Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Glenn Beck is right about soccer

I don't watch soccer for the same reason I don't watch the Olympics - I think it's a silly excuse for arrogant jingoism filtered through a groggy lens with the help of cheap beer.

I couldn't care less which country beats the other, the sport has never inspired anything in me, except a deep sense of nonchalance.

When Beck says it doesn't matter how many bars are open for the game because Americans just don't like the sport - you know inside that he's right. It might be incredibly popular in the rest of the world, but so is disease and famine, why don't we welcome those things with open arms?

Soccer will probably never be catapulted to the popularity level that baseball, football and even basketball have in the hearts of Americans. Plus, why should it? What is your real agenda? Oh, yeah, Bennetonesque counterfeit multiculturalism.

You can keep it. For the record, I'm not that crazy about NASCAR either.

If you build it - they'll cry foul

A plan to build a mosque and cultural center blocks from Ground Zero was approved on May 25 by a New York City community board in a 29-1-10 vote. The meeting didn’t go off without a hitch – several opponents hollered their disapproval, which included that the plans would equate to “building over a Christian cemetery.”

Mark Williams, a tea party activist, argued that the center would act as a terrorist attack monument, and others argued that the memories of the approximately 3000 individuals who died would be desecrated if this plan were to go through.

Despite the opposition, Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president, stated that the decision to approve the project sent “a clear message that our city is one that promotes diversity and tolerance,” and Bruce Wallace, a man who lost a nephew in the attacks, said the plan would be a chance to “allow moderate Muslims to teach people that not all Muslims are terrorists.”

This is all well and good, but, only days later on June 7, the New York Daily News reported that over 1,000 people turned out to protest the proposed center. These people may think they mean well, never mind the fact that they are just as guilty of hawking a tragedy as the builders and planners they accuse of doing the same.

In its June 21 magazine publication, the National Review advanced the idea that “anyone who is not a provocateur would acknowledge the importance of symbolism and the risk of mixed messages” siding with the protesters that “Imam Rauf should take his mosque elsewhere.”

Now, I like the National Review, but they are flat-out off-base with this sentiment. Mixed messages are never a good reason to thwart or protest anything; there is no guarantee that absolutely everyone will interpret a policy or issue in the same way and there are more than two sides to every story, despite what the man behind the curtain likes to tell you.

In the interest of clarifying the issue, I submit this fair, albeit somewhat dated, example:

Timothy McVeigh was raised and confirmed a Catholic. He was also most likely influenced by the Christian Identity movement which provided the premise for the race war plot in The Turner Diaries, a “day of reckoning” white supremacist book that undoubtedly inspired the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh admitted his Catholic upbringing and belief in a higher power in a 1996 interview with Time magazine, following his arrest.

Knowing this, how likely would it have been to have a serious effort to get a Catholic or Christian church built several blocks away from the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building (which now houses the Oklahoma City National Memorial) halted by families of the victims who cry foul over a supposed “monument” to the crime?

In fact, the St. Joseph Old Cathedral, which stands directly across the street from the site and was severely damaged as a result of the 1995 bombing. The church’s ‘And Jesus Wept’ statue, although not officially part of the memorial site, is still incredibly popular with visitors.

“We’re overlooking the enactment of policies that disproportionately affect minority groups – it’s environmental racism” said Muhammed Malik , executive director for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Miami, FL.

“[Opponents] claim to believe in liberty and justice, but are trying to use the power of the state to restrict the liberty of a people to build a building, in turn attacking minorities who don’t have a strong voice in this country,”added Malik.

What opponents have chosen to ignore is that some American Muslim workers and WTC visitors also perished during the 9/11 attacks. Granted, perhaps the number was not in the hundreds, and it may have even been as low as in the mid 20s, but this fact should not be overlooked. Implementing an arbitrary restriction on the building of a structure under the guise of a fallacious appeal to sensitivity, strikes me as smokescreen religious bigotry.

