd share a list of some of my favorites.

  • Mass E-Mailers or Reply-to-Allers The annoying things about these folks are that when someone sends out an e-mail looking for input or agreement on some issue, many of these folks take it upon themselves to reply to everyone on the original mailing list in order to make sure that by hook or by crook (or by proxy I suppose) that their opinion is registered and noted by everyone in existance. That's fine if you're adding something of substance that the rest of us would be interested in; it's not so great when all you're doing is writing something like, "I agree." You agree? So what!?! Explain why! And don't do the lazy method of cutting and pasting passages from previous mails on the subject. Write something worthwhile or just write to the originator. I don't need to know whether you 'agree' or not.

  • Office Gossips Office gossips are the ones who spend the entire day walking around the office on seemingly 'important' errands and in essence use the 'errands' as an excuse to be up and about the desk for hours at a time. When they finally manage to return to their desks, they then spend the entire time, on the phone hunting for more gossip or using the telephones, e-mail, or IMs to gather up more intelligence. The CIA would be jealous at the amount of info some of these people manage to get for very little effort.

  • Coffee Bandits These are people who literally drive me up the wall. They will drink the last bit of coffee but leave a little in the pot (read that to mean less than a half cup) and then leave the pot be. They know that there isn't enough for someone to have a full cup but they will leave it there as their means of justifying not making another cup. I'm curious if these people have similar cans and bottles of drinks sitting in their refridgerators at home. I think the worst of these culprits are the ones who come from other office areas or floors within your office, load up on coffee and then leave. Sure it may be petty but I rank it up their with ill-mannered thievery.

  • Buzzword-smiths These are the people who are tasked with providing voice to an organization whether you want to hear them or not. And as such, they feel that you won't respect them as much if they don't unceasingly use buzzwords to relate their topic at hand. Never mind that they have no freaking clue as to what they're talking about but I guess they figure that using words like "synergy" or "paradigm shift" will make them out to be the next Bill Gates. I have yet to run across someone who can logically explain to me what 'synergy' is and why I should give a damn.

  • Involuntary Volunteerer This person, usually a manager or team lead, is notorious for 'volunteering' to do something knowing fully well that they won't do it but that their team or staff will. Sometimes these assignments are well beyond the current capabilities of the team but that is a moot point because it's the 'character building' and 'educational experience' that comes from these ridiculous assignments that we're supposed to appreciate. It's all bogus and often requires far more effort than it's worth.

  • The Non-Technology Savvy These are the folks who have no clue what or how to make use of a computer. Leaving aside the fact that unless you've been working in some dank corner of the world where electricity is still considered a miracle of science, I think most any office has at least one computer. Still there are those who have a Hell of time figuring the things out. They have trouble opening files, they have trouble closing files, they have trouble saving files. Some people even have trouble using a mouse. When you stand behind them to help them with something you sometimes are screaming mentally hoping to rip the mouse from their hands and take over.

But no matter what, these are the people who make an office what it is. The modern melting pot of society and if it wasn't for these and the many other characters who inhabit the halls of our offices, the world would be a pretty dull place.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Our Priorities are Out of Whack

Global warming isn't real; it's a myth perpetuated by the liberal media in an effort to undermine the nobility of the oil industry and American auto industry. It's mean to persuade us to all turn into tree hugging morons who feel that by polluting less, the Earth will get better. Well the real answer is that all of these problems are caused by terrorism! Ignore the fact that global temperatures are on the rise. Ignore the fact that we're having more and more 'unusual' weather events at strange times during the year. Ignore that man behind the curtain. Britney Spears is getting visitation rights for her kids. Paris Hilton is on the search for her new best friend forever (BFF). What's it all mean?

That's just a sample of the type of drivel we get exposed to on a daily basis. Given the fact that most of us are experiencing moderately to severely difficult financial times, it's no wonder that we tend to ignore messages and warnings that we don't care about. We tend to form our opinions on the snippets of news and heresay that we get in thirty seconds before we turn to the celebrity news of the day. Who is going out with whom and where they were spotted. See where some celebrity had her secret wedding and see the photos that only this one show seems to have gotten hold of. Never mind that we could care less about seeing the photos. My Aunt Ruth may have gotten married in secret but if she tried to sell her photos to People magazine, she probably would have been laughed out of town.

It's just a sign that at times our priorities seem so far out of whack to me that it isn't at all surprising that there's little or no focus on the important things. We've become such a 'instant gratification' inclined species that waiting for results is slowly being edged out of our biological make-up. Don't believe me? Well look at the latest talk on what to do about rising fuel costs. In the past decade or so, we've seen a rise in the number of hybrid vehicles on the road. They are popular, they are still a bit hard to find but they are gaining momentum. What's the problem then? Well for quite a long time we didn't have to pay more than a few bucks for fuel, now with rising fuel costs, many of us are paying the equivalent of a 40 items off of McDonalds' Dollar Menu. Think about that for a second. Forty items on the Dollar Menu would feed lots of people; or one very obese person but you get the point nonetheless.

