Wednesday, September 30, 2009
And that would be just as well, I suppose. How good a health-care system can one expect out of politicians so committed to the "culture of death" they can't even tell Americans -- unambiguously -- that if they want to abort their offspring, they have to do it on their own damned dime?
Pols so committed to abortion for all that they can't even include provisions for "rights of conscience" for health-care providers and institutions receiving federal subsidies?
In fact, so committed are most congressional Democrats -- and some "country-club Republicans" -- to "helping" low-income women eliminate as many low-income babies as possible, they're willing to risk exposing themselves as ultimately uninterested in actually passing health-care reform, as opposed to posturing about health-care reform.
HERE ARE some details from a story by The Associated Press:
BAUCUS IS being disingenuous.
In a vote with far-reaching political implications, senators writing a health care overhaul Wednesday rejected a bid to strengthen anti-abortion provisions in the legislation — which could reach the Senate floor in the next two weeks.
The 13-10 vote by the Senate Finance Committee could threaten support for the health care bill from some Catholics who otherwise back its broad goal of expanding coverage. But women's groups are likely to see the committee's action as a reasonable compromise on a divisive issue that is always fraught with difficulties.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, argued that provisions already in the bill to restrict federal funding for abortions needed to be tightened to guarantee they would be ironclad.
But his amendment failed to carry the day. One Republican — Olympia Snowe of Maine — voted with the majority. One Democrat — Kent Conrad of North Dakota — supported Hatch.
A major concern for abortion opponents — including Catholic bishops — is that those underlying restrictions have to be renewed every year.
If Congress fails to renew the ban one year, plans funded through the health care overhaul would be allowed to cover the procedure, abortion opponents contend.
Abortion rights supporters respond that adding a permanent restriction on abortion funding to the health bill would actually go beyond current federal law — in which such curbs have to be renewed every year.
"This is a health care bill," said Baucus. "This is not an abortion bill. And we are not changing current law."
If it's not an abortion bill, why are some Democrats willing to compromise on anything but? How are they any different than those who'd explode any possibility of health-care reform -- further enshrining a dysfunctional system responsible for the deaths of some 45,000 uninsured Americans a year -- because they won't accept anything resembling a "public option"?
It's not like no one has floated any reasonable compromises these last few months.
A notable one came from Beliefnet co-founder Steven Waldman:
First, we need to recognize that part of the problem in being neutral is that health care reform would introduce some new features so you really can't just freeze the status quo. Instead, one has to look at general principles. In general, the federal government is currently prohibited from directly paying for abortion but allowed to indirectly support abortion.
Indirect support happens in a variety of ways. For instance, the federal government set up the Medicaid program, pays for much of it, and then allows states to pay for abortions. The government provides support to hospitals, which perform abortions. The government gives money to family planning clinics for maternal health care, even though those clinics might also do abortions. In each case, the primary purpose of the spending is not encouraging abortion but by supporting institutions that also, with their own money, do abortions. That's the status quo.
First, let's apply this principle to the "public option" -- a new, government-backed insurance plan that may or may not be included in a final health reform bill. Congress could decree that the basic public insurance option doesn't include abortion but then offer consumers the ability to buy, with their own money, a rider to the policy that would cover abortions. Then the full direct cost of abortion coverage would be unambiguously carried by the consumer who chooses it.
Would there be an indirect subsidy? Yes, in the sense that the whole structure wouldn't exist without government support, but since the purpose of the structure is providing health care in general, not promoting abortion, it seems like a valid indirect subsidy consistent with the operating principles of the status quo stalemate.
Some pro-choice folks might say, well, no one plans an unintended pregnancy so it's not realistic for people to make that choice when buying health insurance.
But I don't plan on having auto accidents and yet I buy car insurance; I don't intend for my house to burn down, yet I buy homeowners insurance.
And perhaps there's a way of having this special abortion rider also include extra benefits to pay for contraception. That would give a second reason to buy the plan, and might even prevent more unintended pregnancies and abortions.
WHY CAN'T "reproductive-health insurance" be something offered "offline" at reasonable cost by private insurers? Why must federal funding be inextricably enmeshed (And if it's not, what was the problem with Hatch's amendment?) with an issue so morally grave, culturally contentious and politically radioactive?
Personally, I'd favor a simple, single-payer system of national health insurance. After all, if it's good enough for my mother and every American over 65. . . . That is to say this issue isn't political for me or for a lot of others, particularly many Catholics -- and especially for the country's Catholic leadership.
It's moral. And the religious worldview which compels me to see the immorality of a system where Americans can go without health care -- or be financially ruined by accessing health care -- is the same worldview telling me it's fundamentally immoral to finance the killing of helpless innocents in the process of "doing good."
There is no justice here, and there can be no compromising with people so dead set on blurring the lines on federal funding of abortion.
In fact, the Democratic leadership's stance against an explicit ban on federal abortion funding not only will doom health-care reform in the eyes of people like me and the Catholic bishops, it will cost it the support of at least 40 House Democrats.
Nobody is trying to undo Roe v. Wade in this. That's a fight for another day. This is a fight about being compelled to bankroll somebody's "right" that half of Americans -- at least -- see as dead wrong.
This is about violation of conscience. And this is about the Democratic House and Senate leadership seeking to ram abortion down the throats of taxpayers, and even down the throats of Catholic health-care workers and Catholic hospitals.
And see where that ultimately leaves health care if Catholic bishops, pushed beyond the bounds of complacency, start to grow spines and begin to shut down hospitals that care for 1 in 6 American patients.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I have been reliably informed there's been a Brother Jed and Sister Cindy sighting at the the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. And memories from three decades ago come flooding back. . . .
You know, I don't hold with their theology and methodology (about a step above the Rev. Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps), but you have to give the street-preaching couple props for sheer longevity and ability to take abuse from college kids.
Back in the day, Brother Jed Smock and Sister Cindy Lassiter (this was before she married Jed) told me and a bunch of Louisiana State "whores" and "whoremongers" that we were all going to hell. And then Cindy hit me in the head with a Bible.
