Blue Schools

Author: Nadia Simon

So the Blue Man Group – funny blue guys with no ears and homemade instruments – has opened up a school, according to an article I read in Time Magazine. After having established their reputation in Vegas, Tokyo and Chicago, they have now taken on another crowd – kindergarten.
Situated on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, The Blue School opened its doors in September to 61 NYC kids kindergarten age or younger, and plans to offer first grade in the coming year in hopes of extending all the way to fifth grade.
Jesse Newman for TIME

The question is what are the kids learning? The original Blue Men – Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink – collaborated on the project as a “sort of support group for people whose creativity has been all but squeezed out of them by education.”
They decided to find out whether or not there could be a school “you didn’t have to recover from” by joining forces with their wives as founding members of the school’s board.
The architecture, much like the funky allure of their shows, includes long tubes that swirl around corridors for kids to talk to one another (like the old can-and-string phones) and a Wonder Room with disco lights.
A school where you can express yourself with shaving cream and water hoses, have a half an hour of “glow time” (black lights where paintings and sculptures come to life), climb walls, and get weekly visits from yoga specialists is sure as hell somewhere I’d like to be. But one wonders how the group even came up with this curriculum and called it a school? Apparently, the founders worked with education experts, including British “creativity guru” Sir Ken Robinson and UCLA’s Daniel Siegel, to create the curriculum – and I’m assuming to shut fundamentalist educators up about a non-sense learning environment.
Classrooms have questions like “How do four-year-olds understand the color red?” written on the walls. Each section has been modeled according to their motto that learning is to be provoked, not imposed.
Although the school doesn’t suit everybody, the project seems interesting enough to include a few of its elements in other schools.
Here’s the catch, tuition for kindergarten is $27,300. The worst part is it’s not even the costliest of Manhattan’s overpriced private elementary schools, but it’s up there and applications have been pouring in. Why not? if parents can afford to send their kids to a school that they’ll be thanked for years to come, is a good enough investment for some, kindergarten or no kindergarten. I do have to agree with the fact that so many kids today are held back from personal expression and are coerced into their curriculum instead of lured into it with interesting activities that manage to help them learn at the same time. How is this really any different from making your kid listen to classical music as a fetus or forcing him/her into SAT classes at the age of five? Oh yeah, they have FUN and actually want to go to school to learn – a good association to create at an early age. Again, it’s not for everyone, but at least it could serve as a great experience for those who do attend The Blue School.
I must say my favorite part of the story was when a young boy was asked what his “provocation” is and he said it’s to ask what kind of fart everyone is. Now, if that isn’t self-expression, I don’t know what is.


Pass the NO2

Author: Nadia Simon

People say you are what you eat. So what if you were eating Nitro-scrambled-egg ice cream, or preserved tuna-oil air? …maybe even a mozzarella balloon puffed with nitrogen dioxide? These are a few of the crazy meals you can create with The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.
Chefs are always looking for a cutting edge dish, something more exotic than the next. A few world-renowned molecular gastronomists have turned their chemistry labs into kitchens by infusing liquid nitrogen with simple dishes to create what looks like edible art.

Although some of the dishes look beautiful, are they worth the taste? Apparently, they are according to Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea Restaurant. It’s just simply a different way of cooking. For example, one would use an antigriddle (a cooktop that freezes rather than heats) for many of the dishes. Another particular method of cooking is called sous vide, in which meat is vacuum-sealed and poached at a very low temperature, producing supermoist and flavorful dishes.
This recent crave has offered many chefs new techniques and ingredients to spice things up for those with truly extensive taste pallets who are always looking for something new.
It’s interesting that many of the chefs who were interviewed all came to the same conclusion – everything in cooking is chemical. Even the basics like water and salt are still technically chemicals.
Many think this alternative way of cooking is a look into the future and while these techniques begin at restaurants, they will make their way into homes.


Happy Meals?

