Five at 8 – 7/16/09

I’m not going to lie to you. We’ve known each other far too long (it’s been days, right?). This time of the year is the worst for the news business. It’s worse than Christmas week. Little stuff becomes big stuff. You know Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” remark? He forgot to mention that most people’s 15 minutes comes in the second full week of July. Stay low this week, or you could end up leading a newscast.

1) Are newspaper comments worthless? Doug Bailey of the Boston Globe writes this week that they’ve got to go :

My problems with these forums can be boiled down to three peeves: The level of commentary demeans and devalues the very product newspapers should be promoting; sniping, misinformation, and insensitivity that would not be tolerated in the newspaper that hosts the forums are regularly posted, seemingly encouraged, and even granted an aura of legitimacy from the association with the host’s brand; they create a self-perpetuating cycle in which anonymous, unverified information creeps into legitimate news coverage in ways that haven’t been fully vetted.

MPR’s Tim Post looked at this issue in this 2007 story. Nothing much has changed. Why not moderate comments? Allow only ones that add intelligence and value to the discussion? At News Cut, comments aren’t moderated per se, and I rarely “unpublish” one. I did yesterday (though I can’t remember what it was about). It was full of bile. We don’t need bile. But we do need more people to comment who have interesting things to say. I’m wondering if people are generally scared off but what they see happening in “comments” in some other high-profile locales?

2) At what age should you think about sticking a fig leaf on your kid? All the news that’s fit to….

3) The space shuttle launched last evening. If you’re in Minnesota, find locations and times of viewing it across the sky here.

Continuing our observance of the 40th anniversary of the moon shot: It was a question then. It’s a question now. Why are we wasting millions of dollars in space when the Twins can’t afford a secondbaseman who can hit?

We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t save the historic tapes that recorded it. On the other hand, the onboard audio tapes have been released. It’s what you didn’t hear when the Eagle was heading for the moon.

Good question: I wonder what’s left of the Apollo 11 landing site?

4) The reviews are coming in now that the first round of Sonia Sotomayor hearings are over (Round one is done. Other witnesses are testifying today). “What a Waste,” headlines Slate, although it gives props to Minnesota’s junior senator for asking a question that nobody else asked. And, no, it wasn’t about Perry Mason.

However, the big points go to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, which settled the question of how many cases did Perry Mason lose by calling Barbara Hale, who played his secretary on the show. The answer? None.

5) The unemployment rate comes out this morning. It’ll be bad. And Minnesota’s budget woes? They’re going to get worse, too, the state economist tells Politics in Minnesota. The long arm of fraud. He thinks people filing amended returns because they got caught in Ponzi schemes will have a significant impact on things.

Bonus: Time travel. The Beatles have an official Web site. The Beatles? Web site? Mini-documentaries have been posted with the stories behind the making of some of the band’s albums. Today: The Making of Revolver. (h/t: Open Culture) Still cool: Paul McCartney made his return to the Ed Sullivan Theater last night.


Forty years ago today, three U.S. astronauts were launched into space on the Apollo 11 mission, which put a human being on the moon for the first time. It was a moment when the nation seemed united behind a common, innovative goal. Members of the Obama administration have suggested that we need that kind of approach to energy policy. What’s your suggestion? What is the moonshot for our times?


We’re done with the Sotomayor hearings so it’s back to work:

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: We’ll get a handle of all of the various health care proposals floating around, and try to answer the question how we’re supposed to pay for them. Second hour: Can you run a secret spy agency, tell Congress what you’re up to, and still be a secret spy agency?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Political Science professor James Morone , author of a new book out this week, “The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office.” Second hour: Harvard University psychologist Dan Gilbert discusses what makes us happy, and why it so often eludes us.

Here’s a TED video from April on the subject:

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – Many Latinos tell you they admire Sonia Sotomayor. But some also ask questions about the first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court. Why not a Mexican American? Why not an Hispanic male? Second hour: Chris Steiner argues, that gas is too way cheap. Four dollars a gallon was magical. We gave up our SUVs. Six dollar gas? Even better, he says.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – One of first two Somali men indicted on terrorism charges in connection with missing men makes a court appearance this afternoon. MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki is covering the hearing. Business reporter Annie Baxter will dig through the Minnesota unemployment numbers in search of green shoots. NPR’s Tovia Smith has an update on the Massachusetts health care system and finds that the requirement that all residents have health insurance is missing thousands of legal immigrants. Why were the moon astronauts sent to Flagstaff for training. Because, it was felt, Flagstaff might as well be the moon. Daniel Kraker will have the look back. There’s a pretty interesting pdf file about it here.


Arlo Guthrie is in town tonight, appearing at the Fitz. Let’s feel old:

You know, time marches on. But sometimes it stops for a quick breather. I met a disc-jockey woman — for whom I did not much care — who tells the story of the time Arlo Guthrie bummed a cigarette from her in the Berkshire Hills, where I struggled as a $110 a week reporter. Later, I programmed a small radio station in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, which claims two things: it’s the first place an electric bulb was installed as a street light (for no extra charge, Minneapolis!), and it’s the place where Arlo Guthrie renovated the small church where Alice’s Restaurant was filmed. Arlo is to the Berkshires what Bob Dylan is to Minnesota. Tonight we’re going to go hear Arlo; me and the disc jockey for whom I did not much care for at the time. We’ve been married for almost 27 years. Life is interesting, even during a slow news week.

  • bsimon

    “I’m wondering if people are generally scared off but what they see happening in “comments” in some other high-profile locales?”

    Yes, they do. It seems that many blogs go through a ‘golden era’ of sorts when a critical mass of ‘regulars’ arrives when discussions are respectful and interesting; shortly thereafter a larger crowd seems to be attracted and the dialogue takes a turn for the worse – more ‘shouting’ and less discussion. The new critical mass of people that want to argue but aren’t open to changing their own opinions drowns out the more thoughtful voices – driving them elsewhere.

    Some friends who I met through a blog have largely removed ourselves from the public discussions in an attempt to maintain high quality conversation with people from different backgrounds & viewpoints. It generally works well, but there are still some arguments built largely on the same talking points that pollute public comment sites – like the Strib comments, washington post blogs, etc.

  • Mary

    I saw and heard Arlo at Winnipeg Folk Fest on Sunday, 7/12/09. He was really good! He is a great story teller and his voice was great! His performance was a very pleasant surprise for me! He sang “This land is your land”, a Canadian version, “City of New Orleans”, and some newer stuff and told very funny stories!