Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Polling Anonymously

Dissatisfaction with whichever party is currently in control of the government or with whoever the President happens to be is nothing new. There have been those who have hated Presidents (past and present) from the day they won the election to the day they left office but what differentiates these folks from some of the type that are getting increased media attention these days is that they didn't seem to get as much press coverage considering their violent and out-of-touch accusations. Take for example the latest individual who anonymously posted a poll on Facebook which asked the question, "Should Obama be killed?" The choices of responses include: yes, maybe, if he cuts my healthcare, and no. Now the wonderful thing about our country is that we have the freedom to post these types of polls and say what we wish or express our dissatisfaction with our government (which after all is what led to our fight for independence from England) but there are limits to what should be said.

Now already there have been arguments stating that similar polls or queries were made regarding President Bush. Perhaps now that there is so much more media coverage and that there is increased awareness of potential threats that some of these types of polls are gaining added noteriety but still, I don't ever recall so much being directed towards a President in recent years. Certainly there were the nuts who did call for Bush's assassination or took pot shots at the White House (like the one guy who opened fire on the White House while Bush and his family were in residence) but no one can make the argument that it's one side doing more than the other. I mean even during Clinton's Presidency a suicidal man flew a single engine private plane into the White House in an action that was eeriely reminsicent of the attacks on 9/11. And certainly there were those who have called for the impeachment of any President due to the fact that he's a member of the opposition but calls for assassination being publicized like this are not so common and with good reason.

I keep saying that one of the negative aspects of sites like Facebook and the like is that they offer you the opportunity to live an anonymous and false persona without need to reveal your true name and identity. You can create a completely false profile on Facebook or similar sites and not at all have to prove that it's really you. People will argue that if needed the Secret Service or FBI would be able to find out who you were and where you were if you made credible threats against the President but with so many leads to follow in terms of these threats its difficult to get a rein on all of them. I'm sure with regard to this Facebook poll on Obama (which was taken down almost immediately after Facebook was made aware of it) that it was created by some pimply faced kid who has an axe to grind but that doesn't justify or condone doing it.

If we as a society want to be seen as being better than some of the nation's that we seek to inspire through our democracy or liberate from their so-called tyrannical ways then we need to set an example. There are the occasional outspoken zealots who come out publicly and call for the President's death like Reverend Anderson from Arizona but the majority of them are introverted cowards who only seek to use the internet as their means of communicating and spreading their messages of hate and anger. By creating false or misleading or completely ambiguous identities on the internet they have the power of being anonymous and speaking like a pundit. But take that security blanket away and see how quickly this bold political statement and protest will die down.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time for the Monday Morning Quarterbacks

After the debacle that was the Washington Redskins's loss to the until-now-winless Detroit Lions I was truly at a loss as to what to say. I know that people were already pointing the fingers and second-guessing the plays on the field and calls being made by the coaching staff but I try to avoid that where at all possible. Although I may be a whiz on Madden football games on the XBox or in my understanding of most of the intricacies of the game, I know that I don't have the right (or the skills necessary) to make falsely informed decisions about what the team 'could have' or 'should have' done during the course of the game. All I know is that the team was coming off of a victory that was more or less handed to them the previous week through good fortune and was playing a team with questionable skill. I can tell you though that the Lions I seemed to be watching appeared to be a team on the crux of entering the playoffs at that moment given the way they were moving the ball and defending against the Redskins offensive line.

No team wanted to be the one that gave up a win to the 0-19 Lions but somehow it seems fitting that the team that they get their first win in over 20 months is the Washington Redskins. The Redskins have long been considered one of the teams out there with the greatest potential but unfortunately they never seem to live up to it. Now blame can be pointed at the players for failing to make plays or to the coaching staff but whoever the blame ultimately lies with the fact remains that the team really can't seem to pull it together. One would think that after scraping by to win against the St. Louis Rams last week it would be motivation to come out against the Lions and rack up a score for a moral victory. Unfortunately the team never seems to get things together until the final drives of a game when it's almost too late to do anything at all.

One thing I feel is that while a lot of the players on the team are among the highest paid in the National Football League it doesn't always seem like they're playing on the same team. If one part of the team 'package' (i.e., offense or defense) seems to be working properly the other doesn't seem to work correctly. So then what's the motivation to get them playing up to the potential they all believe that they have within themselves? I'm not really sure. Nothing seems to have worked so far in years past. But what shouldn't the team do? Well let's take a look.

I don't think that firing Jim Zorn would be the way to go. Sure Zorn is ultimately responsible for calling the plays that the team goes through but by getting rid of him at this juncture I don't think it will improve the situation all that much. The Redskins have been through this in the past where a coach has been removed before the season is even over. If Zorn is ultimately removed, it should happen after the season is over. Why mess up a rhythm (whether it's good or bad) because ultimately it isn't going to suddenly light a fire to inspire the players since nothing really seems to have worked for them so far. They can bench Jason Campbell and then bring in Todd Collins; quarterback controversies are nothing new in Washington. After all Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerato started one even before the preseason started this year by going after Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez despite the fact everyone else seemed to have renewed confidence in Jason Campbell after his early performance last year.

What motivation do the higher-ups in the Redskins think that will provide if you are already courting replacements before practice has even started. It strikes me as being ill-advised but formulaic of the Redskins. Courting players who are good on paper but not necessarily in real life is nothing new. Plus I think at times Snyder and Cerrato are like fantasy football players who go for stats rather than combined capability. Just because players have good individual stats doesnt' mean that they play well together. That has long been a problem here in Washington and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon if people don't change their attitude. We're only in week 3 here in the 2009-2010 season and I'm already beginning to feel very skeptical but who knows. I have hopes but they shouldn't already put to the dwindling level less than a month into the season.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Intolerance in the Guise of Peace

Last Friday, the Capitol was the site of a large gathering of Muslims who wanted to offer up their evening prayers at the Capitol to demonstrate to the curious and the mis-informed that contrary to popular opinion, 'not all Muslims are violent and not all of them hate America'. The rally, known as Jummah Day, was hoping to draw close to 50,000 people to pray at the foot of the Capitol grounds though early estimates show that barely a tenth of that predicted number arrived to offer up prayers. Although the rally was successful in the sense that prayers were offered up at the Capitol with little problem, there were a comparitive handful of protestors who came out to protest and warn the American people of 'Islam's plan to slowly subvert and Islamisize the country and replace the Bible with the Koran.' My only reaction could be categorized as being one of dismay.

