Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to improve baseball

It's no secret that baseball, once THE national sport, has slipped dramatically in popularity in recent decades. This is due partly to the equally dramatic rise in popularity of NFL Throwball, saturation coverage of which asphyxiates coverage of everything else. But Major League Baseball's (MLB) wounds are largely self-inflicted.

Some people complain that MLB's wage structure makes it uncompetitive. The success in recent years of low-budget teams like Colorado and Tampa Bay shows that a properly managed club can win. Similarly, the spectacular failure of high budget teams like the Yankees and Mets shows that money is no guarantee of success. Of the 10 teams with the highest wage bill this year, only half made the playoffs. And despite this complaint, which is more conventional wisdom than backed up by the facts, baseball remains one of the most unpredictable leagues. The last nine seasons including this one will see eight different teams win the World Series. The last 11 National League pennants have been won by 10 different teams.

But MLB's biggest problems are elsewhere.

1) Shorten the games. This can be done without fundamentally changing the game. All that needs to happen is for MLB to adopt the amateur baseball rule whereby a batter is not allowed to step out of the batter's box after a caught pitch. Baseball games take forever. Playoff games even more so. I can't watch a baseball game on TV from start to finish any more. I flip to other channels and then back to the game. If a game's going to last four and a half hours, it ought to be because there's a lot of action, not because players waste half of it standing around picking at various body parts. Baseball is renown for its "deliberative" nature. But there's a fine line between "deliberative" and "interminable." Spending 40 seconds watching a batter step out of the box, readjust both batting gloves, readjust his helmet, readjust his crotch, spit on the ground, rub his hands with dirt and amble back into the box isn't especially appealing to me. And it's even less appealing at 11:52 PM on a work night of a game that still has several innings to go. Just get on with it already!

2) Call the strike zone as the rule book says. The strike zone is supposed to be from the letters to the knees. Most umpires have a strike zone that runs roughly from the top of the belt buckle to the bottom of the belt buckle. A larger strike zone makes players swing the bat, which is what people want to see. Fans won't mind the length of game time if they're watching actual action. Ever watch college or Little League games? Umps call strikes. Batters swing the bat. Action occurs.

3) Start playoff games at 7:00 or 7:30 PM eastern time. This, combined with the game shortening changes listed above, will make it so that games get over at a not totally ludicrous hour. The most important games of the season, the games that MLB wants the public to care about most, are ending after midnight ET and later on work and school nights. I think one of the Tampa Bay-Boston games ended at like 12:40 am... and that was for a 9-inning contest! And MLB's braintrust is absolutely mystified why both ratings and interest keep falling. DUH! Yes, such a start time might make it so fans in the western time zones miss the first few innings. But I'd rather miss the first few innings than the last few innings. If you want fans to care about your game, make it so as many as possible can see the most gripping moments.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The price of a woman? $500

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 outside the US, IsraelStine, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

In what will hopefully be a landmark decision, a West African court ruled that the Republic of Niger failed to protect a woman from being sold into slavery when she was 12 years old.

The Community Court of Justice, the judicial body of the West African regional organization ECOWAS, ordered the Niger government to pay close to $20,000 in damages to Hadijatou Mani, who is now 24.

Slavery wasn't officially outlawed in Niger until 2003, but remains a problem there and in nearby West African countries like Mali and Mauritania.

As The New York Times reported:

Ms. Mani’s experience was typical of the practice. She was born into a traditional slave class and sold to Souleymane Naroua when she was 12 for about $500.

Ms. Mani told court officials that Mr. Naroua had forced her to work his fields for a decade. She also claimed that he raped her repeatedly over the years.

"I was beaten so many times I would run back to my family," she told the BBC. "Then after a day or two I would be brought back."

[...]

She had initially sought protection under Niger’s laws. In 2005, Mr. Naroua gave her a certificate freeing her, but when she tried to get married he claimed that she was already married to him.


Some observers have compared Ms. Mani to Rosa Parks. This is probably an understatement. It's difficult to imagine how much courage it took for her to bring the case in an extremely conservative society by challenging traditional practices that have been going on for generations.

The Niger government said it would respect the court's decision.


Also see:
-Anti-Slavery International
-Free the Slaves
-UN information of human trafficking

Sunday, October 26, 2008

'The last man'

To any soccer fans who might be reading this: If you are going to comment on the sport, especially if you're doing so a broadcaster, here's a little tip.

LEARN THE BLOODY RULES!

The Laws of the Game can be found here.

Read them before spouting off.

I realize that some, like the offside rule, are ridiculously complicated. But the overwhelming majority of rules are very straight forward.

