Friday, July 31, 2009

Return of the Champion

I began watching Formula One racing in earnest about a decade ago. At that time I was in college and for once I had friends who enjoyed discussing racing and all as much as I did. It was also around the time that Michael Schumacher, the legendary Ferrari driver was just starting to come into his own. Although he had been around F1 since the early 1990's, it wasn't until almost the middle of the last decade of the 20th Century that he really started to come into his own and he more or less single-handedly returned Ferrari to it's previous glory.

At the time that Schumacher made the switch to Ferrari, the team was probably one of the surprising 'also-ran' type of outfits. It was perennially a contender but never consistent. They sometimes seemed as if they had promise and at others that promise fizzled out like the wind. But upon Schumacher's arrival at the team, this already controversial driver (he had several incidents in prior years that made many come to hate the man with a passion) took the team by storm and with the help of Jean Todt and Ross Brawn (currently making waves with his Brawn GP team) they managed to make Ferrari a champion again. That seems a bit odd because for people who know even a little about cars, Ferrari is known to be one of the fastest and most expensive and while that's true, fame and fortune don't always translate well onto the racetrack (just ask BMW who will be withdrawing from F1 at the end of the season).

What Michael Schumacher brought to the sport was a driver who not only drove fast but helped tailor the cars so that they would run better and faster. He thought like an engineer and worked with his crew to ensure that the car was set up perfectly. He was one of those rare drivers who was as good in the cockpit as he was out of it. Not many drivers could tell an engineer what the exact problem was and how they could correct it. Schumacher could. Not many drivers worried about physical fitness thus perpetuating the rumor that driving shouldn't be considered a sport. Schumacher did. He maintained a level of fitness that very few drivers could compete with and even after his retirement in 2006 he continued to work with the team and maintain his fitness, proof of his commitment to Ferrari and their racing hopes.

And although the team hasn't gotten off to a very strong start this year, they are still contenders once again. Now with the season about half over, Ferrari was shaken up with the accident that has put Ferrari driver Felipe Massa in the hospital with a skull fracture and the team's season in doubt. Although they have backup drivers and test drivers, it isn't much of a surprise that Schumacher is making indications of coming back. Though he's been away from the sport for nearly 3 years he has continued to race and test for the team and given that Schumacher is one of those drivers who quickly learns and adapts his driving style, it will be interesting to see just how he fairs if he does indeed come back to the sport.

I for one think it's a great idea by Ferrari and Formula One. The last few years have been wonderful in that it's not like the early part of the century when Michael Schumacher and Ferrari were miles ahead of the pack with the others trying to keep up. Now it's almost anyone's season to be won or lost and with the addition of Schumacher, Formula One could become exciting once again. There have been many recent sports comebacks and though not all of them have been all that successful (I'm looking at you Brett Favre) I think that Schumacher could make the sport worth watching for a whole lot more people once again. We'll know in another three weeks in Germany I suppose.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sling that Mud and Fan the Flames

A little more than a week after his passing the media continues to prove why men like Walter Cronkite are true losses to American Journalism and why the current crop of journalists continue to degrade into childish and immature individuals with nothing better to do than mudslinging. Case in point? Glenn Beck and his recent statements on the morning talk show "Fox and Friends" shown on the Fox News Channel. When responding to questions on his thoughts about President Obama's statements regarding the incident with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James Crowley, Beck stated that it was his belief that Obama is a racist and that he hates white people.

Now not only do I find this statement to be completely asinine but I find it completely illogical as well. I do recall that shortly after the election there were many people who were of the opinion that with the election of America's first African-American President that the White House would now become an affirmative action poster child and that anyone in any way related to the Bush Administration would be kicked out were strangely silent as Obama started to put together his cabinet. Filling it with a diverse spread of people, I find it ludicrous to state that Obama hates white people when two of the most important posts in his administration (Vice-President and Secretary of State) are both white. Never mind as well that the majority of his staff and support within the administration is white. Never mind that he retained Secretary Gates as his secretary of Defense despite not always seeing eye-to-eye with the Bush administration on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I agree that Obama's statement last week were uncalled for and unprofessional but to use that as a basis for calling him a racist? I don't fully understand it. As I have blogged several times now in the past, it apparently isn't racism until your particular race is affected. Had Obama not responded at all to the question about his opinion about the Gates incident then I'm sure it would have continued though it would have eventually died down from the media spotlight. But now it is being used as a shining example of continued racial tension in this country. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina it took a ridiculous amount of time to mobilize aid to those trapped or flooded out of their homes. When rapper Kayne West accused President Bush of not caring about black people his administration wisely refrained from responding directly but suddenly the situation improved. My question would be though why it would take such a bold statement to see action? Logistics aside, when warnings were being given that the levies in New Orleans would breech soon, why sit on the facts and let nature take its course?

Now Obama's outburst from last week was also probably spurred on by the fact that he is friends with Professor Gates but for Glenn Beck to come out and state that this is 'proof' that Obama hates white people is a very strong statement. It's also a bit illogical considering that he comes from a mixed background where his grandparents were white. There appears to be no middle ground for the man. For some African-Americans he was not 'black enough' for others he was 'too white'. There appears to be no middle ground whatsoever. I believe that it continues to be a result of the schism that has plagued our nation since our leaders began making statements like "you're eitehr with us or you're agaisnt us". We are dividing ourselves just as quickly as we can and it isn't serving any purpose other than to divide our nation at a time when we should be coming together. I can't help but think that perhaps this is because so many of us have deep-seated racial hatred of anyone or anything different from us. I'm sure Glenn Beck will get a ratings boost thanks to his statements but I'm sure soon enough most of us will realize that he's just looking to sow the seeds of hate.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beer Diplomacy

Despite the fact that high level talks began with China this week at the White House, the main news story on everyone's mind is the fact that President Obama will be meeting with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley to discuss the incident from last week. As you'll recall, Gates (who is black) was returning from a trip to China and was unable to enter his house due to the fact that the door was apparently stuck. He and his limo driver then proceeded to attempt entry into the house by bashing in the door. A neighbor spotted this activity and notified police about the incident. Sergeant Crowley was one of the first officers on the scene and has been subsequently accused of racial profiling due to his actions in the arrest of Gates.

The result was that last week, everyone was jumping onto the bandwagon that racial profiling was the only plausible explanation but as it turns out (as more and more evidence comes to the forefront) that perhaps race wasn't really an issue. Early claims that the neighbor identified Gates and his driver as black men isn't exactly true and though the exact exchange between Gates and Crowley remains unclear at this point, it is becoming clearer that perhaps Gates goaded Crowley on due to the perception that Crowley's actions were racially motivated. President Obama fits into this discussion because he brazenly injected himself into the situation without the full facts of the matter. This occured during his press conference last Thursday on Health Care when he was asked his opinion of the incident during the questions phase.

Obama responded by stating that he believed the Cambridge Police (in particular Crowley) "acted stupidly". It was a knee-jerk reaction to a case that again proves that racial tensions still run high in this country. If it didn't then why would there be so much scuffling about due to Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayor's comments about how a Latino woman would be able to better understand the plight of fellow Latinos rather than a white man. But the discussion here is how to smooth over the situation which is why Obama has invited both men to discuss the situation over some beer. Now some are already questioning the rationale behind wanting to invite both men to the White House but I think it's a matter of wanting to help allay the situation.

I would hope that all men in this meeting would be willing to look past what has been going on in the media regarding the case up until this point and hopefully understand that mistakes have been made by all parties. That being said then, what's the beer going to be that's going to be drunk at this 'meeting of the minds'? I am personally a fan of Guinness (To Arthur for 250 years!!) but I don't think that will go over too well with the media either. In fact I would think that most any imported beer would be looked at with some scrutiny. It would become a political message that the President isn't drinking a domestic but rather an imported beer. In that case there are plenty of domestic breweries but who then do you choose?