Those of us who shell out for fuel on an almost weekly basis feel the pinch. Those of us who either have enough money that we don't care or those who are chauffered around aren't even aware of the pinch. But our politicians seem to know what the solution is. Extract more oil! Of course! That's the perfect solution. Only problem is that to do so we've either got exploit some of our remaining natural wildlife refuges or pay through the nose to convince oil-producing nations that we have a need for greater production. Well global warming is a 'myth' right? Forget the fact that we're being inundated with increasing numbers of severe storms of late. Weather patterns that have changed so significantly that it's becoming even harder to predict what the results will be next week let alone next year. And yet the things we see and hear about on the news are on other topics which would have no impact on us.

No one talks about the long term wait that would happen even if we start digging for oil in Alaska today. One thing, we have to find it first. Although we have a good idea this isn't like SimCity where we click a mouse and we have an instant oilwell pumping out oil. Nor is it going to be just that fast in refining either. I like to think of it like our old procrastination days in school where we'd wait until the night before a project is due to start on something. Sure not everyone was like that but I'm sure each of us on occasion has had something like that happen. How does this apply to the oil crisis? Well even if we start digging today; right now even, it will be sometime before we see the net benefit to drilling. The impression we get is that it will have immediate impact and that is sadly not the case. We need information. We need to understand; and by we I mean we the public. Will our life be altered based on whether some golfers think Tiger Woods 'faked' his injury and is opting out of the rest of the golf season for selfish reasons? No. But perhaps understanding what we can do for our planet which ultimately helps us is a bit more important.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Misinterpreting the Past

As a devout student of history, I know there are many things that I have yet to learn about the past. Still, that being said, I like to think that I have a fairly good understanding of the past and as the old adage says, 'those who forget the past are bound to repeat it.' But what about a past that is being misinterpreted and being proclaimed as the truth? Apparently Bal Thackeray, the outspoken and extremist leader of India's Shiv Sena party based in Maharashtra has taken it upon himself to call all faithful Hindus to strike back at Islamic fundamentalists within India by starting their own group of Hindu Suicide Bombers. His justification for this? Shivaji used violence to stop violence so why shouldn't his obvious 'successor' do the same.

In history there have been many ideas and many bad ideas and this probably ranks up there with one of the very worst and for someone who proclaims to be a follower of the rule of Shivaji Maharaj, I can think of no one more ill-suited to be leading the party than Bal Thackeray. Stories of his corruption and mafioso style tactics pepper the news all the time yet he remains in power and in control. Why? Because half the people appear to be scared of him and the other half follow him with blind devotion. And there's one thing about blind devotion that I always feel; it's that those who have no idea how to form their own opinions or can't think for themselves completely usually end up following someone who says the things they want to hear or does the things they wish to see be done.

Bal Thackeray may be many things to many people but one thing I will credit him with is having the ability to convince people of his reverence. He speaks of things as if he is the world's leading expert and has the supreme knowledge that comes from having innate wisdom. All I can see though is that he is manipulative and conniving. He is calling for Hindus to rise up and then stoop to the levels of common terrorists by offering to blow themselves up to stop fundamentalism? To me that sounds like chopping off your own arm because your leg is bleeding. The two have nothing to do with eachother and they are mutually exclusive. Thackeray claims that this is something that Shivaji would have espoused because he himself also fought violence with violence to seek change.

The difference is that Shivaji lived in far different times than the one we're in now. Yes, Shivaji used violence but only against aggressors who were enforcing their beliefs on Indians by any means at their disposal. Forced conversion, hostile takeovers of their land or even plain murder was what Shivaji fought against. Yes terrorism exists in India as it does all over the world but by implementing suicide bombings are we really going to see any change? Is that what our or any religion teaches us? No. I can think of no religion which teaches that killing of innocents is the way to salvation. Even those that many of us claim do teach those things are only interpreted to say those things. The reality is that they truth in religion is far different.

Thackeray wishes to 'protect' Hinduism from outside influences. Hence he has thugs go around on non-Hindu celebration days and rough up those wishing to have fun. What does that mean? Well on Valentine's Day he had his followers go after any male who appeared to be carrying on celebrations of Valentine's Day by having them roughed up so that they would see the light and return to practicing only Indian traditions. Is this what India is? Is this what Hinduism is? People need to wake up and see that Thackeray isn't interested in anything other than himself. He uses bold political statements and proclaimations to build up his image in public. He wishes to be seen as a saviour of the Hindu people, instead he'll probably end up sending a lot of them to their deaths for his own selfish desires. Perhaps he should do what many great leaders have done. Lead by example.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From the Bottle to the Tap

I know that the title of this blog makes it seem like I'm going to start a major discourse on how drinking beer served from a tap is better in taste than drinking from a bottle, but alas, that is a discussion that has been going on for centuries and will undoubtedly continue on well after I've left this mortal plain. No, the transition from bottle to tap that I'm talking about is the growing trend that people are facing given rising costs around the nation; that's the transition off of bottled water to... gasp!... tap water? Yes indeed it seems that tree-huggers and environmentalists are rejoicing at the fact that fuel prices continue to march upwards because it could possibly be the way to get people to finally break their reliance on non-eco-friendly items and conveniences and start doing the right thing for the environment but I don't think it's going to be quite so easy.

