Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Three Stooges now in charge of courts and CMS communications

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 12:25 PM

On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Butler High School student and football player Osvaldo Sombo, 17, was arrested and booked on two charges of rape and one charge of sexual battery. The court system followed its usual policy, and mailed a letter to CMS to let them know of the arrest. CMS received the letter on Monday, Aug. 16. CMS didn’t notify Butler High of Sombo’s arrest for more than a week after that, although Butler's first football game was scheduled for Friday, Aug. 20. Today, everyone is up in arms over the slow communications, and the fact that an accused rapist got to play in a high school football game.

I want to preface my comments by saying that the most important thing in this case is that a woman was allegedly raped; that’s the primary concern, or should be, and we hope and assume that her case will be properly handled and justice will be served. With that said, however, I have a question: Have any of these people heard of e-mail?

First of all: The court system mails a letter to CMS? Someone from the court system could have walked a message to CMS offices in about five minutes. In the absence of such a court system employee exercise plan, however, I repeat: Ever heard of e-mail? The same question goes to CMS administrators who took a whole week to get a message to Butler High administrators. I realize that employees of bureaucracies are expected to “follow established procedures,” but for crying out loud — how about bringing those procedures up to date so that they’re more in tune with communications technology available since, oh, the first Bush administration?  (Or, in the case of the courts-to-CMS memo, since the invention of shoes?)

Second: The student/athlete, Osvaldo Sombo, is, as of now, not guilty. He may be found guilty later, we have no way of knowing, but right now, he is not guilty.  I fail to see how justice is served by punishing Sombo before his alleged crimes have even been proved. The same goes for CMS policy, which requires that students charged with a violent offense be transferred to Bank Street Alternative High School as soon as the school is notified, with a review of the student’s placement taking place within five school days. So, umm, again, that “innocent until proven guilty” thing? That’s for real, right? It shouldn’t be just another happy-face slogan we’re taught as kids, like “justice is blind” or “all are equal under the law.” So far, the only folks who’ve been proved to have done anything wrong (assuming that “archaic” = “wrong”) are the court system and CMS.

One more time: The alleged rape of a woman is way more important than whether or not her alleged attacker gets to play football. Both of those people, like all of us, deserve a system in which justice being served is more important than CMS’ showboating and “get tough” policies toward people who are innocent until proven guilty. And yes, please, will someone tell the court system and CMS about the wonders of e-mail?

Court system's communications department mascot, Lightning the Wonder Snail
  • Court system's communications department mascot, Lightning the Wonder Snail

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Two N.C. cities on list of 20 recession-proof American locales

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 12:20 PM

We humans love lists of stuff, don't we? Well, here's one that offers good news: There is such a thing as "recession-proof cities." Who knew? Even better: Two of them — No. 1 and No. 3 — are in North Carolina.

This list is from The Daily Beast, and this is how they decided which cities made the cut:

Friday’s downward revision of GDP, combined with news that individual Americans saw their personal income shrink 1.8 percent in 2009, has renewed an economic panic nationwide.

But take heart—not every corner of the country is suffering. The Daily Beast set out to determine which cities are riding out the Great Recession, and identified 20 metropolitan areas, from North Carolina to Washington to Louisiana, that since 2007 have shown positive growth across three economic categories: their overall employment, per capita personal income, and metropolitan area GDP. Employment data come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; personal income and metropolitan area GDP are from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each city was ranked individually within each category, then these rankings were combined to determine the final order. Employment and personal income were weighted at 45 percent, and GDP was weighted at 10 percent.

These 20 cities, furthermore, have a per capita personal income—adjusted by second quarter 2010 ACCRA Cost of Living Index—that falls above the nation’s end-of-2009 per capita personal income of $36,225. So before gaining momentum, they were already ahead of the pack.

View the gallery of cities here. And, a sneak peak: Jacksonville, N.C., is listed as No. 1 and Fayetteville, N.C., is listed as No. 3.

