Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Full Glens Falls mayoral debate on Sept. 12

'Don Coyote' now has a blog when 'he' can expand on the one- or two-line cheap shots and snide comments 'he' leaves daily in The Post-Star. Then again, I suppose fair is fair: the paper is now letting readers comment on issues anonymously (while slashing the word limit for those with enough guts to sign their name), so maybe it follows their dumbing down trend to let (presumably) reporters do the same.

While giving plenty of voice to wild canines and FRONT PAGE fluff pieces on dogs jumping off a bridge in Scotland (Aug. 4), the paper is rejecting letters for no rhyme or reason. Though a conspiracy theorist might argue that there is perfect rhyme and reason.

The paper would surely retort that because they get criticized by both liberals and conservatives, lefties and righties, then they must be doing a good job. This sort of self-satisfied complacency is wrong. Dr. James Dobson might think President Bush 'too liberal,' but that doesn't make it so. The extremes are not a good guide for figuring out the middle.

First, the paper refused to run a fairly tame letter to the editor by Glens Falls mayoral candidate Esmond Lyons. This sort of thing makes it difficult for Lyons, Bill Berg and Roy Akins to get any exposure whatsoever, given the Post-Star's de facto policy of ignoring non-Republican mayoral aspirants in their news articles. They ran yet another piece on Tuesday on the GOP establishment's pick Bud Taylor.

The main tactical difference between the candidates is that Taylor and GOP rival Peter McDevitt have gone to great lengths to smear each other. While Lyons and the others have not. Lyons has run a campaign based on the radical premise that his ideas are good enough to stand on their own, without taking undignified cheap shots at the others. I guess this doesn't make good enough copy for our self-proclaimed Hometown Newspaper.

More recently, the daily refused to run a letter by Lyons' supporter Matt Funiciello, a local business owner. The paper refused to run the letter citing 'factual errors.' But the paper refused to specify what the alleged factual errors were despite requests, according to Funiciello.

Since the paper was criticized in Funiciello's letter, it's odd that they refused even the formality of defending themselves by detailing the alleged factual errors. That they didn't is either astonishing or revealing.

But since this blog doesn't have a Republican-only or pro-Bud Taylor policy and since I could not find any factual errors in Funiciello's letter, I am publishing it here (with permission). In his blog, Funiciello elaborates on the facts and substantiates the assertions he uses in his letter.



Dear Editor:

Our “hometown newspaper” is hosting what they call a “mayoral debate” on September 7th. Only two of the five candidates have been invited. When questioned about this un-American behavior, they claimed that the event is really a “primary debate” (even though they call it a “mayoral debate”). They say that a “forum” may be held sometime in the future where other candidates “may” be “allowed to participate”.

Does the Post-Star really see the huge non-Republican majority of its Glens Falls readership (61%) as totally irrelevant? They consistently withhold any substantive information about the Independent and Democratic candidates while dosing us daily with the squabbling between the two “conservative” camps. Esmond Lyons, Bill Berg and Leroy Akins have been virtually ignored. Why?

If you’re a business owner or an artist, Esmond Lyons is you. If you are a worker or someone who chooses not to live off the backs of others, Esmond is you. If you enjoy walking or biking and you understand that our downtown needs to be preserved, not sold off to the highest bidder, your vote's wasted on anyone else. Esmond is with us on all these major issues and many others that the Post-Star can’t see as locally relevant, like the impending energy crisis and how it will affect us in “Hometown USA”. You can learn more at EsmondLyonsForMayor.org.

If you want to see all five mayoral candidates in an un-manipulated setting, the Glens Falls Labor Council and The Informed Constituent (an independent news-monthly) are hosting a real debate at the Wood Theater on September 12th at 7:00 pm. Come hear all the candidates speak their minds and when you’ve heard all of them, I’m fairly confident that you’ll be voting for Esmond. That’s precisely why you haven’t heard much about him in our “hometown newspaper”.

Sincerely,
Matt Funiciello

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Assassinations vs 'liberations'

Now, the far right televangelist Pat Robertson is hastily backtracking from his earlier call for the US to murder Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman. Robertson's fatwa was roundly condemned by all segments of society.

It's interesting that most Americans objected voiciferously to the idea of assassinating a foreign leader who poses no threat to us merely because he's a loudmouthed autocrat, yet they eagerly endorsed full-fledged invasions to overthrow regimes we don't like.

I guess assassination is a less romantic word than liberation.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The right to bear (only mildly destructive) arms

Many non-governmental organizations are pushing an international campaign to regulate the small arms trade. They want this regulation because a flood of small arms are fueling countless conflicts around the world. Small arms has faciliated the explosion of the use of child soldiers, with even pre-teenagers being recruited into the horrors of war; in the past, weapons were too heavy for young children to use.

The Bush administration has been an active opponent of any regulations on the international small arms trade. Its pretext: it will not support anything that it claims might go against the Second Amendment to US Constitution.

Of course, contrary to the assertions of the chicken littles, the small arms treaty wouldn't ban the use of all weapons within the United States; it would only REGULATE the international trade in such arms. But fanastical scare tactics are the bread and butter of any activist organization, left or right.

Yet this begs the question: why should our Constitution's rights apply to foreigners in foreign countries?

This argument is even more bizarre when you consider this: in the War on Civil Liberties, we are told that foreigners in this country have absolutely no rights and can be treated in a contempible, offensive manner, even kidnapped and sent to Cuba, with no judicial recourse for arbtirary and capricious reasons... or none at all. Why are foreigners living in THIS country not subject to US constitutional rights but foreigners in foreign countries are?

Collectively, the use of small arms has wrought significantly more damage on far more lives than the use of WMDs. In modern wars, some 90% of all non-military casualties are caused by small arms. Civilian casualties represent an estimated 80% of all casualties in recent conflicts.

So why doesn't this universal (according to the administration) right to bear arms not include arms of mass destruction?

Oh wait... the small arms trade represents a multibillion dollar industry. I guess that explains it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hands of God and 'idiot' soccer fans

So what to make of Diego Maradona's admission regarding one of the two most controversial goals in soccer history. It seems that as one of the greatest soccer players ever, if a questionable and somewhat delusional human being, feels obliged to flap his gums incessantly... ever since the drugs ban disgrace at the 1994 World Cup effectively ended his top class career.

In the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal against England, the Argentine star rose up for a high ball against England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and knocked the ball into the net with his hand. Everyone in the stadium and in the television audience saw it go off Maradona's fist. There is no way that the head of Maradona, who's about 5'4" tall with his boots on, could reached above the outstretched frame of the 6'1" Shilton (remembering that goalkeepers are allowed to use their hands). 114,580 spectators saw the handball but not the spectators who most counted: match referee Ali Bennaceur and his two assistants. After the match, Maradona was asked if he was guilty of a handball infraction on the goal, to which he replied that if it was a handball, it was 'the hand of god.'

(Only three minutes after this most dubious goal, he went on a magnificient 70 yard run through the English defense and scored what many call 'the goal of the century.')

In a talk show which he now hosts, Maradona finally explicitly admitted to using his hand to score the infamous goal. This isn't really surprising: players commit infractions all the time, they just don't necessarily expect to get away with it. Especially as something as blatant as punching the ball into the opposing goal.

Maradona said, "The truth is that I don't for a second regret scoring that goal with my hand."

The goal was the decisive blow in Argentina's 2-1 quarterfinal victory. So it might not be surprising to hear him say he doesn't regret scoring a goal which was crucial in helping his side win the 1986 World Cup.

You might not be surprised until you realize that sporting reasons are not why he is proud of the goal.