Author: Nadia Simon

Reading through the countless post-election articles in the LA Times about the new wave of hope sweeping across the country and skimming through a piece about a Barbie store that was launched in Argentina, my eyes caught the big ‘O’ on the next page and opened wide to focus on the line that followed; ‘Obese kids have arteries as thick as 45-year-olds.’

While the interests of the United States have been directed abroad, one of our many important domestic problems has clearly been overlooked – obesity. Although this country has been focused on national security and the safety of Americans in our continuous battle against terrorism oversees, are we really paying attention to the current well being of our children at home?

Let’s face it, America is known for fast food. By the time a child is 5, ‘would you like fries with that?’ is apart of their weekly vocabulary. Studies have shown that 16.3% of children and teens are obese and an additional 15.6% are overweight (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) – and with fast food chains stretching from one end of a city to the other, the situation isn’t getting any better. The country is facing an epidemic of childhood obesity and we as consumers are feeding right into it.

While one can make the argument that parenting is what needs to be reassessed through stricter diets at home, the problem is perpetuated regardless through the influence of food marketing to American children and teens. It is simply inconsistent with other healthy diet alternatives. The fast food market has made it so easy and tempting for consumers who are short on time, money or even patience to eat. They simply get in their car, drive down the street, order a meal from their vehicle, get their food and scarf it down all in less than ten minutes. We boast about how we’ve managed to create an expedient alternative for most things, but it’s sad how convenience has taken priority over health.

We are raising a generation of children that are going to have a significant increase in vascular diseases as they get older. While this suggests a major health problem, because children will be getting severe cardiovascular diseases at a much younger age than their parents, there will be more at risk than just personal health. If people become disabled at the age of 30 or 40 after already developing heart disease in their 20s and 30s, we could potentially lose a significant fraction of the workforce in this country. This fact, if nothing else, should be the big red flag signaling some form of reversal – unless this country is willing to delve into deeper problems than it is already in.

Cardiologists, nutritionists and other health promoters have stated time and again that if we can identify the condition early and start modifying triglycerides (‘bad’ cholesterol), we can probably prevent progression and even promote regression.

Recent interesting developments that have left me a bit more hopeful of fast food are the ‘healthy food’ sections that different chains have started to implement. McDonald’s, for example, carries 1% low fat milk and fruit & walnut salads among other salads, while Taco Bell carries “Fresco Style” items in which the cheese and sauce in regular menu items are replaced with Taco Bell's "Fiesta Salsa" (salsa with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro) – reducing the calories and fat content of many items.

Again, although these are positive alternatives to otherwise very unhealthy selections, the core of the problem won’t be solved by adding a salad or two to a menu full of cheeseburgers and burritos, but can only be understood after accepting that we are socialized into this culture of fast food from an early age through marketing. It is the early socialization that needs to be altered paired with the modification of the products that are marketed to our kids. The media should be geared toward educating children on eating right from the get go, and getting them to associate good health with their choice of food, instead of pushing them to become anorexic or bulimic after the fact.

It is absolutely appalling to think that we entice them with junk and then flaunt magazine covers with models and actresses less than half an average person’s size. In allowing for children to build consistently healthy lifestyles at a younger age, we can help ensure a better future for the American people at home.


W. Gets an A

Author: Nadia Simon

After watching Josh Brolin portray the life of “Dubyah” for about two hours, I was surprisingly pleased with more than just Oliver Stone’s end of the work. Never did I expect to not only see such a human side depicted of the man questioned as the worst president in history, but to empathize with him left me interestingly shocked as well. Then again, Stone has a pretty good track record in engaging his audience to attempt to connect with his characters, who otherwise carry low public approval ratings – not to mention his initially awkward choice of actors who ultimately do a superb job in their roles (Who ever thought Anthony Hopkins would make a pretty decent Nixon??).

