Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The hypocrisy of youth soccer (pt. 1)

As many readers know, I've been a youth soccer coach for several years. The more I'm involved with The System, the more I realize how much b.s. there is and exactly to what degree the soccer community in this country is bathing in hypocrisy.

I recently received an email from the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association* reminding me that it's not too late to sign up for their fall state cup tournaments at the U11 (under-11) age level.

(*-ENY is affiliated with US Youth Soccer which is a member organization of the US Soccer Federation)

Last year, I went to the annual general meeting of the CDYSL, which is a regional league affiliated with ENY. They were discussing a proposal to make it so the U12 age level played 8 v 8 on a smaller field instead of 11 v 11 on a full sized one. From a development standpoint, it made sense. The full sized field encouraged smaller kids to just kick the ball as far as they can. The smaller field and smaller numbers would encourage dribbling skills and allow each player to be more involved in the action.

But this wasn't sold from a development standpoint. The CDYSL 'braintrust' thought it was great because it was only one of two leagues in New York that was going to 8 v 8 so their U12 champion would automatically gain a berth in the state cup final. This really says it all about the mentality of these people. There are certainly a lot of coaches and officials that care deeply about the kids. But there are an alarming number that are just in it for their own egos.

If you read the position papers and general coaching advice given by both US Soccer and US Youth Soccer, they all talk about creating an environment for young players that de-emphasizes winning at all costs and creates an atmosphere where creativity and skills development are allowed to flourish.

There is a wide recognition that this country produces plenty of competent soccer players but a dearth of creative ones. It's also increasingly acknowledged that overcoaching, the overstructured nature of the youth soccer setup and its overemphasis on winning trophies in the US is the biggest single factor in suffocating creativity out of young players. Excessive adult influence doesn't just not help the kids, it actively hurts them.

These organizations recommend that youth teams play fewer matches and participate in fewer tournaments and have more training sessions with more free play where they can be creative, where they feel free try new things without fear of recrimination. In other words, give them more time to experiment and less pressure to win meaningless youth trophies.

This is precisely the skills development model used in places like France, Portugal and the Netherlands, countries that have a fantastic record of producing talented and creative young players in recent years.

Instead, the US has followed the same development (and tactical) model as England . In addition to being a place where barriers are needed to keep youth soccer parents separated from children like caged animals or hysterical fans of boy bands, the English soccer community is undergoing a great self-flagellation about exactly those deficiencies I mentioned above.

So instead of modeling those who are getting it right, soccer in the US is modeling those who have gotten it spectacularly wrong.
If the best soccer minds in both this country and in the top foreign soccer nations are pushing the 'less is more' approach, especially for younger players, then why in heaven's name is someone holding a state championship for 9 year olds?!

Everyone mouths the right things, but look what gets put into practice.

The most prominent periodical in the country that covers the sometimes Beautiful Game is hardly immune from this hypocrisy.

Soccer America publishes numerous columns and editorials lecturing readers that players should have fun, that winning trophies should be secondary to enjoyment and skills development, etc.

But the same magazine that runs warm and fuzzy pieces, often in the same issue, runs huge cover stories on who won all the youth national championships, creates an arbitrary ranking of the top boys' and girls' clubs in the country and publishes prominent profiles of trophy winning youth clubs.

And this is why their feel-good columns imploring fair play and fun gain no traction.

Soccer America , like most in the soccer establishment, doesn't practice what it preaches. They don't really believe it and everyone knows it.

(to be continued)

Monday, July 28, 2008

The stupidification of America

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

There are desperately few good opinion writers and essayists out there either in newspapers or in the blogosphere. But Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts is one of a rare breed.

From his most recent column: Not long ago, I gave a commencement address in which I told young people I am less concerned with what they think than “that” they think.

This echoes a belief I came to a long time ago that "it's more important how you think than what you think."

Pitts added: One wonders how long we can continue to equate stupidity with “keeping it real,” being a regular Joe or Jane, and hope to continue leading the world... In recent years, we have seen intelligence demonized as the sole province of the “elite,” a term that once described accomplishment, but is now used to condemn anyone who looks like he might have accidentally cracked a book or had a thought.


Read the full column here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

If the media's part of the free market, how can it be so liberal?

If you opened a novelty shop near a domestic US military base and sold 'Viva bin Laden' and 'Death to America' t-shirts, would your business thrive?

