Saturday, March 29, 2008

T is for Tienanmen, O is for Olympics & C is for China...and Censorship

In the wake of recent social unrest among Tibetans and the rise in feat of protests China, the host nation of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, has recently informed broadcast officials that live television shots from Tienanmen square will be banned during the Beijing Olympics. Tienanmen Square is often regarded as the "face of China" and is primarily known as being the site of a famous pro-democracy protest in which Chinese troops were called in and launched a deadly assault on the demonstrators.

China's recent decision will not only disrupt the plans of NBC and other major international networks who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast the Games but could also potentially alienate the estimated half-million foreigners that will be attending. It has also been stated that these " heavy-handed measures" could potentially undermine Beijing's pledge to the International Olympic Committee that the Games would promote greater openness in the formerly isolated country.

Many activist groups have stated that they planned to use the Olympics to promote their causes for months, however China is be hell-bent on preventing this from occurring. Foreign activist groups are also looking to use the Olympics as a stage on wish to get their voices heard. In fact, one specific group of foreign activists who are angry about China’s support for Sudan in the civil war in Darfur have recently stated that they would be demonstrating in Beijing during the Games.

Live broadcasts from Tienanmen Square were intended to showcase a friendly and confident China, a China that had put the deadly 1989 military assault in the past however with this measure, the events of late have clearly shown that China is anything but friendly, and far from confident.

As for the political future of China, I'm going to take Frankly My Dear's advice and not get too excited about Chinese politics becoming transparent or fair anytime soon.

I'll save my excitement for Women's Gymnastics.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Why 5 Fingered Discounts are not the BEST idea...

Last week, upon hastliy stealing a packet of meat from a Dutch supermarket an unnamed sticky-fingered shoplifter forgot to leave the scene of the crime with one critical piece of evidence:

his 12 year old son.

The 45-year-old thief dashed to his car faster than Asafa Powell, swatted away a supermarket worker who had flung himself on the vehicle's hood in an attempt to stop the escape, and left behind his own kid in the midst of the ruckus.

**Let's pause for a second and diverge from the main issue at hand and reflect on the actions of the supermarket employee. It's one thing to recognize when a crime has occurred and take the appropriate measures of calling in the local authorities to handle the case, but it's another thing to recklessly toss oneself onto the hood of an unknown criminals car...for a slab of MEAT.

Not diamonds, not dollars, but MEAT.

Need I say more?**

Anyways, upon contacting the thief through the boy, the thief not only refused to collect his son, but told the officers to get a hold of the boy's mother. Although the man later turned himself in on Thursday, I highly doubt that upon the stolen meat will be the biggest of his problems...

All I can say is that the steak or chops BETTER have been worth it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Do your pants hang they sag, do they flow?

On Thursday Florida lawmakers passed a bill that could result in suspensions for students who sport "droopy britches."

Translation: If you're a Floridian who sags his or her pants, you might be in trouble.

Florida would not be the first to pass "saggy pants" laws aimed at outlawing teens from wearing pants halfway down their buttocks, as several other towns and cities in the US have already implemented similar legislation. In fact, the Florida city of Riviera Beach passed a saggy pants law on Tuesday that would penalize repeat sagging offenders with a maximum of 60 days in jail.

Now, I can't help but imagine what a conversation in a Florida jail would sound like if this law were to be passed:

Jailman #1: Hey man, what're you in for?

Jailman #2: The usual...Triple homicide, arson, attempted robbery, and the assault and battery of a police officer... you?

Jailman #1: Oh you know.....I sagged some britches.

Jailman #2: (Pure disgust) Thats terrible! How could you do such a thing?

(Scoots away, embarrassed to even associate with Jailman #1)

Maybe the conversation wouldn't sound like this exactly, but you get the picture. Pure absurdity.

Supporters of this measure have asserted that schools don't effectively police their dress codes and that parents are not always aware of what their kids are wearing to school, while critics have said that such laws are unnecessary because dress codes should be the responsibility of school districts and parents.

Surprisingly enough the bill's primary sponsor, Orlando Senator Gary Siplin, is a Democrat....yes, you heard me, a D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T. Siplin has justified his support of the measure on the grounds that this fashion statement has a not so glorious origination, as he alleges it was made popular by rap artists after first appearing among prison inmates as a signal they were looking for sex. (How he knows this for fact, I dare not ask...especially with the recent Spitzertastic events of the past week...)

Siplin additionally stated that in addition to informing individuals about the not so glorious origination of the fad, the law would make an example in school, and "would help students get jobs and a degree."

If Siplin can prove that something as simple as pulling one's pants up could result in a degree and employment, then by golly, give this man a medal! Amend his law into the Constitution! Grant him his own honorary day!
But until he can do so, I suggest he loosens his own belt a bit, and loosens up.

Notes on a Scandal

Face it. Elliot Spitzer is not the first politician, let alone man, to be involved in a sex scandal and he certainly won't be the last. Tales of infidelity have littered American politics as far back as the nation's founding and have continued to transpire throughout history. While the beginning of the 19th century had Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings , the 1960's had John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, and the 1990's had Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky...
and Paula Jones...
and Jennifer Flowers.