After the infamous goal, his teammates came over to celebrate. "They were quite timid. They came over to embrace me but it was as if they were saying: 'We've robbed them'," he said. "But I said to them: 'Whoever robs a thief gets a 100-year pardon.'"

He was apparently referring to the Falklands War, fought unsuccessfully by Argentina against the UK to take control of the islands it claimed as its own.

Ironically, Maradona's 70 yard run and goal, only minutes after the 'hand of god' goal, was only possible because of the English sentiment of fair play and their failure to intentionally foul Maradona before he got near the goal area.


****

Sean Ingle of the UK Guardian reckons that English soccer fans are idiots because the ridiculous prices in English 'footy' would not be possible without fans' agreeing to pay them. One of the most astonishing facts he notes is that the most expensive season ticket for the Spanish side Real Madrid, probably the most prestigious soccer club in the world, goes for the equivalent of US$360. By contrast, the most expensive season ticket in England is that of London side Arsenal, which run about nine times that amount ($3300 for 19 home league matches). Bristol Rovers charge twice as much ($760) as the Spanish giants; Bristol plays in the fourth division (called League Two, the rough equivalent of Class A minor league baseball) of English soccer while Real is a virtual world all-star team.



Update: In the light of obscenely high ticket prices, The Guardian's Paul Wilson reports the un-shocking news that even top-flight English soccer stadia have hosted an awful lot of empty seats this young season.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hooray for high gas prices?

I've been told I should be ecstatic about the national and global rise in oil prices. As a Green and as an advocate for non-automobile forms of transportation, I should be happy that higher gas prices are pushing people to drive less. I should even be bragging about how this vindicates my decision to not own a car. After all, the only people this punishes are the insufferable SUV-driving yuppy types. The only people who suffer are the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses suburbanites who deserve to pay for the sprawl they've inflicted on the rest of us. Am I happy people are driving less and, heaven forbid, walking/biking/taking public transportation more? Absolutely. Am I clucking with self-satisfied glee about sticking it to the well-off? Not exactly. Maybe because it's not the well-off who are suffering the most.


Update: Not just the yuppies

Friday, August 26, 2005

Thought for food

I was listening to a BBC World Service story yesterday on the rise of obesity in America. The reporter showed how expensive it was in the US to make a meal from scratch with fresh ingredients and yet McDonald's, KFC and other such places are so inexpensive. Soda is the least expensive bottled drink you can find in the convenience store even cheaper, per unit, than orange juice, milk, even bottled water.

(No polemic today. I sometimes eat at fast food joints and diet soda is my drink of choice)

And I got to wondering. Why is it that healthy food in the US is so costly and bad food is so cheap? Yet in Africa, at least the western part, it's largely the opposite. Fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are fairly inexpensive; in my village, I remember once buying 10 oranges for the equivalent of a dime (in the cities, it was more like four for a dime). Fast food, where available, was pretty expensive. I have my theories but I'd like to sollicit thoughts from readers first and I'll post a follow up in a few days.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The four most dreaded words in Glens Falls

While glancing at today's paper, I saw a headline containing the four words most dreaded by any Glens Falls motorist, bicyclist or public transportation rider. road work to start.

A $7 million reconstruction project in the busiest part of downtown Glens Falls, which will include the building of a pedestrian-hostile* roundabout, is likely to start anywhere between January and April 2006.

(*-You have to wonder if pedestrians were even considered in the conception of the roundabout project. One mayoral candidate asked if the city had a Plan B if the roundabout didn't work. One of the project's designers said that he’s convinced the roundabout will improve traffic flow. The idea's impact on pedestrians wasn't even factored into the designer's response. His sole definition of success was improved AUTOMOBILE flow. The problem? In order for a motorist to become a consumer, he has to LEAVE his car, become a PEDESTRIAN and WALK to his preferred downtown establishment.)

The whole reconstruction project is scheduled to last two years which, given the city's recent history with public works projects, means that it will probably be concluded sometime in 2022.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Pat Robertson's fatwa against Venezuelan leader

Sometimes I'm hesitant to characterize various elements of the far right, for fear I might accused of setting up a straw man cariciature. Fortunately, there are always folks like Pat Robertson to provide real life material.

Recently, the pseudo-Christian televangelist called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's leader.

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson said. "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."

Some of my friends on the left thinks that because Hugo Chavez employs populist rhetoric about helping the poor, because he points out huge social disparities that are very real and because he bashes George W. Bush, then he must be a swell guy. (Many also think the same way about Fidel Castro and Jean-Bertrand Aristide)

No amount of charisma and fancy rhetoric changes the fact that Chavez, like his buddy Fidel Castro, is an ordinary autocrat. He has little regard for the most basic standards of human rights that progressives claim to care about.

While I wouldn't shed a tear at Chavez's departure, his assassination would only increase anti-Americanism in Venezuela and Latin America. His assassination would only prove to Latin Americans that the US doesn't respect their sovereignty. His assassination would only give weight and credibility to far left conspiracy theorists. Even aside from the pathetic spectacle of a so-called 'Christian' leader advocating cold-blooded murder, Robertson's call would endanger America's reputation and national security far more than a loudmouthed crackpot.

Robertson also accused Chavez of exporting Communism and Islamic extremism across the Americas.

If Communism is supposed to be 'godless,' as we were constantly told throughout the Cold War, then how can it be linked to religious extremism?

This is yet another example to show that religious extremists are dangerous to decent, civilized people whether the nutjobs are Crusaders or Jihadists.

Of course, given Robertson's support of Charles Taylor, the indicted war criminal who used to terrorize Liberia, perhaps Robertson's advocacy of murder isn't surprising... especially when millions of his own cash are involved. I wonder if Roberston had money invested in Venezuela...



Update: This editorial in The Chicago Tribune details some of Robertson's other lunacies.



Update 2: It makes you wonder... if a MUSLIM so-called preacher had called for the assassination of, say, Tony Blair, would he have been abducted in middle of the night and spirited off the Guantanamo Bay faster than you can say Insh'allah? I suspect it certainly would've been condemned with words far more harsh than merely 'inappropriate'.

And Robertson can call for the cold-blooded murder of a foreign leader without consequence, but the FCC can levy a fine of over half a million dollars merely because Janet Jackson exposed her breast? Does this dichotomy seem sane to anyone?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

MLS XI vs Real Madrid

This has been a busy summer for soccer fans in America. European giants Real Madrid, AC Milan and Chelsea along with English side Fulham all played pre-season friendlies (exhibitions) here in the states. And while the two matches between Milan and Chelsea were dreadful affairs (for which people gladly paid top dollar in the expectation of quality soccer), the four contests against Major League Soccer (MLS) opposition were all good entertainment. Real Madrid clearly outclassed Los Angeles Galaxy. And while excellent goalkeeping kept the score downt to 2-0, LA certainly did not embarass themselves. Chicago thoroughly outplayed Milan for most of their match but were made to pay for lamentable finishing and ended up unjustly losing 3-1. Champions DC United also played some good soccer against Chelsea, before falling 2-1. The MLS all-star team stomped Fulham 4-1. Though Fulham were in their pre-season, the MLS side had only one practice together but looked pretty cohesive considering.

This was in addition to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the continental championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean. Though with a largely makeshift lineup and many injuries, the United States won its third Gold Cup (in eight editions) by beating Panama in the final in a penalty shootout.