According to Law 12, you can be sent off (red carded) for 'denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity... by an offense punishable by a free kick or penalty kick.'

The phrase 'last man' appears no where.

I don't know how many times I've heard some ignorant commentator ranting hysterically that a player wasn't the last man and therefore didn't deserve to be red carded for his foul.

It's not surprising that the phrase 'ignorant' and 'ranting hysterically' often go together. And such stupidity is as likely to come from an English commentator as an American one.

But if you're not going to learn the rules, then you should STFU.

And you should certainly pass your broadcasting responsibilities to someone who actually knows what they're talking about.

Whether a player was the last man has no bearing in and of itself on whether that player deserves to be sent off.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Voting guide

Since the corporate media is waging its usual blackout of non-corporate candidates, here are links to the websites of all the smaller party and independent presidential candidates who are on New York state's ballot.

Ralph Nader (independent): votenader.org
Cynthia McKinney (Green): mckinney2008.com
Roger Calero (Socialist Workers): themilitant.com
Gloria La Riva (Socialism and Liberation): pslweb.org
Bob Barr (Libertarian): bobbarr2008.com

I post the websites because it's about the only place you'll find information on them, thanks to the negligent media.

Actually, I'm not sure negligent is the right word. That implies a disservice that's unintentional.

There has also been virtually no media coverage of the race for three state Supreme Court justices for northern New York. Unfortunately it's too late for me, as I mailed out my absentee ballot a few days ago.

But the Plattsburgh Press-Republican has a useful piece, what might be the only piece, on the candidates.


Update: NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday has run interviews with many of these candidates. Granted, one 5-minute or so interview per candidate is negligible compared to the gargantuan amount of free air time they've given to Obama and McCain. Still, the token NPR coverage is negligibly better than just about another other major media outlet.

NPR's interviews with...
-Ralph Nader
-Cynthia McKinney
-Bob Barr
-Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Media lemmings

Some conservatives like to whine about how 'liberal' the news media is. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Such complaining has always seemed more a tactic than a real belief. A tactic designed to bully the media into being more conservative in order to appease them. Unfortunately, liberals, seeing the success of the conservative intimidation campaign, started adopting the same tactics a few years ago. This all misses the point.

In my opinion, the news media isn't liberal (or conservative). It's corporate, which means its objective is to maximize profit and it does so by minimizing risk. Minimizing risk like being so neutral and milquetoast and superficial. This is done because when you do real reporting, you're likely piss someone off. If the media really were overwhelmingly liberal, it would go out of business because a generally centrist country wouldn't have enough demand to support an overwhelmingly liberal news media.

It's this superficiality that leads the media to focus on trivialities like lipstick and other forms of makeup and on the 'horse race' aspect of the irrelevant polls (ie: all of them except the one conducted on Nov. 4) instead of covering, for example, the real issues raised by the so-called 'third party' candidates who provide the real alternatives in this election.

A great example of this superficiality can be seen in the breaking news alerts for ABC News and CNN to which I subscribe. I've lost track of how many I've received with garbage about OJ Simpson or drunk driving Hollywood actors or an update on the latest 'missing random, photogenic, upper middle class white girl of the week' saga.

Take this one I just received a few minutes ago:

Elisabeth Hasselbeck of 'The View' Invited by Sarah Palin to Appear at Two Weekend Rallies

Does ABC really need to clutter my inbox with this crap?

I subscribe to the NEWS alerts of these channels. For the three people who actually care who Elisabeth Hasselbeck or any other celebrity is campaigning for, put it on the Entertainment alerts!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hiatus... sort of

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

As habitual readers will have noticed, postings here have become less regular in recent weeks. I broke my ankle earlier this month and it's difficult to sit at a desk for the period of time required to research and write the essays published here. Hopefully within a month to six weeks, I'll be back to publishing my regular essays. Until then, postings will be sporadic.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Are we civilized or not?

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

I was interested to see that Gen. Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president. A BBC report on the story interviewed one McCain supporter contemptuously dismissing the endorsement because "Powell was a moderate."

Perish the thought!

Perhaps the former secretary of state feels this is part of his penance for complicity in the Iraq Aggression, when he was the main mouthpiece for Cheney's and Bush's deceit. A mouthpiece whose utterings were made all the more credible precisely because he was the only respected senior figure in that administration.

As a moderate with a preference for diplomacy and multilateralism, he fit uneasily into the extremist Bush administration. Contrary to popular belief, there are moderates and multilateralists within the Republican Party. Susan Collins, Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel come to mind. However, their influence inside the national party has dwindled to almost nil. Some Americans believe that we are part of the world. The corporate militaristic cabal running the national Republican Party wants us believe that we are apart from the world.

