Friday, August 24, 2007

it's hard to walk tall when you're so small.

Though this article isn’t exactly new, it is troubling: some state universities are charging students to take part in certain majors. Students in the fields of business, engineering and pharmacy are being charged more in order to study in these fields. Some schools charge a flat fee of $500 extras per semester, while others charge $40 per credit hour in these impacted fields.

According to the article, Some public university officials say they worry that students who are charged more for their major will stick to the courses in their field to feel that they are getting their money’s worth.

20-25% of the extra money is going towards financial aide…but what about the rest? To line the coffers of already rich schools?

The underlying point, buried at the very bottom of the article, is that the students are charging more for students to study in these fields because they believe that students will make more money upon graduation than students in other fields.

This makes one assumption very clear: state colleges believe that students studying in these fields are mostly in it for the money and that the other degrees are, essentially, worth less than other degrees, even from the SAME school.

These charges, though, are a subtle and perhaps unconscious attempt to keep the poor…well, impoverished. The university’s admit that they think that students in these fields will make more money…and they’re charging more to let students take part in these fields. Students who are less well off will not be able to take on a major in these departments, because they aren’t on as firm of fiscal standing as some of their classmates.

By locking the poor out of “higher-earning” majors, the universities are perpetuating their poverty. Once, the poor could absolutely not afford to go to college—but with the breadth of scholarships and federal aide, they were able to attend. Now, once again, they are being locked out…by their own states. Maybe this is a naïve thought, but it isn’t as dumb as charging more for certain majors: Shouldn’t state schools want to have more students in high income majors in order to stop the drain on the welfare system? I understand that allowing the poor to major in finance and engineering won’t rid the world of poverty, but it will help more than charging more for certain majors ever will.

It’s just flabbergasting and exasperating that a state school would be allowed charge state residents more money and possibly even worsen the economic outlook of said state in order to maintain the status quo.

Now playing: Caribou/Manitoba - After Hours
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, August 23, 2007

paper planes

China is painting stuff again. This time, they aren’t coating children’s toys in lead paint…no, they’re painting over downed airplanes.

Japan Today reports (I know, Japan Today isn’t the greatest) that China Airlines painted over one of its planes that crashed.

It amazes me that the Japanese government allowed it, but they said that “the committed accepted the request as it determined it would not interfere with the ongoing investigation.”


Obviously, they’re trying to protect their image…by painting over it. It’s incredible that this story isn’t being more heavily reported, but such is the world. China is known for changing facts to make itself better, and this is no different…and with the 2008 Olympics coming up, a lot of things are being covered up.

I have no idea why Japan would play host to this sort of correction-ism. It should be more ashamed of itself. By painting over the symbol, China Airlines is trying to skirt the blame. Luckily, no one died.

But China Airlines isn’t even reimbursing them for the full cost of their tickets for their hardship. The passengers are going to receive $124 from China Airlines for surviving their plane bursting into flames.

Touche, China Airlines. We all complain about how bad security is and how long we wait on the tarmac and how long our flights are delayed—at least we don’t have to run for our lives at the end of the flight and be paid less than the full fare for doing so.

It just sickens me that China Airlines was allowed to paint over their own logo. That's all it comes down to, really.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

turn on the bright lights.

This Harry Potter phenomenon is fascinating. I have a hunch that Stoler sold out, left the last garrison that he and I occupied…and read one of the books.

Full disclosure: I read Book Two in 7th grade (however, that was before the supermegahype that seemed to have happened within—my uncle was a fervent HP nut and bought me a book to try and convert me to Potteranity) and saw the 1st and 5th (latest movie).

Well, I’m not going to ruin the article because I can’t write half as deftly as the writers at Slate…but anyway, here it is: a discussion on why Disney passed on first rights to building the Harry Potter theme park.

I’m not fully convinced that this park will be successful past its second or third year. Yes, I know Harry Potter will probably join the hallowed halls of universally adored books (along with “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Five People You Meet in Heaven”…of which I have only read one—care to take a guess?) if it hasn’t already.

Disney was smart to pass--$800? Sure, it’d be cool to have a waterfall leading you into the park…but does it really matter to seven-year-olds who still have snot on their t-shirts? Big businesses make money by having new attractions, sure—but they also stay in the black because they make smart decisions.

