Friday, April 20, 2007

Story of the Week. April 16-20

I had two ideas this week as I attempted to organize my thoughts. So they’re both here and if they don’t make sense, well, maybe that’s the point. If you’ve had enough, you’ve read enough and you can’t take any more about the horrible things that happened this week, then feel free to stop reading. I know I’ve overloaded at least twice this week.

Lastly, I didn’t want my blog to be about how the media has covered this story, except to say this. The sad consequence of the news industry is that the networks make the most money when the story is the most tragic, and so they are all forced to compete for coverage under the most horrible circumstances. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but I understand why it does have to be this way. And I think a lot of news people, including the ones I work with, had to make some impossible decisions this week. Here is my story of the week.

A Terrible Week, Past and Present

The murderer walked into a gun shop four weeks ago and showed his 3 forms of identification, signed the right papers, and walked out with a pistol and 500 rounds of ammunition. All of this was legal. If it hadn’t been legal, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to get the guns, and 32 people would still be alive at Virginia Tech.

Maybe we should ban guns.

Wednesday evening, we found out that the murderer sent a package to NBC news. In between killing two people in a dorm and massacring 29 more in an academic hall, he stopped at the post office and mailed a package to “Rockefeller Ave” in New York City and wrote in a 6 digit zip code. Maybe the postal worker should have checked the package, then she might have stopped him from going to the second building.

Maybe we should inspect all letters and packages.

The murderer may have been inspired by a South Korean film called “Oldboy.” One of the pictures he sent to NBC is identical to a scene in the film, a picture of him swinging a hammer above his head. Maybe if he hadn’t seen that movie, he wouldn’t have gotten the idea to go on a shooting rampage.

Maybe we should ban violent movies.

The murderer wrote two plays in a creative writing class. One was about a kid who accuses his stepfather of sexual and physical abuse, then he threatens him with a chainsaw. Both are disturbing and graphically violent. And the professor in his class was worried. Maybe if she had said something, she could have stopped it.

Maybe we should force writing teachers to submit all of their students’ work to the police.

Maybe we should ban creative writing.

The murderer was born in South Korea and came with his family to the United States in search of a better life. Instead, he cut short the lives of 31 others, and himself. Maybe if he never came to the United States, none of this would have happened.

Maybe we should end immigration.

The murderer took advantage of the blissful serenity of an expansive college campus and was able to go undetected into a dorm room, leave, go to the post office and cross campus to an academic building to commit a massacre without impediment. Maybe if campus security had been stricter, if there were metal detectors in dorm rooms, say, he would have been stopped.

Maybe we should have metal detectors in dorms, and guarded gates to our college campuses.

But we do have guns, and violent movies, and creative writing. And we are allowed to say what we want and do what we want. And almost anyone, for now, is allowed to come here in search of a better life.

Monday, the day of the Virginia Tech Massacre, was also Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day where we remember that we cannot forget what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. A day where we hope that, by remembering, we can make sure it never happens again.

We remember that in order to execute the final solution, Hitler (who was born on this day in 1889) first gradually took away freedoms from the German people, and especially from the Jews. He restricted what they watched, what they studied, where they went, and how they communicated. And then he exterminated by the millions.

It's natural to want to blame someone or something for what happened in Blacksburg this week. But restricting freedom through regulation is not necessarily going to stop the next act of senseless violence. And in the meantime, you only create fear and more victims. Sometimes the consequence of living in a free society is that people are free to go astray.

This week, we also remember the Waco Siege (April 19, 1993), the Oklahoma City Bombing (April 19, 1995), and the Columbine High School Shootings (April 20, 1999).

Maybe we should ban this week.

The massacre at Virginia Tech and its aftermath is eerily similar to what happened at Columbine 8 years ago. That tragedy reshaped by high school experience. I attended a high school of similar design, and with a similar student body. And after Columbine, I think there was a belief that yes, this could happen here if we forget Columbine. In our community we didn't forget Columbine. The next year, I was part of the inaugural cast of a play called "Bang Bang You're Dead", a play that explored the possible causes of school violence. The play has few answers but incites thoughtful and important discussion. And in the wake of Columbine, it was important to keep the dialogue open.

