Thursday, July 31, 2008

The downside of El Patron

Contrary to all appearances, this was not Colombia . . . or Nicaragua . . . or El Salvador . . . or Cuba . . . or Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

NO, THIS WAS the Louisiana into which I was born -- or removed by just a very few years from the Louisiana into which I was born. Folks thought they were getting the moon.

By the time the grafting pols and their cronies had skimmed theirs off the top, we ordinary Louisianians more or less ended up with a Moon Pie. It's funny how many of the people you can fool for so much of the time.

Moving to the United States some decades ago was something of a culture shock.
Cognitive dissonance are I.

Easy answers to stupid questions

Former Louisiana secretary of state -- and former insurance commissioner -- Jim Brown asks an odd rhetorical question on a blog post this morning. Odd because the answer is so obvious that it doesn't even beg a question, rhetorical or otherwise.

Brown, on the cleverly named Jim Brown Blog, wants to know:


The short answer: Yes.

The long answer: Hell, yes.

The funny irony: Jim Brown is a convicted federal criminal living in Louisiana.

Brown is upset that state Sen. Derrick Shepherd (the noted droopy pants opponent) was hauled before a federal judge after being accused of slapping around his girlfriend:

Louisiana State Senator Derrick Shepherd gets in a tussle with his girlfriend over the weekend and he's hauled off to federal court. Is there any violation of the law that is not considered a federal offense? If anyone actually takes the time to read the U.S. Constitution, there are only three crimes specifically enumerated. Treason, piracy and counterfeiting. So why has Congress undertaken an overzealous expansion of criminal laws?

A report from the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies recently determined that there are some 4500 federal crimes listed in the US Code. It used to be that Congress would create one particular crime by passing a new law. But in recent years, multiple crimes are listed within the same statute. One new law enacted right after 9/11 contained 60 new crimes. Were they really necessary?

Our representatives in Washington now want to delve into any number of local crimes, flaunting the intention of our country's founders. Drugs, robbery, car theft, the list goes on and on. What happened to the 14th amendment and states rights?

NO, IF SHEPHERD slapped around his girlfriend, that would not, per se, be a federal crime.

But getting arrested is a violation of the terms on which Shepherd was released by the federal court as the senator awaits his federal trial on fraud and conspiracy charges. Of the federal variety.

Funny how that works, huh?

Having grown up in the 1960s and '70s, I remember that NORML used to be quite the deal. You know, NORML -- the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Basically, what you had was a bunch of heads who couldn't stay off weed, so they sought to repeal the laws that said you couldn't smoke the ganja, mon.

Apparently, what we have in Louisiana is a state full of pols -- and pols' crooked cronies -- who just can't stay off the graft, mon. And if everybody's doing it . . .
why do it gots to be a federal offense?


Or, to put some lipstick on a porker of an argument, Brown concludes:
In 400 B.C., the Greek orator Isocrates stated: "Where there is a multitude of specific laws, it is a sign that the state is badly governed." Tasedus wrote in the 1st century A.D. of Rome: “Formerly we suffered from crimes. Now we suffer from laws."
UHHHHH . . . that would be Tacitus. Publius Cornelius Tacitus.

Add education to the list of things in Louisiana that ought to be a federal crime.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This is a joke. Then again, this is Wednesday.

The spoof below comes from the best thing since The Onion -- a website called Not the Los Angeles Times. And it is just that, a joke.

Actually, there still are a few employees at the Los Angeles Times, and at many other American newspapers.

BUT IT'S STILL only halfway through the week. Monday, this might not be funny anymore . . . so, for those reading this next Tuesday, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend.

With that said, however. . . .

For the 23rd time in 18 months, the Los Angeles Times is losing its top editor. Raul Jones, a former newsroom janitor who rose through the ranks as layoffs shrank the number of real journalists, was fired yesterday after refusing to lay off the paper's last employee – himself.

In a blistering farewell e-mail sent to himself, Jones defended his stance against further cuts. "I had to draw the line," he wrote. "It's one thing to sack everybody else, but I can't countenance my own dismissal. Who's going to cover city and state government, the war in Iraq and Britney Spears? The quality of the paper will suffer."

But Tribune Co. spokesman Randy Michaels said the paper would do just fine, thanks to sophisticated new software that rewrites wire-service stories in the style of former Times reporters.

"We analyzed past articles and found that 38% of all stories began with the writer mentioning the time of day," Michaels said. [Click here for recent examples.] "Our new software will duplicate that formula."

As Michaels spoke, cleaning crews swept through the Times' newsroom, removing cobwebs and tearing down Xeroxed portraits of former publisher Mark Willes, whose smiling face had been plastered all over the building by reporters nostalgic for the "good old days."

Removing editor Jones wasn't easy. Because he was the paper's last employee and wouldn't dismiss himself, Tribune executives had to find a replacement editor from Chicago who was willing to can Jones and then promptly resign.
COME TO THINK OF IT, none of this is very funny at all. That's because, truly, what we see as a knee slapper today is what corporate media bean counters see as reality . . . tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I know the last place I'D want to be. . . .

If you're a woman, where's the last place on earth you'd want to be when an earthquake hit?

YEP. And where's the last place you'd want your OB/GYN to -- ahem -- be when the earthquake hit?