Obama could choose a beer from Goose Island brewery in Chicago (which was served in Grant Park the night he won the election) but then people might think it's personal bias seeing as how he's the only one from the Chicago area. Then how about something from Boston? Sam Adams might be a good choice but then again there is question in some circles about whether or not Sam Adams did own a slave (he apparently received one as a gift in 1765 but there is uncertainty as to whether he freed the slave or not). Though he was against it, the possibility of controversy is ripe with potential so that would probably be discounted as well. What about a Washington beer? Something local that would be brewed with thought given to the hot and stuffy summers? Then again someone from outside of Washington would say that it's proof that Obama is a 'Washington Insider' so that may work against him too. He can't have Busch Beer for obvious reasons (think about it and you'll understand) so I guess it comes down to something like Budweiser or Michelob. Whatever he ends up with I'm sure it will end in some controversy or the other. Who would have ever thought that so much could ride on choosing the right beer?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Preserving Our National History

In having travelled to several countries around the world, I have had the opportunity to pursue the study of a subject that has been very dear to me for a number of years and that is history. Anyone reading my blogs knows that I have an appreciation of history and strongly believe the adage that if we forget the past that we are doomed to repeat it. It's for this reason that whenever I'm afforded the opportunity to see some of this historical sites around the world, I take the chance wholeheartedly. However, one thing I have further appreciated is the fact that here in the United States, no matter how seemingly insignificant, historical markers are often setup to document a small knoll or a cluster of trees where something of significance may have taken place. I have heard people from other countries criticize the fact that the United States is a much younger country than most of the rest of the world and it seems sometimes comical to these same people to see something as mundane as the sight of General Lee's encampment at Manassas marked off with such reverence but I think it's what shows our appreciation for our history.

It's a sad fact that the push for expansion within our country does push boundaries at times and this can lead to some very heated discussions. I remember a few years ago when the Walt Disney Company started making plans for a historical part located on the edge of Manasass Battlefield just outside of DC. Being younger at the time I was initially excited and in those days, I had no clue where Manassas was as those portions of Virginia were still rather rural and distant from the city. Flash forward a few years and you find that the area is now teeming with people and the urban landscape is quickly changing. What was once rolling landscape is now bumping next to mini-malls and car dealerships.

Now I'm not saying that we should halt progress in order to preserve tracts of land where new homes could be built but I'm wondering what we are erasing or forgetting if we do allow this to happen. Virginia and parts of the South are peppered with sites like Manassas though not all of them are as significant. For those who don't know, Manassas was the site of the first major battle between the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is important to note (if for no other reason) that it was this war that helped change the face of the nation for decades and centuries to come. The war ultimately led to the preservation of the Union and allowed the continuation of the ideals of the United States. Now you may or may not agree with what happened in that war but you can never argue against the fact that so much can be attributed to it.

That being said is it any wonder there's a push to preserve the battlefield? Perhaps it's a sense of misplaced sentiment but I still think it's important. Many wonder why we should preserve wide open tracts of land which have no real purpose now. They point to Europe and also point out the fact that although both World War I and World War II were fought there, not everything has been preserved as it was in those years. Memorials exist and certain areas remain as they were but progress was allowed to take place. But it's different here. The rolling hills, the stately trees and the silent statued memorials to brave men (and women) that dot the battlefields stand as mute reminders to what it took to keep our nation together. Though Europe won't soon forget the ravages of war, is it any less of us to want to preserve the history of our nation as well?


Monday, July 27, 2009

In February 2006, the campus of Virginia Tech was rocked by an attack which left dozens dead and many other wounded. It ranks among one of the worst tragedies in the United States and the question on the minds of many still remains as to whether the authorities and doctors who had cared for the shooter, Seuing-Hui Cho, knew about his mental problems and whether actions could have been taken to prevent the shootings from ever happening. As is always the case in instances such as these, hindsight is always perfect, but evidence which came out last week has led many to again question whether mistakes were made in the way the case of Cho was handled.

It was reported that Dr. Robert Miller, the former head of the counseling center at Virginia Tech had apparently inadvertently taken Cho's files with him when he left his position at the school a year before Cho's attack took place. While going through the papers he had taken with him he came across the 10-page file and immediately turned it back to the campus. Campus officials turned it over to the police nearly six days after first getting it back from Dr. Miller and already conspiracy theorists are postulating that a cover-up exists and that file will apparently be the smoking gun that proves that Cho was diagnosed with problems a year before and that actions could have been taken at that time which would have prevented the shootings in the first place. Police have declined to comment and have merely stated that their investigation into the matter is continuing.

However, I don't wish to point blame in one direction or the other but what I do think disturbs me a little bit. People have been quick to point out that Cho's file is a private record which should never have left the office. Now though I'm a fairly organized person when it comes to my office papers I don't deny that in the shuffle often times it isn't surprising for a piece of paper to get buried in a stack and inadvertently get lost. Now again I'm not trying to exonerate Dr. Miller nor am I attempting to join the growing bandwagon that is calling for his arrest and investigation. I'm just saying what many others have said which is that he is human and can make mistakes. But not everyone wants to buy that.

In such cases, everyone wants to ensure that justice is served when a crime occurs. Cho took his own life so bringing him to justice isn't possible though people assume that by prosecuting those who knew him and 'could have' prevented the shootings should be held accountable. To those people I would simply ask them to look at the facts as they apply as part of the bigger picture. Certainly it's true that Cho exhibited signs of disturbing behavior and thoughts but that wouldn't have been enough to exclude him from school or put him under arrest. Had that happened I'm sure instead of looking to blame others for the shooting we'd be looking to blame others for removing him from school despite his behavior (i.e., 'discriminating against him due to mental disturbances').

But perhaps the fact that there are thousands of kids on campus who come to the counseling center and how many people must be coming there with disturbing thoughts of mayhem and destruction. I'm sure it's not as small as we'd like to think. I remember a schoolmate back in high school who used to describe events similar to what happened in Columbine (mind you this was years before that event ever occurred) and though some of us did let our counselors know, they didn't really think of it as more than hot air. But perhaps we should have paid attention to the warning signs, but do we honestly believe that having a file at that time would have cemented the decision that could have ultimately led to preventing the shooting? I don't think so. If it was that easy then why was the fact that the CIA delivered a report entitle "Bin Laden determined to strike within the United States" leafed through and forgotten until after September 11th? Perhaps a different perspective can help change how we attempt to pin blame.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Racial Profiling Fact or Fiction

Our nation took a massive step forward last November when Barrack Obama became the first African-American to be voted into the White House. There was doubt and skepticism from many parts of the nation whether the racial schism that had long divided our country could be put aside and what the man stood for could be counted on. There was hope that perhaps with the election of President Obama, perhaps now the country had finally stopped being as racially divided as it had been for many years. But following the recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, the question has come up to the public again; is racial profiling really happening or is it just people jumping on the racism 'bandwagon'.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Professor Gates had returned to his Cambridge, Massachusetts home after a trip back from China. Unable to get the door to his home open he enlisted the aid of his limo driver to get the door open. A neighbor, seeing two black men attempting to force the door open, immediately called the police. Now here is where stories tend to vary depending on who you ask. The gist of the story is that police and Gates had a confrontation and despite showing proof that the home in question was his, police arrested Gates. Now many in the Cambridge area have accused police of racial profiling in the past. A recent case comes to mind where a black man was arrested on campus for 'attempting to steal a bicycle'. The individual was attempting to use tools to break the lock on his bike as he couldn't find the key.

Perhaps these are individual incidents with no real connection to racially motivated targeting but isn't it a little odd that incidents like this do occur? Perhaps the police came into the situation with Gates with uncertainty but what could have prompted such a response from them? According to the officer who made the arrest, he will not apologize for his actions and stated as much on television. The tension over this incident has gone up to even the level of the President who made comments on the incident during his primetime broadcast Wednesday night. He indicated that he was disturbed by what had happened and verbally chastised the police in Cambridge for their actions. In the wake of that announcement there were already complaints and compliments over the fact that the President took notice of this issue.

Some people are of the opinion that 'just because' it was a black man involved in this incident (and that too of some stature as a well respected scholar) that was the reason the incident got any attention at all. Some accuse the President of making comments only because it was a black man and that had this been someone else he probably wouldn't have said anything. That may be the case but what about what had happened with actor Shia LaBeouf earlier this year? The star of "Transformers" and the latest "Indiana Jones" film was arrested for also being beligerent with officers (as was the accusation made against Gates) but he was arrested as well. This wasn't racial profiling in the traditional sense and it's safe to say that his arrest was also uncalled for in the eyes of many but despite his fame as an actor, he was arrested due to his conduct.

