Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Barbara Norton: My ace in the hole

The next time some overly content (yet somehow angry) Louisianian writes to tell me I revel in trashing the Gret Stet and am just a bitter expatriate, I now can invoke the Barbara Norton defense.

Rep. Barbara Norton of Shreveport is the Einstein who invited her godson, the potty-mouthed rapper (Is that too blatantly redundant?) Hurricane Chris, to perform a "clean" version of his hit "Halle Berry (She's Fine)" on the floor of the Louisiana House. And when that didn't go over so well among relatively sane people from sea to shining sea -- Thanks, YouTube! -- the solon defended her boneheaded move by saying, basically, ain't no big thang, 'cause you can't make Louisiana look no worse than it look already.

Uh . . . oh, yes, you can! And Rep. Norton was just the woman to do it -- twice, now.

I BELIEVE Norton's exact quote was: "They been making a joke out of Louisiana and politics for even before I became in the House of Representatives so they're not just now start making a joke out of Louisiana.

"Louisiana has always been a joke."

I rest my defense. One, I'm not a Louisiana legislator and, two, I don't go around telling TV reporters "Louisiana has always been a joke" without at least some elaboration or qualification.

Oh . . . and I usually make at least some sense.

The articulate legislator also introduced House Resolution 134 to "commend Hurricane Chris of Shreveport for his outstanding musical accomplishments and does hereby extend to him best wishes for continued success and happiness in all of his future endeavors."

Because, after all, says the proud godmama, "It's not out there shooting, it's not robbing, it's not killing, it's not selling guns. Let me ask you this right here -- what do you think about the uh, the uh, congressman in Washington who they just said on TV about going out and having a marrited affair?"

Marrited? Uh . . . OK.

Something tells me that, like the rest of us, Halle Berry isn't much amused.

HAT TIP: My Bossier

Monday, June 29, 2009

That sinking feeling

You know the exotic dancer in Independence Day -- the best friend of Will Smith's girlfriend?

Remember how she's convinced the aliens and their gigantic spaceships pose no threat, and how she and a hundred or so other like-minded folk in Los Angeles go up on a high-rise's roof to throw a big party, pass a good time and welcome the little green men?

Remember what happened to them?

Dat's Loosiana for you!

Because that, my friends, is the perfect metaphor for my home state. Anybody with half a brain can see that it's not benevolent forces bearing down on Planet Louisiana, and that somebody better do something quick or everybody's gonna die.

SO WHAT DO Louisiana's leaders do when the state's revenue model has blown up, the exodus of its best and brightest continues with no letup and, now, scientists say the Gulf of Mexico is going to swallow a Connecticut-sized chunk of the state and no one can stop it?


HURRICANE CHRIS -- the rapper, not some future south Louisiana apocalypse -- wants to do unspeakable things with Halle Berry when he's not serenading the Louisiana House. Meanwhile, the death ray is charging up.

Dollars to doughnuts, the Gret Stet has about as much chance against the economy, demographics and rising sea levels as Independence Day's rooftop hoochie mama had against the space aliens.

Let's look at the burgeoning Gulf of Mexico, shall we? From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Even under best-case scenarios for building massive engineering projects to restore Louisiana's dying coastline, the Mississippi River can't possibly feed enough sediment into the marshes to prevent ongoing catastrophic land loss, two Louisiana State University geologists conclude in a scientific paper being published today.

The result: The state will lose another 4,054 to 5,212 square miles of coastline by 2100 -- an area roughly the size of Connecticut.

The reason: The Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers today carry only half the sediment they did a century ago -- between 400 million and 500 million tons a year then, compared with just 205 million tons today. The rest is now captured by more than 40,000 dams and reservoirs that have been built on rivers and streams that flow into the main channels.

Yet even if those dams were to be torn down and the river's full sediment load employed in restoration efforts -- a politically impossible scenario -- it would not be enough to turn back the tide of coastal erosion, write authors Michael Blum, a former LSU geologist now working for ExxonMobil Upstream Research Co. in Houston, and LSU geology professor Harry Roberts.

GET THAT? A huge chunk of the state, a chunk where hundreds of thousands of people now live, will be in the drink by the end of the century, if not sooner. And that's according to rising-ocean estimates not nearly as drastic as some.

None of this is any surprise. Scientists have been saying variations of this for years, and the Times-Picayune has been reporting on it all. For a while.

I wonder what wisdom Hurricane Chris -- or Halle Berry, for that matter -- might have for the masses as that economy-sized can of Whoop-Ass looms on the horizon?

Increased rates of sea-level rise spurred by human-induced global warming, when combined with the state's rapid rate of subsidence, or the sinking of soft soils, will inundate vast swaths of wetlands over the next century, according to the study.

The paper predicts water levels will rise between 2.6 feet and 3.9 feet along the coast by 2100.

If the researchers are right, such land loss can't be stopped, or even substantially slowed. That means the cause of "restoration," as efforts to build new wetlands and barrier islands are termed -- creating the impression that wetlands lost over the last 70 years can be reclaimed -- is a lost one.

Roberts said he recognized the paper's conclusions would be controversial.

"Louisiana is facing some really tough decisions here," he said in an interview. "You can't do this restoration all over the coast because the whole coast is not sustainable and it never has been."

AND LOUISIANA'S future "tough decisions" inevitably impact tough budgetary decisions the state faces in the here and now.

How much infrastructure money do you think the state ought to be wasting on places like Morgan City, projected to be in the deep blue sea in a few decades? Do you think Louisiana ought to be supporting a state university -- Nicholls State -- in as precarious a place as Thibodaux is going to be?

And what about New Orleans? Can it be saved? At what cost to the rest of the state?

Will the federal government pay to do it? Or will it cut bait?

Some small communities along the coast already are being abandoned. Many more towns -- and probably a few cities as well -- will be abandoned long before 2100. Where will those people go?

Who will pay for them to go?

DOES HURRICANE CHRIS have any suggestions for what hundreds of thousands of Louisianians might do for a living after the seafood and oil-and-gas industries have been devastated? Any clues about how to find those answers when the state's universities are being hammered by budget cuts that only promise to get worse?

