Monday, August 31, 2009

The day the music died

One thing kids today will never know is what it was like to have your own radio station.

Not what it's like to be a bazillionnaire and own your own big-time broadcast outlet but, instead, what it's like to be devoted to a radio station, this hometown entity that plays cool tunes (well, mostly) and becomes your window on a world much, much larger than the hick burg in which you find yourself trapped. Face it, unless you're a kid growing up in New York, L.A. or Chicago, you think where you're from is That Which Must Be Escaped.

And I'll bet L.A. and New York kids probably want to flee to Paris or Rome. Maybe London.

You see, long ago, radio stations were living things. They were staffed by live human beings whose job it was to entertain and enlighten other live human beings. These were called "listeners," something radio has radically fewer of these days.

Oftentimes, way back deah den (as my mom says), people would find one station or another's personalities and music so compelling that the station, in a real sense, became "their" station. Listeners took emotional and figurative ownership.

They listened day and night. They called the DJs on the "request line." (And note, please, this was an era when "DJ" immediately brought to mind a radio studio, not a dance club.)

Listeners went nuts for the contests, whether it was the chance to win $1,000 or just a promotional 45. They'd pick up a station's weekly survey to see where their favorite songs ranked this week.

They'd wake up to the "morning man" and boogie down to the groovy sounds the afternoon drive guy was spinning out through their transistor radios.

Boogie down to the groovy sounds? Ah, screw it. You had to be there.

THE REAL business radio was in back during its second golden age -- the Boomer age of Top-40 AM blowtorches . . . and of laid-back, trippy FM free-form outfits, too -- was the business of making memories. That stations sold some pimple cream while selling even more records was just a happy accident, at least from the perspective of their loyal fans.

Back when the Internet was more like the Inter-what?, radio was the Facebook of its day. It told us about the world . . . and about each other. It served up new music for our consideration.

Likewise, a station's listeners formed the pre-social-networking incarnation of what became Facebook groups and fan pages. In short, between the hits and the ads, between the disc jockeys and the contests, radio was community.

All you needed to join was an eight-transistor job, or maybe a hand-me-down table radio in your bedroom, its tubes glowing orange in the darkness as the magic flowed from its six-inch loudspeaker.

AT ITS BEST, radio comforted the afflicted, afflicted the comfortable, lifted downcast spirits, was a friend to the lonely and provided the soundtrack for the times of our lives. To this day, I can hear a song and immediately think "WLCS, 1975," or "WTIX, summer on the Petite Amite River, 1972."

And every early December, my mind will drift back to a late night in 1980 when I was studying for finals at Louisiana State, with my head in a book and WFMF on the stereo. Bad news through the headphones, and -- at least for my generation -- "something touched us deep inside."

It was the Day the Music Died. Again.

Tonight my mind drifts back to Aug. 31, 1984. That was the night a close friend passed into that good night of blessed memory.

That night, the Big 91, WLCS, played its last Top-40 hit and left the Baton Rouge airwaves for its new home in the youthful memories of aging teen-agers like myself. Two-and-a-half decades later, it just doesn't seem right that it's gone.

OF COURSE, lots of things don't seem right nowadays.

That WLCS isn't there anymore -- hasn't been there for more than a generation -- is just one of them in the mind of one Boomer kid from a middling city in the Deep South. You can read about why that is here.

But a couple-odd decades in retrospect, it seems to me that Aug. 31, 1984, was in a way about as profound as the deaths of Buddy Holly and John Lennon -- the intangible end of something we still haven't quite gotten our minds (or our culture) around.

It's not that the actual deaths of Holly or Lennon, or of the "Big Win 910," precipitated some sort of musical or cultural cataclysm in themselves. It's just that things were happening.

And being that things were happening that more or less coincided with each instance of "bad news on the doorstep," it's handy to use these events as markers.

For me, the demise of WLCS -- and the deaths of many stations that were nothing if not actual life forces in their own cultural rights -- signals The Great Unraveling.

The unraveling of a common culture is what I'm getting at, I guess.

Lookit. As much as we kids claimed stations like 'LCS as our own, we can't forget that many of our parents listened, too. Or that Top-40 radio of old played what was big, period -- be that Jefferson Airplane or Frank Sinatra. Because of WLCS, I think I could comprehend more than my own little world of teen-age angst and teen-age fads.

And it's why I feel just as comfortable with Andy Williams and Tony Bennett -- and, yes, Ol' Blue Eyes -- as I do with (ahem) "harder" fare. My world is bigger, richer, more diverse because of a 1,000-watt AM station in a midsized Southern state capital too often prone to calling too much in life "good enough for government work."

Thank God, that couldn't often describe the Big 91.

And because "good enough" wasn't often good enough at WLCS -- because the men and women who worked there just did what they did and did it well -- I owe its memory more than I can repay.

If, after these 25 years, somebody were to require that I pen an epitaph for my long-dead friend, I'd write just this: WLCS played the hits.

Low-tech 'tapeworm' rips off blogger

Here's how newspapers roll in the twilight time of their market-enforced dotage.