Universal is already playing second-fiddle to Disney’s mammoth parks—second in this game is really like fourteenth-place. They could have easily added rides that would have appealed to people, but they’ve decided to go and base an entire park based on one story of a magical boy who has magical friends and goes to a magical school.

Universal’s biggest problems go hand-in-hand: they have few rides, and the ones that they do have are tied into movies that are 10-20 years old. Back to the Future? The ride focuses on a trip to 2015, an incredible time in the (not-so-distant) future complete with flying cards and floating skateboards. Jurassic Park? Sure, it’s a lot of fun, but have ten-year-olds even seen the film? Do they even care?

Harry Potter will be well read and well regarded for the foreseeable future—but at what point will the Potter references seem outdated and passé? Within fifteen years? Will people still want to pay $100 (this is a $700 discount from the price Disney had down as the entrance fee for its HP-Park…$800 is steep for me to even comprehend now…$4500 for a family of five to enter for a day?) to join Harry and Ron at Hogwarts?

This isn’t the best idea. Universal are being blinded because they are viewing the future in Pottermania tinted bifocals. This is a terrible long-term decision that will ultimately prove costly and could finally put the park (though not the conglomerate itself) out of business.

The Greatest Poet Ever

The greatest poet I ever met cannot speak English, though he writes his songs in that tongue. And he refuses to work on his English. He writes in his own version of expression, he invented his own lexicon. “Today is delicious,” “I feel hungry,” he has said when real happy, or, joking, feeling horny. And his readers follow these sideways journeys towards meaning and see from new viewpoints—their lives are refreshed. “But friend,” I asked him once, “What about groceries, bills, or street signs? What about living your life?”

“I speak and they know,” he said. (Roughly translated, it’s, “I am able to express myself.”)

“But friend,” I said, “What about being a member in a community? How do you know who to vote for?”

He shook his pen at me, as if I couldn’t get it, sighed deeply, and wrote a great poem, I’m sure. I looked at his pants, his shirt, his socks, all a bit wrong, and I promised myself I’d tell my grandchildren about this prophet.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

the quiet things that no one ever knows.

I don’t understand how Rihanna’s “Umbrella” became the sensation that it has. The synths in the song are fantastic, especially in the “it’s raining, raining…” outro bit.

My biggest gripe isn’t with the song, though: it’s with the song’s reception.

Rihanna’s vocals and phrasing are incredibly forward-thinking and especially groundbreaking in the R&B/pop spectrum, which has become a bit stale as of late. I must admit that I’m not a fan of her “Under my umbrella/ella/ella/ella/eh/eh/ella/eh” musings, but I’m generally floored by the fact that so many people actually are.

Again, I’m not surprised that people like the song because I think the song’s quality is lacking—no, quite the opposite. I believe that people are fans of the song in spite of themselves.

What, exactly, do I mean by this? It’s simple. Rihanna’s song has more in common with something done by a critically-acclaimed and indie-boy adored band or artist than any song played prior to or after her “Umbrellea” piece on Top 40 and/or “urban” radio (as it is referred to here).

In short, Rihanna’s “Umbrella” is more Animal Collective than it is Akon.

Why? Again, her vocal delivery has one thing to do with it. Unorthodox vocal delivery is almost a calling card of indie rock—Thom Yorke (of Radiohead, who have sort of become a mid-major, straddling the Top 40 and the indie world) doesn’t have a great voice, but it is held in high regard. The Animal Collective boys also have a strange vocal delivery which have become a sort of calling card.

In indie rock, there are two real vocal styles: nice enough, inoffensive almost mundane (Phoenix) and quirky and unique (LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, almost everyone else).

Rihanna’s vocal delivery on “Umbrella” heavily reminds me of Bjork—powerful, strong, and bordering on a yodel. While Bjork has become quite beloved, she does not sell the way Rihanna does, does not get the radio play that Rihanna does, and is not mentioned nearly as much as Rihanna is (unless we’re talking about the infamous swan dress).

“Umbrella” also has keyboards reminiscent of the best indie bands. In fact, she seems quite fond of rock synths—her hit “SOS” sampled the new wave hit “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell.

My question: why? For the longest time, I thought it was because “the masses” did not want to embrace the challenging and the quirky—and for the longest time, this theory worked out. Most of radio music is formulaic, and this is why people enjoy it: it’s predictable, it’s safe and it will never change.

But with rap producers really embracing new sounds (Timbaland and the Neptunes are the most obvious examples), a sea change has been occurring for quite some time. I absolutely thought that with “Umbrella” proving so popular, a paradigm shift was about to occur. I was wrong—and gave “the people” too much credit.

