How crossing the street in Hanoi looks like

HANOI, Vietnam — The trick is to walk across at a steady pace. People will avoid or maneuver around you. It took me some time to get used to crossing the street this way. I thought it was too dangerous. This is how crossing the street looks like in most Asian countries though. You must adjust to adapt. One thing to remember, no matter what you do, DON’T run across. That’s how you die.

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

Youth embrace public affection in a time of materialism

BEIJING, China — Young Chinese couples in romantic relationships mingle through the crowd with hands interlocked, hugging or kissing and displaying other forms of affection.

Foreign tourists strolling the Qian Hai boardwalk, a lively sightseeing destination in central Beijing, might not give this level of public affection, common in many other countries, a second thought. Yet it still raises eyebrows in some quarters in China where PDA, or public displays of affection, were virtually nonexistent in Chinese society just two decades ago.

“Certainly young people today are enjoying more freedom of expression,” said Lan Linyou, a professor of Anthropology at Minzu University of China in Beijing. “Lovers holding hands in public were regarded as taboo during my time. “

Lan said that during the 1980s Chinese conservative culture dictated that young people were not allowed to be in relationships and women then could not wear their hair down or walk in heels. China’s focus on such restrictions began to fade when reformists within the Communist Party led by Deng Xiaoping introduced a series of economic reforms in 1978.

“Since the economic reforms, people focused more on making money and getting rich,” Lan said, “so the spiritual pursuit got weaker and the material pursuit got stronger.”

This may be one reason why China’s youth is able to participate in more public displays of affection today.

“Kissing is just a way through which we display our affection,” said 23-year-old Chen Chao while sitting next to his girlfriend near the boardwalk. “Once we love each other, no one can restrict us. I think the old generation may not say their disapproval aloud. If the older generation complains, we don’t care.”

Generally the older members of Chinese society are not used to seeing affection shown in public, said Lan.

“Perhaps others can accept it but I don’t,” said 54-year-old Wei Xinhua, who offers massage services near the boardwalk. “Holding hands is okay, but it’s not quite proper to hug in any places. People’s upbringings are different, and I was brought up in this habit.”

Lan said even though young people have more freedom to display their love in public, they should still save it for the right time and place because it’s a visual pollution that makes people feel uncomfortable.

Chen Ying , an Instructor of Sociology at Capital Normal University in Beijing, said some secondary schools in China have written rules against public displays of affection while on campus.

“We don’t behave this way when we’re on campus,” said 17-year-old Jin Jinghan, while holding his girlfriend’s hand. “We have to pretend to be friends or strangers.”

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Cleaning up Xiejiaqiao’s Yuxi River

XIEJIAQIAO, China — At 20,000 RMB ( $3,080 USD) income per capita, the 801 villagers of Xiejiaqiao have the highest GDP in Henglu Township, which is made up of seven communities located in the mountain greenery of Zhejiang province. Part of that economic success stems from the village’s prosperous pecan and bamboo production–crops that couldn’t thrive without the Yuxi River.

The Yuxi runs through the heart of the village and recently underwent a government-funded cleanup for sewage pollution. According to Xiejiaqiao Mayor Yang Mo Yi, the government invested 5 million RMB  ($770,000) to clean and purify the river between 2008 and 2010.

“Our village was the first to raise questions about protecting the river,” says retired policeman Zhou Jian Guo, who used to lead the watch crew monitoring the river. “We took such actions to protect our environment in order to make our village better and more popular.”

Government officials approached Zhou in 2002 to head a 5-year plan to patrol the river with seven other people. Together, they’ve insured that villagers don’t commercially fish or dispose of their trash in the river, both of which are prohibited by law.

While construction efforts made the river less dangerous above ground, the more recent government funds have helped make the Yuxi safer below the surface.

Henglu’s Vice Township Leader Luo Zhong Ming said manufacturing companies appeared after economic reforms took place 30 years ago and started to pollute the water.

The government has then invested heavily on recreating and maintaining the purity of the river, Luo said.

Signs posted alongside the river’s bank also describe the stages the Yuxi river water passes through during purification.

The water is first collected into giant pools, which are connected to a series of underground network tunnel systems. It then passes through several zones of purification to remove foreign bodies and bacteria before getting categorized as reusable or disposable water.

“On one hand, the villagers live here and they depend on the river,” Luo said. “On the other hand, our river looks beautiful now so villagers can also hold some guests for tourism uses.”

While Yang says the water quality is now “supreme,” bottles and cardboard boxes and other rubbish still collected in the river’s reservoir when torrential rains caused trash to pile up this month.

“The water is not yet drinkable,” Luo said. “The villagers only use the stream for external purposes such as planting or washing.”

Villagers said they are typically happy with the streams condition now but believe the government will continue investing more money on creating better standards for the water.

“People’s living quality has been raised and villagers can live longer now because we have cleaner water to use,” Zhou says.

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Women working uphill against discrimination

BEIJING, China — “I get ridiculed by male customers all the time,” says Fan Baolian, 28, a restaurant manager at the Songlei Business Hotel & Spa in Beijing. “They say dirty words to me like why am I working here when I’m a woman and should be at home taking care of my kid and husband.”

Why would an intelligent, independently minded woman put up with such behavior? Fan says it’s the money. Her monthly salary of 10,000–20,000 RMB ($1,543–$3,087) is more than four times what the average person makes in Beijing. This confers on her a higher status in China’s competitive pecking order.

Despite the constant verbal abuse from patrons, Fan says she doesn’t plan on quitting anytime soon because she wants to use her status to help her younger coworkers, particularly the females.

“I’m like a mother to them. I shadow them and look after them,” Fan says. “I have the ability to make life easier for the peasant girls applying to work here from the countryside.”

Despite new career opportunities that China’s breakneck economic growth has churned up for both women and men in recent years, women too often find it more difficult to improve their social status in the work place.

Ying Li, executive director of the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center, which provides free legal services to women, says Chinese women face discrimination in the work place throughout their careers.

“You’ve heard [about] a lot of legislation that’s been promoted by the NGOs and fought for against male dominance within the family,” Ying says. “But in reality, women’s role in society is still comparably low to men.”

Following China’s revolution in 1949, Mao Zedong’s Communist Party stressed gender equality and equal pay for both sexes. The view, at least in theory, was that men and women were equally capable of performing any duty such as working in the fields as well as other manual labor–intensive jobs not centered around the home.

Women, especially those in the working class, still face low wages, sexual harassment and inequality in pursuing higher education according to the All-China Women’s Federation website.

Changes in China’s educational system have helped improve women’s social standing the most, says Lin Lixia, secretary general of the NGO Women’s Watch-China, a nonprofit organization established to protect women’s rights and interests.

“Women migrant workers are regarded as weak people and have the hardest time to find their benefits guaranteed to them,” Ying says. “But it is inevitable to say that China’s social stigma on women has [eased] a lot.”

A balance in education reform between men and women played a key role in women’s pursuit of career opportunities today, says Lin. “A lot of improvement has been made through education reform,” she says. “It was always the male who received an education, but today the male to female ratio at a university level is fifty-fifty.”

China’s contradictory culture makes progress slow to emerge as its past still grips the present.

Li Hongjuan, 24, who lives in a cramped house along the alleyways of Hebei district in Beijing, took a different approach from Fan.

“I abide by my parents wishes to marry my husband, so they could be happy,” Li says. “I thought about finding a good job and working, but my parents didn’t give me that choice. So I moved to live with my husband in the city and started a family.”

Now she is a stay at home wife focused solely on caring for her seven-month-old daughter. Though Li has not achieved as much social status in life as Fan did, both women have made sacrifices for the path they have chosen.

Fan says her 3-year-old son doesn’t even call her mom anymore and her phone never stops ringing because she’s working all the time. Li says even though she is content with not having a career, when her daughter grows up she will push her to pursue a well-paying profession before marriage.

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Ninja Assassin analyzed in a cultural context

AUSTIN, Texas — Ninja Assassin generally received negative reviews and poor ratings mainly due to its numerous amateurish-like gore scenes, which critics’ argue didn’t include a convincing storyline.  Focusing only on the entertainment value of the film, reviewers failed to see the kind of depth that underlay the movie when examining its connection to our cultural world today. Looking at the surrounding events that happened in our society prior to the film’s production, we will see how the larger world has shaped why director James McTeigue incorporated such a blood bath in this multi-million dollar Hollywood movie.

Comparing McTeigue’s V for Vendetta with Ninja Assassin, we find that both films contain echoing themes and ideology in which a single individual rejects the system he is forced into. A mysterious revolutionary who calls himself “V” inV for Vendetta,  plots to destroy a totalitarian government  in Great Britain during modern periods. V breaks free from a government-funded death camp and emerges as the only survivor after he involuntarily becomes part of a medical experiment where scientists inject him with hormonal drugs. He then begins an elaborate but violent campaign to murder his former captors while bringing down a corrupt government and convinces the people to rule themselves.

ninja_assassinLikewise in Ninja Assassin, a mystifying ninja named Raizo seeks to destroy his oppressors. The ruthless Ozunu Clan took Raizo in as an orphan and brutally trained him to become a deadly assassin.  He eventually breaks free from the gang after facing years of extreme violence. He then goes on the run, preparing to exact his revenge on the Ozunu Clan for the murder of his clan sister by their hands.

McTeigue is playing with a theme our society has for a long time identified against in both films, which is this “system” we have created and must live under. We call many things in our culture a “system”–the education system, the law system and the government system just to name a few. Most of these “systems” are not working for some people, and this is where McTeigue begins to explore the ideology that if the individuals or an individual in our society gets stuck in a system that is mistreating them. They will defy the status quo and rebel against the system to create their own.

“Individuals against the world, I guess that’s the common thing at the moment right?” McTeigue said in an interview comparing his two films. V lives alone in a hideout while trying to take down a government system that no other dares to disobey. Raizo lives on the run while trying to break down a family system that no outsider can understand. It is V and Raizo against the world.

V for Vendetta shows that people will fight to break free from a system they are stuck in at the larger level where a whole nation is affected. Ninja Assassin portrays this at an individual level where a single person is affected. Both V and Raizo fight their violent systems they are stuck in to create their own, one in which they can live freely.

In The Washington Post movie review “Ninjas undone by slickness,” Dan Kios begins the article by analyzing Ninja Assassin’s climatic ending rather than focusing on how Raizo is a hero who can’t keep his shirt on, or that the audience will only remember the  blood bath and flying body parts when they leave the theater.  He instead describes the final battle scene between the clan of Asian ninjas and an European police force as “an example of Western might attacking an Eastern tradition with advanced technology and gobs of money.”

This bloody battle between ninja weapons versus automatic weapons is symbolic of the West’s continued dominance in the world today through power and money. It is McTeigue’s manifestation of an intruding Western will not just in the East but on other countries throughout history.

A police force is shown invading the once lucrative Ozunu Clan’s hideout. The gate explodes as armored hummer vehicles speed in and bullets start to fly carelessly at whatever and whoever was on the other side. An agent shoots a flare into the air, and the audience gets a sky view of the clan’s hideout while military choppers hover in. The ninjas try to flee but many of them eat bullets. Another agent uses a bazooka to blow up a section of the hideout and more policemen force their way through the exposed entrance into the hideout. Again they start to shoot at anything that moves without question.

The authorities’ invasion and intrusion into the hideout happened after just months or weeks of investigation. The article is hinting at an epideictic argument of proposal about Western colonialism in a modern context that I argued for in my first paper. The film was produced in recent years following the Bush-era, which we can argue that this could be McTeigue’s interpretation of what modern-day Western Colonialism looks like. Through creating this hard-to-believe war between the two sides with tones of violence is McTeigue’s adaptation to introduce this surreal idea that Western colonialism still exists and that the West continues to impose its will on the world today.

In NPR’s “A ‘Ninja Assassin’ Out for Blood (And Revenge),” Mark Jenkins explains how ninjas are supposed to be “silent and shadowy killers,” yet when the audience gets a firework of special effects at the beginning of the film where one ninja is slaughtering a group of gangsters all at once. It is reasonable to argue then that they are being introduced to a new genre of ninjas.

McTeigue updated the traditional ninja to create an upgraded version essentially to market to our popular culture today. We prefer things that are bigger, stronger, faster and more durable, which is why McTeigue created a deadlier, more super hero-like ninja. Hence, just take a look at Raizo. Does he look like he can kick the traditional ninja’s Ass(assin)? Doesn’t he look cooler and fits better in our popular culture than the traditional ninja? Maybe. Since our ninja is a superhero now, this means he is going to do more damage and more damage means more blood. Thus the exaggerated gore scenes with obvious fake blood is not bad production, rather it is McTeigue’s attempt at entertaining viewers and appealing to our popular culture.

McTiegue has roughly put forth several social concerns he views exist in our world but are not necessarily easily visible for the audience to grasps. The events happening in the world prior to the movie’s release were a driving influence in the making of the film. McTiegue addressed the systematic law that governs our life, the existence of Western colonialism in our world today and finally what we define as our popular culture now. From examining the film and its function in our culture, we see that these arguments show us our society and what we call our way of life.  All this is just presented through a martial arts action film so that McTiegue can also market his movie as well. These are the underlying of Ninja Assassin that the critics failed to see and therefore give it a bad review.

Here is a link to the first part I wrote. Enjoy! Ninja Assassin Rhetorical Analysis   ‎

Ninja Assassin rhetorical analysis

AUSTIN, Texas — It’s pretty clear from all the exaggerated gore scenes in the film, which spat and spewed gallons of fake, water-like blood that director James McTeigue wanted the audience to have a little fun while watching this martial arts movie. Underlying the obvious, though, what is not so apparent for action-movie goers is that Ninja Assassin is an epideictic argument of proposal that defy American stereotypes of Asian male masculinity while also trying to explore Western colonialism in today’s cultural context.

The film is about a disillusioned assassin named Raizo (Jun Ji Hoon) who is seeking retribution against his merciless master. He was taken in by the Ozunu Clan as an orphan and forced to participate in brutal combat, training to become a lethal ninja assassin one day. During his teenage years, Raizo begins to harbor resentment towards the gang and especially his master after they killed his clan sister whom he had developed a romantic relationship with. Stricken by her lost throughout his journey, upon the completion of his first assassin assignment, he decides to break free and fight  the clan to avenge her death. Raizo escapes barely alive and from then goes on the run, waiting for the opportunity to take the entire clan down.

The most appealing thing to me about Ninja Assassin is Raizo, played by Korean pop star and stage name Bi Rain. I remember when I saw the movie back in 2009 on the week it debut. I kept thinking to myself throughout the entirety of the film that this actor is the most attractive Asian man I have ever seen. Raizo doesn’t embody the physiognomy of the typical male from Asia. He looks about 6 feet tall. He has the body of a Greek God. His facial features are attractive and masculine, resembling a body-builder-bone-structure type.  The tone of his voice is deep and sounds mysterious, similar to Christian Bale in The Dark Knight. Despite his shoulder-length-long hair, Raizo is still the ultimate alpha male at first sight. This could not be more evident to the audience that he is their protagonist.

The one thing though that might throw them off this conclusion is that he is Asian. The film is marketed to an American audience since the movie is in English, and Western culture defines Asian male appearances as those opposite of Raizo. By having a Korean actor play an alpha male lead role in a multi-million-dollar-Hollywood film, McTeigue is essentially breaking Western stereotypical norms of Asian male masculinity.

Raizo is the number one person viewers see half-naked the majority of the time. The only other half naked Asian men they see are a few gangsters at the beginning of the film, and they too are quite built. McTeigue is appealing to the audience’s sense of emotion by trying to catch their physical interest for Raizo. By having him shirtless in almost every scene, the audience is always reminded of his muscular figure and rip-hard abs.

McTeigue features Raizo’s sculpt body by devoting several scenes entirely meant to emphasis how macho he is. In one part, audiences see him do slow handstand pushups and as if that isn’t already difficult enough. He is doing them on a plank of embedded six-inch nails sticking upward. The screen shows a wide shot and viewers get to see this action from head to toe. They see a medium shot of his chest along with his biceps and triceps. The camera then scrolls from his legs to the plank of nails to end the shot. This scene is actually just a preview for the audience to get a close up on the contours of Raizo’s body.

A few scenes later, McTeigue stresses Raizo’s muscles even further when viewers see him practicing his martial arts using several different weapons. This time, though, his half-naked body is greased up to accentuate his muscles more. He’s jumping, flipping, kicking, spinning, whipping and slicing the air with his swords and rope-like weapon, all while the camera is switching rapidly from image to image with some scenes in slow motion. At one point, he is even looking directly into the camera as if saying, “Do you notice my body?”

These scenes are solely used for the audience to admire his figure. It is set up to signify that this Asian man can look masculine. He is not short or skinny. He is not nerdy or feminine. Most importantly he is not asexual. The film shows two love scenes and both of them involving Raizo. His physical features exude the male equivalent of the female sex goddess, which means he is not only interested in woman but that they are also interested in him.

By placing so much emphasis on his body throughout the film, McTeigue is proposing that Asian male masculinity has changed in today’s society. He is arguing against the stereotypical views Westerners have always portrayed Asian men to be. He successfully makes this argument by hiring an Asian actor who fits well with the criteria that make up the alpha male to play a lead role.

McTeigue also successfully makes this argument by marketing the film to a young to middle-age American audience, who are better aware of stereotypes and more likely to accept this idea than an older audience base. The majority of the people who go see this film will more than likely have some kind of interest in Asian culture or ninjas, so they will also be less critical of McTeigue’s proposal on Asian male masculinity.

The second proposal McTeigue makes is exploring Western colonialism in today’s social framework. The film portrays the Ozunu Clan as this rich and powerful, covert organization who is ruthless and uncompromising. They murder anyone who goes against them even their own members. They are an unstoppable gang who break the law without any policing present.

In the film’s climax near the end, an American police force is shown invading the once secretive Ozunu Clan hideout. As Raizo is about to get killed, the gate to the clan’s hideout explodes. Armored hummer vehicles speed in and bullets start to fly carelessly at whatever and whoever was on the other side. An agent shoots a flare into the air, and the audience gets sky view of the clan’s hideout and military choppers hovering in.

Bullets continue to fly as more police agents run in shooting. The clan men dressed in their ninja costumes try to flee but many of them eat bullets. “Hit it!” the commander shouts as an agent is seen using a bazooka to blow up a section of the hideout. Some ninjas go flying because of the explosion as more policemen force their way throw the exposed entrance to the Shinto like house. When they enter, again the agents shoot anything that moves without question. This final battle can be described as a ruthless bloody war between two opposing forces with absolutely zero remorse for human life by the American side.

The film was produced in recent years following the Bush era. The police force’s intrusion into the Ozunu Clan’s hideout and mass murdering everyone can be seen as symbolic of America’s invasion in Iraq. When the Middle East became a problem for the U.S., we invaded Iraq and killed thousands of terrorist before clearly understanding the situation. The climax in Ninja Assassin signifies this because just like the war, the police force raided the hideout and shot every ninja just months after pursuing the clan before clearly understanding what they were going into.

The portrayal of the final battle scene between ninjas and police show that McTeigue is exploring America’s invasion of the Middle East. Through showing the senseless shooting, he is proposing that Western invasion in a foreign setting without a clear grasp of the situation only results in a bloody mess.

At the same time, McTeigue’s argument about the war can also be seen as his interpretation of what modern day Western Colonialism looks like. After the U.S. invaded the Middle East, it gained control over all the territories it invaded and used such things as oil for its interest. Similarly in the film, when the American police force invaded the Ozunu Clan’s hideout. It gained control over that territory and from then on can use that location for any purpose it wants.

The film contains the action, blood and gore and the main reason audiences came to see it, which is a ninja weapon versus automatic weapon showdown. For movie goers who came to see Ninja Assassin purely for the violence aspect, they will miss these epideictic arguments of proposal by the director.

One set back on McTeigue’s proposal on defying Asian male masculinity is that critics might argue that he isn’t actually making this argument at all, but rather he is trying to market star sensation Bi Rain. Viewing the film years ago, I thought they had discovered Bi Rain and decided to make him a Hollywood star since he is an amazingly, attractive Asian male. Little did I know, I found out a few months ago that Bi Rain is actually a famous singer, movie and drama actor in South Korea. He was so popular that Time Magazine listed him as the number one most influential person beating Stephen Colbert who took second place. While the argument is plausible that McTeigue is only marketing Bi Rain to a young, American audience through the film, putting an Asian actor with a physique that defy the norms of Asian male masculinity at least sheds some positive light on the stereotypes.

Bakugan toy box at Myeongdong in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea — “Have you heard of Bakomon?” I asked George, who was sitting next to me, on the tour bus. “Pokemon?” he replied. “No BAKomon,” I said while laughing. He shakes his head slowly and stares at me with the same blank look he always had on his face since the first day I met him at Dallas Fort Worth Airport. “You mean Bakugan?” a girl’s voice announced from behind my seat. “Yes! Bakugan!” I quickly answered. I can’t remember her name, but she was one of the 75 students who participated in the South Korea scholarship program with me. “I used to work at a toy store,” she told me. “I remembered the kids were obsessed with those things.” I hurriedly gave her my attention and started to tell her about what I saw at one of Seoul’s buzzing shopping district the day before. I wanted to know her advice.

