Olympic Sex Abuse, Ethical Eating?, Lying About Climate Change, Kids' Coach Cheats, Missouri Oks Kids Carrying Guns, Players Sue NFL, and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
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Sports: Please Make This Stop
Snowboarders allege sex abuse by coach in latest horrifying Olympic lawsuit (USA Today)
SUMMARY: “In an increasingly common occurrence that has become appallingly familiar to most Americans, another story of alleged sexual abuse in the Olympic world has resurfaced in the form of a lawsuit filed by three athletes who once represented this nation on the world stage, including at the Olympic Games.
“Snowboarders Rosey Fletcher, Erin O’Malley and Callan Chythlook-Sifsof are suing former national team coach Peter Foley, as well as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard federation and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, alleging numerous instances of sexual abuse by Foley that they say were covered up by the two organizations.
“The alleged abuse, which was brought to light by Instagram posts by one of the athletes and by ESPN last year, occurred when they were competing from the 1990s into the first years of the 21st century. Foley was fired last March and is temporarily suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport as it investigates the case.”
MY TAKE: The only good that can come out of these endless stories about the abuse of female athletes by those they trusted is that we become even more diligent about who we let coach our children—at any level. But when I look at all the stories I’ve already reported on—as well as today’s stories—I worry that we’ve placed our need for entertainment above the well-being of our athletes—at any age.
ALSO READ: “Gymnastics still hasn’t fully reckoned with its abuse problem” (Vox); “290 coaches, officials tied to U.S. Olympic groups have been accused of sexual misconduct since 1982” (Chicago Tribune); “3 new misconduct cases in women’s soccer emerge after release of abuse report, US Soccer president says” (CNN)
RELATED ARTICLE: “Virginia basketball coach fired for impersonating 13-year-old in game” (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “A 22-year-old Virginia basketball coach has been fired after being accused of attempting to pass herself off as one of her 13-year-old players during a game.
“According to Norfolk’s WAVY TV 10, when one of the members of the Churchland junior varsity girls basketball team in Portsmouth was out of town earlier this month, Arlisha Boykins stepped in and impersonated the absent player in their game against Nansemond.
“…Boykins, who was an assistant coach on the team, is no longer an employee of Portsmouth Public Schools… [T]wo other employees have been dismissed, including the head coach of the varsity team who had allegedly been ‘encouraging [Boykins’] behavior’ during the game.
“…Members of the Churchland team and their parents have decided to end their season early since the incident became public.”
MY TAKE: Yes, I’m outraged by the coaches’ lack of integrity, sportsmanship, and moral leadership. But maybe worse, I’m shocked that a school hired people to coach who are this stupid. How did they not know they would be caught? Kids talk. Also, how did the parents watching not recognize the coach playing? It’s a total collapse of intelligence and ethics. Week after week I report on these sports stories that feature abusive, cheating, and immoral coaches that we let guide our children. Unless parents and the institutions that hire them get more active in watching over them, this corruption will continue.
Food: Soon We Will All Be Vegetarians
I tried lab-grown meat made from animals without killing them – is this the future of ethical eating? (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “…‘A harmless sample from one pig can produce many millions of tons of product [known as cultivated meat] without requiring us to raise and slaughter an animal each time,’ said Eitan Fischer, founder of Mission Barns, a maker of cultivated meat that invited the Guardian to a taste test in an upscale Manhattan hotel. The meatball was succulent, the bacon was crisp and, even to a vegetarian, both had the undeniable quality of meat.
“‘We got that sample from Dawn and she’s living freely and happily,’ said Fischer, whose company has identified a ‘donor’ cow, chicken and duck for future cultivated meat ranges. ‘This industry will absolutely be transformative to our food system as people move toward consuming these types of products.’
“Mission Barns is one of about 80 startup companies based around San Francisco’s Bay Area now jostling for position after one of their number, Upside Foods, became the first in the country to be granted approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November, a key step in allowing the sale of cultivated meat in the US. On Monday, Upside said it aims to start selling its cultivated chicken in restaurants this year, and in grocery stores by 2028.”
