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This piece, which was originally intended for the Goal Post, has inadvertently confirmed one of the oldest stereotypes about The New Republic. As media critic Brendan Nyhan describes it, TNR has a tendency to elevate “the ‘surprising’ and ‘counter-intuitive’ article above all else.” Well, this was from the actual rejection email I got from a junior editor there: “Talked to the higher ups and I think they’ll pass on this one. I guess not quite as counter-intuitive as they look for.” Disappointing, but also a bit hilarious.

I hope you find it more worthwhile. If so, you can let me know in the comments below.

Imagine for a moment that an executive order made the use of closed caption television in the detection or prosecution of crimes illegal. Police officers could only relying on sleuthing skills and serendipitous timing to catch bank robbers or vandals in the act. With hours of incriminating video and hundreds of unpunished criminals, video of unsolved crimes would quickly go viral, provoking the outrage of citizens at the odd handicap the president had imposed on their protectors. “We can see the video, why can’t the police?” the public would demand to know.

Soccer fans are again asking much the same question of Fifa. Why are referees–the lawmen with the flags and whistles and power to clean up the game–unable to use the video replay technology available to every other fan? As the New York Times reports, replay is not only available to home viewing audiences, Fifa also uses it “to entertain fans in the stadiums here in South Africa. Large screens show replays right after a near miss or a stunning goal (of which there have been fewer here per game than any tournament in history). But while entertainment of fans is an acceptable use of video, it is not used to enlighten them or to help the referees.”
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The tax loophole Fifa imposed on the World Cup’s developing nation host country was what originally attracted me to this piece. As I read more though, the post became less about “the Death Star that is Fifa,” as David Smith of South Africa’s Mail & Gardian put it, and more about how bad of an idea it was for the country’s leaders to take on this tournament.

With South Africans’ dreams of soccer glory dashed by the elimination of their Bafana Bafana from the tournament today, fans may now be hoping that at least the World Cup will deliver on the economic boost its organizers have repeatedly promised them. They are likely to be disappointed again. 

“We want, on behalf of our continent, to stage an event that will send ripples of confidence from the Cape to Cairo—an event that will create social and economic opportunities throughout Africa,” former South African President Thabo Mbeki said in the run up to the tournament. While Mbeki touted the international attention the World Cup would bring to South Africa, the government of his successor Jacob Zuma has made much of the attendant infrastructure improvements. Following a victory by Bafana Bafana in a friendly against Columbia in the newly renovated Soccer City stadium on May 27th, the national spokesman of the ruling ANC party issued a celebratory press release suggesting that the upgrades would “make the country ready to meet the many demands of a growing economy.”

The headline figures in a report from accountancy firm Grant Thornton released on the eve of the tournament seem to support the politicians’ claims. Despite the dampening effect the recession and weak global recovery have had on attendance, their study predicted that World Cup could add as much as half a percentage point to South Africa’s annual gross domestic product. That would be a huge boost for a country where GDP is only expected to grow by some 2.5 to three percent in 2010.

But there is good reason to question those figures…

Click here to read the rest of the post for TNR‘s World Cup blog or to make a comment.

Photo credit: AfricanGoals2010 (via Flickr)

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The title and headline I suggested for this piece was, “The Sustainable Olympics?: 2010 Winter Games organizers go for green, get tarnished bronze.” It is the longest Green.view I’ve written and the first to feature an inconspicuously embedded link to my previous reporting. (Check out the link below on “metal salvaged.”) Because it will be hidden behind a paywall soon, I’ve pasted the whole column under the photo. Before then, you can recommend my piece and respond to my favorite comment.

UPDATE: This column is the top science story featured on the “Online highlights” page of the February 27th issue of The Economist!


The 2010 Winter Olympics

THE record-breaking warmth experienced in Vancouver over the weeks running up to the Winter Olympics left the ski slopes slushy and bumpy, with many of the world’s best skiers tumbling like novices on a double black diamond. It also put something of a dent in the attempts by Vanoc, the organising committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics, to make its games greener than any that have come before. The poor conditions have required the shipping in of snow (more like slush by the time it gets there) from further north, using lorries and helicopters, and the application of a lot of extra effort into tending what snow there is naturally.

