Archives for the Month of January 2006 on Through the Magnifying Glass

Brainwashing 101

Yup, another discussion-prone post.

"Brainwashing 101" is a provocative look at how universities use tools such as "speech codes" to force political views upon students. The film shines a light on political correctness, academic bias, student censorship--even administrative cover-ups of death threats--at three schools: Bucknell University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly).

View it here

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It was likely for me to assume that it would be a video about students who belong to conservative clubs at certain college campuses and were treated unfairly by so-called "leftist" administrators. First, it is hard to justify whether these examples paint a picture of similar events across every campus in the country. I find it possible that some campuses could treat liberal organizations the same way.

The video shows how colleges could bend and interpret the rules to penalize the student no matter how right he or she can be. For the Cal Poly student, it shows that whatever you can do, you will encounter a lose-lose situation. It is strange enough that the University chose to defend its actions still after the ACLU supported the student's side of the case. Fortunately the student won at the end, but at what cost? For the U Tenn examples, the "blackface" incident has happened at other campuses either for insensitive reasons or just stupid things done by students without thinking. The actions taken by the administration against the conservative columnist about liberal bias in selecting public speakers is much more serious to the average student. It also goes to show that putting your name to a possible controversial petition may result in unforseen consequences.

I guess we have been lucky here. No one went and tried to get rid of John Giorgis's My Side of the Mountain conservative column in The Observer when he was here. Unfortunately, there's no replacement after he graduated. It was too bad for that... it actually made some of the Friday issues quite interesting to read.

But the video does show a problem with the judicial system at these schools. Would it be right to say that the student does not have sufficient due process? Has anyone read the judicial bylaws from front to end and can honestly say that the defendant has sufficient rights to defend himself against any sort of allegation?

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Evening Edition: The Saddam Hussein "Circus" Trial

Washington Post - Hussein Trial Resumes, Quickly Descends Into Chaos

How long should this circus trial continue? I find it hard to accept whether the court is justified when it cannot properly go through one single day of procceedings without having the chief judge resigning from his post, new defense lawyers being appointed, and throwing out the defendants for every outburst they make. It is time to move this trial abroad to The Hague or an international tribunal. It has gone long enough.

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The Financial Edition: More Debt for the Federal Government

CNN.com - Federal borrowing raised to record level

The government will borrow a record $188 BILLION in the Jan-Mar quarter. This will surpass the old mark of $146 billion set in the first quarter of 2004. They will hit the debt ceiling of $8.184 TRILLION in mid-February but through accounting gimmicks, they can keep it going until mid-March. Then Congress must pass another bill to raise the debt ceiling several hundred billion more. Conservatives have been attempting to remove the debt ceiling altogether, but this is needed to show how our politicians are terrible at fiscal management.


Happy Lunar New Year! Official status as a holiday too?

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Have a safe and wonderful Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival)! 2006 is the Year of the Dog.

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Wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year

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Washington Post - A Date With Tradition: Chinese New Year Ushers in Quest for Official Holiday Recognition

Italian-Americans got Columbus Day, Irish have St. Patrick's Day, and African-Americans have MLK. Is it time to give Lunar New Year similar holiday status? There are over 12 million Asians living in the United States. It's Chinese New Year for the Chinese, Tet for the Vietnamese, and Sol Nal for the Koreans. Whether the day should receive holiday status, at least we should have the right to take the day off from work without penalty or be able to take our kids out of school for the traditional ceremonies (unless it's a test on that day). It would be also good, out of courtesy, for professors not to hold exams on Lunar New Year.

Across the nation, it is slowly happening. In 1994, the city of San Francisco agreed to close its public schools to celebrate the Asian holiday. In New York City, the city council agree to recognize Lunar New Year (which bascially means that parking rules were relaxed). This led to the Montgomery County in Maryland to declare Lunar New Year as a Day of Commemoration. This way, Asians can have a personal leave day from work.

With inevitable certainty, Iran's Next

Anti-war activists such as Cindy Sheehan will again grow with fury since a possible armed conflict with Iran is becoming closer to reality. In a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, it found that 57% of Americans favor military intervention if Iran's Islamic government pursues a program that could enable it to build nuclear arms. While support for military action against Tehran has increased over the last year, public sentiment is running against the war in neighboring Iraq: 53% said they believe the situation there was not worth going to war.

Republicans: 76% of respondents favor potential military confrontation

Democrats: 49% supported such action.

Some respondents believe Iran posed a more serious threat than Saddam Hussein's Iraq did.

FT.com - 57% Americans support military action in Iran

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Could this have been avoided? The Western leaders had a momentous opportunity to pursue a workable solution when former Iranian President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001, and his reformers held control in Parliament. Then again, Khatami had to battle the powerful Guardian Council, whose members are appointed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but lost in many political battles, which led to much dillusionment amongst his followers, and the reformers lost power. But regardless of that, there was perhaps a period of 2-3 years where the Western nations, particularly the United States, could have taken advantage of the situation in this Middle Eastern country.

Now the West has to deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new President of Iran, who has been busy taunting the entire international community about his anti-Holocaust views, the destruction of Israel, and his frequent declarations that his country has the right to pursue nuclear power and the right to enrich uranium.

