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An invisible line and two Presidents

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Cote d’Ivoire: The World urging calm

After more than four years of delay, the citizens of Cote d’Ivoire have gone to the polls to vote in the first free and fair elections since the end their ethnoreligious civil war in 2007. After the first round of voting, neither of the two prominent contenders, current President Laurent Gbagbo and the main opposition challenger Alassane Ouattara, gained the percentage needed to avoid a runoff. That second-round election took place on November 28. Since then, the country has moved from pre-election tension to post-election dystopia. As the world watches and springs into conflict-avoidance, the precarity of the political landscape threatens to pull another generation of Ivorians into civil war.

The first dramatic salvo was fired on Thursday when Mr. Gbagbo’s representative at the Electoral Commission grabbed early results from a Commission official, who was about to read them to awaiting media, declared them fraudulent and ripped the result slip to pieces. When the Electoral Commission was able to avoid the reigning President’s political followers (re: lackeys), it certified Mr. Outtara to be the winner. (Confirmed and backed by countries across the world, as well.) Almost immediately, the Constitutional Court (in a preposterously partisan move) challenged the Commissions’s legitimacy and both players, respectively, swore themselves in as the new President of Cote d’Ivoire.

This all leads us, once again, to watching Cote d’Ivoire teeter on the proverbial high wire. From a pragmatic standpoint, it was hard to imagine the country’s return to democracy to be anything less than tumultuous. For all intensive purposes the civil war has never ended. The Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) Rebels still control the northern part of the country and the two most insidious issues, religious marginalization and ethnic tensions, are still simmering below the surface. So have any of these grievances been assuaged since the laying down of arms in 2007? No, not really.

Cote d’Ivoire is divided by an invisible but steadfastly unbreakable fault line. It is drawn between the Muslim, migrant-infused north and the “Ivorian,” Christian South. This election highlights the continued tension surrounding ethnicity and religion. Predictably, President Gbagbo, from the south, is Christian. Mr. Ouattara, from the north, is Muslim. It is problematic dichotomy personified. The mistrust that both sides are seeded with, due to past deeds committed by the villainous “other,” will be exceedingly difficult to overcome peacefully.

The international community, for its part, has not sat on its collective hands as the clock to chaos ticks away.  The African Union immediately dispatched former South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki to broker a quick fix solution and the World Bank and African Development Bank have urged calm. Unfortunately, as I sit here, I am unconvinced that there is an expedited, agreeable-to-all solution to the mineral-rich country’s woes. Trust, fair distribution of wealth and equal political access for all will get all Ivorians there. Hopefully, for its citizens’ sake, the country will not get pulled in the opposite direction. That invisible line is looking all but impassable at the moment.

A few words on Juan Williams and a must see video for the weekend

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” – Former NPR correspondent Juan Williams on the O’Reilly Factor.

As I’m sure you have all heard by now, National Public Radio (NPR) national correspondent, Juan Williams, was fired Wednesday for comments made on the O’Reilly Factor. The aftermath of the firing has been predictably volatile. The right has been quick to certify the move as an attack on the First Amendment and to use it as an example of why NPR should lose Federal funding; which, of course, is a long harbored resentment in conservative circles. NPR clarified their decision with a weakly logical and ill-justified statement. So here we are, three days later, with a new hot-button issue for the right to slam Democrats with in the lead-up to November 2nd and a respected national service with egg on its face. Was it the correct call by NPR or a misguided attempt at political correctness? As much as I hate to admit it, NPR erred massively in the firing of Mr. Williams.

Let me first say that I do not agree with nor do I hold the same opinions expressed in Mr. Williams comments. That being said, they are not, unfortunately, far from accurate in how the vast majority of Americans feel when interacting with Muslims. Poll after poll after public opinion poll has concluded that Americans on whole are, at the very least, nervous with the idea of Muslims. For this reason alone, Mr. Williams should not have been fired. The conversation on Islam, Islamic extremists and the overall faith has, for WAY too long been perverted by those who wish ill upon an/or do not understand the word’s second most populous religion. The way I see it, the only way to reroute this discussion and clear up misconceptions/end bigotry is to OWN where we are, no matter how offensive it is to the palate, as Americans today. Undoubtedly, this is a hard perspective for Muslims to take. I don’t think I would be able to if I prayed towards Mecca. I do think, though, that saying what ignorant people are thinking is not a fireable offense, but rather a teaching moment.

On the other hand, Mr. Williams is by no means above reproach. In my opinion, Mr. Williams is guilty of two infractions of his NPR correspondent status. First, no matter the conservative screams of “Lefties at NPR!” or “Liberal media bias!,” NPR is civil service based on providing in-depth, unbiased news coverage. It is one of the few places within our catch-phrase society where persons can count on thought provoking analysis. This means that NPRs producers and contributors adhere to highest journalistic integrity. Mr. Williams, as a contributor to this mission, was at fault for betraying this integrity by pandering to an imbecile like Mr. O’Reilly. This leads me to my second charge and the real inappropriate action in this whole escapade. Mr. Williams should have never, ever had this conversation on a medium such as the O’Reilly Factor. Mr. O’Reilly, he of fear-mongering and bigoted fame, has attacked, again and again, Islam and its adherents. The most recent, high-profile example was his greatly publicized tiff with Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg on The View. It was derived, naturally, by Mr. O’Reilly claiming that all Muslims were responsible for 9/11. My point is this: while I do not believe Mr. Williams is a bigot in any way, by making these comments on the O’Reilly Factor, he lent credence to a demagogue and created a political moment.

