Thursday, December 30, 2004

Two films to look for

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide that cost nearly a million lives in the central African country. Hollywood recently released a film called Hotel Rwanda (CNN's review: here).

It's primarily about the real life Paul Rusesabagina, who was manager of the Hotel Mille-Collines, a luxury hotel in Rwanda's capital Kigali. He is reknown for saving the lives of well over 1000 Tutsis during the nightmarish middle of 1994. His courageous actions were explored in great detail in Philip Gourevitch's brilliant We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (Powells.com review: here; it's the most powerful book I've ever read).

Hotel Rwanda is not only one of the best movies of the year; it is also probably the most important movie of the year.The film is not only one of the best movies of the year; it is also probably the most important movie of the year, concludes CNN.

It's definitely a film to see, in the unlikely event it appears at your local multiplex.

Another film on Rwanda to look for is entitled 100Days (official film website: here). 100Days has a more documentary feel, according to this review in The Boston Globe. Though lacking a big star like Hotel Rwanda's Nick Nolte, 100Days film suffers from distribution troubles.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The tsunami never happened: Burmese junta

One of the traits of extremely secretive regimes is that they assiduously deny reality, even when no one could reasonably blame them for a particular incident. An example of this comes from Burma, home of arguably the world's most repressive dictatorship.

The opposition website the Democratic Voice of Burma notes that: The media and newspapers of Burma’s military junta, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) are still refusing to acknowledge that recent earthquake ever affected the people of Burma.

The junta owns newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar only featured on its front page, messages of sympathy from the SPDC chairman General Than Shwe, vice-chairman General Maung Aye and “Prime Minister” Lieutenant-General Soe Win to leaders of the country affected by the earthquake.

The generals expressed their sorrow and sympathy for the deaths of people in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and India due to the earthquake, but the chairman is still silent on how to help Burmese victims.

At the same time, the president of Burma’s neighbour, China, Wu Jintao on 28 December sent a message of sympathy for the loss of lives in Burma due to the quake making the Burmese generals blush with shame.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Shameless self-promotion

The Syracuse Post-Standard ran an article on folks who blog on New York state government in which this blog was mentioned.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The theocracy brigade

I often use the phrase "the theocracy brigade" to refer to certain right-wingers who constantly bemoan the fact that Christian religion no longer has the overbearing, suffocating hold on public life it once did. I've been much criticized for this; some have suggested that such people don't really exist or that I'm exaggerating in order to create a straw man effect.

An acquaintance of mine provides an excellent example of what I'm talking about.

I provide a link to his essay and direct quotations, because otherwise, I'd be accused of making a gross cariacature. Some choice excerpts:

We are entering a potentially dangerous time in America. One where people of religious faith are being targeted and silenced. Don't pretend like Bush is some sort of Christian crusader, the guy barely talks about his faith.

and

I in no way suggest that a mass Christian holocaust is right around the corner. I am simply stating that Christians in this country are being persecuted, mostly on a local level, and Bush and the GOP look the other way.

and

Secularism is dangerous. Why? Because it allows man's so called reasoning capabilities to rule without any moral basis. When man makes his own morals they may change over time and they will ultimately end up causing untold misery for many.

and

When there is a Christian society, Christian morality will be the basis of all reasoning. It is never ok to murder jews, it doesn't matter what mans reasoning is.

This is what reasonable people, whether religious or atheist, are up against. Such mentality, be it of a Christian Crusader or Muslim Jihadist, is a menace to the survival of a free society.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Iraq occupation poorly planned: Army historian

File this under the 'it does a fat lot of good telling us now' category:

Pre-war planning for the Iraq occupation was woefully inadequate. This according to the liberal media outlet... oh wait. It's actually according to the Army's official historian of the Iraq campaign.

"There was no Phase IV plan" for occupying Iraq after the combat phase, writes Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq. While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended, as reported by The Washington Post.

"While there may have been 'plans' at the national level, and even within various agencies within the war zone, none of these 'plans' operationalized the problem beyond regime collapse" -- that is, laid out how U.S. forces would be moved and structured, Wilson writes in an essay that has been delivered at several academic conferences but not published. "There was no adequate operational plan for stability operations and support operations."

On the other hand: criticizing Iraq occupation planning as inadequate presumes that it could've been done well given different decisions. In reality, the premise of the war was so fundamentally flawed and pre-war diplomacy treated with such contempt by a White House notoriously hostile to 'nation building' that different decisions might only have made the occupation go slightly less badly, not well.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Offside "beyond the capacity of the human eye"

So you think you're an amateur because you have trouble with soccer's offside rule? Don't feel bad.

The sport's offside rule is too complex for the human brain and eye to process accurately, according to new research which should give comfort to referees and linesmen who come under fire from armchair critics.

The study, published in the next edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that only TV cameras and stop-motion pictures can do the referee's job properly.

Author Francisco Belda Maruenda, a Spanish doctor, says that in order to apply the offside rule correctly, the ref has to keep at least five objects in his visual field simultaneously: the ball, the last two players of the defending team and two players of the attacking team (the player closest to the goal and the player who passes him the ball).

He says that "is beyond the capacity of the human eye" unless all five objects are closely congregated in a narrow angle of view.


Odd phrasing from the article, since most offside calls are signaled by the linesmen in professional soccer, not the referee.

Iraq's 'crushing burden' lifted; Africa still waiting

I read that the Bush administration has cancelled the $4.1 billion debt owed to it by Iraq. Russia recently wrote off almost all the debt owed by Iraq to it.

"Lifting the crushing burden of the old regime's debt is one of the most important contributions we can make to Iraq's new beginning," declared US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

So the conservative Bush administration recognizes that foreign debt a crushing burden even for a moderate income country like Iraq. Perhaps people can finally acknowledge that debt relief for far-more-poor African countries could provide a big chance for them to finally move forward economically. Debt relief combined future loans and foreign aid being conditioned on democracy and good governance, respect for human rights, respect for private property and intolerance of corruption.

The Scotsman notes that although world leaders promised $100bn in debt relief in 1999 at the G8 Summit in Cologne, only $31bn has been delivered to date.

If even the Bush administration can recognize the benefit of "lifting the crushing burden" of foreign debt, perhaps it's time for less talk and more action for the world's less 'sexy' countries.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Athlete dies in brutal sport; nation is shocked

Every so often, a boxer dies during a fight. The most recent case, that I read about, was in Kenya's capital Nairobi..Every time such a death occurs, there is shock. SHOCK.

Why, I'm not quite sure.

The purpose of boxing is beat somebody so badly that the fall down and can't get up for ten seconds.

It's not like other sports where such things occur but aren't really the fundamental point of the sport (hockey, basketball, baseball). It's not like other sports where people getting hit in the head or body occurs but is incidental. Punching someone in the head or chest repeatedly to the point where they fall and can't get up is the sole purpose of boxing.

When naked brutality is the sole purpose of the sport, it really that much of a surprise that people die every once in a while?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Minimum wage insufficient for rent and utilities 99.87% of counties: report

My local paper ran a version of this article on the minimum wage.

Apparently, In only four of the nation's 3,066 counties can someone working full-time and earning federal minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment, an advocacy group on low-income housing reported Monday, notes the Associated Press piece. For those who don't have a calculator handy, the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is insufficient to pay rent and utilities in 99.87% of America's counties.

The group, National Low Income Housing Coalition, assumes that a family spends no more than 30 percent of its gross income on rent and utilities. The government generally considers anything more to be unaffordable.

It's worth noting that the group did not use a national standard or average for how much rent and utilities cost, but analyzed each market on a case-by-case basis. So the figure reflects different costs in different areas.

Some cities are even going so far as to pass local living wage laws, to raise their local minimum wage above the state or national level, notes The Christian Science Monitor.

"The fact that a known opponent of these ordinances has come out with a credible study showing the net benefits of the policies is a significant boost to the movement," says Jay Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute.

Pro-living-wage forces got a boost from a study released [in March 2002] by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Done by an early skeptic of the benefit of living-wage laws, the report examined 36 cities with such laws – including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, New Haven, and San Jose. It found that slight job losses caused by the law are more than compensated by the decrease in family poverty.

Jen Kern, executive director of the Living Wage Resource Center for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), observes that many employers predicted the sky would fall when these ordinances were passed but "Now those employers who thought they'd suffer are saying they get higher production from these employees, less turnover, more satisfaction ... and are able to service their clients better."

