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You Wake Up on a Pile of Money You Earned Unethically   Leave a comment

You are, unfortunately, a centrist pundit.

You have your job because you provide a veneer of objectivity on the corporate agenda of the person that signs your checks.  It is a relaxing life, all told: no accountability, a base salary a few multiples of the median that’s supplemented by lucrative speaking fees, regular invitations to pseudo-intellectual wanking conferences in scenic spots like Aspen.  A charmed existence by any measure.

But everything’s not all peaches and cream.  Occasionally there’s a situation that demands comment, and whose facts on the ground are so skewed against the corporate vision of your employer that it takes remarkable feats of hackery to obscure them.

And it takes a toll.  When something like the Chicago Teachers Union strike comes along, there will be ulcers and sleepless nights.  “I have to comment on this but my God what am I going to say.  The only pay issue is the mayor requiring 20% more work for only 2% more pay, so I can’t hammer them for being greedy; the teachers are mainly striking over an evaluation system that would place 40% of the weight on high-stakes testing and the rest on layers of arbitrary judgment for which there will be no training and no oversight.  And the rest is more funding for smaller class size, for air conditioners and asbestos removal.   I can’t really defend a testing regime that is largely unproven, and with what evidence there is pointing to wild arbitrary swings in scores; I can’t defend giving administrators tremendous authority with arbitrary guidelines and no oversight; I can’t be pro-asbestos – yet – so what am I going to do?”

This is when you earn your paycheck.  This is when your skills are most needed. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted September 18, 2012 by Ben in Uncategorized

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BBC Breakfast – Wednesday 8 August 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download the mp3 at their website.]

First the News:

Neil Nunez: BBC News with Neil Nunez.

  1. Egyptian state television says the security forces have killed as many as twenty (20) Islamist militants and destroyed two armored vehicles in the Sinai Peninsula near the border with Israel.  The security forces used helicopter gunships against the militants near the town of al-Arish hours after militants opened fire on three security checkpoints in the town.
  2. Iran has acknowledged for the first time that the group of forty-eight (48) Iranian hostages being held by rebels in Syria include former members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.  Tehran had previously insisted that the group were all pilgrims visiting sites in Syria.
  3. Meanwhile, both government and rebel forces are reporting more shelling and clashes in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.  Activists say more than forty (40) people were killed in the city on Tuesday.  The human rights group Amnesty International has said that it is increasingly concerned about the welfare of civilians in Aleppo after satellite images revealed more than six hundred new craters a few kilometers outside the city.
  4. Over sixty percent (60%) of the Philippine capital Manila is underwater after more than a week of heavy rain.  The head of the national disaster agency described the city as a water world with the roads in some areas like rivers.  The floods have killed at least sixteen (16) people.
  5. NATO forces in Afghanistan say three of its members have died in a suicide attack in the east of the country.  Reports said one Afghan also died.  The soldiers were members of a foot patrol in Kunar province and were killed by two bombers.  The Taliban said they carried out the attack.
  6. India will be hoping to improve on its slim medal tally at the London Olympic Games today when one of its biggest sports stars, Mary Kom, fights for a place in the flyweight boxing finals.  The 29-year-old, a five time world champion, is already guaranteed at least a bronze medal.

BBC News.

Second the Snark:

Just six headlines today, but only one about the Olympics, so it’s mostly real news.  On the other hand, simply noting the continued casualties in Afghanistan and Syria isn’t really “new”, plural or otherwise.  The Syrian government appears to be making a big push to regain control of Aleppo, but that’s the same thing they were doing last week.  Similarly, the Taliban claiming credit for blowing up a few NATO soldiers is the same thing they’ve been doing for the last decade.

The Iranian hostage story is a little more complicated, if for no other reason than everything involving Iran and Syria is complicated:

Saeed Jalili, a senior aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Assad that Iran will continue to back the Syrian government.

During talks with Assad, Jalili said that what was happening in Syria was "not an internal issue".

It is "a conflict between the axis of resistance on one hand, and the regional and global enemies of this axis on the other," Jalili said.

On Monday, while on a visit to Beirut, the Lebanese capital, Jalili issued a veiled warning to countries backing the rebels.