Because their labor is worth something, editors and publishers make a lot of noise about how they're going to crack down on "misappropriation" of their content on the Internet and start charging readers to access their electronic offerings. Then they proceed to steal the work of bloggers and say they have every right to do so.

Yet folks like William Dean Singleton -- the self-styled Sir Galahad who aspires to slay the monster Google and conquer the lawless Internets -- wonder why they weren't named Class Favorite.

HERE'S A little something from the Los Angeles Times earlier this month:

"The reality is that unless a lot of people who produce news act in unison to start charging for content, then individually they will fail," said Alan D. Mutter, a former newspaper columnist and editor and consultant on new media ventures.

News Corp.'s solution is the latest proposal to publishers seeking to wring money from Internet readers to offset double-digit drops in print and online revenue.


The notion of charging for digital access to news, either online or on devices, has been gaining momentum ever since the Associated Press' annual meeting in San Diego in April. William Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP and chief executive of MediaNews Group Inc., railed against the "misappropriation" of news on the Internet -- a reference widely interpreted as a swipe at search giant Google Inc.

"We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," he said. "We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore."

Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Thomson added to the invective, saying Google and other news aggregators who believe that content should be free are "parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet."

TAPEWORM, heal thyself.

HAT TIP: The News Chick and Bloggasm.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Forget politics. Pray for Chuck Sigerson

I don't care for Chuck Sigerson's politics, and I really don't care for the implications of his governing philosophy for my city.

I've taken my shots at the guy -- hard ones.

But Chuck Sigerson is in bad trouble -- heart attack and stroke trouble -- and that trumps politics. Whether you care for his politics or not, won't you stop for a moment and say a prayer for the Omaha city councilman, his doctors and his family?

FROM THE WEBSITE of the Omaha World-Herald this afternoon:
Omaha City Councilman Chuck Sigerson has suffered both a stroke and heart attack and was in critical condition Sunday at Lakeside Hospital, a statement from his son said.

Jim Vokal, a former city councilman, released a statement to the news media from the Sigerson family about 4 p.m. Sunday.

"Our family asks that the entire community pray for his recovery and for the health care professionals who are caring for him."

Sigerson, who represents District 7 in the northwest part of the city, was taken to the west Omaha hospital Saturday night after suffering a stroke.

Vokal said tests on the 64-year-old former insurance agent found that Sigerson had also suffered a heart attack. Sigerson and his wife, Liz, have two children and six grandchildren.

The family was gathered at Lakeside Hospital all Sunday, Vokal said.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

3 Chords & the Truth: Never ask a dog

This is what Scout, one of 3 Chords & the Truth's production assistants, thinks of this week's edition of the Big Show.

I had to ask.

THIS IS Scout reconsidering the matter when I asked him once more, in my "Do you ever want to eat again?" tone of voice, what he thought of this week's stellar episode of 3 Chords & the Truth.

SCOUT, having reconsidered the matter, agrees that the Mighty Favog has done a damn fine job on this week's show. He went on to say the show is as fine an example of contemporary freeform programming as one will find -- either on or off of the radio airwaves.

Furthermore, he thinks you should just download the show right now. Listen to it several times, even.

Good dog, Scout!

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

Treat, Scout? Treat!?!

You can book it . . . Omaha comes through

When politicians and cranks are losing their heads and hardening their hearts all around you, sometimes good people will step up and do the right thing.

And when city council members are desperate to avoid hard choices -- and when the sort of taxpayer who likes to call into talk-radio programs is railing against the possibility of paying $26 more in property tax a year so the city might be saved -- some people will dig deep for the common good.

I LOVE OMAHA because this is the kind of place where somebody usually steps up. According to the World-Herald, it has happened again, and the city's libraries are saved . . . for now:

You could see the signs for blocks along the stretch of 30th Street that leads to the Florence Library.

“Save the Florence Library.”

“Please help save the library.”

Omaha did.

The bucks rolled in Friday for Omaha Public Library services, and it looks like the Florence Library will remain open.

Library leaders weren’t sure of the exact amount raised by Friday evening but said they had raised more than enough to keep the library open and fund other library programs and initiatives.

“We’re ecstatic about how the private sector has responded,” said library board President Kevin Thompson. “It’s been a good day, in my opinion, for the city and for the Omaha Public Library.”

Donations ranging from a Millard patron’s $50 check to $75,000 from a pair of Florence natives were triggered by a challenge grant announced Thursday.

The $200,000 challenge grant, from donors who wanted to remain anonymous, was contingent upon Omahans raising an additional $100,000 by Sept. 1

With pledges that poured in early Friday, it appeared as though the goal had been reached and the operating hours, staff and programming at other library branches would not be sliced after all.

The e-mails, phone calls and messages from contributors moved Carolyn Rooker to tears.

The chief executive officer of the Omaha Public Library Foundation took a call from the two Florence natives, who also asked to be anonymous, and one told her: “I consider the Florence Library an important part of my education and who I am today.”

The news sparked a celebration in front of the library branch Friday evening. It had been planned as a community protest to keep the library open.