Today should provide a more interesting test. Another MLS Select XI will be playing a friendly against Real Madrid in the Spanish capital. It should be interesting. While the American outfit will be sending a league all-star team, it could be argued that Real Madrid will field a virtual world all-star team. With players like Zinedine Zidane (the best player of his generation), Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Iker Casillas, it should be a much better test for the MLS players than an English side that will fight to avoid relegation this season.

Some naysayers will automatically dismiss such exhibitions. They won't give MLS players any credit, regardless of result. If MLS wins, it will be a 'meaningless exhibition' against a team not in midseason form. If MLS loses, then the result 'proves' how inferior the league really is.

I think these exhibitions are important. They are far more compelling entertainment than the horribly contrived 'east vs west' format MLS has used for most of its all-star games. It's no coincidence that the two best MLS all-star games in terms of being a great spectacle were the two that deviated from the contrived east-west format.

The only reason to watch a game is if you care about the outcome in some small way. No one cares about east-west. But if the reputation of the league could be enhanced, then fans of the league will have a reason to care.

Contrary to international perception, the American soccer community appreciates good soccer. In fact, that's precisely the problem faced by MLS in marketing itself. While pre-season exhibition snooze fests between Milan and Chelsea will draw 60,000 fans, the domestic league averages about 15,000 per game. The American soccer community is divided largely between three camps. 1) the camp that like MLS AND European soccer, 2) the camp that likes European soccer but looks its nose down at MLS and 3) the camp that's too busy playing to watch games on TV. The 2nd and 3rd camps are significantly larger than the 1st. But MLS-European friendlies are a good way for the league to try to make inroads into the Eurosnob crowd. To show that while the league may not be one of the top three or four in the world (after all, it's only 10 years old), it still provides decent entertainment.

An MLS win against Real Madrid will not prove that the league is better than the Spanish La Liga, just as a Chicago win against Milan wouldn't have made MLS leapfrog above the Italian Serie A in international reputation. But these games, no matter how 'friendly,' are a good way for MLS and its clubs to challenge themselves against higher opposition. They should schedule such contests every year.


Update: Ouch!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Paper's dumbing down process vindicated by state press association

Today's issue of the Glens Falls, NY Post-Star daily trumpeted the fact that several of its staff won New York State Associated Press awards for their work. But what amazed me is a few of the items that were deemed good enough for a state award.

One award was given for an enormous, horribly cheesy graphic (known euphemistically as a 'photo illustration') used in a story on credit card debt. It was so bad that even though the story was months ago and even though it was only a 'photo illustration,' I STILL remember the graphic. It showed a young woman, a reporter I presume, with a handful of credit cards and an absurd and contrived look of horror on her face, like something out of a bad slasher movie.

A 'photo illustration' is different from an real photo. A real photo for said story might show a woman actually featured in the article sitting at a table poring over credit card statements.

The article was actually good, far closer to deserving of an award than the cheesy graphic. But this hideous 'photo illustration' distracted people from what was a decent article. I remember cringing when I saw it..

It baffles me that the paper feels the need to run these things. Do they feel that the writing in their paper is so bad that they need the distraction? Do they not have confidence in the caliber of their journalists? Why do they play up the bells and whistles instead of the meat and potatoes?

Maybe the New York AP loves these photos that would be more appropriate in Seventeen magazine, but I don't know many Post-Star readers who rave about them.

Editorial writer Mark Mahoney also won a state award for his many hysterical editorials on teen drinking... which were part of the paper's crusade of the month back in the spring of this year.

It's bad enough that he and managing editor Ken Tingley stoked the 'stone the heretics' mania against any person who dared disgree with their orthodoxy and all but demanded that anyone who offered a fair, logical counterargument be burnt at the stake (all while patting themselves on the back incessantly for 'starting the discussion') But to be rewarded for such irresponsibility under the dishonest guise of 'dialogue'? How sad.

These awards aren't just incidental but downright unfortunate. They will almost certainly be seen inside the paper as vindication for the dumbing down campaign that's ruining the once-solid paper. A process that caused the daily to reduce the limit for (signed) letters to the editor to 300 words; it had been 33% higher. This occured just as the paper decided to introduce a space-consuming feature allowing anonymous comments on particular topics... in addition to the cheap shots offered by Post-Star employees under the cloak and dagger of something called 'Don Coyote.' Higher ups at the paper insist that the inclusion of anonymous comments and almost simultaneous slashing of the size of letters to the editor was just a coincidence.

And it would also be nice if the paper realized that there were more than two candidates running for mayor of Glens Falls. Nearly every one of the many articles it's done on the campaign has featured either Bud Taylor or Peter McDevitt, both city councilman and both Republicans. One pundit has taken to referring to the paper's coverage as candidate McTaylor. The paper has apparently decided that candidates other than McTaylor don't matter, instead of presenting a balanced look and letting voters decide for themselves.

Each article throws in a token sentence near the end that reads something like, "Democrat Roy Akins, Independent Esmond Lyons and Independent Bill Berg are also running." But that's about the only mention of the three non-Republicans you are likely to see in the paper. Off the top of my head, I recall having seen two articles primarily devoted Akins, one to Lyons and none at all to Berg. Articles on Taylor, McDevitt or their feud usually run once or twice a week.

There's the rub. Lyons (of whom I speak because he's a friend of mine) could start smearing his opponents on a weekly basis, like McDevitt and Taylor are doing, and would probably get a lot more press coverage. He won't do that because he's a man of integrity and wants to run a campaign based on his ideas. The Post-Star, along with most citizens of Glens Falls, claim they want more decency and less nastiness in political campaigns. But this professed desire is belied by who gets the preponderence of press coverage.

You'd think that the paper would jump at the chance to give some ink to all of the candidates. Possibly a majority of electoral races in the paper's readership area are completely unopposed and hardly any have more than two candidates. So it's not like the paper has to devote a ton of space to other contested elections.

I realize that no paper's editorial judgement is going to provoke 100% agreement. But when the Post-Star chooses to run a story on the FRONT PAGE (Aug. 4, 2005) about a bridge in Scotland that dogs like to jump off while ignoring 60% of Glens Falls' mayoral candidates, that doesn't exactly inspire my confidence. Or my respect.

Mahoney won another award for his rivetting first-hand account of a rare murder in Glens Falls that he actually witnessed. His colleague Don Lehman also won for his reporting on the story. THAT is the kind of stuff that deserved an award, not gaudy graphics or overwraught hysteria.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Lobbyists' paradise

North Country Public Radio notes a study by the Center for Public Integrity that points out what many have long suspected: New York has more registered lobbyists than any other state: 3,842, or 18 per legislator.

It's nice to know that someone is well-represented in Albany, if not the citizens.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

MLS needs a summer break

I'm a big fan of Major League Soccer but the league really needs to get its head out of its behind. In just about any other country in the world, the top division in domestic club soccer takes a break when that country's national team plays. Most national teams draw a lot of players from their own domestic leagues, so domestic leagues lose a lot of players. Rather than putting for a watered down product, most domestic leagues avoid scheduling games when the national team is playing. Since most international dates are set well in advance, this is not hard to.

MLS doesn't believe in this common sense business principle, preferring to put forth an inferior product whenever the US national team is playing.

For example, I watched Wednesday night's match between Colorado Rapids and New England Revolution. Missing from the game were Colorado's Jeff Cunningham and New England's Taylor Twellman, who were away with the national team (the latter playing about 10 minutes for the red, white and blue in their win over Trinidad & Tobago; the former not playing at all). Twellman and Cunningham are the league's two leading scorers. New England also lost starting midfielder Steve Ralston to the stars and stripes and starting defender Avery John to T&T.

