Category Archives: The Ol’ Curmudgeon

Three reasons I dislike most video on the Internet.

lcd-test-pattern-pro-18a423-h900It’s sort of odd, but I’ve gotten to the point I really hate seeing video on the Internet. It’s funny because I love video. I’ve been shooting it since I was in middle school. I think my first gig was recording a training seminar for teachers. That would have been in either 1976 or 1977. In high school I had access to this weird-ass Akai VT-400 camera/ recorder combo that I used to record whatever I could talk anyone into letting me record. I spent a lot of time with the basketball team.  Up until five or six years ago my professional life revolved around making video in one way or the other. Back in 2008 Streaming Media Magazine named me a Streaming Media All-Star. As best I’ve been able to determine, my team at UC was the first ever to stream a high school graduation live on the Internet back in 2001. That’s a footnote-to-a-footnote kind of accomplishment, but it illustrates the point that I’ve been at this for a while. I still care about video a lot. I’m enjoying this writing thing, but I’d kill to direct a multi-camera shoot just one more time.1,2. But I do hate seeing video pop up on social media.

It’s not the production values (or lack thereof) that bother me. I can’t tell you how many “Intro to TV Production” courses I’ve taught. When you see some of the stuff students do intentionally for a grade when you warned them not to, you’re not terribly overwrought when you see people with no training fall into the same traps. It’s definitely not vertical video. I feel the same way about people who get all holier-than-thou about that issue as I do about people who turn up their noses at a well-made lager because, well, it’s a lager. The phrase “douche canoe comes up almost immediately.

After putting milliseconds of thought into it while making a Facebook comment on this topic, I came up with three reasons I dislike most video on the Internet:

  1. Environmental Demands. Few videos are silent. Most have sound. I’m not always in a place where it’s appropriate for sounds to be playing. I keep my phone muted a lot of the time. When I was in cubicle-land I had headphones, but a lot of time I wore them just to muffle outside sounds. Sounds are intrusive. The Internet may be a dark, seething morass of overdeveloped outrage and underdeveloped potty-training skills, but at least it’s usually quiet.
  2. Cognitive Throttling. I read fast. Like everyone, I read differently depending on the circumstance. If I’m trying to immerse myself in the piece I read every word and am happy to go back and re-read a passage again. If I’m in a hurry or looking for a specific thing I’ll scan until I locate what I’m looking for. Everyone does this to one degree or another. The brain is an amazing thing. The amount of information you can take in at a glance is quite remarkable if you think about it. Of course you don’t have to think about it. That’s kind of the point. Until it’s video. Now you’re getting locked into a single speed. Whatever’s in there you’re looking for, you get to wait for it with everyone else, damnit. It’s going to drip, drip, drip and you can’t do anything about it. That five-minute video is going to take five minutes to watch. Plus anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds extra because there’s probably going to be a pre-roll ad.
  3. Cognitive Hijacking. When you watch a video, you’re outsourcing your cognition to whomever made it. You’re only going to see what the person who made it wants you to see. You’re only going to hear what you’re given. The camera is never passive. It draws attention to itself in varying degrees depending on the technique being used, but you’re not the one who’s deciding what you’re looking at. That’s been done for you. Saying “I’m going to watch TV” or “I’m going to a movie” pretty much means you’re signing up for this voluntarily. I like how Steven Spielberg manipulates my cognition. Uwe Boll?  Not so much. But that’s just me. My main objection to most video on the Internet is that I’m usually doing something else and I can’t really afford to sign over my consciousness to this other person who might or might not share my cognitive goals right then. One of the hoary chestnuts of the Internet is that videos have to be short because no one will watch long videos. Bullshit. People will hang in exactly as long as they need in order to get out of it what they want. You just can’t shove 50 unrelated things into a long video and expect people to wade through all of them to find that one nugget they really want.3

If you have a video of your cat doing something adorable and you label it as such, I have all the information I need in order to decide whether or not to watch it.  And let’s be real. I probably will. Because cats. On the other hand, I have no interest in watching a recipe. Some of the best recipes in the world have been passed down through generations on 3×5 index cards. How is making a video supposed to improve on that? Some particular technique in some step? That’s fair, but then just show me that. You can just write out the rest and I’ll be very happy.

