Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Too Soon To Care About Debates

Already there have been the Democratic and Republican presidential debates and political analysts are so excited over this, they’re wetting themselves.

But why waste all your energies into the pre-show? The primaries are less than a year away and once they’re over, the big show really kicks off. Besides, who wants to listen to Hillary Clinton backstab Barack Obama during a debate but then tell all of us how great he is and why we should support him if he wins the Democratic primary?

Besides, why bother with a warm-up when most of us already know that once the real race starts, both candidates will just tell us how bad the other one is? Believe me, if they’re not telling us their actual plans and stances on the issues now, they’re not going to do it a month before Election Day in 2008.

It’s best just to take it easy and keep an eye on them every once in awhile and read whatever major headline says about them. Right before the primaries come, then it would be best to do a crash course on the less-than popular candidates by using their Web sites and finding out their voting record. It won’t take that long and you’ll spare yourself the agony of listening to some of these blowhards anyway.

Just remember that some of these political analysts thought Howard Dean was a shoe in but we all know that didn’t happen. After all, political analysts are like the average weatherman or weathergirl: With all of their knowledge and experience they still can’t get the 10-day forecast right because politics and the weather are ever changing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Passing Of Rev. Falwell

The Rev. Jerry Falwell has died today at the age of 73. He was discovered unconscious in his office at the Liberty University, which he founded in 1971. He died of sudden cardiac arrhythmia, according to the staff at the Lynchburg General Hospital, as reported by The Post Chronicle.

The Times Observer would like to offer its condolences to Rev. Farewell’s family, friends and followers and hope they will find the peace to move on.

Teacher Gets “F” Over
Staged Gunman Incident

I’m sure many have heard already of the bright school officials over at Scales Elementary School, in Brentwood, Tenn.

Last week, on the last night of a week-long camping trip, a teacher and assistant principal told 69 sixth graders that a gunman was running around the grounds. They told the students to hide under tables or lie on the floor. (I’m going to assume they were in a cabin, none of the articles I read mentions this.)

And that’s where the real fun began, as a teacher dons a hooded sweat shirt and started pulling on locked doors, according to The Associated Press article.

Well, after 5 minutes of students crying, pleading for their lives and probably wetting themselves, the responsible educational peers told them that there wasn’t a real gunman running around and it was a test on how to handle a real-life situation like that.

And from the sound of things, it sounds like the parents are going to see how the school district is going to handle a real-life lawsuit.

The teacher and the assistant principal have been “suspended for unprofessional conduct and neglect of duty because of the staged attack,” according to The Associated Press. (A lot of stories labeled this little show-in-tell as an “attack,” even though there wasn’t a staged one from what can be gathered.)

Now, let’s see what could have happened here: Best-case scenario is that one of these kids messed themselves in their pants and forever be known as “Stinky.”

The worst-case scenario could have resulted of one of these kids having a seizure or a heart attack. (It has been known to happen.)

Or, with the age of cell phones, one of them could have quietly, unknown to the teachers, called 911, where the police would show up and shoot at the intelligent-challenged, hooded sweat shirt wearing teacher. (Apparently, you’re not allowed to call someone “stupid” anymore.)

If the school officials really wanted to do some type of gunman-prevention training seminar, they should have gotten the parents’ permission first and tell the kids before hand what was going to happen.

At least the school district came to their senses and cancelled the “When A Teacher Makes Indecent Sexual Proposals” trip.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What I Learned In College

This weekend I’ll be attending a college newspaper reunion. My former college editor sent an e-mail, asking all of us to write personal stories of our experience at the college newspaper and how it helped shaped us for the real world.

I’m actually pretty stumped because I did learn a lot from the two college newspapers that I belong too.

My first college newspaper was called The Dome, at Widener University in Chester, Pa.

