Entries in the Category "General"
Clint Eastwood: Political Correctness creates humourless society
"People have lost their sense of humour. In former times we constantly made jokes about different races. You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth or you will be insulted as a racist," the Daily Express quoted him as saying.
Passenger beat down on NYC Train, Caught on Camera
Watch the video (The Smoking Gun)
A videotape of a subway rider getting attacked on the NYC A train by a pack of unruly teenagers has been spreading through the Internet.
The 4 minute, 18 second film (on The Smoking Gun web site) shows some foul-mouthed girls taunting the man, who can be heard telling them, "Why are you arguing? Stop. Stop."
As the train pulled into Broadway Junction, a girl off-camera could be heard predicting, "They gonna hit him, I know it."
Within moments, the man, who had stood up, was shoved down and pummeled by members of the gang.
As the tape ends, the victim--who was also struck in the face with a plastic soda bottle during the assault--is continuing to be struck by two of the girls.
* * * * * * * *
The video was initially uploaded by a high school student named Kadejra Holmes. She has denied being part of the girl gang that attacked the male rider. Of course, her credibility cannot be judged to be truthful when after being interviewed by The Smoking Gun, she deleted the footage and her entire page from YouTube.
According to TSG, she initially labeled the video as "jump up to get beat down."
Fortunately, TSG managed to snag a copy of the video and has posted it on their web site.
It is not known if the police were aware of the attack or whether the victim was badly hurt. The attack allegedly occurred last month.
* * * * * * * *
I would guess Kadejra, who wants to be a filmmaker, and found a niche... taping violent attacks and practicing her camera angles and balancing shots.
It is not known if she called the police after the attack was over. Isn't there anything we can charge this person with? Being an accomplice to this brazen attack? Being a coward and staying behind the camera?
Shame on these rabid teenagers who have nothing better to do. Shame on those that want to create some sort of mini-fame and post them to YouTube. Shame!
China loves to rip off on everything
Happy Fourth of July!
Great WowLights animation for the U.S. flag.
Tribute to the American Soldier
Those 9/11 Truthsayers: A sighting!
Went to the Sunday matchup between the Yankees and the A's, and saw a bunch of 9/11 Truth folks outside Gate 4 of the stadium. There were two people holding up a banner saying "9/11 was an inside job - www.911truth.org." One or two people were near them holding those circular coasters with the name and web site on them.
Not many takers.
Caught on Tape: Armed Robbery of Ramada Inn in Columbus, OH
First of all, the robber is lucky there was some cash. Obviously, most people would pay their hotel bills with a credit card. I guess he was at least smart enough to know how to pry the cash drawer open. The calm attitude taken by the first staff member was a bit surprising. He just told him flat out that he did not have a key and that there was no safe.
But no gloves, not even wiping off his fingerprints? I guess his days or even hours were numbered.
June 6 - D-Day
Today, June 6, marked the 63rd anniversary of the Normandy invasion where 155,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in France.
Of course, I would not be surprised if that Order of the Day would be politically incorrect by today's standards. I kinda wonder if he did try to say it, how would the words play out.
Honor our Troops, not Protest Them
Memorial Day is a time to remember the U.S. men and women who lost their lives serving their country. Originally known as Decoration Day, it was established in 1868 to commemorate the dead from the Civil War. Over the years it came to serve as a day to remember all U.S. men and women killed or missing in action in all wars.
Unfortunately, presidential candidate John Edwards wants to break precedence by supporting the troops and being anti-war at the same time. His campaign has established a web site to encourage people to protest the war on Memorial Day.
It is so amusing when they love using the phrase "support the troops" to insulate themselves from criticism. It is up to the politicians to end the war, not the military. The military will serve until the mission is done. Simple.
This is the Armed Forces' most sacred day. John Edwards' web site wants to ruin it. Listed are "10 things you can do over Memorial Weekend." They include:
* Get everyone you know to sign a petition to your local government body -- for instance, your town or city council or neighborhood association -- to pass a resolution requesting that Congress use its funding authority to support our troops and end the war.
* Organize a prayer vigil for our troops at your house of worship.
* At a picnic or with family and friends, make signs that say “SUPPORT THE TROOPS - END THE WAR.”… Then take a digital photo of yourself and your family or friends holding up the poster and tell us about it. We’ll include it in a “Democracy Photo Album” on our site.
* Greet a vet.
National Commander of the American Legion Paul Morin:
“The families of those killed in war should not be led to believe that their loved ones died for a less-than-worthy cause. They died because they took an oath to defend this nation and its Constitution. The sacrifice is the same whether it’s for a ‘popular war’ or an unpopular one. Memorial Day should be an occasion to bring Americans together to honor these heroes.”
The USPS Forever Stamp: A Myth
On Monday, May 14th, the price of a first-class stamp went up from 39 to 41 cents. As such, you have the usual flurry of people rushing to post offices to buy booklets of 2 cent stamps. In addition to that, the US Postal Service unveiled their new Forever Stamp.
For 41 cents, the stamp can be used to mail a piece of first-class mail at any point in the future regardless of future rate increases. So basically you can buy a thousand Forever stamps now and still be able to use them decades from now. This sort of savings for consumers is all but a myth.
You are expecting consumers to adopt a buy-hold strategy. Now with these rate increases, the cost of a first-class stamp was raised 8 times over a 20-year period. So would there be any significant savings? Probably not unless you buy the stamps in bulk.
Now I was thinking that such an idea should have been introduced years ago. I thought there was a time we bought first-class stamps without any number-cent showing. Wasn't that the forever stamp in name? Like there was a time where that first-class stamp did not have that 37, 39, or 41 cent number displayed, right? Years ago, I remember having a couple of American-flag stamps but they did not have any cent-designation, but they were definitely first-class stamps. I'm thinking that the USPS accountants were penny-pinchers and did not want customers using older stamps without paying the today's cost of them.
So this "Forever Stamp" idea is good but why should we still have a 41-cent stamp alongside it? Get rid of that one, and make the "Forever Stamp" permanent. If you buy a couple of booklets now, and the rate goes up, you save a couple of bucks.
One of the few French things that I am jealous of
The fastest TGV train on record
May 15 - No Gas Day
Remember not to buy gas tomorrow (Tuesday) May 15 to protest outrageous gas prices.
A myth? It would not cause any adverse effects, but it would be nice to give NJ's gas station employees a day off. We are still one out of two states where we cannot pump our own gas.
I like to note that as of last week, filling up my gas tank now exceeds $51.00. The cheapest I had to pay was about $28 two months ago.
77 Seconds to Evacuate an Airbus A380
It took 77 seconds to evacuate 873 people from an Airbus A380 jet. Only eight of the sixteen exits were accessible.
Of course, a controlled environment. Now let's add some fire, panicking passengers, ladies with high heels, and people just tumbling out of the emergency chutes.
Avoid these things when submitting a resume
From CareerBuilders.com, they asked 2,627 hiring managers about their most wackiest resume items.
1. ... attached a letter from her mother.
2. ... used pale blue paper with teddy bears printed around the border.
3. ... explained a three-month gap in employment by saying that he was getting over the death of his cat.
4. ... specified that his availability to work Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays is limited because the weekends are "drinking time."
5. ... included a picture of herself in a cheerleading uniform.
6. ... drew a picture of a car on the outside of the envelope and said the car would be a gift to the hiring manager.
7. ... listed hobbies that included sitting on a levee at night watching alligators.
8. ... mentioned the fact that her sister had once won a strawberry-eating contest.
9. ... stated that he works well in the nude.
10. ... explained an arrest record by stating, "We stole a pig, but it was a really small pig."
April 19, 1995 - Remember Oklahoma
On April 19, 1995, a terrorist attack was conducted by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a U.S. government complex in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The attack claimed 168 lives and left over 800 injured.
The effects of the blast were equivalent to 4,000 pounds of TNT and could be heard and felt up to fifty-five miles away.
Timothy McVeign was executed via lethal injection on June 11, 2001.
Terry Nichols is serving 161 consecutive life terms at the ADX Florence Federal Prison.
Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $200,000. He was released for good behaviour in 2006 and is in the Witness Protection Program.
Virginia Tech Thoughts
1) The "ISMAIL AX" tattoo
Virginia Tech police discovered Cho Seung-Hui's body in one of the classrooms, and found that he scrawled the words "ISMAIL AX" on the inside of one arm. According to the Chicago Tribune, it may be a reference to the Islamic account of the Biblical sacrifice of Abraham.
However, it looks to come from the James Fennimore Cooper's story "The Prairie." Settler Ishmael Bush had a gun and an axe. The axe - which can either kill or provide shelter - stands for both creation and destruction. Obviously, given his major in English.
2) Exactly what medication was Cho using?
Investigators believe Cho had been taking medication for depression. Was it Prozac? Could the medication have lead to his violent, aberrant behaviour? During his time at Virginia Tech, he set a fire in a dorm room and was allegedly stalking female students.
If it was Prozac, such a side effect means that this drug is actually dangerous and must be taken out of circulation.
3) Asian American Journalists Association starts the political correctness bullsh*t
The AAJA is urging all media to avoid using "racial identifers" unless there is a compelling or germane reason. They ask that the standards of news reporting should be universal and applied equally no matter the platform or medium, including blogs.
The shooter definitely looked asian. If I see a black person shooting the place up, I would say it was a black person. Maybe the correct wording is "dark-skinned." So instead of asian, should I say "yellow-skinned" with "slanty eyes." Or maybe we can just say "I think it was a male." Oh wait, that would insult the females.
The notion that saying Asian would unfairly portray an entire race of people is narrow-minded and ridiculous. I rather believe that we are all educated and smart to know that if any person trying to murder someone does not mean that his race, religion, or the color of his/her skin contributes a major factor to it.
I would even bet that some asian journalists were noting the ethnicity of black or white criminals. So hypocritical of them.
6) Unarmed and vulnerable - Bradford Wiles, a graduate student and licensed to carry a concealed weapon laments on the campus handgun ban
Interesting, what can we do if we know that the campus police cannot protect us?
7) Alex Leo of the Huffington Post tries to do the 9/11 comparison
"September 11 will forever live in our consciousness, but let us not forget those that perished at the hands of Americans."
Phishing Alert: Paypal - Dumb Attempt
Fake Paypal Web Site - Beware
If you click on http://126.96.36.199/icons/developed/%20/clmv/index.php, you would get a logon page to Paypal. At first glance, it looks pretty identical to the actual Paypal web site. Most of the links do point to the real paypal web site. The logon form covering the fields, "Email Address" and "Password" are bogus.
If you put in a wacky address and password, you do not get an incorrect login or password message, it just takes you to the "Update your Paypal Account." So regardless of whatever login or password, it will always go this page. Then it asks to update your address and credit card information.
Of course, it's all bogus.
The interesting thing is that when you do a DNS lookup on the ip address "188.8.131.52," it belongs to a person living in China. Now, I cannot really tell if this person is responsible for the page, so some other hacker may found a way to spoof the ip address, but if it's the former, then the person just did not realise that anyone could do a backtrace and find out who is doing it.
So here's the result on the ip address:
% [whois.apnic.net node-2]
% Whois data copyright terms http://www.apnic.net/db/dbcopyright.html
inetnum: 184.108.40.206 - 220.127.116.11
descr: CHINANET henan province network
descr: China Telecom
descr: No.31,jingrong street
descr: Beijing 100032
status: ALLOCATED NON-PORTABLE
changed: *******@north.cn.net 20060515
person: Hongbiao Zhang
address: 97# Zhongyuan Street, Zhengzhou City, China
phone: +86 371 65310018
fax-no: +86 371 65310015
changed: ***@hntele.com 20060511
Feel free to mess with him.
A right for every teacher to do
Whether if it was real or fake, they should be able to do such a thing
Lost Money at a Raceway Service Station
I do not know if it was a system glitch with the gas pump or I was ripped off, but it's best to blog about the experience.
Today, drove to work with my sister and we stopped by the new Raceway service station located in Morris Plains, NJ. Corner of Rte 10 & 202 (near the Stop & Shop supermarket). I was nearing empty so we stopped there for a refill. I have been to this new gas station several with no problems.
I was in a hurry this time, so I asked for regular fill-up with cash. I noted he inserted the gas pump into the car, and the totals on the display panel hit like $38.02 and about 16.5 gallons. My gas tank holds about 17-18 gallons. I turned on the car, and saw that the fuel gauge was still nearing empty. I figured something could be wrong with the sensor. Pulled out of the service station, stopped a few blocks, turned off and turned on the car, and it was still near empty.
I guess I should have made a U-turn back to the station, but the notion of being ripped off did not occur to me. I continued on my way thinking it was a sensor issue, but as I got closer to Jersey City, and the fuel gauge ever so closer to empty, I decided to get out of the nearest exit and find another gas station.
There was a Hess service station before the Rte 78 / 1&9 interchange. I gave $20 to fill it up, and believe it or not, the car took the $20.00 worth of fuel. Then when I started up the car, the fuel gauge was half-full.
Clearly, there is something amiss at that particular Raceway service station.
I only ask that folks just be extra careful there. It could have been a gas pump glitch or something. I will try to go back and let them know of the problem I had that morning, but I doubt I would be able to get my $38 back.
End Sanjaya Malakar's reign on Idol
Somehow viewers are just interested in looks, not quality. It was a shame when one of the best singers, Stephanie Edwards, was voted off the talent show. With his flowing, curly hair and smile, Sanjaya Malakar has been able to survive several rounds of viewer elimination.
Everyone agrees that he is not the best singer of the group, and some have wondered if Malakar won the competition, would he really receive a record contract? Would any record company want to get a guy who is already nominated by votefortheworst.com and is being promoted by Howard Stern? Even if such a contract was given, it will likely last for one album. Hell, I would give him a shot at a second album if his sales outpaces K-Fed!
But really, how far are people going to push it? By now, he has reached C-list cult status, and he's going to be one of those prima-donna's like other reality show contestants, asking for freebies, and trying to get into the VIP line for shows and night clubs. Of course, he will utter the words, "Don't you recognise me? I'm famous!"
Already, Simon Cowell went so far as to say if Malakar wins, he'll quit. On YouTube, one user is on a hunger strike and vows not to eat until the 17-year-old is ousted from the show.
But I think his new hairdo should be grounds for his dismissal.
Great Elmo Impression
A World Without America
Just Funny or is anyone offended?
He does a great job mimicking the evolution of dance from the 60's to today, but on the basis of political correctness, would anyone be offended? I mean, would any hip-hop & rappers' fans be thinking he was making fun of their dance moves? Imagine if it were a black person doing all those impersonations. Everyone would be laughing histerically. A white person... you may have some "serious" people asking questions.
Just pointing out to how people over-analyse certain things and actions that we do out there.
BTW, the video has been viewed over 42.7 million times.
More Craps Etiquette
Since it is about 2.5 hours to Atlantic City from my home, I have been venturing over there a few times per month to test and improve my skills.
Craps has become my favorite table game, followed by Blackjack, then Caribbean Stud Poker. Slots are alright, but if you want a serious return on your bets, table games are your best approach.
After playing several times at Craps, there are a few rules that most people should go by.
1) The best time to cash in for chips is when the board is in an off position. The worst thing to do is cause a delay in the throw and ruin the shooter's momentum.
2) Always place your bets before the shooter rolls. It happens every time when the shooter rolls his dice, a person would be in the process of placing his/her bets, and the dice would hit the person's hands, and it would end in a 7-out. Be watchful of the shooter while placing your chips.
3) Hitting the number 7 is only good when the board is in an off-position. After the point has been made, 7 is taboo. Avoid mentioning the number 7, it's just bad luck.
While going around the many craps tables at the casino, it is clearly a fun and exciting game to enjoy. It is always true when a girl playing for the first time would do extremely well as the shooter. It is clearly the opposite for a guy rolling for the first time.
Players coming to the table betting on the Don't Pass line are the ones that want you to lose, and are probably not interesting in learning the finer points of the Craps game. If you are just there placing your bets on the Don't Pass or Don't Come areas, then why don't you go to the Let it Ride table game since you are not interesting in enjoying the game. If you see these people come to the table, they are bound to make the table "cold" and that's your sign to leave and find another table.
The only people justified in playing the Don't Come/Don't Pass are the ones that know that the shooter could be a bad thrower and they would know when to switch to Pass/Come playing when it's a good thrower. Adopting one stance won't result in consistent winnings.
Of course, the most likely people betting on Don't Pass/Don't Come are the young guys (21-25 age range), holding a couple of bucks, and are just there to put a bet on the Loser, collecting the winnings, and moving on. These are the non-risk takers. Plus I kinda hate it when they teach one of their buddies to play Don't Pass as a way to play Craps. It is one way to do it, but not the most optimal way. Yes, I do see a few rich players play the loser method, but at least they do it on and off and they do play the inside game. You can make over 100 bets on this game at any one time.
Last, be mindful of the people that are around you. No one wants to be unlucky and certain things must be respected. Some do take it in fun but some do take it seriously. There are times when joking around doesn't bring smiles around the table. There are players out there that want to have a good time and win money. Don't piss them off with your antics.
Happy Chinese New Year: Pig
Kung Hei Fat Choi!
Year of the Pig, associated with fertility and virility. It is lucky for people to bear children during this year because they will be happy and honest.
Beer-Bong Bowling Excitement in NYC
Great bowling alley in New York City featuring beer bongs! Yep, at Leisure Time Lanes, located on the second floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street, offers beer selections in bottles, pitchers, and beer bongs.
It was hard to believe to have a bowling alley at the Bus Terminal, but it's pretty cool. I would say about 30-40 lanes and it got recently renovated with new digital LCD screens for the scoring. Some of the walls are still under construction. It costs about $8 per game per person, or $45/hour. Wait is at least one hour, so get there early.
We had to order three tall beer-bongs for about 8 people. The selection is limited though. Food includes pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.
New York State Legislature - Bastion of un-Democracy
Just a gripe. The New York State legislature is probably one of the most entrenched and special interest-tied entity out of all fifty state legislatures. Its gerrymandering ensures or should I say guarantees incumbents in winning re-election every year. Democrat Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate leader Joseph L. Bruno are like the Father and Mother of modern Tammany Hall.
Recently, the state legislature chose to appoint of its own members to the post of State Comptroller General.
This incurred the wrath of popular Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Here's a quote that is hard to believe:
Westchester Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky called the New York State Assembly, the "best legislative body in America" and said America was a "beacon of democracy" because it had legislatures to check executive authority.
"His sense of irony is pretty remarkable."
Steve Martin makes fun of the 72 virgins
Steve Martin's Seventy-Two Virgins on The New Yorker
College Gamblers beware!
In both Atlantic City and Las Vegas, it always happens. The craps table is enjoying a hot streak, a bunch of college students or recently graduated comes along and start screwing up the table and upsetting the rest of the gamblers.
Last night, I spent several hours in Atlantic City playing the craps tables and the same scenario kept on happening. After a hot shooter scores a couple of points, a couple of college grads come to the table holding a paltry sum of chips, and they start throwing "seven" when the board is on-point. This happened about 4-5 times in a row! Their reaction, they laughed! They think it's a game, duh! Of course it is, but there were a few veteran players playing and they were damned upset losing several hundred and they left the table. Honestly, I think college-age players not willing to put forth more than a measley $10 minimum bet at the craps table ought to go to table reserved for the 21-25 age bracket.
I understand there is an odd chance of one of those guys go on a shooter streak, but if I see you roll the dice and you got no odds bet backing up your pass-line bet, then I know you are just playing for fun and not caring if you roll a "seven" when the board is on-point.
Really, I may have to take myself from the $10 craps table to the $15. At least it weeds away the wannabe players. I usually stay at $10 tables so I can put more on the board. Grrr, if this keeps up, if a young person comes up to the table and rolls a "seven" during the on-point phase on his/her first roll, I am finding another table.
Cingular to AT&T - A Colbert History
Colbert gives a great summary on Cingular's decision to rename its label to at&t
Unnecessary Post: Paris Hilton runs out of gas
Isn't it a basic fact to always check your gas meter while driving? Well Paris Hitlon is the only person on the planet that does not follow it.
[Oh well, I guess their video site could not handle the bandwidth]
Roundabouts should be banned
I hate roundabouts. Really, they should be banned and forever be removed from every traffic construction workbook out there.
In Xiamen, South China:
Understandbly, with China experiencing a huge increase this year in the sales of cars, driving etiquette is probably something most drivers over there do not have.
ATM card scams
Tech Yahoo has an article on ATM scams.
Obviously, exercise a bit of common sense, and if someone wants to help you fix your card, do NOT show that person your PIN number.
If you want to be cautious, remember to call the bank immediately after your card becomes stuck in the ATM machine so they can cancel the card in case someones manages to pry it out. It is probably better to find slide-card ATMs instead of those insertable ones.
Happy New Year
Happy New Year Australia!
Here's a link to a java applet that shows how much time is left for major cities around the world.
NYE Cleveland Dec 31, 2006
After a long hiatus, I ventured back to Cleveland to see friends. I did my usual trip to Bob Evans for their breakfast. For the get-togethers before New Years, we went to XO Restaurant on West 6th and the House of Blues. Both were excellent.
We celebrated NYE at Cloud Nine, only a $5 cover charge, and the crowd size was just right. I saw friends I haven't seen in months, and some phikap brothers that I have not seen in years!!! Back at the after-party at a friend's apartment, I had the pleasure of meeting Sara and Tran for the first time! Face-to-face! =) Just be careful not to get them too happy on those beverages, hehe.
For the wknd itself, I stopped by campus, noticed a few changes. The Binary walkway was not even exciting, and you could not tell the 1's or 0's at first. There is no good color distinction, a waste of money if you ask me. I also stopped by the expression wall and noticed a bit of graffiti. I still think it's a bad idea. The whole thing just lacks creativity and originality.
Anyways, happy new year to all of you and best of luck!
Tax Quote - Heinlen
“First, what is it you want us to pay taxes for? Tell me what I get and perhaps I’ll buy it.”
– Robert A. Heinlen, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Student Expelled for Wrecking Xmas Tree
Honestly, imagine if he fell on the tree and broke his arm or leg, his parents would probably sue the school for failing to stop him, and then you get those safety experts calling for higher banisters or ways to prevent students from climbing over and jumping down to the ground floor.
But I guess the worst thing is the reaction among the students. Applause and laughter. It probably never occurred to any one of them that the student (now expelled) could seriously hurt himself. Another stupid thing I think they would do is convincing some dumb kid to light up a M-80, and put it in their hand and cover it up. Likley result: your hand gets blown off. Reaction from students: Oh, we did not know that could happened.
Are they getting dumber these days???
Associated Press vs Bloggers
We are Marshall - Dec 22, 2006
An inspiring true story...
Update: It seems the Edmonton Sun's standards were way too high for this film.
Remember the E-Trade Commericals
Thank god for YouTube
The Golden Globes
Series 24 nominated again for Best TV series (Drama) - Yay!
New show Heroes also nominated for Best TV series (Drama) - Yay!
Masi Oka (Heroes) nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or Movie - Yay!
Sci-Fi's Battlestar Galactica not nominated in any category - Bollux!
How can Alec Baldwin get nominated for Best Actor in a TV Musical or Comedy? Someone tell me!
Is the 16th Amendment Valid?
Amendment 16 - Status of Income Tax Clarified
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
It was proposed July 12th, 1909, and was supposedly ratified February 3rd, 1913.
The We the People Foundation has evidence that the constitutional amendment does not authorise a income tax requirement.
For some reason, the IRS is refusing to provide the exact statute or law that requires Americans to file an income tax return.
Another good question, where is your income tax going to?
Paying for highway construction/maintenance: the gasoline tax pays for it
Education: your local property taxes pay for your schools
It would seem that after interest on the debt and govt waste, your money is already spent and everything else is borrowed.
Another false rumor or a question that should be answered by the U.S. government?
Is the income tax an indirect or direct tax? Neither.
The New York Times in a January 25, 1916 article:
"In substance, the court holds that the Sixteenth Amendment did not empower the Federal Government to levy a new tax."
The Congressional Research Service in the 1980's found no provisions which require an individual to pay an income tax.
Really, is this just all hoopla?
Something that requires more investigation?
Case Alum Serving in Iraq
I would like to let everyone know that one of our graduates and a fellow brother of Phi Kappa Theta is currently serving on deployment in Iraq.
Lt. Colonel Eric Huweart, Class of 1992 (B.S. Biomedical Engineering) is in Iraq as a medical systems information officer.
If you want like to send a post to him please mail to:
Lt. Colonel Eric Huweart
APO AE 09315-9997
JibJab - Year in Review
Christmas Carol Cops
Ok, I think we are now acting quite irrational...
A high school choir was asked to stop singing Christmas carols during an ice skating show featuring Olympic medalist Sasha Cohen out of concern the skater would be offended because she's Jewish.
A city staff member, accompanied by a police officer, approached the Rubidoux High School Madrigals at the Riverside Outdoor Ice Skating Rink just as they launched into "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" and requested that the troupe stop singing, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported Thursday.
Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist and 2006 U.S. National Champion, had just finished her performance at the rink on the downtown pedestrian mall, and was signing autographs.
Choir director Staci Della-Rocco said she complied with the request "because a policeman told me to stop. I didn't want to have a big old huge scene in front of my kids," according to the newspaper.
Example of Bad Manners by Tom Cruise
Hollywood bigwigs were awed at a display of "sheer rudeness" by Cruise at the premiere of "The Pursuit of Happyness" in Hollywood the other night.
Sony chief Amy Pascal "was introducing the movie, and during her speech Tom gets up, goes over to Will [Smith] and starts talking to him - and then says, 'Hey, Katie! Come over here and say hi to Will!' during Amy's speech. It was in bad taste."
A rep for Cruise declined comment.
Second Hand Smoke
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The Flying Imams II
As a follow up to the Flying Imams incident in Minneapolis, five of the six Muslim imams want an out-of-court settlement from US Airways for their ordeal.
After the Nov. 28 incident, the airline offered to meet with the group of clerics on Dec. 4, but the men declined and instead sought legal help from the opportunistic Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, D.C. I would imagine getting the CAIR supporting them would force the airline to make some sort of conciliatory settlement for the imams. Think of the bad publicity for U.S. Airways!!!
Yet, there are conflicting reports of what really happened on that plane. Honestly, it would have been great to have a security camera in the cabin, or a travelling passenger would have tried to record the incident on their camcorder or digital camera. Now, we just have the word of the imams, the airline, and the rest of the passengers on the plane. Of course, some would not trust the airline or the passengers because they could be "baised" against the imams. Sigh!
If you can see the YouTube video on my trackback, question the imams' actions when they boarded the plane which rouse the suspicions of the other passengers and crew.
Out-of-court settlement? Denied!
He has a link to the official police report and handwritten statements from witnesses. U.S. Airways refused to be intimidated by these opportunistic imams trying to use their Muslim ethnicity as an excuse in being discriminated against.
Back from Vegas!
Back from my five-day visit to Vegas. Lost money playing craps unfortunately, but got to visit the Venetian, MGM Grand, Mirage, Bellagio, Monte Carlo, and Mandalay Bay.
For the best food, I would recommend Joe's Steakhouse in the Caesar's Palace Forum Shops and Tao Las Vegas restaurant in Venetian.
Some quick suggestions for future visitors:
Get yourself acquainted with the basic strategy of knowing when to hit or stand. I would recommend the 10-20-40 bet method. Some players would bet $25, and if they win, they would bet $50 until they lose, then it's back to $25, and repeat. Double-down helps a lot in most cases.
Walk away from the table if you get two back-to-back shooters rolling a seven after getting the starting point. Then come back a bit later. If you get another two back-to-back shooters rolling a seven, move to another craps table.
If you see players trying to bet against the shooter (Don't Come bet), then it's very likely the craps table is rolling an unlucky seven during the on-point phase. Sometimes they would bring some bad luck to the table, so watch out.
Craps is great time to get a good return on your money. You just need to find a good shooter. Playing inside instead of focusing solely on the pass line would generate more returns.
Of course, remember to hedge some of your bets.
Attractions to see would be the Fountains at Bellagio, the volcano at the Mirage, and the Cirque du Soleil.
Definitely have to go back.
Humbug to the following:
Tourists and residents that were making fun of several marine corps servicemen (in uniform) walking down Las Vegas Blvd.