Video is good at showing complex spatial relationships among multiple objects. That could be anything from a baseball game to a gymnastics meet to a video on how to remove a car stereo from a car. Video is good at showing parasocial cues like smiling and body language. Video is good for demonstrating complex techniques. We’ve all seen the line drawings of how to tie a tie or assemble some piece of furniture. Most of the time there’s this one key step that video is perfect for. You look at the drawing on the instructions and you wonder if Screw 2B goes into hole 3C or whether you’re supposed to invade France by way of Belgium4. There are certain things video is good for. It’s not good for everything.

I always liked to tell my students that it’s nearly as hard to make a really crappy video as it is to make a good one. The amount of effort that goes into something has absolutely nothing to do with how good or appropriate it is. The flip side to that is that just because it’s easy to shoot a video and put it up, it doesn’t mean you ought to. I could go on for at least another thousand words about the crime against humanity that is the “video user guide” for most software. Just admit it. You were too lazy to write out the text for what each menu item does. That’s all I want to know. I don’t have to see you do it.

To get my point across do I need anything more than words?  No?  Then stop. Can a picture help show a two-dimensional relationship? Yes? Add that sucker in. Is there something we absolutely have to see in motion  and hear in order to understand? Yes? Then video is a good idea. Otherwise it’s not. It’s not that complicated.

1OK, maybe not kill. I’d be willing to kick you. Call me?
2I did order one of these things way back. It was supposed to ship this month but it’s been delayed to July. Not perfect, but it could be fun.
3As an aside, I think 360-degree video is a cool and interesting technology, but I’m betting people are really going to struggle to find a good use for it in a story-telling setting. How do you direct attention when you just opened up the world by a whole lot? I’m definitely not saying it can’t be done, but I sure don’t know what it looks like. Then again, that’s the fun part, right?
4I’d like to apologize again to the governments of Belgium and France for that misunderstanding when I was assembling my Weber grill.

Media theory

·I’m better but still not back. This morning a local journalist I know a little shared this article on Facebook. I had one of those rare moments that the words just flowed out in response. The thrust of the article was that a lot of journalists have s low regard for their audiences. Once upon a time I wanted to study audience behavior for a living. Then, like the seminarian who becomes an atheist on the eve of ordination, I quit believing in audiences.

The following is what I wrote in my comment:

“The disconnect comes from the use of the word ‘audience’ as if it were a good analogy for the actual relationship between parties. If we’re in a theater or classroom or concert hall the audience is easy to pick out. It is useful to think of them as a group because they are linked through physical proximity and all the usual social psychologies of the mob apply. Laughter, anger, applause, boos, and standing ovations are ad-hoc conventions tacitly agreed upon by people who have formed a group, at least for the duration of the performance. Ever had a stranger you were in a theater with want to keep applauding the movie once you’re outside? You run. The group bonds no longer exist.

The first requirement of a group? A collection of people who say to themselves “I am a member of this group.”

Media doesn’t have that. When I consume media it’s a solitary act. I have my own reasons for doing it and it seldom has anything to do with anyone else. You get people who bond over TV shows at work and book clubs form up but it’s the exception not the rule. It’s ephemeral.

If modern media has a motto it’s “don’t read the comments.” That’s the opposite of an “audience.”

It’s not that there aren’t people actually watching and reading and listening. There are. It’s just that they aren’t doing it as part of a larger social process. Social groupings may form over particular content, but filling a bucket with content doesn’t mean the people who show up are a herd. They all just showed up. You can call them an audience, but they aren’t one. No matter how badly you want them to be one.

Back in my grad school days, one of the big research programs came under the heading of “Uses & Gratifications of Media.” Ask someone why they’re watching or reading or listening to whatever and I’ll lay serious cash on the chances the answer will be “I’m bored and had nothing better to do.” I once suggested we start a publication called “Studies of People with Nothing Better to Do.” Another colleague suggested forming the Center for Frivolity Research.

Here’s the dirty little secret: communication among large groups of people will continue to happen. It always has. What’s not required is that someone makes buckets of money doing it. That’s the historical anomaly.”

This is how media sees itself:

This is how it really works:


I am not amused.


Our weather is significantly different from what you see here. On the whole I prefer the weather pictured. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the wet, rainy cold weather we’re having right now. That’s to say I completely despise it.

Oh.  And this.

Does not suck.


Citizen Consumer

Available for Purchase from

A friend posted something on Facebook the other day expressing frustration with the state of the country and its discourse. It concluded with the question “Are we REALLY so small-minded and selfish that debate is impossible and compromise is EVIL? What the hell is happening here?” There are versions of this question being asked on Facebook, in coffee shops, in bars, in living rooms, and around kitchen tables all over the country. How did we get to the place we are now? I don’t know if it was the emotion or the clarity of the question (or a combination of the two), but something snapped into place. It was one of those nucleation points I’ve talked about. Whatever the conditions, they were what they needed to be in order for an idea to form. This post is based on the comment I made there.

I think things started to fall apart when ‘citizen’ and ‘consumer’ became interchangeable terms in the popular mind. I can’t point to a specific date when that happened, but I know there was a time in my lifetime they weren’t the same thing. I hear the Gorden Gecko “Greed is Good” speech from “Wall Street” much differently now than when I first experienced it in a theater.

It’s a much more recent phenomenon than you might think.  Calvin Coolidge famously stated to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1925 that “… the chief business of the American people is business.” In a soundbite-driven world it may seem as if that puts an end to my thesis. In a world where that line has a context, it’s the exact opposite. Here’s an extended excerpt from the speech:

There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise. Rather, it is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation, is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences. After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are moving impulses of our life. The opposite view was oracularly and poetically set forth in those lines of Goldsmith which everybody repeats, but few really believe:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

Excellent poetry, but not a good working philosophy. Goldsmith would have been right, if, in fact, the accumulation of wealth meant the decay of men. It is rare indeed that the men who are accumulating wealth decay. It is only when they cease production, when accumulation stops, that an irreparable decay begins. Wealth is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort. In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture. Of course, the accumulation of wealth can not be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it. And there never was a time when wealth was so generally regarded as a means, or so little regarded as an end, as today. Just a little time ago we read in your newspapers that two leaders of American business, whose efforts at accumulation had been most astonishingly successful, had given fifty or sixty million dollars as endowments to educational works. That was real news. It was characteristic of our American experience with men of large resources. They use their power to serve, not themselves and their own families, but the public. I feel sure that the coming generations, which will benefit by those endowments, will not be easily convinced that they have suffered greatly because of these particular accumulations of wealth. [Emphasis mine]

“Of course the accumulation of wealth can not be justified as the chief end of existence?”  Who was this guy?  Bernie Sanders? Coolidge is saying this at the height of the Roaring Twenties. “The Great Gatsby” won’t be published for another four months. He’ll leave office just before its all falls apart four years later and he’ll be dead before these words are ten years old. He never sees the end of the Great Depression.  “So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it.” Can anyone look me in the eye today and say with a straight face that wealth isn’t the end nowadays? What’s it the means to?  More wealth? When did that become OK? I’m not asking that for rhetorical effect.  I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

What I do know is that we lost something important when we created an environment where greed is good — as long as you’re the greedy one. The last thing you want to have to deal with at that point are people who consider themselves equal citizens. Citizenship requires active participation in a larger community with a voluntarily sense of duty to others, even when fulfilling that duty doesn’t have immediate and direct benefit to the self. It’s acting on the idea that a society is judged on the lives of the least of its members, not its greatest. Everyone counts the same. Some have more to give than others, but everyone has the same basic value. Coolidge wasn’t talking out of his butt, either.  Look at the infrastructure we rely on to this day that was built in that era. Where’s all the money going now?

For “greed is good” to work you need consumers. Consumerism is based on the immediate gratification of personal needs. Period. Nothing is more important than getting what you want for as little cost to yourself as possible. If someone else suffers, that’s just too bad for them. There is no problem that can’t be solved with the application of enough money. Your worth becomes a function of the amount of money you have to spend. There is no greater atrocity than a price being raised to benefit someone who has less than you. If they get more, you will have less. You may not know how much less. You may not have any idea to what use you’ll put that which you’ve “saved.” The point is you have it and they don’t.

Citizens say “we’re all in this together.” Consumers say “I’m buying a gun so no one takes my stuff. Stuff is important. It’s more important than you.” In a weird way I think this explains the recent outbreak of zombie movies and stories.1 That’s pretty much where we are nowadays.  We’re on our own. And there are all these things that aren’t us who want what we have.

I don’t know how you make citizens of consumers again. I don’t know if you can. All I know is that citizenship and consumerism are incompatible unless you’re willing to work at it. And I’m not seeing much evidence that anyone wants to work that hard at it. Yelling is apparently more satisfying.

1See what I did there?


I stand with Apple

apple-fbi-sealI do not like terrorists. I think what those two people in San Bernadino did last December places them in a special circle of hell. I mourn for the families. What they’ve lost can never be replaced. I don’t, however, think I owe it to them to erase the Fourth Amendment.

Ammo-centric Americans say things like what happened is a price we all have to pay because their particular interpretation of the 2nd Amendment says so. Here’s what the 4th Amendment says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Well, I think it’s unreasonable to require Apple to write software to reverse engineer what they wrote to be private so the State can read what it decides it wants to read. That’s the only issue here. Apple wrote the operating system in such a way that even it can’t access a locked device. Now the Justice Department is arguing that there is no such thing as secure privacy.

Tim Cook is right. If they develop the code to unlock this phone, it will happen more often for an ever-widening number of reasons. Just look at the history of intelligence gathering! Can anyone ever name a time when an intelligence agency ever said: “oh, no. That’s going to far.” This is yet another case where that joke with the punchline “we’ve already established what you are, now we’re just haggling over the price” is relevant. Develop the code? Then it’s then up to the government to decide when Apple will be compelled to use it. Warrants?  Yeah. Read up on the FISA courts. National Security Letters are pretty amazing things. You aren’t allowed to talk about them when you get one.

The fact that the FBI is resorting to a “think of the poor families” strategy demonstrates that this isn’t a one-time-only thing. It’s an every-time-we-can-get-Fox-News-to-scare-you-about-brown-people thing. Folks, these are the same people who who think security theater in the airports means something. These are the same people who hounded Richard Jewell into the grave. And I’d like to hear what they’re so sure they’re going to be able to extract from the phone that they couldn’t have gotten from the iCloud backup. If they’d not changed the password. Gee. Think it might have been a good idea to get the backup THEN change the password?

What do they think they’re going to find? “Note to self:  here are all the people who helped me….” Reports at the time indicated that the couple attempted to destroy personal electronics. They weren’t successful in all cases. Hmmmm.  Think most of the operational data might have been on those? We don’t know that there’s anything on that 5C. This is a fishing trip.

Apple is a multinational company. If they submit to this, they have to submit to the same requests from China, from Russia, from freaking North Korea (though I doubt cell service is very good there). You trust all them?

I’m sorry all this happened.  Requiring Apple to crack the phone crosses a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

Probably not a fascist


I have to admit, it does sound snappier in the original German

Donald Trump is probably not a fascist. Feel better?  Don’t. He might be worse

I spent most of the drive home today thinking I was going to write an appeal to repeal Godwin’s Law. You may or not be familiar with Godwin’s Law by name. In its original form it reads

As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

When the Internet was getting going it was a really fun place. For one thing there were a lot of really funny and smart people who mused about the social implications of this new thing being created. Godwin’s Law is among the best examples of that. Do a little reading on the history of the thing and you’ll find it was a gentle reminder to folks that the Holocaust was a truly horrific thing and it’s not the sort of thing that compares to most things you might be upset about.  It was far, far, worse than anything you’re likely to be talking about.

Over time there became this belief that Godwin’s Law precluded usefully mentioning Hitler or Nazis in any online discussion at all. That’s what I was going to argue needed to be repealed in the Age of Trump. Turns out I didn’t need to bother because it’s not something Mike Godwin ever believed and certainly doesn’t now with respect to Trump:

First, let me get this Donald Trump issue out of the way: If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.