Probably not.

The reason it would almost certainly fail very quickly is because what you were selling would be repugnant to nearly all of your potential consumers.

Yet according to many conservatives, the commercial news media is some how immune to this most basic tent of the free market.

I quite often hear the old 'liberal media' canard. I've explained many times (most recently here) why I believe this is misguided and misses the point

But the canard persists. And not just from unhinged extremists. I sometimes hear this from many moderate, reasonable people.

It's pointless to talk to the extremists, because their rantings are not based on rationality. But it's the intelligent people that interest me, the ones with whom rational discourse is possible.

I sometimes wonder if these people have really thought this issue through or if they are just accepting conventional wisdom, if they figure that this myth has been repeated often enough so it must be true.

In that spirit, I frame the issue this way...

Most media outlets in this country are commercial ventures. Nearly all the major ones and a great many of even the smaller ones are part of large corporate entities. That means that maximizing profits for the stockholders is not only one of its top priorities, but its legal obligation as a corporation.

Hence, I think we can all agree that whether it's The New York Times, NBC or The Podunk Weekly, most media outlets are for-profit businesses who, in this capitalist country, must be responsive to consumer demand in order to survive and thrive.

I think we can also agree that United States is split roughly evenly politically between those on the left, those on the right and those somewhere in the middle (or who defy easy categorization). Perhaps centrist/other occupy a larger percentage, but I think most would agree that neither left nor right represents a crushing majority.

So if the above premises are all true, then how is it possible that the media is liberal?

(For the purpose of this essay, I will unusually use liberal and leftist/left-winger interchangeably. And also from here on in, I am referring primarily to major mainstream media outlets, the primary targets of the 'bias' criticism)

If no more than 1/3 of the country is to the left of the national center, then why would major media outlets choose to alienate 2/3 of their potential audience? Why would national businesses who seek a broad-based appeal consciously do something that, if the premises are true, would seriously harm their profit potential?

According to many critics, five of the six network and cable news outlets (CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC) betray a liberal bias. The other (Fox "News") is conservative according to some on the right or centrist but populist according to others. Most major newspapers are also accused of being liberal.

So if these TV channels are all businesses responding to consumer demand and five of the six are supposedly liberal, then wouldn't this imply that something like 5/6 of the market is liberal or wants 'liberal news'?

Some might respond that conservatives simply aren't getting their news from television or newspapers anymore. But if this were true, then shouldn't the market respond by creating a conservative news channel (which doesn't yet exist according to some) or more conservative papers to tap into that supposedly unmet demand or alienated consumer demographic?

The same is true with newspapers. The right complains that 'most' newspapers are liberal. But again, shouldn't conservative areas have predominantly conservative papers? Doesn't the free market ensure that if papers were more liberal than their readership, then that readership would dwindle into oblivion?

The newspaper industry is struggling but that's because they're slow to adapt to the online revolution, not because of any alleged ideological agenda (a problem which, according to free market rules, should've sorted it years ago... if the problem really existed).

If 5/6 of the media is liberal but no more than 2/6 (1/3) of the country is liberal, then critics are claiming that the media is 2 1/2 times more liberal than their audience. According to the laws of free market, this shouldn't happen because free market would correct this imbalance very quickly.

At its core, this is why the 'liberal media bias' canard doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The truth is that when people complain that the media is liberal, what they mean is that the media is more liberal than they are. And of course that's true for about a third of the country. Just as it's true that the media (taken as a whole, though it's not quite as monolithic as conservative critics imply) is more conservative than about a third of the country.

The commercial media as a whole can't have a significant liberal bias because the country as a whole is not significantly liberal. According to the capitalist theory that the market always works these things out, there can't be any other explanation... unless the rules of the free market don't apply to the media.

A few years ago, I remember a listener attacking NPR's All Things Considered for airing an in-depth interview with a Palestinian leader without 'balancing' that show with an interview with an Israeli leader. Of course, ATC aired a similar interview with an Israeli cabinet minister the previous day. As we all know, this is what partisans do. They complain about things in a vacuum, outside any long-term context to make their point. But it's our job to be critical thinkers and see their propaganda for what it is: self-interested whining with the intent of influencing the media to be more favorable to them. For a great many, the 'liberal media' canard is not a belief. It's a tactic.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The corporate media is interested in one thing and one thing alone: money.

