Saturday, December 31, 2005

Muppets, Moppets, and Morley

Morley Safer is SwanBlog's Father Time 2005. Readers may wonder why SwanBlog did not choose one of Morley's very deserving colleagues. Readers may also have been rooting for Nick Coleman to repeat as Father time. Dan Rather, Helen Thomas, and Howard Dean all received honorable mention. It was a tough race, but Morley pulled it out.

To review, Father Time is someone with stale ideas and stale methods. The world has passed them by, and they just don't get it. Morley fits this to a "T."

Morley Safer has never been the top investigative reporter at 60 Minutes. Instead, Morley is the one who often does the second "feel good" segment in the program. Interesting pieces like the one on Eton boarding school in England, or Jim Henson's Muppets come to mind. Morley is the go-to guy for eccentric dreamers and cute children.

When the story of pre-teen college student Adragon DeMello emerged, Morley was on the task. When he reported that Adragon's mother was "something of a mystery," that's all the further it went. But there was a huge story for any real journalist. Read here, here, and here. A responsible news magazine could have covered the obsessive behavior of the father, the bullying of the college officials, and the failure of the mother to protect her son. Morley Safer is not responsible for the abuse, nor should he be expected to predict the future. But the writing was on the wall in this story, if he had chosen to stray from the "feel good" template.

The Boys Choir of Harlem, which was also profiled by Safer, was involved in its own abuse scandal. Again, this happened years after the 60 Minutes report, but Safer is AWOL on the follow-up. When a widely-praised organization has financial trouble and an abuse scandal, that would be a good time for 60 Minutes to pay attention, especially when the news magazine helped promote the organization in the past.

Compare Morley's failure to the courageous reporting of Kurt Eichenwald. While reporting on financial crimes, Eichenwald stumbled upon the world of underage web pornography. He convinced a victimized teenager to stop using drugs, escape the exploitation, and cooperate with law enforcement. Eichenwald was able to do this without compromising any journalistic ethics. This is the future of investigative journalism. Morley Safer is the past, which makes him SwanBlog's Father Time 2005.


Monday, December 26, 2005

In Honor of the Boxing Day Truce:

The American Prospect provides intelligent commentary from a liberal perspective. It is an important publication with thoughtful authors.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Human, Machine, and Christmas

Cyborg 2000 wishes you a Merry Christmas in binary language. I wonder if we'll hear from the Happy Mutant, too.
Legal, Illegal, and Grinch-like

I was on the board of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association when I was in law school. Most people in Minneapolis are familiar with the Riverside Plaza high-rise apartments near the University of Minnesota West Bank Campus.

As minority shareholders in the complex, we had a small budget that was sufficient to hire a staffer and to hold some events. One of the proposed events was a Christmas party. Ann, a U of M graduate student and fellow board member, offered that we could not hold a Christmas party because it was "illegal."

Just to clarify the law, the government may not establish religion, nor may it prohibit the free exercise of religion. Permitting a non-profit corporation to hold a Christmas party would not violate the Establishment Clause. Indeed, prohibiting religious celebrations by private entities would clearly violate the Free Exercise Clause.

I thought of this allegedly criminal Christmas party when reading this piece by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at the University of Virginia. Brooks uses a parody of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas to launch a counterattack in the War on Christmas.

Brooks asserts a number of (often contradictory) points:
  • There is no War on Christmas; it is all made up by Fox News and Bill O'Reilly to score ratings points
  • The motivation behind those reporting the War on Christmas is latent anti-Semitism (wait, I thought it was about ratings!)
  • Efforts to say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" are due to tolerance and the law (wait, I thought it was all made up!)
  • The focus on private retailers saying "Happy Holidays" is a First Amendment Establishment Clause issue
  • Those who choose to preserve the expression "Merry Christmas" among private individuals are acting like the Grinch
  • Those who seek include Christian symbols in public parades and displays, where local governments have promoted a variety of secular and religious symbols, are acting like the Grinch


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hope, Holidays, and Hope

This is a good time to reprint Poppa Andrade's comment to this post:

Just a quick comment on Bob Hope, whom I carried around Viet Nam in a C-130. He gave up his Christmas every year to go overseas from WWII until he was too infirm to be able to do the strenuous travel that his tours entailed. Sure, he always got a great show out of it once he was on tv, but his show was always oriented on entertaining the troops, not on his future tv show. He did his tours in jungle heat, arctic cold , at sea and in actual combat areas where his safety could not be insured. For all of his bragging Franken will never touch Hope's record. Plus Bob Hope was actually funny, something that Al Franken has forgotten to be lately(if he ever was)
Church, State, and None of the Above

We had a choir director in junior high, Patty P., who was very concerned about the separation of church and state. Our "Winter Concert" included general seasonal songs like "I Love Snow" and selections from the musical Cabaret. One of the seasonal songs was about a fruitcake recipe. I remember that we sang in unison about pouring flour and folding in eggs. Unfortunately for Patty, "Fruitcake" had one line that referred to Christmas. At the first rehearsal, we were instructed to take out our pencils, cross out the c-word, and add a two-syllable substitution. I don't recall what the substitute word was.

This would be another anecdote in the War on Christmas, except for a little twist. Patty took the separation of church and state quite literally. She did not insist on the separation of synagogue and state. So we warmed up our voices with "Shalom Chaverim," belted "Sing We Now of Hanukkah" at the Winter Concert, and sang about Passover at a later concert.

Incidents like this are the reason why people are finally starting to insist on saying "Merry Christmas."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Guantanamo, Gulag, and Abu Ghraib

My colleague Kim Crockett pointed out this incident to me last week. The Cuban government allows Americans to protest a few miles away from the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Amnesty International calls the facility a "gulag."

See if you can find all the ironies in this incident. How many did you get?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Terror, Torture, and Reuters, Part II

Last week, I reported that Reuters refused to use the word "torture" to describe what happened to Sen. John McCain in Vietnam. It seemed that the word was only used to describe what Americans allegedly do, not what is done to American GIs. According to Reuters, McCain was "mistreated."

The good news is that the Associated Press got it right:

Congressional sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of the ban, and McCain,
a former Navy pilot who was held and tortured for five and a half years in
Vietnam, adopted the issue.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thanksgiving, Holiday, and Uhhhh....

Concerning the war on Christmas, don't forget this post from last year. I discussed the University of Minnesota's suggestion that office holiday parties take place in January and avoid the colors red and green.

I am also reminded of something my junior high principal once said. I had stayed late in school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The principal, Dr. Robert S., saw me waiting for a ride. He strolled past and said, "Have a good, uhhh, holiday." This was an absurd use of the word, in my opinion. Either the next day was going to be Thanksgiving for me, or it was just going to be Thursday. No Lutonian harvest festival as a third option.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dick, Jane, and G-Spot

I was unable to find additional information about this story from the Woodbury Bulletin. Everyone wants to know specifically what books the op/ed writer was talking about. Either there is an ongoing controversy in the local schools that is not in the Woodbury Bulletin archives, or Natasha Fleischman just needed to unburden herself by writing on a topic near and dear to her heart.

Here is a Reuters story about a man fined for reading porn to six year-olds. Could that have been the book Natasha was defending?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Liberals, Conservatives, and Boxing Day

On Boxing Day 2005 (December 26), I will only say nice things about liberals. This is in keeping with the tradition of bosses switching places with their employees on Boxing Day (at least that's what they did on a M*A*S*H episode).

I invite liberal and conservative bloggers to join me in this Boxing Day truce. Here are the rules:
  • You must talk about people from the opposite end of the political spectrum as yourself
  • None of this business how you're "liberal on some issues, conservative on others," we all are; pick the side you disagree with most of the time
  • No backhanded compliments or faint praise
To sign up, send me an e-mail or a note in the comments section, below. While you are at it, send in your nominations for SwanBlog's Man of the Year 2005 and Father Time 2005.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Honky, Honky-Honky, and Dead Honky

Richard Pryor passed away. Senator Gene McCarthy passed away on the same day. Our last two-fer was August Wilson and Nipsey Russell. I again ask which one was better known and what we should think about this.

