Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, April 29, 2010



Things got ugly in Kiev on Tuesday. Everyone knew the BLACK SEA FLEET was a contentious issue for Parliament...but few thought a FIST FIGHT would break out! It began with eggs being tossed at House Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn (try to pronounce that aloud!). He was urging lawmakers to come to a conclusion on the controversial naval base. But the eggs kept coming. Aides produced two umbrellas to shield Mr. Lytvyn from the deluge. But the eggs kept coming. Then came the smoke bomb...and smoke alarms...and brawls. And you thought NANCY PELOSI had it rough!

Why are the Ukrainians so mad at this base? Because it hits at the heart of the main question the nation faces: Are we WITH Russia or AGAINST Russia? Uh-oh! Do I smell a history lesson? Well, it's been a while since the GOLDEN AGE OF UKRAINE. It took place from 980 - 1150 and featured such great leaders as VLADIMIR THE GREAT and...my favorite...YAROSLAV THE WISE. Next, the 'bread-basket-of-the-steppes' switched from one empire to another, culminating with 'THE RUIN.' For thirty years, Russiasns, Poles, Turks and Cossacks fought a gruesome war over sovereignity of Ukraine, leaving it in...well...RUIN. How sad is Ukrainian History? They even spent 200 years under LITHUANIAN control!

Sorry about that...back to the base. Anyhow, in 1783, Imperial Russia built a naval base on the tip of Crimeria, deep in Ukrainian territory. It became their largest, dominated the Black Sea, and became a cornerstone of the Russian (and Soviet) military. But, when Ukraine gained independence from Russia in 1991, the naval base became a sore subject. The entrenched Russian navy refused to leave. Agreements were made to let Russia keep the prized Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol until the year 2017.

Which was all fine and good until elections last February. Simply put, the borders of Ukraine are poorly drawn. They include six Eastern provinces which should have been part of Russia. In this area, Russian is the dominant language and Russian Orthodox is the dominant faith. A leader from here, Viktor Yanukovych, won the recent elections. It was only a matter of time before he decided to push the button and bring up the idea of extending the lease on the base, enflaming tensions and sending parliament into chaos.

And when people get mad in the Ukraine, they grab the eggs. (You might not know this, but the EASTER EGG was born here!) And once you start a food fight, nothing good ever happens. Unfortunately, the same situation is occuring all over the former Soviet block, as new nations begin to dismantle seventy years of Soviet infrastructure. Let's face it: we've got a lot more conflict ahead. Let's just hope they stop throwing eggs!

NOTE: I posted a picture of opposition leader YULIA TYMOSHENKO because I've always loved her hair. AND, the photos of over-weight Ukrainian MP's wrestling in cheap suits were all very disturbing.

Friday, April 23, 2010


April 21 Iceland Volcano Can't Stop Love

Since last week's blog about the marriage of a Pakastani cricket captain to an Indian tennis star was SO popular, (O comments...WOW!) I decided to blog about another wedding ceremony--under duress--that occured this week. In the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction place known as WORLD NEWS, volcanic eruptions in remote Iceland paralyzed air travel across Europe. NOTE: When I first heard this item, I thought: If this were a movie plot, instead of real life, everyone would say: 'The screenplay of DEATH CLOUD was so un-realistic--that could never happen!'

Anyhow, back to the wedding. The closing of European airports effected people worldwide, especially SEAN MARTAGH and NATALIE MEAD. They were on holiday in Dubai and were unable to return to London for their wedding reception. They had already been married in a small civil ceremony, but were planning a big event being with friends and family. Unfortunately, they couldn't return home in time to attend their own wedding.

Rather than cancel and reschedule everyone, Sean and Natalie decided to go ahead anyhow. They set up a SKYPE connection and performed the ceremony online. The pastor in charge, CAROLINE BLACK, agreed and later commented on how easy it was. Everyone in the East London reception hall dined and danced the night away. They chatted with the newlyweds via a laptop. (See photo)

But the best part about this story wasn't what happened in East London, it was about what happened in Dubai. Dozens of fellow travelers were also stranded at the MILLENNIUM AIRPORT HOTEL. When news spread about the impromtu service, everyone got involved. A suit was donated for the groom. A gown was found for the bride. The furniture in the center lobby was turned into a makeshift wedding chapel. The hotel staff hastly prepared a three-tier cake. It was nothing short of absolutely amazing, said the thankful bride.

My father's favorite quote is: "Turn your negetives into positives." Which is exactly what the guests of the Millennium Airport Hotel did. Rather that sulk and demoan the chances of a volcano in ICELAND keeping them stranded in the ARABIAN DESERT, they took a different approach: Let's have a wedding. Complete strangers worked together and had an experience they'll never forget. Just a reminder to bloom where you are planted.

Thursday, April 15, 2010



Today's blog resembles the classic Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet. Only instead of competing FAMILIES we have competitive NATIONS. On one side, we have the mighty Capulet family (INDIA) who dominate the region . On the other side, we find the rival Montegue family (PAKISTAN) who aspire to similar greatness. The two are not at war, but engage in constant skirmishes with each other.