Why the transition from one to the other? Well part of the reason is that many people don't seem to realize that even in manufacturing, oil and fuel are required to power the machinery and if Poland Springs or Aquafina have to pay more to get their water into bottles then that cost will be passed on to us the consumer. Already we're seeing rising costs of water and it's motivation enough to start drinking more water that comes out of the taps at home. I personally don't get why we over here in the States are so paranoid about drinking water from the tap. As it is we get water that is both filtered, chlorinated and flourinated which is beneficial for us and if we are still worried about whether the water contains bacteria that isn't good for us, we can do what people around the world have been doing for centuries; boiling the water and then drinking it.

I know a lot of people would scoff at the fact that in order to ensure that the water we're consuming is pure by boiling it but if you're that paranoid about drinking something you shouldn't, then by all means, continue buying bottled water at ever increasing costs. Sure it's a convenience when you're in the middle of nowhere and need a drink but do we really need it for everything? I mean I don't know why people think that the water that we get in bottles is necessarily any better than what we'd get from the tap. After all, do you actually think that bottled 'spring water' which is 'bottled at the source' is actually filled up by a machine that dips the empty bottle into the bubbling brook somewhere deep in the pure snowy mountains prior to sealing it?

Of course not. The water is collected and then taken to factories where the water is then bottled and shipped. We're essentially then trading one tap for another and paying a lot more for it. Most places in the world, you're already paying for water in some way, shape, or form. If you are already paying for something then shouldn't you take advantage of the fact? Maybe it sounds cheap or a bit contrite but still, I'd rather have water from the tap than paying ever increasing costs to get 'extra' and seemingly 'cleaner' water. I mean most of us shower or brush our teeth in that water, isn't it enough to drink it too?


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taking the Toll Road and Not Paying Toll

Even those of us who aren't career criminals or who shudder when seeing acts of violence on television like to act like "Johnny Scofflaw" on occasion. We like to 'stick it to the man' whenever we can even if that is for something as minor as taking two cupcakes instead of one at the office birthday mixer. We like to pretend that we're doing something so vastly illegal that getting caught will mean a long prison term so we get determined 'not to be taken alive'. Too bad for most of us that the most we do is refuse to pay toll on the Dulles Toll Road.

For those of you outside the state of Virginia, more specifically, the 'state' of Northern Virginia need to know what the Dulles Toll Road is. Well way back when, prior to the IT boom and major corporations moving out into Reston and Sterling, Dulles was considered the leading edge of the boonies and the toll road was created as a means of limiting traffic because after all, who wants to pay more for using a highway if they can avoid it right? So as the population grew, so did use of the road and this ended up backing up traffic as those with 'airport business' ended up getting stuck in the same traffic as regular commuters. What's the solution? Create 'express lanes' that are toll free and have only entranceways leading up to the airport. This was great and all but when the express lanes were built, they had exits along the way for people who accidentally entered the express lanes.

Solution? Add electronic gates that open only when authorized users use a transponder to send the 'open sesame' code. Still, as the Washington Post reported yesterday, this hasn't served to curb 'abuse' of the toll road. What do people do now? Well, the rules state that if you have no business on the toll road (i.e., airport business) then you can be ticketed. What a lot of people used to do is take the express lanes to the airport and then take the first exit and head back towards the city thus making the trip much faster without actually paying anything. Police caught on and so the super criminal geniuses that we are, we exploited the loophole in the law about 'airport business'. So now people go up to the nearby gas station (meant for rental cars mainly) and buy coffee. With receipt in hand, they get their morning dose of java and in essence what amounts to a toll-free ride all the way to the city.

It must seem petty to some to do something so cheap in order to save some cash on the drive to work but it tends to add up in money and time saved. Rather than crawling along and sitting in traffic, the ride tends to be much faster and you're not paying for use of the road. The police and law haven't been changed as yet to curb this sort of 'criminal activity' but every so often when there are police checkpoints set up in the express lanes of the toll road, I now realize why so few people are getting tickets and why others are being fined heavily. Go to the airport, get your coffee or pay a fine and possibly get points on your license. It seems inane and a bit ridiculous to think that we are reduced to doing this in order to get to work but with fuel costs on the rise, it's better to spend a bit more driving to the airport and then cruising along to work rather than burning fuel unnecessarily in traffic.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Changing Face of Traffic

Scenes like this one to the left are commonplace in much of Europe and a whole lot of Asia. Scooters are so common there that it is unusual not to see one when you visit any city in Asia. It offers a quick means of transportation that is also fuel efficient and fairly convenient given the fact that in many parts of Asia, the road infrastructure is not suited to large automobiles or transports. So will that work in our favor over here given the trend in fuel costs and the like? Well it seem like it most certainly is in recent days. This photo was taken recently on the Brooklyn Bridge and if it is any indication, I think we'll see many more scooters and two-wheeled transportation (both motorized and non-motorized) making their way along the roads in the near future.

