In praise of young people (5×8 – 12/30/11)

The brilliance among us, the issues of Iowa, staying home with the kids, the church of the gay nativity, the oil patch isn’t for everyone, and Minneapolis by air.


A few weeks ago, MPR News began soliciting ideas for new programming. I’ve seen a few of the responses and they’re generally interesting — quite a few suggestions for more programs about science, for example.

But driving home and listening to All Things Considered last night, I realized there’s one idea nobody has suggested: more coverage of young people doing extraordinary things.

We paint a picture of young people that isn’t very flattering, which is a shame because they’re often very inspiring in their brilliance and passion.

Shree Bose is the winner of Google’s Science Fair contest. She investigated why cancer cells become resistant to the chemotherapy drug Cisplatin. She discovered a specific protein that makes cancer cells resistant to the drug.

She’s still in high school.To its credit, NPR has been focusing on young people with big ideas this week. On Wednesday we met Marian Bechtel, who discovered a new way of sweeping mines. She’s 17.

Then there’s Cassee Cain and Ziyuan Liu, who modified the Kinect device for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in order to analyze human gait. Cain and Liu hope to use the device to diagnose and treat medical problems that affect movement. You guessed it: High schoolers.

Are kids smarter than we give them credit for? Why are we surprised when we hear stories like the ones we’ve been hearing this week? And how can we hear more? What young person do you know doing extraordinary things?


What did Michele Bachmann say today? What manufactured poll and frontrunner is winning in a state in which not a single vote has been cast? The political coverage out of Iowa this campaign season has been atrocious as many news organizations have given up even the appearance of being interested in anything but the horse race of the presidential campaign.

It led Gail Collins of the New York Times to urge reporters to ignore Iowa

The Republicans, who are really the only game in town this year, hope to get more than 100,000 participants. That is approximately the number of people who go to Michigan Stadium to watch the Wolverines play football. However, the Wolverines’ fans do not get free cookies.

Maybe the Republicans will hit 150,000! That is about the same number of people in Pomona, Calif. Imagine your reaction to seeing a story saying that a plurality of people in Pomona, Calif., thought Newt Gingrich would be the best G.O.P. presidential candidate. Would you say, “Wow! I guess Newt is now the de facto front-runner?” Possibly not.

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein repeats Collins’ desire today. A state so small shouldn’t have so much power. But you could drop the candidates and their reporter/stenographers in any other state and the result would likely be the same.

Ignoring Iowa would be an unfortunate alternative because you know what else Iowa has? Issues. The kind of issues that used to be important in a presidential campaign and could be again if reporters could pull themselves away from the concept of politics as sport.

PRI’s “The World,” for example, showed us this week how it’s done with a profile of two Iowa cities in separate stories. In Storm Lake, for example, the local economy is fueled by immigrant labor in the meatpacking plants. But because many Latino immigrants don’t trust politicians “back home,” they don’t pay attention to politics here. As a result, there’s a disconnect between a town’s congressman and the people who live there.

A day earlier we learned more about Newton, Iowa, a town that’s been hit hard by corporations moving jobs to Mexico and overseas. How can America’s cities adjust to an economic life in the age of globalization? Newton has some answers to the question politicians aren’t even being asked.

Ignore Iowa? No. Just pay less attention to the soundbites of politicians and more attention to the people the pols are using as mere props for the national media. Iowans living their lives have got much more important stories to tell and a more useful agenda to set.


Jodie Tweed has been writing at the Brainerd Dispatch for almost 15 years. Yesterday was her last day. She’s going to be a stay-at-home mom. “Something had to give,” she writes. Her husband has been a stay-at-home dad for three years, he’s got a new job, and they’ve got two kids, ages 3 and 8 months. Now, she says, it’s her turn.

The other day I caught myself telling someone, after being asked what I was going to do now that I quit my job, that I was going to be “just staying home with my kids.” I regretted it the moment it came out of my mouth. I do recognize this is going to be my most challenging job ever and I’ve found myself wondering if I’ve got what it takes to meet the challenges of full-time parenting.

I love that my husband stayed home with Madeline for the first three years of her life, but honestly, there were many things he did that drove me absolutely crazy and I knew I could do better if given the opportunity. I would roll my eyes when he would bring my daughter to visit me at work with her pants on backwards, not once but twice. Most of the time her clothes did not match. When he figured out he could “run” her in the tennis courts near our house, by throwing balls and having her fetch them, much like a dog, to get her worn out so she’d take a long nap, I did think that was pretty ingenious. He sometimes wouldn’t have anything to throw to her so he improvised by throwing a hockey puck and let her chase after it as it rolled through the courts. Seriously. But she loved it.

Who’s got advice to share on staying home with the kids?


In Los Angeles, a gay nativity scene at a church has been vandalized. Is it a hate crime? Authorities are considering it one.

The church has often had provocative scenes during the holidays. One year, the Los Angeles Times reports, the nativity depicted a homeless family.

“Christ’s birth in a stable had a lot to do with poverty and being marginalized,” said Pastor Sharon Rhodes-Wickett. “What this church has tried to do through these scenes is say, ‘What would that look like today?'”


Aspen, Colorado’s idea to dump its problem on North Dakota didn’t work. A few weeks ago, a shelter in the tony ski resort town gave a homeless man a bus ticket to Williston, North Dakota, where jobs in the oil patch are plentiful. That angered some North Dakota residents, especially when the man got picked up for public intoxication and urinating and was sent to jail.

Now, the man says, he’s hitchhiking back to Aspen.

“I won’t live in a state that doesn’t want me,” said Jimmy Baldwin Jr. “People aren’t very godly or friendly here anyway.”

Bonus I: A new video from a person who installed a camera in an RC airplane and went flying…

Bonus II: Listening to the deep ocean. PRI’s “The World” carried a fascinating story last evening about a network of microphones in the oceans of the world. The website, Listening to the Deep Ocean Environment, provides links to listen in real time.

Bonus III: An old NewsCut favorite. Tricks for your New Year’s party.


Some people make resolutions for themselves at New Year’s, but we’d like to think bigger. Today’s Question: What’s your New Year’s resolution for Minnesota?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: The year in medicine.

Second hour: Words of the year.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Chris Farrell’s assessment of the economy in 2011 and predictions for 2012.

Second hour: Howard Sinker and the year in sports.

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Top science and technology stories of the year.

Second hour: Scientists working in the summer heat of Antarctica.