The fact that “Umbrella” is so popular is, in fact, a testament to the power of mass media as well as the “herd mentality” of the general public. Radio and MTV pumped “Umbrella” hard—and the public bit, as always.

Of course, if one was to approach the same audience with an iPod playing a less-known, more electronic or guitar-rock based artist with a similar strange vocal style, most likely, the person would write the music off as “strange”, “weird”, and, perhaps, “pretentious.”

Why? Because “indie” remains an unknown quality—one untouched by radio and, therefore, one untouched by the masses. The OC touched the tip of the iceberg with it’s indie-lite soundtracks, and this is probably the reason that bands like the Shins, the Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes are enjoying a bit of popularity (clever marketing also helped--though being featured on the soundtracks is clever marketing in and of fact, it's marketing that pays the party being advertised!).

I’m not trying to trumpet indie fans as brilliant and better than everyone else—it’s just that they’re more willing to give their sonic palettes new tastes. The rest of the people—those who rely on mainstream media to find new music—do not. It isn’t that this is good or bad—it just is. Some people genuinely enjoy what the radio plays, and this is fine. It’s no better or no worse than “indie” music: it just is.

My only qualm is with the fact that many of these artists, who have been doing the same thing for quite some time, will never get the credit that they’re due because they’re not on major labels or “playing ball.”

People complain that the radio is stale, and yet, the continue to listen. If you like Rihanna, there’s a ton of other stuff that you’ll like that I guarantee you haven’t heard before—Bjork? Animal Collective?. Like the Neptunes/Timbaland’s keyboards? Try out M83.

Rihanna is groundbreaking in her genre, but in the grand scheme of music, she’s downright pedestrian…and it’s unfortunate that she probably won’t be a gateway drug to new types of music, because people just don’t want to look for new music on their own. It’s sad to see that Rihanna, the Neptunes and Timbaland are all leading the “horses” to water…and that the masses…err, horses…are refusing to drink.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Israel, Sudanese Refugees

The media has labeled the situation on the Sinai border, where thousands of Sudanese refugees wait and hope to be accepted into Israel, as a crisis. This is not true. It is, in fact, an opportunity, albeit one rife with controversy. Israel finds herself in a precarious dilemma: ever conscious of her Arab and/or Muslim population, she must decide whether these people are more a benefit or harm to the state.

Israel should welcome these refugees into the state not only to save them from their brutal homeland but also to return this state to the welcoming homeland she once was.

After the 1967 Six Day War, the State of Israel caught its breath atop a glorious position: despite unifying Jerusalem, adding Sinai, Golan, and the West Bank, and solidifying its existence as a legitimate state, Israel was still seen as an underdog fledgling state by most of the world.

This image was reinforced at home by an almost utopian state. The Kibbutz movement was rolling, with communities of social living espousing lives of togetherness, unity, and a secular Jewish culture that put hand to land, making millions of citizens intrinsically a part of their state (a feeling only compounded by universal conscription). Further, with the dusty cobwebs of the Holocaust still common in every Jewish living room, Israel also existed as a place of refuge. That she enacted the 1950 Law of Return, welcoming any and all Jews of any descent to make a home in Israel, did not show non-Jewish discrimination but idealistic Jewish nationalism—it was the act of a country sincerely hoping to become a home to a people who hadn’t had one for centuries. What followed, through secular international organizations such as Youth Aliyah, was a social commingling of Jews from all over the globe in a truly amazing (although not always sunny) example of integration. Israel finally became a homeland and wars like the one in1967 only helped entrench it as such.

Today, times have changed and Israel faces a social and political breaking point. Far from seeking to be a comfortable place of refuge, it has instead turned to any means necessary to further its entrenchment as a state, even though 1967 (and 1973 and 1982) established it. By focusing too much on short term national defense solutions, Israel has replaced its nationalistic idealism with supercilious stubbornness. Too much of Israel’s policy today is dictated by national security at a time when Israel is relatively well set in. Too much of her domestic policy is meant to keep Israel exactly as it was, when its role of homeland must change along with the times.

Most tragically, the occupation of Palestinian territory and policy proximity to the United States has placed her in a drastically more unfavorable international perspective than the green, adolescent, and innocent one the world held half a century ago. Israel is gradually falling out of favor and referring to the Jews as a prosecuted people will not have the affect it did closer to the Holocaust. What’s more, the war in Lebanon last summer proved that Israel is far from the level of military infallibility it held, for example, in 1967.

