Friday, December 31, 2010

So, uh, how do you explain this one? (7 x UPDATED)

7th UPDATE: 5:20 p.m. EST: One sports columnist reminds us that Mr. Haywood's arrival in Pittsburgh was brought about by the dismissal of Dave Wannstedt. Perhaps the most poignant part of the editorial is this:
Wannstedt resigned as the head coach at Pitt amid heavy pressure from local and national media and from the university's boosters on Dec. 7. However, he did not fully rid the Pittsburgh football program of his average coaching skills. Instead, Wannstedt accepted the position of special assistant to the athletic director.
Now the question is: Why did Wannstedt accept a position as the glorified No. 2 at Pitt Athletics? Is it because he is going to be next in line to take over at Pitt once current athletic director Steve Pederson's contract is up? Is this just a way to keep Wannstedt around since there is nothing out there for him?
Because there really isn't.
If you look carefully, you might see the bus tracks on Mr. Wannstedt's back.


6th UPDATE: 3:35 p.m. EST: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports Mr. Haywood posted bond and has been released from jail. The paper adds that he will be arraigned on Monday.

5th UPDATE: 11:15 a.m. EST: Those expecting a quick resolution -- both from a legal and employment standpoint -- to this story are sure to be frustrated. It's doubtful that Mr. Haywood will appear before a judge until Monday to hear the charges against him, and University of Pittsburgh officials also are in need of time to explore what happened.

Yes, the (social and mainstream) media frenzy is sure to continue, and the scrutiny of Mr. Haywood and of Pitt is sure to increase as a result. The legal system will likely take the lead, meaning university officials are not going to decide what to do with their new football coach until a legal move in made.

Moreover, the athletic department needs to further investigate Mr. Haywood's past. If this is an isolated incident, that gives Mr. Haywood some chance of keeping his job. But if there is any hint of a pattern of such behavior, then I see no way he remains in his job.

4th UPDATE: 9:24 a.m. EST, Jan. 1, 2011: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette continues to provide additional details about the circumstances that led to Mr. Haywood's arrest.

Am I the only one who thinks that the situation looks worse for Mr. Haywood each time new details come out?

3rd UPDATE: 9:11 p.m. EST: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has additional details about the apparent altercation between Mr. Haywood and the unnamed woman. It includes word that the university will have no immediate comment on the situation.


2ndUPDATE: 8:07 p.m. EST: KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh has posted Haywood's mug shot from his arrest.

1st UPDATE: 7:50 p.m. EST: No matter what Pitt does in this circumstance, the double-standard in college and professional sports is on display tonight.

Despite the holiday weekend, there will be intensive coverage especially in Pittsburgh of Haywood's arrest and initial forays into the Indiana legal system. Part of that coverage will be the calls for the university to dump Haywood (a reasonable decision, if you ask me).

But then there are athletes such as Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As CBS News reported in April:

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback will not be charged related to an alleged sexual assault at an Atlanta area night club, a Georgia district attorney announced Monday.
District Attorney Fred Bright said questions still persist about what happened March 5 between Roethlisberger and a 20-year-old college student in a bathroom at the Captial City nightclub, but that he believed prosecutors would not be able to bring a case that would convince a jury "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Bright also emphasized that the accuser did not want the case prosecuted.
The same CBS report added:
In the summer of 2009 another woman came forward alleging that Roethlisberger assaulted her in his Lake Tahoe, Nev. hotel room in 2008. He has denied the allegations and is fighting the suit.
Roethlisberger was suspended prior to this season by the NFL, but as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this week
After months of public debate -- some criticizing Roethlisberger for a pattern of boorish behavior, others defending him -- he was greeted with cheers at Heinz Field upon his Oct. 17 return Outside the stadium that morning, though, a group of two dozen protesters decried his return.


Roethlisberger quickly re-established himself among the NFL's elite quarterbacks in leading the Steelers to the playoffs, his 94.3 passer rating eighth in the league. He also has drawn praise from teammates for his effort to turn around his life and reputation.

"You're a human being. You care what people think," Roethlisberger said two weeks ago. "I hope and I think a lot of people really felt that I was genuine in the things I said, because I was. Hopefully, they have forgiven me or they are working toward it."
And just this week, the local Pittsburgh media announced that
Ben Roethlisberger won The Chief Award, given annually to the member of the Steelers' organization who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the news media displayed by franchise founder Art Rooney Sr.
Roethlisberger is the first quarterback to win the award in its 23 years. (Full Post-Gazette report here.)
My point is simple -- star athletes get second and third chances. Newly named football coaches often don't.

Moreover, Roethlisberger is linked to the sexual assault of a woman (and maybe more than one), while police say Haywood shoved a different one. I'm not saying what Haywood is charged with is acceptable; but I'm acknowledging that if he was a star athlete, the chances of him keeping his job would be much better.

That's fair because...?


ORIGINAL POST: Just two weeks ago, Pitt hired a new football coach. Tonight, that coach -- Mike Haywood -- sits in a South Bend, Indiana, jail facing charges of domestic violence.

According to the Sporting News:
According to police, a custody issue was at the center of the alleged altercation and Haywood refused to leave the residence. The woman, unnamed in the report, told police Haywood "grabbed her by the arm and neck and pushed her." (Full report from The Sporting News here)

How dumb can you be?

Yes, journalists need to be careful not be jump to conclusions about any story, but there also needs to be a recognition that such accusations cannot be dismissed as some tiff between a man and a woman. Moreover, and if you think I'm on a soapbox then I encourage you to get a reality check, there is no circumstance under which any man should assault any woman.

The University of Pittsburgh and its athletic department has yet to comment on Haywood's arrest (or if they have, then I've not seen it), but the bigger issue is how they will deal with this situation.

If Haywood has not yet signed his contract -- and it's not uncommon for coaches to accept new jobs without formally signing a deal immediately after being hired -- Pitt could cut ties with him. If there is a contract, the university could seek to have it invalidated or simply pay Haywood a lump sum to walk away.

Muddling the situation even more is that many schools have lined up their new coaches, recognizing that the signing day for freshmen is about five weeks away. If Haywood were to be dumped, Pitt would need to quickly but thoroughly conduct a new search.

All of this because one man acted like an idiot.

Rethinking a bad idea

Y'all in College Station had better realize that one of your less-than-brilliant ideas was opposed to journalism.

Gig 'em.

A series of snapshot memories...

...as we say goodbye to 2010.

These are in no particular order and mix politics, sports, entertainment, weather and more:

1. Chi-chi-chi-le-le-le

2. The "tea" was bitter, the "tea" was just right

3. The Georgian luger

4. One hell of a hockey game between the USA and Canada for the men's gold medal

5. Bipartisanship appeared too often to end with a "t" and not a "p"

6.  "I want my life back"

7. Vuvuzelas

8. Going Gaga over that Lady...

9. ...and Anna Chapman

10. Stocks went up...

11. ...and unemployment didn't

12. Haiti

13. Aung San Suu Kyi

14. The Giants won the pennant...and a whole lot more

15. WikiLeaks

16. Snowmageddon in Pittsburgh...

17. ...and unusual weather elsewhere

18. 90

19. Nobel's empty chair

20. The pain in the Pyongyang

21. 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7), 7–6(3), 70–68

22. Volcanic ash

23. 297

24. Tiger Fraud Woods

25. Still in Afghanistan

26. Conference realignment

27. Arizona politics

28. Gallaraga and Joyce

29. The returned Heisman

30. Net neurality

31. No Olympics, no World Cup for the U.S.

32. Poland's president perishes

33. Bailouts in Europe

34. The Gaza Blockade

35. Butler almost did it

Okay, your turn. What should we add?

