For old times’ sake

When I was old enough to stay up to welcome in the New Year, I remember seeing the ball go down in Times Square on a black and white TV set and hearing Guy Lombardo‘s orchestra performing Auld Lang Syne.

That was a long time ago. Lombardo died in 1977. This performance by Aretha Franklin with Lombardo welcomed in 1975. We found out this month that the Queen of Soul is suffering from pancreatic cancer. Hopefully, she’ll be with us for many more New Years.

This story really should die

A blogger at the Web site Ramblings heard about the Foxconn factory in China that makes Apple computer products through an NPR story and through a story in the Daily Mail in the U.K.

Back in September, Bloomberg Businessweek did a story about the success of the company, but hyped the fact that stressed workers have committed suicide. As noted, there are major problems with that story.

It says there’s great hand wringing because 11 employees have killed themselves. A minute of research shows the annual suicide rate in China is 13 per 100,000 men and 14.8 per 100,000 women. The company has more than 900,000 employees. If the suicide rate was higher than the national average, it would be worth playing up. But to justify that focus, there will have to be well more than 120 suicides at Foxconn by year end. There was a similar reporting frenzy in Europe this year because of a number of suicides at France Telecom. Turns out the suicide rate there was way below the national average, too. So, wouldn’t it make more sense to look at professions where stressed workers take their lives and exceed the national average than to hype the deaths (that are way below the norm) in these companies?

And the NPR and Daily Mail stories played up how the workers hours caused all the stress, but as the Bloomberg Businessweek story buried:

The Longhua workers interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek objected to various aspects of how they are treated but not in terms starkly different from the complaints many people have about their jobs. More than two dozen Foxconn employees were interviewed; none showed signs of being afraid to speak freely to a reporter. Those interviewed on the job did so without a supervisor present. Other discussions took place in Internet cafés, staff dormitories, and in the company canteen. Most seem keenly aware of their choices. They work at Foxconn because they want to make money as quickly as possible. Some want cash to buy the things they make. Others want to become entrepreneurs. None of the workers was upset about having to work overtime. To the contrary, the availability of overtime hours was a big attraction.

We tend to view the world through an American perspective, but this is just wrong. The suicide rate for Foxconn workers significantly lower than that of the general Chinese population. The workers are paid much higher than the typical Chinese worker, and for all the cultural quirks that make conditions at Foxconn look extreme to American eyes, the company’s workers are living what we used to call “the American dream.” They work hard to make more money to better their lives.

So this is how a misleading story festers. A news organization does a bad job in September. Other news organizations read the story months later and repeat the same bad job, broadening the audience, but not adding any context. Then individuals read the story and rail against something that is improving conditions for people in poorer countries.

Yes, wages went up for Foxconn workers as a result of the outcry. But the end result of this will be that the typical Chinese worker will resent the Foxconn worker like the typical American worker resented higher paid unionized auto workers. And long term, we know what happened to American auto workers who were resented and undermined because of misleading talking points.

Plowed under

New York is still reeling from this week’s major snow storm, and the normally surly city dwellers are ready to string Mayor Michael Bloomberg up by his heels.

Whether the criticism comes from bloggers at Crooks & Liars or from the established daily newspapers, such as the New York Times, Bloomberg’s image as the efficient businessman running America’s biggest city has taken a major hit.

Hopefully, we can now stop hearing about “Bloomberg as savior” in the 2012 presidential election.

That’s the ticket

Morgan State Basketball Coach Todd Bozeman (pictured left) wasn’t enjoying his team’s performance against the Louisville Cardinals Monday at the KFC Yum! Center. His Bears, which are favored to take the MEAC conference this year and are expected to get a spot in the NCAA tournament in March, were trounced 104-74. The way the Bears were playing that night, you wouldn’t want to be in his seat.

But if you’re a Louisville fan, you wanted to be in the seat behind him. That’s my son, a sophomore at UofL, sitting behind Bozeman on the left.

A seat at the top of the Yum! Center for a UofL men’s basketball game runs $38 through Ticketmaster. We’re talking on the third level of the arena, at least 20 rows back. That supposedly is the cheapest seat in the house. But the face value of the ticket my son was holding was $35.

How is this possible?

Our tickets for this game were part of the package of tickets given to the visiting team for their fans. My brother, a former ESPN reporter, is putting together a reality series on the Morgan State basketball team, which will be picked up by a television station in Baltimore, the Bears’ home city. The team gave him a couple of tickets, so for the night, I was a Bears supporter, while my son, quietly, urged on his Cardinals.

He said the experience, though, “was like sitting on the bench for a varsity high school game.”

Teams put aside a number of tickets for supporters, usually family members or people involved with the team’s activities. The face value of those tickets are far less than what is offered to the general public.

The best tickets we’ve ever had at sporting events were those provided by teams. Back in 1997, we were in Pittsburgh when the No. 15-seed Coppin State Eagles upset the No. 2-seed South Carolina Gamecocks in the first round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Our seats were a couple of rows behind the Coppin State bench, since my nephew was one of the Eagles’ forwards.

It isn’t impossible to get those kind of seats if you aren’t with the team. But if you don’t have connections, it requires a huge amount of luck.

The best tickets we ever got for a baseball game was at Fenway Park, when the Boston Red Sox were playing the Texas Rangers in the early 1990s. We got to the stadium late and asked if any tickets were still left. The person at the counter said we were in luck. Some people didn’t arrive for their seats, but if we wanted them, we’d have to pay a little extra: $25 a ticket. We took them and ended up in the second row behind home plate. To top it off, the folks who had the tickets in the row in front of us didn’t show up.

It was like being the umpire behind the batter.

Redeeming social value

It appears we’re going through a slow news cycle in Washington this week. Given all the excitement of the past two weeks over the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the sellout concerning tax cuts for the rich, the big news now is President Obama’s remarks on the rehabilitation of Michael Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.

As noted a while back, Michael Vick has been showered with adulation just three years after being convicted of running a horrific dog fighting ring. The adulation comes not because he’s done great things to help the poor or to right social injustices, but because he’s winning with the Eagles. The team is in the playoffs.

With the Atlanta Falcons loss to the New Orleans Saints last night, Philadelphia is in a position (remotely) where it could have the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The scenarios are pretty well spelled out at Bleacher Report. This wasn’t supposed to happen this year. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Eagles. Then Vick came along and overwhelmed the opposition.

So Obama has called Jeff Lurie, the owner of the Eagles, to commend him for giving the convicted felon a second chance, according to the Washington Post.

“He said, ‘So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,’ ” said Lurie, who did not indicate when the call occurred. “He said, ‘It’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.’ And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.”

Of course, it’s never a level playing field for convicts when most of the released prison population doesn’t have what Michael Vick has to offer: exceptional talent. But think about former disgraced Wall Street bankers to end up as felons, then resume their lives of wealth after their release. Anybody remember Michael Milken? He’s now a big time philanthropist, but back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, he was evil-incarnate with his shady junk-bond trading activities.

So, as Vick and Milken show, adulation and redemption for ex-cons follow when they get out of jail and make someone a lot of money. Milken at least is doing something to save people’s lives.

As for Vick, he doesn’t kill dogs anymore. But he still is a marvel on the football field. The big game to watch will be if his Eagles meet his former Falcons, the team that didn’t stand by him, in the playoffs. That will be a ratings bonanza for the television network carrying the game, and if he wins, even more adulation.

Disneyland Dream

Frank Rich wrote a column in yesterday’s New York Times on a 1956 home movie. The movie, called “Disneyland Dream“, was put together by Robbins Barstow, a Connecticut father who documented his family’s win of a Disneyland vacation, the result of a contest by the 3M Corp.

What distinguishes this home movie from the one you have in your videocam is that “Disneyland Dream” was admitted to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress two years ago. That rare honor elevates Barstow’s filmmaking to a pantheon otherwise restricted mostly to Hollywood classics, from “Citizen Kane” to “Star Wars.”

According to the National Film Registry: The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a “Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape” contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration (“The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut”), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. Home movies have assumed a rapidly increasing importance in American cultural studies as they provide a priceless and authentic record of time and place.

Robbins Barstow, who did the voiceover for his home films years later, died last month at the age of 91, but left behind a trove of family movies.

Here’s “Disneyland Dreams,” in four parts:

Guess who’s supposed to take the hit

Thomas Friedman, American journalist, columnis...

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Thomas Friedman, the columnist at the New York Times, really annoys me.

He writes things like this:

In my book, the leaders who will deserve praise in this new era are those who develop a hybrid politics that persuades a majority of voters to cut where we must so we can invest where we must. To survive in the 21st century, America can no longer afford a politics of irresponsible profligacy. But to thrive in the 21st century — to invest in education, infrastructure and innovation — America cannot afford a politics of mindless austerity either.

The politicians we need are what I’d call “pay-as-you-go progressives” — those who combine fiscal prudence with growth initiatives to make their cities, their states or our country great again. Everyone knows the first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging. But people often forget the second rule of holes: You can only grow your way out. You can’t borrow your way out.

But he lives like this:

Ann and Thomas Friedman live in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. The July 2006 issue of Washingtonian reported that they own “a palatial 11,400-square-foot, currently valued at $9.3 million, on a 7½-acre parcel just blocks from I-495 and Bethesda Country Club.” Friedman is paid $50,000 per speaking engagement.

So when he talks about how essential it is for Americans to practice fiscal prudence, who exactly is he saying has to tighten their belts?

NOTE: Turns out I’m not the only one annoyed by him.

What is it?

My sister-in-law’s husband made national news this week. He tells me he was sitting on his porch in Nelson County in rural Kentucky and saw an animal he’d never seen before. His picked up a rifle and nailed it.

And now that he has it, he still doesn’t know what it is. And neither does anyone else. It’s hairless. Some people say it’s a raccoon with mange, a dog with mange, a bald rat, a hairless coyote or some kind of coyote/dog hybrid.

Others are throwing out the possibility that it’s the legendary chupicabra. Here’s how a local TV station describes it: The chupacabra is been a mystery since 1995, with sightings reported all over the United States, from Texas to Maine. The legend says the elusive dog-like creature attacks livestock, bleeding them dry of blood — their favorite being goats.

Everyone has a theory. Someone from the state’s Department of Fish & Wildlife eventually will come out and take a DNA sample to determine what it is. For now, it’s on ice, in a freezer.

Here’s a YouTube clip on the chupicabra:

I know what boys like for Christmas

Every Yule season since The Waitresses recorded the song “Christmas Wrapping” in 1981, I find myself playing it, usually on Christmas Eve. So here it goes:

The Waitresses had two hits: “Christmas Wrapping” in the U.K., and “I Know What Boys Like” in the U.S. The Spice Girls and the Donnas also recorded “Christmas Wrapping”. The Waitresses did the best version.