Thursday, March 26, 2009

Plotting our National Defense

I was saddened to read in the paper this morning that an F-22A Raptor, the latest and greatest fighter plane employed by the Air Force at present, crashed yesterday during a training exercise in California. The 49 year-old test pilot for Lockheed Martin, David Cooley, was killed as a result of the crash. This is the second time that an F-22 has crashed. The previous crash in December 2004 resulted only in the loss of the plane as the pilot managed to eject before the jet crashed to the ground. At present there are 134 of the jets in operation around the Air Force with a total of 183 being planned for; however, I was a little shocked to read that Congress was continuing to press for an additional 20 aircraft to be manufactured prior to the ending of the program.

Now being a self-professed lover of all things aviation, I was a little surprised to read that Congress, not the Air Force was pushing for the decision and I can say that I'm a little surprised by this. Although I do believe in having a strong national defense program, shouldn't the Air Force be the one deciding whether they want an additional 20 of the F-22 rather than Congress? Congress has been involved in the planning and deployment of aircraft before and the results have not always been as intended. For example, back towards the tail end of the Vietnam War, the Air Force began requesting bids for a replacement for the aging F-105 Thunderchief and the Navy wanted to replace their F-4 Phantom (which would still be in use even during the Gulf War nearly 20 years later). Rather than courting separate bids for different aircraft, Congress and the Defense Department recommended that a single aircraft solution be chosen.

Now of course with the competing attitude that pervaded the military at the time it's not surprising to find out that the two services had drastically different requirements and the stipulation that a single solution be chosen ultimately led to the F-111 growing overbudget even before it was approved. Ultimately the F-111 would only find use in the Air Force and the F-14 would be developed and be chosen by the Navy. And therein lies my problem with Congress making a decision without fully understanding what it is that they want. Sure there are lots of Congressmen who have served in the military or have deep ties to the military that give them an edge in understanding what the requirements and desires of the military are but that doesn't mean that they have the necessary wherewithall to solve the gaps being brought up.

Part of the problem (as I see it) is that a lot of decisions are made on paper rather than with the brain and by that I mean that potential cost savings are seen as the answer rather than a part of the answer. When money is being tightened and spending is being reigned in, you obviously won't go overboard in expenditures but that doesn't mean just because a solution seems to make sense on paper (one solution... or one plane for everyone)that it will translate to an actual savings in the end. Now the F-35, the next generation fighter being developed for all the services (and it appears that it will be used by all the services) has been in development for a few years now and will be deployed in the near future.

However, the issue that is also coming up more and more often these days is the fact that these weapon systems (while important) are no longer as effective against the opponents we now face in the current crop of wars. Certainly against larger opponents like Russia (during the Cold War) or any of the Asian superpowers that appear to be ready to step forward and threaten us it would be a major concern but in the Global War on Terrorism, is a supersonic fighter plane going to be as effective? One of the most useful aircraft on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq has been the AC-130; a four-propeller gunship (designed around Vietnam too) that has continued to provide reliable service and support to ground troops. Shouldn't that be a concern as well? Perhaps Congress should speak more to the people who are expected to fight our wars rather than talking amongst themselves.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Primetime Specials

Whether you like him or not, you have to admit that President Obama is making an effort to bring a lot more transparency back to the White House and what decisions are being made. Sure the arguement can be made that although they are giving a lot more news conferences in this administration they aren't necessarily answering the questions that they are asked. Be that as it may, there is a significant difference between the lethargic and "aw-gee... do I have to?" attitude that was shown towards the media for the past 8 years. When President Bush gave a primetime address you could be sure that it was either because he wanted to announce another major plan or because he was being advised to do so.

One can make the arguement that perhaps that attitude from the previous administration lent itself to an air of importance to anything being said. I suppose it makes sense that if you only speak to the media in an open forum once or twice in a year then perhaps it was because it is something worth speaking on. Maybe the Obama administration is trying the opposite tact by overwhelming us with primetime speeches that really don't give us more information than we already have but the fact of the matter is that he and his staff appear to want to interface with the public regularly to show them that they are listening to what the people are saying.

Now I'm sure people will tell me about how the media (or specificallly the media who Sarah Palin referred to as the 'elite' media) play favoritism when it comes to President Obama. How they don't put him under the same scrutiny that they used to place President Bush or his administration under. I think the key difference there is in the fact that Obama is comfortable speaking his thoughts and ideas to the media whereas Bush used to appear more flustered than anything when it came to media appearances. Although I wouldn't take this apparent 'love' by the media to mean they are completely ga-ga over the fact that Obama is making so many appearances on the air lately.