Smokers who would deliberately pass their smoke straight into the face of a non-smoker.
Learning how to stand on the right and pass on the left.
Off to Vegas
Flying to Vegas tomorrow and back Monday.
It will be in the 60's for the rest of the week! =)
The Flying Imams
Obviously, if you plan to make yourself conspicuous and doing things that would attract other passengers and the crew, then why is it discrimination?
By gaming the YouTube system, they are able to "censor" videos that are offensive to them. One fellow user noted that if you keep on giving 1 star and flagging the video as inappropriate, you can get the video removed and the user banned.
With tens of thousands of videos out there, how could we be sure that the YouTube admins are able to note which videos are fairly judged to be offensive? Is there enough human interaction to ensure the monitoring system at YouTube is not being duped?
Remember World AIDS Day!
By the way, December 1 was World AIDS Day
How to properly get out of a car (for Brit, Paris, Lohan)
This is especially useful for Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan. They need to be declared official D-list stars and banned from every awards show or party. I heard Brit and Hilton are hosting the Billboard Awards this year. OMG!
The Cristal & Jay-Z
Just another potshot at Jay-Z. It would seem one of his unknowing fans sent him a bottle of Cristal champagne at his table. Given his recent announced boycott of the champagne, he went ahead and pour the expensive liquid onto the floor. The club was Marquee.
How about giving that bottle to another table or some other people that would like to enjoy the expensive brew?
While it's not the bling-bling of hip-hop and rap artists, it is still good for everyone else.
ahh, now i know why SIM chips are not popular here
According to Wikipedia:
The use of SIM card is mandatory in the GSM world, whereas the SIM is not very popular in the CDMA world.
T-Mobile is also based in Europe, so that's why all of their phones have a SIM chip. Verizon, being based only in the US, has theirs built-in.
I got a fellow co-worker that wants to replace her phone. She wants my chocolate, but it's the euro version, not the verizon one, but she cannot buy one off a reseller because her verizon phone has no SIM chip so she cannot switch. Bollux!
hmm, looks like no SIM for Verizon (except for worldphones i think), Nextel, Sprint, Cingular/ATT (though they are in the process of converting to GSM eventually. yay!).
Get Your US Passport
Did all of you get your passports yet?
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has announced that all air travelers entering the United States will be required to show passports beginning January 23, 2007. This will include returning Americans and people from Canada and other nations in the Western Hemisphere.
This only affect air travelers.
Entering the U.S. by land or sea will require a passport beginning January 2008.
If you want to travel to Windsor or Niagara Falls (Canadian side), or Mexico you will need to present a U.S. passport of alternative security ID card. Your drivers' license and birth certificate will no longer be accepted as official identification.
Homeland Security has estimated that about one in four Americans (25 percent) have a U.S. passport. Quite a low figure compared to other nations.
Agency data on September 2006 showed that 69 percent of US travelers to Canada, 58 percent of US travelers to Mexico, and 75 percent of US travelers to the Caribbean hold passports.
Age 16 or older: $67 application fee. $30 execution fee. Total $97.
Under Age 16: $52 application fee. $30 execution fee. Total $82.
Renewal: $67 application fee plus old passport
Expedited Service - Add $60
Should US passports be given to Americans at no-charge? Replacements and renewals be subject to a reasonable fee?
Bronx Principal does "Chicken Noodle Soup"
Ok, a white principal dancing "Chicken Noodle Soup" - so all you PC folks out there... insensitive? offensive?
Look at the video. The kids loved it. Could we just drop any racial accusations and just have some fun? Thank you.
Playstation 3 - How to Avoid a Riot
Stupid idea at Super Wal-Mart in Palmdale, CA: Since it only had 10 PS3 available, they decided to tell the approx 50 customers waiting in line for it that they had to run from one end of the parking lot to 10 chairs, and those that got the chairs would be able to buy it. A riot ensued, and one 19-year old man was injured when he ran into a pole.
Smart idea at Best Buy in Boston, MA: Aware it only had 140 consoles, its employees gave out tickets to the first 140 people in line so everyone could go home.
The Burger King Song
Back to that wonderful BK song... enjoy!
"Las Vegas" show takes a pot shot at sexual harrassment
The second episode of Las Vegas, Season 4 had a few scenes where the cast did an executive sexual harassment seminar. Of course by now, most people knew Danny (Josh Duhamel) was fraternising with Delinda (Molly Sims) which is pretty much a no-no in a lot of corporate environments. The first scene does not really go into depth about sexual harassment, but some of the cast including Ed's (James Caan) voice recorder try to make a few pot shots at different scenarios where they can be accussed of SH.
Near the end of the episode, Danny gets the cast and executives of the hotel together and makes an apology for the seminar for being confusing, lame, stupid, and a waste of their time. He then announces that Delinda was his g/f. He explains that in Las Vegas, you can get sex, riches, and dreams, so there is a lot of temptation out there.
He then laid out a few simple rules:
Guys - Don't be creepy, if you ask a girl out, and she says no, that's it.
Women - There is a difference between a guy being a jerk and sexual harassment. Use common sense, you got plenty of it.
Gay or straight, young or old, the golden rule is the standard.
Knuckleheads or those that cannot help themselves will see Danny or the corporate lawyer.
Is it possible to treat this with simplicity and know that a lot of people have a good decent amount of common sense to deal with the complex world of sexual harassment? With rules and guidelines on how we say, behave, and treat other colleagues, we are basically walking in a minefield everyday.
If you wish to travel around Europe
I encourage everyone not to use Ryanair, the discount Irish airline. Even though they offer flights for as little as 1 pound, they are truly the "no-frills" airline. They are even worse than Southwest. Actually, if you compare Ryanair with Southwest, the word "discount" is taken quite literally.
Customer service is basically zero, and if something happens to your flight (i.e. gets cancelled), expect no or very little compensation. They would blame it on the weather, on the airport, or even the passengers, but never themselves. If the flight gets cancelled, there is no hotel or food comp, and if they ask that you need to go to another airport, they will not offer coach service.
If you are handicapped, you are in trouble right from the start. Ryanair used to charge an elderly or handicap passenger for using an airport wheelchair. After legal action, Ryanair decided to charge every passenger on the flight a handicap fee to finance the use of wheelchairs. Then they said it was the airport's fault, not the airline.
They are also notorious with baggage weight. If you go over, you have to pay a hefty fee. They also nix the ability for passengers to pool their baggage weights together. Rumors have been flying that Ryanair has rigged the weight scales to benefit them.
The seats really suck, and they would re-assign your seat for reasons of load balancing, which is really a poor bullsh*t excuse. Then throughout the flight, they would offer expensive food and snacks and other duty-free products.
I am sure people may think about tolerating Ryanair's cheap attitude, go right ahead. On occassion, there won't be any fuss. But if something unfortunate happens, don't look to Ryanair for assistance.
Trader Gets a Smackdown
The financial industry can be a bit "hostile"
Sigma Chi Fraternity at Johns Hopkins Suspended over "Hood" Party
The Sigma Chi fraternity at Johns Hopkins University was suspended because they held a "Halloween in the Hood" party that drew protests by black students.
It would appear that an invitation to the party, posted on the Facebook.com web site, encouraged guests to wear "regional clothing from our locale" with jewelry including "bling bling ice ice, grills" and "hoochie hoops."
Outside the fraternity house, a skeleton pirate was found hanging on a noose.
Black Student Union members protested the party saying the appearance of the image and the language of the invitation highlighted racial tensions at Hopkins and the strained relations between the University and the surrounding community. Protestors had signs depicting a historical lynching next to a picture of the fraternity's skeleton.
The University suspended the fraternity pending a full investigation. Sigma Chi's international headquarters has suspended the chapter's operations for 45 days and said further disciplinary action was possible. At a campus forum, members of Sigma Chi apologised for the actions of the author of the invitation.
The Baltimore branch of the NAACP intends to explore legal action against the fraternity and the university.
Does this show absolute proof that the fraternity is being racist against African-Americans? The media such as MTV and BET have glorified hip-hop culture where people boast about their "bling bling jewelry" and their "hoochie hoops." It would seem that if a white person said that, he or she is labeled a racist or making fun of blacks.
Now, the invitation was done in poor taste. In fact, in any Halloween party, people do dress up as hip-hop stars, gangsters, rappers, and what not. Should they be labeled race-hating persons if a white person was wearing them? It would seem to me that wearing any black-associated costume is a no-no for everyone else.
For Black Student Union members trying to link a skeleton pirate being hanged to a racist lynching is an extreme example at best. Obviously, pirates are usually hanged if they are captured. So what if the name of the party did not include the word "Hood," would the hanging skeleton be still considered a racist portrayal of a lynching? If that is the case, then I have to say that there are people out there who believe everyone is out to get them just because of the skin of their color. Sounds to me that it is more about racist paranoia.
But it doesn't stop there. The NAACP has to get in on the kill. Come on here, black students were not lynched or killed off. Suddenly, a party theme done in poor taste means that the whole University is considered to be insensitive to racial relations. Perhaps they can blame the Pirates of the Caribbean movie for showing hanging pirates. Yep, Johnny Depp is racist so let's go boycott Disney for making such a racist film.
This was an incident blown out of proporation. It would seem the University and the Sigma Chi international fraternity are more fearful about lawsuits and are willing to put up these fraternity members as the scapegoats. Then Johns Hopkins students would need to attend diversity training and have to sign some sort of multi-cultural pledge. Multi-cultural correctness gone amok.
Now this would all be different if this fraternity had racial problems in the past. If this was their first bad incident, it would seem that the reaction has gone quite overboard. It would seem more likely that the Black Student Union wanted the publicity to embarass the school. That is how I see that given the facts that are laid out. If there is any new information, I sure want to see it.
11/2/06 - The chapter has expelled social chair, junior Justin Park, for posting the advertisement on Facebook.com. The Black Student Union (BSU) continues on the warpath with demonstrations throughout the week, calling on Johns Hopkins to punish the fraternity severely. It has also challenged the administration to pursue a number of institutional changes that they "claim" are necessary to fight the latent undercurrent of racism on campus that has been ignored for years.
General sentiment at the party never thought that the pirate hanging decoration outside of the house party resemble a mockup lynching. This includes fraterntiy members and party attendees. It would seem more students were offended by the invitation than by the theme name for the party.
Marvin Cheatham, president of Baltimore chapter of NAACP, stated they had no plans to pursue legal action against the University.
I wonder how other Greeks at Johns Hopkins are responding to this.
Back to BSU complaints... it seems that the party was just one issue on top of a haystack. They have claimed that whtie and Asian students routinely snub black students when it comes to forming study groups, there aren't nearly enough black tenured faculty members and white faculty advisors routinely pressured black students to either change majors or drop courses; and the assumption that black students are unqualified to attend Hopkins and got a free affirmative action pass. It sounds to me there is a lot of pent-up frustration and the "hood" party just opened the floodgates.
Another shot at this "lynching" costume... black students claim that the hanging pirate was meant to symbolise a lynching. Suddenly, they are painting themselves as the victims. Come on here! Pirates were hanged. That is what they get for piracy. All hangings were NOT lynchings, and not all lynchings involved hanging.
11/3/06 - In response, the University will provide additional diversity training to students and faculty members, and plans to incorporate the history of racism into the campus curriculum and workshops, and better communication with multicultural groups.
Seems like students will have to sign a pledge to uphold the political correctness world of multiculturalism. Looks like I do not see any ban on hanging skeleton pirate decorations implemented yet.
But really, how much more diversity training is needed? Now everything what you say or type can be construed as offensive and racist. What happened to common sense?
11/5/06 - BSU protestors still think not enough is being done to address their concerns
11/8/06 - When you think about it... it was a Korean student that wrote the Facebook.com invitation. He called it "satirical" when some complained about the first version. He re-did and made it even more offensive. So I guess blacks are also calling Asians racist too. Just imagine when more hispanic students are at Johns Hopkins.
So Justin H. Park has been made the scapegoat. His statement: "I am not a racist - anybody who knows me will attest to the fact," Park wrote in the apology. "That my statement has been misconstrued as derogatory and hateful to a certain group of people is especially hurtful to me."
NAACP have claimed that Hopkins leaders are allowing a "racist" atmosphere to persist on campus. Really??? Hmm, I wonder if they got the data to prove that.
Sigma Chi - Kappa Upsilon Chapter Suspended
Johns Hopkins News Letter - Sigma Chi's Long Night
Johns Hopkins News Letter - Protests Erupt Over Allegations of Racist Sigma Chi Party
JHU Gazette - Steps Taken to Address Recent Racial Concerns
Baltimore Sun - Hopkins targets campus racism
Baltimore Sun - Hopkins protestors see little improvement
Time to give the other side a shout out!
Yep... Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth ...the egotistical, D-List celeb from Donald Trump's The Apprentice Show.
I really thought she would just disappear from the spotlight. She is just one of those reality-show contestants that wanted to milk her 15 minutes worth of fame way too much.
So why is she back in the news? She got implants!!!
Why pull a "Pamela Anderson?" Please just go home and mind your own business. Your spotlight has been turned off permanently!
Michael J. Fox - Stem Cell Research & Claire McCaskill
This ad was shown during the World Series in St. Louis.
Naturally, it was a political ad, but you have to feel so sad seeing him try to give his message in his condition.
Some call it exploitation believing that Democrats are being desperate. Some believe stem cell research are killing the unborn. Yet, we do not do enough to adopt unwanted children or people forget that artificial insemination also involve embryos being destroyed in order to produce a baby for infertile couples.
For some of you that believe that Michael is play-acting, think again. He has Parkinson's Disease.
I am curious, should sacrifices be made to benefit the entire society as a whole? If you knew there was a chance to cure cancer, would you sacrifice a few for the many?
I know one for sure, some politicians view embryos as unborn voters. Disgusting.
Opponents have hit back with a political ad responding to Fox's. It includes Royals player Mike Sweeney, former St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl quarterback Kurt Warner, actress Patricia Heaton, actor Jim Caviezel, and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan.
Seems to be overkill including 5 celebrities against Michael J. Fox.
In the commercial, Sweeney says "Missouri, don't be fooled." Suppan says "It makes cloning a constitutional right. Don't be deceived."
Again, groups are equating embryonic stem cell research to cloning since it will generate fear into the American public that scientists are trying to grow body parts and throwing out the rest.
Others are criticising Fox for exaggerating his physical condition. But you know what? The likely end result for many Americans with Parkinson's is what Fox is enduring.
It would be difficult for Republicans and conservative groups to attack Michael J. Fox directly. He is quite a popular actor and mostly everyone knows his condition when he went public in 1998.
More Iraqi Dead
So another 44 Iraqi people were reported killed across the country. Militants targeted police recruits and shoppers doing last-minute purchases to mark the end of the Ramandan holy month.
The U.S. military announced the deaths of eight soldiers, raising to 86 the number of American servicemembers killed in October.
U.S. President George W. Bush stood firm in his support for al-Maliki, saying he "has got what it takes to lead a unity government." But the president noted the urgency the new government faces to stop the killing.
"I'm patient. I'm not patient forever, and I'm not patient with dawdling," Bush said. "But I recognize the degree of difficulty of the task, and therefore, say to the American people, we won't cut and run."
So far, it seems that al-Maliki is not strong enough take on the dissenting factions in his government.
Cut-and-Run, Mr. President?
How about Search-and-Destroy? Sweep-and-clear?
I find it unsettling for the President to call the American people "cowards" if we leave Iraq. We are spending billions in Iraq with no end in sight. Hundreds of millions dollars are supposedly lost by the Iraqi government. We have a secretarian civil war on our hands.
By the end of 2006, we will have spent almost $420 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan.
One good thing that Senator McCain did on one of the recent war spending bill. He sponsored an amendment (passed 98-0) ending the practice of submitting war emergency bills separately. "We're adding hundreds of billions to conveniently named emergency expenditures" that do not have to be accounted for in the budget, he said.
The amendment would only apply to war spending and would allow additional emergency Pentagon spending with justification.
No extra-large portions
The one thing that I appreciate while staying in Europe was that the restaurants always know what is the proper portion to serve out.
It looks like in the United States, having extra large portions seems to be the normal way, and the basic expectations among fatty Americans.
In a USA TODAY survey, most restaurants are dishing out portions that are 2 to 4 times bigger than the government's recommended serving sizes.
A typical restaurant meal alone would contain at least 60% more calories than the average meal at home.
The survey noted that older chefs tend to serve smaller portions, and younger chefs dish larger ones. It seems that seeing a empty plate after dinner is a no-no. Oh yes, they want to give you a large-sized portion just to see if you can manage to eat it all.
Restaurants worry that customers would notice the small-sized portions if they tried to cut back. Why worry??? Who knows they will seek out a buffet restaurant offering unlimited food for only $8.95 and they can eat till they gain a waist size or two. Honestly, buffet eateries should disappear as well as all-you-cat eat promotions. They just ruin your food intake.
This is why dessert is always skipped.
Basic Vehicle Necessity: Rear View Camera for Parking
The problem we have here is being able to parallel park correctly. As we go to the movies, shop, or just drive to some destination, we often find owners trying to fit their vehicles into a tight open space along the sidewalk or being unable to determine how much space should be left over when you finished parking. I am sure most of you including myself have backed a bit too much, and hit the front bump of the vehicle behind you. I am sure very few of you have moved back a bit too quick, and causing the vehicle's alarm to go off.
In recent news, Lexus announced that their LS model will come with a "Park Assist" feature. Yet, the price tag for a luxury model would be pretty much out of the price range of many college students (except for the most rich =P). Mercedes and BMW have also announced similar features.
Yet, the one necessity that is considered to be a normal part of a vehicle in Japan, but as a luxury feature in the U.S. is the backup cam and/or sensor. Parallel parking for large-sized SUVs is probably very difficult given the harder perception to determine the amount of distance available in the rear. Your sideview mirror can help, but remember "objects in mirror are closer than they appear."
Even if you do manage to parallel park, you get out and check, and you notice that you got a lot of space still. Now this is my complaint. In most cases, the driver would just leave the car as-is. It would be nice to get back into your vehicle, and adjust accordingly just for courtesy sake.
I do not see why car dealers should treat the backup cam as a "extra" item for your vehicle. It ought to be part of the base model. It would help avoid potential car damage and limited liability.
If this keeps up, I may have to jury-rig a webcam in the back by myself.
A Driver Rant
Will owners of the Ford F-150 truck please do not park in the first spot in the parking garage row. Did you know that your vehicle extends out quite a lot so it blocks a quarter of the passing way.
Will Human Remains remain as a permanent obstacle to rebuilding Ground Zero?
On Friday, New York City announced that it will search parts of the World Trade Center site again for remains of the Sept. 11 dead after several bones were pulled out of an abandoned manhole.
It appears there were bone fragments, and were almost as large as a hand or arm, plus a few personal effects.
The Sept. 11 victims' families have demanded that all construction be stopped at ground zero until remains of all their loved ones are recovered. They also called for a state and federal investigation into the failure of recovering all human remains.
Yahoo AP - NYC to look for more remains at WTC site
Baltimore Sun - More pain, another search of Ground Zero for remains
Diane Horning, where her son, Matthew Horning, who was killed in the attacks, stated at a news conference: "We cannot stress strongly enough that we are outraged by the continued cavalier attitude toward the retrieval of human remains. This new development makes us all physically ill and fills us with renewed pain."
She even suggested that the remains in the manhole could be more of her son since part of his body was found not far from there.
Alright, I am sure all of us do sympathise with the families on that awful tragic day, but we really need to face reality. Ever since 9/11, over 20,000 pieces of human remains have been found, but the DNA in thousands of fragments was too damaged to yield any identification. More than 1,100 of the 2,749 victims have not been recovered.
The remains found in the manhole could be any one of the 1,100 or perhaps any one of the 2,749 victims. The WTC Families for Proper Burial has filed a lawsuit against the city calling for a search and burial. (Ok how many organisations are out there with the name WTC Families or Victims? Too many.) They alleged that the city "does not care" about recovering all human remains and did the process too quickly.
So one unfortunate discovery is an example of widespread carelessness? Everyone has been trying to do their very best. Imagine if remains were found along the Battery Park, should we shut down the entire park and surrounding buildings and do a thorough search? Should residents living in nearby buildings around Ground Zero be subject to fine or prison time if they are alleged to have cleaned up "human remains" that may have floated into their residence? That debris smoke field was quite extensive.
Life must continue on. If new DNA methods are found, they must be used, but in an effective manner. The city cannot just shut down their financial hub for search and burial. Let's be realistic.
Deputy Mayor for Administration Edward Skyler said "The recovery effort after 9/11 was one of our city's finest hours. We will continue to conduct this important work in the same dignified and caring manner as we did in the past, befitting those we lost and this great city."
A lawsuit is not the answer. Let the city be able to do its job to find what went wrong. Involving the state and federal authorities invites more red tape and bureaucratic nonsense.
Celebrities adopting children abroad
Recently, Madonna and Guy Ritchie thought it would be great publicity to go all the way to Malawi (a country in southern Africa) and adopt a 1-year old boy. Regardless if her intention was heartfelt in adopting a child who lives in a dilapidated orphanage near the Zambian border, I question the agenda behind it.
Is this to play catch up to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt? Another PR move to improve her Raising Malawi charity?
Some may think I am being mean here, but it just seems that every major celebrity couple are going out to Africa or southeast Asia to adopt a child as part of their charity campaign.
Malawian law prohibits adoptions by non-residents, but the government is "willing" to make an exception for Madonna (obviously).
RANT: So no Usher? Give me my refund!
Last week, five-time Grammy Award winner Usher has been out with strep-throat infection, so he cannot perform for the Tony-winning revival of Chicago. With his sickness getting worse, he could not finish his final week.
As a result of his early departure, theatregoers asked for their ticket refunds back, and the production lost an estimated $400,000 in potential revenues. Chicago producer, Barry Weissler, told the NY daily, "We never expected this. He was very sick last week, and it's just gotten worse. Unfortunately, he won't be coming back."
Naturally, when an above-the-title star is absent from a production, theatregoers are entitled to either a refund or a chance to exchange their tickets for another performance.
Despite Usher's early exit, the production earned about $1.7 million.
Understandbly, when well-known actors and actresses feature themselves in a Broadway musical, tickets to these shows sell out pretty quickly. Examples include Usher for Chicago and Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick for the Producers.
However, it would seem that when a popular actor or actress leaves the show for personal or for sickness, tickets are refunded, and attendance drops. Obviously.
Yet, this "celebrity" factor is probably detrimental to the Broadway musical industry.
Sometimes, the whole musical is not dependent on one person alone. You got the rest of the cast, production crew, orchestra, and staff. Can we just appreciate the fact that we are attending a great musical and not basing our decision solely on the lead actor or actress?
It was unfortunate for Usher to be unable to perform during his last week, but if you refunded your ticket just because of him, then I really feel sorry for you. There was an understudy for Usher, and getting your refund is pretty much an insult to him and the rest of the cast and crew of this Tony award-winning production.
The show ought to not give out any refunds. The understudy actually did excellent in his performance so why should you feel your ticket was less worthy? How about giving your $100 ticket to someone else more appreciative of the musical group, and rent the DVD instead?
RANT: Please Kick off the "Italian" Bachelor
I have not watched the latest season of The Bachelor. Why should I? The latest bachelor wannabe is a so-called "Italian prince" named Lorenzo Borghese. How can this be possible since he was raised up in Connecticut and New Jersey, and he still cannot speak enough Italian to order dinner at the Olive Garden. Besides, everyone should know that the producers enrolled Borghese in an intensive Berlitz Italian language course (ABC denies this of course).
ABC even claims he was born in Milan. Unless I see a birth certificate, he was probably born in the states, and not in Italy. If you check his records, he has been living in New Jersey for the last couple of years.
The "Prince" title is just for show. He does not have a castle or even a claim to some throne in Europe. He probably was not even using the title before he was brought onto the show. Now's he promoting a line of cosmetics called Royal Treatment Pet Care. Yep, great way to milk your title for dog grooming products. I believe he has lowered himself to even below Paris Hilton's stupidest things.
But we cannot just blame him for not even respecting his Italian heritage. The next $64,000 question is why these 27 would-be Cinderallas do this in the first place? For publicity? Trying to find Mr. Right? To find true love in a few short weeks?
"Prince" Lorenzo Borghese says he's in love. Bullsh*t.
He's thinking about marriage. Bullsh*t. He was busy flirting with all the babes at the ASPCA's Young Friends Benefit.
Honestly, do people think him and the winner Cinderalla will still be together after a year or so? Probably not.
Last, will someone please knock off the socialite. That's her profession, believe it or not.
PETA goes after cockroaches
In addition to combating fur ladies, protecting cats and dogs, and other animals, it has decided to protest on behalf of this little "pest" against theme park operator, Six Flags Inc.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for Six Flags to cancel a competition in which people will try to break the world cockroach-eating record. The contest is part of a promotion leading to Halloween. This is in addition to the other promotion where customers can get free entry or be able to jump the queue if they eat a live Madagascar hissing cockroach.
PETA has alleged that it has received many calls from children, adults, and even anonymous employees of Six Flags opposing the record-breaking contest and the overall promotion.
Spokeswoman Jackie Vergerio said "Insects do not deserve to be eaten alive especially for a gratuitous marketing gimmick."
The current record holder is Ken Edwards of Derbyshire, England who devoured 36 Madagascar hissing cockroaches in one minute in 2001. The winner will win a season pass for four people for 2007 with VIP queue-jumping status.
Six Flags has countered that the only complaints received were from people who did not have the opportunity to sign up and eat a cockroach because 12 of its 30 parks in the US, Canada, and Mexico were participating in the promotion.
Any health concerns were dismissed since the cockroaches are raised in a sterile environment and were as safe to eat as shrimp or lobster with high nutritional value.
It is strange enough for PETA to go after the one insect that would probably survive in a nuclear war.
PETA, drop the bullsh*t protest, and go back to spray painting fur ladies. Clearly, a waste of money and time.
Reuters News - Cockroach-eating contest bugs animal group
Wikipedia - Cockroach
Different Multiplication Table Method
Fear has become a dangerous weapon
According to the Seattle Times - Man forced off plane by fellow passengers article, Pablo Gutierrez Vega, a Spanish university professor with a long beard and dark complexion said Thursday he was briefly forced off an airliner during a layover on the Spanish island of Mallorca by passengers who feared he was an Islamic terrorist.
Apparently, three German passengers approached him on the Air Berlin flight and asked to search his carryon luggage. After realising that the passengers were NOT undercover officers, the professor refused.
The pilot spoke to the professor in private stating that the small group were fearful because they think he looks like a terrorist.
Usually, the passenger at the center of the incident would have been removed from the plane, detained by security, questioned, then put on the next plane.
However, the pilot actually asked the professor if he wanted the three German passengers expelled from the aircraft, or place his carryon luggage in the cockpit to pacify the other "fearful" passengers. The professor chose the latter.
UK Speeding Ads More Serious
Here's one example of an ad that shows driving 30 mph and hitting a pedestrian gives the person 80% chance of survival, instead of likely fatal 80% death at 40 mph.
I do promise on my next Case visit to stop by the "wall" behind Thwing Center. I'll do an analysis, take a few photos, then make a concrete opinion about it.
It seems to some that I am advocating some sort of suppression of freedom of expression.... a rhyme! It is just strange for some to misinterpret my views as being anti-free speech. I thought I did quite a lot to advocate student activism during my time, but I was more along the lines that the idea was just stupid. How can the wall be different than writing chalk on the sidewalk? It's just the same thing except you're looking straight instead of down.
Maybe we can use paint now or we got more space to "express" ourselves. I don't know. Honestly, people will get tired of it and who knows... it will get removed without any fuss, or perhaps when the new student center gets built, the "wall" would not come back when the construction's all done. Unfortunately, I don't think that will happen in the next 5-6 years.
Oh yes, I have to stop by the Spirit Rock too. Maybe some brothers would be interested in doing a paint over while I'm there.
I heard Blackwell is going to get creamed this November, maybe DeWine too.
Coca-Cola - "World Cup Winner"
Coca-Cola, according to initial research compiled for football(soccer) world governing body FIFA, "won the world cup" in terms of sponsorship.
It was one of 15 official FIFA "partners" at this year's event, but has been a World Cup partner of FIFA since the 1970 tournament in Mexico.