During the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup (North/Central American and Caribbean championship), New England spent long periods of time without Ralston, John, Pat Noonan and Clint Dempsey (two more of the league's top scorers). So the team missed four of its starting eleven for weeks on end; is it any wonder they've struggled since early July?

The Colorado-New England game was played without three of the better attacking players in the league; is it any wonder the match was a choppy, disjointed snooze fest?

If you spend good money to see a Los Angeles' match, you expect to see Landon Donovan. If you shell out your hard earned cash for an FC Dallas ticket, you deserve to see Eddie Johnson, Carlos Ruiz and Ronnie O'Brien. Yet MLS plays even when they know teams will be depleted. And they don't even have the good grace to reduce ticket prices according for the inferior product.

MLS needs to not schedule games during World Cup qualifying matches (WCQs). That's simple enough. Though it conflicted with the national team's game, the Colorado-New England match was the only MLS contest yesterday. Why this one off? Neither club has a game this weekend; neither has a game next Wednesday. Yet both were forced to play depleted squads in a poor quality match (but charging normal ticket prices to be sure) because MLS won't do with their scheduling what nearly every other top division in the world does.

MLS should also try to schedule a three week break every July. Most Julys will see teams depleted either by the CONCACAF Gold Cup or the World Cup finals. In July, many MLS teams schedule friendlies (exhibitions) against high profile European or Latin American clubs. And in July, the weather in most of the US ranges from extremely hot to plastic-melting; a recent nationally-televised day games in Washington DC saw field temperatures rise above 115 degrees F; another in Los Angeles was even hotter. You put English Premiership or Italian Serie A players on a field where it's almost 50 degrees C and they won't play great soccer either (as evidenced by the two AC Milan-Chelsea matches that were played in the northeastern US this summer; they were more dreadfully boring than any MLS game I've seen this year)

Admittedly, this is not the easiest thing to organize. This would require either the season to be made chronologically longer or for the league to have more midweek games. A longer season would tough considering the never-ending winters in places like Boston and Chicago. And the league doesn't midweek games since they traditionally draw smaller crowds than weekend matches. But something needs to be done. When you have tired teams with second choice players in oppressive weather, sometimes in the middle of the day, it doesn't provide the compelling entertainment than MLS needs to attract new fans.

If MLS can't schedule a complete break, then it should make it so teams only have one or two games during those major international competitions. (New England has played 23 games this season. 6 have been with a roster seriously gutted by international matches)

MLS needs to stop treating its fans with contempt by passing off an inferior product as the real thing. American fans are a bit more soccer savvy than the league gives them credit for.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Bush le Français

After only four and a half years in office, President Bush has already spent 11 full calendar months on vacation at his ranch at Crawford, TX (this figure doesn't count vacation spent elsewhere). This is a vacation rate that the much-derided French would be jealous of.

I have no problem with presidents taking vacations. It's a pretty stressful job. Just look at ANY president's before- and during-the-presidency photos; one inevitably shows a lot more grey hair.

One could argue that I should be happy he's on vacation so much, since he does so much damage to the country and the world when he's working. But normal logic doesn't seem to apply here. Maybe the president spends so much time on vacation that he rushes through things when he's working and we end up with half-baked, ill-conceived excursions like the Iraq aggression. (Of course, that's the generous view since some contend the aggression has been in the works for a decade)

Even by presidential standards, Bush sure relaxes a lot... especially for a 'war president' (or whatever the euphemism of the day is). After only 4 1/2 years, Bush recently broke the presidential record for most vacation that was set by that other conservative idol Ronald Reagan. A record Reagan took 8 years to set, and that was including recovery from an assassination attempt.

I don't really much care how much time the president spends on vacation. I am more concerned about what he does when he's not Deep in the Heart of.

But it makes you wonder why many conservatives, those supposed champions of hard work and long hours at the expense of family, health and sanity, so adore presidents who adopt the 'bleeding heart' philosophy of a reasonable balance between work and play.

I guess the president is more French than we all realized.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Post-Star editor changes his tune on unfettered development

Since Ken Tingley took over as managing editor of The Post-Star, both he and the Glens Falls (NY) daily's editorial board seem to adopt a different crusade every few months. Sometimes it's mom-and-apple-pie stuff like open governance. Sometimes it's well-intentioned but dangerously counterproductive stuff like the 'burn the witches' hysteria they whipped up on teen drinking... which they consistently and dishonestly equate with both binge drinking and drunk driving. Sometimes it's more mundane like its present campaign to push the city of Glens Falls to cede its police dispatch services to the county.

Both Tingley and The Post-Star defer unquestioningly to so-called experts. Whether it's on a roundabout downtown or unfettered development, any snake-oil salesman with a fancy title will get the paper's uncritical ear. Anyone with the audacity to question the wisdom of the well-paid consultants is derided as an enemy of progress.

The problem, of course, is that for every expert on one side of a position, you can find an expert on the other side.

Long-time residents of Glens Falls are perhaps a bit more savvy than those who run their daily newspaper. Back in the 60s and 70s, that generation's self-proclaimed experts also had ideas seen as brilliant. Dazzled by bright lights and fancy talk, the city's leaders implemented a program called urban renewal which did the exact opposite. The program destroyed many of downtown Glens Falls' most historic and architecturally beautiful buildings and replaced them with giant eyesores.

It's been such a disaster that there's talk of reversing this destruction by possibly closing Hudson Avenue (which was created by urban 'renewal') and using eminent domain to acquire the ugly Civic Center Plaza property (which itself was acquired by eminent domain under the program).

In the 1950s, one-way traffic in downtown was sold as the pancea for all of downtown's woes. In the 1960s, it was urban 'renewal.' In the 1970s, it was the Civic Center arena. In the 1980s, it was the Civic Center plaza (billed as the next Rockefeller Center). In the 1990s, it was returning to two-way traffic. Now, it's a dangerous roundabout and a giant waste of a parking garage that are supposed to save the city. All while the cities basic infrastructure like roads and the sewer system remains creaky at best.

All of these magic bullet projects had eloquent advocates with fancy titles telling us how wonderful they'd be. They were all wrong.

People remember these things, but apparently The Post-Star's editorial board does not. Some may pooh-pooh the concept of instutitional memory. But refusing to make the same mistake twice isn't anti-progress; it's simple common sense.

Back in May, Managing Editor Tingley wrote one of several columns criticizing those who objected to his vision of so-called progress at any cost.

In the column, Tingley wrote:

It probably won't be long before people start complaining that there is too much development. That's a problem folks in Glens Falls might really relish.

This was only four days AFTER an article in his own paper noted that residents near Haviland's Cove, in the southern end of the city, complained that sewage was backing up into their homes at times because the existing sewer system is inadequate to handle new development.

Complaining about sewage in their basements?! How dare those whiners stand in the way of [hold hand over heart] progress! They should 'relish' the stench!

But Tingley's words were more prophetic than perhaps even he realized. People HAVE started complaining about too much development in Glens Falls. But surprisingly enough, one of those people is none other than... Ken Tingley himself.

On Aug. 7, the Post-Star boss wrote another column, this one entitled: 'Progress, progress, go away.'

He noted that for many years, the region had waited for business to take off and it finally has.

Business is good.

The future is bright.

The promised land is within sight, and it is being blacktopped and renovated.

So now that prosperity is almost here, I'm stating to wonder: WHAT THE HECK WERE WE THINKING?


Of course, he should've asked what the heck was HE thinking.

He complains about three new big box stores that recently opened and eight apartment complexes. He complained about the flipside of unfettered 'progress': suburban sprawl, traffic congestion, gratuitous rudeness.