In this version of the classic play, Juliet is represented by SANIA MIRZA. A famous tennis star, she is the FIRST INDIAN WOMAN to win a WTA title. However, she is also a constant source of controversy, as many conservatives disapprove of her short skirts. Our Romeo is SHOAIB MALIK. He's the former captain of the PAKISTANI CRICKET TEAM, which is by far the most popular sport in the former British colony. Both are tabloid favorites in their respective nations, as they are not only talented athletes but beautiful celebs as well.

Just as the Montegues and Capulets fought, so do India and Pakistan. The British Empire grouped them in the same colony. But when post-war independence came, it became apparant the two could never exist together. Just as in a fairy tale, when the clock struck midnight on August 14, 1947 things turned ugly. Two new and independent nations were created. Violent riots followed, with refugees scurrying across the new international borders. Diplomatic hatred has dominated relations between the two for the next sixty years.

But back to our play. The next scene is a sports award show, where our two famous athletes meet and fall in love. Both lovers know how they will be recieved at home...with hatred and animosity. Nonetheless, their love is too great and they announce their engagement to marry. For months, the TIMES OF INDIA and the KARACHI DAILY NEWS have run scandolous front-page stories about the two. HE has a former fiancee. HER family objects. Nevertheless, on Monday, in a lovely ceremony in Hyderabad, the two took their vows and became man and wife.

Wait a second! Romeo and Juliet never got married! Indeed, this version of Shakespeare is no tragedy. The two are now happily honeymooning. It seems love does conquer hate. And who knows? Maybe the Pakistanis who spend their days plotting to bomb famous Bombay hotels will see this and have second thoughts. Maybe those Indians who burn the homes of Islamic neighbors will as well. After all, we're all just people who can fall in love with anyone, regardless of what everyone else thinks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010



When the EURO made its highly anticipated debut in 1999, Milton Freidman decided the crash the party. The Nobel-Prize-Winning Economist boldly predicted the new currency's demise. He proclaimed that: "The Euro will not survive Europe's first economic crisis." He noted that a floating currency exchange responds to a specific nation's slump with lower exchange rates. With the Euro in effect, this no longer exists. When one nation fails, everyone fails.

Eleven years later, Mr. Freidman's quote was put to the test. After months of teetering on the edge, debt-ridden Greece could be ignored no longer. As an EU member Greece must keep her deficit to 3% of GDP. So when it got to 12%, the other nations had to step in. Athens needed $75 billion in bonds alone to stay afloat. The EURO-ZONE had Brussels abuzz with conferences, meetings and press conferences. Finally they came to a decision: Germany must bail Greece out.

With the deepest pockets in Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed and the Euro was saved. However, back in Germany, Merkel's approval ratings slipped to an all-time low. She was abruptly reminded that polls showed (back in the 1990's) that the German PEOPLE were clearly not in favor of scapping their precious Mark. German POLITICIANS ignored this and went ahead with the Euro. To someone in Berlin, the fact that hard-earned German money is going to lazy Greek state employees is simply intolerable.

While the Euro has survived this crisis, pundits are still not convinced it can survive the next one. Other EURO-ZONE nations are also teetering on the brink of economic meltdown. They have been grouped together: Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece. They are known by their acronym: THE PIGS. They're lazy, smelly and wallow in the mud. They will destroy the EURO.

And while Northern Europe berates the South, they do have to realize one major problem with THE PIGS is their own doing. A good portion of the economies of these four Mediterranean nations are tourism-based. When economic recessions occur, people stop taking expensive vacations. So if the Germans really want to save their OWN economy, they better start buying pricey package deals to Ibiza and Santorini! How about THAT for an economic solution, Mr. Friedman?

Friday, April 9, 2010



What? You've never heard of Kyrgyzstan? It's the Best 'Stan' of them all! Pronounced KEER - GHAZ - STAN, it's a favorite of trivia buffs. It's one of the few nations in the world that is DOUBLE LAND-LOCKED, meaning not only is it land-locked, but all the nations that border it are also land-locked. That means it's about as far from an ocean as you can get!

But what makes Kyrgyzstan the best 'stan' of them all? (STAN is a Sanskrit word meaning 'land'). Well, it's the only 'stan' that actually allowed us to have an airforce base on their territory. Granted, we do pay the Kyrgyz Government $60 million annually to rent the enormous area...but to have a 'stan' as a friend is truly unique. The other 'stans' just aren't as nice. Earlier this week, US consulate was assaulted by a militia in PakiSTAN, killing scores. Last month, there was an anti-US rally in TajikiSTAN. And don't even get me started about BaluchiSTAN!

So why is this air base so important? If you look on a map, you'll notice the proximity of KyrgyzSTAN to AfghaniSTAN. Hence, an average of thirty sorties are flown daily between the two nations. (Think of Manas Air Force Base as the O'Hara 'hub' of wartime Central Asia.) So that's why the US and Kyrgyzstan have become such great friends: We have so much to offer each other!

But just when friendships bloom, sometimes they sour. And with friendly nations, the number one reason why allies part is the dreaded REGIME CHANGE. Last week, the capital of Bishkek was ravaged by riots, killing 75 people. All buildings of value were looted. President Bakiyev was forced to flee to the south. A rebel militia has claimed power, whose leader has claimed he will terminate the lease with the USA when it expires this June. What a bummer!

