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Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon

China is something of an enigma. Her economy is booming but there are signs that it is a bit of a paper empire. She has opened up her doors yet much happens behind the scenes. Most importantly, we still see her as an agency for repression, spying on her own people and regarding the West with a mixture of mistrust and envy. We see China as a repressive place to live.

Our own government is spying on us as well. Revelations from former NSA security contractor Edward Snowden inform us of a massive data mining venture in which not only is the government keeping track of who we’re calling but is actively listening in on those calls as well.

This is disappointing to say the least. Here in the United States we have a self-image of being the land of the free, but how free can we be when we are being listened to? We know that businesses are keeping track of our spending habits, but our government is reading our e-mails as well. Privacy has become an illusion. The solution to this, many feel, is to go off the grid; pay cash for purchases, discontinue the use of the Internet and of cell phones and keep as low a profile as possible.

Really, most of us have nothing to hide. The government may be listening but they’re not paying attention to us in all likelihood; they’ve simply got better things to do than to check on your drama. Still, it is a bit disturbing particularly in that our President seems to have tacitly supported this program. Ostensibly, it’s for our safety – after all, there are terrorists among us or so we’re told and in order to keep them from pulling off another 9-11, we’re going to have to give up some of our privacy in order to do it.

This is the crux of a question we’ve been asking ourselves since 2001; does our safety override our freedom? In a world in which we’re vulnerable to terrorism can we have an expectation of having the same freedoms we had before? Of course not. Most of us don’t mind having our bags x-rayed at airports and being made to wait in line in order to better insure that some wild-eyed douchebag with a cause and an idea doesn’t smuggle a bomb on our plane. It’s the price we pay for safety.

The question we have to ask ourselves however is how much freedom are we willing to give up in order to feel secure, and even more disturbing, whether there are those who are exploiting our need for safety for their own political or financial gains. The prime example of that is the Patriot Act.

You’ll remember that this act essentially created the Homeland Security Agency to combat domestic terrorism. It also gave law enforcement broad powers in ferreting out terrorism and foiling their plots to cause mass destruction and loss of life. Sounds good on paper, but it has also paved the way for excesses, including the suspension of due process for terrorism suspects and has directly led to the torture of prisoners by Americans and to the recent mess of the NSA examining the phone conversations of millions of law-abiding Americans.

I’m not saying that we are completely safe by any means and that we shouldn’t be vigilant, but the Patriot Act was supposed to have expired in 2005 but after extensions were quietly passed into law, the Act remains in effect at least until 2015. Some of those extensions were signed into law by President Obama. The problem is that the law was poorly written to begin with and received little scrutiny by Congress when it was hastily passed in the chaotic days following the World Trade Center attack. The potential for abuse by less scrupulous members of government is terrifying.

There comes a point when our zeal for protecting our citizens turns into a power grab. There comes a point where in doing so we cease being America and become something else. The aforementioned Edward Snowden was in Hong Kong when he made his revelations about the NSA and the United States has been keen on extraditing him back here to face charges of unlawfully divulging classified material and treason. He has since left Hong Kong for an (as of this writing) non-specified country without extradition treaties to the United States, possibly with the help of WikiLeaks (who have hailed him as a hero) and also possibly at the behest of Beijing, who apparently see releasing Snowden to the United States as a loss of face.

I find it troubling that the NSA has been monitoring citizens who have done nothing to warrant it. I find it more troubling that there are liberals defending it and conservatives conveniently ignoring that it started during the Bush era and are using it as a political ploy to further discredit the president; however I must say that I’m in rare agreement with my conservative friends in saying that Obama should be held accountable for allowing this policy to flourish under his watch, despite it’s clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. I just wish that some of them had been more vocal about it when Bush was doing it.

Conceivably some security functionary could read this very blog and decide that the writer poses a threat to American security and initiate surveillance on me and mine. My phone calls could be listened in on; my web searches could be scrutinized; my purchases could be analyzed. Does this impinge on my life much? Realistically, no – but it does make me uneasy that someone could be watching me merely for disagreeing with government policy.

