Archive for March 2009

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, it’s the OctoMom!

March 30, 2009

I’ve heard of Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman. They are all familiar names we have come to love over the years. But what about the OctoMom?

The OctoMom’s true identity, of course, is Nadya Suleman, a Californian woman who famously gave birth to octuplets in January 2009. She conceived eight children by a controversial assisted reproductive technology that helps the fertility of moms-to-be.

However, Suleman was far from being a mom-to-be. More like a Super Mom. With six kids before the Octuplets arrived, Suleman is now the proud mother of fourteen (yes, you read that right; FOURTEEN) children. This definitely merits her a superhero name like the “OctoMom,” a cute pseudonym given to her by the media.

But why is she famous exactly? Giving birth to eight children is enough to get your name and face on the evening news, but the fact that she is still in the news is quite another story. The mysterious circumstances behind why she would want that much children caused public outrage over the possibility that she brought eight unwanted children into this world. In the midst of America’s ongoing Pro Choice Versus Pro Life debate, this must be serious business for some people. Not me, of course.

But this saga proves that people must be suckers for being able to look at average, ordinary people with flaws and point their fingers at them in self-righteous indignation. We kind and loving parents would never allow eight children to enter into our homes all at once. Children are precious and each are a gift from God. By having eight all at once, you are insulting God, right?

That would be a parenting nightmare. Who will raise these kids, feed them, clothe them, educate them, and take care of them? Who wants to change eight dirty diapers all at once? I see no volunteers.

The reason why Suleman was able to score numerous talk shows is because people like seeing people make weird and disconcerting choices and judge them accordingly. We outraged parents and caretakers need people to ridicule. We work so hard to raise our young that when someone recklessly decides to raise too much, we feel vindicated. We might be bad parents, but we’re definitely not as bad as that dreadful OctoMom.

OctoMom might not be a superhero after all. She might be a super villain. Oh well. Same difference.

Tony Montana was right. Good people need bad people because we want to feel good about ourselves. If “Scarface” has taught us anything (and it has already taught us too many objectionable things), it’s that bad guys exist because there are good guys who can label them. “Villain” is a name we give to others. No one gives it to themselves.

So, if you ever feel the urge to judge the OctoMom’s careless behavior and less-than-honorable parenting methods, consider whether you do it out of genuine disgust or self-pity. Maybe we are upset at her because we’re lacking something as well.

There might be a voice inside of us saying that life is too precious to just throw away. Each child is a bundle of joy. Fourteen is just plain greedy. Thank goodness for good guys like us to make that distinction.

Well, say goodnight to the bad guy.

The Name’s Bond, James Bond: Agent 007 in the 21st Century

March 28, 2009
Daniel Craig in his second outing as the suave and sophisticated British secret agent.

Daniel Craig in his second outing as the suave and sophisticated British secret agent.

This past Tuesday the 22nd James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” made its way to DVD and Blu Ray. No one can deny the popularity of the Bond franchise and doubt that it will not continue to live on for years to come. Once shaken, always stirred.

But consider this: In today’s world of post-Cold War terrorism, multilateral foreign policy, anger toward the Bush administration’s neocon political agenda, and the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, there seems to be a trend in the Western world to reject the old ways of war, violence, espionage, and covert counterterrorism.

The new wave of optimism brought on by the Obama White House has many Americans thinking that the disastrous and costly “War on Terror” may finally come to an end. The reputation of America as being a country that tortures and invades oil-rich Middle Eastern countries may finally be put to rest.

So, in spite of all that, if, and I do mean if, a James Bond-type secret agent were to be working on behalf of the United States, would you approve of that?

Also consider what James Bond does in his career: he has a license to kill (meaning he can kill anyone he deems necessary to fulfill the mission), he violates nations’ sovereignty (agent 007 is a globe-trotting hero who pays little attention to other nation’s policy and law), and he often uses less than noble tactics to achieve his goals (in both “Licence to Kill” and “Quantum of Solace” Bond has his double-o status revoked, or at least something to that extent). This sounds like something I would not approve of.

I, of course, understand that James Bond is a fantasy character who does not really exist. He exists in his own world and serves the purpose of defeating evil all within the convenient confines of two hours. Bond is a fictional character, but the villains he faces are often not.

