Mojo - November 2006

Iraqi Students Want Saddam Back

| Wed Nov. 22, 2006 4:27 PM EST

At least so a Baghdad University professor told a conference in Boston. Among the war's less-famous casualties is Iraq's higher education system: Over 200 professors have been assassinated since 2003, thousands have fled the country and the rest are terrified of saying anything that might raise the murderous ire of one militia or another. Classes are cancelled more often than they are taught.

"The students are disappointed in America and they say it now openly, even on the television: 'Bring back Saddam and we will apologize and he will restore order to the country,'" said Dr. Saad Jawad, professor of political science at Baghdad University.

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Be Thankful for Complainers

| Wed Nov. 22, 2006 4:14 PM EST

Tomorrow, be thankful for complainers. Just when you thought you were the only one who had really boring dreams and always used the one stall that was out of toilet paper, a Finnish choir group has come along to express solidarity with all those suffering from these minor disturbances.

The Complaints Choir of Helsinki, singing beautifully in Finnish, has made public appearances in its Scandinavian homeland, and recently online through blogs and YouTube.

There is something to be said for a multitude of ringing voices singing their gripes and grievances about everything from the mundane ("Reference numbers are too long" and "The battery on my mobile is always going flat") to the more sublime protests ("Bullshitters get on too well in life" and "People have no time for fair trade goods, but rush to where they grow"). Sometimes it's a combination of both ("I can't escape the headlines of the tabloids").

I would love to have this choir sing their refrain of "Christmas season starts earlier every year" at a Starbucks, where they start playing carols and peddling snowflake-adorned coffee paraphernalia the day after Halloween. It drives me crazy.

Of course, I guess I could stop going to Starbucks. But then I couldn't complain. And what would be the beauty in that?

--Caroline Dobuzinskis


NYPD Watches From Above

| Wed Nov. 22, 2006 4:09 PM EST

New York City has set up a two-storey "patrol tower" equipped with spotlight, sensors and cameras to literally oversee a Harlem neighborhood. According to NY1 News, local residents sick of the area's crime are pleased, as are folks in a Brooklyn neighborhood that also hosts one of the towers. I don't doubt that, but surely I'm not the only one to find the idea of cops surveillling the public from on high more than a bit creepy.

Teen Birth Rate at a Record Low

| Wed Nov. 22, 2006 12:25 PM EST

The CDC released data yesterday showing that last year the birth rate in the U.S. for women aged 15 to 19 declined to a record low of 40.4 births per 1,000, down from 41.1 in 2004 (a 2% decrease). For some perspective, the rate back in 1991 was 68.1 births per 1,000 women. The decline was most pronounced among 15-17 year-olds, for whom the birth rate fell 3%, to 21.4 births per 1,000. The rate for this age group has dropped fully 45 percent since 1991.

Now, folks at the the National Abstinence Clearinghouse will laud these results as directly stemming from their abstinence-only education efforts, though there is no evidence that such education works, and plenty that the curricula is false and misleading. (Still abstinence-only ed shops have received a billion dollars in federal funding since Bush came to office.)

Choicers will be equally proud of the low rate, which they'll point out is an outgrowth of proper access to birth control and, thus, fewer unwanted pregnancies. Still, while we'll be hearing about the record low, coverage likely won't focus on the flip side, that there were nearly half a million (421,123) children born to girls under 20 last year.

There is more work to be done for sure to protect women's right to choose -- whether they want to have an abortion, or take a pill, or have sex before marriage -- and though there was lots of good news out of this month's election, repro rights are still in jeopardy. The Nation's Katha Pollitt points out that of the 22 pro-choice Dems who ran for Congress only two won, and every anti-choice woman incumbent prevailed.

Outsourcing American Journalism? Meet the Bangalore Bureau

| Tue Nov. 21, 2006 11:07 PM EST

Well, I guess this really shouldn't shock me, but the International Herald Tribune reports that, as if the wave of pink slips hitting America's daily papers and wire services weren't bad enough, there's a new trend that goes hand in hand: outsourcing (or offshoring, if you prefer) journalism jobs to India and elsewhere:

