The ‘m’ word (5×8 – 1/14/11)

What is a miracle, why do we need political pundits, should Dire Straits be banned, voter ID, the science of nonsense, and the taste of rain.


The same media forces that made the Ted Williams (homeless guy; nice voice) story into a fairy tale when it really wasn’t are at work again on the recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in an assassination attempt in Tucson on Saturday. At yesterday’s medical briefing, a reporter asked whether her recovery so far is “a miracle.”

Reporters who ask the question do so for one reason: to be able to attribute it in a story. They really want to use the “m word,” but they need a reason to work it in.

Fewer than 10 percent survive the injuries that Rep. Giffords has, but 10 percent is still a big number. And as wonderful as the news has been about the congresswoman, she hasn’t completely survived the attack, yet. Doctors were very measured yesterday about the dangers of the road ahead.

The question certainly put Dr. Michael Lemole, the chief of neurosugery at University Medical Center in a tough spot. He answered, “Miracles happen every day, and in medicine we like to attribute them to what we do or what others do around us. A lot of medicine is outside our control. We are wise to acknowledge miracles,” he said.

You’ll notice the one word he didn’t use was, “Yes!”

Let’s see how that played. Here’s ABC News’ (Australia) lead sentence to the story today:

Doctors are hailing as a miracle the speedy recovery of an Arizona congresswoman who was shot last week.

Here’s the headline at WNYC, the public station in New York:

Sen. Gillibrand Witnessed Giffords’ ‘Miracle’ Awakening

Even NPR this morning used “the m” word in describing Giffords’ recovery so far.

In its front page story this morning, the hometown Arizona Republic newspaper left the Hollywood aspect of the tale out of it:


Giffords’ congressional friend, who’s been with her for nearly a week of agonizing days, says her recovery shows the power of friendship. She too describes it as a miracle, but she can be forgiven. She’s happy, and her job doesn’t require her to provide fact-based information.

Let’s hope that a full recovery for Rep. Giffords doesn’t require defying the laws of nature. Hopes for her recovery have, so far, hinged on the fact that from the start, her doctors haven’t said a miracle will be required.

Meanwhile, NPR today is looking at why people try to assassinate politicians. Surprisingly, it often isn’t for political reasons.


If you follow me on Twitter, you know that following President Obama’s speech the other night, I leveled a fair amount of criticism on the pundits, who assessed the service, not in the context of an event to heal the nation and support the victims and their families, but in how it hurts or helps the president’s standing.


David Gergen, sitting in a studio inside the Washington Beltway, was particularly hideous, claiming it wasn’t what the nation wanted. How did he know? He was tucked away in a studio in Washington.

Pundits have an incredible power to direct the national dialogue, so on a night when the mission was to unite a country, one had to wonder what their goal was? It’s not a question that everyone on Twitter was interested in answering:


That account, it turns out, is a public relations company whose client is — wait for it — David Gergen.

Over to you, Stewart…

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Veiled Criticism
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

As Stewart mentioned, much of punditry involved the cheering and applause in the crowd. That, the mostly white and mostly male group of pundits said, was “inappropriate.” People mourn in different ways. Is this inappropriate?

Who decides?


… they can do it to Dire Straits. Officials in Canada say the group’s song, “Money for Nothing” should be censored because the word “faggot” appears in it three times. Forget that the song has been out for 25 years, or that it’s not used as required listening in schools. But, like Twain’s use of the n-word and i-word in Huck Finn, it was intentionally used to make a point.

Should it be banned?

Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” should be bannedMarket Research

Discussion point: When — if ever — should derogatory words be removed from works of art?


Yesterday, a bill to require voters in Minnesota to show their ID at the polls was filed at the Minnesota House of Representatives. With a Republican majority, is this the year the controversial measure finally becomes law?

“I tend to doubt the dynamics of voter/photo identification will change very much,” Michael J. Pitts, associate professor of law at Indiana University School of Law, told the Pew Center’s Election Line. “I think you’ll see voter/photo ID get passed where Republicans control all the levels of government and generally not get passed where they don’t.”