So higher wages leads to more productivity, a more stable work force, higher employee satisfication and better service to clients. A falling sky?

This is hardly surprising. A worker that can actually pay his or her bills is going to be more focused at work and less likely to look for another job.

Earlier this year, New York state's legislature approved a minimum wage increase to $7.15 an hour (in three increments) by 2007. It was vetoed by Republican Gov. George Pataki. But earlier this month, the Republican state Senate finally joined the Democratic Assembly in overriding the veto.

Gov. Pataki and his big business allies had predicted that the rise would cause jobs to flee the state. I like business. I work for one. I wish there were more good ones in my town. But this threat is repeated every time a minimum wage increase is proposed and every time it's approved, I never hear a giant sucking sound. Why? Because the threat ignores the reality of the modern work force.

Most minimum wage jobs are in the service industry. Fast food, supermarkets, chain superstores. They cater primarily to a local audience who want the convenience of a near-by business. Very few are subject to international or even inter-state competition. Is a McDonald's in Syracuse going to lose tons of business as central New Yorkers flee to Pennsylvania or Vermont just because the Big Macs might be a nickel cheaper?

Even in agriculture, there is a premium for local products because they are often fresher. Especially in New York's prominent diary industry. Do you really want milk imported from Switzerland? Maybe, but most people would just as soon buy something that comes from a regional farm.

The actual reality of a minimum wage increase is not that businesses will flee or shed jobs. It's that you might pay a tad extra for your CD at Wal Mart. A few additional pennies for a U2 album in order for the cashier who rings me up to have heat in upstate New York's brutal winter? I really can't quite work up much outrage about this.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The left has forgotten 9/11

I was walking to the YMCA on Thursday when I notice a vehicle in the parking lot had a bumper sticker that read, "Remember 9/11. The left has already forgotten."

I usually ignore such obviously partisan nonsense but this particularly defamatory one stuck in my craw.

Frankly, I'm not sure how anyone who watched the second plane crash into the tower live on television could forget what happened. Anyone who heard the stories of people randomly flocking to Manhattan just to do whatever they could to help, I'm not sure how they could forget what happened. I watched the towers collapse live on television with a colleague whose aunt lived literally around the block from them; do you think I will forget her hysterical screaming? The moron with the bumper sticker does.

Apparently the images of 9/11 and their exploitation for partisan politics are now private property of the Republican Party.

And I'm also not sure how anyone could forget 9/11 considering Bush and his team mention 9/11 every 32.1 seconds and use 9/11 to justify everything from tax cuts to the Big Brother program to the president's preference for Kleenex (TM) brand facial tissues.

I'm not sure which is more sad: that people would resort to this sort of libelous demagoguery or that many people actually believe it.

Friday, December 17, 2004

State-sponsored murder banned in Senegal

While New York's state legislature is holding hearings to re-instate the death penalty (overturned by the state's highest court on a technical flaw), the national parliament in the West African Republic of Senegal recently voted to abolish state-sponsored and -implemented murder. This is a welcome move, even though Senegal hasn't actually carried out a formal execution since 1967. President Abdoulaye Wade has promised to sign the legislation this week.

Talking Turkey

Western Europe is in a quandry. They don't really want a comparatively poor, mostly Muslim country to be part of the European Union, which would allow Turkish citizens to freely work in Britain, France or anywhere else in the EU. But Western Europe didn't have the guts to say 'no' to Turkey at the beginning. Instead, they've led Turkey along, saying 'do this or that reform' and we'll think about letting you in. Then when those reforms were done, the demands were changed. Turkey, finally sick of the moving goalposts, is telling the EU to put up or shut up.

Jonathan over at The Head Heeb notes an example of this nonsense. One day after France made a revision of Turkey’s official denial of the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide as a precondition to French support for Turkish membership, the European Parliament has passed a non-binding resolution in favor of starting accession negotiations with Turkey by a vote of 407 to 262.

I dare say the French government really doesn't want Turkey to join the European Union, but for political reasons, it has to be seen as pretending.

It makes you wonder: if France is so concerned about an early 20th century holocaust, how come Belgium wasn't forced to officially acknowledge the genocide in Leopold's Congo before acceding to EU membership? Or perhaps France itself could set the precedent and acknowledge how many people were killed during French colonialism in Africa and Asia, particularly during the often brutal 'pacification' campaigns.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Red card to refs?

Neil Warnock is manager of Sheffield United, a club in English soccer's 'The Championship' (2nd Division). Warnock is known for being rather, um, candid at times. Some might call it prickly. But he writes a regular column for the BBC website; it's an interesting insight into the day-to-day of soccer management.

His most recent column called for officials to be suspended if they made glaring mistakes.

In the same way a player is banned when he makes a mistake in breaking the rules, an official shouldn't be allowed to participate in the next game he is scheduled to take part in.

This is an appealing idea. If the players and managers are accountable, why not the officials?

Except it's a bit different. Most refereeing mistakes are errors in judgement, errors in execution. Was the ball over the goal line? Was the forward even with the last defender? Was it merely a foul or a yellow card or nothing at all? Mistakes in that part are errors in judgement, not breaking the rules. A referee who fails to send off a player after two yellow cards is guilty of failing to follow the rules; he should be banned.

Warnock's analogy is simply wrong. Players are banned for misconduct; they aren't banned for errors in execution. They aren't banned because they miss an easy goal or because of a horrible defending or for making a bad pass. Why should officials be banned for similiar errors in execution when players aren't?

American soccer has reached the big time

Sadly, soccer in America is now officially a big time sport.

Sadly?

The lunacy that affects other team sports in North America appears to have infected soccer.

There is a collective bargaining dispute between the US Soccer Federation (USSF) and its players. The USSF is threatening to use replacement players for the Feb. 9 World Cup qualifier away to Trinidad and Tobago.

The men have not had a labor contract with U.S. Soccer, responsible for fielding the country's national teams, since January 2003 and have been operating under terms of the old one. The situation, however, appears to have reached a boiling point, reports the San-Diego Union-Tribune.

I'm not familiar with how other federations deal with their national teams but this seems absurd to me that there even IS a collective bargaining agreement in this situation.

For those not familiar with soccer, here's a primer. Most players are employed by individual clubs. Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan. Players sign contracts with a club for x years or perhaps a trial of y months. That's their job. The club is their contractual employer.

National team players are more like independent contractors. Players are not permanently employed by the federation, nor are they paid a salary. They only get a stipend each time they play for the national team or are called into a training camp.

A club manager can only choose from the few dozen players that are contractually employed by his club. A national team boss can effectively choose from anyone with his country's nationality.

It's one thing for the players to want a higher stipend when they are called into national team camp but a collective bargaining agreement in this situation seems like a total non sequitir. It's like demanding a collective bargaining agreement of someone to mow their lawn once or shovel their sidewalk. It just doesn't seem like a normal situation for a collective bargaining agreement to apply.

The US starts the final round of qualifying with two away games; the other is in Mexico City. Mexico has only failed to win two home qualifiers in history (a 2001 loss to Costa Rica and a 1997 draw with the US). The US really needs at least a draw against a relatively weak T&T.

Being on the national team is a perk, an honor. Even 'sentimentalism' aside, being on the national team isn't the main job of any player. They all have club teams that pay their regular salaries, health benefits, etc. No one is going to be unemployed if they don't play for the national team.

Other national teams have gone on strike or threatened to do so in order to get a higher remuneration or because of bad treatment by the press. A collective bargaining agreement just seems inapplicable in this circumstance.

Any player who goes on strike for this qualifier should never be chosen to play for the national team again. In such disputes, I usually support the players, if by default. But this is different. Management isn't demanding to be saved from themselves, like in nearly all other sporting labor disputes. If they want more money, they can go on strike for friendlies (exhibitions); that way, they can make a statement without risking the progress of the national team program... of which they are a part.

As I've mentioned, it's not the traditional labor dispute. There are no contractual obligations between individuals and the federation. Players can refuse to play at any time, if they want. The national team coach can call or not call whoever he wants. Players can't easily shop around for another national team to play for. (Some can, depending on family circumstance, but it's not quite as easy as quitting McDonald's and going to Burger King)

Anyone who thinks themself bigger than the team can just refuse to play international soccer permanently, like that idiot Roy Keane from Ireland.

Ultimately, the players shouldn't go on strike for a World Cup qualifier because it's not in their interest. Professional soccer's popularity in the US has exploded in the last ten years. Its popularity in America has probably grown more in the last decade than any other team sport. But it's no where near popular enough to risk a labor dispute of this nature.

