17 February 2006

Priorities? We Got 'Em

Reading Darren Rovell's Sports Business Blog at ESPN.com this evening I stumbled across something that sums up the priorities of the current wielders of federal power. Darren writes (sub. req., although if you ask I'll give you my password for it):
According to USA Today, the federal government levied a larger fine on CBS ($550,000) for broadcasting the exposing of Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004 than the government fined the owners of an unsafe coal mine that saw 13 of their miners die in 2001. That fine was $435,000, but a judge later cut it to $3,000.
Everyone's always pulling out statistics that show how callous and misguided are the policies of our current federal government (Republican Congress included) --- when the govenment is actually guided by policy, which seems to be infrequently. I can't recall coming across a comparison that so starkly and simply achieves that end as does the above. Gross corporate negligence, perhaps willful malfeasence from some of what I've read, is met with a penalty so insignificant that I --- literally --- could pay it myself. The families of those miners --- not to mention the thousands of other miners across the country who watched the tragedy unfold while sighing "There but for the grace of God go I" before going to work in those same conditions--- deserved one week of hearings, hardly covered by the national press corps, that culminated in slap on the wrist and an admonishment unheard and likely unheeded. The story, which many of us found ourselves watching or paying attention to in spite of ourselves, gripped the nation from its breaking to to its heart-rending, confusing, mishandled conclusion. Then, after the sensation details were released and the bodies were counted, all was silent. No re-allocation of federal funds, no stepped-up inspections on suspect mines, no stricter standards. Three grand, thank you. Carry on.

One half-second of nipple at America's Greatest Excuse to Beat Your Wife (Because You Made A Stupid Bet Edition), however, will resonate in the halls of power for years. Deliberate or not, and based on the look on Janet's face I'm guessing she wasn't informed about her impending "wardrobe malfunction" before she got on stage. While no one died (though my mother had some palpitations), it was indecent and demonstrated so perfectly our precipitous slide into immorality and iniquity. And indecency will not be tolerated on our airwaves; it goes against everything America stands for and meets with a half-million dollar fine, new restrictions on programming and a crackdown on previously unenforced regulations.

But that's re-hashing the irrelevant. Of course, that's precisely for what our government has become renowned of late. The truly relevant issues are swept under the proverbial rug, empowered by acquiescent media. Just today, after so much sound and fury from across the political and journalistic landscape, both the NSA's domestic spying program and USA PATRIOT ACT inched perilously close to full government approval. Sure, there was outrage for a time. Some incredulous Representatives and Senators, including Republicans, voiced opposition to the NSA program and vowed that Congress would investigate and get to the bottom of the issue. Some did so on the Sunday morning talk shows this past weekend. Today, Sen. Pat Roberts had this to say: "An investigation at this point basically would be detrimental to this highly classified program and our efforts to reach some accommodation with the administration."

Just remember, that's Congress' duty, to make every possible effort to accommodate the administration. In case you'd forgotten Congress' true function with the past few weeks full of feints toward dissent, independent thought and, perhaps, progress. But you were wrong. Corporations still run roughshod over workers and municipalities with the complicity of our federal government garnering nary a wag of the finger; The Executive Branch assumes and brazenly asserts powers that would have made Marshal Tito blush and Congress gives so many ineffectual stern glances. Nope, you blinked and all's as it was. Just one more lump under the rug while you look at the end table wondering where your lamp went.

UPDATE: So, that was sloppy. As the excerpted quote itself notes, it was an accident in 2001 that killed 13 miners, rather than the more recent, slightly less tragic mine accident that warranted the $3000 fine. I still believe the rest of the rant holds water though. Still, I apologize for being incorrect. At least there were links this time.

Fat Tire and Jameson For Everyone This Weekend!

Well, I'm sure everyone's home from work, so it's not exactly a weekend-prep thing now, but here you go nonetheless (Video w/sound, from TalkLeft). And, no, it has nothing to do with Vice President Dick Cheney going Aaron Burr on a brother. I have refused comment on the subject and will continue to do so. While the secrecy and obfuscation of the administration are inexcusable and abhorrent, the rampant, baseless speculation in some quarters is not particularly a ray of sunshine either. Okay. I guess that's kind of a comment. But that's it, I swear. Unless there are further developments.

Okay, A Mormon and A Catholic Walk Into A Room ...

... and tell the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts that they can't have everything they want. Just over a week after the House and Senate caved to the demands of --- mostly --- the Catholic Church concerning the release of financial records for religious institutions with more than $500,000 in revenue, Gov. Mitt Romney and Mass. Rep. Eugene O' Flaherty told the bishops that their plan to deny gay couples the right to adopt through Catholic Charities would not fly in the Commonwealth, though the Vatican posits that such adoptions are "gravely immoral."

The board of Catholic Charities was rightly angered, not only over the bishops' plan to seek a legal exemption but also that the Church is taking their legal fees --- having hired prestigious, thorough and expensive Ropes & Gray --- out of Catholic Charities pocket. That certainly accords with the spirit in which the money was given to them, I'm sure.

