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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!

The Week in Fodder

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Another Friday and another Week in Fodder. Some new formatting, the first Poll of the Week and plenty of scrumptious morsels of knowledge, you’ll be sure to find something to like. Al-Shabaab, the Iranian scientist, the Barefoot Bandit, Eskil Ronningsbakken (You have to read on to find out who he is!), 18th century ships at Ground Zero and the lamest moments in technology… we hope you enjoy!

World Views

Al-Shabaab leaves Somalia.

Ugandan Blasts: Last Sunday, as revelers watched the finale of Africa’s first World Cup, the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab struck, utilizing suicide bombers, two viewing locations in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.  Killing 74 civilians, the attack was the first by the hard-line militia outside of its Somali homeland. Heavily linked to al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the transitional Somali government for over three years. It’s widely believed – disputed by some, however – that Uganda was specifically targeted for its soldiers that are in Somalia protecting the transitional government as part of the larger AU-mandated peacekeeping force. Al-Shabaab is an exceedingly dangerous (perhaps more so than al-Qaeda) militant group. Striking outside of its borders is a truly alarming development.

Argentina Legalizes Same-sex Marriage: On Thursday, the Argentinean Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Argentina becomes the first country in all of Latin America to pass such a progressive, tolerant piece of gay rights legislation. This is somewhat surprising given the overwhelming Catholicism of the Argentine population; over 90% of the country identifies with the Church. Argentinean dioceses actively tried to sustain opposition to passage of the bill. Despite the organized resistance to the measure, it passed and now gay and lesbian couples can enjoy the same rights at heterosexual couples.

Sharia Women: Earlier this week, Malaysia Islamic officials appointed the first ever women to the country’s Sharia court. Malaysian sharia, the strictest interpretation of Islamic law, cases are tried by judges that are the guides of Islamic law within the country. The fact that two women were appointed to this position is a very big deal. Strict interpretations of the Qur’an call for women and men to be completed segregated from each other’s company outside of the familial home; you can clearly understand the controversy in letting female judges decide the fate of defendants. Although the extent of the women’s powers are still unclear, this is a pioneering step. Watch this, as a possibly model for other progressive Islamic countries, with a keen eye.

Healthcare and Kim Jong-il: This week, Amnesty International released a report on the healthcare system in the People’s Republic of Korea. The results of the report are unfathomable. Findings of doctors working at hospitals without basic medicine, performing surgeries by candlelight and amputating limbs without anesthesia litter the testimonial. Unsettling details about conditions under the world’s most reclusive regime are nothing new; stories of the nation’s food crisis, among other things, have trickled out from defectors. That being said, the international community is not close to putting together a full picture of what life is like under Kim Jong-il. We should cross our fingers and hope it’s not worse that what we know.

Feuding Neighbors: India and Pakistan are officially talking again. After almost two years of ice-cold relations, stemming from the Mumbai terror attacks, the two countries are back at the table trying to iron out their differences concerning the disputed and volatile region of Kashmir. Historical rivals, dating back to Partition, the two countries attitudes towards each other took a turn for the worse when Lashkar-e-Taiba trained militants struck the Indian commercial hotbed of Mumbai killing at least 170. This is a productive step forward for the region and the two countries to be talking about tinderbox issues once again.

American Matters

The CIA and the Iranian: At this point, you have all undoubtedly heard about the rouge Iranian scientist, Shahram Amiri, who went missing for months and only to surface this week in Washington, DC.  Mr. Amiri’s whereabots had been the subject of debate for months. Since his appearance, the story has unfolded at a breakneck pace. He and the Iranian government claim that he was abducted and tortured by the CIA. The Agency asserts that he was a willing defector and informant on the Iranian nuclear program. Reports have confirmed that Mr. Amiri was paid at least $5 million by the CIA for services rendered. He returned to the Islamic Republic to a hero’s welcome. We will probably never know what the truth of this latest international espionage episode is but it provides another reminder of the shadow games continually played by the world’s governments

The Barefoot Bandit's favorite loot.

Double-dip?: Economic news for the past two to three months has been mostly positive; gradual reduction in unemployment, stronger consumer confidence and a slowly growing economy. All of a sudden, however, the US is staring a double-dip housing crisis in the face. Reports this week indicate that foreclosures will hit the 1 million mark in 2010. This high number can be attributed to a backlog of mortgage holders; still, though, it’s a very scary statistic. So faced with this knowledge and the growing stagnation of the nation’s housing market, economists are feeling a bit weary. The whole world will be watching the US housing numbers with bated breath.

