Friday, August 29, 2008

Who says Beauty Pageants are silly?

Wow. I guess that’s all I can say about the past week in politics. The DNC was quite the show. It did not seem surrounded in the typical “We’re the best, because we’re not them” and almost turned a corner towards what the political system might look in the future: A motivated electorate, engaged in the issues and making a point to participate not only at the ballot box, but in the streets and in their homes. I was especially excited to see the number of young people as the apathy of youth has been replaced by a debate over which candidate will serve my generation best. I have to admit the “Bush-McCain” routine had become so ubiquitous that by the end of the 4 days I had almost forgotten that Bush was not running for reelection. But I have to admit, to an extent McCain ran himself into that trap when he started vouching for off-shore drilling and ditching his own vision for immigration reform.

And then like that Poof! Less than 12 hours later I’m watching the 44 year-old governor of ALASKA be introduced as the VP candidate for the GOP party. Okay so let’s first deal with the “important” stuff. Congrats on being the first woman on the GOP national ticket, this is historical. Also, Palin is one of the few statewide Alaskan politicians not currently being investigated or indicted. I know there was some drama about her sister’s baby’s daddy, but I guess that’s been resolved for now. And, most importantly going from Mayor of a town of 5,000 to VP Candidate in less than a decade is a true accomplishment. But after all of that there begs the question, Why her?

Well if McCain followed my 3 rules for picking a VP nomination she satisfies 2.5 out of the 3. First, she is not as tall as him, and looks like she’s had no run-ins with skin cancer. Second, she’s young and adds a bit of pizzazz and 21st century to the ticket. I give her a half for the name because McCain-Palin rhymes a little bit too much for me. Now if only we knew more about her and her experience. So far here are the details I’ve picked up: She was runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant, grew up in the Duct-Tape capital of Wasilla (where the Iditarod starts from), has 5 kids, is a life long member of the NRA and her husband is a ¼ Eskimo. I’m sure John and Sarah will have lots to talk about on their upcoming campaign trips, starting with rethinking that beehive on the back of her head.

I have decided maybe I should run for city council for Ye Olde Friendly Towne and maybe I too can be the VP candidate in a mere 8 years. First order of business will be bringing more liquor licenses to Uptown, which may cause me some grief in years to come, but at least I can count on Cindy McCain as a donor.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

American President: Season 44

I’m sad to see the Olympics end, and frustrated that I will have to wait 4 more years until more international name-calling ensues. I guess there’s always the Winter Olympics, but other than Russia most of those countries are so darn nice and peaceful like Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands. At the same time I am overjoyed by the fact that I will not have to see Bob “I look like a Camel” Costas on TV for four hours a night. Instead he’s been replaced by all the anchors reporting from the Democratic National Convention. Too bad the DNC is only aired for an hour a night on the main channels, and to get full coverage I’m forced to watch C-SPAN!

Unfortunately with less than 2 months before the Election my free time has been eaten up by all the comings and goings of politicians and the like. I guess I admit to being a junkie, but who knows if my psyche can handle much more of the commentary I heard last night.

Here’s a brief list of things I’ve heard commentators say that only make the American voter sound dumb:

  1. Americans vote for candidates based on their character not on their policy. If that is really the case, (and maybe it is) why even bother with a campaign platform and the endless number of policy documents on the campaign sites? Instead the candidates should focus on selling themselves to the American public much like people on dating sites such as
  2. Biden was chosen as a running mate to prove that Barack Obama cares about national security. And if he had chosen someone else, does that mean he doesn’t care about national security?
  3. Michelle Obama’s speech is looking to prove that Barack and her stories’ are typical American and not exotic. Last I checked Hawaii is one of the 50 states, so I don’t really know how being raised there is “exotic”. I almost feel like its more “exotic” to be raised on a farm in the middle of Idaho, considering there are less people with that experience than living in a tourist centered economy in a mid-size city.
  4. Hillary Clinton supporters need to be validated otherwise they might not vote at all. Its too bad Hillary didn’t win, and understandable to be disappointed after such a long hard fight. At the same time I don’t think Nastia Liukin is swearing off Chinese food for the rest of her life because of what happened in the parallel bars, and they were tied for the Gold! Barack won fair and square. Hillary’s loss was improbable, but it happened, no more whining please!
  5. The next President will be able to “fix” all of the problems that exist today. I understand it’s important to set lofty goals that are impossible to reach, but this goes above and beyond what is reality. First, Presidents do not make or break an economy. Yes, more could have been done about the mortgage subprime situation, but in the end prices rising out of control could not have been controlled by anyone. The Iraq situation will continue to linger on regardless of who is elected, because we’re not going to just cut and run no matter what. And, education needs a lot more help than any one individual can offer, with the majority of the decision making and change occurring at the district level.

