Monday, April 30, 2007

Good deeds 1, Pointless jingoism 0

A piece in the Glens Falls daily Post-Star on the local Loyalty Day parade began:

Apparently, 27 people in the Glens Falls region are loyal to the United States.

Though I've been critical of The Post-Star in the past, I haven't been as harsh against it as many people in this area. However, it's been a long time since I've read garbage like this in a purported news article.

Loyalty Day, officially May 1, was created as a counterbalance to the communist and labor celebrations of May Day. Loyalty Day became a legal holiday in 1958, shortly after the McCarthy witchhunts.

"The Russians and the Communist Chinese had taken over May Day, made it into a show of weapons and military force," explained one marcher. "The VFW wanted to do something separate, to show a rededication to flag and country."

To counter this show of weapons and military force, a parade was created where most of the marchers are in military uniform.

Organizers insist that this holiday is solely designed to re-affirm national loyalty and pride in the flag. Though one marcher ranted, "We're being sold down the river by the Legislature and the press... The politicians are making up their minds for their own benefit, and the press is making things up completely. Why don't they ask the people if they're in favor of the war on terror?"

Organizers also bemoaned the lack of turn out. "It's very hard to understand," said one ex-Veterans of Foreign Wars' post commander.

It's very easy to understand.

After reading this in the paper, I turned the page to another article which talked about how some 200 people showed up at the local community college to participate in a March of Dimes fundraiser walk.

Maybe people in this area believe that doing something to actually help others is a better use of their time than yet another macho expression of militarism and nationalistic fervor.

Fortunately, people in this area seem to realize that beating your chest incessantly about this country's greatness is less important than actually doing something concrete to make it better. Talk about how great America is or try to make it great? Actions speak louder than words. Bravo to the March of Dimes walkers for realizing this.

It's reassuring to know that once in a while, good deeds can trump pointless jingoism.


Update: As one reader pointed out, there is already a holiday called Flag Day. There is also Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. So it's not like there's a lack of holidays on our calendar for those who like flag-waving orgies.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Now we'll just leave it up to the people"

Recently, the Warren County (NY) Republican Committee declined to endorse any one candidate for county sheriff this year.

I've never understood why the Politburo needed to endorse primary candidates anyway. GOP voters should be able choose who they want to be their standard bearer without interference from the central committee.

What happens when GOP voters reject the annointed candidate? This happened at least once during the last county election cycle and the Politburo was forced to support in the general election a candidate that it had repudiated before the primary.

And if the annointed candidate is defeated in the primary, shouldn't the Politburo resign after such a vote of no confidence by its own party members?

Also in the last election cycle, Chairman Mike* instituted loyalty oaths for committee members, making them promise they wouldn't campaign for anyone other than the Politburo's annointed candidate... not in the general election, but in the primary. In other words, Republican committee members couldn't campaign for a Republican!

(*-Then-party boss Mike O'Connor)

Of course, Warren County Republicans regularly get away with shenanigans like this, because there are about as many Republicans in Warren County as Democrats, smaller party voters and independents combined. And North Country Republicans, with rare exceptions, tend to vote the party line.

Why should I, a non-Republican, care?

The overwhelming majority of Republicans running for public office in Warren County do not have challengers. In most places outside of Glens Falls, the primary election is de facto the general election.

While the urge for absolute control is irresistible, it's not always even politically smart. With an overwhelming enrollment advantage, the main enemy of Republicans in most places is other Republicans. (The town of Queensbury being a good example). About the only way non-Republicans can win is if Republicans are divided.

These bullying tactics of the GOP Politburo are not only undemocratic, but they do not seem to make for smart politics because they foster resentment and division. If they can't unite themselves, how can they unite the rest of us? Accordingly, three Democrats have won countywide in the last four years, something which would've been unthinkable a decade ago.

When sheriff challenger Bud York responded to vote by saying, "Now we'll just leave it up to the people," he was making a revolutionary utterance by the standard of the Warren County GOP.

Leave it up to the people? It's about time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

UN to promote international road safety

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

(Originally published in Friends of Guinea's blog; reprinted with permission)


As many... will remember, [Peace Corps] Guinea volunteers Jesse Thyne and Justin Bhansali were killed in a car accident near Pita, in central Guinea, back in 2000.

In response, many volunteers organized a memorial walk in their honor to bring attention to the issue of road safety. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in developing countries, with Africa the most affected.

According to a UN report, the economic costs of such deaths in Africa is $6.2 billion... which is equivalent to the combined gross domestic products of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and the Gambia.

The UN has recognized how serious an issue road safety is by creating an independent Commission for Global Road Safety. One of the commission's members, ex-Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, notes in this opinion piece that 1.2 million people are killed each year in road accidents, 200,000 of whom in Africa. The scourge is the leading killer globally of people 10-25 years old

Schumacher points out a recently issued UN report that recommends action to cut injuries in developing countries, including a $300m 10-year programme to develop road safety skills, a 10% minimum spend on safety in aid-funded road projects, and a UN ministerial conference.

Prompted by the Make Poverty History campaign, the G8 leaders of the major industrialised countries have committed themselves to doubling aid and improving Africa's road infrastructure. Fewer than 20% of roads in sub-Saharan Africa are paved, and the Commission for Africa recommended that at least 90,000 miles of new roads are needed. But roads built to transport goods as fast as possible, designed to the cheapest specification without safety in mind, will make the world's most dangerous road network worse. The roads built to make poverty history must be safe.


It recommended roundabouts be built whenever possible, since they are reportedly 70 times safer than intersections.


Editor's note: I've always been an opponent of the roundabout being built in Glens Falls, but I found this tidbit interesting. -Brian

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Bush administration's 'fraud' against soldiers and their families

"Let me say a few words about important values we must demonstrate while all of us serve in government. First, we must always maintain the highest ethical standards. We must always ask ourself not only what is legal, but what is right. There is no goal of government worth accomplishing if it cannot be accomplished with integrity." -George W. Bush, Oct. 2001

By now, it's accepted wisdom that the Bush administration has great difficulty when it comes telling the truth. Deceit and obfuscation have become so institutionalized that it makes you wonder if they'd know how to tell the whole truth even if they wanted to. When there's this kind of misleadership at the top, it's no surprise when it filters down the chain of command.

Two of the most famous US casualties of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions are back in the spotlight for the way they were allegedly manipulated by the Pentagon. Truth may be the first casualty of war but it's hardly the only one.

The the story of former Pvt. Jessica Lynch. The Pentagon told an elaborate, heroic story of Lynch's actions when she was capture. It turns out that the Pentagon's tale was a lie. Not according to liberals and troop haters, but according to Lynch herself.

"I'm still confused why they lied and tried to make me into a legend," she told a Congressional committee.