Barefoot Bandito: The Barefoot Bandit, otherwise known as Colton A. Harris, was finally caught in the Bahamas this week. A new American folk hero, Mr. Harris had been on the run for over two years, a plethora of states and the Caribbean for a litany of robberies from stealing airplanes to cold, hard cash. After finally yielding to the pressure of law enforcement officials, Mr. Harris was quick to plead guilty. At the age of 19, the Barefoot Bandit and his escapades will be the subject of American lore and pop culture for years, possibly decades, to come. Hats off to you Mr. Harris. You may be a criminal, but you’re a damn good one.

Death of a Hero: Vernon Baker, the only non-posthumous African American recipient of the Medal of Honor, died this week at the age of 90. He received the honor for his service with his platoon in Italy during WWII. He left the military in 1968 as a First Lieutenant. Mr. Baker returned to the United States after his military service and lived the rest of his years in Northern Idaho. In a time of war, it is important to remember those pioneers and heroes that so valiantly served our country. We’re forever indebted to you, Mr. Baker. Thank you.

Henry in America: French legend Thierry Henry is officially a member of the New York Red Bulls. A prolific scorer for both club and country, Henry comes to Major League Soccer (MLS) as the biggest signing in its history. (And YES, this includes David Beckham.) Unlike Mr. Beckham, Henry was made to score goals. He will clinically finish in front of goal and bring Red Bulls’ fans to their feet. It is quite possible Henry is the European star the MLS has been long searching for to bring Americans to its stadiums. Just wait, Henry will have too many Sportscenter Top Plays to count.

Off the Beaten Path

Secrets, secrets.

Mona’s Secrets: This may be only interesting to me and art enthusiasts but I thought it would be a nice little bit of Fodder for all. Using x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, Dr. Philippe Walter has uncovered the nitty-gritty details of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “sfumato” technique. The spectrometry procedure even allowed Dr. Walter to attain the recipes of Da Vinci’s paints and glazes. The glazes, mixed by Leonard himself, were layered in an impressively micro-manner. From the Da Vinci Code to this newest report, it seems that the vaguely smiling Mona will eternally hold a place in the world’s hearts.

Anchors at Ground Zero: Construction workers at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan have found the remains of an 18th Century ship used by traders in the mouth of the Hudson River. Next to the uncovered wooden hull, the excavators also found a 100lb anchor. A truly impressive historical find in the middle of the world’s busiest city. Everyone involved hopes to have the treasure removed by the end of the week. It just goes to show, there is history everywhere; even where you least expect it.

Eskil Ronningsbakken: There is not much to say about Eskil Ronningsbakken. He’s the world’s foremost extreme balancing act. Just check out this gallery and the YouTube video embedded below. As AWC says, “CRAZY Norwegians!” That is all.

Raccoon News: Last week’s Week in Fodder gave you a ridiculous and colloquial story about the Boston area so I’ll return the favor to NYC this week. Earlier this week, a raccoon – channeling his inner burglargot into the basement of the Brooklyn Public Library. Closing the storage area to staff for the week, the raccoon caused quite the nuisance and unfortunately did not get the library card it had applied for. (KNEE-SLAPPER!!)

Too Uncool for School: In our final news synopsis of the week, we offer you your first “Poll of the Week.” The other day, MSNBC ran a story chronicling the “10 Most Uncool Moments in Tech.” Click on that link, take a look at a couple of the videos and tell us which one you think is the LAMEST. It has to be the Sony rap, right?

Idiom of the Week

“Get you knickers in a twist”

Victorian knickers. Insert British accent.

This week’s Idiom of the Week should be said in an English accent at all times. Something about the word knickers makes me immediately think of good ‘ole England. To “get your knickers in a twist:” when you are angry, nervous, or perturbed with a particular situation.

Example #1: “Larry, don’t get your knickers in a twist with this one. Everything will work out.”

Example #2: “Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, recently got his knickers in a twist with the departure of Lebron James. As a result, he was fined 100,000 dollars by the NBA–true story.”

Song of the Week

This week’s song of the week comes from the Scandinavian group Who Made Who. I found this gem while listening to the radio of Nova Planet, a music website from France (http://www.novaplanet.com)

That’s all folks! Until next week, keep on reading the Fodder and living the good life!

Condoms on Commercial Street?

July 9, 2010 1 comment

What would he say about the controversy?

Here we are, introducing our second guest blogger: Kelly. With a personal stake in dethroning the Fodder’s Captain Adam as our most popular fresh voice, Kelly’s first piece takes on a controversial microcosm of the US’s sentiments on sexual education. Condoms in schools? Hot button issue. So through the scope of a native Cape Codder, we bring you “Condoms on Commercial Street?” Enjoy!

Aah, summer on Cape Cod. The sun, the surf, the…six year olds walking along Commercial Street with condoms?