OK, so I had ever-so-slightly lifted the hem of her granny skirt to see whether she was wearing granny boots, but still. . . .
IT WAS ALL great street theater, and everybody seemed to have a good time (except for the Catholic nun Cindy assaulted one day for being . . . Catholic) but I don't think anyone was particularly edified.
Or converted to any faith that showed poor sinners Christ as He might wish to be understood.
As a matter of fact, the one-two punch of religious buffoonery gave a lot of us two more excuses to stay the hell away from this Jesus nut and His nutty-ass spokespersons. I wonder how many of us gave the Galilean another chance once Sister Cindy had bellowed "the lake . . . of . . . FIIRRRRRRRE!" one last time and moved on to the next campus on the itinerary.
For me, it was the better part of a decade -- as I neared the end of a rope called "My Own Devices."
Nevertheless, I don't think Jed and Cindy would be pleased in any way, shape or form about my encounter with the living God. In fact, I'm pretty sure they think I'm still aiming to do some napalm wakeboarding.
You see, I became a Catholic.
And if Cindy lays hands on another nun. . . .
There's no crying in baseball.
But for Nebraska football fans, reading this blog post by Louisiana-Lafayette's radio play-by-play announcer may have brought on some misty eyes. May, hell.
WHAT JAY WALKER wrote did cause more than a few of us to well up a bit:
I've been to nine SEC stadiums. (I'll go to a tenth next season at Georgia.) I've seen the grove at Ole Miss, experienced the Gator Chomp, the Mississippi State cowbells, been a part of Alabama football in both Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. I've been called "Tigerbait" in Baton Rouge and experienced some pretty good hospitality in South Carolina.
I've said hello to the folks at Illinois and Minnesota. Felt September heat in Tempe, AZ.
Been to Manhattan, Lubbock, Austin, Stillwater and College Station. College Station was probably the best. Folks say "Howdy" when they see you. And they say "welcome."
Haven't been to the Horseshoe, the Big House or Happy Valley. Nor have I seen Touchdown Jesus.
But I've been to College Football Nirvana.
It's located in Lincoln, Nebraska.
From the time we touched down ("Welcome to Lincoln," the police officers doing the escort said) to the time we left the stadium ("Thanks so much for coming, have a safe trip home. We hope you'll come back again") every Cajun fan felt like a guest.
That's right. A guest. Not the opposition...not the enemy....a guest.
Check into the Cornhusker Marriott, not far from campus. Fans of Big Red Nation are already there. Smiles, handshakes....welcome to Lincoln. Good luck tomorrow.
Board the bus for dinner. Arrive at Misty's, Lincoln's famous steakhouse (I mean, you gotta eat a steak, right?). There were about 25 in our party. We had to wait about twenty minutes for them to get everything ready. No problem. As soon as the patrons saw the Cajun gear, they wanted to talk...introduce themselves....welcome to Lincoln....thanks so much for coming. Hope you enjoy the game.....
Is this for real??
And, it continued throughout the evening and into the night. We made lots of friends. We Cajun people make friends pretty easily, but it's even easier when folks want to be friends.
In Lincoln, they all want to be your friend.
Gameday is different in Lincoln. They tailgate, sure....but it's tougher because, well, there's just not a lot of tailgaiting spots. But they do open the soccer field next to the stadium. Families can let the kids roam free. Nebraska radio does a pregame show there. And, a band plays during the commercial breaks.
I did an interview at the soccer field with the Nebraska radio folks. And then, had a pretty good trek to the media entrance. At each gate, the sight was the same. Hundreds lined up, waiting for the gates to open so they could get into the stadium and watch their team warm up.
By the time Nebraska came out, about 45 minutes before kickoff, the stadium was about 65% full. There was no "hey, let's stay outside and pound a few more beers."
Because it was gameday. And they came to see football.
By the time the band was ready to come out, 86,000 strong were in their seats. They stood and clapped along when the Cornhusker Band played "Fight on Cajuns" to honor their guests. And when the band played "There is no Place Like Nebraska" I knew that the statement was true.
WALKER GETS IT. Nebraska is a special place, and game day in Lincoln is something akin to the concentrated essence of a state.
And, at least in Nebraska circles, the Louisiana blog post has gone viral. It's even featured on Huskers.com.
I think I know what came over the Cajuns' radio guy. It happened to me in 1983.
Actually, it really started in high school in Baton Rouge, when a Nebraska-native buddy would sing the praises of his home state at every opportunity. And it built a few years later when -- as a student at Louisiana State -- I started following the Cornhuskers in addition to my LSU Tigers.
I was hooked in Miami at the 1983 Orange Bowl, when the Huskers beat LSU 21-20 and I couldn't quite decide who the hell to pull for. But I was awfully happy Nebraska won and knew I had to get to this special place out on the Plains.
THAT YEAR, I took some time off from college and -- somehow -- landed a spring and summer reporting job at the North Platte Telegraph. There, I made friends for life and got the equivalent of a graduate degree in community journalism before I even had finished by BA at LSU.
Out in the Sandhills, I fell in love with Nebraska and knew this place would someday be home. It didn't hurt that I fell in love with the Telegraph's wire editor.
And one fine day in early August, I asked her to be my wife. In Lincoln. In the shadow of Memorial Stadium. At NU's football picture day.
So, I married the pretty wire editor in North Platte on the day we packed up a red Nissan Sentra with Nebraska 15-county plates and a red Chevy Vega with a Louisiana plate and an NU window decal. We then headed south for my final 27 credit hours at LSU and her introduction to culture shock, Tiger football . . . and a year of lame jokes about the state tree of Nebraska being a telephone pole.
Sometimes in Baton Rouge, life can be one big "Tiger bait!" when you're "not from around here." Even when you're nowhere near Tiger Stadium.
SOME 26 YEARS LATER, Nebraska is home. Has been for the last 21 of them -- just like I knew it would. And it all started with Big Red football . . . and with the classy fans who so love "dear old Nebraska U."
