Monday, December 31, 2007

Dynastic parties

In many other parts of the world, political parties are little more than movements based around a particular individual.

For example, the ruling One Russia party is nothing more than a vehicle for that country's strongman. The party doesn't really stand for anything other than the cult of Vladimir Putin. In Guinea, the three main parties have had the same leaders since the charade of democracy was introduced 15 years ago.

In western countries, political parties are generally associated with a particular ideology. As such, they are institutions capable of renewing themselves when a particular leader leaves the scene.

In places where parties are personality cults, this is much more difficult. Either the "party" falls apart or it becomes something like a monarchy.

This has become fairly common in de facto one party states: dead dictators replaced by their sons. Syria's Assad was succeeded by his son. Togo's Eyadema was succeeded by his. Egypt's Mubarak has declared his son as heir apparent.

But even in countries that aren't monarchical republics, parties aren't immune to such tendencies.

Take the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, which appears little more than a vehicle for that family.

In the 40 years of the PPP's existence, the "party" has only had four leaders:

-Benazir Bhutto's father (who was hanged and replaced by...)
-Benazir Bhutto's mother (who was ill and replaced by...)
-Benazir Bhutto herself (who was assassinated and replaced by...)
-Benazir Bhutto's husband and son (who is 19 years old)

In this mass movement with supposed widespread popular support, the only person within their ranks they could find deemed qualified to lead the party was a 19-year old boy studying in London and who's barely spent any time actually living in Pakistan.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Year of Living Biblically

Alternet has a good piece by A.J. Jacobs on the author's attempt to spend a year living as strictly as possible according to the Bible's rules.

No word on if Jacobs attacked people with a broom.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The war of the brooms

I've always said that religious fanatics are dangerous regardless of which particular religion they were fanatical for. Fortunately, sometimes they are just idiotic.

Pope Benedict's annual Christmas message called for a just end to conflicts, particularly in the Middle East. Apparently, some members of non-Roman Christian churches didn't think the Pope's advice was worth heeding.

Members of rival Christian orders have traded blows at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, with four people reported wounded in the fray, reported the BBC.

Apparently, Greek Orthodox worshipers encroached on the Armenian Apostolic section.

The result: a broom war!

I'm sure Jesus would be so proud of these disciples.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The law of unintended consequences in action

The UN has warned that skyrocketing food prices threatens millions of people in poorer countries.

Food prices have risen an unprecedented 40% in the last year and many nations may be unable to cope, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization [FAO].

The increases are partly due to droughts and floods linked to climate change, as well as rising oil prices boosting demand for bio-fuels, the FAO said.

Changing diet in fast-developing nations such as China is also considered a factor, with more land needed to raise livestock to meet increasing demand for meat.

International cereal prices have already sparked food riots in several countries, the FAO points out.


The FAO is calling for increased funding for programs designed to help small farmers in at-risk countries.

The FAO's director general said the impact of biofuels on food prices would be examined next year.

The use of land to grow plants which can be used to make alternative fuels - and the use of food crops themselves for fuel - has reduced food supplies and helped push up prices.

This is a great example of the law of unintended consequences (though by no means the most devastating).

Much time and effort has been put into developing biofuels. This has been strongly pushed by corn- and soybean-growing places like the midwestern US and sugar-growing places like Brazil. Such lobbying is done clearly to benefit midwestern American and Brazilian farmers but they cleverly latch on the environmentalism and increasing concern about the already visible effects of climate change.

But there's one big problem: production of ethanol, the most common biofuel, uses more energy than the end product creates.

So not only does ethanol production waste energy, but it jacks up food prices for those who can least afford it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto assassinated

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated today in what is believed to be a homicide bomb attack.

Bhutto was the most prominent secular civilian leader in Pakistan. Her assassination risks being the beginning of the unstable nation's disintegration. Let's hope it isn't, but the dearth of decent politicians and strong institutions in the country leaves many pessimistic.

Friday, December 21, 2007

WAMC capitulates on assault against NCPR

I blogged earlier (both here and here) on a dispute between two public radio stations in the Adirondacks.

Dr. Alan Chartock and his WAMC has withdrawn its threat to takeover North Country Public Radio's 91.7 FM frequency in Lake Placid, this according to the business blog of the Albany Times-Union.

NCPR will give its translator license to WAMC to broadcast on a different frequency in the hopes that the Canton-station will get a full-power license on the same frequency, rather than a religious station in distant Rensselaer County.

I'm not exactly sure what happened here. Perhaps it was a case of a bully, Alan Chartock, being shocked anyone would stand up to him. Perhaps, he and WAMC realized that they didn't have a leg to stand on and that the FCC wouldn't take a frequency away from a local broadcaster to one who didn't even cover that region. Or perhaps this was just an attempt to blackmail a license out of NCPR. Who knows.