MY TAKE: This may be one of the most important stories you read this year because it has the potential of literally changing the world for the better. I’ll get to the practical reasons in a moment—and they are immensely compelling. But first, on the personal level of just causing less pain to other creatures, I hope it’s a massive success. I understand the “cycle of life” argument about all of us being born to eat something else, whether it’s an animal or vegetation. And I’m also aware that eating vegetables is not as ethically pure as we’d like to believe: we’re still eating something alive that procreates, communicates, and may feel pain (though not in the way we do). Nevertheless, we have to eat to survive, but we don’t have to consume all of our resources that may result in ending our survival. If there’s a way to be just a bit more humane—and smart—let’s embrace it.
Some practical points: We will use less land, less food to feed animals, less water, and cut harmful emissions. “The raising and slaughter of livestock is responsible for more than half of the greenhouse gas pollution of the entire food sector, which in itself is estimated to contribute around a third of total global emissions. …[C]ultivated meat…can cut emissions by around 17% for chicken and up to 92% for beef, the meat that weighs heaviest on the planet, GFI’s research has found.”
Americans are the carnivores of the world: We are the world’s largest producer of beef and chicken and the second largest producer of pork. Each American eats more than 260 lbs. of meat each year—and rising. We love to thump our chests and proclaim our affinity for meat and that you’ll have to pry that barbecued rib from our cold, dead hands. But it makes a lot more sense that if we can get the same taste and texture from something that doesn’t kill and doesn’t use an obscene amount of natural resources, then we’re all better off.
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Kareem’s Video Break
Let’s take a moment to wash ourselves clean of the previous stories of greed, stupidity, and selfishness to enjoy what makes life worth living: the love of others.
Environment: Climate Change Is Gonna Come
Nothing turns people off quicker than mentioning “the environment” or “climate change.” Those people who are passionate in bring about awareness or who are actively fighting to prevent a looming global environmental disaster are often characterized as too passionate. One reason is that they keep telling us something we don’t want to hear, even though all the evidence indicates they’re right. Another reason is that they make us feel bad for doing very little to change things. It’s like we’re in a lifeboat that is filling up with water and they’re franticly bailing while we sit ass-deep in the rising water making fun of them.
Maybe these stories will convince us to pick up a bucket and start bailing.
“Shell’s actual spending on renewables is fraction of what it claims, group alleges” (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Shell has misleadingly overstated how much it is spending on renewable energy and should be investigated and potentially fined by the US financial regulator, according to a non-profit group which has lodged a complaint against the oil giant.
“…Shell’s most recent annual report in which it stated 12% of its capital expenditure was funneled into a division called Renewables and Energy Solutions in 2021. The division’s webpage, which is adorned with pictures of wind turbines and solar panels, says it is working to invest in ‘wind, solar, electric vehicle charging, hydrogen, and more’.
“However, Global Witness, the activist group that has lodged the new complaint with the SEC, argues that just 1.5% of Shell’s capital expenditure has been used to develop genuine renewables, such as wind and solar, with much of the rest of the division’s resources devoted to gas, which is a fossil fuel.”
Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago (Scientific American)
SUMMARY: “Exxon was aware of climate change, as early as 1977, 11 years before it became a public issue, according to a recent investigation from InsideClimate News. This knowledge did not prevent the company (now ExxonMobil and the world’s largest oil and gas company) from spending decades refusing to publicly acknowledge climate change and even promoting climate misinformation—an approach many have likened to the lies spread by the tobacco industry regarding the health risks of smoking. Both industries were conscious that their products wouldn’t stay profitable once the world understood the risks, so much so that they used the same consultants to develop strategies on how to communicate with the public.”
MY TAKE: Looking at these two articles together can feel overwhelming. The level of corruption, lying, and middle-finger to the public’s economic and environmental welfare should be shocking. What’s really shocking, though, is that isn’t.
In 1977, James Black, the lead scientist of the study, told Exxon, “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.” A year later he accurately predicted that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two or three degrees.
Exxon had the information 45 years ago and, had they acted then, might have left a much better, healthy, and hopeful world for their children—and ours. Instead, they chose to bury the study and begin a campaign of misinformation and attacks on any who warned the public about the problem. They added to their fortunes.
