Archives for the Month of June 2006 on Through the Magnifying Glass
Use of Fear
In the United States, trials have been used to determine whether security detectors can be installed in train and metro stations. These were studied because of an apparent threat of attacks by "terrorist" elements on US' transportation systems, and because of the Madrid and London bombing attacks.
However, in both Madrid and London, extra security and improvements in camera technology have been made, but installing so-called security metal detectors have not been done. One, installing detectors places a huge inconvenience on the populace from using the fastest means of transportation. It would force commuters to utilise the buses or taxis in order to get to their destination rather than waiting in a queue unnecessarily. Oh wait, they did bomb a London bus, so that means in order to preserve security, we should install metal detectors for passengers to walk through while entering the vehicle. Let's see how long that will take. Also, the increased use of taxis would cause an increase in traffic jams and furthering more inconvenience for the traveller.
But wait, this is all done to protect us. But how can you make a system 100% safe. People can still get into fights on a train, or knifed or strangled for example. The train could suffer a derailment or a loss of electrical power due to a downed transformer or loss of signal. These transportation systems were a means of convenience for the populace so they can get to point B from point A without using their personal transportation vehicle. They are also used by millions of commuters in order to work in the city from the suburbs.
Who know if you asked a fellow commuter about installing a metal detector at every train station, would he/she feel safe about it? The most likely answer would be "only if it adds a few minutes to my trip." For a metro system size like New York City and DC, a few minutes is the only thing that can be tolerated, but if you try to get people through a metal detector at busy Union Station, it will take much more than that. People talk about making compromises, but in reality, we all take a risk in our daily lives to get to work. There will always be a chance of getting into an accident, but we take the risk knowing that as long we keep ourselves safe and vigilant, we will survive. This is based on our own personal responsibility. We cannot sacrifice everything convenient for security... imagine security guards and detectors at supermarkets, movie theatres, museums, and restaurants. A security-addict society just because of fear. I thought we were not going down that road, but it seems we are.
American Tourists Behaving Badly
It is always when you visit a museum, restaurant, bar/club, or pretty any place in Europe, you will find a bunch of Americans acting quite obnoxiously. Now, I am sure most tourists that come from US are quite friendly, but come on here!
On a train to Prague, Czech Republic from Dresden, Germany, loudest noise on the first class train car were Americans. Also notice them going to the bar the most, they were probably drunk by the time we got to the Prague main station.
At the Old Town Square in Prague, bunch of Americans pretending to count down to zero for the Astronomical Clock and saying awww. It was pissing off the other tourists trying to make sure they were there at the right time.
I will put more examples, but really, this is getting on my nerves, and making us look bad.
Plus, an American couple arguing over 30 czech koruna on a lunch check, for christ sake! they were arguing over the equivalent of one US dollar.
On a good note: Czech have one beer called "Budvar" not in any relation with America's Budweiser. By the way, Budvar is much better.
World Cup 2006: In Berlin
Hey all, with a fellow Case alum, we both trekked over from London to the capital of Germany to enjoy the festive and excitement of World Cup football in Berlin.
Over half a million German fans packed the Fan Fest area around the Brandenburg Gate for their game against Sweden. We managed to get in there for the Mexico v Argentina game and the England v Eucador the next day. Then we ventured over to a cafe for dinner and watched the Portugal v Holland game on the tele.
As such, here are some pictures:
The Berlin Fan Fest Area
A lone US fan was still in Berlin. He is actually an enlisted soldier on leave for a month.
German fan basked in the sunlight after their win against Sweden.
More German fans
Mexican fans... they did pretty well against Argentina throughout the whole game, but suffered defeat in extra time.