As folks say today, Nebraska fans "represent." No matter where they are, they make present what is so special about this place we call home.
And you never know where something like that will lead.
P.S.: Thanks for coming, Cajun fans . . . happy to hear y'all passed a good time.
Come again soon; bring andouille. I'll get the gumbo started -- best in Omaha.
And because your play-by-play man is such a stand-up fella, this LSU grad will never call UL-Laf(ayette) "You'll Laugh" again. Nebraska is wearing off on me.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Newsmagazines turning on newspapers with sharpened shivs. Self-important and cooler-than-thou tech bloggers turning on dowdy and plodding paper-and-ink scribblers, advocating euthanasia for Grampaw Media. Newspaper publishers turning on their readers, and The Associated Press turning on everybody with a phalanx of suits and lawyers behind it.
Wow, New York University professor Clay Shirky was right. There is going to be chaos as print trudges down that long Extinction Highway.
THERE'S ALSO going to be ill-tempered snark, callousness and all-around "don't let your mouth overload your ass" bomb-throwing. The latter is courtesy of Newsweek (Really? That hasn't folded already?) technology editor Whatshisname.
Huh? Oh, right. Daniel Lyons. Yeah, that's the ticket:
It's hilarious to hear these folks puff themselves up with talk about being the Fourth Estate, performing some valuable public service for readers—when in fact the real customer has always been the advertiser, not the reader. That truth has been laid bare in recent years. As soon as papers got desperate for cash, they dropped their "sacred principles" as readily as a call girl sheds her clothes. Ads on the front page? Reporters assigned to write sponsored content? No problem.IF THERE'S ANYTHING I dislike more than puffed-up pontificators of pompous pablum (See 'ya, Mr. Safire), it's puffed-up pontificators of pompous pablum holding forth from the Emperor's New Boutique. Does this guy really think Newsweek will last as long as the metropolitan dailies he so wants "out of the way"?
Now, new companies with names like Politico and Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and Gawker are beating newspapers at their own game. The new guys are faster, and often better. They're leading, with newspapers chasing behind. If the old guys really want to retain their chokehold on the news business, they should consider buying up the new guys. Problem is, the old guys waited too long, and now they're too broke to make acquisitions. Whoops.
Sure, nobody has yet figured out how to make loads of money delivering news over the Internet. But that's partly because there are too many old newspaper companies, stumbling around like zombies: creatures from another century, clinging to their lame old business model, surviving but not thriving—and sucking up money that Internet companies could put to better use.
Instead of giving newspapers bailouts, we should be hastening their demise. The weak papers need to die. The strong newspapers need to go into bankruptcy and restructure their businesses with smaller staffs and lower cost structures. Yes, it will be painful. But journalists will find jobs — and they'll be working in a better, faster medium.
No, I don't want to see a newspaper bailout -- one can't "watchdog" one's master. And, yes, I think newspapers are toast, for all the reasons Lyons cites and more.
But to wish a speedy death upon them? Advocating "hastening their demise"? All while flitting across the piles of rubble and the fields of carnage with a blithe "Yes, it will be painful. But journalists will find jobs — and they'll be working in a better, faster medium"?
That's just bulls***.
Can you say "Famous last words"?
Can you say "Arrogant, stupid and sadistic"?
BEING A COOL, hip and invulnerable newsmagazine guy, Lyons gets to write like an ass and call it analysis. Whistling past one's own graveyard means never having to say you're sorry -- or having to consider that you are calling for the hastened destruction of careers . . . and lives.
Calling for unemployment checks and dashed dreams. For bankruptcies and foreclosures. For divorces and college educations deferred.
Working for an Olympian institution such as Newsweek means never having to consider that people work at newspapers, that you want their livelihoods to disappear, or that bad, bad things happen when people's livelihoods disappear. Especially when your livelihood disappears forever, which certainly would be the case for many of today's remaining working print journalists.
But that's OK. Whatshisname -- oh, right . . . Lowry . . . I mean Lyons -- has it all figured out.
"Yes, it will be painful. But journalists will find jobs."
I guess considering the whole "Where?" and "When?" details are just sooooooo beneath the pay grade of the Newsweek technology editor. Whatever.
On Nov. 3, 1962, I was a year and a half old.
One month earlier, Wally Schirra took his Mercury space capsule, Sigma 7, for a seven-orbit spin around the earth.
And President John F. Kennedy had exactly 1 year, 19 days to live.
That fall day in 1962, a formerly woebegone football team, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, was showing signs of life under brand-new Coach Bob Devaney. And when the Huskers took the field against Missouri in Lincoln, it was before -- ye gods! -- a full house of 31,080 spectators.
Big Red lost 16-7 that Space Age afternoon but -- Man, woman and child! -- NU would be packing them in the aisles (and every available seat) for the next 47 years. And counting.
THOSE FOUR DECADES-PLUS would include five national championships and two coaching legends -- the late Devaney and Tom Osborne, now a former coach-turned-congressman-turned-NU athletic director. Those decades also would include the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan years, when we wondered not whether the sellout streak would end but after which embarrassing loss.
But it didn't end. Unbelievably, but there you go.
Bad athletic directors and coaches sometimes come, but Cornhusker fans weren't going anywhere. The university over the years expanded Memorial Stadium to 86,000-plus seats, and Nebraskans kept filling them all.
And the fans in the stands above the visiting team's entrance kept giving "the enemy" a standing ovation at game's end -- win, lose or Callahan Era. Because there really is no place like Nebraska.
Where they're all true blue,
We'll all stick together,
In all kinds of weather,
For dear old Nebraska U.
This is the place -- and the football program -- the Sunday World-Herald commemorated with a special "throwback," 1962-style "Blue Streak Sports Section," where readers got details of the Huskers' 55-0 waxing of Louisiana-Lafayette just like they might have back when The Streak began. I well remember when sports sections were just like that . . . and it was fun to go back.
