BCS ain't all that

Harvey Araton has an editorial in today's NYT SundaySports arguing that the Cardinals prove the BCS bowl system is better than a playoffs system. "The exalted playoff has produced the possibility of a 9-7 team...calling itself the best team in the NFL," a team whose performance was so terrible that "it would have probably removed the Cardinals from consideration for the Motor City Bowl." Hah!

A big deal is made about how every game counts in the BCS, but that's not true, or at least they don't all count the same. For Penn State ultimately only two games counted, the loss to Iowa and to USC. For USC the most important game turned out to be the loss to whatever garden state college they lost to last year. Which begs the question, how can every game count when so many games each season are against lower ranked teams? Those only count when they are an upset.

The Cardinals won the games that counted, and they put up a beautiful performance during the playoffs. Luckily there's no risk of the NFL adopting a bowl system because if players played each game as if it "counted", you'd see a lot more dramatic injuries. The Patriots played that way last season, and they're still one of the lamest teams (as in injured) in the NFL. In contrast, the Cowboys shined in all their early games, and stunk up all the games that "counted". The Cardinals deserve to be where they are at; they beat all the best teams when they had to.

The bowl system has a lot of sentimental allure, so it probably shouldn't be abandoned. But this idea that every game somehow proves a team's standing is silly. It's bad for the players and it doesn't lead to better football.

Full disclosure: my only beef with the bowl system is that as a BigTen fan it has led to this mythology of SouthEastern football supremacy. Please.


Eel test

Testing a mobile blogger in a desparate attempt to avoid brushing up on the centrally mediated autonomic and somatic effects of cardiovascular regulation of OT and AVP for a couple of major presentations next week. Today's a good day for eel. I'm in a sushi mood, but too cold for raw fish. Incidentally, outside of mammals oxytocin has only been found in the ratfish. Eels and most other osteichthyes produce isotocin.


When Cultures Collide

I've been getting real sick of that last post date on this blog. Each day of silence adding to the dread of not having anything to say. I still don't, but consider this therapy to avoid the blanket coverage of the looming Inauguration and the hordes of people who are now really, really, really proud of their country. All that pride makes me really nervous.

Anyways, I've seen three articles recently on cultures colliding here in the US -- what will probably be a new theme for the year here at VivosVoco -- and thought I'd share them with you.

The first: The Phillipine News reports on some peeved nuns in Manhattan (any particular ethnicity?) that are suing a Filipino couple for their culinary practices.
The Missionary Sisters of Sacred Heart in Manhattan has filed a complaint against Filipino American couple, Michael and Gloria Lim, over a Filipino delicacy called ‘tuyo’ (dried fish), and its funky cousin, the ‘tinapa’ (smoked fish). The case is now with the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Reports say Gloria was smoking fish outside her apartment window when the smell – noxious stench to the nuns, divine aroma to the Lims – of the salted fish wafted throughout the Gramercy apartment building. The “foul smell” was too strong the nuns suspected it was coming from a decomposing body and called in the Fire Department.

According to reports, the firemen searched every unit of the building and were able to trace the source of the smell to the Lims’ unit. They knocked, and when no one came to the door, the NYFD came barreling in. Gloria, a nurse, found her door knocked down and was obviously peeved. It appears the MSSH leases the unit to the Lims and may have authorized the assault.

“I cook dried fish,” Gloria defiantly declared to the NY Post.

The average American may find it puzzling how one can derive pleasure of the palate from dried fish. Foodie Andrew Zimmern, who has been to the Philippines and braved the ‘balut’ (fertilized duck egg in an embryo) and Soup No. 5 (bull’s rectum and testicles soup, believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac) might be able to share the gustatory experience.

Gloria was referring to the ‘tuyo,’ a Philippine staple usually eaten with steaming hot rice and fresh tomatoes. Some eat theirs dipped in vinegar and crushed garlic paired with fried rice and sunny side up egg.

Dried fish is not a Philippine exclusive. It is an essential in the traditional Chinese and Malaysian fried rice along with chopped spring onions, garlic and chili. Sometimes, it is pulled and sprinkled on chocolate porridge or ‘champorado.’

Food with a strong salty taste like ‘tuyo’ or ‘tinapa’ might be too intense for the morning stomach, but many Filipinos would never leave for work in the morning without having it for breakfast.
Maybe someone can explain the legal nuances, but can ethnic bias towards food odors really qualify as cause for legal action? I assume the nuns are too old to learn to like tuyo, although that bull rectum has got my tummy growling (pretty much anything with offal does the trick), but can't they install some form of ventilation system and never again rent to Filipinos? I rule against the nuns on this one. Unless it was clearly mentioned in the lease, the nuns are going to have to learn to live with it. h/t to L.S.Mogado.

