Monday, December 28, 2009

Roll Over or Get Tough? Time Warner, and Viewers, Should Get Tough

Full page ads from Time Warner appeared in local papers today and asked readers if Time Warner should roll over in the fight with Fox as Fox wants to increase rates for their channels carried on Time Warner cable. If Fox doesn't get the money they want, Fox says that on January 1 they will pull the plug on Fox channels carried by Time Warner. Some markets are more affected than others, likely those who have Fox owned local stations. Those not in those markets only run the risk of losing minor Fox cable channels. For example, the Cleveland Ohio market only stands to lose the following channels: Fuel, Fox Reality Channel, Speed Channel, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports World Espanol, and FX. I don’t watch those channels anyway, and see this as a low risk to lose. Clearly I would rather that Time Warner get tough and not pay the extra money, since I know that if Time Warner has to pay more, I would have to pay more. Why should I pay more for channels that I don’t care about?

I went to Time Warner’s “Roll Over Or Get Tough” website and checked how this would affect a New York City Time Warner customer. I saw this listing of channels: WNYW, WWOR, Fuel, Fox Reality Channel, Speed Channel, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports World Espanol, and FX. I would imagine that the first two channels on the list are the local Fox owned stations which likely carry more of the Fox network programming, something that viewers may miss and would want to pay for. Fine. How about if each market can decide what they want to do? If New Yorkers want to pay a premium for local channels, fine. But I don’t want to have my rates raised because some other city wants to keep their local channels via cable, channels that can likely be obtained by using a simple antenna or an antenna and a digital converter box.

This brings me to my ideal way of paying for television – let me pick and chose which channels I want and I will pay for those channels. When I think of all the TV channels I have available to me right now, I watch maybe less that 30-40 of them regularly. At least 6 of them are local HD channels that I can get over the airwaves without needing cable. Viewers need to get tough with cable companies and the big networks and fight for a change that allows viewers to drop the channels they don’t want and not have to pay for them. Sure, this could hurt those networks who tailor their content to a certain niche. But that’s the way it goes. If networks like Fox want to nickel and dime – or in this case maybe “dollar” - me, then I should have the ability to tell them to stick it. And if the cable or satellite operators will lose revenue because they can’t make up the cost of carrying channels that most people don’t watch, that’s too bad. Maybe it would force them into revising their pricing structure so that viewers who demand niche channels pay more for them to cover the cost of carrying them.

Regardless, I think that people have just about had enough of the rising cost of television, and I sense that Fox trying to demand more is only going to hurt them later on down the road. People are getting tired of paying ever increasing prices for content that is sub par or that they don’t watch. If Time Warner caves in, it will only be a matter of time before other networks try the same thing as Fox is attempting. Comcast, after buying NBC Universal, may have a lot more control over what they decide to charge their own viewers, and maybe even more so to NBCU viewers not on Comcast (such as Time Warner). I certainly hope in this current case of chicken with Fox that Warner doesn’t swerve off its course.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays – That’s Right, Happy Holidays!

When did saying “Happy Holidays” become so offensive? These days, it seems that if you say “Have a happy holiday,” some people make it sound like you are killing Christmas. I think the true meaning of Christmas for Christians – celebrating the birth of Jesus – was vaporized long ago, and Christmas is more of a secular, commercial holiday where the focus is on giving – and getting – gifts.

I grew up in a very strict Catholic household but have been a lapsed Catholic for many years now. So if someone says “happy holidays” to me I won’t take offense, and if they say Merry Christmas to me I won’t take offense either. In fact, they can say “happy winter” to me and it wouldn’t bother me. If I know the person’s religious beliefs, I make sure that I acknowledge their holiday. But, I encounter so many people on a given day that I don’t know well (like a cashier working in the local supermarket) that “have a great holiday” or something of that nature is probably safest bet. I also have many readers of my blogs that come from all around the world and saying “Have a Merry Christmas” to everyone seems disrespectful to those who are not Christian.

No one is trying to kill Christmas by saying “happy holidays,” they are likely just trying to be respectful of the various beliefs, or maybe even non-beliefs, of others. My advice is that when you know if someone is Christian, feel free to say Merry Christmas. If you know they are Jewish, wish them a Happy Hanukkah.. If you are not sure, wish them a happy holiday, as it at least shows your hope that they enjoy themselves and have good times during whatever holiday they celebrate. And if someone wishes YOU a happy holiday, please accept it as a peaceful gesture.

Here is my wish: whatever you celebrate this time of the year, I hope you have a happy, peaceful time filled with family and friends!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leave Tiger Alone!

Poor Tiger Woods. He’s in the middle of a perfect PR tornado. He’s a golf mega-star who is very careful to protect his squeaky clean image, but unfortunately, he also seems to have been exposed as a philanderer. Now the media is literally beating his image to death with it.

Tiger’s perfect PR image began to unravel after a strange car accident in front of his own home, where, in the wee hours, he hit a fire hydrant and then a tree and was injured in the process. It seemed his wife had to use a golf club to get Tiger out of the car, and he appeared to be rendered unconscious from his accident. Police said Tiger was not intoxicated. Question arose immediately. What was he doing leaving the house at such an hour? Why did he seem to be traveling at such a rate of speed pulling out of his own driveway to cause such damage to his car and such injuries to his face? How was it so convenient his wife had a golf club in her hand to be able to use it to get him out of the car? Was there an argument? Did she beat him with the golf club? Was there an argument over an affair? The questions came up and grew exponentially. Unfortunately, Tiger responded in a rather rational way, taking responsibility for the event but saying nothing any substance.

The media of course wasn’t satisfied and continued to dig. Of course, gossip lovers were in heaven as this story just continued to feed on itself and grow bigger with each day. Things got really bad when a voice mail which appeared to be from Tiger left for “another woman” seemed to confirm that he was indeed playing around – no, not playing a round (of golf) – playing around. Despite the fact that the media continues to play the recording, admitting it has not been officially confirmed it was Tiger, Tiger suddenly admits to transgressions and asks for privacy . OK, I will admit, that voice mail message sounds exactly like Tiger, so let the media frenzy begin!

Tiger Woods is an amazing golfer, clearly one of the best ever. But it should be no surprise to anyone that his personal life is not perfect. No one can make that claim. But the media coverage of this matter is getting a little crazy. Everyone is falling over themselves in order to help smear Tiger’s image, almost enjoying the fact that he managed the whole situation very badly. Tiger’s fault here is that he had the nerve – the nerve! – to expect that he can have a private life (note sarcasm). Sadly, in this day and age, there is no such thing as a private life, especially for the famous. But really, I think Tiger has been beaten a little too much over this issue. The media, who was instrumental in building Tiger’s image into a golf god, is now working overtime to damn him to the depths of the hell reserved for famous people who make errors in judgment. I can understand a gossip paper such as the National Inquirer making a big deal over this, but now all the major networks are keeping this story in their leads. It really doesn’t belong there.

Tiger’s big mistake was not by cheating, but by trying to cover up the matter when it was clear that the car accident was going to bring personal matters out into the open. OK, it’s out into the open, now it’s time to leave Tiger alone and let him patch up the mess in private. And it’s time for the media to go back to reporting real news about things that really matter – the economy, the war, politics, etc. and leave the gossip reporting to the National Inquirer.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

This Thanksgiving Season – Be Thankful, Be Giving

For most people, the Thanksgiving holiday means a day off work (for some a 4 day weekend), a roast turkey or some other huge meal, and family gatherings. It also means that the Christmas holiday is right around the corner, and we will soon be consumed with shopping.

