Archive for February, 2010

The Health Care/Mid-term Election Debate

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment


I thought it was a pretty good show, actually. Not that the big Health Care Summit had absolutely anything to do with reaching a policy compromise. Let’s face it. It was all politics aimed at the 2010 mid-term elections. Viewed through that primal prism, both sides did well enough.

The Democratic strategy is to position Republicans as obstructionists and they need vehicles to do this. Enter the “summit.” The visuals were striking. The President looked in command and did his best cool and reasonable-sounding Obama-thing. He carried all the water getting no discernible assistance from most of his Democratic congressional buddies.

Republicans were prepared with numbers and framed their less-government philosophies pretty well. Wisconsin Republican Congressman, Paul Ryan, was impressive as was Oklahoma Republican Senator, Tom Coburn. GOP House Minority Leader, John Boehner, I believe, needs to reassess whether a deep tan is really appropriate for February.

I did not find this to be a boring affair. I thought it was rather interesting and even a little healthy to see both sides of this important issue making their cases in a public forum that went over seven hours. Obama was right when he said the philosophical issues will be settled at the polls in November.

That’s what this was. It was a “mid-term” version of a Presidential debate and as political theatre, it was fascinating to watch. Not a lot of fireworks, but the issues and disagreements were pretty clearly framed. Appropriately, the people will decide eight months from now.

My First Brush With Curling

February 25, 2010 1 comment

(Courtesy MCT)

I am really quite late to the curling frenzy that is sweeping the world right now. But seeking to catch up as quickly as possible, I watched my first match just minutes ago. It was a very tight contest between Sweden and Great Britain that went to 11 ends. Sweden was the eventual victor, delaying Keith Olbermann by 16 minutes for his 8pm start time on MSNBC.

I am sure Keith didn’t mind one bit because it was an absolute nail-biter. The arena was thick with tension as the Swedish skip pushed off confidently from the hack. The stone seemed to glide hesitantly at first but the sweeping work of the Swedish lead and second was simply superb. You could see by the looks on the faces of the British team that they would, regrettably, be on the receiving end of a rousing broom stacking later that night. As everyone knows, though the beer is free, it is only gratis because you lost the contest.

But I digress. The yellow stone was guided smartly toward the house and just when it seemed it would stop short, slipped ever so gingerly right to the edge of the button. Then just like that, Sweden had completed its stirring come-from-behind effort after having tied up the contest in the 10th end using a clever tick and emerged with their dramatic victory over the Brits to head to the semi-finals of the Olympic bonspiel.

I was so moved by my first extended curling-viewing experience that I immediately turned to the World Wide Web, hungry for more information. I found out curling originated in Scotland in the early 1600’s, the best stones are made of Ailsite granite and they go for $1,500.

I also found out that curling humor is, well, puckish. Here are two curling jokes, courtesy of

Manager phones the home of an employee and gets one of the children on the phone.

“Could I speak to your dad, please”

“My mom and dad are away at a curling bonspiel”

“Well when your dad gets home ask him to phone his boss at work, I need to know how long he’ll be away with his broken leg”

But, wait, there’s more (with apologies to my religious friends):

Is curling a biblical sport? Yes, replied Jesus: “Let he who is without spin cast the first stone.”

There are some things I already knew about curling. For some odd reason I have visited nearly every major city in Canada and have many Canadian friends. So what I know is certain about curling, is that going to a bonspiel (a tournament) is actually an excuse to get completely shit-faced. This totally explains why anyone would think the two jokes above come anywhere close to resembling humor, as it is traditionally defined.

The only other observation I would make after my intimate brush (get it, get it?) with curling is that, every now and again, it is fun to visit another planet.

Categories: Culture, Sports Tags: , , , ,

ABC Downsizes & the Revolution Gathers Steam

February 24, 2010 4 comments

My former employer, ABC News, is seeking to cut 20% of its work force. Buy-outs are being offered before layoffs begin. There are some really radical changes coming in terms of news coverage.

More digital reporters- sharp young people who make a lot less money, shooting their own video, filing for the web and probably soon to be appearing on World News. There will be extensive training of all news staff with an eye toward the one-man band approach in which correspondents, producers and probably anybody with two hands and two eyeballs shoots their own video.

Disney is doing ok but the ABC Television division is not as plummeting advertising revenues continue taking their terrible toll on the news business. One can look at stuff like this and CBS’ recent 100 layoffs and be cynical about the kinds of priorities that are being set by the parent companies of these news organizations. Or maybe all of this is simply inevitable and we are headed toward a radically different mainstream media future and we just have to learn to deal with it.

