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I thought this type of thing only happened in South America (or Cuba)…

December 14, 2009 3 comments

This just happened this morning, so there’s not a lot of details, but it seems that the entire Eritrean soccer team has just up and vanished after a loss in Kenya to the Tanzanian national team, which knocked them out of the Council for East and Central Africa Football Association competition for East & Central Africa. Apparently when the team plane returned home, the only people on board were two pilots, a coach and an official.
Strangely enough, despite the Eritrean Football Federation confirming to CECAFA head Nicholas Musonye that the players had either gained the ability to turn invisible or were in fact obviously not there, the official government stance? Nobody’s missing! The really crazy part? They might be right.
Here’s the thing – apparently, this is the THIRD TIME the Eritrean national team has pulled this trick. It’s even gotten to the point that traveling athletes have to deposit 100,000 nakfa (approx. $6,700) before leaving the country AND have to stick with their official “entourage” while on foreign soil.
If any Eritreans happen to read this, you know what I’m talking about when I say this is essentially highlighting a crisis that’s been percolating for over a decade now: namely, the growing friction growing along a number of fault lines throughout the country, from generational-gap type conflicts to inter-class issues. A couple of years ago, I spent a summer writing for the national paper, the Eritrean Profile, and the level of disconnect between the official government stance and the reality of the situation is grave. The country is hemorrhaging citizens at a ridiculous clip, but the government not only denies that Eritreans are abandoning the country but accuses the United Nations of fabricating their figures. Seriously!
You know, when I was a kid and I accused my mom of lying about whatever to me, she always said the same thing to me – “What do I get out of lying to you? What do I benefit?” What does the UN get out of making up figures exaggerating the amount of Eritreans leaving the country?
Older Eritreans (like my parents) cite the same conspiratorial claims as the Eritrean government: since Eritrea is a country doing its level best to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, without Western aid, its enemies use both armed tactics and propaganda to try and destroy the country – the West over the insult of having its aid rebuffed, and neighboring countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia so that they can help themselves to Eritrea’s national resources, not least of which is one of the most important points in the region, the Port at Massawa, which is the largest natural deep water port in the Red Sea. Other arguments are that rival governments and factions may have paid off the athletes in an effort to discredit the government, or that the whole thing is a distraction meant to draw attention away from Eritrea’s border disputes with Ethiopia and Djibouti.
The truth is, they could very well be…well, if not absolutely correct, at least partially true. International politics, for all the parliamentary polish and luxurious veneer, is a world of dirty tricks, deceit and lies. It’s a world where people put on their fanciest clothes, sit down amongst luxurious surroundings and opulence, and essentially decide whether or not thousands, if not millions, are going to die over things such as oil rights and border demarcations, and the idea that people who live in that world would be willing to use something as seemingly prosaic as a football team in order to try and attack a perceived chink in an opposing country’s political armor is miles from far-fetched.
But at some point, we have to assume that Occam’s Razor will take effect; that the simplest explanation tends to be the likeliest one. Isn’t it possible that these men were simply taking a chance on finding a better life in a country that hasn’t been wracked by poverty since it gained independence in 1993? Isn’t it possible that the reason there’s less people in the entire country than there are in New York City is because young people are leaving the country in droves, mainly because many of them don’t want to be forcibly conscripted into the national military? Isn’t there at least a grain of truth in the idea that a government that has been in uninterrupted power for over 15 years, not even holding an election, after declaring themselves to be a force for democracy in Africa, can be called repressive? Aren’t all these things at least feasible, if not completely likely?
The truth of the matter is that the Eritrean government has been fighting the same battles for the last 30-plus years, and without new blood, new energy, new ideas, it’s going to stay locked in the same spiral of violence that keeps the majority of African nations from forging a new future for themselves.

P.S. – Oh, and check out this quote from Musonye:

“I am saddened by the whole scenario. It is not good for the players to disappear because it gives a bad impression for the region,”

Really? “It’s not good” for an entire team to just up and ghost? I’m shocked. Hey, Musonye, a tip: maybe you should switch from decaf.