She decried how the Pentagon tried to turn her into 'Little girl Rambo.'

"American people don't need to be told elaborate tales" about US forces, she said.

Unlike the Bush administration, Lynch apparently believes that the American people don't need to be lied to or patronized and are intelligent enough to handle the truth.

But Lynch's case is the second in a clear pattern of deceit.

Take the case of Pat Tillman. The former NFL player was lauded by everyone after giving up a lucrative football career to join the Army. He was killed in Afghanistan.

The military told Tillman's family his death as the result of a heroic battle with the evil doers. When in fact, he was killed by 'friendly fire.'

Tillman's brother told a Congressional committee that the Pentagon's version of events were "deliberate and careful misrepresentations," "utter fiction" and "intentional falsehoods that meet the legal definition for fraud."

Hours later, a U.S. Army ranger who was with Pat Tillman when he died told the committee his battalion commander ordered him to conceal the cause of death from the dead soldier's family, including his brother who was in the convoy but didn't witness the incident.
"I was ordered not to tell them," said Specialist Bryan O'Neal.


'Friendly fire' deaths occur in every conflict. If you're going to wage war, it's one of those things that's just unavoidable. Why not be candid about it? Then again, why would the administration start now...

If 'support our troops' means anything, doesn't it mean they and their families deserve the truth? Why lie?

The damning answer came from Tillman's brother.

"To our family, it was a devastating loss. But to others in the government, it appears to have been an opportunity."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fake news more informative than real news: study

Several years ago when The Daily Show With Jon Stewart exploded in popularity, I remember commentators bemoaning the fact that now young people were getting their news from Comedy Central rather than 'serious' news programs. I always dismissed such concerns because as someone who reads many newspapers and news websites every day, I found Stewart's fake news program (as well as its spinoff The Colbert Report) far more informative than the real TV news shows.

Essentially, Stewart and Colbert address issues that the TV news journalists ignore because the mainstream media's insatiable quest for access made them timid in questioning establishment arguments. Or they address them in ways that mainstream media outlets do not. I don't know how many times Stewart or Colbert have something that made me say to myself, "Why didn't CNN every mention that?"

Well it looks like my impression was right. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the most well-informed Americans were those who watched The Daily Show and Colbert Report... more informed than not only viewers of Fox News [sic] but of the vanuted PBS NewsHour as well.

Pew judged the levels of knowledgeability (correct answers) among those surveyed and found that those who scored the highest were regular watchers of Comedy Central's The Daily Show and Colbert Report. They tied with regular readers of major newspapers in the top spot -- with 54% of them getting 2 out of 3 questions correct. Watchers of the Lehrer News Hour on PBS followed just behind. Virtually bringing up the rear were regular watchers of Fox News. Only 1 in 3 could answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly. Fox topped only network morning show viewers.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Climate change is a national security threat

Many people and most scientists now accept the danger of climate change on the environment in which we all live.

Climate change is already adversely affecting Africa, according to a group of aid agencies and environmental groups (and most other Africa observers).

Arid or semi-arid areas in northern, western, eastern and parts of southern Africa are becoming drier, while equatorial Africa and other parts of southern Africa are getting wetter, the report says.

But the threat is not just to Africa. A group of retired generals and admirals recently warned that climate change "presents significant national security challenges to the United States."

The UN Security Council even held its first-ever discussion of the impact of climate change on international stability.

Many experts view climate change as a "threat multiplier" that intensifies instability around the world by worsening water shortages, food insecurity, disease, and flooding that lead to forced migration.

The band of countries between Senegal and Somalia were once agriculturally self-sufficient yet regularly face hunger emergencies as the climate has dried. It's no coincidence that clandestine African migration toward Europe originates most heavily in countries like Senegal and Mali which have been among the most affected by the changing cilmate.

Among the reports observations:

-Projected climate change will seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states. ... The chaos that results can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide, and the growth of terrorism.

-The U.S. may be drawn more frequently into these situations, either alone or with allies, to help provide stability before conditions worsen and are exploited by extremists. The U.S. may also be called upon to undertake stability and reconstruction efforts once a conflict has begun, to avert further disaster and reconstitute a stable environment.

Even the Bush administration's 2006 national security strategy noted that climate change may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response. These challenges are not traditional national security concerns, such as the conflict of arms or ideologies. But if left unaddressed they can threaten national security.

So it begs the question: if the administration claims to recognize the national security threat posed by climate change, why has it been the world leader in obstructing any significant action on the issue?

I wonder if it's because any remedial action on climate change might not benefit Boeing or Haliburton.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The love fest continues

I wondered why my entry Hell Hath No Fury Like a Hockey Fan Scorned got so many comments from new readers. People who'd never commented before or since and who didn't have any blogs of their own. I figured out why. Some other hockey fans attacked me on some bulletin board. I didn't realize people thought I was that influential.

Essentially proving my point, some of the more enlightened comments on the thread included:

They don't want outside opinions on how to run the building, but they are always eager to take outsiders money at the door and for food once inside. (from Balston Lake)

[Note: I don't recall ever being forced or blackmailed into buying tickets and food, except perhaps by my little brother.]

-Hey Brian, you fucktard, if you actually knew anything about hockey you would not have made the comment that the UHL was 2 steps below the AHL. Whenever a player from our team or anothe UHL team was called up it was to the AHL not the ECHL dickhead! If you really want to pay less tax then demand to level that piece of shit Civic Center that the City subsidizes to the tune of $700,000.00 yearly. That might be the first start you stupid fuck! (from Ft. Edward)

[Note: Wordsworth's comment was disputed by some of the more coherent posters, though there didn't seem to be a consensus either way.]

-What he needs is a good smack upside his dense head. (from 'Upstate NY')

-Brain has 8 different blogs! Check his profile! Who the hell has time to write 8 blogs everyday? He apparently thinks he's an expert at everything. (from 'Upstate NY')

[Note: I do not know everything but I do know how to spell the name Brian, which he misspelled twice. If he'd bothered to check them, he'd notice that I only have two blogs that I maintain on anything close to a daily basis, but why let facts or reality get in the way of a hysterical rant?]

-The guy hasn't got a clue. (from South Glens falls)

My contention was that they were letting emotions get in the way of clear thinking. They really showed me!

One of the unfortunate things on the Internet is that people can post lies, but those who are being lied about can't always respond directly. One guy (from South Glens Falls) claimed that I made the following statement on the Glens Falls Civic Center, "Are you kidding me? This facility was run so efficiently that it didn't need the entire subsidy it was given and this is a cause for outrage?"

However, even the most casual look will tell you that this is flat out wrong. Unfortunately, I can not respond on this invite-only so I have to reply here.

