Monday, December 31, 2012

As I sit in a mid-level hotel on the last day of 2012 at the Primm Valley Resort enjoying six complimentary hotel days, President Obama is updating the American public about the feared "fiscal cliff."

Without knowing the final outcome of the negotiations, I hope that 2013 will be a more prosperous year for all. Most Americans are hardworking, but the hardest working are at the bottom of the economic ladder--home health aides, convenience store clerks, hotel maids, certified nursing assistants--who work long hours to make ends meet.

These workers provide services that it is easy to take for granted. Having a parent in a nursing home, I see much of the heavy lifting, changing soiled bedcovers, escorting patients to the bathroom, mopping floors, even moving furniture done by non-professional staff such as nursing assistants.

On the same note, my son, Darryl, just told me about a documentary, One Day on Earth, that chronicled a day in the life of people around the world. Having seen the desperately poor conditions under which many people live, he came away grateful for the material benefits he enjoys in America.

Thankful for my blessings--material and otherwise--I enter the new year determined to spend and save more wisely, and mindful that but for an accident of birth, I could be among the world's less fortunate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Presidential Race: Not a Popularity Contest

Governor Mitt Romney is neck-in-neck with President Obama in the presidential race. Whoa! How did that happen? I cannot think of one proposal on the Republican hopeful's platform. Mostly, he has re-shaped his image into "I'm just like you, only richer. :)"

Likewise, Obama is too laid back; he projects, "I am president, but also a cool guy." He shows up on lightweight shows (i.e. "The View") to "chat" about his politics.

I  hope the next stage of the campaign will include serious (not nasty) debates about their plans to boost the economy, to limit super PACs (political action committees) spending, to promote gay rights, to curb corporate misdeeds, and to make taxes more equitable.

Perhaps, Americans are too jaded to care anymore. We take democracy for granted as well as our power to affect change. So, if things continue to go downhill for the 99 percent, we should not complain.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Celebrity: No Guarantee of Happiness

While driving to work one morning last week, I heard a KNPR tribute to the late "Soul Train" creator and host, Don Cornelius. I was saddened to learn that the 75-year old had committed suicide by gun. Damn. I wondered why. Illness? Depression? The program provided no details.

Curious, I googled some articles that reported Cornelius had said he was "not quite the same" following 21-hour brain surgery. In 2008, Cornelius was charged with felony domestic abuse against his estranged wife, Victoria Avila-Cornelius, and placed on probation for 36 months.

Then, on Saturday, I learned from AOL that gorgeous, talented Whitney Houston had died. Over the weekend media reports speculated that her death was due to a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol even though the medical examiner's office says it will take up to eight weeks for the toxicology report.

Whitney was one of America's favorite divas, even when she and former New Edition bad-boy, Bobby Brown, paraded their dysfunctional relationship before millions of viewers.

These tragic deaths remind us that celebrities are fallible. However, the world gets to see their foibles and faults in the glare of publicity. Likewise, millions of people--who don't know them--make rash judgements.

Celebrities' wealth and fame do not render them immune to mental or emotional problems. So, next time you look enviously at the life of a movie star, sports figure, or entertainer (even briefly), remember behind closed doors they struggle just like you and me. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Anonymous" hackers: cyber rebels?

Hackers are cyber rebels.

They brazenly penetrate "secure" computer systems and access e-mail communications of banks, law enforcement agencies, corporations, and credit card companies demonstrating their vulnerability.

Recently Anonymous, an amorphous collective of hackers, released audio segments of communication between Scotland Yard and the FBI.

The group has launched cyber attacks across the world closing down the government website in Sweden, breaking into Greece's Justice Department, and accessing personnel data at police stations in Boston, Syracuse, and Salt Lake City.

Their video taunt, "Expect Us."

Ironically, I am reading, Ghost in the Wires, My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon (Little Brown and Company, August 2011), now reformed and
a security consultant, co-author of two bestsellers, The Art of Deception and The Art of Intrusion.
Prior to his crossover from the dark side of hacking--into organizations such as Microsoft and Pacific Bell--Mitnick was pursued by the FBI and was one of U.S. Marshall's "most wanted."

Nonetheless, Mitnick served a total of 26 months--on three separate occasions--for breaking into phone company systems and downloading data and stealing files and manuals.

Today he heads Mitnick Security Consulting and speaks around the country about scams and security risks.

All of this makes me wonder. Just how safe are our personal histories, financial data, or personnel files? Personally, I think it is naive to think that any information is safe from hacking, whether benign or malicious. This is the price we say for continually emerging computer technologies.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Day: Do We Remember?

Today we commemorate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many of us, however, this translates into a day off work.

Dr. King's legacy seems of little relevance to Americans in the new millennium; the drama, violence, and controversy surrounding the civil rights movement long forgotten.

Vicious police actions against nonviolent protesters--using fire hoses and attack dogs--shocked the nation. On the other hand, those televised images to mobilize people of different religions, race, and economic status in the fight against segregation.

Bombings, murders, and church-burnings dominated newspaper headlines during this period of deep unrest.

Millions of Americans--black and white, male and female, straight and gay--have benefited from the courage of King and ordinary citizens who faced hostile crowds and indifferent law enforcement to bring about change.

It is inevitable that historical events lose less impact for later generations who did not witness or participate in them

Nonetheless, by recalling our nation's history, we recognize the price paid by others for rights we enjoy today, even in times of economic instability.

Monday, January 9, 2012

(Re-) Running Amok on TV

We all know what to expect from TV programmers on holidays---marathons (re-runs). Day-long replays of old series (Twilight Zone, Law and Order) can be entertaining for loyal fans; however, too many networks/channels, including Sy-Fy, Lifetime Movie Network (LMN), Investigation Discovery, and A&E fall back on old (often stale) programming.

The Premium channels are not much better. Most of them feature the same movies week after week. So, that extra $10 or $11 monthly charge does not assure that viewers will get new content.

This week, for example, HBO's roster includes Gladiator (2000),  Pulp Fiction (1994), Sixteen Candles (1984) and Missing (1982),

Cinemax's most recent movie is Sucker Punch (2011) and its oldest, Universal Soldier (1992).

Showtime offerings range from Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon (2011) to Serving Sara (2002).

Many of these movies are available at your local library for free!

Nonetheless, I (and millions like me) continue to pay for premium channels. Perhaps, we do so for the opportunity to an occasional hard-hitting documentary or original program whose content might not fly on the regular networks.

I only ask: HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime, please update your film archives from time to time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Politicians and Public Perception

"Few federal lawmakers must grapple with the financial ills -- unemployment, loss of housing, wiped out savings -- that have befallen millions of Americans,” said Sheila Krumholz, the Center for Responsive Politics’ executive director. “Congressional representatives on balance rank among the wealthiest of wealthy Americans and boast financial portfolios that are all but unattainable for most of their constituents.”  

You might have read last week that half of congressional members are millionaires--some multimillionaires. This fact does nothing to enhance the public's perception that lawmakers are out of touch with their constituents needs and concerns.

Many Americans live in fear of losing a job or not finding a job, incurring medical bills, keeping a home or selling one, getting out of debt, or just making ends meet. They want representatives who feel their desperation and care about their needs.

Some representatives, especially Republicans, do not support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans but have few qualms about stopping unemployment benefits.

Currently, Operation Wall Street is the only large-scale expression of the public's dissatisfaction with corporate greed and congressional ineptitude.

Perhaps, "Operation Capitol Hill" will be the next big movement with millions of Americans setting up tents in front of the halls of Congress.