So please commentators, in an effort to educate rather than placate the public, try and act like this is more than what this election has become: a decision as to who the American public would prefer to see on their TV for the next 4 years.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And the Runner-Up for President Is...

This is a great week for degenerate gamblers. You have more Olympic events in normally played sports such as Soccer (Futbol), Baseball, and Basketball, as opposed to those random ones we watch for pure voyeurism such as women’s discus and pole vault. I can’t imagine how one determines the point spread on the parallel bars in gymnastics. And in my other favorite topic area, politics, Obama is on the verge of announcing his VP nomination. Now it is kind of surprising to me that the American public has very little direct influence in choosing the 2nd in command. I mean if something happens to the President we’re stuck with this person for better or worse. I can’t believe that didn’t play out as a scarier scenario when Bush picked Cheney. It also surprises me that most people don’t think that the other person on the ticket matters very much. I guess that is true, but there is always a risk that he/she may do more damage than they’re worth, stick their foot in their mouth or have some very deeply buried oddities.

If I was going to pick a running mate I would consider a few things first:

  1. Does he/she make me look more or less powerful? For Obama that would be a no on Senator Biden, seeing as he’s been around A LOT longer and has A LOT more experience. Who wants to look like the little kid with the old uncle? Then again, this didn’t seem to hold true for our current administration.
  2. Does our name combo sound nice? Obama/Biden- okay. Obama/Sibelius-what a mouthful! Obama/Kaine- very nice. McCain/Pawlenty- kind of yuck. McCain/Lieberman- too long.
  3. Finally, does he/she complement me in photos? This is probably much more important than it used to be given our access to massive amounts of media. I would prefer someone that doesn’t make me look too short, but who I could also still wear heels around. I think this might be harder for McCain than Obama. He’s so pasty already, he should really think about someone who can look at the crowd with the sun in his eyes without a baseball cap.

The VP choice is the last thing to be excited about until the actual election, because it is one of the few things in politics that reminds me of sports. I feel just like I did a few weeks ago at the end of the trading deadline in baseball. And even though I don’t think either candidate have a Manny Ramirez up their sleeve, I can’t wait to see if my predictions are right. If I was a betting person, I’d pick Kaine for Obama and Pawlenty for McCain, but the U.S. will lose to Cuba in Olympic baseball.

Friday, August 15, 2008

It's as Simple as A-B-C, right?

For a year and a half, myself and my bearded friend were substitutes in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I was lucky enough to make friends with the staff and faculty of a neighborhood school, loved and cared for by its students and families. The kids were pretty typical, slightly less sophisticated than you might find in a private school, but overall eager to learn and excited to hear what you had to offer. I taught every grade from Pre-K to 5th while I was there including 3 special education classrooms. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and if it had not been for the fact that I was about to graduate with my Master’s in a completely different field, I could have imagined myself getting a Special Ed credential and staying.

My bearded friend has had quite a different experience teaching middle and high school. He also happened to get assigned to a few of the District’s biggest eyesores. Schools where fights and lockdowns are a common occurrence, students still attend year-round and the physical state of the buildings and equipment are in disrepair. As a result, this made for many long discussions about what could be done to even begin to help the nation’s 2nd largest school district. We couldn’t come up with a lot of real solutions, but did believe there were a few things that HAD to change.

