Monday, November 30, 2009

Rash Shopping Decisions

It seems that the media loves to create buzzwords or to use buzzwords or phrases that are meant to encapsulate a certain feeling, emotion or event. Early on in the Vietnam War many began to throw the word quagmire around as a reference to the fact that the war was continuing without any 'clear' indication of progress or victory. Soon after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began the media again began to use slogans to rally (or stifle) support fot the wars. But don't get me wrong; not all slogans are used to gain or lose support for wars but for human behavior as well. What behavior would that be? Why shopping of course. For the last few decades the term Black Friday has been thrown around to describe the day after Thanksgiving and all the buzz surrounding the supposed sales that kick off at that time. However most people tend not to associate it with the dubious origins of the phrase and for good reason too.

The term 'Black Friday' was first used in 1869 to describe the financial failure that occurred in the stock market that year. It occurred on a Friday and hence the expression 'black Friday'. Later on the expression came to be associated with two different understandings of the ettiquette of shopping. Firstly it became associated with the time when retailers would first begin printing their shopping ads full of sales and specials for the Christmas shopping season. Typically this was witheld until after Thanksgiving and since no retailer wanted to break tradition this was held for many years until retailers began to realize that they were losing potential business by waiting for so long so in order to help the economy (as part of his efforts to help break the Great Depression) so this led to Franklin Roosevelt moving Thanksgiving up by a week.

The day after Thanksgiving came to be known as Black Friday in more popular parlance due to the fact (and understanding) that sales were expected to be so high that retailers would be in the 'black' (vice being in the 'red' which would indicate a loss). Now when I was growing up there was certainly hype surrounding the day after Thanksgiving sales and deals that would be available to shoppers but I don't ever recall it being so....crazy. I mean there are websites and organizations set up to break the news on who will have the best deals on what merchandise beginning on Friday. Stores and malls often open at midnight in order to get people excited with the hype and hopefully once again ready to spend. I have seen people lined up outside of stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy as early as 4:00 on Thursday afternoon in order to be among the first into the store on Friday (be it at midnight or 10:00 the next morning).

Now retailers are geared up for today which (since about 2005) is Cyber Monday. The origin of this term comes from the rise in online retailers. Sites like Amazon make it much easier to comparison shop and find really good deals. The logic being that people will go and browse to their heart's content over the Thanksgiving holiday and then begin shopping and comparing prices on Monday online. Hence the moniker 'Cyber Monday'. According to some news outlets it is the busiest shopping day 'online' and sales are expected to be even higher on this day as opposed to Fridays nowadays. And for the life of me I can't figure out why? I mean I won't deny there are great deals to be had on items but is it really that big a deal? Most of this merchandise has been sitting in stores for weeks, months and sometimes longer. No one has been ready to buy it up until this point. The reason being that it is either not the best product for the price or the company is looking to clear inventory. But nowadays if you chalk it up as a after-Thanksgiving bargain then you'll have people lined up out the door?

Why? Why is there such a rush to get in on a deal? Is it because we are by nature a very competitive species? I mean if you ask yourself, isn't there a sense of fulfillment in the fact that you can get your hands on something that someone else can't? If there wasn't that competitive nature built into us would we actually be looking to line up to get movie tickets for weeks ahead of them going on sale (and no this isn't limited to 'Star Wars' fans). Would we fight tooth and nail with fellow shoppers over televisions and DVD/Blu-Ray players? Would we trample people to death at stores simply to ensure that we get something that someone else wanted? Part of the reason for the current financial crisis in our country is the fact that we have overspent ourselves in this competitive market (and I'm not talking competitive in terms of retailers... I'm talking about shoppers). The perception of a deal or a day of deals (i.e., Black Friday or Cyber Monday) means that by our very nature we'll want to make sure we also get in on the deal. That's even if we don't have the money to do it. Isn't credit a wonderful thing?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Politics of Hypocrisy

The more things change the more things stay the same. I don't know whether it is lingering resentment over the 2008 Presidential Elections or a lingering effect of the Bush Era attitude of "you're either with us or against us" that is driving so much of a schism between the parties these days. Gone are the days when you could be a moderate. I suppose it means that the battle lines have been drawn and there will no longer be an option of walking through no-man's land. You are either well back on the right or well back on the left and if you're in the middle you'll probably be left behind or marginalized in the grand scheme of things. I think it's a sad thing because not only does this attitude not accomplish anything, but it prevents any positive change from happening as well.

For a while now it's been the healthcare debate but prior to that one of the major issues that affected many in this downturned economy was the decision to extend unemployment insurance. Rather than presenting a unified front which was something that most governmental leaders profess to support they jab the finger at one another over issues that are self-made. What I mean by that is that when the decision to approve the expansion of the insurance was being debated, one side would accuse the other of 'not supporting' the bill. What wasn't being said was that support was being withheld due to the fact that extraneous and unnecessary items were being added to the bills. These included things that have ranged (in other bills at least) pay increases for Congressional leaders or projects that someone believed needed to get tacked onto a bill that was likely to get passed without debate. But all this is hidden from the public (or at least not openly spoken of). Why? Because they (and I include all political leaders in this) want to sieze the opportunity to portray their opponents in a negative light.

Now there are those in power right now who are opposing anything President Obama (or other Democrats) are proposing for no other reason than to show their party (more than their constituents) that they are willing and ready to tow the party line. Why? Because they have more interest in being re-elected than they do in supporting (or in some cases opposing) a bill that they know will affect the public (for good or for bad). At times these same leaders appear to put blinders on to what they tout in public to what they believe their party stands for in public and during elections. Take for example our former President; during his campaigns he consistently talked about the need to streamline government and to return power to the states rather than expanding the Federal Government. Yet after 9/11 one of the first things that was done was the establishment of several new offices including the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

These are three major agencies that have required millions upon millions of dollars to establish and equip. I'm not saying that they aren't necessary to the continued security of our nation and I'm not saying that they were created simply out of some other selfish rationale but what I'm saying is that the Republicans who chastised anyone who didn't support the establishment of these agencies need to admit is that these actions went against what they claimed to stand for in the first place. By creating three major agencies that have federal control are they taking control away from the states or returning it to them? I think the answer is pretty clear. Again; don't misunderstand what I'm saying to mean that I don't support these agencies. I think they're doing a good job in accomplishing what they set out to do but what I don't see polticians doing is admitting to having to bend their political ideology to conform to the needs of the now rather than what they usually stand for. That being the case then I would be more inclined to listen to them. It would be refreshing to hear them spout the truth rather than more CYA type of talk.

