Planet News Views

Monday, January 30, 2006

Pistons Among NBA's Best All-Time

By Scott McLean

Detroit is on Earth right? Well, the Pistons are so much better than the competition that it just seems they are from another planet, one without basketball imperfections.

At 37-5 the Pistons just passed the halfway point to the record for wins in a season set by the Chicago Bulls and are now ahead of the pace. Even if they don't match the Bulls' 72 wins, the Pistons have shown all NBA opponents they mean business.

Detroit is more impressive than they were two years ago when they won the NBA championship because they can score at will and are better than any other team at coming from behind in the fourth quarter. Sometimes, however, they blow out an opponent earlier in the game.

The Pistons built a huge fourth quarter lead over the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday before closing them out with a comfortable 9-point win. Credit the Lakers for not giving up, but in reality this game was not close at all.

Detroit's starting five players draw comparisons with some of the all-time great starting lineups. Guards Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton deserve strong consideration for Most Valuable Player because as I have pointed out before, MVP is not just about leading the league in scoring.

The toughest backcourt in the NBA plays solid defense, can pass with the best of them, slash to the basket for a layup or dish to teammates as well as shoot three-pointers and make it all look easy.

On a powerhouse team loaded with talented players there probably will never be a player who averages 30 points a game. Okay, Michael Jordan was the remarkable exception to that rule and all the Bulls couldn't lead the team in scoring on a given night.

By stark contrast, the Pistons have five different heroes who can be the most productive in a game in various categories: scoring, rebounding, assists or defensive plays.

Here is something to think about... Teams lose when they take low-percentage shots, force too many three pointers, and are unable to work the ball inside. Teams that don't have a half-court game probably will be eliminated early in the playoffs. Conversely, the Pistons drive to the basket, pass the basketball unselfishly and their offense starts with superb defense.

As we have heard many times before, championships are won with defense. Expect the Pistons to continue to get better on defense as the playoffs draw near, which will be scary for the rest of the league. It would seem the only way to deny them a championship is to match their defense and only a few teams have what it takes.

Next time I will have more about the Pistons and make some comments about the other contenders for the NBA title.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

BBC Website Assists English Language Students in China

BBC World Service announced Friday that a new website for Chinese users had been created to provide bilingual content especially geared to the needs of young people in China.

"We have talked to students and English language learners all over China to ensure we developed teaching materials that are fun to work with but have a serious aim of delivering results," Alison Konieczny, Editor of the China Team at BBC Learning English said in the BBC press release promoting the launch of the website.

Easy access to the site is possible by clicking the following link:

Friday, January 27, 2006

Malaysia's Endangered Rhinos Focus of Rescue Project

Endangered Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia are the focus of a collaborative rescue project of WWF (formerly known as World Wildlife Fund) and Honda motor corporation, which will contribute about US $1 million to the project, WWF on Friday reported.

Goals of the project include reduction of poaching, protection of the rhino's habitat and raising awareness in the community, WWF added, with the aim of increasing rhino numbers, now believed to be fewer than 300 worldwide and existing mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia.

No Bird Flu in Philippines Says Government, Siquijor Province Must Prepare

The Philippines is one of two countries in Asia that have not been affected by the virus that causes bird flu, according to the Philippine Information Agency, which provides government reports to the Philippine public.

One province is not prepared for the possibility of a bird flu outbreak, the agency on Friday announced.

"The danger is imminent! In the immediate term, the province of Siquijor must create a task force to prepare itself for possible entry of the pandemic Avian influenza, better known as bird flu," the Provincial Veterinary Office of Siquijor Province stated at a planning meeting earlier this week.

A Provincial Bird Flu Task Force as well as a task force in every municipality will have purpose of detecting Avian virus cases, responding to them, and providing a public awareness program, PIA reported.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Latino Football Players Recognized on Website

Now you can learn more about the contributions of Latino football players and listen to some Latin music while you're hanging out online.

A brand new experience featured on is called "Latinos in the NFL," made possible through a partnership of Hispanic Media, Inc. and McDonald's. It provides a way for football fans to learn about the history of Latinos in the NFL and look up their statistics.

There are also several free internet radio stations with Latin music for your listening pleasure as well as interviews of musicians and CD reviews.

With the Super Bowl fast approaching, interest in football couldn't be greater. This information on Latino NFL players in Spanish and English provides a way for more Americans to get excited about the game. It also is another way to kick back and relax to some mellow tunes. Try it out for yourself at

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Seaweed Farming Creates Jobs in Philippines

Experimenal agriculture continues to show promise as a way to feed more people and create jobs.