Even Major League Baseball (where the concept of a collective bargaining agreement really does apply) took years to regain its previous popularity after a labor dispute ruined the 1994 season. And professional soccer is no where near as popular as Major League Baseball was in 1994 or is now. Soccer is going in the right direction; a labor dispute would slow this momentum and possibly ruin it.

In the US, fans of professional soccer are split. Some follow only domestic Major League Soccer and don't care much about soccer abroad except for the progress of American players at foreign clubs. Others are contemptuous of MLS' quality and insist on only following European or Latin American club soccer. Others like myself manage to enjoy any good soccer, without being snobbish or insular. But one thing that unites all soccer fans in America is the national team. 15 years ago, the national team would play big home matches before a few thousand fans. Now, those same big matches can draw 60,000 people or more.

The players should have no interest in killing the goose that's laying golden eggs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

49% of voters have little connection to average American reality

A conservative friend of mine passed along with glee a silly little essay that appeared in The Nation. He promised that I would crap my pants in amazement at the essay. Fortunately for my trousers, he was wrong.

The essay essentially suggested that liberalism and progressivism were dying species. It offered the usual canards, but precious little evidence

I responded that he liked the essay for two main reasons: a) it said what he, a conservative, wanted to hear and this surprised and pleased him because b) it appeared in The Nation, a left-wing magazine. I dismissed the essay as typically broad and with little to substantiate its vague, sweeping charges. I chastised him for buying into a theory that declares an ideology dead or dying, especially after its alleged standard bearer recent gained more votes than any previous presidential candidate in history.

My friend's rather weak response: "but the author is a liberal" -- as though that's supposed override all criticisms of lacking in substance. It is not totally irrelevant but as my friend is ordinarily the first to point out, liberals can make flimsy arguments too.

But then my friend goes on to claim that the author is saying:

the average liberal in America, the average Kerry supporter, has little if any connection to the realities of present-day America

I've heard this argument in various forms before and I'm tired of it.

The purportedly liberal candidate Kerry and the progressive candidate Nader combined for around 49% of the vote last month. So exactly how far away from average can 49% of a population be? Unless there's one heck of a standard deviation!

And isn't 49% is a pretty good result for two 'obsolete' ideologies?

Do the 'average' liberal or Kerry supporter (ie: 49% of the electorate) in America live in a vacuum? Are New York state, Oregon, Maine and Vermont not part of 'present-day America'?

This sort of nonsense is contemptuous as the assertion that all Bush voters are stupid. I'm sick of that. And I'm sick of being told that liberals, progressives and blue staters are all fake Americans while Heartlanders, fundamentalist Christians and red staters are real Americans.

Let's face it: America is a very closely divided country. The right indeed won a majority last month, but by a mere 3%. Conservatism was declared dead after the 1964 election; it's standard bearer, Barry Goldwater, lost by significantly more than 3%. Yet Reagan's first win occurred a mere 16 years after this "obituary."

So I ask any like-minded readers this: the 49% of Americans who voted for liberal or progressive candidates, what are the realities of present day America they have 'little if any connection to'?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

NYC's homeless hawks scandal

New York is a city where fetish for the new is exceeded only by fetish for the newer. Technology and modernism rule. Nothing can stand in the way of [insert dramatic music] PROGRESS. Yet how is it then that a city with such a short attention span and whose residents pride themselves on a lack of mushy sentimentalism can be so moved by the plight of a bird's nest?

Apparently, a nest housing two red-tailed hawks was destroyed from a co-op building on Fifth Avenue. Earlier, some residents had complained that the birds left the bloody carcasses of their prey on the roof and sidewalk, and their nest created a safety hazard as parts of it fell to the sidewalk, threatening pedestrians.

Yet yesterday, [M]ore than 100 protesters who gathered opposite the co-op building to object.

I'm sure that the fame of several of the co-op's residents, including Mary Tyler Moore and Paula Zahn, didn't hurt the cause's prospects for making it not only into the tabloids, but into the venerable New York Times ("All the News That's Fit to Print"). A documentary maker is apparently interested as well.

Perhaps this explains why folks in upstate New York and NY City residents may never quite understand each other. Gothamites can tolerate thousands homeless people living on the streets without batting an eyelash. But two homeless birds provokes citywide scandal.

New idea for 'cost certainty'

Recently, the National Hockey League players' union submitted a collective bargaining agreement proposal whereby players would take an across-the-board 24% pay cut. It would limit the value of rookie contracts and those of restricted free agents as well as subjecting high spending teams to a luxury tax.

This is all but certain to be rejected by the NHL, which has locked out its players and is surely close to cancelling the entire season.

"While the immediate 'rollback' of 24 percent offered by the union would materially improve league economics for the 2004-05 season, there is virtually nothing in the union's proposal that would prevent the dollars 'saved' from being redirected right back into the player compensation system, such that the league's overall financial losses would approach current levels in only a matter of a couple of years," said the NHL's vice-president.

The league wants what it calls 'cost certainty.'

No one puts a gun to any owner's head and says, "You must pay $5 million a year to some big lug of a defenseman who can't skate." If one owner starts a spending spree, no one is forced to follow. An owner doesn't need a collective bargaining agreement to act in a responsible manner. I will never side with a group that demands others sacrifice so that it can be saved from itself.

I know this is radical, but here's my concept of 'cost certainty.'

You project that your team will garner a certain amount in revenues this season; for the sake of argument, let's say $30 million. Therefore, you should plan on having no more than $30 million in expenses this year. This number can be slightly adjusted up or down depending on if you have surpluses or debt remaining from previous years.

Spend no more you make. How's that for 'cost certainty'?

Groundbreaking, isn't it.

The NHL is not a private company, as some argue. It's 30 private companies under a single governing body. It's much closer a cartel like OPEC. Its members are competitors but agree to a common set of rules. Yes, the competitors CAN agree to an artificial ceiling on expenses for those who can't control themselves, but you'll get precious little sympathy from me.

Simply put: American sports is probably the only industry where business owners can impose restrictions on competitors simply by a majority vote of their fellow captains of industry.

It just amazes me that the Americans who claim hate socialism insist on socialist policies for sports. While Europeans, who really are more favorable to socialism or at least social democracy, have it so their sports are far closer to a pure free market model than anything here in the US.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Why they call them 'FREE kicks'

Frank, over at Internet Commentator, remarks on a controversial goal scored in yesterday's brilliant match between two London sides, champions Arsenal and league leaders Chelsea.

The "controversy" occurred when Arsenal's Thierry Henry curled a free kick into the net before Chelsea's goalkeeper had finished setting up his defensive wall. The referee never blew his whistle to signal authorization for Henry to go ahead, so Chelsea were furious.

Except, there was no need for a whistle.

In a free kick situation, the kick taker can EITHER ask for the wall to be 10 yards away OR he can take it quickly. If he asks for 10 yards, he must wait for the ref to give him 10 yards and then blow the whistle. But if he wants to take the kick quickly, he can do so at his leisure. This often happens with free kicks in the middle of the field or other non-threatening spots. It's the attacking team's prerogative to take the kick quickly if it wants; removing that prerogative would further reward the defensive team for committing fouls in dangerous spots. In short, the defense must adjust to the offense, not vice versa.

But what really baffles me is this. This sort of incident happens at least once or twice every year in England's Premiership. And every time, it causes great controversy in the media. People (and apparently managers) who don't know basic rules fume about such "injustice."

I've been coaching U-14 and U-16 kids for only four years and I not only know this rule but make sure my players know it; you'd think Chelsea's significantly more experienced manager, who has two European trophies under his belt, would know the rule. Except, I think he does know the rule. He was just furious, I imagine, because his expensive team led by an ambitious manager committed an amateurish error.

Even if top managers didn't know this rule, you'd think they would sit up and take notice each time a tempest in a teapot of this nature ensues. You'd think they would've figured it out several controversies ago. As they say, learning from your mistakes is good, but learning from others' mistakes is better.

Ex-Chilean dictator Pinochet indicted

Impunity scored a rare win over its evil twin immunity today.

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has been indicted for human rights abuses and placed under house arrest, according to the BBC. The investigating judge Juan Guzman also ruled that the general was mentally fit to stand trial.

Judge Guzman said he made his decision after studying an interview that Gen Pinochet gave to a Miami TV channel in November 2003.

