Browsing articles from "February, 2015"

Why Convention Sites Don’t Make Very Good Swing State Strategy

Feb 13, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Why Convention Sites Don’t Make Very Good Swing State Strategy

If the Democrats do win Pennsylvania, it won't be because they had their convention in Philadelphia, which is already a mother lode of Democratic votes. And if the Republicans wind up winning Ohio, it won't be because they won over a lot of precincts in Cleveland, which is a similarly rich trove of Democratic support in elections at all levels.i

If the Democrats do win Pennsylvania, it won’t be because they had their convention in Philadelphia, which is already a mother lode of Democratic votes. And if the Republicans wind up winning Ohio, it won’t be because they won over a lot of precincts in Cleveland, which is a similarly rich trove of Democratic support in elections at all levels.

Matt Rourke/AP


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Matt Rourke/AP

If the Democrats do win Pennsylvania, it won't be because they had their convention in Philadelphia, which is already a mother lode of Democratic votes. And if the Republicans wind up winning Ohio, it won't be because they won over a lot of precincts in Cleveland, which is a similarly rich trove of Democratic support in elections at all levels.

If the Democrats do win Pennsylvania, it won’t be because they had their convention in Philadelphia, which is already a mother lode of Democratic votes. And if the Republicans wind up winning Ohio, it won’t be because they won over a lot of precincts in Cleveland, which is a similarly rich trove of Democratic support in elections at all levels.

Matt Rourke/AP

Put it in the category of things we know for sure that just ain’t so.

No sooner did the Democratic National Committee announce it had chosen Philadelphia, Pa., as its 2016 convention site than a lot of us political analyst types popped out the conventional wisdom about “appealing to a swing state in the general election.”

It sounds good and it makes sense, as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go very far.

Sure, it ought to help the Democrats to have their convention in a state that they absolutely have to win in November. It also ought to help the GOP to have its convention in Cleveland; no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.

But let’s face it. If the Democrats do win Pennsylvania, it won’t be because they had their convention in Philadelphia, which is already a motherlode of Democratic votes. And if the Republicans wind up winning Ohio, it won’t be because they won over a lot of precincts in Cleveland, which is a similarly rich trove of Democratic support in elections at all levels.

The idea that conventions are located with an eye toward winning the host city’s state is popular to the point of being irresistible. But it doesn’t fare well against the facts.

Convention State Wins Losses

  • 2012

    Republicans in Florida (November loss)

    Democrats in North Carolina (November loss)

  • 2008

    Republicans in Minnesota (loss)

    Democrats in Colorado (win)

  • 2004

    Republicans in New York (loss)

    Democrats in Massachusetts (win)

  • 2000

    Republicans in Pennsylvania (loss)

    Democrats in California (win)

  • 1996

    Republicans in California (loss)

    Democrats in Illinois (win)

  • 1992

    Republicans in Texas (win)

    Democrats in New York (win)

  • 1988

    Republicans in Louisiana (win)

    Democrats in Georgia (loss)

  • 1984

    Republicans in Texas (win)

    Democrats in California (loss

  • 1980

    Republicans in Michigan (win)

    Democrats in New York (loss)

  • 1976

    Republicans in Missouri (loss)

    Democrats in New York (win)

  • 1972

    Republicans in Florida (win)

    Democrats in Florida (loss)

  • 1968

    Republicans in Florida (win)

    Democrats in Illinois (loss)

  • 1964

    Republicans in California (loss)

    Democrats in New Jersey (win)

  • 1960

    Republicans in Illinois (loss)

    Democrats in California (loss)

  • 1956

    Republicans in California (win)

    Democrats in Illinois (loss)

True, both parties took their conventions to swing states in 2012. But both parties wound up losing those swing states. The Republicans headed for Tampa in pivotal Florida but their nominee, Mitt Romney, lost the state in November. The Democrats went to Charlotte, N.C., in part to celebrate winning there in 2008 (for the first time in 32 years). But four years later, after holding their convention in the Tar Heel state, they saw it go GOP.