The second: The BBC has an article under the awesome title, US father sells daughter for beer. The father in question is a Trique immigrant from Mexico who was giving his daughter's hand in marriage in exchange for a dowry that included beer. Are dowries illegal? In any event, the problem appears to be not the dowry, but that the daughter is fourteen years old.
A man has been arrested in California after allegedly arranging for his 14-year-old daughter to marry a neighbour in exchange for beer, meat and $16,000.

Police said they learnt of the deal when Marcelino de Jesus Martinez came to them asking for help after his neighbour failed to pay up.

He faces charges of human trafficking, statutory rape and child cruelty.

Police also arrested the intended groom, 18-year-old Margarito de Jesus Galindo, for alleged statutory rape.

Police believe the girl went willingly with Mr Galindo, but under California law she is under the legal age of consent and cannot marry. . .

Greenfield police chief Joe Grebmeier said the case highlighted an issue the region, which has a high number of migrant workers, had been struggling with.

"This is not a traditional trafficking case because there is no force or coercion in this," Mr Grebmeier said.

"We're aware of the cultural issues here, but state law trumps cultural sensitivity."
My only question is, if he gives the beer back, can they drop the charges? Seems a little harsh, under the circumstances. I don't have the energy to mount a spirited defense of the Trique at the moment, but maybe if one of you goads me into it.

Finally, there is this criticism from AlterNet of a recent NYT article on the use of misoprostol to induce abortion in Latino immigrant communities.
Several prominent women's health advocates are dismayed by a recent New York Times article about do-it-yourself abortions using the drug misoprostol. The Times piece, published January 4, mischaracterized a study about the drug, and researchers say the piece is sensationalist, implying that lots of New York City Latinas are seriously endangering their health and breaking the law. Some activists now worry that the Times article could muffle a more nuanced discussion about access to reproductive health care for immigrant women that transcends the phenomenon of DIY misprostol abortions.

In the US, misoprostol -- also known by its brand name Cytotec -- is a prescription drug approved by the FDA as one of two medications employed in tandem to induce non-surgical, "RU-486"-style abortions. The FDA has never approved misoprostol for solo use for abortions. But in many countries where abortion is banned, the drug is sold without prescription, and millions of women have taken it to end their pregnancies. Simultaneously, many women from these countries have immigrated to the US. During the past decade, speculation has spread about whether they are commonly using misoprostol here to self-induce abortions. Anecdotes abound, including many in New York City, but public health data has been non-existent.
Putting aside the (in)accuracies of the article, what interests me is this, did the NYT focus on the practice due to ethnic bias, and will it lead to legal efforts to curtail the health practices of Latina immigrants:
The Times article also states -- wrongly -- that self-induced abortions in New York are "illicit," and women do them "illegally." In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 38 states outlaw self-abortion, in laws which often track repressive statutes left over from pre-Roe v. Wade days. But New York isn't one of them -- women there can legally self abort early pregnancies if they want to.

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, director of policy and advocacy at New York-based National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also was interviewed for the Times story, and she is disturbed by the resulting article. "We dispute the Times' implication that accessing clinics is very easy," she said. "There's the idea among undocumented women that they'll be deported if they go to a clinic, and the Times is wrong about the price of an abortion being cheap for many women."

After the Times piece came out, the national media followed with articles saying that misoprostol use among US Latinas is common, increasing, risky and illegal. As a result, Gonzalez-Rojas said, "there could be legislative action" to further outlaw or crack down on self-induced abortions, "including to criminalize women's use of misoprostol" in the name of protecting them. "We do have concerns."

Dr. Anne Davis, an OBGYN and medical director of New York City-based Physicians for Reproductive Health and Choice, has more fundamental objections. An OBGYN with a practice in Upper Manhattan that includes many low-income, Latina patients, Davis said she felt the Times article "was trying to do a bit of an ‘us versus them' thing," implying that poor, immigrant women have completely different attitudes than Times readers do. "There are plenty of people in Upper Manhattan who are having abortions by accessing the system; they are the overwhelming majority of the community," she said. "Misoprostol is a complex subject. I have seen many women who've used it. And I have seen serious complications. But misoprostol is absolutely appropriate for abortion if there's no other option. The problem is, there is a medical discussion and a sociological discussion about what's right for women." When either conversation intrudes on the other without careful research, thought, and language, David says, needless controversy results. The message from any discussion of misoprostol, she says, is that "We need to do better for women and make sure all of them get good reproductive medical care as soon as they need it. That's the most important thing."
Anyone who brings up FGM in the discussion gets extra credit.


