Monday, September 30, 2013

Louisiana jumps the shark

The Times-Picayune's J.R. Ball wants to know why Louisiana is so in love with Edwin W. Edwards, the ex-con ex-governor who, in his long public life, hasn't exactly covered the state in glory.

No doubt, that streak of ignominy -- more like a skid mark, actually -- won't be broken by his and his grandchild bride's new A&E "reality" show, The Governor's Wife. But the man's popularity persisted through thick and the federal pen, and no doubt it will continue to go up as he continues to drag the state's reputation down.

This mystifies the New Orleans paper's Baton Rouge editor and columnist. I don't know why, but it does:
Between pops of an adult beverage, my newfound friend informed me that Edwards, with a personality second-to-none, was the greatest governor to ever grace this state. My mention of Edwards' decade-long stay at a federal penitentiary brought, without hesitation, the explanation that "the governor" was simply robbing from those who could afford to be fleeced to help fulfill his larger, nobler quest to help the "little man" in Louisiana.

This bit of information prompted an epiphany: I need some new friends.

Before going our separate ways, my soon-to-be, newfound ex-friend dropped this nugget of wisdom: "Edwin Edwards would easily beat Bobby Jindal if he could run against him. Hell, there's not a politician in the state right now who could beat Edwards."

This was hardly my first exposure to this state's perverse love affair with Edwards. Most times, I adopt the learned Deep South behavior of smiling politely and simply walking away, silently stunned by the ignorance of such misguided opinions. As usual, I walked away without confrontation, but this time there was no incredulous internal laughter. Maybe it was latent hostility from having my television hijacked earlier that morning by a steady stream of commercials for "The Governor's Wife," a new reality show devoted to Edwards' ginormous ego. Maybe it was the ego of Edwards' attention-seeking trophy wife, using the show to introduce herself to a national cable audience. But this time I was angry. Or maybe it was just the increasing tempo of the "mist."

Regardless, can someone please explain this state's ongoing -- and seemingly never-ending -- fascination with one Edwin Washington Edwards?

SOMEONE doesn't need to explain it. I think Ball already knows; he's been around the Louisiana block more than a few times during his decades in the Gret Stet. As a journalist there, he's written about more stupidity, skullduggery, sleaze and stealing by those who run the state on citizens' behalf than most journalists from most other states would in three lifetimes.

You know and I know that in his heart of hearts, J.R. Ball knows.

The hard part is the admitting. And the accepting. And then acting upon what one has admitted and accepted. Yeah, that's the hard part. The longer one can prolong the "mystery," alas, the longer one delays some painful admissions and tough decisions.

In my opinion -- as someone born and raised in Louisiana, and as someone who lived there through more than half of Edwards' four terms as governor -- there are a few reasons you could be fascinated by the Silver Zipper. (Guess how Edwin got that nickname.)

One is that he's so foreign to you and your experience, you are fascinated by how exotic he is. That one's a non-starter in Louisiana. It just is.

Another is the Jerry Springer syndrome, otherwise known as "Look at the freaks!" and "Golly, I'm not as f***ed up as I thought!" But you don't elect your average Springero Erectus governor four times.

OR, IT JUST might be that you think, on some level, that Edwin Washington Edwards is just like you -- or perhaps a better, smarter and more powerful you. Massive corruption is OK, just as long as I can get some crumbs from his larcenous feast at the public's table.

J.R.'s game-day pal said as much.

Generally, states, like individuals, get what they tolerate, and they tolerate what they find tolerable. There lies the key to the riddle of Louisiana and its taste for crooks in high places.

To paraphrase what one colorful son of south Louisiana once famously proclaimed, "It's the culture, stupid!" Which just might be why "reformers" there spend all their time spinning their wheels, yet getting nowhere.

What was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Friday, September 27, 2013

3 Chords & the Truth: Everything but the zeppelin

On this edition of the Big Show, you got your planes.

You got your boats.

You got your trains.

You also got your Memphis blue-eyed soul, the Queen of Soul, some Otis soul and all kinds of soulful music from almost every genre. I mean, on 3 Chords & the Truth this week, you got happy songs, sad songs, rockin' songs, French songs, jazzy songs and absotively luscious songs.

What you don't have is any zeppelin songs, Led or otherwise. My bad.

LOOK at it this way, though. If the only thing you're missing on your favorite music podcast is a lack of zeppelins, you're doing pretty dang good, aren't you? And so, I would posit, is 3 Chords & the Truth.

So there's that.