In a sense, both parties thought they were wooing swing states in 2008, too. The Democrats saw Colorado as winnable, even though they had only won it three times since the 1930s. The Republicans went after Minnesota, which had the longest streak of voting blue for president in the whole country. The Democrats managed to make their swipe, the GOP didn’t even come close.

But to the two Obama elections, the parties’ choice of their convention sites seems to have had only occasional connection to the voting patterns of the states. From 1988 to 2004, the parties sited 10 conventions and chose a swing state only once (the GOP went to Philadelphia in 2000). The rest of the time they were in states as reliably red as Texas and Louisiana or as true blue as Massachusetts and California.

In fact, through those five cycles, the Republicans twice went to states (California and New York) that they would lose by double digits in the fall voting for president. The Democrats, for their part, took a similar drubbing in Georgia after convening in Atlanta in 1988. It is hard to imagine that party professionals in either case really thought things would be different because of the convention.

In the cycles where the two parties did manage to win their convention-site states, they held those gatherings in states they could scarcely have lost – such as Texas for the GOP and Massachusetts for the Democrats.

The truth is, political parties locate their conventions much the way large trade associations and professional groups do. They look for geographical balance (which is why the first generations of conventions were usually held in Baltimore and later generations in Chicago). They look for fun stuff to do (see New Orleans, for example, or San Diego). But in the end, it comes down to state-of-the-art facilities, an adequate supply of quality hotel rooms and a financial aid package from the city and private donors.

Those criteria make a lot more sense than a hopeful lunge after an iffy package of electoral votes, especially given the poor return on past attempts.

Going back to the 1950s, and the last 30 choices of convention sites, the party has lost the state where it held its convention 16 times and won it 14.

The pattern holds perfectly within each party, too. Republicans have won the state that hosted their convention seven times but lost it eight times. For the Democrats the numbers are exactly the same: seven wins, eight losses. One bright note for the Dems, though, prior to the 2012 loss in North Carolina, their nominee had won the convention site state five times in a row (after losing five of six).

Your Brain May Want That Bottle Of Soda Because It’s Easy To Pick Up

Feb 13, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Your Brain May Want That Bottle Of Soda Because It’s Easy To Pick Up

You want that soda bottle. But it may not be because you crave soda. It might just be that you love the idea of wrapping your fingers around its enticing shape.i

You want that soda bottle. But it may not be because you crave soda. It might just be that you love the idea of wrapping your fingers around its enticing shape.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR


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Ariel Zambelich/NPR

You want that soda bottle. But it may not be because you crave soda. It might just be that you love the idea of wrapping your fingers around its enticing shape.

You want that soda bottle. But it may not be because you crave soda. It might just be that you love the idea of wrapping your fingers around its enticing shape.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR

Here at Goats and Soda, we can’t resist a good story about goats. (See our story about how you know if you’re goat is happy.) The same goes for soda.

So we were intrigued to learn that soda plays a part in a new book called How the Body Knows Its Mind by Sian Beilock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago.

Her book is about the ways in which our bodies affect our brains. To show how, Beilock did a study that sought to answer the question: When you decide whether or not you like an object, might you be making that decision based on how easy it is to pick the object up?

This Chinese teenager weighs 353 pounds. At a slimming center in China's central Hubei province, he's exercising and undergoing acupuncture to lose weight.

She put two kitchen objects – for example, a spatula and a spoon — in front of 15 undergraduate volunteers. The objects were placed in different positions — say, one with the handle facing the person, one with the handle pointed away.

She asked her volunteers to move the object they liked better into a box. Each person was given 16 tests. Each time, one of the objects was in an easier-to-pick-up position than the other.

You would expect a 50/50 breakdown. But the study, published in the journal Emotion Review, showed that 63 percent of the time people preferred the object that was easiest to grab.

So sure, your brain is making the decision, but the decision may be based not on whether you really like, say, a spoon more than a spatula, but simply on whether it looks easy to pick up.