I'm not saying that what the police in Cambridge did was right but I also don't think that racial profiling and bias is limited against any one race. Don't believe me? Well what particular reason would someone of my complexion have for getting pulled aside for 'random screenings' every time I have flown? Or what reason would there be for people to complain about traditional Muslim headware being the reason to refuse to wait on customers at banks? The same reason that most anything happens, racial bias and assumptions. By calling racism something euphemistic like 'racial profiling' gives it an almost 'official' connotation when it really isn't. It's an inborn human condition.

No one is immune to it and for the most part, all of us, somehow somewhere have some racial bias built into us. Whether it is a product of the environment in which we're raised one thing remains clear; we are not getting rid of this problem as quickly as we'd like. As far forward as we appear to be moving, we take an equal number of steps back. We are headed in the wrong direction when we keep going back. We've seen where we've come from; I for one would rather see where we could go if only we could put this type of problem behind us for good.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Price of Air Superiority Comes at a Cost

Earlier this week, the Senate voted 58-40 to end funding for the controversial F-22 Raptor fighter program. If the law is eventually passed the program will end with 187 of the planes produced out of an anticipated 185 required. Many in Washington look at this as a victory against rampant spending on programs with no immediate gain but I tend to look at it in the sense that it's like a driver who looks at the road immediately in front of the car but not five feet beyond the front of the car. In those cases you usually end up having an accident somewhere along the line. Now I'm not saying that suddenly our national defense is left wanting like many conservatives would have you believe but I do feel that it could leave us feeling wanting if our opponents change.

Right now we are fighting two wars against terrorism; one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. In both cases, the enemy we are fighting is small and man-sized therefore very difficult to hit when you're several thousand feet in the air travelling at a few hundred miles per hour. Therefore although air support is used on occasion, it isn't utilized in the traditional sense when one thinks of wars in the traditional sense. There have been no dogfights as such this go around and soon after the defeat of Iraq's military, there was no Air Force for our Raptors to fight. That being the case, of course everyone is going to look at the Raptors (which are far more expensive than was originally anticipated) will be put up on the chopping block.

I recall several years ago when I was still in college, reading about how many felt that the Raptor was no longer necessary since the enemy we are fighting is an insurgent and not an air force. And while I also saw the logic in cutting the program back, I don't believe in cutting it completely off and the reason is that this war on terrorism will eventually end and given that the world has become far more suspicious and untrusting place it's likely that more wars will happen. If that be the case, not all militaries we face will be insurgencies; some could very likely be full fledged nations similar to the Soviet Air Force of the Cold War. If that's what we are potentially going to face then doesn't it make sense to keep the program alive?

People state that the Air Force itself doesn't like the plan and neither does the Defense Department. In many cases that opinion is being driven by the fact that the price is high more than how effective the plane may be. The Raptor has performed flawlessly in training with 221 kills for 0 losses in simulated exercises at various places around the world. It's enough to justify keeping the plane around. Although it has not yet fought in combat, many Air Force and joint military exercises are realistic enough to show that the planes could perform beyond expectations if put to the test. But since we don't need it now, it makes sense to cut it doesn't it? Not really.

The F-22 may not have proven itself in combat as yet but it has been proven to work. It does most everything it was predicted to do and so we have a proven concept that will deployed in numbers that would pose a significant threat to anyone threatening our interests. Proponents of the cheaper F-35 Lightning II say that funding for more Raptors should be siphoned off into the Lightning II program since it is far more cheaper and will give us a more versatile plane. If that be the case then I would support it because my bottom line feeling is that continued air superiority is what will help keep our armed forces in the fight no matter what battlefield they step upon. What I don't want to see happen is that all aircraft programs start getting cut because the 'only' threat we have now is an insurgency or terrorist cell.

That opinion is very narrow minded and naive and could come back to bite us in a terrible way. And while I feel that the job market will indeed be affected by the decision to cut the program, I don't believe it will mean what many conservative or pro-military commentators are stating which is that suddenly the entire fleet of Raptors will be retired. During the first Gulf War, the United States fielded planes which had first flown in Vietnam (30 years earlier at that point). We continue to fly modernized versions of fighters first flown 30 years ago today. Cutting the production of the program doesn't mean that tomorrow the planes will suddenly be flown to a scrap yard and permanently retired but we can't overlook the fact that the existance of the F-22 will ensure that we will maintain air superiority for years to come.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Officially Unofficial

What you see pictured with this blog looks real but it's actually fake. All three of them are 'toys' that someone made up. They packaged them to look like real potential products. And this being Star Wars related, it's not really surprising that these particular 'elements' of the Star Wars stories weren't included in real life. But be that as it may, there are times when you can't rely on the toy manufacturers to produce the characters you are looking for or the vehicles that you want. For me, that was one of the reasons I loved Legos. Not the sets that you get today but the boxes of blocks that I had. That box gave me the opportunity to make so many different vehicles you wouldn't believe it.

My imagination knew no bounds and every time I saw something that intrigued me or led me to think that it might be a nice vehicle or location for my game, I would make it using Legos. I don't think I was all that different from man other kids in that regard. The difference though between me and some people who continue to make up their own toys this time is that I never tried to sell my creations. Others have and it can lead to some trouble. Case in point is John Stacks of Tampa, Florida who is being sued by DC Comics for illegally selling resin model kits based on characters from the popular 1960's Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. According to the suit, Stacks is illegally making these figures in the likeness of West, Ward and many of the other actors and actresses from the series.

Now if these resin kits had just been resin models of the actors themselves then I doubt that DC Comics would have had a problem, but because they are likenesses of the actors in costume from the show, that's when the comic company has a problem. It stems from the fact that although the actors aren't the property of the company, the characters they portray are. Most companies that produce products that have toy tie-ins generally link up with major companies and reign tight control over what products are out there. Going back to Star Wars, George Lucas would not allow anyone he hasn't authorized to put products out that seek to make a profit in sales on products based on his films.

In one way it makes sense since it would preclude cheap products from hitting the market but still, it seems a bit much sometimes. But not all forms of personal expression are being stifled, in fact sometimes it is encouraged. Star Wars and Star Trek are two franchises with a solid fan following and some have even gone so far as to produce their own versions of stories and continuations of existing plot lines through their own means. While also falling under the category of officially unofficial, it is allowed to continue provided that they never attempt to sell their film to the public which would be a violation of copyright agreements and studio deals. Fan generated fictional stories are much the same. I just find it sad sometimes that adults who wish to continue their exploration and affection for someone else's creation have to do so under such strict conditions.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Loss of a Legend

This past weekend we lost a legend. He probably won't be honored at the Staples Center or any other arena in the world. He probably won't have 24 hour coverage of his funeral. He probably won't have much of a mention in the news at all other than to recount his passing as the news readers of today transition to the latest news stories. In fact there probably won't be very much hoopla or loss for the majority of us out there but the fact remains that with the passing of Walter Cronkite, we've lost someone very important. For a lot of us younger Americans we're probably too young to have remembered seeing Walter Cronkite on CBS news. I can only recall a few instances of seeing him on TV back in 1981 but for me he was what I came to know as the 'voice of the space program'.

I found it highly ironic and a touch sad that Cronkite passed away just a few days before the 40th Anniversary or what was likely to have been his most famous broadcasts during the Apollo 11 moon landing. While Neil Armstrong's word will live on in posterity, without a doubt, the voice and narration provided by Cronkite during countless hours of coverage during space missions is what endeared him to the American public. In reading accounts by many astronauts, both past and present, there was a great deal of admiration and respect for Cronkite. He reported the facts without being overly technical. He showed the same enthusiasm and fascination with the space program that many people undoubtedly felt. In seeing old footage of him, it's no wonder to me why people found his news reports so exciting, he exuded that same level of excitement himself.

