Monday, October 30, 2006

Arthur Andersen needs our help!

The poor and mistreated in this country have a new public face: Arthur Andersen. The giant accounting firm, which was convicted of obstructing justice in 2002 for its role in the Enron fraud, now needs our help. Yes, we can end corporate losses in this country! Doesn’'t quite have the same impact as “I have a dream” or “give peace a chance,” does it? Cut me some slack, it’s hard to sing the praises of a company that helped Enron screw investors and employees out of millions.

Large corporations already have huge legal and financial advantages in this country, most of which stem from our comically lax rules about campaign finance. Even if you ignore the worst instances of out-and-out bribery, it still follows that the biggest campaign contributors get the most face time with lawmakers. As a consequence, there are tax loopholes and fat government contracts aplenty for the big-money players of the Beltway.

After the egregious scandals of a few years ago, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley act, which was aimed at limiting corporate skullduggery. It’d be wonderful if Congress could do stuff like this when it’s not an absolute political necessity.  Then again, it’d be wonderful if bacon didn’t make you fat.

The resumption of business as usual, though, appears to be imminent. The Supreme Court threw out Andersen’s conviction last year. Several corporate honchos whined to the New York Times that tough liability laws like Sarbanes-Oxley are pushing away investors through “excessive costs."

What garbage. The only real costs of Sarbanes-Oxley and other checks on corporate wrongdoing are paid by companies that break the law. The government’s job is not to make life easy for corporate elites that have shown, time and again, that they will not behave responsibly unless they are forced to.

Federal regulations aren’t the problem. It’s crooked corporations that don’t want to play by the rules.

Jon Gold
DI columnist

Too interactive?

In an interesting move for a multimedia power play, the X-Box franchise has decided to make a movie out of the multi-million hits Halo and Halo 2. The decision was made to assign Peter Jackson as the producer while Fox and Universal would fund the project. However, after the Microsoft franchise refused to lower the budget from $200 million to the previously projected $135 million both Fox and Universal withdrew support.

Now what is more interesting than the financial woes brought upon Microsoft with its two largest supporters falling out of line is the possibility of a reversal of the spawning route for videogames. The original paradigm goes from movie to videogame to possibly more movies and videogames. Take Bond films for example. First there was James Bond: Golden Eye the movie then 007: Golden Eye, the game(s). Producers sense a change in the average moviegoer and have pounced. No longer satisfied by inaccessible plots and repetitive characterizations the public desires something they can tap into and engage if not in the movie theatre, then outside it in the comfort of their own living space. Fully interactive media is no longer going to be reserved for those with a box and set of controllers but will begin to bleed into other forms of media as well. In the future we will be the creators of our own news, movies, music and television shows, but is it for the best?

John LaRue
DI columnist

Monday, October 23, 2006

Respect the game

Like most people, I was one part horrified, one part shocked, one part excited, and one part stunned by the extreme violence appearing in college football a couple weeks ago. The Saturday night foot-brawl that took place between the University of Miami's and Florida International University's football teams was a reprehensible act that proved to the whole world that they were nothing but a bunch of thugs who'd just as soon use their helmets to hit their competitors than put them on their heads.

There was immediate fallout in the days following the melee. In total, 31 players were suspended. Miami coach Larry Coker suspended only one player indefinitely: safety Anthony Reddick — the player everyone saw run across the field and use his helmet as a weapon against an FIU player. FIU has seen fit to dismiss three of their student athletes and "indefinitely suspend" the other 16 players involved in the fracas.

It appears FIU, the smaller and lesser known school in this situation realizes the correct course of action, unlike Miami, which apparently still doesn't believe it needs to take full responsibility for its player's actions.

The University of Miami is not what the great game of college football is about, and unless sufficient changes are made to the program, it will most likely continue to be an abomination, a disgrace to real schools with real student-athletes who compete fairly and aren't well known for incomprehensible displays of audacious violence.

Eric Kochneff
DI columnist

Monday, October 16, 2006

British ripple

The first images that come to mind when I think of the British Army are guys in berets and stories about tank crews taking a break from kicking the Wehrmacht’s ass to brew tea. What this proves, beyond the warping effect of reading a lot of WWII history as a kid, I don’t know. But their current leadership certainly seems to have been taking its vitamins. 