“This is what you call a community. You guys did it!” Sherry Grayson said as she held a bullhorn she didn’t need. “This is called self-initiating.”

Thompson said the $300,000 would be enough to keep the Florence branch from closing and to stop other cost-cutting moves, such as the layoffs of about 50 library employees citywide.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The People v. Voorhees . . . and KFAB

It looks like Scott Voorhees wanted some attention for his mid-morning talk show on Omaha's KFAB radio.

Well, he's going to get it.

Why? Because Scott Voorhees is the kind of radio talk host (right wing, naturally) who will go on the air some 36 hours after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy died of brain cancer and say this:

"Had John and Bobby not come along, we don't hear from Ted Kennedy.

"If John and Bobby do not come along, Ted Kennedy is nothing more than a blotchy-face, alcoholic murderer who spends life in prison like anyone else would have had he not had that last name and those familial associations."
OF COURSE, Voorhees was referring Thursday morning to Chappaquiddick and the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969. And what Voorhees takes to the airwaves to state with certainty happens to be something no court ever determined and no prosecutor ever alleged.

In this country, there is a high bar for libel of a public figure. That standard -- "reckless disregard of the truth" -- also happens to describe Voorhees' on-air pronouncements. If Kennedy were not dead, the radio host would be in deep doo.

Have I mentioned the senator was less than two days deceased?

To wit, there are some things, things about basic human decency, that your parents usually impart by the time you're old enough to get in front of the microphone at a 50,000-watt radio station. Apparently, Voorhees missed "human being school" the day Mom and Dad lectured on "How Not to Be a Boorish, Mean-Spirited A-Hole."

Unbelievable. Yet somehow typical of the depths to which radio -- especially talk radio -- has sunk.

I'VE BEEN IN OMAHA for a while now. I'm well aware of the legacy of KFAB, and of the local legends who once took to the airwaves via "The News Beacon for the Great Midwest" -- names like
Walt Kavanagh and Lyell Bremser.

And I think I can say one thing with the same certainty -- and with a certainty that's better placed -- that Voorhees called Teddy Kennedy "a blotchy-face, alcoholic murderer." It's this: If Kavanagh (who ran the news department at KFAB) and Bremser (who ran KFAB itself) had been alive to hear Thursday's shameful misuse of the public airwaves, it likely would have killed them.

It simply would have been inconceivable to giants who built a legendary station over their long careers that someone could go on their airwaves -- the public's airwaves -- and engage in such casual cruelty and verbal bomb-throwing.

And you have to think that, somewhere deep in his subconscious, Voorhees knew what violence he was doing to the legacy of 1110 on Omaha's AM dial . . . and to civilized public discourse.

"I take no pride in making these comments after Sen. Kennedy has passed away," he said toward the end of the program. And a bit later, this:

"Again, I don't feel real good about some of the comments I've personally made this past hour, but for those of you who've E-mailed and said, 'Scott, I'm glad you said 'em,' thank you very much for your listenership and your E-mails."
YEAH, WHAT'S THE USE of behaving really badly atop a really bully pulpit if you can't incite many others to unshackle their Id as well. If I were a postmodern talk-show host, I'd call someone guilty of that a cynical, exhibitionist soul murderer.

Whatever. The final verdict in "The People v. Voorhees" will belong to history, and I fear its final pronouncement will be as straightforward as it is devastating.

Guilty of murder in the first degree.

And the victim?

Oh, I don't know. Civility . . . society . . . the intellect . . . radio . . . take your pick.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Frank Zappa explains it all

In this docu-mashup, Frank Zappa and a few others explain why radio is dead and record companies are dying.

In short, people got greedy and content producers stopped taking chances on innovation for fear of endangering profits by messing with "success." Unfortunately for them, there was a slight miscalculation.

The world didn't stop turning. And people didn't stop changing.

IN THIS VIDEO, meantime, longtime media executive J. William Grimes explains why newspapers are just as doomed as radio and records.

The short version is this: Traditional media lost our attention and then they lost advertisers, who are following the public to new media.

Grimes, however, seems to think just enough of the public will pay for online newspapers what they pay for print ones. I remain to be convinced a) that the genie can be put back in the bottle now that news is free on the Web, and b) that just a few remaining free, quality news sources wouldn't explode the whole for-pay model.

Frankly, I think expecting people to pay mucho dinero for non-physical content which easily could be gotten for free is wishful thinking, not a plausible business model.

Grimes also stipulates that newspaper web sites would have to greatly improve to make this viable. Why should we expect organizations that sat on their laurels long enough to lose the public's attention to spend money they no longer have on quality they eschewed back when they were flush?

Nevertheless, Grimes gives us a great summation of the tsunami washing away media as we knew it. Watch and learn.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The last Kennedy boy

Teddy Kennedy is dead.

That's an odd thing for a Baby Boomer like me to type. I was born in 1961, which means I have no memory whatsoever of a time when Edward M. Kennedy, elected in 1962, was not a U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate who lost two of his brothers to assassins' bullets, has died after battling a brain tumor. He was 77.

