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Palm Coast’s BMX Gamble, Racism and Obama, Small Business Saturday Recap: The Live Wire, Nov. 29

| November 29, 2010

The rock formation known as Hvítserkur, off shore in Húnafjörður, Iceland. (© Anna Guðmundsdottir)

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Palm Coast’s BMX Gamble

Renny Roker (© FlaglerLive)

Renny Roker is familiar with “Mission Impossible,” having made a guest appearance on the show way back in that other century, so it wasn’t entirely surprising when he made a pitch to the Palm Coast City Council in late October that he could revive his 32-year-old, and doddering, JAG BMX enterprise right here in Palm Coast. BMX stands for bicycle motocross (no r before the c, so no noisy engines), a fancier way of describing dirt racing on an intentionally bumpy track that has more in common with mogul skiing than traditional bicycling. Roker is a happily flamboyant type. He looks and talks as if the impossible is in his back pocket, always ready to be yours–if you sign on the dotted line. The problem is that the lines are all dots and no details. In October he was telling the city that he was ready to start auditions in December for a reality show featuring and possibly starring local BMX racers. The show would be shot here and show all over the pay-per-showing third-string network of NBC Universal (the producers pay to have their programs shown on the channel, and reap whatever advertising they sell). The city council of course was all gaga over the idea, and they barely questioned Jim Landon, the city manager, when he said the city was ready to build the track with city workers and city dirt at the city’s expense. The cost? Nothing much, just moving dirt around. That’s not quite true: a real track, as Roker pictures it, the kind of track that would also be a training facility for Olympic athletes, and would be a covered arena, with administrative offices, would be very expensive. A similar track built in Texas cost more than $1 million. Another one in California ran to $400,000.

For now, Roker and the city are focusing on a “holiday joyride” to build support and good feelings about the venture. The ride would involve any bicyclist at any time between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Dec. 18, riding through Town Center, Linear Park, Waterfront Park and a couple of other places. But Roker’s past, which has a few things in common with checkered flags, is beginning to catch up with him. The News-Journal today notes that Roker’s one ongoing organization of note, Teens on the Green, which promotes youth golf, is–in his words–“about to go bankrupt,” that he himself filed for bankruptcy in 2007, and that he still owes money to Greg Hill, a former BMX champion, who reacts about Roker the way Hitchcock’s characters do in “The Birds” when the flappy things chase them around. None of that, of course, was part of the discussion when when Roker made his presentation to the city council in October, nor was Roker’s own current background: he said then he had an office on Orlando, but was moving to Palm Coast. With no staff. None. Strange. A businessman living out of a suitcase. And Landon, the manager, was all ready to be his bellhop. Maybe the BMX track can be built around Landon’s new city hall.

The Best Congress Money Can Buy

Frank Rich in The Times: “The Great Depression ended the last comparable Gilded Age, of the 1920s, and brought about major reforms in American government and business. Not so the Great Recession. Last week, as the Fed’s new growth projections downsized hope for significant decline in the unemployment rate, the Commerce Department reported that corporate profits hit a record high. Those profits aren’t trickling down into new jobs or into higher salaries for those not in the executive suites. And the prospect of serious regulation of those at the top of the top — the financial sector — is even more of a fantasy in the new Congress than it was in its predecessor. Wall Street is already celebrating the approach of bonus season by partying like it’s 2007. […] the financial sector has paid little for bringing the world to near-collapse or for receiving the taxpayers’ bailout that was denied to most small-enough-to-fail Americans. The sector still rakes in more than a fourth of American business profits, up from a seventh 25 years ago.

“[…] Now corporations of all kinds can buy more of Washington than before, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and to the rise of outside “nonprofit groups” that can legally front for those who prefer to donate anonymously. The money laundering at the base of Tom DeLay’s conviction by a Texas jury last week — his circumventing of the state’s post-Gilded Age law forbidding corporate campaign contributions directly to candidates — is now easily and legally doable at the national level. […] America needs a rally — or, better still, a leader or two or three — to restore not just honor or sanity to its citizens but governance that’s not auctioned off to the highest bidder.” The full column.