"Those who believe that, by developing insecurity in the countries of the region by sending arms and exporting terrorism, they are buying security for themselves are wrong," Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted him as telling Adnan Mansour, Lebanon’s foreign minister.

That message is probably aimed more at the Saudis than it is at anyone else.  The Kingdom is supposedly at the forefront of arming the Syrian rebels, but it also had to basically give its population a massive bribe last year to forestall a popular uprising. 

In Egypt, the government has had to use helicopters against “militants” in the Sinai for the first time since 1973.  That story is far too fresh and confusing for outsiders to make much of it yet, especially given the unsettled nature of Egyptian politics at the moment. 

BBC has some incredible pictures of the flooding in Manila, including one of people floating past a very prosperous looking “Executive Tower”. 

Posted August 8, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized

BBC Breakfast – Tuesday 7 August 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download the mp3 at their website.]

First the News:

  1. Iran has said it holds the United States responsible for the safety of forty-eight (48) Iranians being held hostage by a rebel group in Syria.  The Iranian deputy foreign minister said that what he called “America’s open support for terrorist groups and its dispatch of weapons to Syria” made Washington responsible for the life of the men.
  2. The Philippine capital Manila has been brought to a near standstill by flood waters after almost twenty-four hours of continuous rain.  Government offices and financial markets were closed.  Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. 
  3. Shares in the British bank Standard Chartered have fallen sharply after financial regulators in New York accused the bank of hiding more than two hundred and fifty billion ($250,000,000,000) in illegal transactions with Iran.  Standard Chartered shares dropped by more than fifteen percent (15%) in early trading in London after similar falls in Hong Kong. 
  4. Gunman in central Nigeria have shot dead at least fifteen (15) people in an attack on a church.  Officials in Kogi state say the attack took place during a late night service on Monday.
  5. Officials in eastern Afghanistan say a suicide bomber has attacked a NATO military base, injuring at least eleven (11) Afghans and two (2) foreign troops.  The bomber used a truck packed with explosives to target the base in Logar province. 
  6. Day eleven of the London Olympics will see a number of athletics finals.  The men’s 1500m, high jump, and the women’s 100m hurdles.  Jamaica’s Usain Bolt will begin his attempt to be first man to win the 100 and 200m golds in two successive Olympics.
  7. The Russian state prosecutor in the trial of the punk rock band Pussy Riot has asked for a sentence of three years each to be given to the singers.  The three girls who performed in Moscow’s main cathedral calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of the president, Vladimir Putin, could’ve faced a maximum sentence of seven years. 

Second the Snark:

The details of the Pussy Riot “trial” are just as bizarre and absurd as you’d expect:

So many of the defence lawyers’ questions are simply being disallowed by the judge. "Are you aware the halls inside the church are rented for $10,000 a time?" one of them asks, but the question is simply struck off.

To add to the craziness, there’s a dog in the middle of the courtroom, though it was a different one today. They alternate: there are two of them, a huge German shepherd and a rottweiler. They bark madly whenever anyone raises their voice.

Even in murder trials you don’t have them, it’s only when, say, the boss of organised crime goes on trial. Never in an ordinary case.

Russia knows show trials.  Oh, and BBC?  The members of Pussy Riot are many things, but they stopped being “girls” a long time ago. 

The Nigerian shooting doesn’t have a responsible party yet, though religiously based attacks have been on the rise of late.  This one comes just a few days after another unknown group of armed men attacked an oil services boat.

The Afghan bombing is so ho-hum that the BBC’s homepage right now doesn’t even list it.  They’ve got a different bombing, against a minibus in Kabul, as their only Afghan story, and it’s tucked down near the bottom with the other minor stories.  Neither Al Jazeera or the New York Times homepages mention either. 

The Manila Times has the current death count from today’s flooding at five people with half the city under water.  A typhoon swept by the country last week, and fifty people have been killed in flooding nationwide.

The two Iran stories, the British bank hiding their money and their government blaming the US for hostages taken in Syria, are of a kind.  So far the bank is denying the charges, and Washington doesn’t give a shit about Iranian hostages (for all kinds of reasons), so neither is likely to change things much. 

Posted August 7, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized

BBC Breakfast – Monday 6 August 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download the mp3 at their website.]