General Sir Richard Dannatt (and what a title he has!) came out with a public statement last week in which he roundly denounced his governments’ involvement in the Iraq war. According to the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, the General said there was a “direct link” between the war and domestic terrorism in Great Britain.   

This caused, to put it mildly, a bit of a stir. The British press jumped all over General Dannatt’s startlingly forthright comments, and Tony Blair’s embattled government was forced, once again, into difficult political terrain.   

Why haven’t the General’s harsh words made much of a ripple on this side of the pond? Well, primarily, because they were made on the other side of the pond, and Sir Richard wasn’t, for the most part, talking about us. But just think: If a senior American military commander said something similar, it would by absolutely incendiary. The political climates of both the US and UK are, broadly, much the same at the moment. The war is hugely unpopular, frustration with the apparent lack of progress has swelled enormously, and, as we can see from this incident, neither government would be able to respond to criticism from the military the way it responds to other detractors.   

For the Bush Administration, that would be the final nail in the Iraq war’s coffin: outspoken criticism from the one source immune to the usual, more-patriotic-than-thou tactics.

DI columnist Jon Gold

Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Congressmen

Or for that matter politicians in general. The recent scandal involving now former Congressman Foley has prompted some to renew their warnings about the internet, technology savvy youths, and the necessity of parents to monitor what their children are doing with email, but is this really the problem? Does the use of email represent such a threat? Given the volatile nature of politics, wouldn't it be better if parents protected their children from politicians?

Blaming the means of communication tends to be motivated by fear of technology one does not understand. Certainly most parents don't check to see that their children are using the phone to have lewd conversations with congressmen, or exchanging explicit correspondence with a gubernatorial candidate. Granted the notion that your child may be offered a magic pill that will cure their affliction of erectile dysfunction or an unbelievably low introductory rate loan to help pay off their bills with 5.5 percent APR for the first six months is unsettling, but it's hardly as sinister as the behavior associated politicians. The ease with which one may lampoon communications media makes it an appealing target, but the devious behavior associated with politicians makes them a far greater threat.

Why would any parent allow their child around such unscrupulous individuals in the first place? We all know the vices and immoral behavior that surrounds politicians, blowjobs, marital infidelity, drugs, drunk driving, bribery, cronyism, kickbacks, suicides, ethics violations, and all the lying that goes on. The harsh reality of the political world is a dizzying orgy of depravity. Do we really want our children to be faced with such adult situations, depriving them of the innocence of youth? We need to go after the root of the problem, and not the means by which politicians try to ensnare your children.

DI editorial writer Joe Dunkle

Playing with humor

Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" character from "The Ali G Show" took his characteristic deflation of pompous windbags to a new level this week, when he hosted a "press conference" outside of the Kazakhstani embassy in Washington Sept. 28. The conference was staged as a response to the "disgusting fabrications" made by Kazakhstan's press secretary in an earlier conference. Among them, that "we do NOT drink fermented horse urine, give death penalty for baking bagels, or export over 300 tons of human pubis per year."

While Borat has managed to provoke outrage in the Kazakhstani government, the citizens of Kazakhstan apparently could care less. Meanwhile, the government of the former Soviet bloc country has attempted several times to correct the misinformation about Kazakhstan propagated by Borat on the "Ali G Show" and, starting in November, by Borat's new movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." As prices soar, however, it seems the unknown but oil-rich country is positioning itself as a "destination," and is actively trying to promote its prestige, political influence, and economic development.

Seen by the Bush administration as a rare, pro-western version of other predominantly Muslim countries with substantial oil reserves, the Kazakhs are being courted despite their questionable record on democracy and human rights, illustrated most recently by the government's expulsion of two pro-democracy NGOs based in the U.S. It seems that the humor of Borat, which is predicated on his status as a "generic foreign guy," could be subject to some qualification in the future.

DI columnist Tyler Bleau

The lesser of two evils

The way political races are conducted and discussed in this country makes me absolutely crazy. On some days, like when midterms and papers loom in my immediate future, it can be hard to tell the difference. Nevertheless, every time I hear some grinning, facile apology for a public servant serving up dumbed-down pabulum to an uncritical media and an indifferent public, I get the urge to throw things. 

