Friday, December 26, 2008

When Being a Pastor Isn't Holy Enough

It seems that no matter what President-elect Barack Obama does in attempting to appease both sides of a debate, he ends up ticking someone off. No matter how mundane or inconsequential the decision may seem, there is always someone who comes out and picks on the decisions he's making. The opening debates ranged from his selections for his cabinet down to what dog he would choose for his daughters. I'm sure it isn't any different than any other politician in history but it seems like the guy can't catch a break. Take for example the Pastor he chose to deliver the invocation at his inauguration next month; Rick Warren.

Now on the surface Rick Warren is a Pastor who has been attempting to remain as moderate as possible but it seems to have done nothing more than polarize opinion of him. Although he opposes gay marriage in his home state of California, he has fought to fund research into AIDS which many conservative Christians believe is a virus unleashed by God as a form of punishment. While many conservatives consider Islam an inherently evil religion and community, Warren has made efforts to reach out to the American Muslim community and has even given keynote speeches. On the surface he seems to be playing both sides but I think it is the right tact that needs to be taken if healing is to take place in our world.

Let's face it. No matter who Barack Obama chooses to do anything and everything related to his Administration, it is going to be viewed with more scrutiny than any other politician. Like it or not there are still lingering doubts with many Americans that Barack Obama is truly who he says he is. There are still those who steadfastly believe that he is a Muslim and even if he was, so what? As a Muslim wouldn't it be a sign of peace with other religions that he is asking a Christian to give the invocation at the inauguration? Has he even asked to take the oath of office on the Koran instead of the Bible? And so what if he did? Is that what is at issue or are all the other problems facing our nation of greater importance?

According to some who oppose Rick Warren, their objection is because he is not conservative enough a Christian to represent the Christian views of most conservative Americans. As far as I know, Rick Warren isn't going to represent any Christian conservative views at the White House. He is merely providing the invocation prayer at the inauguration and it should be left at that. It seems that whenever Barack Obama makes and effort to be sensitive to the concerns of the people, it's never good enough. He chooses a Republican for his Cabinet, the Republican isn't Republican enough, he chooses a Christian for his invocation and the Christian isn't Christian enough. I'm surprised people haven't complained about his nomination of Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. I'm sure after some of the women that have held the office in the past, they won't look at Hillary as not being 'woman' enough to handle the job.

It's sad to think that our society is becoming so cynical that no matter what our leaders do these days that we look for the deeper hidden meaning behind it. I know it is naive to think that there isn't some hidden political meaning behind a decision but then again we also have to realize that no matter what decision is made, someone is going to be ticked off about it. I think we all need to remember though that there are no 'perfect angels' in this world. Everyone; no matter how public or private in the real world, has some element of their past that will be enough to undergo tremendous scrutiny and upset someone in the establishment. I just wish we could get past these non-issues and let our government try to save the country from failure.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Good night, good luck and a Merry Christmas to all of you... all of you on the good Earth

-- Frank Borman
Apollo 8


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Capturing a Moment in Time

Forty years ago today, man first orbited the moon. It seemed an impossible scenario to fathom just ten years prior to that day but as we are now in the first decade of the 21st Century, it is hard to believe that we are already another decade closer to having accomplished this feat. The flight of Apollo 11 was one that will be remembered for many things but I think one of the most poignant reminders of that day was what the crew of Apollo 8 did as they rounded the dark side of the moon and came to see the Earth rising in the far distance. They crew; William Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman, had previously decided to read from the Book of Genesis as part of their Christmas Eve broadcast from space back to the people of Earth.

It was a simple reading meant to highlight the solmenity of the occasion and in reading from the Book of Genesis I think the crew intended to remind all of us that we all come from the same place and are seemingly among the only ones in this vast space. If one looks at the image it is like a reverse of what we see all the time on Earth. Instead of the moon we're seeing the Earth rising in the distance. Now there are those who counter and argue that this image 'looks wrong' or that the entire mission was faked as were the other missions to the moon and for whatever reason they choose, they ignore the fact that if this was done for simple PR reasons, it was so well thought out that it probably would have taken decades more preparation to fake it to that level.

Which is why I know that it wasn't faked. There are lots of reasons for why missions to the moon may want to be faked but there's no reason that I can think of behind the reading from the Book of Genesis by three men who were among the first to realize just how small our planet is in the vastness of space. Here on Earth we see maps or images of the Earth all the time. We see grid lines and state lines and borders and roads. We haven't got the ability to pull back far enough to realize that we are actually not as divided as we choose to make ourselves. Perhaps it's a picture perfect illusion that is attempted to be portrayed in this image or in the sentiment that we are all one people, but it isn't a bad one.

If you don't believe in religion then maybe you would have been offended by the sentiment expressed by the crew of Apollo 8 or at the fact that the implication being made was that God created all of this and that it was 'proof' of His existance. I don't think that was the point at all. At the time the world was being torn apart by wars and riots. For those back on Earth it must have seemed like the end of all days and borders and differences were probably all that was on people's minds. But that wasn't the case. That wasn't what was the truth. And now even after 40 years of bringing this fact to life and illustrating it so beautifully, we have forgotten it again. Again our world is being torn into factions of religion, of borders and of disputes older than time. But in taking a moment and looking at this image I'm again reminded that the world isn't a divided place. It's one world. Our world.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Festivus

I know of a lot of people who are either upset with the commercial aspect of Christmas or who don't celebrate Hannukah or Kwanza and are looking for something non-secular to 'celebrate' and it's funny to see how an episode of Seinfeld is coming to the rescue. I'm sure anyone who grew up watching Seinfeld on Thursday nights (or loves watching the reruns or DVDs) will know immediately what Festivus is. To the uninitiated, it was a holiday promoted by Frank Costanza as an alternative to celebrating the commercialized Christmas holidays.

Rather than a Christmas tree there was an aluminum pole that was erected in the house. Rather than Christmas carols there was the Airing of Grievances which afforded holiday-goers the opportunity to get their true feelings off their chest. And finally, before Festivus dinner there was the Feats of Strength which was basically a wrestling contest meant to build an appetite (I suppose). Though written in jest, the episode took on such a fan following that many people have started celebrating it on its own. It's gotten to the point now where the commercialization of this fake-holiday is also starting. I mean there's a manufacturer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin began making Festivus Poles in 2005.