In the comments section of the entry, Don Donofrio of Queensbury wrote: "Glens Falls gets $150,000/year from the county for East Field. They just gave back $20,000 from last year because your great manager, Suzanna, didn't spend it! I ask you, is that not proof of her incompetence?

To which I replied, "Are you kidding me? This facility was run so efficiently that it didn't need the entire subsidy it was given and this is a cause for outrage?"

Don was talking about East Field and I replied to his comment, hence my remark was about East Field as well. Anyone with higher than 2nd grade reading comprehension skills would have noticed this.

And to think, I probably knew some of these people when I was in the old Adirondack Red Wings' booster club. Scary, eh. I was planning on going to the Albany River Rats' playoff game at the Civic Center on Sunday afternoon.

But now I'm not so sure I want to run in to any of these loons. I'll probably go but I'll stay away from the beer line. They might still be angry about being forced at gunpoint by Suzanna Bernd to buy a ticket and 6 Labatt Blues.

The thing that annoys me most is not necessarily the points that other hockey fans have made in this debate, but the tone they've used. There are legitimate questions that some, such as Don Donofrio, have made regarding the management of the Civic Center. But the tone many of them have used have been one of indignant outrage, as though the GF Common Council wanted to personally affront each of these non-GF residents with their decisions.

I think that if you're going to comment about the politics of another city, state or country, you should be a little more civil about it. I have definite opinions on the South High school board controversy. I have definite opinions on the redevelopment of Jenkinsville Park in Queensbury. But I'm not about to launch a smear campaign against Ginny Philo or Dan Stec because of it. They don't represent me, anyone that employs me or anyone that I pay taxes to.

If the entire debate had been conducted rationally, I could've more easily stomached their comments. But when you read comments like 'fucktard,' 'group of greedy cowards,' 'dickhead,' it doesn't make me particularly open to the rest of their arguments, however legitimate. When they go out of their way to accuse the Council wanting 'to promote gangbanging, narcotics, underage drinking, urinating in a public place or kids smoking pot...' and 'underage drinking, open container violations and urinating in public,' how can anyone take seriously such slime?

This is perhaps why I'd never run for public office. If elected, I'd be forced to pretend that folks like 'fucktard' from Ft. Edward are worth my attention.

The most awkward part of this mess is that I'm actually a huge hockey fan. I follow the NHL. I follow college hockey. I follow high school hockey. I followed the AHL/UHL when they were in Glens Falls.

I've been regularly attending pro hockey games at the Civic Center for the last 20 years. The first game my dad ever took me to was the Adirondack Red Wings winning the 1986 Calder Cup. I listened on the radio (when I should have been asleep in bed) and spasmed in delight when Adam Graves scored the winner in OT of Game 7 in the 1989 semifinals, a series in which the Wings lost the first three games. I was there when the Wings won the 1989 Calder Cup after a 10-7 shootout. I was in Heritage Hall watching Game 7 of the 1992 Cup finals on TV with hundreds of other fans and I was there at the Civic Center around 2 AM when their bus arrived home that evening; I even sipped champagne from the Cup. Unlike many other fans, I didn't abandon pro hockey when the AHL team was replaced by the UHL team.

I was there when 5000 fans saw Adirondack play Elmira or Albany or Rochester or Utica. I was there were so few fans you could hear the players cursing as they went into the penalty box. I was there when Merkosky's number was retired; I had tears in my eyes at Marc Potvin's tribute. I was at every opening night since 1986 (except when I was out of town). I saw every banner raised except the 1981 one. I saw then-coach Barry Melrose swing a stick at the Baltimore bench. I saw countless brawls with the River Rats. I saw another team's equipment manager attack our mascot on the same night (I think) as the sheriff's office raided the concession stands. With the exception of the early years, I've seen nearly everything. I want to see it again, to feel it again. But that doesn't mean I have my head in the clouds or that I check my civic responsibility at the door. If we are ever to get hockey back, we need a clear headed approach. Blaming everyone else is not the way to do it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Apologies forthcoming?

Earlier this winter, a Brooklyn man died on the Adirondack Northway after his car went off the road. Though he chose of his own free will to drive on the highway in the middle of one of the worst ice storms in a decade, responsiblity for his death was blamed on the lack of cell phone towers along that stretch of Interstate 87.

In the aftermath of this unfortunate death, many commentators felt it necessary to engage in a campaign of borderline slander/libel against environmentalists. According to critics, people who cared about our natural environment were guilty of standing in the way of progress and, in most vile fashion, caring more about trees than people. State Sen. Betty Little implied that evil tree huggers were standing in the way of the God-given right to use her BlackBerry on every square inch of New York state territory.

Critics insisted that there was no way the current APA plan (which actually AUTHORIZED several smaller cell towers) was workable for a for-profit company.

Yet now I read that a cell company will be bringing coverage to the Northway.

Verizon Wireless will be funding the towers without government subsidy, noted The Post-Star.

The agreement was generally praised by environmental groups like the Adirondack Council and the Sierra Club.

I expect that now we will a flood of apologies directed at those who realized all along that all life, both human and wild, could be protected in the Adirondack Park. All that was needed was a little effort.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Have you no sense of decency?

As most Americans now know, there was a massacre at the Virginia Tech University campus in which 33 students were killed for no reason.

Yet almost instantly, partisan hacks were falling over themselves to exploit this tragedy to advance their ideological agendas. Now obviously, I have my ideological agenda. But I also know when to be a partisan and when to be a human.

Before a fraction of the facts were known (and this is how such hacks operate), they were angrily declaring that the VTU tragedy either a) proved that we needed more gun control or the scrap the 2nd Amendment or b) proved that gun control didn't work and that lives would have been saved if everyone on campus had an AK-47.

For one thing, sound public policy is NEVER made in the emotional aftermath of a tragedy. When something like this occurs, you need to take a deep breath first. The USA Patriot Act is an excellent example of what happens when you don't take a deep breath and rush to make public policy on the wave of emotion.

But more to the point, my question to such partisan hacks is this: have you no shame?

Next time, can't you at least let the corpses get cold before you start reading from your Script?

Give decent people a chance to mourn and reflect before you start the next battle in the Culture War. If the Culture War is so eager to sacrifice basic human decency, then a pox on all your houses!

Save your ideological pontifications at least until the weekend. It's not like the gun control debate is going to be won or lost in the next few days.

Try to remember, 33 people are dead for no good reason. Hundreds people lost a sibling, child, loved one or friend. If you can't be human enough to remember this, then nobody should give a damn what you have to say about gun control or the 2nd Amendment.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Just abstain from wasteful spending

Much has been made in the last few days about a study concluding that abstinence-only sex ed programs don't seem to work.

