Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Catch a Falling Starbucks

After a fairly significant gap I saw a pair of articles in the news today that showed the contrasting fortunes of Starbucks and how the uncertainty of the current market was affecting the once dominant coffee giant. Not to hint that they aren't as popular as they once were but I think the market fluctuations are definitely having an impact these days. The first article I read was about how Starbucks was continuing to change up their traditional offerings by adding new items to the menu in the hopes of luring customers back.

One of the new items that is already quite popular in European and Asian outlets is their customiseable Hot Chocolate. Although some will argue that hot chocolate was already on the menu (the kid's menu... but the menu nonetheless) this will mark the first time the drink is being offered up premium style here in the states. To hear the execs at Starbucks tell it, they realized that chocolate products are still quite popular and so they would obviously want to capitalize on that popularity and offer up a premium chocolate drink. This comes in the wake of the shake up that began late last year when Starbucks began revamping their fledgling image. At one time hailed and revered as the bastion of premium coffee drinks, Starbucks had fallen prey to its own success and people weren't flocking to keep the stores operating as successfully as they once had.

I am personally of the opinion that the addition of other high priced items on the menu that aren't really related to coffee was hurting them. I remember walking in one time and seeing that in addition to the usual cakes and pastries there were now breakfast sandwiches and at lunch, regular sandwiches. Now although these are good ideas in theory, I don't think people are coming in to Starbucks with that type of food in mind and I'll tell you why. Check out the average person going in to Starbucks and they are either in their for a massive java fix or for something to sip on. I can literally count the times where I've seen someone go in and pick up a sandwich to eat. For the cost of what they were charging at Starbucks you could have gotten multiple sandwiches of similar size at McDonald's.

Granted McDonald's and Starbucks are in sort of the same but sort of different categories of food service but they offer up options nonetheless and when pocketbooks are getting tighter, no one wants to spend more on something that ultimately is an impulse item. Sure a cup of coffee is a wonderful pick me up in the morning but we are also cheap. Don't believe me? Next time you are in an office where coffee donations of a quarter are requested, check out how many pennies are in there. Some people toss in a penny to make the appropriate sound and get some coffee without paying for it. Do you really think someone that stingy is going to pay up for coffee under normal circumstances? I don't think so.

So after the market shakeup in the wake of the announcement that Congress didn't pass the proposed $700 Billion bank bailout, companies like Starbucks saw their stocks stumble lower than they had in a long time and a large part of the reason is that patronage is definitely down and the company has over-extended themselves to the point of going beyond the demand of society. I love my coffee and I enjoy an occasional cup from Starbucks but I don't mind standing and waiting for a few minutes. I don't need another Starbucks ten feet away to take care of my coffee lust if there are two people ahead of me in line.

This was the gist of the second Starbucks article I read. It seems that the company has continued to see losses in their stock value and although I firmly believe that the company is far from going under or instituting more store closings, they will likely consolidate their holdings and return to their core values which was providing good coffee products for a reasonable cost in a timely manner. That isn't a direct quote from their website or coprorate mantra but it was the attitude that I used to see when I first started going to Starbucks on a regular basis. These days such feelings are few and far between and it is possible that perhaps somewhere along the line, the mantra was left at the wayside. It's time they got it back.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Are The Skins the Real Deal?

Watching and cheering for the Washington Redskins can be a hit or miss proposition. There have been years back in the golden years where Washington would have perfect records for the year save the two games against Dallas. Similarly, when Dallas was having stellar years, there were times when their records were left blemished by losses to the Redskins. It's a rivalry that traces its roots back to nearly the beginning of both franchises and it has endured through thick and thin. And though victories are sometimes few and far between when it comes to Dallas, yesterday's victory showed fans signs that perhaps the Washington Redskins are in it for real this year.

Following a pre-season that started off in fantastic fashion but ended with horrific losses for our starting lineups, it was impossible to predict how the team would perform for the year. I mean there have been times when the team has started off with an undefeated pre-season record and ended up with nary a win in the regular season and I think a large part of it was due to the impatience and shifting priorities of the team leaders. The Redskins are among the most profitable franchises in the entire NFL and at one time it was impossible to conceive of any other team raking in as much money as the Skins did and although they aren't always on top of the profitability charts anymore, they are darn close. So with a franchise being so popular one would expect that the team would continue to draw on big names and while it has, it wasn't always to good purpose.

We have had big names but names alone don't win games. It pays off if you have a team that plays together and works more on teamwork and less on ego and that's certainly what the team has showed for the past four games. Even in the loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the team did show flashes of brilliance and poise that they have lacked for the last few years. Sure the team made it to the playoffs last year but it was more by the skin of their teeth than through talent and gameplay alone. In the last few years it's been an unsure thing and at times our fortunes in the post season hinged more on the rest of the leagues results than our own. It was like watching a canoe going downriver with a crew and no paddles. But now things are seemingly turning around.

The fourth quarter was usually when the team ended up losing the entire game. We would be leading the game and would appear to be poised for victory when our defense would fall apart or our offense would start handing the ball to the opposition as if asking... nay... demanding that they defeat us. It was disheartening for us fans but for the team it would have been even more so. To be on the threshold of beating a team and then to throw away those opportunities was ridiculous and I can only imagine how the morale of teams would go by the wayside in the face of that. But the team this year seems to understand that both the offense and the defense need to work together even though they are on the field at different times. If the offense can score and get ahead and then proceed to eat up the clock (as they demonstrated yet again yesterday) they can help ice the victory cake.

Sure there were mistakes which meant it was only a two point victory as opposed to six point victory but still, at least the mistakes didn't come back to bite the team too hard yesterday. I'm sure Casey Rabach is going to catch all types of Hell for his mitigation of two touchdowns yesterday but at least the chastising will be less in the face of victory. But what I find amazing about even that situation is that up until this year, it would have been amazing that we scored inside the red zone. But to have the play dropped because of a penalty would have meant disaster and the chances of ever scoring another touchdown on a repeat play would have been very difficult to imagine let alone execute but the team did it yesterday and I think it speaks volumes of the positive direction the team appears to be moving in.

Four games does not a season make but it's a fine start. A lot can change in the upcoming months and these three victories could be the only victories the team sees this season but it won't be for a lack of teamwork and comradeship. Though many would argue that the defeats of New Orleans and Arizona don't count for much seeing as how they are good but not stellar teams. The defeat of Dallas yesterday was proof that the defense has the ability to contain what is considered the best offense in the league as well as scoring against a formidable defense. They won it on the road against a bitter rival in a manner that was more by design than by mere luck and perhaps this will be the year that the team finally returns to greatness.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Stretching to Make a Point

I'm making a plea to the next administration, whomever they are, that I want to be made the Ambassador to a foreign country, any foreign country. Now some of you may think that this is a strange way of making a case to become an Ambassador given the fact that I don't think either candidate or their running mates have the slightest clue as to who I am and what my qualifications are. You may be right in saying that but here and now I'm going to lay down some facts that will prove to you that I'm a worthy candidate for Ambassadorship to represent our great country.

For one thing I look foreign. Anyone who tells you different is probably not looking at the right picture but I'm definitely 'exotic' in my looks in that I have black hair, brown eyes and a milky coffee complexion. Maybe that's stretching the truth but hey, I'm stretching to make a point here aren't I? Okay, so why is that an advantage? Well seeing as how I am going to be representing our country in foreign lands, wouldn't it be more comforting for foreign leaders to see a face that resembles their's rather than a white face? No matter how you slice it, human nature tends to distrust anyone who doesn't look like us so I have a great advantage in the fact that I could represent us to countries like India (obviously) or any other in the region for that matter since I look like them. Heck. I have been mistaken for Greek, Italian and French before, if I can pass for that to the casual observer then I can pass for it anywhere in the world can't I?