West Ham United FC fixtures 2006-07 released
Premier League fixtures for West Ham United
August 19 - Home to Charlton
August 22 - Away at Watford
August 26 - Away at Liverpool
September 9 - Home to Aston Villa
September 16 - Home to Newcastle
September 23 - Away to Manchester City
September 30 - Home to Reading
October 14 - Away to Portsmouth
October 21 - Away to Tottenham
October 28 - Home to Blackburn
November 4 - Home to Arsenal
November 11 - Away to Middlesbrough
November 18 - Away to Chelsea
November 25 - Home to Sheffield United
December 2 - Away to Everton
December 6 - Home to Wigan Athletic
December 9 - Away to Bolton
December 16 - Home to Manchester United
December 23 - Away to Fulham
December 26 - Home to Portsmouth
December 30 - Home to Manchester City
January 1 - Away to Reading
January 13 - Home to Fulham
January 20 - Away to Newcastle
January 31 - Home to Liverpool
February 3 - Away to Aston Villa
February 10 - Home to Watford
February 24 - Away to Charlton
March 3 - Home to Tottenham
March 17 - Away to Blackburn
March 31 - Home to Middlesbrough
April 7 - Away to Arsenal
April 9 - Home to Chelsea
April 14 - Away to Sheffield United
April 21 - Home to Everton
April 28 - Away to Wigan Athletic
May 5 - Home to Bolton
May 13 - Away to Manchester United
NRA action shows that people would believe anything
The chairman of the upcoming UN Conference on the illegal trade of small arms have received more than 100,000 letters of complaint from Americans who say it could infringe their constitutional right to bear arms.
It seems the National Rifle Association (NRA) is getting its members roused up by implying that the UN is going to take all their guns away. It is just easy to give each of its member a brochure detailing their one-sided viewpoint (obviously) then just send the form letter to the Conference.
The Conference is reviewing progress on programs initiated by all UN member states on the illegal trade of small arms such as pistols, assault rifles, and machine guns. It has no impact on the private ownership of guns.
Getting permission to use your ATM card outside the US
A fellow co-worker of mine came over to London to do a 2-year contract and when he tried to get cash from a HSBC UK ATM machine, his withdrawal was denied. The funny thing is that his ATM card is from a HSBC US bank. It is definitely weird.
But it is also interesting to note that for some US banks, you need to tell them you are travelling abroad in order to get access to cash and making purchases. This may not happen to most people, but it is a stupid restriction. So what defines being abroad? What if you go up to Toronto or down to Mexico City, would you need to call the bank to make sure you can use your ATM or debit card there?
It is embarassing if you were trying to use your debit/credit card for dinner or regular purchase and being told your card has been declined, then you have to call the 1-800 number (which is chargeable because you are calling from abroad) and wait whatever minutes to get your access authorised.
Arriving into London, UK
Ok, for those that happen to travel to London (in the UK, not Connecticut =P):
In most cases you will arrive either into London Heathrow or London Gatwick. Both airports have several ways to get into London. The most expensive and longest are the taxis. Remember to not accept offered taxi rides when you come out of the arrivals hall. Use the taxi stands, but you could spend up to 100 quid from Heathrow to London, and even more than that from Gatwick.
The best way is either the Heathrow Express or the Gatwick Express. The Heathrow Express takes about 15 minutes and you'll arrive into Paddington Station. From there, you can take the local tube or bus to your final destination, or the taxi stand. The Gatwick Express takes about 30 minutes and you'll arrive into Victoria Station. The same thing applies to using the tube, bus, or taxi.
Remember! The doors of either Express train are manually controlled. This means you have to press the open/close door button to gain access. Always, the usual tourist would just wait and think the door will open automatically, then you get the Brit behind the person sighing, and pressing the open button, and the tourist would act all surprised and such.
When exchanging currency, use the buyback with Travelex. While the rate you are buying may not be advantageous, using the buyback when switching back actually helps. Of course, you can use the ATM machines to get a direct market rate. Buying a ticket to either Express can be done at the booth or at any of the automated machines. They can accept coins, notes, or credit cards.
One good thing to do is stop by any of the c-stores in the Terminal, and buy a power converter plug. Sometimes if you check into the hostel or hotel in London, it will be hard to find a nearby store that would offer such converters.
Remember if you arriving into Heathrow Terminal 1, 2, or 3, it is a bit of a trek to get to the Express train from the arrivals area. Terminal 4 is a short distance. For Gatwick, the North/South terminals are just a short hop to that respective Express train.
If you need some help with getting into London, let me know, and I'll post some answers here.
USA could make it if .....
After a hard fought draw with only 9 men against Italy (1-1), the last game of the World Cup qualifiers could determine whether the USA can make it to the knockout stages.
Right now, we got:
Italy 1 win, 1 draw, 3 goals for, 1 goal against, 4 pts
Czech Rep 1 win, 1 loss, 3 goals for, 2 goals against, 3 pts
Ghana 1 win, 1 loss, 2 goals for, 2 goals against, 3 pts
USA 1 draw, 1 loss, 1 goals for, 4 goals against, 1 pts
Ghana plays USA
Czech plays Italy
The US must beat Ghana and hope Italy beat Czech in order to go to the second round. A Italy-Czech draw or a Czech win will result in the US going home.