Yes, Mr. Williams erred in judgment. No, he should not have been fired. This is a strike against NPR and could have a political impact as well as a social one if Sarah Palin’s “defund NPR” movement continues gaining momentum. All from a correspondent telling the damned, ugly truth. I can only hope that we thinkers can own this and use it as a national conciousness moment.

A Video You Must Watch

YOU MUST WATCH THIS VIDEO. PERIOD. A man and his son decided to take it upon themselves to make a homemade spaceship so the son could see what space looked like. This video is the result. The conversation and the implications of this experiment are vast, so we will save that for another day. But couple this will NASA’s discovery of arable soil on the Moon… maybe the future isn’t too far away.

Have a great weekend! The Week in Fodder will be back next week! Until then, enjoy the Fodder!

Extremism at the Gates

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The Hutaree Militia: faces of the new extremism.

This morning, the news that shots were fired at the Pentagon broke. I want to direct towards you to my immediate reaction: “Man, that is one step closer to a cataclysmic attack by right wing extremists. Nut jobs.” Then I stopped myself. Was that really my first reaction? WHEN did we get to a point in this country that my mind instantaneously went there? It is probably part fear-mongering media. Oh, and part political sensationalism. It is possible, though, that another part of it might actually be realistic fear? Disturbingly, I think that might just be the case.

Right-wing anger and fringe extremism began its resurgent crescendo during the lead-up to the 2008 election. President Obama received Secret Service protection earlier than anyone else in history during an election cycle. That was just the beginning. Then came threats against Democratic lawmakers during Healthcare reform. Then the Huturee Militia. Then James von Brunn and the Holocaust Museum shooting. So what’s next? A shooting at the Pentagon? It really does not seem so off-kilter when you put the last two years in context. It’s really shocking. This is not what America is about. Clearly, fringe elements are creeping closer and closer to the middle of society.

If we broaden our scope (to include nonviolent extremism), that point becomes even more pointedly clear. Look no further than the candidacies Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Sharron Angle, taking on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, has suggested agitated Americans could take up arms against the government, told Hispanic students that they “look more Asian” and lambasted the idea of mandated maternity leave and care for autistic childern. Christine O’Donnell, running against Chris Coons in Delaware, has discussed her dabbling in witchcraft, faltered at naming one  (ONE!!!) Supreme Court decision she did not agree with in the past two years and, just today, questioned the validity of the separation of church and state.

Sharron Angle leads Sen. Reid 50%-47%. Christine O’Donnell (mercifully) now trails Mr. Coons 51%-40%.*

No matter where your political allegiances lie, I hope we can all admit that the mere contention of these candidates in Senate races signifies a shift to the more polarized ends of the political spectrum. It would not have even been conceivable 10 years ago. But these candidates, and their chances, are real. The anger that has propelled them to prominence is real. What does it all mean? I am not entirely sure. But I do know this: extremism, of all kinds, is closer to the gates of our society and political system than any other time in the past 50 years.

We should all, Democrats and Republicans, be on notice.

*It is important to note that Delaware is much more consistently a “blue” state than Nevada.

The Afghan-Pakistan Conundrum

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Pakistan: the regional powder keg.

Our armed forces and their NATO allies are now plodding into the tenth year of the War in Afghanistan. After a decade fighting in remote, inhospitable terrain against a foe that is constantly bolstered by widespread public discontent in the civilian government; a policy tipping point is fast approaching. Since June, the Obama Administration has publicly confirmed that it will tentatively begin the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan in the Summer of 2011. (I will quantify this by saying that 10 months is a long time; the Administration and the Department of Defense are not soothsayers and have no idea if the timeline will be adhered to.) But as that political line-in-the-sand creeps closer, constituents, policy wonks, talking heads and law makers will be scrutinizing the gains made in Afghanistan in the past ten years and the prospects of the war succeeding in its goals. The consensus will likely follow the views of the general public: that the war cannot succeed based on an opposition to American involvement and disillusionment with the mission.

A quick analysis of the War in Afghanistan will reveal a myriad of facts that will establish one truth: that Afghanistan is almost unwinnable because of truly impassable terrain, a civilian government racked by corruption, a continually active insurgency and a lugubrious economy. The facts leave little doubt in this conclusion. These seemingly insurmountable developmental challenges are inextricably linked by a common factor that has been, until last week, missing from the collective American consciousness: Pakistan.

Realistically, I cannot sit here and claim Pakistan is an actual “lost factor” in America’s discussion of the war. We have, for a year(s), heard about the Pakistani Taliban, cross-border drone strikes and the country’s shady, if obviously visible, links with Islamist extremism. However, these negative topics about our strategic ally have always been brought to light by independent organizations, pundits and policy groups. That is to say, US government officials are not usually the derivation of maligning conversations about Pakistan. This has been the case since the Bush Administration’s buddy-buddy relationship with ex-Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf (yes, strongman) to the Obama Administration’s working friendship with the venerable Benazir Bhutto‘s corrupt widower Asif Ali Zardari. That is, until last week.

Last Wednesday, the White House produced a report on Pakistan and delivered it to Congress. The game changing factor of the report comes in the frank language the Administration uses to describe the very real, lack of veracity that permeates the Pakistani Government’s attempts to tackle Islamist groups within its borders. This is the first time that a recent American administration has charged the Pakistani authorities with not actively combating extremist groups that it can, in most likely scenarios, handle. So why does Pakistan do this? Why has it not throttled the groups that are detrimental to Afghanistan’s and its own security? Ironically, it has nothing to do tacit religious complacency or desired influence in Afghanistan. It has everything to with its looming neighbor of 1.1 billion.