It was around night-time when I went shopping at Myeongdong with two friends, and we came across a toy stand.  There were two guys working the cart, one older gentleman, maybe in his late 40s, and a younger male, probably in his early 30s. There were a variety of anime, action figures, little knickknacks, and I’m guessing a few novelty items. The first thing that caught my eyes though was a clear, plastic container, the shape and size of a small lunch box with a Bakugan image on top. It reminded me of my youngest brother Toan. I remembered he played with these Bukugan toys he had collected from McDonalds.

Shopping District at NigthI picked up the box and examined it. There were circular, plastic balls the size of a big playing marble in numerous color designs evenly spaced out inside. These where the same Bakugan toys he had insistently wanted to buy when we went to Wal-mart together a few months ago. Even though it was his money, I kept telling him no because I thought it was a waste of money. Toan isn’t the bratty type nor is he a bad kid. He just always says okay in a down voice and becomes sad when he can’t have the few things he wants. I just feel so shitty on the inside every time I see him like that, so of course I let him buy it.

I held the box in the air and asked the older guy, “How much?” He answered with an accent “50,000krw,” which is a little less than $50 in America. My first facial reaction was what the fuck?! Are you kidding me?! I thought he must have meant 15,000krw or $15, so I said how many zeros while I drew round circles on my palm with my finger indicting what I wanted to know. He thought for a second and raised up four fingers. I looked at him in disbelief and said this (shit) is cheaper in America! One of my female friends shook her head and said in a small voice “no don’t buy it.” She had this unwelcoming look on her face as if telling me you’re getting ripped off. Later, after we left, I knew this was exactly what she was thinking when she told me, “$50 for some plastic? It’s not worth it.”


I was thinking about that toy box on the bus the next day, and I recalled that my little bro had bought one of those circular toy things for around $7. This Bakugan toy box had 14 of those things, which means 14 times 7 equals a little less than $100 bucks.

“So, do you think I should buy it?” I finally asked her for reassurance on the bus. She looked to the side to think of an answer and then replied, “Yeah, that’s a reasonable price, I would think.”

I continued to contemplate whether or not I should buy it for my little bro. Later that week on the Friday before I left Seoul. One of the scheduled events we had to attend was at Myeongdong, so I decided I was going to stay there to do a little more shopping and go back and ask for the price again. I saw the same stand and the same guys, and I asked the older guy again how much was the box. He gave me the same answer. I placed the box down and decided I’ll do a little shopping and come back for it later.

A few hours gone by, I finally came back but this time I pulled the younger guy over, while the older guy was distracted helping someone else, and I pointed to the Bakugan toy box and said, “Hey, $40,000 for that box I’ll take it right now,” while raising four fingers in the air. He kinda smiled at me a little, grabbed his calculator and punched in $45,000. I gave my hand a slight wave as if gesturing whatever I’m not interested in any number you’re punching, and I raised up four fingers again and said, “$40,000 I’ll take it right now and go home.” He kinda smirked at me again and without any refutation, he went over to grab the box and then a bag and placed it inside for me.


Yes! I thought as I pulled out $40,000 and handed it over to him. Just to make the exchange a little more lively, I started to make conversations and asked him if he was Korean because I thought he looked Japanese, and I also heard his coworker speak Japanese. He said no and asked me where I was from in Korean. I said I came from America, but I’m Vietnamese. He looked surprised, but we eventually made the exchange and that was the last thing I bought in Seoul.

Whether I got a good bargain or not I still saved 1o bucks, so yay lol. When I got back into the U.S. I called my lil bro and told him I got him a toy, and I asked him how much he thought it was. “Uh $25,” he guessed. “It was actually $50, but I told the guy I’ll take it for $40 and he sold it to me,” I replied.  He then said with surprised emotions in his little 11-year-old voice, “Whaat? yu cann doo that?” I said, “Yes. It’s called bargaining.” I could hear it in his voice he was happy I bought him a toy, but he’s the type that doesn’t show his feelings regardless if he’s sad or happy because apparently to him that meant I got the best of him. Anywho, he just knows I bought him some kind of toy. He doesn’t know it’s the Bakugan thing he had insistently wanted, so I can’t wait to see the look on his face when I present it to him!

The dream lives

AUSTIN, Texas — In 2007 Colorado’s Senator and presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, stated on his official website: “I am 100 percent opposed to amnesty. As President, I will secure our borders so illegal aliens do not come, and I will eliminate benefits and job prospects so they do not stay.”

The senator’s bold statement and attitude towards illegal immigration are hostile and ignores human rights policy. But as political leaders continue to debate, ten states have decided to enact a bill that would give undocumented immigrants a chance at economic stability in America. California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington have all succeeded in passing the Dream Act.

Senator Tancredo is in opposition to the Dream Act because of beneficial and interests factors in the United States. Opponents of the bill also argue that passing the act before the border is completely secure is to place the U.S. at risk of more illegal immigration and another tax payer’s burden. Supporters of the Dream Act see it though as an entitlement and a must to human rights and argue that the ten states decision to enact the Dream Act is going to help thousands of undocumented immigrants nationwide at climbing up the economic later and achieving a more ideal life style.

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois introduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors [Dream] Act to Congress in 2001. Ever since then, the Senate and the House has rejected the proposal for seven years despite numerous efforts made by supporters to get the bill enacted.

The Dream Act offers certain undocumented children of illegal immigrants the opportunity to apply for permanent legal residency and also allows them to pay in-state tuition to attend college. Those students whose parents brought them into the country illegally at a young age will qualify for the bill. In addition, undocumented immigrant students must attend at least two years of college and work towards obtaining a bachelors degree or serve two years in the armed forces. Students must also have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and living here five years prior to the bill’s passing.

