I blog...because the news is interesting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Headline Says It All

From the BBC:

Alleged Maori plot against whites

Maori activist Tame Iti remains behind bars after the police raids
Prosecutors in New Zealand have accused a group of Maori activists arrested on Monday of planning a violent campaign against the country's white majority.


Police arrested 17 people on Monday, during anti-terror raids targeting Maori and environmental activists.

Whoa...serious business. Environmentalists are getting caught up too! So why exactly are the Maori (or at least, a fringe group of Maori) waging war on the white man?

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the operation was a "reality check" for New Zealanders who dismissed the threat of home-grown terrorism.

"This operation has been triggered by credible intelligence of a serious threat to New Zealand's safety and security, and the Police Association fully supports the actions taken by police yesterday," he said.

"We need to realise there are fringe elements in our society, as in all others, that draw inspiration and encouragement from extremist activities overseas that most of us would find horrifying," he added.

No mention of why the Maori in New Zealand might be motivated to take such actions...hmm....

{Note: No, I am not condoning terrorism in any form. Protest is cool, but not when you start endangering others. But I find it a bit strange to discuss a plot against White New Zealanders and then reveal no motive...}

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Who Killed the Radio Star?

The RIAA was the first and the Copyright Board is getting in on the action.

One would think that will all the problems arising from the decline in CD sales, all parties in the music industry would be willing to embrace new technology and work with consumers to find solutions, right? Wrong!

From today's Washington Post:

Web Radio Seeks Resolution
Senate Hearing to Take Up Royalty Fees for Online Stations

By Catherine Rampell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007; Page D02

Internet radio webcasters are hoping a Senate hearing today will renew legislators' interest in their negotiations with the recording industry over royalty fees.

The hearing, held by the Senate Commerce Committee, will focus on the future of radio, the number of women and minorities who own radio stations, expansion and protection of community radio, and other aspects of a medium that is rapidly changing through technological advances and the recording industry's crumbling business model. The most contentious of these issues, though, involves what online radio stations will pay in order to sustain both innovations in radio and the artists whose music they feature.

Webcasters have argued that a royalty fee schedule set by the Copyright Royalty Board last spring would put online radio stations, and the independent musicians whose work they often play, out of business. This spring, legislators from the House and Senate proposed legislation to set Internet radio royalty rates at the lower levels used for satellite radio and jukeboxes, but then asked webcasters and copyright holders to try to negotiate a compromise.

Webcasters have been negotiating since July with SoundExchange, the organization that collects royalties on behalf of music copyright owners, over a new fee schedule. Webcasters say they are growing impatient with delays in the discussions.

"We made a royalty rate proposal on Aug. 23, and we have not heard a reply back," said Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association, which is negotiating on behalf of a group of 27 large Internet radio providers. "With this hearing we're now working to gather support for the Internet Radio Equality Act." The House version of the bill has 143 sponsors; its Senate counterpart has five.

SoundExchange said that discussions are continuing and that the organization has been meeting with individual webcasters to better understand their finances.

"We're moving as fast as we can considering there are so many parties involved," said Richard Ades, a spokesman for SoundExchange.

SoundExchange has already proposed a fee schedule that is lower than the Copyright Royalty Board's rates for commercial webcasters whose annual revenue is less than $1.25 million, and Ades said about 30 companies have accepted it. SoundExchange and the Digital Media Association also agreed in August to cap the total amount of per-channel fees that a Web service would have to pay, an issue that was of particular concern for webcasters such as Pandora that have millions of channels set up by individual users.

Still, webcasters say that even if there are favorable results to the negotiations, they are hoping for long-term legislation that will force all radio platforms -- including traditional AM/FM radio, which does not currently pay any royalties to SoundExchange -- to pay the same rates.

"We are in a strange situation of offering services that compete directly with terrestrial and satellite radio but have a different rate structure," said Tim Westergren, chief strategy officer and founder of Pandora. "There needs to be parity if we are going to survive."

Can we be honest for a second? My generation has gotten accustomed to hearing music for free. Through radio, through music videos, online, illegally downloaded, borrowed - we are accustomed to it. Sure, we might pay a token rate to listen. I'm happy to shell out a few dollars on Itunes, or pay less than $5.00 a month for services. But all these schemes to monetize online music and make crazy money are just going to end up biting the music industry in the ass.

Just my two cents.

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Californians Taken Care of During Time of Crisis; Evokes Bitter Memories of Katrina

dnA has it so right.

From the Washington Post article (title linked):

In Washington, President Bush said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) had assured him that he was receiving the help he requested from federal agencies.