The Thanksgiving holiday should be more that just a day off work and a day of eating. While the words “thanks” and “giving” can both be found in the name of the holiday, sometimes those two things are the farthest things from people’s minds. This should be a time where we should reflect on what is really important in our lives – family, friends, good health, for examples. This should also be a time where we should give a little to help others who may not be as fortunate. Find a charity that is meaningful to you, and make a donation. For me, I have a favorite organization that cares for severely disabled and special needs children and adults. I am forever grateful for the support they provide for my nephew, who has severe disabilities.

So for this Thanksgiving holiday, I encourage everyone to put real thanks, and real giving, back in this holiday. Please consider giving thanks by helping your favorite charity and make a donation.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine Distribution: A Disorganized Mess

NBC’s Today Show reported this morning that some Wall Street firms (some being described as “influential firms”) have access to the swine flu vaccine, while many hospitals and doctors’ offices are still waiting to receive their supply to treat high-risk people. (The video of the news story is below.) With near panic setting in with people who are either in the high-risk category themselves, or for those who have children in the high-risk category, this is not welcome news.

I know that many businesses make traditional flu shots available to their employees, but this case with the swine flu vaccine highlights the inequality of how crucial vaccines may be doled out. My opinion is that any vaccine – swine flu or not – should be made available to hospitals, doctors’ offices, or other medical organizations and institutions first, and then when that demand is satisfied, the vaccine can be made available to other organizations as needed.

With continued reports of there not being enough vaccine to go around to high risk people, it is appalling that somehow Wall Street firms and banks have found a way to move themselves up the list. It’s bad enough that some of these same companies were partly to blame for the recent economic collapse and needed to be bailed out financially, but now they want to take a vaccine away from a more deserving child or pregnant woman? It’s greed at its worst. Those vaccines should be immediately pulled from their use.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if there ever was a virus that threatened all of humanity, if we respond in this same slow and disorganized manner, we may very well be doomed. It’s time to bring some organization, and some fairness, to the vaccine process. How about something simple – hospitals, doctors, and medical institutions get the supply first, with the highest priority?

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Friday, October 16, 2009

“Balloon Boy”: The News Media At Its Worst

News coverage exploded yesterday when it was believed that a young boy, Falcon Heene (AKA Balloon Boy) was thought to be flying high in giant Mylar balloon that was accidentally released from its mooring. Not only was the news coverage over the top, but also various emergency services pitched in to try to bring the balloon down and bring the boy to safety. When the balloon made it to the ground on its own, the boy was not in it. While some worried that the boy had fallen out, there were also many who felt that the boy was never in there to begin with. The latter turned out to be true – Balloon Boy was hiding in the attic at home , afraid because his father had yelled at him earlier in the day.

As I was watching some local news coverage on the matter – I had no choice, all the national and local news channels were full of it – and it was announced that the boy was found safe in his own home, one reporter commented that the whole matter seems to have been blown out of proportion, and asked “how did that happen?”

One answer to that question – The news media happened. The news media’s need to follow any story just to grab viewers, even before the story has played out, left them with no tragedy to cover and with a little egg on their faces. While I can certainly understand the parents concern for their child, there was no reason for every national and local news channel to provide literally blow-by-blow coverage as the balloon sailed overhead.

It was no surprise that the family showed up on the morning news shows today. But. as live TV can sometimes be unpredictable, it was a little surprising to see Balloon Boy upchuck right on camera on The Today Show. While the camera pulled back, his father Richard didn’t seem to miss a beat. Rumors abound that the whole incident was a publicity stunt, which Richard Heene denies. (Update October 18 - it has been ruled that the whole incident was, in fact, a hoax.)

If the parents made police and other rescue people think that their son was in the balloon, I am not going to criticize the involvement of other people who were attempting to rescue him. I do think that the kid vomiting on national television during an interview may indicate that the kid is under stress from the situation and while mommy and daddy may want all the media attention, the Balloon Boy may not.

But the real “suckers” here are members of the news media, who seemed all too eager to cover the story, almost if they were hoping for the worst ending possible – a balloon crash with the boy inside. While Balloon Boy’s suspected plight was unusual, it wasn’t a threat to 99.9999% of the population and did not deserve such extensive TV coverage. Maybe next time, the national news media should wait until a story like this actually plays out before they give it so much air time, especially for a story that affects so few people.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize – Why The Fuss?

With the recent announcement that President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, some people were incensed at the news, saying that Obama has done nothing to deserve it. Some also seemed to blame Obama for the award, which is just plain silly, seeing that he didn’t ask for it nor did he award it to himself.

Personally, I am thrilled that he will receive this recognition. Some pundits have commented that the simple fact that he was not George W. Bush put Obama on the top of the list. I think it is much more than that. Looking back to his July 2008 speech that he gave in Berlin, Germany, before he was elected, he was greeted by a massive throng and his words moved many people. His winning of the presidential election was a result of a huge number of Americans saying that they wanted change. His style has inspired many differing peoples inside the Unites States and in other parts of the world. He has brought respectability back to the people of the United States.

To those that say he hasn’t done anything yet, they are partly right. He didn’t sit by and watch the economy tank, as did the Bush administration. He didn’t get us into a war in the Middle East without having a clear strategy to facilitate the transfer of power in Iraq or without having an exit strategy, as in the Bush administration. He didn’t destabilize the oil market by a war, as did the Bush Administration. He didn’t create the Patriot Act, which threatens the freedoms of Americans, as did the Bush Administration. I could go on, but you get the idea of all the things that President Obama did not do. Of course, this only gives more credence to those who believe that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because he stands for everything that the Bush administration was not. But I believe that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has inspired many around the world, and has brought hope that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who has the gift of communication that may help bring people together.

According to the Nobel Prize web site, Obama received the award "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Sure, it does not mean that we have instant world peace, but it is a step in the right direction.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Candy Plus Kids Equals Violent Adults? The Faulty Math

A recent report from the British Journal of Psychiatry says parents who use sweets as a bartering tool with their children may prevent them from learning patience, which could lead to violence and delinquency. The study, led by Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in Violence and Society Research at Cardiff University in the U.K, followed and analyzed 17,500 children born in 1970. They discovered that 69% of participants who were violent had eaten sweets nearly every day during their childhood.

I have problems with studies such as this, because they seem to compartmentalize diet and behavior and then use one of the components on which to hang their findings.

Here are some questions that I have for those who conducted the study:

How many of those same people drank milk as a child? If they all did, could one say that drinking milk as a child makes some of them violent?
What was their overall diet like? Could something else in their diet have contributed to violent behaviors?
How many of these people had divorced parents? What happens if that same 69% were children of divorce parents, could one say that the divorce led the children to violence?
How many grew up in middle class households?
How many of them watched cartoons?
How many of them went to school?
How many of these people were spanked as a child?
How man of them had parents that were college educated? Or had parents who both worked?
How many of them were not the only child?
How many of them ate sugar free foods rather than those made with real sugar?
How many watched sports on television?
How many got toys as Christmas gifts?
How many of them are brunettes?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When researchers take out only one piece of what is likely a complex set of events or activities and says that one thing is the cause of another, it seems to me that they are making the data fit their desired results. When the matter turns to behavioral issues, things can get dicey. It seems easy to blame one segment of a person’s life for his/her later bad behavior, but to do so may take away that person’s own responsibility for their own choices. A person’s behavior as an adult is likely the sum of many parts. Sure, there may be a few key elements of that person’s childhood that may shape what direction their adult life may take, but using sweets as a bartering tool seems to be one of those things that would be low on the list.