The Provincetown (MA) School Committee approved a policy in late May, proposed by high school students, to make free condoms available in the school nurse’s office. But if you’ve been reading the headlines from media outlets across the country, you might expect that the longtime artist colony at the tip of the Cape is also home to a population of unusually sexually active elementary schoolers who will soon be offered contraception as part of their curriculum.

As a native Cape Codder now living “over the bridge,” and an avid reader of the Fodder, I was quite excited to explore this real-life nugget of conversation and hopefully provide some insight on the media debacle of what should have been a non-issue. I mean, let’s face it – tossing first graders and condoms into a headline is bound to garner attention and foster gossip, if not discussion; but how many people actually know what Provincetown’s new contraception distribution policy says?

“Condoms will be available, upon request, to Provincetown students.”

Whoa. Scandalous.

Or is it? According to the Cape Cod Times,

“The [Massachusetts] state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education first passed a policy on condom availability in August 1991, as an addendum to its 1990 policy on AIDS/HIV prevention education. Among its recommendations was that “every school committee, in consultation with superintendents, administrators, faculty, parents and students consider making condoms available in their secondary schools.”

Sounds to me like P-town is on the right track.

On a recent trip “down the Cape,” I was curious to hear local reactions to P-town’s decision. I can’t imagine Provincetown Superintendant Beth Singer thought a policy change affecting roughly 150 students would soon be a headline across the country: the Boston Globe, USA Today and the New York Times were all quick to stick Provincetown, condoms and elementary school children into their headlines.

And believe me, the Cape is not often home to front-page news. Sure we’ve had our fair share of murder mysteries and serial killers – what quaint cluster of fishing villages hasn’t? But our usual stories are more comparable to Rupert, the goat from Wellfleet who needed surgery after eating too many Cheerios. Seriously.

I noticed immediately that I was far more interested in this than anyone else in town. Perhaps because I was the one reading the over-hyped headlines, not the smaller pieces closer to the source. (Even now as I write, this topic is still front-page news on Boston.com, while CapeCodOnline.com is all atwitter over the upcoming lavender harvest.) Responses ranged from “Well, it’s P-town” to my 87 year-old neighbor, who didn’t appreciate that her tax dollars would be providing Provincetown students with an endless supply of water balloons. Bless you, Nan.*

Over drinks one night in Wellfleet, I asked my friend Liam what he thought:

“Considering the absurd amount of press this story has received, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an underlying homophobia and sex-negative bias fueling this fire. I have an inkling that if this were Orleans or another less infamous town on the Cape – or anywhere, for that matter – this story wouldn’t have ignited in the way it did. But this is happening in Provincetown, a frivolous, dangerously progressive town filled with gays and hippies who are pushing their hyper-sexualized homosexual agenda onto six year olds.”

Well said, Liam. Now you may have been able to pick up on the sarcasm in that last bit – just maybe – but many conservative voices feared exactly that. The New American claims this new policy “in many respects reflects the permissive gay culture that permeates the town.” And here I thought it reflected the proactive student body that brought the issue before the school committee after weighing the concerns of their peers.

It angers me that Provincetown’s progressive reputation ultimately led to such a negative spin on this story. Were we to assume that, because no specific age limit was set, and because it’s P-town, that the nurse would really, as Liam put it, be doling out condoms like free lollypops at the bank? Many public high schools in New York City already have similar policies to what Provincetown is proposing. Washington D.C. has had a publicly funded program to distribute free condoms since 2006, making condoms available in high schools, colleges, pediatrician’s offices and adolescent health groups. (Liquor stores and barber shops are also among the most popular distributors – is that a guy thing?) According to the Washington Post, D.C.’s health department distributed 3.2 million free condoms last year, including about 15,000 in schools. I don’t know, Ben Gibbard – you might not be getting any, but it doesn’t look like the rest of the District will be sleeping alone tonight.

I’ve felt a growing disconnect from my Cape Cod roots since moving to Boston. But as the provincialisms of my small-town beginnings peter out, I find that in my heart, the liberal sun-drenched philosophies of earlier days prevail. I know what it’s like to grow up in a town that sheds a few thousand residents after Labor Day; and for a town with a senior class of just 16 students – a town so small it may not even have its own high school next year – to recognize a growing need for safe and practical sex education practices for future generations, and successfully appeal for change through the proper administrative channels, is a tremendous accomplishment. These students should be praised for their mature and proactive approach to safe sex, and it is a shame that their efforts have been overshadowed, and quite possibly overturned, by media sensationalism.

I’m proud of the Provincetown students who brought forth these changes – and I’m sure their gay hippie parents are as well.

*Names changed to protect the locals.

For a full list of condom distribution centers in the DC area, please visit DCHealth.gov.