He said that the interview, in which the general gave apparently lucid answers to questions, was "one of the elements taken into consideration" in his ruling.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The spark that lit the Ukranian fire

It seems that every popular uprising has personal stories of individuals making conscious, courageous decisions to take a stand against the absurd system. The situation in the Ukraine is no different.

This story just makes me smile every time I hear it.

The state media was long heavily biased in favor of the government and its presidential candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. The state television's news broadcasts ran the usual propaganda. They also had a sign language person who interpreted for the deaf. Well, it turns out it was the she was the one who cast the first stone, if you will.

As the regular anchors read the propaganda, she dutifully signed what they were saying. But at the very end of one broadcast, she kept signing... except she said that everything she'd just signed was a lie. "The results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are rigged. Do not believe them."

She went on to declare that Viktor Yushchenko*, the opposition leader, was the country's new president. "I am very disappointed by the fact that I had to interpret lies," she went on. "I will not do it any more. I do not know if you will see me again."

[*-Yuschenko's Austrian doctors are now confirming widely believed rumors that he was poisoned]

Though only the deaf viewers knew what she was saying initially, word of her defiance and of the rigging quickly spread throughout the Ukraine. Inspired by her act, state media workers later went on strike, demanding the right to present news in an objective manner.

Much like Rosa Parks or Czechoslovakian dissidents, this act will not have single-handedly brought down the regime. But if often takes a single spark by a courageous individual to light a fire.

It also goes to show that true change must be initiated from within, not imposed from abroad.

Friday, December 10, 2004

A few items

FBI: INFO CAN BE GAINED WITHOUT TORTURE
US forces hid Iraq prison abuse. Concerned US defence workers were told to keep quiet about the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners, memos obtained by a US civil rights group have revealed. Documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union also show that special forces officers ignored FBI fears over their interrogation methods. FBI and Defence Intelligence Agency concerns were ignored or brushed aside by special forces, says the ACLU. The ACLU obtained the documents under the US Freedom of Information Act. More evil work by the ACLU. It's bad enough the expect police to act in a moderately civilized manner in accordance with the law and not like criminals. Now they expect soldiers in non-battlefield situations to? The article added An e-mail to Thomas Harrington, an FB[I] counter-terrorism expert, details "somewhat heated" conversations with Pentagon staff, in which officials admitted that the FBI's less physical interrogation style had yielded similar results.



OLD SOLDIERS NEVER DIE, BUT THEY'RE NOT ALLOWED TO JUST FADE AWAY
Because of a shortage of troops due to the Iraq excursion, the military is calling up anyone who constitutes a warm body. Even if they've already received a discharge. The trick? They had to resign their commission too. (Note: I should remind my brother to make sure he's officially resigned the Marines). Some of those called up are out of shape or in their 50s.

My grandfather (born in 1912; recepient of three purple hearts) is dead. I hope they don't call him up.

Not coindientally, my local paper ran an article today entitled 'Army Reserves See Jump in Resignations.'



BUSY-BODIES GET TO WORK
This article from Mediaweek notes that the number of indecency complaints to the Federal Communications Commission rose from 14,000 in 2002 to 240,000 in 2003. A more than 15-fold increase. Did television suddenly go from a paragon of virtue into a sickening cesspool in a single year?

Probably not. It's just that a group of busy-bodies got to work being busy-bodies. It turns out that of those complaints, 99.8% were filed by a single group: The so-called Parents Television Council. That number is actually 99.9% if you exclude complaints about the Janet Jackson-Super Bowl incident.

This tiny group has had great influence, pushing the FCC to crack down on so-called 'indecency.' (Makes you wonder why the folks who rail against unelected activist judges, don't say a word about unelected, activist FCC commissioners)

The irony is that while the PTC's campaign was surely aimed at folks like Howard Stern and South Park, one of the indecency crusade's more prominent victims was the film Saving Private Ryan, which some stations refused to air because of language.

The PTC would find an unlikely ally: Venezuela's left-wing leader Hugo Chavez. The autocratic populist just signed a new media law which establishes strict rules regarding violence and sexual content, and allows the government to impose huge fines or close down stations that break the rules.

P.U.-litzer awards for the 'liberal media'

AlterNet ran a piece on the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2004. They were established a dozen years ago to provide special recognition for truly smelly media performances. It's put together by Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen, founder of the media watchdog group FAIR.

A few choices:

TIMIDITY RULES PRIZE: The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius

Explaining why mainstream journalism failed to ask tough questions about the Iraq war before it started, columnist Ignatius – a war supporter – wrote in April: "In a sense, journalists were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own." Create a debate? Ignatius suggests it would have been unprofessional to raise questions at a time that many experts, over a hundred Congress members and millions of others were already questioning the drive to war.


This one galls me because the media creates "debates" all the time. It does so via analyses of things they contrived themselves ('Is Bush really ahead in the polls?'). It does so with the trial du jour of some random person no one had ever heard of before (most recently Scott Petersen: 'was he really guilty?'). It's also astonishing that the world's most controversial war in decades, which provoked the world's largest anti-war demonstrations since Vietnam, could be described as facing "little criticism." That the media ignored criticism is quite different than saying such criticism didn't exist.



"ONLY RIGHT-WING POLITICS THIS ELECTION YEAR" AWARD: Disney's Michael Eisner
In May, when Disney refused to distribute Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" documentary, CEO Michael Eisner said that Disney "didn't want to be in the middle of a politically-oriented film during an election year." But Disney was one of the 2004 election year's leading broadcasters of political propaganda, almost all of it pro-Bush, as its powerful talk radio stations served up hour after hour of right-wing hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Matt Drudge, etc.


MEDIA MOGULS FOR BUSH PRIZE: Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone

Seven weeks before the election, Sumner Redstone expressed support for Bush on behalf of his company, which owns CBS, UPN, MTV, VH1, Infinity radio and dozens of other subsidiaries: "From a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on." Days later, Redstone added: "I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one." (Ironically, cultural conservatives often blame TV and radio sleaze on "The Liberal Media" – not GOP-backing media owners like Redstone and Rupert Murdoch.)


MOUTHPIECE FOR POWER AWARD: The Washington Post

Give credit for candor to Karen DeYoung, former assistant managing editor, for this comment in an August report examining why the Washington Post marginalized prewar doubts about White House claims on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction: "We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power. If the president stands up and says something, we report what the president said." If counter-arguments are put "in the eighth paragraph, where they're not on the front page, a lot of people don't read that far."


STENOGRAPHIC PRIDE AWARD: Judith Miller, The New York Times

Defending her use of anonymous sources like Ahmed Chalabi, a highly unreliable Iraqi exile, in prewar front-page stories on Iraq's supposed WMDs, reporter Miller explained: "My job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence agency myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal." Miller did not explain how her job differs from being a PR agent for the U.S. government.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

NYS minority party legislators threaten lawsuit; appeal for lobbying and election reform; drug laws tweaked

A few things actually happened in Albany!

[pause]

Ok, now that I've got your attention...

As I've mentioned quite frequently here, minority party lawmakers de facto don't exist in both houses of New York state's legislature. Even most majority party rank-and-file members have little power, but Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans are treated as non-entities by the Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker.

According to The Legislative Gazette, some of those members are threatening a lawsuit. [I]f a reform of the power structure of the executive and legislative branches of New York State government does not happen by Jan. 18, [Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Assemblyman Tom Kirwan of Newburgh] are going to sue for equality... But, who to sue? The complaint lists the defendants as Gov. George E. Pataki, Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan; Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick; the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate. Pataki, Silver and Bruno are the, “three men,” at the center of the issue according to Krueger, Kirwan and their counsel.

The lawsuit lists a familiar litany of complaints against Albany's way of doing business: unequal funding of member support for minority party legislators; less funding for minority members’ pet projects in their districts; majority leaders’ control over bringing bills to a vote; behind-closed-doors legislating and voting; abuse of the governor’s messages of necessity, which allows him to rush bills to a vote; and the practice of empty seat voting, where legislators are automatically counted as voting “aye” if they are absent from the chamber during a vote.

For his part, Sen. Bruno now claims to embrace reform, as any sane politician in Albany must at least pretend to. At a press conference, he announced a series of reforms he promised to implement for his chamber. The Post-Standard reported that those changes included:

*requiring senators to be physically present to cast votes

*increasing the use of joint Senate-Assembly conference committees
to publicly negotiate differences in similar bills

*and giving all senators equal allocations for staff and for "pork barrel" funding.


