Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Just Another “Storm of the Century”?

This one actually had more than one nickname that the media were giving to it. It was, of course, "Hurricane Sandy", but it was also known as the "Frankenstorm". Then, some people said it was "The Perfect Storm", the first since 1991, which had the famous movie by the same name made about it. Also, people were saying that this was a "Hundred Year Storm".

Whatever name it is given, it wound up being a hell of a storm. The scope of the damage, while still largely unknown, is nonetheless far greater than almost any other storm that we have seen. So, the name of the storm, signifying the level of severity, surely fits, right?

The thing is, these huge impact storms seem to be occurring these days with an increased level of frequency. This is hardly the first such storm that we have seen and, I am guessing, it will not be the last.

Still, right now, I am not looking just yet to the next big, huge, epic storm that will be projected to be the biggest one ever, yet again. Just trying to take it one day at a time in the aftermath of yet another "One Hundred Year Storm". What does that makes this, number three in the last fifteen months, or so? At least, here in the northeast, it does. We had Hurricane Irene in August of 2011, which was a huge storm that did a considerable amount of damage - although it should be noted that, for many people, that storm did not live up to it's billing. Then, there was the freak October snowstorm, where we got almost a couple of feet of snow, which weighed down trees that still largely had their leaves, and did quite extensive damage. That came after maybe ten or so weeks after Hurricane Irene.

Now, Sandy.

Plus, it should not be forgotten, that this area has seen some huge snowstorms and rainstorms in the last two years or so, which caused all sorts of havoc and flooding. I never saw as much flooding in my life as the past year and a half to two years, or so.

But it seems that we perhaps are getting used to it. At least, we should be.

Yup. We seem to be getting used to these huge, epic storms.

Maybe there's something to this global warming "theory", huh?

In any case, I have to be thankful for getting through it as easily and painlessly as I did.

When I wrote that last blog entry, I was at work. It wound up that I had to be there for about 24 hours. I slept there for a few hours, using someone's little cot. Everyone was stranded there, although some people actually did try and make it home. I did not, just resigning myself to staying there, and hence, sleeping on that cot. We were provided food (mostly sandwiches with cold cuts, and some soda and fruit). There even were some showers available in the men's locker room, and although the water was cold, it felt good, and was far better than nothing. It was not exactly deluxe accomodations at the Waldorf Astoria, but considering how bad some people had it, I hardly have a reason to complain.

I had to be there until about 4pm, just in case the one guy did not show up. But when he showed up, I was free to go.

Once again, I found myself on the drive to Hillsborough. This time, he drive was eerie.

There were downed trees everywhere. Some had collapsed onto electric lines, some had landed on homes, and some were blocking roads. Some even took the roots with them, meaning that sizeable chunks of land came along with them. Hardly anyone seemed to have power, and so there were no traffic lights that were actually working. It was all so strange.

I made it home to Hillsborough after a careful drive. Even that place looked alien, with numerous trees downed from the storm, as well. One big one had taken a chunk of the earth with it, while another had fallen right to one of the apartments. It was surreal.

Yet, as I approached the apartment, I heard something weird, and even saw a light from inside. Once I got in, it was confirmed: we had full power, full heat, full water.

And so, there was the blessing of a surprisingly comfortable evening, safe and sound in bed. It was nice to have a good meal, and a nice, warm bed to rest in.

Want to know something amazing? I slept until 11am the next morning, which made it well over 12 hours of sleep that I got. Woke up with a start, and amazed at just how late it was. I rolled out of bed with a sense of urgency.

The thing was, I had not been able to contact anybody in northern Jersey. Here, I had expected Hillsborough to be hit worse, but we had power and everything (the worst complain for that place was that we did not get all of the channels). But my son? My parents? How were they?

I tried again this morning, but still nothing. So, it was time to go on the road.

It took me an hour to drive what normally would have taken me ten, maybe fifteen minute, tops, to drive. But finally, I managed to get onto I-287. Before that, it was a maze, trying to get around with so many road closures and back ways. So many downed trees and flooded roads. Also, so many damn cars on the road. When I passed some malls, I noticed that there were a lot of people going shopping. Just hope that they were shopping for necessities, and not frivolous, mindless shopping, which seems in poor taste, given the nature of those who lost so much from this storm.

From the point of getting onto 287 onwards, however, things went quite smoothly, and I got to Route 23 without any further incident. Some traffic, of course, and the traffic lights were all down. Also, I noticed that all of the gas stations were either closed, or were filled with people, and pretty much all of the open gas stations seemed to have lines of people. Having filled up just prior to the worst of the storm, that did not affect me.

Checked on my son first, and he was at home, enjoying himself. Having a good old time, frankly. He was tumbling, going crazy.

"Watch this, dad!" he said, before rolling from the sofa to the floor. He was happy, elated. Not at all shaken up that school was closed, or that there was no foreseeable date when it might reopen. In fact, despite the severity of the storm, he seemed in fine spirits, and almost as happy and energetic as a person could be. It made me long for childhood once again. There was water, but no electricity. Estimates were that it would be 7-10 days before electricity was restored.

Thus reassured that he was okay, I went to visit my parents, who are about ten minutes drive away, under normal conditions. But on the way there, numerous road closures, and so I had to take Route 23, which was a parking lot at first. Eventually, however, it freed up, and I was able to make some better time the rest of the way.

There were a lot of trees down everywhere in the area. I live in northwest New Jersey, which tends to be mostly wooded foothills. So here, there are a lot of trees that could potentially cause a lot of havoc for the telephone poles and wires and, generally, they did.

My parents seemed okay, but they had no electricity or water. You could really feel the chill inside, and I felt bad. There was not much that I could do, however. My mom had not been able to either make it to work, or to call work. She was not even sure if it was open. I had tried calling the number as well, and had not met with any success.

Still, they were okay, so things certainly could have been far worse. This storm took numerous lives, and rendered many others homeless. Some people seemed to lose everything with this storm. Atlantic City was underwater, and it's historic beachfront looked more like a disaster zone. Nor was it alone. All up and down the Jersey Shore, boardwalks were destroyed, and beachfront property homes were invaded by the ocean water.

In New York City, whole sections were submerged underwater, and that included some underground garages, which were filled with cars that were, presumably, ruined. The subway system took a major hit, as well, and became seemingly swamp land. There exists some unbelievable footage on Youtube, and some jaw dropping pictures that I saw on Facebook.

Just an unbelievable storm! It probably is the storm that has done the most damage in this area in a long, long time. Surely, the worst during my lifetime (I'm thirty eight years old).

That said, this still is the 31st of October, and that does mark a holiday. Governor Christie announced that trick or treating would be postponed until November 5th (this coming Monday), which seems appropriate enough. So, despite all of the headaches and heartaches that have dominated these last few days for so many people in this area, I will end with a little levity in wishing everyone a Happy Halloween. Wish I could say it under better circumstances.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Frankenstorm Sandy Slams Into Jersey

I got off of work this morning, and hesitated.

Should I go to Hillsborough, and get a few hours of sleep, a decent shower and maybe a good meal? Or, since I had prepared well ahead of time to stay at my job site for literally days if need be, should I not chance it, and stay put? That would mean finding a quiet place where I could go to sleep, and probably having either a back ache, headache, or both. Plus, I have been feeling sick, and this storm has not been helping matters, frankly.

But as uninviting as staying may have seemed, the prospect of going to Hillsborough, as inviting as it seemed, posed it's own problems. Not in actually being there, but in getting there and, more importantly, in heading back to work later in the day, since that was precisely when the storm was supposed to gain traction and pick up in intensity.

Visions of white knuckle driving, of something happening, and then regretting it for a long time afterwards, kicking myself for my stupidity. All of those things were weighing on me.

Why not just stay put, then?

I talked it over with Basia. What to do, what to do?

The problem with Hillsborough,.specifically, from what a couple of people have told me, is that when there are heavy rains, it is surrounded by flood zones, so it becomes almost like an island. You can't get in, and you can't get out.

In the end, I decided to go ahead and aim for Hillsborough. The idea of sleeping in a bed, getting a chance to wash up and be comfortable, and maybe, hopefully, seeing Basia, proved too tempting. Despite my internal warnings, I decided to just go ahead, since the storm had started so late. Hell, I would stay up, and if it got bad, I would leave right then and there.

The trip there was not actually bad. I got there. it took some time, but there were no incidents. The most alarming part was driving along 287, when I felt the slight hydroplaning of the car, which caused me to slow down and become the slowest driver on the highway for  while (I will admit to being on the opposite end of that spectrum in most cases, but not usually during inclimate weather conditions like this). Also along that highway, there was a sign that read: State of Emergency In Effect. That also was a wake up call.

Otherwise, nothing.