And there's this: 90 minutes of great music on the Big Show. If you don't believe me, just listen.

Just don't expect any zeppelins, Hindenburgian or otherwise. Is what I'm sayin'.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

LSU, early 1950s

What a treasure!

This treasure happens to be home movies taken by an LSU student in the early 1950s, shots of a campus, of a Tiger Town just north of campus and of a way of life that simultaneously is quite familiar and somewhat alien.

The Goal Post restaurant? Long gone. I figure it was across Highland Road from where The Chimes bar and restaurant is now.

And . . . oh, my Lord! The mascot! That's Mike I -- the university's first live Bengal tiger mascot.

A treasure. Just a treasure for old Tigers like me.

UPDATE: I was reminded by an old friend of the 8-millimeter movies shot by his parents just a few years later -- around 1956 or '57ish -- when they arrived in Baton Rouge for his dad to take an assistant professor post at the Ol' War Skule.

It's heartening to realize that even the darkest days of segregation and Southern self-foot-shooting could not stifle the time-honored LSU tradition of smart-assery, directed in this instance at the Louisiana Legislature.

Trees "for white dogs only." Heh.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The coach is dead

I was a 20-year-old student journalist at LSU, covering the latest outrage against the long-suffering student body of that august institution.

The athletic department had announced it would begin searching, at the gates of Tiger Stadium, football fans' purses and backpacks for Demon Rum.

And Demon Bourbon.

And Demon Vodka.

And Demon Beer.

The goal was to sober up the student body -- and everybody else -- a little bit in hopes of improving Tiger fans' demeanor at games.

MY JOB was to interview the athletic director, LSU coaching legend Paul Dietzel, about the new policy and come up with a front-page story for The Daily Reveille. As a newspaper reporter, my aim was to get a good story.

As a student, my opinion was that this smacked of an egregious violation of the Fourth Amendment.

As someone who was most appreciative when somebody passed the flask down the aisle so we could put a little zip in our ballgame Coca-Colas, I already was feeling a little dry. Remember, this is Louisiana we're talking about -- not Utah. God Almighty, not Utah.

On the one hand, I was going to have the lead story in the paper. On the other, I was going to meet the Tiger coaching legend, the man who had delivered the school (at that time) its only national championship of the modern era with the undefeated 1958 football team -- the man behind the iconic Go team, White team and the mighty Chinese Bandits defense specialists -- who also happened to be, in this instance, The Enemy.

The Man.

The second coming of Carrie Nation.

SO I GO in there for the interview, I shake the legendary Enemy's hand, sit down on the other side of the desk and we start to talk. It was the best kind of interview . . . a real conversation. Coach Dietzel treated this wet-behind-the-ears reporter with the utmost respect, to the point where it was like solving all the problems of the world with your favorite uncle.

He explained the policy, the reasoning behind it, and then he started asking me questions -- questions about what students were thinking 20-odd years after he had engraved his name onto Tiger fans' souls, forever and ever, amen.

Dietzel was gracious, down to earth and funny. He was a true gentleman. Humble, even. And he allowed that his favorite student-section cheer was the one reserved for hated Alabama -- "Around the bowl and down the hole! Roll, Tide, roll!"

That one really cracked him up.

If I've ever had a more enjoyable interview with someone, I can't remember when, or with whom, it was. I don't know that Coach changed my mind about the Tiger Stadium War on Fun . . . er, Booze, but he did win my respect, and he taught me something about honorable people and honest differences of opinion.

THOUSANDS upon thousands of words will be written in Tigerland -- and across the sports universe -- about Paul Dietzel on the sad occasion of his death today. The vast majority will be about his tenure as coach, and later, AD, and his magical team that conquered all of college football 55 years ago. Some will be reserved for how he became an accomplished watercolor artist later in life. A few might touch on his World War II days as a B-29 crewman in the Pacific theater.

But Coach's greatest accomplishments -- gentleman, husband of 69 years, father, good man -- get short shrift. Those are the ones I'm thinking about right now. Those accomplishments and the graciousness and good humor he showed this young-punk reporter back in 1981.

Godspeed and God bless, Coach. You will be missed tremendously.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FU2, Bo. Now, with the pleasantries all done. . . .

I can't get too mad at Nebraska's football coach and undisputed-champion F-bomb dropper, "Mad Man" Bo Pelini.

Yes, after a big comeback against Ohio State in 2011, the coach had some choice words about Husker fans and a couple of Omaha World-Herald sports columnists, as reported (and illustrated) by the website Deadspin. Then again, what the hell do you think I was saying about him Saturday afternoon?

