Sunday, July 31, 2005

'A utlitarian approach to human life'

Charging RINO blog reports on Sen. Rick Santorum's appearance on ABC's This Week.

The Pennsylvania conservative said: ""I disagree with Senator Frist. I think that you cannot take a utilitarian approach to human life. And this is an innocent human life. You’re destroying this life for the purpose of research which has questionable value."

No indication on if the senator made his comments with a straight face.

Now even taking the quote at face value: his statement suggests that destroying what he calls innocent human life would be acceptable if the research had unquestionable value. Doesn't that sound like a 'utilitarian approach to human life'?

Sen. Santorum is a man who supports state-sponsored murder because the state needs to murder some people in order to save others. Doesn't this sound like a 'utilitarian approach to human life'?

Sen. Santorum is a man who approved the Iraq aggression which has caused thousands (tens of thousands?) of innocent civilian lives. Of course, no government authority has bothered to count Iraqi civilian deaths so we don't know if it's thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. Or maybe they have counted but aren't publicizing it. They sure know exactly how many American soldiers have died in Iraq (though even that official number may be questionable). Deaths of American occupation forces matter; deaths of 'liberated' Iraqi civilians don't. Doesn't this sound like a 'utilitarian approach to human life'?

Killing embryoes is just as unambiguously evil, according to Sen. Santorum. Pulling the plug on a brain dead (American) woman is unconscionable. Yet, killing criminals is right. Killing innocent civilians is unfortunate but inevitable and necessary for the achievement of the greater good. Killing fetuses is evil under all cirumstances. Doesn't this sound like a 'utilitarian approach to human life'?

Bravo Guy Roux

The start of the latest French soccer season was most notable for an absence. Guy Roux is no longer manager of AJ Auxerre. Last season was Roux's last in charge of the Burgundy club... after 44 years as club boss.

Auxerre was one step from falling into the amateur regional leagues when he took over in 1961. That's right, he took over the same year John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president of the United States.

He won the French Cup a record-equalling four times with the provincial club as well as the 1996 French championship.

In an era where a managing the same club for a decade is considered a long time, Roux's 44 years at Auxerre is absolutely staggering.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The glorification of gluttony

I was flipping around and ESPN2 had something called the US Open of Competitive Eating. That's right: they not only made a "sport" out of eating but made it into a televised spectacle.

To hype an event that glorifies gluttony, particularly when there's a famine in West Africa, is distasteful (no pun intended) even by the low standards of television.

Maybe ESPN should donate some of the leftover food from this pig fest to the starving folks in Niger.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Food emergency in West Africa

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

The food emergency in Niger is finally starting to get a little international attention, though only after it's turned into a full-fledged famine with so as to allow images of skeletal children to be beamed back into western living rooms.

West Africaphiles international aid groups and UN agencies have issued warnings and appeals since as early as ten months ago. Fears of a famine were expressed last August following a devastating locust invasion of West Africa. But food and monetary appeals have received little response until the last few weeks.

According to the BBC, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said that the international community has put more money into the Niger relief effort over the past 10 days than it had during the previous 10 months.

This is hardly surprising. The international community has repeatedly proven itself fairly generous in responding to crises, but obstitate in refusing to help PREVENT those crises in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say. International development is no different.

An excellent example is the locust invasion itself. Back in 2003, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization warned that North and West Africa were at risk from a locust invasion. The FAO called for a battle against desert locusts and disrupt their breeding grounds. They asked for $9 million for this preventitive effort. They didn't get it.

So the warnings were proven correct. In July 2004, locusts did invade West Africa where they ravaged staple crops and grazing land. Now, the UN is asking for $100 million just to fight the locusts... and that's not counting the money it's asking for to combat the resulting food emergency.

While Niger is finally getting a little ink, the UN warned that its West African neighbors also face food shortages. Notably Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania -- three countries also badly hit by drought and locusts.

Want to help? Make a donation to the World Food Prorgram or to another related organization.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

'One notch less despicable than the terrorists'

Apparently, I'm one notch less despicable than terrorists.

At least according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

You see, I don't think that people suddenly wake up on day and say, "Eureka, I think I'll become an extremist."

I have my theories about what causes terrorism. It feeds on despair and a sense of powerlessness. People who feel they have a stake in society, people who feel they have a voice, they don't become terrorists. Terrorism also requires means and a convenient target.

I don't think we can combat the scourge of terrorism if we don't understand it.

According to Friedman, this would make me an 'excuse maker.'

In a recent column, he wrote:

We also need to spotlight the "excuse makers," the former State Department spokesman James Rubin said. After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed.

He doesn't explain the absurd premise that equates 'explaining' with 'excusing.'

Now, let's be clear. I don't assert a direct causal relationship. I don't think imperialism or colonialism or the Iraq conquest caused terrorism by themselves. As such, I don't think that simply ceasing those activities will, in and of themselves, end terrorism as we know it. But it's either grossly disingenuous or pathetically self-delusional to suggest that these factors have played absolutely no role whatsoever.

Who are some countries that terrorists over the years (al-Qaeda or otherwise) have tended to target? The US. Britain. France. Spain.

Why haven't they targeted Canada? Finland? Switzerland? New Zealand?

'They hate us because we're free,' we're told. Yet aren't Canada, Finland, Switzerland and New Zealand free too?

Four of the eight countries mentioned above have long, unpleasant imperial histories and four do not. Guess which four go in which category.

Is that an 'excuse' or is that a historical fact?

I don't think we can combat the scourge of mass murder if we don't understand it. Not justify, but understand. The importance of understanding what makes your opponent tick should be blindly obvious to anyone above the age of 14.

