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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!

Trouble in Grenoble

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Grenoble, France. The scene of the latest socioeconomic riots in France.

The cities of France are no strangers to the pitfalls of socioeconomic and immigration strife. Sparking memories of the 2005 riots in Paris’ suburbs, Grenoble – the self-proclaimed capital of the Alpserupted into violence this past weekend after the shooting death of the alleged casino thief Karim Boudouda. The next day, following a memorial service for Boudouda, riots spearheaded by youths from the slum of Villeneuve engulfed the city. In two days over 70 cars were burnt out. While no one was seriously injured in the riots, four young men have been detained for shooting at police during the mayhem. While the origins of this newest round of rioting seems ultimately perverted, it once again brings to light the tension that continues to fester between liberté, égalité, fraternitéand the reality of French immigration.

Immigration to France continues to stay at a high level despite the economic downturn and recent immigration restrictions imposed by the government. As a haven for liberty and social justice, France has long seen itself as model example of tolerance and foreign assimilation. The French pride themselves on a – some would say less-than-tactful – secular bombardment of integrating immigrants. It makes sense at face-value: replacing religious and former national identity with the French way of life facilitates a easy transition to French identity. You can see the culmination of this strategy the international controversy that followed France’s ban on conspicuous religious symbols in the public sphere.

Now, if this form of national identity integration works is a completely different story. I think it is safe to say that the 2005 civil unrest, referenced above, and the riots of 2007 cast long shadows over the practices. The 2005 incident was directly triggered by the death of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, by electrocution while they hid from police officers they believed to be chasing them. Spreading to other cities, it was about three months before the situation was finally returned to normal. In 2007, when two teenagers died after their motorcycle collided with a police vehicle, the poor, immigrant-populated Parisian suburbs Villiers-la-Bel and Arnouville burned in scenes identical to the 2005 riots. What we see here is a pattern starting to develop; animosity lingering between downtrodden new immigrants and agents of the state.

I won’t pretend that I can explain to you the vast network of reasons for the continual outbreaks of violence in France in this short post but I will try to leave you with a couple points to chew on…

First, the immigrants and lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder that live in the suburbs where these riots continue to happen have had to endure a de facto ghettoization.** There is a separation between city dwellers and the immediate suburbs; lines are rarely crossed other than for labor needs. This obviously promotes distrust and hostility between people and their adopted society. There is, unfortunately, a reason that the Paris Métro closes at just 2am.

Second, for all of the lip-service paid to integration and tolerance, there is a double standard between action, words and intent within the French government. Liberté, égalité, fraternité is a wonderful thing to practice in an ideal world but it is hard to get past preconditioned beliefs that undoubtedly still pervade French society. With that in mind, I present to you two quotes to think about:

“There is a simple and clear reality in this country: there’s no future for hoodlums and delinquents because in the end the public authority always wins.” – French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux

Discussing the 2005 rioters, then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy referred to them as “scum” that the they should be “cleared with a fire hose” from the slums in which they live.

This kind of talk, from high-government officials, cannot possibly engender respect or confidence in the state in which people, with only the shirts on their back, look for protection. Until things change, we can expect the cycle of unrest to continue.

**This hyperlink is an in-depth looking into the underpinnings of the 2005 riots by the Brookings Institute; absolutely worth a read.

Wine for Thought: Gamay from the Beaujolais!

July 7, 2010 2 comments

Beaujolais Nouveau: Good to chill

In this week’s Wine for Thought, I am going to touch upon a red wine that you can put on ice and chill. I mentioned Gamay in last week’s recipe of the week. It still stands as a perfect compliment to that Pesto Shrimp Penne recipe. Today, though, I’ll give you a bit more on the grape’s history and current state in the wine market.

Joseph Drouhin's Beaujolais Villages.

Gamay is grown all over the place but its ancestral homeland is in Beaujolais, located in the southernmost part of Burgundy, France. Although technically a part of “Greater Burgundy”, its soil, topography, and climate are distinct from the noble area to the north. The red wines produced in Beaujolais are predominately made from the Gamay grape. The Gamay grown in Beaujolais produces a wine that is light and fruity with a bright acidity on the palate. All three of these characteristics make it a great wine to have chilled at a picnic, at the beach, or at a barbecue in the park or rooftop.

Some people will recognize Beaujolais Nouveau as a wine that is released on the market in September/October; right after the harvest. Georges Duboeuf, the large French negociant, is synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau. His wines, festooned with flowers, are the quintessential quaffing wines. So if you want to try one, you can’t go wrong with a Georges Dubeoef. Beaujolais Nouveau is the most predominant example of Beaujolais on the U.S. market and is your best bet to find and throw in that waiting bucket of ice.