In the two newest Bond adventures, MI-6 is up against a mysterious organization called “Quantum,” an international crime syndicate who sponsors men like Le Chiffre and Dominic Greene, villains who could very well exist in the real world.

Le Chiffre is a banker who funds terrorism and goes into deep debt when he gambles his client’s money away in risky games of chance. Sound familiar? He should work for AIG. Dominic Greene is a quasi-environmentalist businessman who uses his power to control the water supply of Bolivia. Private corporations controlling the natural resources of third world countries have actually happened before. This is not the stuff of fantasy. The evils of Quantum could exist in our universe. They have people everywhere, of course.

That being said, what is the best way to rid the world of these super villains? Diplomacy? Asking the United Nations to intervene? Unilateral military action? Or perhaps covert espionage in the form of the CIA or MI-6. These are all viable options.

But consider the larger picture: if there were actually James Bond-style secret agents existing in our world, how would you respond? Would you gladly accept them as necessary to defeat the evils of the world, or would you reject them as violent, archaic relics of a bygone age? As M called Bond in “GoldenEye,” Bond is “sexist misogynist dinosaur.”

If peaceful diplomacy is the wave of the future, are secret agents a thing of the past? Have we reached such an enlightened age that reason, negotiation, and international cooperation are more useful and practical tools to solve world conflicts? This is definitely something to ponder about. Diplomacy and multinational cooperation may help prevent nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certainly feel that this is what we should do.

During the Bush administration, Americans rejected the Bush Doctrine of using violence to uphold and protect domestic and international interests. Blood for oil or the protection of Israel are unjustified reasons to violate a nation’s sovereignty and invade them. Americans have also rejected using torture to get information out of “terror” suspects. Jack Bauer of “24” fame would not fly by well in today’s world.

Yet, every practice of the Bush administration that Americans and people everywhere seem to hate are exactly those done by James Bond. We chastise men like Dick Cheney or Karl Rove for making America just as bad as terrorists. We responded to 9/11 by staging 9/11s of our own, everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems people believe America is better than that, that we are the defenders of justice and peace, not propagators of violence, chaos, and evil.

Consider President John F. Kennedy and his policy toward Vietnam. Kennedy, a huge James Bond fan who considered “From Russia With Love” to be one of his favorite novels of all time, authorized covert operations to exist in Vietnam before major troop escalations began. Being cautious of sending too many combat troops into Southeast Asia, President Kennedy allowed secret operations occur in South and North Vietnam to assist military advisers who were there to help train the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam).

This continued even after Kennedy’s assassination. In 1964 the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was formed by President Lyndon Johnson to help secretly fight the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Their operations helped expand the war and gathered information that inspired the U.S. to send more troops to Southeast Asia after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Today most Americans view the Vietnam War as unnecessary, costly, and completely not worth it. Did U.S. intelligence help us in our anti-Communist crusade there? Maybe. Or maybe it helped escalate the violence and led to 58,000 U.S. servicemen losing their lives for nothing.

Speaking of faulty intelligence, don’t even talk about WMDs, Iraq, and Saddam Hussein. We all know how that turned out. In short, perhaps intelligence is overrated and only leads to more war instead of peace. Maybe there are facts that we will never know.

I have no problem with James Bond existing in the world of fantasy. He provides entertaining films and books for millions of people to enjoy. I’ve seen every movie and plan to see more in the future. However, I am not so sure if I would be comfortable with James Bond existing in the world of reality. Then again, maybe he does and we just don’t know about it. The Patriot Act could give someone the authority to do such things in the name of national security. Or possibly it doesn’t.

His name may be Bond, James Bond; and he likes his vodka martini shaken but not stirred, but his license to kill may create more problems than it solves. Should we have our own James Bond in this uncertain, fear-driven 21st century world? Or will that only further radicalize our enemies and tarnish the reputation of the United States of America?

As Bond tells a bartender in “Casino Royale,”

“Do I look like I give a damn?”

Baseball as Diplomacy: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Bat

March 23, 2009

It’s only a game, right?

As the United States finds itself eliminated by Japan in the World Baseball Classic, it makes one wonder about the value of international sports competitions.

The Olympic Games were originally conceived as a way for the world to come together in harmony over a common cultural activity: sports. Nations who were literally on the verge of war together could come to the sports arena together and solve their diplomatic problems by a footrace, literally.