But the preservation of local radio was hailed by Adirondack Almanack and Adirondack Musing blogs. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise will presumably be happy about it as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

This I Believe

A slightly more personal offering than my usual polemics...

NPR has a great series called This I Believe, which is a revival of a 1950s radio series. In it, people spend three to five minutes giving some sort of statement or philosophy for their lives. I’m using a different format but here are some things I believe.
I believe ethics are a way of life. Either you believe in them or you don’t.

I believe the celebrity culture is not worth anyone’s attention. Being famous for being famous isn't a good enough reason for being famous.

I believe in respecting others. Not necessarily agreeing with every life choice they make but respecting who they are.

I believe that politeness is a greatly undervalued in the modern world.

I believe bars are a terrible place to meet people.

I believe that buying a piece of clothing just because it has a brand name on it is superficial, unless it is of superior quality.

I believe narrow-mindedness, snobbery and pomposity are three different versions of the same thing.

I believe that loving your country must never be equated with agreeing with the person who happens to be president... in wartime or any other time. I believe that these two things are only equated in dictatorships.

I believe Jerry Springer, professional wrestling and most political yap shows are three different versions of the same thing.

I believe that religion is neither good or evil and that its implementation depends on the what followers choose to focus on.

I believe that if your deity tells you to commit violence against innocent people, you need to shop around for a new one.

I believe that if the president of your country tells you to commit violence against innocent people, you need to shop around for a new one.

I believe that PBS history documentaries are ten times better than History Channel documentaries.

I believe that while small town life has its their flaws, it has many redeeming values even for open-minded, culturally-inclined people.

I believe that America is not the only country in the world and that Americans are not the only people in the world. I believe that too few Americans appreciate this. And I believe that those who don't should ask how that reconciles with their religious beliefs.

I believe that being humane is more important than being smart or being technologically advanced.

I believe that money is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I believe that a life without a dream is not a life.

I believe there’s too little idealism in the world.

I believe that how you think is far more important than what you think.

I believe that your course in life is usually determined by whether you are a fundamentally positive or fundamentally negative person.

I believe that listening to other people is important. Listening with an open mind. Even when people aren’t talking to you. You can learn so much about people and the world by simply closing your mouth and paying attention, really paying attention.

I believe that helping others is its own reward.

I believe that children are more interesting than adults. I also believe they are easier to deal with than adults because, for better or worse, they are more straight-forward.

I believe that people who never have doubts are very dangerous.

I believe that people with no sense of humor are very dangerous.

I believe that just because you like to be alone at times doesn’t mean you’re lonely or a loner. I believe that being alone with your thoughts is important every once in a while.

I believe that sunsets are God’s way of saying, “Take ten minutes to slow down and relax.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rotten to the core

Brawling fans, angry 'supporters' invading the field, fans verbally abusing referees... and each other. This is part of the morass which provoked a disgusted team near Empoli, in Italy, to go on strike.

The players were eight years old.

Italian professional club soccer is a disaster at present. Supporters rioting and bringing a halt to matches. Supporters attacking police. Supporters stabbing each other. I call these people supporters but they are mostly hooligans who use soccer stadiums as a venue to congregate with like minded imbeciles. Actually supporting their supposed club is largely irrelevant to these folks.

Yes, these folks are a small minority of the folks in the stadiums. But as is often the case, a small minority can ruin it for everyone else.

Unfortunately, Italian authorities for years have used the 'small minority' fact as an excuse to do nothing. The situation has, to the surprise of no one, spiralled out of control. The scum are holding the game hostage.

Italian clubs need to be kicked out of European competition until the Italian federation cleans up club soccer. I hate to say this. I am a big supporter of the club A.S. Roma (who've unfortunately had their own fair share of fan trouble). Roma have a good chance to mount a serious challenge for the European Cup next year. I don't want to see Italian clubs kicked out of Europe but the sad reality is that NOTHING will get done until this happens.

The situation is not dissimiliar to what happened in England in the 70s and 80s. Fan violence and hooliganism was endemic. It culminated with the Heysel disaster of 1985 in which 39 mostly Italian fans (ironically) were killed after being charged by English fans.

English clubs were kicked out of European competitions for five years. This provoked English authorities to clean up the mess that they had so long ignored. Hooligans were banned. Stadiums were refurbished or new ones built to be made more safe. There is much cooperation between the police and the clubs to help avoid potential flashpoints. I hear that at some English stadiums, you can no longer bring a beer with you back to your seat. Rising ticket prices at the higher levels have had the inadvertent effect of pricing the hooligans out of the stadiums.

The situations are not exactly identical, though. English hooliganism was largely fueled by alcohol. Italian hooliganism is largely fueled by an anger and negativity that seems endemic to a terminally cynical Italian society. This fury seems unrelated to actual soccer. After all, Italy's national team won the most recent World Cup. An Italian club is both the European and world champion. The Italian league is generally seen as one of the two best in the world.

