Who makes heroes? (5×8 – 2/20/12)

Who should be honored, the power of a grandson, walking the Twitter trail, why is customer service so hard, and the power of the sofa.

The Monday Morning Rouser:


There’s no way this isn’t going to be misinterpreted, but let’s try anyway. Do you have to be in the military to serve your country? Do you have to wear a uniform to be a hero? Can a singer — a certainly flawed singer — inspire others to some form of greatness, however it’s defined? What about a bus driver? A lawyer? A software developer? A journalist with a bad case of asthma? Who gets to decide who is worthy and who isn’t?

In the shadow of the death of singer Whitney Houston, there are a lot of graphics like this one floating around:


Houston was buried over the weekend and there’s no question her death has attracted a lot of attention — too much attention for some people.

Also over the weekend, John Burri, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, burned a New Jersey flag (where do you get a New Jersey flag in Michigan?) to protest Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to lower the flag in Houston’s honor.

Is it possible to honor someone without dishonoring someone else?

Jeneba Ghatt, writing in the Washington Times, makes a case for Houston as patriot, if that’s a requirement for heroism:

There have always been people who feel so disenfranchised and so disconnected from the rest of the country that love of country has no hold on them. They won’t embrace their native land and all of its opportunities and cannot find it within themselves to be patriotic.

Whitney was able to change that.

Before the start of the 1991 Super Bowl, Whitney Houston belted out an inspiring, rousing and heart-wrenching rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” that was so powerful it brought tears to people’s eyes and raised hair on the backs of their necks.

For many who may never had been moved by the national anthem before, Whitney, a product of Gospel (her mom is Gospel great Cissy Houston) and R&B (her aunt was 70s great Dionne Warwick) royalty, gave them pause to reconsider.

Last night, by the way, two more Iraq/Afghanistan veterans were honored before last night’s Minnesota Timberwolves game, as has become custom. They got a standing ovation, as has also become custom.

Near Eau Claire, Withee resident Scott Marrier is coordinating Hands Foundation, an effort to get donated blankets, pillows and other warm clothing to homeless veterans. He recently delivered 350 sleeping bags and quilts and 200 pillows to shelters in the Twin Cities. He found out that there were more than 4,000 homeless vets in the Twin Cities. Some of them, like Houston, have substance abuse problems. We care about them anyway.

Who’s your hero?


In Stevens Point, Wisc., a grandmother who took in foster kids was about to lose her home earlier this month, when her grandson stepped in, formed an online charity, and paid off her late-debt.

Previously, the boy had helped raise money for a girl whose mother had terminal cancer so the two could go to Disney World together. The mother passed away before they could go, but Noah was able to raise the money so she could go with her father, CBS reported.


Andy Carvin of NPR understood the power of Twitter while its critics were still cracking jokes about it being little more than a way for people to post what they had for breakfast. During the Arab spring, he monitored and organized dispatches from Egypt and Libya, keeping a foreign-news story in front of an audience — America — that usually yawns at such things.

Now, NPR has sent Carvin back to Libya and this weekend he visited one of his Twitter friends, who died in the uprising.

Though Mo and I were online acquaintances at best, I probably saw more of him than almost anyone else except members of my family over the course of that month. I was online for upwards of 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and there was rarely a time when he wasn’t online as well. His death affected me greatly, and I promised myself that if I ever visited Benghazi, I would pay my respects at his grave.

So here I was, walking across the arid landscape of this cemetery with a small group of Mo’s friends. It reminded me of a U.S. military cemetery, but one that had just been created because a war was still in progress. Neat rows of graves pocketed the landscape, all of them numbered and in chronological order. Many had headstones and were decorated with plants and flowers. Others were barren, marked only by a cinder block with a grave number scrawled on it. The grounds weren’t maintained; there was shattered rubble, stones and other debris between the graves.


In an era in which businesses are failing and blaming their ills on others, many haven’t learned the value of customer service. Writing in the Boston Globe this weekend, Beverly Beckham says, “it’s standard behavior for employees to chew gum, text, talk to co-workers, and only eventually, and then reluctantly, serve the customer.” She says Apple is one of the few companies that “gets it.”

The book’s message was that this is not the way to run a business. Employees need to be polite and approachable and informed and respectful, not only so that customers will come back, but also so that these customers will become “raving fans” who talk about what great customer service they had.

In the spirt of that book, I confess I am a raving fan of all things Apple. I love my computer. I love my iPhone. But I love the people at Apple best. They are the reason I bought my computer and phone. And here’s why:

The ones I’ve encountered are what all employees who work with the public should be – helpful and polite. They explain.

They do not sigh in exasperation or frustration when you don’t understand something. They never ignore you. They never condescend.

Monday morning discussion point: What businesses do you think “get it?”

Related: How Target knows you’re going to get pregnant before you do.


“The best sofa you ever had was, um, which one? Was it light, dark, long, medium, foldout, deep-seated, leather, pleather, plaid, paisley, wine-stained, chili-stained or adorned with pet hair?” Linton weeks asks today. Weeks is exploring the history of the sofa — or couch, or davenport, if you prefer.

When we finally move out on our own — vowing to not get tied down, to roam far and wide — often the first piece of furniture we buy is a big old heavy lunking couch.

And it becomes our Sisyphean rock that we wrestle up and down the apartment-steps of our lives. Friends help us lug it in. They sleep on it during vacations and bad times and before they become NBA sensations. We sleep on it when we’re tired or troubled or just too lazy to make it to the bed.

Mine was an ugly plaid thing, but great for falling asleep to the TV on. It’s where the two-year-old puked pumpkin on me on Thanksgiving. I’m not sure where it is now, but I’m pretty sure that kid has it.

Bonus I: A Minnesota native is one of the few Jews to play for Germany in international sports (NY Times)

Bonus II: John Cleese answers YouTube commenters:

Bonus III: As a matter of fact, yes. I do remember the day John Glenn orbited the earth.


Americans celebrate President’s Day on the third Monday of February. Today’s Question: Whom do you see as the most underrated and overrated presidents?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: The private life of George Washington. (Rebroadcast)

Second hour: Guest: David Treuer, author of three novels and a book of criticism. His essays and stories have appeared in Esquire, TriQuarterly, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and Slate.com. His latest book is Rez Life.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – Presidential speeches. First hour: Peter Robinson on Ronald Reagan.

Second hour: Doris Kearns Goodwin on Abraham Lincoln.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: What Iran wants.

Second hour: Many see poverty, drugs, gangs and violence on Indian reservations, and wonder what’s been lost. Ojibwe David Treuer sees beauty, too, and told Speaking of Faith, that he focuses on what his people saved.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Behind the computer chip company that powers popular video games and animated movies, is a man named Jen Hsun Huang . And behind this immigrant’s success in Silicon Valley is a school of hard knocks deep in the Kentucky mountains. NPR traces the unique path of a computer graphics