The latest forerunner to the Republican poltical landscape is Sarah Palin. Coming in out of nowhere over a year ago she has served to attempt to re-establish the conservative Republican mantra like the religious hymns she professes to sing all the time. It's certainly easier for her to talk about her ideals and the ideals of conservative Republicans now since she's no longer in office as Governor of Alaska. It's like Monday Morning Quarterbacks. They go through a 'woulda-coulda-shoulda' discussion every week (I know... I am a Redskins fan so I've done more than my share this year). Solutions and sticking to your party's base ideology is fine when you're not a politician looking to put it into action. It's harder when you're in office. Ask President Obama. While he's been making good on his promise to withdraw from Iraq he's been forced to seriously consider beefing up US military presence in Afghanistan; something he wasn't exactly for when he was on the campaign trail. I guess things change when you're on the other side of the fence.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Play It Mr. DJ

For me, video games are my way of relaxing after a long day at work or when I feel I want to accomplish something without having to work too hard at it. Lately it even allows me to live out my fantasy of being a rock star what with games like "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" releasing versions nearly every other week (or so it seems). But sometimes some ideas are just way ahead of their time and that can make it hard for a game to live up to its potential. Case in point is the game "DJ Hero" which was released a few weeks ago. Unlike previous rock games (which are essentially rhythm and coordination games) where the songs are relatively popular (which makes it much easier for players to get the right rhythm) the songs in "DJ Hero" and so the remixes can sometimes play havoc with how a player coordinates their button mashing and therein lies the problem with the game.

Now I haven't played the game as yet though I've seen demos. In "DJ Hero" the player controls the music with a turntable controller that makes it appear as if you are playing records and mixing them up to create remixes on the fly. The producers of the game contacted many famous remix artists including such notables as DJ Shadow to help out and mix some of the music but what it means is that for those unfamiliar with the music it made it somewhat of a narrow grouping of players that would be interested in the game. Unlike the wildly popular "Beatles: Rock Band", "DJ Hero" hasn't had the huge success that was anticipated simply because the initial investment for a game not everyone is sure about is what is probably scaring players away.

With a required investment of at least $120 (to get the game and the controller), many players are hesitant because they aren't sure that they'd know very many of the songs. For me I do look at what the play list includes before making a decision. If I know at least half (if not more) of the songs then I'd go ahead and get the game and for the songs that I don't know, I've often come to appreciate them over time. Perhaps with "DJ Hero" the same thing would happen but I think what is needed is that players who know the songs in this particular game would probably either already mix on their own or perhaps they would rather learn to actually mix music since from what I've seen the game more or less mirrors the actual mixing process probably a lot closer than the guitar playing in "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band".

I think one of the great things about games like this is that they give you an appreciation for not only the music but the process in which it's made. It also gives you a sense of fulfillment since you can get a chance to 'play' the music in the game which itself can be fun, especially if you enjoy music to begin with. I love music and listening to music is one thing I do on a daily basis. That being the case it's possible that I may look into getting the game but I would probably want to familiarize myself a bit more with the music. To me that's a key selling point and is probably what is a sign that perhaps this game was a bit ahead of its time.


Friday, November 20, 2009

What Are You Implying?

By now most everyone would have heard the news that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (also referred to as KSM), the self-proclaimed architect of the attacks of September 11th, will be given a trial in New York City; the site of the attacks that he helped to orchestrate. The news that his trial would be held there has sparked an outcry from all corners of the country and one of the common themes being spread by many commentators is the fact that this trial will likely be a platform from which KSM can continue to spew his hateful rhetoric. One of the commons fears is that he will act as a catalyst to spur on more attacks on New York as the trial is underway or worse still, in the midst of these attacks, his followers will spring an operation like Otto Skorzeny in his rescue of Benito Mussolini in World War II, and rescue KSM and return him to Afghanistan to rejoin Osama bin Laden.

Now while there is reason to believe that these things are all possibilities, I believe that what these same commentators mean to imply is that they have little or no faith in the law enforcement and security mechanisms set in place in our country anymore. I find this hard to believe and insulting at the same time. Many agencies were established by the Bush Administration after the attacks of 9/11. These include agencies such as Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. Both of these organizations are working to secure our nation's borders and transit systems. Additionally the intelligence gathering agencies around the nation have joined together in an era of cooperation so far unheralded in concert effort to stop attacks before they happen. While I realize that there is a new administration in power in Washington, does that also mean then that entire agencies have been replaced as well?

If you read the web you'll see that there hasn't been tremendous turnover in the government since the Obama Administration took charge. One of the key positions, Secretary of Defense, remains occupied by Robert Gates who was the SecDef for President Bush. Do these pessimistic commentators then mean to imply that Gates has suddenly changed his opinions just because Obama is his boss now? At the height of his campaign, Senator John McCain used to speak highly of the job that was done to protect our borders and our nation's security in the wake of 9/11. If that's the case then do these naysayers believe that within eleven months the status quo has changed to the point that anyone and everyone can come and go as they please?

As far as I can tell we are no better or worse than we were when the Bush Administration was in power. To say that since he established these agencies there have been no attacks under Bush's watch is like saying it will never snow in Washington again. Just because it didn't happen during his remaining days in office doesn't mean that it couldnt' have or that things may not have been planned. Thanks to the added vigilance of these agencies many attacks have likely been thwarted without the public's knowledge and our security has remained intact. So then if that's the case, what fear should we the public have against having KSM's trial in New York?

The crime that he helped plot was perpetrated in New York and that's where he should have his trial. What should be done to help keep security in check and to ensure that KSM is denied any and all opportunities to attempt to make bombastic speeches is to simply keep his trial under wraps. When the OJ Simpson trial was broadcast continuously over television, I seriously doubt that anyone bothered to watch the entire trial. Sure there may have been a handful but all people really cared to see were the highlights on the evening news. In this case even those views should be limited to the public. We don't need to see it. If we have faith in our justice system (which many critics don't seem to have since they seem convinced that KSM will be released should he stand trial) then he will be successfully prosecuted and will receive the punishment he richly deserves.