So the fate of the Manas (Cleverly named after the George Washington of Kyrgyzistan) Air Force lies in the hands of a rebel militia leader. The real question is: Will $60 million be enough to keep our new friend happy? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


April 6


Like March Madness, another treasured college tradition is to head south for SPRING BREAK and go absolutely bananas at a beach resort. First made popular in the '50's when Elvis and Doris Day went to Fort Lauderdale, students now go beyond Palm Springs and South Padre Island to resorts in Mexico as well.

Unfortunately, the only news items out of Mexico these days in involve horrid gang violence. In Cuidad Juarez alone, some 2,600 people were murdered last year, making it one of the world's most violent. In response, many universities have warned students not to cross the border at all this year. USC sent out the state department's e-mail warnings to all of its students. And while normally 100,000 students make the trip to Mexico each Spring, this year the figures are down.

All of which has the Mexican tourism officials (and the Corona brewery) very concerned. They launched a campaign called "Mexico: Time to go!" It attempts to show that the warnings ONLY apply to border towns, like Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana. Meanwhile, they rank the safest resorts, with Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo on top. And, having visited two of these cities earlier this year, I saw no difference in public safety than before.

The biggest test came in a city not on the list of safe resorts: Acapulco. MTV had made plans to have their annual SPRING BREAK shows air from there. But, only a week before filming, a dozen people were killed in two days of violence. The Mexican Army gave MTV complete assurances everything would go smoothly, and judging from these photos, everything went as planned: PARTY ON WAYNE!!

It's nice to see that some Americans still have faith and visited our neighbor, who provides a great place to vacation at a great price. Let's just hope Americans will stop buying Mexican drugs and selling them American weapons!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


March 22

It's that time! March Madness takes over the nation. The NBA and NHL must sit aside and jealoulsy watch as the NCAA takes over coveted TV ratings and media coverage. And, every March, people debate about the basketball tournement. Is the Madness a good thing or a bad thing? And no where else is the madness more contested than the dreaded OFFICE POOLS. Every March, new studies and articles abound about the pros and cons of this controversial matter.

It's the same articles every year. In 2010, the amount of 'unproductive wages' lost to workers doing March Madness Pools stands at a whopping $1.8 billion. It's estimated that 45% of corporate employees participate in some form of a pool. Many workers recieve scary e-mails about the evils of the pools. Most notable this year was one from the Department of Defence, where Major April Cunningham warned that pools are: "NOT AUTHORIZED OR PERMITTED."

And, every March, there are studies and articles in support of the pool. Most notable this year was one from Kansas State Univiersity. It determined that the pools "improve worker morale." It's hard to achieve a happy workplace, and the pools help employees do the elusive bonding that supervisors treasure. The KSU report referenced a Dallas painting manufacuturer who found that although work time was undoubtedly lost, employees checked on things even when 'not on the clock.' With texting and twits, workers remained in touch with each other at night during the games. Talk about Madness!

But nothing about MARCH MADNESS was more disturbing than a report by the ABC NEWS affiliate in Chicago. They interviewed local surgeons and found that vesectomy operations double during the month of March. Why? Because recovery from the procedure requires men to stay in bed, icing their testicles for a week. Now guys have a MEDICAL REASON for taking sick leave during the basketball tourney. The report also mentioned that a vesectomy is a reversable procedure, so you could do this every March.



Jan 4

It's a sad day in Tapei. As of today, Jan 4th, the tallest building in the world, Tapei 101, is now the SECOND tallest in the world. This coveted distinction, once held by the Empire State Building for decades, now belongs to construction-crazed Dubai with the opening of the Badj Khalifa at 2,716 feet. The ceremonies were just as impressive as the building itself, complete with skydivers, massive crowds and 10,000 fireworks.

One can only guess that Dubai had wished the massive, multi-billion dollar project had been completed sooner. It was only last month that Dubai's financial woes were grabbing headlines. Oil-rich neighbor Abu Dhabi loaned Dubai $10 billion to stay afloat. And a decent amount went to payoff Dubai's new skyscraper and the accompanying festivities.

History often shows that cities that seek the all-important moniker of TALLEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD soon end up shifting funds elsewhere. New York City has ceased its pursuit as did Hong Kong, Shanghai and Malaysia. Tapei has no plans to raise the bar either. And it looks like Dubai is following suit as it comes to terms with its ravenous spending on frivolous construction projects. The only question is: Who will try to top Dubai?


