Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What’s Watching TV?

I was reading a report in the newspaper (remember those?) about the Nielsen rating system for TV. If you recall, Nielsen polls people about their TV viewing habits and even (at least they used to) installs electronic systems in homes to monitor viewing habits.  But it appears that the old system, when we all had just one television set and only three channels, no longer provides accurate ratings. They pose the question, “what does it mean now to ‘watch’ TV?” If you record some program and then watch it on your I-Pad, is that “watching TV”?

But the question, interesting as it is, brought to mind another dilemma. Last evening, we did our usual “TV watching”, i.e., we watched a NetFlix movie, then we watched one of our pre-recorded (TIVO) BBC comedies. But then . . . heaven forfend, we ran out of prerecorded stuff to watch, and it was marginally too early to head for bed.  So, what to do, what to do? Well, I turned our  DISH system to live TV and then surfed the channels for something to watch. I scrolled through about 20 channels of pure dreck, until I happened on an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Now, remember, even though it’s “live TV” that program has been prerecorded—there seems to be no actual “live TV” aside maybe from sporting events.
So, we began watching the program. It’s mildly amusing generally.  But then the commercials began. After perhaps five minutes of the program, the commercials cut in. I think there were perhaps 10-12 commercials. Then the program began again. Then after another five minutes, another bank of a dozen commercials. So, we decided, even though it was still a bit early, to hit the sack. See, we can no longer watch regular programs, because of the flood of commercial interruptions. We watch both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert regularly, but . . . we TIVO them both. Partly, we are never awake when they appear on the tube. But mainly, we TIVO them, so we can fast forward the commercials. They have the same system—a few minutes, followed by a dozen commercials. We now will not/cannot sit through all those commercials. In the old days, when dinosaurs still roamed freely underneath the Third Avenue El, commercials used to be limited to one or two per break. And the breaks used to be few and far between.  Now the programs themselves are the breaks and the commercials are the main fare. And anyone who says, “yeah, I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials” is simply an idiot.
But, here’s the problem. I assume there are so many commercials because for some reason the TV stations dropped the price of a commercial for normal programming, so they have to fit in more commercials to make up the revenue lost through cheap commercials.  In retaliation, people (like me) TIVO their favorite shows, so they can fast forward through the commercials. As a result, we don’t watch the commercials, so the commercials aren’t worth even the reduced fees they are paying.  It seems to me this game (or War if you prefer) can’t go on this way forever. Somehow, we need a new model for television, one that better suits both the temperament of the viewing public (we can’t be alone in despising TV commercials to the point that we will no longer watch them). But what’s the new model? I only see two alternatives—1) jack up the cost of commercials so that only a couple are needed per half hour show, or 2) make the subscribers pay a higher fee for commercial-free TV (sounds like PBS to me).
And in that alternate republico-universe, where our friends in Congressional LaLa Land reside, they have decided apparently that the Sequester won’t be so bad after all. Evidently, the masters of their universe, the Cock Brothers (Grouchy and Carpy) think their incomes won’t be reduced after all, so Let the Games Begin . . . Is this a great country, or what??

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

About Me

Funny. Some years ago, maybe just after joining that illustrious ranks of Facebook Followers, I penned something called, "26 things about me."  I found it interesting to read it from this distance. FYI, here it is. Readers can skip past it to the more interesting winter pics, should you choose. For what it's worth, here it is:

26 Things About Me
1. I joined the ranks of the terminally stupid in 1954, when I began smoking.

2. I left that august group in 1977, when I stopped smoking, for the last time.

3. Sometime around 1948, when I was around 14, I began to realize that the church had nothing to do with God. My conviction in that regard has only been strengthened since then.

4. Right around that same time, I realized that some men were inadequate to the central task of fatherhood. I resolved to be better.

5. In 1952, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. Then I realized I probably wasn’t smart enough.

6. By 1956, I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I’m still trying.

7. In 1963, sitting in a parking lot, listening to the saga of JFK and the shooting, I realized that lives sometimes end meaninglessly. My fear of flying began at that point.

8. In 1956, I voted for the first time. I have never missed a chance to vote since that time.

9. In 1963, I decided I wanted to do something else with my life besides designing things that could blow up the world.

10. In 1964, I moved my family to India, to begin doing something more useful.

11. I’m still trying.

12. In 1965, I stood on a Cliffside, 9500 feet up watching the darkness turn to light across the valley in Darjeeling. As the sun caught each peak in turn, turning it gold, then the gold moving slowly down the glacial mountainside of Kanchenjunga, I thought that man could never create something quite that beautiful.

13. But then, in 1966, when our third child was born, I realized that man creates such beautiful things often. But we sometimes are too stupid to understand.

14. It was, I think in 1968, after Richard Nixon won the White House, that I realized that politicians should not be trusted to speak the truth.

15. But it was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan ascended to the throne, that I realized that the capacity of Americans to act stupidly, i.e., against their own interests, was infinite.

16. At that same time I realized that Republicans have only one principlewin and keep power, at all costs. Nothing else matters.