  1. Better Administration at the School Level: Schools that were pleasant to sub at always seemed to have administrators (Principals/Assistant Principals) who seemed in control, and hands-on. These were the type of people who took the time to get to know your name and remembered it when you showed up on campus a week later. LAUSD seems to have a dearth of good administrators, because it’s a very different thing to manage versus teach. One does not necessarily translate into another.
  2. Better Oversight and Administration at the District Level: There is no place scarier in the world than 333 Beaudry St. Things literally go there to die. Every person I’ve ever talked to there told me and other subs I knew a different story. At LAUSD, there is always at least two unnecessary steps that must be taken in person or over the phone. Here’s a prime example, the State of CA renews your credential online, its simple and fast, and takes about 3 minutes. Anyone can go on the site and search for a person by first and last name to determine if they currently hold a valid credential. LAUSD requires you call them to tell your “credential assistant” that you have renewed online and then prints out a copy. There must be thousands of jobs at that building that are unnecessary, but continue because no one has any clue about how money is being spent/wasted.
  3. The union: Unfortunately it is a necessary evil, because of the disastrous management of the District at the top. If it hadn’t been for them threatening to walk out, who knows how long the District would have taken to fix the paycheck debacle. At the same time, the union creates a safety net for a lot of mediocre and straight-up bad teachers to stay employed at relatively decent salaries. Subs can usually tell a good teacher from a bad one based on the state of their classroom (complete disarray vs. relatively organized), to the level of detail left on the Lesson Plan (watch a movie all day vs. several different options with distinct time limits for each). There really are teachers that come in everyday and read the newspaper, while giving their kids mindless assignments, and kicking out the kids that give them a hassle thus interrupting their morning coffee.

I really hope that one day I will get the nerve and the strength to go back to work in the education field. Often I feel that it’s too big of a mess, that there’s no good place to start, and too emotionally charged for most people to have an honest opinion about it. Which is why for now I’ll stick to buses, people can be a lot more level-headed about transit.

For further reading, check out the Times Magazine article on what people are doing in New Orleans to transform public ed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Still Don't Like Bob Costas but...

I have become obsessed with the Olympics over the past few days to the point where I even forgot to see how my L.A. Dodgers are doing. Luckily, we're still chugging along, 1 game back from the D'backs, and in the usual constant shift of our lineup. The Olympics on the other hand have had in their short 6 days of life proved to be full of fun and random stories.

First, the little girl who sang China's national anthem was actually just a cute face, while the real singer was placed behind the Wizard of Oz curtain, due to some unsightly teeth. Maybe the director of the Opening Ceremonies, Mr. Zhang is just a big fan of Milli Vanelli and C&C Music Factory. Either way I'm a bit surprised by everyone's shock and horror of this bait and switch on the Olympic viewer. If anything we here in the U.S. value looks above all, just look at recent finalists on American Idol, I'm sure that Chicago would do the same thing in 2016 if it came down to it.

Then there was the faux pas by the Spanish basketball team posing for a picture while trying to make their eyes look slanted. I spent some time in that country and they definitely have a different definition of politically correct. I think for most Spaniards any non-Spanish individual is so abnormal to them that other races and nationalities suffer from the most inexcusable stereotypes. The big deal in Spain is whether you're still a good practicing Catholic, had family connected to the Franco regime and if you sympathize with the Basque separatist movement. There is little discussion about the discrimination suffered by immigrants, primarily from Morocco and Africa, and I don't know if that will change soon. It is definitely a case of something that is a big deal to the U.S., but still an evolving phenomenon for other countries.

And finally, Michael Phelps. There is no star bigger than him this year. I love watching how quickly he goes from 3rd to 1st and puts more than entire body lengths between him and his closest opponent. Overall, he just seems like a young kid that channeled all his energy and focus into one thing that he is amazingly good at. His popularity has also made me realize how based on what sport the U.S. is best at in that particular Olympics, the news media and attention quickly shift to highlight it. In the past, it seemed we were all about track and field with Jackie Joyner and gymnastics with Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller. I remember boxing being big when De La Hoya fought. But I couldn't remember many of the big swimmer names until this year. Now I feel like Piersol, Coughlin, Lesak and of course Phelps are household names and have launched swimming back into the American public eye.