A businessman in the Philippines sees success and an employment solution in seaweed farming, according to the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), as fishermen in need of work would be hired.

Domingo Ang of the Confederation of Philippine Exporters told PIA that he wants to help fishermen by starting the seaweed farm in the Island Garden City of Samal, located near Davao, Mindanao.

The agency reports that growing seaweed can support families with a typical income being 222,700 pesos for a one-quarter hectare seaweed farm.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Philippine Text Message Threats Investigated by Police, People Told to Stay Out of Crowded Public Places

Terror threats in the Philippines circulating through text messages on mobile phones received a swift response Monday from authorities.

The Regional director of the Philippine National Police in an interview told the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) that the text messages were bomb threats in Ormoc City, the PIA stated in a press release which gave police instructions to the public.

Police advised people to stay at home and not go to crowded places if it wasn't necessary, while they investigated what was said to be the fifth time such threats have occurred.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Kobe's 81 Points Means Wilt's Record 100 Within Reach

Kobe Bryant on Sunday scored 81 points, the second most points in NBA history. Granted, it was against a very weak Toronto Raptors team that doesn't play much defense.

A long, long time ago, and what today seems like a myth, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. But that record no longer seems safe, with Bryant launching shots almost every time down the floor, at times acting as though he didn't have any teammates...

When anybody shoots the ball 43 times, he had better score a ton. Kobe shot the ball 46 times and made 28 field goals. Bryant also knows how to get to the free throw, where he made 18 of 20 foul shots. What an impressive display of a unbelievable basketball talent.

But let's not forget, basketball is a team sport.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Thailand, United States Work Toward Free Trade Agreement

Tariffs would be eliminated, intellectual property protected in trade pact, but Thailand's AIDS and HIV positive patients fear they could lose access to affordable medicines

By Scott McLean

Trade talks between the United States and Thailand are pushing forward in 2006 with a goal of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would eliminate tariffs and create tens of thousands of jobs, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Barbara Weisel said in a statement.

The past week's trade discussions in Chiang Mai, Thailand were not without opposition. Thousands of Thais protested the trade negotiations, according to The Bangkok Post, and many were AIDS/HIV+ patients, who fear that AIDS medicines will not be available to them if the FTA is approved.

Thailand is already considered a major trade ally in Asia. In 2004 the U.S. exports to Thailand totaled $6.4 billion and imports from the asian trading partner were $17.6 billion.

Thailand receives the highest percentage of its agricultural imports from the United States. Last summer trade officials from both countries had a meeting in Montana and agriculture was one of the main topics.

U.S. trade officials said that an FTA with Thailand would expand sales of agricultural products, namely pork and beef, which will benefit U.S. farmers and ranchers. In July last year Thai trade representatives were taken on tours of Montana farms and businesses.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mexican Tequila Imports Focus Of U.S. Trade

Mexican tequila will continue to be imported in bulk, according to an announcement Wednesday by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

At the beginning of trade negotiations, Mexico wanted all tequila to be bottled in Mexico, which would have prevented American companies from bottling tequila and labeling it with their brands.

According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. is the world's largest importer of Mexican tequila, which amounts to about 50 percent of Mexican tequila production. Approximately 73 percent of these imports were in bulk form in 2004, a year that saw the U.S. import over $400 million in Mexican tequila.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Avian Flu Worst Case Scenario 16 Million U.S. Deaths Says Insurance Information Institute

By Scott McLean

Avian flu could cause 16 million deaths under a worst-case scenario, according to an Insurance Information Institute study made public Tuesday.

In a little more than two years time, 147 people were infected with the virus and 78 died, the research shows. These bird flu cases all occurred in six countries.


Presently, there is no solid proof of bird flu that bird flu can be spread by people. But the study seems to indicate that the virus could spread from person to person. When the World Health Organization or some other recognized health agency releases solid information to that effect, then people need to really pay attention. At this point panic would be the wrong thing to do.

In recent years health professionals were concerned about the possible spread of SARS, Mad Cow Disease and other viruses. As it turned out those diseases did not become a major worldwide threat. Bird flu just might fall in that category as well.

Right now the smartest course of action is for people in affected countries to take sensible precautions, especially not handling wild birds and to keep children and weak people including the elderly away from birds altogether.

Some of the recent cases that ended tragically were of children who touched or played with diseased birds.