Sure, you can protest here... (UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

...but we're going to make as hard as we can for you.

Such is the state of freedom of assembly in Russia. Late today a protest was to be held in Moscow to encourage the government to accept...and I can't make this up...the right of people to assemble freely. But police have begun to cordon off the square where the rally is to be held

Meanwhile, a protest the government has not approved also is to be held. But in advance of that, an opposition political leader was arrested. As RIANovosti reports,
The opposition leader of The Other Russia, Eduard Limonov, told Ekho Moskvy radio station that he has been detained ahead of a protest scheduled on Moscow's center Triumfalnaya Square on Friday.
Limonov, who was preparing to join an unsanctioned protest on the square, said he has been taken to a local police station for a "prophylactic discussion."
You'll recall that earlier this week a number of people were detained as they protested the guilty verdict of oilman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and one of his business partners. The government has said little about those protesters, but it has consistently criticized the West for interfering in Russia's domestic affairs.

Yes, the West is meddling in Russia's affairs, and, yes, it has the right to do so. Just as President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are responsible to their citizens, so too are Western leaders to theirs. And to remain silent on the Khodorkovsky verdict would be unacceptable.

UPDATE: Updating another story from Russia -- remember the air travel fiascoes earlier this week at Moscow's two major airports? Well, today, that incompetence was placed at the doorstep of the deputy head (!!!!) of Aeroflot.

And now for the latest installment of...

...Anna Chapman.

Alright, folks, let's admit that the media have reached the point where anything that woman does is going to be news. And that's true even though she's back home in Mother Russia.

Chapman was interviewed by a Russian television program; and according to this report from Bloomberg, she said she will never admit to being involved in espionage. She also was given a lion cub as a gift.

That's right, a lion cub. (This BBC report includes a picture of the animal.)

According to the Associated Press,
The red-haired 28-year-old said on a talk show broadcast Thursday night on Channel One state television that she considers the failure of her mission a chance for new opportunities - though she declined to give details on what exactly her mission was.
The host of the program also appears to have become infatuated with Ms. Chapman, noting, “She is without exaggeration the woman of the year.” (Story from which that quote was taken can be accessed here.)

Of course, he just might be right.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why did it matter so much to me?

I've had about 24 hours to digest the plagiarism committed by and suspension handed to ESPN's Will Selva. (Access this link for my comments.) And in that time I've not articulated on this blog why I reacted as I did to what took place.

Let me preface this posting with a couple comments:
1. I don't know Will Selva, and he and I have never interacted professionally. In other words, there is no "history" between us that would have led to me to especially savor what has happened.

2. Selva should not be forced to stand alone in the plagiarism accusation. Other journalists make that same error, and perhaps 3-5 times per year we hear about an author accused of taking the words of others and passing them off as his or her own. In other words, no one had better make the argument that Selva deserves special punishment because no one before him has done the same thing (or been accused of it).

So, why did the plagiarism issue resonate so strongly with me?

Allow me for a moment to step into a classroom and presume I am holding this conversation with a group of students just beginning in the role of journalist.

I tell them that journalists are not like medical doctors, dentists or lawyers -- no journalist is certified by some board or needs to pass a test in order to become a reporter.

I also mention that journalists should, in my opinion, recognize a special privilege -- they enter a person's home every day no matter through which medium they work and are therefore akin to a guest. In order to continue being welcomed in that home, the journalist must remember that there is perhaps no stronger demonstration of trust or friendship than to be invited into another person's house.

I add that journalists base their careers on their credibility. At this point in my conversation with students I throw out about a half-dozen television anchors/program hosts and ask them what they think of each person. The snide remarks, the snickers and the rolling of eyes are indicators that some individual is not respected or liked. I tell my students that whether they know it, they are acknowledging that that journalist lacks credibility because of a perception of bias or overt favoritism.

As the conversation ensues, I instill in the students a sense of journalists engaged in a personal relationship with their audiences, and the former must continually hold the latter in the highest regard. They can do that by being the ultimate professional.

As you evaluate this post -- and remember that if this were a lecture I might have close to or more than an hour to develop the points mentioned above -- please understand that I would have been as angry as I was at Mr. Selva no matter who had done what he had.

I appreciate his apology (a portion of which you'll see quoted in the aforementioned link), and I think yesterday I failed to grasp that in his words there was an acknowledgment of fault and genuine embarrassment. The cynic -- and I might have come across as one -- certainly could say, "oh, sure, he's only saying that because he was caught red handed."

Yes, what Mr. Selva did was wrong. But let's not deny the speed with which the admission of the mistake was made. At some point he will return to ESPN's air, and that means that either late one evening or early one morning I'll watch him bring a multitude of sports highlights into my living room.

Doing so means that, and for lack of a better term, I still believe he has a level of credibility that allows me to watch him. Unlike a certain pompous talk-show host on FOX News who claims to never make mistakes, Mr. Selva is still welcomed in my home.

Who knows, someday he and I might have a chance to meet and talk more about this.

Which one stands out?

I spent several hours today at the new Consol Energy Center, the new multi-purpose facility in Pittsburgh that is most notably the new home of the NHL's Penguins.

Pittsburgh has taken pride -- and with justification -- in the new building, which improves the skyline and allows the city to attract world-class entertainment and sports events. But as I sat with my two boys watching a college hockey game and then a minor-league hockey game, I wondered what makes a new stadium or arena truly stand out from the rest.

When I was a sports reporter and living in southern California, I covered the NHL's Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who played in a brand new facility. That was more than a decade ago (gadzooks, time goes by fast!), but the local pride was evident; locals were sure to tell you that the arena was the best in the country.

Was it? I really don't know, though to me it was a comfortable place from which to see or report a game. I also checked out a Billy Joel concert there.

And those memories of that new arena came back to me tonight as I sat in the Consol Energy Center. Is that now the state-of-the-art, stands-out-from-the-test building? Again, I don't know; and that answer is not predicated on not having spent time in other facilities across the country.

So, I'm asking for your help as we come up with an answer to this question: What are the criteria that make a new multi-purpose facility "awesome" or "cool" or "the best"? You can of course engage in a little local pride and offer a "my city's building is the best," but please tell all of us what makes it so.

This could turn out to be a fascinating conversation.

Another six years

Congratulations to Russia's legal system for demonstrating (again) that it is synonymous with cronyism and political favoritism.

As a Russian news agency reports:
A Moscow court sentenced Russian ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev to another six years in prison.
Judge Viktor Danilkin finished reading the full 250-page verdict on Thursday.
And the BBC notes that the judge had a less-than-flattering opinion of the two men:
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev may only be reformed if they are isolated from society....
Sounds like something out of the Stalin years.

Merry Christmas, Mr. President

From CBS News' Marketwatch:
The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for jobless benefits fell 34,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000 in the week ended Dec. 25, hitting the lowest level since July of 2008, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims of 413,000. The four-week average of new claims, which is smoother than the weekly data, fell 12,500 to 414,000, also reaching the lowest level since July of 2008. The level of claims helps observers to analyze the health of the labor market, and economists say claims would have to remain below 400,000 before there's a substantial gain in hiring.
And now we await the political spin from the left and the right. Pardon me while I take a nap.

Maryland, my Maryland

Washington Post columnist Mike Wise succinctly summarizes one of the problems with today's big-time college athletics -- there is no loyalty.