But the continued implication that our justice system is malfunctioning to the point that people are willing to believe a known criminal with ample evidence against him can walk free speaks very lowly of what people think about our justice system. It also speaks lowly of what they think of our national defense and intelligence community. Perhaps the fact that Major Hassan of Fort Hood showed ample signs of being a potential risk though the signs weren't caught in time is what is driving this pessimistic view. All I can say is that I have faith in our nation's security services (both military and civil) and by having KSM's trial in New York, near the scene of the worst crime in history, will prove that our nation can give a criminal a fair trial and yet keep the city that is holding the trial safe.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Protesting for the Right to Protest

A protest was organized yesterday at the Department of Justice yesterday by representatives of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. The purpose was to protest the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. What many of the angry Pastors who were part of the gathering were stating was that the Act would make their sermons against the evils of gay marriage and gay lifestyles a crime and so they were spewing that same rhetoric outside the Department of Justice in order to get arrested and prove that the new act was meant to stifle Christian beliefs and values. Unfortunately for the organizers they apparently didn't really read the details of the Act before beginning their protest.

Police failed to intercede during the protest simply because there's no part of the Act that specifically forbids making such speeches (despite the fact that they are often filled with hateful words). What would have made it an arrestable offense would have been if the Pastors and other speakers had actually stood up and called for the gathered flock to begin murdering or lynching any and all gay citizens that they could lay their hands on. That's because the only speech that is a violation of the law under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act are speeches that "plan or prepare for an act of physical violence" or in order to "incite an imminent act of physical violence". So standing on the steps of the Department of Justice and stating that gays will burn in Hell isn't necessarily a pleasant thing but it isn't an act of violence per se. Perhaps it would be God's way of punishing people (if God chooses to do so) but it isn't in people's hands so it isn't a violation of the Act.

But what many of the gathered Pastors and followers wanted to prove (had they actually been arrested) is that there is a growing conspiracy against Christianity in this country. Many followers will tell you how they steadfastly believe that the values and traditions spread from their religion are being stifled unless it is so commercialized that it loses it's religious significance. Don't understand what that means? Well ask the average kid what Christmas is all about (and no, I don't include Linus Van Pelt in that group of kids to be questioned) and they'll more than likely tell you it's about presents. What very few will tell you is that it's to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Sad as it is, many people will cringe to say such a thing now out of fear of offending someone who may not share the same beliefs.

I personally think it's important to know what we celebrate and why but the protests that ring out because of perceptions of religious 'intolerance' or bias are a bit strange in my estimation. I can recall that when a Hindu temple was being built close to the University of Maryland there was a protest from some of the nearby Churches and homeowners because they felt that they would have to contend with traffic after Hindu holidays. I grant you that there can be crowds at Hindu temples after such holiday functions but is it any different than the traffic tie-ups that occur around the area when Sunday services end every weekend? There are some days where travelling down local roads can be as painful as getting stuck behind a school bus when you're late for work and the bus is only at the start of making rounds to pick up students all along your route. At that time, counter protests of religious intolerance by non-Christians are quickly listened to while Christians often end up getting the short end of the stick.

Why? It isn't because the protests are against the religious beliefs of either party but rather because of perceived double standards. I mean if it's okay for churches to tie up traffic on Sundays can't other denominations tie up traffic on their holy days? The desire for equality for all religions is what drives many decisions and because Christianity already enjoys many freedoms in this country (it is after all a Christian country according to many pundits) the desire to stifle others is seen as being driven by intolerance and hence the desire to allow many things that Christians want to protest.

Now I have always believed that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. I may not necessarily always agree with those beliefs but the great thing about this country is that you have the right to believe what you want. In this case facts are being distorted. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed to prevent acts of violence of the sort that were perpetrated against the two people who the Act is named for, Matthew Shepard (a gay man from Laramie, Wyoming who was tortured and killed for being gay) and James Byrd, Jr. (who was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to death). In both their cases the killers were filled with hate from having read and heard bigoted statements against gays and African-Americans. What the source of those statements was was not as important as being able to prevent such speeches from happening. Stating someone will go to Hell for their sins isn't a crime but encouraging your flock to help make it happen sooner rather than later is what is the true crime and to me it flies in the face of religion. Any religion. Maybe those protesting the bill should realize that before standing before the halls of Justice and demanding their right to freedom of speech.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wanting it Both Ways

So I managed to catch Sarah Palin's interview on Oprah and with Barbara Walters on the internet and I must say that despite claims that these interviews finally helped Palin "reveal her true self to the American people" I don't necessarily believe that it was a good thing that this "true self" was revealed. If anything (for me at least) it only served to reaffirm the low opinion I had of her and what she is attempting to portray herself as to the American public. If she's attempting to improve her chances for a potential Presidential run in four years then I think she better to continue to push hard to improve her image because she is still the awkwardly answering woman who latches onto catchphrases to get her point across.

I say catchphrases but I did notice that in both interviews, she shyed away from using some of her favorite expressions from her days on the campaign trail. These include: "gotcha", "betcha", "Joe Six-Pack", and "Soccer mom" to name a few of the more prevelant ones. However, one of her new phrases, used in relation to her answer as to why she was annoyed with Katie Couric's "What books and magazines do you read?" question from the campaign. She states that she was annoyed at the fact that Katie Couric seemed to be implying that Alaska was replete with a "nomadic" (and that's her new catchphrase for how public perceives the people of Alaska) tribe of people who are ignorant of the rest of the contiguous United States. Now perhaps that's what Katie Couric was implying but now, over a year on from the time the original question was asked, she still refuses to answer the question.

At the time the question was originally asked I did think it was kind of a trick question because at the time she had begun to rant against the "mainstream media" for their obvious bias and in particular she called out papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times. Then to go back and claim that she read any of those would appear hypocritical. Her answer then? To avoid being specific. The result? She comes off as dimwitted and dense which may or may not be the case but it's been a year; you still don't have an answer for us?

And speaking of bias in the media, Palin was quick to point out in her Oprah interview that she respected Obama for making quite clear to reporters that the children of candidates (his own and indirectly Palin's as well) were off-limits to the media. Palin said she respected him for stating that to the press but felt that she wasn't given the same degree of adherence as the Obama children. I can think of a simple reason. Think back to the campaign and think about how many times you saw Sasha and Malia Obama accompanying their father and mother in public. Now think about how many times you saw at least one of the Palin kids out and about with their mother. Even in her interview with Oprah almost every single clip or shot of her at home in Alaska included at least one of the children. So then is the media to blame for focusing on the children when they are with you all the time and you are taking them with you to any and all political functions?

Palin also spoke on the double standard that she felt was placed on her because she was a woman. She felt that questions regarding her ability given that she was a mother of five would somehow interfere with her ability to be an effective Vice President were unfair and biased. Again, given how much focus was given to the fact that she was a soccer mom and that she was involved with her kids and that she was involved in every aspect of their life then isn't it only right to ask if you were going to have enough time to devote to them and the country? And if you want to be treated fairly and taken seriously then you need to stop answering and acting like a beauty paegent contestant.