If this makes me an 'excuse maker' or 'one notch less despicable than the terrorists,' then so be it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Discussion topic: national interests

Quite often, you'll hear someone say that we need to pursue a course of action in order to protect or advance our [the United States'] national interests. But one thing you almost never hear is a definition, comprehensive or even minimal, of what constitutes America's national interests. Is there a political component? An economic component? If so, to what degree? Do we consider the interests just of our citizens or of organizations (such as corporations) as well? In other words, who is 'we'? Does the phrase 'national interests' strictly refer to the physical security of Americans on American territory or is something broader included?

In the current national discourse, there's much discussion about how to protect America's national interests and how far we should go in doing so. But how can you have a productive debate on such a question when no one really delineates what those national interests are? How can you protect something when you don't know what you're protecting?

To rectify this problem, I'd like to invite readers to offer their ideal of what America's national interests should be.

Iraqi leader calls for 'speedy' withdrawal of US troops

A lot of Americans are calling for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Personally, I've never called for an immediate withdrawal because it would probably turn Iraq into a totally failed state. There's enough insecurity WITH our troops that. In fairness, some argue that their presence is a cause of insecurity, rather than a deterrence to further instability. Though given my familiarity with brutal rebellions in other conflict zones, I have a hard time believing that the insurgents would simply go back to their homes (or countries) if the westerners left.

Instability is a Pandora's Box that's extremely difficult to re-close. What starts out as violence with a political motivation often degenerates very quickly into sheer, inhuman savagery whose political component is only token at best. Sierra Leone. Northern Uganda. El Salvador. Liberia. The list of examples is far too long. That's why the US should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. But we did and now we have the responsibility of cleaning up the mess.

However, one proviso I'd add is that if the Iraqi government wanted us to leave tomorrow, then we should. Our invasion and occupation has violated their sovereignty and dignity enough as it is.

So given the fact that those calling for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq are often called traitors to the Iraqi people, weaklings, terrorist appeasers or, at best, grossly naive, I was interested to read the latest person to call for a 'speedy' pullout of US troops: the interim prime minister of Iraq.

Note: There's something that bugs me about the above referenced BBC article and others that follow the same tack. The article's title attributed a quote to the Iraqi leader ('Iraq PM urges 'speedy' US pullout') but the text of the article did not mention the quote anywhere. Though I otherwise have little regard for Fox News, at least their website often links to verbatim transcripts of speeches, press conferences, etc. that are referenced in their articles. That way, the reader can see comments in their entireity and in context (which is especially important given the way Fox News reports are presented). It's about the only facet of their operation that treats viewers and readers like intelligent human beings, but one that surprisingly hasn't been replicated by its competitors.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Glens Falls' citizens act to protect their neighborhood

In my city, Glens Falls, NY, there was recently a mini-controversy over a housing development project. A developer wanted to build about half a dozen new homes in the center of town. Many residents objected to the fact that the design of the new houses were not in keeping with the traditional architecture of the neighborhood. After a public outcry, the developers modified their plans accordingly; though they made it clear they were doing so under great duress and only out of the goodness of their magnanimous hearts.

In the wake of this controversy, Glens Falls' mayor Robert Regan suggested that the city 'take a hard look' toward establishing design guidelines for new houses in the city, notes the Post-Star newspaper.

While this problem hasn't come up much before during Glens Falls' recent mini-boom in construction, that's largely because most development has been in previously undeveloped areas on the south side of town near Haviland's Cove on the Hudson River. So cookie cutter homes fit in rather than stood out. But as developers revamp properties in existing neighborhoods and in the city's architecturally rich downtown, this issue is sure to resurface in the future.

But one part of the Post-Star article really caught my attention.

"If you put another step in the process of the approval, you may as well fold up your tent," said John Cifone, owner of Cifone Construction of Glens Falls.

Reading that, you'd be inclined to think that developers are required to cut off their left arm in order to erect a bird feeder.

In fact, provided the use of the land fits with zoning regulations, a builder only needs to receive a building permit before beginning construction.

Assuming that the paper is accurate, this is hardly the sacrifice of a first born child that Mr. Cifone's melodrama implies.

I don't know if government regulations are the answer in this case. I'm a bit hesitant because such an ordinance risks micromanaging every detail of one's home. That risks the vibrant diversity of the urban setting just as much as cookie cutter dwellings.

However, this guy makes a good point:

Sheridan Street resident Michael Shaver said many people are eager to live in neighborhoods with a uniform nostalgic character.

"I think people are interested in Glens Falls and move to Glens Falls because of the character of it," he said.

[Full disclosure: he's a friend of mine]

I think this really gets to the heart of the matter. Glens Falls is a city of neighborhoods. Glens Falls is a city with a soul, with a heart. The city is not perfect, but it has character. It's not Anywhere USA.

It has a wonderful park. It has a fantastic library. It has a nice bike path. It has more trees than just about any city I've ever been to, outside the African rain forest. It even has sidewalks, unlike many towns in the region. When you walk through Glens Falls, there's no doubt that you're in Glens Falls.

If people want to live in Generic Suburbia, that's fine. Generic Suburbia clearly has elements that many people find appealing. Most notably, lots of land and cheap land. If you want a large home with huge fields for your kids to run in, Glens Falls is not the place for you.That's why regional towns like Queensbury, Clifton Park and Wilton have expanded so rapidly in recent years.

Because of the qualities I mentioned above, those towns have seen a huge explosion in retail stores which has led to a huge explosion in sales tax revenues. Because of that, those towns have low or no property taxes. That's certainly nothing to sneeze at.

But Glens Falls can't compete with those towns for big box stores; limited by geography, it simply doesn't have the space. Glens Falls will live or die not by being a generic place, but by being Glens Falls. The city will live or die by its specific character. It will thrive by attracting small businesses that will be an integral part of the community and put down roots.

'Vive la différence,' I say. The Queensburys and Clifton Parks of this region should be an option for those who want a lot of space at a reasonable price, or for those who want low taxes and don't mind having fewer services in exchange.

