Thursday, August 28, 2008

Aug. 28: Sniglets on Convention Coverage y Los Locos (o Locas) En EL LPGA

By Sylvia Gurinsky

*On average, about 25 million viewers tune in to new episodes of the ABC hit show "Desperate Housewives." On Tuesday night, 26 million viewers tuned in to Hillary Clinton. No, I'm not trying to make an analogy, but I am trying to point out that the Democratic National Convention is popular viewing, and the Republican National Convention will likely be as well.

Last night, former President Bill Clinton spoke during the 9 o'clock hour, while the major networks carried their usual reruns and reality dreck. They couldn't have tuned in for just another hour? Come on.

*This sniglet will be en EspaƱol, for obvious reasons.....
El LPGA esta haciendo un regero largo:

¿Intolerancia, personas? Si. Hasta que el LPGA hace lo contrario, no voy a escribir una palabra en Ingles sobre ellos.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Aug. 26: Words, Words, Words....

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Last night at the Democratic National Convention included the inspiring sight and speech of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer.

Less inspiring was the Associated Press description of Kennedy as "ailing and aging." It brought to mind some of the descriptions by the press when Dick Clark returned to his New Year's Eve program more than a year after suffering a stroke. What should have been called a triumph for the stroke patient was instead turned into an endless comparison of what he was post-stroke and pre-stroke.

Anyone who suffers from a major illness that leaves changes - in appearance, in speech - will not be the same person. However, that person has the right to live a life of dignity - including what makes him or her comfortable, whether it's politics for Kennedy and show business for Clark.

One shining example is actor Kirk Douglas, whose 1996 stroke impaired his speech. Douglas lives his life to the fullest, still acting, as well as writing and campaigning to reverse injustice.

Journalists' perception of how to cover these situations has been evolving. But the AP description of Kennedy shows it still needs more changing.


Speaking of words, there are times, to quote Yul Brynner's King of Siam, when it is best to be silent.

National Public Radio commentators could have taken that opportunity last night, when an 8-minute video was shown at the convention about Kennedy. There were listeners on radio, too, but about halfway through, the NPR group started yakking. Sigh. I thought that kind of thing only happened on cable.

Take a lesson from legendary Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, a wordsmith who also knows when to let what's in front of him do the talking. Sometimes the silence of reporters and pundits is truly golden.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Aug. 25: Who Made These Schedules?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Catch up on that lost sleep from two weeks of late-night Olympic coverage? One can only hope, because it's time for the political conventions.

The Chinese may think 08/08/08 was a lucky day for them to schedule the opening ceremony, but the luck had a push: NBC's football schedule, and other things NBC:

With more than 200 nations competing this time, why is it one last-place-in-prime-time American network that gets accomodated over the rest of the world? (No wonder the Russians are so ticked off.)

Avery Brundage, the one-time head of the International Olympic Committee, has been dead for more than three decades, but his legacy evidently continues; the United States is still Big Mama that needs to be coddled. (It's even worse when one recalls the NBC promos that aired during these Olympics; they've gone from the likes of "The Cosby Show," "Mad About You," "Frasier" and "Friends" to the inane-looking "Kath and Kim."

The August Olympic invasion was one of the things that prompted changes in the schedules of the political conventions. Once upon a time, one party would have its convention in July, the other one in August - enough space for everyone to get the message across, enough space for a convention "bounce" that the candidates would or would not waste.

Not this time. The Democratic convention starts tonight, the Republican convention on Labor Day - yes, Labor Day. A federal holiday.

Lisa Ryan's article has a very good explanation for why this is:

The Democrats may be playing Charlie Brown to the Republicans' Lucy, because Sen. Barack Obama may get no more than a 12-hour bounce before Sen. John McCain names his running mate. Viewers may ignore who speaks on Labor Day, but they'll likely be watching Sept. 4, when McCain speaks.

How about this suggestion: Cancel the conventions, just let the presidential and vice presidential nominees tape speeches to the American people to be shown in September, and be done with it. It would be easier for everyone - especially voters.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Aug. 21: Not No New Oil Drilling, Not Nohow

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Now the American Petroleum Institute is getting into the oil drilling act with new television advertisements about its "benefits."

As someone was once quoted as saying, "If a million people (or more) believe in a bad idea, it is still a bad idea." Expanding oil drilling is still a bad idea.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Aug. 20: Lowering Drinking Age To 18 Will Increase Abuse Among High Schoolers

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Bravo to Donna Shalala, the former secretary of Health and Human Services and current president of the University of Miami, for not going along with the proposal by almost 100 college presidents to propose that the federal government lower the drinking age from 21 to 18.

Inexplicably, these presidents seem to believe that lowering the age would help curtail the problem of binge drinking on college campuses. One argument is that the law is like Prohibition, which was put into the Constitution but rarely enforced or followed, and was eventually repealed. What the presidents are saying is that this is a way to allow college students to actually be more responsible about drinking.


This is a cop-out by those presidents, a way of ducking responsibility on the issue of alcohol and its effects. And it would open the door to new problems, including increases in alcohol use and drunk driving not only among college students, but also high school students. If the drinking age was lowered to 18, how much easier would it be for high schoolers (and not just 18-year-old high school seniors) to get alcohol?

Granted that universities are often acting as surrogate parents for students who come from houses where responsible alcohol use is not discussed. It's a difficult role.

But instead of throwing up their hands, these university presidents should be extending a hand to community members - including local representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups that can help - to work with college students.

One of the goals of colleges and universities is to teach students responsibility. Lowering the drinking age is not the way to do it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Aug. 19: Olympic Teeth-Gnashing Over Rules

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Tropical Storm Fay and a crashing computer have scrambled things a bit, so just a little today on the Olympics.

Which rule is worse, the one in gymnastics that no longer allows ties for medals, or the one in baseball that automatically puts two runners on the bases and allows the team to decide where to start in the batting order if the game goes into the 11th inning and later?

I have my perogative to rule it a tie.

With the gymnastics rule, American Nastia Liukin lost a chance at a gold medal in the uneven parallel bars, Thomas Bouhail of France lost a gold in the men's vault, and Louis Smith of Britain lost a silver in the pommel horse.

Reuters said it was an International Olympic Committee decision. What's the matter? They'd have to spend too many marketing dollars on two athletes, rather than one?

Actually, the baseball rule is even crazier. Nothing thrills baseball fans more than a classic that goes extra innings - the Florida Marlins' 11-inning-win in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series comes to mind. So what does the International Olympic Committee do? It penalizes the participants of such games in international baseball; both Taiwan and the United States lost games last week, in part because of such ridiculousness.

Participants in both sports should appeal these rules; even if the IOC rules against them on legal grounds, those who protest will win in the court of public opinion, which could prompt the IOC and the sports federations to change the rules to something with more common sense. Common sense has been the big loser at these Olympics.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aug. 14: Seeds For Newspaper Crisis May Have Been Sown Decades Ago

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The bloodletting continues at newspapers all over, with thousands of good people continuing to be laid off.

The immediate issues have included the failure of newspaper companies to anticipate the freedom and wide-range of the Internet, and the demand that the newspaper companies continue to make the same profits they always have.

That leads to what is perhaps the real problem in all of this: Media consolidation.

Once upon a time, decades ago, newspapers were mostly owned locally. Sure, the owners wanted to make money, but they also had a clear understanding of their communities and their readers. The same was true, early on, of radio and television stations.

Then, in the middle of the 20th century, consolidation started. At first, it was by people who understood the public interest - people like the Knights, or Katharine Graham.

But more recently, it's been by major media companies that had bought the local entities to improve their own profit margins. That consolidation has come back to bite both the big companies and the local newspapers. The big companies aren't getting the same financial returns. It's worse for the local newspapers, which aren't serving their communities the way they once did.

So, here's a suggestion. There has been a trend in newspapers recently to "go local." How about doing so with ownership as well?

The idea isn't a perfect one; so far, it hasn't worked in Philadelphia, where local owners continue to lay off people at newspapers once owned by Knight Ridder. But newspapers would at least have a fighting chance if they were owned by people who loved, understood and appreciated them and the communities they cover.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Aug. 13: How About Some Truth-Telling?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I'd like to see a new family value promoted and practiced, not just by politicians, but also by Madison Avenue: Truth telling.

Lying has been much in the news the last few days - the lies of former Sen. John Edwards; the revelation that the girl who was at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing wasn't the one doing the singing; the revelation that some of the fireworks were fake.

And, there's that commercial that Visa has aired with the inspiring story of British runner Derek Redmond, who was injured during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona in a 400-meter semifinal; Redmond made it around the track with the help of his father. The story was inspiring, and the ad would be, too, if not for the knowledge that Visa whited out the writing on Redmond's father's T-shirt. The T-shirt, of course, was a Nike shirt with the inscription "Have You Hugged Your Foot Today," along with the company's famous slash.

Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying that honesty is the best policy. Mark Twain put a twist on it: "Honesty is the best policy - when there is money in it."

But George Bernard Shaw's quote perfectly describes the last few days: "I am afraid we must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy."

Sadly, we're a long way from it, Mr. Shaw.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Aug. 12: It Is Time For a Shield Law

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In the past, this writer hadn't supported a federal shield law chiefly because of a fear it would set definitions on who is a journalist that the First Amendment of the Constitution does not.

However, the Bush Administration and company's repeated smackdowns (for lack of a better word) of journalists - jailing them for not revealing sources or turning over materials or spying on them - indicates that there is no longer a choice. The press needs those protections.

Here's the latest reason why:

Neither Sens. John McCain nor Barack Obama were involved in last month's vote, but both have been on record as supporting a shield law. Bush opposes it, and the Senate may not be able to get a veto-proof vote.

But for the last eight years, journalists have been among those harassed and restricted from doing their jobs - innocent victims in the war on terror. It's time to reiterate their constitutional rights. The Senate must give veto-proof approval to the Free Flow of Information Act.