If a guy were to blow air kisses to the audience (and he wasn't European) I'm sure there would be a massive uproar over the fact that he did it. Don't you think there would be plenty of people ready to sue for sexual harassment if a male did such a thing? It's not media bias but based on how you carry yourself and how you behave. I could only compare her to IndyCar race driver Danica Patrick who also wrote a book a few years ago in which she made it clear that her gender should not be used as a crutch. She indicated that she did not want to be a sexual object but be considered a serious driver. That being the case then why would she willingly pose in a bathing suit for Sports Illustrated or several other publications? Why act in a sexually charged series of commercials for website service provider It's a case of having your cake and eating it too; Palin is much the same.

Many in the American public seem to appreciate Palin for her honesty and her stance on many issues and perhaps in four years the appeal for something different will be strong enough to make her a contender but for me, I would want to know if she's going to make a serious effort to become a contender or if she's going to continue to rely solely on the following she's generating based on her "golly-gosh-gee" attitude she loves showing to the public. If you want to be taken seriously then learn from your mistakes but more importantly admit to them. Don't write books meant to spread the blame to others, take responsibility and set a plan of action that you have for the future. It's clear now that Palin isn't going to quietly disappear so she might as well make an effort to fill herself with substance rather than vague generalities, like her answer to why she resigned as Governor of Alaska with time left in office. Don't play the poor innocent victim and then expect to be taken seriously.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Who Was That?

It was probably about midway through the game yesterday between the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos that I began to wonder if I was really awake or whether I was dreaming. I dipped my finger in my steaming cup of coffee figuring that would be enough to snap me out of any light slumber but to my amazement I was actually watching the Redskins play like the team they always claimed they were (albeit now I watched with a slightly toasted pinkie finger). Here was the team that everyone had been saying that we had. Here was the team that not only looked good on paper but looked pretty decent on the field as well. Here was a team that has won Super Bowls in the past and could do so again in the future if they can just stay consistent.

Nine weeks ago the season was full of promise. The team believed that the early portion of the schedule included a number of "easy" games against teams that had not had a good record and did not have stellar offenses (or defenses) so it was expected that the early part of the season would lead to a decent record and would give the team time to find their rhythm and that by the second half of the season they would have kickstarted their winning ways and hopefully manage to parlay that into a trip to the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl. Flashfoward nine weeks and the team is standing at the threshold of only their third victory of the season. There's still a very long road ahead of them with tough games ahead including many against dreaded division rivals and much better teams but yesterday's game with Denver was something of a sign of what can happen when things come together.

Now I'm not going to start doing the expected of most typical Washington fans which is to proudly proclaim that the team is ready to devastate Dallas next week or that a trip to the Super Bowl is in the cards. Given the way the season has been thus far I'll be happy if the team can keep up the momentum and finish stronger than they started. One game does not make a season but it can make a tremendous difference. The year the New York Giants won the Super Bowl they started off abysmally and didn't win a single game until they came to Washington. That was the catalyst needed to turn their season around. Perhaps for Washington their defeat of Denver is a sign that not all hope is lost and that there is hope for a brighter season ahead. My only curiousity then would be as to the whereabouts of the team that played yesterday versus what we had been seeing up to this point over the season.

The defense played as well as it usually does and perhaps it was also helped by the fact that Denver's starting quarterback (Kyle Orton) was injured and out after the first half but still, Washington's defense has allowed other quarterbacks look like experts despite never having played before (cough cough... Detroit anyone?). Still, the defense stepped up the pressure and managed turnovers at key points that helped them secure the lead and eventually victory. But this would have been possible if the offense hadn't reciprocated and managed to do what it needed to in order to score points. In weeks past, Shaun Suisham (Washington's kicker) has been an MVP in my book because he's consistently scored for the team and has at least prevented some games from being total blowouts. I think the highlights though were the fact that Washington managed to score touchdowns; especially when it really mattered.

Red Zone offense has been lacking up to this point in the season and perhaps yesterday's game truly was a case of a team (Denver) coming in complacently and getting trounced by a team (Washington) that was looking to turn their season around. It could also be that Denver is in the same spot that Washington was in at this point last year. If you'll recall, Washington started off strongly last year partially because no one knew what Jim Zorn was (or wasn't) capable of. This unknown is what helped them do well because no one was sure what Washington would try next but by about mid-season people had started to sniff out holes in the schemes and capitalized on those openings.

Like I said; one game doesn't make a season but it gives hope to legions of fans who had been looking forward to next season with starry eyed wonder and hope as to what the future held. I will be quite happy if the team truly does turn around and begins to win its way back into the hearts of the people but I view it with a great deal of trepidation. As much as I love my Washington Redskins I also have to take their victories as and when they come. I have looked too far ahead in the past and have been disappointed too often. If yesterday's game was any indicator that the team can put together a good series on offense and defense then perhaps that trepidation will go away but all I can say is that I will savour this victory (as I know the team will) because it came against a good opponent and it was well earned.


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Human Impact on the Environment

I read an interesting article the other day about floating garbage patches out in the Pacific Ocean. These floating patches are made up of bits of trash that were caught in the ocean's currents and eventually made it to spots where the opposing currents began to 'cancel' each other out so what essentially ended up happening is that you have patches of growing trash floating in the middle of the ocean and it's beginning to have an impact on the life at sea. In fact some scientists have estimated that given the size of known patches of garbage in the Pacific the total area covered in trash (combining the various patches) could be close to the size of Texas. Now naysayers may dismiss this as being an exaggeration but what cannot be denied is the fact that more and more garbage is making it's way out into the seas and it is soon going to cause a major impact on the environment.

Now chief among the naysayers that humankind has had a significant impact on the environment was former President George W Bush. In 2002, barely a year after taking office and a few months following the attacks of 9/11, the Environmental Protection Agency published a report in which they stated that a significant portion of the decline in the environment of the planet could be attributed to human interaction with the environment. What this meant was that the manufacturing, the carbon emissions, the trash generated by humans was causing enough of an impact to the environment that the planet was beginning to decline at a rapid rate. At that time, President Bush accepted the findings of the EPA but determined that a large portion of the global changes could also be attributed to the natural cycle of the planet's evolution.

Now I can understand the desire to believe that not every change in the environment is being caused by humans and it is quite likely that a lot of the climate changes are due to natural cycles in the planet's "life" but is that truly all that it is? Things like carbon emissions and carbon "footprints" can be debated but what i can't really see being debated is the fact that there is trash accumalating in large numbers on the open seas. Now it's not because people are intentionally throwing it out there but through direct or indirect actions it is ending up out there anyways. Scientists believe that some of the trash and debris that can be found in these Pacific Ocean garbage patches is likely the result of trash from storm drains and the like. And if that's the case then isn't it likely that humans are the cause behind it?

