When Minders don't Mind
Show: All Things Considered (NPR)
NPR's Anne Garrels is in Baghdad to check the pulse of Iraqi people in advance of a possible second Gulf War. In the first of a series of reports aired by Morning Edition and All Things Considered, she explains that some Iraqis are reluctant to let their true feelings be known:
Yet some take advantage of rare moments when government minders assigned to journalists are distracted. They convey through furtive glances or knowing looks they're eager for change. This is extraordinary in a country where the mere hint of dissent has resulted in prison or worse in recent years.
Furtive glances and knowing looks may be the only things that Garrels can rely on as she conducts her interviews with the help of an Iraqi interpreter.
Undaunted, our travelling reporter carries on with the assignment:
I am very happy to see you.
TEACHER: [Foreign language spoken]
He concludes by shrugging and shaking his head as if to say, "Don't you get it?"
One might expect that Garrels would dismiss his remark as just another repetition of the official propaganda line proclaiming that the Iraqi people love America, but hate the US government, in particular, President Bush. But not so. The shrug, the shake of the head, and perhaps a furtive glance from the teacher must have convinced her that the feelings are genuine.
In the end, Garrels tells us what she learned from these interviews:
It's impossible to draw any sweeping conclusion about the overall state of mind of Iraqis from the comments of just a few, and criticism of the regime is mixed with passionate criticism of President Bush, whose name meaning "empty" or "nothing" in the local vernacular, has inspired a rash of jokes. Many who might like Americans fear the US government may well be targeting Iraqi society at large — not to promote democracy, but to control Iraq's oil.Why Garrels thinks that the Iraqis tell her the truth when they criticize Bush, but not when they hail Saddam, is not difficult to grasp: she despises Bush, she doesn't want him to disarm Saddam. In her mind, Bush just wants to get his dirty hands on the Iraqi oil, imperial America to expand her dominion over the rest of the world. She believes the things she wants to believe.
Or can there be another explanation?
In further reports, Anne Garrels talks about the crumbling water and sewer systems, the declining enrollment of girls in public schools, and the many other things that ail Iraqi citizens. For everything, she has one convenient scapegoat: the sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations. Not once she explains that the sanctions were intended to force Saddam to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, not once she mentions that the sanctions would have ended a long time ago if Saddam had complied with the agreements he signed at the end of Desert Storm.
The day the minders vanished from sight, the day Baghdad was liberated and Saddam's statue was pulled down from its pedestal, the day a Marine unit pulled up in front of the Palestine hotel in which she was staying, Anne Garrels had a few naughty things to say about her minders — ungrateful, if you ask me. After all, they helped her to find the occasional Iraqi citizen who hated President Bush.
A particular nasty fellow, she complained, tried to steal the SUV from an Italian crew, another extorted a good bit of money from her and the network. Perhaps, this is the reason why my public radio station had to extent its Spring fund raiser for a couple of days.
With Friends like this…
A dangerous man?
My nice sent me this snapshot of the cover of Le Point, a French political magazine. Like many young Germans, she has a low regard for Bush, believes that he is a dangerous man who might lead the world into another Great War.
Of course, she is entitled to her opinion. After all, her travels are not being paid by a public institution that spends the taxpayer's money and pretends to be non-partisan.
Prodded along by the US media who hated Bush even before he took office, the European press almost from the onset depicted Bush as crazed cowboy and warmonger as suggested by two recent covers of Der Spiegel, a German political weekly.
The one on the left is from April 2001, barely two month after the inauguration. It shows Bush in huge cowboy boots on top of the world, an obvious take on "Le Petit Prince." The subtitle reads: The little Sheriff — George Bush, Jr., against the rest of the world. The cover on the right is from February 2002. It depicts Bush as Rambo, with Secretaries Powell (Batman) and Rumsfeld (Conan the Warrior), Vice President Cheney, and Advisor Rice (Valeria of the Red Brotherhood) close behind him. The caption reads: The Bush Warriors — Americas crusade against evil.
Tale of the Bronx
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)
Magic Theatres [unattributed]
According NPR's Nancy Solomon, there is a conspiracy afoot which denies the right of minorities living in the inner cities to buy a waxed, fancy-grade Gala apple from their own neighborhood grocery.
Now, I do not know many downtrodden minorities that live in the inner cities — most of the black and brown people that I know are well educated and live in the suburbs — but I know a number of poor, uneducated rednecks that live in the boonies: none of them would buy a waxed, fancy-grade Gala apple, or any kind of fruit or vegetable for that matter.
Of course, Solomon is right pointing out that the supermarkets are leaving the cities, and that the ones that are left behind often do not offer the freshest produce. The reasons are plenty: high crime rates drive potential customers away, skyrocketing insurance rates make it difficult to turn a profit, and the business-unfriendly attitude of city officials does the rest.
Groceries are not the only businesses that are leaving — car dealerships and movie complexes are too. There are attempts to stop the tide and some are quite successful, such as the Magic Johnson Theatres in Los Angeles. But the majority fails and will continue to fail until the business climate in the inner cities starts improving.
Feeding Fashion Models and other Insane Commentaries
Show: All Things Considered (NPR)
I have to be careful here not to offend my feminist friends, but the commentaries of some female contributors to NPR are simply insane.
Just listen to the one by Jane Gennero in which she dreams of putting fashion models into a cage and stuffing them until they are fat — a contemporary version of Grimm's fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel? Or the recent commentary by Annie Korzen in which she resolves to be vulgar this New Year's eve.
Book cover [©Simon&Schuster, 1945]
Apart from being insane, both commentators seem to be equally obsessed with diet and fashion — subjects befitting daytime television talk shows but not supposedly serious news shows such as ATC or Morning Edition.
Women babbling on the air isn't really new for NPR. Since I began listening to public radio in 1984, the quality of female commentators has been lacking badly. Not only that — they also seem to be restricted to topics that are, at best, peripheral to the interests of NPR listeners: food, family, and fashion. (The one notable exception is political commentator Cokie Roberts, a frequent guest on Morning Edition.)
However, there is some small consolation for women who care about the image that NPR is projecting of their sex: the price for the most distasteful and inane commentary this month goes to Augusten Burroughs who muses whether he should follow the latest fad among his Manhattan friends and adopt a child from a Third-World country or keep his French bulldog puppy.
Talking Down the Economy
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)
Under the headline "Holiday Sales Worst in 30 Years" NPR's Renee Montagne talked with Kurt Barnard of Barnard's Retail Consulting about this year's christmas shopping season.
©PBS: Kurt Barnard
Based on preliminary sales figures from November and December, some retail analysts had predicted a sales increase of only 1.5%, which would make it the smallest year-to-year increase since 1970. However, others were estimating an increase of 3.5%, which would make it an about average year for retailers.
Listening to Montagne, one gets the impression that christmas shopping is down, not up, compared to last year.
To her credit, when Barnard claims that no one was buying, Montagne remains a bit skeptical.
Even if Barnard is right and sales growth turns out to be only 1.5%, this would hardly make it the worst shopping season in more than 30 years. In 1990 and 1991, during the last recession, christmas sales were up by 2% which — after adjusting for inflation — amounted to a decline in real sales by 1.5%. This year, with retail inflation almost non-existent, sales are still higher than last year when calculated in constant dollars.
One reason why sales are disappointing is that there were 6 fewer shopping days this year. Adjusted for the lower number of days, the 2002 holiday shopping season is set to break every record on the book, a good news story you won't find on NPR.