I think it's safe to say that the average John (I shudder to say Joe as I keep thinking of the over-indulged 'Joe the Plumber') isn't interested in hearing their President over and over again; rather they want to find out if Jack Bauer will stop the latest batch of terrorists on '24' or whether the island will ever be found by all the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 ever again on 'Lost' and so the networks feel that they are losing potential revenue over the fact that their keystone programs are being pre-empted by the President.

Sure there may be some heartache over it but I was thinking about it, I can't think of a single show that I watch that was displaced by the President's speech last night. In fact I don't think any major show has been pre-empted in a long while by the President. Perhaps he is astute enough to realize that people would be upset no matter how profound his news if 'Gossip Girl' was interrupted for a week. I don't think it's going to be a major issue as we continue going forward for the next four years but I'm sure it's something Obama is thinking about. The people voted him into office to make some change and he's attempting to do so. He's also attempting to keep people on his side by not interrupting their favorite shows... which is probably a good thing.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Non-iPod Nano

When most people here the term nano these days they are likely to think of iPod's miniature player that is about the size and shape of a pack of chewing gum. However, the Nano that is soon to take shape in the collective of car afficianados is a little larger though not by a whole lot. Indian manufacturer Tata launched their latest car, the Tata Nano over a year ago in Delhi. The car is billed as the affordable car for the every-man and it is priced (the base model at least) at around $2000 which makes it quite affordable and likely to create waves in the Indian marketplace and potentially worldwide as well.

Despite delays in manufacture caused by the fact that Tata had to move their manufacturing plant for the Nano from one state to another (due to internal squabbles) the company is finally set to start rolling the new wunderkind cars off of the assembly line and into the eager awaiting hands of the Indian consumer. Now in this day and age of small and fuel-efficient things, there is a certain appeal to the Nano that rings quite loudly over here in the United States as well and although the market would likely welcome something like the Nano, it will probably be some time before the car makes its debut over here in the United States.

On the surface the car provides a lot of what Mr. Tata himself saw when he proposed the idea of the car which is an affordable conveyance which will be readily afforadble and will reduce the number of families sitting precariously on scooters and motorcycles. At present in India, two-wheeled conveyances are among the most affordable (and practical in city driving) vehicles that the average consumer can buy. For those of us over here who complain about traffic on the roads and highways over here, we have nothing on the drivers of India and what they have to contend with. Mr. Tata's idea that this car be affordable in order to make the roads safer for young families is a great idea in concept but the effects it could have on the roads are yet to be seen.

Now many outside of India are curious as to how the car can be so cheap and if one looks at the illustration of the car shown above, you get an idea of how the car can afford to be so cheap. What are considered niceties and necessities in other parts of the world (cough cough... America) are considered 'optional extras' which will raise the price of the car; but again... not by much. Items such as airbags, power windows, power steering and even air conditioning are left off in order to keep the cost of the car down. On the surface it makes sense. Why have such things if they aren't necessary? If you've sat in any of the older taxis in India you'd know that they have been without power steering from the time they first hit the roads and they still seem to be driving fine so drivers are used to no longer having such mechanical advantages.

Manually cranking windows? What's the big deal in that. Are we so lazy now that we can't spin our hands in a circle anymore? Perhaps some of the more decadent and delicate among us aren't so inclined but for the majority it's not an inconvenience so why shell out if you don't need it. Now while these concerns aren't a big deal to the average target consumer in India, outside the country is where these things would be a bigger concern. Now perhaps it's true that Americans are used to having power everything in their cars and trucks but still, it's the other parts of the car that make it a little doubtful that we will be seeing the Nano in its present form on the streets of the United States.

The fact that the car has a maximum speed of approximately 60 miles per hour is chief among my concerns. Now before you think that I'm a certified speed demon who expects and demands that my cars have a maximum indicated speed of 200 MPH, just think about the last time you drove 60 MPH on the highway or roads around your area. Not many times is it? In India where the nomadic culture exists but not in the same form as in the United States is part of the reason why its not a big deal. What I mean by nomadic culture is that we Americans enjoy occasional sojourns or road trips to see new places and explore new things and we often do it from the comfort of our cars and thanks to the extensive highway system that spans our nation. India has that too but it also has affordable mass transportation systems which promote exploration but in the comfort of someone else's transport. With such niceties it becomes unnecessary to have a car that can travel over 60 MPH on a highway.