17. Republicans have never disappointed me since then.

18. In 2000, I retired ostensibly.

19. In 2000, I was both surprised and pleased that my several clients refused to hear of my retirement.

20. From 2000 to the present, I learned the joys of living and being close to family, especially our grandchildren, and their parents of course.

21. In 2001 I began to understand that I could combine a love of photography with some modest computer skills to produce a new (to me) art form, known as digital art.

22. Sometime after 2000, I realized that Wal-Mart was, by design, perhaps the single most economically destructive element in America. I have never set foot in their stores since that time.

23. After 9/11, I began to understand that organized religion is not simply unhelpful, but that it is potentially cataclysmic in its nature. If people still mentally residing in the 12th century can wreak such havoc, then the enlightenment has been a giant hoax.

24. After the onset of the Second Great Depression in 2008, I discovered that the “science” of economics is just a joke maintained by people who were not smart enough to be real scientists. I now understand economics to be statistics, or the great Art of Extrapolation, integrated with sociology 101.

25. I am still trying to understand why anyone pays any attention to popes, ayatollahs, ministers and all the other high priests of religion-speak, none of whom know any more about God or the hereafter than any child in the first grade.

26. Perhaps this should be first, but I only learned it late. To love someone for life may be our sole reason for coming into the world. I learned that it is possible, and the most wonderful element in my life.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Early Spring = Winter

Ok, so I lied. Spring is still in hiding. But that's so Spring--fickle to the end, and maybe just a big tease.
Having attempted to test our New England daughter's patience by posting pictures of our emerging Spring, while she still resides in the deep freeze, Mommie Nature decided that we needed a lesson in humility. So, she tossed a bit of the white fluffy stuff our way, coupled with some sub-freezing temperatures. And lo and behold, what did appear by the stuff below.

See, even the cardinals are annoyed.
and our koi's are not amused . . .
Nor is our mermaid
so we may have to wait a while longer before these guys show up . . .
and I suspect our cardinals could get huffy and leave for more hospitable climes if we are not careful.
In the meantime, we will have to be content with our little color splash here and there.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Springtime Emerging

So, this morning an e-mail arrived from our daughter in the Boston area--you know . . . that place that just got hammered by the dark forces of winter. They got something approaching three feet, plus drifts above that. So much fun. So, at any rate, there are apparently signs of Spring, in the form of slowly disappearing snow. She enclosed a picture from their garden. The picture is here below:

 Yep, that's a Buddha, beginning to emerge from his white blanket.
But just in case you're thinking he always looks that way, here's another shot from a slightly warmer time . . . same garden . . . same Buddha (with buddy)

And, I thought . . . that's a good sign, especially that touch of sun, because sun and snow result in water, which has been known to reduce the compacted snow blanket.
So, I walked outside at our Concord, North Carolina home to see what signs of an emerging spring I could find here. And, I'm happy to report that spring is on the way, although it is not yet here fully. But, for what it's worth, and as a hopeful sign, here it is:
First, of course, a couple of daffies . . .

Then some signs of color from our heavenly bamboo . . .

Next, some really green moss . . .

and last, but not least, our rosemary is blooming wonderfully . . .

May your world be filled with Spring, wherever you are.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Pope Resigns

Ahhh, the Pope decides to retire . . . the first Pope to do so in over 600 years. Such an inspirational leader he was too. I cannot do better than the several articles already written to wish him well in his retirement. One of the best is:

Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope

Published: February 11, 2013
POPE BENEDICT XVI quit. Good. He was utterly bereft of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of priests who abused children. He’d been a member of the Hitler Youth. In addition to this woeful résumé, he had no use for women.

The Roman Catholic Church, which in so many ways has been a great boon to the City of New York, has been choked and bludgeoned into insignificance by a small group of men based in Italy.
Priests cannot marry. Why? I will tell you why. Priests cannot marry because they would have to marry women. Women cannot be priests.
Why? Women cannot become priests because of a bunch of old men. These old men justify their beliefs with a brace of ridiculous arguments that Jesus would have overturned in a minute. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” What about that is hard to understand? If you can become a priest, I can become a priest. Period. Equality.
Benedict has not been idle. He has put in place a lot of other old guys who have no interest in sharing power with anyone outside the club. The last pope we had who showed signs of spiritual vision was John XXIII. That was a long time ago. He had humility and a good heart. These more recent appointments have been disheartening in the extreme.
When I was a kid at St. Anthony’s in the Bronx (one of the schools that the archdiocese of New York is now closing), there were boxes for the poor. The people of the East Bronx worked hard and made little. Everybody put money in those boxes. I put money in those boxes. As far as I’m concerned, that money was stolen.
I have watched the wealth of the Catholic Church turned into a subsidy for wrongdoing and a prop for the continuing campaign against women’s rights and homosexuality. Neighborhood churches, built with the hard-earned money of working-class people, are being sold off. The sacrifices that were made to build these churches were significant and local. The decision to close them has been made antiseptically, by remote control. The men who make these decisions are at a remove, very much involved in protecting their power and comfort.
I have little reason to hope that the Church of Rome will suddenly realize that without women, the Catholic Church is doomed, and should be doomed. I think of those good nuns who educated me, of their lifelong devotion and sacrifice. They have been treated like cattle by a crowd of domineering fools. In Benedict, the Catholic Church got the pope it deserved. I can only hope, for the sake of my parents, who loved the church so much, that a miracle of divine grace alters the writing on the wall. If not, the Catholic Church will suffer the fate it deserves.
John Patrick Shanley is the author of “Doubt” and other plays.