Italian stadiums are old and decrepit, so ticket prices remain low. Some Ultras (fanatical 'supporters' groups, some of which have political ties) are given blocks of tickets to distribute themselves to whomever they want. Some areas of stadiums in places like Milan and Rome are so menacing that they are no-go areas for the police.

In many places, the worst problems occur outside the stadium, where 'supporters' groups rumble. A fan of the Rome club Lazio was recently stabbed to death by a rival team's dirtbag... while at a highway rest stop.

Naturally, this atmosphere of low-scale warfare both in and outside the stadiums discourages huge numbers of civilized people from going to matches.

This insanity is not unique to Italy. I've read that this sort of thing happens on an even bigger scale in Eastern Europe, where soccer clubs and organized crime are intimately linked. I know there are plenty of problems in places like Chile and Argentina.

But Italy's problems are more high profile because it's home to some of the best clubs and players in the world.

There needs to be a systematic effort involving coordination between the Italian soccer federation and the local and national authorities to return the beautiful back to the Beautiful Game. Italian society beat urban terrorism in the 70s and 80s and it battled the Mafia in the 90s, so surely a truly concerted effort could return some sanity back to its Calcio.

Hopefully, the Italian federation will get its head out of its rear end and truly tackles these problems before a large scale disaster happens. Given the Italian soccer establishment's mentality, I'm not optimistic. And given the cowardice of the European confederation, I doubt they will do anything either.

And the worst part is how the insanity filters down to the youth levels and destroys the game for the kids. Children love to play soccer. The fact that eight year olds would refuse to play shows how incomprehensibly childish the "adults" are being.

Italian soccer is rotten to the core and the rot needs to be cut out like a cancer.

Before the six year olds go on strike.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More on WAMC's war against North Country Public Radio

A followup to my earlier essay on the WAMC-North Country Public Radio conflict.

NCPR has page on the dispute. I could not find a similar page on WAMC's site offering its point of view.

NCPR points out that it's not against healthy competition. Some of its coverage area overlaps with that of both WAMC and Vermont Public Radio.

North Country Public Radio broadcasts in many places where other public radio stations are heard, such as Plattsburgh and Glens Falls. We have no problem with this friendly competition; we believe it is good for communities to have public radio choices. However, WAMC's application threatens our ability to continue our service in a core community of the Adirondacks. We did not complain when WAMC signed on in Plattsburgh years after our transmitter was on the air in that community. And, we would NEVER apply for a frequency already occupied by another public radio station-it goes totally against the mission and spirit of public media.

And added that it actually offered a cooperation with WAMC, that the Albany station flat out rejected.

We attempted to negotiate with WAMC to resolve this to both stations' advantage. In return for withdrawing their application, we offered WAMC our translator facility, moved to a different frequency. This would allow WAMC to get on the air in Lake Placid quickly and with minimal expense to the station's listeners. WAMC has unequivocally rejected this offer. WAMC had no reciprocal offer for NCPR.

WAMC declares war on fellow public radio station

Adirondack Almanack has a good essay on the burgeoning war between this area's two main National Public Radio affiliates: WAMC (based in Albany, NY) and North Country Public Radio (based in Canton, NY).

WAMC wants to take over the 91.7 frequency in Lake Placid, which has been run by NCPR for 20 years. I've been a member of both stations at various times but this is a terrible decision by WAMC.

WAMC's news coverage is decent but cursory. It's a mile wide and an inch deep. This isn't surprising because WAMC's gargantuan coverage area means it must provide local news for people in central and southern Vermont, the Berkshires (western Massachussetts), northern Connecticut, the Hudson Valley (southeastern NY), the Mohawk Valley (Central NY) and New York's Capital District.. WAMC also reports on state politics for those four states.

By contrasy, NCPR is focused almost exclusively on the region in and around the Adirondacks. The station often runs stories that are 5-9 minutes in length and thus offer significantly more depth than WAMC's typically brief pieces.

WAMC almost never reports on issues in Glens Falls or the Adirondacks, simply because there's not enough time. NCPR had extensive coverage of the 2001 Finch Pruyn strike in Glens Falls, even though the station's main headquarters is three times more distant than WAMC's.

WAMC's news department must attempt to be everything to everyone. NCPR's can focus on the Adirondacks. WAMC's president-for-life Alan Chartock piously claims that he's only doing this to offer choice to people in Lake Placid. This is the same Chartock who regularly bemoans increasingly consolidation in the commercial media.

Personally, I fail to see how people in Lake Placid are greatly served by knowing more about local politics in Litchfield County, CT or Massachussetts' state affairs but nothing additional about their own region.