The film takes you back to Junior’s good old college days of hazing for DKE at Yale. The display of antics from his heavy drinking to his playboy ways is juxtaposed with Papa Bush’s incessant disapproval no matter what G-O tries to do to please him. Of course James Cromwell delivers a great role as Senior. Elizabeth Banks portrays the lovable, supportive Laura, which makes you kind of like her too – considering Junior took the spotlight for the past 8 years. She was pretty enigmatic to me up until I saw some of what she could be like in the first semi-biographical film about a sitting president. And I never have anything bad to say about Ellen Burstyn, way to go as Barb. Aside from his personal background, and after the movie starts to shift from his eastern elitist education and his numerous get-out-of-jail-free card moments with dad, into the presidency, the depictions become even more uncanny. Oh and in-between all that I learned a fun fact about our current president – who wished he was Willie Mays instead – having co-owned the Texas Rangers

I personally want to thank Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glen and Thandie Newton (who is absolutely gorgeous) for making my night, though. The three reaffirmed my prior thoughts of Cheney as the true evil genius with his sidekick Rummy the lying scumbag and their blasé, yes-sir third component Condi following close behind. In all seriousness, while some might object to Thandie’s borderline SNL persona, I must say that after seeing Condi in person myself, Ms. Newton’s portrayal seemed pretty damn accurate to me – gave me a good laugh. I also knew I liked Colin Powell the most out of the bunch.

The film ultimately served as a very good civics lesson for viewers who were not completely aware of the inner workings of the Bush administration, up to this point. From Iraq, to the war on terror, to questions about torture techniques carried out by the U.S. government, and the subsequent economic crisis resulting from the horrendous choices of the administration, many people find themselves blaming Bush for those and other shortcomings America faced throughout the past 8 years. In doing so, however, they fail to realize the crucial role that his cabinet played in the outcome of it all – specifically the three stooges I mentioned before. Bush’s “hands-off” style in the deliberation of many issues surrounding the administration was clearly depicted in the film – showing a lot of the power being placed in the hands of Cheney instead. Throughout the film, there are a few different cases where Bush attempts to take back some of his power in an effort to regain accountability after battling with his own conscience, but in the end, he resorts to leaving the background work to Cheney while continuing to portray the image of the leader as opposed to the follower we all kind of knew he was.

One of my personal favs – not to ruin the film for anyone, although its pretty obvious to the whole world at this point – is when the president holds a meeting upon our ‘entrance’ into Iraq (to put it nicely), during which time WMDs still HAD NOT been found, and everybody in the room looks like they just got asked a pop quiz question about who’s idea it was to enter into the war in the first place. The childlike reaction of the cabinet was surreal, but more so, sickening. It was definitely an ‘ARE YOU FRIGGIN SERIOUS???’ moment for me if not everybody else in the theater. It was the moment of truth where accountability was completely thrown out the window while bureaucracy slowly crept in through the cracks in the floor. And we’re not even talking about a piece of legislation that got lost in translation, but a war. Everyone’s reaction was to point the finger at one committee and then throw the hot potato to the next one, after which point in time you ask yourself why the heck so many committees were involved in the first place in an executive decision that seemed like news to the president himself. I guess there was no need to debrief the man considered to be the head of state and the head of government, not to mention Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces for crying out loud – not even a memo on a post-it note, nothing. Again, for some odd reason, as a member of the audience you find yourself wanting to strangle someone other than Junior for “overlooking” the WMD situation. While we all know the end of the story, Stone gives it a twist with Junior in his empty baseball stadium, with no one to cheer, as he struggles to step out with dignity.

I can safely say I walked out of the theater not minding at all for paying an entire $9.50 to see two hours dedicated to “Dubyah” and the gang.

So, if you’re out and about, feeling jaded by all the media coverage of the 2008 election and in the mood to catch an interesting flick, give W. a second glance at the box office and find yourself reminiscing the oh-so yesterday Bush administration through the vision of an amazing cast and an amazing director.