Sports is a great diplomatic tool. It requires no language barrier. Anyone who knows the rules of soccer or basketball can play against each other and avoid translation problems. Take Saturday’s game of South Korea versus Venezuela. You don’t have to speak Korean or Spanish to know what’s going on during the game. Balls, strikes, first base, second base, third base, home plate, and home run are the only words you really need to know. Anything else is just technical.

As an English-speaking American, I was able to watch it and know what was going on, despite having the trusty ESPN announcers telling me things that I can see on the screen for myself. I don’t know if South Korea and Venezuela have good or bad diplomatic relations (if any at all), but this was one way for people from these two countries to come together.

During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, there were reports that fighting in Gaza and some other hot spots around the world stopped temporarily when people on both sides of the battles laid down their arms to watch the games. That’s the best way to achieve long-lasting world peace: have soccer games play continuously 365 days a year. We could end war by the end of the month. Except in America, where soccer will never be popular.

But then things got bad. Steroids allegations have become common place in the summer Olympic games. It seemed like everyday when a new Olympic gold medalist was caught using some banned substance, or in Michael Phelps’ case, smoking a somewhat banned substance. Cheating is now a fact of life. Just ask Alex Rodriguez.

Unfortunately, now the Olympic Games, which was supposed to bring people together, are causing more tension in international relations just because some athletes want to get an unfair edge in competition. Barry Bonds and A-Rod are not the exceptions, they might be the rule. If you want further proof of cheating in sports, interview any of those 12 year old Chinese girls who competed in gymnastics. There is no way they are older than puberty.

If sports are good for international relations, then cheating is the equivalency of cross-border raids. Nitpicky small violations of sovereignty that’s not big enough to start a war, but large enough to cause fuss.

The World Baseball Classic, which is the real World Series, is just one example of globalization coming in the form of balls and strikes instead of trade, transnational corporations, military alliances, and governmental treaties. Sometimes a soccer ball can be more powerful than a diplomatic table. I’d rather watch Ronaldinho in action than Henry Kissinger.

But if cheating becomes too big of a problem, then the playing field becomes another battle front. Same if politics enter into politics. It was a shame to see the Iranian judo athlete who refused to compete against an Israeli athlete out of sympathy for “the suffering of the people of Palestine.” That’s not going to make things better.

So, it can be a good thing for international sports like the WBC to become a popular way for peoples of the world to come together. Just make sure politics stay off the field and let the players do their thing.

If we can learn to cheer in the stands together, we can perhaps learn to live in peace together. If that’s the case, then it’s more than just a game. It’s the future.

Creatures of Habit: The Negative Reaction to the New Facebook Design

March 19, 2009

Human beings are by nature creatures of habit. We like routine in our daily lives. We like knowing that the sun will always rise in the mornings; we can have breakfast, read the newspaper, take a shower, head to work, work, head home, watch TV, and then go to bed. Nothing fancy. Just routine.

But not always.

Sometimes human beings hate routine. Our love for new and cutting edge technology demonstrates that routine can get boring. Routine can be primitive. Routine can become obsolete.

Remember in the 80s when cell phones were first introduced? They were the size of toaster ovens and got horrible reception. Then we had cordless phones. We could actually talk on the phone and leave the room at the same time. What a concept.

Then the cell phone as we know it became popular. Then we wanted iPhones. We wanted telephones that could play music. Then BlackBerries. We want to check our e-mail as well. What will they think of next?

Technology is always improving, and we thirst for the next best thing. Records were a nice way to listen to music, but what about tape cassettes (or eight-track tapes before them)? Or compact discs? Now we can store thousands of songs on a small piece of technology called “iPods.” Yikes.

There are people out there who are addicted to the next best innovation technology has to offer. They need every single new version of Windows and the million updates that are out there. One could even look at it as a competition: I need what the other guys don’t. If I have the largest digital television, the fastest Internet connection, and highest definition computer screen, that makes me the best.

This mentality goes back to the cavemen years when the tribe that had fire was seen as superior. Then the wheel came around. Then sliced bread. You get the idea.