Nebraska's second-half performance against UCLA would have been enough to make the pope drop a few choice expletives. I wonder how you say "stupid #@!*#+% a-hole" in Spanish? Or Italian or Latin . . . whichever.

Pelini's real problem is that his teams keep having UCLA-game meltdowns. Or is that Wisconsin-game meltdowns? Ohio State-game meltdowns? Maybe Texas A&M- or South Carolina-game or Georgia-game meltdowns.

You get the gist, I presume.

 Audio is exceptionally NSFW

ONE HAS to wonder whether Coach Bo's infamous id too often mucks about with his coaching superego. Whatever the reason, though, it looks like we have a foundational failure in the Nebraska football program, which follows on the heels of the somewhat more spectacular foundational failure that was Bill Callahan's Reign of Error down there in Lincoln.

That's no way to keep the fans streaming into Memorial Stadium, and no way to keep the Huskers' legendary home-sellout streak alive through Year 51 and into Year 52. Mess that up and you've just screwed up the one thing Callahan's benighted tenure as Nebraska coach couldn't.

That. Would. Be. Bad.

When you couple meltdowns on the gridiron like Saturday's with behavioral meltdowns like Pelini occasionally has both in public and in private (or in private that goes public), you're flirting with both Public Relations Armageddon and Sellout Streak Apocalypse. Especially when you insult the very fan base that's stuck with the Huskers through a lot more thin than thick for the past decade.

BARRING a drastic turnaround -- and a drastic change in the on-field character of his Nebraska football squads -- I think Coach Bo is gone. Involuntarily, despite his threat to walk on the leaked 2011 audio.

Pelini's foundational problem, to put it in LSU terms, where he was defensive coordinator before heading to Lincoln as the head man, is that he seems to be Gerry DiNardo following the abject disaster of Curley Hallman -- an improvement, but definitely not the guy.

I think this is as good as it gets under Pelini, and that's not where NU needs to be . . . and certainly not where Nebraska football has the potential to be.

The big question here is who's out there to get the Huskers where they need to be without sacrificing all the values that make Nebraska football special and keep the program's nose clean with the NCAA. Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst has some hard thinking to do as this season, like most of the rest under Pelini, remains mired in the muck of mediocrity.

Expect a rousing victory this week against South Dakota State. Whee!

Seek, and ye shall find

Ours is a tale of two governments.

One knows who you are, to whom you've been talking, has your emails stored on some gigantic NSA hard drive and regularly peruses your phone records to make sure you're not in cahoots with al-Qaida.

The other -- and we're talking about you, Federal Communications Commission -- can't find its behonka with both hands.

Thus, the story of Omaha's "Magic 1490," KOMJ, found on the right end of your AM radio dial. The FCC is proposing fining the bejeezus out of its present owner, Cochise Broadcasting, because one of the agency's inspectors could find neither the studios, the required "public file," nor a phone number for the station's owner.

Reports the Omaha World-Herald:
The FCC said in its filing that the station is owned by Cochise Broadcasting, in Jackson, Wyo. The agency said it could find no phone number for the company, no website. Neither could The World-Herald.
Other than the singers of songs such as “Forever in Blue Jeans” by Neil Diamond, or “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand, the only voices heard are in short station promos.

“Magic 1490,” intones an announcer. “The height of relaxation.”

Maybe. In truth, what the station specializes in is old music, dubbed “easy listening” or “middle of the road” by programmers. The playlist includes a smattering of big band, swing-type numbers of the 1940s, and a few softilicious hits of the 1980s, such as “Captain of Her Heart,” by the French pop band Double.

But most are from the dawn of the rock era and up through the singer-songwriter trend of the 1970s.

Occasionally, a promo will feature someone who sounds like a listener who called in with a message of praise.

“Just keep playing those hit records!” says a woman with great enthusiasm.

What number she called is a mystery.

“On August 1, 2013, an agent from the Kansas City Office attempted to inspect station KOMJ's main studio, while the station was on the air,” the FCC enforcement report reads. “The station's web-page contains no main studio address and only lists a local phone number, which transfers to voice mail for stations located in the state of Arizona. The station's address of record is a mail box in the state of Wyoming.”

The saga took another twist when the FCC dug deeper into the studio location. The agency said it found an unnamed attorney who served as contact person for the station. The attorney, filings say, said the main studio is at 10714 Mockingbird Dr., Omaha.

The FCC investigated further, sending an inspector there.