The rush of job recruiting ads on MonsterIndia.com tells the story of the latest class of workers to watch their trade start migrating to another continent. "Urgent requirement for business writers," reads one ad looking for journalists to locate in Mumbai. "Should be willing to work in night shifts (UK shift)." Another casts for English-speaking journalists in Bangalore with "experience in editing and writing for US/International Media."
Remote-control journalism is the scornful term that unions use for the shift of newspaper jobs to low-cost countries like India or Singapore with fiber-optic connections transmitting information all around the world. But the momentum for "offshoring" to other countries or outsourcing locally is accelerating as newspapers small and large seek ways to reduce costs in the face of severe stresses, from sagging circulation and advertising revenue to shareholder pressure. "Outsourcing plays a major part in the newspaper industry of today," the World Association of Newspapers concluded in a study released in July.
This trend has been around for a while:
More than two years ago, Reuters, the financial news service, opened a new center in Bangalore. The 340 employees, including an editorial team of 13 local journalists, was deployed to write about corporate earnings and broker research on U.S. companies. Since then, the Reuters staff at the Bangalore center has grown to about 1,600, with 100 journalists working on U.S. stories.
But not to worry:
The World Association of Newspapers, a Paris-based organization representing 72 national newspaper associations, conducted a global survey of about 350 newspapers in Europe, Asia and the United States, and company executives reported that they expected the outsourcing to increase, although few were willing to farm out all of their editorial functions.

Yeah, I'm sure those corporate VPs at WAN's member papers are safe.

Lieberman Hires Fellow Changling

| Tue Nov. 21, 2006 10:36 PM EST

The NYT reports that Joe "Guess Which Side of the Aisle I'm On" Lieberman has made a hire —his new spokesman, Marshall Wittmann—who is cut from the same cloth.

Mr. Wittmann, meanwhile, is a Trotskyite turned Zionist turned Reaganite turned bipartisan irritant turned pretty much everything in between — including chief lobbyist for the Christian Coalition, the only Jew who has ever held that position.

Perfect.

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A Victory for Janitors in Houston, With Thanks to a Humble Martyr

| Tue Nov. 21, 2006 9:22 PM EST

The Service Employees International Union yesterday won a tentative agreement for higher pay and health insurance for its new members in Houston, who have been locked in an acrimonious, monthlong strike at the city's largest cleaning companies. It's a major victory for the SEIU, which set out last year to organize part-time, often-undocumented Hispanic workers in a region of the country that hasn't typically embraced organized labor. Houston is likely to become a model for the union's efforts in other Southern cities: Beyond using the same quiet educational efforts, noisy protests and hardball negotiating, organizers are sure to be on the lookout for another Ercilia Sandoval.

Rosy-cheeked, clad in a wig and leopard print headband, and suffering from laryngitis that had reduced her voice to a whisper, Sandoval met with me in her small apartment last month, sitting down at a table beneath a print of the Last Supper. She told a story of leaving three of her children in San Miguel, El Salvador ten years ago to pursue an illusory American Dream. "I promised them that, at most, I would be gone a year," she whispered, "and then I would bring them here." To this day she hasn't seen them. Instead, she has struggled to make ends meet laboring for a tortilla factory, then an Episcopal church, and finally a major janitorial contractor working in downtown skyscrapers—one of five companies targeted by the SEIU. Preoccupied with sending money to her family, she might have never involved herself in the union's struggle if she hadn't decided she'd nothing to lose.

Last September Sandoval began feeling worn out on the job. She scrubbed bathroom fixtures through headaches and fevers, emptied trash cans with sore arms and a tight back. Lacking health insurance, she couldn't afford to see a doctor. Nearly a year passed before she forked over $200 for a consultation. A mammogram confirmed her worst fears: she suffered from an advanced stage of breast cancer. Yet hospitals in Houston wouldn't treat her because she was uninsured. She waited two months to be approved for state disability coverage. In June, Doctors finally began chemotherapy treatments but say she probably has only a few months to live.

Just as her cancer was spreading, she met an SEIU organizer at her Episcopal church who was looking for janitors. The organizer found in Sandoval someone looking to harness her outrage and despair. "Some of the workers were afraid," Sandoval says, "but often I said, 'Afraid of what? We are not going to lose a good job. We are not going to lose a good salary-- we don't have benefits, we don't have anything." As Sandoval's health deteriorated, her resolve strengthened. In September, she accepted a spot alongside the SEIU top brass at the negotiating table. Her job: to convince the cleaning companies to provide her and 5,300 fellow janitors with health insurance in the union's first contract.

On the day of the negotiations, Sandoval was the last person to talk. She feared she'd be just another person asking for something. She stepped into the bathroom to steel her nerves. Returning to the conference room, she asked the executives and lawyers if they were looking at her. "And I looked them all in their eyes," she said. "I assured myself that they were all looking at me. And I took off my wig."

Sandoval saw a group of men who were shocked. "Some were crying. Others sat with their mouths open. Other ones just couldn't even blink their eyes.

"And that," she said, "is what I wanted."