I think the Nano has a market over here. After all, the SmartFor2 is doing well over here and I think the Nano is a potential competitor on that market. That and given the fact that more and more urbanites are falling for cars that are small and compact for around the city driving, I can certainly see the Nano doing well. It's the perfect sized car to zip from uptown to mid-town to downtown in no time flat. Perhaps it's not quite ready for the American market yet but I have no doubt that its day will come and that too right quick.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Men and Machines

There are certain stereotypes which are true no matter how much one may try to deny them. One of the ones that came to my mind this morning is about men and machines. It seems that no matter what they age of an average guy, there is always that innate desire to mess around with the latest and greatest gadgets that are available. I thought of this this morning because as I was driving by the airport I was stopped at a traffic light and I noticed that not only was I, but practically every other guy in surrounding cars were looking up at the planes coming in for a landing while most of the women drivers around us (excluding those putting makeup on while they were stopped...thankfully) were busy staring straight ahead.

Now speaking for myself I can say that I have been one who has been fascinated with all things flying since I was a child. I remember being chided by my soccer coaches as I attempted to play soccer (I say attempted because my feeble skills would be no match for modern kids). My coaches would constantly pester me to keep my eyes on the ball because normally I would immeadiately turn to look up into the sky the moment I heard a plane overhead. Perhaps it was a bit much to want to see something as commonplace as a plane but still, they fascinated me to no end. But it wasn't just planes, it seems to have been all types of moving objects or gadgets. My parents tell me about my grandfather who was holding me during my first visit to India and how as a baby I was fascinated by the spinning ceiling fans at the airport. He jokingly told them that I would certainly be pegged as an American (or at least a foreigner) because as I watched the fan, I subconsciously began spinning my foot around in time with the fan.

But as time has gone on I have found myself fascinated with more and more gadgetry to the point that it is almost like an addiction. But I'm not alone in this mania. I think most guys would say that they fall into this type of hysteria at one point or another in their lives. Sure there are the occasional exceptions to the rule, but think about it. How many guys do you know who love spending time at places like Best Buy or MicroCenter despite the fact that they have all the electronics that they can currently handle? How many guys do you know love tinkering on their cars despite the fact that it is in perfect working order? How many guys do you know will be able to tell you the exact specs for a racing engine without having to consult any book?

I don't know what the reason for this mania would be. I mean I suppose it has to be something inborn in most men. After all, if it wasn't for this fascination in gadgetry, I don't think there would be much stock in evolutionary theory. I mean sure, if you believe in evolution you would believe that man would be able to change from ape to human over the course of a thousand years but what about advancement beyond those caveman days? Think about it! The first tools used by man were rudimentary cutting weapons made from stone and wood. In a few thousand years we've advanced from iron weapons to nuclear (and it's new-clear.... NOT new-kee-ler) and quite honestly none of this would probably have happened if it hadn't been for this inborn desire in men to want to be the guru of all gadgets.

Now perhaps there are women out there who are objecting to my stipulation that evolution of technology has been predominantly driven by men. And while I understand any ire or anger you may have towards this insinuation, bear in mind that I also believe that for all the failures in advancement that have occured it was most likely due to the fact that a woman's advice on how to approach the problem calmly and rationally (and with a decent dose of common sense) is what kept us men from constantly hurting ourselves in our quest to improve technology. It's a cycle that continues to this day and will likely see our species through for the next thousand years as well.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Seek and Ye Shall Find

I knew that if I searched long enough I would find the reason behind the fact that there seem to be so many 'un-road-worthy' drivers out there. You know the ones I mean. No. I'm not talking about those who drive ten miles below the speed limit in the left lane or even those who weave in and out of traffic. I'm talking about the ones who drive with such ignorance of what they're doing that they don't even ever realize that they are probably the most dangerous part of a person's daily commute. Now normally I shake my head in utter dismay and try to figure out what I'm going to do for the rest of the day but the past few weeks on my drive to and from work I have encountered a plethora of bad drivers; so much so that I just felt I had to do some cathartic therapy and blog about it to feel better.

So the manual that is pictured is an actual book written by a pair of authors who I believe have gone through the same frustrations that I have and decided to make a book out of it that shows just how sarcastic an attitude they have adopted with regards to the driving skills (or lack thereof) of some people out there. Take for example the two geniuses (and I use the term so loosely that an Airbus 380 could fit through it) that I encountered on my commute into work this morning. Now I grant you that for anyone who has driven in the Washington area, traffic can certainly seem daunting to a new or sheepish driver. People are a bit on the aggresive side and tend to drive quite fast yet that doesn't excuse the way some people choose to drive.

