Friday, January 30, 2009

Aftermath of the 'Storm'

Well Washington has managed to survive it's very first snowstorm of the season (if 2 inches of snow and a quarter inch of ice on top of it can count as a snowstorm). Now it seems that just as I predicted, President Obama had some sarcastic comments about how the area deals with snow and though it has rubbed some people the wrong way I realized that it was still telling to see how people from parts of the country where there is lots of snow deal with it and how we here in Washington choose to deal with it. One can argue that we tend to overreact in the area to ice and snow but it's not surprising given the way the media reacts to it.

You can usually tell how severely the area is going to be perceiving the storms when you see the way in which the media covers it. When they have people all over the area giving live reports in winter coats and hats as they scan the skies even before flakes start falling. They'll have namebrand jackets and gloves and will usually be armed with a yard stick (to measure the snow depth) or a shovel (to illustrate how deadly the situation is). There will be endless news segments showing sliding cars and accidents galore. There will be interviews with people on the street as they struggle up and down the sidewalks either getting to work or getting a car-full of groceries needed to 'survive' the storm. Sure we get snowstorms in the area that impact us by leaving us stranded in our houses for a few days but in this day and age, it's not like we are settlers heading out west left to survive on our own.

I agree that there is some cautionary wisdom that can be taken from the stories of people freezing to death in their houses due to power failures are worth knowing and learning from but do we really need endless stories about how bad things are and how bad things can potentially get? Some in the media argue that it is there duty to report on the worst possible scenarios so that people can be properly prepared for the possible problems but it doesn't mean that we need to scare people as if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be riding in ahead of the storms that they predict. I can recall times where we had hype for days ahead of time and then ended up with weather that could be termed as balmy. Though the rest of the country has dealt with snow we have been relatively free of any problems this entire winter and several winters past.

Still, even then we can't be pleased all of the time. If you listen to the news you'll always see both sides of the issue and neither side ever appears to be wrong. What do I mean? Well take for example schools. School districts always have a tough job in that they have to make decisions at around 2:00 in the morning so that word can be properly spread to ensure that people know by 5:00 AM whether their particular school districts are closed. Sometimes they try the trick of delaying start by a few hours and then making a decision later in the day but if snow starts falling big time after the delay then it's usually too late to do anything. If they keep schools open the media will show endless clips of parents complaining about making kids go out in the snow and if they close then parents are shown criticizing the school board for making the decision to close when the weather wasn't really that bad. It just ends up showing that we're all indecisive when it comes to our winter weather in the Washington Metro area.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Test of the New Administration

It's still a few hours short of a week since President Obama was duly sworn in as the 44th President of the United States (the flub by Chief Justice Roberts notwithstanding) and despite having a spate of pending issues on tap at the outset of his new administration, he is already facing one of the most tribulating trials that any new presidential administration can face. It is the one trial which will prove once and for all whether the Obama administration will prove themselves to be worthy of Washington or whether they truly are 'outsiders' who have broken the Washingtonian chains that lead them to become the usual and mundane type of politician that everyone denies being. Yes. The true test is whether or not the administration will panic now that Washington is finally seeing the first snowfall of the season.

Now although President Obama himself is from Chicago where the type of snow we're seeing in Washington today would be considered a regular springtime occurence, here in Washington it takes on a whole new level. And although President Obama has been leaning towards using a DC license plate with the protest tag, "No Taxation without Representation" (which protests Washington's lack of representation in Congress) would have meant that Obama is a true Washingtonian, whether or not he panics is a true sign. Now I'm convinced that whether he does or not shouldn't reflect on his presidency but I do know that panicking in the face of snow (or even flurries) is something that most Washingtonians do.

However I'm also convinced it's because the ones who are doing the panicking for the most part are people who are relatively new to the area or come from parts of the country or the world where snow is actually spelled S-N-O and has the word cone after it. For these newbies to the area, snow is often seen as something akin to the apocalypse and it the real reason that we see a run on toilet paper, bread, milk and water whenever snow is predicted. Now the snowfall that is occurring today was predicted but this was about the fourth or fifth time this winter that snow as predicted and the last few times that that was the forecast, we ended up with relatively balmy temperatures and beautiful blue skies so people had been lulled into a sense of security and panic didn't set in as badly.

But now that snow is coming down and schools are closing, it's time for people to step up and show that true Washingtonian spirit by dividing themselves into two schools of driving. The first is where people wanting to be cautious err big time on the side of caution. Going the speed limit is fine but driving thirty miles below the speed limit in the left lane of the highway when roads are clear is dangerous but a necessity. The other school of driving states that you have to show how macho or confident in your driving ability (or lack thereof) and drive like the Devil is after you and as if snow and ice is no different than dry pavement on a sunny summer day. These are the usual people who cause accidents or end up upside-down in a ditch scratching their heads and pleading igonorance about why their supposedly-four-wheel-drive vehicle couldn't handle snow and ice the way it does in commercials.