For nearly a half-century in the Senate, Kennedy was a steadfast champion of the working class and the poor, a powerful voice on health care, civil rights, and war and peace. To the American public, though, he was best known as the last surviving son of America's most glamorous political family, the eulogist of a clan shattered again and again by tragedy.

His family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday.

"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," the statement said. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all."
I'VE NEVER BEEN a total fan of the man, to tell the truth. When I was three decades younger, I would have agreed with the senator on social issues like abortion and disagreed vehemently with his liberal prescriptions for issues such as health care.

Three decades later, Kennedy was the same and I was changed. In recent years, I found myself in agreement with his liberal political instincts and quite opposed to his libertarian social ones.

Nevertheless, he had my respect for his political longevity, as well as for his passion for public service.

But politics -- and agreements or disagreements -- don't much matter now, do they?

WHAT MATTERS NOW is that Edward Kennedy was -- is -- a child of God. He is loved by God. He loved his family and friends. They loved him, and his passing diminishes us all.

That's what matters. God bless the senator and his family, and may God rest his soul.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cutboigy! Budgetboigy! No library! Kindle!

Councilman Sigerson! The people have no books!

Well, let them buy Kindles, then.

Tune in again same time next week for another thrilling installment of Chuck Sigerson: City Councilman. Our next high-voltage episode . . .
"They Shoot Red Robins, Don't They?"

COME TO THINK of it -- given a certain council member's alleged weakness for a gal in plush -- perhaps former Omaha Public Library chief Rivkah Sass might have gotten farther with the council if she had shown up for this month's budget hearing in a bird suit. The I-wish-I-didn't-believe-this-but-I-do details are in the latest edition of The Reader:
Every year the city council holds budget meetings where department heads present financial needs and answer questions. This year Sass was the only director asked to defend the existence of her department. Councilman Chuck Sigerson said the Internet and devices such as Amazon’s Kindle might eliminate the need for libraries.

“Sure we can all download books on a Kindle, but who’s going to buy the Kindle for us?” Sass said. “There’s an assumption people can afford these devices and then there’s the thing that chills me to the bone … when the book 1984 disappeared from the Kindle. Talk about the ultimate irony.”

Sass said libraries are changing with the times, beyond e-books and DVDs to involve more people in more ways. For instance OPL now offers etiquette classes, baby classes and parenting classes.

“Information isn’t just something you find in a book; information is about satisfying a need, whether it’s curiosity, educational or informational,” she said.
IT'S TOO EASY to merely label right-wing pols like Chuck Sigerson a civic embarrassment and leave it there. That wouldn't do justice to the fundamental disconnect at the core of the "conservative, family-values" governing philosophy of the American right.

What we have here is a credo that favors decimating the civic infrastructure of a community -- indeed, of a nation -- above the possibility of modest tax hikes for even those citizens who can most afford it. In Sigerson's case, the Republican stalwart of the Omaha council would rather raise the specter of a city without libraries than raise the property tax on a $100,000 home by $25 or $52 a year.

Put it this way: To Sigerson and his anti-tax constituents, all the municipal services that make a city a livable place -- those services that give small comfort to the afflicted and provide nice things for the masses for little or no fee -- are not worth the cost of an Old Market dinner for two (with drinks) on a Saturday night.

Or burgers and booze at Red Robin.

COPS AND JAILS, they'll pony up for. Books and thin slivers of hope? No way.

In the moral and political universe of Chuck Sigerson, when fiscal times get tough, it's those who depend most on municipal services who receive the call for sacrifice. And it's those with enough money to live in nice suburban homes who get off scot-free.

This philosophy, frankly, is anything but "conservative," and it turns the raison d'être for democratic governance -- fostering the common good and protection of the weak from the strong -- on its head. This is radical stuff . . . just as radical as any mad schema cooked up by Lenin or Marx.

What it does is destroy the very notion of collective responsibility for the community's well-being and turn government into a protection racket for society's most well-heeled. And it does this at the expense of -- in the instance of public libraries, for example -- the opportunity of Omaha's poorest and most vulnerable to have something approaching the educational and informational resources of those, like Sigerson, who think nothing of going online to purchase a $299 Kindle.

Or purchase $9.99 E-books to load onto the thing.

LIKEWISE, "conservative" radicals think absolutely nothing of denying low-income youth well-maintained city parks . . . or pools . . . or recreational programs . . . or after-school programs. This for the fiscal sake of people who ostensibly can't shell out a few bucks more in property tax but damn well have the scratch to pay for dance lessons, soccer leagues and iPods for their middle-class progeny.

Oh . . . I forgot Kindles.

This isn't conservatism, it's radicalism. It's government-sanctioned social Darwinism.

And it's a moral outrage.

Sunday through the camera lens

On a Sunday evening out and about in Omaha, it's fun to take along a camera, because you never know what you'll run across.

Like summer boaters in the Missouri River, as seen from Lewis and Clark Landing downtown.

OR THE TOWERS and curves of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which spans the river to join Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Or leisure boats passing beneath you.

Or, as you stand on the Council Bluffs levee, spying the sun beginning to set behind the trees along the Iowa river bank.

You never know when the sunset will turn out to be absolutely spectacular.