Next qualifying factor is the fact that I have travelled the world a fair bit. I have been to India numerous times, I have been to England and I have been to Mexico. Granted I was there for a sum total of six hours but hey, it required the use of my passport didn't it? I have been to Canada on several occasions and there again I had to use my passport. I have held a valid US passport since the age of 8 months (give or take a few months) and so I have the foreign country experience to make a good Ambassador. I can find most countries on the map of the world and though I can't see any foreign countries from my backyard, I have actually been to foreign countries so I guess that's a major qualification. But if you need more ammunition, then how about the fact that I have watched foreign movies from countries like France, India, Japan and China? I have eaten foods from foreign lands and heck, even some of the video games I've played take place in foreign countries. I've done negotiations with foreign leaders too. Granted they were leaders of stores in which I wanted to buy something but they can qualify as negotiations with foreign powers can't they?

But why stop on visitations to foreign countries? I have read up about them also. I, like many other people in this country, didn't graduate from high school or college and then pack up my bags and travel the world thanks to the charity of my parents. Heck no. I too, like so many Americans, have been working. I have been working since the ripe age of 14. I have been in offices since then and have been working to not only get better at my job but to also expand my worldly horizons. I have read up on history and on countries of interest and I like to think that my overall knowledge base is quite significant. Or at least significant enough to not come off as a moron if asked a general question about the state of the world today.

So is that it? Is that all I need to be a good leader and representative of our country in a foreign land? Well perhaps I should further qualify myself. I have studied economics and finance in my undergraduate and graduate studies and I have seen how various systems work or fail through examples and real life case studies so I'm fairly well versed in understanding how a system of economy can work or fail based on mitigating circumstances. Plus I can talk circles around an issue until such time that I can find something that sounds convincing or at least seems to placcate someone long enough that they would leave me alone. For example, if asked about the current economic state of the nation, I would respond that, "it's certainly not a positive situation but neither is it a complete negative because if we choose to look at the reasons behind the negativity we'll find that it was driven by some positive efforts that have been negatively implemented and due to the desire for a return on investment that would yield positive results we've been negatively forced to concede that negativity is a constant and potential positive yet negative result of the efforts undertaken for the economy and seeing as how it was a maverick-like decision, it can only be a positive in this negative climate." I think my case for Ambassadorship is therefore quite strong. And heck, if I don't know the answer then I can certainly do the research for ya and then get back to ya. Unfortunately none of my college professors ever accepted that answer so should the American people? Maybe I should throw my hat in the ring to be the next Vice President.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Space Race Renewed?

In a few short hours from the time I'm writing this blog, China will launch Shenzhou-7, their third manned space mission which will also be their first attempt at extravehicular activity outside the spacecraft in orbit. Now while this may seem like a fairly mundane thing given that we have already walked on the moon and are in the process of building the International Space Station, China is making fairly rapid progress in their attempts to join Russia and the United States as one of the only spacefaring nations in the world. And looking on how they've been progressing I can't help but feel that perhaps this will finally be the kick needed to renew the fervor and interest in the space program that has waned in recent years.

Sure the situation is a bit different from when the US and Russia were in competition to reach the moon yet there are certain similarities that could very well lead to a renewal of the space race that dominated the nation back in the 1950's, 60's and 70's. Back then Russia (or the Soviet Union as it was known) was running a winning race against us in the conquest of space and fears of living under communist controlled satellites that would rain down nuclear weapons with impunity were threats that people took very seriously. For a long time there were fears that the Russians would reach the moon first and end up conquering it and would again take control of space and hold it like territory preventing anyone other than their own people from taking control. Now space is a vast and wonderous place and in the grand scheme of things I think mankind is just an insignificant speck but still, our little corner is always a point of contention among the various people of the world.

But once we landed men on the moon and the communist regime of Russia fell, it seemed that there was very little reason to keep on exploring space. Falling budgetary allocations and an air of normalcy in all things space-related meant that many plans for the space program fell by the wayside and it was up to NASA to do what they could with the limited budgets and funding they received. Not to say that they haven't made significant strides forward but it just seems odd to me that the only time the general public seems to care about what NASA has been up to is in the face of disasters such as the Challenger accident and the break-up of the Columbia. Shortly after those events, NASA was called to task and made to be held accountable. Nevermind that they were pushing the people and spacecraft to the limits to stay within allocated funds, it should have been more than enough seeing as how it's budget is millions of dollars.

Still, once we, the general public, stop watching space launches like spectators at a NASCAR event, waiting for the big crash or significant incident that would almost 'justify' the time taken to watch the event, and realize that there is true merit to exploring space then perhaps there will be renewed interest. And it seems that the fledgeling Chinese space program is certainly the way to help bring that about. China launched their first manned mission in 2003, and two years later launched their next mission which was a two man mission. Their third which is set to launch today will include three taikonauts (their word for astronauts) and will mark the first spacewalk by the Chinese. To put this in contrast, America launched their solo astronauts in the Mercury Program throughout the early sixties, then moved to the two man missions of Gemini in the mid to late sixties. These Gemini missions were when our astronauts were walking in space. Finally towards the tail end of the sixties and early seventies is when NASA launched their three man missions of Apollo and finally sent men to the moon.

They met the goal set by President Kennedy and landed a man on the moon and returned him safely home before the completion of the 1960's. China has set it's sights on the moon as well and if the past five years is any indication, it's quite possible that they could land on the moon a lot sooner than their 2020 deadline. Indeed they plan on starting construction on a rival space station in 2010 with a completion date of 2015. Perhaps it is a pipedream and perhaps it isn't but what remains is the fact that in a far shorter time, the Chinese are making significant strides towards catching up to the United States and Russia in terms of space capabilities. Sure one can argue that they have a tremendous leg up considering that all the hard work of research and trial and error has been done by the Americans and Russians but still, they are taking that knowledge and applying it. Why can't we do the same thing? Maybe the fear of living on a planet with the words "Made in China" plastered on the surface of the moon will be enough to spur our desires to return to space.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Creating a Cityscape in Suburbia

Now that the plans to finally build the Metro through Tysons Corner is lurching forward with the momentum of a toddler learning to walk, it seems that the plans to develop Tysons Corner into a model version of the uber-suburban-meets-city region is under way as well. Earlier this week the Tysons Land Use Task Force recommended to the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County that they take efforts to turn Tysons into a concentrated hub of jobs and shopping from which homes in high rises would dominate the landscape and turn the area from the loggerjam that it is today into a pedestrian friendly mecca for the eco-friendly future that we all want. The trouble is they haven't really spelled out how to go about doing that.

While I applaud the ideas and the efforts that these proposals and studies are putting forward, I still think that the key issue is that the infrastructure isn't currently built to support the existing traffic all that well and the completion of the Metro is still a long way off but plans are going forward at full speed to add more homes and more apartments to the area. That's great but what about those of us living in the area who have been complaining about the infrastructure for years already. At the height of the housing boom a few years back, developers and builders couldn't keep up the construction fast enough to support the demand for houses. Everyone from first time homeowners to retirees seemed to want to buy up property or move into new homes and as the current state of companies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac tells us, in most cases, people bit off more than they could chew and so now there are tons of homes sitting empty, waiting for the market to stabilize and for people's confidence to return.