Schools will close this time because of what happened in the area a few years ago when schools remained opened hoping for the best and students ended up stranded at school; some remaining there overnight. Now it's enough to get everyone into panic mode. Although I was delighted to see that Prince George's County maintains their fine tradition of laughing off snow and keeping schools open. For students like my brother and I who had to walk a couple of miles to school it was always appreciated when we had to walk through snow and then spend the entire day in cold and wet shoes only to walk home through it again at the end of the day. At least future generations going through school in the county like we did can share in that 'joy'. Oh well. I'm hoping that President Obama will truly chuckle and laugh at the panic. He appears to be a fresh take on the Presidency after a long time. Let's hope his reaction to snow in the Nation's Capital is no different.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 26, 2009

Killer Apps

Twenty-six years ago today the spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3 was released and it quickly became known as a killer app. Now despite the evil sounding term, a killer app (or killer application) isn't one that ends up causing your computer to crash or fail at a regular interval but rather a program or function that is considered to be so vital and so cutting edge that it becomes more of a necessity rather than an optional extra. Lotus 1-2-3 (for those who don't know) was the precursor to Excel in the sense that it was the first spreadsheet program that quickly caught on and led to the development of spreadsheets to what we know them to be today.

Now I can date myself by claiming to have actually used the DOS version of Lotus 1-2-3 though it was in no way comparable to the degree and the amount that I currently use Excel. Though there are some commonalities between the two, looking back on what was considered cutting edge at the time and what is considered cutting edge today, you might as well try to compare apples to oranges. These days there are plenty of people out there who can work wonders with Excel and short of making it sing, they can practically make it do anything else. I myself use it so much and so often that I sometimes see grids even when I'm not stuck staring at a computer screen.

But not all killer apps are as functional as a spreadsheet program or word processor. Some are a bit more fun. When the XBox was first released the killer app for that console was the game Halo which for a long time set the standard of what was cutting edge graphically and content-wise. Even in that short span of time, the degree of detail and story behind some of these games has gone forward by leaps and bounds and soon I think we'll reach a point where it will be impossible to tell reality from the game world.

But are killer apps a good thing? I remember when there were new games that came out on the PC or new software that was released, the big question always became whether or not the computer we currently had would be able to run it or not. I can recall sitting in dismay to find out that the computer we had at home wouldn't be able to run some of the games I wanted and at a time when upgrading a computer was a relatively major undertaking, it wasn't something you jumped into lightly. I can recall having to put off such purchases until such time that the technology that we had at home was able to keep up with the requirements of the software.

And to me that was like the whole chicken and the egg concept. Which drove the other? Did designers and programmers purposely design software that pushed the upper limits of computing in order to drive hardware technology development or was it the other way around? I couldn't and still can't tell which drives the other but I think it's a necessary process. There are times however when I feel that some development is done to the detriment of getting something to work in a relatively stable state. I liked Windows 95, 98, 2000 and even liked XP. What really began to bother me though was that by the time I got to Vista, they had changed the interface so much that you had to literally re-learn how and where to find simple things. It wasn't like before. Sure the advancement of technology was wonderful but does it have to come with the consequence of having to learn something brand new all over again? I think not.

I think the development of killer apps will continue and for the most part it will be a beneficial growth process. I just hope that I'm able to keep up with the development. Given the state of the economy these days I am not one to jump up and upgrade to the latest technology at the drop of a hat. Still, I can't help but be amazed at how far we've come from even something as commonplace these days as a spreadsheet. Looking at the screen capture of the DOS version and fondly (though not too fondly) recalling the way in which you had to hit control and a number sequence to apply bold, italics or underlines in spreadsheets and word processor documents to now doing so at the click of a button makes me wonder how far we can go in another 20-some years.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Slamming 'Slumdog'

Oscar nominations were announced earlier this week and the runaway hit of the year, "Slumdog Millionaire" walked away with ten nominations! However not everyone is as thrilled with the news as others. The movie opens today and the city that feature so prominently in the film, Mumbai, hosted the cast and crew that came to India to celebrate the premiere. Although there are people who have been very supportive and proud that the movie has won so much critical acclaim, there is a rather vocal majority that seems bent on looking only at the bad elements of "Slumdog Millionaire" and the supposed 'fallacies' that it attempts to depict.

Shortly before the furor on the movie began to pick up, there wasn't really much attention given to "Slumdog Millionaire". Most people figured that it would be a mediocre movie that would get some attention and then quickly die out but the appreciation of the film and the coincidental release shortly before the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November meant that it probably got more attention then it otherwise might have. At that time I remember that the movie was in very limited release and it was used by news programs as a way of letting people know that there was a movie that could help show people what the city of Mumbai is like. Critics had already shown support but the wave of people that went to see it after the attacks certainly helped boost viewership. And now people can't seem to get enough of it.

On the surface the story of "Slumdog Millionaire" isn't anything extraordinary. I mean the story of a down-on-his-luck protragonist who then has a chance to do something amazing that changes his life forever is nothing new. We've seen this theme in movies probably since movies were invented. What is different for a lot of Western audiences is that for a change they were able to see the movie in a very stylistic and more-or-less realistic light rather than the grandiose and often bombastic nature that most Indian films wish to portray and therein lies part of the problem that many in India have regarding the film. Everyone from the folks pictured at the top of this blog to Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan has been weighing in with their opinion on the movie.