Like this.

See what I mean.

Pedal power amid the hoofing-it crowd.

Moonrise over the city.

Sunset over the site of the new downtown ballpark.

And then we make our way back to the car, parked in the lot under the I-480 ramps.

One-half second exposure, F 3.1, 25 m.p.h. For what it's worth.

The view downtown.

And amid more fun with slow shutter speeds, we're headed homeward down Farnam past the lighting-display store. Say good night, Gracie.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Leadership today

This one sentence from an Omaha World-Herald story today about the city's budget crisis (and one lonely councilman's quest for a necessary property-tax hike) sums up, I think, exactly why we are so hosed:
[Mayor Jim] Suttle said today that he would support Gray's proposal if the rest of the council gets behind it.
I DON'T KNOW what more to say about a guy who would run for mayor of a large city, presumably because he wanted to make the hard decisions . . . but only if the city council makes them for him.

Pardon-toi mon Français, but that's just chickens***. Totally, staggeringly, irrevocably chickens***.

Omaha deserves better than this. Even if, as proven by election results, it doesn't want any better than this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Digital news on magic tablets? Who knew?

The day every computer user knew was coming a decade and a half ago is just about here -- 10 years later than we thought.

It would have been nice had newspapers spent that time developing the kind of product predicted in this 1994 video from the Knight-Ridder Information Design Lab. Instead, print journalists -- and broadcasters, too -- decided it would be a far better thing to operate as if there were no tomorrow . . . as if their past would be their future, forever and ever, amen.

Newspapermen and broadcasters turned their buggy whips into more buggy whips, and then took their 30-percent returns and turned them into massive debt as big corporations acquired other big corporations. Meantime, local publishers sank money into bigger and better buggy-whip factories erected as monuments to their business acumen.

The "digital newspaper" could wait. Half-assed efforts on this "Internet" thing would have to do.

Pared-down electronic versions of print ads would suffice as a digital business model as well. What would you expect on a medium capable of text, audio, video and instant connectivity -- instant shopping without even having to click away from the Daily Blab's website?

THE TROUBLE IS, the "information superhighway" had ideas of its own. More precisely, the billions of people using it had distinct ideas of their own, ideas that didn't jibe at all with publishers' or broadcasters'.

Newspaper people -- as reflected in the above video -- thought the digital revolution would be the equivalent of an electronic newspaper vending machine. When they put their own product out on the World Wide Web for free, it had to have been with the assumption that the genie could be put back into the bottle.

Also, there must have been a like assumption that few would seek to become digital "publishers" and, furthermore, couldn't make a buck at it if they dared to try. Because -- in the ossified minds of the ossified types in ossified "mainstream media" boardrooms everywhere -- the thought of "new media" philistines making a digital go of it without the expense of a sprawling buggy-whip infrastructure and 19th-century distribution network was just crazy talk.

NOW, 15 years later, the newspaper industry's "bright idea" is to make readers pay for online content they now get for free -- and for which the "new media" philistines happily will continue to charge the low, low price of . . . nothing. The new "crazy talk" is someone pointing out that readers never have "paid" for news content, that advertisers always have been the ones bankrolling newspapers' journalistic undertakings.

No, it's not publishers who are crazy for not providing advertisers a decent return on a hefty investment, thus exploding the entire business model of newspapering. The "loons" are the folks pointing out plain facts.

Want to hear something crazy? Newspaper advertising revenue is at its lowest level since 1965, and newsrooms all across the country are starting to look a little like postwar Dresden. The average denuded newspaper of 2009 probably would be able to implement the Knight-Ridder Information Design Lab's digital vision of 1994 about the same time -- give or take a few years -- hell freezes over.

AS IT TURNS OUT, the above video was the last hurrah for the Knight-Ridder Information Design Lab. Knight-Ridder closed it in 1995.

Knight-Ridder itself ceased to exist in 2006, having been swallowed whole by McClatchy Newspapers. McClatchy, of course, is choking on the $2 billion in debt it took on in the process.

A major problem for the chain has been a 30-percent drop in advertising sales. I'm sure that can be remedied by expanding readership by charging folks for online content.

HAT TIP: Mashable

Saturday, August 22, 2009

3 Chords & the Truth: All funked up

Just in case you're not seeing my note very well, the upshot of it is this: Listen to 3 Chords & the Truth. It's good.

(Apologies to Barq's root beer for pilfering their advertising slogan.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brother, can you spare a book?

Because the mayor is feckless, the city council is spineless and Omaha taxpayers are shameless, the city's library system has been decimated.

And that same level of public non-service will be creeping across all of city government. Soon.

From a story this evening on KETV, Channel 7:

A day after the cuts are finalized, the reality is made clear for the libraries --the downtown branch will no longer be open on the weekend. Homeless shelter outreach programs disappear. Book trading between branches is severely curtailed. The Florence branch closes. Homework Hot Spots program disappears.

Mary Mollner is one of 53 to lose a job. More than a mentor, Mollner helped senior citizens connect to a 21st century world and she helped the jobless reform their resumes and find work.