Just like it was fun for fans to "go back" with retro fashions for a retro-themed game Saturday. Josefina Loza was there for the newspaper:
Lincolnite Mike McDannel planned a special outfit for this day. The 49-year-old wore a red velvet blazer and matching fedora, a red tie with the word “Nebraska” embroidered in white and socks with tiny N's covering them. His retro digs once were worn by his father, Donald, who passed away in 2001.THAT VIGNETTE gets to the heart of what Nebraska football -- and Nebraskans -- are about. A son turning out for the home team yet one more time, honoring not only a statewide love affair but also a father long gone.
Dad and Mom Caroline introduced Mike to the passion behind Husker fans years ago. The then-Grand Island family bought season tickets with their vacation money.
Mike's first NU game was in 1968. He might have the ticket to prove it, he said as he took off his fedora and flipped it upside down. Seven ticket stubs were tucked inside the cap's sweatband. Some dated to 1971, when the admission price was $6.
Mike and his mom grabbed spots at the nearby coffeehouse patio to watch fans file in, another tradition they've kept for years.
Some fans were dressed in vintage wear — including skinny neckties; red-and-white-striped overalls; and even one red-and-white go-go dress — but mostly they wore Husker shirts.
“It's really a sight to see,” said Caroline, who has been attending games since the 1950s.
By donning Dad's scarlet-and-cream outfit and taking Mom to the big game.
Go Big Red!
This is what happened to a former Omaha city councilman who pissed off the police union.
Now the cops have, uh, questions about whether Mayor Jim Suttle is "protecting and serving" them enough to stay in office. And they're polling voters about a recall.
Less than four months into Mayor Jim Suttle’s term, the Omaha police union conducted a poll that gauged whether the public would support a recall of the mayor.I HATE IT when people do things so brazen and bullying that it forces me to stand up for Jim Suttle. We can only hope that the police union has at long last badly overplayed its hand:
It was just one of several topics in the 25-minute telephone survey conducted this month, said Aaron Hanson, police union president.
The bulk of questions posed to 350 likely voters focused on police services, the police pension system and Omahans’ priorities on city programs.
Hanson declined to release the results on the question about Suttle and other politician-related questions.
Hanson said the police union has taken no position on whether it would support or oppose an effort to remove Suttle from office because no formal recall attempt is under way.
He also declined to say whether the poll was an effort to gain leverage in often-intense police labor contract negotiations, which currently are under way.
But asking the recall question, Hanson said, was fair game.
“The buzz is there,” he said. “There’s been discussion in certain circles.”
Overall, Hanson said, the Omaha Police Officers’ Association “wanted to take the pulse of the city of Omaha on a multitude of issues that are high priority today.”
Suttle had not seen the survey results as of Friday, said Ron Gerard, the mayor’s spokesman.
I AM a union kind of guy. I am not, however, a union-thug kind of guy. And the Omaha Police Officers' Association has been nothing if not thuggish -- not to mention brazen -- in its attempts to put local pols under its thumb.
Some City Council members speculated that the poll was taken to strengthen the union’s bargaining position in the ongoing contract discussions.
Councilwoman Jean Stothert, a Republican, was among those who distanced themselves from any talk of a mayoral recall attempt.
She said she and her council colleagues were given the poll’s findings — minus any questions and responses about politicians.
“It seemed like it would be counterproductive ... to ask about a recall,” Stothert said.
Council President Garry Gernandt, who is a Democrat and a retired police officer, said he thought the survey’s purpose was to measure public opinion about city government priorities and police performance.
Had he known about the inclusion of a recall question, Gernandt said, he would have done what he could “to stop it.”
An official of the Douglas County Republican Party also said he did not want to talk about a recall.
The city is facing hard times. Part of that is due to Omaha cops' having traded pay concessions after the dot-com bust for a contract that let them "spike" their pensions to six figures annually in some cases and retire while still in their 40s.
The cop union's new "poll" certainly makes one wonder whether a little political extortion might have greased the skids for such a sweetheart deal. One we're all going to be paying off for a very long time.
A CITY'S police force is there to serve the public. It does not exist to be served by the public, which owes officers nothing more than a fair wage, fair benefits and thanks for their service.
"Security forces" that see political intimidation and shakedowns as standard operating procedure need to remain firmly in the realm of depressing dispatches from unfortunate foreign backwaters. Bad, bad things need to happen to cops who seek to bring banana-republic politics to an American city hall.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Put me in jail because the government isn't going to dictate the terms of my existence.AND THEN there was this:
This admin is out of control. To FORCE ME to buy health insurance in their program, when I don't want it, and if I refuse, they will put me in JAIL?!?!?! What country is this, Iran? Russia? China? What happened to freedom of choice, I thought that was the liberal battle cry!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
On the other hand. . . .
I was intrigued by this Upbeat show, so I did a little investigating on the Internets. Originated at WEWS, Channel 5 in Cleveland. Ran from 1964 to 1971 and was hosted by Don Webster, who it seems is a legend in the rock 'n' roll city.
AND THE ACTS Upbeat featured. . . . Oh, my goodness. Upbeat, as a matter of fact, was Otis Redding's last TV appearance before his death in a plane crash.
I think I'm an Upbeat fan now. All hail Don Webster!
And I am sure The Funkadelic is of a like mind. The Funkadelic. Has a ring to it.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
An item on the web site of the Columbia Journalism Review got noticed by Jim Romenesko at the Poynter Institute, but didn't get nearly the attention it should have.
That's probably because -- apart from all the folks who used to be network-TV journalists but aren't anymore -- CJR's online columnist Michael Massing might be the only media figure who gives a flying furlough. Sigh.
NEVERTHELESS, read this (and go read the whole thing, too) and try to decide what's more hopelessly screwed -- journalism or capitalism:
While doing some recent research on the news business, I came upon this remarkable fact: Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined. Couric’s salary comes to an estimated $15 million a year; NPR spends $6 million a year on its morning show and $5 million on its afternoon one. NPR has seventeen foreign bureaus (which costs it another $9.4 million a year); CBS has twelve. Few figures, I think, better capture the absurd financial structure of the network news.I DON'T THINK any further commentary is necessary. Except, perhaps, the above clip from Broadcast News.