First the News:

Ian Pertin(sp?): BBC News with Ian Pertin. 

  1. The American space agency NASA is celebrating the successful landing of its robotic vehicle Mars following a journey lasting nine months.  Staff at mission control in California cheered and hugged each other as the Mars rover, known as Curiosity, touched down.  It’s mission is to search for clues about whether the planet was ever capable of supporting life.
  2. Syrian state television is reporting that the prime minister, Riad Hijab, has been dismissed.  He was appointed only in May and there’s no immediate explanation as to why he’s been removed.  Details are still coming in.
  3. The president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, has promised that Egyptian security forces will take full control of the Sinai peninsula after gunmen attacked the border with Israel.  At least sixteen (16) Egyptian border guards were killed.  Israel said the heavily armed attackers tried to force their way across the border.
  4. India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, says he’s shocked and saddened by an attack on a Sikh temple in the American state of Wisconsin in which at least six people died.  A gunman opened fire on worshippers who’d gathered for morning prayers in the city of Oak Creek. 
  5. Chinese police have detained nearly two thousand people as part of a nationwide operation to clamp down on fake drugs.  Officials said about a hundred and eighty million ($180,000,000) dollars of counterfeit products were seized. 
  6. Officials in the Philippines says members of a Muslim rebel group have launched simultaneous attacks in several southern towns and villages, killing at least three (3) people.  Hundreds of villagers are reported to have fled their homes. 
  7. Day ten of the London Olympic Games and the athletics stadium will host finals of the men’s four hundred meters (400m) and the women’s shot put.  In the women’s pole vault, Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia is aiming to become the first female athlete ever to win three consecutive gold medals. 
  8. And the Chinese gymnast, Chen Yibing, will attempt to retain his Olympic title on the rings. 

Second the Snark:

Today’s Daily Commute podcast is a special about the Olympic performance of African countries this summer, so the format is different than usual.  (And I couldn’t find the spelling of today’s newsreader on their website.)  Of today’s headlines, six of them, a nice, round three quarters, qualify as real news, though the Chinese arresting a shitload of people for selling counterfeit drugs is a story that probably loses most or all of its meaning without a lot of context. 

The Syrian Prime Minister has apparently fled to Jordan and defected away from the Assad government.  Al Jazeera is reporting that his escape was long planned and that he’s encouraging other officials to join the rebels as well.  Chalk this up as more bad news for Bashar al-Assad, who should probably be looking to purchase a nice retirement home in southern Russia at this point.

The situation on the Israeli-Egyptian border is still very confused, with both the Egyptian government and Hamas closing their crossings into Gaza, and Israel saying that the attack was intended to capture an Israeli soldier.  Similar uncertainty surrounds the gunman in Wisconsin who murdered a bunch of Sikhs yesterday.  So far, the FBI has been tightlipped about who he was and why they think he did it.

The Manila Times is calling the simultaneous attacks on villages the work of a “breakaway group of Muslim rebels” called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which has the less than intimidating acronym of BIFF.  The group they broke away from, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is negotiating with the government and has an even more unfortunate English abbreviation, MILF. 

And, in very cool news, NASA’s Rube Goldberg landing plan actually worked:

 

Well done, NASA.  They’re going to spend the next few weeks making sure all the equipment survived the landing before they start vaporizing rocks with Curiosity’s million watt death ray and digging into Mars with the goal of seeing if life ever existed there. 

[Note: This was posted late because Comcast sucks ass.]

Posted August 6, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized

BBC Breakfast – Friday 3 August 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download the mp3 at their website.]

First the News:

Female Announcer: This is a download from the BBC.  To find out more and our terms of use, go to bbcworldservice.com/podcasts.

Dan Damon: This is Dan Damon with your World Update Daily Commute recorded on Friday at 5:30am U.S. East Coast time.  Coming up, we’ll hear from fans and from world champion athletes about Usain Bolt’s chances of winning gold. 

Track Guy: Bolt is not at his best at this point.  The idea of him running faster here than he did in Beijing or faster than his world record probably won’t happen.  We know that we’re in for a really exciting race, and no one knows who’s going to win it.