The US had given the Big-3 (UK, France, Germany) to work out a deal with Iran, but those talks finally broke down after 2 years of effort. Only the Russian proposal where it would provide enriched uranium to Iran, for exclusive use in energy reactors, remains a possibility, but this may also fail if the United States and other Western governments refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If so, Iran would seek to break off all negotiations and would unilaterally start breaking its remaining seals and restart its enrichment process. Even if the matter was referred to the UNSC, an agreement on economic sanctions is highly undoubtful if China does not go along with it. Iran is a major energy supplier to China, and despite 2 to 3 years of negotiations, the populous Chinese country wants more talking to be done.

Newsflash! Iran's top nuclear negotiator spent only 12 hours in Beijing on Thursday, and has managed to get key Chinese support. Ali Larijani stated that, "The Chinese government is opposed to bringing the Iranian nuclear issue from the IAEA to the UNSC and they believe the issue should be solved within the framework of the IAEA." (Article from the Edmonton Sun)

With China siding with Iran, an agreement within the Security Council on economic sanctions and military intervention is impossible. Also, Iran is threatening an oil embargo against the Western nations. This possible doomsday scenario may push oil prices up to $131/barrel, a level which could trigger economic recession or collapse around the globe. (Of course, analysts realistically believe it would not happen and that OPEC will step in, but then they are already pumping at near 100% production.)

The end result? Another unilateral military intervention by the United States or another "coalition of the willing," which may be even quite smaller than the group that participated in Iraq. But don't worry, the US can easily say we are doing this to foster freedom and democracy or perhaps you can get the good President Bush to say "the actions by the Islamic nation of Iran poses a threat to the national security of the United States of America."

Yes, conservatives will be happy about it. Liberals will hate it. Looking at the bigger picture, there are indeed questions we must answer. Can we afford it? Nope, so more deficit spending (years of $400-500 billion deficits will continue). What about Bush's promise to cut the deficit in half? Well, we got another war so there's nothing he can do about it. Do we have the manpower? Rumsfield says we do ...right..., and Saddam's our friend in the Iran-Iraq War. What if Syria helps out Iran? Well, I guess the US has to take over Syria. What if China sends troops to Iran? Don't worry, China's military has pretty old equipment, we can knock them out too. (Ok, maybe a few of the military analysts in the Pentagon would not discount the ability of the Chinese military.) So if the US invades Iran, and the Iranians start blowing up oil wells and refineries? Post-war plans? How much more to spend? Questions and questions keep popping up in my mind.

Another clusterfu*k waiting to happen.

Remembering the Fallen Space Travelers

On January 27, 1967, three astronauts died inside the Apollo 1 spacecraft in a fire during a countdown test at the launch pad. Seven died aboard Challenger when it exploded on January 28, 1986, and seven more died when Columbia broke to pieces upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere February 1, 2003.

CNN.com - NASA remembers fallen astronauts

Human spaceflight has now focused on China, the third country to launch a human into space. It promises to send a manned mission to the moon in 2017. Bush promised a new US space program to replace the Space Shuttle (to retire it by 2010), and send a manned mission to the moon by 2020. The International Space Station (ISS) will be completed, but there are no future plans for it as of yet. It would make obvious sense to expand the ISS into a launching platform since the cost would be much cheaper. Consistent government spending on the space program is an uncertainty due to rising budget deficits and the need to focus on domestic (down-to-earth) programs. Going private seems the only way for US spaceflight to flourish.

If UPENN can do it...

This was an article about the University of Pennsylvania investing in the community around them. The Washington Post January 9th article "Urban Colleges Learn to be Good Neighbors," talks about how UPenn lived in an area of industrial wasteland, filth, and soaring crime ten years ago. Their neighborhood McDonald's was nicknamed McDeath. Students were virtual prisoners on campus.

The University began to worry that enrollment was threatened as one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious schools was fast developing a reputation as unsafe. They could choose to build a moat around the campus or they could reach out and save the community. They saved it.

Over the better part of a decade, the University invested about a billion dollars in security, retail, schools, and the local housing market. It also made sure the community and minority companies got a piece of the success (known as "economic inclusion"). The result is making UPenn one of the hottest schools in the country, sitting in a neighborhood where crime has been reduced by 49 percent in the past decade, and where students swarm the streets shopping at upscale stores. This is a new national trend where Penn and other universities are aggressively trying to bridge "town-gown" tensions by investing heavily in adjacent troubled neighborhoods and making a connection with local civic life. Since 1996, over 100 schools have visited the Penn campus and surrounding area (hmm, I wonder if Case made a visit...).

Other schools have followed suit. Yale University has developed retail and office space nearby, offered financial incentives to employees to buy homes in the neighborhood, and tutoring programs for local schools. Trinity College spent more than $100 million to turn a run-down area in Hartford, Conn into a 16-acre Learning Corridor with four local schools. Temple University is involved with running local schools and is working with developers to bring in restaurants and retail. Clark University in Worceester, Mass is opening a middle school, renovated housing, and funding to refurbish storefronts. Howard University agree to rehabilitate 28 run-down houses that the school owned for 30 years.

But it is amazing to what UPenn has done. It moved its bookstore off-campus to encourage foot traffic and brought in Urban Outfitters and the Gap. They got 1,000 University employees to purchase nearby homes through extra financial incentives. The biggest highlight of their plan was to build a school, the Penn Alexander School for K-8 students. Quite a success story.

