Saturday, November 29, 2008

shop til you drop

I was dismayed to hear of the trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee on Long Island yesterday. He apparently got in the way of some overzealous shoppers and saw his life end for the sake of cheap electronics. News reports today say that officials are scouring security tape and looking for the perpetrators—the shoppers who physically ran him over. But really, they should go after Wal-Mart for not providing a safe, secure shopping environment.

Wal-Mart is well known for not giving a crap about its customers—nor its employees. Despite the feel-good rah rah cheer their employees do every day, Wal-Mart is one of the worst companies around as far as giving its workers fair benefits and fair wages. And the chain is notorious for being a dangerous place to shop because they refuse to offer any real parking lot security. (If you don't believe me, just google "Wal-Mart parking lot deaths"...or check out the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.)

That there are often mobs of people outside chain stores on Black Friday is nothing new. And with the current economic crisis playing right into Wal-Mart's business strategy, the company should have anticipated the masses and beefed up security accordingly. In particular, they should have provided structure—lines, crowd organizers—to the throngs of shoppers that were accumulating outside. Similar security planning is provided all the time: waiting for concert tickets, lining up for the first viewing of a new blockbuster movie, etc. When I went to see The Dark Night earlier this year on its first full day, the hullabaloo was pretty was the busiest I've ever seen a movie theater. And yet the theater had impeccable crowd control, and no one ever felt unsafe.

It'll be interesting to see if the family of the deceased decides to sue Wal-Mart. I'm no lawyer, but for my money, that's where the fault lies. Of course, if the family does so, it will be hit by the might of the Wal-Mart legal team, which would promise a nasty fight. Regardless, I'm just wondering how long it'll be before this becomes a Law & Order episode. I give it six months.

Update: The family indeed took took Wal-mart to court, but the big-box giant settled with the local DA, which allowed them to avoid criminal charges.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

throwing like a girl

I am totally psyched to report that a Japanese girl named Eri Yoshida has become the first female baseball player in Japan to be drafted by a professional men's team! Yoshida, who is 16 years old, was selected by the Kobe 9 Cruise team after wowing them during their tryouts. Barring injury, she should make her debut this April.

Yoshida is a pitcher who sports a rare sidearm knuckleball. For those of you not in the know, knuckleballs aren't particularly fast, but their movement is very odd, and they are therefore quite difficult to hit. Yoshida counts knuckleballer Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox as her hero, and she hopes to emulate him during her career. Yay, Eri!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

yes we more football!

A year ago, I posted a little opinion piece on the dreadful state of affairs in college football. Specifically, I mentioned that it's about time that NCAA Division I football run a proper playoff system. Well, it now appears that our new commander-
in-chief agrees with me.

In an interview with 60 Minutes this evening, President-elect Obama argued that he was going to "throw his weight around" the fact that he knows that football fans want playoffs. As it stands now, there is a complex and often inane system in place for picking the Division I teams that get to play in relatively meaningless "bowl games" at the end of the football season. Obama even came up with a plan: three weeks for eight teams to face off, similar to the way, oh, any other major sport does it at the end of their season.

In response, The New York Times interviewed Gordon Gee, the chancellor of Ohio State, about this very issue. Gordo seems to be firmly opposed—although he claims to be an "enormous" Obama fan. (I get to call him Gordo because Mr. Gee was the president of my university for all of two years before deciding he liked it better at football schools. Gee is now in his second tenure at Ohio State, and he followed his Ivy League stint with a stay at Vanderbilt. Heck, I even have photos of my fellow classmates sleeping during Gordo's rousing commencement speech. But I digress...) In response to the playoff question, Gee stated that he's looking forward to explaining to Obama why it's "not in the best interest of the academic integrity of our institutions."

I'm sorry, but that's just a lot of baloney. Everyone knows that football players already get special treatment. A playoff system isn't going to all of a sudden make them all Rhodes Scholars. Please make this happen, President-elect Obama. Sports fans of the world are counting on you!

Friday, November 14, 2008

michael crichton (1942-2008)

I was sad to hear of the passing of author Michael Crichton last week. I first remember reading Crichton when his popular novel Jurassic Park became an instant classic on the big screen. I also recall devouring some of his other works, such as Sphere and Rising Sun, on family vacations and feeling like I was reading a new kind of science fiction, a kind that reflected the truly possible. While he certainly wasn't the first author to try this type of writing, he became one of the best known of his generation. Some scientists would later criticize Crichton for using bad science in some of his books; in particular he has been called out for questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. But the fact remains that Crichton successfully wove narrative storytelling with actual science and technology to make realistic science fiction an exciting genre for a new generation of readers.

Of course, Crichton's books were easily adaptable into box office successes. I don't think anyone will ever hear the word "Jurassic" again without thinking of his fanciful story about turning dino DNA into real terrifying beasts. And I've lost count of the articles that have since speculated about bringing long-extinct animals back to life.

Crichton will leave the world with one more work, to be published posthumously. Assuming the author was aware of his medical condition during its writing, it'll be interesting to see whether Crichton throws down a final exclamation point on his storied career.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

songs for a new era

My mom forwarded me this thoughtful article about the difficulty of crafting a political song for the 21st century. So I thought I'd respond by compiling a little politics/election-themed mix.

People often complain about the dearth of guiding voices in the political music world today. While I'd agree that there are fewer artists known specifically for being activist singer-songwriters than there were, say, in the 1960s, I think there are plenty of artists out there writing and singing about politics—and making an important impact (Dixie Chicks, anyone?). This mix represents songs from the last two decades, but most of them are quite recent. Some of them may not be directly political, but I felt the subject matter was related enough to include. Enjoy!

Soft Revolution - Stars
Alarm Call - Björk
American Idiot - Green Day
North American Scum - LCD Soundsystem
It's a Hit - Rilo Kiley
Mr. President - Janelle Monae
To the Teeth - Ani DiFranco
Dear Mr. President - Pink, featuring Indigo Girls
Viva La Vida - Coldplay
Wish - Ellen Allien
Mosh - Eminem
Price of Gasoline - Bloc Party
Policy of Truth - Depeche Mode
An End Has a Start - Editors
Power to the Meek - Eurythmics
Stand Up (Mob Action Mix) - Superchick
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen