Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wesleyan Does it Again...

Man, I have to say, I am so proud of my alma mater!

Today's big political headline is over a federal judges ruling that White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former legal counsel, Harriet Miers can in fact be subpoenaed before congress to testify about the politicization of hirings and firings within the justice department.

For those not in the know, this scandal is pretty huge despite the little media coverage, as it implies our own Department of Justice were actively descriminating in their hirings and firings of US Attorneys based on political views and connections, with the intention of influencing investigations in key battleground states in order to favor Republican candidates. It lead to the shameful resignation of this country's first Latino US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and a constitutional battle between the executive and legistlative branches of our federal government.

If true, this could be a bigger scandal than Nixon's Watergate. It is no surprise then, that the Bush-led Whitehouse has tried to block any and all investigations into this event, claiming "executive priviledge" so that the president's aides don't have to testify under oath.

As a passive observer, one might say - wow! How in the world are they getting away with this? Doesn't this fly in the face of the freedom and democracy we claim to protect? How would the US ever recover as the moral leader of the world if this were indeed true, and who has to power to make sure we get to the bottom of it?

It seems that person is U.S. District Judge John Bates. Who, if you read his bio, is a Wesleyan University grad ('68). That's right, folks. Wes grads are everywhere, as recently observed by my boss where I work. And they are indeed making the world a better place. If you want to know a bit about his decision and it's impact, check out analysis from another Wes grad, David Lindoff who knows much more about this than me.

I just thought I'd bring this up because while Wesleyan often shines with it's famous entertainers and athletes in a celeb obsessed world, it's cool to give "props" to a different kind of influential alumnus who is making a difference. Way to go Judge Bates.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Optimum's Triple Play and the Sneakiness of Advance Billing

Just a warning to all those who like me, thought they were getting a good deal with Optimum Online's Triple Play voice, Internet and cable plan.

The deal is as short as the 7th inning stretch, and will cost you a lot more once your 12 months is up. But more than that is a questionable billing technique that had me reeling at the end of the call. - Advance billing.

The plan starts out as described, 29.95 for each service, plus all taxes, fees, surcharges etc...add premium services and it ranges from $112 to about $125 a month. Still not bad math wise if one would pay for it separately.

Then the "deal" ended. My next bill was for $245. WHAT?

I called Optimum and their service center rep sounded like she was at a crisis hot line. She knew what was coming.

"Now that the promotion is over, you are being billed a month in advance for your service."

"What? Why?"

"That's how we bill."

"Wait a minute. I was a client of Optimum before the promotion, I joined your promotion for 12 months, and NOW you are deciding to send me a bill for 2 months for me to prepay? That's not fair."

"I understand sir. That is our billing practice. Were you to cancel your service, we would credit you back any unused portion of your bill."

Now my Wall Street/Bronx Boy monster kicked in.

"And what are you doing with that cash in the meantime? Do I get interest on that money"


"So you are saying that I'm to give you $140 in advance of any services rendered, you are going to sit on that money until I cancel, and then simply "credit" it back to me, without any interest? I know you guys are getting interest on that money - what are you doing with it? What happens if the prices change? Do you understand that doubling a bill on someone without warning is not good customer service?

"the prepayment was indicated in your .....(blah blah read fine print told ya so blah blah)"

I stopped listening.

"I'm going to have to make some decisions here. I can understand the prices going up at the end of this promotion, but if I've spent a year paying for services rendered, then all of a sudden I am being billed a month in advance for services not yet provided, this is dramatic shift and I don't think I want to do this."

"That's for you to decide sir."

And decide I will.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The iPhone Swap

So an interesting development, I've come to be witness in the world of Apple iPhone. 2G iPhone owners are doing an cost-less "swap" into the 3G phone, selling their 2G devices overseas, making up the cost of their new phones. In a surprising trend, 3 of my work colleagues who were 2G owners sold their phones - 2 via eBay, 1 via Craigslist Europe, for about $300 USD + postage. That money more than makes up for the cost of upgrading to the 3G version. One of my colleagues actually got $400 USD for a second iPhone, which was kept in very good condition.

Surprisingly, the $300 USD sales were completed within a few hours, the $400 USD sale within 24 hours of posting, and the money was sent lightening fast from Germany, Miami and Texas. I suspect that the buyers were moving the 2G phone's abroad, where the 3G version is less used and the 2G versions can be overridden to work with other international cell phone providers. I also suspect that the $300 price is a bit low as it looks like whoever is gobbling up the phones so quickly is probably also making a bit of margin.

So for those who bought the 2G phone and are looking for way to get the new version - this looks like a cost-less swap for upgrade. Good Luck.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why "West Side" revival is not a good "Story".

I was very surprised by my initial reaction to the recent NYT article “Jets? Yes! Sharks? ¡Sí! in Bilingual ‘West Side’ “ To describe it quickly, I responded to my friend who forwarded it to me – “Oh No. This is awful...”

I felt this knot in my gut. Not unlike that cringing sensation I got a few months back when a relative of mine made a very "conservative" and slightly racist statement while dining with me and my liberal-leaning friends.

I would suspect that many people would wonder why I reacted that way. After all, “West Side Story” is a classic! A masterpiece of music and dance, extremely successful and has stood the test of time. It is part of the musical canon studied by artists across America. I myself sang “Something’s Coming” as a solo for my high school graduation. What gives?

Nostalgia aside, there are so many things wrong with the idea of a “West Side Story” revival that may not be obvious to the general person. When I think about what it has done and what it could do again to the image of Latinos, and Puerto Ricans specifically, I all but wish the new production never makes the live stage.

Let me first acknowledge that “West Side Story” introduced to many the actual existence of Puerto Ricans on the American landscape. Before the 1957 Broadway production, most of America didn’t even know what or who Puerto Ricans were. “West Side Story” correctly reflected a phenomenon that would shape the US over the next century– Latino immigration. It also launched the career of Rita Moreno – a record breaking actor who was the first female and Latino to win all four major entertainment awards, a feat very few have accomplished of any nationality. “West Side Story” was indeed groundbreaking for its time in its remake of the Romeo and Juliet story and for its ability to keep audiences singing its score for decades.

Cut 50 years, and now Arthur Laurents wants to bring back the musical, this time with a “grittier” motif and having the actors speak Spanish with each other, apparently during some highly passionate, “bilingual sexual spats” and some translated changes to the songs.

It is obvious to most anyone I know that this revival is in response to the great success of today’s Latino-themed Broadway musical whose title is also derived from a New York neighborhood, “In the Heights.” Less anyone make any further connections between the two shows, let’s be very clear - These two musicals couldn’t be more different from each other. One is a story of battles between “natives” and “new comers” to the US, the other a story of an established community adjusting to gentrification and changing economic times.

“West Side Story” has themes within it that in today’s world are tired and cliché. The images of knife-toting youth, loud and over-sexed women, and dark-skinned aliens on US soil are depictions many modern day Latinos would rather not have revived on stage. These archetypes have shaped and limited the scope of Latino characters in American entertainment for decades. While the love story in it tries to transcend race and culture and speak of tolerance, the songs and supporting scenes have been a thorn in the side of Latinos for years. For example, I know of many Latina women named Maria who have had to endure listening to men crone “Maria…I met a girl named…Maria…” when being introduced, even in professional settings like the office and in academia. The song “America” is littered with stereotypes, and while they are uttered by the Puerto Rican characters among themselves, the images they project of life as Latinos create lasting negative impressions on audiences that then shape their biases and interactions. It’s also an inaccurate depiction of the immigrant experience – very few Puerto Ricans, or other immigrants, despite economic hardship or any other reason for immigrating to the US, would ever describe their birth country as “You ugly island . . . Island of tropic diseases.” “West Side Story” did for Latinos what mob movies did for Italians. While creating great entertainment, it limited the possibility that certain types of people could be anything other than certain types of characters.

The Spanish translations will not bring credibility or authenticity to the story. The New York Times article mentions that Mr. Laurents went through much effort to consult with Latin American writers from Argentina and Colombia but fail to note that Argentine and Colombian Spanish is distinctly different from the Spanish spoken by Puerto Ricans. This is a weak and poorly researched attempt at authenticity. In the 1950s and 60s, the New York Puerto Rican community were already into its 2nd generation, and it’s those children that are reflected in this musical. For the majority of youth during this period, Spanish was not their first language, it was their parent’s. If anything, Mr. Laurents should be integrating local urban slang for that generation of youth. I had conversations with my parents who grew up in NY during this time and while Spanish was spoken with elders and at home, the language of the street was as English as it is today, minus the horrible accents represented by the non-Latino actors in “Brown-face” who played in both the original Broadway show and its movie adaptations.

Mr. Laurents promises to diversify the cast, but Latino actors playing these roles will do very little to modernize the play unless he does work to change the image of the characters they would play. There is some hint in the article that Mr. Laurent’s intends to equalize the two gangs in the story. However that leads me to my other point. There were gangs in New York in the 50s and 60s. We get it. Do we need to create harsher portrayals of these gangs, adding more violence to “modernize” the story? Doesn’t the musical “Grease” show us that suburbia also had gangs? Do we need grittier, more violent portrayals of the T-Birds, Scorpions and Pink Ladies to make these characters more authentic?