Honestly, Coke is the best...time to switch! =)
BBC News - Coca-Cola "wins sponsor World Cup"
US is now 6th in world competitiveness
According to the World Economic Forum's report released today, the United States is ranked sixth (6th) in the 2006 global competitiveness rankings, ceding the top spot to Switzerland.
The report cited Washington's huge defense and homeland security spending commitments, plans to lower taxes further, and long-term potential costs from health care and pensions. It also cited a low savings rate, record-high current account deficits, and worsening of the US net debtor position.
Above the US were Switzerland (1st), Finland (2nd), Sweden (3rd), Denmark (4th), and Singapore (5th). After the US, Japan (7th), Germany (8th), Netherlands (9th), and UK (10th).
Washington Post - US Drops to 6th in world competitiveness ranking
Las Vegas DVD
Over the weekend, I went through the entire Season 3 DVD of Las Vegas. I just keep on hating to miss an episode during the season (no TIVO or DVR recorder handy). Season 4 starts Friday, Oct 20. This kinda sucks since I go out Friday night. Looks like I need to buy a DVR recorder pretty soon.
Next time to remember: avoid mixing Patron tequila, champagne, and beer together. =)
Forbes US Richest - My Recommendations
1) Those that inherited their billions should be left off the list
2) The Waltons should just merged themselves into one category, I do not really care if they occupy 6th, 7th, 9th, and 11th in the rankings. Just merge their fortunes (minux their inheritance), and give them first place.
3) Those that hold most of their billions in stock (on paper), example Bill Gates, The Google Twins should get a penalty.
4) Those that have done unethical or illegal things should be dropped off the list (example #140 - Nancy Walton Laurie; her daughter was found to pay her USC roommate $20,000 to do her homework - U Missouri dropped her daughter's naming rights from the basketball arena)
Forbes.com - The 400 Richest Americans
Religion and Alcohol: Homer Simpson
Homer Simpson's favorite quote:
"To alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."
Now we do need to replace the word alcohol with religion. Yes, there are those in the world that use religion to advocate violence, and there are some that believe that it will bring salvation to everyone. I consider it a catch-22 pretty much.
Pope Benedict XVI's comments on violence with the Muslim faith were definitely taken out of context, but who is really paying attention to that fact. Regardless of his apology, extremists groups are just busy using this as an excuse to launch a jihad ("holy war") against the West and Christianity.
Yahoo AP - Iranian leader urges more papal protests
My question to all of you: Is it possible that religion could spark a fundamentalist revolution in America and give rise to ultra-evangelicalism as a defense against the Islamic extremists?
It is time - WTC Memorial
It's time for smart New Jersey people to act
There are only two states in the country where it is illegal for you to pump gas to your own vehicle.
Oregon and NEW JERSEY
Only gas station owners or employees can pump gas in your vehicle. In 1949, New Jersey passed the law restricting customers from this because it was assumed that it would be too dangerous having untrained people dispensing such a flammable liquid. This was the ORIGINAL INTENT of the legislation.
Why does the law need to go? Honestly, the time it takes for a gas station attendant to pump your gas at a busy station takes precious time from the motorist. One gas station I visited had the ability to support fueling for 12 vehicles, but it only had two attendants. It is time to be sensible and let convenience triumph over inefficiency. It is also surprising to note that this statute has stood up to several challenges.
For some reasons, proponents believe the ban create jobs and customers like full service. They rather believe that customers would like to stay in the comfort of their vehicle while the gas station attendant does the dirty work.
First, you can have customers that prefer full-service but you will have customers that prefer the ability to pump their gas quickly and get out of there as fast as possible.
Second, it defeats the purpose of "Speedpass" used at Exxonmobil gas stations where the customer can just wave their speedpass device at a scanner at the pump, and it would deduct the payment from the customer's account. Plus, the ability to pay by credit card right at the pump without going inside the gas station store to pay for it.
Bill Dressler, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association, is an adamant opponent of self-serve. He reasoned that NJ had the "foresight" to see the dangers of inexperienced motorists trying to operate fuel pumps. He even contends that motorists not only pay less for gas, but are spared the "inconvenience of getting out in all kinds of weather."
I did not believe that New Jersey folks are "cowards" in the face of snow, rain, sleet, or cats and dogs falling out of the sky. I like to self-serve my vehicle, thank you very much.
Other arguments about customers not knowing how to top-off their vehicle, not wanting to get the smell of gasoline on your hands, the time it takes to go to the conveience store and pay for your gas purchase are all moot. When was the last time an explosion at a NJ gas station was attributed to a topping-off spill? Can the smell really be a turn-off? Plus, we got pay-at-your-pump technology or is NJ really that backward?
In Oregon, the other state that does not allow self-service, Steve O'Toole, executive director of the Oregon Petroleum Marketers Association, stated "in certain states people just want to do things certain ways."
In May, Governor Jon S. Corzine attempted to put forth a proposal to bring self-service gasoline pumping to the NJ Turnpike and at some local stations. His office received 1,400 calls and e-mails of complaints against the measure. Lawmakers said they were not convinced that self-service was a good idea. Senior and disabled citizens would complain about it. So what about everybody else?!?!?!
I am completely fine with full-service but I want the choice of being able to pump my own gas. This is common sense. Stop DENYING my right to fill my gas tank!
A Waste of Taxpayer Time and Money: Example
In 1992, the British-built Slingsby T-3A Firefly was selected to replace the T-41 trainer aircraft. The US Air Force grounded them in 1997 after three fatal crashes.
Our wonderful Air Force discovered that fixing the planes was cost prohibitive. There was no maintenance since the grounding, and many of them were damaged by storm elements.
This past Monday, after 9 years, the Air Force has agreed to pay a metal-recycling company $12,000 to get rid of the planes. The scrap metal value would be used to offset the disposal cost. It will be finished by September 25.
The cost of the aircraft program to the taxpayer: $42 MILLION, plus another $10 MILLION in failed fixes.
It took 9 years for them to decide that the T-3A plane was no longer airworthy.
Thank you, US Air Force.
9/11/01 - Remember
Today, September 11, 2006 marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
Nearly 3,000 lives were lost on that day.
Four moments of silence are being planned today across the nation:
8:46, 9:03, 9:59, and 10:29
Each time when jetliners struck each of the twin towers and when each tower fell.
There is also moments of silence set for 8:46 am in the American and United terminals of Logan International Airport in Boston.
As evening falls, two giant beams of light symbolising the collapsed towers will illuminate the Manhattan sky. A candle-lit vigil is planned at Ground Zero.
In Respect - James Chang (Class of 2000), stood along the Jersey City waterfront near work and watched both Twin Towers collapse. I did not get home until 3-4pm that day.
No sex in the fast lane
Two colleagues at work were driving to work on the NJ Turnpike, and the car in front of them in the fast lane (the left lane) was going quite slow. When an opening on the right was offered, they made the attempt to pass the slow-moving car.
The reason for the slow car: the driver was getting pleasured
Musician Pete Doherty must be jailed with no parole
While in the UK, I cannot help but shake my head at the crazy and dangerous antics of musician Pete Doherty. He is the on-off boyfriend of supermodel Kate Moss.
The latest incident is his guilty plead to five drug charges. Obviously, he is a crack cocaine and heroin addict for a number of years. On April 20 of this year, he was caught in possession of cocaine and diamorphine as he drove in his car. On April 29, he was caught again with cocaine, this after he was out on bail. On August 7, he was caught a third time with crack cocaine.
His defense lawyer, Sean Curran, said "The are facts clear but I would urge the court to consider that Mr Doherty has made every effort to improve his situation." He told the court that Doherty's career would "suffer" greatly if he was jailed.
The prosecution cited Doherty's inability to steer clear of drugs while on bail as a cause for concern.
The shock of this is that Magistrate Mrs A. Rose (the person overseeing the case) granted bail to this drugged music artist. The three conditions were:
1. Live and sleep at the Prioy clinic
2. Daily curfew from 10pm to 8am
3. He cannot leave the clinic between those times
Honestly, do you really think he is going to come out drug-free out of that drug rehabilitation clinic. One of his close friends even said that "Pete was not a criminal... it will give him a chance to continue to recover." Bollux! Bullsh*t! A complete lie!
This is the same person who squirted a MTV cameraman with a syringe filled with is own blood, and he apparently injected himself with heroin prior to the interview. This is the same person that returned to the UK after a failed attempt to get himself "clean" at a rehab clinic in Arizona. He got arrested in Birmingham for driving a stolen vehicle. He was arrested for injecting himself with drugs on a budget airline.\
In April, he pleaded guilty to seven counts of drug possession, and the judge sentenced him to community service with a 2-year supervision order and 18 months of drug rehab. C'mon! Any other regular person would have been sentenced to prison.
Also in the same month, The Sun published pictures of him injecting heroin into the arm of a passed out fan. The image shows him holding the syringe as the girl lies unconscious on a kitchen floor. In his defense, he said it "was only a joke" and that it was staged. LOL! The girl was even defending the crack singer saying that the Doherty was extracting blood, not injecting any drug substance.
Really, enough is enough.
Someone ought to tell Magistrate Rose to rescind her conditional bail, send the police to the Priory Clinic and drag Pete Doherty to prison with no parole.
He has gotten PLENTY of slaps on the wrist for his many arrests. In the UK, he is committing a Class A Drug Possession violation - the category that includes hard-core substances as cocaine and heroin.
Send him to prison please. Every day he is out free sends a terrible message to the rest of society.
SF Gate - Pete Doherty
E Online - Doherty Draws Blood?
Plane Passengers doing the "profiling"
Daily Mail article - Link
While it may seem that some of the passengers' actions in forcing two men of Asian appearance off a Monarch Airlines ZB 613 flight (Malaga to Manchester, UK) was done with good intentions, it creates more harm than good in letting the terrorists dictate our actions and reactions to the latest scare.
It seems that some of the 150 passengers overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking in Arabic. A female passenger near them allegedly heard some comments that were "disturbing" to her. Worries among the people began to spread. Further suspicion was aroused because since it was hot, the two men were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers (sweaters) and were regularly checking their watches. Of course it is unclear whether the departure lounge was air-conditioned, plus we all look at our watch when a flight is being delayed on a normal basis.
At first, six passengers refused to board the flight. Further surprise was made when a family group stood up and walked off the plane, followed by other passengers. Essentially, they refused to board the plane until the two Asian men were removed. The two Asian passengers were escorted off the jet, then three hours later, after another security sweep, the aircraft was cleared to leave.
The two men were later cleared by airport security and rebooked to travel to Manchester on a later flight.
Patrick Mercer, the Tory (opposition) Homeland Security spokesman, said that it was a "victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally." The Civil Guard in Malaga responded, "These men had aroused suspicion because of their appearance and the fact that they were speaking in a foreign language thought to be an Arabic language, and the pilot was refusing to take off until they were escorted off the plane."
So was it right for these passengers to judge the appearance of these two Asian men and decide that they are a threat to the security of the aircraft? These two men were security-checked. In a different incident, two British women with young children complained about flying with a bearded Muslim even though he had been security-checked twice before boarding.
Was it the right thing to do? Could this happen on an American flight? It would seem that anyone of "color" could "threaten" the safety of all the passengers and crew. It is true that we may give a "second look" to Muslims, but could it spread from there? A security scare in West Virginia led to the detention of a woman of Pakistani descent. Could this lead to more apprehension among passengers about Pakistani people in general? The only problem is that Pakistani and Indian come from the same region, so they would have similiar features. Indian people could also find themselves under more scrutiny. If it was an Asian terrorist plot, then Chinese, Japanese, and Korean people fall under the scope.
Seriously, this could bring about a precedent where another passenger can decide whether you, a fellow passenger, are a threat to them, and because of the increase in the security threat, the crew would, for the sake of convenience, choose to remove the person rather than ignoring the passengers' concerns. Look at the numbers. Should we remove two passengers? Or ignore the concerns of the other 148?
I can also find it disconcerting if a person who is of a minority group attain a first-class ticket on a long-haul flight, and the rest of the first-class cabin (which likely could be caucausian) can view that person with suspicion. Their first suggestion in their mind is whether this person is a terrorist. It may seem paranoid to suggest such a thing, but I believe it does happen.
Profiling by passengers is a dangerous combination, whether it results in something good or bad. We leave it to our government to maintain and enforce our security checkpoints and the airline's staff and crew to keep the plane secured. There are at times where we must leave it to the professionals to determine what proper action should be taken.
Verizon is killing the Chocolate!
As a followup to LG Chocolate Arrives in the US entry, let's see how Verizon is showcasing the US version of the LG Chocolate phone.
Now, a few of my colleagues were considering getting the phone, but it seems the US phone is somewhat more tackier than its European version. One of two co-workers ventured over to the Verizon Wireless shop to check out the phone, then compared it to my phone (which I bought in Vienna, Austria).
European version: 83 grams (2.92 oz)
US version: 99.22 grams (3.5 oz)
What did they add in there? It could be the internal slot for external memory.
European version is very slightly thinner though it could be rounded off, but a few colleagues did notice the difference anyways.
Verizon then goes ahead and offers different bundles with the phone. Of course it fails to let the customer know that the usual accessories are already added, and tries to trap the customer into buying the $199.99 and $249.99 packages instead of the base $149.99 version. I doubt you would need the leather case or the music essentials kit. The microSD 2GB card can be bought at Best Buy at a cheaper price. The worry about converting music files is overexaggerated. Just plug the phone USB cable into your computer and it will just open a normal explorer window, and you can drop pictures or mp3's into the appropriate folders.
It is really much easier to handle regardless of what CNET thinks about it.
Again, the phone is much more known for its stylish design and red-lighted touchpad. Having a speakerphone for calls seems unnecessary because the mobile phone is not meant for it; you can find the proper accessory cable to attain it; you do not want to annoy other people around you; and it is better for playing songs.
Standby time and talk time are decent. I think CNET's beef is with the rest of the features, you may not have enough battery power left. I don't really see it as your mp3 player replacement. I would leave 20 songs or so on it so you can customise your ring settings, but if you want to play mp3's, get an iPod.
People should probably wait until the phone becomes available at Cingular or T-Mobile. I am sure it won't be too long. T-Mobie is also a provider in Europe, so the Chocolate phone is more available over there. Besides, they are already releasing different colors in the European market.
It seems to me that Verizon is trying to do a hype overload on the Chocolate since they are the only provider offering the phone, and by doing that, they are giving the phone a bad name. Two-year agreement, and the usual $175 termination fee. Still a rip-off unfortuantely.
World Trade Center premieres August 9th
True story of Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, two Port Authority police officers who rushed into the burning World Trade Center on 9/11 to help rescue people, but became trapped themselves when the tower collapsed. A race against time ensued to free them before their air ran out.
So where were you on Sept 11, 2001? I can still remember what happened during that day almost five years ago. I stood along the Jersey City waterfront and watched the towers fall. I saw the ending of the second plane exploding on the South Tower from the Hoboken pier. But I saw how the people came together to help each other, to support each other during that awful day.
It is time to reflect and remember. It is time to remember our heroes.
Moviefone - Listings & Showtimes
Fandango - Listings & Showtimes
First day: Approx $4.4 million in movie box receipts
So if you use your TI calculator...
to calculate what is 7 x 5, are you just lazy, dumb, or just a habit? Or how about the square root of 81? Or, for heavens sake, 9 divided by 1?
I probably have seen one person at a large group at dinner take out his calculator and started calculating the tax and tip. Is that weird? Normal? Or you just unable to calculate a quick approximation of how much you are willing to put in?
Increasing the Federal Govt Power at the expense of the States?
The United States National Guard is a component of the US Army (the Army National Guard) and the US Air Force (Air National Guard).
However in each of the 50 states of the US, they maintain their own military forces (New York National Guard, New Jersey, Texas, etc.). These forces are federaly recognised, but are separate from the National Guard and are not meant to be federalised, but rather service the state exclusively, especially when the National Guard is deployed and unavailable.
As for being used by the government, National Guard units can be mobilised at any time by presidential order to supplement regular armed forces, and upon declaration of a state of emergency by the governor of the state in which they serve. Unlike Army Reserve members, National Guard members cannot be mobilised individually, but only as part of their respective units.
Note that these state defense forces are under the command of the governor, as these forces are distinct from the National Guard in tht they are not federal entities. At the present time, approx 25 states, in addition to Puerto Rico, currently have active State Defense Forces, each with different levels of activity, state support, and strength. They generally operate with emergency management and homeland security missions.
Ok, that's the background. Now it seems there is a provision in the House-passed defense authorisation bill that would end the historic link between the states and their Guard units. It would give the President authority to take over National Guard troops in case of natural disaster or homeland security threats.
Now, it does make sense to most people. The President, in case of a national emergency, needs to take certain steps to protect the country from attack. Now what's wrong with that? Well, the legislation, for one thing, would remove the state Governor's command authority on the use of his/her forces. In the past, the President would usually ask the Governor of such a state to activate the Guard in case of a domestic crisis or something similar of that nature. Historically, governors have maintained control of the National Guard during domestic deployments because it gives them more flexibility in how to rotate them out of active duty, the length of time needed, level of training, and so forth. This would manage the strain on the force.
Some people would note that any governor may not know what is at stake, and the President may have more information to make the right decision. Possibly, but then it is also essential for the federal government to notify their state governor of any such emergency, and the reasons for it.
Why should the federal government take over the state militias? We got an active US army, air force, and navy right? This is true, but in light of events in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everywhere else, active US forces, in terms of equipment and manpower, have reached the breaking point, and the only choice left is to use the Army/Air National Guard and the state militias. Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, states that moves to deploy the National Guard "underscores again how operational our Guard and reserves are. They're an operational force, not a strategic force."
Recently, at the National Governors Association, the chairman, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R), brought up the provision in the House defense bill at a closed door luncheon. He told reporters that the move to shift control of the Guard to the president during national emergencies "violates 200 years of American history" and is symptomatic of a larger federal effort to make states no more than "satellites of the national government." Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, called the proposal "one step away from a complete takeover of the National Guard, the end of the Guard as a dual-function force that can respond to both state and national needs."
Huckabee and Vice Chairman, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D), had planned to ask all the governors at the session to sign a letter of protest aimed at killing the provision when House and Senate conferees meet next month on the bill.
According to Vilsack, the provision was tucked into the House version without notice to the states. I am trying to find out whether this is true or not, but it would seem disrespectful for the federal government not to inform the states that they are taking their power away.
Calls to the White House National Security Council were not returned. Obviously. They might have been hoping that no one would noticed such a provision in a multi-hundred page legislation document.
Huckabee believes that Congress and the administration -- run by fellow Republicans -- have moved far from what he called the "traditional states' rights position" of conservatives. Is it possible that Republicans are bent on consolidating their strangehold on the entire government and feel that states may try to rein them in? There is a thing called "checks and balances" and it seems there are certain particular people in the government that are bent on using the fear of "terrorist attacks" and other "emergencies" to throw all those "limitations" out of the window.
If the federal government is so worried about manpower and domestic emergencies, it should act to increase the size of our active military forces and give more flexibility to the states. In this case, there has been no evidence that would require this extreme course of action. If this was a reaction to Katrina, that was an isolated incident, and it is the opinion of this blogger that it is just an attempt to use that event to further certain agendas in the government for more power.
Washington Post - Governors Wary of Change on Troops
I knew it! the US is bankrupt! =)
What's the real federal deficit?
How many billions (or trillions) of dollars depends on how you do the accounting
By Dennis Cauchon (USA TODAY)
The federal government keeps two sets of books.
The set the government promotes to the public has a healthier bottom line: a $318 billion deficit in 2005.
The set the government doesn't talk about is the audited financial statement produced by the government's accountants following standard accounting rules. It reports a more ominous financial picture: a $760 billion deficit for 2005. If Social Security and Medicare were included — as the board that sets accounting rules is considering — the federal deficit would have been $3.5 trillion.
Congress has written its own accounting rules — which would be illegal for a corporation to use because they ignore important costs such as the growing expense of retirement benefits for civil servants and military personnel.
Last year, the audited statement produced by the accountants said the government ran a deficit equal to $6,700 for every American household. The number given to the public put the deficit at $2,800 per household.
A growing number of Congress members and accounting experts say it's time for Congress to start using the audited financial statement when it makes budget decisions. They say accurate accounting would force Congress to show more restraint before approving popular measures to boost spending or cut taxes.
“We're a bottom-line culture, and we've been hiding the bottom line from the American people,” says Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a former investment banker. “It's not fair to them, and it's delusional on our part.”
The House of Representatives supported Cooper's proposal this year to ask the president to include the audited numbers in his budgets, but the Senate did not consider the measure.
Good accounting is crucial at a time when the government faces long-term challenges in paying benefits to tens of millions of Americans for Medicare, Social Security and government pensions, say advocates of stricter accounting rules in federal budgeting.
“Accounting matters,” says Harvard University law professor Howell Jackson, who specializes in business law. “The deficit number affects how politicians act. We need a good number so politicians can have a target worth looking at.”
The audited financial statement — prepared by the Treasury Department — reveals a federal government in far worse financial shape than official budget reports indicate, a USA TODAY analysis found. The government has run a deficit of $2.9 trillion since 1997, according to the audited number. The official deficit since then is just $729 billion. The difference is equal to an entire year's worth of federal spending.
Congress and the president are able to report a lower deficit mostly because they don't count the growing burden of future pensions and medical care for federal retirees and military personnel. These obligations are so large and are growing so fast that budget surpluses of the late 1990s actually were deficits when the costs are included.
The Clinton administration reported a surplus of $559 billion in its final four budget years. The audited numbers showed a deficit of $484 billion.
In addition, neither of these figures counts the financial deterioration in Social Security or Medicare. Including these retirement programs in the bottom line, as proposed by a board that oversees accounting methods used by the federal government, would show the government running annual deficits of trillions of dollars.
The Bush administration opposes including Social Security and Medicare in the audited deficit. Its reason: Congress can cancel or cut the retirement programs at any time, so they should not be considered a government liability for accounting purposes.
The government's record-keeping was in such disarray 15 years ago that both parties agreed drastic steps were needed. Congress and two presidents took a series of actions from 1990 to 1996 that:
•Created the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board to establish accounting rules, a role similar to what the powerful Financial Accounting Standards Board does for corporations.
•Added chief financial officers to all major government departments and agencies.
•Required annual audited financial reports of those departments and agencies.
•Ordered the Treasury Department to publish, for the first time, a comprehensive annual financial report for the federal government — an audited report like those published every year by corporations.
These laws have dramatically improved federal financial reporting. Today, 18 of 24 departments and agencies produce annual reports certified by auditors. (The others, including the Defense Department, still have record-keeping troubles so severe that auditors refuse to certify the reliability of their books, according to the government's annual report.)
The culmination of improved record-keeping is the “Financial Report of the U.S. Government,” an annual report similar to a corporate annual report. (The 158-page report for 2005 is available online at fms.treas.gov/fr/index.html.)
The House Budget Committee has tried to increase the prominence of the audited financial results. When the House passed its version of a budget this year, it included Cooper's proposal asking Bush to add the audited numbers to the annual budget he submits to Congress. The request died when the House and Senate couldn't agree on a budget. Cooper has reintroduced the proposal.
The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, established under the first President Bush in 1990 to set federal accounting rules, is considering adding Social Security and Medicare to the government's audited bottom line.
Adding those costs would make federal accounting similar to that used by corporations, state and local governments and large non-profit entities such as universities and charities. It would show the government recording enormous losses because the deficit would reflect the growing shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare.
The government would have reported nearly $40 trillion in losses since 1997 if the deterioration of Social Security and Medicare had been included, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the proposed accounting change. That's because generally accepted accounting principles require reporting financial burdens when they are incurred, not when they come due.
For example: If Microsoft announced today that it would add a drug benefit for its retirees, the company would be required to count the future cost of the program, in today's dollars, as a business expense. If the benefit cost $1 billion in today's dollars and retirees were expected to pay $200 million of the cost, Microsoft would be required to report a reduction in net income of $800 million.
This accounting rule is a major reason corporations have reduced and limited retirement benefits over the last 15 years.
The federal government's audited financial statement now accounts for the retirement costs of civil servants and military personnel — but not the cost of Social Security and Medicare.
The new Medicare prescription-drug benefit alone would have added $8 trillion to the government's audited deficit. That's the amount the government would need today, set aside and earning interest, to pay for the tens of trillions of dollars the benefit will cost in future years.
Standard accounting concepts say that $8 trillion should be reported as an expense. Combined with other new liabilities and operating losses, the government would have reported an $11 trillion deficit in 2004 — about the size of the nation's entire economy.
The federal government also would have had a $12.7 trillion deficit in 2000 because that was the first year that Social Security and Medicare reported broader measures of the programs' unfunded liabilities. That created a one-time expense.
The proposal to add Social Security and Medicare to the bottom line has deeply divided the federal accounting board, composed of government officials and “public” members, who are accounting experts from outside government.
The six public members support the change. “Our job is to give people a clear picture of the financial condition of the government,” board Chairman David Mosso says. “Whether those numbers are good or bad and what you do about them is up to Congress and the administration.”
The four government members, who represent the president, Congress and the Government Accountability Office, oppose the change. The retirement programs do “not represent a legal obligation because Congress has the authority to increase or reduce social insurance benefits at any time,” wrote Clay Johnson III, then acting director of the president's Office of Management Budget, in a letter to the board in May.
Why the big difference between the official government deficit and the audited one?
The official number is based on “cash accounting,” similar to the way you track what comes into your checking account and what goes out. That works fine for paying today's bills, but it's a poor way to measure a financial condition that could include credit card debt, car loans, a mortgage and an overdue electric bill.
The audited number is based on accrual accounting. This method doesn't care about your checking account. It measures income and expenses when they occur, or accrue. If you buy a velvet Elvis painting online, the cost goes on the books immediately, regardless of when the check clears or your eBay purchase arrives.
Cash accounting lets income and expenses land in different reporting periods. Accrual accounting links them. Under cash accounting, a $25,000 cash advance on a credit card to pay for a vacation makes the books look great. You are $25,000 richer! Repaying the credit card debt? No worries today. That will show up in the future.
Under accrual accounting, the $25,000 cash from your credit card is offset immediately by the $25,000 you now owe. Your bottom line hasn't changed. An accountant might even make you report a loss on the transaction because of the interest you're going to pay.
“The problem with cash accounting is that there's a tremendous opportunity for manipulation,” says University of Texas accounting professor Michael Granof. “It's not just that you fool others. You end up fooling yourself, too.”
Federal law requires that companies and institutions that have revenue of $1 million or more use accrual accounting. Microsoft used accrual accounting when it reported $12 billion in net income last year. The American Red Cross used accrual accounting when it reported a $445 million net gain.
Congress used cash accounting when it reported the $318 billion deficit last year.
Social Security chief actuary Stephen Goss says it would be a mistake to apply accrual accounting to Social Security and Medicare. These programs are not pensions or legally binding federal obligations, although many people view them that way, he says.
Social Security and Medicare are pay-as-you go programs and should be treated like food stamps and fighter jets, not like a Treasury bond that must be repaid in the future, he adds. “A country doesn't record a liability every time a kid is born to reflect the cost of providing that baby with a K-12 education one day,” Goss says.
Tom Allen, who will become the chairman of the federal accounting board in December, says sound accounting principles require that financial statements reflect the economic value of an obligation.
“It's hard to argue that there's no economic substance to the promises made for Social Security and Medicare,” he says.
Social Security and Medicare should be reflected in the bottom line because that's the most important number in any financial report, Allen says.
“The point of the number is to tell the public: Did the government's financial condition improve or deteriorate over the last year?” he says.
If you count Social Security and Medicare, the federal government's financial health got $3.5 trillion worse last year.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, a certified public accountant, says the numbers reported under accrual accounting give an accurate picture of the government's condition. “An old photographer's adage says, ‘If you want a prettier picture, bring me a prettier face,' ” he says.
A difference between Israelis and the terrorists
Even the most extreme terrorist groups do not care about innocent lives during a crossfire.
Another example as above. Despite the reasoning of whether the appropriate responses were made by either side during this conflict, we know there is at least one difference between THEM and US.
LG Chocolate Arrives in the US
Finally, the US has caught up with the LG Chocolate phone! As such, the model version is always different so instead of the KG800 that is known in both Asia and Europe, it is referred to as the VX8500 in the US. Verizon now has it available off their web site. I haven't seen it on T-Mobile or Cingular yet. Of course, I bought my Chocolate phone while living in London.
