Archive for October, 2010

Change for the Sake of Change

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The latest survey from CBS News and the New York Times explains what is about to happen as Americans go to the polls Tuesday. In a nutshell- people are desperate, they’re not sure what they want, but they are willing to take a risk on extreme or untried candidates.

As women, Catholics, independents and poor Americans abandon the President they voted for two years ago, here are the stats.

57 percent of registered voters said they were more inclined to gamble on a candidate with little experience this year, while a quarter said they could get behind a candidate whose views “seem extreme.”

Folks don’t seem to have a clue about what they actually want. 90% want cuts in federal spending, for example. But only 50% say they want fewer government services.

Did you get that? It bears repeating. 90% want spending cuts but only 50% want cuts in services.

And though they want spending cuts, when it comes to Social Security, they oppose raising the retirement age or cutting benefits, the only two meaningful ways to reign in social security spending.

Americans are almost equally divided on health care. 45% want to keep health care reform. 41% want to repeal it.

There will be surprises around the country when the votes are tallied next Tuesday. In a race here and a race there. But there is just too much pain and suffering to think there will not be a ton of incumbents shown the door and almost all of them will be Democrats.

When the dust settles, I don’t believe it will be the tsunami predicted in August because a lot of Democrats have come home. But the independents that helped elect Barack Obama are gone. And as the survey says-they are not put off by either extremism or novice politicians.

I think the electorate as a whole will throw out about 46 or 47 House Democrats and about a half a dozen Senators. My forecast is a Republican House majority of about 8 seats and a Democratic Senate majority of 52 to 48.

Bipartisanship heading into the two-year period prior to a Presidential election seems too much to hope for and that would be quite unfortunate. There are reasonable economic approaches on both sides of the aisle that considered- outside the heated world of partisan political rhetoric- could help put the country back to work and on the road to healing.

This would be a good time to pray for America and that its politicians act as real leaders.

Job Loss & Recovery

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s anecdotal, but I have no less than six friends who have lost their media jobs over the past month or so as the carnage in the broadcast industry continues. It’s like an entire craft is being sacrificed on the altar of scaled-back recessionary budgets and tumultuous change.

I swear these companies have it down to a science now. Find the biggest salaries generally belonging to the oldest workers, sprinkle in an under-40 here and there so you can deny “pattern and practice” in case anybody wants to sue for age discrimination and- there you go….another budget-target hit. Until the next round.

Having been through this process several times myself, I can tell you it’s not a lot of fun, though it’s not completely a horror show either. If I lose my current media job, the only secure employment prospects seem to be in job counseling. So consider this practice.

There are stages of grief just like recovering from the death of a family member or friend. There’s nothing quite like that 1st week of joblessness when you wake up in the morning, remember what the deal is, and shake your head in disbelief. But there are things you can do that bring some sanity into the picture.

The two biggest things are dealing with the psychology and the finances. In lay-off parlance, “separation” is exactly that. You’ve been separated from a world full of friends and colleagues and there are natural feelings of isolation. If you’re the main bread-winner, you get the additional layers of feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I now give myself about one and a half to two weeks of self-pity. But that’s it. Then it’s time to move on.

As for the finances, my very, very first action is always to do a budget reality check. You measure up your spending habits against all of your assets, retirement money included. Since most layoffs involve older workers, you’re likely to be better off than you might have thought if push comes to shove. It’s always a nice relief to know you’re not going to be living out of a cardboard box.

There is a strange dual psychology that develops in which both the world of great possibilities and the reality that they haven’t come to fruition yet reside simultaneously inside you. But make no mistake about it- there is a wonderful feeling of exhilaration when you go about the process of analyzing how to reinvent yourself. There’s something exciting about the concept of doing work you would absolutely love to do.

Reinvention and rejuvenation. People do it all the time.

To my friends going through this rough patch- remember you are not your jobs. The value you bring to life, family and friends is in your character, not your title. Be strong, stay positive, think creatively, hustle and conquer. You can do this.

On NPR and Ethics

October 22, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been keeping this blog for almost a year now, even after I was hired by NPR and it’s because they have an enlightened social media policy that doesn’t prohibit such things. They ask that we assume personal responsibility for what we say with the understanding that we represent NPR at all times.

This is why I write about culture, occasionally media, sports, and when I delve into politics it is with a broad brush and I go out of my way NOT to divulge my personal political opinions. I do not feel that my 1st amendment rights are being violated.

I have the right to say what I want and the government can’t throw me in prison for it. I do not have a constitutional right to be employed by NPR.

I choose to abide by NPR’s ethics policies that draw a clear line between controversial opinion and objectivity because I understand that in order to maintain our credibility with the public, it is an absolute necessity.

If I and my fellow employees are asked to avoid overt political rallies, I have no issue with that. It is not a matter that I might be recognized by someone. I don’t go on the air at NPR but do run one of its broadcast units. It is a matter of journalistic ethics and I am responsible for upholding those ethics as much as any correspondent or analyst.

We in the Newscast unit and in the news magazine shows work very, very hard each and every day to be as fair as possible and broadcast all points of view. Don’t listen to me. Listen to our content.

There are communities in every nook and cranny of our country, in big cities, suburbs and rural areas that absent the presence of NPR member-stations would have no local radio at all and very little by way of objective journalism. We help provide some of that journalism and that is all NPR seeks to protect.

And that is all I choose to say.

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The NFL’s Big Hits

October 19, 2010 2 comments

No sooner did I write humorously, I thought, about judging the impact of an NFL defense by the number of stretchers on the field to remove injured offense players, the league had its most violent weekend in history.