Jan 8
Italian motorcyclist Luca Manca remains in critical condition following acrash during the famed Dakar Rally. The confusing part is that he isbeing treated at a hospital in Argentina, a hemisphere away. I did some research and found out why.
The famed Paris to Dakar rally began in 1978 and quickly became the stuff of legends. Teams roared out of the French capital in off-road trucks and motorcycles, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar then sped across the mighty Sahara Desert to the remote port city of Dakar thousands of miles away. Only the most hearty (and crazy) racers dared risk their lives in the most macho of all off road derbies.
Problems arouse four years ago when Mauritania, one of the large barren nations the racers cross, fell into internal conflict. Islamic nationalists were accused of rigging elections in the capital, so miliant groups began claiming to rule isolated provinces as a result. This was all deemed too dangerous for race officials, so the famed competition was cancelled altogether in 2008.
Demand for the event did not disappear, so the entire race was moved across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, to the similarly harsh conditions of the Atacama Desert. Curiously, it's still called the DAKAR rally, even though in now ends in BUENOS AIRES. The real question is how long will the race continue? With people like Manca in critical condition, and with the high environmental toll, will this "Indiana Jones" event survive in the new decade? For now, the answer is yes...just tune into the 'Versus' cable channel for your daily updates!


Jan 12


Although the new decade is barely two weeks old, that DOES mean we do have TWO weeks of Billboard Hot 100 singles charts. And KE$HA's hot song, TiK ToK (Yes...it's really spelled that way!) is firmly rooted in the top-spot. She's also set sales records on the i-Tunes downloading chart. She recently performed on Ellen DeGeneres Show and Conan O'Brian. Yep, the 2010's are all about Ke$ha (Yes...she really spells it that way!)

So why am I mocking Ke$ha so much? Spelling aside, TiK ToK is an upbeat, highly catchy, over-produced slice of pop music heaven. Perhaps I'm just mocking Ke$ha’s message to millions of teenage girls who have TiK ToK downloaded on their i-Pod and have memorized all the lyrics. In the song, Ke$ha brags she's "Got plenty of beer" and that "Boys are trying to touch her junk, junk." And she claims: "Before I leave, I brush me teeth with a bottle of Jack, ‘cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back.”

It's a new trend in pop music, and Ke$ha is just following the artist sitting behind her at number two on today's charts: Lady GaGa. (Speaking of sophisticated lyrics, in LoveGame, Gaga sings: "this beat is sick, I wanna take a ride on your disco stick.")  But you really can't blame either 'lady.' Kesha Rose Sebert is a 22 year-old from the San Fernando Valley. Raised by a single mother, her childhood involved small apartments and food stamps. For years, she tried relentlessly to self-promote herself, once allegedly sneaking into Prince's house to give him demo! Likewise, Lady GaGa spent years toiling around New York producers hoping for a break. So when you DO get a chance at being #1, you simply go for it...no matter how much your mother will hate the lyrics!
Let's just hope they start spelling better!

Note: (3/1/10): Tik Tok stayed at #1 for nine weeks, making it one of the biggest songs of all time.


Jan 14

The earthquake and subsequent chaos that has engulfed Haiti has shocked people worldwide. The chances of a once-in-a-20-year of a natural disaster striking the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere is a cruel turn of events. But one has to wonder: Why is Haiti so poor? Haiti's size and climate is very similar to other Caribbean nations…yet living conditions are completely different. For example, nearby Barbados boasts the third highest standard of living in the Northern Hemisphere (behind Canada and the US). What makes Haiti so different?

The answer is found during the colonial period. In the 1700’s, Europe was obsessed with sugar. Unavailable to the masses until recently, delicate sweets became a luxury desired by everyone, driving demand and prices for raw sugar to astronomical heights. Like our modern unquenchable thirst for oil, nations scrambled to produce the product by any means possible. The result was a triangular system of trade: African laborers were brought to Caribbean islands to produce sugar for Europe.

While the story of African slaves in not new to anyone in the world, many don't understand the enormous differences between the numbers of Africans imported to specific nations. Estimates are from 1600 to 1800 the French imported 850,000 slaves to Haiti. This figure is the highest to any colony in the world. To compare, estimates are the USA/13 colonies imported a total of 420,000--half the amount. But the starling difference is that Haiti is the same size as the state of Maryland.

France created a human sugar factory in Haiti. By 1750, half of the world’s sugar came from the tiny colony. Unrest quelled as the ratio of slaves to whites was 10 to 1. A bloody revolution made Haiti became the second nation to gain independence in the Western Hemisphere in 1804. Unfortunately, during the 1800's modern sugar mills evolved and the need for copious amounts of labor disappeared. Haiti, with a high population density, little infrastructure and no education began a long, painful slide into abject poverty.

Ironically, colonies that stayed part of European empires fared much better. They would diversify economically and continue to grow (albeit unequally) like their mother countries. Many, like Barbados, are part of the British Commonwealth. Others, like Martinique and Aruba, are still overseas territories of France and Holland. None have the high poverty levels of Haiti.
It’s sad that we often need natural disasters to make us aware of situations around the world, but let’s hope the more we learn about the history of places like Haiti, the better prepared the world will be for the next earthquake.
And France should be at the top of list of donor nations!


Jan 19


It has been truly amazing to witness the heartfelt and sincere sympathy the American people have shown to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. For the past week, it has dominated our (oh so many) forms of communication. We’ve had tons of newspaper articles, TV / Cable NewsNetwork reports, YouTube videos, Twitter comments, etc. Everywhere people are genuinely concerned about the fragile situation in Haiti.