“This location is the main studio for the Journal Broadcast Group stations in Omaha,” the report says. “The staff for the Journal Broadcast Group stations stated that station KOMJ's main studio was not located at 10714 Mockingbird Dr. and that no one associated with station KOMJ worked at the location.”
IF YOU ASK this curious radio geek, the feds and the World-Herald weren't looking hard enough -- if at all -- and someone is going to end up paying the not-inconsequential tab for that.

As part of the licensing process, the FCC already has all the information it needs to find the small radio chain's headquarters -- indeed, even its owners -- by just making a few phone calls and asking a few questions. Informing people on the other end of the line, "I'm with the federal government and we can fine you into oblivion should we so choose" should be enough to make them forthcoming.

Me, I found the owner of Cochise Broadcasting, Ted Tucker, at his Tucson, Ariz., home after searching on Google for about 20 minutes or so. We had a nice conversation. Perhaps I should apply at the National Security Agency . . . or at least at the World-Herald, which was as stymied as the obviously Internet-challenged FCC agent.

You wouldn't want to think so, but it almost appears as if no one wanted to let a little persistence get in the way of busting some broadcaster's chops or a good "ghost station" yarn.

FOR HIS PART, Tucker maintains that the station's main studio -- which basically consists of an automation computer, a good Internet connection to program syndicator Westwood One (formerly Dial Global) and a studio-transmitter link . . . not so live and not so local from (probably) a large closet -- are indeed in the Omaha complex of Journal Broadcasting, from whom he rents the space. Likewise, he says, KOMJ's public file is at Journal as well.

After the FCC's initial inquiry, Tucker says, Journal employees called the commission's Kansas City field office back to inform it they indeed had Magic 1490's public file. If Cochise is negligent here, perhaps it would be in choosing a landlord for its operation -- when dealing with the FCC, it's important that the right hand know what the left is up to.

Judging by what Tucker says, people who should have known about KOMJ's studio and its public file didn't know much of anything. That's a problem. A public file, which contains information about a station's operations, ownership and public-service programming, isn't "public" at all if those charged with housing it can't be bothered to know what they're required to know . . . like where the heck it is.

Magic 1490's owner isn't happy with the commission or with the World-Herald, which he accuses of sensationalizing and embellishing Sunday's newspaper story. I'd be even more unhappy with my landlord if I were in Tucker's shoes.

SOON ENOUGH, pending commission approval, KOMJ and know-nothing landlords no longer will be Tucker's problem. He's selling the station (presumably lock, stock and cloaking device) to Kona Coast Radio for $450,000.

No doubt, Kona Coast of Cheyenne, Wyo., and its owner, Vic Michael, will face their own adventures in absentee ownership here. Perhaps Michael will shake the "ghost station" rap by making sure the FCC and the World-Herald have his cell-phone number. I'd also recommend a corporate website optimized to land on the first page of Google's search results.

And a neon-lit studio in the middle of the intersection at 72nd and Dodge.

I have no good advice, however, for listeners in this age of "radio by wire," where "live and local" is as much as a thing of the past as the broadcasting professionals who, once upon a time, made that possible. A once-vital medium lingers on life support . . . and those who once served and entertained the public linger in the unemployment line.

Many things have improved over time. Radio isn't one of them. Ditto for newspapers.

And let's not even mention the federal government.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Not The Onion

Iowa is a nice enough place, but Iowans are just, well . . . different.

After reading this story from USA TODAY, I eagerly await news of the Hawkeye State's first visually impaired, gay shotgun wedding.
Here's some news that has law enforcement officials and lawmakers scratching their heads:

Iowa is granting permits to acquire or carry guns in public to people who are legally or completely blind.

No one questions the legality of the permits. State law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability.

The quandary centers squarely on public safety. Advocates for the disabled and Iowa law enforcement officers disagree over whether it's a good idea for visually disabled Iowans to have weapons.

On one side: People such as Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington, who demonstrated for The Des Moines Register how blind people can be taught to shoot guns. And Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, who says blocking visually impaired people from the right to obtain weapon permits would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. That federal law generally prohibits different treatment based on disabilities

On the other side: People such as Dubuque County Sheriff Don Vrotsos, who said he wouldn't issue a permit to someone who is blind. And Patrick Clancy, superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, who says guns may be a rare exception to his philosophy that blind people can participate fully in life.

Private gun ownership — even hunting — by visually impaired Iowans is nothing new. But the practice of visually impaired residents legally carrying firearms in public became widely possible thanks to gun permit changes that took effect in Iowa in 2011.