One can bring up the arguement that it's probably a good thing given that fuel costs are on the rise and that going green or being fuel efficient is the way to go. I think two-wheelers are a definite step in the rigth direction but still, it may not be practical for all parts of the country. Sure in California or Florida you can get away with two-wheeled transport for most of the year since the weather is ammenable to such activities and pursuits but what are you going to do in the winter up here in DC when there's a few inches of snow on the ground? As it is most people around here get into a major panic, what do you think they'll do if they actually expose themselves to this while driving on the road?

I guess the other concern is the fact that for longer distances, it may not be the most comfortable form of transportation. Now I haven't ridden a motorcycle or scooter myself for more than a few miles so I don't really know how I would do on one. Not that I'm against finding out myself but still, there's that bit of hesitation with something unknown. But that hesitation is melting off for a lot of people as they seek alternatives to SUVs and other gas-guzzling vehicles that are impractical in light of rising fuel costs. Recent news stories out here reported that showrooms are having a Hell of a time keeping two-wheelers in stock since they are fast becoming popular alternative transport options.

Now that we're entering the busy summer travel season I always wait to hear the news reports that fuel costs are expected to increase given the fact that heavier than normal traffic is expected and that fuel supplies are low. Funny; isn't that what they tell us when fuel costs go up in the winter as well? I guess the take-away from this is the fact that no matter what, fuel costs are on the rise and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We can hope for some miracle cure to this problem but at least for the near term, the most viable solution is to probably seek out other forms of transport by which to save fuel. Maybe scooters truly are the way to go.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Congressional Action on Commercial Volume

My relatively simple paraphrasing of a bill being passed around Congress right now probably makes the bill seem like something more than it is. So what's the issue? Well it seems that Representative Anna Eshoo of California has put forth a Bill which is known as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. What this in essence means is that when you're watching TV and your show cuts to commercial then you are usually blasted into deafness by the surround sound systems in our houses which means we end up turning the volume up higher the next go around and the vicious circle continues.

What Representative Eshoo is hoping to accomplish with this Bill is to make it a law the the Federal Communications Commission come up with a standard to preclude commercials from being broadcast at a louder volume than the program material they are accompanying. Okay. Great. So that will do what? Prevent us from having to use the remote to hit mute? I really don't see the point of this bill and it makes me wonder what exactly Congress is hoping to accomplish at times. Given the fact that we've got rising gas prices, issues with many nations around the world, our military deployed and engaged with opposition forces in two countries and an increasingly bitter campaign heating up for the Presidency, do we really need them to be concerned with the volume of television commercials?

I sat and thought about this for some time. Representative Eshoo is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and I thought that perhaps from that perspective that there would be some insight into why it was even up for consideration. It seems like one of those, "Oh yeah... if we've got time..." types of bills. The types you take care of at the end when you have nothing else to debate or pass. Thankfully there are no amendments to this Bill as yet so there will be no quick passage due to the fact that there are recommendations for pay raises or anything else meant to benefit the members of Congress directly. Nor are there any seemingly partisan issues involved so this is probably one of those bills that will be passed if people give it a bit of consideration.

But seriously... what's the point? As I said, I thought about it for some time and I came up with some ideas as to why it was possible to consider this bill as being beneficial. Well, given that airline and fuel costs are on the rise, more and more people are looking to save money. People are travelling less and we know that not that many are suddenly picking up reading so television is becoming a favorite diversion for many people. I mean that in the nicest way possible of course. I enjoy television as much as the next person and I think that perhaps that if we have this bill passed then I'll have to reach for the remote less in order to mute the television or to turn the volume down during commercials.

If I do that then that means I save on battery power expenditures and so I have to buy less batteries leading to overall cost savings. I will spend less time abusing my ears with high volumes and so my health care costs will decline. I won't be bombarded with proclamations about how this product is superior to that product or how that if I call within the next thirty seconds then I'll get a bonus gift absolutely free but wait there's more! I won't have to listen to innumerable side effects of drugs that are now coming out on the market that I need to talk to my doctor about. Drugs whose side effects are so grim and forboding that I sometimes wonder whether it's even smart to consider even talking to my doctor about it lest that set off some side effects of their own. Hmmm... perhaps there is merit to this bill after all.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

God is My Co-Pilot and my CEO

Hindus as a people are quite religious by nature. Before any undertaking there is usually a time of prayer or a show of devotion meant to persuade and appease the various Gods (and Goddesses) of the Hindu pantheon. Now in my time I have seen varying levels of devotion; from people who get up at four in the morning to offer up morning prayers (that last for at least an hour) to those who simply glance at photos of their family's Gods of preference prior to eating breakfast. I think it's the one good thing about the Hindu religion in that if you read the Bhagwad Gita (the holy scripture of the Hindus) then you will find that there isn't specific guidelines provided that say how and when a follower of Hinduism will pray or offer up devotion. In that text, God (in the incarnation of Krishna) explains that service to others with no thought of reward is the best form of devotion and that is the essense of Hinduism.