Students who participated in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex a few years later as those who did not, according to a long-awaited study mandated by Congress. Also, those who attended one of the four abstinence classes reviewed reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes, and they first had sex at about the same age as their control group counterparts — 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.
This is hardly surprising. You wouldn't call a program "math education" if students were taught addition and multiplication, but not subtraction and division. And if sexually active kids don't use contraception, addition by multiplication is precisely what ensues.

Then a further explanation:

“I really do think it’s a two-part story. First, there is no evidence that the programs increased the rate of sexual abstinence,” said Chris Trenholm, a senior researcher at Mathematica who oversaw the study. “However, the second part of the story that I think is equally important is that we find no evidence that the programs increased the rate of unprotected sex.”

In other words, the program had no scientifically-measurable effect one way or the other.

If you're spending $176 million tax dollars a year on something, you should expect better results than "It didn't help any, but at least it didn't make things worse."

Power games

So I read recently that National Grid was being fined $6.5 million by New York state for too many power failures and other service problems.

Upstate NY's main power company could invest money not in improving its steadily declining performance or in improving its virtually non-existent customer service (I mean really non-existent).

Instead, the UK based company wants to spend its money instead on buying downstate NY's main electricity provider.

National Grid should get its own house in order before ruining another utility. Hopefully the state's Public Service Commission will veto the purchase.

Update: The company I work for share's a building with one of National Grid's service centers (where they dispatch trucks and crews from). We lose power several times a year. We lost power today for no apparent reason (the weather's nice, the snow melted days ago, not too windy). It says something about how unreliable National Grid is that they can't even assure the power to their own building!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The 18 1/2 minute gap... edition 2007

During the Watergate scandal, Congress eventually forced the collapsing Nixon administration to hand over tapes that had recorded conversations in the disgraced White House. Except it turned out that the tapes had a very curious 18 1/2 minute gap in the middle of a key part that no one in the Nixon White House could (credibly) explain.

Turns out we have an new version of this CYOA (cover your own... rear end) trick for the 21st century: magically disappeared emails.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Bush White House said Wednesday that it may have lost what could amount to thousands of messages sent through a private e-mail system used by political guru Karl Rove and at least 50 other top officials, an admission that stirred anger and dismay among congressional investigators.

The e-mails were considered potentially crucial evidence in congressional inquiries launched by Democrats into the role partisan politics may have played in such policy decisions as the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.


At best, these people are incompetent and it raises further doubts about their ability to protect us and our privacy (not that they really ever had a clue about the former or any interest in the latter).

But calling them incompetent is probably way too generous. I seem to remember a very recent president who was impeached for obstruction of justice. Thought it was relating to a weighty issue of national importance (oral sex), not some triviality like making sure federal prosecutors were sufficiently politicized.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A man can leave the Bush administration, but the Bush administration never leaves the man

Then-US deputy war secretary Paul Wolfowitz was rewarded for his job as an architect of the Iraq Aggression (an incomprehensibly destructive role) by being named head of the World Bank (an organization whose job is to help countries develop). The sick irony was not lost on many observers. But not the only irony.

During his time as World Bank chief, Wolfowitz has made the drive against corruption the single most important focus of the bank.

Fair enough.

So what does it say that Wolfowitz himself is being accused of corruption. His girlfriend, a press officer in the Bank's Middle East bureau, was given a 35.5 percent raise shortly after Wolfowitz became the organization's chief. She was given a 7.5 percent raise last year.

"If World Bank staff rules had been respected, she was not to receive percentage increases greater than 12% and 3,7%, respectively. Her current salary of $193 590 [tax-free] is about $7 000 more than what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earns," according to the watchdog Government Accountability Project.

Wolfowitz's office originally said the raise was ok'd by the Bank's ethics committee. But members of the committee said they knew nothing of the apparent nepotism.

"Wolfowitz is much, much more concerned about who leaked the information than about how to rectify the situation. He's just furious," said a source inside the Bank.

All this demonstrates that a man can leave the Bush administration, but the Bush administration never leaves the man.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Anti-climate change event in Bolton Landing

Bakeka727 informs me of the following anti-climate change event in Bolton Landing (NY)

April 14, 2007 04:00PM to 07:00PM

Event Description:
Folks of and near the Bolton Landing/ Lake George area: Harken to the warning and come speak your mind about this tremendous issue! Be seen and heard by congress! A Representative from Congresswoman Gillibrand's office will speak, Chris Navitsy will come and speak also, and we will have great music Music by BIG TUNA and BLUES HIGHWAY, and Bill Cambell, among others.

There are times in our lives and in history when we must do something to help foster necessary change. These days are one of those times. Be not resigned to inaction, for we do have more power to fix things than the powerful people would have you believe. We are organizing a public forum to join in with the rest of the country on this national day of speaking out. Please join us and we will be heard!


Location:
BOLTON CONSERVATION CLUB

Directions:
Please bring your cameras! CONSERVATION CLUB RT 9N NORTH, BEFORE TOWN MAKE LEFT UP MOHICAN HILL AT RONDACK MOTEL. ABOUT 1.2 MILE MAKE RIGHT TURN ON TO EDGECOMB POND ROAD. CLUB IS 500 YARDS ON RIGHT.


For more info, contact Bakeka727 @ yahoo.com

'Pro-life' Americans

Sometimes listening to the news makes my head want to explode. Ok, more than sometimes.

I was listening to a story on NPR on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The purpose of this essay is not to discuss that issue, but to discuss commentaries about that issue.

Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback compared the use of embryonic stem cells to raiding the organs of the condemned on death row. "This person is going to die - why not harvest his organs?" he asked. The answer is that "it violates his human dignity."

A presidential spokesman said that "This legislation crosses a moral line that would use taxpayer dollars to destroy human embryos, and that's a moral line the president said he would not cross."

It's good to know that those who support the state murdering its own citizens want to make sure that murder is done with the utmost 'human dignity.'

And it's also reassuring to know that those who advocate destructive militarism that inevitably leads to massive human carnage actually believe there is a moral line somewhere, even if it only applies to cells and fetuses and not full-fledged human beings.

The sickening part is that Brownback and Bush are hardly in a tiny minority of self-described 'pro-life' Americans who believe these things.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

'Military: gays ok to serve as cannon fodder' and other tales of horror

All of these pieces are worthy of essays of their own but there are so many, I don't have time.

-The anti-gay sentiment among many in the military is no secret. You have the military's top man Gen. Peter Pace condemning homosexuality as immoral. Many resisted the farcical 'Don't ask, don't tell' non-policy not because it too strong, but because it was too weak. But it turns out the military brass is more tolerant gays now that it's having such a hard time finding anyone else to serve as cannon fodder for the latest militaristic adventure. The number of soldiers discharged under the 'Don't ask, don't tell' charade in 2006 was more than 50 percent lower than in 2001.

