RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Hey there, welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We are online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. It's that time of the show when we get out our screwdrivers and we open up your computers and we peer inside and we look at what you've been sending around to your people. We do it in a segment that we call The Most.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: Dan Pashman.
MIKE PESCA, host:
I didn't know the circuit boards had that sort of info.
MARTIN: Aren't they crazy?
PESCA: Yeah, pretty cool.
MARTIN: Yeah, they do.
DAN PASHMAN: They know everything.
MARTIN: Circuit boards.
PASHMAN: Hey, guys. We've got a most-emailed here from Yahoo News. Pilots run out of fuel, pray, land near Jesus sign. These two...
MARTIN: Do tell.
PASHMAN: These two gentlemen, apparently they did. Two New Zealand pilots, they were flying a micro light airplane, they ran out of fuel in midair. They were just flying over these mountains, lot of beautiful mountains in New Zealand, and they were just praying, the literally started praying. They said we're both Christians. Our immediate reaction in a life-threatening situation is to ask for God's help. And they literally make it over - it's like in the movies they are running out of fuel and will the make it over the top of the mountain to get to the valley below where they can land safely. And they made it, they landed in a field.
MARTIN: Their faith was confirmed.
PASHMAN: And they pulled up right next to a 20-foot tall sign that read Jesus is Lord.
MARTIN: That's weird. that's weird. That's weird.
PESCA: I hope this...
MARTIN: When you believe.
PESCA: I hope this doesn't convince them to poorly plan in the future.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: Well, we've got Jesus. Yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: Jeanne, what you got?
JEANNE BARON: The most-emailed on ABC. OK, there's a cryptic code that I bet you did not know about that tells you how old your tires are. New information, if your tires are six years old, according to safety experts and some new research, it doesn't matter if you haven't even driven on them, they are not safe.
MARTIN: They just deflate even if they are just sitting there?
BARON: Well, I think the idea is that you can't just look at the treads to see wear, that you don't know what's going on in the inside of the tire. There's degradation after a certain number of years, six is the magic number, supposedly. So the safety experts are saying the only way for consumers to protect themselves is to learn how to decode the cryptic code, which is embedded on the tire's sidewall.
For example, the number 418, if you see it there, you know, that little row of number along the inside. Four-eighteen would indicate up 41st week of 1998. The safety experts are a little bit miffed with the American tire manufacturing, tire manufacturers, because they don't want to issue an alert. But tire manufacturers say there's no scientific information that can point when a tire should be removed because of age. They are disputing it.
PESCA: I understand how you put the penny in the treads and if you see the penny, it's too much.
BARON: Well, apparently, there's a number of car manufacturers and some tire makers, even members of this manufacturing association, who've begun to put some warnings in their driver manual.
MARTIN: Yet another reason not to drive. Cars are money suckers. That's my opinion.
PESCA: And you know, the new Chrysler Moneysuck did not sell well when they came out with that.
MARTIN: Bad name for a car.
PESCA: Yeah, yeah. GMC Poorhouse, also similarly.
MARTIN: Do you have something to share? Besides that?
PESCA: I have a most-emailed on seattlepostintelligencer.com. And it's about, well, they have these PSAs these Public Service Announcements, and what they are trying to convince the young kids about is that you can't just say I'm going to go to college, you've got to put in some preparation. You've got to take the right classes, you've got to save some money. You've got to actually talk to an adult about it.
So, these PSAs have also lit upon this idea that we're going to have these kind of stock characters, and these characters will represent different classes you can take. So they have Napoleon, and he's supposed to be like a French class. And they have this ninja samurai guy, and he's taking Japanese lessons. And then the weirdest one is this gladiator who represents taking algebra II classes. And here in this clip, I believe we have a clip where the gladiator solves for X where X is the future and the function of X is teach them well and let them lead the way. Let's hear that.
(Soundbite of public service announcement)
Unidentified Woman: I present to you, algebra II, foreign languages. And finally, biology.
MARTIN: What? That doesn't make me want to take algebra II.
Unidentified Woman: Who among you will step up for the challenge?
PESCA: And it's a Beyond Thunder Dome situation and all these guys come in, and then these kids come up and say, I'll slay the gladiator.
Unidentified Man: It's only tough classes now. We need them to prepare for college.