Prior to that historic day of course, many will remember his broadcast from the day Kennedy was shot in 1963. You could hear the emotion and pain in his voice as he struggled to report the facts that were coming out of Dallas that November afternoon. It was a terrible day but because of Cronkite's reports, the public knew what was happening and could likely see that they were not alone in feeling grief. I mean if someone like Walter Cronkite could show on television how overcome with emotion he was then anyone could. So important was his influence that President Johnson is once supposed to have remarked that if he'd "lost Cronkite('s support)" then he'd "lost Middle America".

It was because of Walter Cronkite that the term news anchor was coined. Due to his covering the conventions of both political parties during the turbulent 1950's and 1960's he became an established icon who always attempted to 'report the news, not become it'. Thought some would argue that he wasn't neutral or unbiased in his reports when it came to things like politics, that's not surprising but what was surprising was that unlike today, he was still respected for his opinion, whatever it may have been. As he used to famously sign off, "and that's the way it is." With that simple statement he solidified the understanding that the news he reported was just that, the news. No spin; no personal bias. The days he omitted that phrase from his sign-off were the days he finished his broadcast with a personal opinion or an editorial. He wanted the people to know the difference between fact and opinion. There are thousands of reporters around the world today and news coverage is continuous thanks to the internet but not many of them are of Cronkite's ilk.

He began his career as a United Press reporter reporting extensively during World War II. He covered American soldiers in North Africa and during Operation Market-Garden. He flew in bombers over Germany to showcase American aviators and covered the cold and bitter fighting during the Battle of the Bulge. He helped bring attention to the Watergate scandal to television the way Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story in the print media. His was the distinctive voice that I used to hear every time I went to the Air and Space Museum to see one of the best IMAX films on the space shuttle program, "The Dream is Alive". That was how I first came to know about Walter Cronkite and I'll always be thankful for that. I think he was one of the reporters who helped report on some of the most turbulent years in this country's relatively young history and his loss will be tremendous. And that's the way it is.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Magnificent Desolation

Forty years ago today, men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. They came in peace for all mankind. And over the next four years they continued to return and then.... nothing. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (who is shown in the picture above) landed on the moon at Mare Tranquilitis (or the Sea of Tranquility) and became the first humans to have walked on an extraterrestrial surface. In doing so they fulfilled the goal that President Kennedy had set back in September 1962 when he boldly challenged the United States to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth before the decade was out. There were many hurdles in the path to achieving that goal but the United States persevered and six months shy of Kennedy's deadline, the astronauts had made their way to the moon.

It's sad to think that after a handful of missions to the moon, the efforts that were undertaken were allowed to go gracefully off into the history books. I say it's sad because the inspiration that many took from seeing those early grainy images of men walking on the moon was what drove people to continue those explorations and fantasies in the hope of continuing those voyages. Shortly after the success of the moon landings there were plans made to launch flyby missions to nearby planets in the hopes of exploring and pushing the boundaries of our solar system. Indeed, plans had been drawn up for a spacecraft that would undertake a months long voyage to Venus in an attempt to orbit the planet and then return to the Earth. The possibilities existed but it was something that only interested a handful after reaching the moon.

It seemed that the possibilities and what was once considered science fiction could have become science fact but it apparently wasn't meant to be at that time. With the landing on the moon and the indirect benefit of having beat the communists (i.e., the Russians) to the moon meant that we had bragging rights. But why did it have to end there? Why did we have to stop the exploration of space with the visit to our neighboring moon? There are so many other places to visit within our own solar system, it seems a shame that we haven't visited more planets. Some make the argument that there hasn't been any real benefit to the space program but I beg to differ. Other than gaining a better understanding of the origins of our universe and our planet we also have seen benefits from the science that were pioneered during the space program.

Modern cell phones have more computing power than the computers that were aboard Eagle, the lunar lander that was flown on the Apollo 11 mission. But the development of such computing power wouldn't have been possible without the need put forward by the missions to the moon. There are so many other benefits to the research done in relation to the space program that it's almost impossible to point to many modern conveniences without seeing how they were originally used relative to the quest to go to the moon. But when that drive to explore the stars died down we appeared to become content in having what we have and not really looking to push the boundaries once more.

Some make the argument that besides having earned a place of honor at having 'beaten' the Russians to the moon we don't have anything more to prove by way of such an expensive undertaking such as what space exploration requires. True, the space program isn't a cheap undertaking but think of the benefits that arose from the program. Domestic companies and aerospace industries within the United States were challenged to create new technology that would allow men to travel the nearly 240,000 miles from the Earth to the moon. This meant so much money being spent but in turn also meant that there were many more jobs for the people involved in the industry. People in India talk about the 'brain drain' of people coming to the United States rather than working in India but I think that has happened here also. Rather than utilizing these 'brains' in this country the domestic development of technology has slowed.

Why will companies sustain these jobs if there is no driving force behind the country to encourage us into the stars. True, President Bush made a bold statement that he wanted to see Americans on Mars within a few decades but the challenege seems lukewarm given that the competition doesn't really exist anymore. Russia's space program has dwindled and continues only through generous support of the United States in their joint efforts in space. Other countries continue to contribute as well but with no one appearing to be close to being on the moon or anywhere else within our solar system in the near future there is very little drive. Markets that could be full of workers here in the United States are steadily laying people off becuase the interest lies in the development of weapons and/or technology meant to keep an eye on the Earth rather than the stars.

It's sad when I think about it. Buzz Aldrin referred to the vista of the Moon as being 'magnificent desolation' and since the end of the Apollo program, that is how it has remained. There has been no change further manned incursion to the moon and no plans for the near term really exist. Perhaps with the advent of the Chinese into the space-faring nations of the world there will be renewed enthusiasm for the space program. One can only hope. I mean what would have happened to the world if after Columbus's forays into the west (and subsequent 'discovery' of America) he and the rest of Europe would have been content to come out for a few years then remain. It would be a different place. I wonder how different the world would be today if we hadn't stopped at the moon but had kept going. I hope we get to find out one day soon.


Friday, July 17, 2009

A Tower by Any Other Name

Sometimes we humans can be a stubborn species. When we set our minds to something it is often very difficult to ever change it. Case in point? Changing the name of a building which has had the same name for over 30 years. The building in this case is the famed Sears Tower of Chicago; currently the tallest building in the western hemisphere. Now I know that the CN Tower in Toronto is the tallest building but seeing as how it's a free-standing tower and not a occupy-able (is that even a word?) building you can say that the Sears Tower is the tallest 'office' building in the western hemisphere. But semantics aside, I mentioned name changes.

Well it appears that the Sears Tower will now be known by a new name; the Willis Tower. The building's original 'big name' tenant was the Sears Roebuck and Co. which moved out of the building back in 1992. However, since the time it was first opened the building was always known as the Sears Tower. Now, in exchange for moving into the tower and occupying a great deal of space (and promising to bring in thousands of new jobs thanks to their work) the Willis Group Holdings insurance company from England is requesting to change the name from the Sears Tower to the Willis Tower. Now as a majority tenant and a company that has shelled out big bucks for the right to move into the tower I guess it makes sense for the Willis Group to request the name change but the residents of Chicago aren't all that thrilled.

Now although the name change has been officially announced, it will likely be a long time before local parlance is changed and the name is more or less set in stone in the public psyche. This isn't the first time though that a building of prominence has undergone a name change much to the local public's dismay. Many buildings in New York (such as the Pan American building which is now the MetLife Building) underwent name changes though long-time residents of the city and surrounding areas will still use the old names. Similarly here in DC people who have lived here for decades still refer to Ronald Reagan National Airport as National Airport. It always has been and always will be.

People make the arguement that it's silly to hold on to such sentimental things as a name or a reference. I mean after all it's not like the tower is suddenly going to disappear. The tower has been a part of the Chicago skyline for decades and will continue to be one in the decades to come. That being said, just because the name will change, it doesn't mean that the place changes. Yet there's just something that's so hard to describe that seems to go against wanting to change names of historic places like that. For example, the Watergate Hotel in DC is also coming up for auction and it's likely that someone else could take over. If that happens then the name will change. What will be reactions then?