Sugar is not the villain, and neither are parents. As children grow up, they are influenced by many events and make many choices that set the tone for what kind of adults they will be. A person’s behavior is often the sum of many things, and as long as people have a freedom on choice, I’m not sure science will ever find the perfect equation to explain human behavior.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How To Interact With A Man’s Brain And Get Your Message Across

I was flipping channels this morning and landed on a new show hosted by a Dr. Oz (I watched part of it, I didn’t care for the show). He had someone on the show that was talking about what is inside a man’s brain. Seeing that I’ve always wanted to know what goes on in there, I watched for a while. (I am sure my husband wonders the same about a woman’s brain; too bad he doesn’t have his own blog where he can talk about it.)

The guest, whose name I did not catch, says that men can’t take in a lot of detail, so women need to speak with as few words as possible, as men get overwhelmed with details. He also said that women have to repeat information to men often because their memory center is smaller.

Tell me something that I don’t know. My husband and I have a standing joke about how he doesn’t always seem to hear me. Sometimes while speaking to him – sometimes he is looking me right in the eye when I do so – 30 seconds later, he’ll say, “What did you just say?” Or, when I ask him a question that requires a specific answer, I get a yes or no response. For example, “Would you like chicken for dinner or should I get Chinese?” and he responds “yes.” Many times I will give him a bit of information, and 10 minutes later he will ask me a question that makes me realize he didn’t hear a word I said. For example, he may ask, “What did you blog about today” and 10 minutes later, he will ask, “Did you blog today?”

Of course, I am far from perfect, sometimes flooding my husband’s brain with information when he asks a simple question like, “What did you do today?” which to his mind, probably sounds like I am reciting “War and Peace.”

So we came up with a solution. When there is something that is important that I need to say and I think he needs to remember, I preface it with warning beeps, similar to what they use for TV weather warnings and alerts. For example, I may say “Beep beep beep beep beep….I called the plumber and he is coming over on Wednesday.” Just like a TV warning, he looks up and pays attention. So far it has worked every time.

So if you think your husband is not listening to you, try the “beep” routine. It should work, and you won’t have to worry so much about how you should be interacting with a man’s brain. Just remember, keep your message brief, because he may tune you out before your message is over! Now, if I could just get a message to scroll across my head at the same time….

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are We All Becoming Germaphobes?

USA Network's Adrian Monk, poster boy for germaphobes

It seems that almost every time I turn on the television someone is talking about all the germs and bacteria that lurk among us. Just this week, I was informed that my purse is likely a cesspool of disease inducing bacteria, my shower head could kill me with the germs it can spray out, my makeup can be spreading germs all over my face, my shopping cart is likely covered in crud that could make me sick, my shower cap could be awash in nasty bacteria, and my toothbrush is probably dirtier than my bathroom floor.

One can only wonder how I have survived on this earth so long.

All kidding aside, while many people do not always think about the things that they touch on a daily basis and where it has been, I see no harm in raising a person’s consciousness about how he or she can come in contact with germs. But I sense that what seems like wall-to-wall coverage of where germs may lurk is an offshoot of the H1N1 (AKA “swine flu”) concerns. I feel as if someone is preparing me for some sort of viral Armageddon, not unlike Stephen King’s classic book, “The Stand.” I’ve noticed that completely healthy people are getting somewhat obsessive/compulsive when it comes to wiping down surfaces and slathering on globs of hand sanitizer and practically bathing in antibacterial cleansers.

I suppose there are many people who aren’t as clean conscious as I am, so all this media coverage about where people can come in contact with germs may be of help to some. But I think the whole thing can be addressed by a few common sense tips, without creating a country of germaphobes:

1. Wash your hands - a lot. If you can, wash them in your sleep too. You don’t know where your hands have been in your dreams.

2. Keep your kitchen and bathroom clean. In fact, never go in there because then you can be sure there are no germs in there.

3. Never put your purse or man-bag on the floor. Ever.

4. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth, preferably with your arm. Never use someone else’s arm.

5. Close that toilet seat when not in use. Quit debating the issue, just close it!

6. Never have children as they are nothing but large germ and bacteria magnets. If you already have children, well, you're screwed.

7. Bleach. Bleach everything. Just bleach it all.

Of course, if as in the case of the book “The Stand” we get a germ that is transmitted just by the air we breathe, all bets are off. In the meantime, I think I will buy stock in Clorox (CLX).

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Obama To Address Students, Some Parents Fearful

I’ve been following the many recent new stories regarding President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday, September 8. (The speech was published today on the White House web site. )

It’s a pity that some parents have become so afraid of the President of the United States that they made every effort to block their children from hearing the Presidents address live. It seems that some parents are panicked that the President would somehow try to subliminally indoctrinate their children into some secret liberal and/or socialist society. Or, they were afraid that the President would somehow sneak in some kind of health care propaganda.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made reference to these overreactions as being an indication that we have entered the ”silly season” when parents want to block the President from talking to their children about studying hard and staying in school, a message that students should already be hearing from their parents.

I think Gibbs was being too kind when he referred to this as the silly season. I think the overreacting parents are just being obtuse, close-minded, fear-mongering idiots. (This is why I could never be a press secretary.)

I read the speech and find it that it should be an inspiration to students everywhere. It sends a message that if someone studies hard and applies themselves that they will be better prepared for those days when they must choose a vocation and go out and find work. It doesn’t matter if the student chooses a vocation that is easy or complex – everything requires an education of some sort. It also encourages children to be responsible for themselves, a philosophy that can never be ingrained too early on in a child’s life. It is a given that some children live in differing home environments, or have differing skills. With the President using his own life experiences as an example, he could serve as a perfect role model for those students who need to break out of the mindset that their current standing in life is where they need to stay for the rest of their lives.

The speech poses no harm whatsoever, and any parent who reads it still thinks that this poses some sort of threat to their child needs to have their heads examined. If anything, these parents should be thankful that the President is taking the time to show interest in their children and their future. The parents who want to censor the President’s speech are the ones politicizing this event, and those parents should be ashamed of themselves.

You can find the complete speech to schoolchildren on the White House web site, here. )

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Death By Fragrance

Like many women, I enjoy shopping. There are a few times, though, when I hate to shop. One example is when I am looking for something very specific and I can’t find it anywhere. Another is when I do find something I like but it is only stocked in size 2 or 4.

But the one thing that brings me to my knees is when I walk into a store and I am immediately assaulted by fragrance. This used to happen frequently in departments stores in the makeup and fragrance department, when sales clerks would spray the latest fragrance over anything that would walk by. Many stores have cut back on doing that to some extent, and now many hand out little cards with the scent du jour on it. Around the holidays, stores have Christmas scents around – like pine, or cinnamon – which are a somewhat more tolerable if they are not sprayed all over the place.