These are but the latest convulsions in a rapidly changing media environment. The business model that held up for more than half a century has been torn to shreds. The advertising market for radio and television and newspapers has simply collapsed. More and more dollars are flowing to the internet. Major sectors like the automotive industry that used to provide about a fifth of all broadcasting ad revenues are gone. Add the worst recession since the Great Depression to the mix and we have arrived where we are today.

We are in the midst of a revolution. It is happening before our very eyes and for those of us who ply our trade in this business, it feels like an earthquake; like there is no safe place. Revolutions have happened before in the media business. Gutenberg and his printing press put town criers out of work. Radio didn’t kill newspapers but it was the dawn of a new age in communications. Television didn’t kill radio but it changed the nature of the medium from a tool of mass communication to a niche form of broadcasting that attracted advertisers for its ability to reach narrow and specific demographic groups. And now the digital age and the new egalitarian nature of multiple consumption choices it has spawned is changing the nature of the television business.

The positive thing about revolutions is that they lead to innovation. The negative is the terrible price that is paid by hard-working, generally altruistic people who pursued what they thought were solid career paths now suddenly having to recalibrate- everything. It is sad in so many ways. But it’s also the cruel and Darwinian nature of a free market-based economy.

What does worry me a great deal is that these aren’t just jobs we’re talking about. That aspect alone is bad enough. But these are people who used to bring us the news. How does a democracy function if the stakeholders no longer have the depth of information they need to make decisions about the course of their lives, their communities and their nation? Will pared-down Radio and TV networks, thin newspapers and the internet and its iterations really fill that void and perform that essential function?

I don’t know. But I sincerely hope our new information world is more than 140 characters in length plus the occasional link to You Tube.

Climate Change: Now the South Pole

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

As I have said before and often, I am not convinced it’s man or industry that’s at fault. I have no clue what’s causing it and I am not certain an air-tight case can be made that global climate change is our doing. But more evidence is gathering that our climate is changing, and more specifically- that it is warming.

The well documented shrinking of the Arctic ice shelf is now being matched by developments in the Antarctic. Check out this press release just issued by the United States Geological Survey today.

In a nutshell, it says that climate change is causing ice shelves in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula to retreat. The possible effects are glacier retreat and a serious rise in sea levels, “threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide.”

This is directly from the USGS report:

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey is the first to document that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. The USGS previously documented that the majority of ice fronts on the entire Peninsula have also retreated during the late 20th century and into the early 21st century.

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level.

The U.S. Geological Survey is not a political organization. Driven by the need to document the topographical characteristics of the largest addition of land mass in the nation’s history- the Louisiana Purchase of 1809- an act of Congress created the USGS on March 3rd, 1879. Their scientific disciplines include biology, geography, geology, and hydrology. The USGS is about science in its purest form.

They will continue watching this situation because it a very big deal. The Antarctic ice sheet contains 91% of earth’s glacier ice. If it melts, purchasing beachfront property would not be advisable.  Or just buy 100 miles inland- it will become beachfront property.

Oh, that’s right. It snowed a lot this winter. Never mind.

A Golfer Says He’s Sorry- Take That Brit Hume

February 22, 2010 1 comment

In our increasingly scattered and diverse digital world, in which everybody marches to their own drummer, the Tiger Wood’s apology last Friday morning was one of those exceedingly rare TV events that turned into a communal experience shared by billions of people around the country and the world. Every major network ran it live like it was the President of the United States announcing a major international incident.

If you really think about it, it was theatre of the absurd. People across America gathered in their offices paying rapt and occasionally mocking attention to this: a golfer saying he was sorry for failing to control his sexual impulses. Yeah, I know it wasn’t just a golfer. Every time I think of Tiger’s infidelities I flash on that Nike commercial of kids saying, “I am Tiger Woods.” He actually did set himself up as a role model. And he happens to be the greatest athlete of our time. But it was still a golfer apologizing for screwing around. Considering the massive televison audience alone, we have definitely plowed new ground here.

Tiger seemed quite sincere and appropriately chastened. But the props were strange. Mom sitting in the front row. Business associates and friends gathered somberly as if they were at a funeral. The tough-love hugs at the end.

I liked the part where Tiger came home again to his Buddhist upbringing. I took this as a direct slap at Brit Hume of Fox News who suggested recently that if Tiger converted to Christianity all would be forgiven. This is going to be very educational for Brit. What if it turns out people can forgive a Buddhist? Yikes.

And really, really…Erin didn’t take an 8-iron to the SUV?

Ah, so many questions, so few answers.

Snow Mounds Still Marring Life in DC

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

OK, I was wrong. We are not the new Chicago. It’s been TWO weeks since the first snow flakes ushered in our storm of the century and there are still huge mounds of snow at intersections, entire lanes of highways and major thoroughfares that remain blocked off and significant portions of hardened ice on sidewalks.