Despite being an alum of the University of Maryland, and despite turning a moribund program into something that fans and alums could support, Ralph Friedgen is out. Another Washington-based sports reporter sums up why:
Many Maryland supporters grew tired of Friedgen, especially after he had only three winning campaigns in the last seven seasons. Fans were spoiled after Friedgen won 31 games in his first three years in College Park, then became indifferent, as shown by waning attendance the past two years
Incoming Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson was caught in a tough spot. With five assistant coaches leaving for Vanderbilt, Friedgen would have been left with half of his staff for the final year of his contract. Finding good replacement coaches for one season would be nearly impossible. Recruiting would be wrecked. It smelled of a desperate situation that the Terps couldn't financially endure.
But Friedgen was also dismissed after being named the ACC coach of the year and guiding the Terps to a 9-4 record. He deserved to return for the last year of his contract. Then again, he deserved to be fired after going 2-10 in 2009.
Friedgen felt the school wasn't loyal to him. But loyalty earned Friedgen the chance for redemption in 2010. Rarely does a coach or player leave thinking he received every day he wanted. Everyone feels cheated when a career becomes fleeting.
Consider that Friedgen finished with a 75-50 record at Maryland and was 5-2 in bowl games. The expectation is that Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech head coach, will replace Friedgen. (Full disclosure -- many readers of this blog know I taught for two years at Texas Tech and during the period in which Leach was there. I don't know the man, but I like his style and I think he's a fantastic coach. I'm happy to hear he's likely back as a head coach.)

Regardless of who does, Friedgen made clear after his team's Military Bowl win over East Carolina that he will have a hard time improving on Friedgen's career record.
I can tell you this — it's not an easy job. ... There's a lot of things that really have to change to help it reach its potential. And, to be honest with you, I don't know if the university is willing to do that. You've kind of got to know that going in. ... What happens to a lot of coaches who come to Maryland, they think it's like every other place, and after their third year they realize it isn't, and they're stuck.

People are concerned about my legacy, and my legacy is what it is — 75-50 ... I gave it the best I had for 10 years, and obviously that's not good enough right now, and that's what hurts. ... I leave the job a lot better than when I got it, so if someone else can come in and do better, my hat's off to them. (Use this link to access the full AP report from which this quote appeared.)
Friedgen's supporters and critics have enough ammunition to justify their belief that the university's administration and athletic director were/were not fair to him. Regardless of whether he should have been fired is the reality that loyalty is non-existent in college sports today.

As the football, basketball, baseball and other programs have become managed as and considered equivalent to professional sports, the need to eliminate he or she who is not performing NOW is part and parcel of the job.

The old joke about professional coaches is that they are hired to be fired. It's now true on the collegiate level as well.



Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Presuming there are no surprises in the NFL this weekend...

...the playoffs will go like this:

NFC:
1. Atlanta
2. Chicago
3. Philadelphia
4. St. Louis
5. New Orleans
6. Green Bay

AFC:
1. New England
2. Pittsburgh
3. Kansas City
4. Indianapolis
5. Baltimore
6. New York

In the Wild Card Playoff round, the NFC will have:
6 Green Bay beat 3 Philadelphia
5 New Orleans beat 4 St. Louis

...while the AFC will have:
6 New York beat 3 Kansas City
5 Baltimore beat 4 Indianapolis

In the Divisional Playoff round, the NFC will have:
1 Atlanta beat 6 Green Bay
5 New Orleans beat 2 Chicago

...while the AFC will have:
1 New England beat 6 New York
2 Pittsburgh beat 5 Baltimore

In the Championship Playoff round, the NFC will have:
5 New Orleans beat 1 Atlanta

...while the AFC will have:
1 New England beat 2 Pittsburgh

In the Super Bowl,
New England will beat New Orleans

Playin' Hockey...in the Rain

Recognizing that Mother Nature could disrupt (or cancel) plans for this Saturday's NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field, I decided to have a little fun.

Think of Singin' in the Rain as you sing this:

Playin' Hockey in the Rain...
They Wanna Play Hockey in the Rain...
Unless Mother Nature Says...
You're...Totally Screwed.

We'll Be Staring at the Clouds...
Dropping Water on Our Face...
There'll Be Glee in Our Hearts...
Watching Ovechkin Kick Our Butts...

Unless the Stormy Clouds Chase...
All of Us from Heinz Field...
Before the Pens Can Play...
Hockey in the Rain...

I Await the Rain's Fate...
With a Simple Refrain...
Why...Play...Hockey...
In the Rain!!

Michael Vick should have been executed

What? On the scale of stupid things to say, what FOX News analyst Tucker Carlson said should rank pretty close to the top:
Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did [it] in a heartless and cruel way... I think personally he should have been executed for that.
Look, I'm not here to defend Vick for his cruel and moronic behavior, but it is asinine to suggest that his punishment should have been execution. (The video of Carlson's comments can be accessed here, then scroll to the bottom of this report.) And Carlson should be held accountable for his words; FOX News needs to acknowledge and respond to them.

In the minds of many, Mr. Vick can never recover from the stain of his crimes, but from a legal standpoint he has paid for them. He spent almost 19 months in jail.

Each person must determine whether and when Vick will be forgiven for what he has done; I suspect that his incredible season as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles -- one that has included a starting berth in the Pro Bowl -- will serve to remind people of the tremendous talent he has and the equally tremendous way he almost threw it all away.

The controversy about Vick was renewed a few days ago when President Obama noted that the Eagles did the right thing by giving him a second chance at a professional career. As Sports Illustrated's Peter King reports:
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was surprised to hear the president's voice on the phone. Barack Obama had two things to discuss with Lurie: the redemption of Michael Vick and the alternative-energy plans Lurie unveiled this fall for Lincoln Financial Field. I talked about the Vick story on NBC last night.
"The president wanted to talk about two things, but the first was Michael,'' Lurie told me. "He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. He was ... passionate about it. He said it's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.''
Lurie said Obama and he talked football. "He's a real football fan,'' Lurie said. "He loves his Bears. He really follows it. He knew how Michael was doing. It was really interesting to hear.''
Carlson's words were not interesting to hear.

I'll end with this thought -- if an African-American commentator were to suggest that a Caucasian athlete should be executed for a crime he had committed, what kind of firestorm would there be? So why should it be different because a Caucasian said it about an African-American athlete.


Wha-what????

If you've lived in Los Angeles, then you know what a joy traffic can be.

But check out what is happening in Moscow.

Thank the Lord you can't have vodka on the road...you talk about needing something to calm you down!

Plagiarist! (6x UPDATED)

6th UPDATE: 9:47 p.m. EST: Though not yet confirmed publicly by ESPN, it appears Selva has been suspended and for an indefinite period of time for plagiarizing.

Good.

5th UPDATE: 8:48 p.m. EST: It appears an "I goofed" is going to be good enough in this case. The Orange County Register reports that both Selva and ESPN's vice president of communications have acknowledged the plagiarism committed by Selva.

But there is no indication of any kind of penalty.

According to the paper, Selva wrote:
I made a horrible mistake and I’m deeply sorry.  I did not live up to my high standards or ESPN’s. As I often do, I research local stories to use as background for writing my script. In this case, I cut and pasted the story with every intention of writing my own. I simply forgot and I completely understand why this is a major problem. I sincerely apologize for my sloppiness, especially to Kevin Ding, viewers and colleagues. In my 15 years in broadcast journalism, nothing like this has ever happened and I will make every effort to ensure it won’t happen again.
If we accept that Selva is truly sorry and that no such previous acts of plagiarism took place, then we still are left with some interesting questions:

1. Did Selva not remember after he used Ding's words that he had "made a horrible mistake"?
2. Why did Selva never reach out to Ding before he was called out for his plagiarism to apologize?
3. Did Selva discuss the "horrible mistake" with anyone at ESPN before today?