The “us” against “them” mentality should not be a pre-requiste for an informed public debate– in fact, that mentality is the same one the extremists hold.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Merchant of Washington

In an interview with the Washington Post, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel "said the letter is intended to settle the growing debate over the opposing priorities of job creation and deficit reduction and 'where you put your thumb on the scale.'"

Looks like this administration has bit off more than it can chew.

Choking on the health care debate

I just read this article:

It amazes me that people actually bought into Michael Moore's "self-less" propaganda in the form of 2007's 'Sicko'.

Free for the people does not mean better, we should have known this through experiencing mall food court samples or getting crushed sample bags of potato chips in the mail. Not to mention the Heinleinian truism: There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

One of the reasons the UK can (on the surface) support a government-run system is because Americans do most of the dirty work by spending millions of dollars and several decades on R&D for new drugs.

I'll be adding on to this blog post with the more research I do, but as I recall, the CT scan was first developed in England. Today, the U.S leaves the UK in the dust in terms of scanners per capita.

Hopefully, this tragic story will clear the air for proponents of market solutions to health care.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I see (minimal) Changes

‘Changes’, a fourth-annual summer compilation of student written and directed one-act plays debuted at Miami Dade College – Kendall Campus on June 9 and ran until June 13.

Six short plays were presented in about one hour, with a short intermission at the halfway point.

The kitsch of these summer production is that the plays are allegedly united by an overarching theme this year being, naturally, ‘Change’. Last year’s production was ‘Perceptions’ where my own one-act, ‘The Ratchet Men’, opened the show.

The opener for 2010 was a relatively funny little number called ‘Do I Need Therapy’ written by Robert Torres and directed by Maryam Sierki. Ian Vargas played Bob, a Woody Allen-esque neurotic therapy patient decked out in the standard-issue geek regalia of a plaid shirt bound around the carotid artery, easy-fit jeans and black oxfords, topped off with thick horn-rimmed glasses like a misfit Peter Sellers. The piece could have been reminiscent of Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, had the actor playing Therapist Jim (Jaromir Garcia) been more sardonic and less, well – medicated. In a rapid-fire back and forth, Bob accuses Jim of having assumed his problems and at the end, after tentatively solving his problems with the opposite sex himself, Bob storms out of the office and, following a poorly calculated blink black out, re-enters the office demanding a refund. The ending was weak, but Bob’s onstage energy kept my interest until his final exit. Jim was dry and almost transparent, but not in the way a therapist is paid to be in the off-stage real world.

Next up, was the aptly named ‘Everything Is Not What It Seems’ written by Vania Vieta and directed by Julia Rose Turner. Out of the six, this was potentially the most promising but unfortunately the biggest let down. When Nelson Delgado, an erratic and oddly dressed cop goes to a strip club to investigate a murder, he is greeted by a resident dancer, played by Lyane Capote. Neither characters are named, and rightly so, because they were one-dimensional and advanced absolutely nothing. The stripper asks for cash payment in order to discuss the murder she witnessed, one in which it appeared her John had had a part in. All the money, along with valuable time, is wasted, for the cop gets no information and the audience gets no resolution. After one black out, the agent is seated with his head on his desk and is awakened by the stripper, who is now donning a sweatshirt as opposed to her previous corset and skinny jeans ensemble. The circumstances of the visit aren’t explained or even hinted at with subtext – the pole is still in the room, but the cop is supposedly at his office, or his home. Did the stripper and the cop get hitched? I’m sure this happens all the time, but the audience had no idea. Why was the stripper back in his life after a five-year cold case investigation? The set was confusing, and the story did not end on any note. Harold Pinter was famous for perfecting the incomplete resolution, but this one was just an example of poor writing.

‘The Papi Chulo Effect’ followed. The story dealt with three pink-clad women celebrating an engagement and discussing their experiences with “papi chulos” – essentially, Spanish Don Juans without the charisma. Each of the women take turns telling their own stories, in between shots of Jose Cuervo. How utterly a propos. One of the women is revealed to be dating a “Jew named Abraham” but for good measure at the end of the play, it is also revealed that the favorite and perhaps the only acceptable form of the shape-shifting “papi chulo” is the flamboyant homosexual, personified here with a pink boa and crown thrown in to counteract any suspicions of a P.C deficit.