A similar bill was introduced in Wisconsin.

Proponents say requiring an ID to vote isn’t much different than, say, getting through security at an airport; you need a boarding pass an ID and people seem pretty capable of getting on the plane OK. Opponents say it’s a thinly-veiled attempt to get some groups — low income, and minority groups — to stay home by making voting too difficult.

What say you?


Wait! I’m not a Gemini? An expert at the Minnesota Planetarium says things have shifted and wobbled in the heavens and what sign you think you are is the sign you were. The Christian Science Monitor says;

The shift is caused by precession, the wobble in the Earth’s axis caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon to the Earth’s equator. Precession popped into the spotlight this week after Minnesota Planetarium Society board member Parke Kunkle told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the gap between the astrological and the astronomical view. The story spread around the Internet quickly, but it’s actually old news, Rao said.

Old news? Yeah, we kind of specialize in that in Minnesota at this time of year. That’s why on a Friday morning I’m pointing out a story that was in the paper on Sunday. Then again, there were more important things going on Sunday.

Here’s the actual list:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.

Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11.

Pisces: March 11-April 18.

Aries: April 18-May 13.

Taurus: May 13-June 21.

Gemini: June 21-July 20.

Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10.

Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.

Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.

Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23.

Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.

Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17.

Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

So I’ve gone from being an honored twin, to a Taurus. I’m a car! Or a bull, which seems halfway appropriate.

(h/t: Molly Bloom)

Bonus: Scientists at MIT are developing a toothpaste dispenser that tells you what the weather will be based on the flavor. In other news: We’re going to get more snow. What flavor would be appropriate?


Twin Cities home sales fell to their lowest level in eight years in 2010. Only slight improvements are expected this year. How is the housing market affecting you?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Twin Cities mayors talk budgets, LGA, and property taxes.

Second hour: The new Coen brothers movie has brought Charles Portis’ “True Grit” back into the public conscious. But the reclusive Portis has a rabid fan club that believes the book isn’t his most significant contribution to American literature.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota’s new commissioner of education.

Second hour: David Brooks, speaking at the Commonwealth Club

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Earth’s shifting magnetic field, and plans for a more intelligent electrical distribution network.

Second hour: If you use Facebook for friends and family, is Twitter your professional

outlet? What about FourSquare, Instagram and all the others?

  • GregS

    Is this the year for voter ID?

    I hope so. Doesn’t anyone think it odd that gray-haired grandmothers are asked to show their id when ordering wine in a restaurant but voters are not required to show id at the polls?

  • Bob Collins

    Gray-haired people are being asked to show ID in restaurants? The people think they look young enough to be under 21.

    I MUST have the name of this restaurant! (g)

  • Shane

    I don’t think derogatory words should be removed from works of art. I would hope that what we consider art is a piece of work that creates or conveys a certain message, such as Twain’s use of the n-word. It wasn’t used because it could be used, it was used to describe and portray the era and the indecency of our culture. I think the focus should be more on the history and the culture of the time and what has been done to change our views.

    As far as the flavor of toothpaste…is dissapointment or depression a flavor? Probably has a taste that will leave your mouth for much of the day but then return during rush hours and Saturdays….

  • When I did a story on voter ID at WCCO, the question is this: What does voter ID solve? It doesn’t address felons voting. It only addresses the issue of one person claiming to be someone else – and voting twice.

    Or one person who isn’t registered, claiming to be someone else, and voting in their name.

    There’s no evidence that these things happen, is there? Whatever the supposed “voter fraud” is — I don’t understand how showing an ID solves the problem.

    I certainly don’t mind showing an ID – I’m just asking for some evidence that: 1) there is a fraud problem 2) ID solves a problem.

  • Bob Collins

    There was, i believe, several cases of voter fraud — or at least one, I forget which — in Hennepin County that Mike Freeman prosecuted. The question is whether there’s a widespread fraud.

    OTOH, supporters might say “what’s the harm?”