From Twitter:

First earthquake paper gown, legs in stirrups about 3 hours ago from mobile web

I am totally serious. My Ob/Gyn was IN my vagina and an earthquake started rattling the room! about 3 hours ago from mobile web

Good news, vagina is healthy, albeit shaken up. about 3 hours ago from mobile web

My Ob/Gyn said it was OK if I didn't want to evacuate to the parking lot in my paper gown. I was more concerned about the speculum. about 3 hours ago from mobile web

What a way to go. about 3 hours ago from mobile web

here, on CNET.

Keeping hope alive

Some people prefer to look for hope in unlikely places. Like here:

I prefer to look for hope where I'm more likely to find it. And where I'm much less likely to be disillusioned.

Like here:

Find more videos like this on The BPP Diner

And here:

Find more videos like this on The BPP Diner

HAT TIP: The BPP Diner.


Find more videos like this on The BPP Diner

Monday, July 28, 2008

Abu Ghraib? No, Omaha.

Staff lead a young man into a brightly lit room.

He is barefoot and shirtless.

HIS HANDLERS wear latex surgical gloves.
But what really gets your attention in the bright light are two stainless steel hooks - big enough for deep-sea fishing - pierced into his upper back.

A heavy-duty cord connects to the eyelet on each hook. With a mountaineering rope and four pulleys, a man hoists Dalton off the floor, his hooked skin stretching as he rises.
HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE THINGS happened to Iraqi detainees at the hands of their American interrogators at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. But this, from the pages of the Sunday World-Herald, is not a story of that. Nor is it a tale of some of the more horrific violations of the Geneva Conventions at the U.S. detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The actual scene: A recent Sunday a
t an Omaha tattoo parlor:
The practice is called suspension, and several dozen people have tried it at a Bellevue tattoo shop, Dr. Jack's Ink Emporium.

Despite potential health risks, including infection, suspension is becoming more common across the country. But it's far from mainstream, and remains a fringe activity.

Suspension is not entirely new; some Native American tribes practiced a form of it in the 1800s and earlier as a rite of passage for young men.

Dalton and others do it to prove they can withstand the pain, giving them a sense of control over body and mind. They like the feel-good kick when their bodies release endorphins - narcotic-like hormones - in response to the pain, as well as the relaxed feeling when they are done.

And some like "performing" for the dozen or more people watching at the tattoo studio.

In an era when soccer moms have tattoos and teens have steel studs in their tongues, suspension is a way to stand out.

On a recent Sunday evening, more than 30 people watched Dalton and three others suspend at Dr. Jack's.


Dalton, 34, lay on his stomach on a padded table. Monte Vogel, general manager of the four Omaha-area Dr. Jack's shops, holds one hook. Mike Coons, a Dr. Jack's manager, holds the other.

The hooks gleam.

The sharp end of each hook is inserted into a hollow needle about 2 inches long. Vogel and Coons, wearing black latex gloves, pull up handfuls of Dalton's skin and, with a smooth motion, slip in a needle and hook, one on the right side of his upper back, the other on the left.

He doesn't flinch.

"Like a champ," Coons says.

"Always," says Dalton, who has suspended four times in the past nine months, each time hooked in his upper back.
DEVOTEES OF SUSPENSION pay Dr. Mengele's Dr. Jack's $100 a session for a few minutes of carefree swinging. From massive hooks run through them like a tarpon at the end of a 30-pound test line.
Dalton had it rough as a kid. He says he was physically abused and spent several years in foster homes. The abuse, he says, gave him a tolerance for pain.

He said that after a stint in the Army, he became an electrician and mechanic. He has always loved art and took pottery and painting classes in high school. One of his favorite pieces
: a dragon perched atop a mountain.

Dalton tapped that background when he became a Dr. Jack's tattooer about a year ago.

With the wood floors, off-white walls and bright lights, the room where Dalton suspends looks like a small dance studio.

The shop's owners designed it solely for suspension. A wall of glass allows people to watch from padded benches in the shop's main room.

Dalton, wearing long plaid shorts and a black cap, leans slightly forward when it's time.

Vogel attaches parachute cords to the hooks' eyelets, then connects the other end of the cords to a steel bar rigged to the rope and pulleys.

A Dr. Jack's employee pulls the rope slightly, and Dalton's hooked skin stretches. As Dalton is gradually pulled up, only the balls of his feet touch the floor; then, only his toe tips.

The employee pulls the rope a little more and Dalton is suspended, his feet dangling a few inches above the floor.

Dalton doesn't scream or moan.

The crowd quietly watches through the window.

Dalton feels the pressure of the hooks pulling his skin and a slight numbness in his upper back. He's feeling high, like a distance runner who is in good stride and past the point of pain.

He's looking forward, his arms dangling. Music from Clutch, a heavy blues-rock band, pumps into his head through earphones.

Dalton pushes off the glass wall with his legs, causing his body to swing. With each push, the arc of his swing increases.

His heart beats faster. He doesn't feel any pain.

He looks like a skateboarder as he zips from one side of the room to the other. He knows the crowd wants to see more than just someone hanging. They want action.

"Getting close to 15 (minutes)," a Dr. Jack's employee calls out.

Dalton swings a while longer before the crew lets him down, to the applause of the crowd. He had suspended about 20 minutes.
WHY IS IT that any "enhanced interrogation" Bush, Cheney & Co. performs on Arab wretches in the name of "freedom" and "security" comes as shock to us at all, here in the American heartla
nd? It's no more than what we do to ourselves . . . for our own "tortured" reasons and to overwhelm a gnawing pain that's worse than any giant fish hook protruding from our flesh.

Or was that a meat hook?
Ryan Schoultz, a 20-year-old cook, is tan and polite and talks with a Southern accent. His wife is there to take pictures.

He has hung once before, from his back. This time, it's from the chest. More of a challenge.

As he's lifted, his skin tears slightly. He doesn't feel pain but he hears his skin rip. The crew lets him down so the skin won't tear more.

Schoultz vows to try it again -- but not this night.
THE BARBARIANS are no longer at the gate. If there's a fundamental difference between us and tattooed Amazon headhunters with bones sticking through their lips and noses, I fail to apprehend what that might be any longer.

On the other hand, I readily grasp the difference between Saddam Hussein and ourselves. Saddam had the good sense never to torture himself. Or at least never pay $100 for the "privilege."

One question: How long before some Bush Administration official dredges up this little story from Omaha, Neb., as a defense exhibit at a war-crimes trial? Is what I'm asking.

I don't care who ya are, this is funny

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This is NPR: National Pub . . . oh the hell with it

National Public Radio's excellent experiment, The Bryant Park Project, now belongs to history.

The alternative morning program for public-radio listeners -- and the 24/7, multiplatform "New Media" effort surrounding it -- gave up the ghost Friday as its staff said goodbye to listeners and, a few hours later, its website became a cyberghost town.

Its Twitter feed ceased tweeting.

AND A NUMBER of NPR affiliates began the process of putting something else on their digital subchannels -- new programming that likewise will go unheard by an HD Radio-free listening public.

NPR executives will survey the carnage and declare -- actually, already have declared -- The Bryant Park Project a failure. A noble effort that never really got off the ground, never gained an audience, never developed into the digital answer for a public broadcaster faced with upcoming generations who are rejecting radio for the Interwebs and their iPods.

Obviously, The Bryant Park Project had turned into a luxury NPR no longer thought it could afford. And that's pretty much where we stand, here in the besieged trenches of traditional, mainstream media.

The Digital Huns have battalions of radio men and newspapermen (and women) pinned down, audience reinforcements are not forthcoming and the commanders have been told that supplies and ammo are starting to run desperately short. What to do?

Obviously, given the dire circumstances, only one thing. Stop probing for a way out . . . somebody could get killed out there.

Far better that Her Majesty's media starve en masse than have someone get picked off by a Facebook sniper while probing enemy lines.

REALLY, ONLY THE ONION could do justice to the ongoing story of the print and broadcast media's utter fecklessness and timidity in the face of the "New Media" challenge. For once, it wouldn't have to make this s*** up.

In canceling the BPP, interim NPR chief Dennis Haarsager said the program failed because, among other reasons, "Web/podcasting usage was also hampered . . . since we were offering an 'appointment program' in a medium that doesn't excel in that kind of usage."

I realize I am just a Philistine -- a Schlitz-drinking ruffian with an Interwebs account and not enough sense to be running a fine organization like NPR into the ground -- but I thought this (Whadda youse call it again?) "podcasting" thing was all about "appointment" listening.

See, here's the deal: We get to set the appointment time. We can listen whenever we want.

And it seems to me that -- since the NPR media player delivered the program in segments -- it would be simple enough to update the newscasts hourly . . . or any segment if it became horribly dated before the next full program aired. (Then again, I wouldn't know about these fancy technological paté-and-quiche doomaflatchies what NPR has. I have been known to drink Schlitz and wipe my nose on my sleeve.)

I guess there just must be some fundamental disconnect between BPP listeners who saw -- and heard -- a witty, informative and well-put-together multimedia effort and NPR suits who saw nothing but roadblocks on the road to the Digital Future.

The thing is, if you have exemplary content that an audience desires, what's a little roadblock other than something you'll bypass soon enough? What can't be as easily bypassed is the kind of organizational nincompoopery that launches a major programming-and-Internet initiative, fails to gain clearance on more than five analog radio signals and 19 digital-radio subchannels, doesn't promote it, then kills that major initiative because not enough people listened.

Item 1: NPR only managed to get its major New Media project on five lousy affiliates when there must be dozens where the BPP would have been a far better programming fit than Morning Edition. Oh yeah, the show was on a satellite-radio channel, too.

Item 2: 19 HD Radio subchannels basically work out to zero listeners. How many of you out there have HD radios? How many of you out there can find one in a store? How many of you out there even know somebody with an HD radio? I rest my case.

Item 3: Launching a major programming-and-Internet initiative, failing to gain clearance on more than five analog radio signals, 19 digital-radio subchannels and one satellite-radio channel, not promoting it, then killing that major initiative because not enough people listened is the craziest thing I've seen in radio since my program director AT A CATHOLIC RADIO STATION wanted to buy a station Humvee and paint it in camo "to represent the Church Militant."

I am not making this up. Neither could The Onion.

AS I'VE WRITTEN BEFORE, it seems to me The Bryant Park Project was a success by any programming benchmark. It was fresh, it informed and -- in the two weeks I got to know it before NPR pulled the plug -- it made me laugh.