Racism and the Obama Presidency

Analyzing the results of the 2010 mid-terms, Ronald Dworkin writes of the “Take Back America” movement in the New York Review: “We must take seriously what so many of them actually say: that they feel they are losing their country, that they are desperate to take it back. What could they mean? There are two plausible answers, both of them frightening. They might mean, first, that their new government is not theirs because it is not remotely of their kind or culture; it is not representative of them. Most who think that would have in mind, of course, their president; they think him not one of them because he is so different. It seems likely that the most evident difference, for them, is his race—a race a great many Americans continue to think alien. They feel, viscerally, that a black man cannot speak for them. […] Many of those who voted for him before don’t like what they got. They want to take their country back by taking its presidency back, by making its leader more like them. There is a second, equally dismaying, understanding of what they mean. All their lives they have assumed that their country is the most powerful, most prosperous, most democratic, economically and culturally the most influential—altogether the most envied and wonderful country in the world. They are coming slowly and painfully to realize that that is no longer true; they are angry and they want someone to blame. […] This is dangerous. History has left exceptionalism behind: the world has, fortunately, moved beyond the capacity of any single nation to dominate the rest. If Americans do not come soon to accept that, frustration will roil our politics for a long time to come.” See the full analysis.

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Obama’s National Security Sham

From Reason: “During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama criticized the Bush administration for its excessive secrecy, noting that it had “invoked a legal tool known as the ‘state secrets’ privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.” Obama also promised to end “extraordinary rendition,” a practice through which “we outsource our torture to other countries.” In September, however, the Obama administration used the state secrets privilege to block a lawsuit by five former captives who say they were tortured as a result of extraordinary rendition. Although candidate Obama surely would have been outraged, President Obama is for some reason less concerned about abuses of executive power. […] Obama’s broken promise sheds light on his determination to suppress a lawsuit by five men who sued the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan over its role in helping arrange prisoner flights during the Bush administration. […] Even if every word these men say is true, the Obama administration argues, they cannot be allowed to pursue their claims because doing so might endanger national security. […] An administration truly concerned about excessive secrecy would have waited to see if either side in the lawsuit actually needed privileged information to make its case. Instead Obama, like George W. Bush before him, insisted that the mere possibility was enough to deprive torture victims of a legal remedy.” The full article (with more examples).

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Legacies of Bullying

From the Boston Globe, part of a series on bullying: “Childhood bullying is an old problem, one that has produced generations of victims. And while many of those bullied as children move past it and thrive in adulthood, a surprising number say they have been unable to leave the humiliating memories behind. Their accounts are supported by a growing body of research suggesting that the bullying experience stays with many victims into young adulthood, middle age, and even retirement, shaping their decisions and hindering them in nearly every aspect of life: education and career choices; social interactions and emotional well-being; even attitudes about having children. […] One respected, long-term study of 2,500 Finnish boys born in 1981 found that children who endured bullying in grade school were two to three times as likely to have a psychiatric disorder by their early 20s, according to records collected as part of mandatory military service. Boys who bullied were also at higher risk. Even more compelling to those who suspected the effects could last decades, if not a lifetime, a 2008 study of 12,000 Danish men found that those who recalled being bullied at school had significantly higher rates of depression at age 51 than those who did not recall bullying. The study, of men born in 1953 in Copenhagen, adjusted for differences in social class and parental mental illness. To those who study such effects, the findings are another pressing reason to address the bullying problem.” The full story.

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Egypt’s Sham Election

From Time: “Few Egyptians showed up to vote in their country’s parliamentary 
election on November 28. Those who did said they were met with fraud, 
confusion, and long waits—odd, given the short lines. Plenty who did 
bother to turn out never actually made it through the doors of polling stations to 
cast their votes. […] For many Egyptians, Sunday’s vote for the lower house of 
parliament—the first balloting of its kind in five years—was typical of the 
authoritarian regime’s political process, and an ominous portent for 
next year’s presidential race. Voters and independent monitors complained of police intimidation, 
ballot stuffing, and bribery. Independent monitors wielding government 
accreditation said police barred them from entering the polling stations. 
Trucks of riot police stood ready in opposition strongholds. And 
plainclothes police and representatives of local ruling party 
candidates restricted the voters who could come inside.” The full article.