    Does voter ID suppress turnout and participation?

    Indiana is the lab rat here.

    The WSJ took a stab at this in 2009:

    In Indiana, which the Supreme Court said had the strictest voter ID law in the country, the turnout of Democratic voters in the November election increased by 8.32 percentage points. That was the largest increase in Democratic turnout of any state in the country. The increase in overall turnout in Indiana was the fifth highest in the country, but only because the turnout of Republican voters actually went down 3.57 percentage points. The nearby state of Illinois (no photo ID requirement) had an increase in Democratic turnout of only 4.4 percentage points — nearly half Indiana’s increase.

    Of course, the decline in Republican turnout and huge increase in Democratic turnout in Indiana matched what happened elsewhere, and explains why Mr. Obama won. Republican turnout nationwide declined 1.3 percentage points from the 2004 election, while Democratic turnout increased 2.6 percentage points.

    In any event, it comes down to the burden of proof. Is there proof that there’s voter fraud? Is there proof that voter ID suppresses the vote?

  • Chris

    Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem. An expensive expansion of government that does not solve any problem that anyone can identify is actually occurring. It does not prevent felons from voting. It does not prevent illegal immigrants from voting. Citizens for Election Integrity have issued a report detailing why it is not necessary.

    If it’s not necessary, it’s optional. And only one political party is interested in the option. That same political party generally benefits by limiting turnout.

    Unnecessary restrictions on constitutional rights are completely unrelated to whether PRIVATE ENTERPRISES like restaurants and liquor stores verify a person’s AGE with their state-issued ID. There is, in fact, NO REQUIREMENT that they do so. It’s a private policy, not a legal requirement. Voting is a fundamenal constitutional right, buying alcohol isn’t.

  • bsimon

    “Doesn’t anyone think it odd that gray-haired grandmothers are asked to show their id when ordering wine in a restaurant but voters are not required to show id at the polls?”

    Consumption of alcohol is a privelege. Voting is a right.

    From a legal standpoint, the impediment to voter id, according to one line of argument, is that it costs money to acquire a state-issued ID, so requiring such an ID amounts to a poll tax. One obvious solution is to provide free ID to everyone over 18. Of course, there’s a cost associated with that. That can be calculated, which will circle us back to Mr DeRusha’s questions: what problems are we trying to solve & will this proposal (an ID requirement) actually solve the problem?

    The two categories of voter fraud I recall from this year are: 1) felons that vote and 2) people that vote twice, allegedly as absentees in one state/district and in person at another. Does a voter ID requirement solve either problem? No.

  • JackU

    For those that favor ID at the polls, why not skip the cards and go straight to the implantable microchip. I mean you microchip your dog in case he runs away, why not microchip the voter?

    And Bob, as someone who has explored many aspects of science, real and pseudo, I can assure you that you are still a Gemini. 🙂

  • mindtron

    since you didn’t post a viral video of the day might I share this one

    of the flooding in Australia

  • Thomas A

    Unless the voter photo ID bill provides for a method to obtain an ID at no cost to the voter, they are enacting a poll tax.

  • gina

    CNN had an article on the zodiac – apparently there are two different zodiacs (and have been for a long time), so your sign didn’t change. It just depends on which one you use:

  • Bob Collins

    Bravo, Mindtron! Great addition.

    I’ve been amazed this week at the video coming out of Australia. It often looks more like a tsunami than a mere flood.

  • Greg

    @Shane I have tasted disappointment. It tastes of onion.

    Bob, maybe this RoadRunner person was trying to bait you into some sort of escalated Twitter fight to make you look as opinionated as his/her client?

  • V

    Pretty sure that when “Money for Nothing” was running up the charts, the version played on the radio and on MTV dropped “faggot.” And not just the word, but the whole verse. So is this a debate between the artist (or label) doing it versus someone else or versus someone else forcing them to do it?

    By the way, I’m not afraid to admit that “Brother in Arms” was the first album I bought with my own money.

  • Bob Collins

    //you look as opinionated as his/her client?