Some of the changes Bruno promised to implement were recommended by the now-famous Brennan Center report of the New York University law school which branded New York's legislature as the most dysfunctional in the country. At the time, Bruno dismissed that report as "total nonsense."

On Tuesday, The Times-Union reported that With $42 billion in contracts awarded by New York state between 2001 and 2003, government watchdog groups called Monday for better scrutiny of any behind-the-scenes lobbying by companies... The state does not require lobbyists to report procurement lobbying, or work they do on behalf of a client seeking a state contract. Both houses have passed legislation to regulate it, but the Senate and Assembly have not agreed on one bill.

Of the $42 billion awarded between 2001 and 2003, $26 billion in agency contracts was based on criteria other than the lowest bid. [The New York Public Interest Research Group's Blair] Horner said that opens the process to outside influence. The report also found that successful firms donated $2.2 million to state lawmakers, and that Gov. George Pataki and Senate Republicans benefited the most.


A New York Times editorial expressed the fear that new voting machines and other reforms to the actual election process won't be implemented in time for the 2006 statewide races, including those for governor and one of the state's US Senate seats. No mention of reform to the electoral laws that place often enormous barriers in front of smaller party candidates who want to contest races.

Finally, the legislature has passed reforms to the state's Rockefeller drug laws, which were the most draconian in the nation.

As The New York Times put it, The new legislation, which Gov. George E. Pataki has pledged to sign, will reduce minimum sentences for drug offenses. For example, first-time offenders convicted of a Class A-1 drug felony, who under current law must receive a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison, would instead generally face terms of less than eight years.

In cases of drug possession, rather than sales, the new law also doubles the amount of heroin, cocaine and some narcotics that automatically turn cases into top-level felonies.


Not all are pleased with the reforms. Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a prison watchdog group, complained, "The important message to get out is that the laws are virtually as harsh as ever." For example, he noted, judges must still sentence drug offenders to prison, rather than to alternatives like drug treatment.

Jonathan Lippman, chief administrative judge of the state's courts, said "We do feel it is a major step forward," while adding, "We hope they continue to look at the whole issue of the Rockefeller drug laws."

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Fondling causes pregnancy

I have no problems with programs that teach that abstinence is the best way to not get HIV-AIDS or other sexualy transmitted diseases.

However, it appears that some federally funded abstinence-only programs are offering a little bit more creative information with the $170 million tax dollars they collectively receive.

Rep. Henry Waxman issued a report which, according to the Washington Post, pointed out some of the information offered by such groups.

• A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."
• HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.

• Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.


Additionally, Congressional staffers were surprised to learn such 'facts' like abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy."

Shut up and do as you're told

Like many of my high school classmates, I was targeted by military recruiters.

In fact, I actually received a recruiting letter from the Marines when I was 7. It was a mistake obviously. Maybe they got my name from my subscription to Humpty Dumpty magazine or something. The local paper had fun doing a story on the Marines going after a first grader. My brother ended up joining the Marines but at least they waited until he was a late teen to chase him.

It wasn't the only time I encountered military bureaucratic snafus. When I was in the Peace Corps (a development, not military, organization, if you're not familiar), the Navy sent me recruiting information to my postal box in West Africa. I wrote them back a letter saying that I wasn't interested in the Navy and to please take me off their mailing list. They wrote me back saying "Thank you for your interest in the Navy. But you must be a US citizen to join. Please contact the US embassy in your country..."

There are two main reasons I never joined the military.

1) You have to be prepared to kill people. You have to be prepared to kill people in a situation that will almost certainly have nothing to do with defending our country. You may think it an honorable cause, but it will almost certainly have nothing to do with defending our country. And you have to be prepared to kill people whether you agree with the cause or not. You have to be prepared to go to war on the orders of one man, even if you think he's a reckless cowboy or a scum-sucking draft dodger. That's part of the deal. I wasn't prepared to accept this.

2) You have to be prepared to shut up and do as you're told. All large organizations' bureaucracies put its employees through lots of b.s. The military bureaucracy does so more than most. If you join the military, you have to shut up and do as you're told, no matter how absurd, how dangerous, how idiotic or how pointless the order. You don't have to like it, you just have to do it. That's part of the deal. I wasn't prepared to accept this.

A number of my friends who I think highly of who are presently serving in the military, as did my brother, father and grandfather. I know most of them are not fond of the two things I mentioned above. Some joined for other reasons; some enjoyed the experience despite the nonsense. However while they might not have liked the nonsense, they had to accept it.

Independent thinkers can serve in the military, but it is more difficult. For all the criminally deceptive 'Army of One' garbage, the military requires a high degree of conformity to function effectively. It's part of the deal. An army with 2 million commanders-in-chief would be a disaster. It's something you implicitly accept if you choose to join. I couldn't accept it so I didn't join.

Earlier today, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld reminder troops of one of those rules. After delivering a rousing pep talk to soldiers in Iraq where he told the them they were engaged in a 'test of wills,' Rumsfeld found the soldiers were roused in a different way than he might've anticipated.

One GI had the audacity/guts to ask the secretary, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?"

Rumsfeld reminded troops of the shut up and do as you're told rule, "You go to war with the Army you have" not the one you might want.

Another asked how long the Pentagon was going to continue its stop-loss program to prevent soldiers from leaving the service, Rumsfeld replied that it's nothing new and this is simply a fact of war (shut up and do as you're told).

And whether anyone likes it or not, he's right: it IS a fact of war. Occupying a country that didn't want to be invaded is a difficult job that requires a ton of troops; it's been reported that there are more US troops in Iraq now than during the invasion. Anyone who thought Iraq would require few resources after the actual invasion was horribly mistaken.

Rumsfeld added, "There's no way I can prove it, but I am told the Army is breaking its neck to see that there is not" discrimination against the National Guard and Reserve in terms of providing equipment.

Of course the real issue is this. The Pentagon received $379.9 billion of our tax dollars in fiscal year 2004. That's $379,900,000,000. And I don't think that counts supplemental appropriations that have been added since the regular budget was passed. That's over $1200 per American. That's a lot of money, even by Washington standards.

If soldiers in the most dangerous war zones don't have basic stuff like armor plated vehicles and are just told to 'shut up and do as you're told,' where the heck is that $379.9 billion going?

That is the question the rest of us should be asking Secretary Rumsfeld.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Asleep at the switch

While I have many quibbles with the media, the fact is that the press can provide a wonderful public service. How many government or corporate abuses have gone unchecked until exposed to the light of public ridicule or scorn? Accused, non-convicted, detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo would still probably be suffering from unconscionable torture from Our Heroes if not for journalists and the guts of some editors to run the stories.

The latest example of why Thomas Jefferson said "If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without a free press or a free press without a government, I would prefer the latter" comes not surprisingly from Washington.

Earlier, Congress had passed a huge spending bill which financed most of the domestic side of government. As CNN noted, a previously unnoticed provision would have let leading members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees sign letters authorizing people to enter Internal Revenue Service facilities and see tax returns there. Republicans have said the provision was intended to give Appropriations Committee members better access to IRS offices.

The intent was ostensibly to better monitor how the IRS does its job but its potential for abuse is rather obvious.

Yet once public scrutiny was shined on this provision, the House reversed itself 381-0.

Unanimously.

Odd since even if most legislators didn't read what they were voting on, you figure at least one of them would've had to insert the objectionable provision.

Conveniently, a 'Congressional staffer' was blamed.

Democrats used the fiasco to criticize the process by which the budget is passed. The budget was completed over several days during which aides had little sleep and lawmakers had only a few hours to peruse it before voting. Democrats said the House should follow its own rules and give lawmakers at least three days to study bills before voting on them.

"The only people who don't know how this happened are members of Congress," reassured Rep. Charles Rangel of New York

A similiar thing happened here in New York, one of the few states where the governing process is more opaque than in Washington. A clause in the budget, which rank and file legislators are never given time to look at despite state constitutional provisions to the contrary, changed the way revenues from traffic fines were disbursed: they were taken away from the counties and given to the state... even though the counties are the ones who shoulder the expense of trying the accused. Once the counties realized this and protested vigorously to their representatives, the lawmakers seemed aghast at what they'd done and quickly tried to void the provisions.