The thing that scares me the most about Trump is his scapegoating of Muslims and, more generally, anyone who isn’t white. His boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes is an admission that he understands his followers. They know he’s not going to shoot them because they’re white and from ’round here. He’d only shoot someone who isn’t. He praises folks who deal with protests in his rallies with force.  I talked about nucleation points last week. I used the group at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge as an example of a nucleation point that didn’t form. I fear the Trump candidacy is one that is going to. His policies are vague to the point of incoherence, but most people stop listening as soon as they hear their own prejudices and fears repeated back to them with the promise that the strong man will solve the problem. Leave the details to him. Just go out there and be great.

Journalist David Neiwert makes a compelling argument that it’s not accurate to call Trump a fascist. It’s a topic Neiwert has studied and reported on for more than two decades as he’s followed the various incarnations of hate groups in the Pacific Northwest.  He discusses several descriptive models of fascism and shows how easy it is to make comparisons with Trump. He concludes that Trump doesn’t cross the line to fascism, though, partly because his appeals to the use of force against people who oppose him is tepid when compared to the historical examples of the Brown and Blackshirts of Fascist Germany and Italy. The other is his incoherence.

That, in a tiny nutshell, is an example of the problem with Trump’s fascism: He is not really an ideologue, acting out of a rigid adherence to a consistent worldview, as all fascists are. Trump’s only real ideology is the Worship of the Donald, and he will do and say anything that appeals to the lowest common denominator of the American body politic in order to attract their support – the nation’s id, the near-feral segment that breathes and lives on fear and paranoia and hatred.

Rather than a fascist, Neiwert concludes that Trump is a right-wing populist demagogue. That should provide no comfort to anyone because fascism is merely one kind of right-wing populism. One with focus. Maybe it’s on Ritalin or something.

Joking aside, Can Mudde, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia1 wrote a nuanced op-ed in the Washington Post back in August that probably puts Trump in his proper historical perspective.

…to understand the Trump phenomenon in all its complexity we need to look at both U.S. history and contemporary Europe. Trumpismo can be seen as a functional equivalent of the European populist radical right, but it is a very American equivalent. Trump himself doesn’t hold a populist radical right ideology, but his political campaign clearly caters to populist radical right attitudes, and his supporter base is almost identical to the core electorate of populist radical right parties in (Western) Europe. However, Trump also stands in a long tradition of American nativism, going back to the Know Nothings of the mid 19th century, of American anti-establishment politicians, and of conservatives who claim to be the right “CEO” to make America great again. But, in contrast to the rich history of U.S. populism, Trump is an anti-establishment elitist. He is better than everyone, i.e. both the elite and the people!

Pardon me if that doesn’t make me feel better.

We’re going to know a lot more about how things are going with the election by the end of March. As the excess-baggage-candidates drop from the slate of Republican hopefuls, Rubio or Cruz will either catch Trump or they won’t. I’m not going to venture a guess. There is no part of my brain that accepts the idea that any of those guys ought to be allowed out in public, much less made President of the United States. I have no insight into the psychology of anyone who can consider the question without projectile vomiting.

No matter what happens, though, Trump’s true believers aren’t going away. Even if one of the other folks wind up getting the Republican nomination, or Trump gets it and then loses the general election, these people who’ve supported Trump are not going to go away. And what scares me about that is that that these folks may decide to follow the next charismatic leader who says he’s not going to make the “mistake” Trump made.

If that happens it’s going to get ugly real quick.

1How ’bout them Dawgs!

Mumpsimus America

Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

Short-fingered vulgarian and raging follicle infection Donald Trump got called out by Pope Francis Friday because maybe one of his ideas is, oh I don’t know, nuts. Here’s the full transcript of the portion of the interview as presented by the Catholic News Agency:

Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?

Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

You’d think Francis personally wrote the man a hall pass to Hell given the reaction. There was a couple of choice comments from homunculus-lite Jerry Falwell, Jr. I plan to trot out next time anyone starts bleating about ‘murica being a Christian country:

“Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country,” Mr. Falwell told CNN.