I was merging on to the Dulles Toll Road this morning when ahead of me I noticed one car several places ahead of me had his indicator on (thankfully) showing that he wanted to merge onto the highway. Now I could tell he was of the school of osmosis merging (a term I believe I have coined) which I apply to anyone who simply gives and indicator or continues in a lane until it no longer exists and then happens to merge into the next lane whether it is open or not. This fellow at least had the decency to give his indicator but then didn't speed up (despite the fact that he was entering a highway) and continued on at his stately pace of 45 MPH despite the fact that the speed limit is 55. I realize that not everyone can accelerate at the same speed but still, no modern car (and it was a late model Toyota) will accelerate that slowly. He continued on at a snail's pace and then finally merged onto the toll road.

Seeing this ridiculous display, I adjusted my distance and speed to the car ahead of me and the first chance I got I merged and moved to the left lanes to give this joker a wide berth but it seems that this fellow wasn't done yet. He continued giving his indicator (showing that he likely wanted to get into the far left lane in order to take one of the exits to go to Dulles Airport in the express lanes) and proceeded to merge left. Now if you want to drive 45 MPH in the right most lane then please do so however bear in mind a driving rule that states that if you are being passed on the left and right then you should move to the right until you are no longer being passed on the right. My addendum to that rule is that if you are then being passed on the shoulder, pull over, shut the car off and walk away. You shouldn't be driving. But this fellow was determined to continue driving at 45 MPH and move over to the left lane.

Most other drivers by this point had realized that this fellow was a menace and were moving around him and trying to get out of his way. As I approached him (he was two lanes away from me by this point) I could see that cars were slowing down to allow him to merge into their lane in front of them but he wasn't taking the hint so then everyone would speed up and continue on their merry way but this fellow seemed to process lane openings at the same pace that he was driving. Moving like molassas he merged another lane left. Right in front of a car that was approaching at high speed. Luckily the driver in back was quick to react and stopped himself from slamming into the slow car but still, it just shows how ignorant this fellow was and watching in my rear view mirror I could tell that he was oblivious to what he had nearly just caused.

But that doesn't excuse or explain the actions of the next joker I encountered several miles down the road later on the highway. This fellow was apparently lost and was trying to figure out where to go. He had been going in the right lane and then realized that perhaps he should move to the middle. Giving his indicator for several miles (I was well behind him so I could see all this as I was approaching his vicinity) the car behind and to his left slowed considerably to let him in. It was nice to see such niceties after what I had seen a few miles before. This was all well and good when suddenly, merger slowed down by hitting the brakes. The distance between the two cars was such that again a near collision occured and the car in back swerved to the left to avoid an accident and merger began looking around in a panic as if he were lost. Now slowing down is one thing but this guy went from around 55 down to 40 in the span of two seconds. Great for testing the brakes on his car but that didn't mean the guy behind him wanted to test his as well.

These two cases show (to me at least) that many drivers out there just shouldn't be driving. It's not because they can't drive but because they drive so foolishly that they rely on the skills and capabilities of the drivers around them to ensure that they avoid accidents. These two were accidents waiting to happen and I'm sure the ignorant drivers were completely unaware of what they were very nearly the cause of. It's frustrating for the rest of us because though many of us try to be nice and give way or yield to merging drivers or slow down to let someone into our lane so that they can make their way over to take an exit, when people ignore the rest of the drivers on the road it makes it a very dangerous situation for everyone out there. Perhaps the book pictured above should become required reading for these types of foolish drivers. Of course I would tell them straight out though that this is meant to be a book on what not to do in order to save themselves and the people around them.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Change is Afoot

Whether you consider it part of the efforts of the government to consolidate its spending or an effort in creating more problems for harried commuters in the area, the talk over the past few years regarding the government's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) efforts has caused a good deal of turmoil in the Washington area. BRAC has been around for a while and though it has been relatively slow to take effect in some areas, it is now moving full force towards one direction that is going to mean more traffic woes for an area that has already had its share. Northern Virginia.

Anyone who has lived or worked in the area before knows that traffic in the area is bad. Perhaps not as bad as in places like Los Angeles but it's its own brand of bad in this region. For decades as the number of cars on the roads increased we had traffic piling up from down south all the way into DC in the mornings and the reverse in the evenings after work. I myself for two years was getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 every morning so I could make the drive to Springfield in the morning and reach work to avoid major traffic delays and finish up in time to head home before the evening rush hour began. It was great to get out that early only to 'enjoy' the rest of the afternoon in the car struggling to get home. Now the BRAC efforts are getting ready to create more turmoil on the roads in Northern Virginia when they move more jobs to Fort Belvoir (near Springfield) and to Alexandria.