For example, there is a complex behind mine that has been under construction for the past year or so. They began work on it right when the market was peaking. At that time they had plans for two high rises and one low rise building. All the units were to be condos and they key selling points were that they were new, located close to businesses in Tysons, it would have a Harris Teeter grocery store (which means those of us in Tysons wouldn't have to go to Vienna or McLean for groceries anymore) and it would be in close proximity to the new Tysons Metro stations. Flash forward a year and one housing market crisis later. While sales are relatively brisk, they aren't what the builders were anticipating and some of the units have already changed from condos to rental apartments due to decreased demand. So now we have and abundance of housing already but no ready stream of buyers. I don't know but I don't want to live in a landscape that resembles the abandoned Manhattan of "I Am Legend" which is what could happen if we continue to see homes built in Tysons and no one to buy them.

What about all the office and retail space being proposed as part of this cityscape. I think it's fine but then again we are at the brink of a regime change in Washington. The past eight years have been good for certain industries such as the Defense industry and defense contractors and government consultants are in abundance in the Tysons area but what happens if the priorities of the next administration doesn't support so many companies? Then again you have tons of real estate but no one to move into it. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae both have massive campuses in the Tysons area and though I'm sure they'll remain in business in some way shape or form, I doubt they'll want to purchase more property or rent more space at this time.

Shopping is something that Tysons has long been known for and I think retail will continue to do well but already we are hearing that sales for this winter's Christmas and New Year's sales will not be as significant as in previous years. Retailers are also feeling the crunch of the faltering economy and they can't pass on savings to customers if they are already in the hole. I don't think shopping will stay away from the area, on the contrary, I think it will help people keep coming to the area though I think people are being a little more spendthrift in the current economy. So then do we need to add more retail space? Do we really need massive art museums and performing arts centers? They add culture and give the impression that the area is refined but is it really what we need at this time? I think we need it eventually but first we need to support the existing infrastructure. We need to support what exists today.

I think it's great that the Metro is finally making inroads into the area. It's been a long time coming and will undoubtedly help ease some of the burden of getting to and from the area into DC and vice versa. People who currently commute will have the option of taking the train into work or out to Dulles (once it finally reaches out that far) but what about the meantime. Do we need more growth or should be focus on the infrastructure? Routes 7 and 123 are jammed from about 2:00 in the afternoon until well after 7:00. The Dulles Toll Road tends to back up almost daily in the evenings to say nothing of Route 66 which is almost always backed up. Most of the non-highway routes around the area are filled with traffic lights and are generally no more than two lanes which back up very quickly. I don't think anyone ever imagined that Tysons would grow as fast as it has but before we see visions of people walking to and fro in a jolly way, we need to see if we can fix things now.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Inflight Entertainment to be Filtered?

If recent trends are any indication as to what direction the airline industry is going, it's a wonder that inflight entertainment outlets are still trying to make passing time on flights a little more entertaining. Already airlines like JetBlue have been streaming DirectTV channels into the plane so that passengers can watch live TV over a variety of channels at the touch of a button. It is certainly worlds apart from the early days of airline travel which I remember meant a single movie for the entire flight shown on a central screen at the end of the aisle which I could never see since I was so short.

Then came the televisions in the ceilings at periodic intervals and then seatback monitors. They have all been steps meant to make flights entertaining and enjoyable but it has not precluded passengers from seeking their own forms of entertainment. I can attest to carrying an abundance of reading material and music to pass the time and now with the advent of the iPod, I can have both at the same time. Still, for the business traveller or someone seeking to attempt to do work somewhere along the line, carrying laptops has meant not only can you pretend to work on your spreadsheets but you can watch movies in downtime as well. But things are going to get better or worse depending on your perspective. American Airlines is now seriously considering providing WiFi connectivity in flight for passengers to begin surfing the web during flight. I view this as a blessing and a curse but the airlines also look at it that way for different reasons.

I see it as a blessing because then at least you can continue to check e-mail, surf the web, watch YouTube or do whatever else it is you want to do while flying. The curse portion is that you'll constantly be in touch whether you want to be or not. On the occasions where I've travelled for business I viewed the flight time as time that I didn't have to respond to e-mails immediately; that may soon change. But the airlines look at it from a different perspective; they look at it from the point of view that more passengers will be enticed to view porn inflight due to access to the internet. Now I grant you that it's a common enough concern. Just check out your local library and I'm sure you'll find the same debate going on about fears of porn being viewed on public computers. There are filters in place there to prevent that sort of thing but I think they are making an issue of a non-issue.

Sure there will always be someone who will view porn in midflight because they want to and they can but that doesn't mean that everyone will. I have been to the library enough number of times to know that very few people are sitting there viewing porn in the middle of a crowded library. Honestly, other than the occasional student researching something, kids are all playing online games and adults are checking their e-mail accounts. Why should airline surfing be any different? There would be ready access to this smut but it would be up to the individuals to restrain themselves or not. For that matter, why stop at WiFi or web browsing? With the numerous movies available on certain flights these days, you're almost certain to offend someone's sensibilities with what you're watching. My brother relates the story of when he was flying back to California one time and was watching the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes". During a particularly violent scene his seat-neighbor (a young woman in her mid-20's) was shocked and appalled at the violence that was shown and her boyfriend proceeded to give my brother the stink-eye.

No one told them to look at what my brother was watching nor did they complain directly to him or request him to change the channel. In my view he's paid for the seat and is viewing what he felt was appropriate. He was sitting next to two adults and knowing my brother, had he been seated next to a pair of children I'm sure he wouldn't have watched the film. But the fault isn't with my brother, rather I would hold the airline accountable. If passengers are complaining about fellow passengers seeing movies filled with sex and violence then don't show those movies and if you're going to show those movies regardless, then don't put filters on the WiFi connections to block porn sites. Those who choose to see that type of material can do so already using their laptops to watch such DVDs or read such magazines that you can pick up at stands at the airport. Just because the possibility exists doesn't mean it will come to fruition. And besides, just think of all the money they'd make if they come up with the sensible idea of charging for WiFi access to porn sites in midflight.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Time for Cautious Optimism or Pessimism?

We fickle fans in Washington have a very short term memory. It reminds me of the movie, "Memento" at times with the way opinions and pre-conceived notions can change seemingly in the blink of an eye or passing of the week when it comes to the fortunes of our long-suffering-yet-beloved Redskins. Three weeks ago on the opening night of the season, the Redskins lost to division rivals, the New York Giants. The Giants coming off of a Super Bowl victory back in January were expected to do well but still, the Redskins weren't expected to 'stink' as much as they did.

So what happens? Just the usual for any Washington fan. There were protests against Coach Zorn for his play calling and control of the clock and the team. There were shouts to bench Quarterback Jason Campbell in favor of any other quarterback who could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. There were calls for ending the season early because the Redskins weren't ever going to move past this dismal point in their season. Flash forward one week and all of a sudden the picture suddenly becomes rosier and everyone has dancing sugarplum visions of the Redskins marching out of the tunnel at the Super Bowl at the end of this season following a victory against the New Orleans Saints. Now I am as excited as the next fan that the team is actually doing well for a change as compounded by the victory over the Arizona Cardinals yesterday but I'm still not ready to share in those joyous visions of a Super Bowl trip.