There is no explanation. What happened was horrible, it's sickening. I've been watching the coverage all week and it doesn't get better. There are no answers and no explanations.

But there is one source of strength that comes from this week. The students of Virginia Tech have been incredible. All week we have heard from Virginia Tech students from all backgrounds and colors who came together in an amazing way. And on Facebook, students from all over the world have banded together, feeling the tragedy as if it happened on their own campuses too. They have written the types of things and come together in a way that makes the racial divide of last week's top story seem petty. In the coming years, when these students of my generation take over, my hope is that we'll act like this all the time. That way, we'll honor the heroes of the terrible events of this week, past and present.

Monday, April 16, 2007

New Article at the Traveler's Pen!


One advantage to having friends all over the country (and the world) is the viable excuse to go visit fun and exciting places. I have visited friends in Israel, London, St Louis, Denver, and on and on. But none of these places can compare to...Delaware.

Read all about the exciting day in the First State, published on

Also there you can check out the blogs from my Birthright Israel trip in December, and read lots of other great stories from around the world. (From places far more exciting than Delaware, I promise)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Story of the Week - April 9-13

Shock and Outrage

Raise your hand if you were a regular IMUS in the morning listener.

Now raise your hand if you watched more than 2 minutes of ANY Rutgers women's basketball game this season, including their loss to Tennessee in the finals.

Now if you raised your hand for both of those things, stand up.

I thought so.

There aren't many people in the middle of that Venn diagram are there?

So, if you didn't watch the Rutgers women and/or you don't listen to Imus, what the hell is going on?

Well, Imus said what he said, and then he apologized, and then Al Sharpton got hold of it and started making noise. A lot of noise. Al Sharpton's basic function in this country is to make noise and appear as outraged as possible. Sharpton made enough noise this time to get Imus suspended for two weeks. Then he and Imus argued on Sharpton's radio show. Apology not accepted, as Sharpton moved to have companies pull sponsorship. And the frenzy began, ending with Imus' complete ouster from, well, broadcasting.

I don't feel bad for Imus. I certainly don't feel bad for Sharpton. I don't feel sorry for women or blacks who might feel victimized by Imus' comments. And I don't feel bad for the Rutgers women's basketball team. Most people can't remember who beat you in the NCAA Finals, but everybody knows you went to the Final Four. And now Vivien Stringer is America's favorite coach. She just bought herself 5 years of top recruits.

There are no victims in this story - except maybe the American people.

By making all of this noise and essentially creating a complete media frenzy, I think Sharpton (and friends) deprives us all from having intelligent discourse and making conscious decisions about what we watch, listen to, and deem important. That is the real tragedy of this story.

The comments about the women's basketball team were 30 seconds of a 5 hour broadcast. They could easily have passed unnoticed from Imus' microphone into the ears of his mostly white, mostly male, listeners. Some of those white men would have agreed with Imus, others would have thought "I thought Florida already won the final four?" and others wouldn't have heard it at all. Other listeners, including some of the old white men, could have heard the comments and been disgusted, turned off the radio and stopped listening to Imus. Some may have told their friends "hey, don't listen to Imus. He's a racist and a sexist and you shouldn't support his show." And if enough people stopped listening, MSNBC would have cancelled the show. I guarantee it.

Instead, we get the media circus. We get talking heads of all shapes, sizes and colors coming on TV and proclaiming shock and outrage at Imus' comments. Shock? Really? Clearly you haven't listened to Imus in.......ever! This is a crusty, narrow-minded old white man, a part of the least tolerant segment of our society. And that segment will find another morning show they like.

What I think should have happened is this - he should have apologized, he should have sat out his two week suspension, and come back to the airwaves with a cleaner version of his show. He could have had the opportunity to bring on guests and engage in real debate about race and media, even (gasp!) give Sharpton the opportunity to reach out to Imus' more narrow minded, whiter base. Instead, Sharpton blew up everything, took it too far, and will continue to be seen by Imus listeners as an arrogant, opportunistic punchline.

