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Operation Oliver

I’m really glad to see this — but also ashamed and infuriated that here in America, we have so many neighborhoods not much different from war-torn countries. This LA Times story is still inspiring, though [via Cabdrollery]:

Earl Johnson’s boots crunch broken glass from liquor bottles as he walks down an alley in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood.

He is just blocks from the site of the firebombing of a family who called the police on drug dealers and were killed for it, and just yards from some of the most memorable scenes of urban decay in television’s “The Wire.”

At his side are Rich Blake, 32, a Marine Corps veteran; and Jeremy Johnson, 34, a Navy veteran. Like Earl (no relation to Jeremy), they are on a different kind of mission.

They’ve come to this neighborhood once synonymous with the worst of Baltimore to help it become something better. They call this mission Operation Oliver.

As the men walk, they pick up empty Seagram’s gin and Bacardi rum bottles. They point to progress — refurbished homes, a painted playground — and to vacant houses and trash-filled alleys that still need work.

“A lot of the conditions from places we’re deployed to, Iraq and Afghanistan, are not that much different from the conditions here in Oliver,” says Blake, executive director of the 6th Branch, one of several nonprofit groups involved in Operation Oliver.

“We’re not afraid to dig in and make a difference in a community that’s got a bad reputation in the city,” Blake says. “The discipline, the go-get-’em, let’s-do-this-now, aggressive attitude — it really lends itself to community service in a way traditional organizations haven’t been able to do.”

Operation Oliver, which began in July, is a one-year commitment to the neighborhood, the veterans say. It involves cleaning up alleys, rehabilitating homes, organizing volunteers and notifying police about illegal dumping sites and drug dealing.

To say the idea has caught on would be an understatement. Word of the intensive yearlong service project has spread throughout Maryland — and the nation.

Paul Krugman uses facts to skewer the myth of balanced reporting every chance he gets, but do you think NYT’s reporters and editors — even though the facts are available — will ever run a story headlined “Romney campaign based on falsehoods”? More here.

Clusterf**k

I have to think this is in our future, too. (After all, we’re giving a loan guarantee to TEPCO to build a nuclear plant in Texas.) And it’s pretty clear that when it comes to these corporate disasters, the financial needs of the corporations are always going to override the public’s health:

TOKYO — Japan’s response to the nuclear crisis that followed the March 11 tsunami was confused and riddled with problems, including an erroneous assumption an emergency cooling system was working and a delay in disclosing dangerous radiation leaks, a report revealed Monday.

The disturbing picture of harried and bumbling workers and government officials scrambling to respond to the problems at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was depicted in the report detailing a government investigation.

The 507-page interim report, compiled by interviewing more than 400 people, including utility workers and government officials, found authorities had grossly underestimated tsunami risks, assuming the highest wave would be 6 meters (20 feet). The tsunami hit at more than double those levels.

The report criticized the use of the term “soteigai,” meaning “outside our imagination,” which it said implied authorities were shirking responsibility for what had happened. It said by labeling the events as beyond what could have been expected, officials had invited public distrust.

“This accident has taught us an important lesson on how we must be ready for soteigai,” it said.

The report, set to be finished by mid-2012, found workers at Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that ran Fukushima Dai-ichi, were untrained to handle emergencies like the power shutdown that struck when the tsunami destroyed backup generators – setting off the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

There was no clear manual to follow, and the workers failed to communicate, not only with the government but also among themselves, it said.

But wait, there’s more! Health experts are also extremely critical:

International authorities have urged Japan to expand the exclusion zone around the plant to 80 kilometres but the government has instead opted to “define the problem out of existence” by raising the permissible level of radiation exposure for members of the public to 20 millisieverts per year, considerably higher than the international standard of one millisievert per year, Gould adds.

This “arbitrary increase” in the maximum permissible dose of radiation is an “unconscionable” failure of government, contends Ruff. “Subject a class of 30 children to 20 millisieverts of radiation for five years and you’re talking an increased risk of cancer to the order of about 1 in 30, which is completely unacceptable. I’m not aware of any other government in recent decades that’s been willing to accept such a high level of radiation-related risk for its population.”

Following the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, “clear targets were set so that anybody anticipated to receive more than five millisieverts in a year were evacuated, no question,” Ruff explains. In areas with levels between one and five millisieverts, measures were taken to mitigate the risk of ingesting radioactive materials, including bans on local food consumption, and residents were offered the option of relocating. Exposures below one millisievert were still considered worth monitoring.

In comparison, the Japanese government has implemented a campaign to encourage the public to buy produce from the Fukushima area, Ruff added. “That response [in Chernobyl] 25 years ago in that much less technically sophisticated, much less open or democratic context, was, from a public health point of view, much more responsible than what’s being done in modern Japan this year.”

Religious extremists

Nothing says “doing God’s work” quite like spitting on little girls, does it?

Toxic

We can expect a lot more of this sort of thing as businesses push their employees to cut costs. Corners will be cut, safety will be compromised.

And so it goes.

Closing stores

Kmart and Sears, 120 stores. Man, I hate to hear that. All those people out of work…

TMI

You know that metallic taste you get in your mouth and jaws right before you throw up? That’s what I feel all the time now. Just sayin’!

Yep

What Avedon said. Go read.

Newt

Dumped his first wife because she “wasn’t pretty enough to be First Lady.”

Cool

Some time ago, MIT began to offer much of its course material online, for free. Now they’re going to offer MIT certifications, also for free:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a new program that will expand the university’s free online courses and allow would-be students to earn official certificates from a program called MITx.

The Internet courses will not only present course materials but will also offer student-to-student communication, interactive features, and online laboratories. Perhaps most interesting is that this program will not be limited to the United States. Anyone on the planet with an Internet connection will be able to take the courses, which are slated to begin in the spring of 2012.

“MIT has long believed that anyone in the world with the motivation and ability to engage MIT coursework should have the opportunity to attain the best MIT-based educational experience that Internet technology enables,” MIT president Susan Hockfield said in a statement. ” OpenCourseWare’s great success signals high demand for MIT’s course content and propels us to advance beyond making content available. MIT now aspires to develop new approaches to online teaching.”

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