a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Samia Yusuf Omar: the little girl who could (maybe, someday)

Posted on the August 28th, 2008

Just like a lot of other people, I love to watch champions. But I find the story of an underdog equally irresistible, so when I saw the moving photo of 17-year-old Samia (Samiya) Yusuf Omar accompanying a recent article about her by Charles Robinson on Yahoo! Sports, I clicked to read (“Somalia’s runners provide inspiration” Aug 24, 2008).

Sports writer Robinson pours a bit of his own heart into telling the story of the young runner Samia. Introducing the piece as the Olympic story we never heard, he writes:

It’s about a girl whose Beijing moment lasted a mere 32 seconds – the slowest 200-meter dash time out of the 46 women who competed in the event. Thirty-two seconds that almost nobody saw but that she carries home with her, swelled with joy and wonderment. Back to a decades-long civil war that has flattened much of her city. Back to an Olympic program with few Olympians and no facilities. Back to meals of flat bread, wheat porridge and tap water.

The race Samia lost, how and why she lost it, and the reaction of the spectators in the Olympic stadium, as Robinson recounts it, seem like something straight out of a heart-melting Disney movie. Who knows, someday it may be. You can read the article here.

BBC News also has a story featuring an interview with Samia (“Against the Odds: Samiya Yusuf Omar” July 21, 2008).

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Watching the Democratic National Convention online

Posted on the August 25th, 2008

This afternoon in Denver, Colorado the four-day Democratic National Convention will begin. The star speaker in tonight’s program will be Michelle Obama.

To watch live coverage online, go here (Democratic Convention website, click top left Launch Video Player Live). Another place for interesting videos, photos and other news is here (Barack Obama website blog).

The video above is from the Obama website blog.

UPDATE: The independent DemConWatch, covering the Democratic Convention, is also a good site to find video, photos, news and commentary of the Denver event.

UPDATE II: TheYouTube channel for the non-profit, public service, cable channel C-SPAN is a good site to find videos of the major speeches at the Democratic Convention.

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Looking at the funny side of black holes

Posted on the August 23rd, 2008

For a comedic take on some people’s fears about the proton-smashing Hadron Collider project, you can read Gail Collins column today in the New York Times (“Digging Ourselves a Black Hole” Aug 23, 2008).

Specifically some fear that (gulp!) the Collider will create a black hole that will devour the planet, rather than boost the research of particle physics, as its creators predict, according to Collins. So, she writes, she talked to a Brown University physicist, Greg Landsberg, who pooh poohs such fears.

Read the full column here.


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Is my verse alive? Emily Dickinson asked

Posted on the August 20th, 2008

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
by Emily Dickinson

For fans old or new of Emily Dickinson, a new biography is just out. Titled “White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson,” it’s by Brenda Wineapple and it’s getting high praise from critics.

You can find one recent review here from The New York Sun (“The Activist and the Recluse” by Eric Ormsby, Aug 6, 2008).

And if you want to read an excerpt from Wineapple’s book itself, there’s one here on the publisher’s website (Random House/Knopf).

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(5th) Occasional U.S. news media round-up on presidential race

Posted on the August 18th, 2008

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be rock stars*

Who knew that being a rock star is such a terrible thing? (President Bruce Springsteen has kind of a nice ring to it, don’t you think?)

But, apparently, Republican Party nominee McCain is calculating that American voters think poorly of the rock deities, because he’s been accusing Obama of the dark sin of being just such a super-celebrity at home and abroad.

  • To see an example of Obama as rock star, watch this New York Time‘s video overview of the candidate’s Berlin visit (“Reporter’s Notebook: Obama in Berlin” by Nicholas Kulish, July 24, 2008).
  • To see an example of how McCain is trying to use the rock star label as a weapon against Obama, see this report and a video of a McCain campaign ad on Politico.com (“McCain contrasts celeb Obama with average Americans,” Jonathan Martin blog, Aug 8, 2008).

The blonde bites back

What do (beautiful blonde) women want? A little respect, maybe. That’s something Republican Party nominee McCain discovered recently when he took the proverbial low road in a television campaign ad in July that compared Obama to blonde popstar Britney and blonde celebrity Paris Hilton. The latter blonde instantly took aim, fired back and scored a bullseye.

Hilton posted her own video in which she called McCain a “wrinkly whitehaired guy.” And, according to the media reports I read, Hilton was widely declared the victor in the video shootout. See McCain’s video here, and the Hilton video here.

How to play “Playing the Race Card”

It was never a question that race eventually would become an issue in the current Presidential campaign, it was just a question of how “it would rear its ugly head,” according to Elvin Lim, an Asst. Professor of Government at Wesleyan University.

Pointing out that “the minority candidate is always accused of playing the minority card” (in this case the race card), Lim analyzes the strategy Republican nominee McCain is using to attack Obama on this front.