As Almanack pointed out:

WAMC is obviously attempting to take the economic resources from our region to their offices in Albany without returning services to our community. In fact, they will be reducing local news coverage in Lake Placid. They've already done this in Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga. Search for Ticonderoga on the WAMC website - in all of 2007 they've reported just twice about Ticonderoga -both stories about International Paper. Take a look at their events calendar - not a single event in either Plattsburgh or Ticonderoga, or anywhere in the Adirondacks for that matter. Now take a look at NCPR's events calendar.

But Almanack's essay raises an aspect that I hadn't considered but makes complete sense.

WAMC has a much more upscale audience than NCPR. Because of its huge and well-off listening area, WAMC rakes in at least $700,000 during their quarterly pledge drives; I believe their last one brought in over $800,000. NCPR's typical pledge drive take is a much more modest $200,000.

WAMC News focuses primarily on the relatively prosperous Hudson Valley and on the well-off communities in the Berkshires, like Chartock's home of Great Barrington. Lake Placid is the second home for many rich folks in other parts of the state. Is it a coincidence that the only Adirondacks' frequency targeted by WAMC weren't the the ones in modest communities like Blue Mountain Lake or North Creek, but the one in the most monied town inside the Blue Line?

When you listen to NCPR, you know you are listening to a station about the Adirondacks, for Adirondackers. WAMC has become this giant broadcast empire that caters primarily to a few small parts while only paying lip service to the rest. It is based in Albany, but if it were based in Kingston, NY or Springfield, MA or Rutland, VT, you couldn't tell the difference.

I used to be a member of WAMC but am not anymore. I simply found that WAMC just didn't cover news stories that were relevant to my community or nearby ones. When NCPR added transmitters in Glens Falls and Lake George, I found a station that did. I now send money to Canton.

And frankly I'm glad I'm not a member of WAMC anymore. I wouldn't want my membership monies to making the media less local and more homogeneous.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The war on Christmas

There won't be a Christmas this year
by Originalsinner

[Reposted with permission of the author]

It's true, I have found numerous reasons that Christmas will likely not occur this year.


* Santa likes to vacation in the Bahamas (or is it Hawaii?) during the off season. This year in his absence, the elves out-sourced toy production to Wal-Mart, which in turn relied upon China to do the elves work. The Chinese put lead and date rape drugs in the toys in an effort to discredit Santa, forcing a massive recall.

* The elves, stuck with substandard toys, dumped the toys on the American public toy store companies, which are now taking a severe ass-beating for selling these toys. China blames WalMart's mercenary policy of paying the lowest possible price on the inclusion of lead and date-rape drugs in toy production.

* Thanks to restrictive new Bush Administration policies on immigration, Santa now has to stop at border crossings and present ID and a work permit before he is allowed into the country.

* Because of anti-terrorism concerns, Santa also now has to worry about being intercepted mid-flight by F-16 fighter jets with orders to shoot him down.

* In a little-reported news article quickly hushed up by the main stream media, Santa had let the reindeer graze at a stop in Wisconsin last year. Donner and Blitzen, along with a dozen cows, were quickly gunned down by local deer hunters. In turn, the deer hunters were quickly gunned down by a Laotian hunter.

* Rudolph has been named in the Mitchell report as being suspected of using steroids. Rudolph quickly issued a denial, claiming that his nose was a natural growth anomaly, despite the other reindeer's complete inability to duplicate Rudolph's record of guiding a sleigh on foggy nights. No other reindeer have been implicated by the Mitchell Report, bringing a further cloud of suspicion on Rudolph.

* Global warming has caused massive flooding in the normally frozen North Pole headquarters of Santa, Inc.

* Santa has been denied permission to fly by the Transportation Safety Administration, based upon his past history of flying around the world delivering toys to all the children of the world. Bush spokeswoman Ima Lier has linked Santa to the children of Islamofascists,calling Santa a "threat to freedom and democracy around the world".

* Santa now finds the cost of grain to feed his reindeer prohibitively high, as the much needed grain is now being diverted to ethanol production.

* Southern Baptists have called Santa a threat to Christianity because he brings toys to the children of homosexual parents, and are boycotting Santa in an effort to restore "the reason for the season".

* The Postal Service is currently investigating a Postal Carrier who was found to have "years and years " worth of undelivered letters from children to Santa stashed in his home.

* Santa's sleigh will not be allowed into California this year because he has not had it properly smogged for greenhouse gas emissions, as is required by state law. Santa claims that his sleigh is grandfathered into exclusion from the new laws, claiming that retrofitting his reindeer to prevent methane gas emission would be far too costly, and force him out of business. Santa's lawyer is also attempting to persuade a state judge to exempt Santa as a non-profit corporation.

* PETA is planning to prevent Santa from flying this year, claiming harnessing flying reindeer is cruel and inhumane.