I think one of the problems is that many people out there are so uncomfortable with their religion that they feel that someone who offers up something of a more appealing alternative will be seen as a better religion. Is religious belief that shakey in this country now that we can't allow someone of another religion to offer up their prayers without accusing them of trying to peddle their religion on to the rest of us? I've mentioned in the past being propositioned on Campus when I was in college by religious zealots who had a passing knowledge of my religion and proceeded to insult my beliefs by way of false assumptions and blatant accusations of why their religion was better.

I really don't have any say in what religion someone wants to practice or what they should or shouldn't believe but I do believe that there are those who take the belief that by bringing others of a different religion to their fold then they will save the world in time. If that's what you believe then by insulting people or their current beliefs, I don't think you're going to win anyone over either. Other religions may certainly be truly superior to mine. I may be denying myself religious bliss by ignoring other avenues of worship but does that mean I should just convert because someone tells me to? I don't think so.

Many of the protestors who came out on Friday were concerned that by allowing Muslims to practice their religion on the Capitol grounds proved that there was a vast conspiracy to convert the country to Islam? Well then what about the fact that every session of Congress is opened by an invocation by a Christian priest and that the one time a Hindu priest was invited to make the opening invocation there were protests. So is the fact that this country was founded on the belief of religious freedom really supposed to mean that this country was founded as a Christian nation and that there is no true religion other than Christianity? I think people really need to go back and read the Constitution and understand what it says. Read books on other religions as well and understand what it says too.

Just as there are violent factions who follow a radical form of Islam and preach violence so too are there people of this ilk in every religion around the world. There is no religion that I can think of whose followers do not include a smattering of violent and misguided individuals. That being said then who is better to judge whom? I think the only true end to violence inspired by religion or intolerance of others would be through the adoption of aetheism. Of course that's easier said than done and yet another sign (to some of these same zealots) that its a sign of the coming of the Apocalypse but to me it would at least go a long way to ending some of the unnecessary intolerance that stems from feelings of "my religion is better than yours."


Friday, September 25, 2009

Action as Swift as their Drivers

I've followed Formula One racing rather closely for quite a few years now and in that time I have long admired the fact that both drivers and their teams worked hard to get that little bit extra out of the car in order to beat their competition. Sure many will argue that in Formula One, teams with the most money (read that to mean Ferrari or McLaren-Mercedes for example) will have an unfair advantage in how they develop their cars simply because they can afford to spend more in testing and development than many other teams. In the years since I began watching there have been many attempts to bring a bit more 'equality' to the various teams in Formula One but still, to paraphrase George Orwell's "Animal Farm", some teams are more equal than others.

I bring this up in light of the scandal that has been more or less rocking the racing world for the past few weeks and that was the revelation that Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, senior leaders with Renault Racing, resigned from their posts with the team following allegations by their former driver Nelson Piquet Jr. that he was ordered to crash his car last year in Singapore to help his teammate Fernando Alsonso (who was in contention for the championship) to move up in the race order in Singapore. According to Piquet he did it for personal reasons; his contract with Renault was not confirmed for the next year and so he figured that by following orders he'd show that he was a team player and that he should be brought back for another year of racing. I suppose in his estimation that having some talent in racing and the fact that he is the son of a former Formula One driver (Nelson Piquet Sr. obviously) wasn't enough.

Now team orders are typically banned in the sport (and for those who don't know, team orders are basically telling your number 2 driver that even if they can win the race, they should yield... if possible... to the number 1 driver to ensure that the number 1 driver can get the maximum number of points for the win). However it's always been more of a wink and a nod understanding that team orders don't really exist although most people know that they do. Ferrari was notorious for having unwritten or unspoken team orders back when Michael Schumacher was still racing for the team. Most other teams probably practice it as well though it isn't as obvious. But the incident at Renault has suddenly rocketed the controversy to the forefront again.

As I said, this isn't the first scandal to rock the sport but certainly one that speaks volumes about the lengths to which some teams are willing to go in order to win a championship. Prior to this some of the largest scandals dealt with unfair technical advantages to the car (such as extra fuel or a more powerful engine) or other cases where technical knowledge of the competition was stolen and then used to take advantage of their defficiencies. In this case, a driver was asked to put his life in danger by purposely crashing his car in order to bring out the safety car which would allow Piquet's teammate (Fernando Alonso) the chance to come out and gain field position despite having a slower car. Indeed that's what happened and Alonso subsequently went on to win the race.

Once Piquet (who was let go by Renault shortly after the 2009 season began) came out with the news that he had been ordered to crash last year and that it wasn't an accident, the entire process seemed to take less time than even the longest of pitstops in Formula One. Both Flavio Briatore (pictured above) and Pat Symonds resigned but not only that, Symonds is suspended for at least five years from the sport and Briatore is suspended indefinitely for his actions. This also means that the drivers he manages (and he manages several with other teams) would also potentially have to leave the sport until they can find new managers. It seems a bit harsh to some but I think it's an appropriate action given the dangerous nature of the request that the team made of a driver. It wasn't as if they asked Piquet to feign engine failure on the track; he was told to crash his car severely enough that the safety car would be deployed.

Competition is a good thing but the fact that some would consider potential death to their driver as a means of winning a championship certainly puts things in perspective (at least for me). Is the need to win that strong that we'd potentially sacrifice someone's life in order to secure victory? Is this what the purpose of competition and sport is? I certainly don't think so and I certainly don't think this is the type of example that these teams should be setting. I think the action that was taken by FIA (the equivalent of the NFL in terms of Formula One racing) was proper. There is perhaps some sympathy for Briatore considering he has managed several championship teams and drivers and has led his team to victory but unfortunately the way in which it could have been done has left a very bad taste in people's mouths. I didn't think that this sport would need an asterisk next to the name of a driver to prove that they had won fair and square but I guess we do.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is it the End of the World or Just Dusty?

I was watching the news this morning when I heard about this strange sight that is pictured to the left. It's an image from a massive dust storm that covered most of Sydney, Australia in a fine orange dust that lasted for most of the day. Residents of the city reported waking up in the morning and looking out to see orange skies and a dull orangish palor to everything. Many believed it to be a sign of a major calamity that had occurred. Popular opinions (before the truth came to be known) was that it was either fallout from a nuclear attack or a sign of the arrival of Armageddon (the event... not the movie). Thankfully it was nothing so forboding and by evening the skies had cleared to show their brilliant blue color but for a few hours it left the city thinking it had been transplanted to Mars.

I got to thinking about how I would have reacted had I been confronted by such a scene. I haven't experienced anything quite like it before. The closest I got to such an event was probably when I was back in high school during a spring thunderstorm and just before it started to pour the wind had kicked up and all the pollen was in the air and the skies around my neighborhood turned green (because of all the trees that surrounded it us). I was rushing to get home before it began pouring and I just remembered getting so much pollen in my face that I was sneezing for almost two hours after getting home. I'm sure it wasn't quite the same experience for those who happened to be in Sydney at the time but I can imagine what they may have been thinking.