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National Parks suffering

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Well, this is sad news: We're not taking very good care of our National Parks. What happened to "leave nothing but footprints"? Ooo. Right, we never really meant that — did we?

The unnatural footprint left by hundreds of millions of park visitors is growing, environmentalists say. Hikers wander off marked trails, trampling vegetation. Vehicles clog park roads and sully the air with tailpipe emissions. Tourists leave behind water bottles and other scraps of litter. Above many national parks, sightseeing planes and helicopters buzz.

“We really count on the visitor having a sense of ownership of national parks,” said Jeffrey G. Olson, a public affairs officer with the National Park Service. “We remind them [the] parks are here for them to enjoy and ask they help make sure they are here for future generations, too.”

But the conga lines of tourists and cars are getting longer. As the U.S. economy turned sour, park visits rose. In 2009, 285 million people spent a collective 1.25 billion hours inside the national parks, the highest numbers since 2000, according to NPS figures.

“Traffic hassles in a national park, you ask?” Olson said. “Here’s one: finding a parking spot at the Logan Pass Visitors Center in Glacier National Park.”

“I don’t want to say the future is bleak” for the parks, given the man-made degradation, said Nimkin. “I mean, we can do something about it.” One change he hopes to see is a federally-mandated cap on the number of air tours over the Grand Canyon, no-flight “respite” periods during certain months, and a relocation of flight routes away from some rim edges and other popular hiking and backpacking spots. An increase in sightseeing flights could eventually fill the canyon with the “background drone we have in our cities,” Nimkin said.

Read the rest of this MSNBC article, by Bill Briggs, and enjoy some spectacular photo galleries here.

Further reading: "Technology Leads More Park Visitors Into Trouble" — New York Times

If you haven't watched the PBS Series National Parks: America's Best Idea, you should. Here's a trailer:

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Is UNC's new Twitter policy a First Amendment violation?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 12:16 PM

Did you hear? UNC has updated its social media policy. The university has added rules that require a coach or administrator to be "responsible for having access to and regularly monitor the content of team members' social networking sites and postings."

Is this healthy? I mean, in a country that values free speech so much that we made that right part of the very first amendment to our constitution, is paying university staff (i.e. state employees) to police the social media ramblings of our youth a healthy and wise thing to do? Does this new M.O. sound Big Brother-ish to anyone but me?

The phrase "chilling effect" comes to mind. What that means is, essentially, the students whose accounts are being patrolled may censor themselves because of this policy, which stifles their First Amendment rights. And, what if they do post something their censors don't like? What then? I'm willing to bet that the first athlete who gets punished, and I mean beyond a slap on the wrist, for something they posted online will get a call from the ACLU.

Is this really what we want to teach our college students? That you should beware of everything you post online for fear of getting in trouble, and that if you do get in trouble you should sue? I suppose those questions open a larger can of worms, but I think it's a discussion worth having. Of course this isn't just a UNC-thing — this is an issue facing everyone who has an online life outside of their professional or academic life. (And who doesn't?)

There's offering advice to help guide people through choppy situations, then there's suppressing people's basic rights. One is reasonable, the other is unconstitutional.

Read more about UNC's new social media policy here: UNC goes harsh with Twitter policy -- ESPN.com

What do you think? Are the students' rights being infringed upon, or is this type of policy for their own good?

Here's Penn and Teller and MIT's Dr. Noam Chompsky (and some other smart dude who's not identified) on American colleges and universities violating students' First Amendment rights with "speech codes," everyone's charge to speak up for what they believe in and what to do when you're offended by someone else's speech:

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Today's Top 5: Tuesday

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 8:00 AM

Here are the five best events going down in Charlotte and the surrounding area today, Aug. 31, 2010 — as selected by the folks at Creative Loafing.