Most people would acknowledge that media magnate Rupert Murdoch is pretty conservative. He's created right-wing propaganda machines like Fox News (sic) Channel and The Sun newspaper in Britain (the most loved paper in Liverpool, I understand). But even with Murdoch, ideology doesn't necessarily trump money.

He's famously entertained good relations with people like Tony Blair and the Clintons, people that, while hardly raving leftists, were not exactly darlings of conservatives.

Why did he do that?

Money.

He sucked up to power, even slightly left-of-center power, because he knew it was good for business. It was good for business to maintain friendly relations with those who regulate the communications sector to help push them to deregulate it... as Blair and Bill Clinton willingly did.

Yes, Murdoch's an ideologue, but first and foremost he's a businessman. Just like most of those who run the media.

But if I'm wrong, tell me why. Tell me why supposedly the overwhelming majority of capitalist media businesses are following the very uncapitalistic strategy of consciously spitting on, or at least ignoring, a huge chunk of its potential market.

Tell me how the contention that the commercial media is at least 2.5 times more liberal than the country as a whole meshes with the theories of the free market.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ignorance is only skin deep

"The curse of the human race is not that we are so different from one another, but that we are so alike." –Salman Rushdie

It is believed that humans and chimpanzees share at least 98 percent of the same DNA. Apparently it's that other 2 percent that makes chimps the more evolved animal.

The BBC reports that albinos in Tanzania are being murdered on behalf of witch doctors based on the belief that potions made from an albino's legs, hair, hands, and blood can make a person rich.

And as if to illustrate that 'enlightened' Europe isn't immune from such madness, you have the Italians. The country of Michelangelo is accused of ethnic cleansing against Roma (gypsies). The right-wing government is trying to implement a Nazi-esque fingerprinting program solely targeting that ethnic group. Many seem unperturbed by the purges, sunbathing next to Roma corpses.

Seriously... what the f--- is wrong with people?


Update: There's ignorance and then there's sheer self-absorbed callousness.

How the media is biased

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

This Associated Press commentary (it's not identified as such, but it is) asks if media coverage is favoring presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama. This essentially repeats the old 'liberal media' canard that completely misses the point.

The real bias of the mainstream media is not against Republican Sen. John McCain, or against Obama for that matter. Neither of them are anything close to transformative candidates. Maybe they would have decades ago but these days, but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would ever nominate one of those.

The real bias is against smaller party and independent candidates that defy simplistic characterization and, more dangerously, offer an iconoclastic message that might resonate with the population if reported.

This bias is manifested not by negative reporting on these candidates, but by virtually no reporting whatsoever.

Ask yourself: when was the last time you saw independent candidate Ralph Nader, Libertarian Bob Barr, Green Cynthia McKinney or any other non-corporate party candidate mentioned in a wire service news article or TV report.

And then ask yourself: how many times a day do you see McCain and Obama quoted extensively in said media?

A recent poll I saw had Ralph Nader at 6 percent and Bob Barr at 3 percent. No other non-Democrat or Republican candidates were mentioned. So I feel comfortable in saying that at least 10 percent of the voters already support a non-corporate party candidate.

Clearly, these poll numbers would be much higher if the corporate media decided to start offering a reasonable amount of coverage to these candidates.

Given that corporate media outlets are businesses, it makes you wonder why these businesses choose to blithely ignore over 10 percent of their customer base?

Oh wait, it goes back to what I said before.

Clearly, these poll numbers would be much higher if the corporate media decided to start offering a reasonable amount of coverage to these iconoclastic candidates.

Smaller party and independent candidates tend to have very little money. Who is the biggest beneficiary of the present campaign finance system of legalized bribery? The corporate media.

Where do the Democrats and Republicans spend the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign bribes they receive? On ads in the corporate media.

Who is the most vocal opponent of a sane campaign finance system? The corporate media.

Think this is nothing more than hysterical paranoia? Ask yourself this. Who is the only presidential candidate in recent history from outside the two-party duopoly to get any serious coverage from the corporate media? Ross Perot.

The same Ross Perot who had oodles of his own personal money to spend on advertising in that same corporate media.

So when the media engages in these little smokescreens about whether it's too 'liberal' or whether it favors one of the corporate party candidates, don't be distracted.