My prediction is that Pryor will get the most applause at next year's Oscars when they show the people who died over the last year. The runner up will be Bob Denver.

P.S. The title above was from a classic word association skit that Pryor did on Saturday Night Live.

Friday, December 09, 2005

2005, Man of the Year, and Father Time

It is getting close to the end of the year. SwanBlog must pick the winners of the Father Time and Man of the Year awards again.

The Father Time award goes to the person in media or politics whose best days are clearly behind him (or her). Stale methods and stale ideas are a plus in this category. Nick Coleman was a consensus choice for Father Time last year. His fudging of facts, thin skin, and mud slinging were the deciding factors. In Minnesota, Coleman symbolizes Old Media.

John O'Neill was SwanBlog's Man of the Year for both 1971 and 2004. In 1971, O'Neill was a crew cut wearing Navy veteran who challenged the anti-war movement, particularly the statements of an ambitious young veteran named John Kerry. In 2004, O'Neill donated a kidney to his wife. During his recovery, he noticed that Senator Kerry was promoting his war record in the presidential primaries. Once again, O'Neill stepped up to correct the record. Man of the Year is a combination of a yearly achievement award and a comeback award.

What figure in media or politics has stale ideas and methods, such that time has passed them by? Put your nominations in the comment section. You should also share your nominations for Man of the Year.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Terror, Torture, and Reuters

Here is an excerpt from a Reuters story that talks about U.S. interrogation methods:

[Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch] singled out the interrogation technique called "waterboarding," in which the victim is made to feel he is drowning, which Malinowski said was even recognized as torture during the Spanish Inquisition.

The move announced by Rice may also be an important concession in U.S. domestic politics where Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and a former prisoner of war who was mistreated in Vietnam, has pressed the administration to close the loophole.

That's it. McCain was "mistreated" in Vietnam. I suppose that war was a "neighborhood skirmish," too.

Recall that Reuters was reluctant to use the word "terrorist." In this case, Reuters uses "torture" to describe what Americans allegedly do, but not what is done to Americans.

Help me spread the word. I want to see this on Brit Hume's Grapevine.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Andrade, Souter, and Blogdaddy

I previously alleged that Marty Andrade claimed to be my blogdaddy. I was wrong. I regret the error. I also regret any thought or suggestion that "Andrade" is a Spanish variant of "Souter."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Banned, Challenged, and Assigned Redux

Cyborg 2000 caught this little nugget in the Woodbury Bulletin. It seems that Natasha Fleischman has taken a courageous stand against book banning. For her next act, she will probably come out in favor of truth, justice, and the American way (which should have been the title of this post). Where to begin....

First, the facts. according to an unrelated story in USA Today, Fleishman is a part-time teacher in Lake Elmo. The opinion piece describes her as a "Children's Book Specialist at the Valley Bookseller in Stillwater." Fleischman complains that a group of parents is "protesting the use of explicit materials in our high school classrooms because our students are too impressionable to experience such literature." She goes on to ask the "fundamental question" whether students are mature enough to handle some of the harsher realities of life.

So far, so good. But it would be difficult to answer the "fundamental question" without seeing the book and knowing the age of the child. High school freshmen can be as young as 14. Which "harsher reality" is she talking about? War? Death? Divorce? Pregnancy? Serial killing? Fleischman's piece does not provide this basic information. Maybe this is because it would get in the way of her thesis that parents who complain are guilty of banning books.

That's right. Fleischman sets up the dispute as the ostriches who want to ban books against the realists who want to prepare students for the world. Apparently her own high school education neglected to teach nuance and logic.

As I have said before, it is different to assign a book as part of a curriculum than to shelve it in a library. Moreover, only the Library of Congress has every English-language book. Every other library must make choices about what books to obtain. People like Fleischman want to have their own input into the decision, while excluding parents and taxpayers who don't have a teaching license or a fancy title like Children's Book Specialist. That her bookstore even has such a job description demonstrates that every book is not appropriate for every age. Parents and taxpayers deserve to be part of this discussion.

Is that OK with you, Natasha Fleischman?

Monday, December 05, 2005

A watched pot never boils. Check back tomorrow for exciting updates!