Take Jim Nussle. (Please.)  He is, with the possible exception of flesh-eating bacteria, the worst thing that could infest the governor’s office in Des Moines. And he’s looking more and more likely. Consider: This is a guy who voted to channel money away from our cash-strapped public schools in order to fund vouchers. Vouchers, long the preferred Trojan horse for the anti-education zealots, are supposed to provide “choice” for parents fed up with under-funded and underperforming public schools, to the tune of around $2,500 per student. The problem is, the average non-religious private school charges over twice that for elementary students, and roughly five times as much for secondary students. Religious schools, of course, have no business accepting federal funding for any reason whatsoever. Does it seem fair to have every taxpayer in the state picking up the bill for kids to learn Catholicism? Or any religion? Does God require government subsidies? 

Or how about Nussle on the environment? He voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, voted against government funding for alternative fuels (just as well: with his education record, nobody will be smart enough to discover them anyway), voted to cut funding for public transportation, and, at every turn, voted against emissions standards. Yes, folks, people getting sick and dying from environmental pollution appear to be less important than big companies making bigger profits. 

Chet Culver, in all fairness, isn’t much to write home about either. He doesn’t have any real attractiveness as a candidate except for the fact he’s not Jim Nussle. It’s a disaster in the making for the state of Iowa.

DI columnist Jon Gold

Monday, October 9, 2006

Light rail to the future

Public transportation is a must for any city with forward thinking. Cities that think even further into the future have to consider their connectivity with other urban areas. How does Iowa City fit into a network including other cities?

Football weekends give an obscure but worthwhile view into Iowa City's transportation system. The highlight of this view, for me, is the train that runs from the Coralville area to a stop close to the stadium. While it is a novel and symbolic fixture of the past, it could be a prediction of what is coming in the future. With gas prices rising even higher and the average citizen not wanting to drop $30,000 on a hybrid, different ways of getting from A to B are needed.

Iowa City's public transportation system consists predominately of the public bus system alongside the university's own lines. Iowa City should continue on this trend by including train lines from other cities during heavy traffic times like game days. This option would be practical and lucrative for those who commute to and from cities like Cedar Rapids. Rather than continuing to build roads and increase the level of infrastructure, it is best we get a jump-start on promoting future forms of transportation. I'm not suggesting we go off and buy a monorail but I'm predicting a light rail from the downtown area to an area like Coralville would be immensely popular.

John LaRue
DI columnist

First woman elected president of Chile

Last March, Michelle Bachelet was elected president of Chile, becoming the first woman to hold that office. has since listed her as the seventeenth most powerful woman in the world. Bachelet’s appearance last week on ABC’s “The View” has largely flown under the radar, as South American relations are overshadowed in the daily news by more urgent security threats elsewhere. As a highly non-traditional candidate, her path to the highest public office in Chile deserves some consideration.

Bachelet is a socialist, a single mother, and a pediatrician in a traditionally conservative, Catholic society. During the rein of Pinochet, she was incarcerated and tortured along with her mother. Chile is often viewed as an example of successful implementation of a free market economy in Latin America. Although Bachelet’s socialism isn’t what the United States would like to see, her credentials are nonetheless impressive.

Some observers question what Bachelet’s election indicates for the future of Chile. In some ways, her election may be seen as a break from past social conservativism towards a more liberal orientation. Bachelet certainly has many challenges ahead of her in order to implement the reforms on which she campaigned. As her term progresses, it will be interesting to measure her impact on Chile and all of South America.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Toughen up NFL

Millions of NFL fans and Sportscenter viewers witnessed one of the worst episodes of in-game NFL football hooligan violence when Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth literally stomped the forehead of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode after a Cowboys touchdown early in the third quarter of the Oct. 1 Titans-Cowboys game.

Haynesworth was ejected, and afterward appeared apologetic and regretful. Monday, the NFL suspended Haynesworth for five games without pay. In a statement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, "There is absolutely no place in the game, or anywhere else, for the inexcusable action that occurred in yesterday's (Sunday) Titans/Cowboys game."

So why not send a real message to the league? As it is now, five games is the longest a player has ever been suspended in the NFL for an on-field action, but is that really enough? If Haynesworth's cleat aim would have been off, he could have missed and stomped on Gurode's eyes, potentially blinding him and ending his entire career.

In the NHL, Todd Bertuzi of the Vancouver Canucks was suspended for the entire season, including the playoffs, after
blindsiding Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore in March, 2004. Bertuzi was charged with assault by Vancouver, authorities, and is still involved in a multi-million dollar civil suit. Moore's hockey career is over, and he is suing for nearly $20 million in lost wages and other punitive damages. In that instance, the NHL acted appropriately and sent a huge
message to the rest of the league: act like a thug and you'll be treated like one.