Comedian Carlos Mencia at McGlohon Theatre

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Michael Franti and Spearhead at Neighborhood Theatre

Author Eric Jerome Dickey at Books-A-Million

Humane Society of Charlotte Pet PALS event at Morton's The Steakhouse

Mary Poppins at Belk Theater

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Opening This Week

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 11:58 PM

Going the Distance
  • Going the Distance

Wednesday:

The American - George Clooney, Violante Placido

Friday:

Going the Distance - Drew Barrymore, Justin Long

Machete - Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro

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Bush policy still impacts mental health of New Orleans’ poor kids

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 4:32 PM

Over the weekend, in honor of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast, the media was filled with Happy Talk galore. Things are getting better in New Orleans! Lots of new people moving in! We’re looking up! Our schools are better now! And so forth and so on, each media outlet bending over backward to be super-positive, and shielding its eyes from any reminders of what happened in 2005.

I called an old friend — call him Stan — who has lived in New Orleans for 25 years, and asked him if he thought things were getting better, as the press keeps telling us. “Yeah, things overall are better,” Stan told me, “but look at what they’re 'better' than — a flooded city, water mixed with oil and sewage five feet deep in the streets, dead bodies floating by your gallery (what we mere Carolinians call a “porch”) ... yeah, it’s better than that.

“Really, I don’t want to sound all doom-and-gloom," Stan continued."There’s been some new investment in properties and infrastructure, and people who have lived here awhile and made it through Katrina are like the city's heroes now, and people in general are really proud of the city, even more than before. But there are still big, big areas where next to nothing has been done to help people recover. Yeah, the schools are better — but, like I said, they couldn’t have been much worse, so the new charter schools everybody's jumping to aren't any better than regular schools ought to be, but compared to what we had before, they’re like The Sorbonne or something. So, yeah, things are better, but the city's still hurting.  Lots of people have put lots of energy into the recovery, but the recession isn’t helping; plus even without the recession, there’s still way too much that still needs to be done. I mean, Katrina was five years ago, and they’ve worked on the levees, but they’re still not good enough to withstand the kind of water surge Katrina brought. That’s unbelievable, to me, and I wish the press would tell people about it.”

As if to confirm Stan’s comment that much remains to be done, a study was released last week that reveals, in detail, the awful psychological toll Katrina has had on children in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. Researchers found that nearly 40 percent of kids displaced by the hurricane have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and/or behavioral disorders, and are five times more likely to have emotional disturbances than those who came through Katrina OK. Earlier studies also showed about a third of adult survivors reporting mental problems.

One of the main reasons so many Katrina survivors are suffering from mental problems five years later is that the Bush administration torpedoed a bipartisan congressional effort to pass a “Disaster Relief Medicaid” program, which would have extended Medicaid eligibility and allowed low-income residents to receive mental health diagnoses and treatments. The same sort of program was enacted after the 9/11 attacks, but Bush & Co. nixed that approach for the poor residents of the Gulf Coast (who, in case you’ve never been there, are numerous). Think Progress has produced a look at the study, and also examines in detail the way help via the Medicaid extension was killed by Bush, a process that can only be described as deliberate neglect.

As one of the researchers for the mental health study, Dr. Irwin Redlener, said, “From the perspective of the Gulf’s most vulnerable children and families, the recovery from Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans has been a dismal failure.” I guess that wasn’t a perspective the media wanted to hear as they reported on all the cool new investments being made. Or maybe it was one too many Hurricanes.

Kid in the post-Katrina ruins  (Photo courtesy Carolyn Cole)
  • Kid in the post-Katrina ruins  (Photo courtesy Carolyn Cole)

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Coal ash hearings start today

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 2:36 PM

A few people are live-Tweeting today's hearing, from Arlington, Va., under the hashtag #coalash, though I understand they have poor reception so there may not be much to read. But, the news is worth watching since Charlotte will host a similar hearing on Sept. 14. You can read all about the hearings, find out how to attend and even sign up to speak here.

While we wait, I thought you'd want to use this time to get caught up on coal ash news. Fortunately, the folks at the Sierra Club created an easy button for us when they published a public thank you to me and Creative Loafing for our ongoing coverage of the issue, one recently voted as the "local issue that needs more attention" in our 'Best of' Charlotte 2010 awards edition.