It is a measure of the amount of energy that such games require, though, that the dent made in the games’ carbon budget by all those lorries, helicopters and all-night snowcat operations has been, in relative terms, remarkably small. “If we used helicopters every day from this point until the end of February for eight hours a day, it would increase our carbon footprint by less than one percent,” Linda Coady, vice-president of sustainability for Vanoc, told reporters at the beginning of the month.

Though most sports fans may have missed the fact, since 1994 “sustainability” has been the official “third pillar” of the Olympic movement, the other two being sport and culture. In its commitment to this ideal, Vanoc has tried to produce a greener Olympics than any seen before. Leaving the problems of unseasonable warmth aside, how well has it done? (more…)

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Green is the new Gold

My editor chose not to feature the video that inspired this MIL post, so I’ve linked to it at the bottom. Environmentalism, sports, and art–what’s not to like? Leave any comments here.

Despite having hosted the Winter Olympics twice before, only on Sunday did Canada succeed in winning a gold medal on its own snow-covered soil. The medal itself, earned by Alexandre Bilodeau, a champion mogul skier, also represented a unique environmental achievement in Olympic history, as it was made in part from recycled materials. Specifically, the medal included metal salvaged from the circuit boards of electronic devices, otherwise known as e-waste.

Bilodeau’s medal—along with the other 614 Olympic medals and 399 to be awarded at the subsequent Paralympic Games—helps to both highlight and combat the growing environmental problem posed by e-waste. Electronic devices that were once considered luxury items are becoming as commonplace and personal as toothbrushes. Because they contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and beryllium—as well as recyclable metal and plastic components—safely disposing this flood of phones, computers and televisions when they break or become obsolete is a challenge.

By teaming up with Teck Resources, a Canadian mining company, the creators of this year’s Olympic medals—Omer Arbel and Corrine Hunt, both Canadian designers—have brought new attention to the issue and prevented 6.8 metric tonnes of e-waste from ending up in landfills.

London, the site of the 2012 summer games, is expected to feature green medals modelled on Vancouver’s example. Organisers of the London games are spinning their entire “One Planet Olympics” around the idea of global sustainability (which is evidently the the third “pillar” of the Olympic Movement, along with sport and culture).

But Vancouver’s medals still leave room for improvement. Weighing in between 500 and 576 grams each, the medals are the heaviest in Olympic history. Less than 2% of each medal’s weight is derived from gold, silver and copper recycled from electronic devices. London’s medals could certainly do better (could this be another Olympic competition?), but this is a winning start.

To learn more about the aesthetic and environmental design of the Vancouver Winter Olympic medals, check out this video from Dell–which is apparently happy to see that some of the e-waste it produces is being put to good use.

Photo credit: RobMan170 (via Flickr)

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I wrote this quick MoJo blog post while I was waiting to hear back from sources for another story. My editor liked it and immediately promoted it to the Must Read section. While I appreciate the praise, she did chop out both a fun golf reference–that’s about par for the course for the golf-loving congressman’s shady charity–and a section culled from my interview of the CREW executive director that I’ve pasted below the jump. (The asterisk* in the text denotes where it would have gone.)

UPDATE: This post was picked up by Bear Market News.

Indiana Republican Rep. Steve Buyer formed the Frontier Foundation in 2003 to provide scholarships to students in his state—and since then his charity has raised an impressive $880,000 in corporate donations. Unfortunately, none of that money has found its way to needy undergrads. It has, however, paid for a lot of Buyer’s swanky golf junkets. Speaking recently with CBS Evening News about his foundation, the eight-term congressman—a graduate of the Citadel with a degree in business administration and Frontier’s “honorary chairman”—suggested that he “was so focused on making sure that we were legal, that I probably didn’t pay as close attention as I should have on, quote, appearances.”

And the appearances aren’t pretty. After a thorough review of Frontier’s tax filings, the government accountability organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) investigate Buyer and what they refer to as his “so-called charity.” CREW alleges Buyer has used Frontier “to foot golf fundraisers at exclusive resorts where he hobnobs with corporate donors—who also contribute to his campaign committee and leadership [political action committee].” In 2008, the most recent year for which tax returns were available, the foundation wrote off over $25,000 in expenses for “meals” and “travel for fund-raising.” These fundraising outings got the golf-loving Republican onto the links at Disney World, the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and the Phoenix-area Boulders resort.