“West Side Story”, while ground breaking in it’s time, needs to allow for more modern musicals like “In the Heights” to take the mantle and help shape a more positive and uplifting image of Latinos in entertainment. Broadway enthusiasts and movie buffs will forever acknowledge the foundation Mr. Laurents and the creators of “West Side Story” laid for future generations to build upon, but unless the characters, songs, and message are entirely rewritten to better fit modern times, I can only see this revival damaging the progress that’s been made to date.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life is for the Living

I had a very intense July 4th Weekend. My daughter had her 2nd Birthday which we had at our house and did our best to accomodate about 10 toddlers and their parents as they came to share the event. My mother came from Florida to join us as well. We had a great time and it was great to see my family together and happy.

That same weekend my father passed. He had been bed ridden for some time from a series of strokes, Parkinsons and Alzheimers, and recently was no longer able to take in food. The hospital transfered him to a hospice where they kept him comfortable. I got the 4AM call on the 4th and then waited for details from one of my half sisters as to next steps.

I wasn't very close to my dad. He was the personification of a rolling stone, and was afraid that responsibility would one day catch up with him. He was a satellite figure in my life who would show up from time to time (graduations, weddings, etc) and who never did me any harm in the literal sense. He had correctly assessed that he was not the fathering type, and while that put extra burdens on my mother, I've grown up to accept that decision vs. the alternative.

His illness and death brought together his other children, my half-siblings, all of us adults and with families of our own. During his life we were all isolated from each other and depended on him to bring us together, a task he failed at miserably. We now know that it is up to us to maintain a close relationship with each other, and to bring our children and spouses to know each other and stitch together these seperate pieces of cloth into a patchwork of a family that previously existed in DNA only.

The death of one's father is always traumatic. In my particular case it was surreal, as I share his name and have the greatest physical resemblance of any of my siblings. I had to endure seeing that name on hospital beds and funeral signs and hear it over and over during the prayer ceremonies. I had to look at a face that was in essence an older version of mine lying in bed and then in a coffin, and remind myself that this was indeed a seperate person. I'm sure this experience will have a lasting impact on me, but I feel that psychologically I am in a good place. For some time, I've known and been proud of the fact that while our names and features are similar, I am nothing like my father, and thankfully so.

Life is for the living. I cannot go back and change the past, but I can make sure I am the best father I can be, and I can build a solid relationship with these former strangers who are my siblings. I will do these things not neccesarily to honor my father, but ultimately for myself, and for the next generation of "Guadalupes" growing in this ever complicated world and can use guidance and positive influence in their lives so that they know that responsibility is not something to run from, but to take on with pride and purpose. I hope I can provide some of that guidance.

I am thankful for the life I have and for the people in it. I could not imagine myself without my wife, my daughter, my family or friends. They are what motivate me to keep going. I mean what is life without a child's smile, a loved one's touch, or a friend's voice? To me life is one big series of events, shared with people you care about. I wouldn't miss any of it for the world.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gabby's Birthday

Today is my daughter's birthday. She's two. But if you ask her, she'll tell you "FOUR!" and insist on that no matter how much I say two. It's become a game she plays with me. I say: "Gabby how old are you?" "FOUR!" "No Baby, say 'two..'" "FOUR!...giggle."

I guess it's not a big deal, except there I am talking to my daughter who is claiming to be twice her real age. Oh boy. Does it start this soon?

I'm reading a book by Meg Meeker MD," Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters - 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know. " I am now officially freaked out. I have but 18 years to influence this impressionable young creature into becoming a well adjusted, independent and confident young lady. 2 years down, 16 to go. Just how quick is 16 years....Well, I just went to my 10th year college reunion, and I swear I feel like I just graduated.

Good news is, so far so good. She's "wicked smart" and a total music fanatic, a requirement in our house. Today we brought her to look at her new preschool she'll start next week. She loved it and didn't want to leave. She won't be one of those kids who cries a whole lot when daddy drops her off. She'll say bye, turn around, and start commanding the play room.

I can't believe two years ago she was this cherub that I could hold with just my hand and forearm. So much happiness packaged in such a small body, it just grows and grows exponentially every year. I can't imagine what the future holds, but whatever happens, I know that the love will continue to grow.

Happy Birthday to my little Gabriela. I love you.