Somewhere along the way, formalized rites and ceremonies took presedence and from that time onwards, it became more about showing devotion in terms of how elaborate your offerings can be to how much you give to God by way of Ganesh idols to be immersed in the seas or how loudly you can celebrate or how many people show up. But it doesn't stop there apparently. Recently a business school in Lucknow, India announced that the chairman of the school would be none other than Hanuman, the Hindu monkey God who is featured prominently in the epic tale, the Ramayan. Apparently from descriptions released to the press, the chairman has an office which is filled with incense and will have a desk and laptop setup for the holy chairman. There are four chairs for visitors who come to consult with the chairman and as with any Hindu temple, visitors are told to remove their shoes before entering the office.

Now some may find this fascinating but I find it a little odd. I am all for having devotion to a deity and believing that the Gods will do good for those who do good for others but I just think that making a God the chairman of an organization like, that too a business school is sending the wrong kind of message. Devotion is good but I think actions like this fly in the face of common sense and what religion is supposed to be. I think far too many people take religion and devotion to whatever God or Gods they worship to be the end all be all answer to anything and everything that they want. When things work out the way that we want, we call it God's answer to our prayers. When things don't work out the way we want then we call it God's answer to our having made mistakes or not showing enough devotion. If God or all the Gods of the Hindu religion spent that much time on everyone of us, the world would be a perfect place full of smiley happy people. Why would there be any suffering in the world?

Expecting that by naming Hanuman the chairman of the business school will mean good blessings on the school is a nice gesture but what about in the entire decision making process. Will they other members of the Board sit and wait for a sign from on high informing them of what decision the erstwhile chairman is making? What if the sign is completely against the decision the board wishes to make? What if the signs point to them doing the opposite. Is it really Hanuman or God making the choice or is it just happenstance. You can have an entire theological discussion on this topic and argue both sides just as poignantly but in the end it comes down to just one thing. Faith. If you believe that God is involved in every decision that you or your organization makes, then you will continue to believe it. I just think that it's a convenient means of shoveling the blame or accolades on someone else for decisions which for good or for bad can affect a lot of people.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Office Knowledge by Osmosis

If there's one thing people take away from their old biology lessons either intentionally or unintentionally, it's the theory of osmosis which is to say that you absorb what you need by being in close proximity to the source of 'knowledge' or sustenance. In this case, I have sat in relatively close proximity to office copiers and printers my entire career and as such, I'm assumed to be the 'leading' expert on what to do if there are errors or problems. It's a bit flattering to think that people assume that I'm skilled enough to repair the things but it's not always possible.

I think Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said that most men aren't mechanically inclined though we wish we were and that when cars break down, we pop the hood as if we'll know what the problem is but the entire time we're looking for a flashing sign which says, "here's the problem!" Unfortunately the instances of that happening, at least for the time being, are slim to none. That's not to say that I can't handle most copier problems that crop up from time to time but it amazes me that the rest of us, can't seem to cope. Take for example the occasional paper jam. In the old days it would have meant calling a technician because to get inside these beasts was a chore in and of itself, now the process has been somewhat simplified. The screens usually tell us how to go through the steps to see where the jam is.

Still, I think for some this is still too much effort. These are also usually the ones who have trouble with visual directions and think a nightmare scenario is to assemble furniture from Ikea which only comes with pictures, that too vague at times. But I have sat in my office or cubicle for years and watched as people struggle to understand the seemingly puzzling statement 'PC Load Letter'. Now I am an expert by osmosis apparently but even someone with a few seconds to think about it should think to open the tray and see if there's any paper left in the printer. That's beyond the mental grasp of some users. Others have problems simply finding the loading tray.

I can recall a few instances where people have jammed the machine, usually with personal work, and then have been unable to clear the jam so what do they do? They walk off quickly and hope to God that someone comes along to clear the jam. At first I used to be the sucker who went ahead and cleared the jam but then I realized that people took it for granted that I would do it and rather than being looked upon as an analyst or financial person, I was relegated to the task of copier and printer maintenance. If someone's printer / copier ran out of toner, I was generally the one they called to make the repairs and fix them. The last straw came when someone across the building who I didn't even know called me up and asked me to come by and take a look at their printer to replace the toner.

Now I'm all for helping people with such cases if I am in the area but I don't do housecalls. After that I decided that unless it was someone I knew having problems with the copier, I would avoid going out of my way to help them. Call it being a jerk but it was getting to the point where people weren't even trying to solve the problems themselves but just began pushing buttons at random for two seconds and then walking over to me to ask if I knew what the problem was. Case in point, a few days ago our building had a leak and water was dripping on the copier so a person going to use it let me know and together the two of us moved the machine after unplugging it. We left a sign on the wall in front of it indicating that it was down due to possible water damage. About half an hour later a guy walks in and starts cursing at the machine and comes over to ask me if I know what's the matter. I ask him if it's plugged in (which I know it's not) and he agrees that it isn't so then I ask if there's a sign on the wall at which time he finally notices the problem. Perhaps my actions were jerk-like but if we don't teach children how to walk, they shall never run. Same goes for copier operations.