Now this isn't the first time that the entertainment industry has creeped in on religion and religious practices. Enough British citizens have indicated that they follow Jedism as their religion to make the Star Wars mysticism an officially recognized 'religion' in England. Now I grant you that there are no true Force-users apparent anywhere in this world but despite that there are many who choose to follow this 'religion' as it seems quite appealing to them. I guess any religion has that common factor whereby if there is something that appeals to a person at a particular time they will always turn to it.

Many enjoy the Christmas season but don't necessarily enjoy the religious aspects. It seems odd considering that the two things should go hand in hand but that's not the case. Many feel that the religious aspects creep too far into the gift-giving portions and they don't like it. Perhaps that's why so many people put up trees but don't attend Mass at church on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Whether you want to or not, I think it important to at least know the basis for the celebration or the beliefs rather than blindly following it because it is something a little off the beaten path.

I mean I'm sure at parties it's wonderful to strike up a conversation about how you're a practicing Jedi or that you don't celebrate Christmas but rather Festivus. I'm sure either people will laugh (not sure whether to laugh with or at you) or they will shake their heads in dismay as they find another person who has fallen prey to a life lived on television and the movies. Perhaps it's because the 'religious' ideals of these fake religions and holidays are more accepting and clearly stated (or are without condition) that makes it so appealing to so many. I don't think we've seen or heard the end of these celebrations but it's certainly something people should make note of as it could be the beginning of the end for some aspects of any and all organized religion.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

An Estimate is Just That

I'm beginning to think that estimating how many people will show up at Barack Obama's inauguration is starting to become like estimating how much snow will fall in Washington. You can swing from one extreme to another but never quite hit the right amount. I'm sure that outside of the DC metro area there isn't all that much talk about what's going to happen during the inauguration but in DC it's almost all most people can talk about these days. Estimates have ranged from nearly 2 million people in attendance to as many as 5 million.

Planners have been releasing news reports on just how many Port-a-potties will be needed on the National Mall in order to accomodate the expected turnout. As of last week some time I heard an estimate of approximately 1 potty per 1600 people. That's a lot and that's quite a long line. There's talk of how the city will handle security concerns. Hell, there's even concern about how people are going to even see anything. If you've ever been to Washington you know that the National Mall is a wide open space and in the middle of January it's downright cold... even in a weather fickle city like Washington. If you get even 200 yards (yards mind you) you will find that you won't be able to pick out Barack Obama from George W. Bush no matter how distinct looking the two men may be. And that's where the people with VIP passes will be. Farther than that you'll see a mass of people standing around. The only hope for seeing what is 'actually' happening will be by watching the Jumbo-trons that will be set up along the Mall.

So then why bother going? Why bother attending an event which you will end up watching on a type of TV anyways? Well part of it is to be part of something historic. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I saw the election results this past November and I can only imagine that at the inauguration the feelings will be even more profound. It isn't just the inauguration of the next President but the inauguration of the first true minority into the highest office of the land and though we've had some exposure to minority leadership in movies and television, there is nothing to compare this moment to in reality. It is truly historic and many people want to attend this happening in person.

And that's where the estimates begin to come in. But then I remember the Million Man March which is probably the last event which drew in so many people to the National Mall. There were estimates that at least a million African-American men would be present on the mall but there was great disparity over whether this was true or not. Be that as it may, I think the city handled itself well and the even was a great success. Of course that was during the more pleasant time of year here in Washington so there wasn't a great deal of concern over whether or not people would be freezing. This time there is genuine concern over what will happen if it does snow around the time of inauguration. I mean here we will have 2.5 miles of toilets on the national mall and minimal turnout because no matter how historic... no one will want to freeze to death to experience history.

It's a situation with many unknowns. I mean you don't know what to think when you hear reports of people booking hotel rooms in Frederick, Maryland or West Virginia since both areas are 'within driving distance of DC' for the inauguration. Let me tell you something as a longtime Washington commuter. People who commute from those areas into DC leave at the crack of dawn during the week so that they can get to where they are going in time. For everyone else who is coming into town to attend the inauguration there is definitely going to be gridlock by people who don't know where to go and how to get there. There's no way to plan for that. Oh well. It should make for an interesting day I suppose though if Washington weather men begin predicting a sunny and warm day, I'd wear a winter coat and carry a snow shovel. Just in case.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Medical 'Research'

I remember this past summer when, during the height of the Presidential campaigns, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin (always good for a sound bite) made mention of the fact that so much money was being wasted on medical research that was pointless. Now as a self-professed mother of a 'special needs' baby and aunt of an autistic baby, it seemed incongrous to a lot of people that she questioned medical research regarding fruit flies when it is one of the areas which is being researched to provide medicines to treat autism. Now for the layperson it isn't suprising if you didn't know it but being so high up on the public stage and knowing that everything you say will be scrutinized, you would have thought that perhaps someone would have vetted her comments and ensured she didn't link fruit fly research to a topic that she should know about.

But I digress. This isn't to be a blog on what Sarah Palin does and doesn't (or should and shouldn't) know but rather on the topic of medical research and how she does have a case that some medical 'research' is wasteful. Case in point? Well a recent study has concluded that 'rocking out' (or banging your head in time to heavy metal or rock music) can be detrimental to your health. Researchers at the University of New South Wales (in Australia) concluded that the average heavy metal song has approximately 146 beats per minute. So if you bang your head violently that many times in a minute you are likely to give yourself a mild head injury of some sort.

Now I ask the obvious question; did we really need medical research to point that fact out to us? Perhaps the link between fruit flies and autism treatments is not blatantly obvious but the linkage between shaking your head violently nearly 146 times in a minute should be obvious even to the most dense of people. I grant you that once something has been 'medically proven' or 'scientifically researched' it becomes more obvious that it's probably something bad for our health but I'm sure that someone invested a great deal of money into the subject and has now found out something that most people who have done headbanging probably realize a long time ago; that headbanging gives you a headache to say the least.