So, I got there, and it was indeed a comfort to be in familial surroundings. I was tired, and knowing that it would be a good idea to get as much sleep as I could while I could, went to bed. Sleep was not forthcoming, so I turned on the television, watched an episode of Frasier, and before too long, I fell asleep (I like Frasier, and in no way is this a comment on the show, but my fatigue was strong by that point).

Awoke to a phone call from my boss, asking me to come in a few hours early, and that I would be expected to prepare to stay for a long period of time, which I had understood well before he told me that. Plus, I had been expecting to come to work well before my expected start of shift (midnight, under normal conditions), but now, I would be paid extra to do so. So, that was good. But that also meant sleep was more essential than ever.

Unfortunately, there was no more sleep, however. After a while, I gave up on being able to sleep again and, after accidentally rolling over on top of the dog, it was time to get up, physically. So, I got up, reluctantly, and turned on the tube, and just relaxed. Watched the latter half of a movie that looks quite funny, called Hot Rod, and then watched the first part of the 40 Year Old Virgin, when it was interrupted by a phone call.

Basia, again.

She told me to turn on the news, and reluctantly, I did so. Road closures everywhere, flooding reports were widespread, and the storm was obviously projected to get worse. it would make landfall somewhere in New Jersey approximately at around either 8pm or 9pm, and that would be when everything would really hit the fan. The news anchors were urging everyone to stay off the roads, of course. The pictures of the roadways that they did show mostly abandoned highways, which seemed a little eerie, frankly.

A bit nervous now, wondering if I had waited too long (it was about 2pm or so, by then), it was not time to start getting going. I finished eating, washed the dishes, and took a shower. Filled the bathtub up with water afterwards, just in case she would lose power for some duration thereafter. Got another call from her, saying that she was nervous about driving, and could I bring the dog to her workplace? Of course I could, no problem.

So, I went, and actually got to see her, however briefly.

Then, it was time to drive all the way back. I drove slowly, and encountered nothing major until I got to the highways, particularly Route 287, when the presence of strong winds began to make itself felt. But I pushed forth, and got to Route 1, closing in on Rahway, where I work. Slowly, I trudged along, stopping to get gas to fill the car. if there was widespread flooding and/or power failures, there was a chance I might not get to fill up with gas for a while, so why not?

Finally, I got there.


Now, I could really relax, and just stay put. Gathered my belongings, which would hopefully serve as the comforts of home away from home for likely the next day or so, at least, and dropped them off. Then, I returned to my car, and crashed for a few hours of shut eye, and that felt really great!

Until I woke up, almost three hours later. There was something wrong. Things seemed weird, somehow, but I could not immediately place it. Then, slowly but surely, it became obvious, as I stepped out of the car and into the parking garage that protected me from the elements. It was completely dark outside, in all directions.

Completely dark? No, not completely. There were the flashing police lights on the main roadway, and inside of the campus, as well.

A power failure, obviously. I would later find out that it had happened maybe fifteen minutes prior to my getting up from the nap.

Initially, I could not even get out of the damn parking garage, until my card was able to open a side door. That meant walking outside for a few minutes, to get to the main entrance. That was when I caughta glimpse of the town, completely blacked out, almost. Very weird.

Also, it gave me a feel for the storm at it's most powerful, and it was bad. I had to squint the entire way, shielding my face at times with my hands from the pelting rain.

Got to the main gate, and was stopped, obviously. But they knew who I was, and I was provided a ride, and then started work shortly thereafter.

Got to check the internet a bit, and scoped out the extent of the damage. It was worse than I thought.

There were power failures that were widespread. I saw somewhere that at least three million people were without power and, it seems, most of Manhattan could be counted among those numbers. There was an explosion at a power plant in New York City that could be seen on Youtube (I'll try and add the link below, at the end of this blog). A crane was damaged because of the storm, and from a picture that I saw of it, it seemed not to have fallen down entirely, but it forced the evacuation of numerous buildings down below. New Jersey's coast got flooded, with Atlantic City receiving a lot of damage. The waters rose above the boardwalk, and caused considerable damage to them. Much of that city was flooded, as were numerous coastal communities. Further north, Hoboken and Hackensack both saw some major flooding, as well. There were numerous highway closures - the one that got me moving and heading back to work were reports of the Garden State Parkway being closed - both sides - for essentially the entire southern half of the state.

And that was just this area. The storm did considerable damage, and is already considered one of the worst, and possibly the worst, that this area, and perhaps the northeastern United States, has ever seen. From what I can gather, it was not the strength of the winds, as much as it was the ability of the storm to push the water inland, that packed the real punch to this storm.

So now, here I am. The storm seems to be tapering off, slowly but surely. The rain is not coming down as relentlessly, and the winds have tapered off, from 90mph in some spots, to around teens and 20's presently. Hopefully, this does not sound overly cliche, but it appears that the worst is behind us.

Now, as the storm clears, we will get a clearer assessment of the damage.

Here is the link to that video that I mentioned above. This is from ABC, but if you go to Youtube and enter the words "Sandy Con Ed (or Edison) Explosion, you will get other options:

Around the Bend - October 29, 2012

Living (and writing) here in New Jersey as I do, there really is only one topic that is dominating news headlines and conversation at the moment. For once, it has nothing at all to do with the upcoming Presidential elections, which at least provides us something of a break. Of course, I'm referring to...

Hurricane Sandy

It is finally here. We have been hearing about it since last week, and now, we are feeling the impact.

Still, it's just the beginning, and so I cannot say with any certainty the full extent of the damage that the storm caused.

At least to this point so far, all that we have seen really are winds, and the winds have not even been that strong. Here I was, half-expecting this super apocalyptic storm to begin, and thus far, at least, it feels like a normal night. You might never know we were expecting a storm or anything at all, if it had not been announced over and over again on every radio and television program available.

Not much to say about this Frankenstorm at the moment, frankly. Obviously, the worst has not hit, yet. The winds are supposed to pick up strength, and we are supposed to get a lot of rain. We'll see how it goes, but it's a subject that I'll let go at the moment.

Besides, I already dedicated yesterday's blog to the storm, and there is only so much that I can say about it right now, since it is still only beginning, and the main thrust of it has yet to hit. But if another blog entry is dedicated to it, then you will likely get the idea that this storm was, indeed, truly huge and lived up to it's monstrous nickname of "Frankenstorm".

The 2012 Elections

Still too close to be called, it seems. In the Presidential elections, Ohio seems to be the biggest prize, and it is still an incredibly tight race. I don't really know how the national projections shape up for the Congressional races, and whether or not either the Democrats or Republicans can sweep to power, or whether they will have some power sharing arrangement. It's so close now, that there's not much to say on my end, but let's see what happens.

Around the World

Western Canada/Pacific Ocean - There was a magnitude 7.7 earthquake that struck off the western coast of Canada late Saturday night. It caused a small tsunami that reached Hawaii, but apparently nothing that would cause severe damage.

Syria - violence erupted yet again in Syrian, leaving the temporary truce as an irrelevant part of past history. The air force resumes strike, and the "truce" is largely irrelevant again. It hardly seemed relevant in the first place. The civil war rages on there, and things continue to deteriorate.

China - former leader Bo Xilai has been stripped of his legislative membership, adding to the list of titles that were stripped away from him. Also, it was announced that he is under criminal investigation. This controversy has proven to be the biggest headache that the ruling Communist Party has faced in many years.

Italy - Flamboyant former Prime Minister Sivio Berlusconi was given a 4-year prison sentence for tax evasion.

Israel - Numerous missiles by Hamas struck Israel, and Israeli leaders vowed  to "work with patience and level-headedness" in response to rocket attacks by Hamas, in order to punish them.

The United Nations - The UN estimated that over 28,000 have been displaced due to violent clashes in Malaysia in recent weeks.

Side Notes:

An Indiana man tattooed his face with the Romney logo for $5,000. I know I'm not alone in thinking: What a moron!!! I just posted this because it seemed unbelievable that anybody would actually be stupid enough to do this. And for the $200 million dollar man, to boot? Really? What's he going to do if his man loses? Or does he not think of the future beyond a few weeks from now, like our politicians (both major parties) don't think of a future beyond the next election cycle?

Here's the link:

I'm no fan of Obama, but the paranoia of those opposed to him goes to such lengths that it really is startling and alarming! We have a billionaire CEO claiming that he will fire his employees if Obama wins (something that I wrote about in an early blog entry), and here we have "Another Catholic Bishop" claiming damnation if his congregation votes for Obama? Seriously folks, you need to chill. 

Here is the link below:

If the majority of Americans desire more adequate and affordable healthcare, why hasn't it become a reality yet? Why is it still continuously threatened by various political opponents? I still believe that it should be viewed as a basic human right. After all, we all get sick, and accidents do happen. It seems the measure of society to take care of their weakest members, and these people are, quite literally, the weakest. Of course, they should be taken care of, as they are in literally every other industrialized society in the world. The United States stands alone as the only country in the industrialized world where medical care is unaffordable to the point that some people literally cannot afford it, and either have to go without, or lose everything, including things like their homes and ways of life that they have always known. This is the same principle as social security, which is another thing that is constantly being threatened.