Having lived through the original Gibbs era, I can attest to the joy of the times when the Redskins were the dominant team and were capable of going to the playoffs at the very least nearly every year. In the ensuing years, it's become less and less of a sure thing and though part of it is due to the changing face of the National Football League due to rule changes and shifting priorities, some of it is also due to the fact that we as fans of the Redskins are impatient for a return to the glory days of yesteryear. It's something that isn't out of the realm of possiblity but something that we haven't seen a hint of in recent times. Sure we've been to the playoffs a couple of times since 1991, but those years were few and far between and nothing akin to the type of teams that once resided in Washington.

Our town is anything if not staunchly behind the Washington Redskins and win or lose, there are some of us who will still don our commemorative jersey's and sigh in frustration as the team fails to put together a winning drive yet cheer when a 4th-quarter interception helps pave the way for a go ahead touchdown and victory that inevitably follows. I'm always happy when the team does well and I know that the team has the potential to be consistent but what we need to understand (and more so the owners and ultimate decision makers on the team... hint hint Dan Snyder) is that effecting permanent and lasting change takes time. Don't groom a quarterback and then bench him or get rid of him for someone else who may be a bigger name or more popular. I was deathly afraid that during the whole broughaha surrounding Brett Farve's desire to return to football would signal his arrival in Washington.

Don't get me wrong, Brett Farve is destined to be in the Hall of Fame but why invest in someone who is going to play for another year or two rather than a quarterback who could potentially develop into a great one. I applaud the fact that Jason Campbell has had to endure much criticism and ribbing despite the fact that he's had to learn three offensives over the course of his time here in Washington. Despite all that he's managed to improve his game and shows increasing signs of greatness. There are few players who 'come out of the pot' ready to lead their teams to win after win but if we show a bit of patience then I think we could see that here in Washington again. Is it time to start the perennial chants of "We want Dallas" as a means of showing confidence against our hated division rivals? Sure... but if the worst happens and we can't pull out a victory, don't jump on the team's back and beat them up. We cheered for them once, let's keep on cheering for them.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Musical History

Music has long been a part of my life. From the time I was born until now I can remember either whistling tunes I had heard at times when I needed to focus my mind or set my mood. It's become an unconcious habit of mine and though I won't do it to the point of distraction, I do do it often enough. Now I'm no fiend for any particular genre of music though I certainly don't limit myself to any particular style. However, if I had to name a preference, I would probably point to orchestral works as one of my favorites simply because my love of movies means that I need to have an appropriate soundtrack in the background.

Whenever I travelled, no matter how far or how close, I would always ensure that I had a collection of music with me to help me set my mood. Whether it was an adventurous piece of music to start a trip somewhere or a mysterious piece to set a spooky mood while driving home at night, I have tons of music that I can consider listening to when the mood strikes. It was cumbersome at one time because I used to have to carry my book of CDs along with my player though now I simply tune into my iPod and I'm happy as a clam (is that even possible?). But it doesn't have to just be movie soundtracks... I am odd in the sense that from childhood I have had an inclination to western classical music though neither of my parents listened to any of it when I grew up.

Though I'm still naive when it comes to understanding everything about music, I know what composers I like and which I don't and there are plenty to choose from. If I had to name my favorites from the composers of the past, I would definitely have a long list but suffice it to say that among Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Mozart and many many others, I enjoy the works of most composers. So it was with a great deal of excitement that I read the news yesterday that researchers in France uncovered a previously undiscovered piece of composition from Mozart himself. Though the page of music is not complete, it is exciting from the standpoint that in it you can see the beginnings of another composition from the famous composer.

The time period of the composition was determined based on the type of paper and writing style that was common to Mozart at the time and had it been completed, it would have been appropriate to the Church music phase which Mozart was heavily steeped in towards the end of his life. Though composers today may not be able to recreate the music as it was created by Mozart or replicated to how he may have heard it in his mind, it is again a piece of important history. Now some would wonder why a piece of unfinished composition would be important but for someone as famous as Mozart, it is yet another piece of music from a career that was tragically cut short.

And whether you believe the theory that Antonio Sallerie 'killed' him or that he died of natural causes, having died before the age of 40 meant that we were denied many more years of music that would have undoubtedly made as much impact today as it did at that time. Music is important in that way because like the musical soundtracks of today, they helped define the tone and mood of the times. They may have been hopeful in times of pessimism but in the end they are works that have stood the test of time. Sure there are pieces today that will undoubtedly be with us for many more years to come, but some of the works of the greats of the past will be there forever, it's important that we preserve all of them, even the incomplete ones.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

What's Old is New Again

I've been what you might consider a fairly constant exerciser since about 2000. Prior to that time I used to go for walks or jogs on occasion or rode my bike for a little while each day but I never really was into going to the gym until about 2000 when I determined to get into shape. I dropped about 70 pounds at that point and since then I've fluctuated a bit depending on how religious I've been about going to the gym. It's part of the natural yo-yo effect that comes as part of working out but I think I'm back on the horse again so to speak and I've been doing well.

Still, with the fluctuation in weight and priorities, it's always tempting to try and find that 'one routine' or that 'one method' that will suddenly have you dropping pounds like barbells at the end of a long hard set. Unfortunately in eight years of working out I have yet to come across anything that resembles that type of workout. Indeed, I have tried lots of them. From 'fat burning' protein shakes to Slim Fast to electrolyte water and what I've found is that no matter what you try, it eventually comes down to working out and cutting the calories. Sure the occasional treat is good for you but if you're burning more than you're taking in then you'll certainly start to see the results and the key to remember is that those results may take a bit of time to start showing up.

But not all of us are that patient. We usually come to that revelation a very short time before we'll be put on some sort of public display where being in shape will certainly pay dividends. By then it's usually too late to have any significant impact and you can go through all the cleansing diets or lemon vinegar diets that you want and it will only serve to screw up your system more if you don't know what the Hell you're doing (which most of us really don't). So what do we do? We want to workout but we want to lose the weight and see the results. So what can we try? There are so many classes out there. Cardio-kickboxing, dance-ercise, spinning (which is a form of cycling... so I gather), jumping, pole-dancing. You name it there's probably a class out there that will give you the tagline of giving you results in the shortest time possible.

Unfortunately we're all built differently and just because spinning worked for you it may not work for me. But something that seems to work more than any of these fad exercise methods is plain old simple exercises that man has been doing ever since he (or she) looked at their gut and said, "I really need to do something about that poofy-ness." So then why do these fad diets seem to work? Well I think part of it is because for many of us, exercise is so foreign a concept that any sort of physical activity will be a shock to the system that ends up helping you burn off the weight and keep it off for sometime... or at least until you stop working out. That's not to say they aren't effective, they certainly are, but the other question becomes, will it be something you will want to continue doing for years to come?

Fad exercises come and go but good old fashioned sit-ups, pull-ups and kettleball lifts (as pictured above) are all exercises that have been around for a long time and seem to be effective no matter what era they are tried in. The basic concept that needs to be understood is that in order to see those results, you need to lift for your goal. Want to build muscle, you probably want to slowly increase the weight so that your muscles get strained and grow stronger. Want to tone, be consistent in your weight and work the muscle so that it keeps it's flexibility while increasing firmness. These basics combined with a balanced diet will always help you keep in shape. So toss that "Dancing with the Stars" outfit in the closet and just go out and do some situps.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Victim of Success

I am not a deeply religious person though I do have faith in my religion and do try to understand the basis for my religion so that I can at least speak intelligently about it. So it was with some interest that I ran across an article in the Washington Post that was discussing the Rajdhani Mandir of Chantilly, Virginia and how it has come under increasing levels of fire in recent days. The temple, located just off of Route 50 in Virginia is one of the most recent temples to be built in the area. Founded in 2000, it was built at a time when the IT boom was still doing quite well and an influx of Indians was on the rise.