Now there are tons of medical conditions out there that aren't understood or there are other activities that we do on a day to day basis that I would like to know more about. Now for example does repeated use of a cell phone really cause cancer to form in your brain? That is something I would like to spend money on to research and discover conclusively. Do I need to spend money to find out that texting while driving increases chances for a car accident? No! I mean any idiot should be able to see that as a fact and those that don't accept that as a given are usually those that do it all the time until the day they themselves get into an accident. In such cases a medical conclusion isn't enough to warrant a change in behavior for many people. Sometimes it takes experiencing the problem to open our eyes to the issue.

Overindulging in fattening foods is bad for our health? Shouldn't that be obvious? But what if the foods labeled 'fat free' aren't truly fat free. That's worth knowing or understanding for the public. Kids playing video games all day and not taking part in physical activity leads to obesity. Shouldn't the 'not taking part in physical activity' part of the statement make the obesity part a little more obvious. It all comes back to the theory that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you don't move for a day at a time then that whole pizza you ate isn't going to get burned off calorie wise. But just to be sure maybe we should give a medical lab a few million to confirm it for us. What I'm trying to say is we need to figure out how to beat cancer and heart disease... not prove that voluntarily shaking your head can give you minor head injuries.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's In a Name?

Take a look at that picture there and tell me what kind of a cruel person would refuse to print the child's name on a cake. How can anyone even think that this child is evil enough or unworthy enough to have his fondest desire... to have his name on a birthday cake for his 3rd birthday... denied on the grounds that the grocery store where the request was made deems the name 'inappropriate'? What could have led to such an obviously wrong decision on the part of a ShopRite grocery store in New Jersey? Perhaps because the child in questions full name is Adolf Hitler Campbell.

Now there are lots of parents out there who have very unusual choices of names for their kids and I grant you that most parents want their kids to have a unique enough name that they 'stand out'. Why name your child George or John when there are tons of those running around? Why not something unusual that will ensure everlasting noteriety as they grow up? Case in point, a friend of mine ran for student government president in college. He had a great platform and could have made a real difference. The problem was he was running against James Bond. When it came time to give his speech my friend gave a wonderful one that lasted several minutes. When his opponent came up to the mic he started off by saying, "My name is Bond. James Bond." The crowd went nuts and from then on it didn't matter what he said or promised, he won the election by a landslide.

In a case like that the parents of the child obviously had some sense of humor and figured a name like that probably wasn't a bad thing. Naming your child Homer Simpson isn't going to help him much as most people would assume (rightly or wrongly) that the kid is about as intelligent as the cartoon dad. But whatever someone decides to name their child, they need to realize that within your family anything goes but once you go into public, you will be under scrutiny as people use the name. Now in the case of Adolf Hitler Campbell, his parents (Heath and Deborah Campbell) stated that they wanted their children to have unusual names and that the public should learn 'to look to the future rather than the past'.

According to Heath Campbell, now that there is a new President and that we are on the verge of a new era for our country, it's time for people to be more open to alternate ideas. Unfortunately for their little son Adolf, he's going to be the one suffering the consequences of his parents radical ideas for bringing about change within our country. And it's not just their 3-year-old with an unusual and controversial name; they have a daughter named JoyceLynn Arayan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie. Now in case you're wondering, Campbell states that neither he nor his wife are racist and have thrown birthday parties for their kids for where kids of mixed races are invited. That's all fine and dandy but the names of his kids and the fact that he enjoys wearing combat boots from German World War II soldiers is a bit... odd isn't it?

I mean wanting to name your kid Luke Skywalker will have lots of people screaming nerd at the parents as well as the kid but having a kid named after a known monster who openly practiced genocide is something else completely. Sure there shouldn't be guilt by association in naming your child after someone famous but had they named their kid Adolf instead of Adolf Hitler then perhaps they wouldn't have had as much trouble getting a birthday cake. And while they profess to not being racist or supporting the ideals of Nazism, why is it then that they once tried to get swastikas (the bad kind... not the good kind) placed on their kid's birthday cake? Maybe to teach their kids about the significance of their name? Well that's a fine a lofty goal but its a bit twisted for me.

It's quite possible that the kid won't grow up to become as despicable a person as his namesake but one thing can be said for certain; he's not going to have a very easy time and unless the Campbells move to someplace that fully embraces the idea of having a child named after a monster in our fairly recent history then I pity the harassment this child is going to undergo as he gets older. If you want to make a statement or teach a point to society as a whole, then by all means use yourself as the point of contention. Don't use your kids as the experiment and expect that the world will see a cute face and think that everything's all fine and dandy.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coming Full Circle

It's hard to believe that 105 years ago today, man first took to the skies in a heavier-than-air aircraft and had sustained controlled flight. For centuries man had tried to figure out how to have sustained powered flight and until the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina it seemed quite possible that the dream would not be realized for many more years to come. But thanks to the work of the Wright Brothers and other pioneers such has Samuel P. Langley, Alberto Santos Dumont and many others, powered flight became a reality and the development that took place in the years that followed can only be termed as rapid.

Prior to the developments of these aviation pioneers and many others in the centuries prior, it was impossible to imagine that aircraft could ever be built to carry a person let alone a group of people for any appreciable distance. Many of the first aviation successes were often unmanned or devices such as balloons which flew more or less at the mercy of the winds. Researchers were determined to prove that it could be done. Up until then most aircraft were unmanned and the ultimate goal was to get people into the air. Then as development of the aircraft progressed the goal was to get people higher, farther and faster into the air than anyone else. We've used that goal to get man to the moon and bring him home again. We have developed airliners that can carry the equivalent of the population of small cities within their bodies across the globe in a matter of hours. And now we move on to the ultimate development of aviation in recent years; unmanned flight.

It seems backwards on the surface but I guess it was inevitable. Yesterday, Northrop Grumman revealed the latest development that they have been working on for the US Navy; the X-47B Navy Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS). Heretofore only seen in the movies, this new aircraft is meant to be controlled by pilots back on the ground while the plane enters combat and puts itself (rather than the pilot) in harm's way. I think it's a natural development seeing as how it is more expensive to replace a pilot than it is to replace just a plane but I'm amazed to think that we've gone from wanting to fly ourselves to letting the computer control it for us remotely.