Having driven through those areas for work before I can honestly say that the infrastructure in those areas is sadly lacking and will make the commuting Hell that already exists there even worse. Getting out to Fort Belvoir in the mornings was a test of patience and that was when I was driving against traffic. Now that more people would be headed out in that direction I can only imagine that people will be adding up to head in that direction as well adding to the traffic situation. We just got finished alleviating one version of commuting Hell when the reconstruction of the Springfield Interchange was completed. Now that was done at a time when commuting trends pointed to a continuation of how commuters were moving through the area on their way to other points. As far as I know, the Interchange was redesigned with the jobs remaining status quo in mind. Now that more people are going to be coming through that area, I envision gridlock through there again.

Don't get me wrong, the changes to that area are a vast improvement over what has been the case through there a few years ago but it just seems to me that some of these BRAC decisions are being made without due consideration being given to what effect it's going to have on the quality of life of the people making the commute. When a work location suddenly switches it has a profound effect on those who have to now drive additional miles out of their way to get to where they need to go. I can understand the overall cost savings to the government in the consolidation and closure of extraneous expenditures but if one truly considers the impact such a decision will have on commuters could give decision-makers a chance to understand the intangible effects this decision would have.

Of course with the way most decisions seem to be made lately the decision tree seems to go, (1) what is the cost expenditures to date, (2) what would they be under a revised scenario, (3) if (2) is less than (1) then make the change and that's pretty much it. Now the moves being made to bring more jobs to Northern Virginia (specifically Fort Belvoir and Alexandria) may illustrate the scenario above but if one considers that there is limited to no public transportation access to these locations that would be convenient then isn't that going to mean more cars on the road rather than less? For two years I drove to Fort Belvoir despite living within miles of not one but two major Metro lines. The reason I never took it? Because it would have taken an hour to take the train from Maryland to Virginia and then another 40 minutes to take the bus or shuttle from the station to work. Nearly two hours. At least in driving myself and spending slightly less I was able to better control my destiny and spend more time at work rather than spending more in commuting. Of course that's just an average Joe's view of the situation. I'm sure there's likely a bit more to the analysis than that. At least I would hope so.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

No Hijabs or No Service

The Navy Federal Credit Union chain of credit unions across the nation have been coming under fire recently on the heels of reports that Muslim women wearing hijabs (the traditional head scarfs worn by many Muslim women) were asked to step out of line and be served behind closed doors. Apparently there has been some misunderstanding and miscommunication on the part of credit union employees regarding the new safety rules that were implemented recently. According to the new rules and regulations customers are requested to remove all "hats, hoods and sunglasses". It doesn't seem like much of a deal but some are beginning to worry that these incidents (one in southern Maryland and one in California... both at Navy Federal Credit Unions) could be a sign of things to come.

In the years since 9/11 I must say that there have been greater efforts made to decrease the amount of ignorance that is sadly running rampant about the religious and cultural practices of the world's diverse landscape of people. I remember that at one time, any man in a turban was considered to be a close-cousin of Osama bin Laden although they may have come from two completely distinct parts of the world. In the interim there have been many changes to the laws to allow for greater understanding and a relaxing of certain rules that were sometimes so loosely worded so as to leave the meaning open to broad interpretation.

Although the credit union employees admitted that there was no discriminatory motivation behind their actions, one is wondering whether in this day and age it still remains a point that people don't understand that someone wearing a hijab is doing so for religious or cultural reasons and not because they are carrying a bank robbery notice. The rule stated earlier about sunglasses and all is meant as a deterrent to prevent would-be bank robbers from entering a bank and hanging out for a little while before handing a robbery notice to one of the tellers. Indeed the tellers involved in these incidents admit that they didn't try to exclude the women from making their transactions but requested them to do them behind closed doors.

Why? That way they can isolate them and keep them from doing anything else? While it's understandable that events of the past few years have led many to be a little wary and reluctant to be trusting of everything and everyone but for all our efforts to continue to be a country based on equality, there are instances of pure ignorance like this that sully that reputation. Sure they wanted to served the woman but did they have to do so in the backrooms like she was some sort of criminal? And honestly, would there have been this kind of lackadaisical response had it been a blind man wearing sunglasses who was asked to be served in a back room? I think not.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Decoding DVD Habits

An article with a similar headline to what my blog title for today is caught my eye this morning. I thought for a minute that perhaps it would be an interesting examination of whether or not categorizing DVD's by genre or alphabetizing the collection was a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder or a sign that it was definitely time to re-examine the priorities of life. It turns out that the article wasn't about that at all, but rather about what researchers found to be the case with people who rented versus purchased DVDs.

Now before moving on, I would like to point out that the photo in this blog is not a photo of my DVD collection. Mine is about twice that size. But I joke and digress. What a study by researchers in Spain and England determined was that people who purchased DVDs or added to their general collection were found to be better educated and well-rounded compared to those who simply rented movies. Their conclusions were based on the fact that most respondents indicated a superior knowledge of the movies and sought to see movies that expanded their horizons or had an object lesson that made owning the film that much more appealing an option.