And when they offer the predictable rationalization that they ignore the smaller party candidates because the public isn't interested (a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one), don't be fooled.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Request

If you belong to the minority of motorcycle riders that has a modicum of consideration for other people within a square mile radius of your bike, I ask you, in the name of all that is holy, please get one of these.

Thank you for show a modicum of class and happy trails!

Happy birthday Madiba

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

I am remiss for neglecting to post an entry marking
the 90th birthday of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.

It's probably a little happier now that the US government has finally figured out that he is not a terrorist.

At his birthday celebration, the Nobel Peace Prize winner made remarks calling for closing the chasm between rich and poor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That fascist commie!

Sometimes a group becomes so unhinged that you're not sure whether to laugh or cry.

For example, a blogger at the conservative The National Review decided to compare Sen. Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.

Many other elements of the far right (like this guy) have compared Obama to Hitler's appeaser, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain.

Hysterical and historically inaccurate invocations of Chamberlain are the militarists' fallback position when they don't have a real argument to make, which is, of course, most of the time.

But you have to be amused (or frightened) at the intellectual dexterity of a group that can compare someone to both Hitler and Chamberlain without the slightest hint of irony.

More legalized corruption in NYS

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.


Less than a month after stepping down as majority leader of New York's Senate and less than a week after retiring from the legislature, Joe Bruno parlayed his influence as the most powerful Republican in the state into a cushy new job. The Glens Falls native has been hired as chief executive of CMA Consulting Services, a company which provides information technology to many clients... including the state of New York.

I thought the legislature passed some rule a few years ago requiring that retired legislators wait a certain amount of time before becoming a lobbyist or taking a job that otherwise does business with the state. I guess I was wrong.

Maybe he needs the money to pay for lawyers related to the ongoing FBI investigation into his business dealings.

Joe Bruno has already diverted enough of our tax dollars toward gargantuan corporate welfare giveaways and grandiose projects like a baseball stadium named after himself, I guess he wants to start putting some of it directly in his own pocket.

This sort of legalized influence peddling is precisely what helps make Albany home the most dysfunctional state legislature in the country.

Update: I neglected to mention that the other key figure in this company is the wife of the late state Sen. Ron Stafford, one of the most influential North Country legislators of the last half century and probably the only person in state history who delivered more pork than Bruno himself.

'Europe's bin Laden' arrested

I receive CNN news alerts in my email. Most of their 'breaking news' stuff is celebrity titter or vapid political chit chat of the kind that suffocates cable news. Every once in a while, though, a story comes out that truly makes my jaw drop.

The man known by some as the Bin Laden of Europe, and the world's most infamous fugitive, has been arrested. Former Bosnian Serb president and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic was detained yesterday by Serbian authorities after almost 13 years of avoiding capture.

Additionally, the man accused of being the mastermind of the worst atrocities of the 1990s Balkans' wars has reportedly been ordered by a Serbian judge to be sent to the UN tribunal in The Hague.

According to the BBC, Karadzic was practising alternative medicine and living in Serbia's capital, Belgrade and was sporting what one Serb official called a "very convincing disguise".

Whether this is true or just an excuse for why he was free for so long, the fact remains that Karadzic's arrest is one of the most significant steps forward for the nascent international justice system, especially in the wake of the indictments recently handed out against Sudan's dictator. Just as importantly, it is vindication for Karadzic's many victims.

It is also an important step by the Serbian state that had faced years of international criticism for not aggressively pursuing Karadzic and his military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic (who remains free and an indicted war criminal). It is noteworthy that Karadzic was arrested not by UN forces but by the Serbian security forces.

It is a courageous move by Serbian president Boris Tadic, especially considering the fate of his friend and predecessor. Then-prime minister Zoran Djindic was assassinated after sending Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Amateur hour

I've written before about amateur hour over at the building on Cooper and Lawrence Streets in Glens Falls, but The Post-Star's blunders keep on coming. There are times when I wonder if there are copy editors at the paper or if the journalists' work just gets published without being looked at by another set of eyes.

From a report about a local college league baseball game:

It was the kind of moment Glens Falls Golden Eagles left fielder Jonathan White has always dreamed of: his team down a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the bases loaded.

Every instinct in his body was screaming to go for the deep bomb -- two high foul tips into the bleachers showed that.
But sometimes in the game of baseball, not swinging the bat can be just as powerful.