But today I was almost gassed to death when I walked in the local Bed Bath and Beyond store. The entire store was bathed in a heavy, perfumed smell that literally caused me to gasp for air. (We used to cause this kind of scent “eau de maggot gagger” because even a maggot would be repulsed by it.) After walking through the store, coughing and sneezing the entire time, and not finding what I needed, I left. My nostrils are still burning.

I come from a family with lots of allergies – myself included – so anything with a heavy fragrance was not welcome in the house. To this day, I buy unscented products when I can find them. I admit that I may be more sensitive to fragrance than many people. But, I am also not one of those people that wants to ban the wearing of perfume in the office because I understand that some people really do like it and it can be pleasant if done with a light touch. Some people need it, frankly, to cover up the odor of either cigarette smoke, an evening of drinking, or body odor, or any combination thereof.

Do we need to smell flowery perfume shopping in places other than a perfume department? No. In fact, too much fragrance is the one thing that drives me out of a store faster than a fire alarm. So I make my plea to retailers - please ditch the heavy fragrances. Your customers’ respiratory systems will thank you.

PS - Still coughing, 2 hours later.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

“It’s In The Hole!” Make It Stop!

My husband loves to golf and loves to watch golf. On Saturdays and Sundays I lose all control over the TV remote when golf is airing.

But I swear that if I hear some spectator at a golf tournament say “It’s in the hole” one more time, I won’t be responsible for my own actions.

“It’s in the hole” has taken the place of yelling “You Da Man!” which seemed to go out of style very quickly. But “It’s in the hole” is much much worse. It seems that someone, on every hole, with every shot, must yell that the ball is going to be in the hole, even if golfer is hitting the ball from the tee on a par five.

And depending on the golfer, the number of people yelling, “It’s in the hole” is directly proportionate to the popularity of the golfer or his standing on the leader board. For example, when Tiger Woods hits the ball, many people will yell “It’s in the hole” but when someone like Ben Curtis is putting and he’s nowhere near the lead in the tournament, he’s lucky if his wife yells “It’s in the hole.”

For the number of times the ball actually goes into the hole after someone yells out that it is in the hole, you’d think that people would come to the conclusion that just saying “It’s in the hole” doesn’t mean it will actually GET in the hole.

I suspect that there are some people out there who are recording the tournament on their DVR and want to come home and hear themselves yelling “It’s in the hole” so they can feel important. I blame the movie Caddyshack.

My wish is that the PGA would make a ruling for any televised PGA sanctioned golf tournament that if anyone yells “It’s in the hole,” that person should be immediately ejected from the golf course, and then as further punishment be forced to watch Kevin Costner in “Tin Cup” 10 times in a row, the latter being the far worse punishment.

And while I was writing this, I heard “It’s in the hole” at least 30 times. These people seriously need to get a life.

Bill Murray Caddyshack “It’s In The Hole!”

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fox News: Toxic Waste or Free Speech?

I was happy when I heard the news that advertisers were pulling their ads from Fox News’ Glenn Beck show. I am all for free speech, but I am also for people accepting the consequences of it.

Beck had referred to President Obama as a racist, with “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” How Beck arrived at his revelation I have no idea. But based on what I have seen of the public face of Barack Obama, Beck’s conclusion seems skewed in the wrong direction. Based on the public outcry regarding Beck’s comments, including Fox News themselves distancing themselves from Beck’s statements, it seems clear that Glenn Beck crossed the line. According to the New York Times, “That day, Fox News appeared to distance itself quickly from Mr. Beck’s remark that Mr. Obama was a racist, telling the TVNewser blog that Mr. Beck had “expressed a personal opinion, which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel."

I actually tune in to Fox News on the weekends every now and then, mostly in the morning on Sunday and on Saturday for their business shows. I watch only to see what the extreme right is saying. My husband used to like the business shows, but we find that we now record them on the DVR and watch them later so we can fast forward through all the political whining which frequently has nothing to do with the business climate. We can now watch about 2 hours of the show in about 20 minutes, and it’s getting to the point we will likely not watch at all. Why? Because Fox has reached the point of overkill on its right winged slant. When I get my news, I also like to get more than a singular opinion. (I actually prefer the news relatively opinion free, as how the broadcast networks handle it.) Remember when Fox used to call themselves “Fair and Balanced?” I haven’t heard that tag line in ages, likely because the media made a joke out of it, as historically Fox has been far from fair and balanced.

While Fox seemed to distance themselves from Glenn Beck, the network’s penchant for extreme commentary supporting the extreme conservative right has created what I see as a “toxic” news environment filled with talking heads who try to yell the loudest and say the most controversial things against moderates and liberals. My opinion is that it doesn’t matter to Fox if their comments are really factual, they just want the shock value so they can attract more eyeballs to their channel. In the case of Glenn Beck, he doesn’t seem to be able to support his accusations, and advertisers are not willing to put their reputations on the line for such unsubstantiated commentary. This may be the only thing that can teach Fox News that free speech does indeed have a price, and that Fox may need to dial down the vitriol if they want to keep making money. People may watch to see what wild comment comes out of one of the mouths of their talking heads, but if advertisers aren’t there to pay for all that overhead, Fox News will be hurting in the wallet and the nasty talking heads may eventually disappear.

My conclusion is that Fox News is toxic waste disguised as free speech. And like most toxic waste, it will eventually need to be buried far far underground where it can't hurt anyone. Fox is more than welcome to continue to allow their talking heads to have a free reign with their mouths, and I hope advertising continue to speak right back to them by pulling their adversities dollars.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Twitter: Pointless Babble? I Say No.

Back in February, I wrote that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to join the Twitter party, or watch from the sidelines I decided to join the party soon after those comments, and I have a two Twitter accounts. My family and friends have still stayed off the Twitter bandwagon, however. I use Twitter to keep people up to date on my blogs, and I have to admit that I find it a quick, easy way to keep up on what other people are doing. (The real time search is also great.)

A recent study by Pear Analytics says that 40% of the tweets are “pointless babble.” I ask – is this really a problem? I thought the whole point of Twitter was quick and brief communication, not about high quality content. While I don’t tell people what I am doing every minute of the day, I have to say that I enjoy some of the “pointless babble” that goes on out there, some of which actually put an interesting spin on the mundane. Sometimes I will just look at some of my followers and whom they follow, and delve into their tweets just to get a snapshot of what is going on in the world. Some of it is silly, but a lot that may appear to be pointless babble really may make sense if you look at the person’s tweets over a period of time.

The full breakdown of categories measured by Pear Analytics are as follows, in case you are interested:

Total News 3.69%
Total Spam 3.75%
Total Self Promotion 5.85%
Total Pointless Babble 40.55%
Total Conversational 37.55
Total Pass Along Value 8.70

My only complaint about Twitter is that they certainly seem to have capacity issues, downtime issues, and security issues. But content issues – I have no problem at all with pointless babble. It's a lot like how my own mind works!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We Need Health Care Reform – Not Angry Mobs

It seems every day there are more news reports of angry mobs at some senator’s town hall meeting. While I am all for free speech, I am for free, rational speech, not free, angry and ignorant speech.

