Archive for July, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

Posted in animals, bichons, blogging, cats, Crime, criminal justice, cyberspace, diets, dogs, environment, food, history, Law, Law and Justice, media, medicine, pets, Politics, technology, Terrorism, Uncategorized, vegans, Violence, war, war on terror on July 30, 2007 by castagnera

Last April MSNBC reported from Shanghai, “The list of Chinese food exports rejected at American ports reads like a chef’s nightmare: pesticide-laden peapods, drug-laced catfish, filthy plums and crawfish contaminated with Salmonella.” The report went on to say, “China’s chronic food safety woes are now a national concern.” Yogi Berra might respond, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
If so, Yogi would be right on. We are now fighting the same struggle for a safe food supply on a global scale that we once fought at the national level something like a century ago. Muckraker Upton Sinclair led the charge with his 1906 classic, The Jungle. Considered Sinclair’s masterpiece, the novel chronicles the misadventures of an immigrant employed in Chicago’s meatpacking industry. A typical example of Sinclair’s lurid prose reads like this:
“The people of Chicago saw the government inspectors in Packingtown, and they all took that to mean that they were protected from diseased meat; they did not understand that these hundred and sixty-three inspectors had been appointed at the request of the packers, and they were paid by the United States government to certify that all the diseased meat stayed in the state…. [A] physician made the discovery that the carcasses of steers which had been found to be tubercular by the government inspectors, and which therefore contained ptomaines, which are deadly poisons, were… carted away to be sold in the city; and so he insisted that these carcasses be treated with an injection of kerosene — and was ordered to resign the same week! So indignant were the packers that they went farther and compelled the mayor to abolish the whole bureau of inspection…. There was said to be two thousand dollars a week hush-money from the tubercular steers alone; and as much again from the hogs which had died of cholera on the trains, and which you might see any day being loaded in box-cars and hauled away to a place called Globe, Indiana, where they made a fancy grade of lard.”
Professor Maura Spiegel of Columbia University commented in a recent edition of The Jungle, which has never been out of print, “Sinclair wanted to arouse not sympathy, and certainly not pity, but indignation and outrage.” Indeed, The Jungle fueled a firestorm of debate about food-sanitation laws. During the decades that followed, Americans slowly but surely came to enjoy the safest and most plentiful food supply on earth.
The bad news out of China has caused many Americans to wonder whether we are slipping backwards into the bad-old-days of The Jungle. They may be right. On Tuesday, July 17th, according to the New York Times, Congress was treated to testimony that food importers “have been able to bring tainted products into this country because the F.D.A. has neither enough resources nor inspectors to stop them. And each year it has become easier: since 2003, the number of inspectors has decreased while imports of food alone have almost doubled.”
According to the Times, “Over all, the Agriculture Department inspects 16 percent of imported meat, while the F.D.A. inspects about one percent of the food over which it has jurisdiction. Just a fraction of that is actually sampled.” The hearings were prompted by the FDA’s announced intent to close seven of its 13 testing labs, including one close to home here in Philadelphia.
If the effluvial emanations from abroad bring with them a silver lining, perhaps it is that we consumers — our consciousness raised — are circling back to homegrown produce and meat products. At farmers’ markets, such as Philly’s Reading Terminal and Suburban Square in Ardmore, Amish and Mennonite family businesses are booming. Nationwide, organic-food sales are growing at the rate of 17-20 percent per year, while conventional food sales are only increasing by a puny two to three percent, according to Internet sources. Most supermarkets now point out local produce and organic products with pride.
For decades, family farms have been under pressure from population growth, suburban sprawl, and anemic food prices — driven down in no small part by import competition. Could it be that the supermarket will be the battlefront where we Americans for the first time ever turn back an unwelcome onslaught of globalization? Now, that’s food for thought.
Jim Castagnera of Havertown is the Associate Provost at Rider University and a 2007-08 Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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July Was a Bad Month for Philly Sports Fans

Posted in athletics, baseball, Crime, criminal justice, cyberspace, Higher Education, Law, Law and Justice, media, relationships, sports, universities on July 30, 2007 by castagnera

July was a bad month for local sports fans

ByJim Castagnera

        A famous poem, “Casey at the Bat,” concludes,   “Somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout, but there is no joy in Mudville.  Mighty Casey has struck out.”  No such poetry exists for my home of Havertown, but perhaps it should, especially since July.

        First off, the Philadelphia Phillies clocked their 10,000th lifetime loss.  Yes, I know… the team is one of the oldest franchises in big league baseball, so they had more time to run up those losses than most of their opponents.  Who out there who roots for the Phillies feels better because of that?

        Then came the NBA gambling scandal.  The allegations are that a pro-basketball referee bet on the outcomes of some of the games at which he officiated.  An NPR commentator opined that, while making calls to affect which team won or lost a game was difficult and dangerous, impacting the bookies’ point spreads was do-able.  Late game foul calls, he added, would be the way to manipulate that factor.

       Hey, listen.  I can relate to a ref, who watches the players with whom he shares the hardwood take home multi-million dollar paychecks, coveting a piece of the pie for himself.  But, Dear Lord, did he have to be an alumnus of Cardinal O’Hara High School?  Delaware County residents have been the targets of subpoenas in the investigation. After what the Phillies handed us, this seems a little like piling-on to me.

       Then, just when I thought we had that miserable month of sporting news behind us, came the rape allegations from Villanova University.  Three freshman football players, who came to campus for a two-week course aimed at giving them a jump on their fall studies, were accused by a female student around the middle of the month.  The incident hit the media about 10 days later, when Radnor police became involved.  Although the sexual assault seems certain, the young woman prefers not to file charges; the dismissals still stand.

      Both the NBA and the university are to be commended for cleaning their houses.  Still, a fan can be forgiven if he feels disheartened by all this bad news.

      Look here.  I know I’m naïve.  “An incurable romantic,” is what a nun called me way back in high school.  “Guilty,” remains my unqualified plea, all the way down to this day.

      And yet…

      And yet, is it too much to hope for a little inspiration, a bit of uplifting from our athletes?  Before it was all about the money — the full scholarships for NCAA Division One football and basketball players, Olympians’ faces on Wheaties boxes, and the mega-buck, multi-year contracts for those who make the leap into the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball — athletic competition was about the love of sport and the inspiration we derived.

      Recently, I visited the town where I grew up, Jim Thorpe.   The great Indian athlete is buried there.  His mausoleum is surrounded by walkways and a reflection park, where placards proclaim the highlights of his career.  He excelled in both professional football and baseball.  His grandest achievement was winning the Olympics’ decathlon in Oslo.  In presenting the gold medal, Sweden’s king called Thorpe “the greatest athlete in the world.”  Anybody old enough to remember “The Jim Thorpe Story,” starring Burt Lancaster, knows the tragic conclusion: alcoholism, poverty and an early death.  No, not much inspiration in that ending, either. 

      Weighed down with these decidedly unromantic reflections, I wandered down Glendale Road here in Havertown to one of the several baseball fields used by our community’s Little Leaguers.  I planted myself on a bleacher seat and watched as a little lad stepped up to the plate.  Another little fellow wound up and lobbed a pitch while his teammates, including a couple of feisty girls, urged him on with the chatter that Little League coaches across the country encourage.  The first pitch was a ball.  Predictably, parents proclaimed, “Good eye.” The second pitch got popped high in the air and…

    Well, what does it matter whether it got caught or the batter landed safely on first?  What cheered me was the innocent enthusiasm and pure competitive spirit of a game on which nobody had a bet (unless maybe it was a beer between two of the dads), nobody had a scholarship or a major league contract at stake, and the only remote risk of assault might be a bit of old fashioned fisticuffs.

      I walked home with a lighter step.  If last month’s sporting news has gotten you down, too, I recommend the same remedy.  There still is joy in Havertown.

Jim Castagnera of Havertown is the Associate Provost/Associate Counsel at Rider University and a 2007-08 Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Posted in animals, bichons, blogging, cats, Crime, criminal justice, cyberspace, diets, dogs, environment, history, immigration, internet, Law, Law and Justice, media, medicine, pets, Politics, technology, Terrorism, Uncategorized, vegans, Violence, war, war on terror on July 25, 2007 by castagnera