(Full story at 12:00)

Damon: And in our special program, coming from overlooking the Olympic stadium, the organizers promised to inspire the next generation.  Well, I’ll visit a project bringing horse riding to one of London’s toughest neighborhoods. 

Girl: Really, it’s like your own personal space.  Like you come here and you, like, you’re given like a free reign.  Like, you can do what you want on the horses.

(Full story at 19:40)

Damon: First the news.

Jonathan Izard:  BBC news with Jonathan Izard.

  1. The United Nations General Assembly is to vote on a resolution condemning the Security Council for its failure to take action against the Syrian government.  The text was drafted by Saudi Arabia, which supports the Syrian rebels. 
  2. In Syria itself, there’s been more heavy fighting.  Activist groups say about a hundred and seventy (170) people were killed on Thursday, many of them in the central city of Hama.  At least ten (10) people were reported to have died when mortars hit a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
  3. The American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is visiting South Sudan briefly.  The highest ranking US official to go there since it’s independence last year.  The United States is urging South Sudan and Sudan to step up efforts to resolve serious differences which recently brought them to the brink of war.
  4. The UN says North Korea has asked for stocks of food and fuel aid to be made available after floods last month submerged vast areas of farmland and killed more than a hundred people.  Even before the flooding, the UN estimated that two thirds (2/3) of the population faced chronic malnutrition. 
  5. The much anticipated athletics competitions have begun at the 2012 Olympics with the hurdles heats in the women’s heptathlon.  Later today, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba will defend the 10,000 meters title she won in Beijing, with Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya expected to be her strongest challenger.  Also taking place will be the men’s shot put final. 
  6. An Indian women who was accused of gate crashing the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games to enter the stadium with Indian athletes has apologized.  Madhura Nagendra appeared smiling and waving to crowds while walking next to India’s flag bearer.  Her appearance prompted a wave of criticism and an official protest from India. 
  7. The former Mongolian president, Nambar Enkhbayar, has been jailed for four years after being convicted of corruption charges that he described as politically motivated.  Mr. Enkhbayar served as prime minister and then president until his electoral defeat in 2009. 

Izard: BBC News.

Second the Snark

Two of today’s seven headlines, (5) and (6), are Olympics related, and therefore not news.  (Though I did get to use the official and craptacular london2012.com website to look up the spelling of the heptathletes names.  The 10,000 meter contestant from Kenya only weighs 86 pounds.  Olympic athletes are weird.)  The story about the General Assembly taking a vote is also hardly newsworthy.  The General Assembly takes indignant votes about what kind of pizza toppings to order.  That they’re mad at the Security Council hasn’t been news since about 1973. 

The rest of the headlines do qualify as news, though most of them are just boilerplate notices of ongoing fatalities.  Syria?  Still at war.  North Korea?  Still starving.  Sudan and South Sudan?  Still fucked up.  Thanks, BBC.

The conviction of the ex-President of Mongolia is interesting if for no other reason than this:

The court in Ulan Batur found him guilty of taking television equipment intended as a donation to a monastery and charges relating to the illegal privatisation of a hotel and publishing house, Xinhua news agency said.

It’s not quite stampeding cattle through the Vatican, but stealing television equipment from monks is at least a novel reason to get sent away for four years. 

Posted August 3, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized

BBC Breakfast – Thursday 2 August 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download the mp3 at their website.]

First the News:

Female Announcer: This is a download from the BBC.  To find out more and our terms of use, go to bbcworldservice.com/podcasts.

Dan Damon: This is Dan Damon with your World Update Daily Commute recorded on Thursday at 5:30am U.S. East Coast time.  Coming up, one of the great rivalries of the Olympics sees another round today, Michael Phelps taking on Ryan Lochte in the pool.  And President Putin paying a visit to the Games, but critics say the IOC should’ve torn up his ticket.  A number of positive developments for women are leading some people to ask if the London Games are the women’s Olympics.

Female Olympics Fan: I’m really proud, to be honest, because it shows that there’s more equality around the world.  And it’s not just a man’s world.

(Full story at 4:00 mark)

Damon: And, have wheels will travel, sales of bicycles are sharply up in London during the games, and skateboards. 

Skateboarder: It’s much more of a sprint on a skateboard than a bike.  I guess you could do five miles nice and easy without getting sweaty before work.