"We bring the world of information to them and they come to us," Mollner said, fighting back tears.

Mollner's ideals of educating and enlightening aren't lost.

"During this time off, I'll go out and volunteer," Mollner said.

Teenagers like Samantha English turned to the library after school for homework help and book clubs.

"The programs here are fun. They actually get you out of trouble," English said.
ONE BRANCH'S HOURS are being reduced by 19 hours a week. Another's by 14.

And on the reductions in service go -- another 19 hours here. Four hours there. Two hours over there.

And at the main library downtown, a 21-hour cut per week. It will be closed all weekend starting Sept. 8.

I would suggest that high-school teachers start accepting Wikipedia as a legitimate reference source.

MEANWHILE, the head of Omaha's firefighters union has grudgingly negotiated a two-year pay freeze with the mayor. The deal stipulates that firefighters will get a raise in Year Three no matter what happens with the economy.

It also says they'll get makeup raises on top of their regularly scheduled raises if the fiscal picture improves. Would that my wife -- who had to take, without benefit of negotiation, a 5-percent pay cut plus five days' furlough -- could get to "sacrifice" to such an extent as our firefighters.

About the only thing hard times are showing us in the 21st century is to what extent we all figure every man -- and woman -- is indeed an island, contra John Donne. Librarians get fired, city services get slashed and the little (and big) things that make up a city's quality of life take a beating, all because people who damn well have enough money to live in a six-figure house say they'll be damned if they pay another $25 . . . or $50 . . . or $100 a year in property tax.

And because the best other alternative the mayor could come up with was a Rube Goldberg "entertainment tax." One that would hurt a struggling industry enough -- and thus garner enough angry opposition -- that its demise at the city council's hands was a given.

And because Mayor Jim Suttle doesn't have the cojones to implement an occupation tax that's been on the books since the early 1980s.

And because the city council ran out of creative alternative ideas before it even had a one. That is, apart from a recent proposals to furlough every city worker still standing for two-weeks.

BASICALLY, hard times came and no one stepped up. No one -- not government, not business, not taxpayers.

No one.

And we're officially hosed. Except, ironically, for the hose jockeys. They're making out just fine.

Thanks for sharing

Among all of the tributes to John Hughes -- and his films -- after the director's death, last week's in Omaha's City Weekly just might be . . . uh . . . unique.

In the piece, editor Jim Minge shares his teen-age angst -- and some other stuff we really didn't need to know:
Did I masturbate to Molly Ringwald? You bet I did. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Blame John Hughes. Actually, I should thank him. Sadly, though, there’s no chance of me being able to do that in person anymore. The once-in-a-lifetime filmmaker who led Generation X through a glorious ’80s romp of teen coming-of-age comedies died last week at the age of 59.

“Sixteen Candles” (1984), “The Breakfast Club” (1985), “Pretty in Pink” (1986) – Hughes’ Ringwald hat trick. Puberty would not have been the same without ginger-haired Molly.

Of course, there were other ’80s films from Hughes: “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983), “European Vacation” (1985), “Weird Science” (1985), “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986), “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987), “She’s Having A Baby” (1988), “The Great Outdoors” (1988), “Uncle Buck” (1989) and “Christmas Vacation” (1989).

Anyone else seeing flashes of girls with big hair and guys wearing bright-colored polo shirts with popped collars?

Hughes, a writer, director and producer, kicked off the ’90s with “Home Alone” (1990). But it’s Hughes’ ’80s films that I, and most everyone else in my Gen X troop, so passionately adore, and so often quote:

“Good talk, Russ.”

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.”

“No more yankie my wankie. The Donger needs food.”
SOMETIMES it can be difficult to navigate that line dividing edgy and ewww. Sometimes, it's even tougher than steering away from what would have been a too-obvious pun in that last sentence.

Minge, however, apparently lacks the mental filter that keeps normal people from putting their byline on shlock-and-awe ledes that grossly overshare about "yankie my wankie." Emphasis on "gross."

It seems to be an alternative-press thang in these postmodern times.

Pity. What could be a smart, edgy and truly "alternative" voice in the increasingly hoarse world of newspapering insists instead on convincing the reading public that it's just another bunch of wankers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ve haff veys uff makink you cheer

While the Neanderthal-right foes of "socialized medicine" are busy packing heat, screaming "Heil Hitler" at Jews and generally scaring the crap out of the nation, Louisiana's Nicholls State University is otherwise occupied terrifying its students and alums with a redesigned mascot.

Before, "Colonel Tillou" was an ancient Confederate officer who evoked no-longer-amusing visions of the Lost Cause. Now, to the horror of, well . . . everybody, the modernized Colonel Tillou looks like a Nazi SS officer cleaning out the Warsaw ghetto.

LAST WEEK, the New Orleans Times-Picayune took note of the recent mascot unpleasantness over in Thibodaux:
With his chiseled face, military-style cap and saber poised for action, the recently unveiled mascot at Nicholls State University was supposed to convey a new and improved public image, signaling a break from the past and an end to the mascot controversy that has dogged the Thibodaux campus for years.