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Looking back to the first year at Case and today, has the neigborhood surrounding the University improved greatly? Current students will definitely say a lot has changed with the new NRV residences and the eventual tear down of Baker Hall. The recent grads will talk about Case buying out the former Mount Sinai campus and the Silver Spartan. Going back another few years, students witnessed the demolition of Pardee Hall and the building of Veale Recreational Center. A bit before that, we saw the dedication of the Peter B. Lewis Management building. Keeping on going, the Agnar Pytte Center was built for a great outgoing President. Finally, the MSASS building, Dively Center, the razing of Freiberger Library and the opening of the Kelvin Smith Library and the Smith Biomedical Research Building. All of this happened on campus.

Then, looking back again off-campus wise, we were still afraid of going beyond E. 118th Street, students still wanted to get off at University Circle Rapid station and take the Greenie northside, and the McDonald's on Euclid was considered a risk on certain nights. If you live in the NRV buildings and want to take a jog outside, would you do it on the track or around the Village? We still call the Taco Bell on Euclid (if it's still there), "Ghetto Bell" because of the thick bulletproof glass at the drive-thru window. If you travel from Case to the Cleveland Clinic, it's like seeing a island of modern buildings. The streets adjacent give the opposite comparison. Shopping is still very limited with only the shuttle to take you to Coventry, or the car to get to Beachwood and the Legacy Village, Severance Center, or downtown to Tower City. It is granted that Northsiders can barely reach Southside to get to Giant Eagle, Aladdin's, or Jillian's.

I really hate to criticize, but look at this...if you ask grads from last year, 5 or 10 years ago, the compliants are still the same. I know people will tell me things are improving...yes, on the campus, but we still have that feeling of uneasiness walking 2-3 blocks beyond the campus boundary.

Please, prove me wrong.

Inside Stamford Bridge: Home of Chelsea Football Club

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A faster way to travel?

A new TSA "registered traveler program" this summer (June 20) will allow passengers who pass a screening check and pay a yearly fee to use special express security lines. Passengers must also submit 10 copies of their fingerprints as well as an iris eye scan. You would still go through security, but you get your own reserved queue, and you are likely won't have to take off your shoes or sneakers, or take your laptop out of your bag. But, an additional requirement of the program is that the passenger's personal and financial records will be checked. The new checks will supposedly verify the passenger's identity to prove they have no ties to terrorism.

TSA Chief Kip Hawley stated that "commerical databases hold personal information from credit reports, property records, shopping histories, and other records, and could be useful in flagging terrorists."

It would seem that in additional to a credit score, to judge how well you are able to afford to take out loans to purchase a home, vehicle, or getting a new credit card, there will be a similar "terrorist" score to determine if your personal, credit history, and shopping history are in some way linked to terrorism. This goes beyond any other biometric security program that is available in other countries.

Also, the TSA wants to privatize this program to different firms. Would this result in a non-standardization for travelers going across the country?

USA Today - TSA: Program may use fliers' financial data

ATW Daily News - TSA says private firms could offer registered travelers smart cards by June

Boston.com - Logan to start express security program this summer

One good example of biometric technology:

At Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport, passengers can apply for the Privium: irisscan Program. It is used for border passage whereby you identify yourself by means of a state-of-the-art biometrics using iris recognition. The iris scan is more reliable and faster than other forms of biometric identification, such as fingerprint or hand palm recognition. This is because the iris never changes and irises are rarely damaged or injured. After you join Privium, scans are made of both the left and right eyes. After the scan, the iris details are only stored on the chip of the Privium Card and not in a database. When you cross the border, the data on the chip is compared with the data of the actual eye. After this, the data is removed from the equipment straight away.

With this, there's no need to stand in for a queue for Passport Control. The passenger can immediately go the security checkpoint after this check. Of course, while traveling abroad, passengers are usually held up at the passport queue before hitting the security checkpoint line. Also part of the program, the passenger gets priority check-in regardless of class of travel.

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In the UK, Terminals 2 and 4 at Heathrow Airport are running a 39-month trial program called Iris, their automated biometric immigration control plan. The U.K. e-borders system will capture, review, and store data about immigrant travel routes. As such, this is used to streamline the passport control and immigration control queues. As such, they are only comparing the data stored in the person's iris and will use it to compare to the person's passport and immigrant status.

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What could be the ideal way of traveling domestically? After check-in, you go to the security checkpoint. A machine is there instead of a person. You slide your biometric passport through the scanner and scan your eye. The data is used to compare your immigration or citizen status. If all goes well, you can go through. At security, there are internal sensors under the flooring that detect any explosive residue on your shoes or sneakers. There's no need to take off your coat or take that laptop out of your bag. The new x-ray scanner can easily detect the laptop in your bag. The new thermal and x-ray imaging walkthrough can see through your layers of clothing. If there's anything out of the ordinary, you get pulled for a secondary screening.

Let's compare to today at Cleveland Hopkins - Concourse C. After check-in, you go to the security checkpoint. A private firm is at the front of the queue where they check your identity card (passport or drivers license) and your boarding pass. You then go through a queue (either coach or first/business). At the end of the queue, just before the security scanners, a TSA staff person asks to see your identification and boarding pass, and then directs you to the specific lane (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on). Then you have to unpack your bags, remove your laptop and footwear, and coat, and put them through the scanner. You then have to keep your id and boarding pass because the moment you pass through the security detector, a second TSA person will ask for them. After that, you can then collect all of your belongings. (Of course, right after 9/11, you would have had to present your id and boarding pass to the gate person too, but since everything has settled down, all you need to do is present your boarding pass.) I do believe that if you are heading to D.C., you can be pulled out for extra screening right at the gate.