World Cup - England Qualifies!!!
England is the third team to qualify for the 2nd round (after Germany and Ecuador) after managing to defeat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0.
Peter Crouch - 83rd minute
Steven Gerrard - 91st minute
England ready for T&T
Today, 1700 London time, England will be transfixed on the tele as they play their second match against Trinidad & Tobago. A win will ensure England's qualification for the second round. If Sweden lose in the evening, England will win the group.
Highlights of 1-0 win over Paraguay
USA to still continue in world cup?
It was expected that the USA would have a difficult time playing their opening match against the Czech Republic. The FIFA rankings of where the Czechs are placed 3rd versus USA's 5th do not do it justice. We were thoroughly defeated with a 3-0 loss.
USA must now win against Italy and Ghana to continue to the second round. It can also hope that when Czech play Italy, a draw or an Italy loss will help USA's chances.
The weakness in USA's was the finishing part. Clearly, we do have an experienced team, but there's no extra star person that has the skills to create that magic. The team's experience is half-domestic (USA MLS) and half-european (Premiership, European).
Germany First to Qualify for 2nd Round
Some hints: you should not watch a football match with American commentators, they're boring. Best bet is to watch the match through the spanish channels. The BBC commentators are not bad, and if you have Sky cable, you can switch between the bbc, itv, five audio tracks.
Germany have qualified for the 2nd round though the rest of the Group A matches will determine if they will win the group, or be runners-up (most likely the former). Last night's game v Poland was the most gut-wrenching match, as the Poles kept the Germans in check throughout the whole game. The German goal in the 91st minute destroyed Polish hopes for staying in the further stages of the World Cup. They must now pray for a Costa Rica win over Ecuador today to stay in.
Germany with 6 pts (1 match left)
Ecuador with 3 pts (2 matches left)
Costa Rica with 0 pts (2 matches left)
Poland with 0 pts (1 match left)
An Example of Football Greatness
The Football Association (FA) Cup Final at Cardiff Millennium Stadium in Wales, UK. I was there when West Ham United played Liverpool.
Another great game was the 2005 Champions League Final between AC Milan and Liverpool. By half-time, Liverpool were down 3 goals, but scored three in the second half to tie. After extra time, they went to penalties, and Liverpool won the shootout!
Bad Omens for US Soccer World Cup Team
1) No official US World Cup song, plus you cannot really find any unofficial, re-make, parody songs either. Look to England for their sources.
2) As every World Cup Team head off to Germany, fans see off their team at their departure airports. In the US, the national team left Newark Liberty International Airport. Allegedly, approximately 2-3 fans saw off the US team.
Politicians - Fiscal Responsibility
It is amusing that Republicans continue to try to repeal the estate tax for good from our revenue coffers. They have used the "death tax" to put fear into Americans that this tax is bad for the American people, yet only 0.5% of estates are subject to this tax. 0.5 PERCENT for 2006!
A phased out approach would have been much suitable given the current financial climate of the federal government. No matter how the US economy is doing so fine, we got a huge deficit to trim down, and cutting more taxes does not help.
The failed vote will now be used by both political operatives for the midterm elections in November. As usual, Republicans will denounce Democrats for not cutting taxes and helping the "farmers" that own the estates, and the Democrats will accuse Republicans for not being more fiscally responsible and serving the rich folks who own the estates the "farmers" reside on.
If people want to cut the estate tax permanently, I want to see an equal amount of spending cut in the federal government to preserve the fiscal strength of the government. Tax cuts have brought increased revenue because consumers are spending more of that money, but we still continue to generate multi-hundred billion dollar deficits, and no matter what Bush says in cutting the deficit in half by 2009, the country will face a national debt of over $9 trillion dollars.
USA must change their perception of soccer (football)
Today marks the beginning of the FIFA World Cup with the first match starting at 1700 GMT between Germany v Costa Rica, followed by Poland v Eucador. It is the biggest sporting event in the world, but it is probably likely that somewhere in North America, approx 270 million people may only care about the first and last game, and that is the USA.