What we need to understand is that some of the intangible parts of global climate change can be debated but then again things like these garbage patches really can't. And they are having a negative impact on the environment though many times we choose to avoid understanding it. What I mean by that is that when the debris and trash is out of sight (and therefore out of mind) it doesn't seem like a big problem. But now imagine all that trash being dumped in front of your home or around your house. Then it would definitely be having an impact on your life wouldn't it? At that time then you wouldn't be able to ignore the fact that it is being caused by us and that it is something that we can change if we choose to.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is Veterans Day?

Today is Veterans Day here in the United States and many people have often wondered what the difference is between Memorial Day (celebrated in May) and Veterans Day (celebrated in November) really is. Now for many people, Memorial Day has gone from being a day of remembereance for the sacrifice made by many of those who have served in our armed forces to the 'unofficial' start to the summer travel season. And while it's convenient to link one to the other, I think it only serves to marginalize (among some... not all) the meaning of that day and Veterans Day. That shouldn't be the case as both days are very important and though they appear to be the same on the surface, there are differences that make each of them important for what they commemorate.

Memorial Day, celebrated in May, was first marked at the end of the Civil War. It was meant to be a unified day of rememberance of those who had given their lives in the Civil War which had only recently ended. It was meant to be an act that all Americans could mark in order to remember those who had fallen on both sides of the conflict. It was an important step in the healing process and helped bring the nation back together after nearly being torn apart by the ravages of the Civil War. There are those who credit General John Murray of Waterloo, New York with popularizing the day by marking the day each year and performing some act of rememberance for those who had fallen in the course of war. Soon the Federal Government passed a proclamation that officially designated the last Monday in May to be the day known as Memorial Day.

Now this caused some confusion as shortly after the end of World War I, President Wilson authorized the 11th of November to be commemorated as Armistice Day to honor those who had served in the military in World War I. Within a few years it was changed to honor not just the doughboys of World War I but all veterans who had served in the military and that was the major difference between the two holidays. Memorial Day was for those who had given their lives in service of their country while Veterans Day was meant to honor those who gave their lives but also continued to serve their country through continued service. it's a subtle difference but one that is equally important to note.

As I mentioned earlier, the sad thing is that many have begun to take a nonchalant attitude towards remembering our veterans on both Veterans Day and Memorial Day. While it's great that we can mark the start of summer with Memorial Day weekend, we shouldn't forget that the people who died serving their nation (our Nation) gave their lives so that we could enjoy this freedom. I'm sure the families that have loved ones serving in the war zones don't need to be reminded of that fact and those that have loved ones in the military know about what it takes to secure that freedom but it's up to the rest of us to pay homage to that fact. So today if you see a vet, don't shrug and say that "they have two holidays for soldiers... Memorial day and Veterans Day"; both are unique and equally important. Thank them for their service and for serving their country.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hunting Witches After the Fact

On the eve of major memorial services at Fort Hood, new allegations and information about the shooter, Arlington, Virgnia native Major Nidal Hasan, are coming to light. Among this new information is the fact that Hasan attempted to contact radical Yemeni Imam Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki is an American-born scholar who was imam at a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia where two of the 9/11 hijackers worshiped prior to those attacks. What makes this more significant is that al-Awlaki apparently made statements in support of the shootings soon after the news was released. More investigation by other news agencies then found the connection to the 9/11 hijackers and already there has been rampant speculation that perhaps Hasan's attack was a premeditated and coordinated attack that had support from other corners of the country.

Now I think the shooting itself is a tragedy and even more so from the fact that it was perpetrated by an American soldier against fellow soldiers on American soil. However, one thing which I will say is a bit different from any similar attacks is the focus being put on the fact that Hasan is Muslim and that he had contact with someone like al-Awlaki. There is no denying that al-Awlaki and his points of view are clearly anti-American based on some of the sermons he gave while here in this country and the fact that he applauded Hasan's actions but is he the only one who has ever made such radical declarations? Aren't there priests and reverends and other religious leaders in this country who continue to preach violence against us while living here in this country?

I don't think it's limited to one religion or one people but it's a much more widespread problem. Many people, for whatever reason, seem to have become increasingly disillusioned with our country. What surprises many people is the fact that the FBI was aware that Hasan had been in contact with al-Awlaki and that al-Awlaki himself had very radical views and suspected ties to al Queda; but in statements released by the FBI they indicated that in intercepting communications with al-Awlaki they did not find anything suspicious. For many people just the fact that al-Awlaki preaches radical Islam in Yemen is enough to paint anyone associated with him as a radical as well correct? Then if that's the case then why not arrest everyone who ever attended his lectures at his mosques here in Virginia.

But then if we're going to do that then why don't we arrest everyone who attended a lecture by Jeramiah Wright? You remember that he was the Reverend who once preached at a church that President Obama attended for a number of years. His speeches against America were inflammatory (though not necessarily as anti-American as al-Awlaki) but then if al-Awlaki and his followers are guilty then what about Wright's? Or how about Pastor Stephen Anderson of Arizona who called on his followers to pray for Obama's death? He was the Pastor who prayed that Obama be struck dead by the same brain tumor that had (then) recently killed Senator Ted Kennedy. Isn't that Anti-American when you publicly call for the President's untimely demise? So then shouldn't he and his followers also be investigated by the FBI?

I in no way condone the actions of Major Hasan. I think his act of attacking unarmed co-workers is cowardly and low and the fact that his actions are being applauded by people such as al-Awlaki speaks about their radical views but they are by no means the only bad ones out there. While the search and investigation continues into 'why' Hasan did what he did, we should be careful as a community of not falling into the convenient excuse that his religion or his background or whom he interacted with as being the simple and quick solution. If the true nature (without unnecessary speculation by the public and the media) is discovered then the tragic events of last week at Fort Hood can be avoided.


Monday, November 09, 2009

When the Wall Came Down

Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall came down ending nearly half a century of division and became a symbolic hallmark of the end of the Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall it also signaled the 'victory' of democracy over communism. Though I was young I can remember President Reagan's speech at the Brandenburg Gate imploring Premier Gorbachev to 'tear down this wall' and it was amazing to see that within a few years that's precisely what happened. The wall came down and an era of tension and potential 'assured mutal destruction' came to an end. And although there were droves of people dancing in the streets at the end of communist rule and a divided Germany, I was fascinated to read that not everyone was happy about the fact that communism came to an end.