Baseball/ The World Series - The San Fransisco Giants really wanted that second title in three seasons! I was kind of pulling for the Detroit Tigers, since that city could use a break, and that team has not won the World Series since...well, I'm not entirely sure. I think they won it in the 90's (something tells me 1984, or maybe 1982), but I can't remember, and it would be cheating right now to look it up. For those of you who know me, and know my memory, I just want to show that my memory for such things does have flaws, or at least limitations. Perhaps Super Bowl scores and facts tend to come easily to me, and I usually can remember things like this from other sports. But I never closely followed baseball, and have only a sketchy idea of who won the World Series in relatively recent years and decades. I can tell you definitively with hockey dating back to the 1970's, basketball since the early 80's, and all of the Super Bowl scores an such, but baseball is a little more iffy.

But there is no doubt that this will stick in my head, because the San Fransisco Giants really just pounded the Detroit Tigers in sweeping the World Series, right after the Tigers themselves had swept the fabled Yankees to qualify for the championship round. The Giants had continually had to survive tough series and odds just to make it to the next round, and they had to overcome a 3 games to 1 deficit against the defneding World Series champion Cardinals to get to this World Series. But man! Once they were here, they took care of business quickly and thoroughly! They obviously wanted it more.

So, what's next? Are the Giants on their way to a dynasty? What about the Detroit Tigers? Two tough World Series losses in recent years means that they are in serious risk of having that inability to win at the very top level be their albatross. Can they return and finally win one? How about other teams? Will the Bosox bounce back and become competitive again? How about the aging Yankees? Are they well past their prime, with a lineup of aging men who's glory is mostly restricted to the past, or will they perhaps go on a spending spree to bring in new talent? Will the Washington Nationals follow up on the tremendous promise that they showed? How about the Cardinals? Will they bounce back from the enormous disappointment of their postseason collapse to regain the crown? So many questions, but I will leave that to people more qualified than myself, since I really know little about baseball.

Football - The Giants pulled off a huge win in Dallas, hanging on after blowing a 23-0 lead in the second half with 24 unanswered points by the Cowboys, until the Giants finally got a couple of field goals in the 4th quarter. Dallas still had some opportunities late in the game, but one drive ended with an interception, and the final drive came very close (at one point, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant scored an apparent touchdown, but in bringing his hand down to break his fall, his fingers landed out of bounds, which negated what had seemed to be the game winning touchdown). The Giants defense held off the Cowboys drive, and time expired, to secure a New York win. The Giants remain unbeaten at the new Dallas Stadium, with a 4-0 record dating back to 2009.

The win gives the Giants a suddenly sizable lead in the NFC East, as the rest of their division rivals also lost. We know about the Cowboys, but the Redskins lost in Pittsburgh, and the Eagles at home lost as well to the still undefeated Atlanta Falcons.

Speaking of those Falcons, they also enjoy a huge lead over their next closest rival in the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Bucs won an impressive game in Minnesota, but remain four games behind the Falcons in that race, with each team having nine games remaining. The Carolina Panthers lost yet again, in another heartbreaker. They were in command for almost the entire game in Chicago, and about to pull off the upset of the day. Instead, it was another crushing defeat, with the 6-1 Bears edging them out with a one-point victory. In the meantime, the Saints, who seemed to be recovering from their horrendous start, got blown out in Denver last night.

The Broncos gained in the AFC West against the Chargers, who lost yet again, this time in Cleveland to the Browns, who added to their woes with a one-point victory, 7-6. The Raiders pulled off their second win in a row, beating the lowly Chiefs, who will have a real shot at the first round draft pick, evidently.

I mentioned the Bears, and they had a very decent week, winning a game that, by all rights, they should have lost, and now have tied the Houston Texans with the second best record thus far in the NFL, at 6-1. They put some distance between themselves and the Vikings, who lost unexpectedly to the Bucs on Thursday night. But the Packers are still lingering, winning against Jacksonville. The Detroit Lions also got a big win against Seattle to snap out of their doldrums, and keep their wavering chances alive.

The 49ers and Cardinals will meet tonight, so we shall see if the 49ers expand on their suddenly considerable lead in the NFC West. The Seahawks, as already mentioned, lost at Detroit, while the Rams, "hosting" the Patriots in London, got absolutely crushed, 45-7, in what would appear to be a major step backwards for them.

So New England upped their record to 5-3, and the Dolphins finally broke through to get a winning record at 4-3 with their big win at the Jets. Yup, that means that Coach Ryan's Super Bowl expectations not only seem in real danger, but perhaps, so does his job. Sanchez had yet another forgettable game again, and many now are openly wondering when Tebow will get his chance as starter. The Jets will get their bye week next week, while the Bills got to enjoy their weekend off this weekend. The loss brought the Jets sole possession of last place in the division at the moment, and the loss, coming right on the heels of a narrow (but seemingly promising) loss at New England last week, suggests that this team now has some real problems that it needs to address, and in a hurry. Otherwise, this season will be lost.

The Texans had their bye, and mentioned already was Jacksonville's loss at Green Bay. But the other two teams in that division had a big showdown, and it was tight! So tight, it went to overtime, where Luck led the Colts to win it in sudden death by winning the toss and getting the touchdown, to reach a winning record, while simultaneously handing their division rivals a very dispiriting loss.

After being humiliated in Houston against the Texans shortly after losing Ray Lewis for the season (and perhaps forever), the Ravens mercifully had a bye week to try and gain perspective and momentum. The Bengals also had a bye week, but the Steelers did not, winning against Washington to gain ground against the Ravens, as they are now 4-3. The Browns beat the Chargers, as already mentioned, to get their second win of the season.

Tennis - Roger Federer pulled out of the Paris masters in order to prepare for the ATP Final. He risks losing his Number one ranking to Novak Djokovic in the final two weeks of the season.

PS - I would have finished this sooner, but I found an addictive and challenging game site that might help me keep on my toes with things that I wanted to remember, such as geography and history and such. It's pretty cool, but fair warning: it's addictive!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Storm Is A'coming...

So, here it is. Sunday, October 28, 2012. Later tonight, the rain is supposed to start, and not end for a number of days.

The rain will be a problem, when all is said and done, because it is supposed to simply keep accumulating, and at a very fast rate, at times.

That is supposed to be the beginning of this epic storm that is scheduled to hit this area just after the conclusion of this weekend. Hurricane Sandy is just about here now, and there is no stopping her. I heard a weatherman recently respond "zero percent chance" when asked if there was any chance that the storm is going to somehow avoid us. It's not often that you see a weatherman so absolutely certain about an impending weather event like that.

But it's the winds from the hurricane that are really supposed to be the killer, of course. The winds, combined with the heavy rains, could make it a nightmare, with severe flooding (especially along coastal regions), downed trees causing thousands (and potentially even more) people to go without power for simply unknown periods of time, and perhaps considerably more damage as well. Road closures are already expected, and some communities in the area have already been evacuated. I heard that some schools have already closed for Monday, and if it isn't one of them, my son's school will likely be closed, for sure. In new York City, the subway system could potentially close. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut all have declared a State of Emergency.

As of yesterday, this hurricane has been the cause of 57 deaths (the link will be posted below, at the end of this blog). So it's no joke, to be sure.

Everyone is gearing up for the worst case scenario and, it seems at least possible right now that this storm could actually provide it.

Yup, this storm is supposed to be a doozy! It has been called "Frankenstorm" (remember that this time of the year is Halloween, after all) and has been described as "the perfect storm", the first one since the now legendary storm back in 1991, which even had a movie made about it and named "The Perfect Storm".

All this, and it's barely been a year since Hurricane Irene ravaged the area! One might start to get the impression that there's something wrong with the weather, or something!  But to anyone still skeptical about the Global Warming Theory, don't worry too much. people tend to have amnesia, especially when those people have the American nationality. Just wait a year or so, if even that, and they will forget. Look how quickly they forgot about Hurricane Katrina right here in the United States, let alone the two tsunamis in Asia (in 2004, and last year in Japan).

There are grumblings from a lot of people that I know, who remember only too well the power failures and shortages that became frequent events in recent years due to severe storms and floods, particularly last summer, during Hurricane Irene. Some people were without power for weeks! Nobody wants to think about that possibility this time, yet it's hard not to think about it, as well.