And it’s shown in financial contributions. According to London’s Guardian newspaper, US donations have accounted for 65% of all worldwide contributions to Haiti. This includes US government, charities and…most surprisingly…from private citizens. It’s even become a bit of a contest amongst Hollywood celebs to see who can give (and promise) the most. One of the Jonas Brothers even said he was “thinking” of flying down to help out!
It is also interesting how the rest of the world is reacting to our actions in Haiti. While our allies in Europe and Asia are encouraging, coverage in other parts of the world is becoming unsettling. Some news agencies have even gone as far as to question if we are invading yet another nation for political gain. Defense spokespeople insist our military is in control of the airport and main highways to ONLY to insure that aid reaches the victims. Unfortunately, these comments will never reach many parts of the world, where state-controlled news networks will show scenes of US tanks rolling through Port-au-Prince. The news-casters will say whatever they want about what is the US is doing in Haiti.
Any American who has traveled overseas in the last decade knows how the rest of the world feels about US foreign policy: “I like Americans, I don’t like their government.” It’s true, our military has a pretty big presence overseas: We currently occupy two foreign capitals, Baghdad and Kabul. So when our military takes over Port-au-Prince, even if only for purely humanitarian reasons, many around the world will end up viewing our intentions incorrectly.

Let’s just hope the next time someone gets ready to burn a US flag in Venezuela, Iran or the Gaza strip, they might think twice. Maybe we aren’t so bad after all! American response to the earthquake in Haiti has been amazing…what have YOU done to help, Mr. Ademijhad?


Jan 21

It’s January. Once again, I find myself breaking another New Year’s Resolution: NO AMERICAN IDOL. But I can’t help it! I tune in and say:“Hey, I’ll only watch a half hour or so.” But…before I know it…the whole family has gathered, glued to the TV. Soon everyone is screaming, gleaming, discussing: ‘No, he can’t sing.’ ‘What are you talking about? She’s great!’ ‘OHMYGOD That was gross!’ Let’s face it, American Idol provides everything: Comedy, Debate, Tragedy, Anguish, Elation. You simply just can’t turn away.

But don’t take my opinion, the stats back it up: It recently passed up ALL IN THE FAMILY as the only show to be #1 in Neilson ratings for six years straight. But what separates AMERICAN IDOL from other TV shows is its appeal AROUND THE WORLD. People in Singapore or South Africa would never love Archie Bunker. But they ADORE Idol! Credit Simon Fuller’s amazing format: Auditions, competitions, disgruntled Judges and a final vote from the people themselves. It captivates and makes one feel part of the show.

My son asked me during one of the long commercial breaks (An hour ofAmerican Idol is 40% commercials) about other shows in different countries. He wanted to know which countries had Idol shows as well. SoI did research and came up with some amazing results. ‘Idol’ shows have reached six continents. From ‘Canadian Idol’ to ‘Slovenian Idol’ there’s one to be found almost anywhere on earth. So I thought it would be fun to try a game. I’ve selected twenty countries from around the world. First, you have to guess if that country has a ‘Simon Fuller’ version of Idol. (There are plenty of knock-offs and plenty of lawsuits!). Then, you can get ‘bonus points’ if you know the name of the show in that nation. Good luck.


USA Yes American Idol
AUSTRALIA Yes Australian Idol
UK Yes Pop Idol*
INDONESIA Yes Indonesian Idol
GREECE Yes Greek Idol
TURKEY Yes Turk Star
VIETNAM Yes Vietnam Idol
FRANCE Yes Nouvelle Star**
ESTONIA Yes Eesti ostib superstari***
CUBA No --
IRAN No --
BRAZIL Yes Idolos Brazil
KENYA Yes ‘Idols East Africa’****
GERMANY Yes Deutchland Superstar
SLOVENIA Yes Cesko Slovenska Superstar
IRAQ Yes ‘Super Star: Middle East’

*The original idol
** The first rip-off
*** Winner was youngest ever
**** Part of larger idols show


Jan 26
The weekend box office results are in and the winner is in: Again. Yes, it’s AVATAR, an enormously successful science fiction thriller. It has now grossed $1.85 billion worldwide, knocking off TITANIC as the biggest movie moneymaker of all time. It’s seems those funny blue aliens have taken over our wallets: It's certain to become the first film ever to top TWO billion dollars. Which is more than the Gross Domestic Product of a small African nation. (Sorry, Guinea-Bissau!)
Okay…let’s dig a little deeper into these eye-popping figures. First of all, these stats are not adjusted for INFLATION. 1n 2009, the average US movie ticket is around $8.00…more in 3D. In the thirties, people simply didn't pay that much to see GONE WITH THE WIND. In fact, if we do the math, the 1939 classic is STILL the all-time box office champ, way ahead of STAR WARS (#2) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (#3). On the same inflation-adjusted charts, Avatar would end up at #26, just behind GREASE. Impressive, but not exactly the superlative the headline suggests.
What is more interesting about AVATAR is how QUICKLY it made $2 billion. It only took a matter of weeks! It invaded every Cineplex from Alaska to Puerto Rico. In addition to the domestic gross, the movie had huge openings all around the world. These days, most blockbusters have a series of star-studded, red carpet premiers, first in Hollywood, then traveling to London, Paris, Tokyo etc. This drums up local media coverage. (Tom Cruise has a loyal following at Leicester Square these days.) In short, the entire planet has been bombarded with AVATAR.