Instead, the updated Col. Tillou mascot, named for the university's founder, former Louisiana governor and Confederate officer Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls, has stirred up a firestorm within the university's community.

Outraged by the image's "menacing" appearance, hundreds of people have flooded social networking sites and college sports forums to vent their concerns about the revamped logo design, with a number likening the black, red and gray-hued colonel to a soldier from Adolf Hitler's Third Reich or a member of Soviet Russia's Red Army.

"It looked like a Nazi soldier -- a very angry Nazi soldier," said Nicholls alumna Hollie Garrison, 27, who saw the logo online for
the first time this month. "My jaw dropped. I was speechless. I kind of thought it was a joke."

Garrison, who lives in Lafayette, has started a group on Facebook called "I hate the new Tillou a.k.a. 'Nicholls the Nazi.'¤" As of Saturday afternoon, the site had attracted more than 275 members.

Matthew Marant, a 2009 graduate, was similarly stunned after his first glimpse of the logo.

"I was appalled," said Marant, 23, who lives in Houma. "The
new image seems evil, faceless and inhuman."
NOW, LOTS of folks in Louisiana -- particularly those who didn't go to Nicholls -- will tell you the school's administration was on the right track but picked the wrong Nazi.

Thus, in the spirit of friendship, I give you a redesign of the redesigned Nicholls State logo:

RECOGNIZE the guy?

How about now?

Stupid is as stupid says

Dumb comment of the week, courtesy of -- naturally -- a protester at Barney Frank's health-care town hall . . . as told to The Associated Press:

At least two dozen protesters gathered in small groups outside, handing out pamphlets and holding signs criticizing the overhaul, Obama and Frank. Some of the posters read: "It's the economy stupid, stop the spending" and "Healthcare reform yes, government takeover, no. Tort Reform Now"

Audrey Steele, 82, from New Bedford, said she does not want the government to get involved with health care because "they just make a mess of everything," referring to the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions that was used to pay for lavish conferences and hefty executive compensation.
ALRIGHTY THEN . . . no more Medicare for grandma. I'm sure she won't mind, being how "they just make a mess of everything."

Rush Limbaugh likes this.

I made the mistake today of not turning the radio off when Rush Limbaugh came on.

For the next half hour or so, I listened in horrified fascination as the right-wing blowhard waxed eloquently in defense of the Massachusetts town-hall moonbat who marched into Barney Frank's Q-and-A armed with a picture of Barack Obama sporting a Hitler moustache, then asked the Jewish congressman why he was supporting "Nazi policies."


IN THE LONG, strange acid trip that is the Great Conservative Meltdown, bad behavior constitutes not being over the top and offensive but, instead, being offended by over-the-top offensiveness.

Normally, I am not a Barney Frank fan. Today, I am.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, here's what happened to a Jewish man from Israel when he talked to a reporter about his admiration for that country's national health-care system:

I'm telling you, something is very, very wrong here. Mass insanity wrong.

Another giant of television falls

Another giant of television journalism has died -- Don Hewitt, of cancer at 86.

We know him as the founding producer of 60 Minutes on CBS, or perhaps as the producer and director of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate. What is less known is that Hewitt was one of the men who helped to create television journalism, starting in 1948 as an associate director of Douglas Edwards With the News.

OR THAT, according to his CBS obituary, he was behind so much else that gave TV news its shape and character:

He was the executive producer of the first half-hour network newscast when the "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite" became the first to go to a 30-minute format on Sept. 2, 1963. Among Hewitt's innovations was the use of cue cards for newsreaders, the electronic version of which, the TelePrompTer, is still used today. He was the first to use "supers" - putting type in the lower third of the television screen. Another invention of Hewitt's was the film "double" - cutting back and forth between two projectors - an editing breakthrough that re-shaped television news. Hewitt also helped develop the positioning of cameras and reporters still used to cover news events, especially political conventions.

IN HIS OBIT on The Associated Press wires, there's a quote from Hewitt's memoir. This really says it all:
Hewitt often said the accepted wisdom for television news writers before “60 Minutes” was to put words to pictures. He believed that was backward.

A Sunday evening fixture, “60 Minutes” was television’s top-rated show four times, most recently in 1992-93. While no longer a regular in the top 10 in Hewitt’s later years, it was still TV’s most popular newsmagazine.

Upon the launch of “60 Minutes,” Hewitt recalled that news executive Bill Leonard told him to “make us proud.”

“Which may well be the last time anyone ever said ‘make us proud’ to anyone else in television,” he wrote in his memoir. “Because Leonard said ‘make us proud’ and not ‘make us money,’ we were able to do both, which I think makes us unique in the annals of television.”

DON HEWITT is dead. And with the passing of each member of his generation of video journalists, television comes just a little bit closer to fulfilling the dire warning about its future, sounded in 1958 by an old CBS colleague, Edward R. Murrow:

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Angry, unbalanced . . . and armed

Welcome to a little exhibit I'm curating. I call it Art by Nuts.

During this age of the Great Conservative Freakout -- after the nation has elected its first African-American president amid a historic economic meltdown and as Congress attempts reform of the nation's broken health-care system -- my exhibit covers some of the "popular" political art found in right-wing crevasses and cubby holes all across the Internet.