So far, the only answer the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal had for the New Orleans newspaper was that things probably aren't as dire as the geologists' report says.

Garret Graves, an adviser to Gov. Bobby Jindal on coastal issues, said that while the study's conclusions seem to him overly pessimistic, the state recognizes it will not be able to restore the state's historic coastline.

"If we can extract 80 percent or greater amounts of sediment from the river and put it in strategic places, we can be more effective in replacing land," he said.

"But we are going to have to prioritize," Graves said. "Will Louisiana look like it did in 1930? No, probably not.

"But is it possible for us to sustain a significant part of the coastal area in light of protected sea level rise and the erosion we're experiencing today?" he said, "Yes."
BECAUSE THE only thing the Gret Stet has to fear . . . is thinking negative thoughts. Surely the worst won't happen, so why think about how to deal with it?

Why try to help yourself, after all, when you can throw a crawfish boil instead? Or maybe stick your fingers in your ears and whistle a few bars of "Dixie."

And that's where we now find the Gret Stet. Atop a metaphorical L.A. (or LA) skyscraper, gazing expectantly at the spacecraft hovering above its head.

Isn't it pretty? Surely the spacemen didn't come all this way to hurt us. They've come in peace! Yeah, that's the ticket! Let's party!

Hey, what the. . . .

We won't take no static at all

Did radio even cross your mind when Michael Jackson died?

Did you turn on the radio hoping to hear a tribute to the "King of Pop"?

If you had, would you likely have heard one?


I'M BETTING that for most people nowadays, the answer was No, No, and No. No, Michael Jackson is dead and radio isn't feeling so good itself.

Over at Inside Music Media, longtime radio man Jerry Del Colliano
called bulls*** on radio's performance during a "made for radio" moment last week -- just as he's been calling bulls*** on the corporate raiders who've been killing an industry for almost a decade and a half now. An excerpt:
Late last week when Michael Jackson died suddenly at his Los Angeles home, the radio industry was caught with its pants down and voice tracking up.

This is not to say that some stations did not respond -- the ones programmed by real live individuals and/or those who actually had control of their company's voice tracking did the right thing for their listeners.

For too many, radio was caught sleeping while new media was feeding the need of the public to know, mourn publicly and appreciate the talents of this great iconic performer.
TMZ broke the news and owned the story from start to finish.

That's TMZ like in gossip website -- no matter that it is owned by Time Warner.

CNN, New York Times, LA Times and other more "legitimate" news publications hedged in the name of caution (which is not on its face a bad thing) but then dropped the bomb on a public that had already been able to do what they couldn't do -- confirm a breaking story.

Thank you cell phones, Blackberries, iPhones, the Internet, social networking and the services that are growing up in or around them.

Radio stations really didn't see this type of thing coming.

When John Slogan Hogan, Lew Tricky Dickey and Fagreed Suleman embraced voice tracking and syndicated programming to help them save money, they apparently gave little thought to what happens in an emergency. I mean -- this was the death of a major performer.

What happens, God forbid, if a world leader dies or if North Korea actually fires a missile at Hawaii or if Iran attacks Israel?
WHAT HAPPENS is you're screwed if you're not online. Or if you can't afford to be online. Or if you're just a retro, "throwback" kind of person.

Trouble is, the suits running radio don't care that you're screwed. They're too busy running themselves into bankruptcy . . . and chasing away listeners.

What to do?

Well, if you're presently without a profession because of these people -- or if you're worried that splintered, online demographic "tribes" may not be the healthiest civic substitute for the communal experience of free public media -- you probably have run out of options for "working through the system."

After all, "the system" has its. F*** you.

THAT LEAVES the "'60s Option." Public protest . . . direct action . . . raising hell and grabbing attention.

What if, for example, all the skilled and talented people thrown away by the radio industry since Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (which allowed conglomerates to swallow an industry whole) decided to single out a single station in every Top 100 market, mark a single date on the calendar, then stage "sit-ins" at those stations?

Better yet, what if all the fired, laid-off and chased-off radio people forced their way into those 100 radio stations across the country, barricaded themselves inside and staged "radio-ins"? A "radio-in" is just like a 1960s-style sit-in, only the participants take over the station and actually commit radio . . . as opposed to what the Clear Channels of the world are calling "radio" nowadays.

I wonder how long they could keep it up before the SWAT team hauled them away -- or before the suits had their engineers turn off the transmitters? Just make sure you invite the TV reporters and YouTube mavens along for the ride, however short.

THINK OF IT . . . if all the castoffs of an entire industry took it back -- or at least part of it back -- for however long and then (again, for however long) began to put an entertaining product on the air while overtly operating in the public interest, the corporate suits suddenly would be put in the position of having people jailed for doing what those stations' federal licenses say they ought to have been doing all along.

And after the last paddy wagon had rolled away -- filled with folks who had just been trying to serve the public interest and make a point -- those 100 stations would go back to business as usual.

Business devoid of very many live people on the air.

Business devoid of meaningful news programming.

Business devoid of much up-to-date information like, for instance, the correct weather. Or the correct time. Or the fact that the biggest recording star since Elvis and John Lennon had just died.

The difference would be apparent. And striking

Power to the people. Now.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dear God: What the . . . .

Dear God,

I know I'm not the brightest guy. So, I was hoping you could explain some stuff to me.

Like, why do so many people who desperately want kids never have them? And why are some people who shouldn't be let into any county where children reside able to breed like freakin' rabbits?

Relatedly, what the hell is up with this? I'm assuming, being omniscient and all, you've already seen this morning's Omaha World-Herald.

Gary Staton said he had lost the will to be a parent after his wife died.

Now, the man who dropped off his nine kids under Nebraska's safe haven law is going to be a father again.

Staton, 37, and his girlfriend are expecting a baby.

The couple declined last week to discuss the pregnancy, calling it a private matter. But Staton addressed the matter briefly in an e-mail to The World-Herald.

“Do you think I'm going to raise this one alone?” he asked.

Since the Staton children were young, the family has received $995,468 in different forms of government aid, including more than $600,000 in food stamps and $109,774 in Medicaid, according to Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services records.

The children were placed in foster care after their father left them. Under the latest figures available, the state paid an average $725 a month per child to foster parents in similar situations.

Staton has given up custody of his seven youngest children. They remain in foster care with their mother's aunt, who hopes to adopt them. The two oldest boys were in foster care until last month, when a 75-year-old Omaha woman was approved to be their guardian.
I HAVE BEEN reliably told you're pretty handy with a lightning bolt from the blue. Couldn't you do something about this clown's business end?

Thanks for your time and consideration.



Saturday, June 27, 2009

3 Chords & the Truth: The King of Pop is dead

If you're looking for kicks and giggles about the media orgy surrounding the death of Michael Jackson . . . if you're looking for a snark fest about the untimely end of the King of Pop (and Weird), move along.

Nothing to see -- or hear -- here.

If you're looking for a show that will help you look upon the wreckage of a prominent life as a means of feeling better about your own, this week's 3 Chords & the Truth is not your cup of tea.

YES, Michael Jackson is dead. Yes, there's a media circus under the big top. The Big Show can do nothing about either.

I take that back. We can ponder what went so horribly wrong in the life of arguably one of the greatest entertainers ever. We also can celebrate the good amid the mayhem.

It seems we owe the dead -- owe Michael -- at least that due. That we will do this week on 3 Chords & the Truth.

While we're at it, I saw
this article in The Jerusalem Post by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who had tried to help the famously troubled superstar. An excerpt:
I am no prophet and it did not take a rocket scientist to see the impending doom. Michael was a man in tremendous pain and his tragedy was to medicate his pain away rather than addressing its root cause. On many occasions when I visited him he would emerge from his room woozy and clearly sedated. Who were the doctors who were giving him this stuff? Was there no one to save him from himself? Was there no one to intervene?

By the time I met Michael in the summer of 1999, he was already one of the most famous people in the world, but he seemed lethargic, burned-out, and purposeless. He wanted to consecrate his great fame to helping children but knew he could not due to the 1993 child molestation allegations against him. He was cut off from family and was alienated from the Jehovah's Witnesses Church which had nurtured him. He could barely muster the energy to complete the album he was working on. The only thing that seemed to motivate him was his children, to whom he was exceptionally devoted.


In many ways his tragedy was to mistake attention for love. I will never forget what he said when we sat down to record 40 hours of conversations where he would finally reveal himself for a book I authored. He turned to me and said these haunting words: "I am going to say something I have never said before and this is the truth. I have no reason to lie to you and God knows I am telling the truth. I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That's all. That's the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved. I said I know I have an ability. Maybe if I sharpened my craft, maybe people will love me more. I just wanted to be loved because I think it is very important to be loved and to tell people that you love them and to look in their eyes and say it." One cannot read these words without feeling a tremendous sadness for a soul that was so surrounded with hero-worship but remained so utterly alone. Because Michael substituted attention for love he got fans who loved what he did but he never had true compatriots who loved him for who he was. Perhaps this is why, when so many of his inner circle saw him destroying his life with prescription medication - something he used to treat phantom physical illnesses which were really afflictions of the soul - they allowed him to deteriorate and disintegrate rather than throwing the poison in the garbage.
ALL HE WANTED was to be loved. Don't we all. The trouble with Jacko was he didn't know how to get there.

God bless him, that's something we all need to be worrying about -- getting there. Getting to love. That's the point of everything . . . the point of life.

Michael Jackson had everything, yet had nothing. How?


And there but for the grace of God. . . . Lord have mercy.

That's the Cliff's Notes version of what
this week's show is about. It's 3 Chords & the Truth, y'all.

Be there. Aloha.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The child who never was

The Jackson 5 were all that in 1970, and their 45s were more than likely playing on a hi-fi near you.

I know they were playing on a hi-fi near me . . . and on a radio near me . . . and the brothers Jackson were on a TV near me, too. I was nine, and the Jackson 5 became part of the soundtrack of my adolescence.

What I didn't know was that -- for the sake of my entertainment and Joseph Jackson's bottom line -- a little boy named Michael, one not much older than me, was being denied his childhood. That their old man was working Michael and his four elder brothers like dogs in the rehearsal hall.

No, not exactly like dogs. If old Joe had beat Fido every time he messed up "Roll over!" or "Fetch!" somebody probably would have called the Humane Society.

No such luck for Jermaine, Tito, Marlon, Jackie and Michael, the little boy with such star quality.

MICHAEL'S STAR shone brightly back then, and it just kept getting brighter. By the early 1980s, now out on his own, he was the undisputed "King of Pop." He also was becoming the undisputed King of Weird.

There was all the plastic surgery. The hyperbaric chamber, supposedly some sort of high-pressure, pure oxygen Fountain of Youth. The attempt to buy the remains of the "Elephant Man."

He bought a mansion and turned it into "Neverland," a fantasy world with giraffes and Bubbles the Chimp and an entire private amusement park. The little boy who never had a childhood now was the chronological adult desperately trying to revert to what he never had the chance to be.

IT DIDN'T WORK. Not unless you count the unreal world of the deluded inner workings of the man-child's mind.

As Michael Jackson's wealth, fame and professional acclaim grew, his emotional well-being waned and his private life imploded into a bizarre world of excess and scandal. And, later on, massive indebtedness and sex-abuse charges.

Bad things happen when, for the love of fame and money, children become means and not ends. When adults steal their childhood. When they try to turn back the hands of time and reclaim what never was theirs.

Something bad happened -- something unspeakably tragic happened -- to the King of Pop when he was but an aspiring prince. Or, more precisely, when his father's aspirations included his son's princehood.

Something, or someone, got into Michael Jackson's head and his heart, played with them as if they were big boys' toys and left them irreparably bruised and broken. Michael Jackson lived a storybook life, all right -- Humpty Dumpty.