The Watergate changed the course of history for one president and was the neighboring home for the problems of another president. In this case there is a bit of dubious history attached to the building but that doesn't mean that it can just have it's name changed. But I guess in the modern world it isn't all that surprising that such events occur. I mean look at stadiums and sports arenas. They undergo name changes so often that it's like the place has a revolving door policy. Still, when it comes to something historic like the Watergate or the Sears Tower, changing the name almost seems like it's taking that location's identity and place in history.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Confirm or Deny

Hearings began this week as to whether or not to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. If she is eventually confirmed and sent to the Supreme Court then it would be only the third time a woman has joined the Supreme Court but more importantly, it would be the first time that a Hispanic woman has been admitted to the the highest court in the land. Now like any public figure, Sotomayor has made some comments in the past which have brought her into question among the Senators at her confirmation hearings but is this truly criteria for confirming someone or are we seeing an exercise in partisan politics again.

Given the fact that this nomination came from a Democratic President, it's not surprising that many are in opposition to the nominee simply because a Democrat nominated her. Those who are quick to jump onto that fact would then have egg on their faces because she was nominated to higher courts by President's from both parties. She was nominated for the US District Courts for the Southern District of New York by George H.W. Bush and was nominated to the US Appeals Court by Bill Clinton. That being said apparently President's from both parties found some merit in her qualifications and abilities that make her appealing as a judge. In that case the whole "deny her because she was nominated by the opposing party" is a moot point and should not even be a consideration. But opposition members won't stand up and say blatantly that this is the reason why they are being stubborn. There are other means of showing that stubborness.

One way is to say that like any Supreme Court nominee (or any nominee by a President for that matter) it is important to weigh the facts and make a determination. Some such as Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Jeff Sessions (Alabama) have stated repeatedly that Sotomayor and others who are nominated, should be judged (pun intended I suppose in this case) on the basis of their understanding and respect for the law and not on personal feelings. This statement stems from a remark Sotomayor made several years ago in which she said, "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reacha better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." This statement which was made in reference to how her background would influence how she judges a case or makes a decision regarding legal matters. Suddenly many were up in arms over the fact that Sotomayor would apparently let personal feelings get in the way of being an impartial judge.

Excuse me but is there ever going to be such a thing as an 'impartial' judge? In the whole history of the world I don't think there can be a single judge who can claim to have followed the example of the statues of Justice sitting outside the courtroom with blindfold on and scales in hand. Can any judge claim that their background hasn't influenced them in some way? Senators also have made repeated statements that Sotomayor should let her personal background remain in the background and should not be brought into the discussions. I find that a bit amusing considering the fact that when George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas he spoke repeatedly about his rags-to-riches upbringing and how that had influenced him.

A judge, any judge, is supposed to look at the law and make judgements based on their understanding and interpretation of the law. If you want to know what kind of judge you are potentially confirming then talk about her past cases and how she ruled on them. And if you are looking at that and don't want Sotomayor to bring up statements in her past then don't bring it up. I mean after all, if we're going to start looking into the past conduct or actions of nominees then how can the Republicans complain about Clarence Thomas (who was accused of sexually harassing his former aide Anita Hill) or John Ashcroft (who was Attorney General and who had some sketchy run-ins with opposing desegration in his past) or Alberto Gonzales (whose past associations with George W. Bush made him more of a "yes man" than an independent Attorney General). Well I suppose because they were Republican nominees made by Republicans then everything should have been A-OK.

But all those things aside, what is the real issue here? There are accusations that the nomination of Sotomayor would not have even gone through were it not for the fact that she is a woman and that too of Hispanic descent? Oh? So it's okay to bring up Sotomayor's sex as a basis for her nomination but not in the case of ill-qualified Sarah Palin? If that's not hypocrisy then I don't know what is. I'd like to have a little faith in my government and think that regardless of who is nominated, the facts would be presented in as neutral a manner as possible. I don't think Senators from either party should be made to come out and make statements on whether or not they are in favor or against a potential nominee. They should make their own judgement. We don't need the media asking away and telling us what we should and shouldn't be thinking. If we elected them then we should have the confidence that they'll do what we want and not something that they want. After all, isn't that what they are expecting Sotomayor to do? Listen to the law and not her own will?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Bin for Every Category

These days you aren't important if you can't be labeled something. As the schism in the American public continues to grow day in and day out it is becoming more and more clear that those on the right are going to continue leaning out to the right and those to the left will do likewise to the left until such a point that moderates finally regain control. I can't really understand why this is the case. It seems that as this last election came to pass there were lots of people who began labeling other people as being in one bin or another. If you weren't in one bin you had to be in the other but if you weren't in one bin or the other then apparently you didn't count or what you said didn't seem all that important.

Case in point is the media. Almost from the time she came into the national spotlight as McCain's VP nominee, Sarah Palin began 'binning' the media as either being the mainstream or the elitist. To this day I don't know what the actual difference between the two is. All I can think is that (based on Palin's context) the media that asks questions about world events and her opinions on them or general knowledge questions that any world leader should know are the 'elite' media and those that ask whether or not she likes to fire a full clip of 5.56 mm rounds into a moose before eating it is the mainstream media. But what's the difference? None really that I can see but apparently a difference exists.

Those in the mainstream media or on the 'right' side of the fence (and I mean that figuratively) will jump and shout like organ-grinder monkeys about how the 'elite' media will ask questions meant to ambush people like Palin. They will espouse drivel about how the 'elite' media has a double-standard when it comes to how they people like Palin. They will print endless columns about how they are biased. But I wonder; is it bias if it is the truth? Now I may get yelled at and picked on for believing that perhaps a lot of the accusations against Sarah Palin are true but do I believe for a minute that her interviews in the 'mainstream' media were any more truthful to her character? I would have rather have given Palin an Academy Award for her appearance on Fox News than the Vice Presidency.

But is the media ga-ga over Obama and is there so significant a difference or bias leaning towards the left? Perhaps so. In truth the media and the Republicans have always had a somewhat tenuous relationship. I guess it stems from the fact that the elite.. oh excuse me... the liberal... or excuse me again... the press like the Washington Post helped expose the Watergate scandal and was never too kind to Bush during his 8 years in office. But again I ask, is it truly unfair if the candidates themselves make the situtation like that? What I mean is, is it wrong to bring up Sarah Palin's kids if she herself flaunts them so much? Is it wrong to bring up Obama's smoking habit despite his having signed smoking bans? Why does it have to be only a liberal issue or a conservative issue? Aren't all issues dealing with our country inherently "American" issues? Then why don't we label it as such and end this constant 'us versus them' mentality. Maybe then the defense in the media can end and the restoration of our country can begin.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Acting Like Nothing Happened

I don't know; maybe I'm just stupid or I don't get it. I have had 'incidents' where I was caught on a speed camera going above the speed limit so obviously I had to pay the fine but one thing I could say for sure besides feeling the loss of a few bucks was that I had to be careful. Similarly I know that when police are out and about, it's a good bet they are standing by looking to pull someone over so why tempt fate and continue burning rubber down the highway and end up with an even higher ticket if you can avoid it? I'm asking these somewhat rhetorical questions because I'm hoping that maybe it will help me understand why some folks just don't get that when the cause of an action is known, why keep doing it?

In this case (as you can probably guess from the accompanying picture) I'm referring to this recently released photo of a bus driver on the Ride On bus in DC a few days ago. Apparently she was reading while driving the bus. Now many readers know about my pet peeve of people reading, texting, eating, shaving or doing anything else that is distracting from the road and often nearly causing accidents; but what I don't get is that we are less than a month since that deadly Metro accident here in DC where it is speculated that the operator of the train that crashed into the other was likely distracted by texting. Now I am by no means implying that that is what was the only cause of the accident at that time, but knowing that it was under suspicion, why would other drivers want to continue doing similar activities as if they have a fatalistic streak?

Perhaps the driver felt that as a Ride On bus bus driver she wasn't under the scrutiny of the public but I think she needs to think again. Any and all drivers who now operate public transportation are going to undergo scrutiny now the likes of which probably hasn't been seen before. Already we've had postings to YouTube with passengers filming drivers texting or reading on their cell phones. They have photographic proof that there are some drivers out there who continue to flaunt their texting skills rather than their ability to operate a vehicle and behaving as if there's nothing wrong with doing it. I myself find it a little disturbing.