After the intermission, the audience was greeted to (or subjected to, depending on one’s interpretation) ‘Rabbit Ears and Turtle Shells.’ In the story, Milton, a geeky young man enlists the help of his calm and collected waiter friend Brian in order to win the heart of Marie (Andrea Lopez), a young woman with a wandering eye and overprotective mother whom he knew in high school. After ordering a scotch on the rocks, Marie’s date shows up, thrusting flowers in her face. He orders a scotch, straight up, and runs to the bathroom to splash water on his face, maybe also to count the hairs that grew on his chest. He calls the waiter out for serving him “gasoline” and faints when Marie approaches him and discovers the quasi-Cyrano de Bergerac plot. The play ends with Marie repeating for the third time that the waiter was “cute.” The name of the play didn’t make sense at first, but was explained to me afterward as a rhetorical spin on the fable of the Turtle and the Hare. Why their dominating body parts were included in the title is beyond me, however.

‘Past Imperfect’ was the second non-comedy in the line-up. The plot focuses on a young woman (Tammy Salazar) plagued by her boyfriend’s relentless ability to not listen or tidy up. The boyfriend, played by Carlos Martinez, ignores her concerns with a handheld video game. After two telephone conversations and too many blackout scenes, it is revealed that boyfriend Steven cheated on girlfriend Karla with one of her friends, and Karla kissed another man at a party. In the end, after various conversations with her new beau, Karla walks out on Steven, despite his desperate pleas.

The final play was ‘The Game Show’, directed by Matthew Donovan and written by Jaromir Garcia, was one of the highlights of the production. Ian Vargas returns to the stage as a 1950s style game show host, donning a blazer and jeans combo a la Glenn Beck. Contestants included Lauren, a dim-witted aspiring model and actress who had been recently crowned ‘Miss Chili Cook-Off’ in Kansas City, (that’s in Kansas), a dowdy newlywed, Rick, who lost 20 grand in Vegas and is being egged on by his brash new wife, Tina, to “kick some ass” and make the money back, and Joseph, an apathetic teenager who spends his days watching Youtube videos and couldn’t care less about being on the show, much to the dismay of his overly excited mother Felisha Chang who at one point storms on stage to fix his cowlick. The first game in the contest was ‘Oh God, Not the Face’, in which balls were thrown at the contestants by the matchy-matchy sequined stage girls. Lauren wins the round, but is soon eliminated by Rick and Joseph, who vote her off the proverbial TV island. Two “commercial breaks” separated the rounds, both for cleaning products in order to stay true to 1950s shows like ‘The Name’s the Game’. The interrupted breaks along with the mention of Youtube were a fairly obvious yet fresh and funny anachronism. ‘The Game Show’ was overall the best written and acted of the bunch and a nice way to round-off a lackluster show.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The article I was wrong about - in a way.

Why was I wrong? I thought it was entirely necessary to be escorted around campus for the weeks following this publication because of all the hate mail and rocks that would be flung at my head. Instead, I received three hand-written thank you letters in the mail from staff or faculty members who appreciated the honesty in my story, and a voice-mail from another staff member. I say "in a way" in the literal sense, not in the pseudo or maybe not so pseudo pretentious way I've used it in the past - as a reference to Camus' 'The Fall' - better than 'The Stranger' if you get around to reading it. Very highly recommended. I felt the title was appropriate because I took the liberty of quoting Albert Camus twice in this story, published a few days after the November election in 2008.

I never did find out who the individuals were who sent me the thank you notes, nor did I find out the name of my source - he reported directly to my best friend and former human resources staff worker, who refused to tell me the gentleman's name, even off the record.

As an irrelevant and admittedly Krameresque "hipster-dofus" aside - Camus is such an inspiration to me, that I had the words 'Life is Absurd' tattooed on myself several weeks after this article was published, the day before Thanksgiving to be exact. So - two years late, but thanks Camus, you Bogarty French ruffian for without you, my lede would not have been nearly as refined as I'd hoped it would be.