Come on, what's the last NPR program that made you laugh?

Whad'Ya Know? doesn't even make me laugh.

Perhaps, however, the BPP's greatest success was in creating a virtual community out of a few over-the-air listeners here, some Sirius satellite listeners there and a bunch of online listeners over yonder. By design, Bryant Park Project hosts and staffers lifted the veil between faceless public-radio program and the listener driving to work . . . or sitting at his computer at work . . . or eating breakfast . . . or, perhaps, sitting in a room -- alone -- and feeling friendless.

Old media, new media, multischmedia . . . NPR's "new kind of news program" did a very old-school thing. It made a human connection. It created community, which ought to be something even the most addle-minded radio executive can understand on some level.

Community. We humans crave it, but less and less manage to achieve it.

We moderns don't do church so much anymore. Neither do we know our neighbors, nor are we the club-joiners we once were.

I'll bet it's been decades since there was a schoolyard standoff between devotees of Color Radio W and Boss Radio X. Why? Because young people don't listen anymore.

Why? Because Corporate MegaRadio, Inc., has turned radio into a gigantic, flavorless, excitement- and community-free cluster. . . never mind.

THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT was breaking that unfortunate mold. It had turned its tiny corner of the electromagnetic spectrum once again into a communications medium. Listeners -- and readers -- got involved with the program. They submitted story ideas. They pointed staffers in more profitable directions on a story or two.

What a concept in modern communications -- an organic community of media providers and media consumers. The BPP created one. For its trouble, it got canceled before anyone reasonably could tell how the experiment would turn out.

And when the ax fell, listeners set up a Bryant Park Project page on the social-networking site, Ning. Likewise, the BPP group on Facebook is still active.

Maybe this is the real experiment. What happens when the corporate gatekeepers lose control of their creation? How does it work when listeners refuse to let a cherished program -- or station -- slip into oblivion?

What are the ramifications for the media landscape -- both "new" and "old" -- then?

But perhaps the biggest question centers on why any media provider -- broadcast or print -- would refuse to embrace means of communication that turned mere media consumers into members of "the family"? Why would you bring people into your paper's . . . or station's . . . or network's life, then kick them to the curb before anyone had a chance to spill red wine on the couch or "forget" to return that chainsaw they borrowed last summer?

Why would you do that?

Whatsa matter? You don't like people or somethin'?

Overgrown children at play in hell

A biology professor at a Minnesota university has followed through on his threat to desecrate an allegedly consecrated communion host and a copy of the Koran.

HE ABOVE PHOTO, from P.Z. Myers' blog, shows what the University of Minnesota-Morris faculty member did to what is most sacred to Catholics and Muslims -- to what Catholics believe is the Body of Christ and to what Islam holds as the literal word of Allah:
OK, time for the anticlimax. I know some of you have proposed intricate plans for how to do horrible things to these crackers, but I repeat…it's just a cracker. I wasn't going to make any major investment of time, money, or effort in treating these dabs of unpleasantness as they deserve, because all they deserve is casual disposal. However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus's tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel. My apologies to those who hoped for more, but the worst I can do is show my unconcerned contempt.

By the way, I didn't want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur'an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Qu
estion everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity's knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.
MYERS' ACTIONS belie his words. If the Eucharist really is just a "fraggin' cracker" and the Koran is just bound pieces of paper -- if there is no power in those things, or in peoples' belief in them -- why bother desecrating them?

In a land of intellectual freedom, have not people the right to their "delusions," so long as they remain peacefully deceived? According to the First Amendment and to international human-rights conventions, don't religious believers have the right to practice their faiths in peace?

If so, what is the point of Myers' actions, other than sheer hatefulness and incitement?

If, as the pathetic professor professes, he sees no metaphysical value to a consecrated host or a Muslim holy book, isn't his only point to broadcast his violent hatred of the faithful? In other words, what this 51-year-old (going on 14) college professor is all about is disturbing the peace.

I wonder whether one of Myers' students -- as he stumbled out of a college watering hole -- could get away with pissing on the sidewalk and harassing gay couples if only he possessed the rhetorical sophistication to couch his bad behavior as "freedom of expression."

After all, if the university administration can defend an employee's "hate speech" (and "hate actions") against religious groups and their sacred objects -- remember, Myers holds "nothing must be held sacred" and is willing to go to some length to act on that belief -- what's so "sacred" about un-pissed-upon walkways . . . or gay couples?

Or any couple? Or any law? Or any concept around which society organizes itself?

What, then, is so damned sacred about P.Z. Myers?

IF MINNESOTA-MORRIS can't bring itself to discipline an employee who shows aggressive contempt toward society, its members and public order, what won't it tolerate, then? If desecrating the Eucharist and mutilating a Koran, then publicizing the abuse don't represent "fighting words," then what does?

Indeed, if "nothing must be held sacred," what is so sacred about this overgrown 14-year-old brat's job?

Friday, July 25, 2008

3 Chords & the Truth: We goin' old school

This edition of 3 Chords & the Truth came into conceptual being with a blog post by someone who was a few years behind me at Baton Rouge Magnet High.

TRANSLATION: Back in the day.

Anyway, this young lady --
and any woman younger than me is a "young lady," because I ain't old . . . I don't think -- had been searching for a copy of the U.S. Times' "Wanna Go to London" LP for, oh . . . 26 years.