I am not quite sure if the VX8500 is SIM-capable. This would mean that the phone would have its phone number programmed so you cannot just remove your SIM card and buy a new phone to replace it. I doubt the phone will fall under Verizon's global phone category, so you are out of luck.
Anyways, it's a slide-up phone and has a cool touchpad for you to navigate through the menus. It has a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, can record videos and audio memos, and has bluetooth, which is quite cool if your car has the ability to pair your phone with the telephone system onboard. The mp3 player component is quite loud but you cannot rewind or fast forward. In the UK/Asia version, you are limited to just 128MB of memory so that would only give you 20-30 songs (depending on quality). The US version comes with a microSD port so you can add more capacity, but I doubt it would replace your iPod player.
Standby time is decent, about 200-250 hours, though I usually charge whenever I get home. It is quite light, less than 100 grams, and is at least a tri-band so you can use it pretty much anywhere.
With that glowing, touch-sensitive red keypad, it is guarantee to attract attention, especially the females. =) The phone is really not about the technical features, but the overall design. It is just cool to have it. With that touchpad, the slide-up mechanism, and minimalist look, it is just like a lightsaber!
It is not a revolutionary phone, but one of the most beautiful phones ever released by LG.
Besides, LG is already releasing the second LG Chocolate version into their local market.
Also, if you are looking for a rival to the VX8500 (KG800), look at Samsung's E900 slide-up phone. It is more technically savvy than the LG, but you would give the design thumbs-up to the LG.
LG KG800 - URL
Samsung E900 - URL
Getting rid of the magnetic strip card
So how many credit cards do you have in your wallet? Not to mention your insurance card, that drivers license with the new magnetic strip, frequent flyer card, and so on. On average, each person probably has 10-15 cards with that magnetic strip on the back.
Why can't we associate certain cards to just only one smart card? Or how about link your digital drivers license with your gas credit card so all you have to do is insert your drivers license into that gas pump console, and it will get deducted from the credit card that is associated with it.
But is it also possible to get rid of that magnetic strip and move on to a new next-generation transaction device? Smart cards (or touch cards) are being used as a test case in NYC so all you have to do is "touch" the sensor and your fare is deducted from your card. It is being used as the ideal way to travel on the London Underground. This can well be used for credit transactions since we are getting tired of the swipe feature and what if your card gets bended so the magnetic strip loses its cohesion and it becomes useless, and so on. I kinda despise the paper magnetic card that I use on the PATH and on the NYC trains. Over time, it becomes frayed from staying in your pant pocket, and if you accidently bend it, it's gone.
It is not that hard. At my apartment complex in Hoboken, they replaced the card access with a sensor, so with your "key," you can just touch the sensor, and you are let in. Same thing goes for entering the residence halls, just wave your "key" at the sensor. This can be applied to our transaction cards. The one safe bet is that people with card readers would be unable to read your magnetic strip because you do not have one. Yes, thieves and other unsavory characters will make up new things to steal your private information, but at least, initially, they will be stopped by the new transaction smart cards.
So forget about "swiping" and embrace "touch." =)
Serendipity 3 - Good chocolate and celeb sightings too!
So a few of us from Case, two from Jersey including me, and two others from North Dakota, stopped by Serendipity 3 for dessert. It is located on 60th street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue in NYC.
The food is not overly expensive, but it has quite a reputation where the average wait could go at least 2-2 1/2 hours. It is New York's first coffee boutique. I believe you can only make reservations at least a day in advance after a certain time. The best way is to stop by, put your name on the list, then go shopping at Bloomingdale's nearby.
We only had the dessert, and the frrrozen hot chocolate or the peanut butter version are strongly recommended. But the rest of the food is not bad so it's worth the wait.
Saturday was definitely the day where you can find a celeb. Perhaps the biggest hint was a rolls royce parked (with the driver waiting) outside of the restaurant. Who could be the owners of such a car??? It was Jay-Z and Beyonce! They were sitting two tables from us, and it took us a few minutes before we realised who they were. They left before we got our desserts, but two couples managed to get pictures of Beyonce. Unfortunately, Jay-Z did not get any.
If you ever visiting NYC, stop by Serendipity 3!
Update: Confirmed by Page Six of the New York Post. Sweet!
A Waste of the President's Time
Was it some PR guy's idea in the White House to actually consider inviting the American Idol finalists? Was it the whole point of the gathering so President Bush can get a harmonica engraved with "American Idol 2006?"
I would have bet that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was glad not to have taken a photo-op with these reality wannabe stars. I wonder if those top high school students, waiting for their photo-op with the President, actually think that having a cool voice is the way to earn the top bucks. Probably not.
Of course it was unclear if Bush had ever seen the show. The White House responded that he was "aware" of it. That's good enough for me. Clearly, a waste of the government's time. Could these wannabe stars please go back to their holes and let the rest of humanity move on?
Time to raise the Minimum Wage?
University students got it easy with the hourly salary they make. When the minimum wage was last increased to $5.15 per hour in 1996, there were college jobs going for $7, 8, or even $10 per hour. Today, it's probably several dollars more.
Ten years later, workers out there are still earning the basic $5.15 per hour. If a person working 40 hours per week for 52 weeks, he or she will make approximately $10,700. This is slightly above the poverty threshold of $9,800 as set by the Department of Health and Human Services for 2006 (in the 48 states and DC, Alaska has theirs at $12,250 and Hawaii at $11,270). But this is before taxes. A person earning $10,700 would then be on the federal tax rate of 15% for a single individual, plus minus the person's state tax. Assume that person have to pay almost $2,000 in taxes, so that leaves this person with less than $9,000 to spend.
Now, I do hope my friend down the aisle would agree that the time to raise the minimum wage is at hand. Current legislation in Congress would raise the wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour, over a 2-year period. At minimum, a person would earn about $15,000 on a 40 hour work week before taxes.
House Representative Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio asked, "How can you defend $5.15 an hour in today's economy?"
Quite right. Over the last ten years, the minimum wage rate's buying power has been eroded, so that $5.15 in 1996 doesn't buy $5.15 in 2006.
Should the minimum wage be tied to the annual inflation rate of the previous year?
From GPEC - Data on the US Inflation Rate:
Values for PPI (Producer Price Index) & CPI (Consumer Price Index) respectively:
1996 2.4% 3.0%
1997 -0.1% 2.3%
1998 -2.5% 1.6%
1999 0.9% 2.2%
2000 5.7% 3.4%
2001 1.1% 2.8%
2002 -2.3% 1.6%
2003 5.3% 2.3%
2004 6.2% 2.7%
2005 7.3% 3.4%
Now it would be best suited that whoever makes minimum wage should earn enough to stay above the poverty line. Does the HHS state the current poverty line based on taxes before or after?
Of course, could we reason that if we give a bit more buying power to these earners, would they make a more positive impact on our economy?
Assumption: $1.05 increase for 2006-2007 ($5.15 to $6.20), then another $1.05 for 2007-2008 ($6.20 to $7.25).
Inflation Rate: From January 1996 to January 2006: prices have increased on average of 28.43%.
Americans Expatriates Are Getting the Tax Shaft
I guess I should be pleased to be back in the states after my UK contract ended. I don't know how it will affect two people that I know that have moved to London to begin their stint for a few years. A new tax law will increase costs for many Americans working overseas and will likely cause changes in company hiring practicies in certain countries.
The increased taxes will hit Americans that are working in countries that have high housing costs and low local taxes. Even though companies guarantee that their workers do not pay more in taxes than they would if there were living in the US, not all Americans have the luxury of tax equalisation. The law, part of a broader tax bill signed in May by President Bush, is retroactive to Jan 1 of this year. So that means I get screwed slightly for my stay in London from Jan 1 to July 3.
Under the old law, Americans working abroad could exclude as much as $80,000 of their foreign-earned compensation, plus certain foreign housing costs, when they filed their US taxes. The new law increases the $80,000 limit slightly to $82,400 this year, but income above that level now is subject to much higher tax rates.
One significant change is that the new law greatly reduces the maximum amount of housing costs that workers abroad may exclude or deduct. The cap will be $11,536 for 2006, though the Treasury Dept has the authority to change this for places with especially high costs. Before the change, there was no cap at all. To me, you have to wonder if they will do such a thing in light of the high budget deficits the government has been having. It really hurts American workers since rent in HK could run as high as $50,000 annually, or for me, at least $30,000 while living in London.
The misconception people have is that Americans working abroad are earning the big bucks, but that is not completely true. As of 2003, there were probably about 306,000 tax returns coming from overseas. The vast majority of them are middle-income wage earners. The new US tax law just makes it more difficult for American workers to compete effectively among their European and Asian counterparts.
$11,536 annually means about $961 per month. If I was living in London, that means I have to find a flat that has a monthly rent of at most 513 pound sterling. You can probably find those places in the outskirts of London or in the outlying areas. That does not help for expats living in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Moscow. It seems that our government representatives forgot to check the currency rates and housing costs of the countries that actually exist outside of the US.
South Carolina Republican, Senator Jim DeMint, has proposed a bill that would eliminate US taxes on income Americans earn while living and working abroad. I am sure he would get the vote of every overseas American, but I doubt it will get passed. At this point in time, our scheming representatives are just trying to find new revenue generating ways to rip off the taxpayer. Quote from Senator DeMint: "America is the only industrialized nation in the world that forces its citizens to pay double taxes while they compete in the global marketplace."
How can we compete abroad?
Note: You have to thank the Republicans for this since when they passed the $69 billion tax cut on May 17, it also passed a $2.1 billion tax hike over the coming decade for Americans living overseas.
Legislation - Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (HR 4297), signed into Public Law, May 17
Yahoo Finance (Wall Street Journal) - Tax Hike Hits Home for Americans Abroad
Destruction of Lebanon is the price of 3 Israeli soldiers
"The country has been torn to shreds," a desperate Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, said at a meeting he had called of foreign diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador.
"Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions?" he said in a bitter and emotional speech. "Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the State of Israel is inflected on us?"
So what is our answer to this? This was supposed to be an anti-terrorist operation, but it looks like a full scale war.
Patrick J. Buchanan: Where are the Christians?
I let all of you decide if he is right or wrong.
Where are the Christians? by Patrick J. Buchanan
When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unleashed his navy and air force on Lebanon, accusing that tiny nation of an "act of war," the last pillar of Bush's Middle East policy collapsed.
First came capitulation on the Bush Doctrine, as Pyongyang and Tehran defied Bush's dictum: The world's worst regimes will not be allowed to acquire the world's worst weapons. Then came suspension of the democracy crusade as Islamic militants exploited free elections to advance to power and office in Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq and Iran.
Now, Israel's rampage against a defenseless Lebanon – smashing airport runways, fuel tanks, power plants, gas stations, lighthouses, bridges, roads and the occasional refugee convoy – has exposed Bush's folly in subcontracting U.S. policy out to Tel Aviv, thus making Israel the custodian of our reputation and interests in the Middle East.
The Lebanon that Israel, with Bush's blessing, is smashing up has a pro-American government, heretofore considered a shining example of his democracy crusade. Yet, asked in St. Petersburg if he would urge Israel to use restraint in its airstrikes, Bush sounded less like the leader of the Free World than some bellicose city councilman from Brooklyn Heights.
What Israel is up to was described by its army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, when he threatened to "turn back the clock in Lebanon 20 years."
Olmert seized upon Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers to unleash the IDF in a pre-planned attack to make the Lebanese people suffer until the Lebanese government disarms Hezbollah, a task the Israeli army could not accomplish in 18 years of occupation.
Israel is doing the same to the Palestinians. To punish these people for the crime of electing Hamas, Olmert imposed an economic blockade of Gaza and the West Bank and withheld the $50 million in monthly tax and customs receipts due the Palestinians.
Then, Israel instructed the United States to terminate all aid to the Palestinian Authority, though Bush himself had called for the elections and for the participation of Hamas. Our Crawford cowboy meekly complied.
The predictable result: Fatah and Hamas fell to fratricidal fighting, and Hamas militants began launching Qassam rockets over the fence from Gaza into Israel. Hamas then tunneled into Israel, killed two soldiers, captured one, took him back into Gaza and demanded a prisoner exchange.
Israel's response was to abduct half of the Palestinian cabinet and parliament and blow up a $50 million U.S.-insured power plant. That cut off electricity for half a million Palestinians. Their food spoiled, their water could not be purified, and their families sweltered in the summer heat of the Gaza desert. One family of seven was wiped out on a beach by what the IDF assures us was an errant artillery shell.
Let it be said: Israel has a right to defend herself, a right to counter-attack against Hezbollah and Hamas, a right to clean out bases from which Katyusha or Qassam rockets are being fired and a right to occupy land from which attacks are mounted on her people.
But what Israel is doing is imposing deliberate suffering on civilians, collective punishment on innocent people, to force them to do something they are powerless to do: disarm the gunmen among them. Such a policy violates international law and comports neither with our values nor our interests. It is un-American and un-Christian.
But where are the Christians? Why is Pope Benedict virtually alone among Christian leaders to have spoken out against what is being done to Lebanese Christians and Muslims?
When al-Qaida captured two U.S. soldiers and barbarically butchered them, the U.S. Army did not smash power plants across the Sunni Triangle. Why then is Bush not only silent but openly supportive when Israelis do this?
Democrats attack Bush for crimes of which he is not guilty, including Haditha and Abu Ghraib. Why are they, too, silent when Israel pursues a conscious policy of collective punishment of innocent peoples?
Britain's diplomatic goal in two world wars was to bring the naive cousins in, to "pull their chestnuts out of the fire." Israel and her paid and pro-bono agents here appear determined to expand the Iraq war into Syria and Iran, and have America fight and finish all of Israel's enemies.
That Tel Aviv is maneuvering us to fight its wars is understandable. That Americans are ignorant of, or complicit in this, is deplorable.
Already, Bush is ranting about Syria being behind the Hezbollah capture of the Israeli soldiers. But where is the proof?
Who is whispering in his ear? The same people who told him Iraq was maybe months away from an atom bomb, that an invasion would be a "cakewalk," that he would be Churchill, that U.S. troops would be greeted with candy and flowers, that democracy would break out across the region, that Palestinians and Israelis would then sit down and make peace?
How much must America pay for the education of this man?
* * * * * * * * * * *
Pat Buchanan was twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the Reform Party’s candidate in 2000. He is also a founder and editor of The American Conservative. Now a political analyst for MSNBC and a syndicated columnist, he served three presidents in the White House, was a founding panelist of three national TV shows, and is the author of seven books.
The Status of our Navy Carriers
as of 19-JUL-06
Active force of 281 ships, of which 51% (143 ships) are currently underway. 99 ships on active deployment. Almost half of our submarines are underway.
Carriers, our striking power across the globe
USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) - South China Sea
USS Enterprise (CVN 65) - Pusan, South Korea
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) - Atlantic Ocean
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) - Underway
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) - Pacific Ocean
USS George Washington (CVN 73) - Atlantic Ocean
USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) - Pacific Ocean
USS John F. Kennedy (CV 66) - Florida
USS Nimitz (CVN 68) - California
USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) - Virginia (overhaul)
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) - Virginia (maintenance)
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) - California
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77)
So in case of war, the following carriers can be reactivated:
USS Saratoga (CVA 60) - Rhode Island
USS Ranger (CVA 61) - Washington
USS Independence (CV 62) - Washington
USS Constellation (CV 64) - Washington
DJ calls Scientology a "religion"
I overheard this on the radio while driving to work. I think it was either Z100 or KTU 103.5 and they had the entertainment report. They were talking about Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise and their wedding plans.
It seems that the wedding will be done in the Scientology style. Katie Holmes' parents are not too thrilled with it since they preferred it to be a Catholic wedding. Katie wanted to compromise and have two weddings to please her parents, but Tom refused to go along with it. Now, it seems that Katie's parents won't attend the wedding and probably most of her family won't go either.
But the interesting part of it was the DJ calling the wedding based on the Scientology religion. I did not know it was a religion. It sounded more of a cult or a pseudoreligion but not a full fledged religion like Christianity or Islam. Perhaps the DJ did not want the Scientology army start picketing the radio station if he/she called it a cult wedding.
Now the whole world is trying to figure out if Suri Cruise/Holmes will make an appearance, but it looks like the child is being kept under lock and key. Who knows if the baby is the second coming of L. Ron Hubbard given the exaggerated security.
I'm telling ya. They're probably organising a way to censor all of Katie Holmes' movies especially the movie, "The Gift," which shows her nude.
I also found a Free Katie web site.
You need to pay a fee to get evacuated
Imagine stranded in a city under seige, waiting for that evacuation chopper to take you to safety, then being told that they have to pay to get out of there.
Yep, that's right, it seems there is a 1956 law requiring the State Department to be reimbursed for getting you out of harm's way. First, on Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the government would charge evacuees commercial rates to take them out by plane or boat.
The idea that Americans would have to pay to board one of the ships for safety is drawing the ire of stranded citizens and their politicians and families back home. For example, Atlanta resident Maya Nessouli, whose mother, brother and sisters are in Beirut stated that the government wanted $3,000 per person for the helicopter to Cyprus and they could not even bring their luggage with them.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said "A nation that can provide more than $300 billion for a war in Iraq can provide the money to get its people out of Lebanon."
While I usually refrain from quoting Representative Pelosi, I find it hard to believe that we have to pay our government to rescue us from something that we are not responsible for. It is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure the safety of its citizens in the event of a crisis happening in another country, not to bill them for saving them.
Honestly, some bean counter in a bureaucratic office in the State Dept probably discovered the clause and started preparing bills to citizens that were being evacuated.
Fortunately, the fees will be waived by the government outright because of the bad PR it's been creating.
CNN.com - Americans irked by fee to flee Lebanon
NASA Shuttle Flights to Resume
So a bit of good news from all the politics.
NASA has set its eyes on next month's scheduled launch that should mark the resumption of regular shuttle flights. It hopes that this will enable crews to complete construction of the partly-finished International Space Station.
Now of course we have to worry about its budget and whether Bush's vision of a replacement orbiter and sending a manned mission to the Moon and Mars will happen.
Bush should not veto the stem-cell bill
President Bush may cast his first ever veto in six years on a bill that would expand federal funding for human embryonic-stem-cell research. While some voters may appreciate Bush's strong position on certain issues and not bending to public opinion polls and what not, it may prove to be a mistake in this case.
Current polls show that 2 out of 3 Americans favor increased stem cell research. Due to the closeness of the November elections, a good number of Republicans are supporting the bill. Most people would view the veto as arguing against the treatment of disease, and a considerable number of GOP members feel that this could become a stinker issue when Election Day arrives.
Could Congress override Bush's veto? It could be possible. In the House, it was only 50 votes short of the two-thirds majority when it passed 238-194. House leaders are somewhat confident that there will be more Yes votes when they attempt to override the veto, but a few believe that they might be a little bit short. In the Senate, as much as 64 senators will vote yes on the legislation, and leaders in that chamber believe they can gather up the 67 votes necessary to override the veto. [Latest updates show that both houses will be unable to override Bush's veto, but the numbers will show overwhelming approval of the bill. This may prove useful in the future.]
It becomes a more awkward situation for the No members when former first lady Nancy Reagan is a supporter for increased stem cell research. She is expected to make calls this week to senators and representatives asking for their support.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) notes the politics of the timing. "I think politically it's stupid to have this debate now. He will cast his first veto over this, which people will interpret as that he doesn't care about the curing of chronic disease. Nothing could be further than the truth." Obviously. It is always politics. Supporters from both Democrats and Republicans know that with the closeness of the November elections, this vote will place heavy pressure on the politicians that want to get re-elected. Democrats and Republicans do this type of thing every election, so do not go and start whining about this and that.
This legislation offers more further good for the American people. When Bush said that there are currently 62 available stem lines for federal researchers. This is not true. Today, there are perhaps only 21 lines available, and they are old, and in some cases damaged and most likely contaminated with mouse feeder cells and calf serum used to grow them. Top US researchers are leaving the US to work for biotechnology labs in Europe or Singapore where the governments over there have placed higher priority on stem cell research. Even socially conservative suburban voters would support such research if they think that it will help cure their parents' Alzheimer's or their children's diabetes.
Yes, opponents would point to adult stem cell research and explain the new breakthroughs that have been made over the past few years. However, most adult organs just do not have enough stem cells to deploy as treatment, and adult stem cells are even harder to grow than embryonic ones. Of course, it has been helpful but we should not restrict ourselves to just that area of supply. If we can concentrate all both levels of stem cells, who knows if we find something in embryonic cells that can help us do more to the adult versions.
Bush should sign the legislation and help support a joint combative effort to rid these diseases from our grandparents, our parents, and our children.
A Third World War
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." - Albert Einstein Quote
A world war is a military conflict affecting the majority of the world's major nations. World wars usually span multiple continents, and are very bloody and destructive. In most of these cases, a war is usually initiated by a formal declaration of war by the country's government. Not during this stage. It seems countries love to ignore their own constitution these days.
People suggest that the Israel-Lebanon conflict could spark a full military confrontation in the Middle East region. Would Israel escalate even further and start bombing military targets in Iran and Syria? Could these actions force Islamic radicals to topple the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Oman, and Kuwait? Could it also force insurgents in Iraq to conduct a massive frontal assault on the democratic government centre in Baghdad (the so-called green zone)?
The military operations currently being conducted in Afghanistan and Iraq are to combat an insurrection against the elected central government. Some people would suggest these are wars on terror, but the terminology is inappropriate today. Before, the Taliban were in control of much of Afghanistan and were driven away by US and Afghan allies. NATO is currently doing a peacekeeping mission in that country in addition to US missions against Taliban pockets in southern Afghanistan. For Iraq, official combat operations were ended after the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today, the US and its remaining coalition partners are handling occupation duties, with a transitionary phase to let local Iraqi forces to take over each of their provinces' security.
Back to the Middle East, now it only becomes a wider problem if Israel launches an attack on Iran, would it suspend oil production? Oil prices could pass $100/barrel causing price shocks against the West. It could even be more hard felt if radical extremists started attacking Saudi refineries or destroy Kuwaiti oil wells. Again, this a factor that we should consider.
Could North Korea spark a disasterous crisis if it chose to resume its attack on its Southern democratic neighbor? As such, there is approx 34,000 US soldiers over there, and is pretty much the "trigger point" if a Korean conflict would re-occur. However, would the US retaliate severely keeping in mind the reaction of China if a military confrontation re-ignites on the Korean peninsula? What would be the reaction by Japan, Australia, Indonesia, and Vietnam? Could Taiwan be thrown into the violence? Who knows if China could take that chance to invade Taiwan and settle it once and for all? At this point, US naval forces would be stretched to their limits.
Could the events in Somalia spark a military conflict in Africa? The country has been going through fighting and anarchy for over 15 years. In May 1991, the northern clans broke away and declared an independent Republic of Somaliland. The current transitional government is currently weak and is unable to combat the Islamic factions that have taken control of Mogadishu and much of the southern half of the country. Fortunately, the UN plans to re-modify its arms embargo and allow the deployment of an African peacekeeping force. I doubt for the moment that we will see US forces in that country in the near future.
As for the response to Israeli attacks on Lebanon, it is certainly mixed. Most allies would agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, and it had to respond severely towards the capture of its soldiers, but there will be a line where the conflict should be limited to, and some countries believe that line has been crossed. The suggestion that anti-semitism is somehow involved in the way the EU and Russia are reacting to the conflict is complete bollux (aka bullsh*t). I am surprised people would still continue to use this reasoning every time a conflict or issue happens which involves Israel. Using the Iraq litmus test is ridculous given the fact tha some countries have long been a resource to the US all these years. Using one example such as Iraq to determine whether our allies are friends or liars is a cheap excuse. Don't use France because that's an easy answer, and they're also arrogant bastards. =)
Anyway, the main reasoning from the EU and Russia is the fear that the conflict could escalate to the level where there can be no turning back. Israel is planning on mounting a ground offensive into Lebanon. Which seems worse? An attack to take over the southern half of the country, or perhaps seeing Israeli tanks in Beirut? How far can the world be willing to tolerate all of this before all the red flags start waving?
In a nuclear war (god forbid), there can never be full protection with a missle shield. Let's be realistic here. During their tests, it was only about 50-60% effective. The developers and even the military are not too sure how it would perform in a real case scenario. Even if Russia or China decide to launch a missile strike against the US, we are talking about hundreds of missiles, not just a few or several. Both of those nuclear-missle countries basically shrug when the US announced their deployment of their missile shield. They do know that a massive attack would easily overwhelm such a defense. Isn't it true that the shield was only designed to stop a single missile being launched from North Korea or Iran for example? This is why I am not placing any faith in such a system. If it's there, fine. But I do not plan on staying put. Besides, there is the fallout to consider.
The one thing I am afraid is that Israel would continue to destroy Lebanon and perhaps Syria and Iran even if they do return the captured soldiers unharmed. If that's the case, go fill up your car gas tank, sell your stocks, start buying canned goods, then run for the hills.
Russia: A Practical Adversary
My friend down the aisle wonders if Russia is a friend or foe of the United States. He cites the country's reaction to the crisis in North Korea and the Israel's attacks on Lebanon. He believes that Russia has a financial stake in North Korea and Iraq and does not want to let the US do what is right for the security and peace of the entire world.
We cannot look at Russia as a friend or foe, but as an adversary on the geopolitical stage. Clearly, our interests do not coincide with theirs, but does that make them our sworn enemy? Not so. On the issue of nuclear terrorism, both countries agree it is a serious issue and promised to help each other find nukes that can be sold on the black market. In combating terrorism, Russia and the US do not always see eye-to-eye. For example, when Russia was battling Checken militants who were trying to win independence, the US actually sided with the rebels calling for elections and a vote to determine if Chechnya should break away from Russia. Naturally, Putin was not pleased by this. After the events of 9/11, the US made an about face and agreed with Russia that the militants were fundamentalist Islamic radicals and the US actually congratulated Putin when Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev was killed.
Now for North Korea, Russia clearly prefers that all diplomatic efforts be made before it chooses to support economic sanctions or a military airstrike on its nuclear facilities. First, the Russian Federation is practically next door to North Korea, and it does share a small border with them. The rest of the border is shared with China. Now both countries do not want to push too quickly. In the event of an armed conflict, these two countries plus South Korea and Japan will suffer the consequences that could occur. For the US, the closest territory is Guam plus their military forces in South Korea and Japan. Now look at civilian populations, the US has the advantage since Guam is in the middle of the Pacific.
Now, I am sure my friend is delighted that the UNSC has unanimously passed a resolution sanctioning North Korea, but of course our communist neighbor has stated that it will reject the resolution and that the US and any other nation cannot prevent them from building a deterrent against any aggression. The resolution bans all UN member states from selling material or technology for missiles or weapons of mass destruction to North Korea, and from receiving missles, banned weapons or technology from Pyongyang. Note that in order to get the unanimous vote and no Chinese veto, the resolution was amended to drop the clause about using Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to levy sanctions and military force in case of noncompliance.
As for Iraq, President Putin took a jab at Bush during the press conference. Bush remarked that Russia should develop a free press and religion just like what they are doing in Iraq. Putin replied back, "We certainly would not want to have same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, quite honestly." People can analyse these statements as much as they want, but we can see flaws with both of the leaders' statements.
But in any case, these examples do show that Russia do not agree with us, but that's life in the diplomatic world. Realistically, the US cannot just take unilateral action and bomb North Korea's nuclear facilities. Most neo-cons would support such an action but can they easily predict the reaction from China and Russia? Maybe, maybe not. In this world, not everyone thinks the same, and Russia's perspective out of all of this is probably keep the US tied down and hope that their proposals would end the crisis, not the Americans.
Italy: Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina Demoted to Serie B
(corrected) No leniency for these Italian teams after their players have won the World Cup.
The verdict has been announced over the BBC Wire.
Serie A champions Juventus have been stripped of their 2004-05 and 2005-06 titles, and were demoted to Serie B with a 30 pt penalty. It is also disqualified from the 2006-07 Champions League competition.
Fiorentina got demoted to Serie B with a 12 point penalty and is out of the 2006-07 Champions League competition.
Lazio fell to Serie B with a 7 point penalty and is out of the 2006-07 UEFA Cup competition.