I'm willing to accept that Selva feels terrible, and I'm fully confident he is embarrassed. But an after-the-fact apology rings incomplete, in my opinion.

4th UPDATE: 5:45 p.m. EST: I am still waiting for a public response from ESPN. I hope you are, as well. 

3rd UPDATE: 2:46 p.m. EST: Let me make something clear here -- I don't know Will Selva, and I've never met the man. So please don't believe that there is some kind of personal animosity in my blunt reaction to his plagiarism.

Rather, I cannot tolerate plagiarism. It's that simple. And in this case, he did it -- and he should be penalized appropriately. I expect ESPN to respond accordingly to his breach of professional ethics.

2nd UPDATE: 2:07 p.m. EST: Selva's ESPN biography.


1st UPDATE: 2:05 p.m. EST: I just took a look at the ESPN home page and there has yet to be a public response from the network as to the obvious plagiarism that Selva engaged in. The network cannot ignore this issue, hoping that perhaps it will go away.

The network could suspend or fire Selva, but it must do something. Sweeping this under the rug as some unfortunate indiscretion is not acceptable.

ORIGINAL POST: Not sure what ESPN's Will Selva was thinking...but he goofed. Badly.

Should he be canned for the blatant plagiarism? Let me answer the question -- yes.

They got 'em

Kudos to the Danish and Swedish governments for tracking down five terrorists before they could attack a Danish newspaper.

One police source has suggested the goal of the terrorists was to enter the newspaper's building and kill as many people as possible.

The newspaper, as you'll gather from the linked stories, printed the cartoons about the prophet Muhammad that angered Muslims. Access this link for some background on the controversy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hey, that's also my kid!

Kudos to one of my former students -- Tia Ewing -- who had a story she did for her local Michigan station picked up by CNN.

Way to go, Tia!!

What the h*ll is Texas A&M thinking...

...by not supporting its journalism instructors?

Nothing more needs to be said here except that the university ought to be ashamed of itself.

Now, these are New Year's Resolutions!

President Obama: "going to share my birth certificate with the world"

Prime Minister Netanhayu: "going to send settlers elsewhere"

Jerry Jones: "going to hire a real general manager so that the Cowboys have a real chance"

George Bush: "going to write another book -- there's money to be made in those things"

Peyton Manning: "going to start taking myself seriously in those commercials"

Eli Manning: "going to try to be more like my older brother"

Rush Limbaugh: "going to listen more and talk less"

Nancy Pelosi: "going to be more gracious in victory and defeat"

Anthony Calvillo: "going to let those guys from Saskatchewan win the Grey Cup"

Wayne Gretzky: "going to hire someone to take out that Crosby guy"

Glenn Beck: "going to be like Rush"

Mother Nature: "going to give the East coast a break this winter"

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "going to move to Nee-vah-da"

John Boehner: "going to think like that Pelosi woman"

Sarah Palin: "going to see Russia this year"

And speaking of Russia wanting the West to mind its own business...

...the government might be wise in doing a better job of letting stranded passengers know when they might be able to board a plane and get to where they want to go.

This quote sums it up best:
"There is absolutely no information. Nobody is explaining anything...they say they don't have planes but if you go upstairs to the fourth floor, you can see a bunch of Aeroflot jets on the tarmac," a passenger, Behdad, who is desperately waiting for his flight to Tehran, said.
President Dmitri Medvedev appears to be getting the message out -- find the problems and fix them. Now.

Russia Today suggests something resembling normalcy could return in two days.

Sorry, I'll go back to minding my own business now.

Russia could care less...

...that the West is bothered by the guilty verdict handed down yesterday against billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a one of his business partners.

As Reuters reports:
The United States and European nations said the verdict raised doubts about the Kremlin’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights, and warned they were closely watching the case.
Referring to comments from Washington and European Union capitals about the trial, the ministry said: “We would like to once again underscore that this issue relates to the competence of the court system of the Russian Federation.”
“Attempts to apply pressure on the court are unacceptable,” it said in a statement. “We are counting on everyone to mind his own business -- both at home and in the international arena.”
But it is hard to mind one's own business when the case as a whole smacked of a Stalin-era show trial. The Financial Times notes
It is hard to see the new charges of which Russia’s former richest man has been convicted – essentially that he stole the entire output of his Yukos oil company over several years – as anything but fanciful. Even former ministers under Mr Putin have suggested they strain credibility. At best, the case seems openly political. At worst, it looks like the latest instalment of a long-running vendetta waged by Mr Putin, now prime minister.
The Los Angeles Times offers a good assessment of who Khodorkovksy is and how he ran afoul of Putin: 
Khodorkovsky became fabulously wealthy in the lax atmosphere that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. Assets that once belonged to the state fell into the hands of a small class of businessmen who became known as Russia's "oligarchs."
He turned to politics and social action, encouraging parties that sought a Western-style democracy as well as the successors to the Soviet Communists in a bid to foster a more open political system. He financed orphanages and funded university programs.
Many of the oligarchs have faced prosecution or been forced to leave the country as Putin has reasserted central control. The defense insisted during the trial that Khodorkovsky's business activity was legal at the time.
When telling the world to mind its own business, it is important to remember that such language is coming from Putin's office. It is not coming from President Dmitri Medvedev's office. In fact, as TIME magazine notes, Medvedev is not at all happy with the political undertones of Khodorkovsky's conviction:
Putin, who has remained as powerful as ever since becoming Prime Minister in 2008, repeated throughout the trial that Khodorkovsky deserves to stay behind bars. Most recently on Dec. 16, less than two weeks before the verdict, he said on national television that "a thief should sit in prison."
This blatant bit of pressure on the court seemed to irritate President Dmitri Medvedev, a former lawyer, who said on Dec. 24 that no official "has the right to state his position about this case or any other case until the sentence is read." This was the clearest rebuke against Putin that Medvedev had ever made....
And the United States might be attempting to further strain the relationship between the president and the prime minister, as the National Journal reports:
The White House's harsh public criticism of the Khodorkovsky trial is virtually certain to anger Putin and could threaten the broader U.S. push to improve its relationship with Russia, one of the administration's top foreign-policy goals.
But the wording of the White House statement--which praised Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by name for his "important campaign to strengthen the rule of law"--seemed carefully chosen.  Obama has worked to build a close personal relationship with Medvedev, whom some American officials see as a potential counterweight to Putin, and the White House's comments about the verdict were likely designed to drive more of a wedge between the two Russian leaders. 
Remember, in 2012 President Obama is up for re-election, and that is also the year that either Mr. Medvedev or Mr. Putin will run for the presidency of Russia. Next year's political dance among those three men ought to be well-worth watching.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wusses

Yes, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell knows a thing or two about wusses. How else could he so quickly characterize our country as such! I discuss that issue in today's podcast.

The NCAA is hypocritical...

...for suspending 5 Ohio State football players for selling some of their memorabilia.

Of course it is. But that misses the point -- the rules are what the rules are: The players should have been suspended for selling those items; a point I've made on this blog.

