Wednesday, May 26, 2010

So Long Jack

There was no two hour retrospective before the show and there was no appearance on Jimmy Kimmel after it. I didn't see newscasters talking about how Monday night was the official end of "24" and aside from a few mentions in magazines here and there, the show basically left the air with a medium bang and a bit of a whimper (if you saw the show you know what I mean). As a fan of the show I felt in my heart of hearts that the show wasn't living up to the expectations I seemed to have for it at the start of every season. Sure there were highlights every now and again and last season did give me higher hopes for this season but alas it wasn't to be and this could very well have been the last time we see Jack Bauer running (and screaming... and torturing) on the small screen; and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Now don't get me wrong, I think "24" definitely changed the way in which television shows of this nature were shown. From it's multiple scenes to the fact that events occur in real time, "24" was a very timely show (pun intended). Premiering within days of the events of 9/11, Jack Bauer came to encompass the good guy that many people hoped was actually out there fighting terrorism. He was steadfast, determined and ready to break rules (consequences be damned) to ensure that the United States was kept secure. Some would argue that it was the example set by the character that led to so many instances of torture or rule-bending in Iraq and Afghanistan but I beg to differ. If people weren't already of that nature to begin with, it would certainly take more than just a character on a show to make people believe that torture and gunplay was the only course of action in dealing with enemies.

Perhaps it's a means to an end and perhaps it's just a show. To me that's what it always was. I never tried to apply logic to everything I saw. After all, if I were to take the show to be the gospel truth about what life is like in America's intelligence agencies then God help us but we've got a lot of traitors and sleeper agents roaming in our midst. But in the end it's just a show and that's what we need to remember. After the conclusion of "Lost" I read much of the fan reaction on the internet and it ran the gamut of honest observation to inane and banal idiocy. People were crying out that the show 'cheated' fans and left too many questions unanswered.

To me that is the hallmark of truly thought provoking television. If you are given everything in a nicely wrapped package then why even have questions to begin with? You know that by the end the answers will be revealed. By having some questions left unanswered it's almost like allowing a viewer to determine the true ending on their own. While it wasn't as good (or mildly ambiguous) an ending as "Lost", "24"'s final moments were about what I expected with Jack Bauer, the one true hero in the world of the show doing what he's always done; fighting for the truth and his ideals. He's the "Superman" of the post-9/11 era who fights for truth, justice and the American way with a Sig Sauer P228 by his side. I'll miss seeing him next season but I'll rest easy knowing that he'll be out in TV-land defending America.


Monday, May 24, 2010

The End of Lost

I'm sure the web is going to be full of many pages and blogs dedicated to the end of "Lost". As a fan of the show, I couldn't let this opportunity pass by without writing something. Of course I'm actually writing this a few hours before the finale actually airs but I figured that this is as good a time as any to write down my thoughts on the end of the show. After six seasons the show which has garnered a tremendous cult following will be coming to an end. Looking back on everything that's happened, I can honestly say that I've been blown away by the fact that elements revealed to viewers in the first season and in the first few moments of the show are being brought full circle. I think that's a tremendous credit to the creators and the writers who may not have necessarily known at the beginning what would be happening at the end. That being said it's truly wonderful to have some answers to questions that have been burning for viewers since the beginning. Of course some mysteries will undoubtedly remain but to me that's one of the great things about a show like "Lost". It leaves many things open to interpretation and discussion.

No doubt there will be some who will come away from the finale with a sense of being cheated. Certainly with so much anticipation for the end of the show and hopes that all mysteries will be solved, there's a great deal of anticipation about the show but over the past few years I've seen the end of other shows I have tremendously enjoyed and I certainly hope that this finale lives up to what the show built up. Of course there wasn't as much fanfare in the general public for the end of some of the other series that I have enjoyed as much (if not more) than "Lost". I remember when shows like "Babylon 5" or "Battlestar Galactica" came to an end. Sure there were mentions in the press but nothing like "Lost".

Of course I don't bear the show any ill will. As I stated earlier, I think it's a credit to the creators and cast of the show to have been able to sustain interest and enthusiasm for the show over so many seasons. Certainly some wonder why the show should end when there is obviously still a great deal of appreciation for it and to me the answer is simply best paraphrased by George Costanze in "Seinfeld" who believed that good things should always end on a high note. It was disappointing that "Seinfeld" didn't end on as high a note as many had hoped for but at least it ended when it was still popular and when the majority of the public cared enough to see what happened at the end.