The people of the DC area may be a little heartier and grizzled than they were before, but our state and local governments have shown all the winter acumen of Dade County, Florida. I don’t want to hear Mayor Fenty bragging about how well the city handled the twin storms. You didn’t. You tried but you failed. Your only ally has been the sunshine and the few degrees above freezing God has chosen to give you for a few hours each day.

Commuting nightmares continue. Metro is still swarming with massive crowds; all the people who don’t want to waste hours of their lives sitting in their cars not moving. We don’t even want to go into trash pick-up and the latest bane of people’s existence- potholes big enough to stop speeding Toyotas in their tracks.

I don’t own a car anymore. Gave up the automotive habit when I moved to Manhattan, a city uniquely equipped to handle a walking-subway-cabbing lifestyle. DC is very different which is why I moved two blocks from work and one block from a Metro station and, coincidently, to an apartment complex where a Zip-car happens to be parked in the back everyday. My exposure to the area’s continuing snow headaches is primarily sidewalk-related. But I have co-workers still arriving late to work everyday and friends posting their commuting frustrations on Facebook on a regular basis.

Eventually, because we have seasons, someday this crap will all go away. But it is absolutely nuts that on February 19th, the good people of this region are still dealing with a snowfall that began at 10:45am on Friday, February the 5th. Mother Nature can dump tons of snow and then eventually melt it or wash it away- but she needs a little help.

Categories: Climate Change

Olympic Fever Resulting in Headaches

February 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I like Vancouver. It’s a lovely place. I love Canadians. They are the nicest people ever. But I’m not sure they’re feeling like the Olympics are the best thing that’s happened to the city about now.

Having been in Atlanta for the 1996 summer games, I can attest to what a nightmare these things can become. I remember watching Jim Lampley at about 1:15 am, reporting that a bomb had just gone off at the Olympic Plaza next to the CNN Center and doing my duty as a journalist and head of CNNRadio at the time, getting in my car and driving literally 90 mph down the interstate and getting passed by cop cars rushing to the scene. I recall the eerie scene in downtown Atlanta that night as police helicopters hovered over the city with their floodlights while homeless people slept in the streets and bomb squads searched for more explosives.

Nothing that bad has happened in Vancouver but it certainly hasn’t been smooth going either. The nightmares began with the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili on the eve of the opening ceremonies during a practice run on a course the Canadians had bragged was the fastest ever built. An investigation found it was the luger’s fault and had nothing to do with the track. That led the Georgian President to make the point that he was pretty sure an athlete’s “mistake” is not supposed to result in death.

Less tragic but embarrassing events have since become commonplace in Vancouver. Here’s a list:

1) During the opening ceremonies, one of the four pillars supporting the Olympic torch failed to rise from the floor leaving a Canadian athlete with nothing to light.

2) Then there was the imprisonment of the torch as organizers put it behind an ugly wire fence in downtown Vancouver. They’ve since taken some steps to improve the view and make it a little more accessible to the public.

3) Bus drivers taking people to the venues have quit, complaining of long hours and lousy working conditions. Others have gotten lost and many of the buses have just broken down.

4) The speedskating finals were delayed Sunday and Monday due to malfunctioning Zamboni’s that left uneven ice surfaces. They finally had to truck one in from Calgary. Apparently, more delays at the skating venue today as well.

5) Cypress Mountain turned into a quagmire as warm weather first forced organizers to truck in snow and then when it rained, had to cancel 28,000 tickets when the spectator area became unsafe from the flooding slush.

There have been some nice moments in these Olympics. The Chinese couple that returned from retirement to win the Olympic gold that had eluded them in their long skating careers. Seth Wescott winning a dramatic victory in Snowboard Cross. Hannah Kearney winning the Mogul gold. Apolo Ohno with his silver in short-track speed skating as two Koreans took each other out at the last second. Lindsey Vonn winning the Alpine Skiing event on her bum leg after a two-week lay-off. As I write this, no one has actually seen her winning the gold but I read about it. Maybe I’ll watch it, though it’s kind of a bummer to know in advance what the result is going to be.

I must say, America does not seem exactly mesmerized. American Idol cleaned up last night. As for our Canadian friends- they’re learning that old lesson about being careful what you wish for.

Categories: Sports Tags: , , ,

Best Way to the White House- Quit Your Job

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Sarah Palin did it.  Evan Bayh is about to.  In an era in which being an incumbent is becoming a serious liability, the road to political success appears to be- leaving office.   