India, the unseen influence in Afghanistan.

Understanding this, I want to draw your attention to the one integral issue that will be the eternal hurdle to winning the War in Afghanistan: Pakistani-Indian relations, more specifically, Kashmir.

Now, you may ask, “how does that perpetual conflict affect the Taliban and Afghanistan?” Unfortunately, the two are much more closely linked than any official of the United States, Pakistan or India would likely admit. Pakistan, since the beginning of the decades long conflict, has been fighting a proxy war with the Indian administrators of Kashmir through the training of Kashmiri (doubling as Islamic) extremist groups. Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI, have been involved in the preparation of militants aligned with Lashkar-e-Taiba (which gained international notoriety for their attacks on Mumbai) and a myriad of other jihadi groups. Mr. Musharraf, just this past week, confirmed this oft debated fact. Because of the volatility of relations between the two regional powers, Pakistan decided that it would be in their best self-interest to promote these independent, violent actors (mostly in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions) in case any conflict were to combust. The result has been better than intended. Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore; all have experienced violence committed by groups linked to the lawless tribal regions. The infamous Wazirstans, the stronghold of every group from the Pakistani Taliban to al-Qaeda, are now in the grip of extremism that is dauntingly difficult to loosen. In bolstering supranational organizations, the Pakistani authorities unintentionally (maybe intentionally unintentionally?) created the forces successfully hindering NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Now this is all fairly rudimentary knowledge for any one who has studied the region; most have not, however. What I want to stress is that all of these policies were introduced and acted upon under the auspices of competing with India; it was unequivocally the motivating factor. THIS is the part of the Pakistan conversation that is missing in the American media though is integral in understanding Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

We cannot discuss all the intricacies of Pakistani-Indian relations here; there is just too much to cover. We can say, however, that since partition, India and Pakistan have used one another for justification of dangerous land disputes (Kashmir), nuclear pursuits and regional power brokering. It has been 63 years. Religious tensions, power politics, bitter history and pure hate (for some, sadly) divide the two powerful nations. Until there is a normalization and warming between the two neighbors, the one-upsmanship and twisted reasoning for shady dealings will absolutely continue. We all have to hope that the day will come soon. If not, Afghanistan may be the least of the international community’s worries in South-East Asia.

SAVE THE DATE!

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Cocktail Fodder is back. But a little different. Photo by Hector Garcia.

Cocktail Fodder is back! Save the date! One week from today, on October 11th, your favorite conversation-starting, fun-fact generating, snarktastic blog will be back, producing new content.

Yes, the Fodder has been on hiatus for a little longer than expected. Yes, we’re officially down a founding member. Yes, we’ll have to slim down content for the time being before we find a bright young mind to join the cause. Yes, Captain Adam is still churning out the good ole alcohol related humor. No, we will not waver from our goal or stop rocking your world with brain-stimulating, morally challenging opinions and espresso machine fodder tidbits. No, you won’t get those 30 minutes back each day you spend on Cocktail Fodder. Sorry.

So mark you calendar. Put it in your Blackberry. Throw it in your iCal on your iPad or iPhone. Do what you need to do. Just remember, we’re back and better than ever. Get ready.

A Hiatus

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

A hiatus.

Well as you can all probably tell, our conversation with our blog has taken a lot longer than expected. Due to some internal strife and constraints, we’ve been forced into a prolonged hiatus. We’re doing what we can, as fast as we can, to get the Fodder back on it’s feet. We’ll be back up, in some shape and form, in September. Thanks for your support and we will see you then!

The Week in Fodder

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s Friday… and what’s this… a Week in Fodder posted on the correct day?!!! WEIRD. Well, we did it, got it out in time. A lot of good stuff in this week’s edition… Hezbollah and Lebanon, Catalonian independence, the ESB, Warren Jeffs, mandatory minimums, alcohol and arthritis, crazy Philly fans and SO much more. Enjoy!

World Views:

Hezbollah: Creating tension in Lebanon.

Pakistan Air Blue Crash: Early Wednesday morning an Air Blue flight from Karachi to Islamabad crashed in the hills of Northern Pakistan just minutes before landing. Sadly, all 146 passengers along with 6 crew members perished in the accident. In a remote area, the crash site is near unreachable due to a lack of any form or roads and rough jungle terrain. Rescue workers immediately found a flight recorder; officials are hoping that the recorder will provide insight into the cause of the crash; beyond the weather that was the most likely cause.

Favela Makeover: On Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that slums (favelas) surrounding the city will be receiving a facelift before the 2016 Summer Olympics. Affecting over 200,000 households, the renovations and clearing of the favelas will cost over $4.5 billion. With over 600 communities receiving the “facelift,” the action-plan is audacious. The 13,000 families from the 123 communities that will be displaced by the actual destruction of the most decrepit areas will be relocated. This is the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the Brazilian government and the favela residents. After deadly landslides killed over 200 in April, the Rio government signed a decree into law that would allow the forcible eviction of favela residents. In May, a report by a non-governmental group found the official justification to be standing on shaky legal ground. The bottom line is that the Rio government sees the favelas as a hinderance to modernization for a handful of different reasons. The Olympics provide the municipal powers with the perfect rationalization to make a significant change. It all smacks, disturbingly, of Beijing’s attitude and tactics in the days and months leading up to the 2008 Games.