At that time, the temple was built with 87 parking spaces and a reported capacity of 250 devotees inside the building at a given time. Now having been to the temple on occasion, I can tell you that it very often exceeds that estimate by a lot and therein lies the problem. Now I can understand that at the time the temple was built, there was not much of an Indian population that far out in Virginia. Once the campuses of companies like AOL, Verizon and such began moving into the Ashburn area, many Indians moved out that way as well and though other temples exist in the area, the Chantilly temple is probably the closest for them and so we flock there in droves. Now obviously, there is not enough capacity in the parking lot to hold more than a handful of cars at a time and that has led to an increasing problem whereby devotees are taking their cars into surrounding neighborhoods and parking them there disrupting traffic in those areas.

Now obviously the residents of those neighborhoods are a little ticked off at the fact that their streets are full of cars and pedestrians at odd times. They get aggravated at the fact that at times, despite their repeated requests, those going to attend services at the temple will park in front of their houses and walk through the streets to get to the temple. It's gotten to the point now that there have been so many complaints that the county (Fairfax in this case) has stepped in and informed the temple that they are in violation of their original building permit. At a meeting held last week, the temple officials were informed that even one more complaint from neighbors in the residential areas surrounding the temple would be sufficient grounds to shut the temple down; albeit temporarily. Now according to the original permit, the temple was supposed to provide sufficient parking to support the patrons and at the time, 87 spaces seemed like a lot, but it certainly isn't.

Daily there are services at different times during the day which means that so many people are visiting the site that they have no choice but to go into other neighborhoods and park their cars. The temple has provided shuttle services from nearby parking lots but some patrons of the temple are unwilling to take the time necessary to ride the bus from the parking lot to the temple (and vice versa). The said thing is that many devotees feel that despite the warning signs and requests, if it's just one car, what difference will it make? And therein likes the problem. If one person thinks like that then who's to say that others won't make that same assumption? It's the snowball effect and it leads to the same problem that residents have long been complaining about.

The temple is attempting to fix the problem by also buying up additional land and building a new parking lot but residents worry that this will mean even more traffic at times. As it is, the temple is a veritable hotbed of traffic during service times and it causes traffic to snarl quite badly on the small two-lane road that passes in front of the temple. Others question whether or not the temple can be moved and there is where devotion and beliefs come into question as well. According to temple officials and priests, once a deity's idol has been placed in a sanctified area, then it cannot be removed, it is apparently 'permanently' fixed to that position. I take issue with that statement. I understand the devotion to God's place once God's idol is placed there but if our Hindu Gods are as benevolent as we like to say They are then won't They understand why we would need to move their location?

Let's say for the sake of arguement that the temple decides that we have to move, the Indian community is affluent enough to support the construction of a larger facility someplace else in the community in roughly the same area but with a much larger facility meant to support the growing number of devotees. So if the temple moves, won't God understand? Some argue that it's just not possible which is why some temples in India have stood for 2,000 years; but I have also seen temples in places like Goa which were moved when the Portugese invaded and were enforcing Catholocism. How come it was acceptable then? If God wanted to punish the devout for moving Their temple then shouldn't that vengence have come already? I'm not saying that the residents of Chantilly and the surrounding area are doing this as a persecutive measure but to see if from their point of view, they are being inconvenienced and we Hindus may not be doing all we can to be good community members and helping allay the problems.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Turning a Good Phrase

So I've been eagerly watching football now that the regular NFL season has started and as always, I have been biting my nails as I watch every Washington Redskins game, wondering what the outcome will be. There was a time when Washington was very much the dominant team in the league and it never seemed that the team would be out of playoff contention but lo and behold, more than a decade after their last Super Bowl victory, a berth in the Super Bowl is never a sure thing anymore. While these situations are frustrating for the fans like me who cheer for them through thick and thin, is the fact that it can make for a dismal time watching a game but I think for people who study the English language or enjoy idioms, there's no sport and no team like the Redskins in terms of offering up idioms like no one's business.

Seriously, there are times when I think that there is so much idiomatic turn of phrase being bandied about that it would make English professors giddy with excitement that a supposedly 'dumb jock' could use such profound and utterly moving phrases apply to what many people consider a brutish sport. But what I feel is that while it's an intelligent way to describe the situation, after a while, the idiom or turn of phrase begins to lose it's meaning. Like the boy who cried wolf, after a while, people no longer seem to care of think that what you're trying to say is really what you mean. Take for example the ever popular phrase, 'must win game'. So many teams that are on the eve of their next game after having lost the previous one always turn to the phrase, 'must win game'. Technically isn't every game supposed to be a must win game? Shouldn't you want to win in order to remain a winning team? I don't think any team will ever want to have a 'must lose game' simply because that wouldn't make sense. At one point it did mean something when you applied the idiom to being one win away from the playoffs or from the Super Bowl. Then I understand why the game is a 'must win' but for the second game of the season? Please.

Last year the Giants started out with one of the worst records in the league and even their coach declared that fans and the media should not expect the team to suddenly appear in the Super Bowl. Prophetic words from a coach who just a few short months later would be hoisting up the trophy triumphantly. But at that time, the team like the Redskins as well, would give interviews to the media in which they'd talk about hitting 'rock bottom' or 'digging ourselves into a hole'. The hole digging idiom is another that gets used ad nauseum and it also tends to lose it's meaning. Some players used it so often when their team was losing that I'm amazed they didn't end up on the opposite side of the earth after digging their way so far down.

And what about all this talk about defining moments? Some teams and some writers have so many moments that they consider to be 'defining moments' for teams that it amazes me that more teams aren't suffering from an identity crisis. You have teams that consider a game winning touchdown a defining moment or when their coach yelled at them in halftime as a defining moment or tragic events in their host city. Sure they define a moment but they don't define a team. Or at least not unless they win. I doubt that a losing team will have a defining moment tied into any one of those instances unless they have a very skewed idea of what a defining moment is. But for all that, I love watching football and I love watching the Redskins no matter how frustrating it can be. I'm not one of those fickle fans that we have here in DC who will curse the team one minute and then sing their praises after victory. You have to be there through thick and thin and every turn of phrase.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The Ultimate Darwinian Experiment?

So every once in a while, scientists around the world come up with something that scares the bejeezus out of everyone. Basically the less intelligent of us out there begin to immediately think that the end is near and that we are fooling around with powers beyond our comprehension. Perhaps that is all true but is it reason enough to prevent scientists from learning more about our world? The latest target of this reaction is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located along the border of France and Switzerland. Now hard sciences and such were never my strong suit but what I do know about the project is largely what has been reported (or mis-reported) by the media.

To read what the media is implying is to assume that the firing of the LHC will result in the creation of what will essentially be a Black Hole and it will 'suck up' the entire planet and wipe out human existance for all time. Now perhaps that's an over-simplified version of what is to occur but still, if scientists knew for certain that their experimentation would yield results that would have catastrophic results for all mankind, don't you think they would stop the experimentation? I don't think scientists are so infatuated with science and fatalistic to assume that the search for fact outweighs human existance. So then why the panic? The crowd that is against these experiments seems to have foresight into not what will happen but what could potentially happen.