As a freshmen, I didn’t report on normal college stories about scholarships. No, because the university was in Chester, a little city known for its crime, I did stories about a student who allegedly (believe me, there was no “allegedly”) kidnapped his former girlfriend and drove her to a Motel 8 in Maryland and allegedly (again, no “allegedly”) tried to smother her to death with a motel pillow. And once she escaped, tried to run her down. Allegedly.

It was a good story because when I spoke to the girl, she was OK. I even spoke with the accused while he was in a Baltimore juvenile detention center. I admit, I was proud of myself. I beat out a few local media outlets with that story. None of them took the time to speak with the alleged (*cough*cough*) attacker. But one thing I’ll always remember about speaking to him was what he said to me. He said that the incident might be a life lesson, since he was a criminal law major.

After my sophomore year, I transferred to Rider University, in Lawrenceville, NJ, and became a staff member at The Rider News. Actually, Rider was my first choice but I wasn’t accepted but I was the spring of 1998. And who says you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression?

Rider was very different from Widener. For one thing, no one was kidnapping their girlfriends. Again, allegedly. But I had a lot of fun being the Op-Ed editor. And the fraternities, bless their drunken little souls, certainly gave all of us at the newspaper plenty of ammo.

One time, the school’s fraternity/sorority advisor called up the newspaper a week before Christmas, saying that one of the fraternity boys, who was a journalism major, wrote a story about a local Christmas tree farmer who was being victimized with pranks.

Well, your’s truly picked up that phone on that fateful evening and went over to the advisor’s office. I read the article, using the term so loosely it should fall out of this column. It was a small, one-sided story with a lot of holes in it. But a bell went off in my head and I decided to call this farmer up.

Boy, it was interesting to hear his side of the story. Someone stole one of his Christmas trees and he called the police, if I remember correctly. The farmer and the boys in blue followed the trail of pine needles from his farm all the way to the lounge of one of the frat houses. And guess what? That frat boy who wrote that article? Yep, you guessed it, he belonged to that fraternity where that Christmas tree was displayed.

Well, I wrote a little editor’s note under the story, which my editor decided to run as a letter since it didn’t have any qualifications of a real news story. (You know, objectivity and truthfulness.)

The guy called up the newspaper the day after the issue ran and once again, I picked up the phone. (You see, I spent more time in that office than I did in my classes.) Let’s just say he wasn’t happy with the newspaper and I told him what a disgrace he was for even being a journalism major.

So, here I am, trying to think which lesson or experience that really helped me in my career as a journalist. I guess there is one important lesson:

We had a female reporter whose beat was to speak with the dean of students at Rider University every week to see what was up. (At the time, we didn't realize how much she admired the dean.) When he was first hired, I interviewed him and he promised an open-door policy to all students.

Well, we found out a student had a list of complaints and wanted to take it up with the dean. Now, at college, every student complains about his or her campus but usually does nothing about it. So, this female reporter and I (and I don’t really remember why I went, since I was the Op-Ed editor by this time) wanted to sit in on this meeting. The dean said no and kicked us out, closing the door behind him.

I explained what happened with my editor and after a meeting with senior staff, it was decided the dean needed to be reprimanded with a fiery editorial, by your’s truly.

Well, all hell broke loose when the female reporter barged into the newsroom and yelled the riot act to me and the editor in front of the entire newspaper staff because of the editorial attack on her beloved dean. With tears in her eyes, she stormed out of the newsroom and slammed the door shut.

My editor and good friend taught me one important lesson at that very moment that none of my journalism professors ever taught me in four and a half years of college: He turned to me and said:

“Tony, there’s no crying in newspapers.”

Where Is The Justice?

A 91-year-old World War II veteran was savagely beaten as onlookers just stood by and watched, a surveillance video shows.

Leonard Sims was asked for a light for a cigarette by Deontae Edwards, 22. As he reached for a lighter, that’s when Edwards pinned Sims between the elderly man’s driver’s door and the car next to his and punched him in the face 21 times, according to NewsChannel5 in Detroit.

The video shows Edwards taking Sims’ car keys, knocking him down and driving off with his 2005 Chevy Malibu.