Michael Jackson made "Off the Wall,"
Michael Jackson took a great fall,
And all the King's agents and all the King's men,
Couldn't put Michael together again.

MICHAEL JACKSON the composer, singer and dancer was one of the most amazing stories in entertainment history. Michael Jackson, the broken little boy grown up into a deeply disturbed man, will go down in "HIStory" as one of the great tragic figures of our time.

The King of Pop himself was responsible for some of that tragedy, but not all. His enablers and hangers-on have their role in this Greek tragedy, too.

But this horror had its roots in Gary, Ind., where a bunch of working-class kids played joyous music under a taskmaster's lash, singing for their parents' supper. The little boy with all the star power was being eaten alive by the ambition of a stage dad from hell.

The child on the Ed Sullivan Show -- the one with the face of an angel -- was being turned into an amusement park for untold demons.

Sleep well, Joseph Jackson. If you can.

Jacko's no longer wacko

It's the end of a long, strange trip. Michael Jackson is dead, according to TMZ.com.

From the breaking-news item on the website:

Michael suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon at his Holmby Hills home and paramedics were unable to revive him. We're told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back.

A source tells us Jackson was dead when paramedics arrived.

Once at the hospital, the staff tried to resuscitate him but they had no luck.

We're told one of the staff members at Jackson's home called 911.

LaToya ran in the hospital sobbing after Jackson was pronounced dead.
WHAT A tortured soul he was. Immensely talented, and immensely tortured. God have mercy on him, and on us all.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times now reports Jackson's death as well:

Pop star Michael Jackson was pronounced dead by doctors this afternoon after arriving at a hospital in a deep coma, city and law enforcement sources told The Times.

Tigers hook the 'Horns

The Alamo, the College World Series . . . when you're from Coahuila y Tejas, one ass-kicking is as good as another.

This time, the Louisiana State Tigers finished what Santa Anna started, administering an 11-4 beatdown to take the national championship of college baseball. As for Augie Garrido's Texas Longhorns . . . well, they came to Omaha, and all they got was another lousy doorstop.

But at least they showed up for the runner-up trophy presentation this time. That's something, I guess.

YOU MAY THINK this LSU alum sounds like a sore winner. Usually I'm not. But then again, we usually don't get an opportunity to pound Tejas into the dirt when a national title is on the line.

And as a native Louisianian, an LSU grad, an Omahan and a Nebraska fan -- not to mention having had seats in the middle of a bunch of Texas fans for Tuesday night's 5-1 Tiger loss in Game 2 of the final series -- Wednesday night's victory was sweet indeed.

Let me put it this way: The College World Series is personal to me, and not just because my alma mater has won the thing six times, with me there to see every championship. No, I fell in love with the CWS in 1983, when Roger Clemens, Calvin Schiraldi and Texas held off Alabama to win it all.

I had box seats for the championship, having driven in from North Platte, Neb., for the big game. A certain young female colleague at the North Platte Telegraph procured those tickets for a buddy and me -- her father, as it happens, had been the Series' PR man since it moved to the Big O in 1950.

When you come across a pretty young thing with connections like that, there's only one thing to do. We were married Aug. 20, 1983, and she since has become a rabid LSU fan.

My Nebraska fandom already was well established when we tied the knot -- we were engaged at Husker football picture day, right outside Memorial Stadium.

THIS IS ALL TO SAY that I'm not just an LSU baseball fan who can't stand Tejas. I'm an LSU baseball fan who can't stand Tejas who also happened to marry into the CWS. And when you have a team who can't bother -- as happened in 2004 -- to show up to get its second-place trophy, you have a team (and a coach) who just disrespected family.

And when you have too-obnoxious, too-indulgent, too-tanned, too-bejeweled, too-enhanced, too too Tejas chiquitas who get too offended -- she and her buddies -- that not everybody in Rosenblatt Stadium is pulling for the Longhorns and that some who aren't are too close to her . . . well, podna, Texas has messed with what the College World Series (and my town) is all about.

Don't mess with Omaha.

Or with dem Tigahs.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What the ayatollahs sow. . . .

In Iran, the ruling mullahs speak of God. Shown above, however, is what they do in His name.

The following verse, from Paul's letter to the Galatians, echoes in my head right now . . . as I watch a young woman die on YouTube:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
What the ayatollahs are sowing is death. Their turn is coming.

Allahu akbar, indeed.

HAT TIP: Crunchy Con.

O! Suck it up and git 'er done

They're talking about us down on the bayou. Most of what folks are saying is pretty good.

Interesting that, sometimes, visitors in Omaha for the College World Series look at our city and end up having more faith in us than we do. Says Gary Laney of The Advocate in my old hometown, Baton Rouge:
Baseball is about Little Leaguers in Williamsport, Pa., summer leaguers playing around the clock in Wichita, Kan., and collegians spending a couple of weeks at Rosenblatt Stadium — with the lucky few getting to feel the Ivy at Wrigley Field or hear the thud of a line drive off the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

When the Red Sox play the Yankees, the sport does fine. It’s when it goes into these misadventures with the new — overpriced Yankee Stadium seats, shortened college seasons — that it always seems to trip over its own spikes.

It’s within that context that folks here are a little nervous. Rosenblatt Stadium’s days are numbered, to be replaced for the 2011 CWS by a brand-spanking-new downtown stadium, to be called TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, named for one of the city’s Fortune 500 companies. Rosenblatt will become a parking lot for the Henry Doorly Zoo, and the stadium’s other tenant, the Omaha Royals, will move to suburban Papillion, Neb.

The new stadium promises, or threatens, to be everything Rosenblatt is not. Where Rosenblatt has the dome from the zoo as a right-field backdrop, TD Ameritrade Park will have the city’s skyline, and yes, Omaha has a skyline. Where Rosenblatt is in a working-class neighborhood with Zesto’s ice cream stand (where one can spend a couple of dollars for what is supposedly the best ice cream in the Midwest) across the street, the new place will be on the edge of trendy, touristy Old Market with the state-of-the-art Qwest Center across the street.