Amendment 8: Padron’s One-Sided War
By: Katherine Concepcion

Albert Camus spoke of the “Puppets and chatterboxes who pretend to speak in the name of the people.” For the past month, the chatterbox has been playing to the tune of “Yes on 8!” and the puppets have donned the matching pins and t-shirts.

We have all seen the signs, most of us have heard the radio spots, and fewer may have read Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron’s Miami Herald article (‘MDC central to our chance for prosperity’, dated October 16th, 2008).

An explanation of the nature of the amendment is not in order here, what is however, is how Miami Dade College has ever gotten away with this arrogantly blatant lobbying.
Even if a law preventing a public, tax-funded college from endorsing a constitutional amendment did not exist, would it be as widely accepted if the amendment being promoted were not Amendment 8?

Would there be a massive outcry if Miami Dade College had suddenly come out in support of a vote of Yes on Amendment 2?

What about if Miami Dade College had publicly announced their endorsement of a political candidate and began investing thousands of dollars in radio spots, signs, pins, and other tchotchkes?

Why is it so acceptable to everyone that Miami Dade College supports a certain vote on a certain amendment when no one would feel okay about Miami Dade College endorsing another political issue? Why is Amendment 8 arbitrarily in the clear?

Miami Dade College’s own recorded phone announcements speak of “supporting democracy” by voting for Amendment 8. There is a blissful bit of irony in this situation, as “democracy” is being pushed on to students and staff, at the threat of reproach or no club funding. You cannot force democracy through the barrel of a gun, and you cannot expect an entire college population to be ideologically in line with the ideals of its president.

It is irrelevant whether the cause is a noble one, attempting to receive more money for students. The fact remains that an element of intimidation has been introduced to our campus by the campaign of Amendment 8.

A few weeks ago, campus club advisers were told that any club which did not participate in Amendment 8 activities should not expect any funding. This seems like a form of extortion. Certain members of the faculty and staff may have begrudgingly agreed to attend Amendment 8 events for fear of losing their jobs or being ostracized by the administration.

When asked the question: Have you felt pressure from your superiors to support Amendment 8? An MDC employee, who shall remain anonymous, responded, "Yes, I have been harassed with emails, voicemails, and one on one discussion. I have been forced to wear the button and the sticker. I don't believe in Amendment 8, but they make it seem like you'll lose your job if you're not for it."

Is this the kind of environment the administration wants to provide for its staff and students, for them to feel like a group of black-listed, radical subversives? For an institution which prides itself on its “open door policy” and “democratic” ideals, they are being pretty closed minded about any dissent on the issue.

At the time of this writing, one week has passed since the tragic deaths of Lisa Ard and Callie Pascal, two incredibly altruistic college employees who were killed in a car accident while they were en route to an Amendment 8 road blocking event.

After the accident, all Amendment 8 activities were allegedly canceled.

Recently, it was discovered that students and faculty were still sent out to polling locations to hold signs for Amendment 8, and the events were offered as extra credit in a variety of courses.

Thank goodness that another terrible accident did not occur to an attendant of one of these events. Although all events weren’t canceled, the other planned events were, so it is still important to ask: Why did it have to take the deaths of two innocent people for the administration to realize that it is not right to push students and staff into supporting their agenda?

Hopefully in the future, Miami Dade College will be less quick to pimp their legislation of the month and require others to do so. This is necessary, you know, for the “spirit of democracy.”

While it may be easier said than done for a student group or staff member to stand up and openly condemn the threats proposed by Student Life, one must never forget to stand up for one’s self. The minute you allow yourself to be heinously walked upon, no matter whom the authority, you give up a little bit of your freedom and thus a little bit of your humanity.

In light of the realization that many people on campus would prefer not to bother raising an objection, perhaps with the intent to remain “respectful” towards their superiors, Camus had another nugget of wisdom for this group to reflect upon, “Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

(Slow) Sales in the City

(I decided to post my final version of the article before the copy-editors got a chance to mess with it, they can really screw up a story with carelessness.)