Finally, it shows just how cleaver director JAMES CAMERON really is. They all laughed when he spent record sums to make Titanic, yet everyone saw that three-hour epic. Will AVATAR also win 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director?

NOTE: (3/10/10): Avatar did not win for Best Picture or Director.


Jan 28

Earlier this week, General Motors sold the Saab Automobile Company to theDutch auto maker Spyker. Never heard of Spyker? Well, you’re not alone. It’s a tiny (133 employees) Dutch company specializing in hand-built sports cars. Last year they only produced 37 cars. Speculation is rampant that Saab, the venerable car company, is on the automotive endangered species list. While this story seems major, it received little media attention. On BBC World News, it was the second to the last story. My local paper buried somewhere between the classified ads and Marmaduke.

We’re talking about Saabs here! Everywhere in world you go, you see a Saab! But can you really blame the media? We are so bombarded with news items about seeming untouchable corporations merging, and possibly dissolving, that newspapers, websites and TV news have relegated them to lower status. Although Saabs will still be produced this year, it is still alarming that something so iconic as a Saab may be yet another victim of our current economic crisis.

Another interesting aspect of this story is the irony that a ten-year old company who builds race cars is merging with a 74 year old company that builds safe cars. The Swedish company boats a host technological advancements over the years. In the 1950’s Saab became the first car manufacturer worldwide to make SEAT BELTS standard on every model. From little things like inventing window wipers to big things like the developing the first ever 16-valve turbo charged engine, Saab research has made all cars safer and better. But let’s face it: The numbers for Saab are not pretty. In 2008, it sold 94,000 cars. In 2009, they only sold 39,000 cars. This decline does not bode well for 2010, does it? Let’s face it, from an economic standpoint, GM really had no choice but unload the once bankable company to whoever would take it.

Hopefully, the economic tides will turn again, and Saab, something as quintessentially Swedish as Abba, will rise again.


Feb 1

When President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, millions of people around the world contemplated the obvious: How can a man who is currently waging war win an award for peace? Earlier this week, another curious question arose: How can a man who sells weapons of war win an award for peace?

Well, both events are now occurring. We continue to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the State Department just finalized a deal to sell over $6 billion dollars worth of military equipment to Taiwan. The pact demonstrates two things: Just how badly the US Government REALLY needs some cash at the moment and just how much Taiwan loves increasing its armed forces to anger the People’s Republic of China. Hmmm, with the new Tomahawk helicopters, Taiwan just might be thinking about retaking Pengchiaya Island, which is claimed by both nations.

Not really. The Taiwanese will more likely use their Tomahawk helicopters to rescue flooded typhoon victims than to invade disputed Chinese islands. But, with other nations, it’s not so clear. A much larger issue at stake is the very high number of nations around the world who receive US-made weaponry. Let’s face it: every continent (but Antarctica) has some military machinery branded “Made in USA” on it. Are we really confident that the Colombian army is using our guns ONLY to fight the Drug War?

Indeed, the most frightening part of selling guns and ammo to other nations is the unthinkable possibility of regime change. Although it makes US politicians nervous, we must remember that we did supply arms to Iraq during their war with neighboring Iran. Many of these arms have gone unaccounted for since Saddam’s overthrow. Some have undoubtedly been used to kill US military personnel in Iraq today.
Please, President Obama, remember to look at the Nobel PEACE prize next time you decide to shower another nation with weapons of WAR.


Feb 5

It’s almost here! The best day of the year: SUPER BOWL SUNDAY. Forget about Christmas, the Fourth of July or even my birthday, I love Super Bowl Sunday. On other Sundays, there’s chores and church--it’s just not acceptable to spend the whole day eating fatty foods and watching football on the couch. But not on SUPER BOWL SUNDAY—Heck, it’s an American tradition to be a coach potato!

But SUPER BOWL SUNDAY wasn’t always like this. Before we break open the chips and salsa, let’s take a moment to thank the pioneers back in the 1960’s who made this all possible. First, let’s thank NFL commissioner PETE ROZELLE. At the time, pro football lived in the shadows of college football. Pro football had two separate leagues, the AFL and NFL who never played each other. Both scrambled for fans, media attention and--most importantly--TV coverage. It was Pete, who first proposed a championship game between the two to boost pro football’s image and viewership.

Next up, let’s thank LAMAR HUNT. The owner of the Kansas City Chiefs also had dreams of grandeur for pro football. He was instrumental in getting the AFL to agree to the championship game. Note: The first Super Bowl was actually called the AFL / NFL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Rozelle wanted to call it THE BIG ONE, but it was Hunt who came up with the term SUPER BOWL. He was inspired by his kids who were playing with a super ball. You can see that famous rubber ball on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. (How’s that for SUPER BOWL TRIVIA?)