Now I wouldn't want to go the course that some people are going with this line of thought which says that we need to watch drivers constantly like hawks. We need to have cameras on them to ensure that they are only driving and nothing else. Well my question to them would be "who watches the watchers"? Why add all that unnecessary expense (which will only be passed along to passengers in the form of fare increases) when it should be common sense that activities that distract from driving can be dangerous. A spokeswoman for Ride On buses explained that she was confused as to how this could have happened. She mentioned that drivers are "specifically trained to not read while driving." So let me get this straight; they actually need to train and explain why it would be dangerous to read while driving? Perhaps the drivers worse than we thought.

Again, I'm not condemning drivers nor am I saying that the computer systems that run these trains or buses be upgraded to replace humans completely but what I am saying is that there apparently isn't enough screening of drivers or operators to ensure that they understand their responsibilities. I'm sure that if investigators or amateur cell phone reporters actually went out and did some surveys and filmed some footage, they'd find that the majority of drivers out there are doing what they're supposed to. It's the small majority that is ruining it for everyone else and also making it much more dangerous on the roads if what they appear to be doing continues in earnest.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Hooray for Hollywood (the Sign)

Eighty-six years ago today the Hollywood sign that typefies the American film industry was dedicated. It seems that as long as there has been a film industry in Hollywood, the Sign has been there to 'officially' designate that yes indeed, there is such a place where the magic of the movies happens. The funny thing is that I didn't know all that much about it until I looked it up. But rather than have you, my faithful readers, dig up the information on your own, I'll pass along what I was able to find out so that you too can know more about this entertainment icon.

One of the first things I learned was that the Hollywood sign actually read "Hollywoodland" when it was first put up. Now contrary to what many people think, it wasn't actually put up as a promotion of the film industry lying at the foot of the Hollywood Hills but rather to promote a new housing complex (aptly titled "Hollywoodland" that was located just below the sign. The homes were advertised as being in a "superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills." They were originally put up and dedicated on July 13, 1923. It wasn't expected that the sign would be up for more than a year (or until all the houses in the development were sold) but the rise of the film industry in Los Angeles at that time led many to associate the sign with the industry and so it was left up.

But as with anything which is meant to be temporary and ends up lasting much longer than it's 'shelf life' (like the Mir space station), it began to fall into a state of disrepair. The sign was originally built from wood and was studded with nearly 4,000 lightbulbs but as the sign remained, it became more of an eye sore than an icon. By the early 1940's the sign had become so dilapidated that it was falling apart and read "HuLLYWO D" as the letters began to fall or fall apart. By 1949 it was determined that the sign should be repaired and upgraded to make it more permanent. But because the costs were seen to be high to maintain a sign that read "Hollywoodland" it was decided that that the "land" would be dropped and thus the "Hollywood" sign was born.

Now like many people who have seen the movie "The Rocketeer", we were always under the assumption that the sign always read "Hollywoodland" until some secret spy ended up crashing his stolen rocket-pack into the sign and blowing up the "land" portion though that ended up not being the case. Although in the early 1940's (prior to the restoration of the sign) the original caretaker of the sign (Albert Kothe) did knock over the "H" when driving through the area (drunk) and hitting the sign late one evening. Although the restoration was successful, the letters that replaced the originals were still made of wood and metal and by the 1970's the sign was again in a state of disrepair.

Then in 1978 the city of Los Angeles decided to seek donations to repair and restore the sign and so each letter was replaced at a cost of approximately $27,777 dollars (for a grand total of $250,000) by some of Hollywood's luminaries at the time. The donors included Alice Cooper (who dedicated the letter "O" to Groucho Marx), Gene Autry, Hugh Hefner, Andy Williams, and Warner Brothers Records (among others). The letters in this go around were made of more durable materials and now nearly 30 years after they were initially restored, the sign continues to shine as a symbol of the films and fantasy that have come to represent Hollywood.


Friday, July 10, 2009

A Thing for Vampires

I don't get it. I really don't. Since when did vampires go from being Transylvanian to teens suffering more angst than Harry Potter? I suppose everything goes through a cycle of being popular and then falling out of popularity but I guess I kind of missed that point in time when vampires became 'cool' again. I mean let's face it, vampires or vampire lore has been around for generations but it's certainly not the same time of lore that we grew up with. I mean there are times when I feel that the 'true' vampire lore that I always think of (like Count Dracula) when imagining vampires and what they're up to.

I guess these days when you mention vampires the first thing that pops to mind is the pale guys from "Twilight" or "True Blood" or even the guys in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". No longer are they Europeans with a flair for accents or the desire to 'velcome' you into their castle keeps. They'll hang around in abandoned homes or live with their parents or even set up bases that would make Batman jealous but the fact remains that this change in understanding has changed the face of vampirism for me. I guess for many teens it's a way for them to deal with feelings of being misunderstood as they go through adolescence (I mean let's face it, vampires are as far from the norm as you could expect). In the 1960's it could have been fantasy's of being part of the "X-Men" but now it's vampires.

I suppose there are far worse things that teens could choose to follow but honestly, I just think that this new twist on vampirism is taking the lore and twisting it all around and dumbing it down from a horror element to a teen romantic element. I have read many of Anne Rice's Vampire books which kind of changed the tone of vampire stories for a long time ago itself. But at the time it still maintained some of those elements that typefied for vampires for so long. Basically Euro-trash type vampires who lived miserable lives while struggling to maintain some part of their humanity. Yet it was different than the current trend. There was always a romantic element but now it comes down to the formulaic teen romance. Boy likes girl, girl is curious about boy, they fall in love but a bully tries to come between them and the boy steps up and defends girl. Romance ensues and everyone is happy.

But many vampire books or stories from the past didn't have that 'hopeful' element to them. There was always a little bit of sorrow that you felt for these vampires for their situation. Before they became tragi-romantic characters at their root they were always scary characters and the sad thing is that they are slowly losing that characteristic. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing; it's probably a good thing that there is a resurgence in vampire fiction but still, you can't help but wonder what Count Dracula must be feeling about the fact that his 'people' are now the stuff of teen romances.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Stay with the Family

Is it hypocrisy or something else entirely? Coverage of President Obama's trip to Russia was sidelined a bit this week seeing as how the funeral for the late Michael Jackson took up much of the early part of the week. Still, those who follow the political news front fairly regularly seem to be having a field day of sorts with the fact that Obama took his family along with him for his trip. And if one is to read the comments section of an article (any article) covering this trip then you'll see just how much voice and partisanism exists out there. Maybe I'm just noticing it because it appears to have become a major talking point for all politicians in the last eight years but partisanism isn't something I noticed to this degree in years past but it's certainly alive and well in the American public as well as in the government.

In case you're wondering what I mean it has to do with the fact that Obama took his wife and daughters along with him to Russia for his meeting with President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. What appears to be the issue is that Republicans (or Conservatives or Right wingers as they are often referred to in comments sections) are claiming hypocrisy on Democrats (or Dems, or leftists, or socialists as they are often referred to in comments sections) for condemning Sarah Palin when news of her taking her kids along on visits around the nation while praising Obama for taking his children along on a trip to Russia. In addition, many who hate Obama see him as flagrantly spending taxpayer money in order to take his family along while 'hard working Americans' are homeless and jobless.

For those sad people I would simply say that if you have the time to post such comments to news articles online in the comfort of anonymity afforded by the internet then you aren't part of the 'hard working Americans' that are suffering from joblessness or homelessness. If you were then I don't think you'd be spending time on the internet trolling the news articles to post such detremental comments. This lashing applies to supporters of both parties. What difference does it make in the end what your opinion is on the matter. If you want to make it then put your name out there and make it, don't hide behind some random letter or ambiguous title condemning the person you don't support. Put your name out there and tell people what your opinion is. You'll see how fast people end the posting of such complaints.

But that's not the issue; the issue here is whether Obama was right in taking his daughters along with him or not and whether it was hypocritical of people who condemned Palin to praise Obama. I don't believe it is and I'll explain why. According to news reports made by most media outlets, Palin had her children accompany her on trips on occasion and this was taken care of by Alaskan taxpayers; where the issue comes up is that she took them along (and expected taxpayers or her hosts) to pay for her children when they weren't even invited to the event in the first place. In this case the Russian government has made arrangements to show the girls parts of Russia as well while their parents were going around and making political meetings.