“This means that subtle changes in the placement or packaging of products can have big effects on people’s desire to buy them,” she observes. And that’s where soda bottles come in.

In 2008, Coke redesigned its two-liter bottle a few years ago to make it curvier and thus, “easier to hold and pour,” in the words of a Coca-Cola representative. And suddenly, Beilock reports, Coke was selling a lot more of its two-liter sodas than archrival Pepsi.

Does this mean Coke knew all about the way the body influences the mind? Beilock says: “My guess is [in tests] people preferred that bottle.”

Based on her research, she believes that the enticing shape of a soda bottle “might push you to buy it even knowing it’s not the right decision.” (Because after all, soda is not good for you. It falls into the category of what she calls “vice products.”)

So the message for soda bottles is that shape matters. Size could matter, too. In December, Coca-Cola introduced a 350-milliter plastic soda bottle — that’s a hair under 12 ounces — in parts of Kenya. The goal, according to Coca-Cola, is “to offer our consumers an affordable ‘on the go’ convenience pack.” It’s called the kashorty, a colloquial Swahili word that means “the short one.”

The kashorty would be especially easy for small hands to pick up. “It could have an effect on kids,” says Beilock. And the effect could be: We want soda!

In the developing world, where the invasion of sugary Western products is contributing to a rise in obesity and diseases associated with being overweight, the kashorty could reinforce the soda company’s 1950s slogan “What you want is a Coke.”

Like Yelp For Labor Rights: This App Rates How Restaurants Treat Workers

Feb 12, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Like Yelp For Labor Rights: This App Rates How Restaurants Treat Workers

Customers pick up their orders from a Shake Shack in New York City. It's one of the restaurants whose labor practices are detailed in the ROC United Diners' Guide app.i

Customers pick up their orders from a Shake Shack in New York City. It’s one of the restaurants whose labor practices are detailed in the ROC United Diners’ Guide app.

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Customers pick up their orders from a Shake Shack in New York City. It's one of the restaurants whose labor practices are detailed in the ROC United Diners' Guide app.

Customers pick up their orders from a Shake Shack in New York City. It’s one of the restaurants whose labor practices are detailed in the ROC United Diners’ Guide app.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Restaurant servers are three times more likely to receive below-poverty-line pay than the rest of the U.S. workforce. Yet in a world where shoppers fret over cage-free eggs and organic vegetables, how many are also asking how much their favorite restaurant pays its staff?

An app from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an organization of restaurant workers, employers and customers, aims to encourage diners to ask those kinds of questions about the welfare of industry workers. Think of it as a kind of Yelp for labor rights.

The ROC United Diners’ Guide app lets diners investigate the policies at restaurants in the U.S. When a user enters her location, the app brings up a few local restaurants and shows whether they pay their staffs a living wage and offer a few basic benefits, like paid sick leave. When the user swipes left, the app shows and evaluates the top 100 chain restaurants in the U.S. – so you can see how they stack up.

The app actually rolled out a couple of years ago, but an updated version offers a new twist: crowdsourcing. ROC officials hope this component will quickly help expand the list, which currently offers detailed information for only about 150 restaurants.

A worker at Moo Cluck Moo, a fast-casual burger and chicken chain in suburban Detroit, prepares a meal. Workers at Moo Cluck Moo all make $15 an hour.

If your restaurant of choice isn’t on the list, the app encourages you to talk to a manager about the establishment’s policies. Users can then create an entry for the restaurant and fill out as much as they know about its wages and practices. The information they submit goes to ROC’s staff, who verify the details before adding it to the list of restaurants.

That feature isn’t just about enlisting diners to do ROC’s legwork, says Maria Myotte, the group’s national communications coordinator. Every time diners reach out directly to a restaurant manager, they are demonstrating that these issues are important, she says.

“We want it to be less of an easy ‘here’s what you can use’ list and more of an engagement tool,” Myotte says.

Non-chain restaurants listed on the app appear under a category called “high road.” They are rated on four different criteria.