* Due to the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage industry and the resulting foreclosures, Santa's list of addresses of children is hopelessly outdated. Furthermore, state laws nationwide prevent him from landing and stopping on freeway overpasses, which are now the roof of many of these children's new "homes". Santa further cites his inability to tell one refri(d)gerator box from another, resulting in regrettable mistakes when he delivers presents to the homeless.

* In more positive news, however, the Bush-apppointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency is applauding Santa's use of coal in his gift giving, calling it a "patriotic response to foreign dependence on imported oil".

Yes, it's going to be a bleak Christmas this year.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Islamofascism

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -Theodore Roosevelt

I was reading this piece in which GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was yammering on about 'Islamofascism.'

Islamism is diffuse, Puritanical and globalist.

Fascism is centralized, corporate and nationalist.

Both are examples of extreme conservativism but no serious person would combine the two... which I imagine is why so many Republican candidates are doing so.

These guys should be disqualified just for their abuse of language in using this phrase.

But maybe the incumbent has abused language to such an extreme that truth has become irrelevant.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cheats

Soccer is not infested with drugs cheats like cycling, athletics, the National Football League and Major League Baseball. And it's not a hotbed of hoodlum culture (at least among the players) like the NFL and Non-Basketball Association.

Soccer players taking dives is obnoxious, but it's a dishonesty that's ultimately trivial compared to the dishonesty plaguing "real American" sports.

Diving won't kill you... or land you in jail.

Important announcement

I'd like to point out that I was one of the six people in this country whose ever played baseball at any point in my life who was NOT named in the Mitchell Report.

Thank you for your attention.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How the military stabs in the back Our Troops

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -Theodore Roosevelt

For a great many Americans, 'Support Our Troops' is an empty catchphrase that is mostly limited to wearing a ribbon or slapping a bumper sticker on the family car. Perhaps a showy acknowlegement at Memorial Day ceremonies. Or the daily incantation of "They're Our Heroes." All of these are fine and dandy but they don't truly affect the lives of soldiers in any meaningful way.

North Country Public Radio is currently running a good series on how the government is failing miserably when it comes to actually supporting Our Troops. Specifically in terms of how the Army treats soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Fort Drum, which is in NCPR's listening area, is home of the 10th Mountain Division. Soldiers from here have been deployed extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Part 1 of the series reports on what the Army says it does to help PTSD-afflicted soldiers.

Part 2 reports on what many soldiers say the Army ACTUALLY treats soldiers diagnosed with PTSD.

Part 3 explains how many PTSD-afflicted soldiers, feeling discarded by the military, have taken matters into their own and organizing their group therapy sessions to make up for the Pentagon's negligence.

Apparently these men and women are Our Heroes when they can serve as a PR prop for the chickenhawks in the White House but are treated as a much of weaklings and whinea**es once they've been used and discarded by our misleaders in DC.

But you probably already knew that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On worthlessESPN

It's no secret that I loathe worthlessESPN (tm). 15-20 years ago, it was a good network that did substantive reporting and journalism. It did so while it remained irreverent and able to poke fun at itself.

Now, it's lost the sense of humor that keep SPORTS in the right perspective. It's almost completely devoid of substance. It's emulated cable 'news' channels by wasting air time with yap show hosts who feel that sound and fury pass for sporting analysis. And most egregiously, it's descended into a PR machine which makes sport almost completely incidental.

Pretty much any sport they touch, they ruin with an avalanche, flood and hurricane of hype. Every week brings a new 'game of the year'!! Every tempest in a teapot is treated like Watergate squared!!

Oops, sorry. I forgot a few exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On those rare occassions when they do cover soccer, they tend to destroy it with hype just like everything else (except for the Champions League ironically enough). Contrary to what the geniuses at worthlessESPN might think, no one cares what brand toilet paper David Beckham prefers. Though we wouldn't mind seeing him play soccer for 90 minutes in a competitive match one of these years. Playing soccer, as one might recall, is perhaps the least important reason he came to Major League SOCCER but it's certainly part of the equation.

worthlessESPN is such garbage that I rarely watch it anymore unless soccer's on, especially since it stopped covering the NHL.

I have no desire to watch televised poker. I have no desire to watch one of their 'general sports' shows spend 15 out of 22 non-commercial minutes talking about then NFL when it precedes a two-hour NFL pregame show. I have no desire watching 10 minutes of yammering on spring football workouts for the State U's backup punt coverage team.

worthlessESPN is a godsend if you like football, especially the NFL... which I like less and less primarily because of this overhype. worthlessESPN isn't bad if you like baseball... but only in the spring and early summer, before pointy ball sucks all the oxygen out of the room. It's good if you like the Non-Basketball Association. But if you like any other sport, you probably already know not to waste your time with with them.

It doesn't bother me that the folks at worthlessESPN don't care about soccer. It no longer bothers me that many there have an active contempt for soccer. When you're a soccer fan in this country, you're used to the fact that some ninnies are so insecure about the future of the sports they like that they have to take infantile and wholly unoriginal cheap shots at sports that are becoming more popular. They view sporting interest as some kind of zero sum game. The sports media establishment is notoriously small-minded. It's just the way things are.