This is not a new development, of course. It’s been unfolding since 1986, when billionaire Laurence Tisch bought CBS and eviscerated its news division in order to boost profits. (For a sharp, first-hand account of this process, see Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, The Business of News, and the Danger to Us All, by former CBS correspondent Tom Fenton.) But the issue seems worth revisiting in light of the recent naming of Diane Sawyer to replace Charlie Gibson as the anchor of ABC’s World News. We don’t yet know how much Sawyer is going to be paid, but it will no doubt surpass Gibson’s current estimated salary of $8 million. Sawyer will thus be perpetuating the corrosive, top-heavy system of the network news.
What’s striking is how little notice this received in the flood of coverage of Sawyer’s appointment. With the notable exception of Jack Shafer in Slate, who cheekily urged Sawyer to turn down the job “and persuade ABC News to divert the millions it ordinarily pays its anchor and spend it on 50 or 80 additional reporters to break stories,” the press treated her ascension as a dramatic milestone.
This cool little Segway-style "electronic unicycle" -- the Honda UX-3 -- looks like a bunch of fun. But the battery is only good for 60 minutes between charges, and the top speed is only 3.7 m.p.h.
EVEN IF Honda were selling the sexy little prototype, I don't know how I'd justify the expense of one. I already have a couple of personal mobility devices capable of 3.7-plus m.p.h., and they will go for hours and hours on Community Coffee and garden-fresh tomato sandwiches.
Given the temporary pre-marketing moniker "Legs," they also can do stairs -- unlike the UX-3 -- and came as standard equipment way back in 1961.
. . . I want that hat.
It would be the perfect accoutrement for my midlife crisis.
That said, you have to enjoy a great song by The Five Stairsteps from the glory years of Soul Train -- specifically 1971. Oh, and more specifically, make that Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooul TRAIN!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Glenn Beck is the kind of deep thinker appreciated by the sort who call it "guts" when DJs play Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." when we're bombing the crap out of crazy Arab potentates.
Hold the phone. Glenn Beck was the "morning zoo" host in Louisville who was "proud to be an American" on April 15, 1986 -- and "emotionally exhausted" from listeners phoning in to say yay or nay about his playing "Khadafy Sucks" the morning after American warplanes blowed the Libyan dictator's compound up good.
It must have been the caller who wanted to send Libyans down a razor blade slide into a pool of alcohol.
THEN AGAIN, it might have just been the alcohol. And the pot. And the cocaine.
Whether Beck was tired or stoned that day, he was almost certainly depressed. Despite his creative freedom, local star status and high salary, Beck's mental state was on a slide. By his own telling, he was drinking heavily, snorting coke and entertaining thoughts of suicide. "There was a bridge abutment in Louisville, Kentucky, that had my name on it," Beck later wrote. "Every day I prayed for the strength to be able to drive my car at 70 mph into that bridge abutment. I'm only alive today because (a) I'm too cowardly to kill myself ... and (b) I'm too stupid."AS SALON.COM tells us in a three-part series on Beck's life as one of radio's "morning zoo" bad boys, Fox News Channel's newest sensation and the de-facto leader of the Great American Freak Out has had a little experience in the "freak" department. From "Glenn Beck becomes damaged goods," Part 2 of Alexander Zaitchik's Beckian trilogy:
Beck's real broadcasting innovation during his stay in Kentucky came in the realm of vicious personal assaults on fellow radio hosts. A frequent target of Beck's in Louisville was Liz Curtis, obese host of an afternoon advice show on WHAS, a local AM news-talk station. It was no secret in Louisville that Curtis, whom Beck had never met and with whom he did not compete for ratings, was overweight. And Beck never let anyone forget it. For two years, he used "the big blonde" as fodder for drive-time fat jokes, often employing Godzilla sound effects to simulate Curtis walking across the city or crushing a rocking chair. Days before Curtis' marriage, Beck penned a skit featuring a stolen menu card for the wedding reception. "The caterer says that instead of throwing rice after the ceremony, they are going to throw hot, buttered popcorn," explains Beck's fictional spy.NICE GUY. But not as "nice" as he'd get in Phoenix, where he took the "morning zoo" shtick after getting canned in the Bluegrass State:
Despite the constant goading, Curtis never responded. But being ignored only seemed to fuel Beck's hunger for a response. As his attacks escalated and grew more unhinged, a WHAS colleague of Curtis' named Terry Meiners decided to intervene. He appeared one morning unannounced at Beck's small office, which was filled with plaques, letters and news clippings -- "a shrine to all that is Glenn Beck," remembers Meiners. He told Beck to lay off Curtis, suggesting he instead attack a morning DJ like himself, who could return fire. "Beck told me, 'Sorry, all's fair in love and war,'" remembers Meiners. "He continued with the fat jokes, which were exceedingly cruel, pointless, and aimed at one of the nicest people in radio. Glenn Beck was over-the-top childish from Day One, a punk who tried to make a name for himself by being disruptive and vengeful."
Beck and Hattrick began their show far behind Kelly's market-leading show on KZZP. As they continued to get clobbered, Beck grew obsessed with getting his name on the leading station. His first attempt to get Kelly to mention him on the air came shortly after his arrival. "I walked out to get the paper one Saturday morning," remembers Kelly. "When I turned around, I saw that my entire house was covered in Y95 bumper stickers. The windows, the garage doors, the locks -- everything. But I refused to mention Beck's name on the air, which drove him nuts."BECK THEN LEFT for Houston, where complete failure awaited. And then he drifted to Baltimore, where the drink and drugs tightened their hold . . . and more rating failure was in the cards.
Beck kept trying. When KZZP's music director held his marriage at a Phoenix church, Beck loaded up Y95's two Jeeps with boxes of bumper stickers and drove to the ceremony. As the service was coming to a close, Beck and his team ran crouching from car to car, slapping bumper stickers on anything with a fender. The service ended while Beck was running amok, and the KZZP morning team appeared just in time to see Beck jump into his getaway car. "Beck saw me standing in the way of the exit and gunned right for me. I threw a landscaping rock on his windshield and blocked him," says Kelly. When his old friend demanded he roll down the window, Beck reluctantly obliged. Kelly then unloaded a mouthful of spit in his face.