Obit: Tom Fitzgerald

Univ. of Tampa head coach Tom Fitzgerald was killed Saturday in a motorcycle accident at the age of 52. Fitzgerald had been one of the longest serving coaches in Major League Soccer history as the Columbus Crew's boss. He was certainly one of the classier individuals MLS has known.

From: Soccer America

Former Columbus Crew head coach Tom Fitzgerald died Saturday from injuries suffered when his motorcycle was struck by an SUV while he was en route to the Nike Friendlies in Bradenton, Fla.

Fitzgerald, who was 52, coached MLS's Crew in 1996-2001. He was an assistant for the Crew when it began play in 1996 and took over Timo Liekoski late in the first season. He was fired after the first six games of the 2001 season.

Fitzgerald won national titles at the NCAA Division I and II levels.

He returned to the college game in 2002, taking UCLA to its fourth Division I men's title in his first year. He was the first coach to lead a team to a Division I title in his first year at the school. After the 2003 season, he returned to the University of Tampa, where he had begun his college coaching career. He led UT to a NCAA Division II men's title in 1984.

Fitzgerald's first head-coaching experience was at Jesuit High School in Tampa (1978-1981). He was an assistant at the University of Tampa before becoming its head coach in 1987.

Fitzgerald played soccer at the University of South Florida after
transferring from Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y.

Fitzgerald earned a Bachelor's Degree from South Florida in 1974. He is survived by his wife, Debi, and two sons, Shane and Jesse.



Update: I didn't realize this but apparently, Fitzgerald played at and graduated from Hadley-Luzerne Central School, about 15 miles away from where I live.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Low pay got a little less low

Good news for New York working folks: the lowest pay just got a little less low. The Republican controlled state Senate has overriden Gov. George Pataki's veto of a raise in the minimum wage. Since the Assembly overrode the veto in August, the state's minimum wage will eventually rise to $7.15 an hour (in three increments) by 2007.

Intellectuals and authoritarians

American conservatives aren't the only ones who don't like those 'know-it-all' intellectuals. So does the regime of Communist China, according to this piece in The Boston Globe.

Late last month, reports began to surface on foreign newswires that hard-liners in the Chinese government had banned public discussion of thinkers and scholars guilty of taking "arrogant" (read: independent) positions on political and social affairs. In mid-November, Beijing's Publicity Department, which is responsible for "ideological control," issued an order to prohibit state-run newspapers, magazines, and TV stations from creating lists of such persons.

Independent thought is always seen as threatening by regimes who are contemptous of the public. The Communist Chinese government thinks it knows it all and thus doesn't feel the need to be accountable to the public. It brokers no questioning of its decisions. Looking back to analyze the success or failure of policies is seen as unnecessary and possibly treasonous. It places a high value on secrecy and loyalty which are linked to the ultimate instrument: CONTROL. The idea of constructive criticism is seen as a contradiction in terms. That's why such regimes are always miserable failures, at least in the long term.

The Bush administration also conducts itself in this way. I disagree with many of its ideas, but my biggest objection is their secretive decision making processes. They seem to make the facts fit their pre-conceived notions rather than letting the facts drive the conclusions. Their propositions are less like policies and more like fiats.

Intellectuals have long been a thorn in the side of wanna-be authoritarian regimes. Left wing intellectuals were a major player in bringing down communism in Czechoslovakia. African intellectuals led the fight for de-colonization. Serbian intellectuals lead the internal resistance to Milosevic, demonstrating once again that real social change can only come from within, not imposed from abroad. Even America's own revolution was hardly led by slaves and peasants.

No wonder the Chinese government is running scared.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

'Expanded self-defense'

As much as I hate to say anything that might give aid and comfort to the neo-cons... their criticisms of Jacques Chirac's integrity were correct. Chirac is a slimeball and always has been. Remember: back in 2002, he was in a run-off election against right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen. The left reluctantly voted for the center-right Chirac with the motto, "Vote for the crook, not the fascist." Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, who beat KKK leader David Duke under similiar circumstances in the early 90s, would've been proud.

So the neo-cons' criticisms of Chirac weren't exactly original and had less to do with any interest in Chirac or French society as such than with the French leader's opposition to the Iraq war they wanted so much.

Chirac opposed the Iraq invasion because of selfish interests. Bush wanted the Iraq invasion for selfish interests. The hypocrisy of the neo-cons' criticisms were that they claimed the former while refusing to recognize the latter. Opponents always act selfishly; our motives are always pure as the white snow.

Chirac was right about the war, even if it was for the wrong reasons. The neo-cons were right about Chirac, even if it was for the wrong reasons.

In watching how Chirac's government works, it's vaguely reassuring to know that the US isn't the only country to have corrupt hypocrites in charge.

French soldiers are in Cote d'Ivoire (West Africa) as part of a UN peacekeeping mission. Cote d'Ivoire was, for a long time, France's premier client state in Africa. The peacekeepers were in the country to mediate an uneasy truce between the government and northern rebels; both parties agreed to peacekeepers and both have since soured on the peacekeepers.

The Ivorian government re-started the civil war by bombing the rebel-controlled north. They also bombed a military base with French peacekeepers. Accidentally, said the Ivorian government; a claim believed by exactly no one. The French unwisely responded by destroying the Ivorian air force and by repressing an anti-French demonstration in the country's commercial capital Abidjan. The Ivorian government and its militia allies had long used French-bashing to whip xenophobic and nationalistic sentiment which naturally led to violence against French residents and French-owned businesses.

The repression of the anti-French marches has probably had the most lasting effect. There are unsubstantiated rumors that French soldiers fired on unarmed protesters in an unprovoked manner. Several Ivorians were left dead. Whether or not the 'unprovoked' and 'unarmed' parts are actually true is almost irrelevant; pro-government types believe it's true and act accordingly.

The French government justified these very un-peacekeeping-like actions very strangely. The French minister of defense said that in such situations, the French military reserved the right to use 'la légitime défense élargie.' A curious phrase that means 'expanded self-defense.'

I'm wondering what exactly is the substantive distinction between 'expanded self-defense' and President Bush's equally dubious doctrine of 'pre-emption.'

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Why shouldn't rely on only one media outlet

A great example of why you shouldn't rely on only one media outlet

How many protesters greeted President Bush's Nov. 30 trip to the Canadian capital Ottawa?

It depends on which source you believe.

American Associated Press, whose international articles are relied upon by most newspapers in this country: 'several hundred'

Boston Globe: 'Thousands of Canadians'

Canadian CBC: anywhere between 2500 and 4000, depending on which police officer was asked.

Canadian CTV: 'About 5000'

While marches are notiously difficult to estimate (the National Park Service in DC no longer does it because it's too political), 'several hundred' leaves a significantly different impression than 'about 5000.'

Friday, December 03, 2004

Barbarians at the gate

Another tale from the Red America that progressives are lectured to find common ground with

The Chicken Littles of the theocracy brigade act like American Christians are a martyred people, a people suffocating under the unstopable weight of the secular, homosexual, feminist and politically correct agendas.

If you don't say God or Christ every 3.2 seconds, or are slightly uncomfortable around people who do, you're anti-Christian. If you think politicians are the last people who should be lecturing others about morality, you're anti-Christian. If you believe that people should be free to use to the Bible to guide their personal conduct but that it shouldn't drive the public agenda, you're anti-Christian.

The latest 'you can't make this stuff up' story comes from none other than Alabama. Yes, the same Alabama whose voters recently rejected attempts to remove segregationist language from the state constitution.

Now, as this article from The Birmingham News reports:

An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries.

A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."

[...]

Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said.


Furthermore,

If the bill became law, public school textbooks could not present homosexuality as a genetic trait and public libraries couldn't offer books with gay or bisexual characters.

[...]

His bill also would prohibit a teacher from handing out materials or bringing in a classroom speaker who suggested homosexuality was OK, he said.


I'd like to think such lunacy has no chance of ever being enacted. But in addition to rejecting removal of segregationist language from the state constitution, a full 41% of Alabamans voted to preserve a ban on interracial marriage as recently as 1999.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Quakers: the new al-Qaeda?

Another reason for ACLU-haters to bash the organization.

The FBI and bureau task forces are accused of spying on environmental and anti-war groups.

The ACLU wants the FBI to explain itself. The FBI has so far refused comment specifically, except to say they only target groups who are suspected of being linked to criminal activity.

One of the groups allegedly targeted by federal authorities was the always-dangerous Quakers.