In Palin’s case, she resigned as Alaska Governor and promptly wrote a best-seller, went on a barn-storming tour and has become more visible than ever.  No pesky, parochial Alaska issues to deal with- just crowds of adoring fans at Daytona and elsewhere.  Though polls show most Americans, including a significant majority of independents, don’t consider her qualified for the White House, they also find she is the top contender for the Republican nomination at this point.

As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer sees it, Indiana Democratic Senator, Evan Bayh’s announcement that he will not be seeking re-election allows him to avoid taking increasingly difficult political stands that would either force him to support an agenda that would make him unpopular at home or oppose the White House and become increasingly unpopular with his colleagues.  That, says Krauthammer, paves the way for a potentially successful Presidential run in 2016 free of any controversial baggage.

The Palin and Bayh motivations and actions are polar opposites.  Palin is hyper-partisan.  Bayh says he’s leaving because he’s fed up with partisanship. But it would appear that with an American economy in tatters and Washington gridlocked into paralysis on the critical issues of our times, the best way to position yourself as an outsider these days- is to actually be one. 

It is rather paradoxical, of course.  If the trend continues, there won’t be any need to “throw the bums out.”  They will have all thrown themselves out.  For now.

Categories: Politics Tags: , ,

Transitioning to Normal

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

As a public service, I have stopped searching for iconic winter images and am posting a photograph of someone surfing.  This is the first of the actions I am taking to ween myself off of my snow addiction.

♦ It’s ok to stop watching the Weather Channel now.  I caught myself turning to TWC Thursday even though there was no real reason to and discovered it was snowing in Dallas.  Interesting, but that has nothing to do with my life.  It will snow four inches today in Atlanta.  My son lives there, but it’s only four inches.  Goodbye Weather Channel.  Until next time.

♦ It’s ok to stop visiting  But I did discover they have a much better site than Weather Channel.  You don’t have to work as hard to find the stuff you really need to know.  They also have a wonderful collection of very knowledgeable weather nerds who have all the esoteric details that interest me when all weather-hell is breaking loose.

♦  It’s ok to stop talking to all your friends about the Great Blizzard of 2010.   It was really something.  The sun is out now and the stuff is finally beginning to melt.

♦ Based on what I heard this morning about the nightmarish commute people have had, it remains ok to bitch about the District of Columbia and its lack of snowplowing prowess.

♥  It is not only appropriate, but perhaps, an absolute necessity to begin thinking about Valentine’s Day and what, precisely, you are going to do for your loved one Sunday.  Flower stores are delivering.  They have no choice.  This is how they make money.

♦  It may snow a little bit on Monday but it’s not expected to be a major winter event.  Remember, we may once have been snow-wimps, but we are now grizzled veterans of arctic climate conditions and we now laugh at a mere two inches and move on as if nothing had happened.  We are the new Chicago.

Signs of Life

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I finally ventured out of the apartment today. I saw people. I interacted with some of them- interesting species. Hit the Safeway supermarket at 5th and K. Not very many humans there, however. But the cashier was really, really nice. Positive attitude, all smiles and light banter. She packed my five-cent plastic bags strategically after asking me if I was walking or driving (DC now charges for plastic if you don’t come in with your own hip canvass bags).

Clearly, no one likes potato bread. That’s about all that’s left. This is a brand new supermarket in my neighborhood so they do that thing at the produce department where you hear fake thunder and automated sprinklers spritz the vegetables every 20 seconds. Wasn’t working. Not worth the effort for the few of us scavengers who were there this afternoon. Or not worth the water to spray week-old wilted lettuce.

By the way, does anyone know the name of my Safeway? Does it even have a name yet? Here in D.C., all the Safeway supermarkets have nicknames that suit their surrounding neighborhoods. The one in Georgetown is called “Social Safeway.” The one in my old Northeast neighborhood near RFK stadium where I last lived here in DC, is “Scary Safeway.” Today, I would have to call my new grocery store, “Sad Safeway.”

The 8-block round-trip walk to Sad Safeway was challenging but much easier than, say, climbing Mt. McKinley. The sidewalks are basically packed snow. There’s a lot of standing water at intersections now because of all the snow-dams that are being created by the plow-piles. Wow. Plow-piles. Not only is that not a word, but it’s non-word I never even imagined I’d be using two weeks ago.

There have been a few cars parked in front of my building since last week. Today, I saw the two competing approaches to dealing with snowed-in, blizzard-covered motorized vehicles. One guy obviously took ownership of the situation and was out there shoveling his little heart out, clearing his path of exit. Directly across the street is a car that has not been touched. It is submerged. Its owner, I imagine, is in denial. Or hoping that now that it’s nearly 40 degrees, Mother Nature will take care of it all.

Nanook is back in his cave now. Tomorrow- a real adventure: Bed, Bath and Beyond.