I find it fascinating though that so many people assume signs like this to portend the end of the world. I know that many religious texts from around the world contain some description of what the end of the world will be like. Most have commonalities (again giving rise to my belief that all religions are inherently the same they just have different ways of being practiced) which is probably why so many people had the same assumption about what the dust storm may have meant. What further fascinates me about these reactions though is the fact that despite the fact that we now have so many modern technological advancements like weather satellites and scientific knowledge about most of the way in which the world works, so many people can still assume that a dust storm is a sign of the apocalypse.

I suppose it's just proof that no matter how advanced our society may become there will still be that part of us that believes in the mystical or supernatural. We'll believe that something otherworldly is the cause of what's happening rather than turning to science. Perhaps that won't the case for everyone but there are many of us who believe that. In all the news articles I read about the event, there were at least one to two quotations of people who believed it to be the end of the world that was happening. Now that's not the most scientific way to conduct a survey and determine if that's what so many people are really thinking but it's not too far off the mark. It just shows that no matter how much we come to rely on technology, we humans will always retain that bit of superstition as well.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fair Weather Fans

This past Sunday the Washington Redskins played their home opener at FedEx Field and although they won, the way lots of fans were behaving, it's almost as if they hadn't. The play by the offense was sparked with occasional signs of life with multiple marches down the field that only ended in field goals. Thanksfully the kicker, Shaun Suisham, is on his game again otherwise go back a few years and recall kicker Brett Conway who had a few off games where even short yardage field goals were no guarantee. At least these days there is a bit more consistency and Shaun Suisham is probably thanking his lucky stars that he made every kick he lined up for. It was his efforts that effectively 'won' the game for the team. Of course, that there is the operative word. 'Team'. If there's no team unity then it's just a bunch of prima donnas trying to play a game of football as best they can.

One thing that I will say is that just as devoted as most players are to their teams, the fans in Washington are no less devoted. Since 1992 (the last time Washington played in the Super Bowl) the fans have been starting off every year by saying, "maybe this will be the year". Stranger things have happened with other teams. The Giants lost their first six games and then their coach Tom Coughlin announced to the media that no one should have any expectations out of the Giants that year. They later went on to win the Super Bowl against the near perfect New England Patriots. I say this because like most fans of the Redskins, I'm hoping that a lightning strike like the Giants can occur again and that it will occur here in Washington.

What doesn't help the situation any is when the fans start turning on their team on their home field as is what happened on Sunday. After what the fans believed to be miscalls or mistakes in offensive play calling, the fans in the stadium began to 'boo' and boo repeatedly. It was so bad in fact that rookie defensive player Robert Henson twittered his reaction to fans on his twitter page. He stated, "All you fake half hearted Skins fan can .. I won't go there but I dislike you very strongly, don't come to Fed Ex to boo dim wits!!" He also added, "The question is who are you to say you know what's best for the team and you work 9 to 5 at Mcdonalds" Now most fans in Washington will agree that ticket prices for a 'Skins game are so high that it would take someone at McDonalds a very long time to earn the money to buy those tickets. Either that or they'd need a very good scalper but that's beside the point.

The problem is that Henson, who has yet to play an actual down as a Redskin, is reacting to the way fans are behaving and while I don't blame his reaction, I think he needs to put it in context. I can say (though I've never experienced it myself) that being 'booed' by anyone is probably not the most enjoyable of experiences but is it any wonder? With the team owner Dan Snyder upping ticket costs like he's following the stock market and bringing in sketchy personnel who have high aspirations but little to no evidence of greatness (be it coaching or playing) as well as bringing in plenty of high priced players past their prime for extrodinary amounts of money, it's no wonder the fans are frustrated. When you hear comments in the media about how much the team is worth and how much many players are being paid, You begin to wonder where all that money is going in terms of talent. Henson's comments weren't the wisest but they do go to the heart of the matter that some fans are simply fair weather fans. When the team is doing well they'll jump and cheer but then when the chips are down they'll curse the team and everyone associated with it.

I'll admit that I was disappointed with the team's performance on Sunday and although they won I'm feeling that the offense has yet to come to the point where they can be truly effective. But by our fans booing any and all decisions by the team, do you think players will be motivated to try and continue to play their best or would they rather play halfheartedly until the game is done? I'd rather that they give it their best and that we stand by them. Henson (who has subsequently apologized repeatedly) should stifle such future commenting urges but it's telling that he's probably not the only one on the team who feels that way. That being the case we need to cheer them on through thick and thin. But the Redskins also need to know that another season filled with false hope isn't going to help either.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Swords are Still Deadly

For a number of years I studied Gumdo which is a Korean form of swordsmanship. Over the course of study I attained skill enough that I was allowed to purchase an actual cutting blade (that is a sword with a sharp edge)
in order to practice cutting exercises which included cutting through bundles of straw or bamboo. I have kept the sword with me since then even though I don't practice regularly anymore. I've often been asked though if I'm a violent person or whether or not I have ever intended to use that sword in real life. I can't say that I am violent or that I would ever consider using that sword to defend myself (if the need was there) but there are others who aren't so discriminating.

Over the past few weeks in the news I've been seeing more and more references to sword attacks. Take for example the case of a student in Baltimore close to Johns Hopkins University. The student was staying in a townhouse which had been burglarized several times and as he was sitting at home one evening he realized that someone was once again in his garage. Not sure of what the would-be theives were up to, he armed himself with a samurai sword which he had in the house and went into the garage to check out what was happening. In the garage he found the thief rooting around in the garage. The student repeatedly asked the thief to leave but he refused and began to attack the student so the student defended himself by swinging the sword around.

The student ended up cutting off the thief's hand and administering several cuts which led to his starting to scream like a banshee. Neighbors called the police and soon the paramedics arrived to help save the thief's life. Now some have argued saying that the student should be brought up on charges for injuring the thief. They say that he had pre-meditated thoughts of murder (or attempted murder in this case) as evidenced by the fact that he knowingly carried the sword into the garage when he realized that someone was in there. Now I argue the contrary. What if he had gone into the garage with a rolling pin? Would it have been viewed in the same way? If I am going to defend my home then I'd do it with something that would intimidate or scare off a thief. I think a sword qualifies, but if the thief thinks that the victim is too scared to use it and decides to attack, then it's his fault for having assumed wrongly.