This country is in dire need of health care reform. There are many poor American citizens that can barely afford to feed their families and pay for a roof over their heads, much less get medical care. Too many people are denied medical coverage because of pre-existing conditions. And for those people who are employed and/or who are paying for their medical insurance, the costs have been rocketing upward each year, with no real improvements in the type of coverage they are receiving.

The Obama health care plan is not about socializing medicine, as the angry mobs want people to believe. It is not about making euthanasia easier for the elderly, or denying the elderly care, as the angry mobs want you to believe. It is not about taking away your choice for coverage and for doctors as the angry mobs want you to believe.

This is about providing a health care option for those people that don’t already have coverage. It’s about helping to reduce medical costs and encouraging people to live healthier lives to prevent their illnesses. It’s about getting rid of loopholes that, for example, allow insurance companies to deny covering any illness that is considered “pre-existing.” It's about encouraging competition between insurance companies to help lower costs.

The government doesn’t want to take over the entire health care system. Yet these angry mobs are intent on trying to make people believe that the government wants to control whether people get health care, what kind of care they get, or even if people live or die. These mobs are trying to prey on peoples’ fears. Don’t buy into it.

I am not saying the plan is perfect, and I do have concerns about funding. But I would rather do my homework and research the issues, and ask my questions or voice my concerns rationally. My opinion is that rational questions often get rational answers. The angry mob mentality gets one nowhere.

Information about the Obama/Biden Health Care Plan can be found here.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Obama Was Born In America. Period.

I think “birthers” – the people who believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States of America - are, frankly, a little nutty. Obama’s birth certificate has been produced and it has been verified over and over that President Obama was born in Hawaii, after it became our 50th state. There are two videos below that both show this information, plus more, confirming the information on Obama’s US birth. Yet, there are some people who, for whatever reason, refuse to believe it. My opinion is that these non-believers, these “conspiracy theorists,” are suffering from a case of severe brain damage, maybe with the side symptoms of racism and irrational fear.

Decide for yourself. Take a look at Jon Stewart’s commentary on the matter, which, while humorous, is right on target. I have also included the recent NBC Nightly News story, where Brian Williams takes a serious look at this issue, hopefully answering the question once and for all.

Will the “birthers” go away? Probably not, because brain damage often can’t be reversed.

Jon Stewart “The Born Identity”

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Recipe for Stupidly: Gates + Cambridge Police + Obama

President Barack Obama took immediate heat for his comment during a press conference that the Cambridge Massachusetts police "acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home” when they arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. for disorderly conduct after he forced open a door at his own home.

The question here is – was anyone really stupid? The answer is YES, everyone was.

The Cambridge Police, legitimately responding to a call from a concerned citizen about a burglary in process, did the right thing by checking things out. But, they met their match when they came upon Gates, who is highly educated about many things, including the law. Sergeant Crowley admits that he asked Gates to step out of the house, and this may have been Crowley's mistake. Any halfway intelligent person knows that once you step out of your home, the police can arrest you. I suspect that Gates knew that was exactly what Crowley was going to do. Since Gates knew he was in his own home, I don’t blame him for not wanting to cooperate on that issue.

However, the reports from the police go on to indicate that Gates was uncooperative from the get go. It is possible that Gates’ behavior only made the police more suspicious that Gates was a burglar.

Adding fuel to the fire was President Obama’s response during a press conference; a truthful, non-politician response that used one “stupid” word.

A side issue here is the concerned neighbor who called in the burglary, who apparently doesn’t even know what her neighbor looks like.

In my opinion, everyone in the situation acted without completely engaging their brains. If the police account is correct, Gates should have kept his cool, but Sergeant Crowley should not have found it suspicious that Gates refused to step outside. You do not have to step out of your house when the police ask you to, period. Crowley should know this and this should have raised a flag that he was not dealing with just some stupid burglar. If Gates' account is correct, then the police overreacted and they should have backed off when Gates showed he did live in the house. President Obama was asked a question about the matter, admitted he knew Gates personally, and Obama responded as anyone with a personal connection and personal experience with encountering police would respond. He gave an honest, unedited answer, unlike most politicians. His choice of the word “stupidly” was probably not the right one, but it was directionally correct. This is one of those cases when the forthright president should zip his lips and give a noncommittal answer until he gets all the facts.

I have the utmost respect for the police department, but also understand that they are human beings too and sometimes they make errors in judgment. Maybe in this case, if rumored radio transmissions from this event are made public, their judgment may be vindicated. But, based on what I have read about this situation and from the extensive TV coverage, it seems to me that in this case, the police didn’t like the fact that Gates challenged them. Imagine if the police, who are armed. approached YOUR home, asked YOU to step outside, and didn’t like the fact that you refused (which is your right to do so) – how would you feel? This, in my opinion, may be the bigger issue here over the claims of racial bias. The police should be respected, but citizens also have rights. The police should be held to a higher standard because they are supposed to know and follow the law. In this case, it seems to me that when police are armed and they approach someone who is in their own home, that the police exercise extreme caution and make sure they follow the law to the letter. They should also develop thicker skin and not get suspicious when a citizen knows the law and choses to follow it. People should continue to repect the badge, but make sure they know their own rights. Knowledge is power.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering “One Giant Leap for Mankind”

Today is the 40th anniversary of man’s first landing and taking steps on the Moon. Maybe because I have seen it replayed on television so many times the event seems like it only happened yesterday. But it truly does seem like just yesterday that I was a 14 year old kid, sitting glued to a black and white television with my parents and my sisters and brother watching the event. I can close my eyes and see us all in the living room, and remember the feelings of excitement that I had when Neil Armstrong took his first “small” step. The last time the family had spent so much time together glued to a television event was when President Kennedy had been assassinated. The moon landing was a completely different event from the Kennedy coverage, as the moon landing was not a time to mourn, but a time to celebrate the achievements of the American people, especially those who were involved in the program.

There are some people out there who say the moon landing was faked. Personally, I don’t understand how anyone could not believe it was real. When I search for information on the moon landing hoax, I can also find many web sites that disprove and discredit all the conspiracy claims. Yet, some still refuse to believe in the facts. I would like to ask the consipiracy believers that if landing on the moon was so easy to fake, why didn’t the Russians or anybody else do it first?

Landing on the moon fell out of favor and the program was later discontinued, likely due to the high cost and the low rate of return on the investment, and frankly, lack of interest. I guess once you’ve been to the moon and take your share of moon rocks and moon dust, there really isn’t anything compelling to bring a person back. I am sure that someday, if/when unmanned missions can show that the moon itself has value to those of us on earth, people will find a reason to go back. There are talks of manned missions to Mars, and despite the fact that I am all for space exploration, I think until we are able to reliably land something on Mars more than one or two times (there have been many failures to date), then we should continue to send unmanned probes to do reconnaissance.

Some people say the whole moon landing was a waste as we got nothing from it. Far from it, I say. It likely helped in the rapid leaps we made in technology over the years. But more than that, it made people feel that almost anything is possible, and shows that human beings can accomplish just about anything to which they put their minds.

When I look at all the leaps mankind has made in these last 40 years, it may not have been possible without Neil Armstrong’s one small step. And while I watched coverage of the even on various shows over the weekend, and also today on I can still feel the excitement as if it was 40 years ago. It still makes me feel young.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

The Media Canonization of Michael Jackson – For Their Own Benefit

Enough of the Michael Jackson coverage. Enough.