"Glenn Beck was the king of dirty tricks," says Guy Zapoleon, KZZP's program director. "It may seem mild in retrospect, but at the time that wedding prank was nasty and over the line. Beck was always desperate for ratings and attention."
The animosity between Beck and Kelly continued to deepen. When Beck and Hattrick produced a local version of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" for Halloween -- a recurring motif in Beck's life and career -- Kelly told a local reporter that the bit was a stupid rip-off of a syndicated gag. The slight outraged Beck, who got his revenge with what may rank as one of the cruelest bits in the history of morning radio. "A couple days after Kelly's wife, Terry, had a miscarriage, Beck called her live on the air and says, 'We hear you had a miscarriage,' " remembers Brad Miller, a former Y95 DJ and Clear Channel programmer. "When Terry said, 'Yes,' Beck proceeded to joke about how Bruce [Kelly] apparently can't do anything right -- about he can't even have a baby."
"It was low class," says Miller, now president of Open Stream Broadcasting. "There are certain places you just don't go."
"Beck turned Y95 into a guerrilla station," says Kelly. "It was an example of the zoo thing getting out of control. It became just about pissing people off, part of the culture shift that gave us 'Jackass.'" Among those who were appalled by Beck's prank call was Beck's own wife, Claire, who had been friends with Kelly's wife since the two worked together at WPGC.
Their friendship soured, Beck continued with the stunts, some of which won the competition's begrudging admiration. The most elaborate and successful of these neatly throws a double-spotlight on both the juvenile nature of morning radio competition and the culture of pop cheese in which Beck marinated for 20 years.
Toward the end of Beck's time in Phoenix, KZZP sponsored a free Richard Marx concert at the Tempe El Diablo stadium in downtown Phoenix. Marx was at the time riding high on a triple-platinum album, and the show was a monster publicity coup for Beck's rival. But Beck was in no mood to let KZZP bask in the concert's glow without a fight. He and Hattrick arrived at the stadium early on the night of the show and gave the sound technician $500 to play a prerecorded Y95 promo moments before KZZP's Bruce Kelly was scheduled to announce the show. As an audience of nearly 10,000 waited for the show to begin, the KZZP mics were cut and Beck's voice suddenly boomed out of the stadium's sound system: "The Y95 Zoo team is proud to present … Richard Marx!" As soon as he heard his name, an oblivious Marx walked onto the stage and began to play. As the KZZP crew stood stunned offstage, scattered Y95 agents popped up and began throwing "Y95 Zoo" T-shirts in every direction to a cheering crowd.
"It was brilliant," remembers Kelly, who gave Beck his first lessons in the art of publicity. "Totally brilliant. He nailed us."
One former colleague painted him, in those Baltimore days, as a drugged-out Marquis de Sade:
Beck was known at B104 as a pro's pro in the studio but was becoming increasingly unraveled when not working. "Beck used to get hammered after every show at this little bar-café down the street," remembers a music programmer who worked with Beck. "At first we thought he was going to get lunch." The extent to which Beck was struggling to keep it together is highlighted by Beck's arrest one afternoon just outside Baltimore. He was speeding in his DeLorean with one of the car's gull-wing doors wide open when the cops pulled him over. According to a former colleague, Beck was "completely out of it" when a B104 manager went down to the station to bail him out. In his 2003 book, "Real America," Beck refers to himself as a borderline schizophrenic. Whether that statement is matter-of-fact or intended for effect, he has spoken more than once about taking drugs for ADHD, and when he was at B104, Beck's coworkers believed him to be taking prescription medication for some kind of mental or psychological ills. "He used to complain that his medication made him feel like he was 'under wet blankets,'" remembers the former music programmer.EVENTUALLY, Beck sobered up after his marriage fell apart. Eventually, he shopped around for a worldview, became a Mormon and married anew. And he discovered talk radio in New Haven, Conn.:
Today, when Beck wants to illustrate the jerk he used to be, he tells the story of the time he fired an employee for bringing him the wrong pen during a promotional event. According to former colleagues in Baltimore, Beck didn't just fire people in fits of rage -- he fired them slowly and publicly. "He used to take people to a bar and sit them down and just humiliate them in public. He was a sadist, the kind of guy who rips wings off of flies," remembers a colleague.
By 1998, Beck realized he'd never be able to do what he wanted to do on FM radio, limited to talking fluff in between Britney Spears songs. Out of this failed experiment with Penn was born Beck's idea of "fusing" morning radio wackiness and political debate.TODAY, WE FIND that Beck has pushed buttons all the way to the head of an "army" of the gullible disaffected. He has national radio and cable-news shows, and his devotees sing his praises at Washington rallies and use his words as brickbats against the dastardly "progressives."
His talk radio identity still larval, Beck was already displaying the skills that would make him a talk-radio lightning rod. "He always knew how to work people and situations for attention," says Penn. "He could pick the most pointless story in the news that day and find a way to approach it to get phones lit up. That was his strong point -- pissing people off. He was very shrewd on both the business and entertainment sides of radio. He's built his empire on very calculated button pushing."
Not that this empire was imaginable back then. Mostly people noticed the button-pushing and wanted nothing to do with it.
"Anyone in Connecticut who says they knew Beck was destined to run an entertainment empire is full of s***," says one of Beck's former coworkers in New Haven. "The guy had dozens of enemies. People thought he was an annoying, washed-up has-been. When I see people today bragging that they knew him back then, I'm like, 'But you f****** hated him!'"
Only in America. Or maybe Munich.
Of course, no one wants to discount the idea of redemption. No one wants to dismiss the power of God, and the power of the human spirit, to turn around a life.
No one wants to seriously believe that people cannot change -- sometimes quite fundamentally. I'd like to believe that of Glenn Beck.