And what do they do with their fortunes? In 2020, they contributed $63.6 million to the Republican Party (compared to $12.3 million to the Democrats). In exchange, they get GOP politicians—like good employees—fighting to deregulate industries, lower business taxes, and deny climate change.
US renewable energy farms outstrip 99% of coal plants economically – study (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Coal in the US is now being economically outmatched by renewables to such an extent that it’s more expensive for 99% of the country’s coal-fired power plants to keep running than it is to build an entirely new solar or wind energy operation nearby, a new analysis has found.
“The plummeting cost of renewable energy, which has been supercharged by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, means that it is cheaper to build an array of solar panels or a cluster of new wind turbines and connect them to the grid than it is to keep operating all of the 210 coal plants in the contiguous US, bar one, according to the study.”
“…James Stock, an economist at Harvard University…said…that coal is no longer economically competitive.
“We can’t shutter all these plants tomorrow, we need to do it in an orderly fashion to support grid reliability but we should be able to do it in fairly fast order,” he said. “Coal has been on a natural decline due to economics and those economics are going to continue, this is a transition that’s just going to happen.”
MY TAKE: I can fully understand—and sympathize—with those workers in the coal industry fighting for their survival. But the sad truth is that the country is also fighting for economic survival, trying to provide reliable energy sources that are cheap enough for people to afford and that are cleaner to the environment. A megawatt hour produced by new solar technology costs about $24, while that produced by coal plants costs $36. With less pollution.
Climate denial campaign goes retro with new textbook (Grist)
SUMMARY: “After decades of intense public debate and misinformation campaigns, nearly three-quarters of Americans now accept that climate change is happening; not only that, more than half understand it is caused by human activity. This shift has forced fossil fuel companies — and the organizations they fund — to alter their tactics to avoid regulation. Where they once denied climate science outright, companies now engage in ‘discourses of delay,’ publicly accepting the science but working to stall climate policy by redirecting blame, pushing non-transformative solutions, and emphasizing the downsides of taking action.
“But the Heartland Institute, the infamous, free-market think tank that has operated at the center of climate misinformation for decades, is still hanging onto the old ways as it pushes on with its attempt to discredit established climate science.
“This week, the organization sent copies of its book Climate at a Glance to 8,000 middle and high school teachers across the country, in order to provide them, it says, with ‘the data to show the earth is not experiencing a climate crisis.’”
MY TAKE: How does a textbook get away with misinformation when almost all of the world’s leading experts agree there is global climate change caused by humans? You start with the knowledge that none of us want to believe things are that bad, so when someone offers an alternative that makes us feel better, we leap at it like a floating beam of wood as the Titanic sinks.
“‘They typically give a straightforward observation or statistic that’s not in dispute and add some commentary that’s wildly exaggerated or a completely false interpretation,’ said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the non-profit National Center for Science Education, which promotes and defends accurate science education. A section on crop production, for example, notes how a longer growing season improves yields; it does not acknowledge the net-negative impact of a hotter, drier climate and extreme precipitation on agriculture in the long term. A page on sea-level rise says ‘levels have been rising at a fairly steady pace since at least the mid-1800s,’ but the rate has actually more than doubled in the 2000s when compared to most of the 20th century.”
Why produce such a misleading textbook? Look at the people funding it: Heartland doesn’t reveal its major supporters, but it receives millions of dollars from conservative foundations and philanthropies for whom climate change denial is good for business. Lying to Americans for money isn’t exactly patriotic.
Kareem’s Short Takes
Missouri votes against banning children from carrying guns in public (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “The Republican-led Missouri state house on Wednesday voted against banning minors from openly carrying firearms on public land without adult supervision.
“The proposal to ban children from carrying guns without adult supervision in public failed by a 104-39 vote. Only one Republican voted in support.
“…‘While it may be intuitive that a 14-year-old has no legitimate purpose, it doesn’t actually mean that they’re going to harm someone. We don’t know that yet,’ said Tony Lovasco, a Republican from the St Louis suburb of O’Fallon.”
