Saturday, June 28, 2014

Uruguay president's comments a slap in the face to the poor

It wouldn't be a soccer World Cup without controversy. This year's tournament in Brazil has been marked by an incident where Uruguayan star Luis Suarez appears to have bitten the Italian Giorgio Chiellini. The international governing body FIFA suspended Suarez for 9 international matches plus 4 months from all soccer activities. It's worth noting that this is the THIRD time Suarez has been charged with biting an opponent since 2010.

Many critics said the punishment was too lenient, for a third time offender. Others in including controversial former Argentine great Diego Maradona, Chiellini himself and, predictably, virtually all Uruguayans felt the sanction was too harsh.

Not surprisingly, Uruguayan president Jose Mujica weighed in. He stated: "We feel that there is an aggression against those who come from poverty. They don't forgive that he didn't go to university. He doesn't have an education."

The leftist Pres. Mujica is internationally known for being the world's poorest president (donating 90% of his salary to charity) and for successfully pushing the legalization of marijuana. I generally have a fairly high regard for him.

But his comments, however understandable in terms of political populism and pandering, are off the mark and his defense of one of the members of The 0.1% does a disservice to those who live in poverty. In most of the world, soccer is the game of the poor and working class. There is no place in the world where biting an opponent isn't considered beyond the pale.

I lived in West Africa and played soccer there as often as I could. I lived in a place where the poverty was far greater than anything you see in Uruguay. In games, I saw people argue, sometimes heatedly. I saw shoving matches and finger pointing and remonstrations. I think I even saw a fist fight. I never saw anything remotely like a person biting another.

In fact, when I lived in West Africa, another famous sports biting incident occurred, that of boxer Evander Holyfield by Mike Tyson. The reaction of poor West African subsistence to this incident was not understanding for Tyson's background or compassion for his poor, misunderstood self but disgust. The universal reaction there was that he was "an animal." And Tyson only did it once.

Pres. Mujica's comments about Suarez, now one of the richest soccer players in the world, are a slap in the face. His contention is that the poor express themselves differently than the rich, that they can't control themselves. His contention is that when poor people get pissed off, it's normal that they express sociopathic behavior like biting. That the poor are teeming rabble who need to be controlled is the message he's sending. Surely without realizing it, he is pandering to, not countering, stereotypes of the poor by the elite. As a real champion of the poor, he can find a better way to defend his country's multimillionaire soccer hero.

Update: Typical of the understated reaction came from Uruguay captain Diego Lugano. He described the suspension of Suarez as "an act of barbarity" and "a breach of human rights."

Friday, June 27, 2014

For Congress: junk food or a healthy option?

The Republican Congressional primary for New York's 21st district was described by a local media pooh-bah as a choice between Coke (a DC political hack) and Pepsi (a Wall Street insider). They were virtually identical on most issues of substance, with main "issue" separating the two seemed to be who was a "real" Northern New Yorker. 

Meanwhile RC Cola (the Democratic candidate, a film maker from Manhattan), who's been virtually invisible since his candidacy launch, made a rare intervention. Though of course it was by press release, as per usual and featured some fairly insignificant ideas, also as per usual.

I realize that bashing Congress is a useful populist strategy for a candidate, especially one as empty as RC Cola. But his proposals, while not objectionable in the least, will have an impact that's virtually nil. Depriving Congressmen of a few luxuries does not actually help the American people in any remotely meaningful way. If this is the best he can offer, he should be ignored.

Anyone interested in a substantive candidate with a serious progressive agenda, should check out Matt Funiciello

Funiciello's candidacy is so significant that even the National Republican Campaign Committee has taken notice. The NRCC claimed that RC Cola's main concern was people not confusing him with Funiciello. 

Funciello's big ideas are single payer health insurance for all Americans and ending corporate control of govenrment. RC Cola's big ideas are getting rid of the Congressional barber shop and gym. The idea that anyone might confuse the two is laughable.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Neutrality is killing journalism

I was watching the public TV show New York Now. They conduct a yes/no poll question on their website during the week. On the show, they show the results of the poll and selected answers. They always show one pro- and one con- or two pro- and two con- answers. They do this whether the poll results were 53-47% or 91-9%. A small thing but illustrative.

One of the three things that is crippling modern journalism is the conflation of the principles of neutrality and objectivity. Most feel journalism's goal should be objectivity; most journalists claim the same if you ask them. Yet in practice, the goal increasingly seems to be neutrality, little more than transcription.

Neutrality is telling the truth. Objectivity is telling the whole truth (or as close to it as resources allow). Objectivity is "Serbs committed an estimated 90% of the atrocities in the Balkans wars and Bosnians 10%." Neutrality is "Both sides committed atrocities." Both statements are factually correct. But the former is clearly a greater reflection of the truth.

I think news organizations have largely abandoned objectivity in favor of neutrality/transcription because activists of all stripes wage relentless campaigns of accusations of bias. If you report anything negative about any group or organization, you will be accused of bias against that group. Neutrality becomes the easy way out, as you can say you were reporting equally on both sides. Unfortunately, this insistence on the lesser truth has devalued journalism to the point where increasingly few numbers of people feel it worth paying for.