And I just happen to have a mint copy, bought at my second home when I was a student at Louisiana State University. That would be Leisure Landing, the fabulous independent record store that lay just off campus.

Naturally, Leisure Landing is no more . . . like most of the great record stores.

Anyway, I was able to hook Diane up with a pristine digital copy of my pristine vinyl record.
Free of charge. The record Nazis might be able to get me on a lot of stuff, but they ain't gonna get me for out-and-out piracy.

You know what I'm sayin'?

Thing is, Cap, that got me to thinkin' about old days, and music, and how fortunate many of us were to be drunk
hard-studying, model college students when the punk and New Wave scene was happenin' in a town not usually associated with artistic ferment.

There was some good music going on in Red Stick back in the day,
let me tell 'ya.

DOES THIS POST have a point? How about, "Let's take a trip to Back in the Day and listen to some old school garage, punk and New Wave"?

Or, how about
"If you're from where I'm from, when I was from it, listen to the Big Show and be transported to a time when we bitched about how the suits ruined 'FMF and we clung to the low-wattage signals of WBRH and WPRG for dear life . . . for that is from whence The Music came"?

Alternatively, perhaps the point of this post -- aside from a middle-age man's nostalgic leanings -- is meant to be instructive to a younger generation. A reminder that all new things rarely are as new as we'd like to think.

"Indie" came from somewhere . . . and this is as good a place as any to start looking.

WHATEVER THE POINT -- assuming there is one here -- just check out the latest 3 Chords & the Truth and listen to some righteous music.

Do they say "righteous" anymore?

3 Chords & the Truth. Be there. Aloha.

A wee hint about the Big Show

Just a hint for you in advance of this week's edition of 3 Chords & the Truth: This video has something to do with the show.

Joan Rivers isn't it.

Tune in in about 21 hours . . . or so.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It ain't easy being bold in a timid age

I didn't discover The Bryant Park Project on National Public Radio until it already was a dead show broadcasting.

My loss.

The BPP was envisioned by NPR as an experiment in how "old media" might transition into a "new media" landscape, and that experimentation resulted in a multimedia effort that spanned terrestrial and satellite radio, podcasting, blogging, a web portal and "social networking" sites like Facebook and Twitter.

As well, The Bryant Park Project was set up so its listeners -- and readers -- could pay attention to that man (and that woman) behind the curtain. They pulled back the drapes to show us the folks twiddling the knobs and levers, and we liked who we saw.

AND IF YOU go by what people say instead of what they do, so did the NPR brass. From a blog post by NPR interim CEO Dennis Haarsager:
First, let me wholeheartedly agree with your high praise for the BPP staff. They are a team of smart, creative journalists who have delivered compelling programming every day. I want to specifically mention Alison Stewart, one of the finest hosts in broadcasting today; executive producer Sharon Hoffman; and senior supervising producer Matt Martinez. They are some of the most talented people I have ever encountered in broadcasting and they have done a great job of presenting news in a different way and in building loyalty among all of you in a short period of time. They have my gratitude and the respect of this entire organization.
BUT. . . . (And you knew there was a "but" in there, didn't you?)
BPP was designed to help us explore the complex, undefined digital media environment and, we hoped, to establish new ways of providing content on unfamiliar platforms. We've/I've learned -- or relearned -- a lot in this process. For non-commercial media such as NPR, sustaining a new program of this financial magnitude requires attracting users from each of the platforms we can access. Ultimately, we recognized that wasn't happening with BPP. Radio carriage didn't materialize to any degree: right now, BPP airs on only five analog radio stations and 19 HD Radio digital channels. Web/podcasting usage was also hampered -- here's the relearning part -- since we were offering an "appointment program" in a medium that doesn't excel in that kind of usage. Web radio is growing very rapidly (much faster than FM did), but it's almost all to music and, increasingly, to attention-tracking music (e.g., Pandora). While there might be a viable audience for a day/time specific program on the Web at some point in the future, it is not on the horizon.
PARDON MON FRANÇAIS, MAIS . . . that's the biggest load of fork-tongued bullsh*t I've heard since leaving the peculiar world of Catholic radio.

In public radio, the fragrant load goes something like "blah blah blah . . . serve the public interest . . . blah blah blah . . . programming not available over the commercial airwaves . . . blah blah blah . . . new and exciting modes of communication . . . blah blah blah . . . reach out to diverse audiences." Rinse. Spin. Repeat.

In my experience inside Catholic radio -- and I would suspect this holds true for 80 percent of any broadcasting done in Jesus' name -- take public radio's fragrant load and substitute bromides such as "serve the Lord Jesus . . . inspirational and catechetical . . . uplifting . . . reaching out to spread the Good News to every soul." Genuflect. Cross yourself. Repeat.

That is why it's such a good policy to ignore what people say and, instead, watch what they do.

Then you're not so shocked and disappointed when public radio, by and large, sounds like the only listener who matters is 60ish, lives in a big house on a private lake and has two college-age children . . . Muffy and Skipper. Or when an "experiment," like The Bryant Park Project, gets aborted before it has run long enough to gather meaningful data or refine any techniques for committing "broadcasting" in a New Media world.