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You’d think a guy with the name Steele would have some balls…

March 3, 2009 Leave a comment

…but you’d be wrong. For those of you who’ve somehow managed to miss this story, Saturday night Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele was on comedian D.L. Hughley’s CNN show, and caught a little attitude when Hughley referred to radio host/Viagra addict/professional pig impersonator Rush Limbaugh as the de-facto leader of the Republican Party. Here’s the video:

Sounds reasonable, right? I mean, Limbaugh might be popular, but he’s just a radio guy; Steele was chosen by his party to lead the Republicans (so to speak). End of story. Except it wasn’t; Rush immediately fired back, like a real G. Here, check out this quote – “Michael Steele, you are head of the Republican National Committee. You are not head of the Republican party. Tens of millions of conservatives and Republicans have nothing to do with the Republican National Committee…and when you call them asking for money, they hang up on you.” Gangsta. Moron gangsta, but gangsta nonetheless.
Now, if Steele was really down for what was best for the Republican party, he’d tell Rush, “Dude, you are a national figure who goes out of his way to appeal to the lowest common denominator in people, never has to worry about re-election and is worth $38 MILLION! You don’t give a damn about actually getting things done because you don’t have to; you can just sit on the sidelines and take potshots while the adults have to actually do real work. All we’re saying is that there needs to be an acknowledgment of that.” That would be what someone with guts would do.
Instead, we have this: “My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”
WHAT?!
It’s bad enough that you backtracked in the first place, but c’mon! You weren’t being “inarticulate”, you were talking straight talk! You know what just happened? You just said “Rush Limbaugh IS the leader of the Republican Party.” That and you just gave yourself bitch status for the rest of your tenure as RNC head. Punk.

P.S. – let me just say, as someone who believes in the tenets of “Burke-an” conservatism but is an Obama supporter, I think the implosion of the Republican party is fantastic. They’ve completely screwed the country over these last eight years, and the longer the party in its current configuration is out of power, the better. I just think it’s crazy that a guy who’s a noted racist/sexist and took a plea bargain to get out of conviction for drug trafficking is considered the “head” of anything.

Chaos

January 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Pure, unmitigated chaos. Admittedly, we’re nowhere near that point; nobody’s rioting in the streets, people aren’t throwing vegetable at politicians when they show their faces in public. But it does seem like things are…picking up speed. The way dirty water might when it’s circling the shower drain. These days, I’m so jacked into the 24-hour info-net that I can’t tell if things seem to be happening more quickly than I remember from back in the day, or if it only seems like that because I’m temporarily “unplugged” and so unconsciously used to absorbing everything as it comes in real-time that the inevitable backlog when I find a hot-spot always seems somewhat excessive. I’m not 100% sure that makes sense; point is, shit seems to be getting serious.

The first hint of this? Russia and China specifically blaming Wall Street for the current financial spasms rippling throughout the major international markets at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Well, kinda. Prime Minister Wen did that thing where you talk smack in front of someone, but you don’t actually use names so nobody knows who you’re talking about, but really everyone knows who you’re talking about. As for Putin, he was a little more direct. “Excessive dependence on a single reserve currency is dangerous for the global economy.” That’s fancy political talk for “Fuck the dollar; I need better international value on the ruble before chunks of the western markets start moving towards renewable energy and the bottom falls out of the oil market.”

Let that simmer for a minute; we’ll come back to it.

Meanwhile, a massive $800 billion stimulus bill passed the House of Representatives, which was good. It managed to do so without a single Republican vote…which was not good. Not one vote, Republicans? Not one of you managed to think to yourself, “OK, we had our run of things for anywhere from 4-6 years, during which time we enacted almost every financial scheme we ever championed. This led to chaos. Public opinion is obviously behind the other guys, and this thing’s gonna pass with or without us, so why don’t we piggyback off their popularity until they screw up, and pounce when they’re weak?” It’s not that complicated of a plan; this isn’t exactly a Rube Goldberg diagram. The Republicans say it because there’s too much overall spending and not enough infrastructure spending. Whatever; I honestly don’t take anything they say seriously anymore. It’s not an issue of insulting them, or anything like that; I honestly have no basic trust in the veracity of their arguments anymore.

Hey, speaking of the economy, did you hear Starbucks is closing 300 stores worldwide and laying off 7,000 people? And before you think, “Well that’s not so bad; I mean, there’s freaking Starbucks’ everywhere,” that’s in addition to the 600 U.S. stores that started closing in summer. Now, while this might have the potential upside of the vengeful return of Dunkin’ Donuts, I’m not convinced that’s worth all those people losing their jobs. And it’s not just Starbucks in recent weeks, as I’m all too sure many of you are aware: Circuit City declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, while Boeing, Dell, Allstate and Time Warner all announced big layoffs.

Finally, here’s President Obama in the middle of this whole mess, staring down pissy government heads, rank politicizing from an embarrassed opposition at home and mental obfuscation by the media. It’s only been one week. I want to say he can pull it off; I’d be more comfortable with the idea if he had eight definite years instead of four, but I’ll take what I can get. Either way, it’s a limited amount of time, and in less time than it takes to get all your furniture and stuff into the White House, Obama’s gone from a guy hoping to attack these various problems with a united front behind him to a guy fighting various enemies, and at the worst possible time too.

“Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty and dies with chaos.” There’s a storm coming, and who knows what we’ll look like when we come out on the other side?

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A new day

January 20, 2009 Leave a comment

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Trimming the Bush

January 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Three hours. It’s only three hours until Dubya is gone, and more than schadenfrude, more than joy, more than excitement, I feel…relief. A deep, permeating sense of relief that just washes through me, taking all the anger of the last eight years and the apprehension concerning the next eight (hopefully) with it. I could talk about how we need to make sure that the Bush Administration is held responsible for the broken laws and war crimes it allowed; it certainly seems to be in vogue these days, and with good reason. But in this unique little pocket of time, where we have two presidents and yet no president, I just want to take this time to…reset. And laugh. I mean, what else am I gonna do?
Note: I was gonna link to the entire skit, but apparently it’s not on youtube. Best I could do. Sorry.

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When a bad plan backfires…

January 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Huh. So during the 2008 presidential election, Massachusetts voters choose to have small amounts of marijuana decriminalized, meaning that if you’re caught with a specific amount or less, you’ll just be given a ticket and sent on your way. Now, however, police officers are refusing to even hand out citations, essentially going on strike concerning this one specific law because in their view, it’s “unenforceable.”
What?
Let me just say, I completely support the decriminalization of marijuana; it’s a non-lethal, natural drug whose side affects are less than thoses of alcohol, drugs or even excessively caffinated drinks. So if the cops want to say, “We don’t like this law, so we’re not going to enforce even the mildest aspect of it”, that’s totally fine as far as I’m concerned.
But I feel like this could go bad in a number of ways. If this becomes a story that the national media picks up on, MA officials might become paranoid about public image, to the point that they push too far in the other direction, invading people’s privacy in order to ticket everyone with any amount of weed. Also, anytime that police officers even tangentially attempt to take the legs out from under a law that was passed by the will of the majority of the people, bad times are sure to follow.
On the other hand, how awesome would it be if this revealed the whole “War on Weed” to be an answer looking for a problem? I mean, if you have cops saying they’re not going to throw people in jail and saddle them with ridiculous fines for casually smoking weed, and the rise in crime and other negative things that politicians have been predicting for years doesn’t come, wouldn’t that logically imply that weed and violent crime are essentially unrelated? Either way, the less people are jailed or fined for marijuana usage, the better.
I’d like to end this post with these two clips: the first, a quick C-Span report about what people consider the number one issue for President-Elect Obama. The second is a radio interview with California Superior Court Judge Jim Gray about the state of drug laws, and specifically cannabis laws in the US.

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Hell in a handbasket…

January 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Thank God Barack Obama is the President-Elect. And before anybody gets their partisan hackles up, I don’t mean that in a sense of “The Republicans are so stupid they sold their car for gas money” (although, as Paul Krugman explains here, the current party leaders aren’t exactly helping their national image), and I’m not implying that I’m some sort of Obamaniac who thinks that he’s going to rebuild the world through sheer charisma.

What I’m talking about is Obama’s insistence on using a top-to-bottom overhaul of the country’s infrastructure system as a method for economic revival. Had McCain won, recent events in the Gaza Strip would have narrowed his already streamlined focus to a laser-like point aimed squarely in the Middle East, to the exclusion of any other worthy issues that would have demanded his attention.

Instead, Obama seems to have his staff focused on figuring out how to solve the problems of this country, instead of taking on issues relating to other governments. And it’s not a moment too soon either; I couldn’t help notice that this recent story about 500 million gallons of toxic waste spilling into central Tennessee right before Christmas went almost unnoticed, in favor of a non-story about hopeful RNC head Chip Saltsman handing out musical Christmas CD’s which included Rush Limbaugh favorite “Barack the Magic Negro“.
First of all, who the hell gives out CD’s anymore? This is the age of mp3’s and iTunes; what else did he give out, Bananarama tickets and 12-packs of Zima? Second, who the hell cares? Wow, so it turns out a middle-aged conservative white guy had less-than-stellar taste in music and humor. Color me surprised.
The problem is that this all distracts people from the real issues at hand, namely that the country is in a very real way collapsing around us. And it’s not just that toxic spill in Tennessee, either. Remember the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota a couple of years ago? Remember how reports said it would cost approximately $140 billion to repair all the nation’s bridges if work started immediately? I’m guessing the second part isn’t so familiar, probably because the Bush administration decided that money would be better spent in Iraq on God only knows what.
And it’s not just bridges and retaining walls. Schools, national parks, oil pipelines…it seems that just about every aspect of the country needs a serious inspection. So I’m glad that after 8 years, we have a serious person in the White House.

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