In many of the countries where people live close to the land, Asia and Eastern Europe in particular, ownership of chickens for meat and eggs is common. The eggs of quail, for example, are considered very tasty in Ukraine.

It's commonplace to see fresh meats and eggs sold at bazaars and on more than an occasion one might walk past quail in cages on the street next to vegetables for sale. A few years ago while visiting Ukraine, I shopped at many bazaars. And my hope is that their health laws have become stricter regarding the way they sell meat and eggs.

Health standards in these countries must be elevated now that Avian flu is a threat. These measures will undoubtedly pass on new costs to consumers in these poor countries, but without precautions the number of deaths will likely increase.

At the same time United States and international health agencies need to come up with an effective vaccine and continue to track and report their findings on new cases and how the flu was contracted.

Should the bird flu mutate into a strain that can spread from person to person, tough measures to contain the disease would become necessary. That is a worse-case scenary we hope will never take place.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

When Championship Dreams Fade

By Scott McLean

When the NBA season got underway a few months ago, experts had the Houston Rockets challenging the San Antonio Spurs for a trip to the Finals.

It's far from over but the Rockets are a huge disappointment. Their record is just 12-23 which is second to last in the Western Conference. Apart from a major turnaround, the Rockets will be watching the playoffs like the rest of us.

Blame injuries? Argue that Yao Ming is overrated? Yell at the whole team for failing to get the basketball to the big man when he's around the basket? Let them hear it for lack of hustle? Well, you could do all of the above or simply realize the Rockets are just not ready to compete for the NBA title.

Championship-caliber teams need superstars like Tracy McGrady and Yao but they also need good role players. The Rockets are lacking in that department.

The other team that has fallen flat is Indiana. For the second consecutive season the Pacers have been plagued by player controvery. Last season the Pacers did themselves in by having several players suspended by the league following skirmishes with fans in Detroit. It wasn't pretty.

Ron Artest, a forward with enormous talent, missed the rest of the 2004-05 season and Indiana was no longer a title contender.

The Pacers had their full roster to start this season. But that was too good to be true. Artest said he wanted out of Indiana, and Pacers management seem ready to give him his wish.

But several weeks have gone by and the team has yet to trade Artest. The Pacers have not been playing him, and without a forward of his ability in the lineup alongside Jermaine O'Neal, they are not much better than a .500 team.

At present Indiana is five games above .500, but they don't appear to have any realistic chance of getting to the NBA Finals or even the Eastern Conference finals this year.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

U.S. Relations With Russia at Stake, Rice Must Tone Down Tough Talk

By Scott McLean

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a firm stance last week regarding Russia in its dispute with Ukraine over natural gas sales. The tension grew today as Pravda, one of Russia's major newspapers, issued harsh words for the U.S. Secretary of State in the English version of its website.

The natural gas conflict between Ukraine and Russia resulted when the two countries could not agree to the gas price, with Ukraine maintaining a price had been set previously and Russia demanding a price more than double what Ukraine had expected.

Secretary of State Rice, who specializes in Russian affairs, accused Russia of having political motives in the area of natural resource trade. Russia maintained that the gas crisis could be resolved by the two countries and didn't want her to interfere.

As it turned out they did reach a resolution, as reported by Pravda, but it does seem rather problematic because the numbers don't add up. Russia still plans to charge the higher price and Ukraine thinks it can pay the lower price for gas. But they both agreed to it.

Perception is powerful in politics. Russia now believes Rice is a bully who wants to tell them how to run their country and foreign affairs. Can the United States foreign policy be successful if it is thought of as a bully? It is quite doubtful.

Despite her obvious career success, Rice is not presently a professor and therefore doesn't have the luxury of living in the scholarly world of theories. This world is very real and foreign policy decisions come with consequences.

Although Rice is said to have a great deal of book knowledge of Russian politics, this writer, feels her response to Russia lacks sensitivity and her decision making needs more objectivity which is necessary to succeed as Secretary of State.

Starbucks, American Late-Night Hangout

By Scott McLean

In recent years, though it's hard to pinpoint exactly when, Starbucks was transformed into a late-night hangout for teens and college students cramming for tests.

This really isn't so different from previous generations spending free time at a shopping mall, music store, McDonald's or other fast food restaurants.

In the smaller cities, where the Starbucks is open regular business hours, the stores have a relaxed atmosphere, it's actually quite boring on a weekend night.

A few Starbucks in Boise, Idaho come to mind. If you like to read a newspaper with a latte or mocha and not be bothered, then this is the kind of place for you.