KGB Redux?: Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a bill that will expand the powers of the ESB; the descendant of the Soviet KGB. The bill passed both houses of Parliament but sparked major debate. In a country where dissent in relation to the Kremlin’s preferred policies is – let’s say – frowned upon, the fact this bill has been so strongly opposed raises red flags about the danger of the new law. The controversy revolves around specific language in the new law. ESB agents will now have the power to “warn officially an individual about the inadmissibility of actions that create the conditions for the commission of crimes.” That is terribly vague and dangerously usable language. In country where freedoms are shrinking, opposition journalists are murdered and Vladimir Putin casts a ever-present shadow, the ESB’s new powers are a disturbing development.

Bullfighting Ban: The Parliament of Catalonia, the semi-autonomous southern region of Spain, voted to ban bullfighting this week. With the vote, Catalonia becomes the first region of Spain to outlaw the historic national pastime. The measure made it to Parliament on the back of a petition signed by over 180,000 persons. While the decision can be seen within the scope of an animal rights campaign, many Spanish political experts believe that this was a power move by Catalonian nationalists to separate themselves from the rest of Spain; proof of a different historical identity. If it was, it was tactfully done. Keep an eye on this story.

Lebanese Tension: After a round of groundbreaking talk between Lebanese, Saudi and Syrian officials in Beirut, there has been a united call for maintained stability and piece in the volatile Mediterranean country. There are signs of a renewed conflict within its borders. After years of turmoil following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, a unity government was finally formed in 2008. This, of course, included the politically powerful Hezbollah. As the UN investigation into Mr. Hariri’s death wraps up and it becomes more and more likely that it will condemn Hezbollah members, tension is rising. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, stated in a television interview this week that he would not stand for the defamation of his organization; a warning shot across the bow of the UN. After the 2006 War with Israel, Lebanon cannot handle another step backwards. Keep an eye on this story when the UN report comes out.

American Matters:

As his followers stay true, Warren Jeffs gets a new trial in Utah.

SB 1070 Blocked: On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton struck down some of the most controversial aspects – the ability of police officers to detain persons the believe to be “removable,” the pressing of all officers to determine immigration status in any kind of routine encounter with citizens and the requirement for all legal and illegal residents to carry proof of residency/legal immigration – of Arizona’s hot-button immigration law. Issuing an injunction against those facets, Judge Bolton cited the laws usurpation of the Federal Government’s sole right to make immigration law in the United States. Arizona immediately launched an appeal. Reaction has been varied. (Here is a little sampling.) SB 1070 is undoubtedly on a fast-track to the Supreme Court.

Jeffs’ Verdict Overturned: The 2007 conviction of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophetical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*** (FLDS), was overturned this week by the Utah Supreme Court. Found guilty of facilitating the rape of a 14 year old FLDS member, Mr. Jeffs was sentenced to two concurrent 5 to life terms in prison. Citing a misrepresentation of legal facts by the judge in the 2007 case, a unanimous decision by the Utah Supreme Court means that further legal action against Mr. Jeffs in Utah is highly unlikely. Luckily, there are charges pending in Texas and on the Federal level against the FLDS leader. Mr. Jeffs ideology and church are immoral, dangerous and unacceptable in our modern United States; I only hope that he stays in prison where he belongs.

***This link is to the FLDS website run by the FLDS. Take it for what you will. OR, as they say, with a grain of salt.

Mandatory Minimum Victory: On Wednesday, after almost 25 years of injustice, Congress finally passed legislation to change the disparity in crack cocaine-powder cocaine mandatory sentencing on a national level. Since 1986, in the midst of the crack scare, Congress passed a law that put the mandatory minimum sentence of a first time crack cocaine offense at a level of 100 to 1 to the same first time offense of powder cocaine. Because of the cheapness of crack compared to powder, the issue quickly became socioeconomic; this inevitably led to a racial disparity. I won’t get into a lecture here. All I will say is this: it’s about damn time Congress.

Blago Trial: Illinois is officially on verdict watch in the Rod Blagojevich trial. After a controversy over Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyer’s closing argument, the jury started deliberation on Thursday. Facing over 20 criminal charges, Mr. Blagojevich is in the midst of one of the most prolific political corruption trial in recent memory. As in all high profile cases, the jury will most likely pontificate for a longer period of time before returning a verdict. Look for one early next week. Until then, however, you can place your bets on when they will come back, here, on Chicagoist.com.

Arlington Controversy: Earlier this year, John Melzer – the former superintendent of the Arlington National Cemetery – was forced to retire over a scandal involving the mislabeling and lack of labeling of at least 600 graves in the national resting place. Yesterday, Mr. Melzer and his right-hand man, Thurman Higginbotham, testified to a hostile Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), citing her own investigation, stated that the errors in labeling, in reality, affected somewhere between 4,000-7,000 graves. Senators on both sides of the aisle attacked Mr. Melzer and Mr. Higginbotham’s handling of the situation. The latter ended up pleading the 5th in response to a myriad of questions; the former blamed most of the errors on his staff. Let’s hope this unfortunate disrespect of our nation’s heros can be fixed sooner rather than later.

Off the Beaten Path:

Feeling arthritic? Drink it down, baby.

Alcohol and Arthritis: A study by the University of Sheffield released this week has found a direct link between drinking alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis relief. The study concludes, using two different test groups, that people who frequently drink alcohol, on whole, have less joint pain and swelling. It’s a victory for all college students, winos and arthritis suffers all over the world. I can already see it. A cop walks up to a car in a suspected DUI stop… “Have you been drinking tonight?” “Sory ociffer, my artritis was flaring up today…(insert hiccup).”