A screenshot of the app from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.i

A screenshot of the app from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR


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Meredith Rizzo/NPR

A screenshot of the app from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

A screenshot of the app from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

The first and second criteria are related to wages: The restaurant must pay its non-tipped workers at least $10 an hour. And tipped staff must earn at least $7 an hour to make the list. That’s higher than the federal minimum wage for anyone who earns tips — just $2.13 an hour, a number that hasn’t increased since 1991. (As we’ve reported, some states have higher tip minimum wages.)

Next, the restaurant must give all employees paid sick days. “Working while sick is so commonplace,” says Myotte, because most restaurant workers can’t afford to take a day off without pay.

“We have heard from our workers that they face termination or [that] colleagues have been fired for not showing up” when they are sick, says Myotte.

Paid sick days, Myotte says, should really be a no-brainer. Foodborne illness moves quickly through restaurants. Because so many people touch the food, it’s easy for germs to spread from restaurant staff to customers.

Finally, the restaurant must have a nondiscriminatory program for internal promotion. “A majority of actual living-wage restaurants are in fine dining,” says Myotte, “but they’re dominated by white workers, especially white men.”

She says many restaurants have qualified applicants of color already working inside their doors, but in lower-paying positions like busboys or dishwashers. Those workers, she says, often don’t get considered when management is looking to fill higher-paying, front-of-the-house positions.

“A lot of the servers are hired externally, even though there’s qualified staff right there at the restaurant,” says Myotte. Hiring from within might help decrease the $4 wage gap that ROC United found between white and black restaurant employees when they surveyed more than 4,000 workers.

I opened up the app here in Washington, D.C., to see who’s ethically serving my lunch. Shake Shack appears on the list — but the nearest location, the app tells me, is Grand Central Terminal, in New York City. For the record, the closest one is actually about a 10-minute walk away.

Location snafu aside, according to the ROC app, Shake Shack meets all criteria for a “high road” restaurant except for one: the wages for tipped workers. But this isn’t quite accurate — Shake Shack doesn’t have tipped workers, so how could it be underpaying them?

“It’s a little wonky on the back end to remove that standard,” Myotte admits, but she says that ROC United is working on this technical issue. “What we want to make it do is specify that those restaurants don’t have tipped workers.”

Indeed, very few of the restaurants listed meet all four of the “high road” criteria. But with enough pressure from consumers, ROC United expects restaurants to shape up.

“There’s more than just a few restaurants in cities doing this,” says Myotte.

Federal Judge Orders Alabama Official To Hand Out Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Feb 12, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Federal Judge Orders Alabama Official To Hand Out Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

A battle between Alabama and the federal judiciary just turned another page, when a federal judge on Thursday ordered a state official to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Reuters reports:

“U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade’s order sought to clarify that Mobile County Probate Court Judge Don Davis should follow her directive, and not a contravening order from Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore that has led to many state judges to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. “

As NPR’s Debbie Elliott reported this morning, Moore’s order threw Alabama into a state of confusion. Some counties heeded a federal court decision that found the state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, while orders have listened to Moore’s order, which told them they didn’t have to abide by the federal court’s decision.

“This power to define marriage is not given to the federal government,” Moore told Debbie. “It is reserved to the states and to the people, and it is simply an abuse of power to go into the Constitution and redefine a word which is not even in there.”

U.N. Calls On EU To Expand Rescue Of Migrants In Mediterranean

Feb 12, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on U.N. Calls On EU To Expand Rescue Of Migrants In Mediterranean

Migrants who survived a shipwreck are escorted as they arrive at the Lampedusa harbor on Wednesday. Some 300 others were drowned in the latest such disaster triggered by people fleeing conflicts in North Africa.i

Migrants who survived a shipwreck are escorted as they arrive at the Lampedusa harbor on Wednesday. Some 300 others were drowned in the latest such disaster triggered by people fleeing conflicts in North Africa.