But the Glens Fallses of this region should ALSO be an option for those who have other desires and expectations. After I graduated from college, I consciously chose to live in a small city where everything was within walking/biking distance; I consciously excluded nearby places where you NEEDED a car to get anywhere. I'm happy that I had a choice that corresponded with my priorities.

Glens Falls will thrive by promoting and improving its excellent quality of life. Fortunately, the city has residents like Mr. Shaver who are willing to become active in preserving that quality of life which is so essential to Glens Falls' social and economic future. Hopefully, developers will see this and decide that respecting the character of neighborhoods is the easiest thing to do. Hopefully, citizen pressure against homogenization will not be necessary the next time.

Note: if you agree with the general thrust of this essay and you live in Glens Falls, you would probably be interested in checking out the Esmond Lyons for Mayor website. His urban vision for Glens Falls is fairly compelling.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The nature of terrorism

One of the blogs I like reading is the Moderate Republican, written by a guy named Dennis. The entries are usually interesting, though he unfortunately rarely responds to questions posed in his comments' section.

One of his pet themes in recent weeks is criticizing liberals who he sees as being apologists for extremists. In one sense, he has more than a little merit (as I explained more thoroughly here). Al-Qaeda and its ilk are far more theocratic and repressive than even John Ashcroft could dream of being. I can't see how anyone who considers themself a progressive could possibly have the tiniest bit of sympathy for these killers, thugs and theocrats.

Then again, I don't exactly see a lot of liberals and progressives waxing eloquent about how noble these extremists are. So Dennis' premise could well be a giant straw man.

Some of the anti-American rhetoric, particularly its fervor, doesn't hold water. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is immoral both in principle and in conduct. But why do, say, Moroccans object so vehemently to the Israeli occupation while so eagerly defending their own occupation of Western Sahara?

Dennis cites Oliver Roy who correctly notes:

if the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists?

Clearly, the Israeli-Palestinian question is a great smokescreen that Arab regimes use to deflect their people's attention from their own government's repression, corruption and incompetence. However, that doesn't automatically render the Israeli occupation justified.

Dennis spends a lot of time demolishing some of the facile left-wing arguments relating to the war on terrorism but there's one thing conspicuously absent from his writings: a positive vision of his own. He clearly has problems with the Bush administration's overreliance on naked militarism. He also objects to facile "Withdraw from Iraq tommorrow and cease all support for Israel and the terrorists will immediately become pro-American" approach pushed by some on the far left. But while rubbishing the existing approaches, he fails to produce suggestions of his own. And he's repeatedly failed to respond to my challenges for another way, even though one is clearly needed.

While Dennis does make some good points, it would be nice if he recognized that terrorism doesn't happen in a vacuum. Foreign policy decisions have consequences. The US invaded and is occupying the (formerly) sovereign country of Iraq. Justified or not, this has consequences.

The US offers unconditional, unquestioning support for Israel. Justified or not (and I'm a firm believer in Israel's right to exist and that it's used as an easy scapegoat by Arabs but that we shouldn't support everything they do uncritically), this has consequences.

Fighting terrorism is clearly not as simple as withdrawing from Iraq, cutting links to Ariel Sharon's government and suing the terrorists for peace. However, Dennis needs to stop pretending that the foreign policy plays absolutely no role. He needs to stop pretending that no reasonable Arab could possibly object to belligerence, bullying and domination.

Imperialism has consequences. Imperialism is very messy and very costly. There's a reason the French and the British and the Portugese got out of the empire business. As long as the US remains in that business, we will be vulnerable. It's that simple. This isn't making excuses. It's time-tested reality.

Terrorism will not be defeated by blowing the most extreme elements to bits. For every one you blow up, three will be angered enough to join the destructive cause. Extremism has always flourished or shriveled based on the support and cooperation they receive from non-extremists.

Terrorism will be defeated by winning over moderates and starving the extremists of the oxygen they need to thrive. This does not involve appeasing the extremists, who would be appeased by nothing less than total capitulation anyway. This involves developing a foreign policy that protects the physical security of American CITIZENS but without showing casual and reckless disregard for the dignity of other peoples.

Update: Dennis offers a partial response here.

Update 2: He gives a more comprehensive response here.

Update 3: Those who read French might be interested in this editorial written by the editor of the French daily Le Monde. Though the paper is a bastion of the French establishment left and bane of neo-cons everywhere, it echoes, perhaps even more forcefully, many of the same points that Dennis and I have made in our exchanges. It belies the myth that the mainstream left acts as apologists for terrorists.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Must See TV

PBS is airing a fascinating documentary series entitled Guns, Germs and Steel. It's based on the highly regarded book of the same name.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

NHL returns; world yawns

It looks like the lockout imposed by National Hockey League owners will end as they and the players agreed to a deal in principle on a new collective bargaining agreement. The impasse cost the 2004-2005 season, thus becoming the first time in history a North American sport had thrown away an entire season over a labor dispute.

Basically, the owners got what they wanted. Most notably, they got a salary cap that will prevent them from having to show self-discipline; they've been notoriously poor at this in the past, which is the primary cause of the league's financial woes. But the players agreed to this, even though it wasn't much different than an offer they rejected in February. So be it.

I'm sure that the head of players' union chief Bob Goodenow will roll after this fiasco. Even though he secured a sweetheart deal in 1995 that helped allow the players great rich in the first place. He has the public relations skill of malarial mosquitoes. Fans generally blamed the players for this impasse, even though the lockout was imposed by the owners.

But I agree with Yahoo Sports' columnist Dan Wetzel: Commissionner Gary Bettman should go too.