One thing that you notice whenever something like this happens is just how much hype it gets. The weather people on all channels go nuts. Their faces light up! This is their moment to shine! Sure, many of their projections prove wrong, ultimately. But when they get a storm like this, they keep pounding the point home. We get interruption of regularly scheduled program in order to get a storm update that is still two or three days away. We get obscure information about past storms and the damage caused by them, and thus are given fodder to ponder over regarding the approaching storm. Yup, these are the times when the weather experts can shine, and get their fifteen minutes. It's Christmastime, and behind all those solemn looks and tones, it seems that they really are enjoying their moment. Their pupils dilate, they speak very quickly and excitedly, reciting the facts. It's all part of the package, after all. It's the news. And this news, much like just about all news, gets very hyped up and, too often, overblown. These days, it needs to be understood that much of the news is all about scare tactics, and the weather is hardly an exception to this.

They are not likely wrong about their projections. This storm is indeed likely to be huge. But I guess it just gets annoying just how often they repeat themselves, over and over and over and over again, getting the same story from numerous other reporters "on the scene" in various local communities, talking about this or that townships preparations, or perhaps watching the weather conditions set in, reporting on the extent of the storms, etc.. In this day and age, everything is so hyped up, that it becomes either something that does not live up to it's billing or, in those rare instances when it actually does (and again perhaps Hurricane Sandy will indeed live up to it's billing), then it is reported on so relentlessly, that all you need from it is a break. As it is, this storm provided a bit of a break from the Presidential race, which is now nearing the finish line, and when we are graced with up to the minute reports on every move that either of the candidates have made, every word uttered. Yet, it takes an epic storm. I heard one weather person suggest that this storm might be unlike anything that we (in this area, at least) have seen before.

So, time will tell. We shall see, ultimately, just how powerful this storm is, and just how much damage it will do.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: Why Are They Weeping?

I remember getting this book while I was still a high school student. If memory serves me correctly, I got a copy after stumbling upon the exposition of it that was in the United Nations at the time. It perhaps serves as a historical documentation of an era (the struggle for the anti-apartheid movement during the late  80's/early 90's), but at the time, it was still a much more active book for the situation that was then prevalent in South Africa. It was a strong statement on what was then current, and revealed a side of South Africa that was more than a little revealing. Most people maybe had gotten used to images of violence in South Africa at the time. Yet, these photographs capture a moment in time, and within them, you can see the facial expressions, the body language, the full out living color within which these portraits of reality existed in a nation very divided at the time.

Now, we can mostly view it, and read it, as history. But even then, it is more revealing than a book that would be relegated to black and white print, however vivid or effective the descriptions. Unlike television, these pictures reveal something, but do not limit the imagination, like a five second news clip of some violent occurrence tends to do, either back then in South Africa, or presently, in, say, Syria. When you see some image frozen in time, it humanizes things more effectively than anything else, and so this is a tribute to the effectiveness of great photography.

This book does have some printed words (and very good and definitive words, at that), but while having some wonderful and provocative words, is nonetheless more of a book of photography than anything else. The illustrations in here, by prize winning photographer David C. Turnley, were taken during his time in South Africa, those epic days of rising revolt during the mid-1980's. Turnley was in South Africa from 1985 until 1987, during which time there were numerous protests and confrontations that Turnley was witness to.

Those were days when South Africa was very often in the news headlines for all the wrong reasons. It was the last gasp for those who believed in apartheid (and there were quite a few still remaining). The National Party, traditionally the political expression and force of the Afrikaner people, was beginning to lose it's grip on the nation, and the people it purportedly represented. There was such a divide because many in the National Party felt the time for reform was at hand, while others resisted. The official resistance was a more tolerant English-speaking South African party up until the mid-eighties, but it was replaced at this time by the Conservative Party, led by Afrikaner Dr. Andries Treurnicht. This was representative of a break amongst the formerly always united Afrikaner "nation", if you will.

The sitting President of South Africa at that time was PW Botha, and his unwillingness to fully commit to one side or the other ended up displeasing everybody. When he took power, he told his fellow whites (and particularly Afrikaners), that they must "adapt or die". He seemed intent on ushering in reforms. Yet, his reforms were half-hearted and insincere. He came up with a limited role in government for the Indians and so-called Coloureds, but they held no real power. It was more symbolic than anything. Plus, the black majority was shut out of the process entirely.

Still, Botha seemed to hint that this was just the beginning, that maybe more reforms were coming. At the height of the chaos in South Africa, in 1985, Botha infamously called the press for what was supposed to be a huge speech. Much of the world seemed to wait on the edge of their seat, expecting a major announcement . It was assumed - wrongly, as it turned out - that Botha was about to initiate the beginning of a process of reform in South Africa that would bring real democracy and end racial domination of the white minority. Instead, he gave his infamous "Crossing the Rubicon" speech, in which he wagged his finger before the world, and warned them not to push South Africa too far, that the nation would change, in essence, in it's own time, on it's own terms.

The more things changed, the more they stayed the same, it seemed.

Yet, the black majority was, by now, tired of waiting, and demanded change. Protests and violent clashes with the police and soldiers ensued. The entire world watched, wondering what would happen in the tinderbox that South Africa had become. The government responded with a State of Emergency - actually, a series of them. These were allegedly to help quell the growing violence across the country, but the government also used this opportunity to throw journalists and photographers that they deemed hostile to them out of the country - and that ultimately included David Turnley, in 1987. There was a dramatic increase in censorship, and the opportunity to get real, meaningful and truthful news out of South Africa were becoming few and far between.

The photographs by David Turnley were among the real prizes to have come out of the country during that critical era, and there are one hundred of them on display in this book. They are of incredible quality, and usually, reveal a stark side that perhaps portrays apartheid in living color. There is a theme to the portrayal of the pictures. At first, we see whites seemingly self-absorbed in the beginning, enjoying the finer things in life, such as beauty pageants and public gatherings, before showing blacks in subservient roles. Then we glimpse black life separate from the whites, before eventually, whites once again show themselves - although these pictures show less happy and dreamy circumstances than before.

It ends with the funerals, which were the signature events that brought blacks together at that time (due to the State of Emergencies, these funerals offered some of the only real opportunities for blacks to gather, and they became de facto political resistance rallies and demonstrations.

The photographs are the focal point of the book, yet there is a wonderful and comprehensive essay in the beginning by Alan Cowell that really describes those times of peak violence during the 1980's, and reveals many of the paradoxes of living under an apartheid system that everyone really knew, deep down, simply was not working. These were the years just before FW DeKlerk came into power, and within months of ascending to the highest office in the land, he would famously and very publicly announce that the apartheid experiment had been a failure, and decriminalized many of the organizations of political opposition, as well as finally setting a solid date to free Nelson Mandela. It would be a painful struggle still out of apartheid and into a newer, multiracial democracy, but this book focuses on the years just before that, when PW Botha was still President, and strongly hesitating to allow too many reforms (thus, standing in the way of real reforms, yet guarding his power jealously).

With the incredible essay by Cowell, and some truly unbelievable photographs to bring the struggle and the pain of the nation to life, this is a wonderful book that documents very vividly some of the key years of the anti-apartheid struggle that would lead, eventually, to it's dismantling.

I highly recommend this book, especially for anyone studying this subject, and trying to understand the paradoxes of apartheid in theory and in practice, as well as the seeming successes on the inside (how it managed to effectively divide the races and linguistic groups) as well as it's failures! Truly an incredible book.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Paranoia Gaining Popularity

We the people of the United States seem to have given in to a troubling trend in recent years (perhaps decades).

What trend could I be talking about? Paranoia.

It seems to gain particular clarity during election season. People often complain about politicians, and how each one is a crook, and that it is widely known that politicians will say anything and do anything to get elected. That is, essentially, the truth.

Yet, each political season, we here lies upon lies, mounted one on top of the other. You might think that, by now, we could easily see through this, and call a spade a spade.

But you would be wrong.

Politicians tell people what they want to hear, and the people listen. They might gripe and complain, and many even mention how little regard they hold for this or that individual politician, or politicians in general. 

Yet, they listen. They absorb. And ultimately, they believe. 

In the news now, and guaranteed soon to be more prominent, are allegations of voter fraud. Listening to self-serving politicians (usually, the ones who lost an election), there is rampant voter fraud across the land, and if you listen to them without checking the facts, you might just get the impression that these incidents number in the millions, and greatly alter the election.

When you take a closer look, however, you see that the numbers simply do not add up. Voting fraud is a huge crime, and the punishment is enormous - enough for most people to be scared away. The Justice Department conducted a five year search into this issue, and found that there was hardly anything to the claims of widespread and endemic voter fraud. 

The numbers? As of 2007, there had been 120 people charged of the crime, and 86 convicted. 86 is hardly a national emergency that will likely swing an election - particularly on the national level. It might be a problem, to be sure. But it does not warrant the finger pointing and accusations that it seems to garner. Simply stated, it just is not that big of an issue. Here is the link to the article about the study from the Justice Department:

So, all of that talk about how imperative it is to get photo id for each and every voter, to guard against voter fraud. Most of it is blowing steam and making mountains out of molehills. It will prevent legitimate voters from voting, because 11% of the nation's eligible voters do not have photo id's, mostly for financial reasons, or the inability and lack of desiring to drive, or for other reasons. It is these people that will be hurt, and not allowed to vote - which some of the more cynical among us would suggest is the real intention of hyping up this "huge" problem that isn't. Here is an article suggesting that the "necessity" of photo identification in order to vote really is not necessary:

Another issue that receives a lot of attention and gets myths going more than most is the issue of immigration. Many Americans truly believe that the country's problems can be laid at the feet of immigrants, or especially of illegal immigrants. There is even a term that has come to be popularly used, "illegals". 