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Radar Guns and Suicide Bombers

From New Scientist: “The radar guns police use to spot speeding motorists have inspired a version that aims to identify a would-be suicide bomber in a crowd. A radar gun fires microwave pulses at a car and measures the Doppler shift of the reflected signal to calculate its velocity. However, the strength and polarisation of the reflected signal – the “radar cross section” – can provide additional information about the size and shape of the reflecting object and the material it is made from. William Fox of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and John Vesecky of the University of California, Santa Cruz, wondered whether the wiring in a suicide vest would alter the radar cross section of a bomber enough to allow a radar gun to pick him or her out in a crowd. To find out, the pair used software to simulate how radar signals at 1 gigahertz and 10 gigahertz would be reflected by the most common arrangements of looped wiring typically used by suicide bombers. They found that the clearest reflected signals were in the 10 gigahertz range. Together with colleague Kenneth Laws, they then fired low-power 10 gigahertz radar pulses at groups of volunteers, some wearing vests wired up like suicide vests. About 85 per cent of the time, telltale factors in the polarisation of the reflected signals allowed them to correctly identify a “bomber” up to 10 metres away. [..] The inventors suggest military checkpoints would be major users of such a system – but it could also be installed alongside CCTV cameras in shopping malls, railway stations, airports and high streets.” The full article.

Did Small Business Saturday Work?

From Portfolio: “The very first Small Business Saturday, courtesy of the branding folks at American Express, is over. So did it do as it intended and lure more shoppers into the privately run boutiques, the mom-and-pop stores, the independent non-big-box retailers? Judging from a review of local stories from various publications around the country, the answer is resounding “meh.” In Eagle Rock, Calif.: “At 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27, Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard resembled ghost towns.” In Galesburg, Illinois: ““It’s not something that was publicized very much,” said Dennis Case, owner of Casey’s Party Creations and president of the Galesburg Business Association, who had heard about the event only a few days before. Business, he said, had been slower than usual. “The big box stores have this weekend and I don’t know that small businesses could crack that nut,” he said. In Philadelphia: “Owners of the Children’s Boutique in Center City put out a sidewalk sign and hung balloons on it: “Small Business Saturday: Deal.” … (But) in Center City, few stores seemed to be advertising the campaign, and some merchants were not aware of it. Those that were said they were grateful for the positive attention.

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Best TSA Cartoon Ever


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Geology Separated at Birth

An astute reader detected a remarkable similarity between a picture of the Tuwaiq Mountains in Central Saudi Arabia and a very similar rock formation seen from the Colorado River in Utah, south of Moab. Here they are, Tuwaiq first:

Tuwaiq Mountains, Central Saudi Arabia's version of Monument Valley (© Tariq M Almutlaq)

(© Tariq M Almutlaq)

A Naked Tribute to Leslie Nielsen

From The Times obituary: “Leslie Nielsen, the Canadian-born actor who in middle age tossed aside three decades of credibility in dramatic and romantic roles to make a new, far more successful career as a comic actor in films like “Airplane!” and the “Naked Gun” series, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84. […] In the 1960s and ’70s, as his hair turned white and he became an even more distinguished figure, Mr. Nielsen played serious military men, government leaders and even a mob boss, appearing in crime dramas, westerns and the occasional horror movie. Then, in the low-budget, big-money-making 1980 disaster-movie parody “Airplane!” he was cast as a clueless doctor on board a possibly doomed jetliner. Critics and audiences alike praised his deadpan comic delivery, and his career was reborn. […] In keeping with his adopted comic persona, when Mr. Nielsen in 1993 published an autobiography, “Naked Truth,” it was one that cheerfully, blatantly fabricated events in his life. They included two Academy Awards, an affair with Elizabeth Taylor and a stay at a rehabilitation center, battling dopey-joke addiction.” The full obituary. Watch the tribute.

Click On

Play It Again, CasablancaClint Eastwood’s Perfect World
Harvey Firestein as Gay SantaThe Ridiculousness of Charlie Sheen
Your Tony Curtis momentA Naked Tribute to Leslie Nielsen

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