Wetzel writes: In the meantime, don't be fooled by anyone associated with this that anything was won. Don't let the NHL claim it won anything here, that it broke the union's spirit and wallet to get what it wanted. The damage that commissioner Gary Bettman has done to this league may be impossible to repair.
That he was willing to risk the entire league so teams in small, non-hockey markets can limp along remains an unfathomable business choice. You pick your battles, for sure. Hockey in Atlanta is a strange one to choose.

But now that the mutual suicide pact is over, the real danger for the NHL's shaky future is not fan anger. The NHL will probably institute a few gimmicks like Major League Baseball did following the cancelled 1994 World Series. The anger of the most hardcore fans will subside over time. They will come back. The danger for the NHL's future is that the average fan might simply not care. The danger is that the average fan learned that they could live quite fine without the NHL.

Bettman should fall on his sword. If not, he should be pushed... like his adversary Goodenow almost certainly will.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Federal crime or medal worthy?

So President Bush's right-hand man Karl Rove is under fire for allegedly having leaked the name of an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame. If he did it, it's a federal crime.

But since the agent was the wife of a former ambassador who's been highly critical of the president's Iraq aggression named Joseph Wilson, apparently the leaking is just fine and dandy according to some people.

John Gibson reportedly said that if Rove leaked Plame's name, he deserves a medal. You might remember Gibson as being the far-right Fox News [sic] anchor who said that terrorist bombings in Paris 'would've been a treat.'

New York Republican Rep. Peter King agreed: 'I think Karl Rove should get a medal' and added 'Listen, maybe Karl Rove was not perfect. We live in an imperfect world. And I give him credit for having the guts.'

Another GOP NY congressman, not surprisingly blamed it all on the far left

'The extreme left is once again attempting to define the modern Democratic Party by rabid partisan attacks, character assassination and endless negativity,' sniffed Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of the Republican Congressional Committee.

This was after his colleague Rep. King called Joe Wilson as 'shameless self-promoter,' ' 'a liar' and repeatedly referred to his 'lies.'

The current chairman of the Republican Natonal Committee [RNC] Ken Melhmann adopted the same tactic, whining about "far-left, MoveOn wing" of the Democratic Party.

Yet in 2003, then-RNC chief Ed Gillespie said of the leaking of Plame's name, 'I think if the allegation is true, to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA operative -- it's abhorrent, and it should be a crime, and it is a crime.'

When asked, 'It'd be worse than Watergate, wouldn't it?, the then-GOP chief responded, 'It's -- Yeah, I suppose in terms of the real world implications of it. It's not just politics.'

Earlier this year, Sandy Berger, former Naitonal Security Advisor to Pres. Clinton, plead guilty to taking three copies of a classified document from the National Archives and cut[ting] them up with scissors. Conservatives were outraged at the possibility that he might not go to jail.

He didn't endanger anyone's life.

And New York Times reporter Judith Miller is in jail despite not having published Plame's name while conservative commentator Robert Novak, who did publish the name, gets away scot-free. To say nothing of the person who leaked Plame's name to both of them.

While Bush continues to propagate the discredited myth that Saddam Hussein had close ties to al-Qaeda, he can't be bothered to comment on accusations that his closest advisor broke federal law.

Update: Rove claims he learned of Plame's identity from conservative columnist Bob Novak. Which further begs the question why Novak, who actually published a column revealing Plame's identity (unlike the New York Times' Miller), has not been indicted?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

'Freedom fighters' murder 18 Iraqi kids

As you know, I've consistently opposed the American-led aggression against Iraq. Many other anti-war folks have gone out of their way to either praise or rationalize the insurgency. I've been careful not to do that. While attacks on occupying soldiers may be a legitimate tactic of war, the many insurgent attacks on civilians are not.

While some insurgents are surely Iraqis who object to their homeland being under foreign domination, many are from outside the country. As such, their primary motive is not the well-being of the Iraqi people or nation, but inflicting maximum carnage on the outsiders... whatever the 'collateral damage.'

Some have even compared the insurgents to the American revolutionaries; the old 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' line. But to my knowledge, American revolutionaries never launched homicide bombings that killed children... their own side's children.

But that's exactly what Iraqi insurgents did yesterday. Or perhaps I should say, insurgents in Iraq. Because it seems to me that real Iraqi patriots wouldn't have murdered Iraqi kids.

A dozen of the dead were 13 or younger. The children's crimes?

Accepting candy and toys from US soldiers.

I remember hearing a statistic some time ago (unfortunately I can't remember where) that went like this. In World War I, about 90% of casualties were soldiers; a figure that was typical for wars of that time. In today's wars, about 90% of the deaths and injuries are to civilians. Perhaps that's why I don't advocate war quite so flippantly and casually as some people.

But it also shows how civilians, who were once accidental victims of war, are being increasingly targeted by belligerents.

I may have opposed the aggression just like the insurgents, but I'll be damned if I'm associated with them. I'll be damned if I'm an apologist for homicide bombings against children.

I think launching an unprovoked, belligerent war that will inevitably cost countless civilian lives is utterly immoral, regardless of what pseudo-justification is used. However, as reprehensible as the casual and flip manner which more than a few pro-war types advocated this destructive aggression may have been, the intentional slaughter of civilians is on a different order of magnitude altogether.

Aggressive war is abhorrent and I will continue to oppose it. But I just can't make the moral equivalency that what the coalition forces are doing is no different than the insurgents are doing. We were wrong to invade and conquer Iraq. Our standard of behavior shouldn't be defined down to what the bad guys do. But I have no compulsions against saying that intentionally massacring kids is worse. If that makes me an 'apologist for imperialism' or some other nonsense, then so be it. But I'm pro-human rights more than I am anti-Bush.

Simply put, freedom fighters don't murder pre-teenage kids who are eating candy. And no person with any shred of human decency can say otherwise.

Terrorist attack in Kenya kills 61

I was sickened to read of a school massacre in Kenya that cost the lives of at least 61 people, according to police, 22 of whom were school children.