But what I've come to hate about worthlessESPN is how much coverage they give to non-sporting events... or should I say, sporting non-events.

I was at a place last night where the TV was tuned to worthlessESPN's flagship news program FootballCenter. An erroneous graphic referred to it as SportsCenter; you know it was erroneous because it listed 'sports' in the plural. This brief experience reminded me of why I stopped watching worthlessESPN in the first place.

The first segment was one about the Atlanta Falcons' owner. They were making a mountain out a molehill, which is pretty much par for the course for them. But whatever.

The second segment was about fantasy football. Not real football, mind you. But worthlessESPN's own little fantasy league. I have to say that I'm not particularly concerned about how the injury to the Colts' 4th string long snapper will affect the fantasy league tables. But maybe I'm in the minority.

This was immediately followed by a segment where they simulated a fake college football tournament, since the NCAA doesn't hold a real one (at least not for Division I, or the bowl suburban development or whatever it's called now).

At this point, I found the remote and changed the channel.

No one complained.

So worthlessESPN went from a segment on semi-real pro football to fake pro football to a segment on fake college football.

Appropriate, I suppose, for a fake network.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

International Human Rights Day

I am remiss for having neglected to post an essay in honor of Human Rights Day, December 10. Better late than never.

The basic framework for international human rights is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The content of the Declaration was due in large part to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was President Truman's appointee to the United Nations' Commission for Human Rights, which elected her chairman. All UN member states have ratified the Declaration, which is essentially the closest thing to a world constitution. Since all UN member states have chosen to accept the document, they should all respect it.

Much of the Declaration is what one might expect from a human rights' document. It contains provisions on the equality of all citizens, the right to not be a slave, the freedom of religion and freedom of movement.

There are many provisions which the US government is blatantly ignoring in the so-called war on terror, including (but not limited to):

-Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. (Article 2)

-No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

-Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. (Article 8)

-Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. (Article 10)

-Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. (Article 11, Section 1)

The US is not the only violator of the Declaration. But it's particularly galling since an American was the driving force behind the document (to say nothing of the fact that such violations are being funded with my tax dollars).

But the main purpose of this essay is to highlight some of the provisions of the Declaration that might not be expected in some quarters but are considered no less fundamental human rights under international law.

Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (Article 17, Section 1)

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. (Article 22)

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. (Article 23, Sections 3 and 4)

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. (Article 24)

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (Article 25, Section 1)

I think it's interesting how the Declaration reflects how the scope of rights and freedoms is viewed differently in different parts of the world. The American tradition is to view rights very narrowly, in a negative sense. Most of the Bill of Rights' amendments begin, "Congress shall pass no law...." The framework of rights in this country is very much based on the individual and is almost exclusively centered around economic considerations. People should thrive or starve exclusively on their own (or by the roulette wheel of private charity).

Rights and freedoms are viewed differently in other parts of the world. People in most other western countries, for example, accept rights and freedoms but also accept the counterbalancing notion of social responsibility and the greater good and a governmental role therein. To take one issue, they generally view universal access to health care not as stealing but as providing a key service to every citizen. They don't view the "right to get sick and die due to lack of access to health care" as a freedom worth having. The framework of rights in most other western countries has more of a balance between economic, social and, in some cases, cultural considerations.

Americans view rights as protection against the oppression of government; the pursuit of happiness means to be left alone. Europeans view rights as protection against the oppression of chance; the pursuit of happiness means being given a real opportunity to do so. People in some parts of the world view rights as the protection against chaos or disorder. Everyone has their own perspective. Every society has their own priorities.

But the Declaration is what all countries have consciously accepted should be the basic framework for rights and freedoms.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The importance of critical reading

The explosion of anonymous and semi-anonymous blogs and other non-traditional outlets makes critical reading skills even more key. But even with "mainstream" news outlets, this skill remains important.

For example, take this story from Bloomberg.

Government officials and activists flying to Bali, Indonesia, for the United Nations meeting on climate change will cause as much pollution as 20,000 cars in a year.

Conservative bloggers have jumped all over this, citing it as 'proof' of the hypocrisy of climate change activists, jaunting around the world, sipping their chardonnay. They're probably French too!

20,000 cars sounds like a huge amount of pollution if you have no frame of reference. And this 'objective' news article provided no frame of reference.

20,000 cars represents less than 0.01 percent of all the motor vehicles in the United States alone. This means American-owned cars will cause more pollution in 8 hours than this conference.

Another fact: there are over 20,000 cars in Essex County, one of the most rural, least populous counties in New York state.

This conference climate is going tackling planet-wide issues of climate change, problems that could cause havoc across the globe. The pollution equivalent to that produced by cars in one small US county is a mere drop in the bucket if some of these planetary issues can be addressed.