Bachchan himself has been criticized for his comments in which he stated somewhat indirectly that he didn't understand how a movie that explores the 'murky underbelly' of Mumbai garnered so much attention when even the most developed of nations has a murky underbelly that is just as bad. He also went on to wonder whether it was because the film was based on a book by an Indian author but made by a Western director. In hearing that and in seeing comments from other people with similar opinions, I can't help but feel that this is in part due to petty jealousy on the parts of some. Now before I get innundated with comments from raving Amitabh fans who feel I have accused the actor of jealousy, let me back up my remarks. I remember reading about how the movie "Gandhi" was viewed in India and elsewhere. It too was an award winning film that won many awards but the view that some held was that this film could have and should have been made in India.

That may be, but then why didn't anyone do it? There is no shortage of talented and highly capable Indian actors but then why didn't anyone say, "Let's make a movie about Gandhi-ji and the struggle for independence,"? As far as I know, no one in India has made such a film and while it's fine to be critical of westerners who seem bent in the eyes of some of glamorizing or showing India in a western light, what about Indians themselves? When someone tries to make films on the 'reality' of India then it is usually openly protested. What do I mean? Well recall Deepa Mehta's attempts to film the movie, "Water" which dealt with the treatment of widows in pre-independence India. The cast and crew were protested and attacked in India due to the mob's belief that the movie would depict India in a negative light and was dealing with issues from the past that no longer went on in India. Yet when the movie (which was eventually filmed outside of India) was nominated as the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars as an entry from Canada, there was sudden praise and applause for Deepa Mehtha? Duplicity? Hypocrisy? I think so.

While there are elements of Indian culture and life in India that some may find a little shameful, no one can deny that this is part of the reality of India. Of all the protestors shown in this film I'm sure that not a single one of those people has seen or will see the film. They have been riled up by hooligans who want the common person in India to continue to view their country through rose-coloured glasses only in the highly stylized films of Bollywood then the cinema from India will not ever be appreciated. Read the reviews of "Chandini Chowk to China" (the latest Bollywood film to hit the mainstream) and while there is an appreciation of the fun and frolic of the film, a common question is why there are sudden bursts of highly illogical or meaningless segments that seem to be thrown in at random? There is a difference between useless escapism and brutal reality.

What about one of the other best picture nominees at the Oscars this year, "Doubt"? That film deals with the controversial subject of abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. Sure there have been protests and complaints about the film but it was still made wasn't it? No one is standing around denying that such occurences are only the product of the movies. No one is standing outside the theatres in a mob threatening to burn down the theatre showing the film or beating up people who go to see it. This doesn't happen everywhere in India either but it isn't so uncommon either. People rush to defend this action by saying it's partially because Indians are a passionate people but isn't everyone? I don't think passion has anything to do with it. It's more often pride and ego. The saying in Hindi is "Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin" which roughly translates to "we are no less than anyone else," and it seems to be the mantra that often pushes people to adopt this attitude.

If "Slumdog Millionaire" had been made by an Indian director or in Bollywood I don't think it would have made as big a deal as it has because there would have been endless songs and subplots that would have served as nothing more than justification about the motivation of every single character in the film. Isn't it enough to make assumptions? Do we really need to know the lifestory of everyone in the film so that we realize that even the most evil person is sometimes good? I mean sometimes Indian movies take it to the point that it's like watching the entire "Star Wars" trilogy in one sitting so that we know that while Darth Vader may be evil, we know why. If Indians have a problem with "Slumdog Millionaire" then what movie would the Indian masses feel is worthy of 'introducing' the West to India? "Chandini Chowk to China"? I think that's one of the worst mistakes they could ever make. Why introduce the west to the vibrance and truth of the country through a movie that is as fantastical as it is illogical? Is that India? Maybe these critics should see what "Slumdog Millionaire" is all about before jumping to complain.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And So It Begins...

And so the historic day that everyone had been talking about for months and months has finally come and gone and overall I'd say it did indeed live up to expectations. Sure... perhaps the Mall wasn't covered with 5 million people and perhaps there were issues and delays and problems in getting people to where they needed to go in order to witness the swearing in of President Obama but still, do we really need to start spinning things quite so much even before the man has even spent a full day in the Oval Office?

What I mean by 'spin' is the fact that no sooner had the last balloon fallen at the final inaugural ball last night then the news stories started to come out regarding what went right and what went wrong. We had news stories peppering the side columns throughout the day but already we began to see more prominence given to them when the main news of the day passed. This included things like stories about how the Metro system was overloaded with passengers and that they couldn't get to where they needed to go on time. There were stories on the news about how people were held up for hours in security lines and ended up barely moving for hours on end simply because they couldn't get through security fast enough. There were stories about how some people are already questioning the 'legitimacy' of the Obama administration because of a verbal gaffe on the part of Chief Justice John Roberts.

The last one there is one that really puzzles me because it was something so minor that people who are making an issue of it (or are planning on making an issue of it) are really grasping for straws. The point of contention is over how Obama took the oath. Chief Justice Roberts said, "faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States" but Obama said, "execute the Office of President of the United States faithfully." It seems a minor thing but when one calls it a 'sacred oath' I guess it really does matter. Now some are wondering why this was a gaffe on the part of Roberts when Obama said it incorrectly and the reason is that most times, the Judge presiding over the swearing in of any position will first ask the person to say, "I, Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear" whereas Justice Roberts said the line "I, Barack Hussein Obama," and took a significant pause.