The problem is that most of the information is patently false and misleading. Every society seems to need a scapegoat, and here in the United States, where we have a history of scapegoating as extensive as anyone else (more extensive, in many cases -from natives to blacks during slavery to people who did not own property getting the vote, to women, to the Japanese who had their lives interrupted and were sent to internment camps, to Arabs and Muslims these days (they are not one and the same, you know) and now, to so-called "illegals"), the latest argument of the moment that conveniently blames a relatively powerless minority for a huge chunk of the nation's problems winds up being illegal immigrants. 

The fact of the matter is that most illegal immigrants find work that most Americans themselves simply would not do. Jobs like scrubbing toilets or picking pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables for virtual slave wages simply does not constitute stealing jobs. It seems like just another popular ploy to blame "the other" for problems that, in fact, are much more extensive, complicated, and involved, and usually not nearly so transparent as most people would like to believe.

There are other scapegoats, as well. Gays, presently, are a good example. They cannot gain equal rights like the rest of us simply because to do so, according to popular belief, would be the downfall of the very institution of marriage. Of course, there are no statistics to back this up, but that does not stop this popularly held belief. 

Paranoia seems to be everywhere. For example, it is now almost Halloween, yet going trick or treating seems to be a tradition that is in serious danger of being lost. People are afraid: there seems to be a belief that you can trust nobody that you don't know (and quite a few people that you do know) because there seem to be truly bad people everywhere. Perverts and sex offenders, murderers and rapists, thieves, and so on and so forth. 

Yet, reports of actual incidents during Halloween, like the needle in an apple, or candy on a hot pan, really don't have any credence to them. They are not real. Just because a majority of people seem to believe that they are does not make it so. 

We seem to give in to our worst instincts entirely too often, and in the United States, this disturbing trend seems to be on the rise ever since the "Me Decade" of the eighties. We give in to our fears, and the facts begin to matter less and less. So long as someone says it convincingly enough, and seems to open our eyes to this problem, then the rest doesn't matter. So easy was it to fool Americans in recent times, that we fought a costly war for nothing more than a lie: that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's). Remember them? We all know how well that turned out, right? 

Still, Americans have not been dissuaded enough. they still believe what they want to believe, as opposed to what actually is reality. It is a very alarming trend, to be sure, and also one that might lead to further tragedy in the future. Perhaps it will change, and we will avoid such a fate. Yet, given the stubbornness with which people tend to hold these beliefs, it hardly seems realistic to imagine that people will, in fact, learn this lesson of not giving into their worst instincts in time to avoid a true disaster - and one of their very own making!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Donald Trump Tries To Make A Deal

Donald Trump made news once again this past week. Yes, he himself created the opportunity to make headlines, and yes, it turned out that it was a huge disappointment to many who were anticipating some promised enormous announcement that would potentially change the outcome of the upcoming election, which are less than a couple of weeks from now.

Trump was talking the talk, as he always does, of course. And, as such things tend to do, there were also rumors, and all sorts of speculation about what the big announcement might be, what it might involve. There were some who speculated that it was perhaps divorce papers between Barack and Michelle. There was a lot of discussion and Google research, but we would all have to wait until Wednesday (yesterday), to find out what it is.

Well, as with much concerning Donald Trump, it really was much ado about nothing. His big announcement was actually an offer to pay five million dollars towards charity if President Obama would reveal his college records.

Now, it is time for me to reveal something here, that maybe others long suspected, but let me go ahead and say it anyway: I never liked "The Donald", and furthermore, never understood why he seemed so damn popular, when he seemed (to me) to so clearly embody all that was wrong with our society, rather than what was right.

He has been a huge celebrity since the 1980's, and the days when he was marrying supermodels and seen on  ringside in prize fights. He seemed to be everywhere, and perfectly embodied the "Me Decade".

Since then, of course, he officially declared bankruptcy, but bounced back with a vengeance. Look around you today, particularly in some of America's (and the world's) big cities, and there is a decent chance that you will have some towering skyscraper that is named after Trump.

If you like power, than this man is indeed impressive, something that you should dream about and aspire to. Who wouldn't want that kind of money and power, right? Who would not want to be so brash and businesslike all of the time?

Yet, if you viewed him through more moderate eyes, without the unconditional envy, then what you have left is a shallow man who really proved long ago that he was not worth all of the headlines. Here is the real life Gordon Gekko, or at least someone who embodies it closer than most. Here is a ruthless man who cuts backdoor deals and seems to surround himself with sleazy company (like he did in the 1980's with Don King), hobnobbing and rubbing elbows with other elites like him, or those who are trying to be more like him.

Obviously, he enjoys the attention. However, is he deserving of it? What does he have to offer, after all, beyond attempts at shock value that prove, ultimately, to be transparently self-serving (such as this "big" announcement). He himself was a candidate for President earlier this year, and for a while, it looked like he might have somewhat of a chance. That did not last long, of course, but he tried. After that, he tried to play the big wheeler and dealer by selling his support, and eventually found the right man for the job, as he saw fit: the also filthy rich Romney. He endorsed him verbally, despite some tensions between the two men in the past, evidently, and he also endorsed his campaign financially. In the process of his Presidential campaign, he had been the loudest in demanding to see the President's birth certificate, when that was the flavor of the moment.

Now, he is trying to make more news, and trying to force Obama to reveal some records from college, which Obama attended decades ago, and which, frankly, has nothing to do with the upcoming election, or whether or not the nation will be better off with either Obama or Romney. It is just a gimmick, and quite transparent.

Instead of questions raised about the President, it raises some questions about Trump himself. Why can't this guy not open his mouth for five minutes? Why does he always feel the need to make news?

More importantly, why do we, collectively as a society, empower him with the ability to continue doing what he has been doing now for decades, when he clearly exemplifies, time and again, what is wrong with America, rather than what is right with America?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Movie Rental Review: The Jewel of the Nile

I reviewed the first of these two movies last week, so if you followed my blog, you might have figured that the review for the second movie would not be far behind.

The Jewel of the Nile sees the return of Michael Douglas as Jack Colton, and Kathleen Turner as Joan Wilder, the famous novelist.

Like Romancing the Stone, this one opens with a story from a book that she is writing, however, it is not the ending, like in that first one. Here, she seems to be struggling, and cannot seem to focus or to breathe life into the novel. She is going through some kind of a mental block of some sort, and we see her story rudely interrupted by the voice of the real Jack Colton, water skiing in the Mediterranean, snapping her back solidly into the present.

We are made to understand that she is frustrated by her writing (or rather, her lack of solid writing and all of the creeping doubts that go along with this). She has a function later that evening, which seems the first real contact that this couple have had in a long time, in honor of her latest book release.

Joan is approached by a very mysterious, and obviously rich and powerful, figure: a sheik from a North African kingdom, of which he is the king. This man is a big fan of the work of Joan Wilder. He wants her to write a book on him and his kingdom, presumably to put the nation on the map in the imaginations of most. What she does not yet know, perhaps cannot yet know, is just how corrupt he is. But she will find out soon enough, of course.

Jack, in the meantime, had stepped away through all of this. When he manages to get her alone to speak with her, he finds her heart is set o this project, which she apparently feels just might be the kick start that gets her writing career going again. But he is enjoying the high life, raveling the world on their boat, and his heart is set on further exploration - particularly to Greece.

So, just like that, the couple seems to have reached the end of the road together as a couple. They part, but both seem to regret it.

Joan goes off to the desert nation, while Jack drives back to where his boat is anchored. But then he is approached by two men. First, by Ralph (again played by Danny Devito), where we learn that he has spent the previous months inside of a Columbian jail, getting abused by ill-willed fellow inmates, and where the only thought that passed through his head was of revenge on Jack Colton.

Just as he pulls a gun and is about to do some damage, the other man saves Jack. This man is a native of the African kingdom that Joan has been taken to, and he insists that Jack come to the nation, since he has already been invited to the royal palace by the king. He is told that the king has stolen "The Jewel of the Nile", and that Jack needs to help the people retrieve this jewel back to the people, where it belongs.

Jack is skeptical, but during this conversation, the boat blows up - apparently the work of the corrupt king. So, Jack really has no choice anymore. Ralph, who has hit bottom and just wants the opportunity to do something to make money, feels that Jack owes him, and so he forces Jack to accept taking him along for the ride.