Unfortunately, the NCAA fumbled the ruling by saying the suspensions would go into effect next season. Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel correctly notes in this column that
You have every reason to be puzzled as to why five Ohio State players -- most notably stars Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey -- will be suspended for the first five games of next season for selling various rings, awards and apparel, yet will be allowed to play in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl against Arkansas.
If you're an Ohio State fan, you have every reason to be confused about why former star Troy Smith was suspended for the 2004 Alamo Bowl for receiving $500 from a booster while the aforementioned five will suit up despite pocketing between $1,000 to $2,500 from some other nefarious figure.
Where's the consistency? The NCAA apologists are sure to say that the current Buckeyes are receiving a stiffer penalty than the former Buckeye because they generated a larger financial gain. Pardon me a moment, I need to stifle a laugh.

The NCAA would have sent a powerful, clear message if it had prevented the current players from taking part in the bowl game. (At least one sports columnist says Ohio State's coach can do the right thing and suspend the players from the Sugar Bowl game. He's right, but the chances of that happening are about the same as me being elected the next president of the NCAA.) That's the national spotlight athletes crave; that's the reward for a team that had a successful season; that's the place the NCAA touts its how-cool-we-are image; and that's the place to leave little doubt how the rules will be enforced.

Sadly, when it comes to the NCAA, consistency is not consistent. And in the Buckeyes' case, the man caught in the middle is athletic director Gene Smith, who has to acknowledge the necessity of the suspensions while planning to appeal them. In this Columbus Dispatch story, Smith is quoted as saying
So I'm not trying to justify anything, but all I know is this: When they come back from the bowl game, they've got to sit in the classroom. They've got to walk across campus.
They've got to interact with some of those people who think they shouldn't even be in school.
There's a burden there, and a lot of people don't understand what it feels like to wake up one morning and pick up the paper and there you are on the front page with five of your teammates.
There's a lot of pressure here that is beyond playing in a bowl game.
Which means...what, exactly?

I agree that the items the players sold belonged to them and that, therefore, they had the right to do with them what they wanted. But using that logic, then it is acceptable for any of us to break any law we don't like because we think we have the right to do just that.

Imagine this scenario -- I get pulled over for driving 65 in a 55-mile zone. I am ticketed for speeding and then appeal to the judge to throw out the fine because "a whole bunch of people also were speeding." The judge decides the penalty will stand but then says it won't appear on my license until 2013.

Huh?

I'll accept that no two infractions are identical and that the NCAA has to take into account other factors, (including -- and this is not a complete list -- whether the school has a history of violating rules, who benefited and in what ways from the infractions, and whether a noticeable advantage was gained on the relevant field of play).

Those factors would lead one to believe, for example, that when the NCAA considers in January whether to reduce the penalties it handed down against the USC athletics program, no reduction in the sanctions will be forthcoming. But regardless of how the NCAA rules, there will be critics ready to line up.

For now, let's keep our attention on Ohio State, its players and the NCAA. Because the proverbial white elephant in the room is whether the NCAA is utterly out of touch with the times and the reality of intercollegiate athletics.

It's not hard to make a case that it is.

Issue number one for many people is the staggering amount of money that intercollegiate sports generates, and that the players receive zero from it. Will the new NCAA president consider paying athletes for their obvious services? That's not going to happen. Forget it, it's off the table. Anyone who wants to make that argument on ethical or moral grounds would find me firmly in their corner. But it's not going to happen.


In fact, I don't see a scenario under which the NCAA will open that door unless it's top money-makers head elsewhere. You want radical -- try this:


USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and LSU bolt the NCAA and form their own organization that includes paying players for participation in any sport. (The more popular the sport, the more the fee. So, for example, the football player gets $2,000 a semester and the golf player gets $500.) Various by-laws are agreed to, including an 8-team national championship in football, and most of the by-laws are adopted from the current NCAA manual.


Come to think of it, the number of NCAA violations among that group of 20 universities is enormous, but I digress.


The NCAA -- being the NCAA -- immediately announces that any NCAA school that plays any of these renegades in any sport will be subject to...drum roll please...NCAA sanctions. Perhaps it's a loss of scholarships? Perhaps it's fewer games on television? Perhaps it's a ban from the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl, or the R+L Carriers Classic Bowl, or the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl!!!!


It would take less than a year for Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin and a host of others to join the new league. Within 12 to 16 months, 45 or more of the top 50 money makers would be part of this collection of teams.


This collection is, for lack of a better term. the professionals of college sports.


I recognize this scenario dooms the "mid-majors" to the reality of what they are -- convenient fodder for the big boys. The truth hurts sometimes. Under this doomsday plan, the mid-majors downsize and become part of the formerly known 1-AA, or they make significant financial and other commitments to play with the big boys.


This might be the future for college sports. Pretty? no. Necessary? I'll leave it to the NCAA to answer that one.

Flying high

Come on, Gov. Barbour, show that same cut-to-the-bone approach that you've instituted in Mississippi.

Carry on.

Well we saw that...and that...coming (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 10:48 a.m. Reaction from Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyers is starting to come in. Needless to say, they are unhappy with the guilty verdict which they see as having political overtones:
Khodorkovsky's lawyers said the comments in a Dec. 16 television appearance were designed to exert influence in the case, which has accentuated a sense of personal rivalry between Putin and a business mogul who was once Russia's richest man.
"What we are hearing leaves us no doubt that pressure was put on the court — that the court was not free when adopting this decision," lead defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said during a brief break in Danilkin's rushed verdict reading.
Medvedev signaled his disapproval of Putin's comments, saying in a nationally televised interview on Friday that no official had the right to comment before a verdict was reached. Putin said later he was referring to Khodorkovsky's first conviction.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has posted video from inside and outside the courtroom. The contrast between a smiling Khodorkovsky and the angry protesters is striking.

The Guardian also reports that Khodorkovsky's guilty verdict is a sign that political opponents of Prime Minister Putin continue to pay a high price:
There was never going to be any other result. In modern-day Russia, challenging Putin is like standing in front of a tank. Either get out of the way or expect – sooner or later – to be flattened.
Whatever else he is, Putin is implacable, relentless and unpitying when dealing with perceived enemies. In this, he follows a long-established Russian leadership tradition, and the public seems to like it, affording him approval ratings of 70% or above.
But the lengths (and depths) to which the former KGB spy appears ready to go have fuelled claims, such as those publicised by WikiLeaks, that Russia has become a corrupt "mafia state" under his tutelage.
I don't believe President Obama has yet to weigh in on today's verdict; considering the time difference between the East coast and Hawaii that is not surprising. But it will be important to read what the president says especially because of his high-profile "reset" attempts at the beginning of his term.

ORIGINAL POST: To the surprise of no one, a Russian court has found Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner guilty of embezzlement. As Reuters notes:

Reading the verdict in the politically charged trial of a chief Kremlin foe, judge Viktor Danilkin said the court had established that Khodorkovsky and [Platon] Lebedev “carried out the embezzlement of property entrusted to the defendants.”
Enclosed in a glass-and-steel courtroom cage, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev pointed ignored the judge as he read out the widely expect guilty verdict, whispering to one another and reading books and documents.

A crowd of a few hundred supporters outside the courthouse chanted “Freedom!”.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and head of its biggest oil producer, is nearing the end of an eight-year sentence imposed in a fraud and tax-evasion trial that shaped Vladimir Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency.
Just how much more time the pair will spend behind bars is unclear, though it certainly will be many years.Keep in mind that Khodorkovsky ran afoul of Putin largely because he supported Putin's political opponents in the late 1990s.