When he suddenly started up again in the middle of President Obama taking the oath he most likely threw Obama's train of thought at the moment and left the up-to-then unshaken Obama a bit stirred. People are saying that he is already showing signs of being phased in public but I don't think that a slight case of the jitters on such an important day is cause to suddenly question the legitimacy or his apparent dedication and zeal to his new role. On the contrary, he didn't make a gaffe like saying "exacerbate the Office of President of the United States". I think this is all just spin that needs to be taken down a notch. If someone wants to be so exacting in saying that because the oath was taken out of order thereby making it invalid then the easiest thing to do is to take it again in private just as Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur did after similar mistakes during their swearing-in ceremonies.

These things shouldn't take away from the moment though. As I sat there watching all this happen I couldn't help but realize that this is truly historic. For the first time in the history of our country, a person from a historically oppressed racial background was taking the oath of office for the highest office in the land. He was being hailed not only because of the importance of this day but out of respect as well. No other inauguration has drawn so much attention and enthusiasm and the fact that things went as smoothly as they did is a testament to the attention and care that was shown by the city of Washington as well as the Inauguration committee. In a day filled with drama, both intended and unintended (the collapse of Senator Kennedy) it was one that will be remembered for long years to come. And something so minor as a transposition of words shouldn't take away from that moment. Stop the spin for sometime and savor the moment in time.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Morning in America

The photo at the left was taken a few hours ago. It's in the pre-dawn hours down on the Mall in Washington and already crowds have gathered. Some parts of the crowd have been in the area since the weekend when the festivities for the inauguration began. Though I won't be down on the Mall taking part in the actual festivities, I do plan on taking in as much of the event as I can because it is truly historic. Perhaps to the rest of the world the furor surrounding the inauguration of President Obama seems a bit over-the-top or excessive but I don't think that's the case.

The title of my blog for today comes from President Reagan's ad campaign from his 1984 re-election bid and perhaps it's ironic that I use a slogan from a decidedly Republican President to talk about the start of a Democratic President's first term but I think the statement is apt once again. Many of his opponents and critics and those who simply paint people as either being 'liberal' or 'conservative' are bitter and resentful over the feelings that seem to be permeating the country at this point. Truly the emotions that seem to be swelling across the city these past few days is something I can't recall seeing in a very long time. Having lived in Washington my whole life it's easy to become jaded and immune to the excitment that many get when they see their government in action or conducting their normal business but this time it's different.

There's a renewed sense of hope in the country. There is hope that after 8 years of leadership that has had questionable and harmful consequences for many of us, there is a chance to begin again. There's a sense of renewal and hope. And that to me is the key to why there is so much excitement. Hope. Maybe it will turn out to be a falsely placed hope that so many of Obama's naysayers are quick to point out. Perhaps all of the things that Obama has been promising or talking about will never come to pass. Perhaps the next four years won't improve the situation we're in at all at this point. But it doesn't matter. People have hope. People are hopeful that the future of this country is on the road to recovery and that a new era will begin at noon today when Obama officially becomes the next President of the United States.

I think hope is something that has been missing with a lot of people in recent years. Sure, many of us try to be 'the glass is half full' type of optimists but still, there is a limit to how optimistic you can be when anything and everything seems to be collapsing around you. Our economy is in shambles, our nation's confidence is shot and people are facing a situation that they have not experienced in their lifetimes but what they don't need is another set of smug reassurances from someone who can't spell economy without a dictionary at his side. If there's one thing President Obama can learn from his predecessor, it is that when making reassurances to the public, be honest.

Don't hang "Mission Accomplished" banners when you know that the mission isn't done. Don't tell us everything is fine when you know that it isn't. And don't be smug. For the love of this country don't be smug. There is a time for smugness and a time for seriousness and I personally feel that we've had long years of smugness. It's time to be honest and I think that hope is there with the American people that today marks the return to honesty and good stewardship over our country. Those who have never supported and will never support anyone other than their own ultra-conservative, narrow-minded, god-fearing, bible-reading, moose-hunting, excessive-shopping, or simple-minded leaders take note of one thing. A minimum of four years of change are upon us; when things change for the better be honest as to why it is happening. Don't live in a fantasy world.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Wanting a Piece of the Action

There are few times in a persons life when they can truly be a part of history. For people of my parents's generation it could range from the landing on the moon to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For the previous generation it would have been Pearl Harbor and World War II. My generation has also been a part of history at one time or another but as I think back on it, so many of the recent historical moments in time have been so downright depressing that it often makes me wonder whether we have something to be happy about at this time in our lives.

Our generation was very young when the Challenger accident occurred so our generation had a somewhat tainted view of the space program. It wasn't too long ago that we suffered another blow with the Columbia disaster. There have been multiple wars and fights in which our generation has fought and given their lives and no event could be counted to be as significant for our generation as 9/11. That was until the election of America's first African-American President, Barack Obama. And tomorrow morning, as he stands in the brisk cold of a Washington January morning on the steps of the Capitol, swearing the oath of office, we will finally get to experience a moment in history that finally gives many of us something to feel good about. Whether you agree with his policies, his ideals or his outlook on the future of our country, no matter how jaded you may be, you cannot deny that this is a part of history.