-Turns out the 'gays are ok as cannon fodder' mentality hasn't completely permeated all levels of the military.The behavior of many military recruiters in chasing their prey borders on unethical, if not completely crossing the line. But at least one recruiter was honest enough to vent her feelings toward a recruit. US Army Sgt. Marcia Ramode emailed a potential recruit in New Jersey asking him if he was interested in signing up. The young man, who is black, informed Ramode that he is gay and that he opposed 'Don't ask, don't tell.' A professional with the tiniest hint of ethics would have simply replied, "Sorry, but the military does not accept openly gay people. Good bye." Or simply not replied at all. Instead, Ramode initiated a hysterical series of tirades (which the young man eventually returned) with comments like:

GO BACK TO AFRICA AND DO YOUR GAY VOODOO LIMBO TANGO AND WANGO DANCE AND JUMP AROUND AND PRANCE AND RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE HALF NAKED THERE.

and

YOU HEAD OF FTO [sic] GAY LAND OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO MORALS AND GET RID OF YOURSELF....

and

TAKE YOUR GAY ASS OFF SOMEPLACE...

The recruiter, who's Native American, added:

MY ROOTS RUN MUCH STRONGER THAN YOURS... I HAVE MORE RIGHTS THAN YOU.

Before repeating the insidious lie:

YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH WAS GIVENM [sic] TO YOU BY THE US MILITARY

And concluding one email with:

TAKE YOUR ASS BACK WHERE YOU BELONG.

and adding in another

Go migrate to another country.

It's a heck of a lot more vile and loathsome than what Don Imus said. But then again, Imus isn't given immunity for being one of 'our heroes.'


-Iraqi deaths survey 'was robust. Remember that study by the British medical journal The Lancet estimating that over 650,000 Iraqis had died (beyond what would be expected from natural attrition) from the beginning of the Aggression through the middle of last year? Remember how the US and British governments fell over themselves attacking the peer-reviewed study from highly respected non-partisan journal? It turns out that the British Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the survey's methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust". Another expert agreed the method was "tried and tested". Looks like the Blair government took a page from their mates in the White House in ignoring its own people's expert advice for political reasons.

-The situation in Iraq is so bad that it was recently decried by three of the most pro-respectful of authority, establishmentarian entities around. Pope Benedict XVI noted, 'Nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.' Mr. Establishment himself, Henry Kissinger, pointed out what's fairly obvious to clear-headed observers: military victory not possible in Iraq. Even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that 'the suffering that Iraqi men, women and children are enduring today is unbearable and unacceptable.' This is particularly remarkable for an organization reknown, and often heavily criticized, for its insistent neutrality. Its warnings are far more credible than a US senator strolling in a Bagdhad market in a flack jacket surrounded by a gargantuan security detail and declaring the place safer than Fort Knox.

-There's been an homicide bombing inside the Iraqi parliament, which is located inside the massively fortified Green Zone of Iraq's capital. Eight people were killed in what is supposed to be the safest place in Iraq. I wonder how the head of the Straight Talk Express, Sen. John "Baghdad is safe" McCain, will try to rationalize this.

-Incidentally, I hear incessant warnings from Chicken Littles about Christianity is under threat. About how anti-theocrats like myself want to ban the Bible and criminalize anyone from saying 'Bless you' to someone who sneezes on a public sidewalk. So given this supposed War on Christianity, I was surprised to see a banner in the bandstand in local park from the local Catholic school encouraging people to sign their kids up. If the hysteria were true, the ACLU would've filed a lawsuit long ago. There would have been anti-Catholic school marches and Bible burnings. Go figure.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The further hypocrisy of Big Media (pt. 9123)

Last month, I wrote about how some newspapers dumped Ann Coulter for making an anti-gay slur. They hired her to be outrageous and obnoxious. But when she did exactly what she was hired to do, with crap that wasn't 1/10 as bad some of filth she got away with previously, they dumped her.

A few seasons ago, ESPN hired Rush Limbaugh to be an 'analyst' on their football studio show. Limbaugh was hired for the sole purpose of being controversial; there were hundreds of guys far more qualified if the main criteria was football knowledge. His job was to liven things up. But when he did exactly that, there was a big flap and ESPN forced him out.

Now, there's a similar flap with radio shock jock Don Imus. He described the players on Rutgers' women's basketball team as a bunch of 'nappy-headed hos' and when watching them, he wondered if it was the women's team or the men's team.

This caused a big flap. The usual suspects, Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, made a big stink about this to make sure they were in the media spotlight. Drugs, violence and broken families are destroying the black community and the only time you here from these self-serving non- (or ex-)leaders is when a white entertainer makes an obnoxious joke. Think Michael Richards.

The thing that befuddled me is that this is being seen as a racial flap, the Rutgers' players being mostly black. To me, the comment was not so much racist as sexist. But then again, if the sexist angle were played up, Jackson and Sharpton couldn't play this up. They are self-styled race activists. We wouldn't want them speaking out against misogyny in the black community or in rap lyrics. That might be... what a responsible leader did.

Imus has been suspended for two weeks and has gone on the media circuit making lame apologies that no one believes are sincere because they know he's being forced to for PR reasons.

Imus is a 'shock jock.' The job for which he was hired was to shock. He did exactly that. He's not called the Aristotle-of-the-airwaves.

Some defenders point out that Imus offends everybody so therefore it's ok.

My point is that Imus offends everybody and that's precisely why it's not ok.

As far as I'm concerned, Don Imus has never been particularly funny. I'm not easily offended but I like clever humor, regardless of the target. I may not necessarily be offended by crude or gratuitous 'humor' or lame cheap shots but I'm not likely to find it entertaining in the least. I've heard Imus a few times. I quickly change the channel.

In addition to being very unentertaining, he adds zilch to the public discourse. It would be one thing if he were making legitimate points that happened to piss some people off because sometimes the truth offends people. But this is different. He's obnoxious for its own sake. That's his schtick. That's his job. He adds nothing. Nor does Coulter. Nor does Limbaugh. Nor does Jim Carville. Nor does Sean Penn, who I saw a few days ago discussing the president's dirty underpants (note to Mr. Madonna: unless you're a porn star, please do not hold a press conference to discuss your fetishes).

My point is not to defend in any way Imus, Coulter, Limbaugh and their ilk, nor to say they should be sent to Gitmo (well maybe Coulter). They were obnoxious long before the particular flaps that got them in special hot water. And spare me the "they're just standing up to political correctness b.s." Just because you're politically incorrect doesn't exempt you for the possibility that you might be a moron who poisons what passes for public discourse in this country.