And now, the beginning of the 21st century has Eliot Spitzer and Ashley "Kristen" Alexander Dupre.
Same scandalous tune, different politician, different year.

So if America has heard it all before, why all of the commotion?

Although Sptizer's scandal differs from the aforementioned cited politicians in that they did not explicitly pay for sex or sexual favors, or at least didn't do as as far as the public knows, this is hardly something Spitzer should be condemned for. In fact, in comparison to his fellow scandalites, Spitzer should be applauded for his decision to engage in extramarital relations with a prostitute rather than entertain a mistress.

Well, maybe not applauded, but certainly not branded with a scarlet letter for all of eternity.

While the recklessness of Spitzer's actions may suggest otherwise, the Princeton and Harvard Law alum is no dummy. In opting to carry on with a prostitute, Spitzer transformed an act of transgression into a transaction of business. In business, money or collateral is exchanged for good and/or services. In Spitzer's case, money was exchanged for sexual services from Dupre. In essence, the arrangement was really very cut and dry and not nearly as complicated as affairs with mistresses tend to be since the x factor-the emotional connection-is missing. While it is true that employing a prostitute was against the law, if one were to isolate the legality of the circumstances from the situation, than it would be seen as nothing more that what it fundamentally was-just business. Whether or not Sptizer would still have his job had he chosen to follow in Clinton's footsteps remains unclear however I'd be willing to be that even if he could save his job, he's have an even less likely chance of saving his marriage.

With this said, it's not nature of the act that Spitzer committed that has disturbed Americans, but rather the greater meaning and implications it has for American society. American's are preoccupied with Spitzer's case not necessarily because they find it to be horrendously disgraceful and blasphamous but because it hits a little too close to home, as it challenges the true and untainted morality and virtue many American's believe they possess. It's no secret that Spitzer, the "Sheriff of Wall Street" had built his reputation as a "paragon of virtue" by hunting down financiers and breaking up prostitution rings around New York City. Immediately following the scandal critics branded Spitzer a hypocrite, a fraud, and a phony often forgetting that it was not Spitzer who proclaimed himself to be cut from the most morally correct cloth, but rather, the public for interpreting his actions and words to mean so. What Spitzer did (in office) was not who he was, and whether Americans are willing to admit it or not, this is greatly unsettling as we oft believe our actions to be a direct manifestation of our character.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The "R" Word

When the world’s second wealthiest businessman says America is in deep economic trouble, it must be true. While it remains no secret that the United States’ economy has not been doing too hot as of late, billionaire Warren Buffet’s recent declaration that the U.S. economy is in a recession even if it has not yet met the technical definition of one confirmed the looming reality of America’s worst fear in one swift blow.

Of course, it didn’t take the actual occurrence of the economist drafted definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the nation's gross domestic product for most Americans to recognize that the economy is on a one stop train ride to Recessionville as constant reminders of the economy’s growing fragility are everywhere. To many, the rise in mortgage defaults by "subprime" customers who were issued loans despite patchy credit histories during the last housing boom is sufficient evidence in itself, while to others the ever-increasing cost of gasoline, college, and health care raises warning flags, and to some the seemingly trivial rise in the price of a single tomato to $1.79 is enough to launch into a panicked frenzy.

Whatever the reasoning may be behind one’s belief that the R word’s presence in the United States is anything but a fantasy, it is clear that the issuance of Buffet’s statement not only served as a confirmation of sorts, but finally allowed the alarm bells that have been haphazardly muffled by President George W. Bush to ring loud and clear across the nation. Although Bush has repeatedly attempted to reassure Americans that the U.S. economy is not headed into a recession and is merely experiencing a slowdown in growth, the data has suggested otherwise. As bank after bank suffers with bad mortgages, multitudes of companies have continued to sharply chop profit forecasts in recognition that American consumers are too neck deep in debt to purchase the next new vehicle or plasma television. As this occurs, the value of the dollar continues to crash and burn, thus prompting businesses to cut investments and consumers to further seal up their already relatively tight pockets.

As American consumers become increasingly frugal, the global marketplace will inevitably begin to suffer. It has long been held that when the United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, however with this particular outbreak of the R word, the world is positioned to catch more than just a few sniffles. Perhaps the best diagnosis of the United States’ economic troubles and the impact it will have on the global economy was best issued by renowned economist and New York University professor Nouriel Roubini. Roubini stated that at this critical time “the US will not experience just a case of a mild common cold; it will rather suffer of a painful and protracted episode of pneumonia” thus resulting in a serious “real and financial contagion to the rest of the world.” While it is true that the United States only produces 5% of the world’s population, it still controls over a quarter (26%) of the global economy. Although some analysts have suggested the decreasing of dependence on American consumers in order to prevent the effects of the impending recession from spreading, to do so would not provide the miracle remedy international markets have been hoping for. Because the United States is not only a key direct trading partner, but crucial indirect trading partner as well, countries that have little or no contact with US markets would still feel the stinging pinch of the downturn of the American economy as they heavily depend on countries that are directly dependent.