So, we visit this nation, and find Joan feeling excited initially about the opportunity. Yet, there seem to be a few things that seem out of place, and the king seems less than forthcoming. Once she enters the palace, which outwardly, upon frst glance, seems like the paradise that she might have envisioned it to be, she hears a man screaming, but when asked about it, the king shrugs it off and remains aloof. He invites her to go anywhere, talk to anybody, and so on. Complete freedom, and so she seems once again, assured. But once again, this feeling will not last long.

Jack and Ralph, in the meantime, have made it to the kingdom, as well. They are with the tribe of the man that approached Jack in the first place.


Soon enough, Joan finds out the truth on her own, while exploring the city. She sees the police relentlessly chasing someone, and preparing to give a beating of some severity, when she chases after them to try and stop them. Instead, she finds an even harsher response then she imagined, and there are machine guns that seem to indiscriminately fire upon anyone on the scene. She sees writing on the wall - the source of the crime that the police are after - and it implies that the king has stolen "The Jewel of the Nile", and that he must return it to restore justice. This is the first that she has heard of it, and by now, she understands that the king's own role in ruling the nation is not as innocent and benevolent as he made it out to be. In fact, he is a tyrant.

Jack along with Ralph, in the meantime, has tried to get into the palace. When he meets resistance, he pretends to be on an important and official trip with the blessings of the American Embassy, yet they are still denied entry. When they insist, the guns are pointed at them, and they are forced to back off.

Joan, in the meantime, is thrown in a jail cell by the king, for her seeming subordination. It is now that she begins to understand that he is a full blown tyrant, and that she never should have gone on this trip. She is not alone in her jail cell. She finds a man imprisoned, as well. This is a special man, and she soon finds out that he is, in fact, the legendary "Jewel of the Nile". So, the jewel is not an actual, literal jewel at all, but a living, breathing human being.

Joan wants out. She wants to make an escape, assuming that something horrible is going to happen to her. Hardly anyone knows that she is here, and nobody knows that she is now stranded and virtually powerless in a faraway, foreign land.

They then happen upon Joan, who is trying to make some escape of her own. Of course, they save her, and Jack and Joan are reunited.

Yet, they are pursued. By now, the king has essentially dropped all pretense of civility, and goes after Joan and Jack.

Of course, they manage a great and daring escape, by finding the greatest weapon in the tiny nation's military arsenal: a high speed jet. They are unable to fly, but they manage to find their way out of the city.

They manage to escape, ultimately, although it is not without incident. When they manage to make a break for it in the desert, Joan remains attached to the idea of returning "The Jewel" to the people. Jack, still misunderstanding, sees Joan gravitating away from him in favor of yet another Middle Eastern man. He decides to go his own way, while Joan and the Jewel go another. But eventually, circumstances force Jack to run back to them, when he ends up being chased by the army, led by the king, who by now has a desire for personal vengeance.

They wind up in a canal, surrounded on both sides by sheer cliff walls. But they take a chance, and climb up. In the process, the King, now livid, aims a bazooka at them, desiring to kill them. he misses, but instead gets much of his own war machinery, thus limiting his own ability to catch them more than it already was.

Of course, the group makes their escape. They are taken by a local tribe, and thus are saved from the pursuing army, only to find themselves in a compromising position amongst the tribe. Jack has to fight the biggest, strongest man in the tribe, who wants to get with Joan. He takes a beating, but manages, eventually, to win.

Eventually, they leave the tribe, but are quickly captured by the king and his forces, and then imprisoned, left for the dead.

But they find a way to make an escape (of course) and manage to escape, only to find themselves in the midst of a public rally by the king, which is full of propaganda, and bears some similarities to the mindless, brainwashing  propaganda of a Nazi party rally. It takes some daring-do, but they find their way out of this one, too, with jack once again saving Joan from almost certain death. The king/dictator was about to attack Joan, and had just finished asking her who is going to save her now, when Jack, assisted by Ralph, comes out of nowhere while riding on a crane, and manages to kick the king off from the top of the wall, to his death.

Not a bad movie, although it also retains that very eighties feel to it. If you are looking for something like Indiana Jones, this movie will not be for you. But if you take it on it's own merits, and are open to the humor that is pronounced throughout, it can be a very enjoyable film, and I would recommend it on it's own merits, as a lighthearted movie to entertain for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Around the Bend - October 23, 2012

I just did one of these yesterday, but it seems that so much has happened in the news since then, so it seemed like a good idea to do another of these.

First and foremost....

The Third (and Final) Presidential Debate

Tonight, the final debate was held in Boca Raton, Florida. It focused on foreign policy, and there was some question as to how much this would actually impact the race, or even how many people would tune in, since it competed with both Monday Night Football, and a Game 7 showdown in baseball to see who represents the National League in the World Series.

I think that perhaps the most memorable aspects of the debate were the one-liners, particularly from President Obama. He criticized Mitt Romney for calling Russia is America's biggest foe. Obama responded by saying, "The Cold War's been over for twenty years....The 1980's are calling to ask for their foreign policy back."

Yet, the most famous one, the one that will most likely live on the longest, was Obama's response to Romney's claim that we have fewer Navy ships in the waters. "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, Obama said, "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

He went on to conclude that the military "is not a game of Battleship."

Obama was far and away the more aggressive of the two men today. He pulled a lot of zingers and one-liners, and seemed the clear cut winner. I heard on the radio one interesting analysis, which was that Romney seemed to feel that the debate that truly mattered was the first one, while Obama's team seemed to take this as the rubber match, breaking the 1-1 tie (as they see it, at least) between the two debates that took place beforehand.

The Romney camp, in the meantime, did not seem to have focused so much on this debate, and seemed content with their performance in the first debate, which took his troubled campaign and breathed new life in it.

Initially tonight, Romney seemed to want to fight allegations that his approach seemed hawkish, and that he was a warmonger. He congratulated the President on his successes, and specifically singled out the elimination of Osama Bin Laden. But, he said, "We can't kill our way out of this mess."

Romney kept returning it back to a domestic agenda, although the debate was supposed to focus on foreign policy. He seemed to suggest that once the ship was righted here, then America's strength would show inevitably outside. He kept reiterating his assertions that poor domestic policies compromised America's credibility and leadership elsewhere.

Obama was quite aggressive, and emphasized inconsistencies, making Romney look like a flip-flopper, like someone who would say anything to get elected.

According to CNN polls, most people felt that Obama had won the debate, by a margin of 48% to 40% for Romney.

As an aside, Donald Trump also made headlines, claiming he has a very major announcement about the President, and that he will reveal it on Wednesday. This guy seems to grab every opportunity to make headlines, and to try and get his name in leading stories in the news. Wish we could collectively "fire" him. What a self-obsessed, narcissistic ass!

Around the World

South Africa - Once again, the situation seems to be escalating in South African mines. AngloGold, the world's third largest producer of gold, has given the striking miners an ultimatum: go back to work, or lose your jobs. They have joined some of their competitors in this hard-line stance. They said that the workers must return by noon on Wednesday, and those that do will receive increased pay.

Jimmy Carter- While on a tour with other members of The Elders, he stated that Israel's policy under Prime Minister Netanyahu is not committed to a two state solution, and that, as a result, prospects for real peace in the Middle East is "vanishing". He cited Israeli settlement in the West Bank as hugely revealing, and claimed that what is happening now is "catastrophic"

Jordan - a major terrorist plot was foiled, authorities announced. According to Jordanian intelligence, the plot targeted  "shopping areas, residential areas, diplomats, and foreign nationals".

Turkey - Press freedoms have harshly criticized the Turkish regime

Uraguay - the Senate here voted to legalize abortion.

Lance Armstrong

The huge news in sports today concerned Lance Armstrong, who was officially stripped of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles. He had won a record seven titles in straight years, from 1999 until 2005. But now, he officially has not won any.

I don't remember anybody falling from grace so quickly or completely as Lance Armstrong has done. Perhaps the New England Patriots, following their Super Bowl loss in what was almost a perfect season, but that was mostly because of their on the field failures (although they were famously accused of cheating early in the season).

But this was a man that seemed to embody something truly special. Here was a cancer survivor, who came back to not only compete in the Tour de France and complete it, but to win it. Then win it again. And again. Seven times. What an inspiration! He became a symbol of perseverance, and conducted himself with such class and character. He was someone that everyone could be proud of.

Now? We have found out that there was more, far more, than meets the eye. Suddenly, we find that he went to extraordinary lengths to hide from possible scrutiny, in what seems like a world of secrecy. Not only that, but he also evidently pushed others to take performance enhancing drugs, with the purpose of gaining personal glory for himself. Also, he went to great lengths to attack those who cast doubt upon him, who kept claiming that he was doping. He lied to officials here, after swearing an oath to tell the truth, and it will be interesting to see if he will face punishment for that, and what that would be.


Lance Armstrong would normally fall under sports, but that story seemed to have taken a life of it's own, and far transcends sports, simply.