For a detailed background on Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, consider accessing a Website created by their supporters.

One Russian newspaper says that the political pressure placed on the judge was evident. According to this report:
Meanwhile, a law enforcement source told Russian online newspaper Gazeta.ru on December 26 he believed the Federal Security Service (FSB) was putting pressure on the judge, Viktor Danilkin. The source said bailiffs who usually provided security at the court had been replaced with plainclothes law enforcement agents. According to the source, the agents had visited Danilkin at his home and driven him to the court building on December 25.
And at least one human-rights organization already has declared the convictions of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev a political act.

Meanwhile, at least one-dozen Khodorkovsky supporters were arrested outside the Moscow court where the verdicts were read. Additional protests are expected, and the expectation is that they will be declared illegal by the government thus paving the way for more arrests. 

The West is sure to criticize the verdict and the subsequent arrests of protesters as a sign that Russia remains too slow to accept its standards of justice and freedom. One can expect that those words will fall on deaf ears.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My son is in love

My 11-year-old son who is all boy and who largely detests the thought of being hugged (or giving them, for that matter!!) is in love. As I discuss in this podcast, his 4-month-old cousin has wrapped his heart around her little finger.

And as a dad, I'm thrilled.

My latest podcast...

...or editorial, if you prefer.

The subject -- the public relations battle being fought by WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Assange, the author

Most times, a person writes a book to either set the record as he or she wants it to be known or simply to make money.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he's writing his book for a different reason -- he needs to pay the bills. And you couldn't blame his critics -- and perhaps his employees -- if they watch every dollar that comes into WikiLeaks now and into the future. That's because one British newspaper says Assange's salary gobbles up two-thirds of WikiLeaks income.

Assange has undertaken a full-court public relations strategy in recent weeks, offering interviews (presumably at no charge) to various news agencies. In one interview, he said that the allegations of sex crimes in Sweden are not the legal issue that most concerns him. Rather,
Assange has said that his greatest concern is not the pending extradition request to Sweden, but a potential prosecution in the United State over his released of leaked data.
There is no evidence of an imminent US move to indict him, but there have been calls by senior figures for his arrest. The US vice-president, Joe Biden, has likened Assange to a "hi-tech terrorist."
Assange has said he believes the Obama administration is "trying to strike a plea deal" with Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old intelligence officer and alleged source of the diplomatic cables.
The US attorney general, Eric Holder, wants to indict Assange as a co-conspirator and is also examining "computer hacking statutes and support for terrorism", Assange claims.
I ask you -- are you interested in reading Assange's memoir? Why or why not?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A new baby at Christmas

My wife and I became aunt and uncle for the second time earlier this year. That means that today we are watching our niece celebrate her first Christmas.

Nyla Sheets is about 4 months old, and she has that amazing, captivating wonder in her eyes -- everything she looks at is something so very interesting; you can almost see the gears in her head processing the sights, sounds, and other cues that come with any form of communication.

As I held her for a few minutes last night, I couldn't help but glance at my boys, who are now 11 and 7. It does indeed seem like the proverbial "just yesterday" that we were the parents of the newborn. I see that look of exhaustion on my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and it is a look that anyone who has had a baby can remember -- they are awake but not fully; tired but not completely; strong but not totally; and in love fully.

My brother-in-law is a good-sized man, and so I can't help but laugh as I watch him wrap his daughter in his arms. If it were possible for her to disappear, she would.

She's pretty cool, if you ask me.

A political firestorm...

...is sure to erupt when the new Congress and the president attempt to work together.

But it also should be the most personal of choices.

The issue -- those so-called "death panels" that Republicans hammered away at during 2009 and 2010. What the White House couldn't get passed through the legislative route will become law through the regulatory route. According to the New York Times:
Under the rule, doctors can provide information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive,” stating how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are so sick that they cannot make health care decisions for themselves.
You almost can hear on the Christmas night former Alaska governor Sarah Palin shouting "I told you so." But is that the case?

Let's consider the information that doctors can provide parents about their unborn children that are likely to face severe health issues. Is that a death panel? Or is that a responsible way for a health professional to deal with a situation that scares parents? I see that as a legitimate parallel.

The issue of dealing with the end of life is fraught with ethical, moral and religious undertones. Allow me to share a personal story -- the death of my mother almost five years ago.

When I arrived at her hospital bed on a Monday evening, she was -- at least in my mind -- already gone. She was hooked up to at least two machines, and her doctors were pessimistic. The following morning I pulled aside her primary physician and asked him to be as blunt honest with me as possible.

He told me that unless she showed some sign of recovery over the next 24 hours, the situation was grave. It appeared at that point that she had had at least one heart attack or stroke, and it was possible there had been one other.

I then asked him what he thought the chances were of her recovering. I told him that I wanted him to answer that not as a doctor talking to the son of a patient, but as if we were two long time friends sharing our favorite beverage at the end of the day.

His answer was a shaking of the head that spoke volumes.

Two days later, I did what was the most difficult yet most reasonable decision -- I ordered the life-support machines be turned off.

My mother and I never talked about her wishes regarding the end of her life, and so I'll never know if what I did would have met with her approval. That woman is surely in Heaven; someday she'll be able to tell me what she thought of what I did.

But my dilemma over what to do might have been a bit clearer if the kind of information being discussed in the "death panel" plan had been available.

No, I'm not using my case as an indicator of support of the plan; rather, I am suggesting that we should take the time to fully assess it before forming our own conclusions.

Friday, December 24, 2010

To one and all

To my Christian friends -- Merry Christmas. 
To my Jewish friends -- I hope Hannukah was a blessed time for you and your family. 
To my African friends -- Happy Kwanzaa. 
To my British, Irish and Canadian friends -- Happy Boxing Day. 
And to everyone -- Happy New Year!!

Aluminum bats are popular in Russia...

...but not for reasons you might think.

That bit of troubling news is overshadowed by the Duma -- akin to the U.S. House of Representatives -- approving the START treaty. The Russian and French governments also announced today that their countries jointly will build two warships, a move that is significant because
[t]he deal is the first sale to Russia of such naval high-tech by a NATO country and France's NATO allies have expressed concern about arming Russia with modern Western weaponry.
             
Russia's choice of the French ships came after French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said during a visit to Moscow earlier this month that France was ready to transfer military technology if it won the tender.
I wonder if the bats were an incentive to the French to accept the deal?

It wouldn't be Christmas without talk about...

...the economy. And, yes, that's what bothers me about Christmas -- the crass commercialism.

But I digress.

There are signs that the economy might indeed be moving in the right direction and with a strength that until quite recently might not have been noticed. As the New York Times notes:
Economists in universities and on Wall Street have raised their growth projections for next year. Retail sales, industrial production and factory orders are on the upswing, and new claims for unemployment benefits are trending downward.

Despite persistently high unemployment, consumer confidence is improving. Large corporations are reporting healthy profits, and the Dow Jones industrial average reached a two-year high this week.
That enthusiasm indeed has carried over to the stock market, as the Financial Times reports. It says: 
More money is pouring into equities than at any time in the past four years.
“We are now at the cusp of a change in expectations among investors, with asset allocators believing equities will return far more next year than credit or fixed income,” said Mislav Matejka, equity strategist at JPMorgan.
Adding to the good news is the belief that the Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates until at least 2012.