That is the real perspective needed.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

'Dictator' loses election... critics mystified

I'm on record (several times) as no fan whatsoever of Venezuela's leader Hugo Chavez. I believe he is an egomaniac so obsessed with his international reputation that he's willing to cozy up to reactionary theocrats.

However, it seems only fair that I should acknowledge recent events in the country.

Chavez put forth a referendum on proposed changes to the country's constitution, which included ending limits on presidential terms, halting the central bank's autonomy and cutting the working week.

(Renegade Eye blog has a more thorough look at all the changes)

Chavez's changes were narrowly defeated: 51-49 percent.

But wait? How is that possible? Dictators never lose elections.

The Venezuelan leader has been called many things by critics. He's been called a dictator. He's been called anti-democratic. He's been called a loudmouthed populist demagogue. He's been called a strong man. He's been called the head of a personality cult. The last three by myself. I won't re-write history and deny what I said.

But fair is fair. Chavez did not rig this election. He did not initiate mass arrests of opponents of the changes. He did not shut down newspapers hostile to the changes. He did not order his army to fire on protesters, in stark contrast to the truly dictatorial and murderous regime in Burma or the US-backed regime in Ethiopia.

The campaign on both sides was vibrant and often virulent, but that's quite the opposite of what one might expect in a state supposedly as repressed as Venezuela. Autocratic states are comatose with fear.

Chavez was bitter about defeat, but he said he'd accept the result. He later added that he would step down in 2013 when his current term ended.

He may not like democracy, ex-paratrooper that he is, but the fact of the matter is that this is an example of him respecting democracy. He's made 'people power' the center of his agenda. The fact that he respected 'people power' even when it went against what he wanted is a reality that his sometimes fair-minded and often not critics must acknowledge.

The other thing critics must acknowledge is that the constitution he implemented allows for a recall vote in the middle of his term. Something opponents tried and failed in 2004 (shortly after the US-backed coup attempt against him in 2002). While I'm not sure if this is a great idea, one certainly can't accuse this of being the anti-democratic machinations of a power hungry megalomaniac.

Chavez may be a loudmouthed populist demagogue, in much the same way as Rudy Giuliani. He may invoke anti-imperialist screeds in a vainglorious attempt to become the new Developing World Idol. But at the end of the day, his tirades really aren't the central issue to anyone other than the chattering classes (like the blogosphere) and those in the media that need good copy. At the end of the day, he should be judged first and foremost on whether he's improving the lives of ordinary Venezuelans.

And at the end of the day, the only judgement on Chavez that matters will be cast not by bloggers, western intellectuals or American editorial writers but by Venezuelans themselves.


Update: Despite his friendliess with Chavez, Bolivian president Evo Morales is what a progressive leader should be. He is worried improving the lives of his people, not becoming a rock star of the leftist world. Frustrated with opposition to his reforms, Morales has called for a referendum on whether he and nine regional governors should remain in office. Here's a guy who's willing to risk his presidency that comes with it to advance what he believes would improve the country. This is a leader who's willing to do what's right even if it means he might lose power. You have to admire that.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Food giant threatens small co-op

North Country Public Radio has a story on food multinational General Mills' brave struggle against a dangerous enemy: the Potsdam (NY) food Co-Op.

Apparently, the Co-Op used the term 'Bake Off' as the title for its annual fundraiser. The previous nine editions didn't seem to bother anyone. But this year, General Mills decided to sic its lawyers on the non-profit.

The smart thing would have been for General Mills to make a donation to the Co-Op in exchange for them changing the name. Or even for them to actually sponsor the event. A drop in the bucket for General Mills in exchange for good PR.

The Co-Op changed the name of its contest for fear of being sued by the corporate behemoth (annual revenues: $12.2 billion).

Friday, December 07, 2007

The media and mass murderers

Another day, another Bush administration truth-telling scandal. Only a few days after the previous one. And not long after the one before that.

But I need to take a break from blogging about Bush scandals, for the sake of my mental health.

A few days ago, a 19-year old opened fire at a mall in Omaha, Nebraska and killed eight people before making himself the ninth victim.

A woman who took him in after he left home said he left a note saying he was sorry for everything and did not want to be a burden to anybody.

He is said to have suffered from depression. I'm sorry for that but let's keep things in perspective. He's become quite a burden to and probably caused quite a bit of depression in the families of the eight people he murdered.

But what really interests me is the media reaction to such shootings. Often in these cases, a shooter leaves a note saying that he wants to me famous or to be remembered or to make his mark (and it's almost always a he).

Nearly every media outlet I could find has shown a picture of the killer. Why are they obliging the last request of a mass murderer? Does seeing his picture add any news value at all? Do readers and viewers gain any more understanding of the story by seeing the guy's face? If they're going to show anyone's picture, shouldn't it be of victims?