The long hard fight for true civil rights has come to fruition with his election and tomorrow when he officially becomes leader of the oldest democracy in the world, Barack Obama will be proof that the struggle was worth it. So then it's not surprising that there is just as much enthusiasm for getting a piece of the 'action' (so to speak) of his historic occasion with many who have nothing to do with Barack Obama or his campaign. I'm not talking about the stars who were glittering in the cold on Sunday at the pre-inauguration concert held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I'm talking about the hawkers and vendors and the fly-by-night operators that have suddenly sprung up with tons of gee-gaws meant to make a quick buck and remind those of us who were here to see this event that we were a part of it.

But I ask you; is this commercialism really necessary? Doesn't it seem to cheapen the moment just a tad, or in some cases, more than a tad? I mean I remember when Princess Diana died in Paris over a decade ago. Remember how they released a commemorative CD with Elton John's rendition of the song, 'Candle in the Wind' as a means of commemorating her? The song went something like triple platinum within moments of being released and though the song is a wonderful tribute to a long admired Princess of England, do we really want to hear her epitaph song over and over again? I mean sure, the money made from the sales of the single was given over to charities that she supported but it seemed like a sneaky way to play on people's emotions of the moment and get them to turn money over.

Even now, if you walk the streets of DC (which is easier said than done in the hours leading up to the inauguration) you can probably find anything and everything to do with Obama on some item or the other. I think buttons and shirts are commonplace but I've even seen photos of flip flops, shot glasses and even boxer shorts with Barack Obama on them. Most of them are released without his knowledge and he'd probably be disturbed with the thought of someone wearing his photo for underwear but many would justify it by saying it's a way to feed the emotions that are running high with so many people. I'm sure that if you go down to the Mall over the next two days you'll also get caught up in the fever. I haven't been down to the Mall and don't plan on going anywhere near the Mall until everything is over and done with. Not because I'm in fear of anything or that I don't want to be a part of history, but I'd rather not miss anything and I'd rather see it in the comfort of my own home and admire this moment in history in my own way.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 16, 2009


Whatever your job is there are only so many scenarios which you can be trained to handle. People are usually confident that they have been prepared for the most common of occurences and are ready to respond in a reasonable way. But what about those one-in-a-million instances that seem so outlandish that they should be a plot element in the latest movie? What would you do if you were faced with such a scenario and how would you respond? Thankfully most of us rarely if ever have to face such situations but that wasn't the case for the passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia to Charlotte yesterday afternoon.

It started off as normal as most flights do in this modern, post-9/11 world that we live and travel in. However the flight quickly turned from ordinary to extraordinary in very short order. Within moments of take-off a flock of birds (I believe they were geese) flew into the flight path of the airliner and ended up getting sucked into the engines of the Airbus A320 resulting in failure of not one but both engines. It's a scenario that seems almost impossible to imagine only becuase it's almost never happened before. The pilot of the plane, identified as Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, managed to land the plane in the Hudson River after being unable to get the plane to the alternate site being touted by air traffic control, Teeterborough Airport.

It was one of those scenarios that you always see in airline safety cards but one which pessimistic people always claim will be impossible. You know the one I mean. It's the safety instructions as to what to do in the event of a water landing. Perhaps it's our thoughts biased by Hollywood movies depicting plane crashes or our general thoughts that a plane being bulky and heavy could never survive a water landing but it's the truth and here we have a case in point. Captain Sullenberger, a former Air Force pilot, managed to bring the plane in safely for a landing on the water and the plane managed to stay afloat long enough for the entire passenger compliment and the crew to be evacuated. And although the plane did eventually sink lower into the water, it survived long enough for a rescue to be made.

I think it's a credit to the calm and obviously cooly made moves of Captain Sullenberger and even the crew who attempted to keep the chaos described in the cabin at a minimum. I guess that part of what we see in the movies isn't really the case. Usually in the movies we see passengers panicked but strapped securely in their seats, in this case, some passengers reported that people broke into a panic when the plane started going down. It's understandable but it could have been a whole lot worse had the pilots been unable to affect a controlled landing. Shortly thereafter the passengers were evacuated onto the wings of the plane and then eventually into the flottila of boats that converged on the scene. One could argue that they survived in large part due to the fact that rescue came so quickly but it's also due to the calm reaction of their crew.

It's hard to say how people would react in such circumstances but I think it's safe to say that the reputation of the training the Air Force instills in their pilots will go up thanks to Captain Sullenberger. It's probably not something he ever imagined he'd get to do outside of a simulator but at least he proves that planes are still safe and that if one follows the directions of trained personnel, it is possible to survive a water landing. The FAA reports that bird strikes on airplanes are as frequent as 1 every 10,000 flights but not all of them result in all engines on a plane failing (unless of course it's a single engined plane) but the actions of the captain and crew speaks to the training and dedication they have to maintaining a safe environment for their passengers.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

When Do You Draw the Line?

Readers may recall a few weeks ago I had written about a family in New Jersey that ran into a flap at their local supermarket when the supermarket's cake department refused to personalize the birthday cake for their child. The reason that was given was that the cake in question was for their child named Adolf Hitler. Now at the time, the issue I had was that I felt that the parents of this child were going to unnecessarily subject their child to problems if not now but in the future. I still stand by that belief. I feel that if the kid keeps the name, who's to say that ten years from now if he's looking to get a job, don't you think any HR manager would think twice before making a decision on whether or not to hire someone named after the actual Hitler?