As some have been doing for a few years, Tingley wonders if the result of 'propersity' is going to be the degradation or destruction of exactly those qualities which make this region so desirable in the first place.

Is it too late to make a U-turn on progress?, he asks.

Earlier this year, Ken Tingley railed against those who dared question the conventional wisdom that all development is good development. Now, as the messy reality clashes with pie-in-the-sky theory, the managing editor has become one of those who he condescendingly derided as anti-progress reactionaries only a few months ago.

Welcome to the club, Ken!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Soccer star runs for Liberian presidency

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.


I was intrigued to read that George Weah announced his candidacy for president of Liberia. Weah is not only the sole African to be named world soccer's player of the year, but the only one (man or woman) to finish in the top three.

Weah is well-known and adored in Liberia (and abroad), not simply for being arguably the greatest African soccer player ever. He has made tremendous contributions to his country, not only with money but with time. He's served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, the UN's children's fund. He personally used his own money to fund the Liberian national soccer team for many years, when the then-dictatorship said it couldn't afford to. He lent his name to a campaign to demobilize and disarm Liberia's many child soldiers.

Naturally, some have derided the soccer player's presidential aspirations, even his cousin. Critics charge that he is uneducated. They add that he has no governmental experience, that he has no experience with the intricacies of politics.

All Weah has is integrity and character. Perhaps people in a country with as checkered a past as Liberia isn't used to leaders with those qualities, but they could sure use one with them now.

Weah is inexperienced in some ways. He has no experience burning villages. He has no experience killing and maiming people. He has no experience committing war crimes. He has no experience taking bribes, stealing from the national treasury or having people arbitrarily arrested.

What's most compelling about Weah is that unlike so many other candidates, he doesn't NEED to be head of state. He doesn't need the presidency for fame. He doesn't need it for popularity. He doesn't need it for self-aggrandizement. He doesn't need it to become rich. What possible reason, except committment to bettering his homeland, could he have for wanting the poisoned chalice that is the Liberian presidency?

What Liberia most needs now is needs someone who can unite the disparate groups to build some semblance of a state. I can't see how any narrow factional leader could do this more successfully than someone like Weah.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Lysistrata redux?

As I've written before. the phrase 'Support our troops' is a ruse. It's a smokescreen. It's passed off as a non-partisan way of supporting the men and women in uniform. In reality, it's proven to be an ideological bludgeon to silence opponents of the president and his policies.

When the phrase originally started coming into popular use, I was a bit uncomfortable with it, because cutesy little 'patriotic' phrases just get my antennae up. But I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Some opponents of the Iraq aggression argued that if they adopted the phrase ('Support the troops, not the war'), they could prevent it from being used as demagoguery. They were mistaken.

Many people DO use the phrase 'Support our troops' in a neutral, non-partisan way. My mom, for example, has such a bumper sticker on her car; I know she opposes both the president and the Iraq occupation. But individuals like my mom are clearly swimming against the current.

As I wrote earlier, 'Support our troops' rallies started happening only AFTER anti-war rallies. If they were in response to anti-war rallies, then how can you NOT see the two as at odds?

Many Americans have denounced ANY criticism of the president and the occupation as 'demoralizing the troops.' They contend that by saying the Iraq aggression was a bad idea, you're suggesting that the soldiers' sacrifices were wasted, were in vain. Thus by arguing that the troops should be removed from harm's way, in an Orwellian twist of logic, you become 'anti-troop.'

If you wonder what the government is doing to help the soldiers who suffer from psychological and physical trauma from their war experiences, you are accused of exploiting the troops.

The War Department is fighting the release of more photos from Abu Ghraib because it might harm troop morale and help the insurgents. Those who want such apparent US war criminals punished, so as to preserve the reputation of the majority of soldiers who are decent men and women, because troop-haters. The demagogues seem to be suggesting that the troops are too stupid and unsophisticated to realize that in a democracy, not everyone is going to agree with the Leader or the Leader's policies.

'Support our troops' thus has clearly and unambiguously become, 'Shut up and support our troops.'

Most of you have probably heard about a woman named Cindy Sheehan. She lost her son Casey in Iraq. She is protesting outside the president's ranch in Crawford, TX, where he's been vacationing for a while. She said she will stay there until the president agrees to meet with her. The president's advisors say this won't happen because he already met with Sheehan last year; she points out that this was before it was revealed that faulty intellgience was the basis for the aggression.

The point of this essay is not to comment on Sheehan's protest. I'm not going to slam Sheehan for protesting either; if my kid were killed in the unprovoked, unnecessary, counterproductive aggression, I'd be pissed off too and want to find an outlet for that anger.

But I'm not going to slam the president for not having multiple meetings with the families of the almost 2000 troops killed in Iraq; the time would be better spent figuring out how to wind this mess down. Besides, it's not his refusal to meet again with Sheehan that makes him 'insensitive.' It's his repeated and casual disregard for human life (unless it's embryonic, fetal or in a vegetative state) that makes him insensitive.

Though it is a bit farcical to read this piece which commented: The president has so far refused to meet Mrs Sheehan, although he says he has given her plea for troop withdrawal serious consideration.

As though anyone actually believes he considered it, even vaguely.

It must be tough for Sheehan considering that her modest protest was disturbed by a lunatic neighbor firing a gun in the air in her direction. The lunatic said he was preparing for 'dove-hunting season'... though he refused to specify if he meant doves with wings or doves with protest signs.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, to see if this is the start of a modern Lysistrata. It's easy for the patriotically correct to demonize the twenty-somethings as hotheads and long-haired types as warmed over 60s hippies. But when you start pissing off the ordinary, suburban soccer moms, they're a lot harder to slander as America-hating radicals.

But what's interesting is this. In her blog, Sheehan reports on a counterdemonstration. Sheehan and her group put crosses in the ground to represent the Iraq war dead.

[A] busload of counter demonstrators visited the camp and laid flags in front of the crosses. The [Sheehan] camp sang America the Beautiful as the counter demonstrators chanted "we don't care."

Why did the counterprotesters cover the crosses with flags? Were they ashamed of how many there were? Were they aware of the symbolism of using the flag to shroud dissent?

And why were they chanting 'we don't care'? This is a mom who unwillingly sacrificed her son for an unnecessary aggression that the counterprotesters clearly approved of. Is she really the person to whom they should be saying, 'we don't care about your sacrifice'?

This just shows the hollowness of 'support our troops.' Whatever the intent by some well-meaning individuals, it's clearly one of the most important instrument used by demagogues to shut up political opponents. Sheehan quite clearly supports the troops, because her killed son was among them. But since she was a vocal opponent of the president and the Iraq invasion, then suddenly the 'support our troops' brigade boasts of the fact that they 'don't care' about her son's death or her objections. I suppose it's too much to wonder how many of the demagogues served in Iraq.

'Support our troops' is non-partisan? It couldn't be any more partisan.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Commenting

One of the more interesting parts about blogging is receiving feedback from readers. In order to leave a comment on a blog entry, click the link at the bottom of the entry that says '0 comments' (or whatever the number is). That brings up a comment box.

Type in your comments. Then below, it will tell you to choose an identity. For this, there are three choices.

You can create a blogger account just to leave comments.

You can click on the box that says other. It will then prompt you for your name (and webpage if you have one).

You can leave an anonymous comment.

I personally don't recommend anonymous comments because the exchange of ideas is much of what makes blogging an intellectually useful exercise. I can't have an exchange with no one.

If you don't have a blogger account, please just click on other and leave at least your name (even just a first name).