Again I say that if these panic-prone-people had such confidence in their predictions, wouldn't it be possible to provide computed proof that the end of the world could occur if these experiments are carried out? Already preliminary tests leading to the build up of the LHC have been ongoing and though there hasn't been widespread panic among those of us with 'lesser' minds, there has definitely been outspoken concern in many circles. I think that regardless of the outcome, the experiments should be carried out. Now I'm not one to spout religious sentiment or calls for divine intervention but I am one who believes in evolution of the species.

I do believe that dinosaurs were the dominant species on this planet and at one point, cosmic events aligned to lead to their destruction led to our becoming the dominant species on the planet (after many years of evolutionary development). But whether the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteoroid from space or they themselves also developed a particle collider which they set off to destroy themselves, I think the ultimate decider of their and our collective futures was fate. Now some can argue that fate is a belief in religious ideals and I dont' believe it is. Everyone has a choice and that choice has consequences but also those consequences are meant to happen. If we're to set off the LHC and create a black hole which will cause our world to disappear then that's our fate. Nothing can really change that. Perhaps then those naysayers out there will finally accept that Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest was right.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Onward

It's hard to believe that it's been seven years since the terrible events of September 11th. It doesn't seem like it was all that long ago. I can still remember with stunning clarity all the things that happened over the course of that day and though I wasn't intimately connected with anyone affected by the tragedy, the stunning events of that day have left an indelible mark on me and everyone else who stood witness to them. I don't know how far reaching the effects were outside our borders but here, I know the effect was profound.

But as the saying goes, "Life goes on" and it certainly has. We continue to live our lives and go about our usual routine. Maybe we're a bit more vigilant but when you stand on alert for a long time, when you finally stop seeing what it is that scares you, then you sort of relax and lull yourself into a false sense of security, and that is what I'm afraid may be happening now. No matter who you may choose to hold accountable for the events of that day seven years ago, the fact of the matter remains that by not remaining as vigilant as we could have, we suffered the loss of nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. There have been countless more lives lost in the events since those days as well but the events which set all this in motion are to be commemorated today with the dedication of a new memorial at the Pentagon.

A small park with benches and reflecting pools representing all of the victims at the Pentagon will be dedicated today and already I can see some signs of the jaded emotions that some people feel compelled to display. What do I mean? Well due to the tension of the day and the desire to keep things safe, obviously security services have closed off some roads and avenues around the dedication site and naturally security is beefed up because no one wants a repeat of 2001 here today. What puzzles me are the people who come out and rant against these increased security measures or the minor inconveniences that pop up on occasion. Roads in and around the Pentagon will be closed for the day but that doesn't mean that we have to start complaining and ranting about a slightly longer commute.

For all the talk of "We will never forget" some people seem to have a very short attention span. Some ask whether it's worth spending time remembering and recalling the tragedy now that we have moved past it and are making efforts to prevent it in the future. I think that's the wrong stance to take because there's another famous saying which states that, "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." Now this strikes a very loud chord with me and I for one feel that ceremonies such as this are exactly what we need to remind all of us that though we may have some inconvenience now and then, it is supposedly for the greater good and for our common security to prevent events such as this from ever happening again. It's hard to get some people to understand that but hopefully they will. Routines are hard to start and easy to break. Maintaining our vigilance is one routine I hope we never break as a short lapse in it eventually led to the loss of 3,000 people in one day. I hope we never have to face that situation anywhere in the world ever again.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Misplaced Pride and Priorities

There are times when I am ashamed to trace my roots back to my Maharashtrian roots and the recent protests plaguing Bombay and the surrounding areas is definitely making this one of those times. The infamous Bal Thackeray and his family have been leading the cause over the past few years to ensure that Maharashtra remains a Marathi dominated state and while the ideals are great, I think they are taking their stances a bit too far. Now I'm as proud as the next person to be Maharashtrian but when that pride leads to violence I can't help but turn my head in shame. Especially when they are forcing their views on anyone and everyone such as the most recent high profile targets, the Bachchan family.

Now as I've stated previously, I'm no big fan of Amitabh Bachchan but I have respect for who he is and what he has accomplished and continues to accomplish though I will never treat him like a deity. Amitabh Bachchan and his wife Jaya have been longtime residents of Bombay and they have done a great deal for the community over the years. They have supported Marathi artists and causes and have supported the community of Bombay which is still largely Maharashtrian. However, Bal Thackeray has led the cause for maintaining Marathi roots in the city to such a degree that it is bordering on strongarm tactics and terror in order to enforce a 'my-way-or-the-highway' type of attitude. They have recently been promoting the enforcement of a Marathi only policy within the city whereby all merchants and vendors would be required to display signs only in Marathi.

In cities like Pune which is almost all Maharashtrian (not all but much of it), it makes sense to enforce this type of policy but what needs to be remembered is that Bombay (or Mumbai as some prefer to call it but it will always be Bombay to me) is an international city that welcomes people from all over the world to their city and as such, having a policy of Marathi only will only serve to make it a bit less welcoming. Now I have heard arguements that state that because it is Maharashtra it should only be Marathi but it is not the national language. When you have businesses from all over India working in Maharashtra, why complicate things and make Marathi the only language that would be acceptable?

And targeting people like the Bachchan's because they simply made a speech in Hindi does nothing but prove how petty and childish Bal Thackeray and some of his followers can be. If the Bachchans were in any way shape or form against anything and everything Marathi then I can understand their ire but in this case, they have done a lot for the community which has been acknowledged in the past but is seen as a minor issue now. I think it's terrible the way they have been treated as well as those not even related to the Bachchans. Who do I mean? Well apparently staunch followers of Bal Thackeray's policies went to carry their protest against Bachchan at a theatre premiering his latest film. They turned violent and caused a lot of property damage that ended up hurting the theatre more than the Bachchans. I mean all the theatre did was show the movie. They didn't do or say anything that warranted this type of attack other than to show Bachchan's new movie. Isn't this targeting the wrong ideal?

Maharashtrians are very proud of their culture and their heritage and we have every right to be. However, by forcing everyone to take that stance or follow that ideal is just wrong. Many of the people who follow the dictums of Thackeray are only doing so because they don't know any better. They listen to the statements and accusations made by Thackeray and assume that what he says is the only way to go and they take out their violence on people with nothing to do with the root cause of their ire. It's a shame because it stigmatizes the entire Marathi community. We are all seen to be of the same ilk when it is only a small majority of those who have stood up for one side of the issue without knowing the other side. There are few times when I'm ashamed of my heritage but this incident is definitely one of them.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Safeguarding National Secrets

One of the most enduring secrets in the United States is having its security revamped to ensure continued secrecy for the decades to come. I'm not talking about the secrets of Area 51 or the launch codes to our nuclear aresenal but the recipe to Colonel Sanders fried chicken recipe which is the hallmark by which their chain has been identified for more than sixty years. At the headquarters for Kentucky Fried Chicken (now known as KFC), the recipe handwritten on a yellowed sheet of paper along with vials of the 11 secret herbs and spices has been resting comfortably in a filing cabinet for many years now but that will soon change.

According to executives at KFC, no more than two executives at one time have access to the recipe locker and even then, though they can open the vault, they must go through a rigorous screening and admissions process which will give security enough time to ensure that the recipes are not being viewed for any false purposes. Stored in a filing cabinet with two combination locks as well as a series of three padlocks, the recipe has rested safely for decades but now, in order to preserve the actual sheet of paper on which the recipe was written, the company is bumping up the security. Already they are taking on methods that would make Batman proud in how they get their suppliers to provide them with the herb and spices mix necessary to spice up their chicken batter.

