Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Subway Gropers

On Monday, Tovia Smith reported for All Things Considered about Boston’s campaign to crack down on people groping other people on the subway. Not riding the train regularly myself (because we can’t get our transportation act together enough to actually build a rail system) I’m still well aware of the normal “ick” factor of using public transit when it’s really full. You’re squished up next to other people, some of whom clearly need a post-work shower, others who are perfectly nice but just not the person you’d want to snuggle up with on in a normal situation. On top of that, you have to keep from falling while the train moves, and maneuver your way to the doorway in time to get out at your station.

Still, trains are awesome and I’d kill for a subway system here like the one in Tokyo. The hotel where J and I stay whenever we go there is right next to Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world, where they hire men in white gloves to push passengers into the cars in order to maximize space at rush hour. Being an American, and especially travelling around Japan with a very tall husband (or my equally tall co-workers), I can usually stand near them and enjoy the little circle of privacy that forms. But a few years ago, one of my Japanese colleagues told me, quite matter-of-factly, that she regularly travels with a pair of scissors so that when men try to grope her she can poke them and make them stop. I was horrified, both at the fact that she regularly gets groped and that she casually talked about jabbing a sharp object into people to stop them, and assumed this was a strange Japanese cultural thing. Apparently I was wrong.

The Boston crackdown effort, which consists of signs warning people that they’re being watched and encouraging women to report incidents, as well as sending out decoys to try to lure flashers and gropers, has been successful in raising the number of arrests and filed complaints for sex assaults. If nothing else, I hope that it makes it clear that being groped shouldn’t just be accepted as a necessary evil of using mass transit. There are going to be bad people out there, but that surely we can find a solution that doesn’t mean we have to start carrying pointed objects in our pockets at all times. That would be a definite “ick”.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

True Professional

On Monday, Melissa Block and Robert Siegel were in Sichuan province in China when the 7.8 earthquake hit, getting ready to do an unrelated set of stories about China. Ms. Block was actually taping an interview as the earthquake hit, and Morning Edition on Monday played a recording of her reaction and continued reporting.

I grew up in California so I’m no stranger to earthquakes, and I certainly don’t freak out when the ground starts shaking. During Loma Prieta, I was walking down the stairs of my parent’s house carrying a toddler, and I just walked to the sidewalk and waited for the shaking to stop. We did earthquake drills where we’d stand in a doorway or under a desk (although strangely, we weren’t taught the “triangle of life” technique that C learned in elementary school – Wikipedia claims that this is a controversial theory but apparently it’s accepted by those wacky Canadians). Most importantly, we learned to consider ground shaking to be a normal event.

That said, if you were recording my reaction, there’s no way I’d sound like Ms. Block. Partway through her interview, you can hear a rumbling, and the first thing she says is, “what’s going on, the whole building is shaking”, and then, “oh my goodness, are we in an earthquake?”. These statements could sound completely panicked depending on the particular tone of voice, but Ms. Block managed to make it sound like she was merely curious. As she went on, she described birds flying, bricks falling off buildings, and even mentioned that the ground was “undulating under [her] feet”. Somehow I have a feeling that if I was in the middle of an earthquake, “undulating” would not be the word that would come to mind. Perhaps later, but not right then with a microphone in my face. Clearly that’s what separates the true professional journalists from us mere mortals.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wait till you hear my recipe for making my own dirt!

Yesterday morning, instead of listening to KUOW, I tuned into our other local NPR station - KPLU (aren't we lucky that we have two?). KPLU markets itself as "NPR News and All That Jazz" but more importantly it also boasts my friend A filling in as the local host of Morning Edition this week! Listening to the radio when you know the person who's speaking is a whole new experience, and a lot more fun. A did a great job - her voice was very soothing, and we all enjoyed listening to her call traffic "sticky". I'm hoping she uses one of my suggested phrases for traffic tomorrow, and actually intend to pay her money (or give her extra chocolate) if she calls it "slower than a cat putting on its pajamas". Most impressive, however, was when she managed to not laugh out loud while setting up an upcoming segment on Do-It-Yourself Designer Water.

In this segment, Dick Stein was interviewing a Seattle Times food writer and got the story turned on him when she asked him to tell her about his secret recipe for "making water". Based on the description, I was expecting anything from a machine that takes hydrogen fuel cells and purifies the water they create to hand-blown glass bottles filled with water collected at Lake Valhalla. It seems I was nowhere close. Mr. Stein was convinced that carbonated water from Europe has smaller bubbles, and is therefore tastier, than cheap-o local carbonated water, but he didn't want to pay more for water than he does for gas (in these days of $4 gas, that's saying something). Instead of going the fancy restaurant route (led by, among other places, Chez Panisse, located in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley where I grew up) or choosing to go my grandfather's route and buying a home seltzer machine for his tap water, thereby both saving money and not wasting plastic bottles, his "recipe" consists of taking a bottle of QFC sparkling water and adding some plain water from his tap and a lime. I was very entertained, both that this could be called an actual recipe, and that anyone would choose to give it air time.

At the same time, as A pointed out, he did say that drinking grocery-store fizzy water was, "like swallowing an electric fence". So props for the funny analogy at least.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What's Next?

Just a quick rant about the latest Senator Obama news. On Tuesday every show on NPR was full of news that Senator Obama is now denouncing Reverend Wright, with whom he formerly disagreed but couldn’t part because he had been a good friend and mentor for 20 years. He claims he’s denouncing him because he “is not the same man I met 20 years ago”. What did the Reverend do to deserve this? Did he share new, more offensive opinions? Actually, no. All he did was spend the past few days re-stating the same illogical and hateful views, including that the US government created AIDS and that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is the equivalent of Apartheid. But somehow – clearly because public opinion demanded it – Senator Obama now claims that he’s so horrified that he has to denounce him.

There are two problems with this. First, I can’t believe that someone who listens to hateful speech for 20 years doesn’t pick up some of it, even if he claims he disagrees. There’s a reason the UK has one of the highest rates of anti-Israel sentiment, and I lay the blame firmly at their skewed public media source, the venerable BBC. Similarly, if all the churchgoers at Trinity United heard absurdities every day, some of it will stick – and I’m concerned about a president who subconsciously believes these things.

Second, and almost more important, is what the media will find out next about Senator Obama. Throughout this campaign, few have looked beyond his charisma, and this is the first piece of dangerous information to come out about him. Both Senators McCain and Clinton have been in the public eye for long enough that it’s unlikely we’ll find out anything serious and new about them. But if Senator Obama wins the Democratic nomination, what additional dirty laundry will be aired between now and November? And will it be ugly enough to make him lose the election? I’m not a huge fan of the Senator, but I still think four more years of Republican rule would be much worse for the country, and possibly the world.