It's hard, though, when the man refuses to give others the same benefit of the doubt that he demands of us. He vilifies Van Jones for a colorful political past, yet we are expected to give a former sadistic, washed-up and drugged-out disc jockey not only a pass, but also the keys to a populist uprising.
We're supposed to take his TV and radio shows seriously, and we're not supposed to think those who do are imbeciles with a tenuous grip on reality.
That's a tall order. Especially when Beck takes to the national airwaves to point out communist symbology at Rockefeller Center and the United Nations . . . all allegedly courtesy of the Rockefellers.
It's just as crazy as Beck stating that the entire concept of social justice is somehow inextricably intertwined with communist ideology. Talk like that shouldn't be taken seriously, unless the subject at hand centers on whether America's hottest talker is as abstemious as his church demands.
Glenn Beck the rich and popular talk-show host may no longer be the same monster as "Captain" Beck, the morning-zoo DJ. But that monster still lurks somewhere within (as, to be fair, it does for all of us).
And the more Mr. Hyde can manage to emerge from Beck's new, respectable Dr. Jekyll persona -- the one with the audience of millions -- the safer it becomes for all our nation's darkest demons to seek the spotlight once again.
I don't think what they're serving at the Baton Rouge Tea Party is really oolong.
I DON'T say these things lightly. I just read the old hometown newspaper in Louisiana and make the obvious extrapolations:
The tax package, like the one that narrowly failed last year, consists of a half-cent sales tax increase and a 9.9-mill property tax. If approved, the taxes would fund drainage system improvements, a new public safety complex and parish prison, traffic light synchronization, riverfront development and other projects.I CAN SEE HOW these party-hearty Baton Rougeans would be "concerned about how their tax dollars are being used." If the city raises taxes and cops at police headquarters suddenly stop falling through the floor or having brick walls tumble onto them, they just might be healthy enough to drop by for a cuppa.
“When you look at the total package, it’s something that’s going to take us to the next level,” Holden said. “We can’t get by with the status quo.”
Another bond-issue opponent, Dwight Hudson of Baton Rouge Tea Party, said his group plans to hold “town hall” meetings in Zachary, Central and southeast Baton Rouge to encourage people to vote down the tax.
“Our members are general, every-day citizens who want to get involved,” he said. “They are concerned about how their tax dollars are being used.”
He said the first tea party meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 at Kristenwood Reception Hall in Central.
And that would ruin everything.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Love it or (more likely) hate it, at least Clear Channel has tiny local staffs of local people at some of its allegedly local radio stations. But what of K-Love, which seems to be K-swallowing the K-dial K-whole?
Radio veterans like Jerry Del Colliano refer to Clear Channel and its corporate wannabes as "repeater radio." And that's true, as far as it goes.
BUT IF Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus, Entercom and the other megaliths that control the radio dial fairly can be called "repeater radio," that must make the non-profit, non-commercial K-Love (and a heavenly host of national operators just like it) something akin to a North Korean radio set -- it can tune in but a single station programmed from a central location by the central committee.
No local voices.
No local programming.
No local people.
No local focus.
RIGHT NOW, the Educational Media Foundation runs K-Love on 412 stations and translators in 44 states. It runs the younger-skewing Air 1 service on 200 stations and translators in 40 states. All told, that's 612 stations and translators for EMF.
In the world of secular, commercial radio, Clear Channel still is the Big-Though-Shrunken Kahuna, with 900 stations from coast to coast. Cumulus has 310, by way of comparison, while Citadel has 223, Entercom 110 and Cox 86.
The difference between these big commercial players and the non-commercial, religious "Christ Channel" is that -- though most of their stations have been comparatively gutted over the last decade or so -- the commercial operators still have some local on-air staff. EMF stations don't.
As a matter of fact, because EMF is non-profit and, based on that, the Federal Communications Commission granted it a waiver, not one of the K-Love or Air 1 stations is required to have actual studios in the community it serves.
Not that anyone would be there if they did, however. All programming originates from the EMF studios in Rocklin, Calif. -- a Sacramento suburb.
Of course, you could level the same charge at any number of radio ministry-operated Christian stations around the country, which consist mainly of a computer, an audio interface, a satellite dish and receiver . . . and a transmitter and antenna.
APPARENTLY, when these Christian radio folk asked themselves "What Would Jesus Do?" the came up with the answer "Hold the people at arm's length." Or continent's length . . . whatever.
Right about now, you may be wondering "So what?" After all, the local has been disappearing from "local radio" ever since deregulation came in 1996. Not surprisingly, listeners have been disappearing since 1996 as well.
But some remain, and what Christ Channel has to do with anything is Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh. From the Post-Gazette earlier this month:
There's satellite radio and commercial radio. There's secular radio and religious radio. The latter may not be a ratings giant, but Christian radio is growing -- at least in terms of sheer volume.
Yesterday, a successful syndicated contemporary Christian music format called K-Love launched here at 98.3 FM. And when St. Joseph Mission, the new owner of Sheridan Broadcasting's three Pittsburgh stations takes over, it plans to debut Catholic religious programming in the market.
That would give Pittsburgh nine religious stations in a mid-size market of about 40 stations. It also brings in an infusion of new Catholic programming, mirroring growth in other cities.
"I've never seen a time in any market where the Christian format has become so highly sought after, and where the competition has been so fierce. I think it's going to heighten," said the Rev. Loran Mann, president and general manager of gospel station WGBN (1150).
"It's a very interesting time for Pittsburgh radio and for the gospel market in particular."
In the current economic climate, selling smaller stations with lower frequencies and less market coverage has been a challenge. This has also proven to be a boon for religious broadcasters.
"Right now it's difficult to find a buyer for any radio station, really," said George Reed, managing director of Media Services Group in Jacksonville, Fla. Still, he says, "Christian operators are actively buying stations. Part of the reason is they can get them at a bargain."
"It's a buyer's market" for these kinds of stations, said Robert Unmacht, a consultant with IN3 Partners, a media and business consulting firm in Nashville, Tenn. "And they're buying."