Anyway, Romney states that since such an exemption would require legislation, he can't do anything about it. Well, I suppose that's not so much a rousing dismissal of the idea as much as a buck-passing, but he's certainly not enthusiastic. O' Flaherty also side-steps his personal feelings and simply says that the Legislature wouldn't have "an appetite to entertain that. ... We have enough on our plate already." The Leg., after all, passed a law over a decade ago in which adoption agencies are forbidden to discriminate against gay couples. The Catholic Church insists it can get around this law due to the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

I know there's some precedent for legal discrimination similar to this, a private organization not allowing gays to join their ranks (The Boy Scouts of America being one example, but I believe that the children being adopted are --- even if under the supervision of Catholic Charities --- wards of the state. Therefore, their case is moot. Anyone know for sure? Either of you readers?

16 February 2006

MA Gov. Poll: Reilly, Patrick Even Among Dems

When Deval Patrick captured two-thirds of the delegates at state-wide caucuses two weeks ago, I wasn't too surprised. Progressives and activists are the usual contingent at those events, and Patrick is the closest thing to a progressive candidate for Governor in this election. Soon after, Suffolk released a poll that had Patrick close within 8 points of Reilly with 31% Undecided, I thought to think that momentum had shifted. In the two weeks prior, Reilly had fumbled over several choices for his running-mate, the end result of which was the catastrophic withdrawal of his second-choice candidate over her tax issues. Here's what he had to say in the aftermath:
Reilly blamed the gaffe on his own weak grasp of politics.

"I have to work and improve on the politics of this campaign," he said. "This is a whole different level of politics and it's never been my strong suit, and I have to improve upon that."
Well, it seems Massachusetts Democrats heard that loud and clear. According to a UMass-Lowell (the alma-mater of both of my parents, by the way) survey, Patrick has pulled even with Reilly, with both candidates pulling in 40% of the vote. The margin of error for the poll is 5%, which is a bit high, and there are still plenty of undecideds who could fall to Reilly simply because of higher name recognition, but, by little work of his own, it appears that Patrick has made the coronation of Reilly --- assumed by many just a month ago --- into an honest-to-goodness summer-long campaign. For someone without a dog in this fight, at the moment, I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Sadly, the UMass poll also shows that neither Democratic candidate is a shoo-in against the likely Republican nominee Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey. Both Reilly and Patrick lead Healey, but by percentages which fall within the margin. Reilly had been a 25% favorite only six-months ago.

14 February 2006

The Accessability of the NBA and MLB As Indicative of Stages in American Social History

Because I love sports, specifically baseball and basketball (I can take or leave the rest), I tend to roll through fifteen or twenty sports blogs a day (sad). Most of these are devoted to Major League Baseball generally, and the Red Sox specifically. There are a couple NBA-centric places I make it a point to read as well. Among these, FreeDarko is by far the cream of the crop. Dwelling as much on popular culture and race relations as crossovers and winning percentage, FreeDarko transcends --- with acuity --- the facile appelation "NBA blog." To wit:
The truth is, baseball just plain lends itself to that simpler, more optimistically charged time than any other pastime. I neither have the time nor the qualifications to rhapsodize about the elegance of the game's aesthetics, but it certainly evokes the contours of pre-Vietnam America-and accommodates the era's near-epic assertions of race, identity, and justice-better than the dizzying action of basketball or the feudal likeness of football's minions. And before you either jump on me for romanticizing the American past or call MLK an adulterer, read up on Jackie Robinson's abundance of antagonistic style and militant politics; beneath the storybook version of things are contradictions that succeed only in bolstering his broad-stroke cred. As in, risk-taking, dissent, and even folly were part of being man enough to ultimately pull off the obvious. Somehow it's gotten lost to history that Rosa Parks was making moves for the Birmingham NAACP before she refused to move to the back, as if that somehow lessens her accomplishment. A streamlined Civil Rights movement might be a borderline racist one, but there's no reason that complexity or process need undermine those emblematic moments. In fact, it's what delivered them.
I would love to write a lengthy post on this topic, but no explication I've attempted has been able to match the eloquence and vigor of the above. Read it in its entirety.

Sometimes, It Causes Me To Tremble

I remember Boston in the early 90s. I remember both of my parents didn't like to go downtown, though they made trips to the Aquarium and Science Museum for my benefit. Numerous initiatives and programs enacted by City Hall are often credited with making a difference in the pervasive violence of that era, as well they should be. City Hall, however, was not alone in that fight. Community leaders, often church leaders, also took a stand in stemming that tide, sometimes at far greater personal risk than elected officials.

In fact, the success of that religious/community movement was one of the reasons that I decided to enroll in divinity school this fall. I had hoped to participate in a faith-based, community-building program, perhaps even create or lead one. Though I question whether or not I am personally prepared to pursue such an endeavor --- or posses the necessary fortitude for it --- I am certain that religious communities and their leaders must continue, indeed strengthen, their community involvement or outreach, if those communities are to remain vibrant --- in some cases to exist at all.

