Thursday Edition: Clearing Kool-Aid's Name

I do not want to trivialize a terrible incident where 913 people died, but it is time to get it right.

I asked our ace Poynter Institute researcher David Shedden to find out if it was Kool-Aid or something else that the Jim Jones followers drank in the mass suicide 25 years ago Tuesday. (See yesterday's Al's Morning Meeting.)

You know all I ever heard was the brand name — so much so that sometimes people talk about "drinking the Kool-Aid," meaning "Did you buy the company line?" or some such thing.

Well, David found at least one reference that indicates it was not Kool-Aid that was laced with poison. Instead, it may have been a competing product.

One of the earliest references to Flavor-Aid can be found in a Dec. 17, 1978, Washington Post article titled, "Jonestown Is an Eerie Ghost Town Now," by Charles A. Krause.

Along the muddy path that served as a sidewalk for much of the commune, other reminders of the life and death that were Jonestown lie half buried in the fertile soil. A pair of woman's eyeglasses, a towel, a pair of shorts, packets of unopened Flavor-Aid lie scattered about waiting for the final cleanup that may one day return Jonestown to the tidy, if overcrowded, little community it once was.

I also found this from Google researchers, confirming what David learned.

And, I talked with the Communications folks at Kraft Foods who told me they have never seen evidence that Kool-Aid was used at Jonestown. If you want to talk with them, e-mail Abbe Serphos at Kraft Foods.

However, I would say that there is not solid enough evidence that it was Flavor-Aid to name them either. The Flavor-Aid company (Jel Sert) is an old West Chicago company founded in 1926 that does not deserve to be linked to Jonestown in the same awful way that Kool-Aid was, in my opinion, unfairly linked all these years.

So in the absence of more solid proof, I would call the stuff a "grape-flavored drink mix laced with poison."

Sex Bracelets

A Mansfield, Ohio school has banned them. It spread to Florida schools. My Poynter editor Julie Moos spotted this story on KARE-11 TV's website.

Millions of American girls are wearing bracelets that can carry hidden sexual meaning that even the girls may not understand. Jelly bracelets, which were made popular in the 1980's by Madonna, are at the center of a sex game called 'snap.' Boys try to break the bracelets off the wrists of girls. Different colors represent different sexual behavior. If the boys succeed, the girls are obliged to engage in the act the bracelet represents.

Commonly, yellow represents hugging, purple kissing, blue a lap dance … and black signifies full intercourse.

Many girls wear the bracelets not knowing what they signify, instead believing that they are imitating pop-music stars like Avril Lavigne and Pink.

The jelly bracelets are now called sex bracelets or kissing bracelets.

There are some reports that the cheap accessories/jewelry stores are selling tons of these. I can't find one single story where a reporter found a kid who admitted that these bracelets have a real meaning.

Feds Now Say it will Be Years Before E-911 Wireless is Universally Available

As if on cue from my Wednesday column on E-911 for cell phones, the General Accounting Office yesterday came out with a report that said "Implementation of wireless E-911 is several years away in many states." This should concern you as more people use their cellular phones as their main or only phone and a growing percentage of 911 calls are coming from cell calls now. In some cities it is between one-third and half of all 911 calls.

Currently, the single best information source for tracking the progress being made in deploying wireless E-911 service at the local level comes from DOT and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

According to NENA, as of October 2003, nearly 65 percent of PSAPs nationwide had implemented Phase I wireless E-911 services, which provides the call taker with the callback number and the location of the cell tower and cell sector receiving the 911 call. Phase II, which locates the caller with more precise geographic coordinates, has been implemented with at least one wireless carrier in 18 percent of PSAPs.

As I told you in yesterday's Al's Morning Meeting, some states have diverted the money that you pay every month for E-911 to pay for other stuff. I really don't understand why there is not more outrage about this.

The GAO confirmed what I wrote yesterday:

Lack of funding for equipment upgrades and a lack of coordination among the parties involved are factors slowing the pace of the rollout of wireless E-911 technologies. Based on our interviews, lack of state or local funding is the largest factor affecting the progress of wireless E-911. No federal funding was provided to the states and localities to cover the cost of E-911 implementation, estimated to be at least $8 billion over the next five years.

Our survey of state contacts showed that 39 states and the District of Columbia have put in place a surcharge on wireless customers to pay for E-911 upgrades to public safety answering points. Yet, some states have no funding mechanism in place and even those that do sometimes redirect the collected funds to uses unrelated to wireless E-911 implementation.

Bugler Shortage Follow-Up

Al's Morning Meeting reader Kris Schuller, from NewsChannel 5 in Green Bay, Wisc., wrote to say:

Used your tip on the ceremonial bugle a while back and used it to look at the bugler shortage as a whole in the state of Wisconsin. Made for a great story on Veterans Day. A very easy story to turn, considering the fact that in Wisconsin, 12,000 vets are dying each year and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs can't possibly provide a live sounding of taps for so many funerals.

National Writers Workshops 2004 Dates

Poynter and the local organizers just set the dates for the 2004 National Writers Workshops. More will be forthcoming about sign-ups, but I wanted you to get these on your calendars. Many of my Poynter colleagues and I will join tons of great writers, reporters, editors, and teachers at these workshops. I can't wait to see you there.

January 9-10: National Press Club, D.C.
April 17-18: Hartford and St Louis
April 24-25: Seattle
May 1-2: Wilmington, Del.
May 8: Orange County Calif.
May 22-23: San Antonio, Texas
June 5-6: Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

We are always looking for your great ideas. Send <AL <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = STRONG"Al<STRONG"AlAl a few sentences and hot links.

Editor's Note: Al's Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, story excerpts, and other materials from a variety of websites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed, and a link will be provided, whenever possible.</STRONG"Al
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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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