Now not everyone is busy defending their home with a sword. On the contrary, there are some who definitely need to have a stern talking-to. Take for example the recent case of a guy in Texas who began attacking his roommates with a sword. Here also there was justification (or at least he believed it was justified). The swordsman in this case came home to find a soda can in his room and deduced that someone had entered his room without permission. After confronting his roommates about it he concluded that someone wasn't telling the truth and decided to exact the truth by any means necessary and proceeded to perform his interrogation with the assistance of a sword which he happened to have. The two roommates barricaded themselves in another bedroom while the swordsman began hacking away at the door. Thankfully the door held long enough for the police to arrive and put an end to the mayhem.

But I suppose this shows that even today, swords can be an effective and deadly weapon. In the hands of someone who knows what he's doing (as was apparently the case in Baltimore) you can certainly do a lot of damage and recreate scenes reminiscent of "The Empire Strikes Back" or you can go mindless and attempt to hack down a door. Regardless, swords continue to be a dangerous and deadly weapons which should also be regulated in how they are handed out. I remember being in class when I learned to use a sword and I felt real terror in seeing how some students had a blatant disregard for their safety and the safety of those around them. I'm not arguing that they should require licenses like guns but I think some modicum of restricted access will make sure we have less incidents of swordly misconduct.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Challenging the Status Quo

I was amused when I read the news this morning that Linda McMahon, wife of Vince McMahon and current President of the World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation), was resigning her post and was looking to run for a Senate seat. I find it amusing because it seems that we'll likely need her experience in Congress and across the government. What kind of experience? Well dealing with heavy drama and factions and disagreements. Perhaps she'll be able to help set up some type of rules meant to keep the attacks and mocking in Congress to a standard so that if it does come to blows, at least we'll know what is legal and what isn't. I mean no offense to Ms. McMahon. I'm sure she'll state her case for wanting to run for the Senate properly and will even potentially win a seat which will not be the first time that someone from the WWE (or WWF) has made it into a high government seat. Remember Jesse "The Body" Ventura?

But why would a former head of a wrestling company be a good fit for Congress? Well given the way that things in Congress are beginning to resemble and episode of WWE's RAW or Smackdown do you need to ask? Not to say that there are body slams and full nelsons being given while discussing tort reform but verbal assaults from both sides of the partisan lines have been escalating and if things continue, it won't be long before a wrestling ring is brought into the Rotunda of the Capitol and then we have an arena where things are worked out when there are major disagreements. I'm sure some readers think I'm taking a rather dim view of our Congressional leaders but seriously, they are beginning to act like children these days and it only seems to be getting worse.

Last week when Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted "You lie" to President Obama during his primetime address to the nation during a joint session of Congress, I couldn't help but begin to draw parallels between what Hulk Hogan used to do to Andre the Giant back in the old days of wrestling. If Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi had the sense of mind to stop being shocked and egg things on like the commentators used to do then we could have settled the matter right then and there. But then again this is the Congress of the oldest democracy in the world so a little civility and decorum is in order. Or is it? I will not deny that every single President has had his detractors and his share of negative comments while visiting Congress but somehow there seems to be a bit more being attached to the commentary being flung in Obama's direction.

Former President Jimmy Carter stated to NBC earlier this week that he is convinced that a lot of the negative attention is coming from racism. He believes that a lot of the negativity is racially motivated and that people aren't admitting it openly. I agree with him. I'm not saying that Obama should get a 'pass' or that you should suddenly change the way you behave with him but what gets me is the way in which people seem to think that his plans to help the majority of Americans is meant to be an act of socialism or welfare. How can giving an American citizen access to government sponsored Health Insurance be considered a bad thing? Why shouldn't we help our citizens? Aren't we doing that to a certain degree anyways?

You don't agree? Well think about it. When you pay your federal taxes, you are paying for federally funded projects. You may think about the ones that affect you locally but it's likely that your money is helping to pay for a project somewhere else in the country. So isn't that very much like socialized support? Who says that I'm in favor of my tax dollars going to build a bridge in Alaska? I'm not. Similarly I'm sure people in Alaska could care less if the federal government chips in to make improvements to the beltway around DC since they will never use it anyways. The arguement over socialized programs is not a new one but somehow there seems to be increased belief these days that there is more support to 'welfare queens' (as Reagan put it) than there is to the average citizen. And the one's protesting the loudest? They're the ones who aren't being affected. They're the status quo so why should they complain?

But let me ask you something else. Those of you who do have health insurance that is. The next time you get your paycheck, see how much is being deducted for your health plan. Then multiply that out to get how much you pay per year for your coverage. Now consider how much you pay when you go to the Doctor's office. I'm not talking about the co-pay (which is your contribution at that time) but the actual bill. It's probably not as much as what you'd have to pay if you paid the whole thing at one time. So where does the insurance company get all those thousands of dollars needed to pay for your doctor's exam? Why from the contributions of others like you who have insurance with them. So isn't that socialized support too? Yet that's not spoken of as being socialist or a welfare reform. And what people need to understand is that the reforms being put forward are an option, not a compulsion. We are being asked to 'fund' it through our tax dollars. And it could be done if we just cut unnecessary spending by the government. Case in point would be projects like Alaska's bridge to nowhere. That was only one example that was batted down. I'm sure there are plenty more where that came from. When you have choice and competition, the price for the product (in this case Insurance) will go down. That would be good for everyone wouldn't it? Or would that be poo-pooed because it's socialized benefits?


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Order on the Court

Anyone watching the conclusion of the rain-delayed women's semi-final match between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters on Saturday evening was probably stunned by the outcome. I don't necessarily mean the victory to Clijsters but rather the way in which she won. Although a straight set victory wasn't necessarily a given at that point in the match, it was a very distinct possibility. Clijsters had won the first set and was within a few points of winning the second (and the match) when Serena Williams double faulted by committing a foot fault. The reaction was immediate and sudden and was what ultimately sealed Williams's fate.

Although the cameras and microphones around the stadium are quite powerful there are definitely some tirades which network censors try to drown out and Serena's outburst definitely falls into that category. I hadn't seen very many of her other matches in the tournament but I do know that many had been commenting on the fact that there was a perception of 'over-officiating' at the US Open this year. Be that as it may, it was the straw that finally broke the camel's back for Serena. After being called for a foot fault for the second time in the match (and unintentionally setting up double match point for Clijsters) Serena proceeded to 'chew out' the line judge who was seated off court. She proceeded to curse out the judge and told her that she would stuff the tennis ball that she happened to be holding down her throat.

On the heels of that the chair umpire (who couldn't hear despite being seated on the court) called the judge over and asked her what the problem had been. The match officials also came over at this point and got involved as well. They determined that Williams had her second code of conduct violation for the match (the first being near the conclusion of the first set when she broke her racket by hitting it on the court after losing a rally) which resulted in her having another point lost which gave the match to Clijsters. Clijsters and the crowd were stunned and thus came to a close a match which had apparently been very difficult for Williams.