A lot has changed since January 15, 1967. The Los Angeles Colosseum didn’t sell out, as $20 tickets were quite pricey. As a result, the game was blacked out across LA. Another tidbit: The game was broadcast on both CBS and NBC, as neither one would agree to give up their league rights. College bands, not rock stars, performed at halftime. Yet one thing didn’t change: Football, TV and Sundays would be forever together.


Feb 10

If you’ve ever been to a McDonald’s in a foreign country, you’ve discovered that most things are the same: Those delicious Big Macs, hot French fries, and tasty shakes can be found everywhere. Then there are unique items added to the menu in a specific country. In Hong Kong, you can order sides of rice and noodles. A McDonald’s in Germany will serve sauerkraut. But never before has the fast-food giant been so brazen as it was last week when it introduced the MC-ITALY sandwich.

There’s an old marketing saying: “Any publicity is good publicity.” Well, McDonald’s is certainly putting this old adage to the test with this new ‘sandwich.’ Italy is ablaze in media fury. It seems all of Italian culture has been terminated by this outrageous act of this culinary terrorism. One has to wonder if someone at the McDonald’s Corporate Headquarters just received a heavy raise or got fired.

So what is the McItaly Sandwich? It’s basically a cheeseburger, only with Asiago cheese instead of whatever it is they put on cheeseburgers here. Also, instead of a sesame-seed bun, the McItaly uses pan all’olio, a yummy, olive-oil-infused bread. But most importantly, it comes with a side-salad made entirely from ITALIAN-GROWN produce. Which will mean 1,000 tons of local products purchased every month by McDonald’s, according to the Italian Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia.

In fact, this is what has so many Italians angry. The McItaly was unveiled in Rome, at the McDonald’s on the Via del Corso. In a staged ceremony, Minister Zaia donned a McDonald’s bright red apron and began serving burgers to the media. All across Europe, people remain divided about the Golden Arches. Many look with disgust when a chain restaurant invades historic towns. To have a minister serve up burgers was truly shocking.
Whatever-We need more fast food Asiago cheese here!


Feb 18

This week, an important news item was carefully kept out of mass circulation: the unveiling of MTV’s new logo. You’re asking yourself: Why would MTV ever stray away from publicity? They never have in the past! Well, perhaps MTV is worried you might notice the slight difference between the old and new logos: The new one is missing the words: “MUSIC TELEVISION.”

On one hand, one must congratulate MTV for at least admitting they don’t play any music anymore. The only music you’ll hear is in background at the bar when J-Woww and Snooki (did I spell those right?) are fighting on ‘Jersey Shore.’ So in this respect, bravo, MTV!! The once MUSIC network is now the MORON network. But for many of us, this random February day in 2010 will be a television milestone. Especially for those of us who remember the ‘launch’ of MTV back in 1981. After junior high school, we would scramble to whichever friend’s house had cable TV. We’d watch our beloved VJ’s Martha Quinn and J.J. Jackson. We’d anxiously count down the days for the release of new Michael Jackson and Duran Duran video. For us, MTV was the coolest channel EVER.

The problem is that MTV will always try to be the coolest network of teens. Hence, it is forced to keep up with the times. Ten years ago, it was Beevus and Butthead who pulled in the viewers. Before that it was Pauly Shore and a host of other semi-rebellious hosts that held sway in the teen ratings. And today, music videos are in realm of You-Tube and I-tunes. Television is the home of raunchy reality shows.

Perhaps the best sign that MTV cared desperately for its teen demographic came a couple of years ago, when the network turned 25 years old. MTV barely celebrated and also did its best to keep the item out of mass media circulation. No concerts or countdowns or anything. Why?
Because every teen knows that being twenty-five is…like…soooo OLD!!


Feb 23

Yesterday, the head of NATO military operations in Afghanistan Stanley McCrystal issued an official apology to Afghan president Hamid Karzai. It was in response to a recent US-Marine led offensive. While much of the Taliban-held province is being liberated, dozens of non-combat civilians have been killed. Most died on Feb. 22, when an aerial assault went horribly wrong and missed its target by miles, landing in Marjah, a populated section of Helmand province.

Prior to the incident, Karzai had agreed to let NATO forces operate in the Marjah region, only after assurances from McCrystal that no civilians would be involved. So it was particularly embarrassing for our commander to issue the statement. While an investigation is being conducted to determine what when wrong at Marjah, the dark side of US troops operating overseas was unmasked. Too often, our technologically advanced weaponry makes tragic mistakes and innocent people are killed.

Unfortunately, civilians are often unwilling victims in civil conflicts around the world. The three-headed monster of Hamas, Fatah and the Israeli army seem to unintentionally kill someone every week. That’s what happens when wars are fought in cities instead of battlefields—everyday people become involved. What’s interesting is how are media refers to such people. Sometimes, they’re civilians. Other times, they’re townspeople or…the worst yet…villagers. But rarely ever are they called citizens.

It’s true…your nation’s status determines one’s status as an individual. All American and Western Europeans are prized citizens. Accidental deaths of these people are front-page news, complete with detailed obituaries and biographies. However, if you’re born in a lesser-known nation and you happen to be killed, the media will mention you only in passing. We declare that ‘All men are created equal.’
Just so long as you’re not an Afghani.