"I assured him that if he needs anything and we're able to provide it, we'll do so," Bush told reporters. He called the relief effort "well coordinated."

Too bad Hurricane Katrina was the testing ground. Oh, and what does the article say about Katrina?

Bush, who was sharply criticized for his sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, will visit the region on Thursday

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If I lived in the Philly, I would be pissed at Yahoo and Travel & Leisure:

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Philadelphia is home to the least attractive people in the United States, a survey of visitors and residents showed on Friday.

The city of more than 1.5 million people was also found to be among the least stylish, least active, least friendly and least worldly, according to the "America's Favorite Cities" survey by Travel & Leisure magazine and CNN Headline News.

About 60,000 people responded to the online survey -- at www.travelandleisure.com -- which ranked 25 cities in categories including shopping, food, culture, and cityscape, said Amy Farley, senior editor at the magazine.

For unattractiveness, Philadelphia just beat out Washington DC and Dallas/Fort Worth for the bottom spot. Miami and San Diego are home to the most attractive people, the poll found.

Just beat out DC? Blow me! DC is not ugly!

But Farley pointed out the results don't mean people in Philadelphia are ugly or the city is a bad place to visit.

"We were asking people to vote on attractiveness, not unattractiveness. Travel & Leisure editors believe there are a lot of attractive people in Philadelphia," she said.

"The relative attractiveness of its residents is only a minuscule factor in evaluating a city's merit."

Philadelphians' self-esteem has been undermined by national surveys showing they are among the fattest people in the United States. The American Obesity Association ranked the city in the top 10 for overweight people every year between 2000 and 2005.

And sporting pride in a city known for the fierce loyalty of its fans has been hurt by not having had a national champion in any of its four main sports since the 76ers won the National Basketball Association title in 1983.

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Hugo Chavez and Venezuela

Is Hugo Chavez turning into a dictator?

The current issue of Adbusters seems to think so. While I am not well versed enough in Latin American politics to comment, but I have been checking out the headlines to check out what is happening in Venezula.

I came across this piece in the BBC news feed (title linked) that seems to confirm some of the dictator worries:

Venezuela's parliament, dominated by supporters of President Hugo Chavez, has begun its final debate on proposed changes to the constitution.
The changes would remove term limits for the presidency, and extend the term of office from six years to seven.

Mr Chavez on Tuesday added 25 amendments to a previous 33 passed by Congress, including proposals to detain citizens without charge in emergencies.

If passed, all the measures will be put to a popular referendum in December.

If Venezulean voting is free and democratic, then extending the term of the presidency should not be a problem. (Then again, does any country currently have free and democratic voting? I know the USA lost that title a while ago...)

The article continues:

There are no opposition politicians in the Venezuelan National Assembly, since most of the anti-Chavez parties boycotted the last election in 2005.

However, several members of parliament have questioned the way these late changes have been introduced, calling it constitutional fraud.

And what does Chavez want? According to the article:

Among the other changes to the constitution proposed by Mr Chavez are:

*Bringing in a maximum six-hour working day

*Cutting the voting age from 18 to 16

*Increasing presidential control over the central bank

*Strengthening state economic powers, allowing the government to control assets of private companies before a court grants an expropriation order.

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New News on Obesity

The UK has decided that "Obesity 'not individuals' fault.'"

Or at least so says the BBC, in the title linked article. The article goes on to explain:

Individuals can no longer be held responsible for obesity and government must act to stop Britain "sleepwalking" into a crisis, a report has concluded.
The largest ever UK study into obesity, backed by government and compiled by 250 experts, said excess weight was now the norm in our "obesogenic" society.

Dramatic and comprehensive action was required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050, they said.

[Side note: Umm...isn't there the chance these standards are slightly off? I read recently that the WHO lowered the threshholds for overweight and obese in the USA after comparing our standards to that of other countries. But how do we start comparing Americans to other countries? I was reading a manga recently in which one of the title characters was an abnormally tall girl. Her height? 5"7.]

Obesity, the authors concluded, was an inevitable consequence of a society in which energy-dense and cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work were rife.

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If Bloggers Don't Mean Anything to the News...

...then why are we being censored?

Quite a bit of the mainstream media likes to turn their noses up at the blogosphere, even as more and more mainstream figures launch their own blogs, or begin blogging for profit. Go figure.

The title linked article from the BBC is actually a special report, detailing the crackdown on blogging across the globe:

Bloggers are now finding themselves prey to censorship from repressive governments as much as journalists in traditional media, a report says.

Reporters Without Borders' annual study of press freedom says China is one of the worst offenders, having imprisoned 50 people for postings on the internet.