Sandoval's display was only the beginning of a struggle this fall that led to the strike, solidarity protests around the country, and ads featuring her bald visage. But it was clearly a defining moment for the movement and Sandoval's own sense of transcendence. "I'm not just fighting for me," she told me. "I'm fighting for everyone. Because why not rise up? Why not try?"

BU College Republicans Create Scholarship For White Students...Sort Of

| Tue Nov. 21, 2006 8:34 PM EST

The Boston University College Republicans have decided to put their money where their mouth is in order to combat the "worst form of bigotry confronting America today." To that end, the organization has created a scholarship for white students only, the Caucasian Achievement and Recognition Scholarship. In order, I suppose, to not look too "politically incorrect," recipients are required to be at least 25% white, recalling the days of 19th Century New Orleans.

The scholarship is intended to "raise awareness" to what its creators say is the bigotry of racial preference programs. The scholarship is worth only $250, which probably won't raise a lot of awareness. Once the recipient is chosen, BUCR will host an event to honor the winner, discuss the award, and conduct a forum on racial preference. To be followed, perhaps, by a reverse Quadroon ball?

Five-Time National Hobo King and Founding Member of National Hobo Foundation Dies at 89

| Tue Nov. 21, 2006 6:05 PM EST

Sometimes, the little guys don't get enough credit.

'King of Hobos' Dies at Age 89
By Associated Press

 

November 21, 2006, 3:04 PM EST
NAPOLEON, Ohio -- Maurice Graham, who began hitching rides on trains as a teenager and was known as the "King of the Hobos," has died at the age of 89.
Graham, who recently suffered a stroke, died Saturday at the Northcrest Nursing Home, his family said.
Graham, nicknamed "Steam Train Maury," was a founding member of the National Hobo Foundation and helped establish the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa.
He was "a true hobo hero," said foundation president Linda Hughes.
"He was a classy and respected man," she said. "No one can live up to Steam Train. He's irreplaceable."
Graham in 1990 wrote "Tales of the Iron Road: My Life As King of the Hobos," telling his stories of hopping trains beginning at the age of 14 and living in hobo camps until 1980. He was named National Hobo King five times at the annual hobo convention in Britt, and was crowned Grand Patriarch of Hoboes in 2004.
Graham worked as a mason and founded a school where he taught the trade. He was a medical technician during World War II.
He is survived by his wife, Wanda, and two daughters.

For more: The Hobo Foundation.

Al Jazeera's First Week Gets Positive Reviews

| Tue Nov. 21, 2006 4:11 PM EST

Before its launch, Americans were already opposed to the idea of the English Al Jazeera network. But after being on the air for a week, the station has been receiving praise from American viewers and news media for its wide scope, unique perspective and its cold shoulder approach to the salacious OJ Simpson book release story.

The station broadcasts around the clock and can be picked up via satellite television in the United States on a few platforms listed on the website. These include Globecast, Fision, JumpTV and VDC. Broadcasts can also be seen online in 15-minute increments (or via subscription).

According to a source in an article from today's International Herald Tribune, the station has been "flooded" with positive emails from viewers in the U.S. and China — places where people weren't supposed to be watching.

In the Hartford Courant, Roger Catlin acclaims Al Jazeera's "sleek presentation, with lush electronic fanfare." (But can anyone really top CNN Headline News' dramatic theme song?) More importantly, Catlin gives the station a thumbs up for its "solid, sober international reports from the Darfur region of Sudan in Africa to Baghdad, Iraq."

Not surprisingly, a scan of the network's website reveals a stronger emphasis on Middle East and Africa than American news networks. Since its launch on November 15, the network has been following the conflict in Uganda in detail. The network recently reported on the struggles of the Muslim Malay population in Thailand, a group that rarely makes it into headlines elsewhere.

An article in the New York Sun describes how Al Jazeera's reputation is a key to insider access on stories on Muslim issues within immigrant circles.

Is this what parts of England have become? Places where only a reporter from Al-Jazeera can explain what's going on in England to the English, because the Muslim inhabitants won't speak to anyone else? If so, western news organizations, not to mention governments, should be worried.

The station's bad rep might only be a boon amid stubborn American news network fans who still perceive the network is within arm's length of Al Qaeda. Yesterday, in a press release, Al Jazeera announced it was the first foreign news network to gain access to Naypidaw in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Today's report from the area by journalist Veronica Pedrosa can be read on the Al Jazeera English website.

The station network announced today the location of its fourth broadcast center -- the 60th floor of the tallest towers in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. According to managing director, Nigel Parsons, Singapore was passed over as a headquarter because of its "sterile" politics.

-- Caroline Dobuzinskis