The cause of the atrocity: the desire for livestock.

Cross-border raids for livestock are common in the area but correspondents say this is one of the most deadly such attacks in Kenya's history, reports the BBC.

James Galgalo of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission says that clashes have been ongoing for the last three months. "They are massacring people - from what we saw they used a lot of spears and knives," he said.

Even though this won't result in blanket coverage on CNN or provoke solemn declarations of 'resolve' from western leaders, the victims and their families still merit your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

'Compassionate conservativism' in action

North Country Public Radio reports on federal funding cuts that could seriously affect local community service programs.

NCPR profiled a neighborhood center and thrift store in Canton, NY. The center provides clothing and short-term loans to residents, often to fill in gaps in public assistance programs. While all the funds are raised locally, the salary of the center's director is paid for by a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

In this article, Schenectady (NY) mayor Brian Stratton and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo assail the move.

A popular political maneuver developed by both state and federal governments over the past decade has been to pass down the costs of services (particularly human services such as health care and housing) to the next level of government below. This means the federal government has been pushing costs down to the state level and the state, in turn, passes those costs down to cities, towns and villages, they write.

Ending CDBG takes away one of the few remaining tools entitlement communities have to address the growing challenge of providing essential human and city services without further increasing local property taxes.

President Bush proposed eliminating that program and others and replacing them with another scheme... with a 30% funding cut. Apparently the extra $1.6 billion to match Fiscal Year 2005 funding levels could not be found. Sounds like a lot until you consider that, in the 2+ years since it was launched, the total cost of the Iraq aggression has already exceeded $180 billion.

As a result, not only does this country have largely inadequate public aid programs, but now even assistance to the less fortunate via primarily private charity and self-help groups is at risk.

That's compassionate conservativism in action for you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Why 'never again' keeps happening

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

I was interested to read this essay by the BBC's Fergal Keane entitled 'Why "never again" keeps happening.'

Keane was the BBC's reporter in Rwanda during that country's genocide, an experience harrowingly recounted in his book Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey.

He wrote the essay based on his trip to Darfur, where another genocide is going on.

He explains some of his frustrations:

I gave up having any faith in the phrase "never again" after Rwanda.

I now add another verbal formulation to the list of redundant phrases.

It is the sentence "We must learn the lessons."

It is of course invariably the precursor to the words "never again."

"We must learn the lessons of the Holocaust, or of Cambodia, or of Bosnia, or of Rwanda... and make sure that things like this..." and you know how this sentence ends, ..."things like this never happen again."

The teaser describes the essay as a reflection on how the international community fails to learn lessons when it comes to reacting to genocide and crimes against humanity.

In reality, this misstates the problem. What Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur have shown is that the international community doesn't want to react to genocide and crimes against humanity. At least not with anything more than endless and empty warnings. It's not that the rest of the world actively wants genocide to occur, but there is no pressure for it to act. What government was defeated at the ballot box because of inaction regarding Rwanda? What government faces massive street protests against inaction regarding Darfur? What government tried to drum up public support for action in Bosnia? None did.

Governments DID learn lessons, just not the lessons human rights groups wanted them to learn.

Ultimately, such inaction in the face of inhumanity's worst atrocities is not a failure of learning lessons. It's a failure of political leadership. It's a failure of will.

Monday, July 11, 2005

'America deserves a unanimous Supreme Court justice'

I was intrigued to read about a website calling for President Bush to nominate a Supreme Court justice who receives unanimous support. America deserves it, huffs the site.

The Congress is tightly divided. The 2000 presidential election was decided by 500 or so votes (controversy aside). President Bush won the 2004 election by 3% of the popular vote and that was considered a landslide in these bitter times. So why does such a bitterly divided country deserve a unanimous choice? How could it possibly expect one? Could Bush find such a candidate even if he wanted to?

Liberal interest groups are going to declare nuclear war on any nominee who's not to the left of Ted Kennedy. Conservatives are going to declare nuclear war on anyone who's not to the right of Jesse Helms. Bush could nominate someone moderately conserative, like Alberto Gonzales, and have both camps declare nuclear war.

This is all typical posturing in a divided political environment. The majority thinks it has the authority to run roughshod because of a 51% mandate. The minority whines about consensus, a consensus it would never seek if it had the 51%.

Of course, the liberal website should be careful because it might get exactly what it wishes for. It might get another Antonin Scalia (approved by the Senate 98-0).

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Bombings in Paris 'would've been a treat'

The real tragedy of the London terrorist bombings? That it didn't happen in France.

At least according to Fox News' [sic] anchor John Gibson.

Matthew Ygelsias' blog commented on Gibson's magnanimous expression of humanity.

"It would have been a treat, actually, to watch the French dealing with the problem of their own homegrown Islamist terrorists living in France already," Gibson is quoted as saying.

It would've been a treat for Gibson to watch France deal with terrorist carnage. I can see him chugging a beer, clucking in delight while watching men in berets attend to bloody, deformed corpses.

Digest that filth for a second.

Is this the kind of person you'd trust to bring you insight on the spread 'freedom and liberty'?

I don't expect much from Fox News [sic], but this is vile even by their gutter-level standards.

Of course, France WAS dealing with radical Islamist-inspired terrorist carnage long before 9/11 was a glint in Osama bin Laden's eye. That's why the French were able to make the distinction between the war on terrorism and the unrelated aggression against Iraq.

As petulant as the French sometimes have a reputation for being, fortunately they are not quite so juvenile as the Fox yapping head. Rather than cutting off their nose to spite their face like Gibson, Paris is cooperating closely with American intelligence forces on the terrorism question. This is despite the widespread and gratuitous French-bashing that has consumed the most vocal parts of American society.