I surfed over to the Reporters Without Borders site to see where America ranks.

48 United States of America

WTF? I didn't think it was that bad...

The report goes on to say:

There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States (48th) and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison. But the detention of Al-Jazeera’s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group.

*sigh* Fucking...well, there are a few people I could curse, but I'd rather not end up in jail unless it is worth it, so...

Blogging is serious business. Let's keep an eye out to make sure our rights aren't being compromised...

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

So, the unanswered question is...

What is going on with white kids?

Why are they so quick to shoot up a school?

MTV News has a headline that makes the sad irony of this situation screamingly obvious:

Cleveland School Shooter Fit Sadly Predictable Profile: Bullied Loner From Troubled Home

The obvious warning signs were all there: a troubled, violent young man who had been teased by peers and vowed revenge, who fit the stereotypical image of a "goth" loner and who warned some peers that he would shoot up his school.

Asa Coon, 14, the young man who went on a shooting spree at Cleveland's SuccessTech Academy on Wednesday morning fit the profile we've come to know from previous deadly school shootings. Schoolmates told CNN that after Coon was beaten up on Monday for saying "F--- God" during an argument with another student, he threatened, "I got something for y'all" (see "14-Year-Old Gunman Shoots Four, Commits Suicide At Cleveland High School").

Check out all the warning signs leading up to this:

While officials have not said definitively what might have set Asa Coon off, neighbors told CNN that the young man had been constantly teased and may have snapped because of the bullying. "Shut up, shut up! I hate this school!" Coon said as he began firing, according to an account given to The New York Times by a SuccessTech sophomore who was in a fourth-floor classroom during the spree. The 5-foot-5-inch teen was described in 911 calls as a "kind of chubby" goth who wore long black trench coats and black fingernail polish and was often mocked by his peers for his style of dress, prompting him to brag frequently about his plans to target those who teased him. As a white teen who dressed in black clothing, a dog collar and chains at a predominantly black school, Coon stood out among his peers, according to reports.

According to the Times, court records show that Coon's mother called police after he slapped her and swore at her when she tried to break up a fight between him and his twin sister in February 2006. A juvenile-court magistrate said Coon was ordered to anger-management sessions and he continued to be abusive toward his mother, at one point ramming his body into his mother's head during a meeting with his probation officer.

Records also show that he was rushed to the hospital a month later following a suicide attempt at a mental health facility he'd been sent to after he was charged with domestic violence in the altercation with his mom. He was suspended for 10 days in April 2006 for trying to injure another student and Cleveland CBS affiliate WOIO TV also reported that court records show that Coon exhibited bipolar tendencies and that he refused to take medication for his condition.

So, let's see...

We have bullying.

We have depression.

We have suicidal behavior. (And if you don't care abput your own life, how can you care for the life of others?)

Prior instances of violence.

Possible mental health problems.

Unstable family environment.

It appears that no one is wondering what would motivate this kid to shoot up his school. Apparently, all the signs are there.

What saddens me is I feel this epidemic will still get worse. With social services and arts programs being cut from budgets, and the increased pressure to achieve at all costs, I really feel for the kids coming up in this era.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

George Bush Doesn't Care about the Children

Browsing through my BBC newsfeed this morning, I came across the following item:

Child health bill faces Bush veto

The US Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bill to expand a children's health care insurance scheme, setting up a policy showdown with President Bush.

Mr Bush has threatened to veto the bill which he argues takes the programme beyond its original purpose of insuring children from low-income families.

The legislation would raise tobacco taxes to provide an extra $35bn (£17bn) to insure some 10 million children.

I am a non smoker, so the tax would not affect me, but I think it's a good idea. Maybe even expand it a little and start taxing soda sales. I'll pay $1.59 for a coke if that means children get health insurance.

Unfortunately, the bill is not a done deal:

The SCHIP was set up to help working families who could not afford private health insurance but who earned too much to qualify for Medicaid - the government health care programme for the poor.

Opponents of the legislation said the increase in funding was too large and expanded government-subsidised health care.

They also accused the legislation's backers of attempting to win political points ahead of 2008's presidential and congressional elections.

"Democrats are counting down the hours so they can tee up the election ads saying Republicans don't like kids," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Meanwhile, they're using SCHIP as a Trojan horse to sneak government-run health care into the states," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Sponsors of the legislation rejected criticism that it would expand coverage to families of four earning up to $83,000.

The criticisms don't hold water in my book. Looking at the figure quoted, it seems very very high - how could someone who makes $83,000 a year not be able to afford health insurance?