My point is to attack the media companies is that they hired these loudmouthes in the first place. That these guys were sanctioned for doing exactly what Big Media hired them for is proof not of Imus and company's worthlessness (which speaks for itself), but of the media companies' grotesque hypocrisy. It's ok to make money being offensive, but only when that poison threatens the bottom line does Big Media fake public sensitivity.

On a related note, I've been amused to see a YouTube clip making the rounds of an on-air confrontation between Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera. I think they embody everything that's wrong with the public discourse today. The idea that these two guys had some sort of disagreement was highly amusing.

Geraldo was essentially the godfather of trash TV brought to a nationwide audience and O'Reilly its current emperor. O'Reilly's 'success' wouldn't be possible if not for the path blazed by Geraldo. Though it was funny to see O'Reilly tremble with rage at someone who actually had the lungs to shout him down. I thought they were going to come to blows.

It's sad because Geraldo was once a serious journalist; his TV expose of a Long Island mental institution caused such outrage that New York state's programs for developmentally disabled children were completely revamped. Yet his legacy will be not as Murrow's or Cronkite's successor but of having spawned Bill O'Reilly.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

'Independent' activist groups

Don't tell me that there's no coordination between supposedly independent activist organizations. Take a look at some emails I just received.

-Today, 1:25 PM from MoveOn.org: "This Saturday will see the biggest demonstration on climate change in U.S. History."

-Today, 2:38 PM from Democracy in America: "Will you petition the presidential candidates to share their bold plan to lead America forward and reverse the effects of Global Warming?"

-Today, 3:26 PM from ActForChange: "Come to Step It Up, the national day of climate action on April 14."

I get these sorts of 'coincidental' emails all the time.

My guess is that People for the American Way will send me something around 4:20.

Ethiopia coffee growers and the fight for a fair price

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

The excellent Independent Lens documentary series is airing a piece tonight entitled Black Gold, on the travails of coffee growers in Ethiopia and one man's fight for a fair price for the beans. The show airs tonight on most PBS stations (local times vary).

Monday, April 09, 2007

The devil's in the details; the credibility too

While many around here like to make fun of (or complain about) the local newspaper for their mistakes, even the vaunted wire services aren't immune from basic errors an attentive editor should catch. Take this paragraph an article on the NCAA hockey championship game between Michigan State and Boston College written by an Associated Press reporter.

Michigan State coach Mike Comley also won it all with Bowling Green in 1984. He and Boston College's Jerry York are among three coaches to win championships at two schools.

Two things wrong in the same sentence.

Michigan State's coach is Rick Comley, not Mike. And Comley won it all with Northern Michigan in 1991. In fact, it was York who coached Bowling Green to the title in 1984.

Though I happen to know this as a college hockey fan, these two facts can be verified quite easily at Michigan State's website.

It makes you wonder... if the AP is screwing up simple things that I know, twice in one sentence, why should I trust them when it comes to the things I don't know?

The devil's in the details. And so is the credibility.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Please do not feed the animals

I'm sure this won't generate as much reader outrage as the debate over entertainment choices in the Glens Falls area, but it's a lot more disgusting.

According to Reuters, an man in Orlando, FL was arrested for a most heinous crime. What was his crime?

Supporting terrorism? Child molestation? Not sufficiently supporting the city's hockey team?

No, his crime was feeding the animals. The animals, according to Orlando's city government, being homeless human beings.

An activist from the group Food Not Bombs was charged with violating a controversial law against feeding large groups of destitute people in the city center.

I would be speechless, but remember that Orlando is the home of Disney World and Universal Studios. Two institutions dedicated to the premise that artificiality should trump reality; that image should trump anything else, including humanity.

The Orlando law, which is supported by local business owners who say the homeless drive away customers but has been challenged in court by civil rights groups, allows charities to feed more than 25 people at a time within two miles of Orlando city hall only if they have a special permit. They can get two permits a year.

We can't have businessmen nibbling on their caviar or tourist families gobbling a bloomin' onion be distracted from their fantasy world by being forced to look at real Orlandoans, even from a distance and separated by a window.

I don't want to go to a place where they are so obsessed about superficial image that they'd ban private citizens from helping those in need. After the anti-Islamic filth faced by one local resident on her recent trip to the Florida town, this yet another reason for me to boycott Orlando.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Rwanda: remembrance day

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

13 years ago today, a plane carrying the leaders of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, killing both men. The event was used as the pretext to carry a pre-planned genocide in Rwanda. At least 800,000 people were murdered in the slaughter.

A few years ago, I marked the 10th anniversary of the massacres' start with a series of essays and analyses exploring the genocide more deeply as well as addressing many myths surrounding its causes and implementation.

As i wrote in my introduction back in 2004:

Ten years ago today, the airplane carrying the leaders of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, killed both. This was the pretext used by a group of extremists to execute a pre-planned genocide against the minority Tutsi community. It also targeted Hutu political opponents, most of whom were moderates in favor of a power-sharing deal with the Tutsis, a deal opposed by the regime's hardliners. In the slaughter, around 800,000 people were killed in only 100 days -- approximately 5 1/2 murdered every single minute of every single day for over three months. It is widely believed to be the most "efficient" mass murder in history. And far from being secretive or in the fog of war like previous genocides, this was unique in that it was broadcast around the world live and in color on CNN and the BBC.

Pieces in the series can be found:
-Pre-genocide history of Rwanda
-How the genocide unfolded
-Myths and realities about the genocide (part 1)
-Myths and realities about the genocide (part 2)
-The genocide's orphans
-Hate media and its role in the genocide
-International and American law on genocide
-Post-genocide justice
-The post-genocide government
-Lessons and conclusions

Please take a moment from your day to remember the dead.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

And you thought I was exagerrating

Occasionally, I write about whimsical stuff on this blog but mostly I write about serious, sometimes appalling, topics.

This is the 1369th essay I've published on this blog.

Guess what topic recently set a record for generating the most reader comments in the history of this blog.

The disaster in Iraq? The war against our civil liberties? Health care? Governmental corruption?

No.

Surely it was genocide? Bigotry? The dangers of Christian and Muslim religious extremism?

Not even close.

The weighty topic that infuriated readers more than any of the other 1368 essays I've published here: the future of pro hockey in Glens Falls.

There's something disconcerting about such a fact.

The title of the essay was 'Hell hath no fury like a hockey fan scorned.'

QED.