I reserve the right to delete gratituitously offensive or obnoxious comments, though I have yet to do so.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Niger president fiddles with semantics while country burns

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.


Remember the famine in Niger and its West African neighbors that I've written about?

Apparently it's a figment of our collective imagination. It's an invention of humanitarian aid agencies who want to raise huge wads of cash at the expense of Niger's good name.

At least that's according to the nitwit who passes for the man in charge of the Niger. President Tanja Mamadou not only denied that there was a famine in his country, but went so far as to say, "The people of Niger look well-fed, as you can see."

Only a few weeks earlier, a Niger government official said to the BBC, "We have made an appeal since November and told the international community... We did not have any response."

In a radio interview, the official was very defensive. He said that hunger wasn't the government's fault, but that of the international community which has been slow to help.

This is a fair enough comment. But it raises some questions. Most notably:

-How can the government blast foreigners for not helping fast enough to prevent famine while simultaneously denying that there's the slightest risk of famine?

-How can the government blast foreigners for not doing enough to fight hunger when the government itself denies that hunger even exists? Is it any wonder outsiders are wary about pouring in money to fight a crisis which may or may not exist, depending on the government's political calculations of the day?

-If hunger is an invention of supposedly greedy non-governmental organizations, then how come thousands of people protested way back in June for the government to hand out free food?


President Tanja wondered why of the $45m (£25m) promised to Niger to help it deal with the food crisis, only $2.5m had been received by his government.

(Ethan, over at My Heart's in Accra blog offers this: according to Transparency International’s 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index, Niger is ranked 122nd of 145 nations surveyed in terms of transparency

Ethan also has a fascinating analysis about what Google advertising rates say about words and what sort of public consciousness they provoke. The essay's hard to summarize but intriguing nonetheless so check it out for yourself)

President Tanja added, "We are experiencing like all the countries in the Sahel a food crisis due to the poor harvest and the locust attacks of 2004."

So it's not a famine but a food crisis. That's the source of his outrage?

Is this really the time for the president to be bothering himself with semantics?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Edifice complex

This is the 10th season for the top division of US' Major League Soccer. The MLS administration has made it a priority to get as many teams as possible their own stadium. When the league first started, all teams rented space at mammoth stadiums designed for NFL and NCAA gridiron football teams. Many also had no control over parking, concessions and other incidental revenues. As a result, MLS teams have lost a lot of money. Getting as many clubs as possible into soccer-specific stadiums (as the lingo goes) has been an imperative. Besides, even when clubs drew crowds of 20,000, a respectable figure in all but a handful of the world's soccer leagues, it looked empty and completely lacked any atmosphere when spread out in an 80,000 or 100,000 seat stadium.

Right now, four clubs play in grounds designed primarily for soccer: Los Angeles, Chivas USA, Columbus and FC Dallas, which just opened its new Pizza Hut Park last weekend. Chicago and the MetroStars (in northern New Jersey) will build soccer-specific venues. Similar efforts are being pursued by many of the league's other teams.

The MetroStars recently announced plans for their new 20,000 seat stadium in Harrison, NJ, located about a dozen miles from Manhattan. Anshultz Entertainment Group (AEG), which owns the MetroStars, long lobbied state and local officials for financial help in building the stadium.

Eventually, AEG decided simply to build the ground itself; it will pony up the entire $80 million in estimated stadium construction costs. They will also be responsible for any incidentals like environmental reviews and cost overruns. As such, they will have the exclusive right to run the stadium.

The town of Harrison will issue municipal bonds to purchase the land for the stadium and the county will build a parking garage.

This story is interesting for two reasons. First, it's an important statement by AEG of its confidence in the long-term future of American soccer in general and Major League Soccer in particular. They wouldn't spend $80 million (at least) of their own money on this project if they didn't expect it to be a net moneymaker in at least the medium-term future.

The other important message is that taxpayers do not necessarily have to subsidize the construction of sporting venues.

The last half century has littered with unseemly bidding wars between North American cities to keep their professional sports franchises or to steal them away from other cities. This process usually goes like this.

1) Team owner decries outdated stadium. The stadium doesn't need to be ancient. Minneapolis teams have been complaining about their Metrodome since the late 1990s; it opened in 1982.

2) Team owner demands city build a new stadium with lots of expensive luxury boxes, the revenue to which would revert to team owner. He promises to stamp his feet, throw a tantrum and move the team if he can't get what he wants.

3) City says it can't afford such a grandiose structure.

4) Team owner blasts city's selfishness and anti-[insert sport] attitude.

5) Another city offers team owner a new stadium WITH luxury box revenue and promises to throw in the blood of all the city's first born children as an extra incentive.

6) Team owner says 'arrivederci' to the only city his team has ever known.

7) In 20 years, revert back to step 1.


As a result, cities are either extorted into building an expensive stadium (or multiple ones) or they do so to steal a team from another city.

In some cases, cities are bullied into building multiple stadia to replace a single one. In the 70s and 80s, many venues hosted both baseball and American football teams. In recent years, clubs in different sports have been demanding their own stadium. For example, from the early 70s until a few years ago, the Pirates (baseball) and the Steelers (football) shared Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. When that was no longer deemed adequate by whomever, the city was pressured into building two stadia to replace one... at twice the cost: PNC Park for the Pirates and Heinz Field for the Steelers. Seattle followed the same path.

Who loses? The taxpayer of course. And anyone who uses the social services that are inevitably cut to fund the sports venues built to line the pockets of rich businessmen. Construction which has exorbetant costs and the trickle-down benefits to the local economy often cited by politicians to defend this pyramid scheme are dubious at best.

Or perhaps I should say that cities let themselves be bullied. And in many cases, it's the citizens themselves who put pressure on elected officials to do anything to keep the team. For many cities, having a major league sports franchise is an important ego boost, even if venue construction bleeds the city dry.

After all, Montreal only this year finished paying off bonds for the disastrous albatross of a stadium built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. And now, it's so decrepit (and without a tenant) as to be useless. It's an example of what happens when municipal ego gets in the way of rational analysis.

Forcing owners to build their own venues also makes far more sense to municipalities than self-destructive bloodletting between cities. Walter O'Malley, however infamous he may have been in Brooklyn, built Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles with his own money. Built in 1963, Dodger Stadium still houses the team... even though it was constructed a decade before all the stadiums of the 1970s that were years ago declared 'outdated.'

What's the difference? The Steelers didn't own Three Rivers Stadium and they knew the taxpayers of Pittsburgh would either subsidize a new stadium or the taxpayers of some other city would instead. But as long as the people that own the Dodgers club also own the stadium, you can bet they won't be leaving Los Angeles for greener pastures any time soon... in stark contrast to the former Los Angeles Rams football team, who didn't own the Anaheim Stadium they played in before moving to St. Louis.

And you can bet the MetroStars will remain in Harrison, NJ for a long time too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Honey, I shrunk the Iraqi treasury!

A few days ago, the independent commission investigating the scandal in the UN's oil-for-food program issued its second report. The panel accused the ex-head of the program and the program's procurement officer of corruption.

Earlier this year, an audit by the US government's inspector-general revealed that $8.8 billion had gone missing during the reconstruction of Iraq. $8.8 billion. $8,800,000,000.

I misplace a $20 bill and I'm turning my apartment upside down to find it. But $8.8 billion? Even by Washington standards, that's a lot of money. How much money do you have to be spending in the first place in order to simply 'lose track' of $8,800,000,000?

The $8.8 billion that vanished under the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA] was money that came primarily from... you guessed it, the former oil-for-food program. Also included in the total were oil sales and seized assets -- all Iraqi money. The audit did not examine the use of U.S. funds appropriated for reconstruction.

