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There’s nothing that raises hackles like some stupid nationalistic law trying to compel patriotism.

This week it happened in Slovakia, where the ruling left-wing/nationalist coalition passed a “law on patriotism” that requires students at all state schools and universities to sing the national hymn at the beginning of each week, as well as promoting the Slovak flag and other national symbols.

The new law isn’t universally popular within Slovakia, where people in some quarters are complaining about the effort to mandate this kind of patriotic ritual.

Moreover, the law is raising alarms among Slovakia’s neighbors. In Austria, an editorial this week responded to the patriotism law by describing Bratislava as “Pyongyang on the Danube.” I haven’t seen any reports about the reaction from Hungary, but it’s pretty clear that the language law, which looks like yet another sop by Prime Minister Robert Fico’s left-wing party Smer to the right-wing Slovak National Party, notorious for its baiting of Slovakia’s Magyar minority (as well as the Roma population).

Of course, it’s also interesting to see the backlash to the law, then to think about how American schools arguably take it further. I think we said the Pledge of Allegiance every day I was in public school, though I suppose there’s no federal law requiring recitation of the pledge, as far as I know. Then there was that whole period in fourth grade, during Gulf War I, when Mrs. Banks had our class signing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” almost daily.

I guess, again, the operative difference is the element of legal compulsion. Still, it’s not like most schoolchildren are really old enough or informed enough to decide for themselves whether they want to participate in such nationalistic rituals.

Plus, it would be hilarious if, for instance, the Globe and Mail took to referring to D.C. as “Pyongyang on the Potomac.” It has a ring to it.

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Perusing the headlines on Sme, I ran across a report about how McDonald’s is rebranding itself as “green” in its German restaurants.

No, they’re literally rebranding the chain as green. As in, the red in the classic red-and-white Mickey D’s color scheme is being changed to green. Those golden arches will now stand before a green background.

From the report, and the little bit of German I parsed in the story from Financial Times Deutschland, there isn’t much substance to the rebranding campaign. The McDonald’s vice president for Germany simply said it’s a matter of “respect for the environment.” But it’d probably be more respectful if the fast food chain took steps more concrete than simply adding a new coat of paint.

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Green bag it

Here’s the Stranger’s endorsement on Seattle’s Referendum 1, which would finally implement a city ordinance charging 20 cents for every plastic bag stores give out.

This was a tough one, as both sides made excellent points. On the one hand, environmentalists who know about things like “science” and “dead sea mammals” have researched the issue thoroughly and say that the 20-cent fee on disposable shopping bags—the proceeds of which go partially to the stores and partially to fund recycling programs—would help decrease the number of plastic bags currently piling up in landfills, or being downcycled to shittier plastic bags and then piling up in landfills, and, eventually, slowly disintegrating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch until they resemble tiny, delicious plankton particles that fish mistake for food but are actually POISON.

On the other hand, plastic-bag companies want more money! Waaaaaaaah!!! Do you want to see plastic-bag companies and chemical corporations cry? ON THEIR BIRTHDAY!?

Despite compelling arguments from the staggeringly disingenuous anti-bag-fee spokesman, whose organization, the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax, has raised an absurd million-plus dollars from chemical companies and trade associations like the American Chemistry Council (but “one guy in Ballard gave $25!” he told us), we decided to go ahead and endorse a “YES, FUCKING OBVIOUSLY” vote on upholding the bag fee. Because 20 cents is approximately the same as zero cents if you remember to bring a reusable bag to the store anyway, which people who don’t want to pay the fee will do, and we’d like to continue having oceans, thanks.

Yup.

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… miss offensive historical references.

The publisher of a newspaper in Warren, Pa., is scrambling to apologize after the paper’s advertising staff ran a classified ad calling for Barack Obama’s assassination.

The text of the ad:

May Obama follow in the steps of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy!

According to the publisher, the ad staff didn’t realize that Obama’s four would-be predecessors were all, you know, assassinated.

Of course, C speculates that given the paper’s location in a rural, redneck area of northwest Pennsylvania, it’s plausible the advertising staff simply agreed with the sentiment.

I for one am just waiting for the cries of outrage and indignation from the “media personalities” who routinely decry the liberal media for hating on America.

(Crickets.)

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A hilarious analogy used in an LA Times piece about the latest chapter in the ongoing and bizarre saga of Miss California, Carrie Prejean:

And with that, the organizers labeled her a rogue Miss California and, well, ostracized her. They don’t have the authority to dethrone her. That power lies only with Donald Trump, the owner of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageant system. He is scheduled to weigh in on the brouhaha today at a news conference in New York.

Instead the organizers installed the Miss California first runner-up as a kind of shadow Miss California. Tami Farrell, a gleamy-eyed, long-haired blond in a short one-shouldered dress, beamed and took her place on the dais when she was introduced as the “official Beauty of California ambassador” by Shanna Moakler, executive director of the state pageant

Once again, Krusty the Clown is ever sage in his wisdom regarding beauty pageant runners-up:

And now it’s time to name our runner up, who if the winner doesn’t fulfill her duties, blah blah wasa wasa wasa…. And don’t say it’ll never happen, because we all remember that thing with what’s-her-name, click click, you know.

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Count longtime ABC journalist Sam Donaldson as a prominent nutjob. On the Sunday morning program “This Week,” he expressed his desire to be at Fidel Castro’s deathbed so he could ask Fidel at his dying breath whether he was responsible for the Kennedy assassination.

Yeah, you read that right. And if you don’t believe me, just check out the video clip.

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The decline of the newspaper

One comforting (?) thought I’ve had of late is the knowledge that while my current job search has largely stalled and gotten me nowhere, I’m probably not much worse off having abandoned my previous choice of career as a journalist.

In recent weeks I’ve heard about former classmates from j-school being put on unpaid furlough from their current papers. Rich Hammond, the beat writer for the Kings is similarly on furlough this week (though he is graciously posting updates on a Facebook group), and shortly before we left for vacation, one of Seattle’s two dailies stopped publishing in print and moved to a much leaner, web-only version.

As ESPN.com’s Jim Caple observes, the demise of newspapers could deprive fans of some useful insight. There will always be box scores and stats online, plus endless speculation and analysis from devoted bloggers. But beat writers cultivate relationships with teams and their personnel, and these relationships often lead to information fans wouldn’t get otherwise.

Indeed, the plight of the beat writers makes me really glad I bailed on studying journalism halfway through college, since that was one of my big goals, getting to cover the Kings on a daily basis. Of course, since the L.A. papers all stopped covering the team full time a few years ago, with the L.A. Times even stopped, right after the longtime Kings beat writer, Helene Elliott, was inducted into the writers wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Oops!

Still, it’s an interesting quandary. I keep thinking someone’s going to make a fortune once they figure out a viable business model for web-based journalism (that statement seems less profound and more obvious written in words, rather than floating around my head).

But after reading this post by Clay Shirky on the perils of the newspaper business, I wonder whether that will happen, or if most journalism as we know it will disappear in favor of a more informal, amateur (in the sense of unpaid) product. It’ll definitely leave some big gaps, especially in local coverage. Then again, I think back to my hometown paper, and how crappy much of it is, and I don’t know that there’d be a huge drop in quality.

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