Biz owners claim city of Tallahassee as partially responsible for diminishing sales

Katherine Concepcion
Contributing Writer
What do Vinyl Fever, Hometown Coffee House, and The Loop Pizza Grill have in common? All three have gone out of business within the past year despite having once been considered among Tallahassee’s most cherished locales.

Several other local businesses have closed as well, including two more coffeehouses, Brew N Bean, which was located on West Pensacola Street, and The Tuscan Sun Coffee House on Killearn Plaza Circle, which had only opened in Feb 2009. Callers to both stores are greeted with an automatic “no longer in service” message, emails to the Tuscan Sun come back with a recipient error, but both Web sites are still in operation.

The phone number for the trendy Rag Junkie, which opened in June 2006 and in the past was voted the #1 women’s clothing store by the FSView, has also been disconnected.

The U.S Government’s Small Business Administration has stated that as a general rule of thumb, new businesses have a 50/50 chance of surviving in the market past the first five years.

While all this news might cast a dark cloud over the heads of job-hunting students, it is worth noting that the latest figures list Tallahassee’s April 2010 unemployment rate as 7.9%, down from approximately 8.7% in March.

“The Greater Tallahassee area is an ideal location for small business owners,” said Sue Dick, president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. “Home to the state capital, two state universities and other excellent colleges and schools, Tallahassee provides businesses owners with resources that areas across the country can only envy.”

Although management at The Loop Pizza Grill and Vinyl Fever stated current economic downturns were to blame for the closures, some business owners who are still in operation have pointed fingers at city planners and the near-constant construction around town.

“They were doing some drilling next to the Loop, then they moved it to the closed Wendy’s across the street - I don’t know what they’re drilling for” said Jeff George, owner of Sunberry, a frozen yogurt company on Tennessee Street which opened in Oct 2007.

“Street closures can also affect businesses considerably, and overpasses completely decimate business that depends on traffic in certain areas” said George.
According to two local business owners, the ongoing construction project on Gaines Street has had a negative impact on their sales.

“The economy hasn’t affected me as much because I’m not tied to a bank since I own my building, but Gaines Street has been closing at night, and this has really affected me, so I’ve had to become more creative, like selling ice cream to other shops, like the Black Dog CafĂ©” said Jeff Hunter, owner of Icyle Works, a homemade frozen confections company.

“The city closed the street without warning, I didn’t know about it” said Hunter.

“People are making decisions about Gaines Street who don’t live here” said Devon Pyles, owner of the Sick Boy Vintage clothing store.

Pyles explained that the construction on Gaines has made it “almost impossible to stay afloat” because it has hindered traffic on the street, making it more difficult for customers to get to her store.

“We’re seeing a real uptick in development interest for the Gaines street area” said Roxanne Manning, Program Director for the Community Redevelopment Agency. “It will be an inconvenience during construction, but after it is done, I think these independent retailers will be very happy and our goal is for these retailers to prosper.”

According to Manning, the project has been in the works for at least ten years, and complete commercial development of Gaines may not be completed until five or ten years from now. The 18-month project will be completed in two phases, but the determining factors in when construction will be completed are the economy and developer enthusiasm.

City bureaucracy has also been blamed by some as a factor in diminishing his business.

“I’ve planned to set up several carts in various locations around the city, one, by Lake Ella, was just approved after waiting for three years. Most of the people I know don’t think they can depend on the city” said Hunter.

George also mentioned that efforts to get the city to put in a turn lane going west on Tennessee Street and leading into the parking lot behind Sunberry, Gumby’s Pizza and several other businesses were unsuccessful, due to city restrictions and concerns about the width of the lanes and their proximity to the intersection.

When asked why he feels places like the Pizza Loop might have failed, Hunter responded, “I think they might have had different business models, they might have extended themselves too far.”

Despite some of these issues, Pyles wants people to know that although it might be harder to get to, her shop is still open and eager for business. “We love Tally, there is a lot of diversity here and a very big sense of community,” said Pyles. “We want people to know that we are open and accessible.”

When asked what advice he would give prospective business owners in the city of Tallahassee, George said, “Find the right location and sell the right product.”