(Full story at 24:30)

Damon: First the news.

Jonathan Izard: BBC news with Jonathan Izard.

  1. Opposition activists in the Syrian capital Damascus have accused government forces and militia of summarily killing more than seventy people there.  Heavy fighting is continuing in the capital, and also in the largest city Aleppo, where reports say that rebels have launched an attack on the main military airbase.  Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council has criticized rebel gunman in Aleppo for killing several prisoners who belonged to a pro-government militia.
  2. A survey by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, has found that three million (3,000,000) Syrians need food, crops and livestock assistance.
  3. The Russian president Vladimir Putin will discuss Syria with the British Prime Minister later today on the Russian leader’s first visit to Britain since relations between the two countries deteriorated.  It’s seven years since Mr. Putin last visited Britain. 
  4. An official of the Indonesian Olympic team in London has told the BBC that the female badminton team deliberately tried to lose their last group match to get an easier game in the next round of the competition, and that other teams had the same policy.  World badminton officials disqualified players from Indonesia, South Korea, and China for throwing matches.
  5. Leaders of the European Central Bank will meet later today in Frankfurt, a week after its president, Mario Draghi, said the ECB would do whatever was needed to preserve the Euro.  Markets interpreted his statement to mean strong intervention to take over some of the debts of countries in difficulty, particularly Spain.
  6. A United Nations deadline expires today for Sudan and South Sudan to settle critical disputes left unresolved when the South became independent last year.  The two states could now face potential UN sanctions.
  7. The government of Uganda says sixteen (16) people have died from the Ebola virus that’s broken out in the west of the country.  But a doctor at the center which analyzes the blood samples said there were only five cases confirmed so far and there was no cause for panic.

That’s the latest BBC World Service news.

Second the Snark

Well done, BBC, only one story among the headlines, the ludicrously dumb badminton thing (4), isn’t news today.  Though it’s hard to get too excited over the gender equality of the Games when Google tells me that male athletes still outnumber female ones by 25%.  Closer than it’s ever been doesn’t mean it’s actually equal.

In real news, the ECB looks set to continue doing whatever the minimum necessary to keep the Euro limping along until the next crisis, which should be in about two weeks.  Speaking of continuing problems, the Syrian civil war is still going strong, with both the rebels and government killing the defenseless today.  Adjusted for the relative size of the population, those three million people the UN says are going to need food aid would be the rough equivalent of the entire populations of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois in the United States.  That’s a big chunk of the country. 

It’d be interesting to hear what Putin says to Cameron about Syria, though it’s probably some variation of “I’m going to let them fight it out, now let’s go watch judo”.  It’s also funny that people think the IOC, which has to be up there with FIFA as the most openly corrupt organization on the planet, would tear up the ticket of the leader of one of the most openly crooked governments on the planet.  Putin and the IOC go hand in hand, Sochi 2014! 

The UN deadline for Sudan and South Sudan is one of those disheartening leftovers from just a year ago where there was some hope that peace would break out between the two of them.  They were supposed to have been negotiating their border this last year, not fighting over it and making an already bad refugee crisis worse.

And finally, Ebola remains a scary enough disease (they even made a crappy Dustin Hoffman movie about it) that it makes the news even though it’s endemic to central Africa and the quarantine procedures are well understood.  (Uganda has real doctors, you know.)  It’s a terrible way to die, but there are a lot of those, and this outbreak is very unlikely to spread far. 

Posted August 2, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized

BBC Breakfast – Wednesday 1 August 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download the mp3 at their website.]

First the News:

Female Announcer: This is a download from the BBC.  To find out more and our terms of use, go to bbcworldservice.com/podcasts.

Dan Damon: This is Dan Damon with your World Update Daily Commute recorded on Wednesday at 5:30am U.S. East Coast time.  Coming up, the distinguished writer and commentator Gore Vidal has died at his home in the United States.  We’ll look back at his career and speak to one of those who knew him well.  And we’ll hear from the man himself on life, politics, and bad reviews:

Vidal: The United States hates its own writers, they really hate us.  Between Mailer and me, we had more bad reviews than Osama bin Laden got.