Instead of relying on one supplier for the whole mix, they get a variety of mixes from different sources in order to mix them at their central factories with the exact proportions and ratios coming together in the end. By doing so they ensure that should anyone discover one of their supply centers, they will not have access to the exact recipe. Although many have claimed success on occasion or have found recipes close to the actual recipe, no one outside of the KFC company has had as much success with the chicken flavor that has defined the company for so long. I find it funny though that such precautions are being taken to safeguard a food recipe given that at times, these precautions seem to surpass the precautions being taken to safeguard our national security.

When you read about how government laptops are inadvertently taken from unsuspecting victims replete with the private information of sometimes thousands of people, you wonder how it is that a chicken recipe has managed to stay secret for so many years. Perhaps the priorities are out of whack in some cases. Maybe people care more about their fried chicken tasting good than they are if the Average Joe has his identity stolen. I guess maybe identities can be found again but chicken recipes will never be the same if the secret is let out of the bag. I suppose its commendable that the company has managed to keep a lid on their secret for so long and I'm sure they'll continue to do so for many more years to come but perhaps some of the corporations or companies out there that have lost lots of data to identity theives could take a page from a fast food company in terms of how to safeguard important and sensitive information.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Securing Our Borders

My cousin recently had an experience crossing the border between the United States and Canada that left me a little confused. As a seasoned business traveller he has entered the United States legally multiple times in the past with no problems whatsoever. As an Indian citizen he's required to get a visa whenever he is visiting and as such, he has always taken care of these things ahead of time so that there's no issue when he arrives at customs. However, on a recent trip, he arrived in Canada to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. That evening after everything was done they decided to go to spend the night. However, the nearest hotel with accomodations available was nearly 60 miles away and across the border in New York.

Now my cousin already had his visa as he was intending to come to the US anyways later on but since he had the visa and had been through customs numerous times before he didn't anticipate any problems. He was asked to fill out the I-94 card and proceed through customs. His only concern was that they intended to go back to Canada the next day to look at the falls during the day and then head back to upstate New York. However, the Border Security officer he met informed him that since he had filled out the paperwork already, his name was in the system and that he wouldn't have any problem getting back in or out of the US. So the next morning they went to the falls and saw everything and then headed back to cross into the United States and there he would wait for the next four and a half hours.

It wasn't because of the line to get through customs but it was because there were questions about his reasons for exiting and re-entering the country in such a short span of time. Now seeing as how paranoid we've all become in the past decade, I can understand their suspicions but still, I would think that the computer systems at all Border Security posts would be able to provide a history on an individual who has entered and exited the country legally numerous times over the past few decades. Even if there was reason for suspicion, shouldn't it have already come up? One of the reasons for the confusion was apparently over the fact that although my cousin has an Indian passport, he lives and works in the United Arab Emirates and due to restrictions in that country, he can rent but not own property. For that matter, no non-U.A.E. citizen can do so.

I'm sure some of the astute among you can see where some of the problems could have cropped up. Here's a person entering the country multiple times with no 'permanent' address living in the United Arab Emirates (a country that is quite progressive and modern compared to others in the region). So suspicion gets aroused and questions arise as to whether my cousin is on the 'up-and-up'. Now I know that it's hard to train all Border Security forces to the point that they know and understand in general the rules and regulations of most major nations and while I understand that the guards on the Canadian border probably don't deal that often with anyone other than Americans and Canadians, there is still the chance that there will be an occasional person who falls outside of that general category.

Knowing that, wouldn't it make sense to better inform the agents and officers who work those posts? After all, the airports are fairly well secured but who's to say that any and all suspicious people will choose to enter the country that way? Several of the terrorists from 9/11 entered the country that way and although changes have been made since then, why are our security officers spending so much time on a person who has visited here enough number of times to allay any suspicion. I suppose it pays to be extra cautious but still, when we are scrutinizing the people coming in legally, are we truly scrutinizing those we really should be worried about? I'm not one to put up massive walls along the borders but I do think that we need to do a better job of informing our agents so that they know more about where people are coming from (in terms of countries) and why in some cases they may have one passport and a different address.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Protesting Run Amok

If there's one thing I love about my country, it's the fact that I have the freedom to say more or less anything I want and I can do it without fear of someone coming and putting the kaibosh on what I'm attemting to get across. I mean I can write endless blogs on how "Star Wars" is far superior to "Star Trek" and launch tirades and cheaply made home movies and still no one can come and stop me from doing it. Well... within reason. It's the one thing that truly sets our country apart from lots of others but sometimes it's a good thing to rein it in a little. I mean there are times when we protesters go a little too far.

There are times when I understand why people opposed to my particular point of view may not agree with me and I do believe that they have the right to argue against me and have their time to say what they feel. Sure it may get me all riled up and upset but that doesn't mean that I have to sit there and listen to what they are saying or even agree with it. Over the past two weeks there have been a lot of political conventions going on and both major parties held there conventions a week apart. Both tried to give the candidates the opportunity to properly introduce themselves and at least some of their ideas to the American public and the world at large though even then there were protesters who chose those moments to enter into the fray as well.

I just wish sometimes people would get their understanding of the issues a bit straighter. Now that doesn't mean that I am implying that they should all adopt one point of view and then be done with it. No; that would basically imply a state of facism that preaches 'my way or the highway'. No; I'm talking about protesting properly or countering protests properly. For example, the picture I've included with today's blog speaks volume about the lengths to which people go to have their say no matter how foolish their say may make them appear. Now at first glance the woman's sign seems to make sense but when you take a closer look you realize that she's forgotten something in the word "official". Not only that, but she's emphasized the point. You want to make English the official language of the United States? Fine. Learn to spell before you show your ignorance and errors on a protest poster.

What about the people who come to conventions as several did yesterday during Senator McCain's speech? I certainly believe they have the right to come out and protest Senator McCain but I believe he also deserves some respect and decorum during his speech. One may not agree with everything he and his party have done in the past but that doesn't mean we disrespect them in such a flagrant way so as to rally more people to the opposite stance. What I mean is that though the group of protesters at the speech last night probably got the message across that they don't agree with Senator McCain, they probably ended up polarizing more people who are currently on the fence. I'm sure the spin doctors are going to emphasize the point that these were 'Liberal Democratic Zealots' who have stooped to name-calling and rude protests at an otherwise civilized convention.

That may be but what I feel is that the counter protests that most of the audience made were also misguided. One of the protesters held up a sign that stated "You can't win an occupation" and the otherside read "McCain votes against vets". Now the first statement is clearly speaking out against the war in Iraq while the second is against McCain himself. Rather than cheering on Senator McCain in a show of solidarity against these protests, the crowd began chanting "USA! USA!" So does that mean that the crowd found the protesters statements to be un-American? How can that be? He has the right to say what he wants and it isn't showing his non-patriotism... in fact it is emphasizing it.

The last few years have seen a decline in the maturity of both the protesters and protestees. We've slowly been devolving into children with arguements and counter-arguements that sometimes seem to be from the playground in nursery school rather than at political conventions. But for all this, these conventions and protests are useless if you don't get out and do the one thing that can make a difference and that's to vote. If you don't like the way government is doing things or the way one candidate stands on an issue, vote for the one you do believe in. I respect the statement which Senator McCain made last night in which he called on all Americans to be the change. Nearly paraphrasing Gandhi when he stated that we should be the change we wish to see. If you want to change the government more directly than by just voting, run for office, state your views. But do it maturely and answer the thing your protesting seriously and thoughtfully. Otherwise you just come of looking "dum".