But, we definitely aren't the only media organization reporting on coal ash. It's a huge, national issue that has serious local implications since Charlotte has four unlined coal ash ponds nearby, two of which drain into our main drinking water reservoir. And, let's not forget the potential impact on Duke Energy, a huge energy company located right here in the Q.C.

Here's one article, from USAToday, entitled, "Study: Drinking water polluted by coal-ash dump sites." If you're like me, when something as important as our drinking water is on the line, I'm not content to simply read an article about the issue. No, I want the source documents. So, here you go: Click here for the report behind the article. It was published by the Environmental Integrity Project in conjunction with Earth Justice.

There's another report, from Appalachian Voices, you may want to read as well. This one discusses how the groundwater near all of the high-hazard coal ash ponds in North Carolina is contaminated with pollution. Read it here.

Now before you go and crucify Duke Energy, know this: We're in this situation today because the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency have failed to regulate something a lot of people consider to be a hazardous waste. Worse, no one seemed to be paying attention when Duke installed one, then another, unlined coal ash pond just upstream from where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities withdraws 80 percent of our area's drinking water. (By the way, the drinking water pumping station was there way before the coal ash ponds. In fact, the original station is now underwater. It was flooded when the energy company built the dam that created Mountain Island Lake in the 1920s.)

As far as I can tell after more than a year of research, Duke Energy isn't breaking any laws or out of compliance with the ponds near Charlotte. Though its coal plants create the waste, the real problem in this situation is the government ... which is supposed to be of the people and for the people. So, it's ironic that we, the people, weren't aware of the coal ash impoundments until one busted in Tennessee almost two years ago, creating a giant mess and one of the nation's biggest environmental disasters ever.

So, this is where you come in. You have an opportunity to tell the EPA what you think about coal ash and, in our case, its proximity to our drinking water, regardless of your stance on the issue. It is your right to speak up, that's why the agency is holding hearings. But, even if you can't attend you can still voice your opinion via e-mail, snail-mail, fax or hand delivery. The Catawba Riverkeeper created a few easy buttons for doing so, which are here.

The bottom line is this: Under the North Carolina constitution, the people own the water. We deserve to know what's in it, what's being dumped into it — and how often and in what quantities, how it's cleaned, how it's managed and how it's regulated. We, legally, have a say in every one of those steps and this is your opportunity to stand up and voice your opinion. Don't miss it.

Further reading: Hearings begin on federal coal ash rules as evidence of damages mounts -- Institute for Southern Studies, Facing South

In related news, the EPA didn't want coal ash to be an issue. They attempted to keep the impoundments a secret, claiming that if they told the public about them they would be sacrificing national security. You can see how well that fear mongering panned out. The only thing that's come out of the public's new-found awareness is concern. By the way, we own the EPA too.

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Here's the problem with America's economy

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 2:17 PM

I'm reminded of America's major economic faults every time I check for new followers on Twitter. That may sound a little bizarre, but bear with me for a minute. Here's the deal: Whenever I check in to see if someone of interest is following my Tweets, I inevitably find a long list of people trying to sell me some sort of concocted crap.

Need help from a social media expert? Look no further than that douche bag's blog.

In case you forgot how to Google porn for yourself, here are some pics from a chick who looks exactly like Brittany Spears.

Can't figure out how to run your own business? What's-his-face's Twitter stream is where the big money ideas are at. (Not.)

Seeking spiritual guidance? Just click here and magic, invisible dust will spray out of your screen and transform your life.

Looking for weight loss secrets, well some schmuck on Twitter's got all the answers for you. Or, I should say, several schmucks.

Get yourself some ROI, bitches! Show. Me. thaMoney.

For only $xxx.xx some stranger on the Internet can mend all your woes. For really, though y'all.