While the moderate Powell may have little influence within the immoderate national party, his endorsement is likely to hold some sway with undecided moderate Republicans uneasy with divisionism and hatemongering, as well as conservative Democrats and the independents and smaller party voters who make up around a third of the electorate.

I still fault Powell for his complicity in help launch the most disastrous US foreign policy decision and one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. I feel he should have kept his honor and resign rather than promote a course of action which, I'm sure, he knew in his bones would be tragic for America and even more so for Iraq.

His endorsement of Obama, who isn't quite a True Believer in the Gospel of Permanent War, isn't nothing, but it's too little, too late for the former secretary of state's reputation.

But Powell did do one thing for which he deserves enormous credit. Not the endorsement of Obama but his denunciation of the bigotry that has been whipped up by so many of McCain's supporters. There is the far right whispering campaign spreading the lie that Obama is secretly a Muslim. Powell took head on not only the libelous nature of the accusation but more importantly, the defamatory nature of its implication.

"[Obama's] always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, 'What if he is [a Muslim]?' Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?"

Good for Powell.

There's been plenty of hatemongering whipped up by the far right in this campaign. In addition to the religious bigotry inherent in the "Obama's a Muslim" smear, you also have bad old-fashioned racism.

Bill O'Reilly and Pat Buchanan dismissed Powell's endorsement not because Powell's a moderate, a line which you might expect from the extremist yapping heads. They dismissed his endorsement because Powell was black.

I suppose the only solace is that as the hatemongering has increased, McCain's poll numbers have fallen.

For years, Republicans portrayed Powell as a true American hero. Especially when he was a shill for Bush's Aggression. But now that he's endorsed a Democrat, they've changed their tune.

Not that anyone should be surprised.

The McCain campaign and a good chunk of its supporters seem to believe (or at least want you believe) not just that Obama is wrong on the issues. They want you to believe that he's un-American, that he's a terrorist, that he wants America to implode, that he wants to hand the keys to the White House to bin Laden.

And to them, this applies not just to Obama but to his supporters too. The left-of-center doesn't belong the 'real America' that Sarah Palin said she was happy to be a part of. The 'real America' votes Republican, or at least conservative.

This faction views enemies everywhere. Not just political opponents, but enemies. They view the half or so of the country that will vote for Obama or another left-of-center candidate not just as misguided, but as traitors to America.

It is for this reason, more than any other, that you should not vote for them in November.

There are many decent people who have decent reasons for supporting McCain. But this sentiment being whipped up is extremely dangerous for our democracy, even if it's a minority of the pro-McCain crowd.

American civilization can not survive if half the country is demonized as traitors simply because of who they support politically. If you think otherwise, just ask people in Kenya or Cote d'Ivoire how that worked out for them.

I may not be an Obama supporter but the extreme right is extremely wrong. We are all American.

How can you claim to love America if you hate half of it?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

No class warfare? Sorry, too late

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



"America didn't become the greatest nation on Earth by spreading the wealth." -St. John, mocking Barack Obama... both of whom voted to give $700 billion in taxpayers' wealth to Wall Street. The bailout is an example of wealth redistribution in the wrong direction.

Some whine about 'class warfare' any time a progressive politician notes the fact of structural economic unfairness. But how does wealth redistribution like the Wall Street bailout constitute anything else than class warfare against the working class?

In the view of too many Americans, welfare to help out poor people is evil socialism but welfare to help out big corporations is 'economic development.'

Individuals who screw up are 'irresponsible' and should rot in hell. Corporations who screw up deserve gargantuan sums of my money.

Parents and their kids who may be victims of unfortunate circumstances should go hungry or homeless rather than receive a few thousand tax dollars. However, corporations who make reckless decisions deserve hundreds of billions of tax dollars.

These are the positions of both St. John and the GOP as well as Obama and the Corporate Democrats.

No class warfare?

Too late.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On Obama and the Corporate Democrats

Here are some thoughts from Nader/Gonzalez on Barack Obama and the Corporate Democrats. Obama is probably the most appealing presidential candidate the Dems have nominated in a quarter century. The fact that Obama can have all of these flaws on core issues (I'm not talking perfection here, but issues that go to the heart of the progressive agenda) and still be the best choice the Dems put forward in two and a half decades shows how irredeemable the party is. Vote for a smaller party or independent candidate this November.



Fascism, like socialism, is rooted in a market society that refused to function.

A financial system always devolves, without heavy government control, into a Mafia capitalism -- and a Mafia political system.