However, in some cities, such as Beaverton, Oregon, Starbucks is open all night. And on the weekend, if you go there at, say, 10 pm it's filled with lots of people, mostly teens and college students, either studying or pretending to study. With musicians often performing on weekends, the crowds start forming not long after the dinner hour.

A few hours later, the crowd continues to grow until there is standing room only...when the night comes to an end is anyone's guess as well as whether the late nighter was productive for anybody but the Starbucks company and its employees who earned every dollar.

That Starbucks is becoming America's weekend late-night hangout, bar none, is news. And despite what we have been told, all news need not be bad news.

Starbucks success is one example of news bringing a smile to millions of faces. It's not just financial news and about all the money consumers are spending money, but it tells a tale of how and where American young people are spending more and more leisure time.

If you read many posts like I do or just have conversations with friends about your favorite coffee, you know that few people are lukewarm when it comes to Starbucks. Either they like the coffee or they don't. Similarly, people either tolerate the crowds or the stay away.

If noise doesn't bother you and you like action minus alcohol and cigarette smoke, Starbucks on a Friday or Saturday night just might be the place for you.

Some stores are quieter than others, and you will know the quiet ones immediately by all the laptops you see when you walk in the door. Just choose the Starbucks where you feel comfortable, buy a coffee, espresso drink, pastry, whatever, and enjoy.

Bryant Accomplishes Scoring Feat

Kobe Bryant is setting records. Over the last few games his high scoring has resulted in wins for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant's 45 points Monday night gave Los Angeles the victory over Indiana and made him the first player since Wilt Chamberlain with at least that many points in four straight games.

The Lakers are in the playoff hunt but only two games over .500. They are just a half game behind the the L.A. Clippers, a team they beat on Bryant's 50 points a few days ago.

It's possible that only one of those two teams will reach the playoffs, and their head-to-head records could be the difference.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Superstars Shoot, MVP Candidates MakeTheir Teams Win

There are so many superstars nowadays the NBA is really fun to watch. But many of the young MVP candidates are on struggling teams. You can't blame them if there aren't enough good complimentary players, role players, a supporting cast willing to follow them to the promised land of championships.

Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas and Allen Iverson were the focus of the last column. Each player is an MVP candidate and rightly so. They make shots when they are double-teamed under the basket and sink shots from the arc with defenders draped all over them. It's unbelievable the plays they make in clutch situations.

Tracy McGrady is another player who can make shots from all over the floor and he always leaves us wanting more. The one thing these guys lack is proof that they can lead their teams to titles.

Kobe has three rings with the Lakers, but nobody seriously thinks the Lakers would have won championships without Shaq.

Then there is a group of players that have become team leaders, they don't average 30 points a game, but they make their teammates better and show desire to win championships.

The names that come to mind are Detroit's guards Billups and Hamilton, the Spurs' Tim Duncan, and last year's MVP Steve Nash of Phoenix.

Let's not forget what Vince Carter is doing this year with the New Jersey Nets. Carter has been spectacular this season, shooting extremely well, making huge shots to win games and getting other players involved in games, which has really turned the team into a contender. I personally thought the Nets were going nowhere fast early in the season, but now they have won nine straight and lead their division.

My MVP candidates at the beginning of 2006 are Hamilton, Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Billups, Nash and Bryant. Of course Tim Duncan also deserves recognition as the San Antonio Spurs have the second best record in the league.

However, Nash has guided the Suns to the third best record in the West without help from Amare Stoudamire, who has been out with an injury. Any one of these players could win the award.

One thing is for sure, the NBA rivalries, superstars, MVP candidates, and teams eyeing a championship are all very interesting.

Enjoy the rest of the season.

Detroit Loses Again to Utah, L.A. Teams Battle

Planet News Views is live and talking NBA hoops. Live just means this writer will keep giving NBA updates until he gets too tired to write another word.

Tonight what really stood out was the brilliant all-around play of Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, who has been out of the lineup with injuries quite a bit last season and early this season.

Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur both gave tremendous efforts in the overtime win over the mighty Detroit Pistons. It was the second time this season that Utah beat Detroit.

And the Pistons two top scorers, guards Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, well, they were shooting like Kobe Bryant....they scored a lot but they had to take way too many shots. They hit less than one-third of their shots combined. It's rare for them, as they are usually among the most efficient scorers in the league.

Speaking of Kobe Bryant, his Lakers are playing the other L.A. team, the Clippers, and it is the Clippers that look like the better of the two city rivals this year. Kobe is getting some attention as an MVP candidate, now that he is no longer in the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal. The problem is efficiency.