Unfortunately, quite easily. Assuming you live in a major metropolitan area, salaries are high - but so is the cost of living. So that $83,000 for a family of four does not explain the realities of what it costs to feed and clothe a family - particularly if you are one of the millions of independent contractors who has to pay for insurance out of their own pocket.

So, if your 80K is tagged for rent (40%) and taxes (25%), you are really only working with $28,000 a year. Now account for food, clothing, and transportation across 4 people, with $28,000. See? The situation starts to look bleak.

And with independent health care options for a family of four STARTING at around $350 a month (esurance has some current quotes) it is no wonder why people banking $80K might struggle trying to afford the crippling cost of insurance.

I am surprised at the short memory of President Bush. At the beginning of this year, the DC area was shocked at the revelation that a child had died for the lack of proper dental care. The child had an abscess in his tooth which allowed bacteria to seep into his brain. Due to limited finances, his mother had to choose which child could receive emergency dental care - his brother was deemed a higher risk.

Fund the damn bill.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Food Politics is an activist issue

Sorry for all the gaps between posts - it's been a weird summer. Things should straighten out by October.

In the meantime, the Louisiana Weekly has an interesting article on the Farm Bill and Urban Food Policy. (See the title link for the full article.)

The article states:

The nation's capital leads the nation in childhood obesity, according to a recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey. This fact comes as no surprise to the National Urban League. We studied D.C.'s 8th Ward, where more than one-third of residents live in poverty and more than one-third of its children are obese.

The neighborhood is a classic food desert. Saturated with fast food outlets, it doesn't offer a single full-size chain supermarket, and the three small grocery stores that do business there offer outdated meat and tired-looking produce. Fast food and convenience stores make up 81 percent of food resources. The Food Research and Action Center, a D.C.-based nonprofit working to eradicate hunger in the United States, has even given the neighborhood a grade of "D" for community food security.

This is something I've witnessed first hand. In many parts of DC, there is no major grocery store for 20 mins in any direction. It might sound like a minor inconvenience to suburabanites, but that time and distance really add up - especially if you need to haul groceries on the metro, or ride a crowded city bus with bags at your feet.

The article continues:

As 8th Ward residents struggled to find a decent apple or a non-wilted bunch of collard greens, only one mile away the U.S. House of Representatives was writing its 2007 Farm Bill, the nation's most vital piece of food legislation. Calls for reform in farm-support programs and significant increases in nutrition and conservation spending made little progress. While the House included new programs and increased spending for existing ones, their size and scale simply do not measure up to the scope of the problem.

Over 300 doctors and other health professionals asked Congress to write a farm bill that will improve access to healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and help to build the infrastructure to get healthy foods to low-income communities.

This is sorely needed as most affluent US kids do not get the nurtition they deserve. What about the kids with no access to health care, dental care, or basic green leafy foods?

With 35 million Americans classified by the USDA as food insecure, the House passed a bill that made only marginal improvements to the Food Stamp Program, the nation's most important defense against hunger. It increased the minimum monthly allotment from $10 per person-where it has been now for over 30 years-to a stingy $18.

That's just pitiful. Think about how much it costs to eat each day. I can blow through $10 at the local deli, on a breakfast sandwich and juice. And someone is trying to survive on that?

Since 1985 the actual price of fruits and vegetables has risen 40 percent, while the price of sugar and fats has fallen as much as 14 percent. These disparities in the cost of healthy and unhealthy food reflect U.S. farm policies that give nearly nothing to fruit and vegetable producers but pass along the lion's share of public support to commodity crop farmers.

Let there be no mistake about it-urban America wants farmers to succeed. We have watched with delight as 4,500 farmers markets have blossomed nationwide. As those farmers have brought their abundance to urban consumers, we have brought our demand for healthy locally grown food. The synergy between city and country has never been so robust and the market opportunities so immense. That is why our farm policies must do more to strengthen the viability of local and regional farming to help meet the surging demand.

Underserved communities cannot be denied access to the same healthy and affordable food that is available to more affluent Americans. With good food and farm policies, we can realistically expect that our future generations will be free of the dietary challenges that now confront them.


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Monday, September 03, 2007

DC and the Continuing Dance of Gentrification

Browsing the blogs, I stumbled across this piece in USA Today:

Much has changed since Ben's Chili Bowl opened nearly 50 years ago on a bustling strip known as America's Black Broadway for its thriving black-owned shops and theaters.

Back then, the red-and-white diner was a popular hangout for black bankers, doctors and blue-collar workers who lived and worked along U Street. Even jazz greats Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald could be found devouring chili half-smokes and milkshakes after performing at nearby clubs.