I can say that for those of us who were as loyal to "Battlestar Galactica" or "Babylon 5" or "M*A*S*H" or so many other great shows the end of those series were felt with just as much joy as there was loss. Now some may wonder why there should be a sense of loss for something ending like a television show but like it or not, television shows of this sort become a part of our daily existence. Perhaps it's a bit of exaggeration but just see how many people will be standing around the office talking about the ending and what it means to them. Perhaps they'll be talking about how it was more hype than substance or they'll mention that they found it to be the best end of series that they have seen. Whatever the reaction, I'm sure it will be a hotbed of discussion. As the final few hours tick down, I find myself feeling both a sense of eagerness and a sense of sadness. I'm sure it will be worth the wait.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Saving Our Past

One thing that I've often heard be said about the United States is that compared to many other countries in other parts of the world (cough cough.... Europe.... Asia), the history of our country seems quite recent. I mean if you think about it, the history of the United States as a country is not very far-reaching on the grander scale. Yet one thing I will often point out to many who make such comments is that while our history may not go back thousands of years, one thing I am proud of is the fact that our country embraces the history that it does have. Case in point? The fight of many Virginia residents to save a portion of Wilderness Battlefield from being turned into shopping space for retail giant Wal-Mart.

Now please understand, given the current state of our economy I think it's great that there are still opportunities for low-cost alternative stores like Wal-Mart, ready to construct new stores so that consumers like you and me can save a few bucks. However, I don't feel that savings such as these should come at the expense of remembering our past. Now some may think that it's a bit stupid to save what is basically empty and unused parcels of land from development just because some battles were fought on those hallowed grounds a few centuries ago. Well to those critics I would ask how they would feel if Wal-Mart or another retailer decided to put up a store where our soldiers have fought and died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Perhaps it's not exactly an equitable comparison but it's pretty darn close. I think it's important to preserve these areas because they are places where events in our history managed to shape our country and subsequently, our impact on the world. Now it can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective, but I think it's important nonetheless. If we don't wish to preserve these portions of our history, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, then why bother saving Independence Hall or Plymouth Rock or so many other places in our country. Sure, they aren't as old or as famous perhaps as the Colosseum in Rome but still, they are a part of our history.

If we do our part now then it's likely that generations from now, our descendants will be able to look out and see where the history of our country was made. I sometimes think that maybe I feel this way more so because I'm a student of history, but even those who don't enjoy history all that much, if you sit them down and help them understand why it was so important or so influential, they can understand it as well. Our country will always be one of the younger siblings when it comes to national history but still, that doesn't mean we should lose sight of the history we do have and more importantly, we shouldn't take it for granted. To the owners of Wal-Mart, I would humbly ask that you seek alternative sites and leave our history be.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who Can You Trust?

Over the past few years I've gotten into the habit of reading various news sources for my daily dose of news. I've found that despite claims to the contrary, almost no one has a truly 'fair and balanced' look at the world and what's happening in it. Perhaps it's very cynical but the more and more I read these days, the more and more I realize that it's probably closer to the truth than most of us realize. I sometimes wonder if it's always been this way or not. When I was younger perhaps the availability of information was somewhat limited. Sure there was television and news was delivered nearly instantly, but still, there was always that slight delay before word traveled around but now it's almost instantaneous. It has its good qualities and it has its bad qualities.

But I digress; I asked the question in my blog title for today of "who can you trust?" When I ask the question I'm talking about many things; but in particular I'm talking about two that have particular impact on all our lives these days, the media and our government. It's odd that these two should be so closely linked but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the news media (elite, mainstream or whatever the Hell you choose to call it) all has their own agenda. Look at the news these days and most ever channel has a slant one way or the other. Fair and balanced? Only if you happen to agree with the slant that they put on the news. If you like Fox News you will always consider it fair and balanced; similarly, if you like CNN you'll always find them to be fair in their commentary.

But then who do you trust? It's hard to say simply because there are so many people out there who are forcing us to believe one thing or another. It's almost as if they don't want us to form our own opinion anymore. Gone are the truly moderate news agencies or government officials. Everyone has taken the stance over the past few decades of drawing a line in the sand and then challenging everyone to be on one side or the other. No middle ground exists anymore. Honestly, I've tried to stop watching the news, in particular political programs, simply because I've grown weary of hearing nothing but talking heads spewing rhetoric about why this politician is a traitor or why that politician can be considered the Second Coming. No one comes out and tells the truth which is that they are doing most everything they do for their own selfish purposes.

So then who do we trust? Trust ourselves. Form your own opinion; if you think you've gotten to the bottom of an issue by reading up on it on your usual websites or news sources then go to another and read another perspective. It's the only way that we can make ourselves fair and balanced. If we take the lazy way out and only rely on one source then we'll never get the truth. We'll only see what we want to see when it comes to the world around us and essentially we won't be any different than children. I think we can all be better than that but only if we try.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Credit Where Credit is Due

I wrote yesterday's blog very early, even before I had a chance to read the news and lo and behold what do I read after posting the blog? That an arrest has been made in the Times Square bombing attempt. From the time the bomb was found to the time the arrest had been made was less than 54 hours. That isn't just amazing, it is astounding. For all the talk that many of our politicians and pundits in Washington have been spewing about how there is a lack of security in this country under the current administration or how we are more vulnerable now than we ever were before I would simply point to this arrest as a sign of the system working when it's given a chance.