Now, Unless some miracle vaccination that will immunize the nations that control the remaining 74% of the global economy from the United States’ economic troubles has been invented without my knowledge, I would suggest that they, too, take off their headphones, stop denying the existence of the alarms, and cooperatively strategize to overcome this tremendous problem before they, too, fall fatally ill because the chances are if it looks like a recession and sounds like a recession, it must be a...

Blame B.F.

I, like many others, remain extremely disgruntled about the pending loss of an hour of sleep that I will experience early tomorrow morning as Daylight Savings takes place. Over the past 20 years, I have conditioned myself to look forward to the addition of an extra hour of sleep in the fall, and have learned to loathe the fateful spring day when my precious hour will be lost, never giving much thought to the cause and reason behind the concept...until now.

Who was the culprit responsible for responsible for this cruel and unusual punishment?
What type of person would conjure up a concept that robs millions of people of an hour of their most valued resources?
How could anyone do such a terrible thing?

The who, surprisingly enough, turns out to be none other than Benjamin Franklin...yes, the Benjamin Franklin. Apparently Franklin was not content with being one of the most influential Founding Fathers , an author, printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat, and felt the need to add "Thief of Sleep" to his resume.

Franklin first constructed the framework on which Daylight Saving Time was developed in 1874 during a diplomatic sojourn to Paris, France. It was during this trip that Franklin authored An Economical Project, a discourse on the thrift of natural versus artificial lighting. This piece was not only responsible for proposing several potential regulations that Paris could adopt to help the efficiency of their economy, but additionally responsible for spurning a bounty of nations around the globe to utilize a variation of the concept to save energy and fully enjoy the benefits of daylight 200 years later.

Although it has been affirmed that the primary purpose of changing our clocks during the summer months to move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening is to make better use of daylight, Daylight Saving Time has garnered its fair share of critics.

While my reasons for disliking Daylight Savings are entirely selfish, others have questioned its purpose, citing that it's energy saving reasoning is fundamentally flawed. These critics have argued that the alleged energy that is made by DST is offset by the energy used by air conditioners and cooling devices that those living in warm climates to cool their homes during hot summer afternoons and evenings. Other critics have asserted that more evening hours of light encourages people to run more errands and visit friends, thus resulting in the consummation of more gasoline.

Distaste for DST has also been expressed by people whose schedules are tied to sunrise, such as farmers, as it often takes animals a few weeks to adapt to the new schedule. Parents have expressed concern that early morning dangers are more abundant with the enactment of the Spring Daylight Saving Time, as children are less visible as they cross roads and wait for school buses in the darkness.

Now, it's impossible to say definitively say that Franklin knew what the long term repercussions his ideas would have on the sleep cycles of generations of people would be, but I can't help but think that upon drafting An Economical Project at the ripe old age of 78 years, he couldn't have cared less, as he would soon be enjoying the deepest slumber of them all.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Classically Crazy

Believe it or not, but this man did not escape a mental institution.

In fact, the only thing this man is crazy about is....

classical music?

At 26 years old, Venezuelan native Gustavo Dudamel is the reigning king of classical. There is no doubt that he is an unlikely contender, as it seems that he has barely given up bottle-feeding, however his impressive skill and natural ability put any speculation to rest.

Born in Barquisimeto in the state of Lara in January of 1981 Dudamel began to study music at an early age and enrolled in El Sistema, the famous Venezuelan musical education program. Upon taking up the violin at age ten, Dudamel began to study composition and subsequently attended the Jacinto Lara Conservatory before going on to study and work at the Latin-American Violin Academy. In 1995, Dudamel began studying conducting with Rodolfo Saglimbeni, and later José Antonio Abreu. Just four years later, he was appointed as the music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, the national youth orchestra of Venezuela.

Dudamel's big break came in 2004 when he was declared the winner of a major conducting competition. A mere two years later in 2006, at 25 years old, he was offered Sweden's Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Dudamel's work impressed the Los Angeles Philharmonic so much that in April of 2007, having only made two guest appearances, it was announced that the Dudamel would succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as its music director in 2009.

Now, I don't know much about classical music, let alone conducting, but as Eden Harrell asked in Time magazine: What makes Dudamel so special?

His mop of wild curls?
His rock star looks?
His relatively young age?

According to Ed Smith, the managing director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, what makes Dudamel so unique is his ability to conduct in two directions by communicating with musicians and the audience at once. One of Dudamel's mentors, Simon Rattle, also acknowledged Dudamel’s extraordinary ability, calling him "the most astonishingly gifted conductor I have ever come across." Daniel Barenboim and Claudio Abbado, two other giants of European conducting, showered similar praises on Dudamel, further evidencing that the hype surrounding this young prodigy is not based on fiction, but fact.

Now call me crazy, but after taking a listen to a few pieces, I too, have found myself a bit smitten.