Ygelsias pointed to this article in the Washington Post noting that France is arguably the most important American ALLY in fighting terrorism.

We can thank our lucky stars that the French have been mature enough to ignore the infantile 'freedom fries' and 'surrender monkeys' taunts.

On the other hand, French celebrity-intellecutal Bernard-Henri Lévy says that of his long trip across America: "I met hundreds, maybe 1,000 people and maybe more. I never, never met one single man or woman in the eye of whom I felt the slightest Francophobia, despise, hatred for being French."

So many the French-haters are really a tiny, extremist but very vocal minority. Maybe Americans as a whole are more civilized then their chattering class.

The region that doesn't exist

Earlier this week, I wrote about a dam breach in the upstate New York town of Fort Ann. It was a huge story in the local media, quite naturally, and in the regional Albany-based media. Even North Country Public Radio (NCPR), located, 150 miles away in Canton, has done several stories on the mess.

Yet the Albany-based WAMC Northeast Public Radio couldn't be bothered with this huge story that occurred only 60 miles away in the heart of its listening area. While the disaster that caused hundreds of people to be homeless, several to lose their home and millions of dollars of damage was non-existent according to WAMC, it did ample time to devote to stories on summer traffic, a whooping crane sighting and, most critically, the scenes in the movie War of the Worlds that were shot locally.

Perhaps if the Fort Ann dam breech had been the fault of Pres. Bush or Gov. George Pataki, it might've gotten air time on WAMC.

A few years ago, WAMC News also ignored the bitter strike at the economically-important Finch Pruyn mill. A story covered quite thoroughly by the Canton-based station.

I was once a big fan of WAMC but I am letting my membership in WAMC expire and replacing it with one to NCPR. WAMC focuses almost exclusively on politics and stories that are a mile wide and an inch deep. I don't think I've ever heard a WAMC story picked up by NPR News in Washington.

Plus, though I am no fan of the president, WAMC director Alan Chartock's incessant and repetitive Bush-bashing gets old and tiresome really fast.

NCPR, on the other hand, not only does stories that have a little depth but they also recognize that this area exists... even though it's much further away from Canton than Albany.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

G8 offers plan for Africa; continent underwhelmed

The G8 summit of the world's leading powers meeting in Scotland decided to double the amount of aid they spend on development aid to Africa.

They also agreed to cancel $40 billion of debt owed by 18 African countries.

Sounds like a lot of money until you consider that the amount represents only 10% of what is needed to help countries achieve the Millenium Development Goals designed to slash the most extreme forms of poverty.

Sounds like a lot when you consider that last November, a single country, Iraq, had $44 billion in debt written off by developed countries. And US and European officials were pressing for all the rest of the debts of the world's second-largest oil producer to be erased.

While many in the west view Africa as a charity case, its people on bended knee looking for handouts, reality is somewhat different. Most acknowledge that aid by itself won't do a lot of good. They know this simply by looking at history. In reality, the most prominent African leaders are looking not for handouts, but fundamental changes in the world's trading structures. They want increased access to developed country markets for African goods and raw materials. They want the end of huge agricultural subsidies developed country governments lavish on their farmers. They don't want charity; they just want to compete. Sadly, the G8 summit decided to avoid this issue, which is much more fundamental than aid or debt.

(And yes, I suspect many Africans would rather have fairer trade so they could make money for themselves)

Due to President Bush's objections, the G8 also avoided the issue of climate change. Many groups have warned that African poverty reduction efforts will be rendered worthless without action on climate change.

Anyone who is familiar with the increasingly erratic weather in West Africa and the rapid expansion of the dry, brush area known as the Sahel or the reduction of rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa from two to one knows that climate change isn't a figment of anyone's imagination. Not coincidentally, Horn countries Ethiopia and Eritrea are facing food emergencies after disastrous crop yields while Sahel countries Niger and Mali on the verge of famine for the same reason.

Just yesterday, the UN's World Food Programme announced that crops had failed in much of southern Africa, meaning that some 10 million people will need food aid. The main cause cited by the WFP? Erratic weather.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Anniversary of civil unions' apocalypse

Five years ago this week, Vermont legalized civil unions between gays. A Massachussetts' court decision legalized gay marriage in that state a few years later. Below, I have listed all the straight couples whose marriages have been destroyed by the legalization of gay marriages and civil unions:

Could we please have a moment of silence for all those zero heterosexual marriages ruined by the granting of (mostly) equal rights to gay couples?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The subjectivity of emotions

Earlier today, there were a series of despicable terrorist bombings in London which has killed (so far) 37 people and injured at least 700 others. There has been non-stop coverage on CNN and other US cable news networks. The mass murder dampened celebrations following the awarding of the 2012 Summer Olympics to the English city.

As a media observer, it underlines the seemingly random nature of television news coverage. What it points out is that, far from being random, coverage is intimately linked to location and specifics.

A 1996 terrorist bombing in Colombo exacted carnage even more bloody than that of London: 53 dead, 1400 injured. Why did that bombing get a different amount of international media coverage? One was in the Sri Lankan capital and the other was in the British capital. One was provoked by a local rebel group and the other is believed to have been provoked by al-Qaeda.

In reality, the blanket coverage is provoked not so much out of sympathy for the victims but because of our own fears. al-Qaeda or some other organization that claims linkage to bin Laden's group is more of a threat to Americans than the Tamil Tigers.

Yet how does that explain blanket coverage of other stories. Did we really need saturation coverage of the Scott Petersen trial? Was it really something of national interest, concern or fear? What about Chandra Levy? What about that white girl from Alabama who disappeared in Aruba?

I think part of it is the exemplifed by Stalin's infamous, but probably accurate, comment: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."

For example, nearly one million Africans die every year of malaria. That's 38 deaths every 20 minutes.