One can argue that it's also simply a way to see a movie without having to contend with going to the store or mailbox to return the film but still, what the study found was that someone who purchases a movie is more likely to have researched or studied film and is likely more interested in independent cinema or specialty genres. Speaking for myself I can say that this is something that applies to me. I have a collection that has grown over the years and continues to grow. Part of it is my desire to own a film that I have either enjoyed watching more than once or simply because it is a film that has some deeper meaning to me. It's also because some movies are good distractions from the toil of life and offer up momentary escape.

Sure there are those of us who collect movies out there who have questionable taste but I can speak to that defamation as well. I believe that one must see bad films or movies that don't even qualify to be called 'films' on occasion so that when you see a good movie you can appreciate it even more. I mean if so many of us had not seen "Batman and Robin" how would we have ever known that "The Dark Knight" was a far superior Batman sequel movie or that the original "Star Wars" movies were so much better than the prequel movies? Now this study is all quite possibly an excuse by some researchers somewhere who were looking to justify their penchant for buying movies with reckless abandon but ask yourself; do you see movies for the fun or because you appreciate the film and films in general?


Monday, March 09, 2009

Safeguarding Our Waterways

I'm sure from the title most people would be assuming that today's blog is about the Coast Guard or other such government agencies which are tasked with protecting our waterways and bays from the spector of terrorism and crime. However my blog isn't quite about the group of people one would expect. Rather it's regarding a group I hadn't really heard about until I heard the news on the radio coming in this morning when they talked about the Natural Resources Police.

Now I have never fished in my life. I have eaten tons of it whether in the cooked form or as sushi but I've always ever left it to much abler people to actually catch the stuff so that I can enjoy eating it. However there are many Americans out there who find nothing more leisurely and enjoyable than fishing for a few hours and coming home with a fresh catch for dinner. Well it seems that in the current economic downturn, people are looking to the water to help keep their families well fed. Of course as with most anything else in this world, you can't really do it legally anymore unless you have a license.

One would think that with so many legal fishermen out there, there wouldn't be much of a stink over the occasional person fishing without a license but that's not the case. In the past year, citations for illegal fishermen has jumped from a little over 1000 to just over 1500 violations. Handing out and enforcing these rules on the Chesapeake Bay are the officers of the Maryland Natural Resources Police. These officers roam the water in search of fishermen who are fishing without a license or well above the limitations of their licensed limit.

I can understand the need for greater enforcement; after all, mankind (whether you believe it or not) has always had (and continues to have) an effect on the rest of the planet. We have wiped out forests and species of animals over the course of centuries and if we don't at least attempt to maintain some semblence of limits on some of these types of activities, it's quite possible that we could have adverse affects on aquatic life as well. I just find it both fascinating and sad that as more and more people are turning to an activity that helped sustain humankind in the early part of its existance that they are now being fined and charged for partaking in these same activities for the same purpose that originally inspired it; survival.

Already in the news you can hear about how people are being fined so much that they are facing jail time for not being able to pay off the fines. Now the Police themselves are just doing their duty and though in the news we hear about the occasional down-on-his-luck guy who gets caught for catching fish without a license, there are many more who abuse the fact that they don't have a license and ruin it for everyone. It seems that the more we rail against having rules and restrictions, the more common it becomes to find people abusing these rules leading to having more restrictions. It's a vicious cycle that is likely to continue for some time longer.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Working the 911 System

It seems no matter how hard she cries or screams that she doesn't want to be treated as a celebrity (this being stated on her website and in web video blogs) mother of 14, Nadya Suleman insists that she's just a 'normal mother' who wants to be left alone and isn't looking for special treatment. I guess that's why she's got an exclusive deal with a website (whose link I will not include so as not to spur on her web fame) which covers her daily in her quest to love and care for her 14 children despite the fact that she's single, jobless and living with her parents.

It's pretty hard to go anywhere without hearingn some news or the other about her and it seems that she did it again with the revelation that a few weeks prior to giving birth to the octuplets that shot her into the public's eye, Suleman had called 911 after one of her previous six children went missing. According to Suleman she couldn't find the child and overreacted and ended up calling 911 in order to mobilize the police and authorities to search for her child. Of course the child was safe and sound and had wandered out of the house and came back on his own after doing whatever it was that sent him out of the house in the first place.