AC Milan will stay in Serie A with a 15 point penalty and is disqualified from the 2006-07 Champions League competition.
One sad thing about the Congressional Elections
Regardless of the scandals, the indecision, the partisan bickering, and special interest influence, the politicians that we want out of office will get re-elected because:
1) They got the money because of special interests
2) Their district is gerrymanded to the tilt
3) The public is brainwashed by their false speeches, fake ads, and even "believing" that their elected leader knows best.
A Response to a Grrrr off the Fox News Site
I had to respond to this person's Grrrr.
Pat S. in Boston Mass., writes: Mike, I am so sick and tired of all my soccer-loving friends telling me I'm uncultured because I don't like soccer. I think it's boring. When I say that, they respond with the typical, "Baseball is boring, too." OK, but I enjoy baseball. Plus, I'm a Red Sox fan and any game that David Ortiz is playing in usually ends up being exciting. Just because I don't want to watch a bunch of whiney injury-fakers play kick-the-ball-back-and-forth for 2 hours doesn't mean I'm uncultured. Which brings me to my next Grrr. Is it me, or does it seem like the players in the World Cup have no dignity whatsoever? Some of the "injuries" and "collisions" that occurred during the tourney were laughable. Don't these guys realize they are making fools of themselves? Do they have so little faith in their own abilities that they have to fake their way through half the game? Maybe that's why the sport is not so popular in America. In America, we are taught to simply get up and dust ourselves off after a collision or fall during a sports game. If it's really bad, we walk it off and then get back in the game. My answer to these overly-dramatic soccer players is this: Curt Schilling/Game 2 of the 2004 World Series/bloody sock.
Granted, I think the only exception is if you are a BoSox or Yankee fan because of the huge rivalry in baseball but can you handle spending at least three hours watching a game that could be over in less than two? How can you deal with the advertisements and little games they try to do each half-inning? If you see a baseball fan bringing a book to read during the game, it has to mean that the game itself is boring.
I do not accept the reason that Americans do not like soccer because of the fake "injuries" and "collisions" during the match. If you are, then I think you are being quite pessimistic. If this was your first World Cup tournament, then I feel sorry that you did not have a chance to watch the hundreds of games that have been occuring in England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, etc. and the UEFA Champions League and European Championship to see why we call soccer "a beautiful game." Plus, you can also learn what it means to be a true die-hard fan of any such team.
For being taught to simply get up and dust ourselves off, it is not about that anymore. The "game" in America is more about sponsorship, advertisement, and players caring more about their salary than teamwork, and the fans losing out in the end. Also, player interference does happen in any American sport.
As for Curt Shilling, good for him, but there are also a good deal of soccer games that have played thru injury to get their team to win too without the use of "diving" so do not make your quick assumptions.
The one thing I would like to see in America is seeing a team get demoted for being the worst team in the league.
FCC on the road to excessive censorship
The FCC has requested numerous tapes from broadcasters that might include vulgar remarks from unruly spectators, coaches, and athletes at live sporting events, industry sources said.
Tapes requested by the commission include football games and NASCAR races where the participants or the crowds let loose with an expletive.
It seems that the new rules that went into effect in 2004 now virtually cover any use of certain expletives that are considered to be profane and indecent, even if it is a slip of the tongue.
Reuters.com - FCC combing air tapes for dirty words
Holy sh*t! Bollux, if these rules went into effect in the UK, every fan would be arrested. Many of the football chants and songs contain expletives up the creek, and it's all part of the game. When the referee makes a bad call, the whole home crowd would be yelling "The referee's a wanker! The referee's a wanker!"
There are many football (soccer) songs out there, but when I was in the UK, I am a passionate fan of West Ham United, a football club in East London. Some of our favorite songs:
Up your arse oh up your arse,
stick your blue flag up your arse!
From Stamford bridge to Upton Park
stick your blue flag up your arse!
I'm forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
They nearly reach the sky
And like my dreams they fade and die!
Fortunes always hiding,
I've looked every where.
I'm forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air!
But in any English match, you're bound to hear, "F*ck off!" "You're sh*t!" "Wanker!" "C*nt!"
If Americans cannot handle the swearing, then we are wussies!
FCC should just sit down and shut up, sit down shut up (reprise). chant "la la la la la" . "If you hate FCC, stand up!, if you hate FCC, stand up!"
Cristal & Rappers
Certain rap singers and hip-hop stars are banning the Cristal champagne from their nightclubs or from regular use. It seems they are bit peeved that Frederic Rouzaud, the newly appointed manager director of Louis Roederer, the 230-year-old champagne house that makes Cristal, did not appreciate hip-hop's connection to the brand.
The Economist asked Rouzaud if its association with hip-hop's "bling" lifestyle could be detrimental to its image. He replied, "That is a good question but what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Don Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have the business."
It seems some black singers did not like the response. Jay-Z whined that Cristal owed them millions of dollars for free publicity by linking their wine with the good life in hit songs. He says, "Anything else but a thank you is dismissive, insulting, and racist." Other stars doing the same include Beyonce, Lil Kim, and Jamie Foxx.
One exception is Malcolm X Abrams, a leading writer on black culture, said it was sad that, in the face of real problems such as poverty and disease, people were worked up about an "overpriced" drink and a "casual dis by a snooty Frenchmen."
Here! Here! Was Rouzaud being racist about it? Nope, he just felt that rappers waste the champagne by spraying it all around in their music videos instead of sipping it like actual gentlemen. In any case, the average person would not even consider buying a Cristal bottle since it costs several hundred of dollars.
Another way to get Jay-Z and his friends into the news.
Times Online - Bubbly bursts as bling crowd desert Cristal over ‘racism’
FIFA World Rankings: USA goes down
With Italy's victory in the World Cup Final, their placing soared to second place, behind five-time winners Brazil. France went up to 4th place.
The Top 10
10. Czech Republic
For the USA where they were ranked 5th before the World Cup took place, are now ranked 16th in the world.
MLS Teams should consider name changes
MLS Soccer will go "international" when Toronto FC joins the league in 2007.
Other than that, I am quite amazed at the way we include sponsors in the name of the sports team. It completely dilutes the name of the team and especially the fans.
For example, the New York Red Bulls (or in some places NY/NJ Red Bulls). Essentially the name is part sponsor by Red Bull, the sports drink, but with the team in last place in the Eastern Conference, the name does not instill any type of confidence. Make it simple. It should be named New York United FC or New York United.
Other examples include:
New England Revolution should be New England United / FC
Kansas City Wizards - same thing
Colorado Rapids - same thing
Chicago Fire - just to remind us about that Great Fire?
Columbus Crew - nada
Houston Dynamo - please...help me
Los Angeles Galaxy - sheesh
Note: Real Salt Lake - is meant to be pronounced as Re-al Salt Lake.
Marco Materazzi admits insulting Zidane
Italian soccer player Marco Materazzi admits insulting Zinedine Zidane during the World Cup final match. Suggestions that Materazzi called Zidane a "terrorist" were denied by the Italian player.
Interesting statement by Materazzi:
(from the Gazzetta dello Sport)
"I did insult him, it's true. But I categorically did not call him a terrorist. I'm not cultured and I don't even know what an Islamic terrorist is."
Not cultured. Even though I think Zidane should not have snapped, it is despicable for Materazzi to use insults as a matter of screwing around with the player's mind during a soccer match.
Also from Rome:
Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni accused FIFA of double standards, noting that soccer's governing body named Zidane as the tournament's best player after his head-butt, while Italy forward Francesco Totti was kicked out of the 2004 European Championship for spitting in an opponent's face.
Shut up Veltroni. You got your trophy, and with the way Italy played during the whole tournament, none of them should get the Golden Ball individual award. Just enjoy your four years of being the best (arguably) football team in the world. We will wait until 2010 in South Africa.
CNNsi.com - Materazzi admits insulting Zidane
China Accuses Japan of "Overreacting"
I find China's reaction to be hypocritical. China goes ahead and describes Japan's efforts to pass a UN resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea for conducting missile tests an "overreaction" and they are opposed to the current draft revision. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said "If adopted, it will intensify contradictions and increase tension."
It seems China always want to adopt a "diplomatic" stance on foreign issues, but a more "belligerent" stance internally. It thinks that North Korea's missle tests was a misunderstanding. Strange enough, it knows how to treat internal problems. If a village goes and protests about a industrial spill or corruption of party officials, the government responds as usual... paramilitary force, no talks, and the suppression of any coverage that results in that.
China has lost face in saying that it can keep North Korea in check. It must show strength and determination to agree with the current UN draft resolution in imposing sanctions. This would show to North Korea that China has lost patience with its nearby friend, and this incident was the last straw.
CNN.com - Japan N-crisis draft under attack
Online Gambling to be made illegal
Another form of government regulation and placating the demands of the American Gaming Association. The House is debating a bill that would clairfy existing law by spelling out that Internet gambling is illegal. The legislation would forbid credit cards and other forms of payment from being used to settle online wagers and would allow authorities to work with Internet providers to block access to gambling web sites.
Essentially, it forces the wannabe gambler to fly to Las Vegas to place a legal bet on any sporting game in the world. However, it is more convenient to go online and place a bet from your own home.
Strange enough, professional sports leagues like the bill saying that web wagering hurts their integrity. So Las Vegas betting is ok? I rather think Las Vegas has some sort of "agreement" with the professional sports leagues.
Conservatives want a ban because of moral reasons. Obviously.
It is the digital age. Las Vegas does not want to lose their customers to Internet sites. Instead, it should embrace the Internet and compete. Government should not ban gambling. If a person wants to gamble their house away, that's fine. It is their choice and their responsiblity.
CNN.com - Online gambling faces full House
2010 World Cup Logo Unveiled!
We still have a big federal DEFICIT! Conservatives take note!
Good news from the conservative blogs about our economy having another good increase the last quarter, adding more jobs, unemployment is down, tax revenues are up.
Republicans are already arguing that increasing overall revenues show that their tax cuts and the 2003 tax cut on stock dividends are responsible.
Ok, let's focus on the truth behind these figures. Yes, of course I am happy government revenues are coming back up, and yes, tax cuts are helping consumers spend more of their money, companies are hiring more people, and so on. BUT...
Revenues have not climbed back to levels reached in 2000. Payroll increases can also be attributed to companies hiring more high school and college students as interns (they're cheaper), thus seasonal employment needs to be factored in. We may eventually see a decrease when the school terms resumes.
Also, the government fails to mention that they have already BORROWED TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS against our current Social Security surpluses. This is why their expected federal deficit of $300 billion is complete BULLSH*T. Both Democrats and Republicans refuse to include the social security figures in their annual budget. The problem herein is when the Social Security surplus starts diminishing when the baby boomers start to retire. All those IOUs for that surplus will need to be paid off, and this will result in a financial disaster of monumental proportions.
As of the 6th of July, our national debt stands at $8.4 TRILLION. We are now on track to hit $9.0 TRILLION in less than two years. Our government continues to say that rising tax revenues are good because of low taxes. That translates in reducing our federal deficit by another $100 billion, but that leaves it down to $300 billion. This is still not acceptable.
The Republican administration has no long-term plan for this. Even the idea of priviatization Social Security will not save it. Plus, tax revenues are too volatile to chart, so who knows if next year, revenues would drop substantially. Who knows if a financial crash will hit our stock markets.
The tax cuts are short-term solutions. It still does not solve our eventual debt problems. How can we reduce our national debt when there are some Republicans still believe in the use of deficit spending.
They also fail to mention, much to the chagrin of fiscal conservatives, that their administration have overseen a mushroom of government spending. When Mr. Bush took office, the federal debt was at $5.6 trillion. We are now talking about $8.4 trillion. Now, Republicans are trying to authorise another debt ceiling increase to $9.6 TRILLION! Hey, how can you answer this financial mockery?
We have spent over $300 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan combined. How much more is needed? Another $300 billion? $500 billion? $1 trillion? The answer, to help our armed forces, fly in the face of seeing this country going really, really, really bankrupt.
Honestly, the clock is ticking. People say we are in an economic boom. Yep, it gives the upper middle and rich folks time to liquidate everything and head for the hills when the collectors come.
People do not see the big picture. Sigh...
2006 World Cup Champions: Italy
Italy have won the World Cup Final in penalties (5-3) after a 1-1 draw with France.
The Final Standings
1st Place - Italy
2nd Place - France
3rd Place - Germany
Congratulations to Italy for their 4th World Cup title. Strange enough France dominated most of the game starting in the second half, but could not create any scoring opportunities and lost Zidane (red-card) in extra time for headbutting a fellow Italian player, Viera (injured), and Henry (cramps). You would have thought by watching extra time, France could have scored the winner, but it was not to be.
As the national Italian team celebrates, we will wonder about the scandal back at home where four of the top Italian football teams may get relegated to either a second or third division, and where most of the Italian players are from.
Anyways, I am not completely happy with Italy winning given their "diving" style so they should not even deserve the "fair play" award. It is amusing that they saved up all their energy for their victory dance rather than doing a better job playing on the pitch against France.
Remember 7/7 - London Bombings
Today marks 1 year after the July 7 bombings where suicide bombers killed 52 people.
BBC News: Nation remembers 7 July victims
For me, it is the second time for me being in a city during a terrorist attack. I worked in the London office along Gresham Street, about 15 min walk from Liverpool Station. The first time was in Jersey City during 9/11.
US Freedom of Information Act Turns 40
The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) turns 40 tomorrow, the day we celebrate our independence. This was stated by Jimmy Carter, who write in the opinion column for today's Washington Post issue.
Now I am sure some conservatives would like to see this piece of legislation abolished for the sake of national security, but the uninterrupted flow of information is integral to the survival of democracy. These days, governments are slowly re-classifying documents that were made open to the public several years ago, or even a decade ago. New policies have been issued to prevent many important documents and official actions from being seen by the public.
As stated by Carter -- war, civil rights violations, energy costs, campaign finance and lobbyist scandals -- dictate the need for citizens to have the right to access public documents.
Using the war on terror as an excuse to keep documents hidden from the public is unexcusable. Terrorist attacks have occurred throughout the years, why the urgency to keep everything secret now? Is it really protecting national security or keeping those "politicians" in power forever?
Washington Post - We Need Fewer Secrets
Americans Yawning at Football (Soccer)
Obvious enough, the nation of almost 300 million people yawned at the World Cup action that was occurring in Germany. Despite doubling its TV ratings in the first set of matches when the World Cup began, it still fell far below the rest of "American" sports.
ABC recording an average rating of 2.5 for the first eight matches, representing barely 8 million viewers. Only 3.9 million Americans watched the 2002 World Cup final, which had an audience of 1.1 billion worldwide. Of course this has to be underestimated since you got immigrants and US citizens of foreign descent who are probably into the game and are not covered. I still feel that viewership is definitely higher, but not too much. For ESPN, they attracted fewer viewers, averaging around 1.75 million on channels that reach 91 million homes.
Global Market Insite (GMI) found that 11 percent of Americans surveyed were "definitely" interested in the World Cup. Worldwide averages 45 percent. Sadly enough, 56 percent of Americans did not even know that the 2006 World Cup was taking place in Germany. I guess it might be higher if they were asked where the 2010 World Cup is taking place. Also interesting, Americans do not do well with civics too since a good percentage do not know where the location of the nation's capitol or know all clauses of the Bill of Rights, or did not know that the red and white stripes on the flag represented the thirteen colonies when they declared independence.
Well, we are a country that loves sporting isolationism. The 1994 World Cup held in the US could have turned the tide, but despite the largest average crowds in World Cup history and the spawning of the Major League Soccer which now has 12 teams, it is still struggling to find a place in the crowded US sports market.
One sports commentator, Frank Deford, a Sports Illustrated columnist, said there was more interest in the professional basketball and hockey playoffs in America, "the only country where soccer is not important."
Jack Kemp, former Republican presidential candidate, once called soccer "socialistic and collectivist" during a speech in Congress.
USA Today columnist William Mattox Jr. wrote last week, "We love to play the game, or at least to have our children play it. But we hate to watch it."
* * * * *
It is such a shame really. Some may call it boring, but I also say that basketball, hockey, American football, and baseball are also of a boring character. Basketball utilises the same fancy footwork like football (soccer), but I guess we like to see how high the guys can jump to make that dunk shot, but we already seen every shot made. Of course, the stars that get the six or seven figure salary come to the game with their stretched out limos with loads of their entourage. It promotes that individualism and a "me first" attitude. Sadly, I have lost care in knowing if Kobe Bryant did 40+ points in more than X consecutive games. It is not that exciting anymore.
Hockey is only good when a fight breaks out. You're just passing the puck and with all that protective gear, there's no blood unless you starting using the stick or a body-slam would do. Now, if they play the game full contact but with no heavy gear, then that would be interesting.
American football is just commericals, and filled with so much stoppage plays, a game that should last 1 hour, goes at least 3 hours. The half-time show is only meant to get the audience to stay interested, and as for the rest of us, we stay at home seeing what new commerical has been concocted for us. It is much like rugby, but there is no need for helmets, shoulderpads, or knee gear. If you put the England rugby team against the New England Patriots, the rugby players will win outright.
Baseball is just messed up. I would not mind going to a Yankee game from time to time, but it is not the game that is driving me away, it is the prices. You are liable to spend almost $100 on the tickets, food, and drinks, and I bet the break in each half-inning is designed to get the average fan to go to the snack bar to buy a $4 or $5 hot dog, or a $7 dollar beer. While we may appreciate the great double or triple play, the game is just boring unless you have that TV transistor with the commentary going on at your ear.
Somehow I think football (soccer) players are more appreciate of the fans. When we talk about money, they are less demanding. They do get bonuses for getting into the championship or getting qualified for Europe, but compared with American players, they are not that picky. For some baseball and American football players, they have clauses in their contract stating what car they should get, what hotel room or floor, customised meals, a private jet, and whatever special privileges that are stated. That would just turn me off like any other fan.
How can you tell me that football (soccer) is boring, when I see fans at a baseball game reading a book or taking a nap? Perhaps there is something missing that would galvanise the American populace into loving football. Maybe it is the way we are brought up or perhaps the sports commentators and commericals are all geared up to be anti-football.
I would hope that a trip to Europe to see an England football match or a Italian or Spanish or Portuguese match will open your eyes to the "beautiful game." Besides, where else can you find a player that can kick the ball with the speed of almost 140-150 km/hr.
Yahoo News - Beautiful game fails to win over Americans
World Cup Heartbreak for England and Brasil
England lost to Portugal on penalties 3-1 after both teams ended the match 0-0 after extra time. It was heartbreak for the England boys since they battled bravely throughout the game, and even with 10 men after Wayne Rooney was unjustly sent off for the foul on Ricardo Carvalho. Even with one man down, England kept Portugal at bay and were even better than them and there were several chances that could put them ahead, but alas it did not happen.
I am somewhat frustrated with the way Portugal played the game. There was a bit of unsportsmanship when kicking the ball out of play when a player gets injured. Also, the theatrics in getting fouled hits a nerve which makes me feel that Portugal got a cheap win for this quarterfinal match. One example had Maniche covering his face in pain after one of the England players stepped near it. Video replays showed no contact, and the Portugal player failed to get booked for his dive.
For Wayne Rooney, he got tangled with Carvalho and Armando Petit and appeared to stamp the Chelsea player's groin. Carvalho made his theatrical face in pain and Cristiano Ronaldo comes running to the Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo, demanding a red card. Rooney, with disgust on his face, after seeing his Manchester United face trying to get the ref to send him off, pushed him away. The referee then went ahead and gave the straight red to Rooney, which even brought Beckham to his feet in anger (he was injured earlier in the game and was taken off). I truly believed that the ref was urged on by the Portuguese players to send Rooney off, and a few of the tv replays suggest that Ronaldo "winked" at the Portugal bench after the red card was issued.
I have to wonder how Rooney and Ronaldo will put up with each other when the English Premier League resumes in August.
Despite being a man down, the England team showed much passion and heart and kept it together until the end of the second half and extra time. It is only unfortunate that Gerrard, Lampard, and Carragher got their penalty shots saved by Portugal's goalkeeper Ricardo.
I am quite proud of their performance in this World Cup, and hope much better progress in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 in South Africa. I hope that France will defeat Portugal in the semi-final.
* * * * *
As for Brasil, they lost 1-0 to France in this evening's other quarterfinal after England lost against Portugal. Thierry Henry's superb volley send the cup holders Brasil home. France combined defensive discipline and attacking play which rattled Brasil's usual dancing football.
It was quite a surprise win for France, and most of the fans in the bar in Vienna were rooting for the underdogs. It goes to show that Brasil are also vulnerable to the unexpected.
* * * * *
July 4 - Germany v Italy
July 5 - Portugal v France
July 8 - Loser (4th) v Loser (5th) for 3rd Place
July 9 - Winner (4th) v Winner (5th) for Final Victory
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.
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
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.
Snoop Dogg got arrested...hah hah
Rapper Snoop Dogg and five associates (more like 5 members of his entourage) were arrested after a fracas at London Heathrow Airport that injured seven police officers.
First, they tried to enter the British Airways First Class Lounge. Now, it is common sense that the only way to get into the First Class lounge was either holding a first class ticket or you got some sort of elite membership with BA. Well it turns out not all 30 members of Snoop's entourage held such a ticket. I am sure Snoop Dogg had one, plus two others but it does not give him the right to let in 30 more of his enlarged entourage into that lounge. BA did offer the group to stay in the Business Class Lounge, but members of the rapper's posse refused to stay.
Then they went into a nearby duty-free shop and started hurling bottles of whisky and argued with staff. So the airport officials and BA thought that was enough.
So because of their attitude and rudeness, BA decided not to let them board their flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. So when police came over and told them of the denied boarding, a member of the group became abusive and pushed officers.
It led to six men (including Snoop Dogg) being arrested on charges of violent disorder and affray and spent the night at the London police stations.
They deserve it, plain and simple.
Yahoo Music - Snoop Dogg Reportedly Arrested at Airport
West Ham United FC reaches the FA Cup Final
West Ham United FC won a glorious 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough to reach the FA Cup Final for the first time in 26 years. No one thought it could be done with this recently promoted team to the top flight, but we surpassed all expectations.
With over 39,000 people in attendance, we watched as Marlon Harewood scored the 78th minute strike on the West Ham end to send the team to Cardiff for the Final.
On May 13 at 3PM, West Ham United FC will play Liverpool FC for the Final. However, regardless if win or lose, we will get to play in the UEFA Cup competition next year since Liverpool has already qualifed for the UEFA Champions League.
Come on you irons! =)
China - US Talks
China wanted a full honour guard, diplomatic affair, and state dinner.
Bush only offered a summit type affair with a working luncheon.
It's pretty much a loss of face for China, and I think it shows that the US is not willing to see China as an equal power. I wonder how it would look in another 10-20 years.
Besides, no significant progress was made on any current issues. You can say that Chinese President Hu and his wife got to see the United States for the first time. I wonder if there will be a second...
Higher Gas Prices, Deal with it!
Hey, the price of gas in Beverly Hills is $4.049/gallon. In some places in the country, the price at the pump may exceed $4.50. There are reported gas shortages along the east coast. Oil prices are hitting highs this week, staying a bit above $72/barrel.
Cleveland is ranging from $2.69 to $2.86 per gallon. Should we really act so upset about this?
Everyone, including me, remembers about the time when gas only cost $0.99. We all loved that zero in front of that price sign. Then we got used to seeing a $1.xx for a while. Last summer, we complained when we started seeing $2.xx, but then the West Coast was seeing $3.xx, so we thought we weren't doing that bad. This year, we will see $3.xx, and in a few places, $4.xx. All I can say now is "deal with it!"
We cannot take low gas prices for granted anymore. The days of enjoying a glut in oil supplies is no longer there. Oil companies, world tension in the Middle East, limited refineries, and other factors have all attributed to the current situation we are in.
Here's a common sense question: at the current technological stage we are in, auto companies have the ability to produce cars that can use up to 30-40 miles in fuel economy, or perhaps 60 miles per gallon. We knew that oil is going to be a precious commodity in the future, why haven't we started improving our fuel economy standards? People say it would drive up the costs for building the car...bullshit. People say it will result in smaller-sized vehicles with less safety...bullshit. People say it cannot be done...complete and utter bullshit.
Now with consumers reacting badly to higher gas prices, automakers are now working on improved fuel-economic vehicles, hybrids, electrics, and so on. Isn't it possible to see that if I had a car with 2-3 times longer driving range, I can do more. I can drive my car to breakfast at a local diner, then shop at a mall nearby, buy some stuff from Home Depot, then drop everything at home, and drive all the way to NYC for some dinner and partying. All of this on one tank of gas. It would actually increase consumer spending, not reduce it.
All, by the way, Europeans are dealing with paying about $5-6 dollars per gallon, so Americans complaining about $3-4 dollars per gallon should just shut up and sit down.
Chinese Economic Supremacy
It is just over the horizon but according to economists, China is expected to eclipse the United States' economy by 2045. These 1.3 billion citizens have now surpassed the United Kingdom as the fourth largest economy (in terms of GDP) in the world.
The Communist Party has transformed this once centrally planned economy into a free market with "socialist characteristics." Understandbly, we have to be quite impressed with the way they did over the last two decades. One biggest problem is that they are growing too fast and the gap between the rich and poor has become quite a serious issue with villages and towns attempting to revolt against the rich and influential.
Of course the Chinese renminbi is artificially low. While we do complain about the high exchange rate, we do have to note that the rate has been dropping slowly from 8.25-8.30 to near 8.00. The politicians complain about the trade imbalance but is it just because it is free market economics? More than half of all industrial goods are made in their factories. They have managed to secure almost $1 trillion in foreign reserves. With that amount of money, they could probably be at the same stage where the US was after the end of World War II where we had money to give out loans to war-torn countries.
People say that tax cuts and lower government spending (Bullsh*t!) is helping the economy. Higher government spending is more like it, especially under the current Republican administration. But perhaps those people need to look pass that and thank our foreign lenders instead. They have been keeping the US economy afloat so that consumers (like you and me) can keep buying more imports, resulting in higher trade deficits. US economic prosperity will dry up when foreign creditors in Japan, China, and Europe start to stop lending or start to reduce the amount of debt they can let the US borrow.
Oh but wait, they wouldn't want the US to fall into a depression or an economic calamity! It would affect the whole world economy. We need to keep the US floating. You have to wonder whether the world will continue to appreciate US superiority in the next 40-50 years. It is not being unpatriotic, but economic realism.
Can foreign lenders continue to finance US' $250-300 billion deficits for each consecutive year? Forget about Bush's pledge to cut the deficit in half. It is complete nonsense to continue to repeat this promise since the Congress decides on the budget blueprint, and all Bush can do is to threaten to veto the spending bills (but he hasn't vetoed any yet). By the time Bush will leave office, our national debt will reach $9 trillion! But really, go back to China and Japan. These two Asian countries are the largest foreign holders of US Treasury bonds.
China and other countries in Asia will continue to finance the US' debt system until they are strong enough to prosper on their own. They will just slowly start to sell US bonds to stabilise their own financial systems. These creditor nations hold the upper hand over us.
This is why the US must be wary of insulting China, Japan, or any other country that holds a substantial amount of US Treasury bonds. Avoiding a global meltdown is in everyone's interests but you cannot maintain such propserity forever. Soon, the cycle needs to change to balance itself and start up again. The impact may be too much for America to endure.
The Independent - America meets the new superpower
Historical - The Nation - Debtor Nation
Easter Weekend Notes
It was great to go home for Easter Weekend since Europe gets Friday and Monday off. I flew home on Virgin Atlantic Thursday night and came back Monday night.
The good things:
Food! I had dinner at Koi Sushi in the Bryant Park Hotel on Friday night. It was quite delicious but I think you can find the same quality of food at other Japanese restaurants. The Kobe beef was good too though I should get it medium rare instead of medium. The rasberry mojito is the drink to have while eating there. Sunday night was Porcao Churrascaria, a Brazilian restaurant near Madison Park. It's an all-you-can-eat beef affair. There are like 18 offerings from rib-eye, steak, chicken, and fish. You get a coaster (red/green) to decide if you are still hungry or full. A bottle of Brahma, Brazilian's national beer, will help drink down all that meat. Of course, one should taste the Capirinha too, a sweet blend of cachaca run, sugar, and fresh lime. You can get full and drunk at the same time!