Wolfowitz:Eight Months Later

FT.com - Wolfowitz under fire
Published: January 24 2006

The term of a World Bank presidency is an all-too-brief five years and the early months are frequently marred by sniping from the career staff who are more permanent fixtures. Because the post is filled by the nominee of the US president, a new chief often knows little about the organisation and takes time to make a mark. Almost eight months after taking up the role, Paul Wolfowitz has yet to set a course for his presidency and staff disquiet is reaching deafening levels.

The immediate cause of the turmoil at the World Bank is the appointment of an adviser to Mr Wolfowitz with close ties to the Republican party as the new director of the internal watchdog that investigates suspected fraud and staff misconduct. His choice has raised questions about the selection of someone so close to the president and whether this was the best person for such a sensitive post. But the ensuing strife has revealed widespread unhappiness among senior bank staff and executive directors over Mr Wolfowitz's management style and performance.

Following his arrival, Mr Wolfowitz made clear his intention to streamline the bank's management structure. His predecessor had appointed five managing directors, four of whom had already left. There were more than 30 vice-presidents below managing director level, whose ranks he planned to thin out.

The fifth managing director left late last year, as did the highly regarded general counsel. Only now is Mr Wolfowitz close to appointing new managing directors, who are unlikely to be in place until the summer - a year after his arrival. Meanwhile power has gravitated to his immediate circle - mainly Republican stalwarts, prompting agitation among the career staff.

Nor has Mr Wolfowitz set a new intellectual agenda for his presidency. Instead, he has appeared more concerned about being seen to respond to criticisms on Capitol Hill over allegations of corruption - allegations that bank staff often see as witch-hunts against them for the sins of those in the countries where the bank operates.

Mr Wolfowitz can reasonably say that he wanted time to assess priorities for the organisation and that 2005 was a year of heavy commitments, such as the Group of Eight summit at Gleneagles. But as time has passed, authority has drained upwards from those beneath him in the hierarchy to his clique of advisers. Decision-making has slowed - made worse by his tendency to take a long time making up his mind.

When Mr Wolfowitz was appointed, the Financial Times urged him to give the bank greater focus and to overhaul its management. He cannot achieve this in an organisation with 10,000 staff operating in more than 100 countries by relying on a handful of trusted aides from his own country. Unless he moves quickly to appoint a team representative of the shareholders that is credible to the staff, his presidency risks ending in paralysis and disappoint

URL: Link to this Article

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It is obvious whenever a U.S. nominee is appointed to an international organization, he/she would have to spend the entire first year explaining to the US Congress about streamlining the group, corruption, US extra-authority, and appointing individuals that favor the US. It is also interesting whenever this happens, the senior staff just start disappearing and are replaced with political operatives with little experience in the position, or those that do have the experience, but are in favor of the nominee's position (essentially the "Yes" circle). It is no surprise when the career staff are always wary whenever a nominee from the US is appointed. How can an international organization be adequately represented when the entire upper circle is staffed by the nominee's country? Completely and utterly unfair.


McCain: Look at Alternative Energies

On Fox News, Senator John McCain (Arizona) said recent action by "Mr. Chavez" and by Iran's leaders make it clear that the United States will be vulnerable as long as it remains dependent on foreign energy. "We've got to get quickly on a track to energy independence from foreign oil and that means, among other things, going back to nuclear power," McCain said.

With all due respect to other conservative lawmakers calling for the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the benefits of realizing the amount of oil production in the region will not substanitally reduce oil imports from the Middle East. Even though the latest government study (1998 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)) shows there may be at least 11.6 billion barrels of oil in the region, only about 4.3 billion barrels or more are technically recoverable. Would oil companies choose to drill where the costs outweigh the amount of revenue generated? The federal government would have to subsidize to encourage companies to develop the area. This would mean adding more to federal deficits, and more debt to everyone else.

Nuclear energy provides 20% of the United States' electricity and is the number one source of emission-free electricity. Could it be considered to be a viable alternative? Latest advanced reactor designs and innovative safety features may help prove that new plants could be constructed without public concern.

Fusion energy? This is still under development. The latest news so far is that China is planning to build a full superconducting experimental Tokamak fusion device in Hefei, capital city of each China's Anhui Province. The EAST project is somewhat smaller than the international project ITER which involves Russia, Japan, the US, European Union, China, and the Republic of Korea. Other small experimental Tokamak devices have already been built in Russia, France, and Japan. None are in the United States. With nuclear fusion, the deuterium extracted from just one liter of sea water would produce a potential energy equivalent to 300 liters of gasoline.

Wind and solar power are in use, but only provide total US energy in the single digits. Geothermal energy also has potential.

Yahoo News - McCain: US Can't Be Held Hostage for Oil

AngolaPress - China to build world's first "artificial sun" experimental device

CBS News - A New Gust of Wind Projects in US

MSNBC - Is the Price of Power Getting You Down?

A College Student English Essay

Here's a college student's (attends school in New Mexico) essay on political correctness

http://foxhunt.blogspot.com/

Does US Soccer Deserve Higher FIFA ranking?

FIFA have released their rankings ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. In a strange twist, the US national team has advanced one place to No. 7 for the month of January.

Brazil continues to maintain the top spot it has held since July 2002, followed by the Czech Republic, Netherlands, and Argentina. France and Spain are tied for fifth. Mexico is tied for seventh with the US. England remained ninth, and Portugal is number 10.

From 11 to 20, Turkey, followed by Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Greece, Germany, Uruguay, Iran, and Croatia.