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Melting Away the Environment

Imagine Manhattan suddenly breaking loose and rushing out to sea. It seems like an inplausible scenario and perhaps it mostly is something that will only exist in Hollywood fantasy movies but it's not all fiction. Recently a 19-square mile ice sheet broke off the 4,500 year-old Markham Ice Shelf in the northern Arctic. What is significant about this in comparison to previous ice shelf breakages that have been going on literally for eons is that there is little to no chance of the ice reforming as it has for those same eons. The difference now being that our effects on the environment are starting to show.

Now I'm not an ultra-liberal left-wing naturalist who insists that we leave the environment alone and live like Tarzan as some environmentalists espouse. To some of them, our very presence (by that I mean humans) is so detrimental to the environment that we are hurting the environment by our very presence. I find this to be somewhat logical though somewhat flawed as well. I agree that humankind has done a lot to affect the environment and not all of it in a good way. Greenhouse gases and noxious emissions alone have probably affected the environment to such a degree that it would take quite a bit of doing to get the environment back on track. Now there are some like Al Gore who state that by taking simple steps we can reverse some of the problems. The difficulty in that is the fact that so many feel that it's a case of too little too late.

I don't believe that it's too late to do something, but we need people to understand that even though they may be long gone from this world or level of being by the time the world truly starts to suffer, it really will be too late. For most of us, the immediate future is our only concern; we aren't so worried about whether or not people fifty or sixty years from now would be suffering simply because most of us won't be around to ask and find out. It's the wrong attitude to take and we need to know that if not us, then the next generation is the one that is going to suffer. And we can be a positive influence. Just look at the way times change with shifting attitudes and ideas. A few decades ago the concept of a woman Vice Presidential candidate or an African-American President would have been near impossible to fathom, but times changed and so did the possibilities.

I remember reading about the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska and how photos taken of it nearly 100 years ago compared with today have shown that the glacier has receded a great distance in a very short time. It's distressing to note that in a few years it's quite possible that the Glacier will completely disappear and would only ever exist in history books. But then, why would the majority of us care? How does it affect us? For that matter, how does the breaking of the ice shelves in the Arctic affect us either? Fine. Let's look at something with a more immediate affect. The Ganges River in India, the source os so much holy devotion to many Hindus is also under threat of disappearing. Deteriorating conditions at the source of the river in the high Himalayas threatens to end the existance of the river. For millenia the river has been a source of such holiness to Hindus that if it disappears, the ramifications could be significant. Hopefully it won't come down to that situation but perhaps it will be the wake-up call the world needs to realize that we need to start affecting the environment positively.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Voting on Principle or Candidates?

With the announcement late last week that Republican Presidential nominee John McCain taking on Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate, there was a lot of talk over whether or not this would mean that the voters who had been steadfastly loyal to erstwhile Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would suddenly make the switch to support McCain. Now while I'm sure that there were some who made that decision the moment Palin's name was put forward, but really, are women voters really that shallow? Now I don't mean to take anything away from Sarah Palin who I'm sure is a smart woman and a good leader (she is currently serving as Governor in Alaska) but do people think that just because she's a woman that she'll suddenly become the catalyst that leads to history being made?

Regardless of which candidate you are behind, I think it is safe to assume that one way or another, this next election is going to be historic. Either an African-American will be voted into the office of President or a woman will serve as Vice President. Both important turns in history that will finally show that for all our talk of being a diverse nation, we can actually be led by people who would once have been barred from even entering a voting booth. I think it says a lot that now, finally in the 20th Century, America is catching up to the rest of the world (in terms of diverse leadership) and is seeking to elect someone based on their skills rather than their race, color or creed. At least I hope so.

And the reason I hope is because I don't want to think that we're so shallow a society that we will switch sides or loyalties just because someone is representative (at least on the surface of what we want). I can honestly say that though I follow politics, I don't know as much as some people and the announcement of Sarah Palin last week as the candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket left me a little perplexed from the standpoint that I hadn't heard much about her until then. Sure she's got scandals coming out now but aside from that, we hadn't really heard much about her and at the outset, everyone seemed to think, "replace one woman in the race with another and you'll retain votes". Well sure, in theory that would work but in having tried to educate myself on her more I have realized that she can't be farther from Hillary Clinton on a variety of issues.

Now I don't want to sit here and debate the relative merits and demerits of Palin versus Clinton but I think it's safe to say that the supporters of Hillary Clinton supported her because of what she stood for and what she fought for. With elections coming up in November (only a few short weeks away), the McCain-Palin camp will have to get the lead out to get people aware of who Palin is and what she stands for. Sure there will be people that will vote for McCain simply because they want to see a woman in the White House (even though the Vice President lives at the Naval Observatory off of Massachusetts Avenue) but I'm sure the majority out there will want to know more about what she believes and therein is where she can either make or break campaign. She may get some support because of her gender but I would hope that we've advanced enough as a society not to use that as the sole means of determining whether we support someone or not.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Family and the Public Eye

Close on the heels of the Democratic National Convention, the furor surrounding the Republican National Convention kicking off this week got two jolts which were both expected but couldn't be farther apart if they tried. The first was the fact that Hurricane Gustav was barrelling down on Louisiana and the Gulf States, close enough to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to make many people very nervous considering the debacle which surrounded the area the last time a hurricane hit. The other was slightly smaller scale though no less important and that was the announcement that Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant.

Now ordinarily I am the last person who would discuss something like this with any amount of interest but in this case I think it brings up an interesting topic that many will be thinking about in the run up to the elections in November, just a few short weeks from now. The fact that Bristol Palin is 17 and unmarried is not as significant as the fact that she is the daughter of the Republican nominee for Vice President. Any time a person is up for nomination, their entire family is under intense scrutiny. Nevermind that they have little or nothing to do with the actual office and power that their relative is seeking to occupy and yield but still, there are often cases of guilt by association in our society.

Remember Al Gore back in 2000? He ran for president and he lost for many reasons but one of which was definitely the fact that he was the vice president of Bill Clinton. He undoubtedly had nothing to do with the dalliances of President Clinton but his opposition played up the fact that Gore had occupied the same White House and so even he was capable of such dalliances. Guilt by association. Similarly, the case with Bristol Palin could come back to bite John McCain despite the fact that it really doesn't have anything to do with how John McCain or Sarah Palin could do in performing the duties of the offices for which they are running. It doesn't have anything to do with anything... or does it?

I don't think families of nominees should come under as intense scrutiny as they do these days. I think the Obamas have done a wonderful job of shielding their two daughters from the media spotlight as much as possible because although they are part of his family and would also be in the White House, they need not be scrutinized to the point of mentally traumatizing them. Unfortunately for Sarah and Bristol Palin, the fact that she is unmarried and pregnant will play into the hands of their opposition who will use this as a platform to point out the fact that despite being proponents of pro-life and pro-family stances, they apparently haven't fought to instill these values into their kids. This may not be true at all, but this will certainly be the spin that people put on it.

It isn't fair to subject someone to this sort of media scrutiny and though the cat is out of the bag, I would hope that the media would take a softer stance on the issue and understandably ease up with the rhetoric against Bristol Palin. She's a kid who is having to grow up quite fast and though it may be fair to ask Palin about the matter, it isn't fair to treat Bristol Palin as a scapegoat to make Sarah Palin look like a failure in terms of being a fighter for the pro-life or pro-family movement. If one has to raise issue with a candidate, be they Republican, Democrat or Independent, the issue should be on the candidate themselves and not their families. After all, who are we really electing?