Endorsing 'That One'

Author: Nadia Simon

Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, decided to paint the political landscape purple when he recently announced that he would be supporting Senator Barack Obama in the upcoming election.

Finally, someone – not only the former Secretary of State, but also a Republican – took the leap into the light side of the force by selecting a candidate who actually addresses issues of his choice, rather than simply the party of his choice. What’s eye catching about the story is not so much that Colin Powell is a public political figure who has updated the media on his positions with the election, but that he unhinged himself from the chains of his political orientation to support the Democratic candidate.

Once seen as a possible presidential candidate himself, the retired U.S. General expressed his opinions of Obama on NBC's "Meet the Press,” stating that he views the Senator as a “transformational figure” and someone who is apart of a “new generation coming onto the American stage.” He also commented on the negative effects that the McCain campaign has contributed to the Republican candidate through their attempts to tie Obama to former 1960s radical Bill Ayers.

Since leaving the Bush administration, the former General has, for the most part, steered away from politics. However, the possibility of his endorsement had been rumored for several months. Although Powell donated the maximum to John McCain's campaign in the summer of 2007, he stated in February on CNN that he was weighing an endorsement of a Democratic or Independent candidate.

Going back to the polarization of candidates and their respective parties through our electoral system, Powell’s political backing cancels out the presupposition that the system has set up for members of a party to vote only for their party’s ticket, regardless of issues surrounding the candidate and regardless of one’s opinion of the candidate’s rhetoric.
By taking a more personal stance with his choice rather than a political one (no pun intended), Powell stepped outside of the parameters that have been mapped out by our two-party institution.

Although “party flopping” has been a taboo of American politics, there is a point to be made about core values that seem to stay consistent for people while other interests change with the weather. We do in fact possess the freedom to choose to change our minds on other issues and therefore alter our party affiliation if the issues become significant enough to cause one to realign. If a person supports certain aspects of both and cant seem to settle completely with one or the other, that person is more likely to be referred to as a “party whore” than a diversified constituent interested in a multitude of issues with respective positions on those issues. I have found myself at this very crossroad on many occasions and I highly doubt that I am the one special person among hundreds of millions of other U.S. citizens who feels this way.

It is actually quite ironic to think that American consumerism and capitalism epitomize choices and endless options, and yet they are paired with a political system completely opposite to it in nature. This “you’re either with us or you’re against us” false dilemma mentality will continue to pull people and parties further away from each other, blinding Americans from what we really need to focus on as a world power trying to gain our good reputation back – unity.

Powell’s position definitely shines a light on the ability to re-cultivate the landscape to nurture a political arena with potentially more options.

Options are what Americans know. So, along with the corporate employee who would rather take the elevator down 100 floors to the Starbucks around the corner to order a grande, non-fat, no water, 180 degrees, chai tea latte, than have a cup of coffee from the office kitchen that’s 10 feet away, why can’t we create the same market of options involving politics?


Paulson Sneaks Out From the Back

Author: Nadia Simon

As of Wednesday, October 8th, Japan and Australia pumped 15 billion dollars into money markets (Japan’s market plunged over 9 percent). Russia’s market was suspended a few times throughout the week. European finance ministers have agreed to increase an EU-wide savings deposit guarantee to 50,000 euros from 30,000, saying they would coordinate their response to the financial crisis. The UK has announced an $87 billion bank rescue package.

While the U.S. suffers from a sick economy at home, the symptoms are spreading across the world and affecting the global economy, along with world stock markets. But at this point, will methods like pumping money into the market really work? The domino effect has already deepened the world’s financial turmoil – making this a worldwide recession. It’s amazing how even after Tuesday’s presidential debate, I turned on CNN for a rerun later on and the only thing analysts were discussing was the financial crisis at home and abroad.