PESCA: Here is my review, here's how PSAs work. Some guy in the ad agency says, oh, I got an idea and everyone says, it's fine. They're not paying. That's a good idea. We'll let the young guy run with it, it's kind of clever, but there's no focus group testing, no one ever says, ah that doesn't make sense at all. So here, we have a gladiator in Beyond Thunder Dome representing algebra II. But hey kids, give a kid a book and you'll give a kid a break.
MARTIN: Or a ninja. Matt Martinez.
MATT MARTINEZ: I have the most-emailed, viewed, recommended at Yahoo! and also the most watched by America and it is a surprise. Here is the surprise.
(Soundbite of TV show "American Idol")
Mr. RYAN SEACREST (Host, "American Idol"): The winner, by 12 million votes, of "American Idol" 2008 is David Cook.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
MARTINEZ: And that was a huge surprise. Everyone though it was going to be David Archuleta, but there were 97.5 million vote cast last night. He won by 19 million. It was...
MARTIN: Aren't you glad? You're glad, right?
MARTINEZ: Oh, I'm so glad. Before I go on, let me say I voted for David Cook because I - David Archuleta, he was not exciting. He was a brilliant, really good singer, but not a good idol. Not an idol. And this is, you know, Edward Wyatt write in the New York Times today about David Archuleta's performances on Tuesday that he appeared to be beyond nervous during his performances, and that with a little more than a shake of the head, a shrug and a mouthing a thank you to the judges after signing. That was him the entire season. Did this guy watch "American Idol"?
PESCA: He was polite.
MARTINEZ: He was eh, thank you.
PESCA: He was unassuming? We want drama queens.
MARTINEZ: So here is David Cook's winning song.
(Soundbite of TV show "American Idol")
Mr. SEACREST: This is your American Idol, David Cook. Good night.
(Soundbite of song "The Time of My Life")
Mr. DAVID COOK: (singing) I've been waiting for my dreams To turn into something I could believe in And looking for that Magic rainbow...
MARTINEZ: It's a really nice voice. it's kind of a sappy song to go out on, but you know...
MARTIN: I love the sap.
MARTINEZ: It was very exciting. it was great news to wake up to this morning. I fell asleep before they announced it. At 10 o'clock, that's like two in the morning for me.
MARTIN: I know it's late night. Well, congratulations, David Cook.
PESCA: Did you say 97 million total votes?
MARTINEZ: Ninety-seven-point-five million votes cast.
MARTIN: America has had her say.
PESCA: So that's more than in the '96 presidential elections by 2000.
MARTINEZ: Congratulations, David Cook.
MARTIN: That's a horrifying thing to say. Ian Chillag, wrapping up the Most today.
CHILLAG: Good morning. Yeah, we've got a most-viewed from npr.org. This was on All Things Considered. You know they've been doing this great reporting from China. This is Robert Siegel doing a story about farmers who had sort of the rapid urbanization of China encroach upon their collective farm. It's actually been paved over to make room for a high-rise apartment building, so he visited with them. Let's hear the piece.
ROBERT SIEGEL: Was there farmland right out here? What were people growing here?
Unidentified Women: (Through Translator) Rice and vegetables.
SIEGEL: Rice and vegetables here. You would never know it. Their former farmland is a rubble strewn urban construction site in the Wuho district in the west of the city. In 2001, the local government offered them compensation for their homes and fields. It was a take-it-or-leave-it offer, they say. 15,000 renminbi for each mou of land. A mou is about one-sixth of an acre.
Can you tell me from here, where was your house?
Ms. LEI MINGFEN (Displaced farmer): (Chinese spoken).
SIEGEL: Back her behind this wall, where the constructions site is. That's Lei Mingfen (ph), a slim, elegant woman of 45. A villager who has immersed herself in Chinese property law since all this started. Those buildings she speaks of are the high rises that a developer built after leasing the land from the local government. The price the farmers were offered for one-sixth of an acre is what people now pay for every 50 square feet in a new apartment.
For seven years, this group resisted the plan to pave over their formerly rural village. They thought they deserved just compensation. They staged a sit-in. They stayed on after the water was cut off. They say thugs even came to beat down their doors, and they have photos of the damage.
(Soundbite of Chinese spoken)
SIEGEL: Finally, Lei Mingfen and several other women did something that is both traditionally Chinese and audaciously risky. Last September, convinced that Chinese law was on their side and that national policies are fair, even if local implementation of them is not, they went over the heads of the Chengdu authorities. They traveled to the national capital, Beijing, to petition the authorities there. And the price they paid was enormous.
