The Koch affair, fantasy election, the danger of Twitter, the best pictures of 2011, and Minnesota’s mascots.
1) THE KOCH AFFAIR
If Amy Koch, the former Senate Majority Leader who resigned her leadership post when confronted about rumors she had an affair with a male staffer, were a man, would her situation be handled differently? The Star Tribune editorial board today acknowledges that the public announcement of her downfall was pretty man-heavy last week, but ultimately they made the right call.
The four clearly uncomfortable men who disclosed the reason for Koch’s departure from her leadership post did the advisable thing with bad news in a public realm. Granted, they might have spared themselves some suspicion if they had found a female senator to join them.
But rather than waiting for the story to roll out from unfriendly and ill-informed sources, the foursome told it themselves, as directly and fully as sound employment policies permit. That’s what stewardship of a crucial public institution required.
Previous legislators have also had “inappropriate” relationships. In decades past, they were spared the public airing Koch has endured. What has changed has less to do with gender than with the changed nature of public life.
The sphere of privacy that elected officials once could occupy after hours has all but vanished.
There are plenty of questions, of course, surrounding the mess, but why there’s been an absence of female senators with a public role in its unraveling is certainly among them.
One letter writer says there’s a double standard being applied:
This is the party that once, for months on end, defended a middle-aged, married man accused of swimming nude with underaged girls!
One can’t help think that if Koch were a man, somehow things would have been sorted out differently. Women in power are judged, scrutinized and held to a different standard.
The newspaper today details “secret meetings” last week that led Koch to announce her resignation. It doesn’t mention any involvement by women senators.
Yesterday, MPR News reported, Sen. Julianne Ortman, an influential senator, hurried away from reporters seeking comment on the situation.
2) FANTASY ELECTION
The last week of the year used to be my favorite time. When the bosses were away for the holidays — this was years ago — we little people could try things without “running it up the flagpole.” That’s when Polinaut, now MPR’s political blog Capitol View, started. It’s also when we tried the Minnesota Fantasy Legislature, as a desperate attempt to try to get people more interested in the legislating that goes on beyond the headlines. It seemed like a great idea for some smart high school civics teacher, but, alas, it died after a couple of years.
But MTV has announced a fantasy political game this week as part of its The Power of 12 promotion, which tries to get younger people interested in voting. Here’s how Mashable describes it:
“Fantasy Election ’12” players will draft candidates competing for the presidency, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and then score points depending on how well or badly the politicians conduct themselves.
“In the way that fantasy football awards points when your players score touchdowns and deducts points when they throw interceptions, ‘Fantasy Election ’12′ will reward candidates for exhibiting the behaviors voters deserve, and penalize politicians for behaviors that hurt our democracy,” MTV said in an announcement.
Players also will earn points for discussing issues, registering to vote and checking in to debates and town halls. The game launches next fall, closer to the time the general election starts.
Here’s the problem: MTV isn’t starting the game against next fall. Still, it’s a great example of trying to engage a generation in more social terms, in this case, with gaming.
3) THE DANGER OF TWITTER
Should the U.S. censor Twitter accounts? The New York Times reports the U.S. is considering demanding that Twitter shut down the account of the Somali militant group, al Shabab. American officials reportedly are concerned the group is using Twitter to recruit new members.
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald sees the slippery slope:
So the U.S. Government believes it may have “legal authority” to compel Twitter to close accounts. From where does that authority derive? Presumably, the Obama administration could consider Twitter’s providing of a forum to a designated Terrorist organization to constitute the crime of “material support of Terrorism.” That raises a variety of questions: is the NYT guilty of that crime by quoting some of those tweets and promoting the account (since the first NYT article was published, the number of people following @HSMPress has significantly increased and is almost certain to increase more as a result of today’s article). Can one be guilty of that crime if one re-tweets any of their messages? How about if one defends their right to have a Twitter account?
“Are there really people who want the U.S. Government empowered to dictate who can and cannot have social media accounts to communicate ideas?” Greenwald asks.
4) THE BEST
I’m generally not a big fan of the “best of” stories that fill airtime during the holidays, but I make an exception for photography. The Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog has started its The Best News Pictures of 2011 series.
One of my favorites: A visit to the abandoned city of Pripyat, two miles from Chernobyl. The city is being swallowed by the returning forest.
NPR’s Picture Show blog is also ratings its favorite news photos of the year today.
Yesterday, National Geographic named its grand prize winner in its 2011 photography contest. Here it is:
Find other winners in the contest here.
And the outstanding local photography site, MinnPics, begins its Best of 2011 series today.
But yesterday’s big photographic splash came from this subject:
The “last look” at the space shuttle is probably one of the best looks we’ve ever had inside the space shuttle. collectSpace has images of a powered-up Atlantis, which is being prepared for a life as a museum exhibit in Florida. At some point this week, the power will be turned off for the last time.
5) MINNESOTA MASCOTS
Who’s your favorite Minnesota mascot? The Minnesota Historical Society has issued its latest video — a piece about famous Minnesota mascots. The gopher? Sure. That’s easy. Herman the German, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Paul Bunyan? I’ll go with the Hamm’s Beer bear.
There are good memories here
Bonus: CBS has uncovered a close call this summer at the airport in Miami. An airliner from Argentina missed an instruction and ended up nearly colliding with a landing American Airlines jet. “At first you go ‘Oh no!’ Then you just, you instinctively do something in hopes that it keeps them apart basically,” the air traffic controller who saved the day said. The full story is here. An interesting radar plot and ATC tapes are here.
Recent polling puts Rep. Ron Paul at the top of the field of Republican candidates in Iowa. His libertarian positions on foreign affairs, monetary policy and other issues place him at odds with his Republican rivals. Today’s Question: What’s your opinion of a libertarian candidate like Ron Paul?
WHAT WE’RE DOING
Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Last week, the Center on Education Policy found that almost half the nation’s public schools failed Adequate Yearly Progress. Minnesota, along with 38 other states have asked for a waiver allowing it to establish alternative evaluation standards. What would those standards be and how would Minneosta establish them?
Second hour: From performing acupuncture in a tiny Massachusetts clinic to directing the Program in Placebo Studies and Theraputic Encounters at Harvard, Ted Kaptchuk has worked to understand the placebo effect and its place in medicine. He joins us today to discuss his work and findings.
Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: MPR’s “Forced to Choose” project .
Second hour: Hanukkah Lights program from NPR.
Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The economy stinks, Europe’s in turmoil and Japan continues to dig out. But from coconut water to cloud computing, there’s been good news, too — people, businesses and ideas that succeeded.
Second hour: Navigating an autism diagnosis.