A self-regulating market turns human beings and the natural environment into commodities, a situation that ensures the destruction of both society and the natural environment.

Who is this speaking?
It is the Hungarian intellectual Karl Polanyi, author of the influential book The Great Transformation (1944).

Polanyi fled fascist Europe in 1933 and eventually taught at Columbia University.

Remembering Polanyi, former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges writes today:

"I place no hope in Obama or the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is a pathetic example of liberal, bourgeois impotence, hypocrisy and complacency. It has been bought off. I will vote, if only as a form of protest against our corporate state and an homage to Polanyi's brilliance, for Ralph Nader. I would like to offer hope, but it is more important to be a realist. No ethic or act of resistance is worth anything if it is not based on the real. And the real, I am afraid, does not look good."

We live in difficult times.

But one man has shown the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the corporate state -- Ralph Nader.

For most of this year, Ralph has been barnstorming across the country -- bringing a message of hope and resilience to a troubled America.

And now it's time to step up and support Ralph Nader and the shift the power platform he has gifted to the American people.


and

[O]n three key issues [Tuesday night] -- energy, health insurance, corporate crime -- Obama stood with the corporations against the interests of the American people.

Compare Nader to Obama.

Last night, McCain challenged Obama.

Tell me one time you have stood up to the leaders of your party, McCain said.

Obama couldn't name one time when he stood up to the corporations that control his party.

So, instead he named a couple of times when he stood with the corporations.

And against the interests of the American people.

I voted for tort reform, Obama said.

Wow!

Brave of you Barack.

You stood with the National Association of Manufacturers against injured people.

I support clean coal technology, Obama said.

Wow Barack, you stood with the polluting coal industry against people who suffer the consequences.

When McCain accused Obama of supporting a single payer, Canadian style national health insurance system, Obama said he didn't.

And he doesn't.

Despite the fact that a majority of doctors, nurses and the American people want it.

On national health insurance, Obama stands with the insurance industry and against the American people who are demanding single payer.

Over 5,000 U.S. physicians have signed an open letter calling on the candidates for president and Congress "to stand up for the health of the American people and implement a nonprofit, single-payer national health insurance system."

Obama says no.

McCain says no.

Nader/Gonzalez says yes.

Yes to single payer.

Yes to solar and no to coal.

Yes to protecting the American people from corporate recklessness and
crime, no to tort deform.

So, donate $3 to the candidacy that is not on the debate stage.

But that is right on the issues.

Nader/Gonzalez.

Today, while Obama fronts for his corporate donors, Ralph Nader, Matt Gonzalez and the Nader Team will be on Wall Street protesting
corporate America's sustained orgy of excess and reckless behavior.

Nader/Gonzalez continues to stand with the people.

Against the corporate criminals and their candidates in the two major parties.


For more: votenader.org

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ralph Nader in Albany tonight; real debates when?

Matt Funiciello reports that independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader will be in Albany tonight.

Corporate mainstream media is NOT doing its job to report the news!

Have they told us there will be SIX viable presidential candidates on the NYS ballot this November?

Have they told us that one of them, Ralph Nader, will be speaking at The Egg in Albany tonight?

Did you know that you don't have to accept the two corporate choices American media is force feeding us?

Did you know that Ralph Nader was against the bailouts and is against corporate welfare?

Did you know that he is an absolute supporter of Single-Payer Health Care?

Did you know he will get our soldiers and our corporations out of Iraq starting on Day One?

Did you know that he is for alternative and sustainable energy (solar and wind, not "clean coal" or "safe nukes")?

Did you know that he's on the ballot in 45 states and is being equally virtually ignored by all media (Fox, Clear Channel, PBS, NPR & the N.Y. Times alike)?

Did you know that the polling organization whose job it is to shut independents out of the "debates" recently admitted this is done arbitrarily?

Did you know that we can celebrate democracy by taking it into our own hands?

Come see a real American citizen in Albany tonight! See you there!

Thurs. Oct. 16th, 7:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
The Egg - Empire State Plaza (Albany NY)
Suggested Contribution: $10/$5 students


Contact: Matt Funiciello
(518) 793-0075



Also, I noticed that yesterday, C-SPAN had an interview with George Farah, head of a non-partisan organization called Open Debates. Open Debates wants to replace the corporate-funded, two-party Duopoly controlled and anti-democratic Commission on Presidential Debates with a structure that will present the American citizenry with more points of view than the 1 1/3 they are force fed under the present closed system. Perhaps once a true diversity of voices are permitted into the debates, then they will actually become debates rather than mere regurgitations of well-worn soundbytes.