I often think about this development and think that in the near future the need for controllers on the ground will also disappear and eventually we'll have combat aircraft that fly themselves around the world on their missions with limited input from mankind. It isn't that far into the future and I'm sure it will happen sooner than we think. I'm sure development of civil aviation will continue to push for the development of larger capacity planes like the Airbus A380 but concurrently I think we'll see a continued development in the field of unmanned aerial combat vehicles. What I hope this doesn't mean is that our leaders take on a video-game-world attitude to enemy losses when your only view of them is through a television display. It seems almost impersonal to think of it that way but that's certainly what could happen in the near future.

Still, as we stand at the 105 years since the successful flight of a powered airplane I can only wonder what the next 105 years will lead to. In a little over a decade after the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, the airplane was developed and pressed into service as a weapon. Forty years after their first flight it was used as a tactical and strategic weapon that helped turn the tide of the second World War and delivered the blow that effectively ushered in the atomic age. A mere sixty years after that day in Kitty Hawk, man was in space and on his way to the moon. Now going into space is seen almost like a mundane activity. Perhaps in my lifetime we'll see air travel become as common as driving a car but I for one feel disappointed that on this historic day there is barely a mention of the fact in the news or elsewhere. We shouldn't let something so significant become something so forgettable.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

If the Shoe Fits

I think that by now most Americans would have seen the video of Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi's 'shoe attack' on President Bush during a news conference he was holding in a surprise visit to Iraq with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki this past weekend. According to witnesses, what Zeidi shouted translates roughly to "It is a goodbye kiss you dog." The tossing of the shoes is considered one of the gravest insults you can offer a person in the Middle East. The fact that two shoes were thrown in this case speaks volumes; at least in my mind it does.

Now people are already jumping on the Secret Service accusing them of being 'lax' in their security measures and not being on hand to 'take the bullet' 'shoe' for the President. People are talking about how if Zeidi had a gun it was possible that we could be talking about the assassination of a President rather than an insult literally flung his way. Now I counter those arguements by reminding most readers that having attended a Presidential speech a time or two in the past there has been plenty of security and Zeidi apparently underwent similar security screening this time as well. He wasn't found to be carrying a weapon and if we think that he shouldn't be allowed to remove his shoes without Secret Service sweeping in to stop him then we are going to have major problems every time somebody does something mundane like scratching their noses.

But again, that's not the issue. The issue to me is the fact that President Bush, the head of our country, the representative of our nation to the world has been insulted like this. Whether you like him or despise him what bothers me is that apparently the standing of George W. Bush and hence the Presidency of the United States is looked upon with such dour eyes around the world that to me it means the standing of our country has also been reduced. Now Bush may dismiss the 'attack' flippantly by mentioning that the shoe was a size ten or that he's not bothered but it sure as Hell bothers me. I remember when we were lauding the fact that statues of Saddam Hussein were being hit with shoes in the streets of Bagdhad when the city was liberated. Now forgetting that we make jokes about how baseball teams are thinking of signing Zeidi to their bullpen?

Is anybody else seeing that this is pretty significant? Perhaps we need to see it translated into terms Americans are familiar with and think of what the reaction in our country would have been to someone flipping Bush the middle finger and shouting a profanity-laced tirade in his direction. The reaction may have been much the same but still, I think people would then realize a little more what the situation means. It's just further proof to me that the standing of our great nation has deteriorated to such a point that some see Bush as being worthy of the same insult as Saddam Hussein. You can say that maybe it is limited to the one reporter but when almost every single poll is showing Bush's approval ratings competing with the drops in the Dow Jones Industrial Average then that tells you that perhaps the feelings of disapproval aren't limited to our country.

Whether I support him or not, the fact that he is the representative of my country overseas and that he is being insulted in this manner opens my eyes to the fact that we as a nation have a lot of work to do to restore the good name of our country in the eyes of the world. The attacks of September 11th garnered a lot of support for our nation around the world and even now there are still some sympathetic pockets but it isn't what it was shortly after 9/11 or in the years prior. Sure we've had Presidents being protested in the streets and effigies being burned on occasion but never has a reporter stood up and done so blatant an insulting attack aimed at getting his message of displeasure across so clearly. Wake up America! It's not a joke.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Bump of the Future

Speed bumps are probably among the simplest of speed deterrents that can be installed on residential roadways in an effort to slow down neighborhood speed demons. The problem is that for those of us following the speed limit (or are within a mile or two of it) in these neighborhood streets, we are forced to go slow over speed bumps as well. The result is that regardless of whether you obey the rules or not, you have to endure the sometimes damaging motion of going over a speed bump. Not so with a new invention being shown off in Korea. Invented by Korean scientists Jae-yun Kim and Jong-Su Lee, these new types of speed bumps combine speed radars with smart technology.

The concept is a relatively simple and straightforward one. If you are approaching one of the speed bumps above the speed limit then the speed bump will rise to its full height causing you to slow down or at least endure the inconvenience of bumping your travel along the road. If however you are being kind and law-abiding then the speed bump will flatten itself out and will leave the road relatively blemish free. Although it hasn't been implemented on roads as yet; testing has proven that the concept works and would ease the burden of speeding up and slowing down for drivers who maintain a steady following of the speed limit. I think it's a great idea that will help in the propogation of smarter driving and better fuel efficiency and wear and tear on our cars.

I mean think about it. Most people out there race from speed bump to speed bump (or traffic light to traffic light or stop sign to stop sign) in a vain effort to keep moving at high speed. The end result is that you burn more fuel in rapid starts and stops and you burn out your brake pads faster by doing the same. In addition you emit more carbon into the air. Overall it is a bad deal for everyone. Instead, technology like this encourages drivers to follow the rules while giving them incentive to do so. Not everyone will like it I'm sure but it's much better and smarter in theory than speed cameras or red light cameras. In both those instances they take a snapshot in time and can often penalize you for circumstansial evidence. Supposing you're being tailgated and the light turns yellow just as you are approaching an intersection. You can certainly stop in time but you'll end up with your tailgating pal crashing into you from behind. In speeding up you'll likely still get the ticket and will have to argue your way out of it.

Or what about new technology that is being implemented in areas such as the traffic-prone Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington, D.C. Connecting Maryland and Virginia along the southern end of the Beltway this bridge is notorious for creating traffic snarls that are the stuff of legend. Now during rush hour there has been a recent implementation of new technology that is meant to help speed up traffic. What happens is that the speed limit signs along the bridge corridor will adapt to the heaviness of traffic in order to encourage rapid clearing of the bridge. The theory sounds great although when they suddenly make the change in the middle of the day, drivers often don't know when the speeds may change and end up with speeding tickets for speeding when the posted speed limit was actually reduced. It's frustrating for many drivers and while the concept is nice I don't think it is working quite as they anticipated.