And, one is named after a corporate giant while the other is named after the mayor who brought professional baseball and the College World Series to Omaha.

All of those thoughts are downright scary for baseball purists. But folks in Omaha are the perfect hosts for the College World Series for a reason, and that’s what gives hope for their new stadium. If any place is going to do a new stadium right, it’s Omaha.
THERE'S A LOT RIGHT about Omaha. And, yes, if any town can make a major change to a beloved baseball tradition -- and, more importantly, make it work -- it's the Big O.

But we're facing tough times. City revenues are tighter than one of Sasha Baron Cohen's "Bruno" getups, and ordinary folk are yelling and screaming for city fathers to take a budget ax and cut right through the bone.

That's because Omaha, unfortunately, is not immune to America's generation-long affliction with taxorexia. It's kind of like anorexia and bulimia combined, except that while you're not taking any nourishment in, you're still purging cops, libraries, yard-waste pickup and street repair.

Funny thing is, it only applies to civic affairs. Show us skyrocketing cable-TV bills and we'll still pay up. We'll bitch, but we'll pay. Upgrade to digital, even.

And we'll sell Junior on Craigslist to fill up the SUV with premium unleaded.

But show us a city that's cut the budget to the point of "You don't want to go there," and we'll say
"Go there . . . we ain't paying no stinkin' taxes." Of course, no one has any useful suggestions about where to cut, but that's not important now -- there must be some more fat somewhere.

Sadly, it's often between the ears of the armchair budget director.

AS I SAID, Omaha's in a tough spot right now, what with anemic tax collections and all. But we've been in tough spots before, and Nebraskans usually suck it up and do what needs to be done.

So maybe we just need to shut the hell up and do it again -- in this case, that would be protecting the city's quality of life, basic services and economic viability just as zealously as we've guarded the CWS all these decades.

What, do you think we got to the point where far-off newspapers run glowing accounts of life in Omaha by sitting on our butts muttering "No, no, never, no"? I think not.

Suck it up. It's important.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Getting a kick out of journalism?

Geez, I would have picked Howie Carr as the Boston Herald staffer most likely to attack an old man.

BUT NOOOOOO. Cops in a Boston suburb say it was another Herald reporter who mistook an emphysemic, 74-year-old man for a cage-match opponent.

The Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, Mass., has
the tale of the tape:
GROVELAND — A Boston Herald crime reporter is charged with kicking an elderly man with emphysema in the chest at a local laundromat, police said.

O'Ryan Johnson, 33, of 293 E St., South Boston, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, a shod foot, on a person over the age of 65.

Witnesses told police that Johnson asked for help with a washing machine at Classic Cleaners Laundromat at 4 Elm St. Tuesday afternoon. When Kent White, 74, of Georgetown approached to help, witnesses said words were exchanged and Johnson began swearing at the elderly man.

Johnson then kicked the 5 foot 6 inch, 130-pound victim in the chest, witnesses told police.

"The victim doesn't remember what he said and then Johnson started swearing at him," Deputy police Chief Jeff Gillen said. "The victim backed away and Johnson ran at him, kicking him in the chest."

Gillen said the attack was especially brutal considering White's size and lack of threat to Johnson. Johnson is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds, according to court records. Johnson, a former Eagle-Tribune reporter, recently wrote a story for the Boston Herald about his experience as an amateur boxer.
JOHNSON'S EDITORS refused to comment on speculation that the Boston Globe chapter of the Newspaper Guild was trying to hire the crime writer away from the Herald to head up its ongoing negotiations with the New York Times Co.

HAT TIP: Romenesko on Poynter Online.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don't tax you, don't tax me. . . .

To read the comments on newspaper stories is to understand why the Founding Fathers gave us a representative democracy, not a direct one.

Basically, Americans always want something for nothing. They also think you don't have to spend money to make money. And, of course, a people hooked on iPhones, three cars in the driveway, plasma TVs and credit-card debt can't help but lecture city fathers about living within one's means.

So, when the Omaha World-Herald
reported Saturday that the city is facing another $11 million shortfall next fiscal year, that the city budget already has been cut to the bone and that something drastic will have to be done, folks were quick to denounce being "taxed to death." Well, that and the new downtown baseball stadium.

is pretty typical:

What was the city thinking of when they approved the new stadium, the Qwest center,and annexing Elkhorn. Obviously the city of Omaha can't afford these. We are not a big city like Chicago, or New York. Omaha is just a little hick city in Nebraska. Why are we trying to be like the big guys. We didn't need a new stadium. Rosenblatt has served well over the years, and should have been maintained all along. We have the Civic Auditorium and that should have been sufficient. Also it cost a lot more for city services out west in Elkhorn. They should have been left alone, providing their own services. Plus the services they now receive and not near as good as Elkhorn was providing. I also disagree that the nation should mandate the update of sewer systems, however I know that is out of Omaha's control. Mayor Fahey did a lot of damage to the city's financial picture, and it seems as if Jim Suttle is not doing any better so far. We can't afford these things and now us taxpayers are going to have to pay. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people and businesses move out of Omaha, because just like us, we can' afford the high taxes.
UNSUPRISINGLY, the combox warriors' bile seems not to be exactly reality-based. Here, from the World-Herald, is the problem Omaha actually faces:
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle met with business leaders Friday to outline possible tax hikes — including new taxes on entertainment and workers — as ways to resolve the city's budget crisis.

While Suttle didn't say he had decided in favor of any tax increase, his message was that Omaha would be hard-pressed to avoid one at a time of slumping revenues.

Sales tax revenues this year are expected to drop for the first time. Meanwhile, the property tax base is not growing significantly. Sales and property taxes are the city's main revenue sources.

As a result, the city already is cutting $14 million from the current budget, although a large portion of that depends on a wage freeze that has yet to be negotiated with the city's unions.

For 2010, when the revenue slump is expected to continue, city officials are projecting an $11 million shortfall in the amount needed to maintain city services.