Antonio Parrinello/Reuters/Landov


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Migrants who survived a shipwreck are escorted as they arrive at the Lampedusa harbor on Wednesday. Some 300 others were drowned in the latest such disaster triggered by people fleeing conflicts in North Africa.

Migrants who survived a shipwreck are escorted as they arrive at the Lampedusa harbor on Wednesday. Some 300 others were drowned in the latest such disaster triggered by people fleeing conflicts in North Africa.

Antonio Parrinello/Reuters/Landov

Days after some 300 would-be migrants from North African drowned in the Mediterranean as they were trying to reach Italy, the United Nations is calling on the European Union to establish a broader search-and-rescue effort to avoid future tragedies.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres reiterated a call on for the EU to expand its current operation, known as Triton, to locate and rescue would-be illegal migrants from Africa.

“There can be no doubt left after this week’s events that Europe’s Operation Triton is a woefully inadequate replacement for Italy’s Mare Nostrum,” Guterres said in a statement. Unless something is done, Guterres said, “it is inevitable that many more people will die trying to reach safety in Europe.”

The Associated Press notes: “The Italian operation was abandoned after criticism that its aggressive search-and-rescue patrols encouraged migrants. Triton is more focused on protecting borders.”

UNHCR says in a statement: “Crossings of the Mediterranean by migrants are age old, but 2014 saw a dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees undertaking this dangerous journey – spurred by conflicts in Syria, the Horn of Africa and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In all at least 218,000 people crossed the Mediterranean, and 3500 lives were lost. “

Italy’s operation, launched following a similar tragedy in Oct. 2013 in which 366 people drowned, was credited with rescuing more than 150,000 people fleeing the African coast, but was terminated a year later when Triton was established.

‘We’re All One,’ Chapel Hill Shooting Victim Said In StoryCorps Talk

Feb 12, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on ‘We’re All One,’ Chapel Hill Shooting Victim Said In StoryCorps Talk

Several vigils were held last night in honor of three young Muslims who were killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday. Here, attendees are seen at an event on the campus of the University of Michigan.i

Several vigils were held last night in honor of three young Muslims who were killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday. Here, attendees are seen at an event on the campus of the University of Michigan.

MLIVE.COM /Landov


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Several vigils were held last night in honor of three young Muslims who were killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday. Here, attendees are seen at an event on the campus of the University of Michigan.

Several vigils were held last night in honor of three young Muslims who were killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday. Here, attendees are seen at an event on the campus of the University of Michigan.

MLIVE.COM /Landov

“Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor Abu-Salha said in a conversation with a former teacher that was recorded by the StoryCorps project last summer. She later added, “we’re all one, one culture.”

The recording gives us a new insight into Abu-Salha, 21, who was killed Tuesday along with her husband, Deah Barakat, 23, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19.

The police say the shootings seem to have been sparked by a parking dispute with a neighbor, who now faces murder charges. But the killing of three young Muslims has also raised suspicions that it might have been a hate crime, as we reported.

In the StoryCorps oral history project, people often record themselves talking with parents and friends about what life has taught them. Some participants speak to former teachers — and that was the case with Yusor Abu-Salha. She recorded a conversation with her former elementary school teacher, Sister Jabeen, of the Al-Iman School in Raleigh.

An excerpt of their conversation was posted this morning by member station WUNC in Chapel Hill.

Here’s some of what Abu-Salha had to say:

“Growing up in America has been such a blessing. And although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there are still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture.

“And that’s the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places and backgrounds and religions — but here we’re all one, one culture. And it’s beautiful to see people of different areas interacting, and being family. Being, you know, one community.”

When her former student asks Sister Jabeen what she would tell the world if she had its attention, she said, “Live in peace.”

Sister Jabeen, who is the principal of Al-Iman, later added, “The world would become such a beautiful place when we respect each other and make this world a place where everybody has the right to live, and we don’t fight over our differences but learn to accept our differences.”

“I love hearing from you,” Abu-Salha told her teacher. “You always have the right thing to say, the right answers.”