Now not being a tennis player I can't comment on whether the foot fault actually occurred or not but I would say that while I can understand the frustration that Williams must have felt, there was no need to take it out on the judge. Additionally, by doing so she probably wasn't helping her mindset or composure either. I've seen many tennis matches over the years and I can say that I've seen a variety of reactions as well. I remember seeing a match at the French Open between Arancha Sanchez Vicario where she was down two sets and was holding off three match points (which she did) and ultimately came back to win the match and ultimately the tournament. At that time she had been called 'over the hill' and 'beyond her prime' but she fought back against the critics and the frustrations of that match to take the victory. Her opponent in that match? Venus Williams; Serena's older sister.

One thing that I realized after seeing Williams's reaction on court was just how much these players are into their sports. But what I think it definitely also shows is how one shouldn't act on court. All through the match up until that point, Williams had been talking to herself about how she just couldn't return the ball properly or how things weren't just going right. I think after a long time she was finally challenged by someone who (again) was considered to be past their prime. Clijsters had been gone from tennis for two years after the birth of her first child and was making her return to tennis as an unseeded (meaning unranked) player. Not only did she come back but she did it without losing her cool or her nerve. Maybe Serena could learn something from her about how to keep your chin up in the face of adversity.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

It's hard to believe that it's been eight years since that terrible day back in 2001 but indeed eight years have passed. In the time since there have been so many shifting emotions and opinions that it's getting harder for everyone to remember what it was like on that tragic day. I can still remember (with a great deal of clarity I might add) what I was doing on that day and what I did. It was the type of day that remains ingrained in your mind for a very long time and it's hard to imagine some of those memories ever growing stale. They say that time heals all wounds but some wounds just don't go away no matter how much time passes. At one time it was important to remember with a certain reverence the loss of so many people on that one tragic day. Now it has changed into something else for certain parts of our society. It's simply become a political pawn so to speak.

Never mind that intelligence had been gathered and pushed up the chain of command revealing that just such an attack could occur. But quite honestly, there is intelligence gathered to this effect more often than we may realize and just because it's gathered, what really happened is that the enemy was underestimated. To us, the concept of hijacking a plane and then using it as a weapon seems so foreign to us that we just can't fathom it. Such kamikaze attacks hadn't really been seen since the second World War and in the interim we had settled into what I would consider complacency about what an enemy could potentially do and how they could potentially attack us. We were basically lulled into believing that such an attack would have not possibility of succeeding and yet it did.

In the days and months and years after we have dealt with the consequences. We have become more vigilant, we have become a little more aware but we continue to focus on the smaller picture rather than the larger one. It's like the little Dutch Boy with his finger plugging the hold in the dam. Water being plugged at one point is great and it will save the dam from bursting, but there are other holes that could occur, shouldn't we worry about the overall 'picture' rather than just one small area? Protecting airline travel is one dilemma but what about other forms? Aren't they just as vunerable if we don't protect them? What if the next time another method of attack is used? What if they attempt some other means of attacking our country? What will we do then? React to fix that hole and focus only on that hole or will we seek to try and fix the whole dam?

Our collective memory is short. When we are experiencing that moment in time we will want an instantaneous fix. We become the little Dutch Boy and just want to stick a finger in to the hole to stop the leak. But once the immediate problem ceases to be so obvious then we look for reasons to complain. When security was beefed up at airports we were glad at the outset because it gave us a feeling of security but now people get ticked off at having to wait more than two minutes going through security. Would you rather have some level of security or trust that perhaps the enemy is seeking some other means of getting to us? I would prefer at least some modicum of security rather than leaving my fate to chance.

One thing I always feel is that for the convenience of the moment, whether it is related to our safety or winning our vote, is sacrificed without thought to the long term. Now it has become 'fashionable' in some circles to criticize those who suffered the most on September 11th, 2001, those being the victims and families of those who lost loved ones on that day. Now some concede to hating those families who have come out and complained against the failure of our government to respond in time to a credible threat. They are scorned and viewed as something to be ridiculed and for what purpose? If you have the freedom to complain about them and carry guns to rallys and publicly pray that our leaders should suffer fatal ailments then don't they also have the right to protest their losses?

As more and more time passes from 2001, the immediacy and urgency to protect ourselves will slowly diminish and over time it will lead to another degredation of our vigilance. I'm not suggesting that our posture always remain taut and ready to pounce or be so stern that it appears unyielding but I do believe that by remaining wary and alert, we will do better to protect ourselves. Though we all may not have lost anyone directly in the attacks in 2001, there are nearly 3,000 people whose families and friends have and if they speak up and remind us on occasion as to their loss, and if that helps spur on our continued safety and vigilance, then that will always be worth it. Because those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it and this is one moment in history which I don't think anyone wants to repeat.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who Let the Kids Out?

Earlier this week President Obama made two speeches which will likely be recalled for sometime with a bit of infamy attached to them. The first delivered on Tuesday (the first day back to school for many students) dealt with a theme of encouraging students to stay in school and study hard. The second was on his proposed health care reforms and an attempt to once again quell the rumors (many of which are false or simply misinterpretations of the truth) surrounding his proposed changes. Both live in infamy (for now) due to the fact that the education speech was turned into a 'brainwashing socialist speech' by some Conservative commentators and the health care speech will be remembered more for Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) who heckled the president during his speech to a joint session of Congress.

Now when I say 'heckled' I mean that Wilson literally shouted out during a pause in Obama's speech and stated, "You lie." Now both Democrats and Republicans are censuring Wilson for his remarks but it brings up an interesting dilemma. When President Bush was in Iraq and was 'attacked by shoes' by an Iraqi reporter, the attack may have been directed towards Bush specifically, but it became an attack on the office as well because Bush was President at the time. In this case, the attack is being made by a member of our own government. Now I don't mean to imply that every Congressional leader should be a 'yes-man' to the President but I do believe that a certain level of decorum and respect should be given to the man.

Republicans are quick to point out that many Democrats made similar accusations or statements against Bush during his terms in office though I would argue that there is a difference. Many of the instances where Bush was mildly heckled came about after evidence had come to the forefront that the basis for invading Iraq were simply not true and that it was based on faulty (false) intelligence. In the case of Obama, he hasn't even passed anything and the only thing that many Republicans (and their supporters) are clinging to are accusations made by pundits in the media.