Paul the Octopus… the Great Satan Incarnate?: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave Islamist groups everywhere another reason to hate the West this week: Paul the Octopus. Claiming the octopus represents “decadence” and “decay” among his Western enemies, Ahmadinejad stated that people who believed in soothsaying octopi could not possibly aspire to the “human perfection” that the Islamic Republic does. Let’s call a spade a spade here… Ahmadinejad is a hater. Pure Haterade. He’s just jealous Paulie Boy didn’t pick Iran to win the World Cup. I’ll raise a drink to Paul the Octopus tonight. Will anyone else join me?

Apache on Main Street: This week, an Apache helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on a street in Kershaw, S.C. due to mechanical problems. The Apache landed on the nearest, safest road when the crew decided it was too dangerous to continue on. The Army left it parked on the street overnight until it could send a truck to pick it up. I can only imagine that AAA call. “What kind of car is it?”…. “It’s actually a $56.25 million Apache…” “You know we only cover the first 20 miles of towing… right?”

The Northwest Passage: Over 150 years ago, the HMS Investigator traveled toward the Arctic searching for the legendary Northwest Passage and a quick link to the Indian silk routes. After getting marooned on the Arctic ice, the crew abandoned the ship. This week, an archaeological team found the ship’s remains. There may be some controversy over this discovery, however. Since the Investigator was found in Canada’s Western Arctic, there will probably be a turf war between Canadian and British authorities as to where the ship’s final resting place will be. I, personally, think it should stay where it is. It’s a testament to the explorers that opened this world for the rest of us; let it sit!

Vomit and the Phillies: Anyone who knows sports knows that Philadelphia fans are a special breed; intense, passionate and mostly crazy. Well this story – and what a story it is – would only happen at a Phillies game. Last Friday, Matthew Clemmens – a native of the Dirty Jerz, that’s a whole different story – intentionally vomited on a spectator and his daughter as the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. That spectator was actually an off-duty police officer; talk about karma. Anyway, Clemmens was sentenced to three months in jail and two years of probation. I mean, are we serious here? When was the last time you went to a sporting even, heckled the person in front of you for an hour and then pulled the trigger and puked on them? Oh right, never. Get better Matthew Clemmens.

Oh, and here’s some Phillies fan action for you…

Quotes of the Week:

LOVING the yacht controversy...

“If you guys think that John Kerry doesn’t have enough sense of either propriety or common sense, that I’m going to be sailing my boat around Massachusetts where I’m highly recognizable but it’s going to somehow stay in Rhode Island and I’m going to avoid a tax . . . I’d be crazy to think that I’m going to be doing that, and that was never our long-term intention here.’’ – Sen. John Kerry in a Boston Globe interview concerning the controversy surrounding his new yacht. New $7 million yacht and referring to himself in the third person? NBD.

“I’m working every day to clear this black mark from me and my family. Give me the opportunity to show you who I am and not who I was that one afternoon.” – Matthew Clemmens at his sentencing. Good luck with that, kid.

Idiom of the Week: To be a bundle of nerves.

This week’s Idiom of the Week describes someone who is nervous and uptight.

Example #1: John was quite a bundle of nerves when his name was called on to read a passage of Hamlet aloud in front of the class.

Example #2: John Kerry was a bundle of nerves when he realized he didn’t pay taxes on his new yacht.

Song of the Week:

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the New Jersey band Real Estate. It’s a great chill, summer tune to put on in the background. Enjoy!

That concludes our Week in Fodder. Hope you got something for your weekend shenanigans. Thanks for tuning in. Until next week, keep living the good life!

A First Step in the Healing Process

July 27, 2010 2 comments

Victims of Comrade Duch and Tuol Sleng.

**A word on the subject matter: The themes of genocide and crimes against humanity are not simple or easily discussed topics. I will try to approach them with aplomb but if it does not come out that way, know that I am aware of the complexity of the themes and tragedies and am only trying to disseminate the information to facilitate understanding for all. Thank you.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or Cambodia Tribunal, handed down its first verdict in relation to atrocities committed in the Democratic Kampuchea; the regime implemented by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. Comrade Duch, otherwise known by his birth-name Kaing Guek Eav, was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison for his time spent as the commandant of the Khmer Rouge prison S-21 (Tuol Sleng) where upwards of 17,000 men, women and children were tortured and murdered. It is a first step toward justice for the survivors of the genocide and a first step in the healing process of a society that is a long way from coming to terms with the horrors it experienced at the hands of its own citizens.

Very few societies on this earth have experienced genocide, overcome it and come to terms with it. In fact, you can probably only name one: Germany. Through a mixture of reconciliation (West and East German partition undoubtedly helped in that it allowed two separate societies to develop – not positively for the East – and gain a whole host of other issues that superseded the past.), rule of law (the Nuremberg Trials) and restriction, Germany has been able to, healthily, move on from the horrors of World War II and the Third Reich. On another hand you have Rwanda; a country working towards societal health but still in that process rather than at the end. Peaceful since its genocide in 1994, Rwanda has used a different tact in moving on. President Paul Kagame has established an essentially authoritarian state (depending on who you ask, actually) where ethnic tensions are buried rather than dealt with; there is evidence that this is not working 16 years on and that ethnic animosities continue to fester dangerously close to the surface.. These two cases lead us to Cambodia and its own, unique handling of a similar atrocity.