Koi Sushi - Web Site
Porcao - Web Site
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I went to see "Friends with Money." It's a bit of drama with a bit of comic relief on three couples, and their lone single friend, played by Jennifer Aniston. It takes a funny look at how money affects our lives and relationships with loved ones and friends.
The bad things:
High Gas Prices!
Since my Hoboken flat is being rented out, I have to stay with the folks in Morris County, so it's driving to and back from nyc. It was pretty much $2.70-2.80 per gallon, so I think I spent about $75-80 during the whole weekend. I could remember when it was just a buck, or when it hit $1.80, and that was the record-breaker at the time. Of course my last night, I took the train home, but it's a pain. The best place to get a fill-up would be right before the Holland Tunnel, 'cause in the city, the price of gas starts at about $3.
Red light cameras
I think everyone is getting thoroughly upset by this. Honestly, they are used as a cheap revenue source when the cops are not there. Couldn't they just be used for their one important purpose? To combat crime, and not used to fine your "imperfect" driving skills? NYPD is installing 500 cameras now. Of course in London, there are thousands of them. The taxi driver that took me to my flat from Paddington complained about the cameras taking pictures of his taxi while he was standing along the block, and the fine alleged he was illegally parked!
Airport Security up the wazoo!
I think they must have bumped up the metal detectors another notch. I had to take off my belt buckle and watch while heading back to Heathrow from Newark, and they never went off before. At least they [TSA] finally stated that shoes must be taken off (instead of "strongly encouraged.") I personally think that's a waste of time since most airports outside of the US do not even check for shoes. Plus, even though there are shoes/sneakers that are security-approved (they do not have any metal), the TSA staff will still ask you to take them off, so what's the point?!?!?!
Maybe we should start walking through the detectors naked. It was easy before to just take off the coat, put your pocket stuff in the coat pockets, handle the laptop from the backpack, and hold the pair of shoes in the other. But now you have to also take off your belt, your watch, bracelets, and perhaps even your ring.
It is quite annoying, being a seasoned traveler and all.
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But overall, it was a very good weekend. Now I'm back in London, five hours ahead, and looking forward to some good football action.
Get arrested for your music
Now this is highly disturbing. It seems that Harraj Mann, a UK Indian resident of Hartlepool, was going to the airport to travel to London. He was escorted off the plane by two plain-clothed police officers and questioned. It was concluded that he was not a security risk and was released.
Durham Police said the action was taken "as a result of information received." It seems that during the taxi ride to the city airport, he used the tape deck player that was available in the vehicle, and proceeded to play some mp3's. Some of the selections included songs by The Clash and Led Zeppelin. He played the punk anthem "London calling" and Zep's "Immigrant Song." It seems that the lyrics made the driver fear his passenger was a terrorist.
Police told Mr. Mann, during the questioning, that his choice of music had aroused suspicion.
So next time, be careful playing R.E.M's "End of the World" or the latest album from Green Day. You could be considered a "terrorist!" Argh!
BBC News - Terror fear over Clash fan's song
French workers whine about getting a job
It's shameful to see French youths protesting against the CPE legislation which would actually get them to work for real, instead of lanquishing in a permanent secured job that lacks creativity, innovation, and career-building.
Young workers are just easy to whine about getting fired too easily. It will only happen if they screw up. If they do a good job, they will get that French guarantee of job security.
France must wake up to a more rapid and competitive European market as well as competing against American and British workers.
Conservatives Keep Quiet about Federal Debt
Fiscal conservatives are complaining once again about the rapid increase in federal spending. Even though the Sept. 11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Gulf Coast hurricanes account for only part of the increased spending, the other factors are the military buildup, domestic spending, and the rise of benefits for the elderly, poor, and disabled.
Yes, we want to maintain national security and protect our domestic infrastructure, but the continual overspending cannot be sustained in the long run. Conservatives talk about cutting taxes more which would empower consumers to spend more money to help build up the economy, but if federal spending continue to outstrip economic growth, the consumer factor becomes moot.
The White House tries to point to recent domestic cuts and the elimination of many small programs, but this is not good enough. Even with slightly reducing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, the federal government is still project at least $300 BILLION DEFICIT for this year.
This week, the House is scheduled to debate the $2.8 trillion budget for 2007, and they are already projecting an additional $3 TRILLION OF DEBT in the next five years. Ladies and gentlemen, this would mean our overall federal debt will exceed $11 TRILLION!
Why are the conservatives keeping quiet about this? They know that overspending cannot be sustained. They only choose to keep reminding the public that they are doing this to protect America's national security. The public is becoming ignorant because they want lower taxes but when government services start to fail and repairs are delayed, they argue about the need for more spending.
The House Budget Committee last week rejected a proposal that would require spending hikes to be offset by cuts in other spending or by tax increases. In time of war, the public would understand the need for tax increases to keep the terrorists at bay, but conservatives are trying the peaceful military approach. It is not working here.
The neo-conservatives and military hawks know this. Only the fiscal members along the right side believe they are going in the wrong direction, it's too bad the leadership are not listening to them.
Please, would someone cut the federal credit card for them?
The French: Too Much Pampering
French lawmakers went ahead and approved an online copyright bill Tuesday that would force Apple Computer to break open the exclusive format behind its market-leading iTunes music store and iPod players. It seems they cannot stomach the "monopoly" and popularity of the US-made iPod player, and they want to give their own French mp3 or compatible players a piece of this online music market. The National Assembly, France's lower house, approved the bill by 296 to 193. It goes to their Senate for a final reading and vote before becoming law.
Steve Jobs may choose to either withdraw from the French online music market rather than share the proprietary technology. I rather he should choose to former. Even though you can "rip" audio Cd's into mp3 or Apple format songs into your iPod, the French just do not want to deal with trying to make their own proprietary product. They are more intent in producing policies and rules that guarantee that French companies get a substantial piece of the online music market.
Does this example portray France as a country of economic difficulty and a lack of innovators and creators? Could you still say that France is a capitalist country or a more socialist one? Clearly, it has become one of the least vibrant economies in the industrialized world, as well as one of the least equitable. Private companies are just needles in the large haystack of public or government-owned industries. State workers enjoy the lavish offerings of a 35-hour workweek, six weeks of paid vacation, state-mandated profit sharing, and being able to retire at the age of 60. You have to wonder if working hard is not the French way.
Innovation is probably the loser here because the state workers just do not see the need to be competitive with their private counterparts. They are currently enjoying the full luxury of worker protections, but this group is currently shrinking. Then why are these companies not hiring more workers? Economic risk. It seems that any level of risk that could happen is an absolute no to the French worker and they would stage a national strike for any type of reason that threatens their job. If the government wanted to raise the work week back to 40 hours, watch out for strikes and protests in every major French city.
Recently, a new government law would give employers up to two years before deciding whether to give new young employees the kind of lifetime job security conferred by French law. This made most of the younger people quite upset. They do not want reforms that could generate more jobs and income. They just want to continue to enjoy the economic fantasy of living in the same job all their life and not worry about losing it. Quite a selfish fantasy. It makes it so easier since after attending University, you got a job already waiting for you.
Clearly, it is way too much pampering and no wonder French university students just only know how to stage a protest, and not actually do something useful and find a job and actually look at advancing yourself up the ladder. The words "imagination," "creativity," and "innovation" are just blank meanings to them. No wonder they cannot find a good job.
A poll released in January by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that only 36 percent of French respondents felt that "the free enterprise system and free market economy" is the best system.
CNN.com - France to Apple: Share Technology
Washington Post - French Take to the Streets to Preserve Their Economic Fantasy
I would like to make a request to raise my credit limit from $8.184 trillion to $9.000 trillion this coming Friday. I am afraid my spending habits and insufficient cash flow will max out my credit limit and I rather not risk a default on my borrowing. It would cause irreparable harm to my credit rating across the planet, and I don't think it would be nice for those foreign central banks to start pitching out clean and crisp U.S. dollar bills out the window.
It would cause interest rates to soar, consumers will stop spending, and a recession may hurt everyone in the good ol' U.S.A. I am sure we can work out any sort of financial arrangement where I can pay the interest rate of at least 15% but of course I will try to pay more than that if the rate is much more favorable. I am sure that when the next period ends in 2008, I am sure I set aside more dough over to paying my debt off. It will piss a lot of people off, but I do not want to burden my children with it after I "depart."
Please approve my request and I will be sure to send you a package of military rations as a gift.
The U.S. Government
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Christian Monitor - Is rising US public debt sustainable?
Newsday - And deeper in debt
Scientology Kicks out South Park
We all know South Park goes way out on making religious satire against every major religion, but it looks like attacking Scientology has claimed a victim of the crazy cartoon's success.
Soul singer Issac Hayes has quit his job as the voice of "Chef" on the show. His reason was the show's "inappropriate ridicule" of religion. Really...and you still stayed on after the Jesus fighting Santa pre-clip, Christopher Reeves sucking on dead fetuses to stay alive, and the killing of Kenny? Over 150 episodes have been made making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons, and Jews. It seems that when make-believe Scientology was next on the list, you left.
Series co-creator Matt Stone said the veteran recording artist was upset the show had recently lampooned the Church of Scientology.
But it's too bad Hayes left the show. The Church of Scientology would have had access to millions of young and college kids to brainwash. We are damn lucky that they haven't pursued setting up student clubs about it.
Dubai Backs Down, Are You Happy USA?
After weeks of anxiety, a showdown between President Bush and Congress, and politicians pandering to a fearful public, Dubai Ports World (DPW) has decided to abandon its plan to manage operations at six U.S. ports Thursday, and stated that it will transfer them to a United States entity.
Hours earlier, the House Appropriations Committee voted 62-2 to block the port deal -- the same committee that also blocked implementation of a new "open skies" treaty that would allow foreign airlines or investors to own more than 25% of the voting stock of a U.S. airline.
Interestingly enough, on the same day, the U.S. Commerce Department announced yet another record monthly trade deficit for January, putting the U.S. on course to break last year's record deficit of $724 billion.
Some politicians were undoubtedly pleased with the surprising news. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said, "Those of us who feel strongly about this issue believe that the US part of the British company should have no connection to the United Arab Emirates or DP World." Republican Congressional Rep. Peter King, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee also said, "It would have to be an American company with no links to DP World, and that would be a tremendous victory and very gratifying."
Let's go back to June of last year. At that time, China's CNOOC and America's Chevron submitted competing bids to buy California-based Unocal, and its Asian oil reserves. While the all-cash $18.5 billion CNOOC bid was stronger than Chevron's $16 billion cash and stock offer, the Chinese company had to face regulatory hurdles and political resistance from Congress. Politicians protested that it threatened U.S. national security, and even some of them contend that Unocal held critical dual-use technologies, but this was highly doubtful by industry specialists. But with the publicity and the danger of a prolonged delay in the bid, CNOOC abandoned its purchase bid in August of that year. Essentially, it was a dead deal since members of Congress already took steps to delay CNOOC's offer by lengthening the necessary government review to 120 days for any Chinese takeover of a U.S. oil company.
Here's a piece of Chinese wisdom: "Beware of what you seek, for you might get it."
So thank you for succeeding in stymieing the acquisition of Unocal by CNOOC and preventing DB World from managing U.S. port operations. We have proven the fact that we have given another hypocritical example of ourselves. We have been consistently trying to convince other countries to open their oil and gas sectors to investment by US-based firms. How can those countries be expected to open their natural resources to US investment when we are blocking them from investing in ours? Same goes for port operations and management.
But for DB World to transfer its operations to a U.S. entity, which one? Shipping experts have stated that most of the other port terminals are run by foreign-owned companies, so the list is quite short. Strange enough, we are not making a fuss about them. We are only making an issue for Chinese and Middle Eastern companies. This is what we call "discrimination." But even if they are willing to accept more rules and review of their takeover plans, we would still not give them that final "yes" because of where they are located from.
Imagine if China Airlines made a hypothetical bid for bankrupt Delta Airlines, U.S. politicians would even protest that because it threatens "national security." Oh really? (Obviously, foreign airlines cannot even buy a U.S. airline anyway.)
For one columnist, he openly wonders if other foreign companies get the idea that the U.S. does not trust them enough to do business with them, and begin acting the way human beings do when they get poked in the eye, he states we can be looking at "8 percent mortgage rates, 6 percent unemployment, $4 gasoline, a $1.50 euro, and a 9000 Dow." People say we are a economic superpower, but we are also the most debtor nation on this planet.
Do we have the financial will to say "Stuff it!" to the Chinese? They are sitting on over $800 billion in foreign reserves, most of it in U.S. Treasury bonds.
For Dubai, it is one of our few trading partners with whom we run a surplus! Last year, it was about $7 billion. They import American cars, watch American TV shows, and they put their money in American banks. They also have a huge contract with Boeing. So that means...
U.S. - You can take that DB World deal and stuff it!
Dubai (UAE) - Fine! (calls up Boeing)
Boeing - Yes?
Dubai (UAE) - Thanks to your Congress, you just lost billions of sales of potential Boeing jets with GE engines. We are switching to Airbus.
Boeing - No!!!!!
BBC News - Dubai firm to "transfer" US ports
Breitbart.com - Dubai Firm Backs Out of U.S. Ports Deal
ChinaDaily - US lawmakers meddle in CNOOC's Unocal bid
Washington Post - Foreign Owners Overboard?
Bush's Empty Threat of His Veto
With all due respect to the conservatives, Bush's fiscal credentials and performance during his five years in office should be given a score of ZERO! It's quite simple. On March 20, George W. Bush will pass a historic milestone by passing James Monroe for second place. Only Thomas Jefferson is in first place. Do you know what it is?
U.S. presidents who went the longest without vetoing legislation. (Check out the figures)
Bush has never followed through on his threats to use his presidential authority to reject spending or policy measures that have exceeded his administration's guidelines. With his poll figures numbering in the high 30 to lower 40's (yes, Bush may choose to ignore them, but senior Republicans leaders cannot), many members from both political parties just see his veto threats as empty ones.
Now, he wants a line-item veto. Perhaps he misses being Governor of Texas, where its state constitution does allow the use of the line-item veto. Is it possible that Bush is sifting through the old "Contract with America" files? Perhaps he can remake an old idea with some glitter and call it one of own Bushisms.
"Too many bills passed by Congress include unnecessary spending," Bush said. Really, we did not know that (Slap to the forehead)! The line-item veto would "give me the authority to strip special spending and earmarks out of a bill, and then send them back." Hmm, actually, Bush has been exercising the line-item special, by excluding the emergency military bills for Iraq and Afghanistan. He does not even include their figures into his "official" budget. Ask a fiscal conservative. Does this really, honestly, truthfully makes sense?
Former House Majority Leader (Texas Republican) Dick Armey said, "I consider the president's call for a line-item veto more of a political statement than a policy statement. A lot of us have been trying for this since 1984, and given all the challenges, a lot of people don't think it's worth their time anymore."
Bush wants the public to focus on his proposal because of their anger at congressional prerogatives (also known as earmarks, which is also known as PORK or PORK BARREL PROJECTS!). Come on here, this has been a nuisance dating back through the last decade or so, and it happen under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Perhaps because last year, total pork barrel projects for 2005 numbering 15,000 cost taxpayers over $47 billion dollars.
But back to his veto threats. According to the White House budget office, Bush has threatened to veto 133 bills as president. His most recent threat was against any congressional move to block the Dubai ports deal. He said that the absence of any vetos shows that he and the Republican-controlled Congress are working well together. This can be debatable. He did have to compromise with a Democratic-led Senate for a short period when Jeffords defected from his party to become an independent. He did sign a bloated highway spending budget where it contained over 6,300 earmarks. Now, Congressional Republicans are becoming more confrontational with the President as the November elections start to approach.
Does Bush have any political capital left to issue any more veto threats? We will see in his final three years in office.
Know Your First Amendment
So what were the freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, which is also part of our U.S. Constitution?
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Press
Freedom of Religion
Right to Peacefully Assemble
Right to Petition the Government for a redress of grievances
In the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum poll taken on Jan. 20-22, only one of the 1,000 adults polled could name all five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment. Only 8 people in 100 could name at least three First Amendment freedoms. Yet more than one in five (22 percent) could identify all five major characters in "The Simpsons." Four in 10 surveyed could name two of the three judges on the show "American Idol," and one in four could name all three.
Here were some stupid answers given during the poll:
21 percent said that the First Amendment gave the right to own and raise pets
20 percent said it was to drive
36 percent said it was the right for women to vote
Washington Post - Noted With Interest
Pictures of War
The human psychie can change quite drastically when supporting a position and realizing the consequences or benefits of that position. In the beginning we knew that removing Saddam Hussein from power was in the best interests of the "coalition of the willing." We knew that the process of bringing about democratic change in the country of Iraq will be long and difficult. Even despite this, we start to question the leadership and decisions of our civilian and military leaders the moment U.S. soldiers and innocent civilians start to die. Past examples include Somalia where 18 soldiers and two Blackhawk helicopters were lost while capturing two Somali clan officials on Oct 3, 1993.
The video of a dead U.S. soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu really damaged the American psychie. It was one of the factors that led to the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia.
For Vietnam, the public saw three famous photos. (link) The young naked girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running down the street when a South Vietnamese plane mistakenly dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese tropps and civilians. (link) The second was the execution of a Viet Cong officer with a shot to the head by the South Vietnamese National Police Chief Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan. (link) A third photo really shocked the American public when it shows women and children massacred at the town of My Lai, a South Vietnamese village.
While those photos shocked the public, another Vietnam war photo emerged that moved the nation. In 1973 photographer Chick Harrity snapped a photo which showed a baby girl, named Tran Thie Het Nhanny, lying in a cardboard box next to her brother, who begged on the streets of Saigon. When the photo was published in February of that year, it inspired Americans to raise money to bring the baby to the U.S. to undergo surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.
Often from time to time, Americans are deeply shocked by the images of the dead and the destruction of property, but why are we continuing to be surprised by this? Perhaps it is true by some analysts that the public still believes that "death on the battlefield was glorious and heroic." In virtually every American war that has followed, journalists have struggled whether to take or publish, photos of the dead and wounded. In World War I and early World War II, military censors blocked most photos of American losses. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the War Department, and the Office of War Information changed that view in 1943. University of Maryland journalism professor Susan Moeller, author of "Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat," stated that the decision was made because Americans needed a less-sanitized view to understand the true risks and costs of the war.
It helped usher in a new era of frank war photography, the height of it was reached during the war in Vietnam. Unlike today's "embed" photographers in Iraq, they did not have to sign agreements with the military and they submitted to few rules.
Some have blamed the media for undercutting support for America's wars. It is obvious that it will influence the Pentagon's handling for future wars. When the Caribbean island of Grenada was invaded in 1983, the Reagan administration left reporters and photographers behind. It fueled a backlash and the military agreed to allow limited access to a pool of media representatives (no doubt sanctioned by the military) for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. However, the arrangement allowed a minimal view of the fighting. Fortunately, one photo did manage to get through the censors and was published on every American newspaper in the country. (link) The photo showed wounded Army Sgt. Ken Kozakiewicz of Orchard Park, NY, crying aboard a medevac helicopter after learning on February 28, 1991, that the body bag to his left contained a fellow tank crewman.
The photo was first held by the military because it was of a sensitive nature. Kozakiewicz's father, who had been in one of the first American military units in Vietnam said that the military "was trying to make us think that this is antiseptic. But this is war. Where is the blood and the reality of what is happening over there? Finally we have a picture of what really happens in war." For him, showing his son grieving over the death of a fellow fighter gave added meaning to the soldier's death.
Today, technology and war have improved to a point where pictures and videos can be shown right after the event has occurred or in real-time. "Embed" photographers are sent along with military units. Independent photographers and news agencies roam the battle zones. While we may show battle-hardened soldiers like the "Marlboro Man," we now refrain from publishing pictures of the dead coming back, either by voluntary or involuntary means.
The Bush administration claims it would be a public relations catastrophe to show American war dead so officials banned the media from photographing flag-draped coffins being carried off cargo planes. Government officials and American media pundits have repeatedly denounced the Al-Jazeera network for airing grisly footage of Iraqi war casulaties and American prisoners of war. But then the scandal at Abu Ghraib where photos showed American soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners seriously damaged the image of the U.S. military, and it pretty much shut up the U.S. media for a bit.
Retired General Michael Marchand, who served as assistant judge advocate general for the Army, said in 2005, "Two years ago, if somebody had said our soldiers would do these things to detainees and take pictures of it, I would have said that's a lie. What soldiers do, I'm not sure I can guess anymore."
USA TODAY - A look at Abu Ghraib
Maybe soldiers thought that during a war, anything can be done. There are no rules of engagement (yes there is), or there is no Geneva Convention (oh wait it does exist). Perhaps war brings out the evil side of our human minds. When these U.S. soldiers said that they abused Iraqi prisoners "just for fun," does that even surprise us? Who knows if one half of the country was shocked by that, or the other half was applauding them. We are definitely a hypocritical country.
Today, it may not even be possible to see published pictures taken in Iraq and Afghanistan that are similar to those taken in Vietnam or Somalia. Perhaps it is true that the American psychie just do not want to see the results of their actions. Perhaps it is in our nature not to even think of it because we assumed we have the most advanced technological-capable military and war casaulties would be minimal. Publishing the pictures and figures on the dead and wounded is now considered to be politically incorrect.
In any case, we should be exposed to the realities of war. If we choose to participate in a war, we should know the risks and costs of it. We should not be afraid to see what war does. Yes, it is sickening and nauseating, but that's what we chose to do.
Uncensored war pictures
Crisis Pictures (link)
nowthatsfuckedup.com - I chose not to activate this link, you can type it in yourself. It is a sex-themed web site, but nestled between those forums is a place where American military personnel are alleged to have posted grisly war images from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's only 9 of them left...
These nine out of the original twelve had the opportunity to gaze back at our planet from another world. I recommend the book "In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth: Moondust," by Andrew Smith.
Commander Neil A. Armstrong (August 5, 1930 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. (January 20, 1930 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean (March 15, 1932 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Edgar D. Mitchell (September 17, 1930 - )
Commander David R. Scott (June 6, 1932 - )
Commander John W. Young (September 24, 1930 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Charles M. Duke, Jr. (October 3, 1935 - )
Commander Eugene A. Cernan (March 14, 1934 - )
Lunar Module Pilot Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt (July 3, 1935 - )
These men are now in their mid 60's to mid 70's. By the time we go back to the Moon (estimated to be either 2018 or 2020 by NASA or the Bush Administration), these men may not be here to see it.
Will the US be able to endure the next decade to help revigorate the NASA Space Program? While some congressman may believe in the Vision for Space Exploration initiative, some want to get out of the space program altogether, end its participation in the International Space Station (ISS), and just focus on projects that are more lower-to-mid orbit space missions. Is it possible we may cede space exploration to the Chinese or the European Agency? Do we want to just watch and see the Chinese or the Europeans set up moon bases? These are all possiblities that could happen.
Or is it also possible that private space exploration may lead the way instead of a NASA-led bureaucracy? We got suborbital flight service just beyond the horizon. Will the success of SpaceShipOne lead to a privatized space industry that could accomplish more than the US government?
U. Illinois editors suspended over Prophet cartoons
As such, most US newspapers chose not to publish the Prophet cartoons that have caused an uproar in the Islamic world. Those few that did encountered a few peaceful protests from Muslim organizations as well a bit of scolding from local and state politicians.
On one side, some groups believe they have the right to publish these cartoons as a right to freedom of press. They assert that only extremist Muslim factions are exaggerating the problem here. On the opposite side, people prefer to avoid antagonizing Muslims and to prevent any misunderstanding about being racist and inciting any violence. However, the issue has become quite hypocritical. If newspapers published the cartoon of a Muslim figure wearing a turban made of a bomb and called him Osama Bin Laden, would anyone protest it? What if the name listed was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?
Yes, under the religion of Islam, paintings, pictures, or caricatures that depict the Prophet in any derogatory way are prohibited. In an interview on BBC, one of the leaders of the Muslim organizations in the UK stated that peaceful and proper images of the Prophet are allowed (forgot the link, but that's what he said). Also, you can check the Cranky Professor blog where pictures of Muhammad can be found at various libraries and collections.
From what has happened so far, it has been unfortunate the way the cartoons caused such a violent reaction in the Islamic world. However, the type of reaction has bordered along the level of insanity. Protests in Pakistan, Lebanon, and Libya for example, have all ended in violence. In some of the places, embassy buildings have been burned down. Some have called for the death and murder of those individuals that have published the cartoons. In London, a group of Muslim protestors held a rally in front of the BBC studios. Some of their placards called for violence, and even one protestor dressed up as a suicide bomber. Is this the right response to these images?
These types of violent protests have galvanized selected Western newspapers and groups to publish the images as a right to not be intimidated by threats. While they agree that the images were offensive, it should be debated in a civilized manner, not with violence. Why has it that when jokes and funny images are made out of the Pope and Jesus Christ, you do not get such a violent reaction?
Well, anyways, back to the topic... many newspapers in the US chose not to publish any of the Prophet cartoons. However, two high-ranking editors of the student newspaper at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were suspended for two weeks after they decided to run some of the controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Acton Gorton, the editor-in-chief, and Chuck Prochasks, the opinions editor, stood by their decision to print the cartoons.
After their suspension, the newspaper's editorial board apologized to the Muslim community and its readers for the editors' actions. Even though they did not necessarily disagree with the decision to run the cartoons, it disagreed with the process of how the cartoons made it into the paper.
Shaz Kaiseruddin, president of the Muslim Students' Association stated, "When hate speech is propagated under the guise of free speech, it's just indicative of the fact that 'Islamaphobia' is rampant in our nation." So does this mean we should suspend editors for publishing a bad caricature of Jesus? Or how about we tell people to go and murder the creators of Southpark for making the short film of Jesus and Santa fighting each other?
Or what if instead of the cartoon images, the newspaper decided to explain the images in words? Would this result in the same reaction? Would both editors still get suspended for asking students and people to use their imaginations based on them? Would that be considered hate speech? Not all the images of the Prophet were derogatory. What if the editors chose to publish the nicer images?
I do not believe for the fact that the editors were racist or prejudiced against Muslims. I think they were trying to invoke a discussion because we may not know what is the problem with these images and why the Muslim world is so angry about them. There was no attempt by the newspaper to display the images and just say "down with the Muslims." Do you really think the objective of the newspaper was to create violence? In an American university, do you think it would have resorted to violence? That's why I think the suspensions was unwarranted.
Well, I have to wonder how many more student newspapers will try to follow U. Illinois' way and get the same reaction.
St Louis Dispatch Newspaper
Student paper criticized for running cartoons (02/10/2006)
Two editors suspended over cartoons (02/16/2006)
The Federal Budget Myth, and the National Debt
The US Treasury Department announced that there was a $20.99 billion surplus for the month of January. Some Republicans have indicated that this shows that the economy is strong and we should stick with the direction of Bush's administration. One fellow poster also thinks this means the economy is good.
Despite the good news, the announced surplus was expected. For those that work in the financial industry, the federal government typically runs a surplus in January when corporations and individuals make their quarterly tax payments. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) actually expected $24 billion in the black. Receipts rose 13.7% year-over-year to $230 billion (a record in January), but overlays also rose 7.9% year-over-year to $209 billion (also a record in January).
A good number of conservatives are faulting the media and some doomsayers that the huge national debt will be the downfall of America's economy. They have tried to allay fears by saying that President Bush promises to cut the deficit in half by 2009, the year he will leave office. It would have been happier if he stated that he can cut the national debt by 2009, it would have actually freed up about $175 billion in interest payments for discretionary use! For a powerful and robust economy like the United States, we should not be having an issue with this. The tax cuts that President Bush pushed through Congress have helped the economy. Tax revenue has increased, but the problem is that government spending has also increased even more. Yes, people are saying that national security, the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Gulf Coast reconstruction are to blame for the increased spending, but we cannot continually deficit spend hundreds of billions of dollars.
Ladies and gentleman, debt-to-GDP ratio is 64.8% (as of October 2005). Yes it's high, but you know it is obvious that Bush's Press Secretary would say, "well, that's lower than Japan's 164% and the Eurozone's 79%", but why are we comparing our problem to theirs? Some would say that we are doing fine. Past opinion polls have shown that the national debt is not a high priority about the populace. However, that has changed recently when it is known that when Bush took office in his first term, the national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. Today, we are hitting $8.2 trillion.