My question is why hasn’t the media pointed the finger at Henry Paulson? Speaker Pelosi took a beating and congress was criticized for its unorganized approach on its deliberation of the bailout bill, but Paulson snuck out the back revolving door he came in from, wiping his footsteps clean. And we keep demanding accountability?

Once again, did all of this happen when we weren’t looking, or when we simply turned a blind eye? Paulson cashed out his Goldman stock – at $575 million – to become the Secretary of Treasury (of course without having to pay taxes on the sale), not to mention he earned over $53 million to stuff his wallet just within his last two years at Goldman Sachs. Ironically enough, he earned – for lack of a better word – the extra cash through creating a new line of “Mortgage Backed Securities.” Paulson must be cackling at everybody right now. He put up more than a trillion dollars on risky subprime second mortgages and THEN converted them into AAA-rated “secure” investments. Of course, he purchased the guarantees from American International Group (AIG). Another fun fact – AIG was one of the first companies to be bailed out BY Paulson for $85 billion. Now, this time around, the $85 wasn’t taken from his ice cream money; it was BORROWED, meaning taxpayers will have to repay it WITH INTEREST. All of this was done not to just save AIG, but to prevent Goldman Sachs from holding more than $20 billion in otherwise worthless second mortgages. If that’s not enough to make you sick, how about the fact that Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, was present with Paulson when the decision was made to bailout AIG.

How in the world does something like this happen without any repercussions – for them that is; because, clearly, the world is definitely feeling it on Paulson’s behalf. So, we were supposed to cough up $700 billion to Paulson and have him give it to whomever he chooses, without any public input? If anybody took just one moment to read what was written in plain language, out in the open, we would realize, how in the process, we would be giving up any say over that money:

“Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

May not be reviewed by any court of law??... Agency discretion?.. We completely flushed the constitution down the toilet with this one guys, if not our entire “democracy” we hold so dearly in this country.

On Sept. 15th, Paulson said he "never once" considered it would be appropriate to put taxpayer money at risk to resolve the problems at Lehman Brothers.

"Moral hazard is something I don't take lightly," he said, referring to the belief that when the government steps in to rescue a private financial firm it encourages other firms to engage in risky behavior.

A day later, Paulson teamed up with the Fed’s Ben Bernanke to engineer the $85 billion federal bailout of AIG.

So, now, this man has been handed unchecked power to use $700 billion to stabilize the economy…somebody please grab a copy of the Constitution before we forget what this country is supposed to be based on…I wonder if we’ll remember any time soon, or just continue to let the amnesia kick in…


Smiley Sarah

Author: Nadia Simon

When the bar is set so low, there is no where to go but up. That's exactly what happened with the veep debates on Oct. 2. Failin' Palin's image consultants did a good job reminding her to make quirky comments (doggone it?!?), give a million dollar smile and brush up on her synonyms of vague words to divert from direct answers all at once. Luckily, we didn't lose our heads again and get caught up in the one or two decent sentences she threw out. But, at least we know the glorified "community organizer" knows how to multi-task, of course after belittling all the community organizers in this country. What a way to reach out to those hockey mom's Mrs. Palin. All I know is that of all people, Tina Fey should be commended for her expertise in mimicking Palin VERBATIM. After watching her first interview with Couric - of course when Papa McCain wasn't there to hold her hand - I recalled how my teacher in elemetary school used to help us expand our vocabulary skills in our English class. We would go through exercises where she would encourage us to use explanations, examples and comparisons when defining words and concepts instead of simply taking a short cut and using the word itself in its own definition. I believe I was in 5th grade, even younger. While I don't want to be too harsh on Sarah for mastering the skill of jibber-jabber (since a lot of other politicians beat around the Bush), I simply cannot wrap my head around her irrelevant and downright childish responses during her Couric interview. So now that I know jobs are created under the umbrella of job creation, and that if I wanted to go Russian-watching I can do so from any Alaskan residence, I can't wait to hear what else Sarah Palin has to offer.