Now there are two things that surprise me with this case. Firstly, I know it's impossible to keep an eye on kids all the time but isn't it telling that with only six kids she managed to 'lose' one for a short period of time. Does she honestly think that the job will get easier with the advent of 8 more? Secondly, is it right for her to get a proverbial slap on the wrist for writing off the problem by saying she had 'raging hormones' due to being pregnant with her octuplets. Is that an excuse? Well then why can't the woman in Florida who got arrested for making a false 911 call this past week be treated the same way?

In case you didn't hear about this event, in a nutshell, a woman went to McDonalds to order chicken McNuggets. When the cashier informed her (after the woman paid for her meal) that there were no more McNuggets and that they would give her a McDouble meal in lieu of the McNuggets. Not content with the offer, the woman began to complain and then proceeded to call 911 to complain there that McDonalds was... well... doing something illegal. When told by the 911 operator that not getting McNuggets was not reason to call 911 the woman began to rant and rave that it most certainly was. She was arrested shortly thereafter.

Now if her lawyers were smart they would plead that she too was pregnant or had raging hormones and that's what led her to act the way she did. I'm sure if it was a man who tried to use that defense he would be laughed out of town and thrown in jail for the requisite amount of time with no delay but in this case are we really to believe that an irrational and irresponsible woman like Nadya Suleman would have an excuse? I'll say this for her, she's certainly not using her 8 newborns to her advantage. No sir; not at all.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Capitol Barbie

Just as GI Joe more or less epitomized the male ideal (tough, resourceful soldier who was patriotic and came with a wealth of accessories and the ever popular kung-fu grip) it was Barbie that long represented (rightly or wrongly) the female ideal. At least as far as men were concerned. Although there have been major issues over Barbie and what she supposedly stands for in recent years, somehow the doll (and I don't mean that in a condescending way) has been around for a long while and continues to have appeal among young girls even today. But if West Virginia Delegate Jeff Eldridge has his way, the doll will be banned from West Virginia in the very near future.

According to Eldridge, the doll places too much emphasis on beauty and that can damage a young girl's psyche. Now perhaps I have overstated what Eldridge's concern is but still, that is more or less the gist of what he is raising his objection over. He introduced a bill recently that is currently under review by the House Judiciary Committee and could very well come up for discussion in the near future. Now in light of all the talk that is being thrown up around town in recent days regarding reckless spending and pork barrel projects being promoted by Congressional leaders and the White House, where does everyone think that this kind of bill stands?

When I elect a leader to Congress or to the White House, it's because I expect the politician to represent my voice to the people and eventually up to the higher levels of government where I can have my say. That's the true power of democracy; but I'm curious to know whether the people of Lincoln County, West Virginia (the district that Eldridge represents) voted him into office to take on Barbie. I would think that in the current economic crisis, banning Barbie from warping the hearts and minds of young girls wouldn't be a major issue. I agree that the message that the 'ideal woman doll' sends is not the best one for young girls but then you're also standing on the edge of opening a larger can of worms in terms of how to deal with beauty perceptions and the like all over society.

To put it succinctly; if one looks at every single form of entertainment on this planet, is not beauty emphasized over normalness? Do we admire the plain-Janes at the Oscars or in fashion magazines? No! We admire the bold and the beautiful and all those who look like they are chiseled from some sculpter's imagination. So do we really need Congress to spend time and energy discussing whether or not the state of West Virginia should ban Barbie for setting an unrealistic standard of beauty and body-type for young girls? I don't think so.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Infighting in the House of the Elephant

The search for a 'voice' for the Republican Party seems to be continuing in earnest. It seems as though any Tom Dick or Harry that has some significance in the Republican Pantheon is looking to establish themselves as the representative voice of the party and its resulting in a lot of infighting and misunderstanding that seems to be fracturing the Republican Party more than uniting it. After losing seats in the last major Congressional election season and losing many more during this past November (not to mention control of the White House) the Republicans seem to have come to the realization that their old way of doing things has changed and that not every Republican faithful is willing to weather the storm.

Last week I wrote on the response speech that Governor Bobby Jindal (of Louisiana) gave after Obama's State of the Union address. So many people have now come out and stated that they were confused...nay... disappointed in the way that Bobby Jindal spoke in response to Obama's speech. They felt that rather than being a pointed response to what Obama wants to do, it was a Mr.Rogers Neighborhood-esque speech that sounded a bit too chipper. Now I wouldn't characterize Obama's speech as the 'feel-good speech of the year' but rather than sugar coating the current situation of the country, Obama tried to speak truthfully and inject some hope back into the people. I remember when about a decade ago, the Dow Industrial Average topped 10,000. Now it seems like a distant memory.