This new speed bump seems like a step in the right direction however and I think it will be something worth expanding upon It's a simple enough concept that combines many proven technologies and can positively affect the way we drive our cars. After all, with the way the markets are right now and the way oil has been fluctuating in the last few years, whatever we can do to prolong the lives of our vehicles is a good thing. I think it's a step in the right direction and is a sign of things to come. Now if they could only come up with a way to keep slow drivers from hogging the left lanes. Then we'd be yet another step closer to driver heaven.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Why is the Government Acting So Lame?

Early this morning the U.S. Senate rejected the proposed automakers bailout that had gone through the House of Representatives and seemed to be the answer that the American auto industry was looking for in order to save themselves from what many are calling 'certain doom' but now it seems the prognostications of doom may come true. The puzzling part is that our government, which has been so vocal and arguementative amongst itself over who is responsible for doing what. Now that the elections are over and seats have been won or lost (including the Presidency) it seems that a state of lethargy has taken over many sectors of the government. It's what is classically termed as a 'lame duck' government simply becuase now that the elections are over, there is no real motivation to necessarily do anything.

I can understand from the point of view of the leaders in the government who have lost their seats since the platforms they stood on have more or less led to their losing their seats in the first place. What I don't get is why though they aren't motivated to make a difference. Leaders at all levels of government, including the President, have made statements on how "it's a little late for me to do anything now" whereas they still have a month left to do something; anything. I find it distressing that in the midst of one of the worst financial crises in recent history the government is taking such an apathetic view. When many of these leaders leave their current posts will they be remembered for trying to spearhead one last effort at making a difference or will they be remembered for leaving office with their tail tucked firmly between their legs.

I mean I can't help but think of cases of people who have been on the verge of death and have decided to do something about it. They try to make some difference or do something that will be remembered after they are gone. In this case the government leaders aren't dying but their departure from office can be seen as a similar case and are they content to simply let their legacy be one of impotence? If they don't agree with a certain course of action being proposed then shouldn't they take action to propose an alternate? Why take the opinion that there's nothing that can be done and that the holidays are here so we need to kick back and relax. People are suffering in this current economy and the only suggestions that we get are 'spend more' or 'cut extravagence"?

These are they types of attitudes and ideas you could accept from a child who doesn't know any better but from our government leaders? I think it's inexcusable. I don't mean for them to dump money into the auto industry because I don't think the problems would end there. I think the calls to have strict rules on the basis for awarding these funds be addressed properly. The cases of the banks was made on similar grounds but with less rules over how and what to do. They were given money for screwing up and nothing else. Implementing rules to ensure that this doesn't happen in the auto industry is not wrong. I think it needs to be done but it's just too bad the government doesn't want to take action to do anything about it.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Expression or Violation?

'Tis the time of year when traditionally decorations pop up all over the place and the neighborhoods and surrounding environs in the area turn into wonderous and colourful displays which ring in the season. Bright lights, decorations, and displays fill the streets and there's a joyous atmosphere in the air. That is of course if your homeowner's association lets you. Most neighborhoods these days have homeowner's associations whose task is to more or less 'police' the neighborhoods they are in charge of and make sure that we all comply with the rules and regulations of the association.

Now in many cases, these regulations are understandable and warrantable. I mean who wants an ugly and unsightly broken down mobile home sitting in your driveway next door? Nobody. What about someone whose yard is overgrown with weeds or whose fence is in a sad state of disrepair. Nobody either. But what about holiday or religious decorations? Ah. There is the rub that gets many people in a tizzy and has been particularly affecting an Indian family in South Riding, Virginia. It seems that the homeowner, Mr. Ram Subramanium and his family decorated their driveway with a religious kolum earlier this year as part of the celebration of their son's thread ceremony. This traditional drawing is made with chalk and is usually worn away over time but the Subramaniums used paint to create this particular design as rain was expected the weekend that they were to have their celebrations.

It turns out that the Homeowner's association decided shortly thereafter that this design was in violation of association policy and ordered the Subramaniums to remove it and return the driveway to its asphalt state. Now Subramanium has thus far refused and has managed to accrue approximately $900 in violation fees thus far but he argues that he is not offending any of his neighbors with his display and his decoration is unobtrusive enough that it is not detracting from the overall look of the neighborhood. The association says otherwise. According to them no modifications can be made to the driveways without prior permission from the association and only then if the modification is approved.

Now I know that in my condo complex, all decorations are to be removed within a month of the holiday in question being celebrated. Now my first year there I had gotten a stern note when I left my holiday lights up towards the end of January. I figured they were white in color and were flush against the white border of my doors and windows so why remove them. The association didn't see it that way and demanded that I remove them before incurring fees. It was a small deal for me so I did it but it left a bad taste in my mouth as I'm sure many homeowners with such associations feel as well.

I'm not going to jump to the conclusion that many would that this violation by the Subramaniums is being elevated due to religious intolerance but I do wonder whether in this case religion is being used as a justification. Now in this case the kolum lays flat on the ground and is not visible unless you are close to the house. But supposing someone decides to leave a cross on their front yard for the entire year. Would that be allowed? I guess that depends on the association's ruling in that case but I doubt that it would be allowed either. It's not so much a religious symbol as a violation of what the general rules say. I think Mr. Subramanium and his family have taken the necessary steps to show the association that his neighbors don't mind the driveway decoration but then again from the associations perspective; if they allow this what else will they have to allow? It's a very sticky and touchy situation.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Cheer for the Little Guy

I think HBO has wisely made use of their show "24/7" in documenting the lives of prominent boxers as they prepare for matches that are usually expected to draw big crowds for the Pay Per View broadcasts. At this time last year it was the Mayweather-De La Hoya match; then it was the Mayweather-Hatton match and now it was the Pacquiao-De La Hoya match. In building up the rivalry that had been there the show not only managed to hype up the fight but show a side of boxers that not many people realize. It's easy to forget that not all boxers are punchy and slow-witted due to blows to the head. In fact if De La Hoya and Philippino powerhouse Manny Pacquiao are any benchmarks, they are tireless and giving in their lives as well.