Does that sound like America to you? Or does that sound more like China? Do we still have the right to speak our minds, or are we supposed to toe the party line? This is where the road to totalitarianism potentially begins. It behooves us to urge that this program be immediately brought to a close. I think that there are ways of protecting us from terrorists without having to resort to violating our rights; it may be harder but I think it is important that we don’t allow terrorism to turn this country into a police state, however good the intentions of our lawmakers and law enforcers might be. The risks are simply too great. We are the United States; we don’t have to become China in order to keep our citizens safe.

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The Value of a Good Adyookayshun

The Value of a Good Adyookayshun

It has become painfully obvious that the education system of the United States has become ineffective. We have sunk lower and lower in test scores until third world countries are beginning to pass us by. We are turning out fewer and fewer engineers and scientists and more and more psychologists and liberal arts graduates. And I’m not one to knock a Liberal Arts education – lord knows that we need people versed in history, writing and the arts – but we also need people to build things. To innovate. To solve problems and let’s face it – a person with an English degree is less likely to do that than a person with a degree in, say, computer engineering, or quantum physics.

There are a lot of reasons we have fallen behind in education and it falls squarely in three categories – the system, the parents and the students. The system has made education less and less of a priority, cutting funds to it ruthlessly until teachers are forced to buy classroom supplies for their students because there’s no money in the budget for paper, pencils and sometimes even textbooks. We have to stop looking at education as an extraneous expense and look at it for what it is – an investment in the future of our country. This is a country whose education system has turned out people like Jonas Salk, Steve Wozniak, George Washington Carver and Thomas Edison. Who knows how many kids on that level are sitting in classrooms right now?

But that’s not the only issue with the system. The way we educate our kids is largely antiquated. Children these days have the attention span of a mayfly. Standing by a chalkboard and talking isn’t the way to connect with them. They need to be involved in an interactive system that allows them to take part in their education. Education has to become a dialogue rather than a lecture; it has to become a two-way experience. Thankfully, many schools are gearing up with computer programs that do just that, but we have a long ways to go.

Parents also need to become more involved with the education of their kids. School isn’t a day care for your kids; it’s their job to go there and learn. You, as the boss of your kids, are responsible to see that they do just that – making sure their homework assignments are completed, being involved with their activities and taking an active part in the educational dialogue. Make appointments with your teacher and find out how you can help reinforce their lessons at home. Find out where your kids are having trouble and help them out with it. If you can’t do it, find a family member or friend who can. Send them the message that their education is important and that you’ll support them in getting the best one possible.

The problem also lies with the students. The attitude has to change. Too many students look at school as a waste of their time, which it is if they aren’t invested in their own education. I get that it’s boring, I also get that looking into the future is kind of a drag. However, if you don’t acquire the skills you need, finding work is going to be hellaciously difficult. It used to be that the uneducated could get jobs in factories and in manual labor that while not requiring even a high school diploma, at least paid enough so that you could live a relatively decent life. Those jobs are largely gone now, moved overseas to places where that kind of labor is much cheaper than it was here. Now you’re mainly qualified for things like fast food, retail, customer service, phone sales and the like. These are low-paying, menial jobs that generally you can’t support yourself on. And even the latter two of those jobs are also largely being offshored. Why pay an American nearly eight bucks an hour to do what someone in India or Ghana can do for a fraction of the cost?

The future is really grim for those who don’t get a college education. The need in America is for engineers, programmers, biotech and medicine. There are also needs for chemists, physicists and biologists. The world is geared towards technology – you can see it in your daily lives with your cell phones, tablets, laptops and smart cars. It only makes logical sense that the jobs are going to be in those fields. The thing is that American companies see that the education system isn’t generating enough people in the fields that they need and so are having to go elsewhere to find the people with the knowledge and the drive to be successful innovators in their fields which more and more means Asia, Brazil and Eastern Europe.