LIKEWISE, "do -- not say" lessens any disillusionment with Christianity per se when one figures out its on-air apostles often are less interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ (and in being an effective witness to all) than in serving up something deemed acceptable to those most likely to pay handsomely for the service.

Why do you think so much of Christian media sounds like
what Revelation says Jesus would spit out?
'"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'
"To the angel of the church in Laodicea, write this: "'The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation, says this:
"I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
THE GREAT IRONY of our time? That it's so damned difficult to be bold during a stretch of history when boldness is a necessity, not just one of many viable options.

Let me amend that slightly. Make that "intelligently bold during a stretch of history . . ." yadda yadda yadda. See, it's always been easy (and lucrative) to be boldly stupid . . . or boldly lewd . . . or boldly and stupidly lewd . . . or, for that matter, lewdly and boldly stupid.

I know it was difficult to be bold in Catholic radio -- at least in the corner I once inhabited, where holiness somehow got confused with bad music, boring lectures and a timid spirit.

For instance, I fell into producing a program of "contemporary" music aimed at young people. I say "fell," but the reality was more "jump" into producing the show because -- to be blunt -- it was awful (and deeply stupid), and I knew it could be so much more.

And as I started to approach the land of "More," I started to hear a refrain that would be oft repeated: "Catholic radio's not ready for that yet."

You'd think it was 1960, and I was trying to integrate a Southern lunch counter.

AT ONE POINT during my tenure as producer, the general manager and I sat down for a weekly production meeting. The three teen hosts were having commitment problems -- in short, they didn't "commit" to showing up every week to tape the show. I wanted to fire them and get hosts who took the job seriously.

The GM thought it would be easier just to kill the show.

I told her I thought the show was an important outreach to youth. If canceling there must be, cancel the present hosts -- not the show. The show, I added, had potential. Maybe . . . someday . . . it could be syndicated.

Then came the moment when I almost walked out the door . . . and down the road . . . all the way home. For good.

The boss admitted youth programming wasn't "a priority" at that time, and that she didn't want me spending so much time putting the show together. She was starting a daily series of five-minute reflections by local priests, and she wanted me to concentrate on things like that.


OK, it was time to lay it on the line.

I told her I was seriously worn out and burned out by long hours and unending technical crises. That little youth show was the only thing keeping me engaged at the moment. It was important. It had potential.

She repeated the youth show wasn't a priority and that people wanted to hear their priests on the air. Besides, she added, "Youth don't contribute to the station."


UNTIL THAT MOMENT, I always had thought the expression "seeing red" was just that -- an expression.
Then I did.

It took every bit of strength to control myself. I almost bit a hole in my tongue to keep from calling the GM a g**damn Pharisee and quitting.

Instead, I repeated that youth programming was important. I emphasized that all the production work was getting done, despite the time I spent on that particular program. The rest of the day I stewed. I couldn't believe what I had just heard.

The next day, the development guy and I were talking about youth programming. I told him what the boss said about kids "not contributing" to our little Catholic FM station.

This guy was the best money hustler I'd ever seen, and his jaw dropped. Literally. His expression was one of total shock.

"If youth programming isn't a priority, what is?" he asked. "That's the future."


BUT THAT'S what radio is all about today. That's what America is all about today -- grab a buck today, screw the future. Suck up to them what have . . . screw them what don't.

And if financial exigencies of the moment mean that devout keepers of the Catholic airwaves stand ready to cut back on Christian witness to the young -- to a community's own children -- why should we be taken aback that a bunch of public-radio bureaucrats would sacrifice a medium's future to save pocket change today?

After all, it's just radio. However important radio might be, it doesn't rank up there with eternal life. And some folks have decided even that is just another budget item.

So if it's easy enough for a Catholic-radio general manager to think it more expedient to ax -- rather than improve -- a youth program with no budget to speak of, how easy must it be for a public-radio suit to kill an "experiment" that fans loved but NPR failed to "sell" to enough affiliates?

And what of the future?

Well, "after all, tomorrow is another day!" Until it's not.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gutting ghosts in New Orleans

So far, here's what the American taxpayer -- and the long-suffering citizenry of New Orleans -- have gotten for the billions upon billions of dollars sent to rebuild that woebegone city in the wake of Katrina:

WAIT. That's not entirely fair.

The Louisiana Superdome did get fixed. And lots of homeless homeowners did get FEMA trailers reeking of carcinogenic formaldehyde.

Some people did get rebuilding money through the "Road Home" program . . . but only after first going through the ringer and then waiting a couple of years.

Oh . . . and some levees got rebuilt to prestorm standards. That means they leak, and they'll probably crumble in the teeth of a strong Category 2 hurricane. It also means that defective, washed-away floodwalls got rebuilt just as defectively, with contractors using
newspaper for filler in expansion joints.

AND HERE'S WHAT we got in return for millions of federal "home remediation" dollars,
according to a report by Lee Zurik of WWL television:

Using city and federal money, the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership program alleges to have gutted, boarded up and even cut grass in more than 1,000 homes.

“I would unequivocally say that's a false statement. There was no help,” said homeowner Mera Picou.

“I think somebody's lining their pockets,” added Garofalo.

In 2007, Mayor Ray Nagin urged low income and elderly New Orleans residents to sign up for his home remediation program, a $3.5 million program run by New Orleans Affordable Homeownership, a non-profit group that is actually a city agency.