See Lim’s article here (Aug 4, 2008) on the Oxford University Press blog (blog.oup.com).

If money really talks

Then it must have quite a bit more to declare about Obama in this campaign than it does about McCain. In July, the Obama campaign reported raising $51 million, compared to the McCain campaign’s report of taking in only $27 million for the same period (“Obama Campaign Raises Over $51 Million In July” by Beth Fouhy, AP, Aug 16, 2008). See article here.

If the news media’s reporting of poll results drives you crazy?

A possible antidote is the website fivethirtyeight.com. The site offers ongoing analysis of the major U.S. political polls, and is the creation of Nate Silver, a highly reputable sports statistics analyst.

See a Newsweek article here on Silver (“Making His Pitches” by Andrew Romano, Jun 16, 2008). In a crucial primary for Hillary Clinton earlier this year, Silver’s projections were more on target than those of all the established pollsters, according to Newsweek. The article also details how Silver goes about achieving his high level of accuracy for projections in both sports and political events.

The number five-thirty-eight, according to Silver, is a reference to the number of electors in the Electoral College — the U.S. Constitutional process that plays the key role in determining who will win the presidency.

Is it truth, lies, or just politics?

In political campaigns, the practice of smears and mudslinging are favorite activities more often than not. To find out if these accusations are true or false, one of the best go-to websites is factcheck.org.

From the website’s About page:

The Annenberg Political Fact Check is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg in 1994 to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state, and federal levels.

The APPC accepts NO funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. It is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.

If wishes were horses and rock stars could be president…

Bruce Springsteen performing “This Land Is Your Land” at the Memorial Coliseum in LA on September 30, 1985:

(see here for previous round-up)

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Happy Monday! Happy August!

Posted on the August 18th, 2008

Video from the website of the Italian magazine Focus.

Intro translation:

It’s cold!
In search of the animals of the Arctic Circle

Video link here.


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Yang Peiyi we hardly heard you

Posted on the August 14th, 2008

If I were king of the world or ruler of China — neither of which I have any chance of ever becoming and I’m okay with that — I would send a limo to the home of that little seven-year-old Chinese girl with the killer voice (who got shoved behind the curtains because she reportedly failed the cuteness test) and I would bring her to the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Then I would put her on center stage and cue the orchestra.

I’m willing to bet a pair of favorite old flip-flops that a fair share of the world’s population would tune in and hum along as she sang her heart out. And in the process, Chinese leaders would win more points with public opinion than all the Olympic athletes of all time.

What could possibly top such a closing act and the restoration of good sense and fairmindedness it would represent? The only possible thing would have been if Yang Peiyi had been standing there in a pretty red dress in the opening ceremonies singing her heart out. But that’s a bell that can’t be unrung, so there it is.

For a humorous, compassionate and informative take on what happened to Yang Peiyi, I highly highly recommend Gail Collins’ column in yesterday’s New York Times (“I’m Singin’ in Beijing” Aug 13, 2008). Collins is a former editor of the Times editorial page, and was the first woman ever in that particular top job.

In her columns, Collins often approaches subjects with an emphasis on the informed perspective. Yesterday, for example, she pointed out that the China leadership is not at all alone in the world in its favoring of show over substance.

In this quote from the Yang Peiyi column, Collins frames the overall issue with her usual wit:

Now this is an Olympic crisis everybody can get into. While your heart goes out to the athletes suffering the agony of defeat, very few of us can internalize the trauma. Really, you have to be able to imagine yourself getting onto the balance beam before you can relate to the pain of falling off.

The chance that the Chinese leaders will right this particular wrong done to a child, not to mention the human heart, is pretty slim, I think. Reading Collins’ piece on it and her quotes from various experts at least offers the comfort that this was a slight felt round the world.

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Samantha Power teaches Democrats how to be tough on national security

Posted on the August 12th, 2008

Earlier this week on a major American news show on CBS, the host and veteran newsman Bob Schieffer interviewed Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who’s been mentioned often in U.S. media as a top contender to be chosen as Obama’s vice presidential running mate.

Schieffer’s opening question to Kaine referred to the recent fighting between Russia and Georgia:

This morning’s headlines tell it all. American presidents, as we look at this situation going on in Russia, have to deal with problems that sometimes don’t come up at all in campaigns, so I guess my question this morning, Governor, is when we see what’s happening today, doesn’t that, won’t that bolster John McCain’s argument that the Presidency needs someone with experience dealing with issues like these?

What interested me most about Schieffer’s question was how much it reflected a perception — or rather misperception — that was analyzed recently in an article by Harvard University professor and foreign policy analyst Samantha Power (“The Democrats & National Security” by Samantha Power, The New York Review of Books, Aug 14, 2008).

In the essay, Power takes a close look at some of the factors that, according to her, have led American voters generally to regard the Republican Party to be much better on national security issues than the Democratic Party.