Last year, the New York Times published a story shedding light on the growing generational understanding and remembrance gap, concerning the Khmer Rouge and its reign of terror, in Cambodian society. As new children are born in Cambodia, parents speak less, teachers teach less and children inquire less about the horrors that seem like only distant memories to them. Why is this? Why is a society, still closely linked to its past, collectively forgetting – or rather, trying to – such a monstrous tragedy?

Victims of the Killing Fields. Photo by Stevemuhkween, Sept. 2007, WikimediaCommons

There are a myriad of points and theories to discuss here, but I will touch on three in particular. First, as simple as it seems, it is in human nature to forgive and forget rather than confront. It it not our natural predilection to have difficult conversations on subjects of death, sadness and betrayal with friend, family and neighbor; it is infinitely easier to bury those issues in the depths of our collective conscious. This is true when we have a tiff with our significant other so you can imagine how it is an easier way forward for a society struggling with reconciliation of past crimes.

Second, there has been – to the credit of the Cambodian government – an attempt at concerted reconciliation; memorialization, truth commissions, prosecution, etc. There are two truths hidden in this attempt, however. A government led reconciliation, without a base in the grassroots level, will continually come up short in its attempts to bring about change. No matter how tactful a government is, popular society deems when it will get on with life and deal with issues. If government and its populous are not on the same page, true reconciliation well be near impossible. Reconciliation also, inevitably, reintroduces some of the crimes’ perpetrators back into the affected society. This can have the effect of alienation – a sense of injustice – and can also led to the negation/hinderance of the reconciliation process. (Re: Rwanda & Iraq.) This has happened in Cambodia. Remember, yesterday’s verdict if the first for the Extraordinary Chambers that was established in 2006; 27 years after Pol Pot’s fall.

Third, as they say, time heals all wounds. A quarter century, while a quarter of most human’s lives, is a pittance in the grand scheme of coming to terms with events that destroyed a society. Cambodia may simply not be ready to confront its demons.

So with the conviction and sentencing (too light?) of the evil Comrade Duch, Cambodia takes a giant step forward toward justice and eradicating the lingering banality within its society. It is the first of many that it will have to be take. I hope that the journey continues and we can point to Cambodia as a case-study in how to overcome massive societal upheaval. Time will tell.

The Week in Fodder

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Admittedly, we are a few days late with last week’s Week in Fodder but we wanted to post it anyway. It was a big week here at the Fodder…. new guest bloggers, new web domain and new levels of traffic. Glad you’re all tuning in and I hope this Week in Fodder continues that trend. Ciudad Juárez, Trafigura, BP, Alberto Gonzales, teacher purges, 200 year old champagne, whales jumping on boats and so much more! Please enjoy.

World Views:

Legal Independence. For now.

Legal Independence: On Thursday, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 was a legal, unilateral decision under international law. The UN’s ranking court based its ruling on the fact that international law did not prohibit, or make illegal, declarations of independence. This is a monumental decision for independence movements – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ingushetia – across the world; legal experts see this as a precedent for future declarations. The US was quick to support the decision and Serbia, as expected, rejected the ICJ’s ruling. This decision will undoubtedly lead to numerous more countries recognizing Kosovo as an independent state. Keep an eye on this story and its implications on Kosovar-Serbian relations and international law.

Bombs in Juárez: Last weekend, the raging drug war in Mexico took a turn for the worse. The infamous Ciudad Juárez was hit with a car bomb; the first in the conflict between major drug cartels and the Mexican government. This is just the most recent, and possibly most disturbing, escalation in a de-facto war that has claimed over 20,000 lives since 2006. A car bomb is not a tactic to be taken likely. It’s an attack used by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Taliban… not a drug cartel. We can only watch and hope that this first car bomb does not signal the beginning of a full-out guerilla war.

Trafigura: The oil firm Trafigura was fined the maximum penalty allowed by law, $1.28 million, for dumping toxic sludge in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan in 2006. Originally, the Trafigura ship tried to offload the waste in Amsterdam but it was deemed too noxious to stay. So instead, the ship traveled to West Africa and dumped the waste in landfills around a city of 3.8 million people (2006 number). This is a case of pure, unadulterated corporate greed. I cannot say that I agree with the $1.28 million fine. I think a more fitting punishment would be the dismantling of the company, the selling of the scrap pieces and the profits given to the clean up of Abidjan. Despicable, Trafigura.

Speaking of Oil Firms…: Friday, in Louisiana, the former chief technician of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig testified that the onboard alarm system utilized to alert crews to the build-up of combustible gases was intentionally disconnected. The chief stated that the rig worked without the safety system functional for over a year because the leadership did not want crew “bothered” by false alarms. If this turns out to be a fraudulent rationale, and that is HIGHLY likely, BP is in even more trouble that it already is. Which leads me to another dismal public relations topic for BP: its role in the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber. There have been questions, since his release last August, about whether BP lobbied the Scottish government to make the move in order to garner favor from the Libyan government for potential oil rights. It was even on the agenda between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama. We will see what a call for an inquiry by the Senate does to the investigation.

Honda’s Electricity: Earlier this week, Honda announced that it will start selling an electric car in 2012. Following Nissan into the burgeoning market, this is the first time that the major firm has set an exact deadline in which it will follow in the production of electric cars. I say cheers, to you, Honda. We’ve all seen/heard of Who Killed the Electric Car, the movie in which we heard the arguments about how the electric car was kiboshed by the major car companies. It finally seems that we’re turning the corner, led by Honda and Nissan, and investing in electric cars as a viable alternative to petrol powered vehicles.

American Matters:

Rep. Rangel cannot be smiling right now.