Code red on Planet Soccer

Yesterday afternoon, there were disgusting scenes of violence in the Italian capital at a big European Champions League soccer quarterfinal between A.S. Roma and Manchester United. Despite the fact that the two groups of fans were segregated, they were throwing objects ('missiles' in the lingo) at each other. Police reportedly charged the English fans with batons. (Note: Though I'm a Roma fan, I didn't see the game, but I was listening to the Manchester United audio commentary) Ten United fans were stabbed outside Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

If I wanted to go with the mob mentality, I would blame it all on Roma. Italian soccer is now notorious for fan violence in much the same way English soccer was 20 years ago. In fact, the whole Italian league was shut down for a week earlier this year because of crowd violence and at least one club still plays home games at an empty stadium because of it. Like most other big Italian clubs, Roma has a group of ultras, a bunch of hard-core hooligans there to act like maniacs, not to watch soccer. Lazio is the more infamous club in the Italian capital but Roma is not immune to this scourge. If I wanted to be chic, I would condemn only Roma based on reputation. But I won't do that. Fairness means judging each situation individually and not engaging in guilt by association.

Even the Manchester United radio commentators I was listening to observed that the missile-throwing was going both ways; the announcers, up until that point, had effusively praised the atmosphere in the stadium ("More moving than Liverpool's 'You'll Never Walk Alone'" they said of the Roma fans' pre-match hymn).

Of course, if I wanted to, I could put in my blinders and blame it all on Manchester United. There was crowd trouble at United's Champions League match earlier this year against Lille in northern France. But I won't condemn them alone based on history either.

In reality, crowd trouble like this is almost never the sole fault of just one party.

According to press accounts (admittedly of English fans), Italian police attacked the English fans in the stadium with a shocking level of brutality. Sadly, since Italian fans can be brutal, it's hardly surprising that the police are as well.

There's no point in beating around the bush. There's a crisis in soccer. Particularly European and South American soccer. A crisis of fan violence.

As I said, I'm careful of guilt by association. Certainly not all clubs in Europe or South America have this problem. But fans and officials for too long have buried their head in the sand about this madness. Just because not every club is guilty doesn't mean there aren't trends that club should be worried about.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

To their credit, the English model should be the way forward. For most of the 70s and 80s, English officials tried the ostrich approach to crowd security. But after the great tragedies of Hillsborough (which was caused by overcrowding) and Heysel (hooliganism) in which a combined 135 people died at two soccer matches*, English officials were forced into taking serious action. Now, crowd security at English club matches is generally seen as a model for the rest of Europe.

(*-The Bradford City fire, in which 56 died and 256 were injured, also played a role, highlighting the dilapidated state of English stadia)

And much of the rest of Europe needs it. And South America too.

Consider these events
-One Paris St-Germain hooligan was shot dead and another injured as they were part of a racist mob attacking a black police officer.

-Soccer in Italy was suspended for a week when Palermo supporters rioted after they couldn't gain admission to the already full stadium of their rivals. They attacked and beat a policeman, who later died.

-Cameroonian star Samuel E'too, who plays for Barcelona, said he refuses to allow his children to attend his matches because of all the racist abuse hurled at Spanish stadia.

-Ivory Coast defender Marc Zoro, who plays for the Italian club Messina, walked off the field after being subjected to relentless racist abuse by Inter Milan fans. (E'too once tried to do the same thing in a Spanish league match)

-The Greek government recently suspended all professional soccer in the country for two weeks after a fan was stabbed to death at a brawl between two hooligan groups.

-As Franklin Foer explains in the first chapter of his book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, there are strong links between soccer clubs and organized crime syndicates in many parts of Eastern Europe. (By many accounts, fan violence is even worse in Eastern Europe, but Western European soccer has a much higher international media profile.)

-Rival groups nominally supporting the same club, Buenos Aires' giants River Plate, fought against EACH OTHER before a match in February.

-The same day, fan fighting at another Argentine league match led to the death of a 15-year old both while 12 others were injured.

-There have also been serious problems at stadia in Uruguay, Colombia and Chile.

All of these are events that have happened within the last year and a half, most within the last few months.

Explaining who soccer is more than just a sport in many parts of the world would take another essay. In fact, Foer's excellent book does a great job in exploring this in great depth.

In many parts of the world, a soccer club is not simply another entertainment option. It can symbol of your culture, of your religion, of nationalism and/or of politics. There are "Catholic" and "Protestant" clubs. There are "Basque" and "Catalan" clubs. There are "left-wing" and "right-wing" clubs. There are "fascist" and "anti-fascist" clubs. There are "upper class" and "lower class" clubs. No wonder that the emotions run a bit stronger than the mostly geographic rivalries in North American sports.

(This is also why I believe in the absolute separation of sport and politics. It's why I think the Olympics should be de-nationalized, at least in individual sports)

There is absolutely no doubt that these passions run deep. It would be easy to write this all off to passions, shrug your shoulders and declare fan violence something inevitable. It would be easy to write this off to me being an American who "doesn't get it."

Garbage!

I've lived to Africa. African fans are generally just as passionate as the Europeans and South Americans. But you don't see widespread fan violence inside African grounds. Or outside them either. You don't see rioting. You don't see fans shooting or stabbing other fans. Of course there have been a few exceptions. But they are just that, exceptions. Exceptions that prove the rule.

In 1997, I went to African Nations Cup qualifer between Guinea and Tunisia. It was a big match. Guinea were at the top of the qualifying group and Tunisia had been finalists at the most recent Nations Cup. There was a group of Tunisian fans sitting next to the section (of Guinean fans) I was in. There was no segregation. There was no police presence. There was no one to protect the Tunisian fans from the Guineans.

How come all hell didn't break loose?

Because the Tunisian fans DIDN'T NEED PROTECTION from the Guinean fans, or vice versa. It was a festive atmosphere, not a menacing one. Exactly the way soccer is supposed to be. Somehow, opposing fans were able sit near each other and GOD FORBID INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER without beating the crap out of each other, without stabbing each other, without running rampage like a bunch of wild animals. Somehow, this is possible in the heart "savage" Africa but not in "civilized" Europe.

No Virginia, fan violence is NOT inevitable.

I've never forget something I read about a decade ago. In 1997, there was violence at a match between the England and Italy national teams. In the aftermath, English officials blamed the Italian authorities for not sufficiently segregating the two sets of fans. I remember reading this and being gobsmacked. Individuals supporting different teams at a sporting event can't interact in a way befitting civilized human beings and it's not their fault but the police's.

I think this illustrates the fundamental flaw in the mentality of soccer administrators. It's not the police that have to change, it's the fans.

Several years ago, I went to a New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox baseball game in the Bronx. With the possible exception of NHL Toronto-Montreal, this is the most intense rivalry in North American sports. My family and I were all decked out in Red Sox gear and were sitting right in the middle of all Yankee fans. There was a lot of back and forth. A bit more vulgarity than my mom appreciated. But for the most, it was just good natured ribbing between the Yankee fans and mostly my brother. We weren't attacked, stabbed or shot. We didn't even have beer cups thrown at us. When New York City fans are well-behaved by comparison, you know how deep the soccer problem runs..

