Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In case you missed it

One of the benefits of working in the news industry -- other than the fat paycheck and hordes of groupies, of course -- is having ready access to feeds from the wire services. The current gig has Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the most recent addition, the New York Times. It also has the official government news agency, Xinhua, which has an interesting take on news judgment and often reads like a ham-handed Babelfish translation.

One of my responsibilities is to comb through the wires and find either updates for stories we're using or new articles we might have missed. The start of football season and the pennant races in baseball might dominate the sports headlines back home, but a couple stories I'm watching are the ongoing kerfuffle in New Delhi with the Commonwealth Games (threatening to bring the chaos people expected at this year's World Cup -- Scotland's living quarters were deemed "unfit for human habitation") and the ever-widening spot-fixing scandal during the Pakistan cricket team's tour of England. My take on the new Jurgen Klinsmann revelation will arrive a bit later.

For now, here are a few stories you might find interesting:

Murder suspect claims 'caffeine insanity'

NEWPORT, Ky. — A Kentucky man accused of strangling his wife is poised to claim excessive caffeine from sodas, energy drinks and diet pills left him so mentally unstable he couldn't have knowingly killed her, his lawyer has notified a court.
Woody Will Smith, 33, is scheduled for trial starting Monday on a murder charge in the May 2009 death of Amanda Hornsby-Smith, 28.
Defense attorney Shannon Sexton filed notice with the Newport court of plans to argue his client ingested so much caffeine in the days leading up to the killing that it rendered him temporarily insane — unable even to form the intent of committing a crime.
I'll have to keep this tactic in mind should it work, especially considering I'm off the soda wagon to the tune of three 600 mL bottles of Diet Coke a day.

Death of 9-year-old puts focus on Thai high school gang wars
Teachers and students say the violence is another outgrowth of the problems that affect the poorer half of Thai society, much of which feels overlooked by the government. The gap between rich and poor was highlighted by the "red shirt" anti-government protests in April and May, which some protesters called class warfare.
Gang violence has plagued Thai schools for years, mostly at the country's 835 vocational schools, which cater largely to the children of the working class: taxi drivers, security guards and factory workers. Police say there were 900 reported incidents in Bangkok in the first half of this year, but teachers say the actual number is higher.
Many of Bangkok's 106 trade schools frisk students on arrival. In recent years, the pencils and rulers that were the weapons of choice have been replaced by machetes, homemade bombs and cheap guns.
Puts a whole new spin on "school rumble," doesn't it, anime fans?

Atheist Hitchens skips prayer day in his honor

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he's suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.
Hitchens has no use for that first group. "'To hell with you' is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell," Hitchens told AP.
He's ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: "'Thanks but no thanks' is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity."
It's that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens' healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?
"I say it's fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself," says Hitchens.
Count me among those hoping -- not praying -- that Hitchens beats his cancer and lives well for many years to come. Think what you will about his stance on religion, but wishing sickness and death on someone is sub-human. My copy of "God is Not Great" is still in Jakarta, and I hope I won't be reading it as a way of honoring Hitchens' memory.

Families disguise girls as boys in Afghanistan

Six-year-old Mehran Rafaat is like many girls her age. She likes to be the center of attention. She is often frustrated when things do not go her way. Like her three older sisters, she is eager to discover the world outside the family’s apartment in their middle-class neighborhood of Kabul.
But when their mother, Azita Rafaat, a member of Parliament, dresses the children for school in the morning, there is one important difference. Mehran’s sisters put on black dresses and head scarves, tied tightly over their ponytails. For Mehran, it’s green pants, a white shirt and a necktie, then a pat from her mother over her spiky, short black hair. After that, her daughter is out the door — as an Afghan boy.
It's unfortunate families have to go to such lengths, if only to live up to the pressures society places upon them. Given what low esteem in which women are held in Afghanistan, though, you can hardly blame them for trying.

Lastly, a happier -- if slightly wistful -- story about one of the many things that makes baseball different (and better) from football.

A Ballpark Farewell, Played Adagio
After providing the home soundtrack for the White Sox for 41 years, Faust is retiring at the end of the season. Her music has been the grace note bridging memorable eras in the team’s history, from the baseball barker Bill Veeck to the showman Ozzie Guillen.
Faust was an innovator, choosing songs that played off names like a musical Chris Berman. She has a knack for matching songs to on-field situations, perhaps the most famous example being her inspired choice of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” when an opposing pitcher was pulled in the heat of the 1977 pennant race. For White Sox fans, the song became a part of the everyday rotation, right up there with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
In the encyclopedia “Total White Sox,” it is written of Faust, “At times she was the best thing the ball club had going.”
Her role in recent years has been reduced, and her swan song has the feel of a requiem for baseball purists. The organ is being phased out of ballparks, with teams opting for keyboardists or canned music and video entertainment to pump up the fans’ experience.
What results is the sporting equivalent of FM radio, with the music virtually the same from one city to the next. In the effort to create a more interactive fan experience, is an intimate connection being lost?
I'll answer that -- yes. Among baseball's selling points are its quirks and pastoral charm. There's no need to go too deep into those as George Carlin already summed it up nicely.

Yes, time stops for no one, not even baseball. Being behind the times is a one-way ticket to irrelevance these days (hello, newspapers!), but I would argue that harkening back to the past is part of what makes baseball great. Other than golf, it is the only major sport in America that is not played on the clock. If a game takes 27 innings to determine a winner, so be it. There are no penalty kicks, shootouts or sudden-death overtimes to hasten our attention-challenged society on to its next distraction -- the game finishes in its own time.

There is little point arguing that baseball is still America's most popular sport. It was only a matter of time before a game otherwise known as "war without death" -- complete with its heady cocktail of violence, sex, violence, booze and more violence -- supplanted the old pastime. That isn't necessarily a good thing, though. Football's compressed schedule, trumpeted by supporters as making every game a life-or-death encounter, also piles on the pressure and impatience when results don't come as they should. It's not all that pleasant even when things go well -- just ask Urban Meyer or Mark Dantonio.

You can have your watered-down gladiatorial combat. I'll stick to my baseball, soccer and Test cricket and watch the hours roll by slowly.

No comments:

Post a Comment