And while they may not be ratings grabbers, Christian stations can still manage to succeed. "You can have a significant audience, and if it's a commercial station, do a fair amount of commercial business," Mr. Reed says. "Or if it's noncommercial, you can generate donations without being a major player in the ratings book."
Smaller operators can opt for syndicated religious programming and avoid competing directly against a secular music or talk format programmed by a Clear Channel or CBS station.
The popularity of contemporary Christian music is also driving the radio format, Mr. Reed says.
K-Love is a rapidly expanding contemporary Christian music format in radio markets in 44 states. It fills a void here in terms of giving Pittsburgh a full-time contemporary Christian music station.
Part of its appeal is that it follows the model of the traditional adult contemporary format -- a format aimed primarily at young women. "It doesn't get preachy. The music's good and it appeals to that group of women," Mr. Unmacht said.
St. Joseph Missions bought heritage black stations WAMO-AM and FM, as well as a third black gospel-formatted AM station, from Sheridan Broadcasting for $8.9 million.
WAMO-AM went on the air in 1948 and had served the city's African-American community since 1956, adding an FM signal on New Year's Day 1961. With the takeover by St. Joseph Missions -- which follows the failure of a previous Catholic format on another area AM station -- 35 employees lost their jobs.
Ironically, Joseph is the patron saint of workers.
I USED TO WORK in Catholic radio, so I can tell you how things likely will go. The vast majority of the stations' programming will come from EWTN Radio in Ironwood, Ala. -- near Birmingham -- via satellite. There may be some local programming, but probably not much.
The vast majority of Catholic radio puts the low in "low budget." And with St. Joseph Missions already shelling out $9 million, I can't see significant money going into facilities or programming -- the focus will be on fund raising, which will be directed toward keeping the stations on the air, covering administrative expenses and staging religious conferences.
It is not a good sign that the little-known ministry is located outside the Diocese of Pittsburgh. It is a worse sign that St. Joseph Missions also blindsided local diocesan officials with the purchase, which brought serious African-American heat upon clueless local clerics.
But the worst thing about all this is that three stations will be Catholic -- but not catholic -- and without any sense of real solidarity or engagement with its potential audience. It's really quite simple: Rich Catholics in Latrobe will be beaming traditionalist Catholics in Birmingham into the ether over Pittsburgh in an expensive exercise of preaching to the choir.
To which none of the "broadcasters" belong. Because they're in Latrobe and Alabama -- or, in K-Love's case, northern California.
AND THAT'S the story in Pittsburgh. It also is the story in communities all across the United States. It may well become the story on Long Island in New York, where the only public station is up for sale and no one knows whether you can outbid K-Love's (or some other religious broadcaster's) fat wallet.
Let me emphasize that I'm not against religious broadcasters -- I used to be one. I'm just saying religious broadcasters suffer from many of the same pathologies that afflict commercial, secular ones. And in some respects, those pathologies are even more pronounced.
As I said earlier, you haven't seen "repeater radio" until you've seen what passes for much of Christian radio nowadays. And I don't know how Christ Channel serves the public interest -- or that of the Almighty -- any better than Clear Channel.
The God we serve sent His only Son -- Who not only was from God but was God -- to live, teach, laugh and weep with His creation . . . and then ultimately to die for His creation.
Jesus never phoned it in when it came to the salvation biz. In this age of "economies of scale," He wouldn't have lasted a second at Christ Channel.
Monday, September 21, 2009
In the Online Journalism Review, a former J-school professor outlines eight things journalism students should demand of their professional education these days.
AND, OF COURSE, a journalism student has something to say in the comments:
While I agree with all of these, the last one really resonates with me, as I am a current journalism student. When we have guest speakers come in and say things like "run while you can,"and "you're crazy to get a j-degree," I get incredibly frustrated. Aren't these professionals supposed to believe in journalism as a pillar of democracy and a way for people to make informed decisions? Maybe they should go back to school and try to remember why they got into the field in the first place, because I'm pretty confident it wasn't for the money then, and it's not about the money now. Yes citizen journalism is becoming more prevalent, but that should give us a reason to step our reporting up a notch instead of laying down in defeat and whining about it.
AH, YOUTH. God bless, 'em, the voices of people not yet beaten down by life. Or journalism.
That said, the kid's right. And the great professional struggle in this young student's life will be to retain the ability, in 20 years, to write something like this with a straight face.
His (or her) professional life will be spent getting up every morning looking for yet another reason to give a damn. Trudging into the office every damn day and trying to remember "why they got into the field in the first place," because -- Lord knows -- it wasn't for the money, which doesn't quite stretch far enough to cover pressing expenditures.
AND THIS formerly young journalist will sit in a cubicle some future day, ruminating about the office collection of smart-asses, dolts, ass-kissers, rank incompetents and the really good Joe here and there. Then this middle aged sentinel of democracy will wonder just why the hell he ever thought people were "supposed to believe in journalism as a pillar of democracy and a way for people to make informed decisions."
Then our intrepid -- or, perhaps, formerly intrepid -- journalist will turn to the multimedia setup and make a crucial decision anew. One he's had to make every day since graduation in 2010.
"Do I gut it out another day in this God-forsaken place, or do I run while I still can?"
WATCH the above episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. I know it's from the olden days of media, back when there was still this thing called "radio" people listened to, but I think the dilemma -- and the choices made -- are universal.
And likewise will be in 2030, should we all be so lucky to still be here then.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
IN OTHER WORDS, they know not what they do (or say) -- they're English:
Twitter has decided to act after Tony La Russa, the coach of an obscure American baseball team, [emphasis mine -- R21] launched a legal action over a fake account. He claimed that postings in which he appeared to make light of the death of two of his players had been ‘hurtful’.
Twitter, which has six million users who can send instant blogs on their activities to anyone who chooses to follow them, denies it has any legal case to answer.
But it is now testing a new system to ensure that users can identify genuine celebrity accounts. In future, a tick alongside a name will guarantee it is genuine.
Until recently, Twitter has had a liberal attitude towards celebrity impostors as long as it was clear that the postings were not genuine.