But I don't need to argue whether Bush deserved being called a liar nor am I saying the Obama didn't deserve to be called a liar either; what I would argue though is that our Congressional leaders are setting a terrible precedence for the rest of us. Many of us (quite falsely I'm beginning to think) feel that our leaders in Congress would be people of slightly more maturity and better manners. Unfortunately it seems more and more that the maturity level in our pre-schools may be higher than the maturity level of these Congressional leaders. One thing I've long prided myself on is the fact that our Congress rarely erupts into the fisticuffs or fighting that seems to define politics in many other countries but it seems like those days aren't that far off if things continue the way they have.

I don't think it's wrong to make accusations against the President but it needs to be done in a way that doesn't smack of childishness. I mean these days it seems to me that a lot of the scorn that is being directed at the Presidency stems not from his ability (or lack thereof) to lead and inspire but more because of his race. If you don't believe me then where were gun-totting protestors outside of Crawford Ranch with Cindy Sheehan? Where were pastors praying for Bush's death being broadcast around the country? Where were the Congress leaders jumping on television accusing Bush of leading tyrannical decisions meant to harm our country more than help it? Nowhere. I didn't see it any place. Maybe if Congress took a more mature means of spreading their message of dissent, I'd be more inclined to agree. For now, I think it's just like a bunch of children trying their hand at running our government.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Being the Fifth Beatle

The game "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" have changed video games in a fairly significant way. For those of you who don't know what either of these games entail then a quick description would be to imagine karaoke but with the instruments included as well. Basically "Guitar Hero" started off the current trend by introducing a game where the player could choose to play lead guitar or bass on a variety of classic and modern rock hits. From there the popularity skyrocketed and now there are tons of options and combos that can turn even the nerdiest of players into a rock star. Being a big music lover but lacking the actual talent to play any instrument, these games have allowed me to live out my fantasies of being part of a rock band and actually being able to perform relatively well.

As the games have grown in popularity there has been a 'dumbing down' of the interface so that those lacking practice or the coordination to 'play' the instruments (which is really nothing more than hitting button combinations rhythmically) they have made the interface much much easier. Not only has this made the game much more accessible to the general public but it has helped introduce a lot of classic rock tunes to a whole new generation of music afficianados. Even for myself personnally I have been exposed to many bands that I had heard of but had never listened to. The latest version of this game now stands on the verge of introducing a whole new generation of players to a band that has defined rock and roll for a long time, The Beatles.

I remember the classic dialogue in "Pulp Fiction" where Uma Thurman explained to John Travolta that all people could be classified as being one of two kinds of people. You were either a Beatle person or an Elvis person. I am most decidedly a Beatle person. Not to knock the King, I have the utmost respect for Elvis, but there is just something that has long drawn me to the Beatles. I mean I have memories of listening to their songs on an oldies station as I was riding to and from school when I was growing up. Many of the first songs I learned to sing were Beatles songs and they have such a diverse catalogue of songs that it's next to impossible to run across someone who hasn't heard at least one of their tunes. But of course, as time marches on, so do musical tastes and what that means is that not everyone will be as exposed to some of these artists as others.

I was in my local video game store this past weekend when I overheard a little kid ask his mother if the Beatles were still alive. When his mother told him that indeed they were, the boy clarified by stating that he thought only "ancient" bands had whole games dedicated to them. I let out an involuntary chuckle but couldn't help but think that for many of the current generation of gamers, there is a great deal of ignorance about where current music came from. I mean if it weren't for the artists that came before them, the Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus (or Hannah Montana or whoever the Hell she is) wouldn't exist. They would simply be another fly-by-night band that wouldn't have had a chance to spin their own type of music. I think that this new Beatles game will give a lot of us Beatles fans a chance to play along with some of our favorite songs and will introduce many more to some of the greatest songs of all time. Let the British Invasion begin again!


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Addressing Our Students... A Double Standard

President Obama is scheduled to make a speech to students today in Utah. The purpose of the speech, unlike many of his recent speeches, was to focus on the benefits of continued education and (hopefully) inspiring students to continue learning. Unfortunately, most anything Obama does these days comes under tremendous scrutiny and is turned into a major partisan dilemma which has a tendency to turn ugly, even when it doesn't need to. No sooner the news was released that Obama was planning on making this speech to schoolchildren across the nation on September 8th, cries of protest began ringing out across the nation; one of the loudest was from Glenn Beck, the conservative commentator from Fox News who made comments that basically implied that this speech was intended to brainwash children into following socialism.

I think it's a sad day in this country when kids are being told by their parents that they shouldn't listen to their leaders. Apparently because Obama is a Democrat (I will try to avoid labeling people as liberals or conservatives because the disparity between those two classifications is growing day by day) there is a fear among Republicans that he will try to influence children into following his advice. What do they have to fear? Honestly, even if this were a politically tinged speech, none of his target audience are old enough to do anything about it. Kids in elementary school aren't old enough to vote. They can't vote for change in Congress and even the oldest ones will barely be old enough to enlist in the military after graduating from high school so then why the 'fear' that Obama intends to brainwash them? Is it because they think that he will attempt to promote some other agenda?

Well why the double standard? On September 11th 2001, President Bush was in an elementary school in Florida where he was giving a televised new conference on the merits of education. He didn't really get to deliver the message because of the terrible events of that day but a little over a month later, he delivered a speech at Wooten High School in Rockville, Maryland where the message was to be 'patriotism and the efforts to increase patriotism in high schools'. Sounds like a good thing. I remember when I was in high school there were many students who refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. I used to feel frustrated at that fact that many people didn't appreciate what they did have and rather chose to focus on only the negative aspects of their lives in this country. Still, about halfway through his speech, Bush began talking about his plans for the global war on terrorism.

Recent evidence shows that by this time there was already planning underway for Afghanistan and that plans were already being laid out for the invasion of Iraq even though intelligence sources around the world could not find a link between 9-11 and Iraq. Nevertheless, Bush used the speech to tout his agenda and his plans and made oblique remarks to the effect that like the heroes of World War II, Bush was looking to this current crop of students to do the right thing and support their country. He didn't say it blatantly at the time but it is clear in retrospect that his goal was to 'inspire' students to be ready to fight back against those who attacked our country on 9-11. And indeed, many of the students who did graduate that year did enlist and have fought (and in some cases have died) in both those conflicts. At that time though there was no talk about partisanism or the fact that Bush used the speech to push his agenda.

At that time it was okay to push agendas and be patriotic. At that time it was okay to declare anyone against the President as being un-American or un-Patriotic. No matter what anyone says, the greatest influence a child has is the people who takes care of them whether that's a parent or a guardian. If a child is influenced by something the caretaker of that child is the one responsible for talking things out with their kids and helping them understand just what it is they are asking. In the case of Obama's speech, the fear that he will preach and therefore 'brainwash' kids into becoming 'socialists' smacks to me of the Red Scare and Joseph McCarthy. To me, if a child suddenly comes up to a parent wondering why socialism (if that is what they interpret his speech to be) is wrong then a parent should explain it. Do a practical example and help kids understand what the difference is. Don't know how? Simple. Take your kid and have them do all the chores while you (the parent) do nothing. Take $10 and divide it equally among the two of you (so $5 each) and explain it is for all the chores done.