Hey, we're America we like to watch sports where we're guaranteed to win. Which is my soccer loving friends, Professional Soccer leagues will never take off to NBA and MLB levels. The U.S. team just got booted out by Nigeria, geez now that's embarrassing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Little Known Phenomenon Called Supply & Demand

Although I shouldn’t be surprised, it never ceases to amaze me how little the general public and now most politicians know about the economy. Even if you haven’t taken a single course, the idea of supply and demand is pretty basic. They tend to have an inverse relationship, i.e. when one goes up the other goes down. If its that simple, than why have two solutions for two very pressing problems completely ignored this obvious market fact.

First, illegal immigration. The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has fallen 11% over the past year according to a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration leaning institute. The CIS attributes this decrease to increased enforcement, and offers ICE a great big pat on the back for a job well done. Never in its report does it consider the economy as a factor. With the housing market collapsed, new construction has come almost to a halt. Many of those coming to America find temporary work in industries such as construction. At the same time, unemployment overall has gone up, food and fuel prices are skyrocketing and the dollar is falling abroad. Maybe there are less immigrants, because the U.S. is becoming a less attractive destination due to our weakened economy. Hmm…maybe they never thought about that, or maybe they just want ICE to continue their workplace raids.

Second, gas prices. About a dozen of the Republican house members have been staged out over the last week pontificating on the need for Congress to lift the ban on off-shore oil drilling. They claim that this increased production of oil domestically will soften prices now, even though the first fruits of this drilling is years ahead in the future, if ever. One politician even claimed that the reason oil prices have recently fallen is because of their threats to expand U.S. oil production. Maybe, the reason oil prices are falling is because demand has decreased as less people drive, and purchase less goods, requiring fewer deliveries. Overall, Paul my favorite economist sums it up nicely in his piece last week, please read here.

In other news, major congrats to the U.S. Men’s 4 x 100m relay team. We kicked the Frenchies’ butt. That’s what happens when you trash talk the U.S.A.!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

When You're a Jet

All morning long I couldn’t help but sing the famous West Side Story song in my head “When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way, from your first cigarette, to your last dying day.” I know Brett Favre will probably not be remembered for his years playing in New York, but I’m looking forward to watching him don the green and white uniform. It seems that in a moment, Green Bay did away with their biggest distraction and at the same time, favored son for an undisclosed draft pick. I feel most sorry for Aaron Rodgers, considering Favre got the Pack within one game of the Super Bowl last year, he does have some very big shoes to fill. Maybe this will be a “rebuilding year” for Green Bay. While the Jets may finally have a guy at the helm that can take them farther than they’ve gone in the past 8 years with Chad Pennington. I still really had hoped Favre would have stuck it to Green Bay execs by going to play for the Vikings, but that uniform doesn’t look good on anyone and I’m sure he’s tired of playing on a frozen tundra. In the end, it leaves me wondering whether my love for the team is bigger than #4. I felt I could go forward rooting for the Pack with Favre retired, but now I have an inclination to still want this guy to win. Despite all the drama and confusion, he’s just one of those people that you want to succeed.

In other news, I plan on writing to Favre to warn him about the dangerous New York Manhattan clubs. A 24 year-old airline ticket agent was found dead in a closet yesterday after attending Lil’ Kim’s birthday party. This story should be turned into an urban tale to warn young girls of over drinking and trying to return to clubs once kicked out. The clubgoer was thrown out of the club after trying to enter a men’s restroom. Now for the lady readers of the blog, honestly how many of you have done this in a pinch or seen someone do this? The line for the women’s restroom can be interminable at times and as the saying goes, “When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.” Either way, the whole story sounds like it has yet to be told as a worker at the club was recently charged for the murder after he admitted to hitting her with a blunt object.