Last April MSNBC reported from Shanghai, “The list of Chinese food exports rejected at American ports reads like a chef’s nightmare: pesticide-laden peapods, drug-laced catfish, filthy plums and crawfish contaminated with Salmonella.” The report went on to say, “China’s chronic food safety woes are now a national concern.” Yogi Berra might respond, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
If so, Yogi would be right on. We are now fighting the same struggle for a safe food supply on a global scale that we once fought at the national level something like a century ago. Muckraker Upton Sinclair led the charge with his 1906 classic, The Jungle. Considered Sinclair’s masterpiece, the novel chronicles the misadventures of an immigrant employed in Chicago’s meatpacking industry. A typical example of Sinclair’s lurid prose reads like this:
“The people of Chicago saw the government inspectors in Packingtown, and they all took that to mean that they were protected from diseased meat; they did not understand that these hundred and sixty-three inspectors had been appointed at the request of the packers, and they were paid by the United States government to certify that all the diseased meat stayed in the state…. [A] physician made the discovery that the carcasses of steers which had been found to be tubercular by the government inspectors, and which therefore contained ptomaines, which are deadly poisons, were… carted away to be sold in the city; and so he insisted that these carcasses be treated with an injection of kerosene — and was ordered to resign the same week! So indignant were the packers that they went farther and compelled the mayor to abolish the whole bureau of inspection…. There was said to be two thousand dollars a week hush-money from the tubercular steers alone; and as much again from the hogs which had died of cholera on the trains, and which you might see any day being loaded in box-cars and hauled away to a place called Globe, Indiana, where they made a fancy grade of lard.”
Professor Maura Spiegel of Columbia University commented in a recent edition of The Jungle, which has never been out of print, “Sinclair wanted to arouse not sympathy, and certainly not pity, but indignation and outrage.” Indeed, The Jungle fueled a firestorm of debate about food-sanitation laws. During the decades that followed, Americans slowly but surely came to enjoy the safest and most plentiful food supply on earth.
The bad news out of China has caused many Americans to wonder whether we are slipping backwards into the bad-old-days of The Jungle. They may be right. On Tuesday, July 17th, according to the New York Times, Congress was treated to testimony that food importers “have been able to bring tainted products into this country because the F.D.A. has neither enough resources nor inspectors to stop them. And each year it has become easier: since 2003, the number of inspectors has decreased while imports of food alone have almost doubled.”
According to the Times, “Over all, the Agriculture Department inspects 16 percent of imported meat, while the F.D.A. inspects about one percent of the food over which it has jurisdiction. Just a fraction of that is actually sampled.” The hearings were prompted by the FDA’s announced intent to close seven of its 13 testing labs, including one close to home here in Philadelphia.
If the effluvial emanations from abroad bring with them a silver lining, perhaps it is that we consumers — our consciousness raised — are circling back to homegrown produce and meat products. At farmers’ markets, such as Philly’s Reading Terminal and Suburban Square in Ardmore, Amish and Mennonite family businesses are booming. Nationwide, organic-food sales are growing at the rate of 17-20 percent per year, while conventional food sales are only increasing by a puny two to three percent, according to Internet sources. Most supermarkets now point out local produce and organic products with pride.
For decades, family farms have been under pressure from population growth, suburban sprawl, and anemic food prices — driven down in no small part by import competition. Could it be that the supermarket will be the battlefront where we Americans for the first time ever turn back an unwelcome onslaught of globalization? Now, that’s food for thought.
Jim Castagnera of Havertown is the Associate Provost at Rider University and a 2007-08 Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Posted in animals, bichons, blogging, cats, Crime, criminal justice, cyberspace, diets, dogs, environment, history, immigration, internet, Law, Law and Justice, media, medicine, pets, Politics, technology, Terrorism, Uncategorized, vegans, Violence, war on July 25, 2007 by castagnera