As today's anniversary of the fall of the wall came closer there were some articles posted in various papers from around the world that had interviews with people who had lived and worked in what was once known as East Germany (or the communist side). And although the opinion of most of us who were on the side of democracy and were 'fighting' to free East Germany and the rest of Europe from the yoke of communism, it seems that not everyone was happy to see it finally come to an end. There were several interviews that I read in which people said that the popular conception that communist rule in Europe was completely restrictive was not at all true. Many claimed that rule in communist Europe was actually better than many people gave credit for.

There are now towns in Germany that have completely disappeared simply because their function or support was no longer needed. These towns that were once vital to the survival of East Germany became redundant under a unified nation and soon fell into decay and eventually extinction. So then what happens to the people who lived and worked there? They struggle to find work or a means of surviving. It's hard not to think about these things but we often do it regularly. In the quest to defeat one 'enemy' we often have collateral damage and in this case one of the main casualties were the people who had been employed by the East German government for vital supply and services.

Government workers who may not have necessarily agreed with communist dictum or the oppresive nature of the government that ruled them nonetheless could not deny the fact that they were provided for by their government (no matter what they followed... democracy or communism). I'm not saying or implying that communism was a better system but it's unfortunate (though not unexpected) that even so many years after the fall of the Berlin Wall there are still people who are suffering the effects of the failure of one governmental system and the implementation of another. As the world continues to struggle onwards to better places and becoming a more unified place, we should also remember the changes that have affected us in the past and how they can affect the future as well.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Practice What You Preach

Yesterday, House Republicans organized what they called a "House Call" on Congress to rally protesters who were on Capitol Hill to protest the proposed Democratic Health Care Reform bill. With the expected shouts and signs calling anything other than Republican ideals as socialist or foolhardy, the spirit was one of anger though often peppered with moments of gosh-darn patriotism that called for the flight of an eagle around the flag as Republican leaders stood on the steps and called for American's to 'take back' their country. As far as I know, no one has 'taken' the country anywhere but I still see the point that many of the are trying to make. But be that as it may, not only were Republicans seeking to rally opposition to the proposed Democratic health care reform bill (which projects to insure 36 million versus the 3 million the Republican plan seeks to insure) but they were looking to build upon the recent victories in Gubernatorial elections where Republicans took back control in Virginia and New Jersey.

One way in which they hoped to do that was to not only focus on where they stood on their Health Care proposal but also on the ideals of their party. Now while some Republicans are becoming a little wary of staunchly labeling themselves or projecting the image of being a savior of conservative idealism, some of them do not shy away from that at all. Take for example Representative Todd Akin of Missouri. He's been working hard to restore the Pledge of Allegiance to schools around the nation. Currently it isn't a requirement in every state in the Union and Akin (among others) feels that it should be. The point of protest in some states is the inclusion of the phrase, "under God" which was added after being proposed by Louis Bowman in 1954. His rationale being that the phrase came from the Gettysburg Address and that it also held significance in that it exemplified the spirit of the nation.

Now I've grown up as a Hindu and every year I was in school I recited the Pledge of Allegiance before starting the school day. Never once in those 12 years did I wonder what religion I was supposedly being exposed to. I didn't even think of it in those terms. However shortly after the phrase was adopted, many people began objecting to it and some of the earliest protests didn't come from other religions but from Christians themselves. Jehovah's Witnesses protested stating that their religious beliefs preclude them from pledging allegiance to anyone but God. Though that protest didn't affect a change on the pledge, various protests did continue in some form or another for decades to come. Finally in the early 21st Century it came to a head.

Following the rise in patriotism after the attacks of 9/11, many Congressional and State leaders including Todd Akin began working to restore the Pledge so that our students could reinforce their patriotic ideals on a daily basis. The problem with this was that many still felt uncomfortable with the inclusion of the word God in the pledge. Now again, as I've stated many times, my religious beliefs are rooted deeply enough that even if I say the Lord's Prayer or read verses from the Torah or the Koran, my belief in my religion will not be affected. But unfortunately not everyone thinks that way. And to reinforce the belief that the words "under God" are important and "to drive Liberals crazy", Todd Akin decided to recite the Pledge of Allegiance on the Hill before his peers and gathered protestors and asked everyone to join in.

Now before beginning the Pledge he gave a brief history on the Pledge and the words and why they are important. He made reference to Bowman and the Gettysburg Address and then proceeded to lead the group. Now I have said the pledge so many times that you could wake me up from a deep slumber and ask me to say it and I would say it with no problems. I expected no less from Akin as he has been so staunchly in favor of reinstituting the 'whole pledge' back into schools that he should know it even better than me. So when he got to the part of "under God" he shouted it as if he were saying it from the mountaintops. The only problem was that he then proceeded to screw up the rest of it.

To me, the final portion of the Pledge is the most important. "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." That's the final phrase and Akin skipped the 'indivisible' part. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip where he revealed his true feelings towards that portion of the pledge. Maybe he feels deep down that the nation truly is divided between the God loving and the God hating. Maybe in his haste to prove that liberals truly are a group of God-hating people he needed to shout "under God" but then forget the rest. In recalling the Gettysburg Address origins of the phrase isn't the term "indivisible" also equally (if not more so) important? If it weren't for the Civil War our nation well and truly could have been divided. I think that final phrase (with or without "God") is what our nation stands for.

Whether to include "under God" in the actual Pledge or not is something I could really care less about. I'm pledging my allegiance to my country to which I am a loyal and patriotic citizen. I know that in my heart so whether I include God in the pledge or not it still stands. But what I feel is that for someone like Akin who claims to be a proponent of what the Pledge stands for and has been working since 2004 to pass his Pledge of Allegiance Bill in Congress, that he would know the pledge better than anyone else. But for him to screw it up on such a national stage leads me to believe that he and many of our other leaders on Congress are full of nothing but hot air. If you well and truly believe in the words of the pledge then you should know them; he didn't seem to realize it until he heard his compatriots say the word "indivisible". Some way to 'lead by example'. If that's the example then I pity the people he is attempting to lead.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Not Really Rolling Along

Usually my commute to Maryland from Virginia during rush hour has been pretty mundane. I hit the occasional slow spot of traffic but it's typically an anomaly rather than the norm. However since schools opened the traffic has been anything but pleasant and yesterday it was nightmarish. Many people in the area most likely know about the traffic light computer problem that was the culprit. What the computer does is it controls the timings of lights and the synchronization so that during rush hour the main arteries that carry the most traffic are kept green longer and then reversed in the evenings. However around 3AM on Wednesday morning the computer showed signs of failing and by the time rush hour was set to kick into full swing, the computer had completely failed.