The media, who was quick to vilify Michael Jackson during his trial for child (sexual) abuse years ago, has now gone in the other direction, giving constant coverage to his recent death, portraying him as a near saint.

There is an unwritten rule that one should not speak ill of the dead. The media, in this case, has gone almost overboard to follow this rule, covering Michael’s musical accomplishments and life as if he were a god, and wiping away any of the other “strangeness” that permeated his life. For me, I rarely follow silly rules.

Michael Jackson was a talented entertainer. Yet to me it seemed clear he was troubled. His bizarre Neverland ranch with its carnival rides and super-secure bedroom with a tiny secret room in his closet, his constant cosmetic surgery, his now apparent drug abuse – all seem to be signs that this was a man who needed mental help. He appeared to have been surrounded by sycophants and “yes men” who had no power or desire to get help for this seemingly troubled man. I suppose as long as Michael Jackson was making money for them, no one wanted to rock the boat.

The media never hesitated in the past to cover the strange life of Jackson. But now, because it can bring them more viewers, the media is ignoring the past and going overboard in praise to Jackson in his death, in effect fueling the desire for people to attend his memorial. So many people want to attend the memorial at the Staples center; over a million had registered for tickets, yet fewer than 9,000 people could be selected. The city of LA is concerned that many people will still descend on the area in order to be a part of the memorial and that chaos may ensue. If course, the big television media outlets are sending some of their top people to cover “THE EVENT” because, after all, they want it to be a big deal. It would mean more viewers. It will also give the media another chance to canonize Jackson into entertainment sainthood.

I will admit that, at one time, Michael Jackson was a pivotal entertainer who was hugely popular. But in all honesty I can’t think of one piece of music that he has done in many years that is memorable. In fact, the music industry seemingly has passed him by long ago. Maybe, like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson had his core group of die-hard followers who, through thick and thin, thought he was still a superstar. And these are the people to which the media will cater for now. Likewise, I suspect that Michael’s family could very well be working behind the scenes right now to find a way to milk the fans’ love for Michael for years to come, with the media speculating that Neverland will be a destination for fans just as Graceland is for the fans of Elvis. Even in death, people can find a way to make a buck.

But give the media time. After the “king of pop" is buried, the media will turn their attention to the seedy side of Michael Jackson’s life and begin to expose it and tear it apart. After all, a person can’t be canonized as a saint until the devil’s advocate has his/her turn. Based on what has already been exposed and/or speculated about Michael in the past, the media will have many months of even more coverage. It’s sad really, with all the things going on in the world that this death seems to occupy so much of the media’s time. What they may not realize is that while people are talking about Jackson's death, many people I encounter comment that they are tired of the story already and they want the media to move on. And they will, after they have played their devil’s advocate role and squeezed out every last drop of the story. For me, while I extend my sympathies to Michael’s family on his death, I won’t be spending any time mourning him or glorifying him – or watching any of his memorial coverage on TV. There are more important things – and people – in my life that are more deserving of the attention.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Governor Sanford Goes MIA, Abandons South Carolina

This past week when it became known that no one – including his wife and his security people – seemed to know where South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has been for the last several days, his staff released a story that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s bad enough when an elected official drops off the grid without telling anyone, but the story gets worse. Now, Governor Sanford has returned, and is saying that he really was in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Yes, Buenos Aires, as in out of the country. He told South Carolina newspaper "The State" that he had considered hiking the Appalachian Trail after his state's busy legislative season ended but instead decided differently, the newspaper quoting him as saying, "I wanted to do something exotic. It's a great city."

I don’t begrudge anyone a much-needed vacation, but there is a huge glaring issue here – who was running the state when Governor Sanford was missing in action? And does anyone else but me think it’s odd that he wouldn’t tell anyone – especially his own wife – where he was going?

Something sure smells fishy here. When someone just drops out of their job and leaves the country without telling anyone, I can only think that the person is either mentally unbalanced, or he was having one heck of a “party” and maybe doing things that aren't legal or would be frowned upon by his constituents.

Put it simply, Governor Sanford abandoned his job. Anyone who has ever worked a real job knows that if you don’t show up for work for 2-3 days and don't explain your absence, this usually means that you will get fired. In the case of Governor Sanford, my opinion is the State of South Carolina should move to have him removed from office as quickly as they can by whatever legal means that they can.

Update 6/24/09 – Now the Governor admits he went to Argentina as he was having an affair. Don’t worry Governor, we won’t cry for you.

Here is a link to the full story on South Carolina’s (probably soon to be ex) Governor Sanford from CNN.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Analog to Digital TV Transition: One Step Forward, One Step Back

I’ve got cable TV, so I wasn’t worried about the recent conversion from analog to digital television signals. But to experience the transition for myself, I picked up a new antenna – for UHF, VHF, HD, and digital signals. I also wanted the antenna as a backup in case the cable went out. And it does go out, usually at the times when you want it the most.

Imagine my dismay, however, when I hooked up the antenna over a month ago and got only a few channels, some with signals that seemed to break up a lot, or disappear altogether. Don’t worry I was told - the Cleveland stations weren’t all broadcasting at the time, and some who were broadcasting before the switch may not have been at full power. So, I waited for the day of the transition and rescanned my TV for digital channels several times, getting FEWER over the air channels than I got before the changeover, some local channels never appearing at all.

Our local Fox channel, WJW, was running a spot yesterday on the 5:00 PM newscast where they went to a viewer’s house who wasn’t able to get the Fox station at all, and the reporter showed the man that if he stood up and held his rabbit ears high, the signal came in much better. Of course, he said, a person should not have to do that. He got the man another set of rabbit ear antennas and seemed to be able to pull in Fox 8 a little better.

I also have read that outdoor antennas can get much better reception. Well, pardon me, but we got rid of our massive outdoor antenna years ago, when the ice age ended – I mean - when we got cable and there were newfangled things called satellite dishes out there. Another pat answer that people are handing out is just to re-scan your TV. Well, I’ve done that sometimes more than once a day just to see what I get, and the number of stations change every time. These digital signals should not be that inconsistent.

Imagine my surprise that in 2009, people have gone back to having to put “rabbit ears” on their TVs and put huge antennas on their roofs. I have a nice flat antenna that is supposed to work indoors and pull signals from every direction, yet now I find out that some stations are broadcasting in a weaker VHF signal that doesn’t transmit as well, regardless of how good my antenna is. What is even worse is that with old analog signals, at least you could get part of a signal – it may have looked snowy - but with digital, if there is too much signal loss, you get nothing at all. We can put a man on the moon, we can send phone calls via cell towers and we have wireless Internet, why is a television signal such a problem? Did I mention that this is 2009?

I can’t imagine how crazy I would be right now if I didn’t have cable. I feel sorry for the people – and there are many in this area – which still can’t get the same channels they used to be able to get over the air from the analog signals. Right now, Cleveland’s Fox affiliate, WJW, and the CBS affiliate, WOIO, have almost completely dropped off from many viewers’ television sets. (In the case of WOIO and their local newscasts, some see this as a benefit.) These two stations are broadcasting in the lower power VHF signal, by the way.