But then things changed. Suddenly, out of no where, people hated the latest technology. And I am of course talking about the new Facebook. There has been a legitimate amount of hate toward the upgraded look of Facebook. I agree. I like the previous Facebook better. The homepage looks way too cluttered. I have to take too many steps just to see my friend’s profiles. And I am not alone.

Facebook constantly updates and alters its design. It’s all part of the desire to make things better, better, and better. Routine sucks. Right? Maybe not.

Maybe consistency is a good thing. The hate toward the new Facebook tells me that people can become attached to what is familiar. The new is not always met with affection and awe-inspired love. There is still a part of human nature that yearns for tradition.

It is comforting to know that people have not completely abandoned tradition. As Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” can testify, tradition is what makes culture great. And Facebook is definitely part of American culture.

Let’s hear it for monotony.

Making a Profit while in the Red

March 18, 2009

I thought bailouts were supposed to help institutions that were in need, not those that have an excess amount of money. Oh, how foolish we are.

Recently it was made public by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner that executives at the American International Group (AIG), one of the largest struggling financial companies in America, are giving themselves $165 million in bonuses.

That is a whole heck of a lot of money considering AIG requested and have received at least $170 billion in federal bailout money over the past couple of months. The company, now 80 percent owned by taxpayers, is an unfortunate example of the waste, greed, and political maneuvering that got our country in this mess in the first place.

There is no way that AIG executives deserve one penny of the $165 million they gave themselves. Bonuses. Bonuses for what? Running our economy to the ground? Putting thousands of employees and countless number of homeowners at risk? What are they trying to pull? This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

At any other company, losing $62 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008 would mean financial trouble and debt as large as the Empire State Building. But not at AIG. If small business owners operated their establishments like AIG, they would be considered foolish at best, and criminal at worst. That’s what happens when an institution like AIG gets too big and greedy: they disregard the rules and make up their own. And what a shame to the rest of us who have to pay the price.

After losing that $62 billion, the federal government would give them an additional $30 billion to cover their losses. Talk about Santa Claus giving generously during the holidays.

If Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing, it’s that this has got to stop. President Obama has promised that future bailouts will have closer oversight in order to prevent travesties like this from happening again. Polls show that American support for these bailouts are slipping. And no wonder. I hope the president makes sure federal money isn’t given out like free chocolate at a candy store. This is taxpayer dollars, not free manna from heaven.

Though oversight is a difficult task, someone needs to do it, whether it be a bi-partisan council or an independent committee. Oversight is being done, but more needs to happen if close to a trillion dollars of our money is going to be given to these idiots.

Are you outraged? You should be.

Making Our Lives Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

March 16, 2009
Technology is supposed to make our lives faster. The purpose of creating, purchasing, and using new technology is to make old, mundane tasks of the old obsolete and usher in a new era of speed, reliance, and efficiency.
But is that always the case? Take the present day as an example. In our age of high speed connectability and vast social networking, are people really that much more informed today than they were a generation ago? One could certainly make that argument.

Thanks to online information networking tools like Twitter, you no longer need to find the news; the news finds you. And there are plenty of features that allows news sources to send you up-to-the-minute breaking news headlines right to your computer’s desktop. No television or even old-fashioned newspaper is necessary.

It seems so yesterday that people had to wait a whole night (a lot can happen in a night, apparently) and wake up the next morning to get their news. Whether it be newspapers or early morning TV news, this was back in the day (“BITD,” as a friend of mine shortens it to) when the latest news didn’t smack you over the head every five minutes. What a relic of the 1990s.

However, on the other hand, one could also make the argument that this give-me-my-news-as-often-as-you-can-and-make-me-a-cup-of-coffee-at-the-same-time technology sacrifices depth for breadth. We might be getting more news, but we’re getting it more and more shallow the quicker it comes. The purpose of receiving text messages with our news is to keep us informed in our busy and hectic lives. No one has time to read anymore. Twitter makes us more able to get the gist of things because, quite frankly, no one has the time to comprehend the news at any reasonable depth.

Thank you technology for making things easier in our fast-paced lives. After all, technology does make our lives easier and faster.

But wait, if technology makes things easier for us, why do we have less time to read the news instead of more? I guess that’s a question the Media Gods can answer. Irony would never be lost on them.

In the meantime, it’s about time that I update my Facebook status. I wouldn’t want anyone to not know what I’m up to at this very moment.