Bryant is a prolific scorer but even more prolific shooter. He is a career 45 percent field-goal shooter, which isn't horrible, but it's no where near the efficiency we expect from an MVP.

Still, many of the plays Bryant makes are unbelievable. And he does hit shots with a hand in his face, way out on the arc, with the shot clock expiring, and make it look easy. It's not.

As soon as Kobe fully takes the leadership role and proves he is making his teammates better, the team will improve and become a contender. Of course it's not all Kobe's fault the team is only at .500, as there are too many young players starting for the Lakers and Bryant is the only legitimate star.

More later tonight...

It's later, okay only about 30 minutes later, but it was time to give some more thought to the MVP candidates. Certainly there are superstars having some memorable performances for some mediocre teams.

Without Larry Hughes the Washington Wizards are barely in the playoff chase, while last year they were a contender.

Getting to that superstar on a lackluster team, Gilbert Arenas has been all-world the past few weeks, with better than 40 points several times. He's an exciting player to watch...but the Wizards don't play defense and it's doubful they will go deep in the playoffs this year, if they get there at all.

And then there's Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers, who perenially leads the NBA in scoring or is maybe second at worst. But what's up with the Sixers? They have Chris Webber, right? He had made a difference in his second season with the team. But something is missing and the superstar again is quite fun to watch, and maybe he is the best scorer.

Does Iverson deserve to be MVP? The answer would be "no" if winning means anything. There is a long list of players that are great, but it isn't translating into team success.

I'll be back in a few minutes for some more thoughts on superstars and the MVP Award. And who knows, the MVP just might be Suns' point guard Steve Nash....again.

A few minutes seemed to turn into an hour, my computer just froze and wouldn't move as my patience wore thin. I'm back but it's best to start a new post which you will see in a few minutes.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

World News Analysis

By Scott McLean

World news never takes a holiday. In just a few short days since the New Year's celebration, several stories have depicted devastation of lives while others have made us aware of political peril.

With the stroke suffered by Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leaving him incapacitated, the next leader of Israel will soon be chosen it appears. While the former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is the frontrunner, nothing seems certain.

At a time when the Middle East appears to be reaching an even more dangerous threshold than previously, many argue that Israel must have strong leadership to retain the balance in that region.

On a completely different story gaining national attention, the reversal of a report by many large media sources about the fate of 13 miners, 12 of whom were said to be alive when in fact they had been killed, showed that journalists are quite capable of error.

The story behind the story that isn't being reported is the competition for these big stories by journalists, and that they all want to be the ones to break the story, meaning the first ones to carry the story.

Ukraine and Turkey, countries separated by the Black Sea, are both grappling with cases of bird flu according to many credible news agencies. Bird flu at this point is only transmitted directly from birds to human beings, and from my understanding only people who work closely with birds are at risk right now.

Still, it could be an outdated assessment, as at any moment the bird flu could mutate into a different strain that could be transmitted from human to human, which has health experts worried.

The word pandemic keeps coming up with these lesser understood diseases, and it was SAR's a few years ago that caused the scare.

Whether it's legitimate concern or not, or it's just a matter of these health care professionals figuring sometime our luck will run out, is anyone's guess.

These are but a few of this new year's big stories.

More analysis on the way...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Fast Food Fights for Freedom on the Planet

It's New Year's Day 2006 in the wee hours of the morning, and I'm trying in vain to type without my contacts. At the same time I'm hoping to prove without a doubt that fast food has done it's part to advance freedoms on our planet.

While politicizing fast food is not my intention, I would like to simply say who among us would allow their government to ban private ownership of businesses, possibly even fast food restaurants, once they had eaten a big juicy hamburger, french fries and a milk shake.

Surely nobody is going to passively roll over and accept communism or a dictatorship in place of democracy if they would have to go without fried chicken, a fish sandwich or pizza.

In this roundabout way fast food has become an ardent defender of freedom, which has allowed fast food franchises to operate in countless countries. Of course there are still some countries which love fast food and also restrict freedoms. China has somehow been able to mix communism with consumerism, but in the years to come something will have to give.

On the other hand, most of the former Soviet countries, such as Ukraine and Russia, now enjoy tasty burgers and fries, etc. etc., and so many other successes of capitalism. Our taste buds after all do have a very big say in our lives and through them we hear, or rather "taste," the fast food message:
Long live fast food and freedom!
Happy New Year!