Our kids lack ambition and focus. They also lack inspiration. We find it far easier to buy ’em an X-Box and a TiVo and let them do their thing. We find ourselves increasingly looking for our own space while letting our kids have theirs. Unfortunately, that sends the message that they aren’t important, that we don’t give a crap about them. Why should a kid work their ass off for a generation who can’t be bothered to be invested in their future?

Changes need to be made. Our future depends on it but more importantly, our children’s and grandchildren’s future depends on it. We need to make the education a priority because you can be damn sure the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians – have already made it a priority of theirs.

Columbia Pavilion

Columbia Pavilion

THEME: Columbia is Passion, The City is Activity

PAVILION: The exterior of the Pavilion is decorated with butterflies and butterfly motifs, adding a tropical element to the exterior of the Pavilion.

Columbia Pavilion

EXHIBIT: The Pavilion is divided into the various regions of Columbia, from the Pacific to the Caribbean, the Andes to the rainforest. The Pacific area has the calming sound of waves lapping against the shore. There is also a small theater where an introductory video of Columbia is shown.

Columbia Pavilion

The main exhibition hall of the Pavilion is a kaleidoscope of activity. Sumptuously decorated with special lighting effects, palm trees, a representation of a Mayan temple and everywhere touch screen video displays to inform the visitor of the various regions of Columbia, this is the heart of the Columbia Pavilion. A gondola car hangs above the floor, representing the world-class Columbian ski resorts. Sacks of Columbian coffee beans are piled in one corner, ready to be shipped around the world. Behind the Mayan wall is the interactive zone where visitors can learn more about Columbia’s economy and her exports.

Columbia Pavilion

CUISINE: A Columbian-style café is located at the Pavilion’s exit. Here, visitors may sample for themselves the world famous coffee of Columbia, as well as native juices and snacks.

SHOPPING: Along one wall of the Pavilion is a large and comfortable gift shop full of Columbian products and Pavilion souvenirs.

Peru Pavilion

THEME: Food Breeds the City

PAVILION: The exterior of the Pavilion is decorated with bamboo rods which allow the sunshine to pass through the gaps.

EXHIBIT: The main exhibit of the Pavilion concerns the cuisine of Peru and how it has elements of Inca, French, Chinese and Indian cuisines, and how also it has come to influence global cuisine as well. In the center of the Pavilion is a structure within a structure based on the Incan huaca, a flat-topped pyramid.

Inside visitors will experience a 360 degree audiovisual presentation that will introduce them to Peru’s main historic and tourist sites, as well as some lesser known ones that are deserving of recognition on a global stage.

There are also five art installations, each representing a different aspect of Peruvian civilization both ancient and modern. One two-sided, triple-paneled wooden frame depicts the rain forest, with an Amazonian shaman on one side and a closed-eyed woman on the other representing the fragility of nature. There is also a water sculpture representing an ancient Incan irrigation system, as well as an intricate wooden sculpture depicting the Incan worldview. An exhibition room displays artifacts in an environment meant to resemble the inside of a truck, symbolizing the migration of people and products throughout Peru. Finally, inside the Huaca is a small room called Peru Now, where computers show the innovation of modern Peruvian programmers and show a model of a 3D virtual internet being developed in Peru.

CUISINE: The Peruvian Kitchen is the name of the Pavilion restaurant, located against one wall of the Pavilion and separated from the rest of the exhibit by the same bamboo panels visible on the outside of the Pavilion. Included on the menu are shrimp ceviche, pork adobo, skewered beef and chicken, seafood and rice, roast pork, flan and tres leches mousse. The restaurant is staffed by Peruvian chefs who will be staying in China for the duration of the Expo. At the Expo’s conclusion, the restaurant will be moved to a location in Shanghai where it will continue to provide an experience of Peruvian cuisine to the people of Shanghai.

SHOPPING: Outside the huaca there is a marketplace where visitors may purchase clothing made of alpaca fibers and 100% Peruvian cotton as well as jewelry, dolls, toys and Pavilion souvenirs.

Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion

THEME: The Living City: Inclusive, Sustainable, Creative

PAVILION: The Pavilion is shaped like a giant letter “C” to symbolize Canada. Visitors will enter through the open-air courtyard where frequent performances will be held, then proceed into the main exhibition building. The creative minds behind Cirque du Soleil helped design the Pavilion. The Pavilion outer wall is constructed with Canadian red cedar planks.

Canada Pavilion

EXHIBIT: Entering through the courtyard, visitors will be treated to performances by Cirque du Soleil throughout the day, as well as other Canadian performers. A green wall of evergreen seedlings will act both as a backdrop and as a bio-filter, producing clean air. Visitors will then ascend an open-air ramp past a reception area where friendly Canadian staffers will give them a first-hand experience of Canadian warmth and helpfulness. In the exhibition area, visitors will be dazzled by a 3D building model, on which a film will be presented showing the various aspects of Canadian life, from their rabid ice hockey fandom to their technical innovation to their cultural assimilation.

Canada Pavilion

Directly opposite is a virtual waterfall, the pictures projected on which will change whenever visitors touch the stream. The waterfall will depict future Canadian cities as envisioned by Canadian children.

Canada Pavilion

At the next exhibit, visitors will sit on stationary bikes and pedal their way through a whimsical animated fantasy landscape inspired by actual Canadian innovations and programs. Visitors will then enter a theater with a 180 degree screen on which multiple projectors will screen “Glimpses,” a film illustrating life in the Great White North.   

Canada Pavilion

CUISINE: The Pavilion restaurant is operated by Julie’s Bistro, a well-known eatery in Shanghai.

SHOPPING: There is a gift shop visible from the courtyard which sells Pavilion souvenirs and Canadian goods including Inuit carvings and a selection of Canadian ice wine.

Trinidad and Tobago Pavilion

Trinidad and Tobago Pavilion

THEME: Trinidad & Tobago: We Are Next

PAVILION: The modernistic Pavilion is meant to symbolize the pan, the national musical instrument of Trinidad & Tobago.

EXHIBIT: Utilizing shades of grey, red and white to create a sleek modern look, the Pavilion is set up in a series of curves radiating into partitions, or “pillars.” Each pillar contains an exhibit on one of the island’s growing urban centers, including Port of Spain, Scarborough, San Fernando and Sangre Grande. An information desk at the front of the Pavilion will be staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people from Trinidad and Tobago who will have further information for business opportunities and tourism facilities, in addition to being able to reserve the VIP area for businessmen wishing to invest in Trinidad and Tobago. The central area will house a theater and entertainment area, where films will be screened as well as occasional live performances. In the rear, mannequins will wear gaudy and colorful carnival outfits from Trinidad and Tobago’s splendid carnival. An exhibit on the pan will include a pan player who will perform daily. A 3D model of Port of Spain is also on display here. 

CUISINE: There is no dining area listed for the Pavilion.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping facility listed for the Pavilion.

Note: This Pavilion was located in the Caribbean Community Joint Pavilion

Suriname Pavilion

Suriname Pavilion

THEME: Suriname is History

PAVILION: The Pavilion is built as a traditional Surinamese home and courtyard.

EXHIBIT: Visitors entering the house will see a video extolling the virtues of travel in Suriname. In the courtyard to the side of the house three totem poles, built by some of Suriname’s most respected folk artists, represent Suriname’s tribal past. On the far wall a photomural and artificial plants create the feel of a Surinamese rain forest. A small wooden footbridge allows visitors to cross over a small creek which flows in the rear of the Pavilion. In it a small traditional Surinamese skiff floats. A traditional tribal hut decorates the back wall, along with a golden statue of El Dorado, representing the Spanish influence in the region. A hammock and a photomural show the beauty of Surinamese beaches. 

CUISINE: A vendor will sell ice cream and cold beverages from a pushcart in the courtyard, as vendors do in Suriname.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping facility listed for the Pavilion.

Note: This Pavilion was located in the Caribbean Community Joint Pavilion