When the fat lady sings (5×8 – 10/24/11)

Mixing opera and politics, more scenes from the gene pool, the curse of the Halloween costume, the hero’s bill, and the lost voice.


The Monday Morning Rouser:

1) MIXING OPERA AND POLITICS

Quietly, late on Friday afternoon, NPR flexed some muscle in the case of the freelance opera program host who was also acting as a spokesperson for one of the Occupy protests. NPR dropped distribution of WDAV’s World of Opera, apparently because of host Lisa Simeone’s political activities. NPR’s move came after WDAV’s station manager allowed her to keep her host job. It also came after NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher Matos, took a pass on the issue, saying Simeone had nothing to do with NPR news and referring us to NPR’s ethics policy, which covers — or so it says — “all employees of NPR’s news division.” That’s not Simeone, but NPR’s spokesperson, in announcing the dropping of distribution of Simeone’s program, referred to the same ethics policy.

“Our view is it’s a potential conflict of interest for any journalist or any individual who plays a public role on behalf of NPR to take an active part in a political movement or advocacy campaign,” the spokesman told The Associated Press. “Doing so has the potential to compromise our reputation as an organization that strives to be impartial and unbiased.”

Can non-news hosts not directly associated with a news department, have a political view? If this sounds familiar, you might have read this old NewsCut post on a radio host in Minnesota with significant political views to express. And across town, a conservative talk show hosts has regularly hosted GOP and tea party rallies, and few people seem to have a problem drawing the distinction between news and other programming. Can you have it both ways?

All of this, Baltimore Sun columnist Jean Marbella wrote over the weekend, presumes you’re not able to make such distinctions:


If anything, the brush-up over Simeone shows how hard it is to lump “the media” into a single category, judged by the same standards across the board.

So here’s a novel idea: How about we both trust media consumers more and give them more responsibility as well? Disclose, and let them decide on their own whether someone’s bias is at play.

Or just give it a rest and go listen to some fat lady sing.

2) MORE SCENES FROM THE GENE POOL

Are people who serve on juries too scientifically ignorant to bother enforcing the ban on synthetic drugs in Minnesota? The Duluth News Tribune bought synthetic pot from the Last Place on Earth head shop and took it to the experts for analysis, finding the synthetic pot contains “analogs,” a “tweaked” version of a banned compound.

Why aren’t the sellers of synthetic pot with analogs prosecuted? Read between the lines in this passage of today’s story:


Gregory Janis, MedTox’s scientific director, said the chance of Last Place on Earth being prosecuted for selling analogs is slim.

Prosecutors “are often reluctant to prosecute them,” Janis said, “because they end up in a position where they have to prove to a jury that two compounds are chemically similar. Whereas, most of the juries are not chemistry experts, and trying to walk them through structures, chemical structures and the concept of an analog is a difficult task. As a result of that, they will stay on cases that are easier to win.”

The owner of the head shop acknowledges he’s making millions selling the synthetic.

As for the effect of the synthetic, check out this picture that accompanied yesterday’s story, which documented the drug use in a park near the store.

On the other end of the gene pool: Professors Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, authors of a new book, Quantum Universe, explain to the BBC why it is important for everyone to understand the basics of quantum physics.

3) THE CURSE OF THE HALLOWEEN COSTUME

If Luc Villeneuve weren’t the son of two gay moms, would his choice of a Halloween costume be generating as much attention as it is? The four year old wants to be a princess.

His mom says she’s struggling to leave her “inner activist” out of this; she doesn’t want her little boy to get hurt.

What I don’t want is for somebody to open up that door and say ‘Dude, what are you doing in a princess dress?’ ” his mother, Anna, told the Los Angeles Times. “It might just be confusion, not disapproval. But that’s the comment that will make my child feel like he’s done something wrong.”

4) THANKS FOR BEING A HERO. HERE’S YOUR BILL

Mark Lindquist, an underpaid social worker who nearly gave his life trying to save three developmentally disabled adults from the Joplin tornado,has gotten a big thank you from an insurance company in the form of a denied claim for hospital bills. He now owes $2.5 million. The three special needs adults he was trying to save died in the tornado.

5) THE LOST VOICE

Newspaper columns about the decline in human conversation in the era of texting are a dime a dozen, but the Boston Globe’s Beverly Beckham makes an interesting point today in noting the societal change in our approach to the ring of a telephone


Back in the day, when a telephone rang there was an actual race for it. It was like hearing the ice cream man a few blocks away. From all corners of the house came a chorus of “I’ll get it!” as everyone stopped cooking or studying or curling her hair or reading the newspaper and ran. Answering the phone, discovering who was calling, hoping it was for you? This never got old.

This was in the telephone’s heyday when most phones were black and simple to use, when all you had to do was pick it up and dial. It had its own table then, too, which was a kind of desk where a person could sit and talk away.

I’ll take it a step further by admitting that sometimes I call people on the phone and whisper to myself, “please don’t answer, please don’t answer, please don’t answer.” I’d rather leave a voicemail message.

Texting is very convenient, true. But something else is going on. What?

Related: Today is the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental telegraph, the original social network.

Bonus: A day in the life of Danny, a high school hockey defenseman. School, girls, and his next-door neighbor: hockey legend Ken Daneyko.

ICE HOCKEY from Larry Cohen on Vimeo.

Bonus II: Should the Vikings have punted? The Vikings faced fourth and 10 with a couple of minutes left in yesterday’s game with the Packers. Rather than go for it, they punted, relying on their porous defense to hold Green Bay, in hopes of getting the ball back. It was the last time they touched the ball.

Good decision or bad? Advanced NFL Stats has crunched the numbers. Conclusion: whatever. (h/t: @klooth)

TODAY’S QUESTION

One of the issues motivating the Occupy Wall Street movement is student-loan debt, which now equals the size of credit card debt in the United States. The average debt is $24,000, but many graduates carry a balance much larger than that. Today’s Question: What’s the solution to the student-debt problem?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: We face tough decisions each day. In fact, as Jonah Lehrer notes, we’ve managed to turn even trivial choices – say, picking a toothpaste – into a tortured mental task. The typical supermarket has more than 200 different dental cleaning options. How should we make all of these hard decisions?

Second hour: September 11, 2011 marked the 10-year anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. Mall of America, William Mitchell College of Law’s National Security Forum, and InfraGard hosted a two-part symposium examining issues surrounding current terrorism threats.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: State Economist Tom Stinson in the MPR studio to discuss the Minnesota economy and jobs situation.

Second hour: Jeffrey Sachs, who spoke last week at the Westminster Town Hall Forum. Author of “The Price of Civilization: Economics and Ethics After the Fall.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: TBA

Second hour: Guillermo del Toro joins host Neal Conan to talk about “The Night Eternal.”