Most of the $10,500 in donations that the foundation has made in its seven-year history went not to college scholarships but to the National Rifle Association and “a charity run by a pharmaceutical company lobbyist.” And Buyer’s family benefited too: both his son and daughter were paid to serve as directors at the charity, which until recently shared its headquarters with the congressman’s campaign office. “It is hard to imagine something more callous than playing golf on the backs of poor students—at least one of whom surely could have gone to college on the money Frontier spent on Rep. Buyer’s golf trips,” CREW’s director, Melanie Sloan, said in a statement.

And who were the lobbyists that Buyer was courting? According to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, the pharmaceutical industry—which is regulated by the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, of which Buyer is a member—has been the congressman’s second largest campaign contributor. Only health professionals like doctors have contributed more over the course of Buyer’s political career. Buyer’s son was also hired directly out of college to lobby for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association.

Details of the foundation’s activities were unearthed by Indiana’s Lafayette Journal and Constitution in October 2009—too late for Buyer to merit inclusion on CREW’s annual list of the most corrupt lawmakers.* Sloan told me that she is confident that IRS will take CREW’s allegations seriously. But she has less faith that Buyer’s colleagues on the OCE will hold him accountable. “I don’t think Ethics will examine in depth if Buyer misused his seat on Energy and Commerce,” she said.

Nor does there seem to be much in the way of public pressure on Buyer to step down. The day before CREW filed its complaints—and nearly three months since the congressman’s phony foundation scandal first broke in Indiana—the Swing State Project published its latest 2010 election forecast for the fourth district of Indiana, which Buyer represents. Prediction: safe GOP hold.

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With a 10-1 record unrivaled since their historic 15-0 season in 1998, the Minnesota Vikings have this long-suffering fan feeling a bit strange.

Watching the football game this afternoon, I found myself emitting the same sort of smug laughs President Bush must have made when given progress updates during the invasion of Iraq. Will the end result of the Vikings season be “Mission Accomplished” or, with the franchise’s first-ever NFL championship, a real mission accomplished?

Much depends on the health of their 40-year-old warhorse and erstwhile enemy Brett Favre. The future-Hall of Fame quarterback is having a banner year with this afternoon’s resounding victory over the Chicago Bears being no exception. Indeed, he very nearly broke his personal passing yard record. Last year, his backup Tavaris Jackson couldn’t even pilot the team into the playoffs–in spite of having Adrian Peterson, the most dangerous running back in football, to carry the ball every couple plays.

At the beginning of the regular season when the surprise signing of Favre–the longtime leader of the hated Wisconsin Packers–was announced, I predicted he would get us within a game of the playoffs, throw a season-ending interception, and then rip off his jersey to reveal his familiar green and yellow number 4 sweater underneath. Now it is difficult for me to imagine such a scene anywhere outside of the Superbowl.

Like Bush after the capture of Baghdad, Vikings fans like me continue to hope all will end well–in spite of what history and premonition might suggest.

Photo credit: jpellgen (via Flickr)

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2552191337_240b64d637_mI wrote this on Sunday night in between stoppages of play during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  The Wings won and my piece got posted the next evening so I was pretty happy with the results.

Hockey fan or not, be sure to watch the ad I refer to in the post–I asked my editor to embed the YouTube video in the text but she just made it another hyperlink, for some strange reason.

Also, I touched “the ultimate prize” when I was in high school, thus ruining my chance at becoming a successful player in the NHL.  It was worth it.

UPDATE – My editor emailed me: “Okay, fixed those issues and embedded the video (I didn’t at first because it was all starting to seem a bit too worshipful, like you were on the NHL payroll….). But added now, because your pathological adoration of hockey may have company.”  Oh what I would not give to be on the NHL payroll…

 

On May 31st the Detroit Red Wings earned a two-game lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals, the championship series of the National Hockey League (NHL). The hard-fought games showcased hockey at its finest and fiercest. Indeed, a fight broke out with 18.2 seconds left in the second game—something common in the regular season and nearly unheard of in the finals, when a two-minute penalty can cost a team its season.

In the Stanley Cup Playoffs passions run high. Perhaps this is because players are not competing for gaudy rings, silly trophies (designed to look like a collection of giant cocktail toothpicks) or cash bonuses, per se, unlike in other major North American sports. Rather, they are battling to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, “perhaps the world’s best known piece of folk art,” according to the authors of the book “The Ultimate Prize“.

 

Click here to read the rest of the blog post and make a comment. 

Photo credit: michaelrighi (via Flickr)

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