It's interesting (now that I'm through one bit of traffic for the day) how much we rely on computers to keep us moving throughout the day. I mean there hasn't been a single day since I began working over fifteen years ago where I haven't used a computer. Nowadays computers control practically every aspect of our lives. Need to call customer service? Before you get to the operator who is working at a call center in India you have to go through a whole littany of menu options meant to speed up the process but when that system fails then you end up hitting a major roadblock and productivity goes down. Plus I think part of the reason that when a failure like the traffic light failure occurs it's because we follow the old adage that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

According to authorities, the computer system used to control the traffic lights in Montgomery County are using technology that was around during the waning days of the Jimmy Carter Presidency. For those keeping score (or whose math may be a little fuzzy) that means that it is about thirty some years old! Is it any wonder then that we're facing such a big problem when the system goes down? Remember the panic after companies realized that the computer systems that ran practically everything here in the States would suffer potentially catastrophic problems in 1999 on New Year's when the 2000's began? Remember the rush to update our systems? It's not like people didn't know about it before but why the sudden rush? Because people didn't care to think about the problem until it was one. That's called procrastination.

Now I'm not saying that Montgomery County should have invested in a state of the art system over a decade ago nor am I saying that the problem should never have occured in the first place but what I am saying is that there should be a backup system in place that will kick in if the main system is incapcitated. It seems like common sense I suppose but it's not so common these days. Now had one anticipated that perhaps the day would come that the computer system that heretofore ran without issue would suddenly fail then perhaps the traffic issues drivers have been facing the last two days would have occurred but then again there's no guarantee. Computers have made things easier for us but they have also led us to think less or at least fail to understand just how well the computer has been programmed.

Remember the airline crash last year where the pilots failed to understand what the plane's computer was trying to do to prevent a crash? It's possible (though in no way a certainty) that the incident could have been avoided. The plane attempted to enter a shallow dive to gain speed to prevent the plane from stalling. The pilots thought it meant the plane was crashing and fought the computer and the result was that the plane crashed. Now in Montgomery County the problem isn't necessarily so dire but it is still a problem nonetheless. But now take for example the Metro Red Line crash from several months ago. There again the culprit was outdated equipment and a failure on the part of humans to act.

The crash occurred because the computer failed to recognize that another train was on the track but also the human operator failed to apply the emergency brakes in time. The result was deadly and is just further proof that we need to stop relying so much on computers and ensure that we use our brains that much more. Now using our brains may not make much difference in terms of affecting traffic light timings but you never know. For now drivers in Montgomery County will have to endure unsynchronized lights and slow moving traffic that causes drives that should take ten minutes to end up taking ten hours. In other words they will drive as if they are in Tysons Corner.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Throwdown at Madison Square Garden

Who knows; maybe it is the political version of Ali's "Thrilla in Manilla" or the "Rumble in the Jungle". Whatever you want to call it, the debate scheduled for February 25th of next year between former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will be nothing if not interesting. If there are any more two polarizing personalities in mainstream politics today I still haven't seen them. Though he has been out of office for over eight years now, Bill Clinton continues to garner praise and support for his efforts around the world while George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at the World Series. The Japanese World Series that is. But seriously, Bush has laid low since leaving office ten months ago. Perhaps he's taking a break from being in the 'political' shooting gallery or perhaps he's biding his time under the assumption that people will come to realize just what a great President he was during his eight years.

Well whatever his reasons, this is undoubtedly going to be one of the most public way to return to the spotlight for the previous President. Now the debate is being touted as one of the most important in the sense that the two Presidents represent top members of the two leading political parties in our country and have been fairly successful in creating a schism in the political landscape that endures to this day and will continue to endure. What do I mean by schism? Well neither the Democrats nor the Republicans enjoy losing control of the White House and so they do their darnedest to make sure that life in the White House for the opposing party isn't all State Dinners and Christmas Tree lightings. That being said the landscape has been divided due to the fact that an 'us versus them' mentality has been formed over the last ten years and it has continued to affect the way many politicians and pundits think.

What is of the most interest to me however is not so much the mudslinging (which I feel will likely be minimized during this debate) but the hope that this debate will delve into the real issues of what's wrong with the political landscape of our country today. Why should their be an us versus them attitude. After hearing about the debate this morning in the news I heard that Congress (which includes both parties) all agreed that the extension of Unemployment Insurance to Americans should be extended; but rather than ending the debate in agreement and passing the bill, it is sitting idle due to the fact that many politicians are throwing in last minute additions that end up adding 'pork' which ultimately kills the bill. Republicans will state that they are for the bill (despite adding the pork to it) and will accuse the Democrats of not supporting it (without stating why they don't support the bill with the pork rather than the extension of Insurance). It's a game both parties play but then that's what's most troublesome.

Rather than serving the people as they are elected to do, they play these childish Kindergarten type of power plays that ultimately don't help anyone. And why? Simply because doing the right thing would perhaps make it seem like politicians are crossing party lines? Is that so terrible a thing when the outcome can mean the difference between reviving our economy and saving face with your respective party? I don't think so. I'm sure many people are hoping that the debate between Clinton and Bush will finally establish how bad a President Bush was. I'm sure a debate would be held on the particular strengths and weaknesses of both but to what purpose? Personal jibes or insults against what each President did in the past isn't going to change it. It's done.

As much as I'd enjoy seeing a very politically heated debate between Bush and Clinton (a debate I think Clinton would easily win since he's such a great ex tempore speaker) I don't think it would do much good. But that doesn't mean I don't think we should hash out some of these issues in this manner and in this type of forum. I would like to hear both their views on the current state of the country and what they feel is wrong (or right) with the current approaches being taken by Obama and the rest of the government. But what else should be debated and decided upon is how to move forward together. If this debate is nothing more than a reason for Clinton and Bush to hash out old and existing differences between Democrats and Republicans then it won't serve any purpose other than to further divide us. Bush called himself 'the Unite-er' at one point during his eight years in office. Now would be the time to prove it.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Dilemma

Seven years ago, then-Vice President Dick Cheney boldly declared that "The Taliban is out of business, permanently [in Afghanistan]." Seven years later we stand just days away from an announcement by President Obama as to whether or not troops need to be deployed in greater numbers to Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of US forces in the Afghan theatre has requested as many as 40,000 additional troops to be sent to the region to help quell the resurging acts of violence being undertaken by Taliban loyalists. Now where the dilemma comes in is whether Obama goes against what he ran for in the campaign for his Presidency (bringing our troops home) or sticking to his decision and withdrawing our troops from the region. In all honesty though, it was a decision that was made even before he ran for President.