Last April MSNBC reported from Shanghai, “The list of Chinese food exports rejected at American ports reads like a chef’s nightmare: pesticide-laden peapods, drug-laced catfish, filthy plums and crawfish contaminated with Salmonella.” The report went on to say, “China’s chronic food safety woes are now a national concern.” Yogi Berra might respond, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
If so, Yogi would be right on. We are now fighting the same struggle for a safe food supply on a global scale that we once fought at the national level something like a century ago. Muckraker Upton Sinclair led the charge with his 1906 classic, The Jungle. Considered Sinclair’s masterpiece, the novel chronicles the misadventures of an immigrant employed in Chicago’s meatpacking industry. A typical example of Sinclair’s lurid prose reads like this:
“The people of Chicago saw the government inspectors in Packingtown, and they all took that to mean that they were protected from diseased meat; they did not understand that these hundred and sixty-three inspectors had been appointed at the request of the packers, and they were paid by the United States government to certify that all the diseased meat stayed in the state…. [A] physician made the discovery that the carcasses of steers which had been found to be tubercular by the government inspectors, and which therefore contained ptomaines, which are deadly poisons, were… carted away to be sold in the city; and so he insisted that these carcasses be treated with an injection of kerosene — and was ordered to resign the same week! So indignant were the packers that they went farther and compelled the mayor to abolish the whole bureau of inspection…. There was said to be two thousand dollars a week hush-money from the tubercular steers alone; and as much again from the hogs which had died of cholera on the trains, and which you might see any day being loaded in box-cars and hauled away to a place called Globe, Indiana, where they made a fancy grade of lard.”
Professor Maura Spiegel of Columbia University commented in a recent edition of The Jungle, which has never been out of print, “Sinclair wanted to arouse not sympathy, and certainly not pity, but indignation and outrage.” Indeed, The Jungle fueled a firestorm of debate about food-sanitation laws. During the decades that followed, Americans slowly but surely came to enjoy the safest and most plentiful food supply on earth.
The bad news out of China has caused many Americans to wonder whether we are slipping backwards into the bad-old-days of The Jungle. They may be right. On Tuesday, July 17th, according to the New York Times, Congress was treated to testimony that food importers “have been able to bring tainted products into this country because the F.D.A. has neither enough resources nor inspectors to stop them. And each year it has become easier: since 2003, the number of inspectors has decreased while imports of food alone have almost doubled.”
According to the Times, “Over all, the Agriculture Department inspects 16 percent of imported meat, while the F.D.A. inspects about one percent of the food over which it has jurisdiction. Just a fraction of that is actually sampled.” The hearings were prompted by the FDA’s announced intent to close seven of its 13 testing labs, including one close to home here in Philadelphia.
If the effluvial emanations from abroad bring with them a silver lining, perhaps it is that we consumers — our consciousness raised — are circling back to homegrown produce and meat products. At farmers’ markets, such as Philly’s Reading Terminal and Suburban Square in Ardmore, Amish and Mennonite family businesses are booming. Nationwide, organic-food sales are growing at the rate of 17-20 percent per year, while conventional food sales are only increasing by a puny two to three percent, according to Internet sources. Most supermarkets now point out local produce and organic products with pride.
For decades, family farms have been under pressure from population growth, suburban sprawl, and anemic food prices — driven down in no small part by import competition. Could it be that the supermarket will be the battlefront where we Americans for the first time ever turn back an unwelcome onslaught of globalization? Now, that’s food for thought.
Jim Castagnera of Havertown is the Associate Provost at Rider University and a 2007-08 Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Women Warriors in the War on Terror

Posted in history, Israel, Politics, Terrorism, Violence, war, war on terror on July 9, 2007 by castagnera

As of June 25th, 80 U.S. servicewomen have died in the Iraq War.  While this is only about two percent of all American military fatalities in the war to date, this figure  exceeds the total number of U.S. servicewomen killed in Korea, Vietnam and the First Gulf War combined… this according to the Public Broadcasting System.  

       The number of women deployed by Uncle Sam in Afghanistan and Iraq to date approaches 200,000.  Tammy Duckworth, the well-known Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs in action nearly three years ago, was quoted by the AP saying, “The American public is beginning to realize that women are playing an equal part in this war and that they are facing the same risks.”

       An essential role played by our women-warriors is searching Muslim women at checkpoints.  Many of these latter ladies wear a head-to-toe garment called a burka.  Searching these women is a very dangerous job, and not merely because such a search, even by another woman, is an insult to Muslim modesty.

       More significant is the use of burkas by both female and even some male suicide-bombers.  While women in general are treated as second-class citizens in Muslim countries, a tradition of recruiting them for suicide missions is well-established.  For example, in July 2006 the website “Jihad Watch” reported, “The Aksa Martyrs Brigades… recently established a secret military unit for female suicide bombers from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. ‘We have so far recruited 100 women for the new unit,’ [a spokeswoman] said as she sat next to several masked women who identified themselves as members of Fatah.” [http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/012184.php]