Only Turkey, Denmark, Greece, and Uruguay failed to qualify for the 32-nation World Cup, which begins in June 9 in Germany.

Despite their high rankings, the US failed to be ranked for the World Cup competition first group because of their past WC record. For the preliminary stages, it has to play Czech Republic, Italy, and Ghana in order to get to the Round of 16. It is already certain that most bookies and pundits have predicted that the US will likely fall out in this round, or definitely out of the Quarterfinals.

For American expats living in Europe, the chances for the US national football (soccer) team this year are just slim. Their performance in Europe has not been good. Brazil is the favorite to win a record sixth World Cup title. Only the women's world cup team has a better chance in the competition than their male counterparts.

The Formation of a Campus Hate Speech Code?

In 1990, there were approximately 75 hate speech codes in place at US colleges and universities. In the following year, the number grew to over 300. Today, it is practically certain that every major university, both private and public, has a type of code of conduct or campus hate speech code in place.

They all have different formats. Some codes may prohibit speech or conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or even offensive educational environment. Other campuses may ban behavior that could cause emotional distress. General harassment and threats are also outlawed, but not all schools would specifically define their limits in those areas. As such, court rulings have prohibited state-run schools from enacting codes that restrict the constitutional right to free speech based on content. Unfortunately, private institutions such as Case, in contrast, are not subject to these decisions. As a private university, it can choose to ignore public law rulings and draft whatever policy it wants to implement.

In Case's Student Handbook for 2005-2006, on page 94, the Standards of Conduct, where conduct is subject to University disciplinary action. For the first clause, it states that it will include "interference with freedom of speech or movement, or intentional disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, or other functions on University property." However, on page 100 of the Student Handbook, which covers Housing, Residence Life, and Greek Life policies, it shows that your right to freedom of speech may be "construed" as abuse, disorderly conduct, or even harassment. Each of these sections focus on the wonderful world of anti-social behavior. Now, these clauses are for our protection, but it really depends on how it is interpreted by your Resident Assistant (RA), Resident Director (RD), Area Coordinator, or any member of Housing staff.

An attempt to regulate our behavior concerning homosexuality is just another hate speech code. On one end, its purpose is to ensure there is fair and equal access to freedom of speech and other rights when there is an imbalance of power between them and students in the majority. In opposition, the attempt is just a violation of our fundamental right to freedom of speech, or a facet of censorship.

Clearly, a person saying that such a thing is "too gay" or "you're such a fag," cannot automatically be assumed to be a racist statement. In fact, I don't think we would believe that a student listening to "Keep it Gay" from the soundtrack of the Broadway show "The Producers," is indirectly making fun of homosexuals. Of course, please do not think a Brit is being racist when he/she asks you "for a fag" (cigarette).

How can we be sure that our RA's are trained in determining whether such conversations are harmful to homosexuals? Today, we have states passing state constitutional amendments to ensure that marriage is between a man and a woman and some are tryting to legalize them through civil unions or other arrangements. Such events would clearly become a subject topic in conversations between students on campus, in the lobby, hallway, or residence room. Obviously, there will be opinions, both popular and unpopular. The problem is that the new arrangement to combat homosexual discrimination will suppress the unpopular view. We would now have to follow the "politically correct" view on the subject regardless of whether we agreed with it or not.

Gerald Uelmen, Dean of Santa Clara University School of Law, and a fellow of the Center for Applied Ethics, stated that "if these codes shield students from dissenting opinions, how will they learn to respond to such opinions after they graduate? Hate speech codes encourage an artificial reality on campus that prevents students from learning effectively to tolerate diversity."

It is prudent that USG and RHA discuss the new policy concerning the topic of homosexuality with the Housing staff to discover what is the "actual" intent of the new rules, to ensure that students are not restricted to their right to free speech, and to ensure that the Resident Assistants are properly trained in determining whether such language concerning the topic of homosexuality is "offensive and harmful."

Brussels & Antwerp, Belgium

For the MLK weekend, or just a regular weekend in London so I had to take Monday as a day off, I went off to Brussels again to do some more sightseeing and also visit the city of Antwerp. Instead of traveling by air, I took the Eurostar from Waterloo International to Brussels-Midi station. The round trip cost about £129 (roughly $240 USD) and it was standard (second) class going to Brussels but leisure (first) class coming back. The difference is more legroom and you get a meal. The train ride took about 2 1/2 hours.

From arriving into Brussels, I took the Metro up to Rogier station and the Dome Hotel was just around the corner. They had a winter promotion for 3 nights so it was a good deal. The first night was mainly dinner and catching up on some needed rest.

The second day was to do a second round of exploring the city of Brussels. I visited the Grand Place Square again. The large-sized snowglobes were gone, so the square was pretty much bare, but it did provide no obstruction to take a couple of pictures. I ventured through the Galeries St. Hubert, an archway gallery filled with gourmet chocolate shops and boutiques. Another street called the Rue des Bouchers was lined with seafood touristy restaurants where the attendant were busy trying to entice you sit in their eatery. Most of my co-workers have stated that you should avoid these areas since the prices are just too high. The only exception seems to be a few restaurants along this street that have gained the praise of TimeOut and Lonely Planet.

I then ventured via the metro (or the tram [pre-metro]) over to the Place Royale, and the Brussels museum that had an exhibition on the late Queen Astrid. Of course I had stopped through the Sablon area to buy some chocolates from the Wittamer store. The flea market has assorted silverware but it was probably too expensive and too much stuff to bring back to London. I bought two french wine bottles on the way back to the hotel.