Know that when politicians start talking about the deficit figures, they do not include the emergency bills that were passed to finance the current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also love to include the figures from the Social Security Trust because it is currently running a surplus, but those years are numbered. It is better to listen to the Fed or the CBO than the President.
Air Travel Reviews
Skytrax is probably the best airline web site to find out the best and worst travel experiences. Read comments from all sorts of travellers talking about their worst or best experience. You may find a story about possible scams or things you should be aware of when flying. Also, it includes info on the airlines themselves, the planes, and their airport lounges.
Do kids really know about sexual harassment?
It seems that sexual harassment should be a taught lesson for first graders. At Downey Elementary School in Brockton, Mass, a first grader was suspended for three days for harassing a girl in his class. What did he do? He allegedly put two fingers inside the girl's waistband while she sat on the floor in front of him.
Such a thing would warrant a scolding by the teacher, but an actual school suspension? Today, we are likely to see elementary and middle schools start calling in the police and using suspensions for incidents that would just require an afternoon detention or a good lecture by the teacher or assistant principal. It seems that we love escalating such incidents into the media spotlight. When school district administrators complain about setting aside money for legal matters, perhaps they should look at their disciplinary procedures and realize that these kids are just children, not potential troublemakers.
Breitbart.com - First Grader Suspended for Harassment
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So was it right for Reverend Joseph Lowery and former President Carter to bash President Bush at Coretta Scott King's funderal? Perhaps it was the temptation of the funeral being nationally televised. Or some of the speakers just felt the need to criticize the President because there is no other opportunity to do so?
I find it shameful to see people do this during a funeral. Do we start criticizing people at a memorial service? It is time to remember and reflect, not the time to jab and attack.
5-Second Delay: Bollux!
It has been declared that Sunday's Super Bowl will be on a five-second tape delay pregame, postgame, and halftime.
BOLLUX! It's stupid, it's childish, it goes to show that we are so scared of upsetting the tiny minority, everything is on a tape-delay so we can censor anything that could be considered offensive. Has network television become so scared sh*tless? Ohhh.. the mighty FCC is going to fine us a $1 million. Yea, they have nothing better to do then issuing multi-million dollar fines just to show to the American public that "hey we are doing something!" Rubbish.
Fox did not tape-delay the Super Bowl last year. The half-time performer was Paul McCartney. It's ABC's turn this year so they decided to play chicken and choose to implement the 5-second delay. Yes, so you won't see a streaker running across the field in the freezing weather or seeing on the sidelines a pair of NFL cheerleaders making out. Holy sh*t...that could actually increase ratings! If we are so busy censoring out "sh*t or fu*k," why not get rid of "bitch, bullsh*t, tosser, jerk" too? Oh, we are scared of the f-word...really, we hear it every day as we go to work, during work, and going home.
The Christian Coalition is busy complaining...oh no the Congress did not pass the bill increasing the indecency fines. Aww, boo hoo. Tough sh*t! If you can't take it, then go home. Honestly, if you think it's indecent to say a curse word on television, how about a group of guys fighting over the football? Wow a fight, that's indecent. How about that? Oh wait, it's a national sport, the symbol of America's football... damn hypocritical nonsense.
In the UK, the Brits are just laughing at us. After 9-10pm, you can see naked breasts! You can hear the shows say sh*t or fu*k. You can watch a baby giving birth or see an operation where the doctor install a woman's breast implants. You can even see cosmetic surgery where they show liposuction! Disgusting? Absolutely! But I can change the god damn channel! If you don't like it, change the channel or turn it off and go to sleep.
If you are that worried about what's could happen during Super Bowl, then turn it off, go to sleep, and ask one of your mates who won.
Take that indecency bill and shove it. Next year, let's watch Paris Hilton's sex video during half-time. Or better yet, let's watch the unrated version of GoDaddy.com's commerical.
So sit back and watch the game. Go Steelers!
Ok, the Steelers won 21-10. the Bud Light "Magic Fridge" won best commerical.
The Rolling Stones' take on the censorship... RIDCULOUS!
CNN.com - Stones: NFL censorship 'ridiculous'
CNN.com - ABC stifles some Stones swagger
STUDENT LOAN CUTS!
If you have been taking out federal loans to help finance your more than $40,000 education at Case, you better take note!
Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a budget-cutting bill, the Deficit Reduction Act, that would cut away $12.7 BILLION from the federal student-loan financing, the biggest decrease in the program's history. The result will be higher interest rates, cuts in federal subsidies to private lenders and mandatory borrower's fees.
The cuts are part of a larger $40 billion package of revenue-saving benefit reductions, including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The legislation passed mostly on a party-line vote, 216-214. It now heads to the Senate where it will meet opposition, enough to warrant Vice President Cheney to come back to Washington in case there is a tie. So far five Republican senators have indicated that they will oppose the legislation. Note that the student loan cuts make up 30 percent of the deficit reduction in the bill, but less than half of 1 percent of annual federal spending.
Perhaps politicians think that students won't make a fuss. Perhaps they would not have to worry because registered voting students do not vote in large numbers, and their turnout is low during an off-year election. It seems that in order for politicians to reduce the federal deficit, student programs are the best target. Yes, they are cutting Medicare and Medicaid by 0.4 and 0.3 percent over five years, but at least they are not cutting Social Security. The AARP was still upset, but then the impact for them is smaller than for the students.
So what's the result if the Senate passes it and Bush signs it? The Pell Grant will remain fixed at $4,050 for the fourth year in a row. The rate on Stafford loans will increase to a fixed rate of 6.8% starting on July 1. Currently, it is at a variable 4.7%. PLUS loans will go up to a fixed interest rate of 8.5 percent from 7.9 percent. Annual loan limits will go up, but who wants to take out more loans? Stafford loan limits will rise from $2,625 to $3,500 for freshmen and $3,500 to $4,500 for sophomores. Unsubsidized Stafford loans for graduate and professional students will increase from $10,000 to $20,000 a year.
The elimination of the origination fee over 5 years in favor of a mandatory insurance fee of one percent, which lenders pay to cover the loans against default sounds more of a gimmick solution for lenders.
But for consolidation rules that will take effect on July 1 if the legislation is signed into law, note this. You cannot consolidate with your spouse's, you cannot consolidate your loans while in school, and makes it more difficult for the student to re-consolidate.
I urge all students and graduates to consolidate now since you can get a consolidation loan as low as 2.75 percent with benefits applied. You can get a longer payment term, one monthly payment, and no prepayment penalties.
Kansas City Star - Students await vote on loan program
The Cavalier Daily - The student loan shakedown
Oklahoma Daily - Bill would increase student loan rates
Watts should check his info before saying the wrong thing
Media Matters - CNN's Watts falsely accused Gov. Kaine of misrepresenting student loan, Medicaid cuts
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?
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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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.
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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.
Inside Stamford Bridge: Home of Chelsea Football Club
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
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.
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.
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.
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. =)
Standing in front of the Brussels Parliament
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!
SBA Loan 9/11 Scandal
As the year draws to a close, we want to give a bah-humbug to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for issuing loans from a program designed to help businesses hurt from the events of 9/11 to recipients not even hurt by the attacks.
In the Business Week article, it stated that most companies interviewed told investigators from the IG, the agency's internal watchdog that they weren't hurt by the suicide attacks and didn't know they were getting terrorism assistance.
85% of the loans failed to document that the recipient were actually hurt by the attacks and therefore eligible for federal aid.
Out of a sample case of 59 recipients, only 9 of them were qualified for special disaster loans. The Associated Press (AP) found that loans were sent to businesses including a South Dakota radio station, a Virgin Islands prefume store, a Utah dog boutique, and more than 100 Dunkin' Donuts and Subway sandwich shops in various locations. For small businesses situated around Ground Zero, they couldn't get the assistance or were denied automatically. In a NY Post article today, Jan Fried, owner of Steamers Landing, an eatery for pizza, pastas, and seafood, was just blocks away from the former WTC site, but her loan application to the SBA, but was denied. The feds demanded that Fried's business partner put up his home for collateral, his condo board wouldn't allow it. She had to go get a bank loan for herself and after spending $600,000, she managed to reopen the restaurant.
SBA Administrator Hector Barreto said that lender documentation could have been better. A ridculous answer. Lenders that participated in the program stated that the requirements were unclear and that the SBA was marketing heavily that almost any small business could "claim" that they were negatively impacted by the attacks, and therefore, eligible to receive a STAR loan.
So how can this program be mis-managed so inappropriately? What was Hector Barreto's previous job before this? He raised a lot of funds for Republican campaigns. According to Hispanic Business, he was one of the GOP's top ten Hispanic fundraisers in 2000. I guess money management was not a "Top Ten" category for him.
The SBA faced a congressional inquiry but when it defended itself saying that it followed the law in issuing nearly $5 billion in loans to small businesses, it distributed an audit report that praised its operations. Unfortunately, it failed to hand out a second report by the same congressional auditing agency that criticized its post-9/11 relief work.
It's a damn shame that businesses around Ground Zero were denied funds while a Subway sandwich shop in Ohio got a loan from the program. With an almost bottomless money barrel, the federal government just doesn't know how much money it is accurately giving out. No wonder why it is so easy to dupe the feds.
Happy New Year!
Student Loan Cuts
Cutting federal spending has proved elusive as ever. As defense and the entitlement juggernauts of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security continue to grow, mostly everything else in our US federal budget has been squeezed again and again in search of savings.
The spending cuts bill that was passed by the Senate last Wednesday would save $39.7 billion during the next five years. In the bill that was passed 51-50 with Vice President Cheney's vote, approximately $12.7 billion will be cut from the student loan programs.
The legislation would fix interest rates at 6.8 percent for Stafford loans, even if commerical rates are lower. Currently, rates are variable and for this year, the rate is 5.3 percent. Parents who take advantage of the Parent PLUS loan will be fixed at 8.5 percent. This year it was at 6 percent. Overall, the program will also be extended to parents of graduate students.
Now, some say that with the economy continuing to get better, interest rates will continue to rise. So in the end students will see some savings by the time they graduate, but for those that have chosen to pursue a variable rate on their federal loans and they are looking at graduating this year, you may have to start consulting the Financial Aid Dept on whether it should be appropriate for you to consolidate your loans to a low fixed interest rate.
The bill will also raise the amounts that first-year and second-year students can borrow through the Stafford loan program. Under the plan, the cap of $2,625 for freshmen would go up to $3,500. for sophomores, it will go from $3,500 to $4,500. Unfortunately, the overall cap of $23,000 over five years will remain the same, and it has stayed at that same level over more than a decade. This may prove difficult for students that are pursuing double-degrees or programs that will last for five years, and they may almost max out the amount of federal subsidized loans they can get from the Stafford program.
The Pell Grant allocation remains capped at $4,050, but the annual income cutoff for the maximum grant goes from $15,000 to $20,000. The legislation also creates $4,000 grants for students who major in math, science, and certain foreign languages.
With Case's average cost of $41,429 per year, the actions by the federal govt concerning federal loans has to be a sign of worry among propsective and current students.
The bill which has been passed by the Senate will go to the House for approval. If there are no changes, then it will go to President Bush for his signature. The legislation will go into effect immediately. So we may look at mid-January as the implementation date. For seniors graduating this coming May, you may have to start consulting with the FinAid office on whether you can consolidate your loans now and lock them at a fixed low interest rate. For current students, I do not know if you can consolidate your existing loans now, then deal with getting loans at a higher interest rate next year. All answers will likely be found at the FinAid dept, or check with the Dept of Education web site.
Free-Region DVD Players
So the Trivia Pursuit DVD game I bought in London and brought back for my family cannot be played on any of our DVD players. Europe is Region 2, USA is Region 1, so I get the blasted "Region Error" msg on the screen.
Region coding is the dirty little secret of DVD. The world is divided into six major geographical regions, with two additional regions for specialized use. This means that DVD players and DVDs are labeled for operation within a specific geographical region in the world.
The reason for the existence of region coding is to protect copyright and film distribution rights. Since movies are released in theaters in different parts of the world at different times, a summer blockbuster in the US will be a winter blockbuster in the UK. If that occurs, the DVD version of the movie may be out in the US while it is still showing in theaters overseas.
In the UK, many stores are selling free-region dvd players so you would be able to view movies bought in the US, Asia, and other countries. Because of the popularity of such code-free DVD players, Hollywood has instituted another layer of coding on Region 1 DVD's called RCE (Regional Coding Enhancement). This would prevent selected Region 1 DVD's from playing on code-free dvd players. Another hitch are the different video systems. In the US, NTSC is the preferred method. In Europe, it is the PAL. Thus, customers in Europe own multi-system TVs that can view DVD's in either NTSC or PAL.
The best solution is to release films and videos at the same time everywhere. There have been a few cases where Harry Potter opened in both the US and UK at the same time. For Lord of the Rings, it opened at the same time in several countries. But in the end, opening it at the same time for everyone is the best result for the consumer. This would eliminate the need for region coding.
While movie and video companies believe that region coding protects them, it is just a pain for the consumer. I have to play the Trivia Pursuit DVD on my computer since I have a region-free software so we can enjoy the game. Since I travel quite a lot, I own a free-region DVD player, so by the time I get back to the states, I wouldn't have to worry about buying a DVD player for Region 1 and another for Region 2. Plus, I wouldn't have to worry about buying a NTSC or PAL player either. Some DVD programs on PC give you a certain number of tries to select your region, then it stays permanent. Fortunately, you can find many applications out there that can break it, or find a DVD player program that plays any region DVD you may have.
The only groups that are benefiting from this are the movie studios and the marketers of Code-Free DVD players since they are providing a way to get around the region coding. I am sure that if region coding is eliminated, then I wouldn't have to worry to buy a third-party free-region dvd player.
Preserving Xmas for the children
In Lebanon, PA, a substitute teacher decided to do a literal analysis of the Clement C. Moore's poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" to a bunch of six-year and seven-year olds. She proceeded to refute each section of the poem, and mentioned that the myth of Santa Clause was based on a person who died in 343AD. Of course, the kids thought it meant that Santa was dead after all.
The substitute does not believe in Santa Claus and she made her feelings clear to the classroom. She explained that "those same children are going to know someday that what their parents taught them is false."
Parents have expressed concerns about the incident when they reported their kids came home crying saying that the sub stated there was no St. Nick.
I am sure that all of us have grown up realizing that there is no Santa Claus and that our parents were the ones that bought the xmas presents, but a good many of us still leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies near the fireplace. Parents tell their children generation after generation that they have to be good to get their present from St. Nicholas. Of course there will be a time and place where the truth comes out, but it's better to find that on your own or from your parents.
The sub made a poor decision in telling the kids the truth. I don't see why she felt it was necessary to tell them what is really out there. At what appropriate age is this justified?
LDNews.com - Grinchy remark sends kids home in tears
The Four Courageous Republicans
Senator Majority Leader Bill First (R-Tenn) stated that "the Patriot Act expires on December 31, but the terrorist threat does not. Those on the Senate floor who are filibustering the Patriot Act are killing the Patriot Act."
The majority leader, the President, and the National Republican Committee Chairman have naturally blamed the Democrats who are in near unanimous agreement to uphold the filibuster. But they fail to note that there are four senators who have crossed party lines to join with the Democrats (all except two are their side that are voting against the Patriot Act).
They are Larry E. Craig (Idaho), Chuck Nagel (Nebraska), John E. Sununu (N.H.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
They come from states where their constituents are somewhat distrustful of the federal government and believe that there should be more civil liberties safeguards added to the proposal renewal of the Patriot Act. The federal government has too much power and it can target people with national security letters and special subpoenas that give the FBI overly excessive powers in deciding what records should be surrendered.
You would have expect that Republican senators who are moderates from Maine and Rhode Island to be against the Act, but this time these four senators are pretty much conservative.
Senator Hagel pretty much summed it all up in one sentence, "I took an oath of office to the Constitution, I didn't take an oath of office to my party or my president."
While it's true these four are getting angry calls from Republican activists, lobbyist firms, and other colleagues, the constituents that have elected these four remain mostly in agreement with them.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman stated that "it's wrong to put politics before national security." How can this be politics when these senators are doing what is right for their constituents? Yes, we are all concerned with national security, but what about upholding the civil rights of each American. Honestly, it's better to have Bush take the 3-month extension because it preserves the Act to stay in effect without expiring at the end of the year. He is a lame duck, and he knows he cannot no longer maintain a 100% hold on his party to vote for his agenda. If this was the beginning of his second term, or after he was re-elected, then passing the renewal of the Patriot Act would happen quite easily.
It is probably likely that the Patriot Act will expire without any progress in negotiations, but a compromise will be reached in January where the Act will be put back into effect, but with the necessary safeguards to placate the four Republican senators as well as a considerable number of Democratic senators. Thus, the administration can be satisfied with a bi-partisan agreement. But somehow it won't be that pleasant.
Washington Post - 4 GOP Senators Hold Firm Against Patriot Act Renewal
Can we just be sensible and turn off your mobile phone?
In California, the National Association of Theatre Owners want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow the blocking of mobile phone signals in theatres.
The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, a Washinton-based cell phone lobby, said it would fight any move to block mobile phone signals.
In London, movie theatres would air a short clip asking attendees to turn off or switch their mobile to vibrate. Unfortunately, it has happened 2-3 times where a mobile will ring off several times before the person even answers it. It would be quite courteous if the person could answer their phone on the first ring.
However, asking people to switch it to vibrate has really fallen on deaf years. Somehow people just think that no one would call them, and by Murphy's Law, it does happen. I would like to thank those customers for quickly leaving the theatre to answer their phone, but there are those that would try to lower their voice and talk. C'mon here, it really does not help the situation.
I usually savor the commercial in the US theatre where a guy answers the phone while watching the movie, and is thrown out of his chair into the screen.
It not limited to the movie theatres but also musicals and operas. Why do people believe that they have the right to leave their phone on ring while watching a concert or a Broadway musical? Does it make more sense to switch it to vibrate? There was one story of an actor doing a stand-up show, and a woman's mobile went off. The actor proceeded to tell off the person for not shutting her phone off. We understand the need to keep the phone on for emergencies but unless you are a heart surgeon, I think you can deal with the phone being turned off for an hour or two. Or just switch it to vibrate, it's simple enough.
I still think we can do this voluntarily but with a twist. If the person next to you has their phone on and it rings off, you have the right to tell him/her off. Throwing the phone may be considered in extreme situations. :)
Wearing a cap is a sign of anti-social behaviour
In the UK, the government is cracking down on "anti-social behaviour." The term of it has become quite vague where the government can easily intrepret this to be anything that could harm or offend any cultural, ethnic, and religious group that resides in the country. Bascially, anyone that disrupts the perfect social fabric of our society is considered to be socially deviant.
The latest news today is that a chain of Internet cafes have banned the wearing of baseball caps in their stores because the headwear promotes hooliganism. The easyInternetcafe chain says net surfers wearing the caps make other users feel uncomfortable. The company claims that the caps, often worn by teenagers, are associated with anti-social "deviant behaviour."
So if you wear a baseball cap, you are assumed to be a troublemaker. I would kinda feel bad because the most popular cap here in London are the Yankees, so what if they stopped an American wearing one and questioned him about his actions (or lack thereof). But nevertheless, this type of trial is being picked up by other chain stores. Sooner or later, you may asked to remove your cap anywhere you go.
Sky News - Net Cafe Cap Crackdown
European mega-brewers are better
Most people that lived outside of the US would tell those that are moving to the states that they felt sorry for them having to drink American beer.
Having lived in London for almost 1 1/2 years, that statement is probably true. Let us concentrate on the fact that we are going to compare brand-name beers that have wide recognition, not the microbrews. I know that microbrews and certain local beers in the US are probably better than the national brands, but I will compare those at a future date.
In the US, it is most common to find Budweiser, Coors, MGD, and Busch, then you got the cheap stuff, Hi-Life, Milwaukee Best, and Natural. Then you got the regional which are pretty decent, Rolling Rock, Sam Adams, Yuengling, Molsons from Canada, and so on. I am sure I am missing a few more, but the idea is to compare this group with their counterparts in Europe. The mega-brewers vs. mega-brewers.
Strange enough, I do not see quite a lot of beer advertising on the tele. In the US, you got huge multimedia, marketing campaigns that attempt to sell the brand image rather than beer flavor. Perhaps in London and elsewhere in Europe, they know their beer just tastes good.
Budweiser is the official sponsor of England Premiership Football League, but not all stadiums sell the product. The only place so far where I noticed Bud was selling was at Chelsea FC. The place to drink American beers are at American sports bars in London. For the Brits, they usually favor Carling (British), Carlsberg (Denmark), Guinness (Ireland), Stella (Belgium [corrected]), Fosters (Australia), Corona (Mexico), Heineken (Netherlands [corrected]), and Amstel Light (Netherlands).
If you head over to France, the Kronenbourg 1664 is your beer of choice. In Brussels, it would be Maes or Hoegartner. In the Netherlands, you may get a pint of Jupiler or Grolsch. In Germany, I would recommend the Warsteiner or Kolsch. Asian beers are also popular in continental Europe. Asahi, Kirin, or Sapporo from Japan, Cobra beer from India, Tiger beer (Singapore), Tsingtao (China), and Singha (Thailand).
While some of these items may not be readily available at your local supermarket, you may have to find a state beverage shop to grab a six-pack of those imported beers (such as Bass, Killians, Newcastle, Becks, and so on). Yes, it does cost a bit more, but if you want quality, then that's your choice.
[Heineken is Netherlands, not Germany. my bad, since I have visited the Netherlands several times this year, and I love to get those big stein glasses everytime I order one :P]
Lehigh Sophomore Class President is a Bank Robber
Lehigh Class of 2008 president Greg Hogan was arrested last Friday (Dec 9) on charges of robbery. It occurred at the Wachovia Bank at 943 Union Blvd. at 3:02pm. The student handed the teller a note that demanded money and said he had a weapon. The son of a Baptist minister, he left the bank with $2,871 and entered a black Ford Explorer owned and driven by Student Senate President Kip Wallen.
Hogan was arrested at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house. Both student leaders were brothers at the chapter. Hogan has confessed to the robbery, and Wallen was questioned and released. He maintains that he was an unknowing accomplice.
The Brown and White - Class of 2008 President arrested in bank robbery
Breitbart.com - College Class President Charged in Robbery
Private Universities Implementing Public Policy
On Friday, December 9, New York University (NYU) will implement a ban on the sale of products produced by the Cola-Cola Company. This decision was made in accordance with a resolution passed by the NYU Senate on Nov 3, which gave Cola-Cola until Dec 8 to agree to a third-party protocol that would lead to an "independent investigation" about the company's human rights violations in Colombia.
Products will be pulled from all vending machines and shelves on campus. The ban will apply to all Coca-Cola products, including the Cola-Cola, Minute Maid, and Dasani brands.
So think of it...if you love Coke instead of Pepsi, students at NYU may look at you with contempt for buying something from a company that is not doing a good job in another country. Would this be a prudent action by the school? Would students concur with the same assessment?
Update on Marquette Censorship Blog
Almost 300 signatures were submitted in a petition to the University officials and The Marquette Tribune about the blog incident.
Because of the high publicity of the blog censorship scandal, the Director of Educational Development and Assessment, who's in charge of teaching evaluations sent out an e-mail to all students that their answers will be held confidential.
One interesting point is that the Marquette Student Government is siding with the administration in suspending the dental student for his blog comments. In other words, SG action on this, as reported by other blogs at Marquette, has been effectively zero.
For the SG, while they conceded that the University may have the right to limit certain types of speech, it should have noted that the punishment does not fit the crime. How can such a thing result in being suspended for at least two semesters, he loses his scholarship and has to pay part of it back to the school, and it stays on his record permanently. At least the student government should upheld the right of the student to free expression without undue consequence that is considered unjustly.
Red Light Cameras
The current reason going for red light cameras is to reduce accidents and promote safety. The side bet is that the city gets more money in speeding tickets without the need for a physical person being there to catch you in the act. Everything one thinks this is a win-win situation.
However, these are other issues to consider. The red light cameras places another variable into a motorist decision-making ability. Does the driver abruptly slam the brakes and risk a collision, or cruise through the intersection wrong by just 12 inches that cannot cause the accident? How is a red light violation determined? What if your vehicle was slightly pass the white line, are you liable to be penalized for that? I would not be surpised that most violations that do occur will be split-second violations. These "technical" violations are going to be the cash cow of cameras.
What if you were approaching a red light and it was about to turn green? At some intersections, drivers could notice the cross intersection traffic lights, and they will, by habit, speed up to catch the traffic light the moment it turns green. Again, this would constitute a split-second violation.
Honestly, by installing traffic cameras everywhere we install an inflexible rule on all drivers, and I think this would likely bring about an increase in accidents, not reduce them. For the city of Cleveland, it is not about safety, but money. This is one way for them to increase their revenue stream, and I don't think you'll see more money for the city police force. I would say the mayor would tout the benefits of it and say "Hey! We got the budget balanced, or a slight surplus, and we can cut your taxes!"
Here is the current list so far:
Shaker Blvd at Shaker Square (Northwest quadrant)
Chester Ave at Euclid Ave
West Blvd at North Marginal Road
Shaker Blvd and East 116t St
West Blvd at I-90 ramp
Chester Ave at East 71st St
East 55th St at Carnegie Ave
East 131st St at Harvard Ave
Carnegie Ave at East 30th St
Cedar Ave at Murray Hill Rd
Grayton Rd at I-480 ramp
Euclid Ave at Mayfield Rd
Warren Rd at I-90 ramp
Prospect Ave at East 40th St
East 116th St at Union Ave
I-90 and West 41st St
I-90 and West 44th St
Pearl Rd at Biddulph Rd
Carnegie Ave at East 100th St
Carnegie Ave at Martin Luther King Jr Drive
Memphis Ave at Fulton Rd
Lake Shore Blvd at East 159th St
St. Clair Ave at London Rd
Locations for cameras to catch speeders:
Clifton Blvd between West 100th and West 104th streets
Chester Ave between East 55th and East 40th streets
Woodland Ave between East 66th and East 71st streets
West Blvd between I-90 ramp and Madison Ave
Broadway between Harvard and Miles avenues
Lee Rd between Tarkington Ave and I-480 ramp
Chester Avenue at Euclid Avenue
Cedar Road at Murray Hill Road
Euclid Avenue at Mayfield Road
Carnegie Avenue at East 100th Street
Carnegie Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
So what solutions can we offer? How about lengthening the yellow light cycle by a second or two? Or how about synchronizing the traffic lights along the major roads heading towards downtown Cleveland? There was a time when Chester Road was terrible with this and this was mostly fixed a few years ago. It keep the traffic flow going and you reduce the tendency of drivers to try to speed up to avoid the next traffic light from quickly changing to red.
For those that heavy pedestrian traffic, install flashing light poles at either end of the sidewalk. This way drivers know that they are approaching an active pedestrian crosswalk. Use highlighted white paint so the car light would emphasize the color, then by instinct, the driver would slow down.
For late nights, I don't think the major traffic lights along Cedar Road should turn from the standard green > yellow > red to the blinking yellow / red configuration. That's used for minor and side streets. This usually entice drivers to speed up quickly, and this would increase the chances of an accident. Another idea is for Euclid Blvd to install speed bumps at the Adelbert/Euclid and the Cornell/Euclid intersections. I know it's a pain but it does slow down the traffic, and that's where you usually get a high rate of students crossing the road to get to class.
Red light cameras are somewhat of a good idea, but I don't think we need to install them everywhere. The only places that require them are those that have high-risk accidents. Then after a while, they should be taken out. I think by leaving an empty redlight camera box, the drivers would not even know whether it is real or not.
Take Care While Traveling Abroad
I almost got mugged this past weekend while sightseeing Brussels, Belgium. The interesting part is that I realized what had happened after the incident took place.
After having a nice dinner at Ixelles district in the south, I got a taxi back to near the city centre (where my hotel is located). I got off near Brussels du Nord station and started to walk through the underpass to the other side.