More Trouble for Rep. Rangel: It has been over three months since Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) stepped down as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee over allegations of ethics violations and other improprieties. On July 22, the House ethics subcommittee announced that it had found Rep. Rangel guilty of breaking ethics rules. So with the midterm election season heating up, the public House trial of Rep. Rangel will be a continued nightmare for the Democratic Party. Already fretting over their perception to the American public, the admonishing of a senior Party member for taking corporate sponsored vacations to the Caribbean could not come at a worse time for campaign officials across the country. That being said, Rep. Rangel deserves whatever is coming to him. The Democratic giant stepped way over the ethical line on more than one occasion.

Deficit Woes: The Federal government released its latest deficit predictions for 2011 on Friday. The Obama Administration believes the the national deficit will hit $1.47 trillion; slightly north of the deficit record of $1.4 trillion in 2010. While this looks like a drastic – catastrophic to some – number, it is actually $84 billion lower than Peter Orszag’s estimate in February. Crazy, I know. Those are titanic sums for anyone other than that US government.

Teacher Purge: On Friday, using results from its newly established teacher assessment system IMPACT, Washington, DC fired 241 teachers in one of the biggest school system purges in recent memory. DC schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was quoted as saying, “Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher — in every classroom of every school, of every neighborhood or every ward, in this city….” According to Ms. Rhee and the IMPACT test, many teachers in the capital’s school system were not being effective. The Washington Teachers Union immediately responded to the firings by calling the IMPACT system a flawed form of assessment. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but you have to applaud the gall of Ms. Rhee in making the decision to lower the axe and undoubtedly infuriate a very strong union for what she sees as the good of children’s education.

End of the Climate Bill: The Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid admitted this past weekend that the Senate would not be able to pass a climate bill in its current session. In 2009, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R.2454) and put it on the Senate calendar for consideration. Capping emissions and establishing a carbon exchange system, the bill is (and would be) a major step forward in US climate regulation. It unfortunately looks like we will have to wait, until at least the next Senate session, for any passage of a climate law.

A Chapter Closed: I am sure most of you remember the firing of 8 federal prosecutors by the Bush Administration’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007. Last Wednesday, after three years, the Department of Justice closed the book on their investigation into the alleged improper actions by the former Attorney General and his staff. Citing insufficient evidence to charge anyone, including former Senator Pete Domenici, the DOJ decided not to proceed with charges. It’s an official end to one of the Bush Administration’s last lingering political controversies.

Off the Beaten Path:

Cristal does not even hold a candle to 200 year old champagne.

Damn Good Bubbly: Let’s be honest, we’ve all rung in a New Year’s Eve or two with a gran reserva André (so classy it doesn’t even have its own website) at some point or another and thought “wouldn’t it be nice if we were drinking a bottle of Cristal instead?” Well, last week, divers working in a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea found the ultimate prize of the aged champagne lottery: 30 bottles of champagne that pre-date the French Revolution. That’s right, it’s over 200 years old. Traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, the cargo ship carrying the bubbly-vino sank and the depth, darkness and pressure seem to have kept the celebratory beverage in good condition; not only drinkable but sweet to the taste. So later this year, when you’re ready to make New Year’s plans, look for a nifty 200 year old champagne. Just be ready to shell out $68,000 for a bottle. No big deal.

A Donkey and a Parasail: Well… the title of this little synopsis is self-explanatory. A group of entrepreneurial beach owners on the Sea of Azov hooked a donkey into a parasail and sent it up, up and away. The businessmen are now potentially facing animal cruelty charges over the incident. The donkey could be heard squealing in terror in the surrounding towns making children cry and prompting public outrage. Clearly this was a terrible thing to do to the poor animal… seems to have worked in getting people’s attention though. Got mine at least at the very least.

Slender Loris: The Horton Plains Slender Loris was caught on camera for the first time last week in the jungles of Sri Lanka. Discovered over 80 years ago, the Slender Loris is so rare that it was thought to be extinct. It is always great, especially in a world of declining ecosystems, to find out that a species is still alive and kicking. I suggest you watch the video below to familiarize yourself with the awesomeness of the Loris…

A Whale of a Boat Ride: Last week, as a couple whale watched in a sailboat off the shores of South Africa their voyage took a turn toward the dramatic. Breaching the surface, a 40 ton whale landed on Ralph Mothes and Paloma Werner’s yacht. There isn’t really words to describe what happened. Luckily no one was hurt. The incident was captured from a boat nearby. Shout-out to EB for showing me this story. Really, the video is too much for words…

Watch here.

Biking 10,000 Miles Plus: Tony Lucente, an IT guy at UPenn, embarked on an amazing journey from Philadelphia to the Artic Circle in Alaska! 10,370 miles in total, with an average distance of 400 miles a day, Tony recently completed the trip. He did it all to raise money and awareness about domestic violence and Native American women. Check out the featured video from NBC Philadelphia.

Photoshop Blunders: We all know that Photoshop, and all of its magic, contribute quite a bit to today’s world but it is always fun when corporations and countries get caught in wonderfully stupid Photoshop edits. The Telegraph ran a piece last week about recent and well-known Photoshop gaffes. From Iran to Microsoft… these blunders never get old.

Idiom of the Week: Shank’s Pony

The saying refers to when you find yourself without the option of taking the train, bus, plane or car and have to settle with walking to your destination.

Example #1: “I was hoping my rents would pick me up after the party. However, to my dismay, I had to take the Shank’s pony all the way home.”

Example #2: “That hitchhiker is probably looking at a ride on Shank’s pony if he wants to get anywhere.”