"It seems a little strange, but the way the law reads we can't deny them (a permit) just based on that one thing," said Sgt. Jana Abens, a spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff's Department, referring to a visual disability.

Polk County officials say they've issued weapons permits to at least three people who can't legally drive and were unable to read the application forms or had difficulty doing so because of visual impairments.

And sheriffs in three other counties — Jasper, Kossuth and Delaware — say they have granted permits to residents who they believe have severe visual impairments.

"I'm not an expert in vision," Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere said. "At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm? If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn't be shooting something."
IN A RELATED development, the Iowa Legislature has just sent a bill to the governor that would require violent criminals to continuously beep during assaults and robberies.

Well, not exactly. That was a joke . . . today.

Tomorrow, who knows?

Saturday, September 07, 2013

3 Chords & the Truth: All over the road

In music, nobody dies if you suddenly swerve across the center line.

Furthermore, on 3 Chords & the Truth, it's OK to be all over the road. Staying in just one lane is so . . . confining.

This week on the Big Show, we're feeling particularly unconfined, and we're driving all over the road. Better yet, nobody's going to jail for it.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Except for "Listen to 3 Chords & the Truth. It's good." Why? Because we're having a swervingly good time all over the road.

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

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

What on earth you tryin' to do?

As we stand on the edge of an abyss called Syria, preparing to wage "limited" war against its government in the name of "peace" -- and to do so unprovoked and without a United Nations mandate, in the name of "international law" -- a few questions come to mind:
■ Exactly how blind to tragic irony are the Obama Administration and trigger-happy members of Congress?

■ If we do attack the military assets of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which some reports indicate are being dispersed among civilians, what do we hope to accomplish? I mean, really?
■ If Assad doesn't stop using chemical weapons, where do we stop? Do we ever stop the attacks?

■ If the goal is regime change, how does that benefit the United States? What's the best-case scenario post-Assad? Given that groups linked to al-Qaida are the most capable among the Syrian rebels, what are the odds of a best-case outcome here? No magical thinking allowed.

■ Relatedly, would a legally questionable, unprovoked attack on Syria by the United States make matters better or worse?

■ What's the worst-case scenario if the United States attacks Syria? Just how badly could this cascade out of control?

■ Are the odds of disastrous unintended consequences greater than those of the best-case scenario? If the odds are 50-50 or worse, WTF?

■ Given our lack of success in fostering stable, liberal governments in Iraq and Afghanistan after years of "boots on the ground" and countless billions of dollars in U.S. aid, how are "limited" attacks with bombs and cruise missiles supposed to further that goal in Syria? (See regime change and al-Qaida above.)

■ Will a brand-new Syrian regime get the Assad treatment if it starts doing to the Alawites and Christians what Assad's regime has been doing to rebel areas in Syria? I mean doing on a massive scale what rebel elements already are doing to Alawites and Christians when the opportunity presents itself.

■ Is our involvement in Syria and our recent history in the Middle East more reminiscent of a peace-loving democratic republic or an overextended, corrupt and declining empire?

■  If Assad retaliates by using chemical weapons against the Israelis or NATO ally Turkey, what do we do next? Start World War III? If we didn't, would that "undermine the credibility of other U.S. security commitments"?

■ If we're willing to go to war because Syria allegedly has flouted international law regarding the use of chemical weapons, why would it be all right for the United States to flout international law regarding waging war? Is international vigilantism now a cherished American value?
Vietnam veteran John Kerry, 1971: "Thirty years from now, when our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say 'Vietnam' and not mean a desert, not a filthy, obscene memory, but mean instead the place where America finally turned, and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning."
Secretary of State John Kerry, 2013: "This debate is about the world's red line, it's about humanity's red line. And it's a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw. This debate is also about Congress's own red line. You, the United States Congress, agreed to the chemical weapons convention. You, the United States Congress, passed the Syria Accountability Act, which says Syria's chemical weapons - quote, 'threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States.' You, the Congress, have spoken out about grave consequences if Assad in particular used chemical weapons."
Vietnam was a red line, too. We had to stop the "dominoes" from falling to the Red Menace in Southeast Asia. Mortal threat to the United States and all that. Why is the Vietnam War a filthy, obscene memory, but Syria absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part, mainly ours? Explain.
■ If senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham advocate a particular course of action concerning foreign-policy, isn't doing the exact opposite always the wisest course of action?
JUST ASKING . . . before it's too late.