A City Hall press release from last year says the remediation program uses "Community Development Block Grant funds to gut and board up to 5,000 homes of seniors and families with low to moderate income by year end 2007."

But did the program accomplish its goals?

Community activist and internet blogger Karen Gadbois started following New Orleans Affordable Home Ownership’s program shortly after its inception.

“The program may not be legitimate,” she said. “I wanted to see this program work, and I didn't see it.”

Eyewitness News joined Gadbois in reviewing pages of material provided by the non-profit agency, that details every property it claims to have remediated. One document even lists the cost. Gadbois calls the information we found startling.

For example, city records show some duplexes in Hollygrove are owned by a man who lives on Carrollton Avenue and used to rent them out. Under the plan's guidelines, that alone would likely disqualify him. But the units haven't even been gutted since the storm. NOAH still says its contractors did $5,000 worth of work to them.

On Jeannette Street, NOAH says it remediated a home in the 8900 block. When WWL-TV went to find the house, a news crew found an empty lot instead. A neighbor said the house had been torn down well before Hurricane Katrina.

NOAH documents also show a house remediated at 8741 Apple Street, a property that doesn't exist. Also on the NOAH list is a house on Willow Street owned by Orleans Metropolitan Housing and Community Development, a charity connected to indicted Rep. William Jefferson and his brother Mose, who is also facing federal charges.

Eyewitness News also found a property on General Pershing Street in one set of records. It is owned by Clourth Wilson, who happens to work for the City of New Orleans Safety and Permits Department.

When reached by phone at his City Hall office, Wilson told WWL-TV that New Orleans Affordable Homeownerhip did no work following the storm to his house. He said all of the gutting and boarding up was done by him.

On the West bank, NOAH claims to have done almost $1,700 of remediation to a property at 1301 Brooklyn Avenue. It's unclear if that property is an empty lot in that block or the warehouse behind it, which belongs to Mardi Gras World.

“I don't think those agencies or individuals or people were applying for free gutting,” Karen Gadbois said.

The owner of a home on Law Street said she didn't apply for help and NOAH didn't do remediation work, even though a NOAH sign recently popped up on the house, almost 12 months after the program shut down.

Gadbois said of the more than 100 properties she has reviewed, only two seemed to show signs of actual repair by NOAH.

So where did the money go? And why do the non-profit’s own records raise so many questions?

NOAH’s executive director left the agency in late June. Her interim replacement, Tonya Durden, e-mailed Eyewitness News on Friday, declining a request for an interview.
YOU REALLY NEED to see the video report on the WWL website. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and that report easily is worth a whole book.

As a nation questioned why New Orleans ought to be rebuilt at all -- for reasons ranging, basically, from sheer racism to sheer misanthropy -- it likewise fully realized that you just can't, in this day and age, come right out and admit that you're merely a bunch of hard-hearted bastards. No, you need something to justify kicking a region while it's down.

Unfortunately for Louisiana and New Orleans, their reputations preceded them. A blind man rattling a tin cup on a street corner ain't going to do much bidness if he's pullin' on a bottle of muscatel.

Despite all the flak . . . despite all the catcalls from Main Street and from Capitol Hill . . . despite the fact that what help it's gotten so far isn't nearly enough, what does the Crescent City do with what little cash that's dripped from the federal pipeline?

THIS JUST IN from our intrepid correspondent:

Down in New Orlean, where ev'rything is fine
All them cats is drinkin that wine
Drinking that mess, their delight
When they gets drunk, start singing all night

Drinkin' wine spo-dee-O-dee, drinkin' wine (bop ba)
Wine spo-dee-O-dee, drinkin' wine (bop ba)
Wine spo-dee-O-dee, drinkin' wine (bop ba)
Pass that bottle to me

Drinking that mess, their delight
When they gets drunk, start fighting all night
Knocking down windows and tearin out doors
Drinkin' half a gallon and callin' for more

Drinkin' wine spo-dee-O-dee, drinkin' wine (bop ba)
Wine spo-dee-O-dee, drinkin' wine (bop ba)
Wine spo-dee-O-dee, drinkin' wine (bop ba)
Pass that bottle to me

Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!
Wine, wine, wine (Elderberry!)
Wine, wine, wine (Or Sherry!)
Wine, wine, wine (Blackberry!)
Wine, wine, wine (Half 'n half!)
Wine, wine, wine (Oh Boy!)
Pass that bottle to me
COME TO THINK OF IT, pass that bottle to me.

What IS it about pols named Edwards?

Well, we know who the Democratic vice-presidential nominee won't be.

That would be John Edwards. Or, rather won't be John Edwards.

LAST YEAR, during the failed presidential run by the former senator from North Carolina, the National Enquirer came out with a story that he had been keeping coital company with a blonde divorcée, and had the love child to prove it. This while his wife of 30 years and mother of his children, Elizabeth, battled incurable metastatic breast cancer.

In December, everybody denied everything. Except for an old Edwards pal who -- wink wink, nudge nudge -- stepped up to the plate to humiliate his own wife and kids by telling the onlooking worldwide press that HE was Mr. Goodbar.

The story died down, Edwards eventually dropped out of the Democratic race, and everybody lost interest. Except for the ex-senator with the incurably ill wife, the blonde who . . . well, whatever . . . and the National Enquirer, whose reporters kept working their sources.