Two men entered from the other end. The lighting was not that bad, and there were a few cars going by alongside. Both men were acting drunk, they were talking loudly, and they were not walking straight. As we walked passed each other, the first guy kept on going, the second guy appeared to trip and started to fall in front of me. I grabbed his hand to prevent him from falling to the ground, then he suddenly turned around, and wrapped his leg around mine, and tried to trip me. Of course, I held my balance and started to move away, but he kept his leg locked onto mine. His free hand went for my back pant pocket, but nothing was there. As I tried to free my hand from his, he then tried to pry open my jacket right front pocket.
Since it was a new jacket, the front pockets were mostly sewn shut. His hand forced it open and obviously there was nothing there. Then I managed to free myself and shove him away. He then just resumed walking to the other end to meet up with his buddy. Then they just walked off laughing.
I didn't think of it until I got out the other end, then I suddenly realized what the guy was trying to do. I was lucky that I decided to bring just cash and two credit cards that night, and put them in my front pant pocket, and my ID was in my inner top pocket of my jacket. Then my mind went through the "what if's." What if his buddy helped him out, it would be 2 against one? What if the guy had a knife or gun in his hand? It could have been worse.
Next time, avoid underpasses at night, no matter how lighted it can be. Go if there's a group of people heading in the same direction. Otherwise, go through another way to your destination, or just flag down a taxi.
Mmm...better pack a taser too.
Young vs. Old Workers
I always believed that when you apply for that job position, you are expected to fulfill all the obligations that come with it. We often talk about students heading for their first full-time employment job after college, and the need for them to build experience, learn how to adapt to a real-time work environment, and handle different kinds of people.
For those fortunate to have done some work-study, you probably had a chance to work with good and bad co-workers, interact with polite and rude customers, and learning how to do your job at the same time. I always find it a plus to be able to learn that before getting that first full-time employment position.
To suggest that there is a divide between the young and old workers are based on pre-determined attitudes. It depends on the company you are working for. It is much different working in a construction company versus a financial services one. You cannot set this type of crtieria for all companies.
Starting out as a young worker, we are more flexible, tend to work longer hours, think somewhat faster, and bring in fresh new ideas. Older workers have lots of experience, they have gone through the mistakes, learned from them, and used them to work out better solutions. They're the ones you look to for advice. It is true that there are good and bad workers, and this can be applied to both young and old alike. We should take care to treat this as a case-by-case basis.
I also don't like the assumption that an older worker who is married and has a family tend to have less commitment to the company. I have seen fellow co-workers who have been married, or have kids, and they still do their 100% to finish that deadline, or to help out with an emergency production issue. It is only obvious if such a worker uses a lame excuse on a consistent basis and is not productive to the team and the company. You should not even use this assumption to start a family later or get married after 30.
Young and old...well I call them experienced workers is the best balanced group to have. I would even guess that having a bunch of young people working together may not be totally conducive. It gets too competitive and easily political. The team suffers and the work does not get finished.
World Cup Excitement
Over 350 million people tonight will be watching a special event for a sport that most of the USA are probably not interested in, but is closely monitored by Europe, Asia/Pacific, and the rest of the Americas.
Today at 2120 Central European Time (2020 GMT), the first-round draw for the 2006 World Cup in Germany will take place.
It is also the day where the World Cup is six months away, starting with the opening match on June 9. Eight teams are currently seeded: Germany (hosts), Brazil, England, Spain, Mexico, France, Argentina, and Italy. With these and the rest of the 24 qualified teams, they will be placed in eight-first round groups of four teams. Those that are unseeded but are considered to be strong opposition are the Czech Republic and Netherlands, currently ranked second and third in the world (according to FIFA).
As usual Brazil is considered the favorite to win the 2006 World Cup, having won it back in 2002. England is currently ranked second in the competition (though ranked 9th in the world). USA just missed getting seeded (lost to Italy) despite its excellent record at this year's preliminaries but it did not do that well at the 2002 World Cup. The scoring makeup took into account USA's performance overall. They are currently ranked 8th in the world.
There is not much news about USA's chances. Perhaps it will get into the Final 16 or perhaps the Final 8, but it's very hard to compare USA with the likes of Brazil, England, France, or Argentina. It is highly doubtful USA will get into the finals this time.
Anyway, look forward to the growing excitement of World Cup Football in the next several months.
Almost 1 1/2 Years in London
So I am now approaching 1 1/2 years living and working in London. The experience is just different. There's really no other word to describe it. Since the time difference is 5 hours, when I start having lunch and afternoon tea, my friends in the states are waking up, eating breakfast, and heading to work. The only downside is when there's work needed to be done after US market close, it's already late evening over here.
The language is pretty much the same though words are just interpreted differently and you have to know the slang. Of course it was odd at first when someone asked me for a "fag," which really means cigarette. The loo is the toilet which also means bathroom. It's lift, not elevator. Diversion instead of detour. Subway means underground walkway, not the train. The train is called the Tube. If you want to talk football, don't say soccer. If we are talking about the NFL, you have to say American football. Talk about home, it's your flat, not apartment. Tele not television set, and so on.
Public transport is just the way to travel. At almost every tube and bus stop, there's always a real-time display showing how long before the next transport arrives. Now I wish I had that in Cleveland or for the greenie. In NYC, they started testing it on the L line. So far I only know of the metro in DC that gives you a time estimate. Of course, you would need to stand on the right, walk on the left on the escalators and walkways in the airports.
There much more variety in drinking beer. Drink a pint of Stella, Carling, Carlsberg, Fosters, 1664, Guinness, Peroni, San Miguel, Tiger, or any micro brew at any local pub. By the time you are done, drinking High Life (which is the worst beer you can have, I prolly only had it once), Bud/Bud Light, or Coors just does not taste right. It is also humorous that Budweiser is the official sponsor of the English Premiership Football League, but I haven't seen anyone drink it. The only time I saw it being served was at Stamford Bridge stadium, home of Chelsea FC.
English food is just not exciting. At least you get the authentic fish n chips, pie n mash, shephard's pie, and crisps (fries). But with Chinatown, French, Italian, Spanish, and other european/african cuisines, you'll have no trouble finding a good place to eat.
Location of London just puts you so close to the rest of Europe, it is practically cheap to take the Eurostar to Paris, or fly to almost anywhere for a few hundred dollars. So far, I have been to Normandy and Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Rotterdam, and Utrecht, Netherlands; Athens and Delphi, Greece; and Berlin, Germany. This weekend, I will head out to Brussels, Belgium. I even flew over to Shanghai from London too. Plus, you don't have to worry about losing frequent flyer miles. Most European airlines are partners of Continental, United, Delta, Northwest, and American.
As for the capital itself, I saw the Queen's Jubilee and changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, saw Tower Bridge (not London Bridge), and enjoyed Trafalgar Square. I will have to look at visiting the rest of England soon.
I think for anyone choosing to do a JYA, heading to the UK is a great choice. If you are working and you get an opportunity to work abroad, go for it. It is a different experience and you just see how life is in a different country and how people view the US in a different light. For any American, traveling abroad is a must. We are only one out of over 180 countries, and going to Canada or Mexico does not count to being an international traveler.
My stay over here will likely last until the end of 2006, so if any of my friends are passing thru London, let me know. Cheers! :)
C'mon here, it's Christmas
To continue with the politically incorrect about Christmas...
Suddenly, everyone is so afraid of saying Merry Christmas without getting sued. The notion of Christmas as the invader of Christianity makes me think it was some radical's idea. People are saying that the Christmas trees are now devices used to intimidate other religions to accept the Christian faith. How can people just say that? That is one way to ruin the spirit of the holidays.
Holiday concerts or festivities are ok to use because they are general terms, but if there is a tree in the administration office, it's a christmas tree, not a holiday tree. We were all brought up to believe that. Now the current and next generation of kids are being told that the politically correct answer is that it is a holiday tree. Parents are suddenly so anxious to complain if they see a Christmas tree anywhere on public property. Have they all become Mr. Scrooge in disguise?
At Medina Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington, a Christmas charity drive by the kids was axed after some parents complained that the "Giving Tree" with colored mittens all over it was a symbol of Christianity and that it had no place in a public school. The school tried to replace the star on the tree with a red bow, but the whining parents say it was not enough. The school then had to remove the tree and put everything (the gifts, mittens, etc) on the counter, and called it the "Giving Counter."
There was a point in time where at my old high school, we had both Christmas and Chanukah decorations. Even though our school was predominantly Jewish, we celebrated those holidays as well as Kwanzaa. It was quite festive in the halls, because with the decor and lights, it just made everyone cheerful. Unfortunately, in today's world, it can no longer happen.
When I walk out of my flat, I see a Christmas tree in the lobby, should I be offended? If I see lights on a deli store at the corner, should I be upset? If a greeter at a department store says "Merry Christmas," should I threaten to sue?
Can we just remember that during Christmas, we celebrate and give each other presents, enjoy the falling snow, go shopping, sing carols, tells the kids or your young cousins about Santa Clause? So to everyone, good luck with finals, have a merry christmas and a happy new year.
Blog Censorship at Marquette
It had to happen sooner or later. Slashdot reported that a dental student at Marquette "Censorship" University was suspended for the rest of the academic year because of entries he had made in his blog which the school viewed unfavorably. The student is appealing the University's decision in an effort to remain in classes and finish out the current semester, and perhaps transfer to a better school. However, re-admittance is not a free card. The student would likely be placed on probation for the duration, lose his scholarship, and cannot express his right to "blog."
Dental School Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Denis Lynch at Marquette accused the student of "crude, demeaning and unprofessional remarks" that violated "standards of acceptable behavior as described in the Standards of Conduct, published in At Marquette (2005-2006), as well as the School of Dentistry's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Dean Lynch offered the student the option of signing "an admission of guilt" and accepting a punishment that included probation for the rest of the student's career at Marquette, make a public apology to his dental class, and make an appointment with the Director of the Counseling Center "to assess both your alcohol abuse and the underlying basis of your remarks posted on your blog site."
The full scope of the letter can be found here.
However, for those that had read the student's blog (before it was taken down), it made one negative comment about a professor, a negative comment about 25% of the year-two dental school class, and talked about going out and drinking too much. No specific names were mentioned in either entry.
First of all, does the punishment fit the crime? For the student trying to talk about his everyday life and things at school, would this somehow damage the reputation of the entire school? Would a prospective frosh decide to visit this particular page to determine whether he/she should go to this school? Likely not. The actions taken were overzealous and completely ridculous! It seems to me that the Dean wants to show an image of happy dental students working together for the betterment of humanity. That's the official line, but honestly, does everyone believe that? I hope not.
Second, it sounds hypocritical for the Dean to say that since the school encourages students to post public comments through an online posting board called "DogEars" (hosted by their student government).
Third, who gives the dean the right to say the student is a victim of alcohol abuse? I think all of us have had some fun times going out with friends drinking. I find it hard to believe that after reading this blog, the dean felt that the student requires counseling.
Fourth, by twisting the clause about interpersonal interactions in their Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, the administration can easily intrepret any student blog as a violation.
Dental school is hard, quite hard. I do know a couple people studying dentistry, and it's complete mayhem. You got exams almost every week and constant studying. It is almost a given where you get students complaining about the profs and the people in their study groups or project teams. This is all normal. It is quite competitive so there is a lot of criticism of those that can hack it and those that cannot.
I feel that the Dean believes that his dental students possess a higher caliber and integrity than their undergraduate counterparts. As such, he places a higher ethical and moral standards that might impress even Pat Robertson. The problem is that it promotes an atmosphere of intimidation and discourages students from being able to criticize and speak out without consequence. Interestingly enough, the dental school's own ethicist, Dr. Daniel D'Angelo, does not believe that the contents of the blog amount to a violation of the school's codes of conduct.
Could this happen at Case? Since we are a private institution, free speech is "free" as long you do not upset any religious, ethnic, cultural, or political group on campus.
London 07/07/05 Bombings
The terrorist events of 7/7 in London was all deja vu to me. How can these things happen not once, but twice for me? Back on 9/11, I can still remember watching the end of the second explosion of the plane hitting the World Trade Center North Tower, and seeing both towers fall from Jersey City. July 7 was just like any other day, but it was actually festive at first. On the day before, London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games so the mood was quite pleasant.
When the first reports of an accident in the London Underground tube came in at around 8:50AM GMT, it was just the usual thing, a bad signal failure or a broken down train. It was thought to be a electric transformer exploded in Liverpool/East Aldgate stations, but then another "incident" occurred near Kings Cross station. Then the power company providing supplies to the Tube said in a news conference there were no problems with any transformers. People in the office began to worry somewhat. On the plasma tele, BBC News and Sky News were showing full live coverage. CNN was just coming up with breaking news but they did not have much. A Skycopter showed people streaming out of the affected stations, police and emergency vehicles were concentrated there. When the third explosion occurred near Russell Square, it became practically known that London was under a terrorist attack.
Markets were somewhat negative, and people were talking about the London Stock Exchange contemplating shutting down their systems because of the attacks. People tried to do their trading business as best they could, but what can you do when the live feed through most of the news channels were focused on London. It was surreal when you start seeing thousands of people walking on the streets, much like the New Yorkers leaving Manhattan island on foot. This was after the London Underground shut down the entire tube network at 9:19 (Code Amber Alert) because they could not guarantee the full safety of all of its passengers.
Then the fourth bomb on a London bus (No. 30) really made things a bit more frightening. It happened at around 9:47, and when the first pictures came through, the bus was just a former shell of itself. The top and backside of the bus were just gone, and you have to be amazed at how some people managed to survive after the blast. The office decided that people that needed to leave because they lived outside of London were allowed to do so. It was obvious it will take hours to get out since public transportation (bus and tube) was shut down. There was pretty much nothing we can do, but watch the tele and see the events fold out.
Our US office checked to make sure we were all right. Fortunately, everyone was present in the office. I had to field several phone calls and IM / text messages from friends to see if I was alright. Somehow I wish that I would never want to go through another event like this but it does reveal that a terrorist attack could happen anywhere, and we have to stay vigilant and be aware of what is going around us.
Escalators in London are just quick, and remember the etiquette!
I just think the escalators in London are just quicker than our American counterparts. I have to wonder if the set speed standard is just higher. I have been to train stations in New York and DC, and the escalators just aren't fast enough like the ones in the London Tube.
The fastest escalator I have seen is the Bank station tube in London. It goes pretty quick taking you and from the Central Line.
The slowest I have been on was the Wheaton station on the metro red line in DC. It's like you are not moving.
Perhaps Londoners are just fast walkers. No one is complaining about the speed. But I think they should crank up the speed on the escalators in the US. The ones in the mall are pretty slow, and only the ones in the airport are pretty decent.
As for the etiquette, it's always stand to the right, walk on the left. For the touristy people, if you disobey, you will get the glare and the slight bump to move along or find a space on the right. It does make the foot traffic go a bit faster, and you just hate when a person gets on the escalator on the left side, and just stands there, and there's like 10-15 people waiting. Don't piss the Brits off when you're visiting.
In the states, I guess there's nothing you can do. In the airports, people do pay attention somewhat. Anywhere else, no one really cares. I often get stories from friends while they're in malls or train stations, and they politely ask a person standing on the left to move along, they get the finger or they just feign ignorance and just stay there. And when they quickly move around them when the escalator ends, the person actually had the gall to complain about cutting him off.
While we remain transfixed with the troubles in Iraq, the nuclear issue with Iran, and keeping the peace in Afghanistan, we should keep an eye on the progress of democracy in one of the financial centers of the world, Hong Kong.
On Sunday, organizers estimate that over 250,000 people took to the streets to demand full democracy that was promised when the UK handed its former colony back to China eight years ago. Though police said only 63,000 have gathered, witnesses say that there were far more by the end of the rally. In any case, this is another warning to the government administration under territory's chief executive, Donald Tsang, and to the central government in Beijing that a timetable must be published for universal suffrage.
A few concessions might be given by the central government, but it is very doubtful that universal suffrage would be announced in any timetable. When there were mass protests in 2003 and 2004, Beijing offered to enlarge the 800-strong election committee charged with selecting a new leader. New proposals such as increasing the size of the legislature are not enough to satisfy the demands of the protestors.
According to the island's constitutional document, or Basic Law, it contains provisions for ultimately selecting the leader by universal suffrage. China has so far refused to implement such reforms, and there is very little chance of something happening in 2007 when the next chief executive is selected. Perhaps they are afraid that direct elections might encourage citizens in nearby Guangdong Province to demand a say in their local villages and cities. If these mass protests continue, would Beijing continue to ignore them? Chief executive Donald Tsang is probably the closest ally that Hong Kong has, but he needs to maintain a fine balance between keeping the people of this former British colony and his superiors in Beijing happy. This person wonders if when HK reaches their 10th anniversary after the handover, would democracy groups stage a bigger protest and disrupt official ceremonies marking the event? Is it possible that Beijing may try to suppress these demonstrations?
Listen to Greenspan, not Bush
On Friday, President Bush made his "feel good" remarks about the economy after the latest payroll data showed a gain of 215,000 jobs last month, the most since July, and the unemployment rate staying at 5 percent. Since the President was going through some of the lowest job approval ratings of his presidential term, it was a political opportunity for him to get on TV and praise the employment report. He extolled the strength of the American economy and good "old-fashioned" hard work. Of course, this would mean that every worker's productivity have gone up substantially, but the wages haven't. Then it was back into the White House before the reporters could ask him about Iraq, Katrina, media propaganda by his military, and the deficit.
While Bush was talking about such a great future for all of us, outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan gave a different outlook on our economy. He warned that the United States' budget position "will substantially worsen in the coming years unless major deficit-reducing actions are taken." He also said that "the fundamental fiscal issue is the need to make difficult choices among budget priorities, and this need is becoming ever more pressing in light of the unprecedented number of individuals approaching retirement age."
This is far different when Bush said that the country's economy was due to "American hard work, productivity, innovation, and sound economic policies of cutting taxes and restraining spending." Gaining 215,000 jobs is good news, but the federal deficit still remains high as we pay supplemental funding for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (which the administration does not count towards the official federal budget) and the money needed to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The latest CBO figures state that the 2005 federal budget deficit will be approximately $331 billion. If you add the war costs and Katrina re-construction, we are looking at $400+ billion. Our national debt currently stands at $8.1 TRILLION! Due to this, we pay about $352 billion in interest payments this year to keep the debt in check, but because the government is still spending more than what it receives, the debt continues to go up. CBO predicts that by 2015, we may be paying over $700 billion in interest payments to the debt. Think of that when trying to balance the federal budget.
The blame falls on our politicians, not just any one major party. Democrats are not willing to compromise on social security reform. It is true they are often known as the "tax and spend" party but Republicans are not that much better, having corrected only part of the economic equation by limiting government greed while allowing federal squandering to flow unchecked. For both of them, it is nothing more than the difference between no financial responsibility whatsoever and financial responsiblity only when it's popular. No matter which political party is in control, government spending will continue to grow. No one cares about balancing the budget as long the politicians get their pork-barrel projects and as long people are thinking about their paycheck right now, not 10 years from now.
Vice President Cheney got it wrong when he told former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that "deficits don't matter." Greenspan is probably the only person that understands that if we do not control our deficit spending, our children's future will essentially be bankrupt. How can we explain to future generations when the debt is over $20 trillion, 80% of the budget is devoted to retirees, and our paycheck gets slashed over 90% just to keep everyone slightly fed? Is this the future that we want?
It is unfortunate that Greenspan is leaving. We do not know how his successor, Ben Bernanke, would do to continue to warn the politicians that continued overspending would severely hurt us in the long-term. All we are given is that if we do nothing, according to Greenspan, the "consequences for the US economy of doing nothing could be severe."
Unjust patent holding companies
The Blackberry is your office away from the office. With its essential wireless email functionality, you can keep in touch with what's going on at work while on vacation or out of the office. However, this wonderful device is in the middle of a court dispute between Research In Motion (RIM) and NTP Inc., a patent holding company. Recently, the US District Court in Virginia refused to enforce a disputed $450 million settlement between the two companies and rejected RIM's request to delay the case. This result puts more pressure on RIM to settle the case or face a possible shutdown of its US mobile e-mail service. Unfortunately, a new round of settlement talks may push the amount to more than $1 billion for NTP.
The problem with all of this is that NTP is strictly a patent holding company. It does not produce any physical products, but instead makes money by buying patent rights and then getting real and actually working companies to pay them money to license said rights to these technological innovations. Today, patents are no longer being used to cover actual inventions. We now patent certain procedures for the business or the particular way a transaction is being processed. Trying to invalidate a wrongful patent may takes years to accomplish. This would let companies such as NTP free reign in filing lawsuit after lawsuit against companies who are unwilling to deal with prolonged legal issues. In fact, this is the easy way for them to make money off hard working people like you and me.
In the beginning, we thought that the legal settlement where RIM pays NTP $450 million would end the dispute, but the deal fell apart. RIM tried to force NTP to accept the deal through the courts, but lost. With more pressure on RIM, NTP figures it can now steal more than $1 billion dollars from the Blackberry maker. Strange enough is that some of the patents NTP is using against RIM have now been invalidated by the patent office. Unfortunately, it's not yet final, and the courts are still siding with NTP.
This case will soon become a danger to every other technological company out there. After NTP gets their money from RIM, it will then focus on Microsoft, Sony, HP, and others and will use this case to their advantage. Research in Motion is trying to get this case before the US Supreme Court. It is with hope that this will end this bad practice of patent holding companies making money off everyone else.
Reuters - Judge deals RIM blow in BlackBerry case
Forbes - RIM on the Brink
Washington Post - Government Enters Fray Over BlackBerry Patents
The Airport Security Experience
Over the Thanksgiving holidays, millions of travelers head home to their relatives and friends to celebrate a day of overeating and not worrying about going nuts over those calories. These also include travelers coming from abroad like myself.
Heading to Newark (EWR) from London Gatwick (LGW) was not a problem. Security in London is a bit more lax since you are not required to take off your shoes/sneakers or take your laptop out of your backpack/briefcase. Of course, if you set the alarm off, you get light-wanded and padded down.
Immigration at Newark was messed up. I frankly do not know how they can arrange the queue that badly. The area has been widened the last time I was there but the counters for US citizens were arranged in a L-shaped configuration, and the security folks had trouble seeing over the crowd which lines needed filling. Instead of one main queue, create two lines for each side of the L-shape layout. It makes it easier to assign people to each line as they reach the end of the initial queue. Customs was quick. A glance at your blue form and you're through.
Compared to Atlanta and Cleveland, you do not go through a security x-ray when you land. It is really ridculous for the travelers to go through another security checkpoint after they have been on the plane for 8 hours. I don't think there's any trust there.
Leaving for London is always different. Airport security at Newark was long as usual. The initial queue was organized and there was a line for those that had Onepass Elite. A sign on the wall stated that you may not be needed to take off your footwear. Of course, a passenger in front of me was about to pass through the scanner, and the security guard barked at him to go back and take off his shoes. But her statement was not even helpful. "You are STRONGLY recommended to take off your footwear." How about "REQUIRED?" Please, if we want to make the process as smooth as possible, just tell us to take off our footwear right at the beginning. I personally wish they ended producing the metal strands in our shoes so we would not need to take them off. It kinda sucks if it was raining and the floors would be slippery and wet. Every person going through would have wet socks.
Of course, you need to take your laptop out of your bag, and your belt buckle too. All of these add unnecessary minutes to the line, but you would figure the technology is advanced enough where we do not have to worry about these things. A laptop bag should be easily x-rayed with the computer inside, don't ya think?
The funny thing I saw while in line is a gourmet service lady trucking a square cart of about 15-20 layers of bread. She has to take each layer apart and put the bread bags into the tray for it to be scanned. Let's see, 15-20 layers and there were probably 20 bags on each layer. So this woman had to put through almost 400 bags of bread through the x-ray. Not efficient at all.
Immigration in London was quick for those that had non-EU passports. A quick question about my employment status and I was through in less than two minutes. Customs was just quick as long you go through the green section. You still can get picked out of the crowd and security would ask you additional questions and check your bags.
What an experience! :)
The Passion for European Football
Believe it or not, I have been sucked into the world of football while staying in London (that's soccer for the folks on the other side of the pond). I am a West Ham United fan and I could not imagine that football here has such an enormous impact on everyone's daily lives. Pretty much everyone has a passion for it and/or rugby. Somehow if I happen to go to a US soccer game, I would not find myself interested. What would you expect at a game between DC United and New England? When a team goes on the defense, US fans would just yell "Defense
Here in England, each football club has their own official song (i.e. from a soundtrack or locally created), chants and songs for the team of past victories, and songs that make fun of visiting teams that have lost to them. There are songs of their best players scoring a hat-trick against a local rival club, and parodies of other football club songs (just to piss them the away supporters off). At the top of that, there is the Premiership League, known as the "top flight" of english football (basically the elite league, Division 1). Then you got the Championship League (Division 2), and League 1 and 2 (Division 3 and 4 respectively). West Ham FC is in the top flight for this year, having gotten promoted at the end of last year.
Fans of both teams are not allowed to sit among each other. There is always an away section for them. At West Ham's Upton Park, it can seat about 33-34,000 people, but at most 3,000 of those seats will be set aside for the visiting team's supporters. Lines of stewards (aka security guards) separate the designated section from everyone else. I am sitting in the second section away from the visiting fans, and we just love throwing insult after insult, cat-calling, singing our songs and chants out, and they would do the same to us. Of course, a steward would usually come over to our section and tell us to keep it down, but what can you do if you are winning 4-0 and the game is almost over. Cursing out the other side's team and the referees for making stupid calls is basically the norm here. I doubt anyone can do that in an American stadium. You'll be more likely to be thrown out of the place.
But while living abroad, you hear about the best football teams in Europe and they play in the UEFA Champions League, which is pretty much the "World Series" for football itself. You get teams in England like Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United battling it out with Spain's Barcelona and Real Madrid, to Portgual's FC Porto, to Italy's AC Milan, and to Germany's Bayern Munich. If you want to talk about football in any of these countries, you can get quite an earful on who is the best team out there on the pitch.
While in the states, there's everyone talking about Manchester United, but really, there's more to it than just them. I think for anyone coming back from Europe, we get an irrestible urge to make sure DirecTV has a package on European football games.
As a West Ham fan, it's going to be hard to miss the whole thing when I head back to the states. Also, don't think the movie "Green Street Hooligans" is the real thing over here. Truly, it's not. It can get crazy here, but the violence in the movie is no longer there. Yes, there is still a rivalry between West Ham and Millwall. I can tell you why there is one, but I will hold that out for later.
Author of "Controversial" Op-Ed Piece at Winthrop University Withdraws
For those that haven't visited the tonguetied.us web site, this was about a student at Winthrop University who wrote an op-ed piece on the student newspaper (The Johnsonian) who expressed the view that some African-American students on campus were overly argumentative and do not appreciate everything that the campus and the country has done for them. In her column, "Student observes double standards at Winthrop," she questioned the need for preferential treatment and did a comparison on the racial climate of today versus the years before the Civil Rights movement. She went on to oppose minority scholarships and organizations devoted to blacks. Her first sentence in her column said "Black people at Winthrop will probably be angry." She was right.
The result was an outcry among the student body, particularly black students who have found the column offensive. A forum was quickly set up in Tillman Hall after a previously scheduled talent show. Most students were focused on the student's comments about the current state of blacks in America and the fear whites feel about expressing opinions on racial issues. But look at this, the woman that wrote the piece was bi-racial.
Herald Online - Winthrop campus in uproar over column
Obviously, students on the Winthrop campus immediately assume a black vs white position. Black students asked their white friends if they supported the op-ed column, and vice versa. It turned out that the forum managed to settle down the fervor generated by the article, and it was pointed out that the author probably could have said it a bit differently. Black students, after reading the column several times, understood what the author was trying to say, but agreed that her choice of words were poor.
Unfortunately, some continued to think she was racist and being insensitive, and because of the amount of attention she has made, the student withdrew from the University. No reasons were cited, but it is very likely that her safety was in question.
The Johnsonian - Byington withdraws
How can racial issues be discussed without getting accused of being a racist? This is an issue that needs to be tackled with an open mind and without assumed prejudices.
Another alum added
I like to thank Greg for letting me know that I can create my blog account off Blog@Case. Of course, I have to apologize in advance for my entries since I will be venting about people lacking common sense, the people that try to use political correctness to suppress our rights, and comparing events at Case today with my years on campus.