After dropping the stuff off, I took the metro to the north of the city and got off at Heysel station to see the Atomium, situated near the Brussels Expo Center (where they had an automobile show). It was built for the 1958 World Fair, and it is currently undergoing a 1-year renovation and will be open again to the public possibly in the next month or two. The Mini-Europe park was also closed unfortuantely (does not open in the winter). I also did a walkthrough GareCentrale and dined at the L'Amore restaurant near the Grand Square.

For Sunday, it was off to Antwerp. I took the train from Brussels-Midi to Antwerpen Centraal (weekend price is cheap, under 6 euros). It takes about 40 minutes to get there. Getting to the Town Square (Grote Market) can be done via metro or just walking along the Mier shopping street. Since it was Sunday, most of the stores were closed. There was, however, a nice celebration in the square (very likely for the new year), and people were enjoying drinks and all. I went through it and saw the Lady's Cathedal. It is the largest Gothic church in the Netherlands. I explored the various streets surrounding the square and found numerous shops and restaurants. I stopped at the Maritime Restaurant for a lunch/dinner, enjoying creamy frog legs and a kilo of mussels (must eat!). After that, I went off to the National Maritime Museum, situated in the little castle along the river Scheldt. For those on the naughty side, the RLD distict can be found north of the Town Square (probably a 10-15 minute walk) near the docks. It is quite smaller than its counterpart in Amsterdam.

I took the train back that evening, and couldn't even eat a late dinner (too many mussels, but still delicious!). The next day (Monday) was check-out and back to London on the Eurostar. I had to endure the rush-hour on the Underground but was glad to be back in my flat.

National Debt keeps on climbing and climbing

For those that are interested in the exact amount of our National Debt, visit the Bureau of the Public Debt home page.

As of 10-Jan-2006, the debt stands at $8,165,647,324,627.69. For fiscal year 2006 (which started on October 1 of last year), the cumulative deficit is around $119.31 billion.

Also reported by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the US budget deficit may likely exceed $400 billion dollars, more than the $341 billion projected at the start of the fiscal year.
Obviously, the estimate was made before the twin hurricanes damaged the Gulf Coast. Naturally, for political reasons, the deputy directory of the OMB, Joel Kaplan, stated that this deficit spike is only a "temporary event" and that policies adopted by the Bush administration would see the deficit returning to a "downward trajectory."

We have to assume this to be true since Bush promised to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009 in his State of the Union address in 2004. However, the continued need to repair the Gulf Coast, continuous emergency spending bills on Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Iran, and other unforeseen events may make this promise doubtful.

Senator Judd Gregg, Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee has called the growing deficit "unacceptable."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (though Republicans, with the exception of fiscal conservatives, may view the office otherwise), continues to forecast that the government will amass an additional $855 billion in debt between 2006 and 2015. However, by law, the CBO assumes that if Bush's first-term tax cuts expire after 2010, the government's balance sheet would switch from a $189 billion deficit to a $71 billion surplus in 2012.

So in less than a decade, our national debt will pass $9 trillion dollars. Please, does this make financial sense to anybody? And since 2006 is an election year, no politician, Democrat or Republican, want to be seen as cutting "essential" government programs or raising taxes.

AFP - US 2006 budget deficit to exceed 400 billion dollars

Fetus in the Carpool Lane

The long debate about whether fetuses are human beings has now hit the carpool lane.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Candace Dickinson stood by her contention that Arizona traffic laws does not define what a person is, so the child inside her womb justified her use of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane on Interstate 10 near Phoenix.

On Nov 8 of last year, Phoenix police officer Sgt. Dave Norton stopped Dickinson's car after he found her vehicle driving on the HOV lane during rush hour. According to traffic law, sole occupant vehicles are not allowed to use the carpool lanes during morning and evening rush hours Monday thru Friday. The officer saw only one person visible in the car. When he asked Dickinson how many people were in the car, "she said two as she pointed to her obvious pregnancy."

Phoenix Municipal Court Judge Dennis Freeman used a "common sense" definition in which an individual occupies a "separate and distinct" space in a vehicle. Dickinson was fined $367 for improper use of a HOV lane, but she still believes she has the right to use the carpool lane. Even the officer who arrested her believed it would have been ridculous to have them carry pregnancy testors to find out if a female driver driving alone in a HOV lane during rush hour is carrying with child. The common sense idea of the carpool lane is to reduce traffic congestion.

So let's say if Dickinson's unborn child did count. She would have to pay for her fetus when going to the movie theatre. Let us get even more literal. If she comes to Cedar Point, the ticket person would charge her and her fetus for entering the park. Again, I have to throw this bit of ridculous news into the common sense trash bin.

Breitbart.com - Judge: Don't Count Fetus for Carpool Quota

Return back to core Republican principles

Back in 1994, the Republicans finally took over the House after 40 years of Democratic control. It was a 54-seat swing in membership, and the cause was a plague of scandals that hit the Democratic Party, and gave an impression that the House leadership was corrupt.

Newt Gingrich's Contract with America promised floor votes on various popular and institutional reforms. This plan helped the party to capitalize their victory on that year.

Now after 11 years of Republican control, it seems that the cycle has turned once again. An influence-peddling scandal with lobbyist Abramoff, DeLay's financial scandal, and now Jerry Lewis, the Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee is under fire for earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars to clients of a former colleague and lobbyist, Bill Lowery. The popular backlash against perceived corruption in the Democratic Party in 1994 has now come to roast the Republican Party in 2006.