Nevertheless, it is possible for Israel to move forward today, maintaining her defense, while returning to the hospitable idealistic country it once was. Faithful Zionists all over the world are appalled at the rise of non-democracy that has managed to influence Israel, masquerading as national defense and uber religiousness.

That huge numbers of Sudanese refugees are waiting on Israel’s Sinai border, therefore, should not be seen as a crisis. No, it should be labeled an opportunity—an opportunity for Israel to welcome a battered group of people, Jewish or not, and become their home. More than just welcome however, Israel is in a position to save these people. There is a reason they decided to risk a trek across Africa instead of staying home. Their home is a murderous place.

Israel should accept these people when her neighbors will not. Saying bruchim ha’baheem would make a statement to the world that Israel is indeed still a homeland, that it is indeed a place of refuge and tolerance. Why can’t Israel repeat the hospitality that was behind Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 and brought thousands of battered people from Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea?

By accepting these people as Israeli citizens, Israel can save them and their families from death, and more, she can save herself.

Friday, August 17, 2007

the crime of a century

So the CIA (and the American government) has finally officially entered the 21st century: they’ve gotten busted for editing articles on wikipedia.

Of course, the CIA has been in the 21st century far before the rest of us, it’s just that I’m surprised that it took them this long to get in cyber trouble.

The BBC lists the changes as “innocuous”, but that is entirely irrelevant. Wikipedia is a site for the people, by the people—and when we have the government overstepping its bounds by editing the site to reflect its own beliefs and motives, we have another vehicle for propaganda.

Wikipedia frequently takes down article that do not have a NPOV (neutral point-of-view)…and the CIA ran an article that said “WAHHHHHHH” before an article on the Iranian president.

The fact that there isn’t more outrage over this frustrates me—wikipedia itself should be up in arms. I understand that the people who work at the CIA are American citizens guaranteed the same basic rights at the rest of us. But, when the person is at work and making the edits, they reflect the company that they work for. In this case, this happens to be the CIA, a subsidiary of the American government.

This is a very touchy issue, of course: what happens when the CIA workers go home? What if they’re told by the government to edit there? We cannot ban the CIA from wikipedia, of course, because that infringes on basic American rights.

The wikipedia editors need to stay vigilant and need to clean up any CIA edits immediately. If any more of these incidences occur, wikipedia could soon be seen as just another tool of the American government and could be entirely discredited (as opposed to just mostly discredited) by the people.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

screaming infidelities.

Michael Wilbon was on the Dan Patrick ESPN Radio show good-bye tour today (just one day left, we swear!) and they were discussing the Donaghy situation.

Wilbon was asked if he believed that Donaghy’s betting was worse than Pete Rose’s gambling, and he said no. According to Wilbon, Rose’s betting was much worse because “he was the manager.”

He didn’t really elaborate, and I don’t really understand why.

There’s no way that Rose’s gambling was worse than Donaghy’s. Basketball is perhaps the most subjective of all sports in terms of referring—fouls are relative according to the referees, as is traveling and carrying.

Referees are supposed to be objective…free of bias. It isn’t in the contract of a coach to be either of these things. In fact, it is up to him/her to put the best team on the field/court/pitch/whatever. If he puts the team out there that he believes is best and that team loses more often than it wins, he will most likely be fired. His job is entirely subjective. Sure, it’s wrong that he bets against his team, but he’ll be fired for losing.

A referee will never be fired for losing, because he never does. He always wins when there is an honest game. Donaghy didn’t make it obvious that he was tainting games, even though he called more technical fouls than any other referee.

Players have complained for the longest time about the bias of referees. Their complaints are now true. How can they trust the game if the playing field is incredibly slanted? Why should they play? Why should we watch, knowing that the game may be tilted in one direction solely for the benefit of the referee’s pocketbook.

A coach’s gambling indiscretion may cause his team to lose and may make the fans angry—he will be fired, regardless of the sport. A bought off referee would be as hard to spot as a gambling coach, but as an athlete, it would hurt less to find out that my coach was throwing the game than if the referee was.

Having a ref cheat means that one side never has a chance—and the thing is, no one will really look that closely because it’s his job to call the games and decide on a victor.