The apparent enthusiasm for the domestic economic figures are enhanced (or tempered, depending upon your opinion) by American and multinational corporations refusing to criticize China for its deliberate disregard for international trade laws. The New York Times reports:
So eager are multinationals for continued access to the world’s fastest-growing market that they are loath to cry foul even amid evidence that China may be flouting international trade laws.
That reticence has long characterized foreign companies’ dealings with the ascendant China. But last winter and spring, there were signs of a new willingness by American and European multinationals to speak out.
In the same story, the Times suggests what has changed:
China’s solid rebound from the global economic downturn, compared with continued malaise in the West, has made the Chinese economy look like a much better place for Western companies to pursue near-term opportunities — instead of fighting drawn-out trade and regulatory battles. It can take up to three years for a W.T.O. case to wend its way through a dispute resolution panel and any appeals.
In other words, when there is money to be made, criticism is not to be heard. That's not good enough for the Times' editorial board. This morning, it writes
China’s attempt to move up the tech ladder is natural. Many countries in history have pursued technological progress by first trying to piggyback on foreign inventions — tweaking and improving — before blazing their own trails. Still, intellectual property misappropriation cannot be a government policy goal, especially in a country the size of China, which can flood world markets with ill-begotten high-tech products.
The United States has made some progress at the World Trade Organization against the theft of intellectual property in China. But it must be much more vigilant and aggressive.
Good luck getting policymakers in Washington or corporate executives around the country to listen. They might, however, be more inclined to pay attention to fears that Japan could be in a deeper economic morass next year.

In short, the domestic economic situation is getting better, but that means it is where it was before the 2008 tank. And before you are quick to criticize one party or the other for causing the economic crisis, please remember that three decades of bipartisan support for free trade, low taxes and other curry favoring to business allowed for the problems.

No, I'm not criticizing capitalism; I am, however, bothered by the belief that necessary government oversight is excessive government interference. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two Christmas gifts from...

...my wife to her younger son, her nephew, her niece and her two godchildren.

Enjoy.

I did.

Russia's image needs an overhaul (UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

TIME magazine correctly points out that the recent violent protests in Russia stemming from the death of a soccer player don't help the nation's image. The solutions being considered by the government also should raise concerns, for they smack of nationalism.

The fact that it was a soccer fan is especially troubling recognizing that Russia was recently named host of the 2018 World Cup, soccer's most prestigious international tournament. No, FIFA, soccer's governing body, won't remove the event from Russia, but without a doubt the publicity detracts from the positive energy and momentum that should flow from such an announcement.

The image issue also is being discussed on the university level, where one North Caucasus region has banned all faculty and students from wearing the hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women. The issue is important because of its connection to the larger issues being addressed in Moscow:
Radical Islamic movements originating in the volatile North Caucasus have become an issue of concern for the federal authorities who have been fighting militants in the region for two decades.
Russia's chief Mufti Ravil Gainutdin said on Tuesday that followers of Islam in Russia have no complaints about their treatment by the authorities, who treat them "with great respect."
"Russia's multimillion Islamic community can have no claims toward the current authorities because our rights are not being suppressed," he said. "We live in a free, democratic country."
A recent outbreak of racially motivated violence has brought inter-ethnic relations to the fore in Russia, with both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stressing the multicultural nature of Russian society.

Oh, but Russia Today, founded by the Kremlin to bolster the country's image around the world, is quick to point out that it is the American media that are too quick to negatively characterize Muslims.

Meanwhile, a group interested in uncovering corruption within Russia is asking whether Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been diverting the nation's money for personal use. Such a question in a country that allows for a vibrant media system could lead to important discoveries about the prime minister; however, in Russia asking such questions could get you beat up, or worse.

To paraphrase what tennis great Andre Aggasi said, image can be everything.

1st UPDATE: 3:39 p.m. EST: And while we are talking about image overhauls, the government of Belarus could use one. Its treatment of journalists has drawn the attention of at least one Western-based advocacy organization. And another group is interested in the treatment of artists.

But as the Financial Times (correctly) points out, the government is being looked almost exclusively in terms of whether it will allow a Western-style economy to develop. It notes:

Despite its successful fundraising this year, Belarus still needs to find ways to boost its gross domestic product and attract foreign capital, agreed the credit strategist and the two debt investors.
In order to do so, the government expressed its intention to start a major programme of privatisation and economy liberalisation at the start of the year, but little progress has been made so far despite Belarus having invited Rothschild to advise on its privatisation process.
If the Financial Times article is to be believed, then we appear to face the same conundrum that has been faced by the West in countless other countries -- does it ignore the domestic human rights situation in favor of economic liberalism?

I think we know that answer.

Go (for the) Bucks!! (UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

Well, uh...um...Gee, E. Gordon.

Yes, I'm unfairly poking fun at the president of Ohio State, but I am certainly not attempting to detract from the stupidity of some of its football players.

Let me tell you about the "Gold Pants", should you not be familiar with that Ohio State tradition. If the Buckeyes defeat the Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State's arch-rival, then each player receives a pendant-size gold pants. To give you an idea of how important that is to some players, one former player -- Jim Lachey, with whom I used to work at the Ohio News Network, and who is one of the greatest people you'll ever meet -- had a gold necklace added to it and gave the pendant to his wife.

She showed off the necklace to me as he relayed the aforementioned story as we prepared a report prior to an OSU-Michigan game. Jim is a proud Buckeye, and that allegiance is not evident in some of the men who now wear that uniform. 

To see the Buckeyes' starting quarterback selling it as if it was some throwaway item is an embarrassment to himself. Not to the university, mind you, which couldn't have known that Terrell Pryor thought so little of the accomplishments of his teammates.

Perhaps Pryor will do the right thing here and pay the fine without challenging it. But more importantly, let's hope he's man enough to apologize to his teammates and the Ohio State fans for his selfishness.

1st UPDATE: 5:04 p.m. EST: ESPN's Pat Forde offers an important opinion to this "sell-my-stuff" story -- the NCAA's decision to suspend the players next season is hard to understand and justify. He notes that
Commerce aside, deferring punishment until after the biggest game of the season doesn't seem like the greatest deterrent to future rule-breaking. Especially in this instance, when the rule breakers have the option to go pro instead of ever paying the piper.

Seems to me that if these guys were busted for breaking the rules, the punishment should be rendered in a timely fashion. Like, now. No matter how inconvenient it might be, or how "unique" the "opportunity" it is to play in a bowl.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples notes that the NCAA is hypocritical to punish players for doing something it authorizes -- the sale of game-used paraphernalia. His advice to the players -- tell the NCAA and Ohio State to go you-know-where:

Each of you provides more value to your school than you receives from your scholarship. You all contributed to three Big Ten titles. You all contributed to three teams that made BCS bowls. In two of those years, your team was a BCS at-large selection, which brought in millions more for the Big Ten. Did you get a bonus in your scholarship check the next semester for your contributions to the financial health of your athletic department and to the athletic departments of 10 other Big Ten schools? Didn't think so.
So now you have a chance to make real money in exchange for your unique skill sets. Take it. Stop feeding a system designed to exploit you.
Another columnist, Jeff Svoboda, who covers Ohio State on a daily basis, says to blame just the NCAA is wrong; he believes this story is an example of everyone doing the wrong thing

Let's accept that the NCAA could have -- and should have -- suspended the players for the upcoming Sugar Bowl and for a portion of the 2011 season. Let's also accept that Ohio State could have -- and should have -- been more proactive in providing appropriate instructions to its players.

But we cannot lose sight of the overarching issue -- the players broke the rules (however flawed they might be). In doing so they thumbed their noses at Ohio State's tradition and football alumni, and they showed themselves to be typical of far too many college and pro athletes: putting themselves first. In short, "I can do what I want because I am _________."