(Full story at 9:00 mark)

Damon: Plus, criticism of four Olympic badminton teams after they seemed to move Heaven and Earth to lose the game guaranteeing an easier draw for the next round.

Woman: The poor crowd who had to watch, who paid good money, you cannot do this in Olympic games.  This is something that is just not acceptable.

(Full story at 3:00 mark)

Damon: First the news.

Jonathan Izard: BBC news with Jonathan Izard. 

  1. China has launched an investigation into charges that two of its badminton players tried to lose their matches at the Olympics.  The Chinese, along with two pairs from South Korea and one from Indonesia, were loudly booed by the crowd and are facing disciplinary action by the badminton world federation.  Some of the players said they were conserving energy, but reports suggest they wanted to lose in order to gain an easier time in the next round.
  2. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, says the fate of Syria depends on the battle currently being fought with rebels.  In a statement addressed to the army, Mr. Assad said the destiny of the Syrian people and the nation past, present and future, rested on the outcome.  An activist group says fighting has now broken out in a Christian neighborhood in Damascus.
  3. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has accused Syria of committing crimes against humanity.  The group says that earlier this year government forces in Aleppo opened fire on peaceful protesters and bystanders, including children. 
  4. An Israeli law which has long exempted Ultra Orthodox Jews from military service has expired.  Tens of thousands of Ultra Orthodox men could now be called up, prompting an angry response. 
  5. An inquiry is underway in India into what caused the massive power failures on two consecutive days which affected more than six hundred million (600,000,000) people.  It took until the early hours of Wednesday to fix the three grids.
  6. A new report by Human Rights Watch says there’s been a campaign of violence by the Burmese authorities against a Muslim minority following sectarian clashes.  Violence spread in June between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in western Burma.  The report accuses the security forces of first standing by, and then carrying out killings, rapes and mass arrests that targeted Muslims. 
  7. One of America’s most successful and distinguished writers and commentators, Gore Vidal, has died in Los Angeles.  He was 86.  Gore Vidal wrote such best selling books as “The City and the Pillar”, which was among the first novels to feature openly gay characters. 

BBC World Service News.

Second the Snark

Mostly news this morning, though why they felt the need to dedicate a third of their airtime to a sport as perennially obscure as badminton (1) is a little baffling.  Similarly, Vidal (7) was an interesting guy, but hardly one who needs a lot of remembering on a morning news broadcast. 

Among the living and relevant, Syria continues to battle itself.  The Amnesty International report can simply be added to the list of outside groups, countries and individuals that have credibly accused the Assad government of indiscriminately killing many of its own people.  And the Assad statement is just that, a statement of no real meaning.  It isn’t like he hasn’t already promised to stay and fight to the last.  Meanwhile, as in many wars, both sides are claiming progress and saying the other is full of shit.  One thing is for sure though, the government is not in control of Aleppo. 

The initial blame for the Indian blackout is being fixed on individual states that tried to draw more power than was available.  Once again, the Hindustan Times has a nice article and a few informative graphics about what happened and why.  And, yes, it could happen again if individuals fail to maintain “grid discipline”. 

East of India, The Rohingya live in and around the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, and are a small minority in both countries.  Al Jazeera has a recap of the mundanely terrible events that led to the Human Rights Watch report:

The riots followed two brutal incidents in Rakhine state: the May 28 rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Rohingya males, who were sentenced to death, and the June 3 lynching in response of 10 non-Rohingya Muslims travelling on a bus.

Human Rights Watch said police and troops did not intervene to stop the mobs from beating the Muslims to death. During the riots that followed, it said some Rohingyas who tried to flee or put out fires at their homes were shot at by paramilitaries.

Finally, while it’s now legally possible for Ultra Orthodox men in Israel to be drafted, no one is going to be inducted for at least a month.  The real question is whether or not this will cause Benjamin Netanyahu’s fundamentalist allies to crash his parliamentary majority or not.  Fundamentalists being a naturally ornery constituency, it’s very possible, but it’s also Israeli politics, so who the hell knows?

Posted August 1, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized

BBC Breakfast – Tuesday 31 July 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download the mp3 at their website.]

First the News:

Female Announcer: This is a download from the BBC.  To find out more and our terms of use, go to bbcworldservice.com/podcasts.