Some may point out that the USA shocked many other countries by reaching the quarterfinals in 2002, its best performance since reaching the semifinals in 1930. However, it has never won the World Cup trophy. A few may know that the United States is a three-time champion of the Gold Cup, the football championship of North and Central America (CONCACAF), having won it in 1991, 2002, and in 2005. Surprisingly enough, the USA is currently ranked 5th in the FIFA World Rankings, tied with Spain. England is placed 10th. However, the rankings do not justify the results, and not many countries consider the USA a worthy opponent.
However, with their 2002 performance and their chances this year, that perception may change. Winning the World Cup would hopefully lead towards a "soccer" revolution in the most powerful nation on earth, and that may prove to be a delight for many of the strongest football fans living in Central and South America. USA is in the E group (called by some in the media as the "Group of Death") which includes Italy (13th), Czech Republic (2nd), and Ghana (48th).
In addition, the American fans themselves must change their perception of football (soccer). The FIFA World Cup is bigger than the Super Bowl. NFL executives claimed about a billion people watched the game, but upon closer research, only 93 million saw it in 2005, and 98% of the audience were in the United States. For the World Cup, an estimated 28.8 BILLION people watch the whole tournament, and 1.1 BILLION watched the final game. The Super Bowl is now more about the show than the game itself. Millions just watch for the commericials, the half-time show, and there isn't much interest in the game unless your city team is playing in it or you got a massive $500 bet going for the scorebox. People say 45 minutes of football in each half is boring except for the goals. I totally disagree with that view. I think people lack the vision that football has to offer and while scoring goals is important, the strategy and skills to create that goal deserves more too.
Yes, NFL football is mostly an American sport, so the audience level is lower, but it's just to disprove the NFL claims that it has such a high worldwide audience. Some may say that the World Cup is only important for the countries that qualified for it, but this is not true. USA may prove to be an exception but the level of football participation is much higher in the rest of the world than there. Some say there is not enough gambling linked to world football, but I think you paid too much attention to what goes on in the gambling halls of Las Vegas. It has a huge betting apparatus and the US betting companies should do more to advertise it in their domestic markets.
Americans think it is mostly boring because they watched the MLS games with their low attendance or they do not encounter the level of passion and atmosphere of the game in the youth and professional leagues. All the top players in the world are in the european leagues so the US market is placed at a disadvantage. Living in the UK for over two years can really change your perspective on football. The passion, the spirit, the pride, and the jubilant atmosphere are all there.
I can say with no doubt that seeing how David Beckham kicks the football and how Ronaldinho can purposefully hit the crossbar of the goal post three times in a row shows a level of skill that equates to Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Tom Brady for example.
So come on England! But here's to the USA too. Perhaps 2006 is not their year, but we can show the rest of the world that the US national team will become a powerful force to reckon with in the next 20 years.
Good luck to the rest of the teams!
Note: Did you know that the warring factions in the Ivory Coast declared a truce in their civil war because their country qualified for the World Cup?
California Win Masks the Real Issues
According to conservatives, the Republican win in the California 50th District, which replaced former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, justifies their position on illegal immigration.
They called the election results a clear repudiation of the Senate bill on immigration, which would offer 11 million illegal aliens in the US what amounts to amnesty. With Bush's low ratings, the victory is a rebuke against the President's "guest-worker" program which would handle the problem of current illegal aliens living in the country.
Mr. Gingrich goes along and says that "fighting to control the border and defend the American people on illegal immigration (the House position) really works. Amnesty (the Senate bill) was clearly repudiated by Republican voters."
The White House immediately downplayed the results in California's strongly Republican district. It proves rightly so. Such one-issue campaigns masks the other important domestic and international issues that are currently facing us. It is very likely that this immigration subject plus tv coverage of the protests and illegals attempting to enter the country are influencing most voters on who to vote for. It is also partly the fault of the Democratic candidate for her "no-paper" comments, but I think that Republicans took advantage of the slip-up and use it to put fear into their base of supporters.
Fortunately, the special election is only meant to serve out Cunningham's remaining seven months. The winner, Mr. Bilbray, will face off again in November. Perhaps by that time, the results may turn out the same on a different set of issues, or maybe not.
Washington Times - California win seen as rebuff of illegals
What has made America great? A recent Newsweek article suggests that openness, innovation, immigration, and flexibility has lead to new industries, new technologies, and new jobs. All of these things have made the USA the most productive nation in the world, and hopefully for next several decades.