Around this time last year in coversations with friends I recall stating that I wouldn't be surprised if the Dow fell below 7,000 at some point and lo and behold, we're in that territory now. It seems that no one has any answers to how to correct the problem yet when Obama passes something up the line for consideration and contention, the partisanism that has permeated into the government over the last eight years finally rears its head and attempts to spin the whole situation. Now I won't say that Obama's solution is the end-all-be-all solution to the ills of the economy but it is a step. However when you have pundits like Rush Limbaugh stepping up to the microphones and coming out and stating that its a sign of socialism and communism in the government, is that going to help?

Perhaps there are issues that people have with some of the solutions being put forth. Perhaps there are indeed better ways in which the economy can be corrected, but by hoping that Obama fails (as Limbaugh claimed earlier this week) isn't that going to make the situation worse? I seem to recall times not too long ago where any sort of talk of this nature would have been characterized as Democratic drivel or liberal libel that is meant to undermine the efforts of the White House. In one month since taking office Obama's administration has attempted to do more in less time than any administration prior. There have been so many unfounded and unsubstantiated rumors and accusations coming from the opposition of Obama that I'm amazed that people still have the interest in listening to what some of these guys have to say.

I'm not saying that we need to ignore the potential problems that are present in the new stimulus bill that has been passed but I'm saying it should be done responsibly. By having a recognized and acknowledged supporter of the Republican Party go on the air for his radio show and proclaim that he wants Obama to fail, doesn't that imply that he wants his policies therefore the country to fail? If you haven't seen anyone backpedal faster than a bike with no chain, listen to Limbaugh on Fox News. He claimed that he wanted Obama personally to fail, not the country. But isn't the stimulus package meant to help the country and not Obama personally? I think in their search for a voice to their party and their beliefs the Republicans are ending up digging themselves further into a hole and are not helping the situation get any better.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Finally Some Snow

In Formula One racing (as in many forms of auto racing) there is a term used to describe some of the smaller teams which usually can't compete at the same level of the more expensive teams out there due to limited budgets, longer development times and what-have-you. These teams are referred to as 'also-rans'. Now you may be wondering what that term has to do with a blog that most obviously seems to be about snow. Well, it may be a long and roundabout way to get to the point but I guess what I'm trying to say is that finally, Washington got some snow that it could point to and say, "See? We got some significant snowfall too."

This past weekend the area was blanketed overnight Sunday with a fine layering of snow that led to what many in the DC area had been calling for for a long time; a snow day. It seems that besides the DC Metro area, most of the country had already had close to half a dozen significant snow events and Washington had been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have not had any. Sure we had a couple of bouts of ice that lasted a day or two but it wasn't anything as bad as what seems to have attacked the rest of the nation. I mean there are parts of the country that have been contending with feet of snow rather than inches. Now not to poo-poo the 5 to 11 inches that our area received over the weekend but it's certainly not in the same league as parts of the country which have been dealing with snow since way back in November of last year.

Still, when I heard that significant snow was expected sometime Sunday I was a little surprised because up until then I hadn't heard a peep out of the weather forecasters in our area. Every time in the past few weeks that there was even the possibilty of snow, weathermen (and women) would suddenly get us all in a tizzy by telling us that this latest system 'could be significant' and that they were watching the models carefully. Then when driving to and from work I would see road crews sitting in their snow plows on the side of the road waiting for the first flakes to fall. And more often than not, we didn't see anything. I mean it got to the point that if snow was falling in the western portions of West Virginia then weathermen around DC would say that snow was falling in heavy amounts in the far western suburbs of Washington. Had it been any longer before some snow fell around here they could have started including the Ohio Valley as part of the far western suburbs of our area.

Still, perhaps I'm being very harsh on weathermen. They have a tough job and though the science is improving they still have a difficult task before them in the prediction of weather so I'm sure they were overjoyed beyond words to see that their predictions (however late they may have been) finally came true and that they had accurately stated what the snow event would look like. Now while I'm happy that schools were closed and that work was delayed by a bit because of the road conditions and the significant snow falls, I can't help but think how different these recent 'storms' have been compared to what we used to get around this area when I was a kid.

I can remember when significant snow meant a couple of feet around here too. I can remember getting snowed in at school during the day or being stuck at home for a week due to several feet of snow on the roads. Now it's been so long since we've had a significant snowfall of anything over 8 inches that when we get three the area goes into shock. Perhaps it's an exaggeration but it's also partially true. Ask anyone around here who's lived in the area for more than a decade or two and they'll tell you. I love how everything looks when there's a fresh coat of snow on the ground. The whole world looks different but also sounds different. It seems quieter and calmer; so much so that it adds a short sense of serenity to the area. This past weekend's snow event may not have amounted to much but at least it gives us in Washington a chance to say that "we had snowfall too! We had road closures and school closings too. So we (in Washington) are just like you."