That means in the time it took me to write this entry, more Africans died of malaria than Londoners in the terrorist attack. And that happens three times every hour, 24 hours a day, 365... well, you get the point.

And that's just from one disease in one continent.

Why do people view it differently? Is it because they're callous? Because they're manipulated by the media? Because they hate Africans?

The snide, cynical response might be yes. But I don't think so. I tend to think that most people are not consciously malicious or malevolent. I think most people want to be empathetic in the face of such human tragedies.

I think the difference is that a terrorist attack might happen here, but malaria won't. A terrorist attack in London might affect someone we know (I have a friend who lives in London and works, or has worked, in the financial district; I haven't heard from him today), while malaria probably won't.

A few years ago, I was talking with a woman I know well about this sort of thing. I wondered why the horror then going on in Kosovo galvanized the western world's attention while the horror then going on in Sierra Leone didn't. I was a little biased, and perturbed, because at the time, I had friends who still lived in Sierra Leone.

The woman sheepishly admitted that yes, the atrocities of Kosovo affected her more than those in Sierra Leone. She explained that when she looked at the pictures, she could identify with the Kosovars more than with the Sierra Leonians. Not because one was white and the other black. But because the Kosovars were lawyers and teachers and engineers, while the Sierra Leonians were subsistence farmers. Some Kosovar towns resembled rural American towns that she knew; Sierra Leonian towns did not.

She knew this distinction was wrong and she seemed almost ashamed to admit what she did. Though through her honesty, I got a much better understanding of how such mental processes work.

This didn't mean that she thought the Sierra Leone atrocities were ok. She was repelled by them too. When faced with the facts, she thought something should be done about them too. Then again, if she hadn't know me, it's unlikely she would've read enough in the media to know what was going on in Sierra Leone.

But while, on an intellectual level, she knew the distinction was wrong, she subconsciously made it anyway. Emotions are not always logical. They are quite often based on connections.

That, not callousness or disinterest, is why Americans are more gut wrenched about the London bombings than by quantatatitvely more devasting events like the war in the Congo or the famine in North Korea. Emotions aren't simply quantatative.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Srebrenica: ten years on

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

Do you remember Srebenica? Most people probably don't. Ten years ago this month, the Bosnian city was the site of Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

During the Bosnian war, the city had been designated a 'safe haven' by the United Nations. Dutch UN peacekeepers were deployed to the city. Unfortunately, the powerful members of the UN Security Council would only give it a weak mandate because no western country was willing to take a strong position against the genocide. Much like in Rwanda, the large powers criminally forced UN peacekeepers to witness genocide without permitting them to act. This loathsome act was in many ways worse than if the powers had required the so-called peacekeepers to withdraw entirely; by remaining, the foreigners gave the false hope that they would take action to halt the nightmare.

When Bosnian Serb* forces invaded the city, the Dutch soldiers (they were not really allowed to be peacekeepers) requested aerial assistance but none came. The 'peacekeepers' were taken hostage by the Bosnian Serbs, who promptly liquidated the city of its male population. Some 5000 civilian males escaped, but nearly 8000 were massacred.

(*-it is now widely believed that Serbs from Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Serbia also participated in the slaughter)

Gen. Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, alleged architects of the massacre, have been indicted by the UN War Crimes Tribunal but have not been handed over to the Hague body.

With preparations are underway for services to mark the 10th anniversary of the slaughter, police recently discovered a large cache of explosives at the commemoration site.

The UN chief prosecutor has refused to attend the commemoration ceremonies until indicted war criminals Mladic and Karadzic are captured.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

'Just one of those things'

On Saturday evening, a dam on Hadlock Pond broke, flooding parts of the upstate New York town of Fort Ann.

Ironically, the dam was built only two months ago when the previous dam was deemed unsafe. The previous dam was built in the late 19th century and had never failed so spectacularly. The new dam was approved by all relevant authorities.

Fort Ann's town attorney said, "I don't think anybody could speculate on what happened. It's just one of those things."

The breach spilled hundreds of millions of gallons of water, destroying roads and several homes and causing much damage. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated and have not yet been able to return. Amazingly, there was no loss of human life... though that might have been different had the breach occurred only a few hours later, during nightfall.

Now perhaps this is merely a town attorney who is worried about his client's potential liability, but it seems a little bit more grave than 'just one of those things'!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Declaration of Independence

In honor of the 229th anniversary of the issuing of the US Declaration of Independence, I publish the document text in its entreity.

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.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

CIA actions may threaten national security

There's been quite a controversy in the last few days when an Italian judge issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents. The agents are accused kidnapping a Musilm cleric in Milan in 2003 and shipping him off to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured.

(Three CIA officials claim that Italian authorities were briefed on the plot. The Italian government denies this.)

Italian intelligence officials were also annoyed because they had the cleric under surveillance of their own and the kidnapping scuppered their plans. Of course, they might have been planning to deal with the cleric via the traditional justice system in accordance with the rule of law...something the Bush administration clearly opposes on philosophical grounds.

The 'extraordinary renditions,' which is the official euphemism for such kidnappings, are causing alarm in Europe. There's even a push for European authorities to end cooperation with the CIA.

The CIA action angered Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was one of President Bush's main supporters on the Iraq aggression. He "demanded full respect for Italian sovereignty from the United States," in an official statement.

Some people advocate action merely for the sake of action. They offer such arguments as "Any action is better than no action." They hide behind words like resolve and steel and strength, as an excuse to avoid any scrutiny of specific action. If such scrutiny makes its way through, they proffer normally inocuous phrases 'Support our troops' and 'God Bless America' as an insidious way to change the subject, to avoid answering the criticisms. Don't let such people fool you. These 'extraordinary renditions,' which many fear aren't as extraordinary as the CIA might have you believe, have proven damaging to America's credibility and to its national security, without any perceptible benefit.