Amazing show of solidarity

So it looks like Republicans in the Senate just pulled the plug on the American auto industry. Unless Bush steps in and uses TARP funds to keep GM afloat the left owns the country for the next eight years, but at a terrible price. Billions in payments to suppliers are coming due in next few weeks, so not only will GM have to file for bankruptcy, so will many of their suppliers. Chrysler will go next. And, as soon as suppliers start going under, Ford will go down amplifying the effect. The transplants will have to layoff thousands as well, since they depend on the same suppliers. The domino effect begins now, and it's going to go fast. As I've mentioned before, just in time production where suppliers deliver precise amounts of product directly to assembly workers on the line (in place at all auto manufacturers) means there is no wiggle room for error. Just in time is a high risk, high reward strategy. One key supplier goes under and everything shuts down.

I am, however, extremely glad that the UAW didn't cave to Republican demands that they sell out the million+ retirees, which would have been the only way to bring wages in line at transplant and Big Three plants. It would have set precedent for all future concession discussions, selling out all manufacturing workers. So, two amazing shows of solidarity this week: UAW shows solidarity with all manufacturing workers by refusing to accept Republican demands for immediate concessions, and Republic Windows and Doors workers win their sit-down strike/plant occupation as Bank of America and JPMorgan agree to ensure they get their due severance. Together with this delicious morsel: anger at banks increasing, and Obama's vocal support for Republic workers, means a long eight years for the right.


Blago goes down - sniff.

Big news today that Blago was arrested for trying to sell his "golden" authority to appoint Obama's replacement in the Senate. He also allegedly refused a lifeline to the Tribune Co. unless they fired critical editorial staff. At least the first allegation is caught on tape. None of the allegations are surprising--haven't heard a kind word said about him since he was first elected. But, is he really that stupid? And is he to blame for the Tribune Co. bankruptcy?

The earliest comments on Chi Trib today were of the vein: If he were a Republican, everyone would be up in arms about his arrest. Since he's a Democrat, no one says anything. Whatever. But one of the response comments claimed the arrest was payback for ordering the state not to do business with Bank of America for their role in the sudden closure of Republic Windows and Doors. The Republic Windows and Doors workers are staging a sit-in/plant occupation since the plant did not give fair notice and is not compensating workers as required by law. Details can be found at pilsenprole. I certainly hope the state of IL continues to refuse to do business with Bank of America, but this video from yesterday shows a pretty cynical ploy on the governor's behalf to tie his fortune to that of workers battered by Wall Street. Would he have been there if it didn't provide the perfect photo op for his "fight the power" attempt to influence public opinion? Was it at all successful? Just a thought.


The myth of the $70/hour auto worker

Keith Olbermann, at 1:42, names Andrew Ross Sorkin of NYT Worst Person in the World for inventing the myth of the $70/hour auto-worker. Short version: add all Big Three liabilities, including retiree pensions and benefits, current benefits including health care, and actual wages, then divide by current worker/hours. Ta Da!

Eric Boehlert at MediaMatters also deconstructs the myth, excerpted here, at length:
It's been one week since New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote that at General Motors, "the average worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs."

The nugget was part of a column in which Sorkin argued that the government should not bail out the ailing Big Three automakers and that they instead should embrace bankruptcy.

Sorkin's point was that labor costs were out of control -- workers enjoyed "gold-plated benefits" -- and that during bankruptcy, the auto companies could address those runaway wages.

As I mentioned, it's been one week since the column appeared, which seems like plenty of time for Sorkin and the Times to correct the misleading $70-an-hour claim. But to date, there's been no clarification from the newspaper of record or from Sorkin himself.

And he isn't alone. Appearing on NPR last week, Times senior business correspondent Micheline Maynard told listeners that the "hourly wage" of Detroit's union autoworkers had been driven up "towards $80 an hour."

Somebody at the Times needs to clarify the record, because the average United Auto Workers member is not paid $80 an hour. Or even $70. Not even close. Yet (thanks to the Times?) the issue has become a central talking point in the unfolding national debate about the future of America's automotive industry.

Indeed, that $70-an-hour meme, actively promoted by the anti-union conservative media, has ricocheted around the traditional press as well as the political landscape, where it was picked up by congressional critics last week during hearings and used to argue against aiding GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
. . .
Question: Is the press just being sloppy on this issue of supposedly pampered autoworkers, or are there other elements in play? Because honestly, I've had trouble escaping the not-very-subtle elitist, get-a-load-of-this tone that has run through the media's misinformation on the topic; i.e., "These autoworkers get paid that?!"