Thus I found myself inconsolable when I read in this morning's Globe about the the rift between several of those religious leaders.

Boston finds itself in a predicament (to understate the situation) that could return the city to the climate of fear that many residents seemed reconciled to fifteen years ago. Bostonians, especially those in the areas most affected by the violence, need these leaders to put aside their differences and once more work together to achieve the goals they worked so fervently toward in the past. "Clergy wars" are the last thing that we need right now. There are gang wars, class wars, and, yes, race wars being waged on our streets. While the leaders in question may have profound differences between them, those differences are, in the final analysis, petty in comparison to the violence, intimidation and oppression to be found on the streets of Boston --- streets on which the people they profess to lead walk in fear daily.

I do not intend this to be some blanket admonishment of these men. They have performed a great service to their communities and to the city of Boston as a whole. They continue to do great work on their own. This summer, Rev. Wall, at great risk, brought attention to the war zone that was/is Lyndhurst St. Rev. Hammond continues to generate funds for non-profit institutions for the youth, who are presented with stark choices --- or seemingly no choice at all. Rev. Rivers keeps promoting the ten-step program that he initiated thirteen years ago, with the assistance of the previous two pastors. For their actions and dedication, these men, and several dozen other religious leaders of several faiths, ought to be applauded.

But it is past time that they understand that they cannot solve the problems in our communities by themselves. In 1992, Rev.'s Wall, Hammond and Rivers introduced Ten Point Program. Here is how the Globe describes it:
It began, Wall said, when he, Rivers, and Hammond met in the basement of his Hyde Park home in 1992, after gang violence disrupted the funeral of a Boston youth at Morning Star Baptist Church, and gave birth to the Ten Point program.

Rivers had been talking for days about 10 steps black churches could take to improve the situation, steps Rivers had worked out with a young Dorchester drug dealer who subsequently overdosed. But Rivers was not being specific.

''Eugene, you keep talking about these 10 points," the calm, deliberate Hammond finally said. ''Tell them to us, one at a time."

Hammond entered the points on Wall's computer, and the three pastors polished the language, which became an agenda for the Ten Point Coalition.

The centerpiece was collaboration with law enforcement and social services that offered help to troubled and violent youth and promised harsh punishment if they did not change their ways.

That became the central idea of Operation Ceasefire, which was credited locally and nationally with producing a dramatic reduction in youth violence. A principal goal of current efforts to reinvigorate the Boston Ten Point Coalition is to restore that carrot-and-stick approach.

When the approach began to bear fruit in the 1990s, Wall said in his office at Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, in Codman Square, ''all of a sudden people [outside the coalition] were saying, 'Something worked!' and a lot of attention, a lot of money came in. . . . When the money started to come in, when the media began choosing who to highlight, those relationships began to break."
We must return to these days of shared conviction and coalition. Violence --- and the resultant fear of violence in the rest of the community --- is an affliction that cannot be healed by the work of an individual. It takes a coalition of sincere, dedicated and devoted parties to affect change.

Our leaders, elected and called, must recognize the immensity of their challenge and work with one another and the communities they lead and serve. And we, as members of the community must also take up service in the hopes that each of us may be, perhaps in some obscure way, a servant of progress and an obstacle to violence. To do otherwise would be to deny perhaps our faith and surely our humanity.

UPDATE: As usual, I have more. Here are the Ten Points that got the program started.

13 February 2006

Welcome News

While we all dig out our from 18 inches of snow, there is a hint of warmth over the horizon, an omen of spring in the offing. As anyone who knows me is well aware, I loathe winter. This weekend's blizzard, then, was not a welcome visitor, and I am ecstatic that it has left us and the sun has returned. It's much easier to deal with in the city, where there are fewer feet to shovel and fewer miles to cover to retrieve necessities (cigarettes, beer, beef jerky, salmon filets and pad thai). In fact, I rather enjoyed being a shut-in on Sunday, watching the Boston skyline appear and disappear at the whim of the falling snow. This, however, is not about snow or winter, and my reluctant respect for its beauty. It is about the moment every year that transforms me from an ashen-faced, dour misanthrope into a ruddy, boisterous, gadfly.

Noah, after 40 days and 40 nights of casting about the ocean, was elated to spy the dove returning to the ark with an olive branch. The travails were ended, the fear that the situation continue in perpetuity were over. Life as he knew it could begin again. Today is that day for me, and for many, though few are likely to give this simple event such importance in altering their countenance. While it may betray some of my issues, I must admit that I find no greater joy during the depths of winter than this day:

Sometime between 1:30 and 2 p.m. today, the Sox’ equipment truck departs Fenway Park for Fort Myers, for the start of spring training. The 18-wheeler is expected to arrive at City Of Palms Park at midweek, a couple of days before pitchers and catchers report on Saturday.

Position players are due Feb. 22, with the first full-squad workout on Feb. 23. All workouts prior to the start of the Grapefruit League schedule on March 2 will be at the team’s minor-league complex.

Spring. I really needed that.

UPDATE:: This is what happens when you don't post for a while. I forgot to put in the link. It's there now.