Power writes:

“This faith in Republican toughness has had profound electoral consequences. Since 1968, with the single exception of the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Americans have chosen Republican presidents in times of perceived danger and Democrats in times of relative calm.”

Power, who formerly served on Obama’s campaign as his foreign policy advisor, examines some of the origins of this faith in GOP toughness, and also questions its justification. She lays out some specific suggestions for how Obama and the Democratic Party leadership can reverse this crucial trend in voter thinking. Read full article here.

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Eat the View: a suggestion for the next U.S. President

Posted on the August 7th, 2008

If Roger Doiron has his way, future U.S. Presidents won’t just fill their days walking the world’s corridors of power. They also will be able to step just outside the Oval Office doors to check on how their very own beans and Brussels sprouts are growing.

The project, which Doiron launched earlier this year is Eat the View. It is a campaign advocating that vegetable gardens be planted in visible public spaces around the US, including the most highly visible of all, the White House lawn.

Doiron is the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI). The group’s mission, according to its website:

…is to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve greater levels of food self-reliance through the promotion of kitchen gardening, home-cooking, and sustainable local food systems. In doing so, KGI seeks to connect, serve, and expand the global community of people who grow some of their own food.

An article earlier this year in the New York Times described the non-profit KGI as “a virtual community of 5,200 gardeners from 96 countries.” (“Out of the Yard and Onto the Fork” by Anne Raver, April 17, 2008)

In his newly posted video (below), Doiron shows why it is a good idea for the White House to have its own vegetable garden, and offers a hands-on, how-to guide for the next American President — whoever that might be:

(I found the link to KGI in the True Blue Liberal article here — “Slow Food Nation Gains Momentum” by Shepherd Bliss, Aug 5, 2008)

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Bangladesh: What they want to be

Posted on the August 5th, 2008

This latest video from The Green Children Foundation features some students in Bangladesh who are benefiting from a microcredit program there. The loan program is one of the activities of The Grameen Bank. From the Green Children partners page:

Grameen Bank is owned by the seven million poor borrowers it currently serves, 97 percent of whom are women. It does not require any collateral against its micro–loans, and repayment responsibility rests solely on each individual borrower. The bank has a loan recovery rate of almost 99 percent.

The founder of the Grameen Bank is Professor Muhammad Yunus. The economist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 in recognition of his economic and social development work for poor people.

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(4th) Occasional U.S. news media round-up on presidential race

Posted on the August 1st, 2008

In their own words

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both gave interviews in July that the respective publications published verbatim in a Q&A format.

  • John McCain spoke to New York Times reporters here (“The Times Interviews John McCain” with Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper, July 13, 2008).
  • Barack Obama spoke to a reporter for The Jerusalem Post in Israel on July 24 here (“Obama on Iran, Syria, and Jerusalem” by David Horovitz, July 26, 2008).

Wars and winners

But no one really wins a war, according to WW II veteran, historian and Boston University Professor Howard Zinn, who wrote an Op-Ed for the Boston Globe recently scolding Obama and McCain for fueling their campaigns with way too much war talk. (“Memo to Obama, McCain: No one wins in a war” July 17, 2008).

Some polls more interesting than others…

An AP-Yahoo News poll has been tracking the responses of the same 2000 people since last November in surveys focused on measuring how they feel about what’s happening in politics, according to the news outlets. A recent finding: one candidate (guess who?) is generating more loyalty and enthusiasm from his supporters than the other (“Poll: McCain’s backers less fired up than Obama’s” by Alan Fram, AP, July 2008).

And some fall prey to the whims of editors

Who knows why, but editors at two major news outlets in the U.S. manipulated the reporting of a recent poll they conducted “withholding from their first release results favorable to Sen. Barack Obama,” according to the watchdog organization Media Matters (“ABC News/Wash. Post withheld results of poll favorable to Obama” July 17, 2008).

Did they really think we wouldn’t find out? And I wonder, Still I wonder — … (lyrics here):

Fascinating peek back in time

Want to hear what Obama had to say before he was the Presidential candidate he is today? For Obama-watchers, it may be intriguing to read this in-depth interview he gave to Men’s Vogue way back in 2006 (“The Path to Power” by Jacob Weisberg, Sept 2006).

Countdowns…

Days until the 2008 Democratic National Convention — 24. Days until the Republican National Convention — 30.

(See here for previous round-up)


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Online traffic growing for newspapers

Posted on the August 1st, 2008

Finally, some promising numbers for U.S. newspapers, according to Nielsen Online, as reported this week in Editor & Publisher. The online audience rose more than 12 percent in the most recent quarter, compared to the same period last year, E&P reports (“Newspaper Sites Gain Audience in Q2″ by Jennifer Saba, July 29, 2008).

More here.


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