In my previous post and in a post I had written a long while ago (I think it was my second or third blog posting ever!) I had written about how sometimes parents don't seem to consider what the child would go through given what they are named. I remember when Gwyneth Paltrow's baby was born and she decided to name her Apple. I think it's fine and it's unusual but don't you think that later on kids being the unintentionally-insensitive way they are, would have a field day with such a name? So I can only imagine what kids would do to poor little Adolf. But now the state has stepped in and decided to take action. Whether it was due to public outcry or some other motivation, the state decided to take the kid and his siblings, one-year-old Joyce Lynn Aryan Nation Campbell and 8-month-old Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell into protective custody citing an unsafe environment for the kids to grow up in.

Now the Campbells believe that there's nothing wrong with the names they have given their children and while they profess to being all inclusive and not in the least racist, there is still some lingering doubt. But is it enough to warrant taking a family's children away in order to protect them? By all rights I believe the general law in the United States is that you can name a child anything you want as long as it is not a curseword. There again I doubt that any parent would want to name a child after a curse word but still. There are some unusual names out there among children but is it right to crack down on a family because the parents think there's nothing wrong in naming a child after the infamous German leader?

For obvious reasons the name is completely forbidden for even consideration in Germany along with Osama Bin Laden but freedom of expression is one thing that is highly valued in this country and some people take it to the extreme. Perhaps Campbell is looking to prove a point or make a martyr of himself by showing that the government truly is playing the part of big-brother in this case. Is it right for the state to deem a child to be in danger due to the fact that his or her name is highly controversial. It's very subjective but not an issue which doesn't have a profound impact on the way people approach a dilemma. Do you recall the flap over the fact that President-elect Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein? Had his family known then what it knows now it's quite likely that they could have named him Barack Morris Obama but that is neither here nor there.

The real question is whether or not the state has the right to take a child away from a family because of a name? According to all reports other than the name, there were no outward signs that the children were in danger. Sure they had strange names but then again they were too young to really understand the consequences of being named what they are. You can make the arguments both ways and say that the state was right and wrong in taking the children away. I don't think it was up to the state to judge on the basis of just the name to decide that the environment is unsafe. If it is then what about the numerous cases of kids living in families with known skinheads or members of the Ku Klux Klan? Aren't they in just as much if not more danger? It's a question of setting a standard that could eventually open up a messy can of worms and I don't think it's something the state of New Jersey's Child Protective Services has fully thought through.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mafia Hijinks

If the enduring popularity of films such as "The Godfather", "Scarface", and "Goodfellas" as well as games such as the "Grand Theft Auto" series tells us anything it's that people still have a fascination with crime syndicates. For some reason there has long been a desire to know about life within a Mafia family and the certain 'mystique' that surrounds it. But if you think movies or video games are the only place you can see or hear about the types of adventures that seem fictional, you need to check out the news from Italy.

Apparently the purported boss of the Southern Italian crime syndicate Neapolitan Camorra, the infamous Giuseppe Setola, pulled off an escape from Italian police that has led many to shake their heads in wonder at the audacity and cleverness. Setola had already been under house arrest for his alleged part in other crimes perpetrated by Neapolitan Camorra but he had been released due to the fact that he was suffering from eye problems. Recently he was part of an investigation by police into the gangland-style murder of six African immigrants in Naples. This murder led to widespread rioting which required the use of government deployed soldiers needed to help restore peace.

The police began closing in on the heads of the family and had surrounded Setola in his hideout. However, by the time the police closed in and entered the premises, they realized that Setola was no longer inside. A search revealed a trapdoor located beneath the bed which led to a locked door which ultimately led to the complex and ancient sewer systems beneath the city of Casserta. By the time police managed to bypass the complex door locks and enter the sewers themselves, Setola had already managed to escape from custody and is still 'on the lam' from the police.

Though it is no laughing matter that a crimeboss with suspected connections to a series set of murders is still on the loose, I can't help but think how much like the movies this real-life escape really is. I can't think how many times I've sat in movies and wondered how implausible it is to think of such skulduggery leading to the escape and evasion by criminals from the hands of justice and yet here is a perfect example. It would be something that even James Bond would be proud of.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Price of Going Green in the Digital Age

For many people the argument that the switchover to all-digital broadcasting next month was reason enough to purchase a new LCD or Plasma flat screen in order to make sure that all future Football games or tv seasons would be in crystal clear depiction and gaming would be elevated to pristine levels. Of course what many of these same people won't tell you is that rather than spending thousands of dollars on a new TV you could get the same quality by purchasing a convertor box that would receive digital signals and then downgrade the image to your old CRT televisions. Sure you won't be able to see the beads of sweat trickling off the nose of the quarterback during the Super Bowl but the question is would you really want to?

