How can Japan be put back together? (5×8 – 3/17/11)

(Correction appended)


After almost a week, this is the image I still can’t process.

Where do you start to put your life back together? How do you not give up?

We have a few inches of snow in the winter, and we treat it like a tragedy. But this, of course, really is a tragedy — three of them.

There have been some interesting conversations I’ve been having on some of the social networking sites about how we — Americans — would respond to this and it’s against the backdrop of that hypothetical that we hear the stories of how the Japanese are approaching this.

NPR’s Rob Gifford, in his report last evening, talked to a teacher. Many of his students are missing. “I’m very, very sad,” he said, pausing and then adding, “but thank you very much for coming.”

How do we honor that?Today, all evidence points to a worsening nuclear meltdown in Japan and more media are focusing on what it means for us (it’s all about us). According to the Center for Global Research.

The Pacific jetstream is currently flowing due east directly toward the United States. In the event of a major meltdown and continuous large-volume radioactive release, airborne particles will be carried across the ocean in bands that will cross over the southern halves of Oregon, Montana and Idaho, all of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, the Dakotas, northern Nebraska and Iowa and ending in Wisconsin and Illinois, with possible further eastward drift depending on surface wind direction.

It doesn’t pose a significant health risk for the U.S., we’re told. But that isn’t stopping some people from overreacting.


South by Southwest — SXSW — is a sprawling event in Austin but St. Paul is getting some attention there, the blog TechDirt reports. A new documentary on the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul is being screened there focusing on the role of informant Brandon Darby, who was a key to the arrest of two men for making Molotov cocktails.

Says TechDirt:

… the documentary really highlights the ridiculous nature of government prosecutions in cases such as this. In the last few months, we’ve seen multiple stories, that have a familiar ring to them, involving the FBI busting up “bomb plots” that appear as if they would not have existed if the FBI had not become involved. In other words, multiple cases where it appears that the FBI found people who would have had no capability to actually do any damage, and then were enabled by the FBI or partners to put those people in a position where they could be arrested for preparing to do “acts” that they otherwise would not have been able to do. Is that entrapment? It certainly comes close to the borderline.

Variety gives the film the thumbs up:

Playing out against the high drama of the GOP gathering in St. Paul, Minn., compounded by the U.S. policy of targeting terrorists as a top priority, “Better This World” delivers the kind of case study, rich in national and personal dimensions, that would have made the New Journalists of the ’60s and ’70s swoon. In a sense, the film represents the next generation of that movement in subject and style: The street-based opponents of the GOP vividly recall Vietnam-era protesters, and the film integrates facts and re-enactments, as well as some clearly prearranged scenes, to tell its story.

Darby, by the way, is suing the New York Times for defamation because of this story which revealed him as the informant. He objects to the Times’ claimed that he encouraged the two men to make Molotov cocktails. (Correction: An earlier link led to an incorrect reference to the New York Times in question. The article cited by Darby’s suit was a February 22, 2011 article, to which a correction was later appended. I apologize for the error of the incorrect reference. There is no challenge to the accuracy of the January 9, 2009 story at the original link, which described Mr. Darby’s acknowledgment that he was a government informant for the FBI during the period leading up to the convention in St. Paul.)


Yesterday was a lousy day for public radio. First, Garrison Keillor announced he would retire in 2013. He’s money in the bank for public radio stations around the country and while they might all talk about developing new programming, they’ve known Keillor wasn’t going to live forever for years and they still haven’t come up with a program to be a cornerstone of their non-NPR-News broadcast schedule.

Why not? It’s a complicated process but here’s a story that might explain it. Several years ago, when I was running this website, the Smithsonian asked for a copy of the very first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. Because that constituted a news story, I dug out the copy, encoded it for online listening, and posted it on the site. An hour later, the boss (no longer with the company, but it’s not related) ordered it taken down.

Frankly, it wasn’t very good and though I never heard from Keillor, I wondered whether he was embarrassed by the broadcast the way many of us in the business are embarrassed by our early work. There were technical difficulties, the main guest was a WCCO weatherman, and there was, then, no Guy’s All Star Shoe Band.

When media companies are small, they can afford to play with ideas — they didn’t have that many listeners anyway. A show can get the time to find its legs. But I wondered whether A Prairie Home Companion in that early form could get on the air today. I suspect not for the same reason good TV shows can’t stay on the air anymore. There’s too much at stake and the time is short to garner an audience.

From the sound of things on Marianne Combs’ blog, Keillor intends to keep his company alive and is said to be searching for a host. How’d you like to be the person to replace Garrison Keillor? How would you prepare for such a role? By having people shout at your every few seconds, “you’re no Garrison Keillor!”

Then, yesterday, Congressional Republicans figured out a new way to hamstring public radio stations when they unveiled — and held a hearing on short notice — a plan to strip funding for NPR programming. Affiliate stations would be prevented from using taxpayer money to buy programming from other public radio stations. The cash could only be used for administrative costs.