Dan Damon: This is Dan Damon with your World Update Daily Commute recorded on Tuesday at 5:30am U.S. East Coast time.  Coming up, sixteen-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen rejects suggestions she took performance enhancing drugs to achieve her stunning gold medal victory at the London Olympics.  One U.S. coach labeled her swim impossible, but is it?

Australian Professor: It is difficult to know, and I guess that’s why the speculation is out there.  And we don’t know too much about her history before this particular point.

(Full story at 3:00 mark)

Damon: Another huge power failure in India, this time half of the population is affected.  How al-Qaeda’s building it’s strength in Syria extending its anti-Shia ideology from Iraq.  But will Syrian Sunnis reject the Islamists? 

Guardian Reporter: Sunni Islam in Syria is not the same Sunni Islam in Iraq.  The Syrians are more pragmatic, they’re not as bloody and mad as the Iraqis, I can say that.

(Full story at 13:00 mark)

Damon: First the news.

Neil Nunes: BBC news with Neil Nunes. 

  1. A massive power cut has hit India for the second day in a row, leaving about six hundred million (600,000,000) people without electricity.  The grid failed again in the north and has now also collapsed in the east.  In Delhi, the metro system has ground to a halt, long distance trains have also been hit, while hospitals and other essential services are running on backup generators.
  2. China’s sixteen-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen has strongly denied that she took performance enhancing drugs to achieve her stunning gold medal victory at the London Olympics on Saturday.  She smashed the world record in the 400 meter medley, swimming the final lap faster than the men’s champion in the same event.  Ye Shiwen has not failed a drugs test.
  3. The Syrian army has continued to battle rebels in Aleppo, with reports of more clashes and helicopter gunship attacks.  Activists say more than twenty-five people died there on Monday, while refugees continue to stream out of the city. 
  4. A UN assessment team is visiting flood damaged parts of North Korea following heavy rains that’s reported to have left some ninety (90) people dead.  Photographs in the state media showed buildings and trees submerged in muddy water, and rivers running through streets.
  5. Scientists in the United States have identified a new strain of flu which they say could pose a threat to human health.  H3N8 has been associated with the deaths of seals in New England.  The scientists say the mutation means H3N8 also has the ability to target the human respiratory tract. 
  6. The Red Cross in Kenya says more than thirty-thousand (30,000) Ethiopian refugees have arrived in the north of the country after clashes last week between rival ethnic groups.  Food and water are scarce. 
  7. Australian police have seized what they say is one of the largest ever hauls of illegal drugs.  Crystal methamphetamine and heroin, worth more than half-a-billion ($500,000,000) dollars, were hidden in imported terra cotta pots. 

Second the Snark:

Only two of the headlines today aren’t news, but since there’s only seven of them, the non-news still comes close to a third of the total.  The Chinese swimmer’s record breaking speed (2) isn’t of any real concern to anyone outside of competitive swimming.  In general, performance enhancing drugs accusations, tests, and denials are always a waste of time.  The tests suck, real cheaters will always have an advantage, everyone has a reason to lie, and the moral panic involved is useless and dumb. 

Speaking of moral panic, the morning’s other non-news story is the chemical seizure in Australia (7).  Dope on the table is the least interesting drug story there is.  The value the cops assign is always inflated, and no one, not even the narcs themselves, really thinks these kinds of seizures do anything to reduce illegal drug use. 

In real news, The Hindustan Times has full coverage of the Indian blackout, including explanations of how the grid failed in the first place.  Temperatures in India are set to remain in the 90s through the rest of the week, so this may go on for some time. 

In Syria, fighting inside Aleppo continues, but Al Jazeera has video of the rebels taking a captured government tank on a victory lap after they drove the Syrian army from the town of al-Bab near Aleppo.  The report has amazing combat footage and interviews with Syrian soldiers who deserted after the food ran out. 

There isn’t much further information on the North Korean flooding, though BBC does have an AFP picture of submerged buildings.  Ditto the seal flu in the US.  BBC’s story on that is so isolated that the automatic “related reading” feature is stories from three and four years ago. 

There also isn’t much else on the Ethiopian refugees headed into Kenya, though between Somalia and Ethiopia, northern Kenya already has a massive, semi-permanent refugee population on its hands.  Another 30,000 people isn’t going to cause the rest of the world to start giving a shit.