Monday, August 11, 2008

August 11: Who Speaks For the Poor Now? Not Dems, Evidently

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Former Sen. John Edwards is toxic - no other word will do at this point - with the revelations of his personal problems. His once-effective discussion of "Two Americas" - one rich, one poor - no longer has credibility coming from him, at least for the forseeable future.

But the issue of Two Americas is still relevant. An Associated Press analysis last week of Edward's troubles questioned who might pick up the banner in the Democratic Party.

The party of FDR, Truman, JFK and RFK now has almost no one prominent to speak up for the poor? Without Edwards, the most effective spokesperson is Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is currently battling a brain tumor.

It lends credence to a comment in the current movie release "Swing Vote" by young Molly Johnson (played so well by 12-year-old actress Madeline Carroll) that she registered her father, Bud (played by Kevin Costner), as an Independent because neither of the two major parties speaks for the working poor.

Actually, there is a prominent Democrat who can go very far by speaking very loudly for those who are impoverished. It's a man who spent a good deal of his adult life working to help the poor before he entered politics.

His name? Barack Obama.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Aug. 6: Now It's Congress' Turn

By Sylvia Gurinsky

There will never be an official trial of Bruce E. Ivins, the government scientist who killed himself last week, over the 2001 anthrax mailings, which killed five.

The FBI's case may simmer down - at least for the time being - but the questions don't:

-Why did the FBI's investigation take the course it did, leading first, and erroneously, to Steven Hatfield before targeting Ivins? Not all of the dots are connecting in that case.

-Was the then-secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (newly created), Tom Ridge, pressured by the Bush Administration to lean toward Al-Quaida as the culprit?

-Is there any way to determine, if Ivins was the culprit, what might have compelled the choice of targets? The Hartford Courant may have given at least a partial answer to that question today:,0,5888202.story

But that doesn't explain the anthrax that was sent to a variety of media outlets, including the National Enquirer tabloid.

The next step belongs to Congress, which should hold hearings and air out as much as possible. In this case, national security demands that Americans do know what's been going on the last seven years.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

August 5: Miami-Dade School Board, Continued: How It Can Get Even Worse

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Sadly, Miami-Dade School Board Vice-Chair Perla Tabares Hantman decided to join the gang trying to force out Superintendent Rudy Crew. He is still the superintendent by a 5-4 vote.

During yesterday's meeting, the board decided not to approve, at least for now, a provision that could make matters even worse: An elected school superintendent.

No. NO. NO!

The solution is definitely not to politicize that post. The school superintendent should not be subject to an election. The school superintendent should be, must be, an education professional in every sense of the word.

For an example of what happens when a position is politicized, look at the sheriff's post in Broward County. Look at what happened to Ken Jenne, a man with no experience as a law enforcement officer. That could very easily, too easily, happen in Dade with an elected school superintendent (and yes, it happened with an appointed one, Johnny Jones, in 1980. But Jones and, more recently, the incompetent Roger Cuevas have been exceptions; most Dade superintendents have been top-notch.).

The School Board, which is and must be an elected body, has been abdicating its responsibility to the people it serves. Board members should leave both the superintendent and the means of selection alone. If anything should change, it's on the board, where at-large, countywide seats should be added.

Monday, August 4, 2008

August 4: Dade School Board Is An Embarrassment, and Its Organization Is a Mess

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Another day, another Miami-Dade School Board meeting that may needlessly go into the wee small hours. This time, the subject is the future of School Superintendent Rudy Crew.

Three board members - Renier Diaz de la Portilla, Ana Rivas Logan and Marta Perez - support his firing. As this is written, the hearing goes on...and on.

Unless something shocking happens, Crew will likely keep his job, at least for now, and he should. It would not be surprising, though, if Crew eventually does what Angela Gittens did. Gittens, the former director of Miami International Airport, resigned in 2004 after years of conflict with Miami-Dade County leaders.

Crew has his flaws; he's not always accessible, and the current problems with United Teachers of Dade over the district's budget are as much his responsibility as the School Board's. But he's done nothing to merit his firing. And the issue runs the risk of reopening the long-festering wounds between the Cuban and African-American communities; the matter has already come up at today's hearing.

It seems the train wreck is attracting viewers to the meetings on WLRN-Channel 17:

While public television stations always appreciate more viewers, no one likely appreciates the reason: The Miami-Dade School Board is dysfunctional and an embarrassment to all it serves.

Several years ago, it was thought that the School Board was headed for reform with the election of several members who had actually worked in a classroom recently. No such luck.

Perhaps the ongoing feuds and controversies are a final indication that the exclusive single-member district system put into effect during the 1990s is unworkable in Dade. There was always the danger that School Board members would fend only for their territory at the county's expense, and it came to that long ago.

Dade would benefit from the checks-and-balances system in Broward County, where there are at-large school board members elected countywide, in addition to those who come from single-member districts. In the short term, the School Board members would benefit from shutting their mouths during these lengthy meetings, and opening their minds to the community they serve.