Various versions of the Dream Act were presented to Congress in hope that it will receive reconciliation, but no progress has been made. The bill requires a partisan vote and without support from both parties, this leaves no option for more academic advancement in 65,000 undocumented students graduating from high school every year. Universities do not accept these students due to their legal status, and the students cannot afford to pay the full out-of-state tuition.

The Dream Act seeks to provide a possible resolution for undocumented students who grew up in the country and considers the United States their home but cannot progress further educationally or economically because they are recognized as illegal aliens.

Opponents of the bill argue that the United States will be rewarding lawbreakers and encouraging more illegal immigrants into the country. At the same time, the United States would create a “special class” of illegal immigrants and provide them with benefits to which our own citizens are not entitled. One of the bill’s major weaknesses is that it repeals a 1996 law, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which bars any state from offering discounted tuition to illegal immigrants unless it provides the same tuition discount to all U.S citizens. In other words, the Dream Act grants undocumented students a taxpayer-subsidized education when out-of-state U.S citizens have to pay full price for their education. Opponents contend that providing these special benefits to the undocumented students that are not provided for all law-abiding Americans is unfair and inefficient.

Another weakness of the Dream Act is that it gives amnesty to those who break the law and encourages more aliens to violate immigration laws. The Federation for American Immigration Reform and Homeland Security justify that the bill calls for a “demographic invasion” because citizenship is given away so easily. Opponents claim that the bill does not help in preventing illegal immigrants from traveling into the country nor does it decreases the number of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. Instead, the Dream Act contributes to more illegal immigration issues.

Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas, states that undocumented students who apply for the Dream Act receives immediate “lawful permanent resident status” and the students in turn can use this acquired status to seek green cards for their parents or relatives in Latin America. Kobach explains that this aids to more illegal immigration, because the parents are now given amnesty and the students get an opportunity to bring more immigrants into the Unite States.

Supporters of the bill argue that passing the Dream Act would be a tremendous asset to the U.S. because the number of skilled and educated workers in the immigrant population would increase. The Dream Act would be giving hundreds of thousands of high-achieving students an opportunity at obtaining greater education and a path beyond dead-end jobs. The bill helps undocumented students obtain degrees and become productive citizens. All these factors possibly reduces the number of dropouts in the Hispanic community and decreases crime rates as well.

George R. Boggs, president and chief executive of the American Association of Community Colleges, argues that the Dream Act will affect our nation’s economic competitiveness. Boggs says that with over 70 million baby boomers starting to retire, the Dream Act will meet the economy’s demand for more college-educated employees. Also, for the undocumented students who decide to serve two years in the armed forces, this gives the military a boost with a line of recruits. The Dream Act provides the large number of Americanized illegal immigrants in the country an opportunity to obtain higher education and move up the economic ladder regardless of their legal status.

Illegal immigration has always been a controversial topic in the United States despite America being one of the countries that are most welcoming to immigrants. For the moment, Congress is reluctant to pass any bill that offers a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. Both the Senate and the House are at a stalemate in passing the Dream Act. Prior to the 2008 election, Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the bill. Senator John McCain also favored the Dream Act but invoked his decision after it was defeated twice. He announced that he realized Americans want their borders secured first. Republicans also argue that no immigration laws should pass until the federal government seals the border.  For the moment, no action for the Dream Act is currently scheduled in the White House. With the stalemate in Congress, the focus is shifted to state legislatures for decision making.

The United State’s policy on the Dream Act impacts Latin American Nations negatively. Prohibiting undocumented students from obtaining the higher education necessary to economic success, this forces the immigrant populace to work for low paying jobs. The undocumented immigrants do not make enough money for themselves, so they cannot send money back to Latin America to support their relatives. Not only do the lives of the Latin American people will not improve, but Congress is also going to pass a bill that increases the number of available visas for high-skilled science and technology workers in Latin America—thus, extracting the talent, contribution, and wealth out of the country.

U.S policy on the Dream Act keeps illegal immigration off the agenda and contributes zero American funds in aiding undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, the U.S continues to benefit in tax dollars from the illegal immigrants by not granting them legal residency status. In the end, all this means is that the policy is currently serving in the interest of the United States.

One of the main factors I think why Congress has not passed the Dream Act yet is due to the concern that America’s interests will be affected. While I understand the stake of the controversy, I believe that Congress basing its decision solely on interest’s values—this goes against moral and ethical values. The United State cannot just completely ignore these students and prohibit them from acquiring higher education and a better chance at life. Congress cannot use interest factors to make their decision. It is against human rights and contradicts the American dream.

I think political and diplomatic standards should be the main guidelines used in the decision process instead. One thing I would recommend the U.S does so that both sides win is that instead of passing the entire Dream Act, Congress can make adjustments and approve parts of it and leave out some. Make the bill so that students get the opportunity to attend college affordably. While American students do not get the benefit of paying in state tuition as the undocumented student does, American students always have the option of attending a university in their state and qualify for in-state-tuition. For undocumented students, if the Dream Act is not passed, anywhere they go they will not be eligible for anything. So the question of fairness and what’s right and wrong really falls on the undocumented students instead. I think Congress should reconsider the Dream Act and based its decision not just on interests and economic factors but also diplomatic and ethical concerns.

The blogosphere vs. the mainstream media

AUSTIN, Texas — Just two months before the tight and hotly contested 2004 Presidential Election between George W. Bush and John Kerry, CBS aired a 60 Minutes segment that was critical of Bush’s service in the Air National Guard.