Interestingly enough, a year ago another elderly man, a 93-year-old World War II veteran, was attacked for his car as well.

Now, Sims wants Edwards to face some heavy charges because he feels that he could have been killed. If you saw the video, he’s right, any number of things could have resulted in death, from being punched by a big, strong 22-year old man or falling to the ground.

And what type of animal is Edwards that he felt there was a need to repeatedly hit a trapped, harmless old man? He could have just had his hand in his pocket and told Sims he had a gun and to hand over the car keys. After all, what could a 91 year old do? Not much. But no, Edwards wanted to show how tough he was by beating the hell out of a man who fought in World War II.

But the thing that should have everyone pig-biting mad is that there was onlookers watching this senseless beating and didn’t do a damn thing about it. What has this society come to that we decide it’s better to watch then act? It’s not like Edwards had a knife or a gun.

It’s time that we not only demand real justice against those who prey on helpless victims but to come together as a society and help those who need it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Vigilance Prevented Bloodbath At Fort Dix

It looks like Fort Dix dodged more than just a bullet, according to a friend of one of the six Muslim men arrested for allegedly planning an attack on the New Jersey military base.

According to Bob Watts, Agron Abdullahu, a former co-worker, showed him recipes for bombs. It is now believed that in addition to getting onto the base and killing as many U.S. soldiers as possible with assault guns, the alleged terrorists were going to use bombs as well.

It won’t be the first time that Fort Dix was a target for terrorism. In 1970, the radical left organization the Weather Underground Organization planned to bomb an officers dance at Fort Dix in retaliation for the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The nail bomb prematurely exploded in the group’s Greenwich Village safe house. Three of the group’s members died in the explosion.

This really gathered media interest and if one has paid attention in the last couple of years, this is not the only terror plot on U.S. soil thwarted. Just last year alone, arrests were made against those who allegedly planned independent attacks on the Capital, the Sears Tower and one plot involved bombing the New York City train tunnels to flood the financial district.

Thank goodness that these attacks have been foiled. However, it is only a matter of time before one of these terrorists slips under the radar and carries out an attack that will kill hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people. This recent alleged plot was only alerted to authorities by a Circuit City clerk, who was purportedly asked by one of the suspects to turn a video into a DVD.

The video showed the suspects in military outfits, while shooting assault weapons and calling for a jihad, according to officials. Let’s all be thankful to the vigilant clerk and for the stupidity of the suspects, who probably didn’t think their video tape would be viewed.

One of the most interesting things that Watts said about Abdullahu and his supposed connection to the plot is this:

"That's what's puzzling me and making my stomach turn knots right now," he told ABC's "Good Morning America."

He didn’t have a clue that his co-worker was allegedly planning on killing American soldiers on U.S. soil. We all need to be vigilant of the people around us. And it’s no use pretending that these particular suspects’ background is not important. Most of the terror suspects arrested in the last couple of years are Middle Eastern, radical Muslim men, either in the U.S. or the rest of the world.

Does this mean we should start arresting or beating the next Muslim person we see walking down the street? No, because I would want to think that most Americans are better than that. We should be vigilant of any suspicious behavior by anyone, despite their backgrounds. We can’t let prejudice cloud our judgment.

However, it can’t be denied that suspicious behavior by a Middle Eastern man with a Muslim sounding name will raise some red flags. Sure, it may sound like profiling to a degree but if the Circuit City clerk didn’t use stereotypes of the current terrorists who have called a jihad on us, than might be a lot of dead soldiers in Fort Dix right now.

But any suspicious behavior by a Middle Eastern man or otherwise, should be immediately reported to the proper authorities. They are trained to handle these matters. And it’s important to record what you have witnessed to the best of your ability, so authorities can use it.

It will be a matter of time before there will be a terrorist, despite his or her background, who will successfully carry out an attack. But if we are watchful of suspicious actions by anyone, we as normal, law-biding citizens might prevent the next attack, just like that clerk at Circuit City.