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The Earth is Flat Award

A celebration of the inane, insipid and asinine...

Jonas SavimbiThe death of Jonas Savimbi on February 22, leader of the Angolan group UNITA, illustrates why the United Nations continues to be a failure when it comes to resisting the very things that its own charter demands from members of that body. Things like brutal repression and tyranny.

The rebel leader was hated by the UN because of his continuing efforts to battle the government of Angola. Savimbi, who was 67 and led UNITA for 30 years, was a Cold War ally of the United States in a guerrilla war against a then-Marxist government, but became internationally isolated after he resisted peace efforts.

Born into a poor family in the village of Munhango in the Southwest African nation's central highlands, Jonas Malheiro Savimbi was a university-educated guerrilla fighter who spoke three African and four European languages. In 1986 he was received as a head of state by then president Ronald Reagan.

Savimbi wasn't a perfect man but unlike the United Nations, he recognized what Communism represented and he fought it. Perhaps like many soldiers who suddenly find themselves without a war but refuse to stop fighting, Savimbi carried the battle flag too long. Sometimes old soldiers become blinded by their antipathy.

That said, while successive secretary generals of the international organization were glad-handing communist dictators, Savimbi lived the uncomfortable life of a man dedicated to his cause. He died as he lived and we at ESR suppose that will mean different things to different people. Technically this item should be a Vinegar in Freedom Award since we are celebrating Savimbi's life, but perhaps spotlighting the death of a man the Western media probably forgot to inform you about is the best way to show the intellectual and moral vacuum of the United Nations and all the other people who had no problem dealing with tyrants.

The Vinegar in Freedom Award

There is an old Serbian proverb that says vinegar in freedom tastes better than honey in slavery. This award is meant for events and people Enter Stage Right considers to be positive.

web posted February 25, 2002

Daniel PearlThe murderers of Daniel Pearl committed their crime in the most cowardly way. In a three minute, 50 second videotape that the Pakistan government has announced will not be released due to its gruesomeness, Pearl was in conversation until the hands of unknown assailants intruded into the picture to pull his head back by the hair and to slit his throat. Later in the tape, Pearl's dismembered head was shown.

Perhaps noting that some people refused to die easily on September 11, the cowards heard Pearl state proudly that, “My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew, and I am a Jew.” before he died. I guess the only way to make sure that they could kill him was from behind.

Daniel Pearl was a journalist. That profession these days is derided by most because of its occasional excesses but at its best it was what Pearl represented. Hired in 1990, Pearl wrote or co-wrote 68 stories for the Wall Street Journal's front page. He reported from spots around the world like Yugoslavia and the Middle East and died while pursuing what he thought was another story. He was, in fact, lied to by a source and kidnapped by militants who hated everything that Pearl stood for.

The WSJ's words about their colleague surpasses anything the members of Enter Stage Right could write so we'll let that paper's tribute on February 21 stand. In part, wrote the newspaper, Pearl was

A skeptic of all institutions, from big government to big business, Mr. Pearl often seemed as much at home with his violin, playing bluegrass music, as he was filing stories as a top reporter at a newspaper.

He was always a music man, from classical to blues to country to bluegrass to rock 'n' roll. As lead violinist in an Atlanta band called The Ottoman Empire, Mr. Pearl received the thrill of his musical life in 1993 when his band opened for The Kinks at an Atlanta club. His music collection stretched from rhythm and blues musicians like Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack to salsa musicians like La India.

Mr. Pearl tended to pick up strays. At dinner parties in London, where he lived for three years, Mr. Pearl was known for last-minute phone calls to hosts, asking if he could bring additional guests. One year, he invited some people he met on the subway to the staff Thanksgiving dinner. "One thing about Danny: You invite him for dinner, you buy for 10 people," says Tom Jennings, a longtime friend. Mr. Jennings, a freelance journalist in New York, also recalls: "This was the man who wrote a song for my son days before his birth, encouraging him into the world. The song was called, 'The World Is Not a Bad Place.'"

He liked to cook. While working in the Atlanta bureau, Mr. Pearl received a bread maker from his mother for his birthday. For two years after that, he experimented with sometimes outlandish recipes. Another favored dish was stuffed grape leaves, which he trotted out when friends came to cry on his shoulder or to look for counsel or comfort.

He liked to shop, sometimes spending hours trolling offbeat shops in London's Covent Garden for the perfect orange shirt -- though he often walked around the Journal offices without shoes. Mr. Pearl, who attracted women by the droves, met Mariane at a party in Paris in 1998, and immediately announced that he had fallen in love.

The two were married in August 1999. They originally planned to get married in September but pushed up the date because Mariane's mother was dying of cancer. She held herself upright to walk her daughter down the aisle but was too sick to sit through the wedding reception. So it was from an upstairs window that she listened as her new son-in-law played Bach for her from below.

In Mr. Pearl, the Journal found the perfect reporter: highly individual, a skeptic, but one with an engaged eye and an open mind for stories big and small. In the Atlanta office, where he started his Journal career, he quickly showed he was a natural at spotting the quirky story. In February 1993, he got a story on the front page about a nine-year-old beauty queen who got stripped of her crown for singing Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy-Breaky Heart" at two dueling pageants. "She cannot perform as Little Miss Bookcase on Saturday, then Little Miss Georgia on Sunday," Mr. Pearl quoted one pageant executive as saying.

His eye for the unconventional was obvious to Journal readers. After becoming a Journal Middle East correspondent, he wrote a front-page piece about the revival of "pearl-diving" songs in the Persian Gulf, along with the accompanying belief that singing the wailing spirituals can cause blindness. "American blues can make you sad," Mr. Pearl wrote from Doha, Qatar, in 1996. "Russian work songs can make you suffer. The fervent belief of many in the Persian Gulf is that pearl-diving songs can make you go blind."

web posted February 11, 2002

Christine Pelton

Late last year, Piper, Kansas teacher Christine Pelton received quite a shock. Nearly a fifth of her biology students had plagiarized their semester projects using information from the Internet. After checking with her principal and a superintendent, Pelton did what any self-respecting teacher would do: each of the 28 sophomores received a zero.

End of story? Not quite.

The parents of the 28 upstanding students huffed and puffed to the school board and Pelton was ordered her to give the students partial credit and to decrease the project's value from 50 percent of the final course grade to 30 percent. In response, 26-year old Pelton resigned.

"The students no longer listened to what I had to say," she said. "They knew if they didn't like anything in my classroom from here on out, they can just go to the school board and complain."

Board president Chris McCord did not give a reason for the December 11 decision, which was made behind closed doors. He said it was not prompted by parents' complaints.

"If I had known all the publicity that would have come with this, I would still make the same decision," McCord said.

One of the complaining parents was Theresa Woolley, who told The Kansas City Star that her daughter did not plagiarize. Rather, her daughter was not sure how much she needed to rewrite research material, she said. Of course.

In Kansas, at least a dozen teachers have said they plan to leave the district after the school year because of the episode, said Lee Quisenberry, a teachers union representative.

The school board may not appreciate Christine Pelton's integrity, but we here at ESR do. We just hope the next school board does as well.

Have someone you want considered for the Earth is Flat Award or the Vinegar in Freedom Award? E-mail ESR with your candidates!



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