At the outset of the war in Afghanistan a few months after the attacks of 9/11, there was a feeling that invading Afghanistan was justified since the masterminds of the plot were situated there but more importantly, Osama Bin Laden was there. If anyone was responsible for 9/11 it was him. However, rather than giving what the Generals at that time wanted and needed (namely manpower) there was limited deployment and limited support meant to satisfy the public desire to see the Taliban wiped out. Soon thereafter (and shortly before Cheney made his bold proclamation) the Taliban were run out of the capital but that didn't mean that this was the end to the conflict.

No matter how much time passes, our mindset as a country remains one that has long been fostered by World War II movies and action films. Once the enemy is in retreat then that means that victory is secured. Now the Taliban and Al Queda may have fled Kabul and retreated into the Hindu Kush mountains of the region but they certainly aren't gone. The people who perpetrated the attacks of 9/11 were not an army in the traditional sense but a group inspired by the same ideals. When you have so many far reaching sects, when will you declare victory? When the entire organization ceases to exist or when one cell is eliminated. What we need to understand is that Afghanistan is potentially even more complex than Iraq in that much of the region has been transformed over time into something that almost resembles the Old West rather than the country it once was before the Soviet invasion.

At that time, many military leaders realized that and they wanted sufficient forces to be brought in to defeat the enemy and cause more mayhem amongst the enemies than what they could do with the troops that were intially authorized. But leaders at the time launched into the campaign that Iraq was the true threat and Afghanistan was left to the wayside. It was termed a victory because the cowboys wearing black hats were driven out of Dodge. That didn't mean they weren't going to return but that they were waiting for another day. Now don't misunderstand this to mean that this is the fault of the brave servicemen and women who have been fighting over there since the beginning. They have and continue to accomplish the mission set before them. What was an injustice to the sacrifice that they have made was that the war in Afghanistan was treated like a minor skirmish compared to what was happening in Iraq and now that the withdrawl from Iraq is more or less a done deal, Afghanistan is being looked at like a black sheep.

So now the dilemma for Obama remains; should he commit more troops to a fight that should have had more troops at the outset (the result of which would mean going back on his campaign promises) or should he withdraw our troops much the way the Soviets did once they realized that Afghanistan wasn't going to yield to their whim? It's a complex dilemma and at stake are the lives of many more servicemen and women who continue to operate in the region. It would be a disservice to them and the memory of those who gave their lives there (and in Iraq) to believe that they are nothing more than pawns but that's precisely what they are being treated as by our leaders. For Cheney to come back now and make statements "Obama doesn't have the stomach to make the right decision in Afghanistan" seven years after declaring that the Taliban was permanently defeated there smacks of hypocrisy and out and out lying with regards to the situation in Afghanistan. So then who created the dilemma and who has been left to clean up the mess of others?


Monday, November 02, 2009

White House Halloween

In the spirit of the Halloween that just passed I'm going to wear a costume a bit late and play "devil's advocate". That's supposed to be a joke but I figured since it's Monday there's no harm in making a bad joke to illicit some additional moans and groans. But I digress; as I am playing devil's advocate I will choose to look at the Halloween Celebrations through the eyes of the opposition. I won't say who this opposition should be or to what position they are opposed but I will write from the perspective that they generally would to look for reasons to find fault with President Obama and his presidency. If you look at the accompanying photo you'll see that Michelle and Barack Obama are handing out candies to children who came to the White House. In the background you'll also see a couple of costumed characters from the film "Star Wars" which is fertile playing ground for opposition pundits to use against Obama.

What sort of opposition could fictional movie characters pose? Well let the devil's advocacy begin. I think that Obama's inclusion of a Stormtrooper, evil foot soldier to the Galactic Empire is symbolic in the sense that it subconciously represents the aspirations that he has for the freedom that we Americans hold so dear. Perhaps his scope of military intervention isn't limited to Afghanistan or Iraq but the galaxy as a whole. Perhaps it is a subtle hint that he sees himself as Emperor of the universe and that whatever he chooses to do will pass due to his overwhelming power in the Force. (Hey if I'm supposed to write like the pundits from channels whose name rhymes with Sox then I have to go all the way). Rather than having someone from his staff dressed as a freedom loving rebel soldier then that would have painted a different picture but the inclusion of a stormtrooper sends a darker message.

Although she isn't readily visible in this picture, there was a young lady also in attendance who was dressed as Ashoka Tano (the alien Jedi apprenctice to Anakin Skywalker in "The Clone Wars" cartoon series). Now the inclusion of a Jedi (that too an alien Jedi) is evidence that again Obama is seeking to embrace alternate religions and not the mainstream relgions whose principles this nation was founded on. Perhaps the inclusion of Jedi Tano is a subtle message to the masses that the religions that have been propogated across this nation up to this point will no longer be held in as high esteem as the Jedi teachings. It's perhaps further evidence that the principles that so many in this nation hold dear will again be laid to the wayside so that we can embrace the way of the Jedi.

And finally there was Chewbacca. Faithful and furry Chewbacca the Wookie. Now there again is an interesting inclusion in the cast of characters gathered at the White House with the President and his wife. In the lore of Star Wars, Wookies (Chewbacca included) were enslaved by the evil Empire and were forced into labor camps by Imperial agents to construct military sites including the Death Star. Han Solo helped free Chewbacca and others and hence Chewbacca's undying loyalty to Solo throughout the adventures shown in the original movies. Isn't it interesting then to see Obama include Chewbacca, a former slave turned freedom fighter who fights to free the galaxy from the tyranny of the Empire. Is that a message directed at the former administration who many compared to the evil Empire? Perhaps it is?

I know I'm stretching so far in some of this analysis that I should stand at 7 feet 4 inches as opposed to my actual (smaller) stature but this is the type of 'analysis' that many opposition leaders and pundits choose to make. We can't look at this as a simple effort to get kids excited about Halloween by seeing a cornucopia of characters from a popular movie series. Never mind that it's just a movie and it doesn't have to have a deeper meaning. It seems that these days we can look at anything without being extremely cynical. Isn't that what typefied Han Solo very early on? His cynicism that nothing was what it seemed? Do we really need to view things that way? I don't think we do. Maybe the opposition has much more time on their hands but instead of using that time to do similar 'analysis' (and I'm sure someone somewhere is looking at this past Halloween for deeper meaning) and took more time to take meaningful action, then our nation could be in a better place.

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