STUDS'S KIND OF TOWN
We join the city of Chicago in congratulating our friend and colleague
Studs Terkel on his ninetieth birthday. By mayoral proclamation, May 16
was Studs Terkel Day, and there was a star-spangled celebration at the
Historical Society. Given Studs's gift for talking--and listening--the
Windy City was the right place for him to grow up. He's a man of many
words--gales of eloquent ones on TV, radio, in books, speeches. His oral
history books, including, most recently, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
(New Press), stitch together a great patchwork quilt of hundreds of
American lives. Hail to our national griot with a tape recorder.
NO SYNERGY CRISIS
Jeff Chester writes: Both the Washington Post and the Wall
Street Journal recently delivered off-the-mark appraisals of media colossi AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal, gloomily
stressing their huge quarterly losses while ignoring the longer-term
implications of the old media's incursions into the new media landscape.
The US mainstream press keeps a narrow focus on the role of "synergies"
in the media marketplace. But it's not the opportunity to turn last
summer's blockbuster movie into this fall's TV hit or fast-food giveaway
trinket that drives merger mania. The real prize is locking up key
segments of the broadband cable delivery platform and digital TV
spectrum, which will loom large in the media empires of the twenty-first
century. Also off the mainstream press's radar screens: the enormous
lobbying campaigns that helped create the deregulatory environment that
will allow a handful of corporate giants to wield unprecedented power in
the media marketplace, synergy or no.
ENRON ECHOES IN PENNSYLVANIA
**From Dave Lindorff: Pennsylvania, which has one of the most open,
deregulated wholesale electricity markets in the world, was the scene of
a market ripoff by PP&amp;L, one of the two dominant electricity
generating companies in the state. What the company was doing was
similar to Enron's tactics in California: holding back generation of
power during peak load periods. Under Pennsylvania utility regulations,
the power distribution companies competing for retail business have to
pay a "deficiency payment" for not meeting their contractual delivery of
power. What made this nice for PP&amp;L was that these deficiency
payments had to be paid to the generator, i.e., PP&amp;L. This market
dominance netted the company $11.7 million during a six-week cold snap
in January-February 2001. But the reason the company got caught (it's
currently being investigated by the state's public utility commission,
which may hand over the case to the state or the Feds for prosecution)
is that NewPower, one of the new firms competing for retail electricity
customers, complained. Why did NewPower, alone among PP&amp;L's
customers, figure out what was afoot? Because NewPower is a subsidiary
of Enron, which was doing the same thing to other power distribution
companies in California at the same time!
TAKE THAT, PALEFACE!
**Mica Rosenberg writes: The use of offensive Native American
stereotypes (e.g., the Atlanta Braves' "tomahawk chop") as mascots is
nothing new. But one small sports team has held a mirror up to the
mascot problem. Solomon Little Owl, director of Native American Student
Services at the University of Northern Colorado, started an intramural
basketball team called the Fighting Whites. The team is protesting
nearby Eaton High School's team name--the Fightin' Reds. Eaton's mascot,
a caricature Indian with a misshapen nose, wears a loincloth and eagle
feather. The Fightin' Whities, as they are affectionately known, have as
their mascot a cheesy 1950s-style caricature of a middle-aged white guy
over the phrase "Everythang's gonna be all white!" Do they think their
satire will convince Eaton school officials to abandon the offensive
icon? Charles Cuny a 27-year-old Indian on the team, says, "Going to the school board is like going to Congress and asking for our land back--it's not going to
happen." But T-shirt sales are soaring.
STUDENT TEACHER, OR AL QAEDA SLEEPER?
**Martin Austermuhle writes: Stephen Jones, a student teacher of social
studies from the graduate program at the state university, was removed
from his job at the high school in Old Town, Maine, after parents
complained to the school board that his teaching of Islamic history
threatened their children's religious upbringing. Jones was using
selections from the Bible, the Torah and the Koran to combat the
stereotypes he encountered in his tenth-grade world history class (to
the question "What is Islam?" students had responded, "crazy
terrorists," "dirty," "camels"). His unexplained removal was a shock to
Jones, whose lesson plans had been approved by the school's social
studies teacher and principal. James Dill, chairman of the school board,
said "a couple of board members told me in passing that they thought
there should be more separation between church and state...maybe there
was some teaching of religion going on that may have been out of place."
School officials bucked any comment to Jones's university, which claimed
a vow of silence under student privacy laws. Says Jones, "I'm willing to
learn something from experience, but I'm concerned about what these kids
are learning. If they can become informants, if accused people can't
have due process, if the approved course of events involves secret
decision-making, no appeal and the teacher disappears, that doesn't
smell like democracy. It smells very different." It smells, period.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
According to the Wall Street Journal, after five years and $929 million in federal funding, drug czar John Walters has discovered that antidrug ads don't work--teen drug use is as high as ever, and the ads may actually encourage young kids to try pot. But as Cynthia Cotts notes in the Village Voice, that piece of news wasn't widely reported; it didn't even rate a mention in the New York Times or the Washington Post--both
of which profited handsomely from running the ads.
Who elected him? George W. Bush at a Florida rally for Jeb: "Mr. Castro, once--just once--show that you're unafraid of a real
election. Show the world you respect Cuban citizens enough to listen to
their voices and to count their votes."