My gripe is really with the fact that in trying to deliver something better, it seems that we have now gone back to the old days where you had to have your antenna “just right” in order to see television. The FCC should have done a better job with the stations to make sure that their signals really did reach the intended viewing area. The government delayed the transition to make sure all the viewers had time to be ready, but possibly they should have used that time to make sure the stations were ready and that the signals actually could be received by people.

As this is hurricane season for the country’s east coast residents, I hope that signal problems can be resolved so those that don’t have cable, or must get their television via a portable, battery powered TV, can still get important weather and evacuation information.

So my experiment with the digital transition was that it happened, but it has some problems in some area that the local stations and the FCC must address quickly. There is no reason why, in this age of advanced technology, that there can’t be a better answer to this problem than bigger rabbit ears.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, The Frequent Critic, here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Pros and Cons of Tasers

The media and talk shows are all abuzz about the video of a 72-year-old woman being tasered at a traffic stop last month. The tease to the news story focuses on the woman’s age, and the fact that she’s somebody great-grandmother. Local officials recently ruled that the tasing of Kathryn Winkfein was appropriate.

When I first heard the story, I wondered why anyone would taser a 72-year-old man OR woman at a traffic stop. But, after watching the dash cam video of the incident (below), I have to admit that the woman was acting pretty mouthy and seems to be using her age as an excuse. She also appeared to walk closer to the traffic, despite the officer’s repeated instructions to move back.

Were there any other options besides tasing that the officer could have taken? Maybe. If he decided to place her under arrest for resisting, he could have cuffed her and moved her to his car. Still, if she had her mind made up that she wanted to get back into her car and physically fought him, if she made another move towards traffic, she could have gotten herself, and the officer, hit by a car. It was a tough call, and while one would think the police officer could have somehow physically restrained her, it is possible that tasing was the easiest way for him to render her unable to physically resist.

The pros to tasers is that they are sometime better than using physical force, and always better than using a gun, to restrain or disable someone who has become out of control. While I have no desire to have any family member of mile tased, I would rather the police take that option than using severe physical force that could cause harm. I would be very upset too if my 79 year old mother was treated that way, but I would also be upset and concerned if I saw my mother behave the same way this woman had behaved toward the officer. (Just for the record, if my mother behaved this way, it would not be normal for her, which is why I would be concerned.)

The cons to tasers is that they can be an easy out for the police. This office was clearly bigger and more powerful than this 72-year-old woman, and I don’t see why he couldn’t have just cuffed her and led her to his car. In addition, a 72-year-old person’s heart or nervous system may not react too well to the shock of a taser. In fact, unless a police officer knows the medical condition in advance of the person they are going to taser, they run the risk that their action could cause the person serious physical harm. And what if the woman’s unruly behavior was due to a medical condition? The officer can’t always know if the person is acting out because they have a medical problem, or if the person is just being a jerk. My thinking is the officer needs to engage their brains before they engage that taser – presuming they have time to think, that is.

In this case, the taser didn’t appear to cause her any major harm. His intent appeared to be to get her out of the line of traffic, and to keep her from possibly fleeing in her car. Her repeated invoking of her age was a clear attempt on her part to use her age as an excuse for her infraction. Sorry, but if you’re age is that much of a problem that it causes you to speed to the point you are stopped by the police, maybe you shouldn’t be on the road.

While tasers aren’t the answer in all cases, in this one, it was likely the best choice.

Video – 72 Year Old Woman Tased

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Alltel “Air Quotes” Commercial: “Make It Stop!”

Before I go on my “rant of the day” I have a “disclaimer.” I recently “switched” my cell phone “carrier” to “Alltel.” And I am very "happy" with my "choice."

Now my “rant.” Will “someone” please make "Alltel" “stop” airing that "ridiculous" commercial where the “curly headed” guy speaks in “air quotes?” It is really getting “annoying” seeing it 4 times an hour, in just about “every” show aired in “prime time” and even not in “prime time.” It’s worse than reading a “Zagat Survey” book.

When watching a show using a “DVR” on can “zip” through these ads, but when one watches “live” only a quick “flip” of the channel with the “remote” will “spare” you. These are the only “choices” you have, unless “leaving the room” is a quicker for you.

After seeing what seemed like a “million” of these commercials “air” this week, I wanted to “throw” my Alltel phone “right out the window.”

Please, can “someone” tell “Alltel” to “make it stop?"

For your “enjoyment,” here is a clip of an old “Saturday Night Live” sketch with the “late” (meaning “deceased,” not “tardy”) Chris Farley, which the “Alltel” commercial has clearly “ripped off.” (By the way, even if I could “find” the Alltel commercial on “You Tube” I am not sure I would “torture” my “regular” readers by including it here. )

Chris Farley “Air Quotes” Skit

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stop Driving While Texting, Phoning

It seems a daily occurrence lately when one hears about a vehicle accident – car, bus, train – where an accident occurred because someone was talking on his or her cell phone and/or texting while driving.

I am tired of driving behind or next to someone who is driving 50 miles per hour on a 65 mph stretch of freeway because they have one hand on the wheel, the other on their phone/BlackBerry, their eyes not on the road, and their vehicle not clearly in their lane.

Some communities are making it illegal to talk on a cell phone (unless it’s hands free) or to text while driving. This is a worthless endeavor, since the person has to be caught in the act, and really won’t prevent anyone from not doing it while there isn’t a police car driving right nearby.

Cell phones and BlackBerries are nice tools that can help people become more efficient in their jobs and stay in touch, but really, one CAN put them down for a while. There is no excuse for someone whose job is a train or bus driver to be texting – it’s just not part of their job. People who travel by car for their jobs should either check their messages before they leave or wait until they can stop their car.

Maybe what we need for cell phones and BlackBerries is something like what we do for young kids when driving in a car – strap them into the back seat while we are driving. I am just kidding, of course, but if people can’t keep cell phones out of their hands for more than a few minutes, then maybe someone has to force it out of their hands.

By the way, if you’re so busy that you can’t put down that cell phone or BlackBerry down while you’re driving, you are a slave to technology and you need to get a real life. Seriously.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Recession? What Recession?

On Monday, I planned for a day of yard work. The weather was supposed to be nice so I figured it would be a good day to move a few shrubs I planted a few years ago and hated how they looked as they got bigger. After I dug the 2 shrubs out and replanted them – it took less than 45 minutes – I decided to head over to the local Lowes store to check out what I could put in their place. It was before 10 AM, and usually on a Monday the stores are somewhat empty, even considering my hometown is one of the largest retail cities in the state of Ohio.

Well, I was in for quite a shock, because the Lowes garden area was packed - packed! – with people. Not only that, my ride down the city’s main drag to get there was also clogged with traffic, more so like it is at noon on a Saturday. I blew threw the store and saw nothing I liked, well, at least nothing worth standing in line for a long time to buy it. So I hopped onto the freeway and headed to the nearest garden center in the adjoining city, and found that at 10:15 they were also packed - packed! – with people. (Doesn’t anybody work anymore?) I made my purchase (two very nice large golden thread cyprus) and stood in line for about 15 minutes. I found myself wondering, if this is what this place looked like on a Monday, it must have been a zoo on the weekend.

On the way back home, I stopped at the local Wal-Mart, and one would have thought it was the day after Thanksgiving. The lot was jammed with cars, and again I had to stand in line for a while to make my purchase. On the way home, the main drag was even more crowded than when I was first driving it at 10 AM, and as I glanced over to the parking lots at the local Kmart and other stores in the area, they appeared to all be filled with cars.