MY TAKE: When I read that previous statement my brain actually hurt from the convoluted logic and sheer lack of concern for the people of Missouri, especially the children. No, it doesn’t mean that a 14-year-old carrying a weapon will harm someone, but the chances are much greater than if that same child wasn’t carrying a gun.
Children’s brains don’t work the same as adults. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, “The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so…Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”
So, the downside is Missouri is okay with handing a child—whose brain is not yet developed enough to respond with good judgement—a loaded weapon to carry in public. The child might deliberately or accidentally hurt someone, even themselves.
What’s the upside? Only that Republican politicians can signal to voters that they support guns. Missouri, I know we get the politicians we deserve, but don’t your children deserve better than someone willing to risk their lives to grub a few votes?
Former NFL players sue over disability claims, accuse plan of ‘disturbing’ denials (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “Ten retired NFL players, including former star running back Willis McGahee, sued the league’s benefits plan, its board of trustees and Commissioner Roger Goodell in federal court Thursday, accusing them of displaying “an overly aggressive and disturbing pattern of erroneous and arbitrary benefits denials, bad faith contract misinterpretations, and other unscrupulous tactics” to wrongfully deny disability claims.
“In an effort to suppress disability costs, the lawsuit alleges, the NFL plan — which is jointly managed and funded by the league and the NFL Players Association — routinely steers players to financially biased doctors, some of whom collect hundreds of thousands per year from the plan, and who fail at exceedingly high rates to find players are disabled."
“When players appeal denied disability claims, the lawsuit asserts, the plan’s board has ignored federal law requiring them to fairly review all evidence, and instead overly relies on the opinions of these biased doctors, as well as inaccurate case summaries prepared by the plan’s law firm.”
MY TAKE: The NFL is representative of the worst of business practices: inherent racism in hiring coaches, malicious neglect in protecting players from repeated serious injuries, and now cheating them out disability pay.
In two cases, federal judges ordered the NFL plan to pay players, in one case ruling the NFL’s explanation for denying his claim “defies all reason and common sense.” In the other case, the judge ruled the NFL plan “cherry-picked” evidence to avoid payment.
The NFL turns players into stars because that’s what sells tickets, but clearly the players are as expendable and replaceable as worn shoulder pads. There is no compassion for the men who shattered their bones, tore their muscles, and rattled their brains so the owners could fly around in their private jets. There’s always so much faux support when someone like Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapses on the field with cardiac arrest. But not so much when they’re no longer entertaining us on TV and dealing with the debilitating pain that entertainment cost them.
We can only hope the fans won’t treat these players as callously as the NFL and support them in demanding fair compensation.
ALSO READ: “How the NFL avoids paying disabled players — with the union’s help” (The Washington Post)
Music: Genius Songwriter
Burt Bacharach, Whose Buoyant Pop Confections Lifted the ’60s, Dies at 94
There were two soundtracks to the ‘60s and ‘70s. There was the rock/folk/R&B catalogue that articulated youthful discontent with the way the conventional world. Those songs were energetic and defiant, soulful and tribal.
Composer Burt Bacharach, who got his start sneaking into jazz clubs, and lyricist Hal David wrote many of the songs that were part of the alternate soundtrack to those times. They were witty and playful, emotional and heartfelt. Ironically, many of us growing up in those decades embraced both soundtracks. They also wrote one of the best songs for a movie (the title song from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) as well as one of the most popular “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).
The list of hits is enormous, but I’ve always especially loved their collaboration with Dionne Warwick, who Bacharach met when she was a back-up singer and instantly made her a star. The video I chose is one of his mellower songs rather than some of his sprightlier creations (“I Say a Little Prayer for You,” ““Do You Know the Way to San Jose”) because I like the straightforward yet powerful lyrics, especially at the end when she sings, “When I climb the stairs and turn the key/Oh, please be there, still in love with me.”
One wonders if the Missouri law makers who thought teen agers should be able to openly carry guns without adult supervision are themselves suffering from immature brain development! Clearly teen agers are not the only ones lacking full capacity to make rational decisions! And one also wonders why voters would continue to vote for these people to represent them!
I wonder if all the crazy republican book-banners will be banning the Heartland Institute’s “Climate at a Glance”?