Meanwhile, carries the transcript of a lecture given to NPR board members by an independent radio producer who suggests it’s time for the network to expand its audience, which requires acknowledging politicians may be right.

In other public radio news: Today is the 19th anniversary of my first MPR job interview. St. Paul is holding a big parade to celebrate.


Sarah Betzler was jogging on Highway 61 near Duluth on Sunday when she thought she was hit by a car. It turned out to be a flying deer, the News Tribune reports.

A truck had hit the deer and sent it flying into Betzler. The truck kept driving, ignoring Betzler.

“I remember trying to wave at that truck a little bit to say, ‘Hey, you know, I was here, come help me,’ but … they just kept on driving,” Betzler said. “That road there is so wide that there’s no way he could have missed (seeing) me. He had to have seen me for about a half-mile at least, if not a mile. That’s how straight and wide it is right there.”


Bonus: Reality TV doesn’t particularly challenge the brain. So why did some version of the SAT tests given to people who want to be educated require them to know something about reality TV? It was one of the essay questions on the test, the Times says.


A bill that would ban human cloning in Minnesota is making its way through the Legislature. The bill’s sponsor says he is promoting it as a preventive measure. Does Minnesota need a law to prohibit human cloning?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Considered an epidemic by addiction experts and policy makers, prescription drug abuse is sweeping the nation. How has it become so widespread, and what can be do to stop it?

Second hour: Author Wesley Stace is better known to music fans as John Wesley Harding. He joins Midmorning to talk about his new novel and the difference between writing songs and writing novels.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: The politics of the federal budget.

Second hour:

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

Second hour: The ethics of prisoners and organ donation,

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The Senate is expected to approve a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating another three weeks. It cuts spending by $6 billion. We’ll hear from some of Minnesota’s delegation in Washington and what’s being cut and what they want to protect from cuts.

MPR’s Tim Post reports that the University of Minnesota is considering mothballing or demolishing more than a dozen buildings on its Twin Cities campus. U of M officials say it’s an effort to save money by reducing the amount of space the college takes care of. But some of the buildings are historic and that has preservationists concerned.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota say proposed human cloning legislation would make the state the first in the nation to ban embryonic stem cell research. What would it mean to the U’s research? MPR’s Lorna Benson will report.

  • brian

    Link: This American Life did a story on Brandon Darby a few years back.

  • Jim Hart

    Speaking of TAL, doesn’t that show fit the role of non-news flagship public radio program that can outlive PHC? It’s a very different audience, but probably the most emblematic “Public Radio” program outside PHC and the news shows.

  • Bob Collins

    As evidenced by the fact every kid coming into public radio is trying to sound like Ira Glass.

  • Jim Hartmann

    Bob, is there a bigger version of picture 1?

  • Don

    There you go ruining my world Bob. I always thought the parade was for my birthday today. 🙂

  • Jamie

    I don’t know about what Sue Schardt was saying about expanding the public radio audience. She doesn’t give any specifics or examples of what she means. Does she mean that you’d have to start playing country-western music? Have an evangelist show on early Sunday mornings? A radio reality show?

    NPR has already dumbed down their progamming to attract a YOUNGER audience. I don’t think I can stand any more audience expansion if more of that is going to happen. And I don’t know when NPR or MPR would squeeze in any more programming anyway.

    And what do you mean that it would require “acknowledging politicians may be right”? Right about what?

    The country is better for having public radio (and tv). We should all pay for at least part of its budget for that reason alone. If 89% of the population want to squander an opportunity for edification, that’s their problem.

  • Jamie

    // As evidenced by the fact every kid coming into public radio is trying to sound like Ira Glass. //

    I’ve noticed that, too. It’s really annoying because Ira Glass’s manner of speaking is really annoying. I can’t understand about half of what he says.

    I don’t really agree that TAL is “emblematic” of public radio programming. About one in ten episodes of the show have something compelling enough for me to stay tuned in. Those one-in-ten are often actually very good, even excellent, programs, but the rest are dreck.

  • Jamie

    I want to say something about Japan. I don’t know what to say, though. The destruction and tragedy are incomprehensible. And I’m humbled by what I hear sabout how they’re handling it, being cooperative and even being careful to recycle stuff.

    I didn’t realize it before but I heard something on the BBC in the middle of the night about how the roughly 50 staff people at the nuclear power plant are possibly giving their lives to try to fix that situation.

    Speaking of dreck, that’s what my words here are.

  • c

    I propose that our President just send a bunch of money over to Japan. He can do that you know, just like George Bush transferred a bunch of money over to the banks.

    I bet Bill Gates could afford to fix that…who else?

  • SG

    I want us to spend what we are spending in the war in Afghanistan and give it all to Japan – and I want to go get those two dogs in the rubble! I like the Bill Gates comment, too. I’ll add Warren Buffet.