Sadly, useful but marginal media outlets like C-SPAN are about the only places you'll be exposed to points of view like those of Ralph Nader and pro-democracy advocates.

Yapping/texting while driving: just like being drunk

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

As a biker and walker (not so much recently since the broken ankle), I can say that cell phones are the biggest plague on the road today. I don't know how many times I've almost been hit by some idiot flapping their gums or, worse yet, texting (sending text messages) while driving. I was actually run off the road a few months ago by such a moron.

Texting and yapping on your cell phone are both illegal here in New York state, but of course people do it anyway. I believe it's legal to use hands-free devices in New York, but they are just as dangerous, according to scientists interviewed in NPR report.

The scientific research discussed in the report confirms my anecdotal observations as a very exposed part of the road.

As one researcher put it, "If you're driving while cell-phoning, then your performance is going to be as poor as if you were legally drunk."

This conclusion isn't new but it bears repeating.

Driving while yapping/texting is a lot like driving drunk in another way: everyone thinks that they are talented/disciplined/focused enough to do it safely.

Yet the research shows that people who are distracted by their cell phone are four times more likely to get into an accident than people who aren't. Apparently a lot fewer people are Superman than they think.

The NPR report used pianists to demonstrate how the concept of efficient multitasking is a myth.

Yapping/texting while driving is more dangerous than other distractions because while some drivers may fiddle with their radio or iPod, they do so for a few seconds at a time, rather than several minutes non-stop. Figuring out which song you like or taking a gulp of coffee also doesn't require the brainpower needed to follow a conversation.

As the report explains, there is a reason yapping on your phone (hands-free or not) is more dangerous than chatting with a passenger sitting next to you. The passenger sees you and sees the road and is thus more likely to shut up if he sees something that requires your concentration or that you're focused or agitated. People on the other end of your cell phone can't see those visual cues.

So if you want to yap or text on your cell phone, just pull over to the side of the road. And be warned: the next person who runs me off the road because of such stupid self-indulgence is going to have his license plate reported to the county sheriff.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cut the budget or the corporate welfare?

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

I've been a big fan of the way David Paterson has tried to run New York since becoming the Accidental Governor. He recognizes that the state is facing a serious budget crisis and that the state has to fundamentally change the way it does things. He understands and is trying to make legislators accept that irresponsible spending habits have contributed to what was a state budget crisis even before the collapse of Wall Street. He's lectured repeatedly and, astonishingly, to great public approval, on the need for austerity. He understands that the status quo is unacceptable.

Or at least I thought he did.

Just days after saying he'd seek a further $2 billion in cuts to the existing state budget, Paterson has said that Albany can afford to waste $1.2 billion in subsidy handouts to Advanced Micro Devices, in possibly the largest corporate welfare scheme in state history.

I am disappointed beyond words in Paterson. He'd appeared to show courage in standing up to both public sector unions and the business lobby in pushing for across the board cuts. But when it came to one of the most obvious cuts of all, gargantuan, no strings attached handouts, he reverted back to the bad old habits.

Shame on him.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bush's fraud, America's shame

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

It shouldn't surprise anyone that President Bush's so-called Freedom Agenda has proven to be a massive fraud. It was pretty obvious even when it was being enunciated that it was nothing more than a smokescreen to launch our own wars of aggression (against Iraq, for example) and to support others (Ethiopia's against Somalia, for example). The only winner of these wars has been the military-industrial complex.

This piece in The New Republic shows how global authoritarianism has been skyrocketing the last several years despite, or more likely because, of the Bush administration's choices.

Even places that had been moving forward, like Lebanon, have now seen that progress disintegrate, if not worse. The Trotskyists in the White House said that once freedom bit Iraq, it would spread through the region like a plague. There's been a plague, to be sure, but it's been that of chaos and instability.

But some BushCheneyCo's actions have served as an inspiration for others.

The BBC reported on Africa's Guantanamo, located in Ethiopia. It's been reportedly used by the CIA to import kidnapees from all over and 'interrogate' them outside the jurisdiction of the US Supreme Court and those other pains in asses that demand, you know, things like legality and justice.

Just say the phrase: Africa's Guantanamo.

In past generations, when people wanted a shorthand for evil, they would use phrases like 'Auschwitz' or 'The Gulag.'

Now when they want an analogy for the unspeakable, they refer to something run in the name of those of us who claim to live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

This is the legacy St. John McCain wants to continue.

Of the many legal and moral crimes of the BushCheneyCo administration, their jihad against American values, their dismantling of everything we say we hold sacred, is perhaps the most damning of all.