Now I'm not an avid boxing fan but I do like to see fights and I do enjoy the documentaries like "24/7" which give viewers a great deal of insight into the preparation for a fight. It's not exactly like "Rocky" where the scenes before a fight are fully of soaring music and happy moments that lead to triumph but they are even more in depth. It shows the amount of preparation that some of these fighters go through and how it affects their friends and families. It puts a face on the boxers and humanizes them a bit which is good because it's quite easy to dismiss many of them as brutes who punch hard. Not so with these two fighters in particular.

For a number of years, Oscar De La Hoya was considered to be one of the top boxers in the Middleweight division and he lived up to his reputation. But as age and newere fighters caught up to him it was difficult for him to keep pace. And now it seems as though his time at the top is coming to an end. After losing a remarkably one-sided fight to Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year and losing again to Pacquiao this weekend it appears that De La Hoya will likely hang up his gloves and continue sponsoring and promoting fights rather than lacing up the gloves himself. He's done tremendous work in keeping interest in boxing alive and it's in large part due to him that the sport is still drawing in big crowds despite dwindling interest.

That's not to diminish the draw of Manny Pacquiao. In watching some episodes of "24/7" I came to understand just how big a deal he is to his countrymen in the Phillipines. He is considered among the greatest of national heroes and deservedly so. From the earnings at some of his past fights, Pacquiao donated food and money to many of his countrymen as a means of sharing in his success. He has created foundations and organizations meant to educate and help the poorer portions of his native country and he continues to do so after every fight. He's considered one of the top fighters in the division now and it only appears that he will continue his rise.

While we should definitely applaud his talent and his skill as a boxer, I think it's only right that we celebrate his achievements as a humanitarian also. So often we see sports stars selfishly spending or enjoying their rewards on themselves with token support to the community. Not all but some. But it's refreshing to see someone like Manny Pacquiao who does it not just because it's good for his image but because he genuinely wants to give back to his native country in the way that it has helped him. His victory over De La Hoya is considered a big one since it now elevates him in the eyes of many as a boxer who will definitely be reaching the heights of the sport. But he's already reached higher heights in the lives of many others.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Bollywood vs Hollywood

It's an endless debate that has always been at the forefront of many movie discussions among Indians and that's whether or not Bollywood (the name for India's Hindi movie industry in Bombay-now-Mumbai) is as good if not better than Hollywood. As a side note before I get into the rest of the discussion... shouldn't we now call Bollywood since Bombay is now referred to as Mumbai? How come Bal Thackeray and the rest of the pro-Marathi junta haven't hooked onto this message yet? Oh well. Perhaps sooner rather than later. But I digress. Is Bollywood as good or better than Hollywood? I think it depends on who you ask or what you see.

Now Bollywood proudly proclaims that it is the producer of the most movies per year than any other movie industry in the world and I can believe it. It's not surprising therefore to hear that some of Bollywood's top stars are starring in six movies simultaneously. Now that's an extreme case but not very far from the truth. Take a look at some of the television series that are on in India and you'll often see the same actors but in slightly different clothes. That's because they're working overtime there as well. So as far as volume of movies being put out there, I don't think Hollywood will ever compete with India as far as that level of comparison is concerned but is that necessarily a good thing?

Over the past few years, I can think of two films on India that have managed to generate a great deal of critical buzz and that's Deepa Mehtha's "Water" and Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire". The strange thing is that neither film was produced in Bollywood but rather by foreign movie producers. "Water" was the official Oscar entry from Canada (eh?) and I'm pretty sure "Slumdog Millionaire" will achieve some level of award recognition if not a place at the Oscar's in a few months. Is it deserved? Well I would leave it to the individual audience member to decide on their own but I often wonder why it is that Indian movies don't seem to do as well as other countries in terms of critical acclaim and I think a large part of it has to do with the target audience.

I know I've probably blogged on it before but I often feel that in the need for wanting to get the Indian audience their money's worth they will throw in needless songs and dances and balloon a movie that could finish in an hour and a half to a three hour epic. Why? Does the basic story line deserve that sort of treatment? No. But somewhat akin to Pavlov's dogs, audiences at Indian movies are conditioned to expect many cliches and that songs will suddenly come in at inopportune times. Now some directors seek to keep these songs in the background or as circumstansial (as in the movie "Thakshak" with Ajay Devgan where director Govind Nehlani took care of the songs by having scenes take place in a club) but more often as not they will suddenly depict the happy couple suddenly appearing in the Swiss Alps still dressed in Indian finery.

Now that's great for films that are supposed to be like that but do we really need this in films that are dealing with serious matters? In a film like "U, Me aur Hum" which deals with Alzheimers we suddenly see a woman struck with Alzheimers jumping up on a table and singing a love song to her husband. Is this what most Alzheimers patients do? Hell. Is this what most normal people do? When Bollywood usually depicts someone from the slums they'll still be buff or beautiful. If they are portrayed by someone like Dev Patel who portrays a slum-dweller in "Slumdog Millionaire" the movie will then flop. But of course if some 'foreign devil' chooses to show some level of reality then that's a problem too.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is currently the 'it' movie on many critical lists and many people who have been to Bombay and have seen the slums first hand or those who grew up there admit that the movie shows aspects of life in Bombay that are not exagerations but more often than not... the truth. Why shy away from it or why glamorize it? Show it for what it is. I don't think it degrades India in any way. The movie in fact shows that even in a large country like India, the common man can still rise above his circumstances. But many Indian viewers complain that it is the 'clean foreign' view of India. Or that foreigners want their cliches too or want to depict the negativity of India. I don't think that's the case. But I often think that Indian censors or movie critics are too taken with the illusions put up by Bollywood to truly be objective.