Suttle is considering additional spending cuts that would close the gap, including ending yard waste pickup, closing three libraries and allowing police staffing to shrink by not hiring new recruits.

But Suttle is also looking at raising revenue in 2010 with one of the following: higher property taxes; a new 2 percent tax on entertainment, including restaurants and bars; and an occupation tax that would collect $2 a month from people who work in Omaha and an equal amount from their employers.

Both of the two new taxes would affect not only Omaha city residents but also people who come into the city to work, dine or catch a movie.

Suttle has not decided that higher taxes are necessary, said spokesman Ron Gerard. But the mayor is concerned that current revenue may not be adequate to fund city services over the long run.

“We're at the edge of a cliff, and we don't want to fall off,” Gerard said.


Suttle outlined the two new taxes that the city could impose, each raising about $10 million a year. Both have been controversial in the past.

— The entertainment tax was proposed in 2007 as a way to finance the city's new downtown baseball stadium. It was dropped amid heated opposition from the restaurant industry. If Suttle revives the idea, he would need City Council approval.

— The occupation tax on employees has actually been on the city's books since 1983, when it was passed as a way to balance the budget in an earlier shortfall. But sales tax revenue rose, and the tax was never implemented.
WANT TO MAKE the city's financial problems a lot worse in a few years? Don't build the new stadium, and let the NCAA use the breach of contract to move the College World Series to another city -- one with a shiny new stadium. See $41 million in annual economic activity and more than $2 million in annual tax revenue disappear.

I wonder how much more taxes would have to be raised to make up for that? Alternatively, how much more draconian would cuts in city services have to be to fill the even wider budget gap?

Likewise, for the want of Joe Omaha paying an extra $42 in property tax for a $100,000 house or an extra $24 annual occupation tax, how much are Omahans really willing to sacrifice in quality of life?

Do they really want to live in a city even more underpoliced than it is now? Do they really want to live in a city that's closing public libraries? Or has noticeably rattier parks and public facilities?

Do they really look forward to living in a town without yard-waste collection?

HERE'S A reality check for you: Having your yard waste hauled off by a private contractor will cost you a lot more than $24 . . . and probably more than $42.

Hauling it to the dump yourself will set you back, too. And burning it in the back yard will get you a visit from the fire department -- assuming it can get there before you burn the neighborhood down, you idiot -- and an illegal-burning citation.

And how much is it worth to you to have the cops actually show up when you need them?

How much do you think the quality-of-life losses you're willing to set in motion for fear of having a decade of property-tax cuts rolled back a bit are worth to companies considering opening up shop (and creating jobs) in Omaha?

I'VE LIVED places with too much blight, not enough libraries and more crime than cops. You don't want to go there. Coincidentally, neither did companies that could have created lots of well-paying jobs.

Listen, it's not complicated.

We live in a pretty wealthy area of an extremely wealthy country. Times are tough, tax revenues are off, and the city has cut the budget close to the bone. Those are the plain facts.

If you value the city Omaha has become, and if you value not living in a s***hole, it's time to suck it up and do what needs to be done. Even $10 more in city taxes a month won't kill you -- it just won't.

Leave the third car in the driveway, cut back on your pay-per-view habit, tell Junior he has to choose between soccer and taekwondo,
then just suck it the hell up.

Omaha is a great city. That would be a hell of a thing to waste.

3 Chords & the Truth: Ride, Captain, ride!

I think this just might sum up this week's episode of 3 Chords & the Truth quite nicely:

Ride, Captain, ride upon your mystery ship,
Be amazed at the friends you have here on your trip,
Ride, Captain, ride upon your mystery ship,
On your way to a world that others might have missed. . . .
THAT, AT ITS HEART, is what the Big Show is all about. 3 Chords & the Truth is a mystery ship on a mystery trip -- a musical voyage of discovery on the sea of life. It's not neat, and it doesn't fit into prefab categories.

Then again, neither does life.

You're never quite sure what you'll get from 3 Chords & the Truth. Just like life.

But you know it's going to be an interesting ride, and you're on board with all your friends. The ship is leaving from Port Internet at your convenience -- get on board and let's hear what there is to hear out there in this great big ol' world.

It's 3 Chords & the Truth, y'all. Be there. Aloha.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jesus is straight outta Compton

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

I turned on the network news tonight and found Jesus.

All my churchy friends will think this odd, but it's true nevertheless. It seems Christ hit a rough patch for a while and got messed up with blow, but he's clean now and still hanging in there in Compton, that hardest scrabble of Los Angeles suburbs.

HE'S COACHING Little League baseball in the 'hood, Jesus is. Resurrected an abandoned ball field, too, so the kids would have a place to play.

And, by extension, Christ is the father a bunch of these Little Leaguers never had. He knows the value of a good stepfather.

What up? Jesus is. Jesus is straight outta Compton . . . living in his car -- never was much on real estate, don't cha know? -- and watching the Dodgers on a little bitty TV. Watch more here.

Quo vadis, Domine?

Dear Diary: Quo vadis, Domine?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Revolution 21's Blog for the People continues an occasional series of dispatches recorded some years ago in the trenches of Catholic radio. The names aren't real, nor are the places, but the stories are -- and it's a snapshot picture of what happens when "Their zeal consumes them" meets "Sinners sacrifice for the institution, not vice versa."

In other words, there has to be a better way.

TUESDAY, NOV. 12, 2002

Dear Diary,

The other week in youth group, a couple of Catholic-school girls (I think they were Catholic-school lobotomized) were expressing grave doubts about the Real Presence. The next thing I knew, I was tracing the prefigurement of the Paschal sacrifice -- and the logic of consuming that sacrifice in a meal -- from the Last Supper to John 6:56 and all the way through the Old Testament from the Passover back to Abraham, Isaac and the ram caught in the brush.

And then I told one of the girls, "Don't take my word for it. Look it up for yourself."

Funny thing is, I knew all that was in my brain already, but I never really systematically looked at the Eucharist past the prefigurement in the Passover. Never.