Facing a full count, White allowed the final pitch to blow by for the fourth ball and the win.


It may not this player's dream to score two runs with a walk, but it's pretty darned impressive feat.

Too bad that it's also impossible.

Then you have this piece on the case of the missing local boy Jaliek Rainwalker.

The subtitle: Maternal grandmother pleads not guilty after arrest

The first line of the story: The adoptive grandmother of Jaliek Rainwalker was charged with burglary Tuesday for going into the missing boy's home last week without permission.

So is this woman the maternal or adoptive grandmother of the boy?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Localism is the way to go

Last night, Crandall Public Library and Red Fox Books (along with goodies provided by Rock Hill Bakehouse) hosted an interesting talk with author Bill McKibben.

The author, who lives in Vermont and the Adirondacks, spoke about his new book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.

McKibben talked about how global climate change and increasing strain on resources is going to require the economy, both in the US and worldwide, to regain a more local emphasis. The massive scales of production that have driven economic growth especially in the last half century is more and more unsustainable. He cited the rise of the localism movement as an example of the sort of paradigm shift that's going to be required on a much larger scale.

He said that while smaller actions, like changing light bulbs, carry a useful symbolism, fighting climate change before it's too late for humans will require a concerted governmental effort. And he opined that it was necessary to build a mass popular movement to force that governmental action. McKibben highlighted the website 350.org as part of a way to build that grassroots movement.

Interestingly, the author pointed out that while the percentage of Americans who described themselves as 'happy' peaked in 1956. The standard of living has increased significantly in that time, at least by the traditional economics-only measurements, so this illustrates just how much we've degraded our environment to achieve it. More stuff, less enjoyment. Unlivable cities and unsustainable suburbs aren't a good combination.


Updates: In related stories, a Los Angeles Times' op-ed wonders if California's water crisis will lead to the end of the its ubiquitous sprawl and, by extension, what has become the state's way of life.

Matt's Biased Commentary blog offers a link to recipes that can be made with stuff from your local farmers' market.

The Albany
Times-Union has a story on the increasing commutes in New York's Capital District and the effects it's having on locals. This is part of the daily's series on the area's suburban sprawl.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The dingbat of the week award goes to...

... North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole for trying to name an HIV-AIDS relief bill after her predecessor, the late Jesse Helms.

Bear in mind, this was the same progressive-minded Sen. Helms who uttered such pearls of wisdom as "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy" and who opposed re-funding of an anti-AIDS program because they got sick via their "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct."

The "revolting conduct" committed by the 12 year old boy after whom the program was named was receiving a tainted blood transfusion.

This is the paragon of progressive thinking on AIDS that Sen. Dole wants to honor.

Then again, in a world where George W. Bush can be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The non-political entry

TRIPPING
I was just tabbing up my bike usage and I've biked 1553 (excluding the last two days) in the last almost 13 months. That works out to about 5 miles a day which actually seems low but then you figure that it takes into account the several months of winter during which even when I do bike, it's minimal. During the good weather season, it works out to 7-8 miles a day typically.

Perhaps more interestingly is that I've biked during 311 of the last 384 days. The 73 non-biking days (about 19 percent) is pretty good considering that it takes into account both the notoriously harsh upstate NY winters and rainy days.

***

NO WONDER THE FORESTS ARE DISAPPEARING
I work at a media company. There is so much paper wasted, it's unreal. A sports channel will basically waste 300 pages of paper and countless printer ink to say what I can summarize in one sentence: "Will air our sports news program every half hour all summer."

**

STEVE JOBS CAN LICK MY APPLES
I no longer have an iPhone. I was talking with a colleague of mine about my intention to get the new 3G iPhone when it came out. Not necessarily the instant it came out but shortly thereafter. He said he'd buy the old one off me.

There was a catch.

The new iPhone came out last Friday. He went on vacation last Wednesday. He badly wanted the iPhone to bring with him on his trip. He proposed lending me his girlfriend's phone for the few days until I got the new iPhone. Against my better judgment, I accepted. I had a gut feeling that it wasn't a good idea. Maybe I should've listened.

I got to the AT&T store at 9:30 on Friday. The place opened at 8:00 but I figured the line would be shorter at 9:30. By 10:00, they were sold out of their stock. The best part is that they had no idea when they were going to get more.