The San Fransisco Giants absolutely pummeled the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 in San Fransisco, to clinch another World Series appearance, their second in three years. They will meet the AL Champs, the Detroit Tigers.

The Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, and thus secured themselves the third best record in the NFL, behind the undefeated Atlanta Falcons (6-0) and the Houston Texans (6-1). They remain a half game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings (5-2) and put some cushion between them and their hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers (4-3), who seem to really be coming on as of late. In the meantime, by virtue of this loss, the Detroit Lions have seemingly dropped out of the division race already, and look in danger of slipping into this being a lost season. They have talent, but they just cannot seem to seal the deal, so far.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Around the Bend - Weekly Update October 22, 2012

The 2012 Presidential Election Debates

Tonight, President Barack Obama and Republican Nominee Mitt Romney meet for the third and final debate.

The general consensus is that Mitt Romney handily won the first debate, while Barack Obama won the second one. Most people feel that Biden won the Vice-Presidential debate in between, although that one traditionally does not matter nearly as much. Since the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee this time is symbolic and had been nominated with the intent of sending a message (particularly to the core of Republicans who were still skeptical about Mitt Romney), this one just might have been a bit different. We shall see.

Not that long ago, it seemed that Obama was pulling away a bit, and that he was on the verge of having the election in the bag. Obviously, those kind of assessments were premature, although who could have foreseen such a poor performance by the President in the first debate? Things tightened up in a hurry after that, and by some estimates, Romney had not only pulled even, but was slightly ahead. One of those polls included the Gallup poll, which showed Romney with a fairly sizable lead, actually.

Yet, if we learned anything from the 2000 elections and each subsequent election after that, what really matters in determining this election will be the battle ground states.

According to CNN polls, there are nine key battleground states to watch. Here are the results:

Virginia - Neck and neck, with Obama perhaps slightly ahead by a point, but that does not cover the margin of error.

Ohio - This is the one that most people have been scrutinizing the most closely, and that both campaigns seem to spending a lot of time and valuable resources in. According to CNN, it looks like Obama has a slight edge of maybe around 49% to 47% for Romney.

Florida - Here, it looks like Romney has gained a lot of ground, following the first debate. he not only has taken the lead, but a fairly sizable one at that. it's not clinched yet, but Florida seems to be going for Romney, as of right now.

Beyond these three states mentioned above, the other states, I noticed, do not have very recent information, and date from before the first debate, even. Still, nevertheless, I will make mention of them.

New Hampshire - I cannot recall what the margin was before the first and second debates, but here, Obama seems to have a sizable lead of around 52% to 43% for Romney, in the outdated poll.

Iowa - In another state that has attracted a lot of press, the President seems to be at slightly over 50%, with Romney still in sight at around 44% or so, in the outdated poll.

Pennsylavania - The President seems to be enjoying a fairly sizable advantage at the moment here, as well, at approximately 52% to 42%, in the outdated poll.

Nevada - Obama has an advantage of maybe 50% to 46% here, in the outdated poll.

Wisconsin - It is safe to presume that Romney picked Ryan specifically in order to help him to win this state.

Colorado - Obama was able to flip this state from red to blue in 2008. It might prove a bit trickier this time.

In the national election, both men are evidently tied at 47% heading into the final debate. So, it's safe to say that the stakes are high tonight for both men.

It's just too close to call right now.

Here are the sites that I got these stats and stories from:

In Other News....

Lebanon - There was a bombing in Beirut. The blame has been focused on the Syrian leader, in that war torn country.

Libya - Colonel Gaddafi's former spokesman was captured.

Israel - The Israeli parliament voted to dissolve itself, and will have early elections in January. This follows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for early elections after his budget push failed.

Scotland - Preparations for independence are underway, as Scotland seems to be a leading a renewed charge of more localized independent movement sprouting all around Europe.

The European Union - Leaders of the EU agreed to get a banking supervisor to oversee banking throughout the EU, in an effort to stem the possibility of another banking collapse.

Cuba - There are reports that Fidel Castro's health is seriously fading, although the Cuban government has been making a point of countering these claims by showing the former leader with some seeming strength.

Former Yugoslavia - The genocide trial of Bosnian Serb Radovan Karadzic, with particular focus on the genocide accounts in Srebrenica. The court cannot give him the death penalty.

Mauritania - The President of Mauritania was accidentally shot by troops. He survived the shooting, and went on air on the radio to make sure it was understood that it had all been a mistake.


They did it again! The San Fransisco Giants have pulled themselves out of a 3-1 series deficit to force a deciding Game 7, scheduled to be played later today. That said, there are projections that it is expected to rain in the San Fransisco area today.

In the NBA, Dwight Howard made his preseason debut with his new team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

In the NFL, the Giants pulled off their first division victory for the season against Washington, moving them up to 5-2, and putting more distance between themselves and their opponents. The Eagles had a bye week, while the Cowboys managed to hold off the Carolina Panthers yesterday. The Jets seemed on the verge of victory in New England yesterday, but the Patriots managed to force overtime, where they eventually won by a field goal. The big showdown between 5-1 teams yesterday ended up being  a bust, with the host Houston Texans crushing the Ravens, 43-13. Pittsburgh beat the Bengals on the road, while the Browns fell to the Colts. The Vikings won, beating Arizona, who have lost three in a row after a 4-0 start. The 49ers now are alone in first place at 5-2, having defeated the Seahawks on Thursday night. New Orleans seems to be pulling itself together, finally, as they defeated division rivals Tampa Bay, while the Atlanta Falcons had the weekend off. They remain the league's only unbeaten team at 6-0. The Packers knocked off the Rams in St. Louis, while the Bills lost at home to the Titans in a 35-34 shootout. Oakland defeated Jacksonville, in a battle of one-win teams.

The San Diego Chargers did not play this past weekend, following their crushing defeat to the Denver Broncos last Monday Night. However, they still made headlines, as they are apparently the focus of an inquiry on cheating with some unknown, slippery substance which they might have used. A season that seemed to hold a tremendous amount of promise has taken an obvious turn for the worst, and they seem to be reeling now, with their season rapidly unraveling. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Also, a fan evidently fell from the escalators and was rushed to the hospital during the Giants-Redskins game yesterday. He is in critical condition, according to reports.

Also, I want to mention that the Rutgers football team came from behind against Temple this Saturday to win, 35-10. They now enjoy an undefeated 7-0 record, and 4-0 within the Big East. They are ranked number 18 in the polls this week. Since Rutgers is my alam mater, I figured that it was worth mentioning!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Movie Rental Review: Romancing the Stone

This is another eighties movie that I saw recently. Ironically, however, I had never actually seen it in the eighties, when it came out. That said, I do remember the song.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier blog, particularly one about one of the Indiana Jones books, lately I have been in the mood for Indiana Jones. And some point recently, I was watching that television series, Best of the 80's, I think it's called, and they mentioned this movie in particular. It seemed that it was portrayed as an Indian Jones knock off, for all intents and purposes. It was also apparently more sexually suggestive than Indiana Jones, although the movie as a whole was supposed to be more watered down.

So, I wanted to see for myself.

I went ahead and ordered the movies (Romancing the Stone, and the sequel, Jewel of the Nile), in order to judge for myself.

Overall after watching the movie, I had to agree with those assessments. It is kind of a rip off of Indiana Jones (they make it different, yet there are enough similarities so that you know what they were aiming for), and it is more watered down, and runs more along comedic lines. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing..But it should be noted for all those who would simply dismiss it as a rip off, that it was in fact written by Diane Thomas years before Indiana Jones came out, to it's credit. It just comes across as a lighthearted Indiana Jones, because it obviously aims for the same kind of adventure sense, with a male hero figure, Jack Colton, that seems in the mold of his seeming alter ego, Indiana Jones.

Joan Wilder is a successful novelist (played very nicely by Kathleen Turner) who is a hopeless romantic. She wants adventure, and she wants the dashing hero type of guy, a sort of knight in shining armor, to come and rescue her. But she seems stuck in a rut, living a life that centers strictly on writing about excitement and romance that is actually absent in her real life.

All of that changes, however, in a hurry. Her sister's husband was evidently murdered in Columbia, and we find out why early on in the movie, when Joan receives a package that she does not immediately open. She takes it with her when meeting her publisher, but when she comes back to her apartment, she finds it has been ransacked. She then gets a call from her sister, telling her that she needs her to come to Columbia to give the map to her captors, who are threatening her with physical violence. Inside of the package, of course, is an antique treasure map.

Once at the airport, she needs to take a bus to Cartagena, but she is misled by a man who knows who she is and what she has with her. He wants the treasure map, and waits for his opportunity, knowing that he will get it, since he has directed her well into the Columbian rain forest. the bus gets in an accident, crashing into the parked vehicle of Jack Colton, who is played very capably by Michael Douglas. I like Michael Douglas, but this was one of the first movies that I saw where he shows a better range of acting, and does not appear to be the same character as he is in every other movie that I have seen of him.