Posted July 31, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized

BBC Breakfast – Monday 30 July 2012   Leave a comment

[At around 7am every morning, the BBC World Service publishes its Daily Commute podcast.  It’s a fantastic source of news, albeit one with a lot of flaws.  This post is a transcript and critique of the first three minutes.  You can listen to the entire thirty minute program on-line or download an mp3 from their website.]

First the News:

Female Announcer: This is a download from the BBC.  To find out more and our terms of use, go to bbcworldservice.com/podcasts. 

Dan Damon: This is Dan Damon with your World Update Daily Commute recorded on Monday at 5:30am U.S. East Coast time.  And we’re here at St Pancras railway station, one of the bustling Olympic transport hubs in London, heaving with fans catching the Javelin trains to the Olympic park, and we’ll hear from a few of them. 

Male Olympic Fan: That’s great, it’s brilliant.
Damon: Which sport are you going to watch?
Male Olympic Fan: Handball.
Damon: Do you know anything about handball?
Male Olympic Fan: [laughs] No, we don’t, actually.

(Full story at the 5:00 mark)

Damon: And in our first full week of Olympic sport, we’ll hear what’s coming up and a closer look at a few sports, fencing today, and cycling.

Cycling Guy: You have these alliances between enemies in cycling.  That’s the way it’s always worked.  And you can only win often if you can form an alliance with your enemy. 

(Full story at the 7:00 mark)

Damon: Plus the art of the Olympic medal and in other news a huge power failure in northern India.  First the news headlines.

Neil Nunes:  BBC news with Neil Nunes. 

  1. A huge power failure is affecting northern India, cutting off hundreds of millions of people across nine states.  Officials said the electricity grid crashed because some states used more power than they were authorized to. 
  2. Meanwhile, fire has swept through carriages on an overnight passenger train in southern India, killing as many as forty-seven people.  It’s thought the blaze was started by an electrical fault. 
  3. Reports from Syria say the army has overrun at least part of the Salah al-Din neighborhood in the city of Aleppo after a night of heavy bombardment.  Syrian state media said the district, formerly a rebel stronghold, had been purged. 
  4. The United Nations estimates that around two hundred thousand (200,000) people have fled the fighting in Aleppo over the past two days.  The head of the UN humanitarian operations, Valerie Amos, says others are trapped in the city and in urgent need of help.
  5. The trial of three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot has begun in Moscow.  The women were charged with hooliganism after singing a song against President Putin at the alter of the city’s main cathedral.
  6. Australia and New Zealand are restoring full diplomatic relations with Fiji following years of tension over a military coup in 2006.  Australia said it was encouraged by Fiji’s steps to return to democracy. 
  7. The president of Romania, Traian Basescu, has survived a referendum on whether to remove him from office.  The vote was not valid because the turnout didn’t reach the required 50%. 
  8. Eight people were killed in Poland when a train collided with a minibus at a level crossing near the city of Lodz.  Police said the vehicle was carrying mainly Ukrainian seasonal workers to a local factory. 
  9. The head of the group of countries using the Euro, Jean-Claude Juncker, has added his voice to European leaders saying that decisive action will be taken to ensure the stability of the single currency. 

BBC News.

Second the Snark:

Like most mornings, a third of today’s headlines aren’t actually news.  The train fire in India (2) and the bus crash in Poland (8), while tragic for those involved and their loved ones, has no real significance to the wider world.  Similarly, Euro-poobahs saying that the Euro will be protected (9) has happened so often of late that it’s become part of the background noise of current events.  New, concrete actions are news, some schmuck in a suit offering platitudes is not. 

In real news, Al Jazeera is reporting that the Syrian rebels are denying the government’s claims to have taken the Salaheddin district.  (Al Jazeera and the BBC spell it differently, but it’s the same place.) 

Power has already been partially restored in India, though the trains still aren’t running.  BBC has some pictures of the enforced idleness. 

Pussy Riot is either going to get a slap on the wrist, or they are going to get tossed in jail for several years.  Virtually nobody, inside Russia or out, believes that a fair trial will determine which outcome occurs. 

Posted July 30, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Uncategorized