Video of the Week:

How to open a wine bottle using gravity, a shoe and a wall!

Song of the Week:

This week’s song comes to us from the Brooklyn-based singer Holly Miranda. I love the guitar and bell combination in this song. It’s the type of song that gets you going; definitely one for the car or before you go out. Hope you enjoy!

Irish Update

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Irish Pride

Hello again, and welcome (or should I say fáilte?) to the Fodar. Ireland has been having quite the summer, but I’m quickly realizing that not everyone keeps the Irish Times on their RSS like I do. So I’ve taken it upon myself to brief you all on the goings on of this tiny, yet thunderous nation. Sheep may outnumber people 2:1 over there, but they are certainly not a nation of followers. I’ve interspersed some highly significant moments with a few lighter pieces to give you a taste of Irish summer – hmm, maybe the Captain can come up with an “Irish Summer” themed shot to share with y’all. But I digress — Big things are happening in my favorite little country, so let’s get craic-in’.

British Prime Minister Apologizes for Bloody Sunday Massacre

On June 15th, while thousands gathered in Guildhall Square, Derry, British Prime Minister David Cameron publicly apologized for the massacre that took place 38 years prior. On January 30, 1972, British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights demonstration, killing fourteen civilians in what came to be known as Bloody Sunday. “On behalf of our country,” said Cameron, “I am deeply sorry.”

The newly published Saville Report officially recognizes, for the first time, that British forces fired the first shot and that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable.” The 5,000 page report was welcomed by Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen:

“From this day forth, history will record what the families have always known to be true . . . 14 innocent people died on the streets of Derry on January 30th, 1972. There is no doubt, there are no ambiguities. In truth, there never were. They were innocent. May they rest in peace.” (Source: Irish Times)

This was a day of reconciliation for both Ireland and the UK, a monumental moment in the long and often bloody history between them.

Bono Blogs about Bloody Sunday

In a guest op-ed for the New York Times, U2 front man Bono checks his agenda and offers us a more personal perspective on the findings of the Saville Report and Cameron’s apology. He did write the song, after all – this is definitely worth a read.

Jay-Z Owns the Oxygen Festival

Reigning king of the Empire State has expanded his domain to Dublin, opening for Ireland’s largest music festival this summer. “He came, he saw, he conquered,” he “stole the show,” and was quickly dubbed “the festival’s undisputed heavyweight champion.” His performance may have “sidestepped hip-hop’s usual clichés,” but he seems to have inspired nothing but from reviewers at the Irish Times.

Milk 2010

Ireland’s first-ever outdoor LGBT music festival will kick off August 14th. How can you go wrong with a line-up featuring Bananarama and Right Said Fred? But really, this is about a growing culture of openness and acceptance in country still grappling (as so many of us are) with its conservative Catholic upbringing. Milk welcomes “anyone from any community encouraging a culture of inclusiveness, acceptance, diversity and celebration” – which brings us to our next story…

Seanad Passes Partnership Bill.

This is huge. While Massachusetts was busy declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the Seanad Éireann was engaged in a 23 hour long debate, eventually passing a Partnership Bill granting “marriage-like benefits to gay and lesbian couples in the areas of property, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax[KG1] .” The bill was passed 48-4 with no abstentions after it was eventually guillotined by Seanad Leader Donnie Cassidy. While same-sex marriage is still not recognized, the new civil registrations will carry comparable legal benefits. This is an enormous step forward for Ireland, a country struggling to find its own identity amid 21st century convention and a steep Catholic tradition. When you consider that divorce was not legal until 1996 and abortion is not legal in the Republic of Ireland, except when necessary to save the mother’s life, the Partnership Bill speaks volumes about the willingness of modern Ireland to compromise its Catholic roots and adapt to a more contemporary set of values.

Irish Gay Rights take a step forward.

Derry Crowned City of Culture

Derry, Londonderry, Doire Colmcille – the city has many names, and now a chance to showcase its oft misunderstood history as the first-ever UK City of Culture for 2013. Beloved Irish rockers Snow Patrol lead the campaign, urging the panel to “Just Say Yes” to Derry – I’m not sure which bit I’m happier about, the fact that this fabulous city is getting its due, or that a Snow Patrol song is finally being used to promote something other than the latest mediocre rom-com. I kept it in the Irish theme with that one, but seriously – take a peek at their soundtrack track record. Not good.

Whales in Dublin?

The first whale sighting off the Dublin coast in more than 20 years. He may not be as cool as this guy, but let’s give him some credit.

Ireland’s Credit Rating Drops

I feel you on this one, Eire. Happens to the best of us.

Citing the government’s “gradual but significant loss of financial strength, as reflected by its deteriorating debt affordability,” Moody’s has downgraded Ireland from Aa2 to Aa1 and changed its outlook on ratings from stable to negative. Bloomberg quotes Dietmar Hornung, Moody’s lead analyst for Ireland, as saying “It’s a gradual, significant deterioration, but not a sudden, dramatic shift.” But this is not a portent of doom, nor an irreparable mark on Ireland’s economy. The days of the Celtic Tiger are long gone – with an unemployment rate of 13% and emigration rates once again on the rise, this isn’t really surprising so much as signifying of Ireland’s acute struggle in Europe’s recent economic decline.

So there you have it – the financial and political woes, social struggles and civil and cultural landmarks Ireland has seen of late. With so much going on, such highs and lows wrestling in the headlines, it’s hard to say what shape the rest of the summer will take.

Sláinte!

Kelly