    Well, since she clearly gave up trying to make her client look more informed, I guess that was #2 on the list.

  • Ben Chorn

    First off, the number of your last topic is 3, not 5.

    Second, I dont consider surviving a bullet to the head a miracle- I find that the only recent miracle I have come across was the man who went into the school board meeting and shot at people at point blank and still managed not to hit anyone.

    As for the zodiac? Who cares… unless of course you decided to get a tattoo of your zodiac sign. In that case, join the thousands of Americans with Japanese characters that arent what they think they are.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Regarding the “M” word:

    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.”

    “There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”

    “We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.”

    -Albert Einstein

  • Bob Collins

    Interesting. But what’s your point? Nobody is saying that there are no miracles, although the definition of the same is debatable.

    If the doctors had said on Saturday, “there’s no way Rep. Giffords will ever wake up,” then the miracle is obvious.

    But they said immediately after surgery they were “optimistic.”

    In this case, it was one lone reporter who declared — via her question — that this was a miracle. The doctors didn’t.

    And that’s the thing about miracles. The term should not be synonymous with things we don’t understand. If, for example, the reporter had asked doctors to explain the neurology of Rep. Giffords opening her eyes, my guess is they probably could.

    In another news story today, Pope John Paul II is closer to beatification because a person with Parkinson’s was cured after an audience with the pope. That injects the meaning of miracles into the question. if that person was cured, why not the others who had a meeting.

    I had a niece — until she died last June — with spina bifida. She went to a “healing priest” who was all the rage. And she never was able to walk. Asked why not, the priest said, “because you didn’t pray hard enough.”

    The nature of miracles, I should think, should be able to stand a little questioning.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – thanks for your response.

    My intended point was “Who the hell knows. But this is what a pretty smart guy said about the matter.”

    I think YOUR point highlights the importance of making a clear distinction between blind and slavish religiosity and healthy sense of humble uncertainty, as stated by the surgeon.

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Cara

    Weather predicting toothpaste? THAT would be a miracle!

  • Bob Collins

    Jim, I think the “miracle” would be if the reporters believed in our intelligence enough to let the known science of it speak for itself.

    I mean, think about it, this reporter actually thought that the Tucson shooting story had to be gussied up to make it even more dramatic.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – I think one of the failings of The GOD GANG is that some of their members neglect to explore the possibility that the BIG GUY instilled we mere humans with a BRAIN, and probably expects us to use it.

    I think one of the problems with the TV News industry is that it attracts many people who would really prefer to be in Hollywood, but settle for J School instead.

    And the “if it bleeds ( or burns, or explodes, or crashes, or is sexy) it leads” axiom doesn’t help matters in the just but losing battle to prioritize accurate information over sensational drama and ratings. Witness the creation of the horrible monster know as INFOTAINMENT!!!!

    ( That’s REALLY scary, boys and girls 🙂

  • GregS

    “Consumption of alcohol is a privelege. Voting is a right. – bsimon”

    What authority must I approach on bended knee for a second glass of wine in the evening (other than my wife)?

    Is reading a book also a “privilege”?

    Or watching the sun rise?

    Thank God the republicans won the house and senate….. Gee, with attitudes like that, does anyone doubt why that happened?

    Sorry bsimon, I just had to give you a little grief. I hope what you wanted to say is that voting is much more important than having a drink rather than giving the impression that you believe the basic joys of life are “privileges” doled out by government.

  • GregS

    “Is there proof that there’s voter fraud? Is there proof that voter ID suppresses the vote? – Bob Collins”

    There is always some level of voter fraud just like there is always some level of people lying about their age and weight on dating sites.

    It simply happens. How much happens – we do not know because we do not ask for ID.

    A better question would be, is requiring voters to show id worth the exercise? I think it is, especially when state races are won and lost by under a thousand votes.

  • GregS

    “requiring such an ID amounts to a poll tax”

    That line of thinking could also be used to claim that clothing amounts to a poll tax since it is required at the polls.

    What next, clothing optional voting?