There’s no way that the coach of one team gambling is worse than the omnipotent referee choosing a winner before a game and winning based on who he allowed to win.

Don't Paint Everything Your Favorite Color

It is not OK for the Bush administration to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. Although it might fall into the hazy, non-specific, polemic definition of terrorism this administration has contrived, it goes against every logical rule of successful international relations, reeks of name calling akin to red-baiting, and is a tool for the administration to split the world into an over simplistic categorization of good and evil.

(1) It is not right to label it terrorist because you don't negotiate with terrorists. We should negotiate with Iran, if not now then later. By putting this label on you're effectively ruling out anything except war. Hello!!!! Not smart.

(2) Calling the Corps terrorist reminds me of when, during the Cold War, any country that didn't comply with whatever the US wanted was immediately labeled communist. Unfairly. Even countries like India, who maintained a mostly neutral position, were labeled communist. Explain to me how that helps anything. It's a crybaby immature tactic of throwing a tantrum whenever the US is faced with a stubborn country (stubborn meaning not buying us a snickers when we really, really want a snickers). The 21st century version of this has so-far been using the terms "axis of evil" and "rogue states," but in the Rove-sculpted administration, you know that labels need to be as strong as the problem. So we see them cutting right to the point and calling Iran terrorist. Bam.

(3) That's the issue, a quick split. Too simple. You can't just divide the world between good and evil. The problem, as it was in the Cold War, is that the GOOD we're talking about is not some kind of universal good, it's a good that really means whatever is best for the US. It's not TRUTH or JUSTICE, it's whatever is best for the US. So we label Iran evil because they pose a threat to the US and to US allies. We label Iran evil because we disagree with its philosophies and actions. Now, I don't meant to exonerate Iran. Its leader is a power hungry holocaust denier who has never had a problem making scary threats to blow up Israel and half the world. But if we are to deal with these kinds of states with these kinds of leaders it would be more constructive for the US to try and understand what Iran wants exactly. What would they see as GOOD? Instead of simply splitting the world into pro-Arab and anti-Arab, defining that distinction in terms of the EVIL (pro-Arab) and the GOOD (anti-Arab), why not deal with them with respect. Why not respect some of the things they want and figure out a way to fix it.

Is this so naive? Is this completely loony? I don't think so. I think that the cultural differences between the West and the world has always played a part in the stress and animosity. I think that in the 21 century humans should be able to accept other people's cultures and go forward from there.

Unfortunately, this arbitrary labeling is our action. We, like the white missionaries finding a culture and immediately labeling it evil and savage and going all out to change it for the GOOD, have once again screwed any chance for peace in the name of selfishness and narrow mindedness.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Note Found in Jerusalem

Earlier this evening I arrived at the bustling Jerusalem bus station around 1030. buses had resumed running again (after Shabbat) and it was packed with people. I decided to walk the 20 minutes to the apartment because of the unusually strong breeze, something definitely worth taking advantage of. I saw a little store up ahead where at least 30 people were packed in, crowded and craning. Closer, I could tell they were watching something on the TV in the corner near the candy. Everyone was still. Too still. I was worried. People were standing with their arms crossed; people were biting their nails; people were nervously whispering to each other. Someone pointed at the screen and threw his hand up. I had heard about a bomb scare earlier in NYC. Great. There was a shooting in the old city on Friday. I budged in. Religious black hats blocked the TV and I couldn't see. I squirmed through. Here we go. I looked up. Yes. It was the Isreali soccer league's opening night. Beitar Yerushalayim in yellow and black stripes. Hapoel Tel Aviv in all red.

I bought an iced tea and began a cool walk home.

Monday, August 6, 2007

New NSA Stuff

I'm having mixed feelings about the new eavesdropping law Bush signed the other day.

Reading The Book of Daniel (Doctorow) has got me thinking about capitalist conspiracies and how close America is to Fascism. I twirl it around in my head playfully, not with any thoughts of revolution, and find confidence in our justice system. I figure if I were to get arrested on shady charges or wrongfully accused the courts would back me up.

But that's me. I think the bigger issue is what happens to the people who are not middle class white people. The thought make me uncomfortable. Think about those people in Guantanamo right now who are held on meager charges but because of the same justice system I have confidence in can be held indefinitely without charge. That's just not OK.

I understand that these kind of measures are necessary for security. I just wish that they could be withheld until the shadier aspects of our system can be upgraded, you know, like the bridges.