On Sunday, I went there again to try to see if they had a better idea of what was going on. They said the store would probably get another shipment "at some point" this week. But they added that they didn't think they'd last very long given all the phone calls they'd received about it.

They said if I wanted, I could special order one. This would guarantee me an iPhone... but it would take 3 weeks to fulfill... and I couldn't cancel the special order if a sufficient regular shipment came into the store.

In other circumstances, this would be a minor annoyance, not a big problem. Normally, I could just wait the few weeks. I'm not one of those guys who HAS to have every new toy the second it comes out.

But I'm using a borrowed cell phone. I'm sure my friend's girlfriend would want it back when they got back from vacation, not at some indeterminate point in the future.

The other, more serious problem is that, for whatever reason, I can't access my contacts or my calendar on it. I'd have to re-input them all on to the phone, which I'm loathe to do since it's a borrowed cell phone.

This is even more problematic since, again, I have absolutely no clue when I'd be able to get a new iPhone.

In fact, I even called every single AT&T store within a 50 mile radius on Friday afternoon and they were all out. The only exception was the Apple store in a mall in Albany but by Saturday morning (the earliest I could've gotten down there), they too were out. Again, none of them had a definitive idea when they were going to get more... or how many.

I decided to say screw it and ordered another phone instead.

It doesn't have the "cool" factor of the iPhone but it does most of the key stuff I need it and some other things I want that the iPhone doesn't. I would've preferred to stay with the iPhone but I was so pissed off at Apple and I didn't want to remain in limbo for who knows how long.

I love Apple as a concept. I love the edginess and their think outside the box mentality. But they also have a tendency to do so real dumbass things... things that make me think thrice about getting an Apple computer. And their idea of customer service makes the airlines look like paradise.

Apple is so maniacally proprietary that they often ending up shooting themselves in the foot. Their refusal to let anyone else work with the operating system is what led to the vastly inferior Microsoft Windows/PC model to become the dominant player in the computing arena and really made Apple almost irrelevant until the release of the iPod.

On a smaller level, the headphone jack for the original iPhone was slightly different than a regular jack, such that regular headphones would not work in it without an adapter.

Apple released the iPhone is something like 77 countries around the world at the same time AND released a major update for existing iPhone users... and were shocked (SHOCKED) that the iTunes server crashed almost immediately.

That combined with ridiculously low stocks for a product they had hyped massively and knew was going to be ridiculously popular is yet another example of piss poor planning on Apple's part.

And it cost them at least one customer.

Though I'm sure their too cool to care.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nader on domestic spying

If you support a progressive agenda, then support a progressive candidate.

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader gives his opinion on the Democratic Senate's approval of immunity for illegal activity committed by telecommunications companies and the expansion of domestic spying. Sen. Barack Obama supported this unconstitutional legislation.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Shocker! Gays don't undermine military cohesion

In one of the less shocking stories to people with a bit of common sense, a new study reveals that the presence of openly gay members of the armed forces do not undermine unit cohesion.

One of the most common arguments against allowing gays in the military is that heterosexual soldiers who brave roadside bombs and snipers would be afraid to share a common shower with gay GIs.

However, the study, conducted by four high-ranking military officers, concluded that, "Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline or cohesion."

It pointed to the presence of gays in the Israeli and British militaries, which have no effect on unit cohesion in those armed forces.

An officer interviewed for a 60 Minutes piece on the topic summed it up nicely.

Referring to a sergeant who told his entire chain of command of his sexual orientation, to the general disinterest of the brass, one officer explained: "[The sergeant] is in a critical field. He's a medic….his commander needs him. He's a known quantity….He goes above and beyond. Why do I want to lose [him]?"

The officers were pragmatic. They realized that in life and death sitautions, the most important thing about this soldier was his competence at his job, not the objects of his secret fantasies.

Eventually, the sergeant was fired for his sexual orientation. Hopefully this study will pave the way for common sense to prevail.

If American civilization is truly under threat by the supposed 'Evil doers,' then shouldn't we want to involve everyone possible in protecting it?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bush’s new climate change policy

“Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter” –Pres. Bush (source)


I suppose the only saving grace is that the rest of the world takes him about as seriously as most Americans don’t.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Climate change threatens melt the chocolate industry

The impact of global climate change as accelerated by human activity was the topic of recent scientific conference in the small northern New York village of Tupper Lake.