Vilifying our political opponents is an American tradition of long standing. Ask Alexander Hamilton, who got himself shot dead in a duel with Aaron Burr. Or Abraham Lincoln, gunned down by a Confederate sympathizer at the end of a four-year national bloodletting.

Thing is, we're not even the worst of the world's political animals. Ask your average Iraqi . . . between suicide bombings.

But we are fallen humans, predisp
osed to bad behavior. We also are masters, coming from tens of thousands of years of practice, at trumping up reasons to justify our bad behavior.

AND JUDGING by the reasons the American right is manufacturing at present -- reasons based on who conservatives presume President Obama to be as opposed to any real grievances they might have, being that the man scarcely has had time to "wrong" them yet -- I shudder to think of what bad behavior some unhinged zealots might find themselves capable.

Let me just put it out there: Given the extreme rhetoric being pumped out by the demagogic likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, the health-insurance profiteers industry, the "Birthers" and those behind the "tea party" movement, I fear for the president's safety.

Zealots and nuts are always looking for self-righteous excuses to act badly, and any number of people on the American right are dishing them out by the bushel.

See the y
ahoo to the left. He's outside an Obama town hall meeting in New Hampshire -- packing heat and carrying a sign referencing a Thomas Jefferson's quote from 1787:
And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
downloaded his sign, advertised as a "Tea Party Poster," from Restore the Nice . . . "I'm pissed about taxes, we elected a black guy president . . . let's throw a revolution!"

I wonder
what Jefferson would have thought of the Civil War.

From 1861
to 1865, the tree of liberty got a good drenching from the blood of 620,000 Union and Confederate dead. Note that the Gatling gun wasn't invented until 1861 and saw only extremely limited use by the Union army in that conflict. Now we have tanks, roadside bombs, anthrax and ordinary "citizens" legally packing around their own miniaturized, high-tech "Gatling guns."

I bet if we tried nowadays, we could water a whole damned "Liberty forest."

All over higher taxes on the rich and "socialized medicine."

What we have here is not a failure to communicate, as Strother Martin famously said and some now suggest, but instead a significant segment of American conservatism communicating quite clearly that it has lost its f***ing mind.

All this over a Democrat president of color who scarcely has had enough time in office to good and piss them off. As I said, I shudder
to think what some Rush Limbaugh fanatic or World Net Daily whack job might try when they are good and pissed off.

I shudder because the unhinge
d right has been anything but coy. Look at my gallery of political "art." Look at the picture of the well-armed New Hampshire protester.

Associated Press story today about the kinds of conservative nuts drawn to an Obama speech in Phoenix:
About a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside the convention center where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Monday — the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.

Gun-rights advocates say they're exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and protest, while those who argue for more gun control say it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Phoenix police said the gun-toters at Monday's event, including the man carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, didn't need permits. No crimes were committed, and no one was arrested.

The man with the rifle declined to be identified but told The Arizona Republic that he was carrying the assault weapon because he could. "In Arizona, I still have some freedoms," he said.

Phoenix police Detective J. Oliver, who monitored the man at the downtown protest, said police also wanted to make sure no one decided to harm him.

"Just by his presence and people seeing the rifle and people knowing the president was in town, it sparked a lot of emotions," Oliver said. "We were keeping peace on both ends."


Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist, said the incidents in New Hampshire and Arizona could signal the beginning of a disturbing trend.

"When you start to bring guns to political rallies, it does layer on another level of concern and significance," Solop said. "It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication."

He said he's never heard of someone bringing an assault weapon near a presidential event. "The larger the gun, the more menacing the situation," he said.
I CAN IMAGINE that more than a couple of these whack jobs of the überright, with no sense of irony, count among their carefully nurtured grievances the fact that the president is an "apostle of the culture of death." In other words, he's an active supporter of legalized abortion.

But what they fail to understand is they already have dehumanized -- in their hearts, in their minds and in their rhetoric -- the already-born Barack Obama just as much as the most ardent Planned Parenthood activist has dehumanized the tiniest human embryo.

To them, the president -- or all "liberals," for that matter -- aren't fellow human beings, much less fellow Americans or their figurative brothers and sisters. (Brothers and sisters? That's crazy commerniss talk!) They are "socialists" and "communists."

And we all remember from the Cold War days what we do with communists and socialists, don't we?

It's the stuff of vile dehumanization and objectification. It's just like an abortionist calling a fetus the "products of conception," because it's a lot easier to take a human life if you can plausibly deny its humanity.

ALREADY, too many conservative critics of the president have murdered him in their hearts and with their words. I think Jesus, Whom many of these folk claim to follow, may have had something to say about their tactics:
"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.'
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
THE CHOICE LIES with conservatives during this uneasy stretch of American history.

They can stop the madness and withdraw from the abyss. Or, some particularly unbalanced few of them might decide to move from "murder in the heart" to something a bit more bold.

In that horrifying event, chances are we'll all find ourselves amid the hottest flames of Gehenna.