The NFL needs to suspend Haynesworth for the rest of the season to really prove that there is no place for this extreme behavior and, more especially, to prevent this type of act from happening again.
Eric Kochneff
DI columnist

Monday, October 2, 2006

Digital deviance

Digital rights management may start to affect a group of individuals who are going to start to care. 

MySpace users may have to start owning up to the music and other copyrighted digital content they post on their personalized web pages. The ad-supported website, home to over 50 million users, is free for all and is under pressure from record labels to pay for content. When a user signs up they are allowed to post a song or multiple songs on their page to make it more "you." And it is precisely this "you" that could have the popular website seeing red. 

Digital content is unique in that when it is distributed, the content grows exponentially — and since it is almost impossible to shut down peer to peer networks, the only other option is digitally finger printing content which is already implemented by online music stores like iTunes. But who wants to be told what to do with their music? The convenience of the digital world will have to be met by relaxed copy right laws, increased security, or both — then meet somewhere in the middle. Hopefully the army of MySpacers will recognize the seriousness of the situation and unite to protect their Freedom of Expression ©.

John LaRue
DI columnist

'Daily Show' interview couples intelligent discourse with comedy

Jon Stewart’s interview with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on “The Daily Show” Sept. 26 was complete with its fair share of comic moments. Stewart’s serving Musharraf jasmine tea and Twinkies particularly stands out. Amid the jovial banter, however, were a few interesting comments that shed some light on the motivations behind the actions of heads of state.

When Stewart asked Musharraf why he cooperated with the United States in its invasion of Afghanistan, Musharraf replied that he knew the United States would pursue Osama bin Laden whether Pakistan assisted in the effort or not. In this case, it was rational to side with the United States, because the only way to Afghanistan is through Pakistan. Musharraf also discussed the treaty he signed with pro-Taliban tribal leaders near the Pakistani border, promising the withdrawal of military forces in exchange for the termination of militant terrorist activity.

These two statements demonstrate the pursuit of national interest and the importance of geopolitics in making policy decisions. In cooperating with the United States, Musharraf recognized the geopolitical realities, namely that the United States would need to go through Pakistan and had the ability to do so. In light of this, he clearly made a rational decision for his country. Similarly, in cooperating with pro-Taliban forces, he is recognizing that establishing security is a requirement that must be fulfilled, even if the pursuit of security does not allow ideological considerations to be tantamount.

This exemplifies that instead of rhapsodizing about how leaders should behave, the more intelligent course of action would be to recognize how and why they do behave the way they do.

Lydia Pfaff
*DI* columnist

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Puzzling public art

You can’t really turn your head in downtown Iowa City without looking at sculpture and public art. This is a fine thing, on the whole; I’ve always said that a town without random jets of water in the sidewalk isn’t worth living in, but some of these things confuse the hell out of me.   

Jane DeDecker’s “Ties that Bind”, which is outside the public library, is a case in point. It’s a statue of a guy bending over to tie a kid’s shoe. No matter how many times I walk by it, I have a brief moment of “Come on, let the kid tie his own shoes!” followed by a longer moment of feeling silly. The same goes for “Irving Weber”, made by Steve Maxon and Doris Park. Irv is the cheerful metallic man — Iowa City’s answer to Star Trek’s Data — who stands at the corner of Linn and Iowa Streets. His amiable expression always sets off the "Oh crap, how do I know this guy" subroutine in my head, until I remember that Irv is eternally doffing his hat to all passerby, not just me. 

Justine Zimmer’s “Dorothy,” the Ped Mall’s own natural disaster, could use a facelift. I suggest wire-sculpting miniature apartment buildings and a sorority house near the base of it, and tiny figures nearby throwing tornado parties and snapping pictures of the debris with even tinier camera phones. 

It should be apparent by now that I don’t know the first thing about art. I can’t tell Monet from Mayonnaise. (And why does everybody use Monet when they make an art joke?) But I know that having a thriving artistic community is a rare and wonderful thing for any city, particularly one this size. Kudos to the city for making its public spaces interesting. 

And be careful of the “Weatherdance fountain,” by Myklebust-Sears, especially when wearing nice clothes.

Jon Gold
DI columnist