I'm sure CNN and FOX News both saw the Imus gaffe as an opportunity to swipe ratings and advertising dollars from MSNBC. And they can thank Sharpton for getting the ball rolling. Sharpton would like MSNBC and WFAN and whoever else to replace Imus with a black or Hispanic host. That has about as much chance as Sharpton's 2004 presidential campaign. In forcing Imus' firing, Sharpton may have lost a new ally in his own fight.

To me, the worst part of the whole story is the fact that it takes time away from more important stories, and true outrages that need the attention of the media.

For example, three members of the Duke men's lacrosse team were absolved of all charges against them and the Durham, NC district attorney has been charged with ethics violations. These guys are actual victims and they deserve at least as much attention now as they did when they were wrongly accused of rape.

Also, The US Army is extending tours in Iraq for 100,000 soldiers. As if the army wasn't overextended enough already fighting a war without a clear enemy and no end in sight. Congressman Charlie Rangel, of Harlem, has been shouting for years about the racial and socioeconomic disparity in the armed forces. His main point is essentially that poor black and Hispanic men are doing most of the fighting and dying in Iraq, and that the privileged white men in the White House don't care about the troops. Rangel has a pretty good point and he deserves a bigger stage. Where is Al Sharpton on this one?

I had an interesting perspective on this whole story as it developed on Wednesday and Thursday. I was pretty much in the middle of the frenzy, making calls to sponsors, escorting Sharpton around the building, and watching the general hysteria of each development. And I hated it. There was too much good, talented energy focused on basically destroying a man's career and tearing the country apart across racial and gender lines. Something wasn't right.

And then, a bit of real news crept in. There was an accident involving New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. Instantly, this was more important, and the energy got refocused. Where is he? Is he hurt? Is it critical? Who's in charge of New Jersey? Was it an attack? In minutes, we had answers.

The governor was on his way to host and mediate a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team at Drumthwacket (the official name of the governor's mansion in Princeton). While Corzine underwent surgery to fix a broken femur, 12 broken ribs and fractured vertebrae, the Rutgers women accepted Imus' apology. And the healing process begins.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Here's a few more matters of little importance.

The following is an actual conversation with an apartment owner:

Me: Hi, I'm calling about the apartment on West 69th street.

Owner: Which one?

Me: It says 19 West 69th Street apt 3.

Owner: which one?

Me: What do you mean?

Owner: For how much?

Me: Oh, it says $1475.

Owner: Oh. Actually it's $2500. That's a typo. Sorry.

Me: It's a typo?

Owner: Yes.

Me: That's a pretty big typo.

Owner: Sorry.

Me: Thank you.


Me: Who the hell is typing that? That's not even close.


From this week's Police Blotter in The Princeton Packet:

A West Windsor man called the police to report that his golf clubs and bag had been stolen from his garage sometime between December and April.

(I'm sure the police will get right on that case by Halloween)

Keith Olberman is the king of reporting stories while at the same time clearly showing that he doesn't care at all about them. Any time he talks about Anna Nicole or American Idol it is in an irreverent, clearly disgusted tone, yet he keeps reporting the stories. The journalistic integrity of this is fantastic. It's "I report, I decide, You decide."

I don't care about Anna Nicole one bit, but by watching Keith I know what's going on so that I can participate in a discussion of the issue if I need to for whatever reason, like if my job forces me to do it. At the same time Keith rejects the notion that anyone should care about dumb stories, he acknowledges that people do care, therefore eschewing ignorance.

Good luck untangling that one.



I want YOU to tell me, if possible, about the most random person you have on Facebook or MySpace and how you think he/she became your friend. Here are my top three:

Geoff Marsh - I think Geoff is a member of the Syracuse University a cappella group Orange Appeal. I think I know what he looks like, but his facebook profile picture right now is just a car. He's a conservative Christian, and I'm pretty certain I've never had an actual conversation with him. But he updates his profile almost daily.

Russell Schneider - I have no idea who this is. He has no picture on his profile. Russell is from Long Island, we have 25 friends in common and they're all my friends from Camp. So it would make sense to say the Russell went to camp. But I don't remember Russell being at camp. He might still be in High School. And he might know who I am, but I certainly have no freaking clue who Russell Schneider is.