March 2

What a successful Winter Olympics for North America! The USA set a record for most OVERALL medals with 37. Host nation CANADA also set a record by capturing 14 GOLD medals. Finally, after decades of being bullied by Europe, North America kicked butt!

But one has to wonder: Did the USA and Canada really field their best athletes in 90 years of Winter Olympics or was the COMPETITON not as competitive? No offense to our AMAZING athletes…BUT…while we achieved great heights, other nations also achieved great lows. Most notable in this category: RUSSIA. The once dominant power finished 6th in overall medals—the first time ever NOT to finish in the top five. For the first time in 64 years, not a single Russian managed to medal in figure skating, a sport they had dominated forever. Oksana Baiul must be furious!

She’s not alone. Folks in Moscow are not pleased. Russian Presdient Menedev asked for the head of the Olympic Committee to resign. Prime Minister Putin said: “We shouldn’t be whipping ourselves with chains, but this is a disappointment.” While Dmitry and Vladimir’s concerns are understandable, they must realize how Olympic training changes when Communism disappears. Gone are the huge, state funded budges to assure nationalism and sports success. Let’s face it: In China, prospective Olympians train for years in federal camps away from home. But in non-socialists nations it’s different. In the USA--as NBC repeatedly reminded us--parents take out second mortgages to pay for a kid’s training expenses.

But let’s not cry for Russia just yet. With the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, the former resort of Russian empirical aristocracy, one has to assume the land of ballet and Tsciachovsky will rise again.

Let’s just hope Putin stops whipping himself with chains!


March 10

Last night at the Academy Awards, the little guy beat the big boss. The HURT LOCKER won Best Picture. It was made with the tiny budget of $11 million (tiny? We’re talking Hollywood here!). It beat out the most expensive movie ever made, AVATAR which cost whopping $400 million to film. It nabbed Best Picture and Best Director and continued a trend: Academy voters chose a film involving current events over fictional themes.
And what current event could be more relevant to American audiences than the Iraq War? It’s a conflict we are all taxed for yet understand very little about. Overall, the HURT LOCKER has received positive response from Iraqi war veterans as an accurate portrait of the conflict. The screenplay was written by Mark Doal, a journalist embedded in an US army unit. Particularly of note was Doal’s portrayal of the relationship between US servicemen and Iraqi citizens, including many children.

For me, this was the most disturbing part of the movie, and the war in general. Our forces are marshaled in secure bases and the notorious GREEN ZONE, a part of downtown Baghdad surrounded by heavily armed walls. Interactions between soldiers and civilians are tense and always involve immense Humvees and loaded machine guns. The HURT LOCKER shows us how the war is mainly being fought in family neighborhoods.

To historians, this is a step backwards. In the ancient world, there was no distinction between soldiers and civilians. When Rome invaded Cathage in the 3rd Punic War, they burned the city to the ground, killed all men and enslaved women and children. Over time, battles slowly shifted from city streets to remote battlefields. Napoleon was defeated on the isolated fields of Waterloo. World War I was slugged out on unpopulated trenches.

Over the last century, civilians have been dragged back into armed conflict. TV shows us more and more crying mothers staggering away from a destroyed home. As in Vietnam, armies don’t appear on the plains of Gettysburg. Rather, they lurk around, planting bombs on city streets. The principles of warfare have retreated backward, becoming less organized and less civilized.

No one will forget that our current global conflict began with the initial 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden decided that innocent citizens are now defined by nationality or religion, and not as individuals. The HURT LOCKER shows how this horrible trend continues and deserves to win Best Picture for making this relevant, if painful, point.


March 18

I always love watching the news on St. Patrick’s Day. I love to see the marching parades, the Chicago River turned green, and even the White House fountain spewing up green water (Obama is from Chicago, you know!). But as with many Americanized holidays, we have taken a concept and commercialized it into something completely different from the original idea. The actual story of St. Patrick would make for a great Hollywood movie (Are you reading, JAMES CAMERON??)

Here's how the legend goes: Patrick was born in England...way back  in the year 387. At the time, the distant Roman province was only just learning of Christianity.  The Roman emperor Constantine had converted to the once banned faith a couple of decades earlier. The land was in constant threat from raiding barbarians, and at age 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish mercenaries. For the next six years, he lived as a slave somewhere in Ireland. While imprisoned as a shepherd, he learned to speak Gaelic.

It was during these lonely times, alone on the fields, that visions came to Patrick. Visions of wondrous things.  Our hero managed to escape as a castaway on a ship bound for England. Once he returned, he told the church of his plight on Ireland...being a slave, being whipped, etc.  But what the priests really enjoyed was the fact that he could speak both Latin and Gaelic.  They wanted him to return to Ireland and spread the word of god. Now they had a hero!

Most historians agree that Patrick was sent to Ireland to assist the fledging missionaries already there. Most legends will also tell you he arrived alone and single-handedly rid the island of snakes and converted 10,000 people into Catholics. Whomever you believe, we've got one helluva great holiday...with little to do with St. Patrick the man.  We wear green clothes (Not his color), eat corned beef and cabbage (A British dish) and pinch each other (completely American).

Just don't get me started about George Washington, cherry trees and lying!