       If you are wondering what’s in it for women who are treated so poorly by their fundamentalist men, you’re not alone.  Researching this topic, I came across a blogger who asked, “Hey, do the Muslim female suicide bombers get 72 virgin men as a reward in heaven?”   A great question… and one that won’t be answered here.  The best I can do is note a video I saw, while in Israel studying counter-terrorism back in early June.  A captured suicide-bomber wanna-be had been badly burned in an earlier incident.  Her prospects for attracting a husband and leading a normal life were just about nil.  But other women portrayed as would-be-martyrs in the movie were actually attractive.  So you go figure.     One other item I can add is that women in that part of the world have a history of fierceness.  For instance, way back in 1868 a traveler to Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia), Dr. Henry Blanc, wrote in his book about being held hostage by that country’s king, “Theodore used guerilla raiding parties during his march… and prominent among them were his ‘Amazons.’  He had formed the strongest and hardiest of the women of his camp into a plundering band; he was much pleased with their bravery, and when one of them killed a petty chief… he was so delighted that he gave her a title of rank and presented her with one of his own pistols.”      Dr. Blanc makes those chicks sound pretty tough.  All the same, American womanhood takes no backseat.  Women have participated in every American war going back to the Revolution.  But they have never been tougher than today.  According to a 2006 U.S. Justice Department report, “While criminal violence among teenage boys today still far exceeds criminal violence among teenage girls, the gap is narrowing.  Twenty-five years ago, for every ten boys arrested for assault, there was only one girl. Now there are only four boys arrested for each girl arrested. Put simply, the official arrest data indicate that girls today assault people and get arrested more often than did the girls of generations past.”

       As recently as the Vietnam War, and perhaps even today, young men in trouble with the local authorities often were given a choice between criminal prosecution and enlistment.  This month the Army began accepting male volunteers as old as 42.  It’s likely that the recruiters will be snapping up those female teenaged-troublemakers referenced in the DOJ report.

       A virtual certainty is that, thanks to the War on Terror, Betsy Ross sewing an American flag for George Washington is about to be displaced as the dominant image of American women at war.

            

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Posted in animals, blogging, Crime, criminal justice, cyberspace, diets, environment, gun control, history, intelligent design, internet, Law, Politics, pornography, relationships, religion, technology, Terrorism, Uncategorized, vegans, Violence on July 1, 2007 by castagnera

Seven o’clock on a gorgeous summer morning in Philadelphia. Birds are singing. The sky is a clear blue punctuated by a few wispy clouds. Walking the dog, I see a squirrel, two bunnies. The grass is green and dewey. No humidity. This promises to be a beautiful summer Sunday… one of many perfect days of this spring and early summer.

If I didn’t read the newspaper and listen to the radio, I would never guess there have been more than 200 murders in my city so far this year… right on track with the 400+ of 2006. I wouldn’t have a clue about pollution, global warming, over-population, terrorism, or a war in Iraq.

This afternoon I’ll sit on my back porch. I’ll fire up the charcoal grill, adding no doubt to the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, if only ever so slightly. My good wife will prepare a salmon which we’ll grill on a plank. Increasingly I question the rightness of eating animals but I lack the discipline and conviction to be a vegan… at least so far.

Some say the age of miracles is past. Others say it never was. But miracles are all around us. Besides the miracles of the natural world, of our own minds and bodies, I am awed by the miracle that in a few minutes I will click on “publish” and this bit of drivvle will be available to hundreds of millions… should any care to read it.

Some say the devil is a myth. But evil is palpable in this sorry world.
You need not go to the inner cities or to the Sudan or to the slums of India, or to Bagdad. Go to “BDSM” on Google and see the sick pictures posted on the thousands of sites that such a simple search will produce. I can only assume those sites (sights?) proliferate because they interest many viewers. I also assume that enough are paying customers that the creators find it worth their whiles to maintain them. What is it in the human heart that can equate suffering with sex? That finds such imagery arousing?

What nation can claim never to have had a genocide? Not America. No nation in Europe. Probably none in Africa or Asia either.

And yet I feel hope on this Sunday morning. The Cold War ended without a nuclear holocaust. Apartheid ended without a bloodbath. Norther Ireland seems to be settling down after 500 years of strife.

If a caring God is in fact watching this not-so-Divine Comedy, perhaps s/he will forgive us our trespasses on this beautiful morning. Perhaps I can be forgiven for enjoying the magnificent day s/he made… a day that belies the pollution that fouls the environment. Perhaps I can be forgiven the hope I feel in the face of the murder, cruelty, inequality, and sickness that poisons the human spirit and blemishes human history.

Perhaps…