The two slain Abu-Salha sisters attended Al-Iman, as did Deah Barakat.

Last night, vigils for the three shooting victims were held in Chapel Hill and other cities.

WUNC reports that Barakat’s older brother, Farris, urged hundreds of people gathered in Chapel Hill to “take the message that my mom wanted to make public and ‘do not fight fire with fire.”

Ukrainian Lawmaker: ‘We Are Hostages Of Putin’

Feb 11, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Ukrainian Lawmaker: ‘We Are Hostages Of Putin’

Robert Siegel talks to Mustafa Nayyem, who is in Washington, D.C., to receive the Wilson Center Ion Ratiu Award for his reform work in Ukraine. He’s a Ukrainian journalist credited with starting the Euromaidan protests in 2013 and is now a member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

U.S., Iran Not Hopelessly Far Apart On Details Of A Nuclear Deal

Feb 11, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on U.S., Iran Not Hopelessly Far Apart On Details Of A Nuclear Deal

The biggest barrier appears to be whether parties in these talks have what experts say is the “political will” to write a final agreement.

Little League Strips Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Of U.S. Title

Feb 11, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Little League Strips Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Of U.S. Title

In this Aug. 27 photo, members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team participate in a rally in Chicago celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship. Little League International has stripped the team of its national title after finding the team falsified its boundary map.i

In this Aug. 27 photo, members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team participate in a rally in Chicago celebrating the team’s U.S. Little League Championship. Little League International has stripped the team of its national title after finding the team falsified its boundary map.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP


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In this Aug. 27 photo, members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team participate in a rally in Chicago celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship. Little League International has stripped the team of its national title after finding the team falsified its boundary map.

In this Aug. 27 photo, members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team participate in a rally in Chicago celebrating the team’s U.S. Little League Championship. Little League International has stripped the team of its national title after finding the team falsified its boundary map.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Updated at 10:04 a.m.

Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team, the first all-African-American team to win the U.S. championship, has been stripped of its title after Little League International said today that the team had violated residency rules.

Patrick Smith from member station WBEZ tells our Newscast unit that Little League International says the team illegally used players from outside its geographic area.

The team’s wins in the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament, where it lost to a South Korean team in the final, as well as wins in the Great Lakes Regional and U.S. championships, have been vacated, Little League International said.

The team’s manager has been suspended from Little League activity, and the Illinois District 4 administrator has been removed from his job.

In a statement announcing the decision, Little League International said the team used a falsified boundary map in the 2014 tournament, and that “Jackie Robinson West Little League officials met with other leagues in Illinois District 4 to try to get the territory they wrongfully claimed was theirs for their 2014 tournament.”

“This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome,” Stephen D. Keener, Little League International president and CEO, said in the statement.

The U.S. championship has been awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas.

The Chicago Sun-Times has the background on the allegations that led to today’s decision:

“In December, the national organization had shot down allegations that several members of last summer’s U.S. championship team violated the league’s residency requirements.

“Those allegations were first made in October by Chris Janes, vice president of Evergreen Park Athletic Association, a rival organization.

“He filed his complaint after noticing that school officials and politicians from several south suburbs boasted that members of the team were from their towns during the Little League World Series run last August.

“At that time, Pat Wilson, senior vice president of operations for Little League International, was dismissive of Janes’ complaint.

“What he did acknowledge, however, was that some players’ addresses included in Janes’ complaint did not match the addresses Little League International had on file for the players.

“Wilson said the team provided a satisfactory explanation for those differences.”

Jackie Robinson West’s wins captured Chicago’s imagination. NPR’s Cheryl Corley, reporting at the time, said: “It’s been 31 years since an all-black team made it into the Little League Baseball World Series. And that was also the Jackie Robinson West team in 1983.

“Since then the number of African-Americans involved in baseball in the major leagues as well as Little League has been on the decline as basketball and football became more popular.”

Natalie Moore of Chicago Public Radio reported at the time, “JRW’s national win has been a unifying moment for many here. The 11- and 12-year-old boys captured the city’s heart during the series.”