I think the message was meant for me more than the unbelieving teen-ager: "You're not leaving the Catholic Church. You damn well can't leave the church."

Still . . . the lunacy just doesn't let up. In the Catholic Church or at Pope FM -- where for the first time I'm starting to fear a catastrophic spiral into oblivion. And feel that, no matter how much I might like to see the SOB crash and burn, I have to find a way to gently steer Manic Don away from a self-immolation that could incinerate EVERYTHING and everyone.

THE PROBLEM at Pope FM is pride and delusions of grandeur -- that the only way to serve the Lord and evangelize, evangelize, evangelize the universe into becoming the "right" kind of Catholics is to become some sort of corporate, Papist media empire of the upper Midwest. Folks are getting big heads, and the medium is becoming the message.

Unfortunately, actually taking care of business and simply being present to suffering souls is so mundane. No, what we want is a kind of Hollywood Catholicism, where it's so much more important to look good than be good. The rub, however, is that you live in a radio Hooterville, the phone is at the top of a utility pole and the carpenter who built your new studios is a woman named Ralph.

And it's all starting to fall apart.

Somehow, I'm getting past some of my anger at the whole mess and starting to feel like I just can't walk away from the cross here. Kind of a personal "Quo vadis, Domine?" moment.

OH, DID I mention our contractor did such a lousy job -- and that warnings from our engineers were so completely ignored -- that our new studios are anything but soundproof? In radio, that's a VERY bad thing. They'll be next to useless, and the work of the station will be significantly crippled.

All for the low, low cost of $100 grand or so. Perfect.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Revolution will not be tweeted

Ultimately, the Revolution will not be tweeted.

That's because even though much has been made of the use of Twitter -- and Facebook -- as a means of communication and organization in the ongoing Iranian election uprising, it's Twitter's same ubiquitous and open nature that can allow the Empire to strike back. Or the theocracy of goons, as the case may be.

IN OTHER WORDS, if I'm looking in and the American media is looking in, you know that the Iranian government is looking in, too. And it is, as reported on MSNBC:
Social media’s short messages aren’t as comprehensive as an Associated Press report, and the photos aren’t magazine quality. And while much of the material could not be independently verified, at least it was real-time — for many incidents, it was the only news available.

Tuesday afternoon, messages from people claiming to be witnesses to the demonstrations flowed into Twitter at the rate of hundreds a minute. Posts would flood in, only to slow to a trickle for a minute or two as Iranian censors sought to stanch the flow of information. Then posts would resume in a torrent as users found ways around the censorship.


One Twitter user called the communications battle “cyberwarfare at its best,” and there were unconfirmed reports that Iranian security forces were fighting back by creating their own Twitter accounts to spread their version of events.
I'D BE SURPRISED if public relations -- to put it mildly -- were the only use Iranian security forces were making of Twitter and Facebook.

If ordinary Iranians can spread information via tweets, the government likewise can spread misinformation the same way. It can tweet to meet at such and so place for a demonstration, thus leading people into an ambush and making evil use of sites such as
Anonymous in Iran to disguise its efforts.

The site says it's screening out tweets from Iranian government IP addresses, but do you really think the Ahmadinejad regime is dumb enough to be using official IP addresses?

If the Iranians want to throw themselves a proper revolution -- or run a proper resistance -- I imagine they're just going to have to do it the old-fashioned way. They'll have to organize in cells, devise a proper code for secret communications via open sources . . . then hit the bloody bastards where they ain't expecting it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dear Diary: I inhabit M*A*S*H . . .
as told to O'Connor . . . by Fellini

EDITOR'S NOTE: Revolution 21's Blog for the People continues an occasional series of dispatches recorded some years ago in the trenches of Catholic radio. The names aren't real, nor are the places, but the stories are -- and it's a snapshot picture of what happens when "Their zeal consumes them" meets "Sinners sacrifice for the institution, not vice versa."

In other words, there has to be a better way.


Dear Diary,

Sometimes I think I inhabit a Midwestern sequel to A Confederacy of Dunces. Other times, I think it's Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins.

Today, I'm pretty sure I inhabit a revival of M*A*S*H. I am Hawkeye Pierce, and my new program director at Pope FM is a fat Frank Burns.

Manic Don is 35, ex-Coast Guard and has never gotten over it. He doesn't know jack excrement about radio but tries to act like he's God's gift to the airwaves.

He writes everything in military lingo, puts all times on the 24-hour clock, asks everyone whether everything's "5-by-5," and organizes (to use the term loosely) a tiny station staff like it's the Pacific Command.

He also specializes in trying to downplay his own glaring failures by trying to make others look worse.

And today he ordered me to reduce the time I spend on production work by 75 percent. All the while he desperately tries to foist the more tedious and mundane parts of his job description off on others (read: "me") . . . by fiat.

I called him on that once, in a very Southern manner (despite the fact that he has 100 pounds on me). Within two days, I got a new job description allowing him to do just that.

Two words: Captain Queeg. Furthermore, I refuse to tell the SOB what I did with his @#$!* strawberries.

I've been trying to hold on until he crashes and burns, but I don't know whether that will be possible. OK, Pope FM is M*A*S*H as written by Flannery O'Connor based on a storyline by Fellini.

I keep trying to remember that I once loved my job, and that it was supposed to be about Jesus. It sure as hell doesn't look like Jesus now. Egos, money and the general dysfunction in every aspect of Catholic life today have seen to that.

I'm damned good at what I do. Damned good. I thought I had found my calling in Catholic radio.

I guess I was wrong. Again.

-- Hawkeye Pierce

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dear Diary: The post 'Pledge-a-Thon' post

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's another in the occasional series of dispatches recorded some years ago from the front lines of Catholic radio -- Pope FM.

SATURDAY, OCT. 26, 2002

Dear Diary,

The "Pledge-a-Thon" ended last night, raising roughly half of our stated goal of $250,000. Still, it was more money than we raised during the on-air portions of any previous Pledge-a-Thon.