Oh Jerry-lite. Thanks for declaring you’re going to STFU. Can you take Franklin Graham with you?

But what put me over the edge was the “but, but, but there’s a wall around the Vatican!”

Yeah. Built in the First Century AD. Doesn’t completely surround the city anymore. Pretty much got breached all the time. “Yuuuuuge gaps in it. Really, really big gaps.” No gates. Crappy wall. Probably does more to keep the hillside from collapsing than anything else.

I point this out on Facebook.

Instant reaction:

“But it’s still a wall.”

Yeah. A completely ineffective one.

“Still a wall.”

Yeah. It’s a wall. So. What? The Pope is a hypocrite? You’re going there?

Since we’re getting all Old Roman School, I draw your attention to the the word that should replace “E Pluribus Unum” as the motto of the United States: Mumpsimus.

From the Oxford Dictionaries:

1A traditional custom or notion adhered to although shown to be unreasonable.

1.1A person who obstinately adheres to unreasonable customs or notions.


Mid 16th century: erroneously for Latin sumpsimus in quod in ore sumpsimus ‘which we have taken into the mouth’ (Eucharist), in a story of an illiterate priest who, when corrected, replied “I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus.”.

It’s pretty much where we are now.

Johnny Football is the NFL

football-brain-800pxI’ll watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. It’s what you do on the Sunday they play the Super Bowl. I’m slightly in favor of Denver because this is probably Peyton’s last year, but I won’t lose a moment’s sleep if Carolina wins. I’m amazed by the things Cam Newton can do. Assuming he stays healthy, the sky’s the limit for the number of records he could own when he hangs them up. He’s that good. I don’t get all the hate about how he celebrates. He’s among the best at doing what he does. He shows the joy in doing it. I don’t see what the problem is.

I’ll watch the game.  I don’t care who wins. I’ll drink good beer and eat food I’ve smoked on the Egg down on the patio. My day will be better than 95% of the world’s population because I’ll have had more than my share that day and my next days’s sustenance will not be in doubt. But my day will come at a price. One I’m not sure I want to pay anymore.

I’ll watch the NFL’s biggest day, but I won’t enjoy it all that much. I cannot see a hit without wondering if this is the one that ends a life. Will that player be the next Junior Seau? Chris Henry? Andre Waters? Or “just” the next Kenny Stabler who knows something is wrong but doesn’t end his own life? Is that going to be the hit that two, five, or ten years from now will be the one that starts the player down the road of not recognizing himself when he looks in the mirror?

Then there is Johnny Manziel. You want to say “oh, that kid’s just a head-case asshole.  It’s just a moral failure on his part.  His parents are probably at fault.” I’m not going to claim to be a scholar of the kid’s life, but from what I’ve read his parents are at their wit’s end. They fear for his life. Apparently, though, he’s managed to find enough people who aren’t worried enough about his life to support him in ending his destructive ways. They’re willing to ride him as far as he’ll go, then move on when he’s spent.

Those people are easy to condemn.  Are we, who watch these men bash their heads play after play, Sunday after Sunday, really any different? Do we wonder or care what happened to the second string cornerback from the team three years ago who isn’t playing anymore?  What happened to that short-yardage running back who was so tough when he ran up the middle. He could really take the abuse, couldn’t he?  He did.  Didn’t he? What’s he doing now?

I’ll watch the game Sunday. I don’t think I’m going to like myself much after.


bernie2016-magnet_grandeI’m tired of being scolded because I want Bernie Sanders to be elected President of the United States. I’m pretty much doing it to annoy people at this point. I’ve said over and over that my support is the kiss of death for any candidate, so I have little expectation that he will win. He ought to. It would be a better country if we took his ideas and ran with them. But we won’t. That’s not how we roll. We roll downhill.