BJ Smith - BJ Smith is from Huntsville, Alabama. BJ thinks he was on my Israel trip this past December, but he wasn't. Even so, he remains Facebook friends with me and a number of others from my trip, and he remains a part of our Facebook group "Israel Experts Bus 2" or whatever it's called. To top it all off, he filled in the "friend details" for us (and I accepted) which say "you were in a group together" even though we weren't.

I can only assume you all have similar stories. Post them here!

And that is Foofaraw for today.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Story of the Week - April 2-6

Climate Change

I have fond memories of standing out on a Little League field with two turtlenecks on and shivering my way through an April game. Or being cold and wet on opening day at Shea (just last year), but the beginning of baseball season is supposed to mean that spring is finally here. This week it felt like Spring had disappeared.

It's the same week, ironically, that a doomsday report about Global Warming came out. The report warned that poor countries in Africa and Southeast Asia are likely to suffer the most from Global Warming, while rich countries like the United States continue to be the worst polluters. (Actually, China is the world's worst polluter, and they're likely to get even worse) These countries, of course, have inadequate resources to handle drought and coastal flooding. (We have the resources, just not the leadership)

The city of Cleveland, and their Indians, might welcome global warming at this point. They tries to play a 3 game series with the Seattle Mariners this weekend. Game 1 got to the 5th inning, after many delays. It finally took an injury to Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez and a Seattle player pointing out that he couldn't see the ball through the heavy snow to cancel that one. The reason they tried to play at all was because they knew the forecast for the rest of the weekend. And because this is the only time the Mariners are scheduled to visit Cleveland.

In Chicago, they cancelled because of forecast temperatures in the 20s. In New York, the Yankees and Devil Rays played through the snow. In Philadelphia, Washington, St Louis and even Atlanta, they played through temperatures in the 30s. And they're sitting in winter coats at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, Texas for the Sunday night game.

The cold weather sparked a discussion about Major League Baseball's schedule-makers. Why play games in Cleveland and New York in early April when you can send the Indians and Yankees (and Phillies, White Sox, etc.) to places with warm weather like Los Angeles of Anaheim. San Diego, Arizona and Florida, and to places with domes like Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Toronto.

The argument in favor of this was made clear by this weekend's events. 3 cancelled games in Cleveland, snow and cold creating greater risk for injury (see Victor Martinez and Hideki Matsui) and fans being miserable (I love baseball, but can it be fun to watch your team lose 7-0 when it's 25 with the wind at RFK?) The argument against altering the schedule for cold weather is that this is just bad luck, just look at the week of beautiful weather we had to end March. Also, who's to say it won't be just as cold next week? Also, it was pretty cold in places like Atlanta and Texas this weekend, so nothing is guaranteed. And besides, the beauty of baseball is the constant change in conditions - different sized ballparks, different playing surfaces, different starting pitchers, etc. All of this is what makes it so hard to win 120 games in a season and impossible to hit .500.

I have a solution. Why not be flexible? If Thursday's forecast calls for a weekend of snow and 20 degree wind-chills in Cleveland, move the series to Seattle, play in the dome, and come to Cleveland in August or whenever the Indians were supposed to go to Seattle originally. I'm sure the Indians wouldn't have minded a cross country flight, especially if it meant keeping their all-star catcher in the line-up.

Also, a team like the Devil Rays, who play in a dome in a warm weather city, should NOT be allowed to request to start their season with a road trip to New York. (Yes, they actually did that, and they got their way)

Baseball is already reacting to the cold snap of this weekend. The Indians and Mariners will try for the third straight day to play 2 on Monday. And on Tuesday, they may fly to Los Angeles of Anaheim to play the Angels, instead of hosting the Angels on the frozen tundra of Jacob's field.

So next year we may see the Tribe open up in Seattle, Mets in Arizona and the Yankees in Tampa. And they'll send the Red Sox to the Metrodome and the White Sox to Skydome (sorry, Rogers Centre) and the Cubs to Milwaukee. And meantime in New York and Chicago and Cleveland and Boston they'll be talking about the record heatwave we're having and the ensuing apocalyptic doom of global warming and wouldn't it be great to go to a baseball game right now?