Monday, June 09, 2008

War of Words over War Movies

I have long studied World War II (as many males do) and I have tried to educate myself on a lot of the accurate stories to have come from that great conflict. One source of information and knowledge for most people is movies and for good or for bad, a lot of what they see in movies is what they take to be the truth. Now in the case of war films it's fine to see that there are some liberties taken but there are limits to what should and shouldn't be tolerated. And I agree that the participation of minorities in the war is one fact that has been glossed over for a very long time. The fact that Japanese Americans served their country in the 442nd Batallion has been largely ignored other than a passing reference by Mr. Miyagi in the "Karate Kid" movies is something that bothers me.

But what bothers me even more is when some directors and others jump to insult someone who isn't the one to blame. Recently at Cannes Film Festival, noted director Spike Lee made claims that Clint Eastwood should be ashamed of the fact that his two films on Iwo Jima released two years ago, "Flags of our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" did not depict any African-American soldiers despite the fact that 900 of the nearly 30,000 troops on Iwo Jima were African-American. While that's a valid point, I think Spike Lee fails to acknowledge that the film is on the flag raisers at Iwo Jima and the story surrounding their trials during and after the battle and not the battle as a whole. The story focuses on the fact that a second photo was the one that made headlines as opposed to the actual flag-raising picture and despite knowing that they didn't raise the first flag on Iwo Jima, the men who raised the second were treated as heroes for nothing more than propoganda purposes.

Specifics on the story aside, where then will the depiction of African-Americans in the film come to pass? I seriously doubt that Clint Eastwood would intentionally slight the African-American community in that way. He focussed the movie on those who were focused on in the book. But that's not enough for Spike Lee. Even if Eastwood had scenes focussing on a momentary meeting between the main characters and a group of African American soldiers then he would have protested the fact that they were shown as token participants as opposed to real full-fledged ones as they were in Europe and Africa. What about in "Letters from Iwo Jima"? Perhaps again Lee didn't see the movie and thus doesn't realize that the movie is shown from the perspective of the Japanese. Save for a handful of scenes, there is hardly any English at all in the film so then why would there suddenly be Americans showing up?

I think it's right to demand that minorities be given their fair share of recognition for their efforts but I don't think it's fair to lay the blame on movies that have nothing to do with the subject. I think also that some people complain about things for the sake of complaining. When the film "Gandhi" was made by Sir Richard Attenborough, Indian filmmakers complained that they didn't need an Englishman to make a film on the man... they could have done it themselves. The question then is that why didn't they? Similarly when Eastwood made a film on jazz legend Charlie "Bird" Parker, Lee demanded to know why Eastwood made the film and why a black director didn't do it. Eastwood's response? He basically responded by saying that he did it because no one else was going to. He cast the film true to its requirements with people in the appropriate roles. That of course is not acknowledged. Now that Eastwood is doing a film on Mandela, I'm sure that once again there will be cries of protest from Lee. I just wish he'd either take the initiative and make the film otherwise keep his mouth shut.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Your Car is Anything but a Vehicle

For many of us, our vehicle is an extension of ourselves and as such, it is within the confines of this vehicle that we tend to forget that while our car is certainly an extension of ourselves, it doesn't mean to literally make more of it than is absolutely necessary. Take for example the number of people who treat their cars as more than refuges but extensions of their own homes. For those of us in the DC area it's not surprising since we have among the worst commutes in the entire nation but just because of that we don't have to turn our cars into our bathrooms. Thankfully I have not yet run across (or rather driven past) anyone using their car literally as a bathroom but with gridlock lasting hours at times, it can be tempting I'm sure.

I bring up this topic today because I have a commute of about 20 miles (one way) and so I do spend a bit of time on the road though it is certainly less than the 40 miles (one way) that I used to drive when I first started working after my undergrad. Now I've seen all manner of drivers in my time but I think those of us who continue getting 'dressed' in the car are among the most dangerous in the morning. Sure people get chided for drinking coffee or fiddling with the radio (add to that GPS and iPods now) but still, I think people doing hair and makeup while driving are even more dangerous. I have seen women's purses in my time and I know that they are at times comparable to bottomless pits. Even if the purse is the size of Tic-Tac containers, they contain more stuff than a bag from Mister Magoriums Wonder Emporium. So do you think it's wise for them to start rummaging through while driving 80 miles per hour on the highway while weaving just to find an eyelash curler?

Apparently one of the women I passed today figured that it was. I was driving along when traffic ahead of me started to slow up a bit. Usually that's a sign that the police had pulled someone over in the opposite lane of traffic (and since this is Virginia...people naturally slow down thinking he'll jump the barrier to come after us). So anyways I soon realized that the reason for the slow down was a meandering Mazda with apparently some problems staying in one lane. At one point the car was contentedly driving right along the dividing line of two lanes as if doing an impression of an Airbus making its take-off run at Dulles. Slowly but surely, after many honking tailgaters drew attention to themselves, the Mazda jumped back into her lane and continued on limiting her meandering to just one lane. As my turn came to drive past I realized that she was using an eyelash curler with one hand while staring intently into the vanity mirror (one of the worst ideas ever invented) with a handful of other makeup pencils in the other while gripping the wheel with what appeared to be the base of her palm. Despite the misty conditions of the morning I'd say that she was probably putting in about 2% of the concentration needed to ensure that she arrived at the office safely to show off her makeup skills.