If that much money vanished from the presumably smaller pool of Iraqi money, I can't fathom how much American taxpayer money has fallen into a mysterious black hole.

CNN added: Auditors were unable to verify that the Iraqi money was spent for its intended purpose. In one case, they raised the possibility that thousands of "ghost employees" were on an unnamed ministry's payroll.

"CPA staff identified at one ministry that although 8,206 guards were on the payroll, only 602 guards could be validated," the audit report states. "Consequently, there was no assurance funds were not provided for ghost employees."


[There's a similiar story over at Fox News, if you trust them more]

This is either incompetence or corruption. These are precisely the sorts of things for which conservatives demand Kofi Annan's crucifixion. How many demanded Bremer's head? Or that of his boss for tolerating it?

Of course, one of the big differences between the UN and the Bush administration is accountability. When the allegations of corruption in the oil-for-food program surfaced, Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered an investigation. He ordered an independent investigation even ended up being critical of him (clearing him of personal misconduct but severely criticizing his management style), his staff, even his son.

Annan has lifted the diplomatic immunity of the procurement officer and most believe he'll do the same for the program's former head. It is expected that the officials will be indicted by local US attorney. This is right and proper. If they accepted bribes or were otherwise corrupt, they should be thrown in jail.

By contrast, the man in charge of Iraq when the $8.8 billion disappeared, Paul Bremer, wasn't punished. He won't be indicted. No conservatives have demanded his public stoning. Far from it. Instead, he was given the presidential medal of freedom. That's how the president views accountability.

The man in charge of the oil-for-food scandal had has immunity lifted and will almost certainly be indicted. The man in charge of the Iraq funds scandal was given a medal. I'm not sure if that says more about Kofi Annan or George W. Bush.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Adapting to myths vs confronting them

Every Tuesday, the Glens Falls (NY) daily Post-Star runs a feature called P.S. In it, journalists publish brief (1-3 sentence) observations, quips and stories from their rounds.

Today's edition mentioned an anecdote from Glens Falls PR maestro and General Electric mouthpiece Mark Behan. In doing research for his work, he came across excerpts from a 1950 mayoral campaign speech. The candidate in question noted downtown parking as the top issue he'd tackle if elected; he was. Yet, alleged lack of parking remains a perceived problem downtown.

As many of you know, transportation is one of my major concerns. Since I choose not to own a car or to drive, I face a very difficult task navigating city streets where non-cars are a peripheral concern at best. I was reminded of these issues today by the appearence at the Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe by writer and critic of suburbia James Howard Kunstler. (I'll have more on him and his speech in a future entry)

For decades, people have argued that Glens Falls would die if it didn't cater exclusively to the automobile. Some power brokers are even pushing the abominable plan for building a hideous parking garage.

Much of the opposition to the long-overdue Crandall Library expansion was based on the myth that there's not enough parking (even though Library officials can't control parking). In reality, there's plenty of parking about 100 yards from the building in a bank parking lot.

The fundamental problem in Glens Falls is not a lack of parking downtown. The fundamental problem is the refusal or inability of citizens to walk more than 10 feet to a shop -- unless they're at a suburban mall where they have no problem walking 100 yards to the entrance and then walking around the inside of the mall for hours on end. But given the question of pedestrian safety in downtown Glens Falls, perhaps I can't blame them!

Some say that this is the unchangeable reality, that we need to accept the myth and adapt to it. Some say we ought to subsidize this civic self-destructiveness with millions of our tax dollars to build a parking garage. Some say that pedestrians are a quaint relic from a bygone era; the law says we can't run them over but that's about the only concession some would make.

Yet this boondoggle will not revive downtown for one simple reason: the instant you leave your car, you become that quaint relic from a bygone era. The instant you leave your car, you become a pedestrian.

We shouldn't adapt to myths, especially self-destructive ones. We shouldn't spend huge sums of money catering to people's false perceptions; we ought to work to change the false perceptions.

The bottom line is that it's difficult, sometimes insanely so, for pedestrians to cross the street in downtown Glens Falls. This is true whether you initially arrived via auto, foot, bicycle or bus. Once you leave your car, bike or the bus, you face the same challenges as the person who walked downtown. Wasting millions of dollars on a parking garage will not change this fundamental dynamic. It's simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic (while adding huge weight to the Titanic's deck in the name of municipal debt bonds).

The city of Glens Falls has many wonderful civic and cultural institutions. The Hyde Collection. The Civic Center. Crandall Library. The Chapman Museum. But in order to get from any one to any other, you have to cross the street. Wasting millions of dollars on a parking garage will not change this fundamental dynamic.

Replacing the stoplights at the five-way intersection with a roundabout will only make crossing the street on foot even more suicidal. I have to time my run perfectly and sprint across the way, and I'm a 30 year old man in decent shape. I can't imagine how hard it is for senior citizens to do it. No sane parent would let their kids try it alone.

City leaders are so concerned about people being able to get THROUGH Glens Falls quickly and smoothly. Shouldn't they want people to STOP in Glens Falls, walk around, experience our wonderful town and spend money? The city can't properly be enjoyed from a car window.

What can be done?

We can start by not making things worse. Don't build a pedestrian-hostile roundabout. Don't waste millions of dollars on a parking garage that can't hope to make any significant contribution.

Take some of the money saved and install crosswalk signals that actually work. This also requires all stoplights at an intersection to be red for a brief period of time.

How about a civic campaign to encourage people to walk or bike when they go downtown? Surely downtown businesses could be involved.

How about taking some of the savings from not building a parking garage and investing in a few bike racks? Crandall Library has the only real bike rack in downtown Glens Falls (there is a tiny, insignificant one hidden near the bus stop). Neither City Hall nor the Civic Center, two of our most significant downtown institutions, has a bike rack.

I don't propose banning cars from downtown. I don't propose eliminating all parking either. I don't even ask that non-automobile transportation be put on an equal footing with cars, which would be a behemoth change.

The increasing pandering to automobile traffic (along with the general industrial decline of the northeast) has coincided with the economic decline of downtown Glens Falls. We've changed our cities to cater almost exclusively to cars. It hasn't worked. So let's try something else.

All I ask is that bikers, walkers and those who use the modest public transportation system be given minimal consideration. Bikers, walkers and those who use public transportation are taxpayers too. And what's more: they're consumers as well.



Shameless pitch: Esmond Lyons is the only current mayoral candidate who has shown the slightest inclination not only to address these issues, but even acknowledge that these issues exist. I'd encourage you to check out his campaign's website at: EsmondLyonsForMayor.org for more information on his ideas.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Gambling with the Adirondack Park's future

One of the big regional stories was the report that the head of New York state's Adirondack Park Agency has been suspended after being accused of downloading and emailing porn on agency computers. The APA is the agency that regulates activities in New York's six million acre Adirondack State Park.

Obviously APA head Dan Fitts should be fired if found guilty of this. I think most people can agree on this. But North Country Public Radio's report on the story contained a fact that astonished me: According to NCPR, the APA is the smallest state agency.

The APA has an enormous task. The Adirondack Park is reportedly the largest state or national park in the lower 48 states. The Park is to remain 'forever wild,' according to Article XIV of the state constitution. The APA created by the state legislature in 1971 to help enforce this part of the constitution.

Yet in the last few years, the APA has been inundated by building permits. Big developers have seen the Park as the ideal place to build huge housing complexes and McMansions to lure those New York city and Long Island residents spooked by 9/11. The Adirondack Park is great precisely because of its natural beauty. Yet much like California in the 50s and 60s and Colorado in the 70s and 80s, a huge population influx may threaten what makes the Park so desirable in the first place.

