Monday, June 28, 2010

World Cup and other mass participation sports

Having been told that Americans can’t be bothered with soccer and couldn’t tell their Arsenal from their proverbial elbow, it turns out that trying to get into Sawyer Park sports bar when the US is playing is pointless – it’s packed to the rafters. This is good – it made the US vs. England game much more enjoyable last week, even if I had the only lonely England flag in the pub, which I had to quietly stuff back into my bag before skulking out when it all ended in a draw. And I’m glad I had the excuse of an airport-run instead of sitting through yesterday’s debacle.

There have been some good editorials on the sport. Once I’d got over the fact they kept talking about the US playing Britain (which hacked off Scottish housemate as much as me I think – talk of writing angry letters to editor abounded), there was a big discussion in The Week about why football isn’t any great shakes over here, despite the fact that it’s the most played sport in America outside of basketball. The journalist disliked the idea of the US being forced to enjoy the World Cup, saying those who push the US to love football are actually closet lefties, believing that ‘rejecting soccer is xenophobic, provincial, and just as disreputable as America’s “rejection of socialism”’. That seems a bit harsh to me, but he also added that people here don’t like things that end in a 0-0 verdict; that really, sports are popular because they show that all that running around achieves results.

The Critical Mass Friday night started well and ended badly. We did however manage to cover around 16 miles before the police showed up. This time they chased one guy down Washington Avenue and into a cul-de-sac before pushing him onto the ground, cuffing him and stuffing him in the back of a car. To be fair to the police, no one seems quite sure what happened – the cyclist was possibly told to stop and didn’t. But the problem with forcing one cyclist into a dead end road is that there are another 250 behind him, demanding their rights as part of the traffic and taking photos. It didn’t help that the police car had run over the cyclist’s bike, crushing one of the wheels entirely.

On a better note however, we also saw a guy playing a banjo while stood on a small plank of wood over the back tire of a bike. He was raising awareness of the treatment of veterans of Afghanistan, and did it completely naked in New Orleans. That apparently raised even more awareness than it did in Houston.

Friday, June 4, 2010

David Lee Powell's execution date is set.

On 15th June 2010, the state of Texas is due to execute David Powell, currently on death row at the Polunsky Unit. He has been there since 1978. Of these 32 years, the last ten have been spent in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, after the 1999 breakout from the unit of a group of prisoners led to total lock-down for all death row inmates.

David Powell has plenty to recommend him as a useful member of prison society. He had no priors before the murder, and had become addicted to drugs when the murder occurred - he has been clean since incarceration. In 32 years, he has persuaded inmates not to get involved in gangs, he has helped them with their legal documentation, he has helped supply materials for inmates who want to develop their art or their writing. He has edited articles for those trying to get work published, and provided a political education for those around him. On a more basic level, he has also taught prisoners to read and write, which when you’re locked down for 23 hours a day with normally not even a radio, can be a lifeline.

David Powell does not deny killing Officer Ralph Ablanedo in 1978, and no one wants to take away from the enormity of Ablanedo's death. But is it humane to give someone a life-sentence of 32 years, and then execute them at the end of it? Since David arrived on death row, 70 countries have banned the death penalty. This is a man who could make a big difference to the general prison population were he given clemency.

If you want to know more, the link will take you to Amnesty International USA’s webpage. If you feel it’s the right thing to do, please send their email to the paroles board. Execution is set for 15th June.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Staying in with Tim

I’m getting behind with this. But at least now we’re all in the house. It’s the United Nations of downtown, with five of us gearing up to beat the crap out of each other during the world cup, even if it’s only verbally. Flags are ordered, alarms will be set for the 6am matches, and now all we have to do is sort the food for the post-match breakfast.

Friday Night Lights has become an institution, at least for the ladies amongst us. We’re supposed to be getting out, seeing a lot of Texas, being self-righteous and disagreeing with the politics here. Instead, we’re watching a lot of Tim Riggins. I’m the only one who thinks that kid needs a hair cut, but nevertheless I’ve been sucked in.

We also did the second Critical Mass of our stay on Friday. A group of 300ish cyclists managed about two miles before the first rain spots started, and within another 200 yards we were all wedged under the Chevron garage as the wind changed and we all got blasted. Cyclists are very friendly in Houston though - strength in numbers. I can't think of a nicer bunch of people to be crammed in with.