Still many people have opted to upgrade to flat screens simply because it's the current wave that everyone is riding. They will talk about how the TV saves space since it isn't as bulky as big screens that had started to dominate the market. They talk about how much nicer the picture looks when you watch anything on it. They also talk about how upgrading is almost a law due to the act of Congress requiring all networks to switch over to all-digital broadcasting this year. But is this upgrade trend (real or implied) actually doing a disservice to what Congress and the world seems to be pushing for? What exactly am I trying to say? Well as you know everyone and their brother is jumping on the eco-friendly and 'going-green' bandwagon so is it any wonder then that some other people will take that dictum very seriously?

The state of California (led by the Governator -- Arnold Schwarzenegger) is contemplating the idea of banning certain types of LCD and plasma screen flat-screens. The rationale for such a decision? The fact that some of these televisions suck up more energy than normal televisions. In energy-starved California it's come down now that every precious kilowatt hour needs to be used judiciously. But in their efforts to help the environment there are concerns that it could affect the retail market as well. There are proposals being debated right now which would tax retailers on the sale of televisions that supposedly drain more energy than others and what retailers are concerned with is that consumers would then turn to online dealers to make their purchases rather than helping the local economy. This itself would turn out to be another blow to the economy of the state if it did happen.

Already there are concerns about the current state of the economy. Can you imagine what could happen if suddenly another part of the consumer market was drastically hit by changes in consumer spending. This past winter there was a fair amount of business in the flat-screen television market and although spending was down at times due to the market conditions, the number of empty LCD and plasma-screen TV boxes you see at curbside these days tells you that not everyone is holding back from making that one big purchase. When Congress and economic leaders are pointing to consumers and demanding they spend more to stimulate the economy; do we really need some sort of disincentive to make purchases?

That's the real question then I guess. Would the state be willing to sacrifice a bit of economic stability if it meant that the environment would be better? Go to Los Angeles and once you see the smog you'll understand why there are concerns over whether or not the environment there should be saved or not. Still, it always ends up being a question of what is more important at the moment than at the future. The economy needs people spending now but if we continue to erode the environment by buying up more plasma screens or other devices that are a drain on energy being produced by the state, we have to create more energy producing plants which will harm the environment more which in turn will lead to a damaged environment for future generations. It's funny how a simple desire to watch a football game in digital high definition can have such global consequences.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Cabinet's Not Bare

After a stunning victory in the election two months ago and less than two weeks from taking the oath of office, President-Elect Barack Obama has been working hard to get off to a running start. Already making plans for how to deal with the economic crisis plaguing our country, he's also looking to fill posts within his cabinet with people who will help him push the agenda and platform he ran his election campaign on. Not everyone agrees with all of his decisions but at least one can't say that he isn't making some interesting choices.

Now some pro-Hillary supporters feel that perhaps his decision to name Senator Clinton as the Secretary of State was to subdue and pander to the pro-Hillary base which had been upset over the fact that she lost in the primaries to Obama but at least he is proving himself to be more than just a bag of hot air when it comes to putting the money where his mouth. He had said that after Senator Clinton lost the Democratic nomination that he hoped that he could count on her and Bill Clinton's support and though at times that support may have seemed begrudging, it was still given. And if you want to by highly cynical you can argue that perhaps Obama named her to be his Secretary of State due to his desire to make ammends. It was also the reason that many of these same cynics believe that he named Joe Biden to be his Vice President and that he sought to name Bill Richardson as his Secretary of Commerce and there came the first problem in his naming of potential Cabinet members.

Bill Richardson withdrew earlier this week due to his feeling that some of his past business dealings could have impact on his ability to properly run the Commerce Department so he withdrew himself from the nomination. It was the first time that the otherwise smooth efforts at transition had been interupted but now it seems that when it rains it pours. Though not content to let the news subsist on mere information about Richardson's withdrawl, Obama went ahead and announced his intention to name former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta as his CIA director. The announcement was met with much criticism primarily because many felt that the selection had been made without properly vetting or getting information on Panetta and how he would fit within the CIA hierarchy.

One can say that if we have learned anything in the past 8 years its that when the President says something it usually happens and although there are still 13 days before Obama is officially President, he is already taking steps to ensure that his choices are as transparent as possible to the public and Congress so that there are no accusations of subversion or chicanery in his creation of his Cabinet because if there's one thing we don't need for the next four years its a President who thinks that he is the ultimate authority. I think Obama is beyond that realm of thinking and the fact that he's trying to find qualified personnel to fill the vacancies and is retaining those who will have knowledge to make his transition into the role of President that much wiser.

Obviously going in for a radical culture change in Washington isn't going to please everyone and that doesn't seem to be what Obama is trying to prove; otherwise why would he have chosen to keep Robert Gates as his Secretary of Defense? He's been in the post for quite some time now and rather than bring in a new person at the point where the administration is seeking to withdraw our troops from Iraq it wouldn't make sense to appoint someone who doesn't understand the situation. But change is needed in that in some posts there has to be a shift in the message coming from the White House on certain issues.