What's wrong in that? I don't think there's anything wrong in it. Now some claim that Obama is simply using his children as publicity items meant to generate further support in the polls. Well is that any different than Palin who paraded her loving family on stage with her at most major poltical rallies that were shown on television or in the media? Didn't they have their time in the spotlight as well? But why stop at Palin; she's no longer even Governor and is now among Joe Six-Pack. Hasn't every President in recent history paraded their children around the world with them as ambassadors of goodwill? I don't think anyone can claim that they haven't.

It's a slippery slope that the President runs; and I mean any President, not just the current or former President or Presidents well in the past. They are expected to be in the public's eye but they are also expected to maintain some level of family connection. Now didn't the scion of the Republicans in the last decade (George W. Bush) spend enough time with his family? How many trips were made to the ranch in Crawford, Texas or how many times was he seen spending time with his family? Isn't it a good thing to keep a person grounded? I mean after all, although these people have been President, aren't they at the end of the day, just like you and me? Don't they want to kick back with their families as well?

To me the issue isn't whether or not taxpayer money is being 'wasted' but rather what sort of image it is sending to the world. By taking his children to Europe, Obama is exposing them to the world as a whole. Didn't it inspire Barbara Bush (W's daughter) to write a book that was appreciated in many circles dealing with AIDS in Africa? It's a slippery slope because to the world will either see him as someone with good family values in wanting to expose his children to the other parts of the world or he will be seen as someone who is only interested in pushing his own agenda. Whatever the case may be or whatever side you tend to support, all I know is that the schism that has occurred between what people see as good family values has degenerated into what political party you tend to support.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Happy Trails

Love her or hate her, it's imposible to deny that Sarah Palin has impacted American politics and will likely continue to do so as long as the public and the media continue to give her importance on some issue or the other. As she approaches the end of her Gubernatorial term as Governor of the state of Alaska, Palin has decided not to run for re-election and has decided to resign her office prior to the end of her term. While this strikes many as odd, I think that she's continuing to play a political game like only she can play it. But if the reports coming in from former McCain-Palin campaign aides is any indication, it may be yet another wrongly made decision that could hurt her chances rather than help her chances.

At the tail end of the 2008 elections there was already strong outcry and support for Sarah Palin in 2012 as a potential frontrunner for the Presidency. Now some people may gag on that statement or proclamation but I for one believe that there is quite a bit of truth to it. I do believe that Palin has higher aspirations when it comes to the American political scene but for better or for worse, I think she may end up hurting her chances more than helping them. But before you hit the mail button and inundate me with spam regarding my low IQ or the fact that Palin is the future of this nation, allow me to explain why I think she's making a mistake that could potentially cost her success in the future.

Palin would certainly not be the first GOP governor to go from the Governor's mansion to the White House. In the last three decades at least three of our President's were former Governors and at least two of them were from the Republican Party. That's certainly one thing in Palin's favor since the stats are on her side. However I think one thing that was different between Palin and the rest of the pack was that by some means or the other, the three other former Governors all had some exposure to the world by some means or the other. In other words, they had passports before they stepped onto the world stage. Sure not every one of those candidates could correctly identify countries of the world or what was going on in those countries despite their being featured so prominently in the news (case in point, George W. Bush appearing rather clueless when asked about his thoughts on General Musharaff and his coup in Pakistan shortly before one of the debates leading up to the 2000 elections).

Nonetheless, given that Bush's father, Senior Bush, had served in the government so long and was the former head of the CIA his exposure to the world appeared to be more than what Palin's has been. Of course one can certainly see Russia from Alaska and they 'share airspace' but is that enough to justify being leader of the world's most prominent nation? I don't think so. But so what? Some may argue that it doesn't matter that she's not well travelled or that she doesn't know about world events. What impact will it have on her running for higher office. That's true but what about the other factors going against her given her decision to resign?

Resigning from office, Palin claimed that she had accomplished all that she wanted to accomplish in her term as Governor. So as many have asked before, does that mean that Alaska is in perfect shape now? I don't think any state or territory in the union can make that claim but perhaps Alaska (being so far to the north) is fine and we just don't know it down here in the contiguous United States. But even if that were the case, if someone was doing such a fine job shouldn't that be all the more reason to stay in office and at least run for re-election to continue to do great things and build up one's reputation?

Maybe she's following the philosophy of 'leaving on a high note' which says that you leave when you're on top. Maybe she's on top of her game in Alaska and people are thrilled to pieces but then why again would you resign before your term finishing up? Why not just finish out your term? Is it because of criticism or comments in the media? If that's the case then what would happen if she were President? I saw bumper stickers calling for Obama's impeachment even before he had taken the oath of office. In the face of all that, what if Palin (and stranger things have happened) is elected President and the opinion of everyone is so low that she feels stymied and then wants to resign again? Is that the mark of a responsible or forward-thinking leader? I don't think so. To me is seems like more the case of someone making a pre-emptive CYA move. In other words, covering your ass.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

To Drink or Not to Drink

With the amount of conflicting information being put out there by doctors, scientists and researchers, it's no wonder that many of us out there are bordering on insanity when it comes to figuring out what's good for us and what isn't. The latest? Well it's a subject that's fairly near and dear to my heart and something that many people have accused of being my fallback subject when I have nothing else to blog on but there's just something about coffee that interests me and that keeps intriguing scientists as well. The latest study indicates that consumption of coffee may be beneficial in warding off the effects of Alzheimer's Disease.

Tests done on lab rats (does anyone else find it funny that tests of potential effects to humans are most often conducted on rats?) showed that memory was positively affected with the introduction of the rat equivalent of 500 miligrams of caffeine. What this meant was that inflammation of the brain which typefies Alzheimers was staved off and memory improved. Now of course the proof of this was that the rats probably kept hitting the button for more food rather than the button that would shock them with a 'mild' electric charge but the principle still applies nonetheless. Regardless, I think it's probably both a good and a bad thing that this result came out.

It's good because for many of us coffee devotees it's one more thing for us to point to and say "Ha! Coffee is good for you." while I think it's bad for what it's potentially going to lead to. Most people who frequent Starbucks or a similar coffee chain will probably be able to tell you that amount of coffee you usually get at such places is well in excess of what you'd get in a normal coffee mug. That being said, we are probably consuming the equivalent (if not more) of the required dosage of caffeine to see these effects. What people often don't think about though is the fact that in doing so, they are also probably increasing the amount of fat they consume.

What do I mean? Well most drinks at Starbucks can be high in terms of fat content and caloric content if you go with the 'default' ingredients. This can include whole milk, whip cream, various syrups and accoutrements which serve to make the coffee tasty but also serve to bump up the amount of bad things in the coffee. I'm not saying that people shouldn't indulge in such drinks but I can already hear people who have gained tremendous weight arguing that they were drinking coffee because doctor's said it could help stave off Alzheimers. Then these same obese coffee drinkers would in turn sue Starbucks for millions in health endangerment simply because they didn't label their drinks or coffees with the calories it contained or how much fat it has. Not that most people look at these labels anyways but that's another matter.

So then what's the solution? Simple. Everything in moderation. Most anything out there is good for you in small controlled quantities but it's when we start abusing these quantities that we start seeing negative effects. A few years ago I remember that scientists came out and said that popcorn was good for you. People then started consuming record quantities of popcorn at the movies or elsewhere. What the doctor's then had to do was caveat what they said. They meant plain popcorn that wasn't doused in butter or nacho cheese or loaded with salt. It wasn't too long after that that the same doctors released a study that said excessive consumption of 'bad' popcorn could lead to negative health effects. Again it came down to abuse of a good thing. I suppose in a few more weeks or months we'll hear of another study that shows that while coffee helps stave off some effects of Alzheimers it helps promote ulcers. Won't that be wonderful?


Monday, July 06, 2009

Who Says Mens Tennis is Boring?