According to the FT.com's article about conservatives wanting to go back to the basic core principles, Republican lawmakers want a new course correction. Jeff Flake, an Arizona congressman who co-led the petition drive that helped oust Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, charged that "a lobbyist can't be corrupt unless he has somebody to bribe, and we've created a culture that just breeds corruption."

More than 100 members organised as the Republican Study Committee are using the leadership race to rein in runaway government spending championed by DeLay and his allies. One plan is to end the practice of earmarking, in which members can secretly insert into huge spending bills billions of dollars in projects favoured companies or other constituents (pretty much "pork-barreling"). Of course both political parties have used this, but ever since the Republicans took control in 1994, it has mushroomed under the GOP. Last year, over 15,000 earmarks were added into various spending bills.

Reformers hope to cut down on the use of "emergency" spending bills, such as those that have paid for the war in Iraq and the Katrina rebuilding. They would also allow more challenges on budget bills that exceed agreed dollar targets, and no quick from committee-to-floor actions.

The only problem currently is to find a conservative congressman to challenge the two frontrunners for DeLay's former job, who are John Boehner of Ohio or the acting majority leader, Roy Blunt.

It is probably unlikely that the Republicans will lose the House in 2006, but they will definitely end with a smaller majority. Currently it is at +30 with the 109th Congress. In any case, it would be actually good to see some sort of basic principles to come back for the Republicans. Government size and spending have increased under their administration, and if they are busy touting the economy, Dow 11,000, less unemployed, success of Iraqi elections, how about balancing the federal budget and rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and getting rid of the pork?

China's Influence on the Dollar

At the end of last year, China's foreign reserves had reached somewhere around $800 billion. This year for 2006, it will likely reached $1,000 billion (or $1 trillion) making this populous country the world's largest single holder of official reserves. According to FT.com, about three-quarters of these holdings are believed to be dollar-denominated assets.

This past Thursday, China's foreign exchange regulator made a statement about wanting to "optimise the currency and asset structure" of their country's foreign exchange reserves and to "actively boost investment returns." This was buried in the beginning of the year announcements for 2006. By reading the statement, it really had no concrete information, but economists believed it was a warning that China could shift away from investing into US dollars. However, market reaction has been limited.

With over $800 billion in foreign reserves, China can actually cause a substantial impact on global financial markets if it chose to move ahead and greatly influence the currency markets. If it decided to move away from the US dollar, it will undoubtedly place a lot of downward pressure on the greenback. Also, it would increase political sensitivities in Washington.

Please note that foreign investors have continued to be willing to finance the US current account deficit at very low interest rates in spite of foreign exchange losses they suffered during the dollar's decline from 2002 to 2004. This has made it easy for the US to finance its current account deficit, which is currently at more than 6 percent of GDP and requires the US to import more than $2 billion of capital from abroad every day.

If China wanted to cause massive havoc on the US dollar, it could choose to sell all of its dollar-denominated assets. Unfortunately, it would lead to a crash among most of the financial markets and a worldwide recession. But then you would need to find a buyer for all those securities, but the loss ratio would be way too high.

Realistically, China could become less willing to finance any more US securities so it will be much more harder for the US to find another country to help finance their account deficit. I am sure Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea could pick up the slack but their financial clout would only work for only a short-term period. The end result would be a downward spiral of the US dollar and pushing up US interest rates. For something happening on a higher level, US could be very concerned if China manages to persuade a majority of Asian countries to follow its lead in reducing their investment on holdings of US Treasuries.

One piece of good news for the US dollar, the latest Fed data shows that foreign direct investment increased from last year as well as an increase in private portfolio flows, so it meant that the US had to rely less on foreign central banks to buy their Treasury bonds.

However, both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have warned that developing countries could face potentially huge losses on their holdings of dollar reserves.

Realistically, China would not immediately start dumping the dollar without causing a crash among the financial markets. It would take several months or perhaps over a period of a year or two to start changing its investment strategy with regards to the US dollar. It could slowly start to shift its reserves to the Euro and the Sterling causing the dollar to fall. It can also choose to be less willing to continue adding to its holdings of US Treasuries.

FT.com Article - Questions grow over China's forex strategy

Strike Action? on the London Underground

So today, or at least continuing throughout today, the RMT union staged another industrial action (aka "strike") on the London Underground. Fortunately, only about 40 out of the 275 stations served by the LU were affected.

In comparison with the union that went on strike on all MTA city buses and trains in New York City, not everyone on the London Underground are unionized. Plus if they did stage a strike, the buses will still run because they are part of another union. Of course they could be sympathetic to the union and would stage a similar industrial action, but they cannot force everyone to leave work. Only a majority of the staff serving London's buses and trains are union members.

At least you got several options to do during an industrial action. If the Tube is out of action, take the bus. If the bus is not available, flag down one of the black cabs. If the cabs are full, just walk. =)

Brussels, Belgium

Standing in front of the Brussels Parliament

brussels1.jpg

Las Vegas v. New York

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has called for the resignation of Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff for dropping Las Vegas from a list of cities considered to be a potential high-risk target. Falling off the list means that Las Vegas would not be able to apply for special anti-terrorism grants.

Reid stated that "anyone who can't see that Las Vegas is a high-risk area doesn't deserve to serve in a position like that."