In soccer lingo, fans (short for fanatics) are usually referred to as supporters. This may seem like an insignificant linguistic point, but it's symbolic. It's ironic that fans (fanatics) at North American sporting events generally act in a much more sane way than supporters at European and South American soccer matches.

This symbolic linguistic point nicely illustrates what needs to change. For too many European and South American "supporters," actually SUPPORTING their team is the last thing on their minds when they enter the stadium.

I used to hate writing essays like this. I used to fear that the generally anti-soccer sports media establishment in this country would seize on stuff like this to bash soccer. But then I realized that the active soccer-hating nuts in this country (not to be confused with those who simply don't care) will find any excuse to bash the sport. The reality, that there has been to my knowledge zero violence in the 11-year history of America's top soccer league, doesn't matter to them. So why worry about the loudmouthed ignoramuses? The more soccer grows in popularity, the more they bash it.

I used to rationalize that violence soccer fans were a small minority. And it's true. They are. But just as a small minority of lunatics can ruin a country, they can also ruin a sport. And that's exactly what's happening right now.

I understand the defense mechanism against ill-informed cheap shots many American soccer fans have. But soccer fans need to learn from the neo-cons' failings in the political realm. We need to recognize problems, not be paralyzed to them because of a closed-minded, knee-jerk, hyperdefensive reflex. It's time for all soccer fans around the world to face reality. It's no longer acceptable to say that because it's a small minority, it's not a big deal. It's a huge deal. It's a huge deal in most of the world's biggest, richest and most high-profile leagues. It's a huge deal in the places that are the global face of the sport.

With the possible exception of the human trafficking of young soccer players from Africa to Europe, fan violence is the biggest crisis facing professional soccer.

Roma vs Manchester Utd was a great soccer match. People should be talking about Roma's scintillating attacking play or Wayne Rooney's great goal. Instead, the Beautiful Game was tarnished yet again by its most hideous side. Rather than apportioning blame to one side or another, it's time for a complete cleaning of the soccer house.

To say that fan violence is a crisis that threatens the future worldwide popularity of the sport would not be an overstatement. It would be the truth.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A real strike out at Finch

In 2001, contract negotiations between the Finch Pruyn paper mill in Glens Falls and unions broke down. Finch is one of the few primarily family-owned paper mills in the northeast.

During the strike, management insisted that the only way it could remain competitive in the industry was by breaking the unions. After a bitter six-month long walkout, apparently the longest labor stoppage in the company's history, management succeeded in breaking the union.

It turns out that breaking the union was a failed strategy both for workers and for management. Finch announced yesterday that it was being sold to Atlas Holdings, a large Connecticut company.

Management's rhetoric at the time was that breaking the unions was the only way to keep the company in the hands of local ownership. Five and a half years later, the company was sold to outside ownership.

I don't profess to be an expert in the paper industry, but my sense is this. The only way a small, family-owned mill was ever going to be competitive against much larger conglomerates was by motivating a loyal, dedicated work force to make a superior product.

Breaking the unions is not a very good way to keep your work force loyal and dedicated, nor to motivate it to go the extra mile to make a superior product.

Now, one of the oldest locally owned businesses is no longer locally owned.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

NY legislature to study universal health care

Long-time progressive activist Mark Dunlea reports the following good piece of news regarding universal health care. to come out of the recently passed New York state budget.

NY Universal Health Care Options Campaign

For More Info: 518 434-7371 ext #1

Health Care Advocates Applaud Lawmakers for Funding Universal Health Care Study

New York State took an important step towards universal health care by agreeing to include $200,000 in the state budget for independent studies of the merits of various approaches to universal health care.

This follows on the recent announcement that the Spitzer administration was setting up its own internal task force with the Governor's health care advisors and the departments of health and insurance to explore how to provide universal health care for all.

"We want to thank Assemblymember Gottfried for his long-standing leadership on the issue of universal health care," stated Mark Dunlea of the Hunger Action Network. "New York is joining a number of other states that have taken leadership to resolve the issue of providing health care to all. We believe that we can create a universal health care system that also improves the delivery of services while saving money for taxpayers, employers and consumers."

The legislature adopted part but not all of the language developed by Gottfried, the Assembly Health Committee Chair, to create a Commission on Universal Health Care modeled after similar efforts in a number of other states. (language below). The groups hope to meet with Health Department officials to discuss implementation of the study, starting with an open and participatory process as outlined in Gottfried's bill. The bill passed the Assembly last year by 135 to 1 is endorsed by more than 250 organizations representing a wide range of consumer, faith and labor organizations. The group has been meeting regularly with business representatives to enlist their support.

"This action presents an unprecedented window of opportunity for New Yorkers. By enabling us to assess the pros and cons of various models for assuring health care to all, it can help us find our way toward that objective." said Sid Socolar, convener of Rekindling Reform, a NYC-based health care advocacy coalition that initiated the effort for the commission four years ago. "We look forward to an open implementation and review of the study to ensure that its findings are comprehensive and widely understood and that they gain great credibility, " he continued.


The Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare, a group organized in 2005 with representatives from social action committees from religious organizations, social agencies, advocacy organizations and interested individuals who want to work for universal health care, praised the legislation. Dr. Richard Propp, Chair of CDAUH, stated, "it is an excellent first step toward assuring that all New Yorkers have equal access to cost effective and comprehensive health care."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The sour side of a sweet product

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this 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, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

Alternet posted an odd piece wondering if women enjoyed chocolate more than sex. Ironic, then, that the UK Independent published an article the same day on how that chocolate comes on to the lips of western women (and men). If the chocoholics read this article, they might lose their appetite.

The story may not be new, but it's precisely the lack of change that's making news. There was a big campaign several years ago to try to eradicate the use of child labor on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire, which produces half of the world's chocolate.

Back in 2001, after an international outcry and a warning from the United States Congress, the global chocolate industry signed an agreement known as the Cocoa protocol. At first they promised to have made serious inroads towards ending the problem by July 2005. But they missed their targets, and Congress gave them three more years.
"That deadline came and went and we were very unhappy," said Eliot Engel, the Democrat congressman who initiated the protocol. "They now need to live up to that agreement. If they don't we'll make a decision in 2008.


The Independent reports that in Côte d'Ivoire, children carrying cocoa machetes are a common sight. They are kept out of school and many have untreated wounds on their legs. "I used to go to school," said Marc Yao Kwame, who works with his brother Fabrice on a remote farm. "But my father has no one to work on the farm, so he took me out of school. My mother's a long way from here. I haven't seen her for 10 years - since I was two years old."

Local officials reported that projects designed to take children off the cocoa farms and put them in school but, as one official put it, "We haven't seen any of the money."

Nestlé's slogan is 'Good food, good life.'

For whom?