Clearly, there is no recession in my hometown. People still seem to be very willing to spend money, whether they have it or not.

Granted, my one experience is not necessarily what it is like everywhere else. News of a community much like my own that is about 25 miles away just got word that their local Chrysler plant is closing. This will deal a severe blow to that city for sure. So while I may bemoan the traffic, the crowds, and standing in line, I realize that I am very fortunate to live in a city that can still draw big crowds to shop and spend money, along with a large business corridor to help bring in jobs and more tax dollars. What has happened to cities that are very dependent on one industry for support will hopefully teach others that they can’t put all their eggs in one basket. It seems clear that the decline of the auto industry will continue to affect other cities across the country until they find their way to economic stability. In the meantime, I will be thankful that I live somewhere where people still seem to have money to spend.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Flu Pandemic – Don’t Panic. OK, Panic!

Even the swines are panicking!
There are many conflicting stories coming out of the news media about the possibility of a flu pandemic arising from a strain of swine flu that has, as of this writing, killed over 100 people in Mexico.

Every time I turn on the news or entertainment talk shows like The Today Show and The View, the subject is out in the forefront. Here in the Cleveland area it has made a lot of news since one case as been confirmed case of swine flu in a 9 year old boy in Elyria, which is a suburb just west of Cleveland, and the child’s school has been closed for a week. Right now, the boy is doing just fine and no one around him has gotten ill.

It seems that while flu strains kill many people each year, suddenly the media cares as this one seems to be affecting and killing younger people, and could be very easily transmitted.

The media insists that no one should be panicking, however. But, these disclaimers are followed by urgent calls for people to wash their hands many times a day, along with encouraging people to cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. (I can’t believe people still must be reminded on the latter, but I see people coughing and sneezing without covering their nose/mouth all the time, especially in supermarkets.) People in Mexico City are walking around with face masks on, yet a doctor on The View today just said these things don’t do much good. Oh well.

Federal health officials have declared a public health emergency, which was done to free up 12.5 million doses of various antiviral medications to fight the illness. So they do appear to be gearing up for a widespread outbreak.

If I didn’t know better, I would say Stephen King, author of “The Stand” – a book where a superbug-type biological weapon gets lose and kills most of mankind - is laughing somewhere. It seems King's fictional bug – nicknamed “Captain Trips” – is coming to life. I have to admit that having read that book many times (I think it’s King’s best book), it was the first thing that came to my mind when I first head about the deaths in Mexico.

The media continues to play the possibility of a pandemic up, at the same time talking out of the other side of their mouths, saying not to panic. It is a typical case of the media wanting to inform, but at the same time, not wanting to create panic. While there are no outward signs of complete panic that I can see here in the Cleveland area, it is quite a topic of discussion and clearly on the minds of many. When I went to the local Heinen's supermarket today, people were taking those clean wipes that are used to wipe down the handle of the shopping cart, but instead some of them looked like they were wiping down the whole cart. In Wal-Mart, the lines were long for a 9:30 on a weekday morning, and many people were talking about needing to stock up in case they were not allowed out of their houses for a week. One woman said to me that she knows they were told by the local news not to panic, but since we’re only about 35-40 miles from Elyria (and we are on the opposite side of the Cleveland metro area), she felt that they were holding something back and they really felt people had reason to panic. Someone in the next line sneezed and everyone got silent, then everyone laughed, including the woman who was just getting a little panicky. She then stated, “Maybe I’m over thinking this thing.”

For me, I am not planning on worrying just yet. Sure, I will wash my hands many times a day, just like I always do. I’ll be careful when I sneeze and cough, just like I always do. But I’m not ready just yet to close myself up in my house for a week while this whole thing passes over. The best suggestion the media has given is that if someone suspects they have the flu, they should contact their doctor immediately. Maybe the doctor can take precautions to make sure the patient doesn’t sit around in their waiting room infecting everyone else, though. Because everyone knows that a doctor’s waiting room cam sometimes be the best place to pick up a bug and get sick.

The Stand Movie Trailer – Just to Refresh Your Memory

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Have Earth Day Every Day

Earth Day, April 22, was designated to raise awareness to our impact on the Earth’s environment.

While it is good to have one day set aside to draw attention to the cause - our concern over the earth and its environment, and the affect the ever-growing population has on our planet - we should be thinking of the Earth’s environment every day.

Even one person can make a difference in protecting their environment, especially when all these individual efforts are added up. For me, my community has a good recycling collection program, so I recycle as much as possible. It doesn’t take much effort. At one point, when our city, for a short time, went from individual home pick up of recycling to a central drop off points, I was amazed at the amount of recyclable materials that were collected in just one of the locations is a given week.

So if you do anything on this Earth Day, it should be to pick at least one thing that you can do every day to help preserve the Earth’s environment - and then do it. You may be surprised how easy it can be, and how much difference you can make.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Newsflash: Homely People Have Talent, Too

A person couldn’t turn on their local or national news, or some talk shows yesterday without seeing the story about Susan Boyle. She was a singer on the show ‘Britain’s Got Talent” that aired in the UK on April 11. Much was made about the fact that Susan, who wasn’t very pretty and acted a little goofy, sang like an angel. (If you live under a rock and haven’t seen the news story, you can find a video of Susan Boyle’s performance here.)

Before her performance, the camera shows the faces of some of the judges and the audience who seem prepared for a disaster. But as Susan began to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, the mood changed. As the judges – including the always brutal Simon Cowell – seemed shocked at what they are hearing, one man standing in the stage wings points his finger at the camera and comments that “you didn’t expect that, did you? Did you? No!” Susan’s voice was fantastic, it was on key, crystal clear and full of emotion. The judges lathered praise on her, which was well deserved. It seemed that they expected that someone who looked like Susan couldn’t possibly have been good.

But then the news media got hold of the story, and spread it over the US airwaves yesterday ad nauseam. The big lesson, they touted, is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; Susan may not have looked the part, but she turned out to be a wonderful singer. The topic was discussed at length on The View, with Joy the only person who seemed to be critical of the whole issue, calling the rest of her panel out as hypocrites because they’ve done makeovers on their show (you can see the segment below, it’s about 5 minutes into the clip).

I have a problem with Susan's story, but it's not with Susan. I believe it's the news and entertainment industry who need to learn the lesson that you can't judge a book by its cover. Movies, televisions, magazines, newspapers, etc. all have taken great pains over their lifetimes to elevate those who are beautiful. If you didn’t have the right “look”, you can’t get into the movies or TV. Want to be a model? You’d better look stunning and be wafer thin. Do you want to be an “American Idol?” Look the part and for heaven’s sake don’t be overweight. I could go on, but you get the idea.

There are many, normal, average looking, everyday people out there who have loads of talent, not necessarily limited to the entertainment industry. But as long as the media and businesses only celebrates the beautiful or the well dressed, people like Susan Boyle won’t get noticed and doors won’t be opened. Personally, I am thrilled for Susan and I wish her much success. I feel badly for her, though, that her face or appearance is being used under the guise of the media trying to give viewers a message that things should never be taken at face value. It’s a lesson that they need to learn first for themselves.

The View (April 15)

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