Now before I get any angry e-mails or threats from women I will fully agree that men are no better. Thankfully we have nothing to do with makeup but we do have our electric shavers. The good thing about shavers unlike traditional razors is that you don't really have to look at what you're doing to accomplish the job but still, it is a distraction. I mean what do you think having a buzzing shaver next to your ear does to your concentration? I don't know because I've never done it which is why I'm asking. Men have cups of coffee and other bold ones drive with printouts of e-mails or directions on their laps. In order to save the male ego we won't be caught dead with directions on our lap or in our hands. Not unless there's a woman present in which case we can hand it off to them and claim that they forced us to get the directions, we always know the way. I've even seen a couple of men driving with one foot up on the dashboard or out the window as if they're enjoying a Barka Lounger.

Why this need to turn our cars into our homes rather than leaving them as mere conveyances? Driving under normal circumstances is hard enough for a lot of us so acting like a stuntman will not make the situation any better. Don't have enough time to put on your makeup save for when you drive in to work? Wake up earlier. Need more sleep? Sleep earlier. Don't have time to shave before leaving the house? Grow a beard. There are options but many of us choose to ignore them for the sake of convenience and perhaps in wanting to prove that we are the rulers of the land of multi-tasking. Or perhaps this is just an excuse to prove that we are doing our part to 'go green'. I mean we're spending less time in the bathroom so less time to use up power at home so our power costs go down. Sure we're in the car but we aren't burning any extra fuel... we're burning what we would on our normal commute right?


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

When Will People Ever Learn?

Bill Gates of Microsoft is many things to many people but one thing I think it is safe to say he is not is insanely stupid. The reason i say this is because despite all the complaints many people have about Gates and his company's products, we still use them (or are forced to use them) and his company continues to do well despite everyone attempting to make him appear to be a money grubbing fool. So perhaps that's why the scam that is making the rounds on the internet since 1999 continues to perpetuate to this day. What scam? Oh if you've had an e-mail address for more than an hour I'm sure you've received it at least once in your life. It's the e-mail about Bill Gates sharing his fortune. It is usually some example or variation on this message:

  • Sent: Friday, September 24, 1999 1:33 PM
  • Subject: Microsoft and AOL merger.
  • I am forwarding this because the person who sent it to me is a good friend and does not send me junk. Microsoft and AOL are now the largest Internet company and in an effort make sure that Internet explorer remains the most widely used program, Microsoft and AOL are running an e-mail beta test. When you forward this e-mail to friends, Microsoft can and will track it (if you are a Microsoft Windows user) for a two week time period. For every person that you forward this e-mail to, Microsoft will pay you $245.00, for every person that you sent it to that forwards it on, Microsoft will pay you $243.00 and for every third person that receives it, you will be paid $241.00. Within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a check. I thought this was a scam myself, but two weeks after receiving this e-mail and forwarding it on, Microsoft contacted me for my e-mail and within days, I received a check for $24800.00.

There are tons of variations of this message with a variety of different dollar amounts listed. I think it's one of the longest running internet scams that is on the internet. What gets me is that people actually think that this is the real deal. I mean usually there are those little disclaimers at the head of the message with some variation of, "sorry guys but I just had to try" or "this is just too tempting to ignore". Just once I'd like to see someone pass along the truth of why they forwarded this type of message, "I have no desire to earn a fortune so I'll pin false hopes on a supposed e-mail that will magically get tallied and result in me getting a certified check from Microsoft... Yah for my super genius plot!" Somehow I doubt anyone is going to send it. I think most everyone is familiar with this scam but still, it seems to perpetuate itself every so often. There are times when I miss getting the mail. I feel that perhaps it has finally died out and then all of a sudden, it's back!

There are tons of others out there on the internet but usually they aren't as successful since they don't incorporate someone as well known as Gates. I mean Vijay Mallya is probably one of the other most extravagantly rich and flamboyant men out there but if you send that to the most common of persons outside of India they will probably send the mail to the deleted folder faster than a woman at a shoe sale. I just don't get why people want to believe it. And not just believe it once, but multiple times. Back in 1999 I remember receiving this mail but even back then I explored the net to find out what I could about this supposed e-mail program. Not so much from wanting to verify that it was true but to see if Gates was actually tracking our mails. If that wasn't a variation on Big Brother from Orwell's "1984" then I don't know what would be. Now nearly ten years later it seems that the myth continues and shows no sign of abating. I'm sure generations from now, the legend of Bill Gates and his mythical fortune sharing plot will still be circulating. Hopefully by then most (if not all) of us will have wised up a bit.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Parking Skills Also Needs Licensing

I will be the first to admit that I am somewhat of a snob when it comes to driving. I think that it is something that is relatively easy to do and not that difficult to do well. Still, there are those who make the entire process more difficult than it needs to be and there are still others (who seem to be growing in numbers) that I feel shouldn't even be allowed near a car let alone be allowed to drive one. Why? Well because a lot of their actions serve not only to be dangerous and inconsiderate but downright ridiculous and rude as well. Just take a look around and I'm sure you'll notice these things too.