Answer: No, they don't, so please stop reporting it. (And why has the press been so reticent to note that Big Three autoworkers recently made significant concessions to management?)

And it's funny, because I don't remember hearing much coverage in the press about AIG workers' six- and seven-figure salaries when the U.S. government announced it was bailing out the insurance giant. And I haven't seen or heard a single press reference to the annual salaries pocketed by Citigroup employees, even though the government has moved in quickly to bail the banking giant out of a hole its executives dug.

As Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) pointed out during congressional hearings last week, "There is apparently a cultural condition that's more ready to accept aid to a white-collar industry than the blue-collar industry, and that has to be confronted."

That cultural condition seems to extend to, and be embraced by, today's white-collar press corps.

Make no mistake: The $70-an-hour claim represents a classic case of conservative misinformation. It's also a very dangerous one. The falsehood about autoworkers is being spread at a crucial time, when a make-or-break public debate is taking place, a debate that could affect millions of American workers.
. . .
What that $70 figure (or $73) actually represents is what it costs GM in total labor expenses, on an hourly basis, to manufacture autos.

Do you see that there's a big distinction? General Motors doles out $70 an hour in overall labor costs to manufacture cars. But individual employees don't get paid $70 an hour to make cars. (The discrepancy between costs and wages is explained by additional benefits, pension fees, and health-care costs GM pays out to current and retired employees.)

Simply put, GM's labor costs are not synonymous with hourly wages earned by UAW employees. Many in the press have casually used the two interchangeably. But they're not.

Felix Salmon at Portfolio did perhaps the best job explaining the misinformation at play:

The average GM assembly-line worker makes about $28 per hour in wages, and I can assure you that GM is not paying $42 an hour in health insurance and pension plan contributions. Rather, the $70 per hour figure (or $73 an hour, or whatever) is a ridiculous number obtained by adding up GM's total labor, health, and pension costs, and then dividing by the total number of hours worked. In other words, it includes all the healthcare and retirement costs of retired workers. [emphasis in original]

Indeed, according to this Associated Press report, a chunk of GM's $70-an-hour labor costs goes toward paying current retirees' pensions and health-care coverage. In other words, that's money that's not going to end up in the pocket of any autoworker when he cashes his paycheck this week. That's money GM has to set aside in order to pay off costs associated with workers already in retirement. That money has absolutely nothing to do with calculating the hourly wage of a full-time UAW employee today. None.

So, no, UAW workers don't make $70 an hour even if you factor in benefits, because a portion of those benefits are going to people who retired years ago.

Nonetheless, that formulation (wages+benefits=$70 an hour) has been widespread. That's what Sorkin did in his Times column: "The average worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs."

Not only is that inaccurate, but there's also a problem in terms of perception. It's true that autoworkers don't earn annual salaries and that when calculating hourly wages, the cost of benefits paid directly to the worker can be included. But some media outlets have been so casual and sloppy in presenting the facts that news consumers are left with the false impression that GM workers pocket $70 an hour. That's not true, and it seems some in the press are doing very little to correct that misperception.

For instance, BusinessWeek also used the same convoluted language: "Older UAW members make more than $70 per hour in combined wages and benefits." Dallas Morning News columnist Cheryl Hall did it, too: "GM's average worker makes $78.21 an hour in wages and benefits."

Why does the press use that convoluted equation when calculating how much autoworkers supposedly make?

I have a hunch it's because that $70 an hour is a real eyepopper. It makes a very deep impression within the space of just a few words.
. . .
How much money GM's workers make is certainly relevant when discussing the unfolding automotive crisis. But the press should stop confusing the issue, and tainting the perceptions of news consumers, by casually suggesting that $70-an-hour labor costs represent what UAW workers pocket every 60 minutes.

That's misleading and dishonest.

And that's why it's still not too late for Sorkin and the Times to correct the record.


Help Stop Execution of Farzad Kamangar

This morning I received news that jailed Iranian teacher union activist
I received email from Labourstart today calling on people to help stop execution of Farzad Kamangar. Labourstart's servers appear slammed, so I found Education International also has a page to support Farzad K. and added widget at top right of page. Come on! It will take under a minute to write in your name and e-mail and hit the send button.
Email from Labourstart:

Farzad Kamangar may be hanged within the next few hours.

According to the Education International, he has been taken from his
cell in Tehran's Evin prison in preparation for execution. The guards
have told him he is about to be executed and they are making fun of him,
calling him a martyr.

We need your help and we need it right now.

Send off your message to the Iranian president:


Pass on the this message to everyone you know who might support this

We may only have a few hours left.

I know that I can count on your help. Thank you.