While scientists discussed how to address this serious problem, lame duck President Bush travelled abroad to pooh-pooh the issue yet again.

Bush re-stated his obstructionism that he believes fighting climate change is a great idea, but nobody should do anything until every nation agrees on every last detail. The US won't cut its emissions until Vanautu and Lesotho do the same.

He also framed the argument in a typical false dichotomy between environmental sanity and economic growth.

Non-ideologues around the world, people who actually have to make a living on their own, know that there is no contradiction between the two. They know that if the environment is degraded, making a living is much more difficult. Living itself is more difficult.

The current climate change crisis has rapidly increased desertification in Africa in the last few decades. The decrease in rainfall and resulting desertification has significantly reduced the amount of farmland available in the West African Sahel region. Not surprisingly, nearly the food emergencies in Africa caused by 'natural' phenomena are in the Sahel.

The unnaturally rapid climate change has also caused a major increase in deforestation on the continent. This causes erosion and other physical damage which makes growing crops more difficult. It also eliminates food sources like fruit-bearing trees and meat from the animals that live in the forest.

But if you think climate change's impact comes no closer than the African jungle, you're mistaken.

Warmer winters are already starting to hinder maple production in upstate New York and Vermont. It also risks hurting winter tourism. These are two of the most important motors in the economic of those rural regions.

And if none of this convinces you, then consider this.

According to the corporations themselves (whose only rigid ideology is that of self-interest), one of the greatest threats to global cocoa corps and to the chocolate industry itself is none other than the unnaturally rapid rate of climate change.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Abusing the generosity of Americans

The next time you consider answering some telemarketer's tear-inducing sales pitch on behalf of missing children or three-legged puppies, consider this.

The Los Angeles Times ran a revealing exposé on the professional fundraising industry.

In more than 5,800 campaigns on behalf of charities that were registered with the [California] state attorney general from 1997 to 2006, the fundraisers reported taking in $2.6 billion. They kept nearly $1.4 billion -- about 54 cents of every dollar raised.

Take Citizens Against Government Waste, which bills itself as '#1 taxpayer watchdog.' The Times reported that fundraisers kept 94 cents of every dollar it raised 'on behalf' of the organization.

Most gallingly to many donors is likely the revelation that Groups with strong emotional or patriotic appeal -- those supporting animals, children, veterans and public safety workers, for instance -- often fared worst. Missing-children charities received less than 15% of more than $28 million raised on their behalf.

But many non-profits are not enitrely blameless. The paper noted that many charities apparently entered into contracts that limited their share of donations to 20% or less, no matter how successful the campaign.

If the telemarketer's pitch truly compels you, it's probably better to go directly to the charity's website and make an online donation or send them a check directly.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Quote of the week

Not a new quote but one I just discovered.

"The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights." -Hubert Humphrey at the 1948 Democratic National Convention.

Friday, July 04, 2008

"Our country, wrong or right. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."

"Every generation needs a new revolution." -Thomas Jefferson

Today is the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the US Declaration of Independence.

Naturally, the day lends itself to musings on the nature of patriotism. My idea of patriotism is based on the quote by 19th century Missouri Sen. Carl Schurz.

Schurz's comment is often misattributed as, "Our country, wrong or right."

This truncated version is not only deceptive, but censorious. This version is designed to shut people up, to intimidate people into passively acquiescing to the Leader's commands.

This is the polar opposite of the spirit of the the people who founded this country.

Schurz's actual comment is much more in line with traditional American values.

"Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."

My idea of patriotism isn't based on the empty symbolism of wearing a flag pin or the mindless mouthing a pledge.

My idea of patriotism is based on always trying to make my country better. To work to fix its flaws, rather than passively accept them under the guise that 'this is the greatest country in the world.'

If the US is indeed the greatest country in the world, it's because of the tireless work of real patriots who've spent their lives trying to make it better, never resting on their or our laurels.

Greatness is not pre-ordained. It's achieved through hard work. And it's maintained through hard work.

This is why our Constitution expressed goal is 'to create a more perfect Union.' The Founders acknowledged that we will never achieve a perfect Union, but required that we constantly strive toward that goal.

Today, Americans celebrate a document issued by a band of dissenters revolting against the arbitrary exercise of imperial absolute power by a head of state who felt he answered to no authority lower than God.