More tales from the 'liberal media'

Note: this is part of an occassional series dedicated to countering the relentless canard that the media uniformly pushes a liberal agenda on consumers. While it's probably true journalists, as a group, tend to be more liberal than average, their employers tend to be large corporate conglomerates. Large corporate conglomerates tend to be conservative by nature; not necessarily pro-Republican or right-wing, but conservative in the sense of being wary of change and controversy. In fact, the corporate media is afraid of anything that might stir things up too much, is of afraid of going too much against 'conventional wisdom' or 'patriotic correctness.' Media conglomerates are businesses, not ideological machines; except for Fox News and magazines like The Nation for whom being an unabashed ideological machine is good business. I don't bemoan the fact that they are businesses. I don't object to Fox News and The Nation catering to audiences that feels itself unserved by the rest of the media; if they fill a void, so be it. I do wish people would correctly identify the issue. And I don't feel that most major media outlets are consciously trying to be liberal or conservative in what they call news reporting.

The Washington Post is one of many media outlets to report that: The CBS and NBC television networks have rejected an advertisement for the United Church of Christ that shows two beefy bouncers turning away a gay couple, a Latino woman and a disabled man outside a church.

Officials of the Cleveland-based denomination, which has nearly 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members, said the 30-second ad is intended to emphasize its inclusiveness. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we," the ad says.


As if to demonstrate my point on cue, CBS' reported reason for denying the ad was: "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups . . . and the fact that the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the Networks."

The Post added: NBC's rejection notice simply called the ad "too controversial," without elaboration.

[And before anyone throws in the irrelevant diversion of the 1st Amendment, it's obviously well within the networks' constitutional rights to refuse to run the ad. Just as it's well within my constitutional rights to criticize the wisdom of that decision.]

I'm sure conservative Christians will be screaming bloody murder about this blatant anti-religious act by the networks.

Or maybe not.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Straight talk on AIDS day

Today is World AIDS day. I've written before on AIDS, which is presently the greatest menace to humanity by far. I won't drown you with more numbers. You can find out about those at the UNAIDS organization's website.

Dr Susan Hunter, author of Black Death: AIDS in Africa*, notes that a historic graph of world population would note three great dips; they coincide with the black death that plague Europe in the Middle Ages, the genocide of the North American Indians after the Spanish conquest and the explosion of the AIDS pandemic.

[*-For more information on the book, click here]

Hunter's book tells the untold story of AIDS in Africa, home to 80 percent of the 40 million people in the world currently infected with HIV. She weaves together the history of colonialism in Africa, an insider's take on the reluctance of drug companies to provide cheap medication and vaccines in poor countries, and personal anecdotes from the 20 years she spent in Africa working on the AIDS crisis.

Last night, the BBC World Service's World Today program aired an extended interview with President Festus Mogae of Botswana; the southern African nation, one of the richest and most stable on the continent, has the highest HIV rate in the world.

It was one of the most astonishing interviews I'd ever hard. While most people have come to expect politicians to equivocate, spin or at least gloss over shortcomings, President Mogae's frankness blew me away. He admitted that his country's policies weren't having the desired effect in slowing the HIV rate. He admitted that the messages of the anti-HIV campaign weren't being heeded. He admitted that the program of offering retroviral drugs to those infected wasn't financially sustainable in the long term, even if it did some good. What else could be done? "We have to say things like 'abstain or die'," said the president.

In Africa, many leaders have been reticent to talk about HIV-AIDS. Former Zambian leader waited until after the scourge had a stranglehold on his country to admit publicly his son had AIDS. South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki seems to think the virus is some sort of fiction and what scientists call HIV is really diseases caused by poverty.

The only country where HIV-AIDS has been seriously rolled back is Uganda. And that was in no small part due to the candor of Uganda's president who made fighting the scourge a national priority. Even to the point of tackling taboos head on. Though there is no single magic bullet for fighting the pandemic, President Mogae's straight talk is a welcome step.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Sports and poisonous atmospheres

Much has been made in the American media, and rightly so, about the melee at an NBA basketball game in Detroit where players from a player from the visiting Indiana Pacers stormed into the crowd to confront a player who'd thrown something at him.

However, this article from The San Francisco Chronicle notes that such anti-social idiocy is not limited to professional sports, millionaire players and fans paying ridiculous ticket prices.

When the first blow landed on the side of his head, sending his glasses flying, soccer referee Bruce Greenlee wasn't shocked. There was no disbelief that a low-key, recreational league soccer game among 8- and 9-year- olds had turned to violence.
The sad fact is, he'd been expecting it.

"My first thought was, 'Well, I guess today's the day,' '' Greenlee, an attorney and legal software developer in San Francisco, said Monday. "I kind of knew it would come someday.''

[...]

In this case, it was last Saturday morning [November 20] at halftime of an under-10 soccer match in sleepy, suburban Albany. It was a lovely morning until the coach of a Richmond [CA] team completely lost his marbles. He threatened Greenlee, a 59-year-old referee, and when Greenlee couldn't change his mind, hit him twice, at least once with what Greenlee believes was a martial-arts kick, sending him to the hospital for stitches.

It wasn't the first run-in Greenlee had with this coach. The guy had been in the league for three seasons, and Greenlee had twice before disqualified his team for failing to provide proof that his players were not over the required age. It was simple, the ref said: The guy was sneaking older players onto his team so he could win.


The ref disqualified the cheating team, which prompted the cheater coach to go psycho on the kiddie league official.

Fortunately, the ref is reportedly pressing charges against the delinquent who attacked him. The coach could face a misdemeanor charge of assaulting a referee, which carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a year in jail, authorities said.

I'm glad the ref chose to do this. He's sending a message to all parents that if you act like a criminal, you'll be treated as one... regardless of the context.

That the coach would be so pathetic as to cheat in an 8-/9-year old game is enough of a black mark on his character. But to assault the ref like some common street thug? I feel sorry for the child that has to grow up with this person as a male role model.

I've written before about the lunatic parents that reign in some youth sports leagues. In most cases, it's a minority of parents; most of them are either passionate within the bounds of reason or simply supportive of their child. Most coaches volunteer because they love the sport or because they want to spend more time with their kids. But it only takes a few jerks with no sense of perspective, even one, to ruin the experience for a whole team. Combine that with a bunch of decent parents who won't confront the jerk(s).

There is a counterexample to all this doom and gloom. My city's rec soccer program (with which I am not involved) has a reputation for having a culture when perspective prevails. Parents whose passion nears that line which separates reasonable exuberance from 'get a life,' they are politely reminded which side of the line to stay on.

The rec program is a feeder for the school program in which I coach. Not coincidentally, participation in my school's modified (middle school) programs is much higher than it was before the rec program started.

Increased participation allows me a bigger pool of players to develop, which in turn leads to more competition and thus better players. Our school's varsity team (the top level team) has improved greatly in the last few years.

In other words, letting kids enjoy themselves and creating a positive atmosphere for them to play in eventually leads to successful results.

How revolutionary!

Albany: how to fix the mess

The dysfunctional and corrupt nature of New York government has long been a topic of scorn for local government officials, school administrations and the state's editorial writers. But the heat seems to have been ratcheted up this year.

First, there was a report by the Brennan Center at New York University's law school which called New York's legislature the most dysfunctional in the nation. Then there was groundbreaking investigation, which may well win a Pulitzer Prize, by the Syracuse Post-Standard on the corruption in the secret slush funds maintained by the state's govenor and two legislative leaders.

There is no shortage of ideas on how to fix the mess, only a shortage of will.

The NY Public Interest Research Group's Blair Horner cites the case of former state Sen. Guy Vellela, now incarcerated, as a an example.

According to the DA’s indictment, people seeking contracts [to paint a bridge in Albany] were told that to win the bid they needed to contact Velella and retain his father’s firm to represent them in the bidding. Velella got kickbacks from the clients who retained his father’s firm. In the end, Velella resigned in disgrace, pleaded guilty to a felony, lost his law license and was sent to prison.

But more interesting is what Horner's op-ed in The Post-Standard suggests as remedies:

Boost the state comptroller’s powers to review agencies’ and authorities’ contracting decisions.
Empower the Lobbying Commission to monitor procurement lobbying. With so much at stake, big bucks are spent influencing agency contracting decisions. The Assembly has passed legislation deputizing the Lobbying Commission to monitor contract lobbying. The Senate and the governor should support it.

Create an independent ethics agency to monitor both the executive and legislative branches. The governor’s internal oversight is inadequate.