However, politicians have chosen to become paranoid these years, moving to shut out foreign competition, more regulations on controlling the flow of immigration, and be less willing to collaborate with other countries technologically and economically.
Most of these reasons are based on the premise that something or someone out there is threatening our "national security." Terrorism is a bad thing, sure it is. We try to make everything 100% safe, but like or not, achieving perfection against it is impossible. No matter how many security cameras, guards with M-16 rifles, or an implant chip designed to monitor your location, an attack will inevitably happen.
What is the common sense thing to do? Be extra vigilant and do not take anything for granted.
Congress moves to prevent a Chinese company buying an oil corporation. Then it goes and prevents an Arab company owning a US subsidiary in controlling some of the nation's largest shipping ports. Then the problem along our southern border becomes the latest "national security" threat. We promise that we will not militarise our borders, but we are doing that right now by sending national guard tropps to the Mexican-US border. How about we send some to cover the Canadian border? No need to play favourites. Now there is talk about implanting immigrants with a chip so we will know where they are. Yes, we should combat illegal immigration, but with the politicians and groups like the Minutemen making it such a big deal, Americans are looking at each other to find out if that person is a legal or illegal immigrant. It seems that being a white caucausian person is the only way to avoid being scrutinised.
This is just one example of playing on the citizen's fears. Perhaps they do not want us to know that the country is really bankrupt, those social security checks are being paid out of China, and Iran will get blown up by Christmas.
So let me go take off my shoes for the TSA army even though they are complaint and does not contain any metal, but they still want you to take it off anyway. How about I walk in with bathroom slippers? Then I labelled as a non-conforming person and could be a threat. A catch-22!
Unity08 - The Answer against the Reds and Blues?
It is time for a political third-party
As the midterm elections in November edge ever more closer, it is time to pick your elected representative and/or senator. At this stage, several candidates from both political parties are assembling to figure if they could be the one to represent the party in the presidential election in 2008.
The Democrats and Republicans and their blogs and web sites have constantly attacked each other and have even thought up ways where an event can be politically viewed regardless of the topic, the content, or the speaker. Bi-partisans has happened a few times, but you can tell that the polarization of either end of the spectrum would rather keep the government in gridlock and leave it in utter ruin.
We welcomed the Republicans as they took power in 1994, believing that their "Contract with America" would re-energise the faith and confidence in our federal government. But the lust for power and greed has even cause citizens in either camp to wonder if their political party is just like the other party but with a different red or blue flag. Ideas like a balanced budget amendment or term limits have fallen in favor of the marriage amendment, immigration, and national security where the politicians play the fear card in order to get the voters to side with them. It seems that fear is the ideal answer for the Democrats or Republicans no matter what the rest of their agenda might be.
It is time for a better political option. But it is not about the excessive high level of partisanship. It is that both of our political parties have become so much alike, you can just go into the voting booth, close your eyes, and it's a 50-50 chance of picking a candidate who is covered with special interests, slightly corrupt, and has that charm to fool the average voter with his/her promises of exacting results from Washington. You are picking the lesser of two evils!
The people in America are worried. The booming economy does not mean everything is going along well. Politicians keep up the rhetoric about more jobs being created, higher profits, and giving your tax dollars back, because they do not want the voter to know the real financial situation of our country. No matter if we have record revenues going into the government, there is record expenditures, and the government deficits keep climbing.
The Republicans promise smaller government and lower taxes, but they cannot reduce spending, and they are actually expanding government. The Democrats say they promise fiscal responsibility, but they cannot offer an actual alternative to the mess the Republicans have created. It seems that both parties would like to sweep our financial problems under the carpet, and let the next elected leaders handle it. Sooner or later, "passing the buck" will have stop somewhere. They continue to play each other off to get the voter to vote for them, but that trick cannot last forever.
The Republicans have become incapable of managing a new monster government, and the Democrats cannot really offer a vision that can convince the voter to give them an attempt to fix it.
They are no longer parties representing the people, they are now the ruling elites and the electorate is growing restless about this fact.
Sooner or later, the idea of a strong third-party will emerge to break this stranglehold. It is with hope that the young people can start it off. Rather than joining the Young Democrats or the Young Republicans, how about a true coalition of people that want to put real faith and confidence back into our government?
You have to make that first step to reverse a fall that someday, may become irreversible to stop.