Great legacy, guys.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The unexpected at Christmas time

I came across a few news nuggets that, to me, connect well with this weekend's celebration of Christmas and the entire holiday season. You will find no "cool toy" stories here. You will be disappointed if you are looking for the "perfect gift" suggestion. But perhaps you will find something more important.

There is perhaps no greater job than serving others, and this group of women shares that passion. But what perhaps separates them from others is their age; in an era in which materialism continues to be a dominant theme of America's culture and is incessantly instilled in young women, they deliberately turned away from it.

Turning away from violence and hatred is something all religions instill in their followers. The need for peace is heightened in areas where faith and politics collide; Ethiopia is one of those places. An author takes a small slice out of a book on that topic to address how the Ethiopian capital resembles large cities elsewhere in the world but is unlike almost all other large cities.

The assumption that multiple faiths coexist on America's college campuses is a legitimate one, but what happens when that coexistence happens when people of one religion attend a college affiliated with another? In fact, it's not an anomaly to see Muslims attending Catholic colleges and universities. The reason is simple:
Muslim students say they enroll at Catholic schools for many of the same reasons as their classmates: attractive campuses, appealing professors and academic programs that fit their interests. But there is also a spiritual attraction to the values that overlap the two faiths.

“Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority,” said [Reef Al-] Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. “They have the same values we do.”
One woman found she had a greater appreciation for her Christian roots after she converted to Islam. No, Kari Ansari is not thinking about converting again; instead, she writes
While Muslims don't celebrate Christmas, we believe in the awesome and miraculous birth of Jesus, in the miracles he performed by God's Grace, and in the message of love and peace Jesus brought to the world.
I hope my family knows that I am more attached to the account of Jesus and Mary than I ever was as a child, now that I am a practicing Muslim. It is a vital part of my faith; a faith that I share with over a billion and a half people around the world.
This is my Christmas card to my family, and all my Christian friends and neighbors: Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
Conversion is becoming a more important discussion in many families that adopt children from other nations. For American Jews, that conversation especially relevant because Jewish families have a higher percentage of adopted children in their home than the national average. And for one married couple, the decision to adopt children and raise them as Jews was an easy one.
The general track of [Anna] Suissa's life is not unusual among Jewish American women. As a group, they're highly educated -- a fact demographers say contributes to their relatively low fertility rates.
Still longing to be mothers, they often adopt, and frequently, their children are of Latino, Asian or African descent. And that, in turn, is slowly changing the face of American Judaism.
Someday I hope to visit Jerusalem, where Christianity, Islam and Judaism trace their roots. For one person who did just that, the experience was magical

Perhaps I and my Christian friends have more to celebrate this weekend than they might have first thought.

Now that you don't have to ask

As "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- which barred openly homosexual men and women from serving in the military -- is repealed, I've been curious to see the general media and social network conversations that are taking place. And what I'm finding is not surprising -- today's repeal is being seen as a "victory" for gay rights and a "defeat" for America's entire military system. (What's next for Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Read more here.)

My investigation wouldn't stand up to any social science scrutiny, so I'm not pretending that what I'm reading is the be-all-and-end-all conversation. But that winner/loser angle is, in my opinion, short-sighted (however typical in today's media climate) because it equates the issue to a sporting event.

In such a context, today the "left" won a quasi-national championship while the "right" is left to wonder how could this happen? The short answer, according to one person, is that:
...the message is no longer resonating the way it did in 1993.

In 1993 a Democrat-controlled Congress banned homosexuals from serving in the U.S. military. But today, a Gallup poll released on December 9 shows that two-thirds (67%) of the country have no moral conviction that banning homosexuals from the military is a just policy.
At least one conservative columnist is outraged. John Guardiano suggests that the GOP had the (moral and political) lead on this issue but squandered it.
[Various Republican politicians] become pathetically inarticulate and tongue-tied — and, therefore, de facto left-libertarians — on social and cultural issues. And I include here most conservative journalists.

Given this sad trajectory, it is only a matter of time before “gay marriage” becomes the social and legal norm in all of America, and “Heather Has Two Mommies” a noncontroversial cultural touchstone.

Conservatives like [South Carolina senator Lindsey] Graham and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels want to avoid talking about social and cultural issues; but that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
Another Daily Caller columnist is even more upset. Darin Selnick argues that
This is not about what is good for the country or the military; it is about jamming the Democrats’ left-wing, radical social agenda down the throats of the American people. This is a wake-up call for social conservatives that we are in a culture war that the left will not give up on despite suffering historic losses in the November midterms.
A culture war? As you consider that, please also recognize that there is the real potential for some elite colleges to once again allow ROTC units on their grounds. Typical liberal higher education, someone is surely thinking. But if college administrators are "guilty" of being closed minded about military units on campus, then aren't cultural conservatives equally "guilty" of being closed minded about gays in the military?

It's only when reasoned conversation about a topic takes place that reasonable ideas come forward. But that will never happen when they are framed as sporting events. Nor will they take place when one side or the other presumes it has exclusive domain over the solution to the issue on the table.


Hello...

South Korea: Almost three-dozen readers this week from there.

Croatia: More than one-dozen readers this week from there.

Nigeria: Almost one-dozen readers this week from there.

Thanks...and keep checking out the blog!

Remember Anna Chapman?

The Russian spy who along with nine others was booted from the U.S. earlier this year remains a media darling -- at home and here.

Ms. Chapman's latest decision that guaranteed (and I can't possibly imagine why!) news coverage stems from her decision to publicly ally with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The group to which she now enjoys an important leadership role
...is considered a fanatically pro-Putin youth organization that frequently holds street demonstrations and has been used by Putin's United Russia party in efforts to drum up support among Russian youth. It fell under suspicion last month, however, when a Russian journalist who had been critical of the Kremlin was severely beaten outside his Moscow home. The journalist, Oleg Kashin, had received threats allegedly from the Young Guard, but his assailants are unknown. (Full story here.)
Chapman, you could say, was uncovered last year, and she will be again in January, when a popular men's magazine includes nude photos of the Spy Who Didn't Love Me (sorry, I had to throw in that James Bond reference).

And while the the media go gaga over this lady, let's not forget that Britain has detained and likely soon will deport a supposed Russian spy earlier this month. Stop me when this sounds familiar: She's young. She's good-looking. She's caused a political row.

Ah, some days it seems as if the Cold War never ended.

Adios, tenure

The figure stunned me -- less than 30 percent of higher education faculty have tenure.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education notes:
What does vanishing tenure mean for higher education? For starters, some observers say that college faculties are being filled with people who may be less willing to speak their minds: contingent instructors, usually working on short-term contracts. Indeed, the American Association of University Professors says instructors need tenure to guarantee that they can say controversial things inside and outside the classroom without being fired. (For more on what academic freedom is...and isn't...consider this report.)
But others argue that the disappearance of tenure is actually not the worst thing that could happen in academe. The competition to secure a tenure-track job and then earn tenure has become so fierce in some disciplines that academe may actually be turning away highly qualified people who don't want the hassle. A system without tenure, but one that still gave professors reasonable pay and job security, might draw that talent back.
As the release of the U.S. Dept. of Education report nears, I'm curious to see in which disciplines and in what kinds of universities are we seeing the decline in tenure. Moreover, as tenure positions are being cut, how will Ph.D. and similar terminal-degree programs suffer in terms of enrollment?