The outcry against "Water" when it was being produced led to the film being made outside of India because the religious fanatics in India didn't want a sad part of Indian culture to be depicted or filmed within India. Why? The treatment of widows like plague victims was a sad truth of India and the movie is set at a time when it was the norm not the exception. Why shy away from it? Similarly, I'm sure there will be many who object to many of the depictions within "Slumdog Millionaire" and they will protest the film vehemently but the truth is that sometimes it really does take a set of new eyes to show us ourselves before we truly see it. I think until there is a break in Bollywood and we see more investment in independent films that don't rely on typical Bollywood cliches then the only places where there is a chance of India... the real India... being shown is through foreign film companies.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Pox on Black Friday

If our economy ever needed a black Friday it was probably this year. With the stock market in a downward spiral and people in a tizzy about whether or not they would be thrown out of their homes, many retailers were wondering if people would make their yearly trips to the shopping malls and stores in the pre-dawn hours on the day after Thanksgiving for the yearly Black Friday sales rush. Sure you can get great bargains and nice deals but being part of the madcap mayhem that has come to define Black Friday has led me to avoid going shopping that day as if it would lead me to catch the plague.

There have been years where on my way to Thanksgiving at a relative's house I would pass by big name stores like Best Buy or Wal-Mart and one year I remember while driving over to dinner I saw ten people in line nearly 12 hours before the store was to start their sale. When driving back home around midnight there were already 50 people in line. The very next year I saw 50 people in line with 12 hours to go and when I was going home I saw over 100. It's come to the point now where I wonder if Thanksgiving is being replaced as nothing more than the day before Black Friday. I mean rather than celebrating family and friends and being thankful for anything at all we are subverting ourselves into crazy insatiable maniacs all in the name of finding a good bargain.

True there are sales this year but does that justify causing a homicide? What do I mean? Well if you look through the news every year for the past few decades that Black Friday has taken on this pre-dawn tradition you will find at least one story per year about a person being trampled to death and being left to die on the floor because shoppers aren't to be kept from their bargain hunting. Case in point is the late 34-year-old temporary Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour who was crushed to death at a New York Wal-Mart as people rushed into the store just as he opened the doors at 5 A.M. last Friday. Now people are quick to lay the blame on Wal-Mart for 'not having enough safety barriers in place' and 'not creating a safe work atmosphere'.

What? Do these people really think that those little fabric barriers are going to keep people in order? Have you seen the selfish madness that infects people like this? If you tell someone that you can get a DVD player for $50 they will go into a frenzy and come Hell or highwater they are going to take anything and everyone out before the let that bargain slip away. Never mind that that same DVD player sells for $50 anyways and has been on sale at Wal-Mart for the past six months at that price. Retailers are doing what they can to spur shoppers into buying during this time of recession in our economy so then holding them accountable for the death of an employee who was trampled by shoppers seems very backwards to me. Did the store kill him by employing him or did that rush of people who stepped on him kill him?

The holidays are supposed to be about giving and caring and while I'm sure all shoppers out there are going with that emotion somewhere deep in their heart I don't like what I see people becoming at times like this. Selfish raving maniacs who don't care who or what they hurt that comes in their way when the doors to the mall open. I've read about elderly people dying in rushes like this and the age categories are getting younger and younger. I don't think it will be long before we hear of children being trampled and then maybe... maybe... people will begin to pay some level of attention to this thing. Airlines like Southwest used to have this free for all policy and now they let people in groups at a time. I guess maybe it's time for stores to begin allowing entry by group number. At least this can help control the flow and the idiocy that seems to follow. But no matter what I'm going to continue avoiding going shopping on that day. It's just a nightmare and an accident waiting to happen.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Could it Happen Here?

It's hard to believe that a week ago today Mumbai was on the verge of going under siege of terrorist guns in one of the most horrific terrorist attacks since September 11th. Now that the attack has ended and with most of the suspects killed or detained, the public has turned its eyes towards laying the blame for these attacks. Along with laying the blame people are also starting to wonder whether these types of attacks could happen anywhere else in the world. The unfortunate answer seems to be 'yes'.

Many people are wondering how such an attack could occur in a major city like Mumbai. If one takes a look at a map of the area that was attacked last week you'll find that it's nearly surrounded by water on all sides making a seaborne landing near impossible to detect or deter. To think of it another way, during the Second World War, Germany knew that the Allies would land on the northern coast of France at some point. They did their best to shore up defenses but despite that, the Allies did manage to maintain the element of surprise and storm the beaches of Normandy. In this case, India was aware that attacks could happen at some point and at some time but it is impossible for them to post guards along every square inch of coastline in the city. Even then, the Taj, responding to calls for additional security in the weeks leading up to the attacks, had installed metal detectors at the entrances of their hotel. Who knew that the terrorists would know to come in through the less securely guarded back entrance?

And what about the response on the part of the authorities and army? Again there are those who condemn them for being 'slow' to respond or in delaying their counterattacks. The main problem was that these terrorists had come in fully prepared knowing exactly where they were going to go and who was responsible for what. Though many times we like to live in the illusion that terrorists such as these are likely planning their attacks in caves with scribbled maps in the dirt they are more often as not very methodical in their planning and new evidence suggests that these teams had advanced reconnaissance of the area along with GPS trackers and maps of the area so that they knew routes to and from their targets. And when you're dealing with a big city like Mumbai, is it any wonder that one or two attackers could get through without being detected? Just imagine 30 cops trying to track one determined individuals through the alleyways and streets of New York at night in the midst of panic and uncertainty?

So what do we do? What happens if someone decides to attack the US the way India was attacked last week? What are we going to do? Sure we can beef up security and increase the number of guards at potential target hotels and cities around the nation. But for how long? You can only stretch a rubber band for so long before it finally loses its elasticity and then breaks. We can keep additional guards on post around our harbors and beaches. We can add bunkers and defensive positions around the US coastlines and the like but to what effect? Look at our borders with Mexico. So many illegal immigrants are entering this country and for years we have been unable to effectively stymie the problem. Is it possible to then secure the entire United States in anticipation of this type of attack?

The world is a big place and there are lots of people inhabiting it that have problems or issues with someone or the other. It's rare to go someplace in the world and find an area that is free of conflict. No matter where you go someone usually has a problem with someone else. Maybe not in Switzerland but still, most places in the world have some form of conflict with someone else. Maybe it isn't up to the level of a shooting war but it's not exactly 'shiny happy people-land' either. After September 11th, the world was more or less on alert for potential attacks. Their guard was up but the enemies of the world waited. Then the attacks on the tube in London occurred and again the world was ready for anything. Then it ebbed. Now once again the world is ready to defend against an attack like the ones in Mumbai. The only question is how long will this readiness last before we become complacent again?