Kevin Murray, a Monroe County (Western NY) legislator, offers a different solution. In his essay for Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle, he cites the now familiar list of Albany absurdities: late budgets, pork, gerrymandering that prevents electoral accountability.

He believes a state constitutional convention is a long-overdue measure. He endorses a reform proposal by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky which would, in his words, would give the state Legislature would have clearly defined powers to amend a governor's proposed budget, rather than be forced to simply accept or reject it. Under this revised constitution, election districts would be drawn by a nonpartisan commission. And the state Legislature would become a unicameral body of just 100 members.

Mitchell Kaidy, who was part of the state's last constitutional convention in 1967, offers some suggestions on rules a constitutional convention must adopt if real reform is to happen.

The public rejected a convention back in a required referendum back in 1997, but the legislature can call one at anytime. As necessary as it certainly is, I wouldn't hold my breath. Legislators have a reputation for protecting their own for a good reason.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Pentagon: they hate our policies, not our freedoms

For a long time, many have poured scorn on the administration's claims that anti-Americanism is being fueled because 'they' [loosely defined] "hate our freedoms." This article from The Christian Science Monitor notes the latest party to trash this assertion: an advisory board to none other than the War Secretary himself.

The paper cited a report by the War Department's Defense Science board which wrote:

Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies [the report says]. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.

That was the War Department's advisory board speaking, not Amnesty International.

MSNBC further noted:

``The dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars” against the United States, the report said. “American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims.''

Many have criticized the administration for claiming to spread democracy while cozying up to oppressive Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; these criticisms have typically been dismissed as naive and unrealistic by hardliners (or as a fuzzy, bleeding heart diversion).

Yet the Defense Science Board, which includes the chairmen of the Army, Navy and Air Force, added: It is noteworthy that opinion is (strongest) against America in precisely those places ruled by what Muslims call ‘apostates’ and tyrants — the tyrants we support. This should give us pause.

Indeed.

Common ground? Uh sure... but how?

There's been a lot of talk lately how liberals and progressives need make inroads in small-town, red America if they want to have electoral success. I think there's a degree of merit in that argument. Many on the left are very smug. They think of themselves as intellectually superior to the rubes who supported President Bush. Sophisticated Americans vote Democrat (or Green), while ignorant rednecks vote Republican.

Of course, the parallel orthodoxy on the right is that patriotic God-fearing Americans vote Republican while hedonistic secularists (aka: liberals who "despise Christ") vote Democrat or Green.

Still, those on the left need to realize that calling people 'stupid' is not a good recipe for winning their votes.

Nevertheless, it's hard to counter stereotypes when you read stuff like this.

The final count of a Nov. 2 referendum saw Alabamans REJECT a constitutional amendment to erase segregation-era wording requiring separate schools for "white and colored children" and to eliminate references to the poll taxes once imposed to disenfranchise blacks.

I wonder exactly HOW liberals and progressives are supposed to make common ground with people who take such positions.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The colonialist denounces imperialism

Some anti-war folks might be tempted to think that because French President Jacques Chirac agreed with them on Iraq, then he might be someone to admire. That would be mistaken. He happened to be right, but the as the law of averages dictates, it was bound to happen eventually. Even Jesse Helms was accidentally right once in a great while.

In his recent trip to Britain, Chirac said, "The peoples submitted to the West’s domination in the past have not forgotten and are quick to see a resurgence of imperialism and colonialism in our actions."

This was shortly after the French military destroyed the entireity of the Ivorian air force. An action which, shock of shocks, provoked an outpouring of anti-French sentiment in Côte d'Ivoire who accused the French of... imperialism and colonialism.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The mess in Albany: it's worse than you think

I knew New York state's government was dysfunctional and totally devoid of any transparency. This summer's Brennan Center Report from New York University's law school detailed that. But as bad as I may have thought Albany was, it's much, much worse.

My local paper ran excerpts of the ground breaking investigation by the Syracuse Post-Standard on New York state's slush funds. These slush funds are controlled by the three men who dominate almost every aspect of New York's government: Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. These slush funds were created in order to avoid the state's constitutional requirement that the public approve all state-incurred debt. These slush funds have cost NY tax payers over 1 billion dollars in just the last seven years.

It's worth noting that these secret slush funds are separate from the usual 'pork' contained in the state budget, which itself is hardly a model of transparency.

The most appalling part is not merely the money. The worst part, this being New York state government, is the process. As The Post-Standard describes how, starting in 1997:

The legislature and governor agree to create a multimillion-dollar program for projects to be named later. The bill they pass says the money will be borrowed but says little else.

In a private deal with no vote of legislators, the three leaders decide the details. Pataki gets a share to distribute. Bruno takes a cut for his Republican senators and Silver a cut for his Democratic assemblymen. The governor and legislators in the majority parties then pick which fire department or dance troupe hits the lottery and which is out of luck.

To pay for it, the three leaders direct the authorities to borrow the money — Empire State Development Corp. for the Republicans and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York for the Democrats. Those authorities write the checks for projects picked by Pataki, Silver and Bruno.

The leaders have never fully disclosed to the public, or even their own legislators, how they spent this borrowed money.

Millions of dollars fly around below radar, with no audits and little public scrutiny. There are few rules, leaving lawmakers to choose projects without statewide competition, with no requirement of financial need, with little concern for conflicts of interest and with a nudge from those who contributed money to their re-election campaigns.
[emphasis mine]

As absurd as the state's budget 'process' is, at least it goes through nominal public scrutiny.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Founding Fathers vs the theocracy brigade

I don't subscribe to the 'we must be enslaved to everything the Founding Fathers thought now and forever more' school of thought so popular nowadays. But those who get apoplectic at people who don't say "America is a Christian nation" every 3.2 seconds should read this article.

[T]he 1796 Treaty of Tripoli - initiated by George Washington and signed into law by John Adams - proclaims: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion."

Thomas Paine wrote, "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

George Washington never once mentioned the name of Jesus Christ in any of his thousands of letters, and pointedly referred to divinity as "It." Whenever he (rarely) attended church, Washington always deliberately left before communion, demonstrating disbelief in Christianity's central ceremony.

John Adams wrote, "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved - the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!" adding that "It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [forming the U.S. government] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven..." [George W. Bush take note]

Thomas Jefferon noted that common law "is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England ...about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century. ...We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

James Madison said, "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."

As I said, I don't accept that we must be shackled to the Founding Fathers' beliefs from here to eternity, but those that do should recognize that they weren't quite as in-your-face about Christianity as today's popular myth would have you believe.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Sham elections, debt relief and immoral television

Though I don't read The New York Times on a regular basis, it did have a few interesting articles this weekend.

The first was an opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof entitled 'No More Sham Elections.' Now before you write this off as another round of liberal whining about John Kerry's loss, it has nothing much to do with the presidential election.

He remarks on the uncompetitiveness of elections across the country. In Arkansas, 75 percent of state legislative races this year were uncontested by either the Republicans or by the Democrats. The same was true of 73 percent of the seats in Florida, 70 percent in South Carolina, 62 percent in New Mexico... And Congressional races were an embarrassment. Only seven incumbents in the House of Representatives lost their seats this month Four of which were in gerrymandered Texas districts.

The best solution he proposes is one I've advocated for a while: independent state electoral commissions should draw up electoral boundaries. Right now, this is done by partisan state legislatures. Sometimes, they're overtly biased in favor of one party (like in Texas). Other times, redistricting is overtly biased in favor of incumbents (Democratic Assemblymen and Republican Senators here in New York). Iowa was the first state to have the lines drawn by an independent commission; not surprisingly, they have the most competitive electoral races in the country.

He also proposes getting rid of the electoral college (as well as noting how close we came to actually having the House of Representatives elect the president). But I've already written on this issue.

The independent electoral commission would do the most good. Eliminating the electoral college, for all its evident merits, is highly unlikely in my lifetime.

**

This article remarks on how The world's leading industrial nations agreed Sunday to cancel 80 percent of the nearly $39 billion debt owed them by Iraq. The news article called it a critical step in rebuilding the country's devastated economy and an important precedent for its other creditors to follow.

It's interesting to wonder why this is such a great idea for Iraq, but some object to the same being done for African countries.

**

Bill Carter's article observed that the unsurprising revelation: Many Who Voted for 'Values' Still Like Their Television Sin.

Unsurprising because if only Kerry supporters or so-called liberals watched 'immoral' television shows, they wouldn't get high enough ratings to remain on the air.