The current Surgeon General reported that he often came under fire for not having views that aligned with the Bush Administration and now Obama is seeking to change that. And to have that he's supposedly courting CNN surgeon extrordinaire Sanjay Gupta. One can argue that he's spent more time reporting than he has doing neurosurgery but that doesn't mean he can't be an effective spokesman for the President's health care agenda. I think he is making a right choice in seeking out Gupta. His years on CNN have made him an effective communicator and if healthcare is one of the areas which he wants to make a change in then he needs someone who can convince the people. So though the Cabinet is still far from being full and ready for a first year, it's getting there. And it's getting there very carefully.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Struggling Auto Industry

A few years ago I wouldn't have thought it possible that the American auto industry would find itself in the situation it's currently in. For years the debate had raged as to whether American cars were as good as foreign makes and whether it was good or bad to buy American. Having driven American, Japanese and German cars for quite some time I can honestly say that there is some difference but what I also feel is that in many respects, the American auto industry began to suffer because they didn't really listen to the people or respond to the times. What I mean is that when gas prices began to creep up in the early part of this decade, many companies began looking at alternate fuel-powered cars or more fuel efficient designs. Other companies stuck with their bread-and-butter type cars and never really responded and that led to some of the problems we are seeing today.

Now one can argue that companies like Ford and Chrysler didn't do anything that a company like Porsche or Mercedes didn't do but there is a difference. If you are buying a Porsche or Mercedes you have certain expectations and certain knowledge that you aren't going to be buying a vehicle that is necessarily a fuel efficient or economical car. However, on the other hand, if you see an American car that isn't as reliable, costs less but will be in the shop more then why not spend more on something that is sure to last for a long time? Having driven a 1991 Ford Escort for several years before purchasing a 2001 Honda Civic, I was surprised at the difference between the two cars. Although both had many of the same features, the differences lay in the reliability of the two. With the Civic I rarely had a problem whereas with the Escort, I'd have a problem crop up every now and again.

And now we flash forward nearly a decade and we find that some of these same complaints still persist and in addition, there are complaints regarding the economical outlook of some of these cars. When the push was on for fuel efficiency, American cars remained on the outer limits of being termed fuel efficient. Sure there are claims of best fuel economy in its class but when you class a vehicle by itself in a self-designated class then of course you'll be the best. It's hard not to be when you are competing against no one else. Perhaps some executives saw this as a 'flavor of the month' type of scenario where people got excited about fuel efficiency for a while and then forgot about it.

Now that times have changed and people's priorities have shifted from driving a macho car to driving something that will not be an additional burden on their wallets, the American auto industry is struggling to get back in the swing of things. I think saving the auto industry through loans is probably a wise thing as it will eventually affect the overall economy of the nation but I also think that it's the right decision to lay down the requirements that many are calling for and demanding that the American auto industry join the 21st Century in terms of auto economy. Saving the American auto industry is important because it has an impact on so many other parts.

Take for example the racing giant NASCAR. This sport has so many sponsors and such devoted loyalty that some fans will only drive a make that their favorite driver drives and will only purchase goods that sponsor their favorite driver. If the auto industry suddenly withdraws support to the sport, it's possible that the sport itself will go by the wayside and many other companies will begin suffering. It's all a chain of support and taking out one link in that chain will end up having ramifications across the nation. Now perhaps you can call this a selfish plea for support for NASCAR but if one thinks about it, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine and apply. After all, NASCAR has become one of the largest sports in the United States and with the growing number of foreign drivers taking part, it's no wonder that it would have an impact on the economy of the country as a whole. It just goes to show how important the auto industry is to everyone in our country.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Fighting Drunk Driving

Many people take a stab at establishing a resolution for the new year and unfortunately most don't get past keeping it for much longer than a week. These resolutions range from losing weight or keeping an even temper to quitting smoking or even drinking. It seems that people are trying harder than ever to kick that habit in particular and are coming up with some creative ways to curb excessive drinking by friends or loved ones and even themselves. Not all are as effective as others but you have to admit at least they appear to be honest efforts.

Take the case of a 17-year-old girl who was out on New Year's Eve when she called up the police using the OnStar emergency response button in her car. She contacted 911 to reporter herself as being intoxicated and unable to drive her car (despite later admitting she had been doing it for quite some time earlier in the evening). Police were dispatched, tests were taken and the girl was promptly arrested as her blood alcohol level was well beyond the legal limits. Compounding the problem was the fact that she was underage and therefore in violation of the law. The girl was later released to her parents custody and while many are applauding here self-reporting and safety consciousness despite her apparent innebriation, there is still the concern that she was an underage drunk.

But as I said, at least she had the sense to pull the car over to the side (eventually) and call for assistance. Others have decided this year to take the statement "friends don't let friends drive drunk" to a whole new level. Take the case of a 41-year-old man who was arrested by police after he was seen out on the road shooting a paintball gun at the windshield of a parked car. Now that's not necessarily a crime per se but the fact that he was doing it late at night raised suspicion with police. When arrested, the man confessed to shooting paintballs all over his friend's windshield so that he wouldn't be able to drive away after his night of drunken partying.

Now both of these cases raise the question as to whether or not the ends justifies the means or whether the other drunk driving statement ("knowing when to say when") is something that should apply to those attempting to prevent drunk driving as well. It's all a strange little scenario that has left many wondering whether or not the decision not to drink or whether to keep others from drinking or drinking and driving is a wise one. I'm sure it all boils down to good intentions on the part of many but surely there should be a way to stop drunk driving without getting yourself in trouble as well. I mean Superman wouldn't have been as happy helping people if he kept getting himself arrested every time he saved a cat from a tree. Perhaps these good samaritans should also take that into consideration.