A few other articles have recently been penned, wishing the old Pope well in leaving, as quickly as possible. They include:

Also read an article by Gary Wills, an Op-Ed contributor to the NY Times:

New Pope? I’ve Given Up Hope”, By , Published: February 12, 2013 in the NY Times
So, ta ta Mr. Pope.(and don't let the door slam you in the ass on the way out . . . )
The Catholic Church sat on a wall
The Catholic Church had a great fall
All the Pope's horses
And all the Pope's men
Cannot put the church together again.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

World War III

Thinking about the Mali stuff and all the strange mutterings going on in the halls of Congress about what we should or should not do about stuff—you know, climate change, guns, and bankers . . . stuff like that.

So, I’m wondering . . . think ahead to, say, 500 years from now—yeah 2513 AD. What would we have to look forward to—assuming that medical science has allowed us to overcome the aging thing?
Well, one thing we would probably see is that everyone wears a mask to facilitate breathing . . . when they are outside. See, if we keep going on our current course of inaction on climate change, everywhere in the world will look like China does now on a bad day. Yeah, won’t that be fun? But that’s really just an aside.
The main issue I wonder about is, what will have happened as a result of World War III?  As I see it now, the world has been engaged in the third world war since at least 9/11, when the crazies drove airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Now, I understand that we refuse to call what is going on a world war, but at its current pace, it seems to me that World War III is an apt description. In addition, I think that what we now observe is only the beginning.
It seems like the Al Qaida crowd under Osama was about destabilizing the West, so they (Islamic Extremists) could begin taking over the world. Seems that Osama was pissed at the Saudi kings and royal family, and even more pissed at America because we prop up the Saudi royals, preventing Osama and others of his ilk from taking over all that oil. It’s possible actually, that this world war has really been going since the 1970s and was given a kick start by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets had at least as tough a time in Afghanistan as the Brits did in earlier times, and as we had in Vietnam.  Osama & Co. learned from those experiences that conventional armies don’t fare too well against well armed indigenous populations. And the Afghans—the Taliban (remember them??) became well armed after the Soviets invaded. How? Well we armed them, remember?? Another of our foreign policy triumphs.
So, we have been dealing with the results of our own ineptitude ever since, with growing insurgencies everywhere throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa.  We might even include Central and South America in this scenario, because there its truth is most clearly revealed. The Third World War is actually a war between the (relatively) civilized portions of the world and . . . organized crime rings. As I said, in Central and South America, we can observe actual organized crime rings—mainly drug cartels, supported by Western Banks (HSBC springs to mind), and both heavily armed and capable and willing to employ its arsenal to murder the competition and the opposing forces.
Now we don’t ordinarily think of Islamic extremists (Al Qaida, et al),  as organized crime rings.  But really, what else are they about? They’re heavily armed, they make their money growing and selling drugs (mainly opium) and they operate entirely outside the law in all respects—they kidnap folks for ransom (think Somalia and Mali), they kill randomly whenever they perceive a threat to their economic well-being, and they seek to overthrow the nominal governments that exist in their regions.  Afghanistan, Somalia, and Mali are relatively easy, since those regions have no effective governments. We might call them anarchic regions, and anarchy fits these crime rings perfectly.  That they install harsh versions of Islamic law when they take charge, has relatively little to do with God, and more to do with earthly control.
So, I find myself wondering, what will happen in this world war after, say five hundred years? We currently seem baffled as to how to combat this global threat. Moving in a few thousand French troops to quell armed forces, and then leaving seems a recipe for failure (remember how successful the French were in their 1950s Vietnam adventure?). Similarly, we seem not to have learned anything from Vietnam, nor do the Soviets seem to have learned anything from their Afghan adventures.  Flying drones over someone’s village and firing a few rockets at the neighbors also does not seem like a way to win friends and influence people.
So, it seems to me that, if we allow things to drift on as they are, we will eventually leave Afghanistan, as we left Iraq, and that entire region of the world will be taken over by one or more organized crime rings.  Killing Osama might have been a sweet act of revenge, but it isn’t likely to eliminate the family.  We actually seem to be on the road to losing the entire Middle East, with what remains of its oil deposits.
Maybe in 2513, we will be dealing with our organized crime ring oil suppliers by engaging them in commerce. They will control the oil (assuming any oil is left). The global banks, HSBC et al, will be their bankers, and we will pay whatever they charge.
Now, their only potential error will be, if they organize themselves into conventional armed forces—you know, guys with helmets, bayonets, and M7500 fighter jets (that we will sell them of course). Cuz, then we might decide to go to war in a more conventional way. Oh, and of course, they would have acquired nukes and missiles (which the Chinese and the Russians will have sold them) and then we could expect a real war, with nukes falling all over the globe.
Won’t that be fun???
Always thinking . . .