The man with the bad intentions decides to take his chance and holds her up, but Jack Colton happens by, and he and the man get in a gunfight, which Jack wins. From that point onward, Jack essentially saves Joan - for a price. He has demanded $375 for the deed, and seems to be helping her. Yet, although there is an attraction between them, there is an underlying tension (of course). Jack hardly seems like the hero type to her, yet he is exciting, and she finds herself attracted.

In the meantime, however, Jack finds out about the map, and begins to secretly plan to make some kind of a move to make a run at the treasure.

In the meantime, the gang that is holding Joan's sister has dispatched Ralph (played by a much younger Danny Devito) to see if he can intercept Joan, and obtain the map. He keeps almost catching up to them, and almost getting his hands on the map, but not quite.

Finally, in their quest to get back to the city of Cartagena, Jack notices that they seem to be right by where the map has revealed the treasure to be. Behind a waterfall, they find it -  a beautiful and gigantic gem that will have them living large for the rest of their life.

They make it back to a city, and that is where the two will part. By then, they have become a couple, but it seems they are still reluctant to reveal to each other the extent of how they feel for one another.

Yet, they will be reunited. When Joan finally gets to Cartagena and is contacted by the gang holding her sister, she goes to this old, abandoned fortress, and finds her sister in captivity. She gives them the map, and they give her and her sister their freedom. Yet, just as they are walking away, Jack Colton shows up, with a gun at his back. The corrupt police have gotten him, and they demand the map. That is when the showdown, and the biggest adventure of the movie, really begins!

It can be entertaining. Yet, it also has a definitive, goofy eighties movie feel to it. Not a bad movie, but just don't expect Indiana Jones. This is very different, but stands on it's own as decently entertaining.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Taste of the Wild After the Hike

Today, I saw something in person that you do not always see, or get the opportunity to see in person.
            It was at a park, and it was such a beautiful day, that I had decided to go for a hike. Afterwards, I just wanted to soak up the sun, and enjoy the extraordinary weather. It really was just a stunningly beautiful, autumn day, with the leaves on the trees alight and blazing with autumn colors and beauty.
            There is a pond, and I had taken a book to read, trying to enjoy the day. It seemed like such a slow-paced day. Perhaps a lazy Saturday afternoon, if you will. Everyone was just taking it easy there.
            Eventually, there came a point when it seemed like I should start to get going. So, rather reluctantly, I got up and started heading towards the car.
            But I couldn’t pull myself away just yet. I switched shoes, from my hiking shoes (actually, I’ve been wearing sneakers, which perhaps are seen as a no-no for many orthodox hikers, but which have served me just fine), and put my sandals on instead, to let my feet breathe, if you will. This was surely one of the last days where I can get away with wearing sandals. After all, November is less than two weeks away.
            In any case, I leaned against the car, taking in the warm sun, and reading my book for a few minutes. Other cars came and went, people talking in the lots, or switching shoes, like me. Going about their normal business.
            There was another car that pulled up, a few spaces away from me. There were other cars in the way, so if I had been looking (I wasn’t), I most likely would not have seen what was coming anyway.
            The driver got out of the car and went to the rear passenger door, and opened it to let his dog (it looked like a golden retriever, although I really did not get a good look, or perhaps simply was not paying attention to that particular detail of it).  They were the only two in the car, and nobody else was around. I was not really paying attention to them.
            That changed. The driver began to yell, and ran after the dog. I heard nothing, than I heard the guy really yelling, while trying to sprint to where the dog had raced to. I heard some snarling – no barking – from some distance, and initially just assumed that his dog had found another dog, and they were in the middle of a fight. Judging by the snarling, it sounded like a serious one.
            But it was not a dog fight. When the guy chased his dog, the dog kept on running away, and at some point, he came into my view.
            He was holding something in his mouth. A little creature, it might have been a rabbit, but looked like it might have been a beaver or woodchuck. I simply could not really tell what it was, because the dog was holding it in it’s mouth, and violently throwing the thing around. When he paused for a second or two, the thing in it’s mouth was not moving, and it’s limbs were dangling loosely. Either it was playing dead, or it was not playing dead at all, because it was dead, or almost dead.
            The guy came around, but once again, the dog ran away. This kept going on for a few more moments.
            After a while, he must have gotten to his dog, and separated the dog and the other creature.
            He put the dog back in the backseat of the car, and then went for a closer examination of the thing the dog had killed. I took a look after a minute or so, and the guy was trying to pick the thing up with a couple of sticks, and moved it to some nearby bushes. There were predators, presumably either hawks or turkey vultures, that were circling in the air above already. With the bright sun, I almost felt like it was a scene right out of a Western.
            This was no Western, or anything. No movie, and no documentary. This was real life.
            The guy had been angry that his dog had acted in such a way. But really, that is how nature works. The dog was not doing anything bad, he was doing what is in his nature. Acting perfectly normal, really. What could the guy have done, anyway? Maybe keep the dog on the leash in the car, or put the leash on while in the car, and then grab onto the leash immediately upon opening the door, or something like that.
            It reminded me of some nature clips that I saw some months ago, and seeing a pride of lions take down a full grown elephant. There was also another clip of a pride of lions taking a baby elephant, after managing to scare it away from the parents. In both cases, it was nighttime, when elephants cannot see too well, and this gives the lions some major advantages.
             Maybe I was just being sensitive, but those clips of the lions taking down elephants was shocking to me. I had heard at some point in my childhood that lions and elephants kind of give each other some respectful distance, knowing the power and potential damage the other can do. However, these lions, which usually would not have attacked elephants under normal conditions, but were starving after a long drought, did what they had to do. It's survival. The wild is not always pretty, but the fact of the matter is, that this is the way that the world works. 
             Still, it was sad to see the clip of the mother elephant of that baby elephant standing over the carcass of her lost one. It was also sad today to see the lifeless body of an animal that, moments before, had been full of life and energy, and which probably had been feeding on grass, or doing some such thing, on one of the last truly accommodating days weather-wise that we may get before the cold really takes hold. I could understand the guy's frustration and, perhaps, sadness. It is a grim reality that the dog would do that, and I hope he did not feel anger towards the dog. That is the way things work, simply put. You can feel sadness for the creature that was killed, but there is a little bit of awe in seeing something like that in person. It just seemed so....sudden.
          I had come to the park expecting to take in the air and the sun, get a decent hike in, and maybe do a little reading. Perhaps I got a bit more than I bargained for, yet I cannot deny that it was a source of fascination to see such a thing in action. There was a bit of grim reality that snapped me fully awake from my books, at least for one moment. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

On This Day In History....October 19th

British Surrender at Yorktown

It was on this day, two hundred thirty one years ago, in Yorktown, Virginia, the British forces, under General Cornwallis, surrendered to the Americans, marking the de facto end of the war for American independence.

The war would go on for another year thereafter, but this famous battle, in effect, ended the war in favor of the united colonies, who would soon unite to become the United States.

It had been a long, hard war. American forces, going up against the superpower of it's day, had managed to hang in there under very difficult circumstances, to persist. Eventually, things began to go their way more and more, and particularly when the promised assistance by the French came through. That is what happened at Yorktown, when the Americans surrounded the cornered and surrounded the British by land, while the French navy blocked off any retreat by sea, thus forcing the British to surrender.

General Cornwallis tried to hold out as long as he could, but he eventually saw the hopelessness of his own situation, and surrendered.

Cornwallis himself was not the one who surrendered his sword to George Washington, but rather, he had a subordinate officer do it for him.

Also related to the Revolutionary period, the Stamp Act Congress met on this day in 1765 in New York, and wrote the Declaration of Rights and Liberties.

End of 100 Years War

This date marks another notable British defeat at the second battle of Castillon, which the French won, marking the end of the 100 Years War.

Napoleon Begins His Retreat From Moscow

It was on this date in 1812 that Napoleon began to retreat the French forces from Moscow, under tough conditions. The retreat would be a punishing and harrowing affair, cementing the Russian campaign as a disaster for the French.

Mauritania Receives It's Independence

On this date in 1960, France granted Mauritania it's independence, during that era when some traditional European colonizing powers, most notably Great Britain and France, were essentially giving up their empires.

The Beatles

On a lighter note, the Beatles recorded "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on this date in 1963, and it became one of their most iconic songs from the early period.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

On this date in 1983, the Senate established Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national holiday.

Black Monday

This also notes another anniversary - one that I am actually old enough to remember!

It was twenty five years ago, on this day, that we experienced "Black Monday", when the Dow Jones dropped over 500 points (508.32, down 22%, to be exact) in one day, which was a record.

The Trial of Saddam Hussein

In Iraq in 2005, the trial of former President/Dictator Saddam Hussein began on this date in 2005.