Side note: I can’t believe people are still coming out to celebrate Lil Kim’s birthday after the prison stint and the unforgivable purple outfit at the MTV awards. How long ago was it that “How many licks?” was heard on the radio.

Okay enough East Coast news for one day. Early congratulations to all you superstitious couples getting married on 08-08-08 and I can’t wait to see what goes on tomorrow in Beijing!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Don't Hate on JetBlue

Yesterday, JetBlue the cool cousin of Southwest, announced it would begin charging $7 for a blanket and pillow. As usual, local newscasters made their requisite trip to LAX to raise their fist in ire over these new fees. Earlier in this blog I talked about how unfair I thought the checked baggage fee was, and how I felt it could be put to better use as an incentive fee. JetBlue has seemed to take on this advice.

First, not everyone needs a blanket and pillow. I don't even believe it has much to do with gender since I know a lot of women who suffer from hot flashes. Also, I don't even know if it has to do with age, since my Grandmother always travels with an extra sweater. I think this new fee from JetBlue really has to do with those who choose to sleep rather than read, watch the free TV or bother their neighbor with mindless chitchat. I am one of those people who can sleep anywhere, so $7 for a blanket and pillow which I can use AGAIN (hello, the environment) and is of better quality than the free one doesn't seem to me like such a big deal. I feel like this is in line with JetBlue's already genius idea to charge a few bucks for a nicer set of headphones.

US Airways on the other hand is running itself into a potential lawsuit with its new policy on charging for non-alcoholic beverages. I hope this doesn't extend itself to water, considering travelers' need to stay hydrated on flights. Not to mention what will happen if you're stuck in the airplane for longer than expected, and you forgot to get some cash out of the ATM. I know these small charges add up to large amounts for the industry, but maybe they should consider revamping their management? I'm starting to feel like the airline industry is becoming eerily similar to the already disastrous American car industry. Just like how GM killed its electric car so it could make Suburbans in the late 1990s, airline industries might want to bank its future on more than a Coke or two.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Manny Mania

I know my last few posts have been sports-centered, but its hard to focus on much else with Manny Mania taking over L.A. In less than 12 hours after news of the trade was made public, the Dodgers sold over 11,000 tickets, more than compensating for the $1 million relocation bonus they have to pay Mr. Ramirez. I watched all four games of this weekend's Arizona series and came away feeling confident that Manny will be a positive influence for the team's prospects in the post-season and help reinvigorate a city to its hometown team. My favorite part of his interview was when he described how people should judge him in L.A. based on his checkered past in Boston. Manny responded with "You have to read a book, before you judge a person. ", which I think was supposed to be the idiom "Don't judge a book, by its cover".

L.A. loves celebrities and our athletes are included in that bunch, which is why showboats like Kobe Bryant and Reggie Bush are always followed with large groups of fans. But think of the Dodgers team this year and there's been little in the way of a superstar. What we had was a well-rounded roster, helped out by an amazing bullpen, but no big bat or big name to really bring people to the park. That's the weird thing about L.A. fans whether we're in 1st place or 3rd, the amount of people at the park on any given day has more to do with what else is going on in the City and if there's a promo involved like on Friday's game (Free Cooler Night). You'd be amazed how fast tickets sell out to Dodger Blanket night.

I watched Manny hit a homer on Sunday afternoon and cheered with the other 55,000 fans "Manny, Manny, Manny" until he came out to tip his hat to the crowd. And even though we didn't sweep the D'backs, splitting the series was a gift and puts us in a great position as we head into the homestretch of the season. I don't doubt that the Dodgers will make it to the post season, I just hope that in all of the Manny hoopla we don't forget about the core team that made this possible prior to last Thursday. I tip my hat to Martin, Kemp, J. Lo, Pierre, Kent, Ethier, Billingsley, Saito & Kuo. The best part is whether or not the Dodgers can afford Manny next year, a large percentage of these guys will still be wearing Dodger Blue come next April.