Now, on some days, the crowd at the Washington landmark is mostly white, reflecting a neighborhood metamorphosis that has brought in high-end condominiums and businesses like Starbucks.

"Sometimes you look around and wonder, 'Where are all the black people?"' said Virginia Ali, who opened the diner with her husband, Ben, in 1958.

Stephen Colbert had once joked "DC is the chocolate city with the marshmallow center." Unfortunately, it is becoming a situation where the marshmallow center is slowly overtaking the whole city.

Now, taken individually, I do not have a problem with more white people moving to the city.

I have no problem with the city undergoing some much needed structural improvements.

And I see no issue with revitalizing neighborhoods.

However, this quote illustrates my reservations:

Change also is happening near the new convention center on the edge of downtown, where Shirley Williams is trying to hold on to the apartment she has lived in for 33 years. Her landlord recently agreed to sell to a developer who plans to tear it down.

"I've been here through all the rough times and now that it's getting better they want me to leave," the retired school teacher's assistant said. "I don't think that's right."

Why do these changes have to come at such a steep cost to historical residents?

Why am I priced out of my own city?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The CIA Presents...A Space!

You can't make this shit up.

From the mouths of the BBC:

The CIA is to open a communications tool for its staff, modeled on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, the Financial Times reports.

The project, known as A-Space, aims to improve the way that intelligence agents communicate, it said.

Officials believe that the online workplace will allow staff to better analyze information together.

However to ease fears of undercover workers having their cover blown, participation will be voluntary.


So, the fate of the free world may be in the hands of a modified social networking site? Have they seen MySpace lately? Are they going to start a Facebook group like "terrorist-hataz 202?"

We are so screwed...

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Death Knells on the Way for Cheap Fashion?

Robin Givhan, fashion writer for the Washington Post, covers an interesting turn of events in fashion - the formulation of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act.

Givhan reports:

The end may be near for easy access to cheap, unauthorized knockoffs of designer clothes. Capitol Hill has taken up the cause of fashion.

New York Democrats Sen. Charles Schumer -- in a dark suit, red tie and pale blue shirt -- and Rep. Jerrold Nadler -- in a dark suit, red tie and white shirt -- took the stage Wednesday at the Fashion Institute of Technology, along with designers Narciso Rodriguez, Nicole Miller, Richard Lambertson and others, to champion the Design Piracy Prohibition Act.


For designers, knockoffs have always been an aggravation. They cut into sales, tarnish a brand's luster and knock the wind out of young designers trying to establish their identity in the marketplace.

But seeking out a bargain basement version of a designer frock has always been considered a frugal shopper's right. Perusing the wares of street vendors for a fake Marc Jacobs or Kate Spade bag is part of the tourist experience in New York. And scouring department stores for the prom version of a one-of-a-kind Oscar gown has become a seasonal tradition.

Back in the days when the world moved at a slower pace, the impact of knockoffs was more modest. There was more lag time before high-end designs trickled down to the world of copies, homages and send-ups. By the time they did, designers had reaped whatever profits they could from their original work and had moved on to the next trend. Hoi polloi were welcome to the season-old designs. Besides, the masses were never going to spend a thousand dollars on a designer day dress or a handbag.

Now, the Internet gives knockoff artists nearly instant access to designers' most recent work -- long before it ever reaches stores. Super-fast and cheap manufacturing in places such as China make design piracy especially efficient and lucrative. And now that designers themselves are launching their own less expensive lines and licensing their names to mass merchants, their customers are no longer limited to those with vast sums of disposable income. They are looking to appeal to everyone: Bergdorf customers to Kohl's shoppers. Imitation is no longer flattering; it's a direct assault on a designer's bottom line.

Hmm...I'm kind of torn on this issue.

On one hand, I understand and sympathize with designers. I mean, after creating a wonderful design rife with personal touches, it would be gut-wrenching to walk into a knockoff imporium and see my dress hanging there. And some things are blatant copyright infrigement.

However, as a budget concious shopper, I am a bit worried about the implications of this band. I rely on stores like H & M and Forever 21 to give me fashionable wardrobe updates for under $100 - if they are forced out of business by a wave of lawsuits (like the ones currently leveled at Forever 21) what would be their replacement?

While Target has the right idea about designer tie ins (getting expensive designers to do a low end line for their stores), I feel like someone has to draw a line about claiming artistic rights - after all, a sheath dress is a sheath dress...so I worry about classic designs being staked out as a "classic design."

I know I am not trying to live in a world devoid of cheap hobo bags!

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