NewsCut reader Ben Chorn selects this week's Monday Morning Rouser:
1) ACTOR INEQUITY
An attempt to celebrate Native American culture in Duluth has fallen flat in some quarters. The Duluth Festival Opera's production of "Pocahontas: A Woman of Two Worlds," has a cast, the Duluth News Tribune reports, with not a single Native American actor, not even Pocahontas. Now the debate is whether there weren't enough Native Americans interested in auditioning, or whether the opera company didn't look hard enough.
When it came time for auditions, (Opera director Craig)Fields said word was put out to American Indian communities around the country. The open tryouts were treated as "blind" auditions, he said, and they were looking for the best performer for the job.
"My personal feeling is that the work succeeds on its own merits, whether it is performed by a Native American or not," Fields said.
Fields said there are parts of the opera that call for only American Indian involvement and that Fond du Lac singers and drummers are involved with the production.
Robert Powless, an Oneida Indian and professor emeritus of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is an adviser on the project. Powless said he approves of the casting and that characters' ethnicities should be matched whenever it is possible, but in this case there weren't a lot of American Indian musicians who auditioned.
Complicating the controversy is that the production is funded via the Legacy Amendment, which provides state funding for preservation of Minnesota history and culture.
How culturally and ethnically accurate should casts be? It's a debate that occasionally surfaces in the performing arts. Twenty-one years ago, for example, tempers flared on Broadway when a white actor was hired to play an Asian pimp in Miss Saigon.
2) WHEN 'LEADERS' DON'T LEAD
Not having a masters -- or anything else -- in business, it's hard for me to see the wisdom of the announcement that Netflix is separating itself into two companies -- one that will mail you DVDs, and one that will sell you streaming video. Still, one easily gets the feeling we're watching how a CEO can take a company and drive it into the ground.
Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, must've had that feeling too, because his announcement that Qwikster will now handle DVD mailing as a separate company started this way...
I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.
"It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. I'll try to explain how this happened.
Over the summer, Hastings had announced a huge price increase for Netflix (the DVD Netflix, I mean, Qwikster. Or whatever), which caused people to drop the DVD portion and stay with streaming, a service that has a much smaller film library. The stock plunged.
In his apology today, Hastings announced his company's -- companies -- new direction:
No doubt it's only coincidence, but a day after the Pioneer Press wrote a first-rate article on how the Hispanic culture has revitalized Worthington, MN., Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon today announced an initiative to help his hometown -- in this case, Hazelton, PA. -- better accept Hispanics.
Maddon said he had the idea when he was home for Christmas last year and went to a community supper at a daycare center and saw adults sitting at the kids' table and the kids running around...
"And I thought to myself, 'That's what my family looked like back in the day,'" Maddon said. "That's what I remember of Sunday back in the '50s and '60s, my earliest memories, and it really struck me that we are missing the point. If we don't utilize this group of Hispanic people who want to be in our community, if we don't utilize them and their abilities to the fullest, our town is going to eventually die and go away.
"These people want to be there. They're wonderful people, and they're just exactly like we were back in the day -- down to the point that they don't speak very good English yet, some of them. Neither did my grandpa and grandma on both sides -- Polish and Italian."
"We are a country of different cultures that have grown into one," Maddon said. "What is the difference between now and when our forefathers came to this country centuries ago? "
Change Polish and Italian to Swedes and Norwegians, and Maddon could be talking about Worthington.
"It's just like when the Swedes and the Norwegians hit the shore here...." Sgt. Kevin Flynn, of the Worthington Police Department, told the Pioneer Press. 'You have to have some generational growth before people were actually on the same page. And you're actually seeing that now."
The article said Hispanics in Worthington -- at least the ones the PiPress talked to -- feel "welcomed," but it also quoted a business owner who plans to retire and move out. "In the future here, I know the city of Worthington's going to have a lot of problems. I don't want to be here for it. We're fooling ourselves if we think we're going to be OK," he said.
And it's clear in the comments section -- where else? -- that Worthington isn't a success story yet, at least to the outside world.
"People don't want to go downtown because you there's hardly a single sign in ENGLISH!" one wrote.
It's going to take a little more time and at least a few more baseball managers.(3 Comments)
Unless something changes, Troy Davis is going to be executed on Wednesday for killing a police officer in Georgia. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their original testimony identifying Davis as the killer.
"Police went to the scene, and they took quite a lot of witnesses -- and all of the witnesses talked to each other -- and they showed a single photo to various witnesses," recalls Barry Scheck, the co-director of The Innocence Project. "You're now in this difficult situation of asking, 'Is this a reliable case?' It's an eyewitness case and now we have this terrible doubt surrounding it."
What could have prevented it? Possibly, a witness identification procedure advocated by a group of scientists, including one at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, who officially released their study today showing that a traditional "lineup" method of identifying suspects in a crime is less reliable than a so-called "double blind" method.
Their study, first reported in the New York Times recently, found witnesses made fewer mistakes in identification if they're shown members of a lineup one at a time rather than as a group.
Dr. Gary Wells of Iowa State University, the lead researcher, said the problem with the group lineups, known as simultaneous presentation, is that witnesses tend to compare people in the lineup to each other "and to decide who looks most like the perpetrator and then they identify that person," he said.
"There's always someone who looks more like the perpetrator in the lineup than others in the lineup, even when the perpetrator isn't there," he said.
"If they look at six pictures (at once), they pretty much assume one of them is a suspect," according to Dr. Nancty Steblay of Augsburg College. "None of the six pictures looks exactly like memory, there's this subtle shift away from, 'is the culprit in the lineup?, do I see the person who robbed me?', to 'which one is closest to what I remember?' And that is usually a sound procedure if the culprit is in the lineup. What we worry about is when the culprit isn't in the lineup. Witnesses are very bad at recognizing when someone is not there."
In DNA exoneration cases, 75% of those who were exonerated after being convicted by juries, are cases involving cases of mistaken identification.
In a "double blind" lineup, the researchers said, witnesses/victims are shown photos of suspects (or so-called "filler photos) individually, and not by someone who is an investigator in the case.
It's a method used now in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Dr. Steblay has been researching the method since the 1990s and worked with then Hennepin County district attorney Amy Klobuchar in 2004 to see if it provided more accurate identification and, hence, stronger cases.
"We didn't run a comparative test like the one released today," she said. "Amy Klobuchar had asked for volunteers just to see if it was possible for implementation to work. At the time there was a lot of worry about 'the sky will fall if we start doing something different,' or 'it will be too expensive." The question was can it be implemented, and they were implemented and ... it all went well."
"I became involved in this in the early 1990s, about the same time that these DNA exonerations began to pop and more and more we recognized that scientists have something to say about why these wrongful convictions occurred and how we can reduce the likelihood they happen in the future," she said.
Some states -- Texas for example -- are now requiring law enforcement agencies to develop a plan for ensuring that the lineup procedures used are most likely to result in an accurate identification of a suspect. Minnesota is not one of those states.
"I wish it were because Ramsey County, Hennepin County, and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension all use double-blind sequential procedures and there would be leaders in how to put together and initiate model legislation," she said.
The third researcher on her team, Dr. Jennifer Dysart of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, was in Atlanta today, hoping to detail her findings to the Georgia board that is deciding whether Troy Davis lives or dies.
"The Pardon and Parole Board limited the defense portion today to three hours and because of the number of questions that the Board had for other witnesses, I was not permitted to testify this morning," she said.(8 Comments)