Knowing kids their immediate reaction would be to state how 'unfair' that is and you will have effectively helped explain to them what is wrong in socialism. Now if you feel that that's what Obama is going to be doing then what you will have done in addition to explaining the ills of socialism is convert another child into a stringent follower of conservative government ideals so again it's a win-win situation all around. I think Roosevelt said it best when he said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself". He was talking about the efforts and steps needed to recover from the Great Depression. In this case I think we have become so divided as a society that the only thing that I have to fear is the crass and hypocritical ways in which so many people are behaving now that the President is from the opposing party.

You don't have to mindlessly agree with him nor do you have to like what he says, but to shun anything he says without listening to it and accepting it as the gospel is wrong. Remember "Mission Accomplished" (finally admitted to be a mistake by the Bush Administration and his cohorts)? At that point hostilities had ended in the war in Iraq. Yet years and thousands of deaths later, the war continues. Isn't that a case of being 'brainwashed' and blindly accepting what you're told? Perhaps that's the fear that many conservatives have; the fact that some facts on why it made sense to invade Iraq were mistated or out and out lies but were fed to the public, so perhaps they believe that Obama is going to do the same thing. A safe theory to have given the history of the last 8 years but still, that's not why we should listen. I think the base message of the importance on continuing education is what is missing and the sad thing is that children may miss out because their parents are too busy worrying about potential socialist messages. Perhaps ignorance truly is bliss.


Friday, September 04, 2009

This Levi Just Doesn't Fit

When I was a kid growing up (some might argue that that process is still ongoing) I remember that soap operas were the very definition of daytime television. Talk shows like Donahue existed but they had not gained the reputation they have today. By the time I got to college, shows like Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones and Jerry Springer were filling the airwaves with nothing but trash talking idiots who had nothing better to do than insult one another one air and then erupt into a fight. The reason I bring it up is because the current situation with Levi Johnston, the former future-son-in-law of Vice Presidential candidate and now officially former Governor Sarah Palin, and how his forthcoming article in Vanity Fair magazine could be a blight on Palin's reputation reminds me very much of why America seems to love talk shows. They love to see families more dysfunctional than their own. I guess it helps them feel better.

Now Johnston, who broke up with Palin's older daughter Bristol a few months after the birth of their child, is lashing out at Palin for his own personal reasons and the accusations he is levelling against her aren't very complimentary. Supporters of Palin and her agenda have been quick to point out that Johnston is a high school dropout and that his mother is a drug using alcoholic but that's beside the point. Many accuse the media (more specifically the 'liberal' media) of giving voice to someone who doesn't deserve a voice. I argue that he got the voice the same way Palin did; it was thrust upon him. When Palin was announced as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, it was within a few days that the announcement came out that Bristol Palin was pregnant.

Had this been any other candidate (specifically one on the 'liberal' side) then I'm sure Republicans would have been jumping up and down like organ grinder monkeys shouting about how this is proof that liberalism was eroding family values and how it was a blight on responsibility. Now Palin could have responded to those questions and could have stated that she would want the media to respect the privacy of her daughter during this time but instead they were thrust front and center and were showcased at most every one of her speeches and were always shown to be walking hand-in-hand at all events. Even then you could see that he was awkward; I remember seeing Johnston and John McCain hugging at the Republican convention, it was like watching two versions of "The Mummy" played by Boris Karloff attempting to hug while in costume. According to spokesmen and Palin herself, Bristol and Johnston were showing that they were taking on responsibility sooner than most. How hypocritical.

But after the election and once it became clear that Palin would not be making any major strides into politics anytime soon, it suddenly became clear that Johnston wouldn't help their situation any with the fact that his mother was arrested and Johnston himself deciding to drop out of high school. So what did they do? Nothing other than drop him like the proverbial hot potato. Now while Palin can continue to charge up and down getting speaking gigs (I don't know why she does, she's nothing more than a former governor.. that too one who dropped out before her term expired) then why shouldn't Johnston. Johnston makes many accusations in his self-written article about what kind of person and mother Palin was.

According to early reports, Johnston indicates that Palin never cooked and responsibility often fell on the kids. Perhaps Bristol really was older than she was given credit for. Johnston also indicates that Palin knew about the relationship he and Bristol had and when they discovered they were pregnant, Palin demanded to adopt the child so that perhaps the actual pregnancy of Bristol could be kept quiet. See what I mean about this starting to sound like an episode of Jerry Springer? Johnston further contends that Palin often came home early from work ("no later than five and as early as noon on some days") and then had the kids get her food or bring her the things she wanted. Perhaps it's exaggeration and perhaps it's complete fabrication coming from a spited and jealous former potential son-in-law but whatever the case may be, no one from Palin's camp can question the reason behind why he was put in the forefront or is being given a voice.

Johnston spent significant time on the campaign trail leading up to last November's election and so he saw a great deal of who Palin was behind the scenes of the campaign trail. Maybe he is just playing the part of a jealous ex but it's only because he was put up like a model child during the course of the campaign. Republicans accuse anyone of now listening or giving this kid (who I admit isn't the brightest bulb in the bunch) but if it was okay for him to be touted like he was father of the year during the run up to the elections, then what's wrong with letting him speak his piece when he's no longer part of the family? If Palin isn't going away then neither will the other media monsters she let loose. I wish McCain would just come out and admit that the real reason he chose Palin was that he was attempting to court women voters who were disappointed Clinton didn't get the nomination. Are you wondering how I could make such a statement? Well some Republicans (cough cough... McDonnell) have a very distinct opinion on where women belong whether it's in politics or in the home. I was just stating what they said.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Getting to the 'Crust' of the Issue

Before we begin I do realize that the actual statement is 'crux of the issue' but after reading this post you'll probably understand a little better as to why I am referring to crust. According to an article on MSNBC yesterday, thin-crust pizza appears to be making a major inroads in Chicago of all places and the reason that this is considered a fairly significant occurence is the fact that typically, Chicago has been known for deep dish crust which makes pizza more akin to a pie than a traditional pizza as pictured at left. But according to the article, this is a sign of the changing times.