It seems like only a few weeks ago (well it literally was only about three weeks ago) that everyone was talking about Roger Federer and the fact that he finally managed to win the French Open; the one tournament that had evaded his grasp for so long. With that victory, he joined a group of only six other men who have managed the career Grand Slam (which means winning all four majors) in the span of their tennis playing careers. That in and of itself could be considered a major accomplishment but Federer was apparently not content to rest upon his laurels and thus broke yet another record by winning a record breaking 15th major victory. His match at the 2008 Wimbledon final against friend and rival Rafael Nadal was one that will long be remembered but I think it will be this final that will exemplify Roger Federer.

I began watching the match and knew that it would be a good one given the fact that the first set went to a tie breaker. For a long time I had always thought that Federer's opponent for the final, American Andy Roddick, was a little bit impatient. I remember seeing matches where I could see the impatience building in him until such a time that it would literally cause him to explode and begin messing up his own game. But the Roddick that played with Federer yesterday was a completely different man. He was sharp and focused and gave Federer a true run for his money. Put aside was the fact that Federer's win-loss record against Roddick was 18-2, Roddick wasn't going down without a fight and neither was Roger. By the mid point of the second set though that outcome was in doubt.

I couldn't believe that two hours into the match we had only completed barely two sets. From then on Federer began his fight back. Holding off Roddick to force tie-breakers in both the second and third sets, Federer appeared to be gaining ground and returning to form. And admittedly, I have to say that I was happy to see Roddick showing more than enough signs of having matured as a player to see that he wasn't getting impatient. Frustrated perhaps but certainly not aggravated or impatient as he would have in years past. So much so that I was taken by surprise (as I'm sure many were) that he took the fourth set so easily to set up the decisive and deciding fifth set. Those of us who saw last year's final know that there is no tie-breaker in the fifth set at Wimbledon and the game will continue until there is a clear two game advantage in the final set. Last year that meant a total of 16 games being played which ended with Nadal winning 9-7.

This year was to be no different. With the speed the previous sets had been played, it didn't appear that the final set would last long enough to touch the record setting duration of the match played at the final last year. I was wrong. Although the duration record wasn't broken again, I think the final set was what typefied and exemplified the whole match. Two players, so evenly matched and so equally driven to win played their hearts out. It wasn't the safe 'you-volley-I-volley' type tennis either. It was played with the same intensity as the early sets and made for some very, very entertaining tennis. In the end, Federer managed to hold on a little longer in the 30 games they played for the final set.

And although some would claim that Federer has won enough with his five previous victories at Wimbledon (as Roddick so rightfully pointed out during Federer's speech) it is nonetheless commendable that he managed to fight back and win. Some have said that it would have been a different scenario if Nadal had not lost at the French this year or if he hadn't withdrawn from Wimbledon before it began but be that as it may, luck plays a factor as well and it's quite clear that luck was on Federer's side. Maybe some would say that he didn't 'deserve' to win but I think he proved that he did by playing with his heart and his head and making sure that he didn't lose either in his quest to win. Maybe he'll keep quiet during the US Open in a few weeks in New York though I doubt it. Though he's broken records already I don't think he'll be content to kick back and relax. Like the names he took as inspirations during interviews, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Michael Schumacher. Each was or is a pinnacle in their respective sport and didn't give up until they were ready to. I'm sure Federer will be the same way.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Movies as 'History'

Most of my regular readers know that among two of my great passions ranks watching movies and reading up on history. I would be hard pressed to admit which is ranked higher than the other but suffice it to say that they are both rather up there in rank. One would therefore think that when movies seek to combine the two subjects of my passion, I would be ecstatic and for the most part that may be true but there are often occasions where I have been a bit disappointed in what Hollywood has managed to put out. I bring this up because as you may have guessed from the photo accompanying this blog, there is a new movie being released entitled "Public Enemies" which deals with the FBI hunt for gangster John Dillenger (portrayed by Johnny Depp).

The film is directed by Michael Mann whose list of films include "Heat", "Miami Vice", "Collateral", "The Insider" and "The Last of the Mohicans" to name a few. Save for "The Insider" there weren't really any movies in that lot that could be considered historical in nature though "The Insider" did deal with the real life case of Jeffery Wiggand who was a whistle-blower for the tobacco industry. While many critics believe that the portrayal of this real-life incident were fairly accurate, it is safe to say that not everything shown in the film was realistic. But then again that's what we expect isn't it? Most moviegoers these days don't have the attention span to concentrate more than two hours. Any movie going over that time is often looked at with some derrision.

But how can one encompass the life and legacy of someone famous in so short a time? It's next to impossible actually. So what does one do? Simple. Edit and consolidate. Often times for the sake of dramatic purposes, writers and directors will consolidate events and incidents or meetings to encompass a longer duration in a much shorter time. The unfortunate side effect of this practice is that when people look to use movies as an authority on how certain events in history played out then there is bound to be misrepresentation or frustration over the way certain events are portrayed or how they play out.

For example when the movie "300" came out several years ago, one of the main complaints against it was the portrayal of the Persians. Now I won't argue whether the depiction of the Persians were accurate or not but I will say that it helped bring to light the fact that many people don't realize that Persia is now known as Iran. The reason I say this is because many critics and fans of the film were confused as to why the Iranian government (including President Ahmedanijad) were protesting the film. Sad as it is, even a movie that may have stretched the truth may have helped provide a little bit of education to people.

But sometimes what happens is that the license to dramatize 'certain events' can often go overboard and results in more dramatization than historical fact. Certainly it makes for more interesting movie making but then many people accept it to be the truth. This can be both a good and a bad thing. I have always been one who believes that if a movie on history stirs my interest on a subject, I will seek out information and educate myself on the film before accepting what I see blindly. With the case of "Public Enemies" I'm sure there is some artistic license taken but one would think that with Michael Mann being the director there would be more attention to the truth than action. I would simply ask that before you think of Johnny Depp as being the representative of John Dillenger, read a book on the subject too. It can make watching movies on history that much more enjoyable.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

All Play and No Work?

Many people (like I myself for a number of years) were completely unaware of the existance of the Chain Bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland until traffic in the area suddenly got a whole lot worse when construction on the bridge began. Basically this three lane bridge adjusts the number of lanes into our out of DC/Maryland based on the time of day. In the morning there are two lanes towards the city and in the afternoon it is the opposite. Although this mini bridge tucked away down the river between the American Legion Bridge and the Key Bridge (closer to DC) are probably the bigger and better known bridges connecting the two states across the mighty Potomac River, not many people use it who don't have to.

Now I'm one of those who doesn't use the bridge on a regular basis but I have used it as an alternate route across the river when traffic is bad but with the closures on the bridge due to maintenance work expected to last many months, the residual effect on the neighboring roads and surrounding areas has been tremendous. Maintenance is something that can't be avoided, especially on older bridges like this one and I'm sure that these bridges need (and deserve) the maintenance they are receiving but what vexes me (and many other drivers in the area) is why there appears to be nothing going on on the bridge other than lane closures. Drive on the bridge most any day and you'll find the bridge devoid of workers or equipment.

The transportation department responded to claims in the media that no work is going on by explaining that much of the work is currently going on underneath the bridge but for those of us crawling along on the road it's sometimes disheartening to sit in traffic for something we don't know the cause of and then see nothing but empty road with no work being done. I mean as mean as it may sound, when you know you're stuck in traffic for miles and miles for some accident or other reason that you can't quite see, you begin to hope in some small portion of your brain that the incident that has caused the delay will be 'worth it'. And by 'worth it' I don't mean necessarily death and destruction but at least finding something of significance to help you justify why you sat in slow traffic for so long.

Similarly when you're sitting in traffic with the signs of construction posted all over the place, you assume that there must be some significant work being done. I think the unfortunate thing is that by the time many of us drive past these sites, the construction crews are either finishing for the day or haven't started on the night shift and they're all just sitting around shooting the breeze which can lead one to believe that there's no work being done whatsoever. Then is when you start getting frustrated and begin wondering what all the fuss is about. The Chain Bridge is no exception. Though work is going on underneath and will make it safer for people driving it every day, I sometimes wish we could see what was happening to make our commutes so Hellish from time to time.