First of all, all of the asshats trying to sell stuff on Twitter have completely missed the point. To me, social media is about the conversation. It's intuitive. It's a necessary evil. It can be fun and informative, but it can also be a giant waste of time. And, you know who I don't want wasting any more of my time? Someone trying to sell me something on Twitter. That, my followers, will get your ass blocked.

And, geeze people, really: It's no wonder our economy is in the toilet, you're hawking crap — stuff no one can even touch. Instead of spending your time creating something useful,  you're trying to sell bad ideas to people who don't need nor want them or people too stupid to tell the difference. And! The kicker: You want a lot of money for your money-making, life-saving, business-boosting ideas, even though they probably didn't originate with you. Gah! Get over yourselves.

Fortunately, I'm not the only person who realizes "social media experts," and other people of their ilk, are full of shit:

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Don't call me ma'am!

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 12:46 PM

Actually, I don't mind being called "ma'am" too much because I realize, most of the time, people are trying to be nice. But, apparently, other women do mind being called ma'am, and they mind a lot. The New York Times explored the issue over the weekend in an article by Natalie Angier called "The Politics of Polite." In it, the women interviewed claim the term is demeaning and, worse, it makes them feel old.

Reading the article, I felt guilt pangs. I use the word "ma'am" on occasion, and usually out of respect or endearment and, probably most often, out of habit. Though, admittedly, I sometimes cringe when people call me ma'am then joke about being confused with my step-grandmother, a woman who would ignore you if you didn't call her ma'am. (Frankly, that was fine with me most of the time.)

She is a woman who likes to think she's a true Southern belle, even though she grew up as poor and uncultured as anyone else during the Great Depression. But, since then, one of her brothers and one of her sons worked their way into fortunes, so, in her mind, she's a debutante by association and social status is extremely important to her, which is why she demands respect for her "rank" (even though she rarely earns it).

She grew up in L.A. (Lower Alabama) and raised her family in Montgomery during the Civil Rights Movement. When the bus boycott crippled the city, she was one of those white women who drove across town to pick up her black maid for work — not because she was being nice but because somebody had to take care of her house and kids and damned if she was going to do it. Although she can cook up some of the finest Southern food you can imagine, she's mean, manipulative, overly concerned about what other people think and, you can probably tell, not one of my favorite people in the world.

So, yeah, when I think about the word "ma'am" and my super-Southern-Belle-step-grandma at the same time, it doesn't seem like such a great word anymore. And, now that I've explained how I was antagonized with the word growing up, I suppose I should eradicate it from my vocabulary. I'd hate for anyone to think I was lumping them in the same category as the lady who used to force me to get poodle perms and take etiquette lessons. Pinkie out, dear.

The word ma'am, of course, is a contraction of madame, which sounds a wee tad more sophisticated. I guess that's why the women involved in the Times article said they wouldn't mind being referred to by the latter title. I don't think I'll be using that word, either, though.

What about you? Does the word ma'am offend you or anyone you know?

It feels like eons ago, but once upon a time I went to the 99-cent movies with my step-grandmother to see "The Long Walk Home," with Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg. I was a kid, only 12 years old, and I wasn't associating what was on the screen with anything in real life. My mom's family had lived around and traveled the world, so they didn't spend a whole lot of time reminiscing about local history as much as they spent time wishing they were somewhere else. Anyway, by the end of the film, all of those primary school field trips to the the First White House of the Confederacy and the tales of the Civil Rights Movement sank in like never before.

Here's why: During the scene where Spacek and Goldberg recreate a moment from my step-grandmother's life — Spacek, a white housewife, picks up Goldberg, her black maid, and drives her to work (i.e. the white woman's house) during the bus boycott — my step-grandmother hollered out, "Well. I would neva letta n**** ride in the front seat with me." In that moment, I realized the Civil Rights Movement wasn't over. I also thought we were going to die, but the people in the movie theater simply looked at her and turned away. I can only assume they realized there was no sense trying to reason with her.

I can't think about my step-grand without thinking of that movie. Here's a clip, although my step-grandma shouldn't be confused with anyone as principled as Spacek's character.

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