In 2005, Las Vegas received $8 million and used it to purchase a spectrometer to detect chemical agents, special clothing, chemical response vehicles, handheld comps for emergency personnel, a bomb robot, and a bomb armored vehicle.

Who deserves more need? Las Vegas, the gambling capital, or New York, the financial capital?

reviewjournal.com - Reid says Chertoff should resign

The Alternative Greeks

Recently, the first Muslim sorority, Gamma Gamma Chi, was established at the University of Kentucky with thirteen women. Another chapter is pending at the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus. A citywide chapter in the District is also in the works. Read the Washingtom Times article, dated 04-Jan-06.

From this, we need to look at the rise of other alternative greek organizations besides the traditional Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic Council. On Case's campus itself, there is the Black Greek Council, which is composed of nine Black Greek fraternities and sororities. However, from the Greek Life web page, you would only find their names and a listing of events they organize. There is no local or national founding date. There is no information about their location, how many actives, what awards they have received locally/nationally, and so on. When the Greeks held their Leadership program, these chapters had to register themselves as affiliated with the Black Greek Council, not their official chapter name. You also do not see them participate in Greek Week. Traditionally, IFC and Panhel are the norm for Greek Life at Case, but across the nation it is competing with other rising Greek Councils at other universities.

For example, at the University of Southern California (USC), there are nearly 50 fraternities and sororities organized into five Greek councils. The IFC and Panhellenic are the traditional entrenched ones, but the other three are still relatively new to the Greek scene.

The Asian Greek Council (AGC) is composed of Asian-American interest fraternities and sororities and directs its volunteer work towards the Asian community. Their first existence may have started as early as 1929. The initial creation was done because of persecution, particuarly for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The Multicultural Greek Council (MGC), originally named the Independent Greek Council, includes organizations that emphasize and encourage diversity in culture and experience. These chapters are predominantly Latino or Asian.

The NPHC are all the historically black fraternities and sororities, operating on the idea of "quality versus quantity."

While the councils are communicating better and working together, you just have to highlight the apparent difference among racial lines. In the three minority councils, they are made up of students predominantly of the same race. But the same usually goes for IFC and Panhel where most of the students in their chapters are white. Please note that even some of the traditional chapters are quite diverse. However, there is really nothing wrong with this picture. Serving a particular community is something good and because universities are committed to providing these ethnically oriented experiences. On one side, the minority councils are critical because they allow members of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds to maintain their cultural identity while melding it with American mainsteam culture. It all comes down to finding the chapter that best suits the student's needs. However, it can be quite intimidating for a student to jump ship and joining an organization that has a predominantly different race. On other hand, if you are from a minority background, the pressure may be there to choose to join a minority chapter instead of the traditional one. It is a different case for each student.

The question of whether more minority chapters may surface at Case remains to be seen. Most ethnic and cultural groups on campus have done well in providing a sense of camaraderie and identity to their respective groups. This may change if certain students really want to develop some sort of sisterhood or brotherhood with a different emphasis than what the traditional groups are offering.

Starting the new year off

So we haven't started World War III yet...awesome! Well, a wonderful Happy New Year to all of you. We have begun the second half of this decade and you have to think whether time is just moving too fast or we really haven't noticed it yet.

I flew back to London on New Year's Day on a red-eye flight. Newark Liberty was jam packed with travelers heading back home. All of the checkpoints at Terminal C had long queues, possibly the result of a smaller TSA staff manning them. Of the six or seven metal detectors at one checkpoint, only 4 of them were manned, one reserved for elite passengers (fortunately for me). The queue stretched beyond the normal size so no one could really figure out where you should get on line.

As usual, a TSA staffer was telling everyone to take off their shoes or sneakers. She stated "this will help quicken the screening process so we strongly recommend that you take off your footwear..." A guy behind me was from the military on emergency leave and he remarked to me "why?" The airport he went through (Newark was a stopover point) did not ask him to take off his shoes, so he thought it was just adding unnecessary time to the security checkpoint. Overall, there is really no standardization of what you should do at an airport checkpoint. Some places may ask you to take off your shoes, others may even ask you to remove your belt buckle or take off your watch. It is even humorous when a TSA staffer asks you why you are holding up your pants and tells you that you must go through additional screening, you have to wonder if they were not trained to know the obvious answer.

One ridiculous thing I noticed that is still being done is dragging your luggage for scanning by the new bomb x-ray detectors. There were one series of check-in booths where after you get your boarding pass, you have to get on another queue to get your luggage scanned. The other check-in points had working conveyor belts, it seems that this one was not. So this added another 30-45 minutes of waiting to get your luggage scanned, then you have to get onto another queue through security. But this happens at other airports. Once you checked-in, the staff person will tell you to take your luggage to the bomb detector before you can receive your boarding pass. This is a waste of time! You oughta think that by now the process has been automated. At Chicago O'Hare one time, I had to go through a luggage scan before checking in. I don't think that was efficient either. So when you check the airport processing time from check-in to security, you better add an additional hour or two. If you are an elite member, it is fortunate that some airlines still give some sort of preferential treatment.

Being back in London where the weather is somewhat cold, but slightly above NYC wintry conditions, I am already planning my next European trip. I hope for MLK weekend (taking Monday off since we don't celebrate MLK in the UK..obviously!), I will take myself back to Brussels, Belgium and visit the towns of Antwerp and Bastogne. I can certainly vouch for those Belgian chocolates! Delicious!

I hope the new year will start off good for everyone. Enjoy the rest of winter break and best wishes!