I was raised by two New Deal Democrats. It’s my belief that the U.S. Constitution was written to protect civil society from the two most powerful forces of its day: The State and the Church. Spread power out as widely as possible with internal checks and balances. Remove the power of the State to use the bludgeon of religion against which the notion of ‘appeal’ is empty. There were certainly corporations at the time if the writing of the Constitution, but they were still largely seen as extensions of the State (given that the State granted the corporation license to exist). Compared to the well-understood nature of monarchies, parliamentary government, and religious power, corporations were the new kid on the block. The later conflict between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson can be read as an extended “oops” on Jefferson’s part.

I think the New Deal was an attempt to correct the imbalance of power inherent between the individual and the corporation. We’re seeing what happens when corporate power runs amok. There is no depravity that cannot be justified by good quarterly earnings and a strong return on investment. Please name one if you can think of one. I can’t.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump is what you get when you appeal to the worst of people so you can get their votes. Sanders is what you get when you appeal to the best of people but don’t really mean it. The Iowa caucuses are tonight. I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I don’t really think whatever happens is going to matter that much. Hillary Clinton will be nominated and even I’ll vote for her because I don’t plan to have a lobotomy between now and November. And absolutely nothing will change. We won’t even try to change. She’ll probably get impeached because she tends to shoot herself in the foot (private mail server as Secretary of State. Really? Was that competence of leadership. I forget). But Wall Street will still call the shots. And that’s all that’s really important, isn’t it?

I support Bernie Sanders because of what he wants to do. I’m aware that most people don’t want to do those things. This time I’ve decided I just don’t care.

Kiss my ass, I’m voting for Bernie anyway.

The bunk is out there

No. No they're not. May their families have peace and may you STFU.

No. No they’re not. May their families have peace and may you STFU.

I have a new rule: For any phenomena that happens within the bounds of human perception, there will be a website that claims it never happened. So it is, tragically, that I am no longer unable to un-see the website that claims that the Challenger explosion never happened. I debated not linking to it. But then I remembered that people were having a hard time understanding how Donald Trump could be a leading presidential candidate. I urge you not read this website if you’re feeling particularly nihilistic today, but if some good old-fashioned crazy-assed lunacy is your cup of tea, here you go.

I found this site while looking for the famous last image of the crew heading out to the shuttle. I was a child of the Space Age. That time before America became a “Can’t Do Unless It Increases Shareholder Value” country. I know enough history to know that a lot of the impetus behind the technology push that took us to the moon was based on Cold War fears, but it was a thrilling time to be a small child anyway. I remember standing in the front windows of Glendale Elementary School in Independence, MO in 1967 as Apollo 7 raced to the moon that was visible that morning. I remember not resenting my mom making me say my prayers when Apollo 13 struggled to come back.1 I was a little unclear about how the Act of Contrition was going to help, but I was up for anything. And I improvised some. It seemed like it was worth the risk.

Then the Challenger blew up. After six years of Reagan, it was a metaphor I’d have just as soon not had the opportunity to experience. Somewhere in a box I have the initial UPI Flash Bulletin off the teletype machine that was in the production room of WSAU, the radio station at Stephen F. Austin State University. Years later, when I was at the University of Georgia, I had the opportunity to get to know David Hazinski. He covered the launch for NBC News. Somehow it never occurred to me to ask him, “Hey David, by the way, that was all a fake, right?” Since there was a reasonable chance I would have asked him that in a bar, there’s a better than average chance I would have gotten a beer bottle between the eyes as a reward. As a weird coda, years later when Columbia broke up over Dallas/Ft. Worth, a lot of the debris came down in Nacogdoches. I read a report somewhere that a big chunk was pulled off the lawn of Mays Hall where I was Hall Director for a while.

So now there’s a website that claims those seven brave people didn’t die that day and hundreds, if not thousands, of people had their lives ripped apart in ways big and small. Apparently everything NASA says is a lie because if NASA isn’t lying then the earth isn’t really flat and these people will have to derive the meaning for their lives from … something else.

They can bite me.

In another weird coda I’ve lived in Asheville, NC twice in my life. It’s in Buncombe County, and it’s actually where we get the word “bunk” from. So I damned sure know bunk when I see it.

1I’d love to say I remember seeing Neil Armstrong step on the moon, but I fell asleep and missed it. I was six. Sue me.