Ms. MINGFEN: (Through Translator) September 17th she was arrested. She was imprisoned for 80-some days.
SIEGEL: How did they treat you in the prison?
Ms. MINGFEN: (Through Translator) They beat her, they were interrogated harshly, and they forced her to say that she was the one breaking the law.
SIEGEL: Ultimately, they had to leave, and their homes were demolished. Later, groups of families from the collective took the deal and got housing. The protesters have had to fend for themselves. Zhou Defu (ph) is still lives in the house, which he built, he says, with his own hands. It's two stories with two bedrooms and a living room upstairs. Mr. Zhou faces eviction and the bulldozer. Bare-chested, wearing just a pair of shorts, he showed me how he and his wife plan to hold out.
(Soundbite of steel door opening)
SIEGEL: He has installed a steel security door that's strong. The afternoon I was there, he had just finished plastering over a living room window to make sure no one can get in that way. He says he will die with his home if he must.
(Soundbite of steel door shutting)
SIEGEL: We tried to reach the prosecutor who handled the case of the protesters but no avail. My colleagues' phone calls were not answered. We first met Mr. Zhou and Lei Mingfen at the office of Huang Qi (ph), who runs a Chinese human-rights network. On a website that is blocked by the Chinese authorities, he tracks thousands of cases nationwide that he says amount to human-rights abuses. He says the most common kind of case nowadays is the land grab.
Mr. HUANG QI (Human rights activist): (Through Translator) Most so-called land-grab cases involve Chinese government officials acting in concert with special interests, in this case real estate developers, for their own gain. They buy land from peasants very cheaply, the compensation farmers get is just a few percent of the real value. That's basically what happens.
SIEGEL: Do the farmers have the right not to sell? Can they hold out?
Mr. HUANG (Through Translator): According to the law of the People's Republic of China, the peasants do have the right not to sell the land. However, during this process, the government often employs the underworld and the apparatus of the state to force the farmers to sell.
SIEGEL: Huang Qi is an interesting character. He studied telecommunications engineering and made enough money in the Chinese business boom of the '90s to start searching for meaning in his life, he says. He found it in documenting human-rights abuses. Huang exposed a mind-boggling scheme that required tens of thousands of Chinese workers to have and pay for unnecessary appendectomies.
He defended a practitioner of Falun Gong, which is regarded by Chinese officialdom as a subversive cult. He championed a successful wrongful death case, arising from the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. For his work, he was charged with incitement and sent to prison for five years. He got out in 2005 and resumed his human-rights work. I asked Huang Qi if there is a line, which if he crosses it, would mean he goes back to prison.
Mr. HUANG (Through Translator): (Through Translator) It mainly depends on how we make our cases. We make sure to follow the law of the People's Republic of China and we make certain we present our cases objectively and truthfully. Then, in my opinion, the line does not exist. At least in present day China, because compared to ten years ago the human rights situation in China today has improved a great deal.
SIEGEL: Our conversation with Huang Qi and our visit to the former collective took place a few days before the Sichuan earthquake. I went back after the quake to talk about it with Mr. Huang, whose website has turned its attention to earthquake relief.
He says the government should be more open to foreign assistance and to grassroots spontaneous relief efforts as opposed to insisting that efforts all be organized by the government. I asked him if by criticizing the government about this, he wasn't taking big risks at a moment of intensified patriotism.
Mr. HUANG (Through Translator): Yes, but we've been doing this for over ten years. It's nothing new and we consider it our God-given duty to criticize and to bring attention to this. As a matter of fact over the past few days, we have seen some good things the government has done and some bad things. One of the good things, for example, is the relative openness to the media. Openness of information will prevent unnecessary panic.
SIEGEL: The earthquake has redirected everyone's attention here, but inevitably it will multiply the questions and allegations of land grabs. If villages or whole towns are to be demolished or rebuilt who will be compensated? And who will do the building? Who will benefit from the bulldozer, and who will be its victims? Questions for this rapidly growing region around Chengdu, China.
PESCA: That was NPR's Robert Segal reporting.
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PESCA: The Internet does give us a lot, like, for example, everything you've heard on this segment so far, The Most, npr.org. It's all on the Internet.