And then the scandal sheet got a tip:
Vice Presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards was caught visiting his mistress and secret love child at 2:40 this morning in a Los Angeles hotel by the NATIONAL ENQUIRER.

The married ex-senator from North Carolina - whose wife Elizabeth continues to battle cancer -- met with his mistress, blonde divorcée Rielle Hunter, at the Beverly Hilton on Monday night, July 21 - and the NATIONAL ENQUIRER was there! He didn't leave until early the next morning.

Rielle had driven to Los Angeles from Santa Barbara with a male friend for the rendezvous with Edwards. The former senator attended a press event Monday afternoon with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the topic of how to combat homelessness.


At 9:45 p.m. (PST) Monday, Edwards appeared at the hotel, and was dropped off at a side entrance. NATIONAL ENQUIRER reporter Alan Butterfield witnessed the ex-senator get out of a BMW driven by a male companion and stroll into the hotel.

Said Butterfield: "Edwards was not carrying anything. He walked in alone. He was wearing a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He was looking around nervously before he entered the hotel.

"Once inside, he interestingly bypassed the lobby and ducked down a side stairs to go to the bottom floor to catch the elevator up - rather than taking the elevator in the main lobby. He went out of his way not to be seen."

Meanwhile, Rielle had reserved rooms 246 and 252 under the name of the friend who had accompanied her from Santa Barbara, Bob McGovern. Rielle was in one room and McGovern was in another with her baby. This allowed her and Edwards to spend time alone, a source revealed.

Edwards went out of the hotel briefly with Rielle, they were observed by the NATIONAL ENQUIRER and then went back to her room, where he stayed until attempting to sneak out of the hotel unseen at 2:40 a.m. (PST). But when he emerged alone from an elevator into the hotel basement he was greeted by several reporters from the NATIONAL ENQUIRER.

Senior NATIONAL ENQUIRER Reporter Alexander Hitchen asked Edwards why he was visiting Rielle and whether he was ready to confirm that he was the father of her baby.
SPENDING FIVE HOURS -- largely out of sight -- at an L.A. hotel where the woman he was accused of messing around with has a room. Trying his damnedest not to be seen coming and going. Going downstairs to catch an elevator upstairs.

If you're John Edwards, this doesn't look good.

If you're the National Enquirer . . . BINGO!

If you're Elizabeth Edwards, doesn't life suck enough already?

And what is it with
politicians named Edwards?

ANYWAY, the Enquirer story gets better. A lot better. Let's return to the Beverly Hilton for just a little bit:
Shocked to see a reporter, and without saying anything, Edwards ran up the stairs leading from the hotel basement to the lobby. But, spotting a photographer, he doubled back into the basement. As he emerged from the stairwell, reporter Butterfield questioned him about his hookup with Rielle.

Edwards did not answer and then ran into a nearby restroom. He stayed inside for about 15 minutes, refusing to answer questions from the NATIONAL ENQUIRER about what he was doing in the hotel. A group of hotel security men eventually escorted him from the men's room, while preventing the NATIONAL ENQUIRER reporters from following him out of the hotel.

Said reporter Hitchen: "After we confronted him about seeing Rielle, Edwards looked like a deer caught in headlights!

"He was clearly surprised that we had caught him at this very late hour inside the hotel.

"Some guests up at this late hour watched the spectacle in amusement from a staircase nearby."
AS DO WE. As do we.

It can get messy as a great empire runs out of gas and begins the long coast toward an ignoble resting place on history's shoulder, with a reflective sign in the rear window entreating passersby to SEND HELP!

On the other hand, orderly and topped off isn't amusing in the least. Unless you're a politician's wife fighting cancer and raising kids . . . while your hubby's out raising Cain and sowing seed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why it's important to smart-ass-test ads

Stung by bad street and slow adoption of Windows Vista, Microsoft is getting ready to launch a "fight back" ad campaign, says ZD Net.

If this is going to be the overall message of Microsoft’s much-vaunted new $300 million ad campaign, it might be money well spent. According to the folks at LiveSide, the first ads in the new campaign were previewed at Microsoft’s employees-only Global Exchange conference last week to rave reviews. As Tim Anderson astutely noted the other day, “Vista is now actually better than its reputation. That’s a marketing issue.” Microsoft’s biggest challenge is to get would-be customers to set aside whatever preconceptions they have and listen to its pitch for Vista. Aligning its most vocal Vista critics with the Flat Earth Society is a clever way to get people’s attention.

But the bigger job, that of actually changing people’s minds, will be easier said than done. Apple has largely defined Vista’s public image so far with its devastating “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads. Responding directly to those ads is a losing tactic. Largely thanks to John Hodgman, the humor bar is set extraordinarily high. Any kind of response ad would legitimize the claims in those Apple ads and run the significant risk of being seen as lame and uncool.

And there’s no sign that anyone in Redmond is going to go down that road. Instead, clicking the link on the “World is flat” add leads to a page headlined, “Windows Vista: Look how far we’ve come.”

ON THE OTHER HAND, shouldn't a "fight back" ad NOT be this damned easy to parody:

I MEAN, really. The concept of the spoof took about . . . ooooohhhhhhh . . . three seconds. All the rest was dinking with the freeware Paint.NET program.

HAT TIP: NE Creative blog.