Kidnappees are shipped off to third countries, so no one can even use the excuse that they're providing valuable information to American intelligence officials. Then again, some might argue that if the US simply legalized torture, we wouldn't have to go through all this hassle.

And if this alleged CIA misconduct threatens the cooperation of our European allies on critical issues of security, then how can it possibly be beneficial to our national interests?

Yet despite such actions that threaten security cooperation with our most important allies (some of whom have their own radicalized, domestic Muslim populations), the CIA successfully fought efforts to bring its activities under greater outside control.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The triumph of positive soccer

This year's Confederations Cup (CC) tournament was quite interesting. The CC gathers the world soccer's six continental champions, the World Cup holder plus the host nation. This year's participants were Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Greece, Australia, Tunisia and Japan.

While the CC has been long derided as a pointless tournament, this year's edition featured some brilliant soccer. World Cup winners Brazil thrashed their bitter rival, South American champions Argentina, by 4-1 in the final; all five goals were highlight reel stuff. How can stuff this good be considered pointless?

Still, the CC is essentially redundant. The CC is the championship of champions. Yet the World Cup is the tournament designed to determine the best team in the world. Nevertheless the CC concept is interesting because you have to be the champion of something in order to win. It's a bit like the way the European Champions Cup/League used to be. It gets a bit tiresome every four years to hear the 17th best team in Europe whine about not getting a World Cup bid; if you're not even in the top 16 in your continent, how can you possibly have pretensions to being #1 in the world?

The CC was created as part of the power struggle between the world soccer federation FIFA and the European confederation UEFA. FIFA created the CC to get more money. UEFA ballooned its club Champions [sic] League and added a million qualifying rounds to get more money. UEFA even created something called an Intertoto Cup to get more money. FIFA created a World Club Championship to get more money, even though the idea actually makes sense, from a sporting perspective, unlike the ones I just mentioned. Some huge clubs are even threatening to secede from UEFA... to get more money.

But one positive from the CC: the triumph of attacking soccer. There were fears that Greece's triumph at Euro 2004 signaled a return to the dark ages. There were fears that this heralded a return to prominence of dreadful, loathsome negative, insomnia-inducing anti-soccer that blighted the game in the early 90s. The success of the brilliant Brazilians and the attacking Argentines was a breath of fresh air. Greece crashed out in the first round without scoring a goal. That even the host Germans, world masters of boring soccer, were somewhat exciting to watch was perhaps the most optimistic sign.

So if the only thing to come out of the CC was vindication for the kind of soccer that most people actually want to watch, then it seems worth it to me.

View from Senegal

Christian Science Monitor blogger Tom Regan has an fascinating series of entries on the trip his wife and young daughter made to Senegal, West Africa. The first entry in the series can be found here.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Celebrity causes and development issues

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

Ethan Z, over at excellent My blog is in Cambridge, but my heart's in Accra blog, wrote an interesting entry on the whole Live 8 series of concerts (described as part of a day of action across the world which kick-starts The Long Walk to Justice that calls on the leaders of the world’s richest countries to act when they meet in Gleneagles on 6th-9th July).

Ethan makes some very cogent points about the way Live 8 was organized (with hardly any actual African artists). He offers some good suggestions about how the well-meaning can sensitize themselves about Africa in a more substantive way than simply going to a concert or putting a fancy banner on one's blog. Try reading a blog written by actual Africans, he suggests. There are many out there (he suggests a few).

However, the main point of Ethan's entry had to do with the whole notion of celebrities getting involved with causes. I share Ethan's ambivalence about the celebrity causes thing. Debt relief is a potentially good thing (if properly implemented). But it's a potentially good thing on its own merits, not just because Bono or Bob Geldof says so.

Yet it's tricky. The main reason I care about third world development issues is because I lived in Africa. My concern was only vague and theoretical before then. Most people don't have the good fortune to live abroad. And you aren't going to learn anything much about development issues by reading the mainstream US media.

So does this mean that the only people who can care about development issues are people who've lived in lesser developed countries? In fact, this goes against everything I believe. Having lived in Africa, I WANT Americans to care about the place, even those who haven't been there. I WANT them to learn more about places they've never been to. In fact, that's a major reason I started my Africa blog in the first place!

I remember back when Princess Diana got involved in the landmine question. I wondered how those ordinary activists felt. They worked on the issue for years to little effect but then this fancy royal flies in and suddenly it's the cause célèbre du jour.

But on the other hand, at the end of the day, the Ottawa treaty banning landmines was signed. Most countries (not including the US) do not use landmines anymore. Is it really important who gets credit? As an activist, is it about you or the cause? Do you think any anti-landmine activist would say, "I think we should revoke the Ottawa treaty because it wouldn't have passed without star power"? I hope not. If so, they are not real activists.

(And if credit does matter, the International Committee to Ban Landmines, not Princess Di, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize)

Yes, it's unfortunate that many people won't learn much about important issues of international development unless a princess or a rock star picks up the mantle. But it's reality. And given all the serious problems facing both the world and individual countries, can you really blame people for not focusing on 10,000 issues at once?

Most people aren't going to the Live 8 concerts because of their concern for development issues. HOWEVER, once there, they will be a captive audience. Once there, they might learn a thing or two about issues they hadn't considered before. They might go home and be spurred to learn a little more. The mere fact that the concert is being held is giving development issues a lot of publicity in places where they usually wouldn't be written about... thus exposing the ideas to people who might not read Foreign Affairs.

It's easy to say, "I know so much about development issues and Live 8 can barely scratch the surface." And it's may be true. But f you want to get people interested in development issues, you have to start somewhere. You don't just wake up and become an expert on something. You can't just count on position papers and academic journals to rile up the masses. So while I really don't care much one way or the other about Live 8, if it spurs a bit of interest in what's going on outside America's and Europe's borders, then far be it from me to complain.