Sure there will always be mistakes made. Perhaps if we'd paid more attention then Pearl Harbor or the attacks of 9/11 could have been averted but in this case, the system was given a chance and it worked. I wouldn't call it a perfect system but nor would I simply characterize this as a case of blind stinking luck. I recall the case of Mir Aimal Kasi who killed two CIA employees outside of its Langley Headquarters in 1993. He had plenty of time to escape after those attacks and was living in Pakistan for several years until he was finally arrested and extradited to the United States. In that case it took years to catch the culprit and bring him to justice. Now in this case, the arrested Times Square suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was arrested as he prepared to board a flight bound for Dubai. Had things not gone well, it's possible that Shahzad could have also fled as Kasi did and lived a life away from the US for a number of years.

Now perhaps Shahzad isn't the only culprit and perhaps he isn't completely guilty (though I have already read reports that he's confessed to plotting the attack) but the mere fact that he's been arrested and is in custody speaks well of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Perhaps all the efforts that were taken to streamline the flow of information to all concerned agencies is really happening. Of course that's not good enough for folks in the opposition parties. They seem to think that nothing is good enough. I sometimes think that even if their kids bring home a perfect report card they'd still expect (or perhaps demand) an even higher performance.

Regardless of what the opposition party states (oh Hell... I'll just say Republicans) they have to give credit where credit is due. I'm not saying that they must credit the Obama Administration, but they shouldn't lambast the efforts of our law enforcement groups who supposedly read Shahzad his Miranda Rights while arresting him. Why behave as if now we'll never unravel the mystery behind this case. Can these same politicians really point to cases where suspects have been arrested as enemy combatants or terrorists and it has led to the complete destruction of terrorist cells? I don't know but I haven't heard of a slew of such cases despite the number of people who have been arrested as enemy combatants as opposed to violent criminals. I'm sure more details will be revealed in this vile act and more action will be taken against those who have attempted to attack our nation. I just wish some of these politicians and commentators could spend a little more time looking at the things that went right rather than pointing fingers like they always seem to do.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Dangerous Times in Times Square

This past weekend, a disaster which could have claimed the lives of hundreds of people was narrowly averted. An alert vendor in the busy Times Square area was astute enough to notice a Nissan Pathfinder SUV oddly parked at a spot in the area where it soon began to smoke. The vendor notified a mounted police officer and a short time later, the area was evacuated and the police along with bomb squads were called in to deal with the ticking time bomb. The bomb squad managed to diffuse the bomb well before it went off but it gave many New Yorkers and those of us outside the city also have taken pause and have considered just how close we came to another act of terrorism in New York.

Naturally the first thing people want to do is lay the blame. Who is to blame? Is it the police for allowing a vehicle of this sort into the city? People have already started to wonder why the police didn't stop the vehicle at a checkpoint the way they used to. The truth of the matter is that it comes down to complacency and I wouldn't say that it's the police who are complacent. Going through an airport these days can be a very long and drawn out affair. You're subjected to so much security that it feels almost as if the journey through security is longer than the actual flight you're looking to take. Despite that, security precautions at airports have not really changed since 9/11.

So then why did things change everywhere else? Partially it's because we ordinary people are also very fussy. If we're subjected to random vehicle searches or screenings at airports we get ticked off. It's because most of us feel that we aren't the ones who should be scrutinized. It's the other people who look suspicious that should be undergoing this inconvenience, not us. After hearing such complaints all the time and running on limited budgets (after all, how many police officers can you assign to do nothing but randomly check vehicles day in and day out) it's no wonder that checkpoints that were once located all over New York are now dwindling.

I'm sure some will seek to blame the President in what they perceive to be a lack of focus on fighting terrorism and terrorists. But who was the terrorist in this case? It wasn't who most people assume it to be. If we are to believe grainy video footage captured in the area, the chief suspect at this time is assumed to be white. Perhaps it's a jihadist who is wearing make-up or perhaps it's a normal American who has been brainwashed like Richard Reid the infamous Shoe bomber. Whoever it is, they have merely proven that we can't afford to be complacent as a society. Those seeking to harm our citizens are still out there and we must make sure that similar near-disasters don't happen again. If it means a little bit of an inconvenience due to more security checks then so be it. I'd rather be safe than sorry.