Dissent and disobedience not unpatriotic. Quite the opposite. Without it, Americans would still be singing God Save the Queen.

In that spirit, I publish the document text in its entirety. Read carefully and see if any of these complaints are still valid today.


When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and, when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them, and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining, in the mean time, exposed to all the dangers of invasions from without and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution and unacknowledged by our laws, giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;

For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;

For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

For transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offenses;

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies;

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow-citizens, taken captive on the high seas, to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrection among us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them, from time to time, of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity; and we have conjured them, by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation, and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More bits and pieces

Occasional series of essays linking to stories interesting in their own right but for which I don’t have time to devote individual essays…

-WESTERN CANADIAN GANGSTERS. In a couple of different places recently, I’ve heard/read about how organized crime has taken a chokehold on life in a most unlikely place: the western Canadian province of British Columbia. In fact, the marijuana trade already represents 5 percent of the province’s entire economy. The Canadian weekly Maclean’s has a long exposé on the influence of organized crime in BC.

-WELCOME TO THE 20TH CENTURY. NPR reports on a high school in Mississippi that held its first interracial prom… just a few months ago.

-SORRY SEEMS TO BE THE HAREST WORD. After Australia’s example, Canada became the latest western country to apologize to its native people for that whole genocide thing. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently stood on the floor of the House of Commons and apologized for the past policies of ethnic cleansing against aboriginal people which "has caused great harm, and has no place in [his] country." Five aboriginal leaders also addressed Parliament. Will President Obama be next?

-THE OBSTRUCTIONIST. Albany is a very different place than it was only a year ago. Combative governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace. The equally feisty Joe Bruno resigned after 12 years in charge of the Senate’s rapidly shrinking Republican majority. The only person left from the infamous three men in a room is Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. A recent piece in New York magazine wonders if Silver is ‘the master of passive-aggressive politics, or the guy who keeps bad things from happening to good people.’ The title of the piece is ‘The Obstructionist,’ so you can probably figure out the conclusion.

-THE WORLD’S MOST LIVABLE CITIES. The International Herald Tribune ran a list of the world’s most livable cities. Given America’s obsession with sprawl and the automobile, it’s not surprising that no city in the continental US made the top 20. Montreal, Vancouver and Honolulu were the only North American cities in the top 20. It also ran a useful piece on examples of good urban design, for the benefit of people that actually care about such things. Though apparently things are going in the right direction in San Diego.

-MASS TRANSIT ON THE UP? One of the things the livable cities have is good public transportation, which is why few North American cities rate highly. But as The New York Times reports, the relatively high price of gas in the US is pushing mayors to invest more in mass transit.

-OBAMA AND THE SCAM. Ethanol is now largely discredited. Especially since it takes more energy to produce than burning it releases. So it’s not a good harbinger of strong future energy policy based on renewable resources to learn that Sen. Barack Obama is closely linked with the scam that is ethanol.

-OUR LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE. In case you’re not depressed enough, Alternet has a reminder of the ten worst moments of the Bush reign.

-WILL UNITED SPAIN REIGN? Fans of the Beautiful Game were overjoyed to see stylish Spain win the 2008 European Championship over more pedestrian and/or negative outfits like Italy, Germany and France. Quite often, success is soccer leads observers to wax eloquent about the sport’s power to bring people together. Multiethnic France’s win in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 and divided Côte d’Ivoire’s run to the 2006 African Nations Cup final and World Cup are examples. However, Victor de la Serna of The Guardian warns not to expect the Spanish national team’s victory to have too dramatic an effect on the regional separatism that’s long plagued the country.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Coup attempt in Turkey?

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling 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 besides fake debates over fake patriotism.

With most of the global media attention on the crisis in Zimbabwe, here’s a big story that seems to be flying under the international media radar.

Foreign Policy’s blog reports an apparent attempted coup in Turkey. Police have arrested two dozen people in an alleged coup plot, including two retired generals and the head of the capital’s chamber of commerce.

More sensationally, prosecutors are trying to shut down the ruling AKP party on the grounds that the prime minister is trying to establish an Islamic state, a no-no for a country founded by the staunchly secular Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Although this bears resemblance to a similar, stealthy military intervention in politics in 1997, FP observes a big difference: the AKP has been a smashing success -- it has modernized the economy, enacted dozens of political reforms, and is hugely popular at the ballot box.