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

This is No Recession...Oops...Yes it is

I think back to earlier in the year when our government officials and the people in charge of making some of the decisions that eventually affect our economy were proudly and confidently stating that the economy here in the United States is not in a recession. I wonder what they're saying now that the independent and bipartisan Bureau of Economic Analysis declared that not only is the country in a recession but has been for the past year. I guess now that the elections are over and we're in full lame-duck season, anything goes.

As an economist myself I am often asked whether or not it was possible to predict this cycle and though I would love to spout words of wisdom on the subject I can honestly say that it's not always possible. Sure there are times when all the signs are pointing to the fact that the economy is in a downward spiral but if you're constantly being told that this is just an illusion or being told that this is a temporary speed bump in the road, then you don't know what to think. I can only think of the examples of Enron or WorldCom when the executives at these companies encouraged their employees to invest in the company while they divested themselves of stock prior to the collapse of these companies.

Some point to the implementation of laws like Sarbanes-Oxley and say that greater oversight on companies has lead to problems with the economy. I wonder, is it wrong of the government to have implemented changes to the law so that executives at companies like Enron are held accountable after ruining the lives of so many employees? Sure they have to report the truth about their yearly earnings but isn't that what they should be doing in the first place? Part of the problem appears to be the chain of events that have occurred in the past year or so and that's that the country has been spending itself silly. All of the expenditures are likely needed and I'm not going to argue against funding one thing versus another but in spending so much sure there has been impact on the economy but on the flip side, the average person among us out there has been affected by the credit crisis.

This was also part of the reason the economy has been in the turmoil that it has been. I mean think about it. A recession typically occurs when spending decreases and the jobless rate stays constant or increases. The past few months have seen nothing but these types of figures. Why will consumers want to spend more if they think their banks or credit lenders are suddenly going to cut off all support and send them to the poor house? Why spend on a brand new gas-guzzling car if the company that makes them is on the verge of going under and doesn't think they are accountable? What if everyone is so freaked out about investing if they feel that the market will only go lower? Most investment advisors say 'wait until the market bottoms out before investing.' We've gone pretty low but can we go for more?

I remember when the Dow Jones broke 10,000 for the first time. It wasn't expected to stay there for long. It stayed a lot longer than many people expected. I also remember saying to someone that the Dow would hit 8,000. We're getting close and at the current rate, we are only going to get closer. I'm sure the market will eventually correct itself because people are going to find that they can sink money into the economy at a good price and grab shares of companies that wouldn't have been possible before. It's hard to figure out what to invest in given that most of the companies in the S&P 500 have also been suffering of late. As an economist I know it's not the fault of the investment firms that our 401(k)'s reside with. They tell you the best they know but even they couldn't have predicted how drastically the market has changed. It's probably a good time to invest but until people gain some level of confidence, it's difficult to say just how much lower the market can go.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Attacks in Mumbai

I couldn't believe it when I heard the news. I thought for sure that perhaps I'd misheard the news report and the talks of attacks and hostages and gunfights was a report coming from Iraq rather than the streets of Mumbai but as I listened to the news last Wednesday I was struck by a mixture of feelings from shock, to anger and then rage. The coordinated attacks on popular tourist locations in Mumbai, India last week were as unexpected as they were sudden. Having actually visited some of the locations attacked including the famous Taj Hotel and CST Station (more commonly known as the Victoria Terminus or VT Station) I was saddened to hear that at one point, reporters were stating that there were injuries ranging as high as 900 with close to 100 dead. As more and more information came out the news was clarified a bit but no less devastating. Now nearly a week later we know that close to 400 people were injured and at least 100 some people were killed when gunmen opened fire with machine guns and bombs.

As I listened to the news I was even more surprised to hear from witnesses who still seemed a bit shocked at the events that the terrorists at the two hotels, the Taj and the Oberoi, were looking for American and British tourists and were demanding to see the passports of whomever was staying in the hotel so that they could keep the Americans and British hostage. The Indian security forces including the Mumbai police and military units along with the fire brigades all had a hand in helping bring the several day ordeal to an end and have helped speed the investigation along. Although not all the details are being released, some of the facts known at present are that the terrorists seized control of a merchant ship and then rowed into the harbor in Mumbai and came ashore at night. The terrorist cell had personnel on the ground in Mumbai and they had apparently done a great deal of reconnaisance in order to make the maximum effect when they started their attacks.

Soon after the shooting began the previously unknown group Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility. Their exact reasons or motivation for attacking Mumbai and for targetting American and British tourists remains unknown at this time but one can only speculate. Whatever the motivation or rationale that they give one can only wonder why they would target so many innocent people. Perhaps some who believe staunchly in their cause will say that the slaughter of infidels is justified and that the persecution their people have felt over the past so many centuries is coming to a head. That may be justification enough but is it justifiable to kill those who have no warning or that had nothing whatsoever to do with the decisions that these groups find so vehement?

If groups such as these hold America and England responsible for some of the misfortunes that have befallen their countries, their religions or their people then by perpetuating the violence, does it help the situation or does it hurt it? I have seen the images of not only the police but innocent people standing on train platforms who were shot dead for doing nothing more than standing in line waiting to board a train to who knows where. Were these the decision-makers? Were these the people who should be the target of such hatred? Are children who are being raised to practice another religion the enemy? Rather than stopping the hatred and the attrocities are we not simply feeding the flames by tossing blood like oil onto it?

No matter what group or religious motivation has spurred this attack, I am still at a loss to understand why. I don't suppose there will ever be a reason that could justify this or any similar act in my mind. This was not a military attack that went wrong or a bombing of a target that was suspected of harboring terrorists. This was a blatant attack on innocents. One could say that the attacks on India's Parliament several years ago was an attack on a government that has been at odds with Pakistan. But an attack on a crowded train platform? That smacks of aiming the attacks at someone who has nothing to do with the decisions they find so reprehensible. Perhaps some will rally to the cause of groups like Deccan Mujahideen while others will condemn them. All I know is that rather than bringing greater peace and understanding to Islam, all these attacks have done is further tarnish the name of one of the world's oldest religions. In the end I guess no one has won.