“Tonight, we have new documents and new information on the president’s military service,” Dan Rather said in introducing the show. He explained that CBS had obtained four “authentic” documents allegedly written by Bush’s Texas National Guard commander in the early 1970s, the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian. The documents claimed Bush disobeyed an order to appear for a physical exam, and that friends of the Bush family tried to sugar coat his service.

CBS’s News Producer, Marry Mapes, had been following a story about Bush’s military controversy for years. So when Bill Burkett, a former Texas National Guard officer, presented Mapes with copies of memos supporting her investigation, she never questioned the authenticity of the purported papers and saw it as breaking coverage for CBS.

To what extent do bloggers play a role in holding the media accountable for the news they cover? 

In order to beat the competitors, Mapes assembled an unprepared report of Bush’s military service and rushed the story on air before properly obtaining clear authentication of the memos by document experts. She failed to confirm the original source of the documents and never investigated Burkett’s anti-Bush background.  Mapes also ignored the warning signs during her telephone conversation with General Bobby Hodges—Killian’s commanding officer during the period in question. Hodges told Mapes he believed Killian never ordered anyone including Bush to take a physical.

Dan Rather had just returned from covering the Republican Convention and Hurricane Francis. He was more distracted than usual to cover such a big story, so he entrusted the reporting to Mapes. The new 60 Minutes management team also relied on their well-respected news producer and failed to ask questions.

“There are a lot of logistical reasons the story was rushed on air,” Michael Whitney, a former Senior Broadcast Producer at CBS evening News and journalism professor at the University of Texas, said. “The immediate reaction, mine and everyone else at CBS was to not assume the story was wrong.”

A zealous belief in the truth of the story led Mapes, and those who trusted her, to let their guard down and disregard some fundamental journalistic principles in preparing and reporting the segment.

Immediately within hours after the episode aired, discussions challenging the authenticity of the documents surfaced on internet forums and conservative blogs.

Scott Johnson, a blogger for the Power Line, started raising questions focused on alleged anachronism in the documents typography. The charges quickly spread to other blogs and the information began streaming from the blogosphere.

The bloggers speculated that the memos looked like they were written on a modern computer instead of a 1970s military typewriter. The stylistic differences with other documents attributed to Killian, dated information and improper lingo were also disputed.

“These bloggers seemed to have discovered that the documents might be false because when Colonel Killian was alive, no electric type writer existed that had the certain type face on it that was on those documents,” Whitney said. “So that was the first suggestion that something was wrong with the story, that the story was flawed.”

Soon the accusations spread to the mainstream media and by the following day, the CBS controversy was front-page news on The New York Times and the Washington Post.

The network defended the story for weeks but later assigned an independent review panel to conduct an investigation on the issue.

The panel showed the memos as forgeries and faulted CBS News for negligence in the way it handled the documents. Eventually, the story had to be retracted.

“We deeply regret the disservice this flawed 60 Minutes Wednesday report did to the American public, which has a right to count on CBS News for fairness and accuracy,” CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves said.

Mapes and several other senior producers were fired or asked to resign, and Dan Rather later stepped down as anchor of the evening news. CBS’s credibility, 60 Minutes and Dan Rather’s image were tarnished in the public eye.

The incident affirmed the power of the blogosphere in holding the news media accountable for their work. A new era of journalism had arrived in which non-journalists used the internet to demand higher standards in the news media. The blogs provided a new medium for people to communicate and gave them a voice they did not have before with traditional media.

The bloggers were able to quickly syndicate a cliché they found in the media’s reporting process in a short period of time.

“I thought it was just a bunch of people sitting around in their pajamas working on their computer at night,” Whitney said. “I’d never heard of the blog. I didn’t know what the hell the blogosphere was. And all of a sudden we’re consumed by the blogosphere by the time I came into the office the next morning.”

One can suggest the blogosphere fights complacency through keeping the news media on their toes by holding it accountable for honesty and monitoring what it fails and lacks to do as the American watchdog.

This leads us to the big question we ask now: How many times have CBS or other major news organizations been able to do this and gotten away with it before the blogosphere emerged?

The bloggers first made a splash on mainstream media in 1998 when The Drudge Report published the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal. Leakage of Bill Clinton’s alleged affair with a young intern unfolded on cyberspace instead of the morning newspapers. The story originally belonged to Newsweek magazine, but it never made publication until three days after the scandal had already been widely gossiped about on the internet.

Traditional media got scooped out by the blogosphere. The scandal represented a visible sign that the nature of journalism was starting to change.

That change came in the form of bloggers ability to manifest stories the networks failed to report.

Just last year, American news organizations came under fire and faced tremendous criticism for their failure to expose Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards for his extramarital affair with a campaign worker.

Sam Stein, a blogger for the The Huffington Post, broke the Edward scandal when he published a report about a set of short documentary films Edwards had commissioned before he ran for candidacy–but they no longer existed afterwards. The object of the videos was to portray Edwards as a sympathetic guy with a down-to-earth light that could potentially benefit his presidential campaign.

“Now, however, nearly all traces of the ‘webisodes’ – as they became known – are gone,” Stein wrote on his blog. “This closed-off approach naturally aroused my interest.”

Just a few weeks later the National Enquirer [A supermarket tabloid] picked up the story and built on Edwards’s revelations, announcing that he was having an affair with Rielle Hunter—an aspiring producer who proposed the films idea to Edwards in a New York City bar and later produced them.