Previous winners that have had their wins vacated are Zamboanga (Philippines) City Little League in 1992, which had won the title, and Rolando Paulino Little League from Bronx, N.Y., in 2001, which had finished third.

‘Finn Fancy’ Is Urban Fantasy With A Pop Culture Sweet Tooth

Feb 11, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on ‘Finn Fancy’ Is Urban Fantasy With A Pop Culture Sweet Tooth


Finn Fancy Necromancy

Fantasy’s turn toward the grim has not lessened lately, nor should it. The success of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire not only justifies all that brooding darkness, it’s opened the doors for many other excellent and similarly grim books. Randy Henderson, however, has something else in mind entirely with his debut novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy. Strictly speaking, it’s an urban fantasy, one that takes place in and around present-day Seattle. But even though it deals with sinister magic and family tragedy, it counterbalances that darkness with something that’s become increasingly rare in fantasy fiction: laughs, laughs, and more laughs.

The book is named after its main character, Finn Gramaraye — or more specifically, the mocking nickname his older brother Mort has give him, Finn Fancy Necromancy Pants. Their family is made up of magicians, part of a secret society of wizards and witches that has lived under the noses of “mundies,” or mundane people, for centuries. Yes, it sounds like the basic premise of untold numbers of urban fantasy series, including Harry Potter. Henderson points out that fact, and name-checks Harry Potter in the book itself; this fantasy is self-aware. But unlike Lev Grossman’s open nods to Harry Potter in his Magicians trilogy, Henderson’s self-awareness isn’t postmodern. It’s all part of one of Finn Fancy Necromancy‘s most winning charms: Finn’s obsession with pop culture.

At the start of the story, Finn — a necromancer who can manipulate spiritual energy and talk to the dead — wakes up after having spent 25 years in the Other Realm, a kind of Phantom Zone where criminal magicians are imprisoned. He was sent there in 1986, at the age of 15, for a crime he didn’t commit. In the meantime, his body has aged; the soul of a kid has been inserted into the body of a 40-year-old. It’s a comic device that goes back to Freaky Friday, but that saw a resurgence in the late-’80s with movies like Big and Vice Versa. Henderson plays on this trope wonderfully, and not without a wink. Finn is obsessed with the pop culture of his youth, and hardly a page goes by without some clever reference to ’80s movies, music, cartoons, comics, or breakfast cereal. The chapters are even named for popular ’80s songs.

That kind of pop-culture-heavy approach can be a drag if not handled right, but Henderson juggles his references beautifully. The Miami Vice-and-Rubik’s Cube zeitgeist is all he knows, and he clings to it with a desperation that’s as poignant as it is hilarious. And it’s all stitched seamlessly into the straightforward plot, which revolves around Finn’s hunt for whomever framed him. He’s aided by his kooky brothers and sister (one falsely thinks he’s a werewolf; another is allergic to magic), but his rockier relationships with two old crushes from high school — Heather, an alchemist, and Dawn, a mundy who has no idea that magic exists — make for an even livelier character dynamic.

Henderson’s unrepentant love of the ’80s shines through in almost every John Hughes love-triangle twist and Goonies-style escapade. Those who don’t share that love might not find as much resonance, although the book’s bright, brisk storytelling and lightly snarky wit cuts through the tangle of David Hasselhoff and Duran Duran — not to mention the eerie shadows and harrowing horror that eventually overtake the humor and envelope the story. That light/dark dynamic makes for a playful, sometimes satirical touch. At one point, a comically exasperated Dawn tells Finn and his magic-geek brothers, “You guys are taking this fantasy s*** way too seriously.” Intentionally or not, that line might as well be Henderson’s proclamation to his fellow fantasy writers: It’s okay to lighten up every once in a while, especially when the results are as rollicking and charming as Finn Fancy Necromancy.

Jason Heller is a senior writer at The A.V. Club and author of the novel Taft 2012.

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