There are other, more serious Gamay Beaujolais wines that are also great on ice. Instead of serving them between 55-65 degrees (the preferred red wine serving temperature), serve them between 45-55 degrees and enjoy the juicy fruit and spice. So ask your local wine merchant for an affordable Gamay from Beaujolais, pop it into the fridge, wake up in the morning, prepare your snacks, get outside, and enjoy the goodness offered from the region of Beaujolais.

In the future, I’ll make sure to throw out some more examples of wines that can and/or should be chilled this Summer. Until then, keep sipping the good stuff.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Reflections on the 2010 World Cup thus far

June 24, 2010 2 comments

Close to three weeks have passed since the opening ceremonies of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals in South Africa. While it started off slow, the plot lines have thickened and the play has gradually improved. From the plucky Kiwis of New Zealand earning a well deserved draw from the cup-holding Italians, to the unfolding soap opera of the French team refusing to practice due to what they deemed to be the unfair expulsion of their teammate, Nicolas Anelka, this World Cup is as much for the soccer enthusiast as it is for the gossip queen.  Today I will blog about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tournament so far.

The good: Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico)

With only two losses between all six countries through this Wednesday, Latin America has been the class of this World Cup. Argentina is thriving, Brazil is their usual solid self and Mexico has been steady. More unexpectedly, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile are all making noise in the tournament and are marching confidently into the round of 16. We will see if they can continue the trend and truly make this World Cup theirs.

The bad: Africa (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria)

African teams failed to impress due to a lack of team management, unity, and the development of competing cliques within the teams. Cameroon and the Ivory Coast serve as perfect examples. The Indomitable Lions and Les Elephants supposedly had the major perquisites for a strong World Cup campaign: solid European-based squads and a good balance between youth and experience. What they lacked, in spades, were competent coaches and a solid foundation of team unity and purpose. South Africa, on the other hand, had the requisite team unity bolstered by the fact they were the hosts of the tournament. Unfortunately, what they made up for in unity, they lacked in talent and experience to advance. No matter though, the Bafana Bafana can walk away with their heads held high while the two aforementioned teams will walk away with the albatross of embarrassment and underperformance around their necks. Not all is lost though. Ghana is still in the competition and they are not only playing well but have some of the most colorful fans and best goal celebrations. The United States vs. Ghana fixture this Saturday afternoon will be a rematch of the 2006 World Cup meeting in Germany that saw the Black Stars down the U.S. 2-1 and advance to the round of 16.

The ugly: France, Italy, and England.

Where do I begin? Let’s start with the French or Les Bleus as they are known. They leave South Africa in abject failure after losing all contests, staging a practice coup d’état, having a player dismissed from the team, and to top it all off, having the coach refuse to shake the hand of South Africa’s coach after their last fixture. Quel horreur! The team and country are suffering with a crisis of self-identity and purpose. Across the pond from the Continent, England, the gatekeepers on the game, continue in their dogged pursuit to win the Cup for the first time since 1966. They meet their historical rivals in Germany this Sunday which promises to be an entertaining affair. The English looked remarkably better in their last game but I don’t see them overcoming the Germans. Nonetheless, expect the odd World War 2 songs to be chanted. Lastly, the Italians are officially out of the World Cup. They never seemed fit to wear the crown as Cup holders (they won in 2006) and relied too much on their Machiavellian cynicism and theatrics to get through. Amidst all this European disarray, look for Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain to seize the opportunity and go far.

Here are some international links to visit to get your soccer fix:

1) www.guardian.co.uk/football : World Cup Football Daily (English). One-liners and puns galore make this my favorite podcast to listen to each night to get my soccer fodder.

2) http://www.rtl.fr : Mondial 2010: En Route Pour L’Afrique du Sud (French). These guys know their stuff and it’s cool to listen to the game analysis in a foreign language even if you don’t understand everything.

3) http://www.marca.com/futbol/mundial_2010.html : Check out the Calendario : Los 64 partidos in the top right corner. Send it to your friends and wait for the props to roll in.

4) http://www.gazzetta.it/ : Gazetta dello Sport (Italy). The paper version is the color pink—how awkwardly cool is that? The English version is worth checking out online.

5) http://oglobo.globo.com/esportes/copa2010/ O Globo Esportes (Brazil).You might as well check out the sports section from the soccer crazed nation.