I don't know what this means for the future at Pope FM, because God seems to be driving this situation like a Noo Yawk cabbie drives from La Guardia to midtown Manhattan when he's got a fare from Peoria in the car . . . by absolutely the most "direct" (heh) route possible.

All I do know is that I am absolutely, positively wiped. On top of everything, we spent today moving furniture out of my mother-in-law's apartment and into the assisted-living place.

NEVERTHELESS, it's a strange thing what happens when you just do your damn job the best you can when you would rather not do it at all.

I got nothing but compliments the whole Pledge-a-Thon . . . from the engineering of the show to the music I was playing (which would have -- and, in the past, had -- given my old boss, Mary, the next best thing to angina). You would have thought I was the Lou Gehrig of Catholic radio.

God, I'm old. Make that the Cal Ripken, Jr., of Catholic radio.

Thursday morning, our secretary, Penny, came into the control room bearing a large bottle of Rolaids and a kiss on the cheek. I wish she had come with a bottle of limoncello, too.

And all through the week, people would call in to ask the name and artist of songs I was playing. One was Ken the GM's 13-year-old son when I was playing some Christian techno music by Ultrabeat. Another was Ken's wife, who dropped into the control room to say she loved one song I played and thought the voice was familiar.

It was "The Rising" by Bruce Springsteen.

AND FRIDAY NIGHT, after the Pledge-a-Thon ended, Ken came into the control room to shake my hand. Manic Don gave me a high five.

Kind of surreal, being that minutes before (the end of the Pledge-a-Thon bearing down on them) Manic Don and Fred the Development Guy -- you know, the one who believes in God expanding time -- sounded much like Catholic used-car salesmen in a desperate bid to get the phones to ring.

That always happens when fund drives are falling woefully short. I always find it dismissive of the providence of God and beneath Christian dignity. Therefore, I always go into my Zen-master mode, becoming more and more calm as the pitch-people become more and more frantic.

And I always try to send not-so-subtle messages to knock it off through forcing them to go to break, and through the music I play when they do.

This time, when the frenzy just was getting to be too much, I got them to go to break -- which Manic Don told me had to be a SHORT song. So I played all 5:35 of Aaron Thompson's "No More Fear." Thompson is a gifted Catholic singer-songwriter from Phoenix.

And at the end of the show, I played a chant version of the Kyrie, followed by Nicole C. Mullen's "Redeemer":

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning?
Who told the ocean you can only come this far?
Who showed the moon where to hide 'til evening?
Whose words alone can catch a falling star?

Well I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
All of creation testify
This life within me cries
I know my Redeemer lives

The very same God that spins things in orbit
He runs to the weary, the worn and the weak
And the same gentle hands that hold me when I'm broken
They conquered death to bring me victory

Now I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
Let this life within me cry
I know my Redeemer, He lives

To take away my shame
And He lives forever, I'll proclaim
That the payment for my sin
Was the precious life He gave
But now He's alive and
There's a new day

Now I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
Let this life within me cry
I know my Redeemer, He lives

©2000 Wordspring Music/Lil 'JAS' Music/SESAC

MAYBE the wind has shifted at Pope FM. Then again . . . aw, who the hell knows.

Wearily yours,


Dear Diary: The blowup. No, really. . . .

EDITOR'S NOTE: Revolution 21's Blog for the People continues an occasional series of dispatches recorded some years ago in the trenches of Catholic radio. The names aren't real, nor are the places, but the stories are -- and it's a snapshot picture of what happens when "Their zeal consumes them" meets "Sinners sacrifice for the institution, not vice versa."

In other words, there has to be a better way.

THURSDAY, OCT. 24, 2002

Just a quick note before I collapse from exhaustion. But if the anthrax comes again, I'm covered . . . I'm on two weeks' worth of Levaquin, of the Cipro family.

Meanwhile, the "Pledge-a-Thon" proceeds apace. And my general manager seems to have had an epiphany after the new control room damn near self-destructed because of a defective wiring punch block. Our contract engineer went to punch in one set of wires for the air monitor, and . . . kerflooey. We were putting out nothing but the sounds of silence.

It was the first time I ever saw true panic in his eyes.

After he got the room back on line (precariously, warning us not to bump into the wall), I took the hour's break I got when we went to "Catholic Queries Live" (which originated the past two days from our unfinished new studios) to wire up the men's room . . . uh, old control room . . . the way I originally had it. I told the GM that was the only "Plan B" we had, and that no one had better touch it.

Today, he complimented me on the wisdom of my approach, said that Manic Don hadn't had a clue how much was involved in putting on the Pledge-a-Thon, that he was impressed with how I put all the pieces of the operation together and that he'd gotten several compliments on the music we were playing.

And some other board members complimented the show -- one saying his 13-year-old daughter told him Pope FM was sounding "like a real radio station."

Sometimes, the Lord sends His small consolations and vindications. He's a good guy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Curse of Homer Simpson be upon them

Instead of hounding preachers who criticize the gay-rights agenda and publishers who speak out against the Great White Jihad, why don't Canada's human-rights tribunals attend to some real violations of inalienable rights?

We're talking As Bad as It Gets, here.

FOR INSTANCE, this unspeakable horror perpetrated against the elderly, as reported by Reuters:
Beer maker Molson is turning off the tap and cutting off the supply of free suds to its retirees, the Toronto Star reported on Tuesday.

Molson, a division of Molson Coors, said it was looking to "standardize" its complimentary beer policy.

There are 2,400 Molson retirees in Canada and their free beer costs the company about C$1 million ($900,000) a year, the Star said.

Molson retirees in the province of Newfoundland will see their monthly allotment of beer fall from six dozen a month to zero over the next five years.
IF THIS ISN'T awful enough on its own merit -- in my opinion, far worse than anything right-winger Mark Steyn may have had to say about the booze-hating Mahometans in Maclean's newsweekly -- let me add this in hopes of prodding the Canadians into action.

Read carefully: Molson Coors is half-owned by Americans, who no doubt have, with imperial malice, exerted malign influence over their Dominion partners.

Now go get 'em, eh?