In addition to the obvious concerns of environmentalists who want the state constitution respected, this is also of some concern to business owners. The Park's economy is heavily dependent on tourism, tourism which is based on people want to experience the region's fantastic natural wonders. People come to the Adirondack Park to hunt and fish and hike and breathe fresh air. They don't come to the Park to get stuck in traffic in front of a Wal-Mart; they come to the Park to get AWAY from that.

The administration of Gov. George Pataki has been praised by some for authorizing the state to purchase a lot of land in the Park. Yet with the deluge of development projects, it seems that Pataki is protecting some land in the Park as a cover for letting the rest go to pot. He giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other... and then some.

The APA has this enormous job but with only 60 staff, it's the smallest state agency and, by all accounts, can barely keep up with the flood of development permit applications. Given the importance of its job, doesn't the APA deserve more well-staffed agencies like the state lottery or horse racing association? Or perhaps the lame duck governor is content gambling with the future of one of the few parts of the state that hasn't been paved over.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Shared burdens of war

In case you believed President Bush's rhetoric that the Iraq aggression was a truly multinational effort with a widely shared burden, this Associated Press piece reminds you otherwise.

There have been 2021 coalition soldiers killed in Iraq; 1828, about 90.5%, of them American (and that's assuming that the Pentagon is correctly recording casualties from the Iraq theater, something that has been called into question). The British military has lost 93 soldiers, the Italians 26 and every other coalition member 18 or fewer.

In other words, the US military has lost nine times more soldiers than the rest of the coalition combined. Some shared burden.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Bush-appointed civil liberties panel has never met

Now here's something that shocked (SHOCKED!) me.

According to an article from Reuters:

A civil-liberties board ordered by the U.S. Congress last year has never met to discuss its job of protecting rights in the fight against terrorism, and critics say it is a toothless, underfunded shell with inadequate support from President Bush.

Troublingly...

The inactivity comes at a time when Congress is nearing reauthorization of several provisions of the Patriot Act, a controversial law that gave the government new powers to go after suspected terrorists.

According to a high-ranking GOP Congressman:

Asked why it was taking so long to set the board up, Connecticut Republican Rep. Christopher Shays charged, "It's not a priority for the administration."

The administration is uninterested in civil liberties?

NEWSFLASH!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

'Joy and gladness' at Hiroshima

Saturday is the 60th anniversary of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. There will be much debate about whether or not the dropping of an atomic bomb on a large urban center was justified. This essay is not about addressing that question.

What's interesting is this. Some people say that Japanese foreign policy provoked the Hiroshima bombs. I've seen the odd bumper sticker that reads, "If there hadn't been Pearl Harbor, there wouldn't have been Hiroshima."

Fair enough.

Yet if you say, "If the US hadn't meddled in other country's affairs, there wouldn't have been 9/11," those same people will go apoplectic with rage. They will accuse you of being an apologist for terrorists. This even though there is an obvious difference between explaining the cause of something and justifying it.

Either actions have consequences or they don't. People need to make up their mind.

But on one board I frequent, a man argued:

The Japanese got exactly what they deserved. They started wars, treated people with a brutality only rivaled by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, they treated life as if it was expendable for over a decade. These people want to claim to be victims of nuclear attacks? I don't think so. We should be proud of these attacks on Japan. They saved millions of lives, ended a brutal war and in fact helped protect Japan from total destruction. We might not like nuclear war but in this case it was completely and totally justified. Let's remember this anniversary with joy and gladness [emphasis mine] and let's pray that we never see such a brutal war again.

As I said, I am not going to argue whether the atomic bombs should have been dropped. That's another debate. And the Japanese regime was brutal by any standard.

It's one thing to argue that dropping the two atomic bombs were necessary. It's one thing to argue that they saved American lives and ended the war sooner. But at least have the decency to say it was "unfortunately necessary."

To be "proud" of the deaths of millions of innocent civilians, to remember their deaths "with joy and gladness," this is profane and despicable by the standards of any civilized human being.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Gitmo tribunals rigged, say participating US soldiers

The parody of justice known as military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay are allegedly rigged in favor of the government. This is not according to a terrorist... er, accused terrorist.... er, suspected terrorist who says this. This is not according to Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader or some other 'blame America first' loonie leftist. This is according to two US soldiers who worked on the prosecution team at Gitmo on those very same military tribunals.

The soldiers involved asked to be reassigned rather than participate in the kangaroo court. [T]hey accused fellow prosecutors of ignoring torture allegations, failing to protect evidence that could help defendants establish a defense and withholding information from superiors, reports The Washington Post. One of the soldiers asserted that the chief prosecutor had told subordinates that the members of the military commission that would try the first four defendants would be "handpicked" to ensure that all would be convicted.


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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How to help anti-hunger efforts

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.


Last week, I encouraged readers to make a donation to the World Food Program or some other organization to help them with the famine in Niger and potential famine in Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

After a drought and an invasion of locusts, the UN and other agencies warned LAST YEAR that the Sahel countries would face food shortages and appealed for money. Yet the UN's emegency relief coordinator noted last week that the international community has put more money into the Niger relief effort over the past 10 days than it had during the previous 10 months.

In the wake of these food emegencies, international organizations are re-visiting their whole approach to fighting hunger. Some are calling for organizations to build up a surplus of money, a savings account if you will, that it can tap into when these food emergencies start to happen. By building up an emergency fund, organizations could react to situations before they became crises.

The conventional wisdom, until now, is that famines don't occur in democracies. I believe someone even won a Nobel Prize in economics a few years ago based on that theory. The infamous famine in Ethiopia was precipitated in no small part by the disastrous policies of the dictatorial Derg regime. The food emergency in Zimbabwe, formerly the bread basket of southern Africa, is not unrelated to strongman Robert Mugabe's program of stealing land from white farmers to give to his cronies; it's being compounded by the regime's alleged manipulation of international food aid for political purposes.

However, Niger is a democracy. A young democracy, but a democracy nonetheless. They have free elections. They have protests. They have a free press. The latter has been critical about what is seen as the government's slow response to the food crisis (the government counters that it's been making international appeals since last year). So is Mali. So are the southern African countries of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, where there is also a drought-provoked food crisis.

Developing an emergency fund is a good idea. The trick is getting enough money to build that emergency fund in the first place. Ordinary people tend to be fairly generous AFTER they see pictures of starving children broadcast into their living room, but usually not until that point.

Props to Ethan over at ...My Heart's in Accra blog. I encouraged people to make a one-time donation. But Ethan pointed a way that those so inclined can make a regular monthly donation to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to help build up that fund so they can respond to emergencies in a timely manner. MSF has a program called Field Partners where they make an automatic deduction from your checking account or credit card as a donation. They have options from $60 a month ($2 a day) even down to $7.50 a month (25 cents a day). Click here for more info. Please consider it.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The end of the war on terror

The war on terror is no more.

At least according to The White House.

Administration officials are increasingly referring to their efforts as 'a global struggle against the enemies of freedom.'

It could be a tacit acknowledgement that their centerpiece of the so-called 'war on terror,' the Iraq aggression, had absolutely nothing to do with fighting international terrorism. It might be as close to an 'oops' as you'll get from the Bush administration.

This linguistic game should be unsurpising in light of efforts by the administration to block moves by several Republican senators to ban torture, which is a form of terrorism.

Of course, American troops don't practice torture, at least according to patriotic correctness. So it begs the question: why the objection to a ban on torture?