Now you know it's a slow news week when sites start covering changing pizza trends and how men's underwear buying habits can indicate whether or not the recession is coming to an end or is on the verge of getting worse. Anyways, I digress; it seems that Chicagoans are finding that there is a growing appeal for thin crust Neapolitan style which has long typefied New York style pizza and the pizza that most people associate with the dish. Chicago has been credited with originating the deep dish pizza but now it seems that an influx of those born outside of Chicago are demanding that more thin crust be made available to them.

For me personally, pizza is a food I enjoy and I enjoy a variety of different types. As to whether I would prefer thin versus thick crust is more a matter of what my mood happens to be and what I feel like eating. Purists will argue that one type of pizza crust is better than another in terms of the enjoyment of what you're eating but the article didn't stop there. What the article indicated is that what many patrons believe the thin crust promotes is the showcasing of the chefs talents and his ability to use fresher ingredients. Now that shouldn't lead you to believe that a thicker crust is somehow older but what I think is the real reason for the appeal is that when you're exposed or given only one version of a dish for a very long time then you don't know any better until you try something different.

For example, if you've only ever eaten deep dish pizza, the experience of eating a Neapolitan pizza would probably leave you feeling you'd experienced something new and unique and being human that would likely mean feeling something that leads you to believe that the overall experience is better. Similarly, many patrons indicated that they felt that many of the 'boutique' pizzerias opening up these days indicated a trend towards improving quality. Why? Because these are places that don't deliver or take phone orders. There again it's all in how you sell the product. Sure you can limit your customer base to dine-in only and indicate that it's because the product is so good that it can't be 'messed up' by being boxed and delivered. Of course if that's what you want your customers to believe then why would you say anything different? Variety is the spice of life and I think it's good that Chicagoans are finally getting something new and different (for them at least).


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Spewing More Vitriolic Hate

I think it's safe to say that Pastors / Reverends / and all other religious figures don't mix too well with politics. I bring this up on the heels of the news that a Pastor in Phoenix, Arizona named Steven Anderson recently delivered a sermon at his Faithful Word Baptist Church in which he repeatedly expressed his hate for President Obama and revealed that he prayed every night for his death. At one point he stated that he prayed to God that Obama would be struck down by a brain tumor like Ted Kennedy, at another time he prayed that Obama would 'melt like a snail' with salt on it. Now I am not saying that everyone should agree with President Obama. Lord knows that many people expressed similar disdain for President Bush (though I don't recall hearing about death wishes against him being made by Pastors) but what is really disturbing is the fact that one of his Pastor Anderson's parishoners was the person who stood outside a recent Obama health care rally with an assault rifle.

I'm sure many who are reading this are waiting to jump up and say that this is no different than when Obama's longtime preacher, Reverend Jeremiah Wright made speeches about how he hates America and how this is a double standard. I don't think it is a double standard. I think Reverend Wright's comments were also very biased and filled with hate and I find it sad that in both these cases, these statements are being made by men who are supposed to be 'men of God'. Now I'm no religious expert but isn't one of the basic tenents of any religion peace and harmony? If it is then why would preachers like these want to spread a message of hate to their flock? In both cases I think these men have shown that they are abusing their positions and stating whatever they want to say because they have the forum and believe that they are right because they have the backing of their church.

There's probably very little difference between Wright and Anderson (other than where they stand on the political spectrum) but part of the reason for Anderson's ire is Obama's stance on abortion rights and how this apparently violates his religious sensibilities. I understand the anger and frustration at having their beliefs suposedly be trampled on but is this any reason to spread hate and vehemence? Were this a statement made by a pastor during the Bush Administration or shortly after 9-11 then I'm sure there would have been immediate visits by Homeland Security and protests about the pastor being Un-American. On the one hand people who support someone like Anderson will try to stifle protests against Bush by calling it unpatriotic but at the same time will talk about Freedom of Speech when insulting the opposition.

Where I draw the line is that as a pastor or a religious leader (of whatever religion you do or don't follow) my basic understanding is that you would want to spread the beliefs of your religion to your followers and help spread that message to others. To me that doesn't include doing it by lumping it in a hateful message calling for someone's death. There have been leaders in the past who have done something that many citizens have not agreed with and at that time the response was that it was the leader's choice. Now that the shoe is on the other foot (and that foot happens to be African-American) it seems that its suddenly become okay to carry guns and wish the President a violent death because it's a right given to us in the Constitution. If that's your "right" then I'm afraid of what the future of my country holds.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Spider-Man Now Living in the House of the Mouse

The Walt Disney Company made the announcement yesterday that they have paid $4 billion for the Marvel Entertainment Group in what is probably one of the largest crossover deals in decades. What this means is that it's very likely that we could start seeing costumed Spider-Men and Fantastic Four characters prancing around Pirates of the Caribbean or in Downtown Disney in Florida. What worries a lot of us who are still living semi-Peter Pan lives (that inner child just doesn't go away) is that the child-friendly world of Disney could have a tremendous impact on Marvel and the empire that has been growing in the movie world and holding moderately steady in the comic world.

Now though the popular opinion is that comic books are just for kids, I suggest you go by your local bookstore (note I said bookstore and not comic book store) and check out the size of the graphic novels section. Again please note that I said graphic novels and not comic books. Sure there are still plenty of comic books that you grew up with as a kid, but not all of the stories are aimed at kids. There have always been more adult themes in comics and some of the characters that can be found in the pages of comic-dom have very adult origins. For example, we all know what caused Bruce Banner to become the Hulk (in case you didn't, he was exposed to a tremendous burst of gamma radiation that altered his body chemistry). But what you probably didn't know is that in current comic book lore, part of the reason for his anger is the fact that he was an abused child. Rightly or wrongly that guilt plays out in his persona and is part of the reason for his lashing out violently as the Hulk.

Or what about the mutant X-Men. When they first started populating comic pages they were meant as a analogy for the way society as a whole treated anyone who was a little different. Sure they had cool superpowers and could do all sorts of amazing things but the subtext was about dealing with intolerance and prejudice which was still a major problem (and some would say that it still is) back in the 1960's when the X-Men was first published. What some people are a bit afraid of (and I admit that I'm one of them) is that the decision to sell to Disney means that some of the more adult themes of the company may get dumbed down a bit if you know what I mean. Not that Disney avoids dealing with adult issues. After all, ABC is owned by Disney and most (if not all) of their shows have fairly adult topics.

What I am hopeful about is that this merger means more recognition for some of the great stories and characters that Marvel has in its roster of characters. Sure some of the more popular ones are gaining great recognition through popular movies but I certainly don't think there's anything wrong in exploring more of these characters through the medium of television. When you have shows like "Battlestar Galactica" by NBC Universal making waves on television and dealing with current topics in an indirect way you have a way of reaching people and I think that one thing that Marvel has is stories that can make effective commentary on our society and sometimes affect change for the better. One can only hope at least.