In sporting events, every so often, some idiot will run on to the field to make a spectacle of himself. Television networks have made a habit of having announcers explain why there's a delay in the action but NOT showing the idiot in question because they don't want to give him his 15 minutes of fame and encourage future idiots to do the same.

If the media rightly refuse to glorify streakers and people who are nuisances at sporting events, why don't they apply the same standard to mass murderers?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why soccer is the all-American sport

In The Boston Globe, Boston College professor Zine Magubane explains why soccer, not baseball or football, is the quintessentially American sport.

Reminder about commenting

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bush adminstration claims right to kidnap British bankers

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -Theodore Roosevelt

From denying the most basic freedom of western civilization to denying other fundamental tenets of justice to supporting torture (and repeatedly so) to the maintenance of a kidnapee camp in violation of all norms of decency, the Bush administration has repeatedly shown beyond any shadow that it is pathologically unable or unwilling to follow the law, either American or international.

Some people will be upset at my reference to Guantanamo Bay as a kidnapee camp, even though it clearly fits the commonly accepted definition of the word. (Though I'd accept 'abduct' as a suitable alternative)

Despite all evidence to the contrary, some may indignantly deny that the US government kidnaps people but the Bush administration is quite open about this reality. Its war against civilization is quite overt. Recently, Bush administration lawyers told a Court of Appeal in London that it has the right to kidnap British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the US.

This is despite the fact that the UK is allegedly Bush's strongest ally in the so-called war on terror, despite the fact that there is already an extradition treaty between the two countries and despite the fact that the men sought by Washington are not evil Muslim terrorists but bankers.

Bankers: a true national security threat! I know communists might argue this but I know expected this of neo-con corporatists.

Bush apologists claim that the fate of the free world depends on his and his administration's good judgement. If the future of freedom depends on a government who claims the inalienable right to abduct bankers off the streets of countries with whom it has good relations and an extradition treaty, then we really are screwed.

Bush and Cheney should not be impeached for his war against Iraq. A simple war crimes trial will do. What they should be impeached for is their almost non-stop assault on the rule of law and the most basic tenets of American values. Although you may have forgotten, they did twice put their hand on the Christian Bible and swear an oath of office. And although you may not have forgotten this, they clearly have.

Update: Now the head of the most secretive US administration in history is deamdning transparency of the Iranian regime. Mind-blowing hypocrisy is nothing new with these folks. The amusing/terrifying part is that they still seem to be under the delusion that they have any credibility left.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Iran has no nuclear program: US intelligence

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -Theodore Roosevelt

In a devastating blow to neo-conservative militarists desperate to invade yet another country, US intelligence agencies have conclude that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program way back in 2003. This despite the fact that Vice-President Dick Cheney and other belligerents have spent the last two years fanatically to whip up another round of war hysteria to support an aggression against Iran. This report surely won't stop their efforts. They've never been deterred by reality in the past. But hopefully the public, already burnt by having believed the deceit about Iraq, won't bite again.


Update: To the surprise of no one, the Bush administration (author of wars that have destabilized two regions) is trying to spin the report to suggest that Iran still remains a threat to global security. But by now, their credibility is nil. This administration has been deceitful for so long that they no longer know how to recognize or tell the truth. The fake FEMA press conference is a great example. By most accounts, FEMA did a GOOD job in the San Diego fires recovery. They didn't need to lie or deceive. But the habits have become so ingrained in the Bush administration that they simply don't know any other way anymore. And that's why no one believes a word they say anymore.

If all the members of the National Academy of Science were women...

Here's yet another scientific study to prove what mothers have known for at least decades.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Teddy bear 'infidel' pardoned

I don't mean to be insensitive but Sudan is one [mess]ed up place.

You have a military dictatorship that refuses to uphold a peace deal that ended a long civil war in the south of the country. One that sponsors a genocide in the west of the country.

But the rent-a-mobs want a teacher to be murdered for naming a teddy bear.

I realize there's more to it. Clearly, the dictatorship doesn't want the planned UN peacekeeping force to be deployed in Darfur... a mission which it has been resisting for years. So authorities whipped up this tempest about a British teacher who let her class name a teddy bear Mohammed... a boy in the class named Mohammed suggested the teddy bear have the same name.

This tempest in a teapot allowed the regime to whip up pseudo-religious and nationalist fanaticism that would give it an excuse to resist the UN force a little longer.

Plus, the decision of the dictator, Gen. Omar al-Bashir, to pardon the teacher makes him look like the good guy. It made him look like a moderate, bravely resisting the hysterical rent-a-mobs (which his regime was probably instrumental in creating in the first place)... illustrating yet again that religious extremism is dangerous regardless of who does it.

I guess when you're sponsoring genocide, you need all the good PR you can get... no matter how you get it.