As kids growing up, most of us found enjoyment (at least for sometime) in coloring. One of the cardinal rules at the time was to stay within the lines. Many of us went against this rule simply because we were sticklers for flaunting all the rules anyways. Still, if we attempt to carry over this belief into adulthood, I think we'd find that there would be a tremendous drop in the number of road rage cases that seem to abound these days. As you can see from the picture above, this driver (I won't say if it's a man or a woman because I don't know) has parked in a space that was available. Never mind that it is clearly marked for compact cars only and that the vehicle being driven in question is an SUV, but the fact that the driver has effectively eliminated two parking spaces with one parking manuever is what ticks a lot of people off.

Sure it's a minor issue in the grand scheme of things but still, why should we apply such rules and others don't have to? I'm sure there are some people out there who will say that if we're too meek or law-abiding to not raise issue with this fact then we're the ones with problems not them. But still, I can't tell you how many times I have driven someplace and parked my car within my space only to come back and see that someone has pulled into the space next to me and not bothered to see if they are within the confines of there space or not. Heck, they don't even bother to see if someone parked next to them can get in their car or not. I usually seek out parking spaces at the end of a row simply because I can put some distance between me and the car next to me; though there are some who then do the same thing and park on my side of the line in order to avoid the person next to them from hitting their car.

I once had a neighbor who drove a massive SUV that was nearly two times the size of my diminutive little car. I have an end parking space at my house and so I usually park it as close to the curve as I can to ensure that I have sufficient space to get in and out since my doors are a little longer and also so that I wouldn't hit the car next to me. I get home one day and this woman has parked her SUV so far over the line that after I get into my parking space, I am barely able to get out of my car. After struggling for five minutes to expel enough air from my body to collapse my chest and get out of my car, retrieve my briefcase and head inside. It was at that time that she came out onto her balcony and asked me if she had parked too close. I figured deafening silence would be answer enough.

I had a friend in high school who when she learned to drive, never could parallel park and was too scared to pull into a normal parking space and even then couldn't pull out of the parking space when leaving. That being the case then why even bother driving? All of these manuevers are part of being able to drive and if you can't do these things then you shouldn't drive. What about the fools who intentionally park crookedly or over the line in order to take up two spaces? Do they think that their cars are so pristine and worth so much more than ours that they need the extra space? Do they think that just because they spent so much on their car that they are priveledged to take up more parking space? Perhaps they need it for their ego. Whatever the reason, I'm always tempted to leave behind some message that conveys what most of us really think about them taking up so much room. I don't think any of what I have to say compares to what one person wrote to someone who had taken up two spaces. And so I close with a copy of that note.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Nearly Lost in Flames

This past weekend there was a fire at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Universal Studios is home to many famous franchises and has been the repository for many films of the past so it was with some degree of levity when I read about the fact that some of the archives and several soundstages were damaged in the fire. Now it seems a very minor thing to be concerned with in light of the natural disasters hitting the world as a whole but I don't think it's any less to suffer the loss of what in essence can be considered historical or visual records of our past. Movies are unique in that sense that they give us a window into the times during which they were made and they are often social commentaries on the ideas and attitudes of various periods in our history.

Now I'm not implying that every single film ever made has some historical or mythological importance in the history of man but they are for better or worse, a window for many in order to gain a greater understanding of the world around us. Growing up there were many different types of movies that I grew up watching and through them I was spurned on into learning more. I saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in which the villains were Nazis. Curious to learn if there was any truth to the implication that there were quests to hunt down religious artifacts by the German Army at the time led me to investigate the period of time in our history and come away with a better understanding between the truth and fiction of the situation and what I found was that while there wasn't complete truth to what the movies said, it was inspiration enough to want to learn more.

Isn't that an important thing that movies can do for us? I know there will be people out there who could care less and state that movies don't do anything practical or useful for anyone other than pretentious stars who live a life of fantasy. I argue that while that may be true for some, it isn't true for all. Movies are a way for others to learn about our country and at least gain some perspective on us as citizens of this country. Go anywhere in the world now and you're sure to run into someone who has seen the same movie you saw growing up. They may have seen it more recently than you but it is a common ground that we can all tread upon to have something in common. In ages past perhaps everyone carried on the oral tradition of telling tales from one generation to the next, now that medium is movies. Perhaps there's something to be said of the loss of that tradition, but movies are doing a major part of keeping at least the essense of that tradition alive.

Thankfully the fire did not wipe out any lone copies of films or television series that were irreplaceable. There are copies of all the films that were lost in the fire and undoubtedly, additional copies will be made to preserve our cinematic history. Some people may weep and lament the fact that movies are slowly seeming to replace books as a source of entertainment. Many people know that if a book is popular enough it will be turned into a movie in a very short time. I don't know whether to be happy or upset at that fact but it is what it is and there's little or nothing that we can do to change that fact at this point. Hollywood isn't going away any time soon and that's probably a good thing but the one this recent fire has done for me is appreciate how a part of our history and story telling tradition is being cared for and how what can be considered records of the times we've experienced will be preserved for the future.

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