Steve Clemons, publisher of the weblog The Washington Note, collaborated with Stein and began his own column. The affair was soon lampooned by late-night talk show hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien while the Huffington Post led the report. The scandal was also covered by many foreign newspapers, while the mainstream media still has not mentioned it.

Many Americans found themselves reading detailed accounts of the allegations on the internet long before the news organizations started their reporting nine months later when Edwards finally gave a television interview to ABC News and admitted to the romantic relationship. Suddenly a story that the networks had ignored became front-page news and rocked U.S. media.

Many news organizations maintained that they remained silent because Edward had officially denied the allegations. Critics argued though that perhaps the media was too easily accepting of the denial rather than conducting diligent journalism.

Mainstream media lifted their blanket of silence to reveal a story the blogosphere had already uncovered a long time ago.

Likewise, another incident the media overlooked came in 2002 when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a controversial comment praising Senator Strom Thurmond’s old segregationist theory at Thurmond’s 100th birthday.

“When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him,” Lott said. “We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

The comment was broadcasted live on C-SPAN, but no one in the national media took notice.

Josh Marshall, founder of the popular blog Talking Points Memo, along with other bloggers quickly zeroed in.

“That story failed its 24 hour audition,” Marshall said during an interview with  reporter Lowell Bergman. “And I think in a pre-blog world that would have been the end of it.”

But it was not the end of it, because the blogosphere snatched up the story and unpacked what the networks overlooked until it received national attention from the mainstream media.

A few days later, Lott issued a written apology and just two weeks after the incident he resigned as Senate Majority Leader.

The bloggers claimed victory for keeping the story alive.

Equally as affecting, another role the blogosphere plays on mainstream media is its monitoring the press and keeping it accurate and honest.

In 2007, bloggers for several online news organizations, including Salon’s Glenn Greenwald as well as other independent bloggers such as Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake held Time Magazine accountable for factual errors in a story it published.

The magazine’s star political pundit, Joe Klein, wrote a column attacking Congressional Democrats for their efforts to craft the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA]. According to Klein, the Democrats’ bill would force the government to obtain court permission every time it wanted to eavesdrop on a foreign surveillance target.

Klein was wrong.  Had he read the legislation he would have understood that under the house bill, individualized warrants are required if the U.S. Government wants to eavesdrop on the communications of Americans but not for every foreign terrorist target calls.

Klein gave a misleading message to readers and dug a bigger hole for himself when he posted several more articles insisting that he was right. Time was also hammered by the bloggers for inadequately responding to Klein’s post. It continuously backed his writing instead of requiring him to correct his errors.

The bloggers persisted their attack on Klein and Time Magazine until he eventually admitted to his fault.

“I may have made a mistake in my column this week about the FISA legislation passed by the House,” he wrote on the Time’s blog.

In the end, Time Magazine retracted the story and published a corrected version.

Mainstream media failed to police themselves, and through the intervention of the blogosphere their carelessness was caught.

However, the blogosphere doesn’t always get the story right.

“Who’s to say the bloggers are accurate. The bloggers have their own opinions and their own agendas, and so who’s to say their right over the journalist,” Kate Weidaw, a reporter at KXAN Austin News, said. “There’s so many blogs out there. Just because a blogger got one story right doesn’t make that blogger the expert on journalism and fact checking.”

The bloggers got slammed in 2006 when they questioned the credibility of the Associated Press.

The AP wrote a story in which six Sunnis were doused with kerosene and burned alive by Shiite militiamen while the Iraqi military stood watching.

After the story published, Lieutenant Michael Dean, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy Multi-National Corps-Iraq Joint Operations Center, sent an email to the AP in Baghdad demanding the story be retracted, because the military had checked with the Iraqi Interior Ministry and was told that the AP’s primary source—an Iraqi police captain named Jamil Hussein—did not exist.

Dean’s letter quickly appeared on several conservative blogs, prompting heated debates about the story and criticism towards the AP.

Powerline, Newsbusters, The Jawa Report and Flopping Aces amplified these doubts and called the story “bogus.” The bloggers accused the AP of fabricating the story to make conditions in Iraq appear worse than they really are.

The AP countered attack by releasing a follow-up story citing eyewitnesses to the incident. The article explained that the Interior Ministry later acknowledged the Iraqi police officer whose existence had been denied by the Iraqis officials and the U.S. military is in fact an active member of the force. It also reported that he was facing arrest for speaking to the media.

Once the AP had substantiated the story as well as it could, Bob Geiger, a writer at Blogspot, slammed the conservative bloggers for wasting time by singling out one story in the media and trying to prove it wrong while ignoring thousands of other hideous stories coming out of Iraq. He and several bloggers wrote articles defending the AP and bashed the blogs involved calling that they apologize to the AP.

Nonetheless, for all its faults the blogosphere can be seen at the new emerging press watchdog. And while the blog world plays a role on the mainstream media’s stage, its primary purpose, though, should not be emphasized that it tries to keep a leash on the news media or should even be seen by journalists as a threat.

The blogosphere merely gives the public a forum to voice their inquiries to the media and the world, which in turn creates an interactive community between people and press. So bloggers won’t make professional journalists take their jobs anymore seriously because they already are. It won’t make the mainstream media be more accurate than they already are.

“The three rules of journalism are accuracy, accuracy and accuracy,” Mike Tharp, the executive editor at Merced Sun-Star newspaper, said. “If the reporter is right in her facts, she doesn’t need to worry much about the blogosphere.”

There’s much more to be developed in the blogosphere, but it should be seen as a source that sets the agenda that keep stories alive. The blogosphere should be seen as a tool for the mainstream media to work with and not against.