There were at least four helmet-on-helmet hits in Sunday’s action that were so fierce and literally concussive, that the NFL was moved to release a statement about it and start threatening players with suspensions and fines.

Besides awesome accidental timing on my part that gives the appearance I am some kind of blood-lusting animal, there are several other observations that come to mind.

First of all, to NFL fans who have suddenly discovered their sensitive side, please spare me. Professional football has always been and always will be- the single most violent of all our sports. Big hits are a part of the game. Illegal hits intended to cripple a player are not part of the game. Big hits on a receiver catching a pass over the middle of the field, however, are as American as apple pie.

It’s as if people suddenly figured out that the NFL plays a rough game. Ok, you want it not rough? Outlaw tackling. Put little flags on the player’s pants and turn it into the National Flag Football League.

There are lots of potentially violent acts in football that are now against the rules; actions that, 20 years ago, were perfectly allowable. These include, spearing (leading with the helmet during a tackle), clotheslining, and general “roughing,” like hitting a Quarterback after he’s thrown the ball.

I have no objections to the proposed suspensions and fines. If it’s against the rules to tackle or hit another player leading with your helmet, then, fine, suspend them. But for fans to suddenly start going “tsk, tsk” and professing to be shocked that the NFL is violent, is just plain silly.

These men choose to play this game and they are fully aware that the end of their careers is just one play away. It’s why they get paid so much and good for them. The average career of an NFL running back is about four years. I say they should be able to make as much they can for as long as they can. They not only risk their careers but they also risk their future health. There are plenty of NFL players who can barely walk at age 60.

I’m not necessarily proud that I am such a fan of this sometimes grisly sport. But speed, power, intricate coordination and regional pride are hard for some of us to resist. I suspect they’re also the reasons why football supplanted baseball as the national pastime.

Let’s just face it- Americans are big fans of this violent sport. Why, I do believe, we invented it.

Life Without Fantasy Leagues

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m too busy these days to be in any football fantasy leagues or even picking games for that matter; this after two years of being steeped in fantasy action. My Sundays have really changed. As have my Mondays and many of my Thursdays.

For the uninitiated, this fantasy football stuff is really all-consuming. It’s one of the reasons NFL TV ratings are through the roof this year. Additional millions upon millions of people are now picking players and carefully monitoring their stats in a highly addictive endeavor that has created many more football widows than anyone ever imagined possible.

I played in the type of fantasy league in which you go up against 19 other random people on a sports web site, picking 11 players; 2 QB’s, 3 HB’s, 3 WR’s, etc.etc.. And I also picked games; one contest in which you pick winners straight up, and the most challenging of all which involved picking against the point spread and then ranking the games 1-16.

My performances were mixed. Not-so-good on the more traditional fantasy league stuff. Average on straight up picks. Pretty darned good against the spread. For me, the joy in this was the prognosticating formulas I invented…spread sheet after spread sheet crunching numbers, probabilities, etc. (actual such spread sheet above).

So with 11 players I was monitoring and two sets of picks to worry about, every single game on Sundays and Mondays and often Thursdays, carried some kind of implication; some kind of test of my forecasting abilities. It was riveting.

Absent the fantasy leagues and the picks now…I find I just don’t give a shit. It’s oddly liberating. I have so much more time. My clothes are cleaner because I’ll actually do some laundry. I’ll take leisurely walks through the grocery store. I read books.

The only games I really care about these days involve the Redskins and the Cowboys. And it is so simple. Here’s my new formula:

Redskins Win= Happy Robert
Redskins Lose= Sad Robert
Cowboys Win= Sad Robert
Cowboys Lose= Happy Robert

I have a moderate interest in the New York Jets because I actually watched a couple of those HBO reality shows about Jets training camp and the Jets coach is such a jerk that I like seeing them get their hats handed to them. Which hasn’t happened much. The Jets are actually pretty good.

And the Eagles are interesting, of course, because they traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins and you have that drama playing out now between Philly Quarterbacks Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb.

But unless they’re playing Washington, I just don’t care anymore about Payton and Eli Manning, Carson Palmer or Aaron Rogers. I don’t have to go through stats on cheap, obscure kickers or study team defenses. And I find a lot of the statistical analysis I used to spend hours on…is total bull.

Yes, things are much, much simpler now. Primal, even. The stat-freaks, for example, obsess about how the Redskins defense gives up X amount of yards per game, making them one of the worst in the NFL. Now- I look at points allowed and the number of stretchers brought on the field.

Yeah, they give up a lot of yards, but not many points. And they’ve put at least 14 opposing players on the disabled list in the last three games. See, now that’s a defense. And not a stat that counts in fantasy leagues, last I checked.

21st Century Camping

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s a good thing I get lots of press releases from PR flaks across America, or I’d never know about some of the most important trends sweeping the nation. I just learned, for example, about something called “Glamping.” This is reputedly the “hottest” trend in the world of travel and blends the words “glamour’ and “camping.”

Now, I’ve never been much of a camper. My recollection of camping is rather old school. This is where you pitch a couple of tents, the larger one for the parental units, the smaller one (s) for the kids. You pray it doesn’t rain because, really, there is nothing worse in this world than a leaky tent and soggy camping. And, of course, I’ve always been especially fond of large insects.

I will admit enjoying breakfasts cooked over a campfire, especially fried eggs and bacon served with coffee spiked with Kahlua or Courvoisier.

Going to the bathroom was always interesting. For the ladies in particular. Usually, it would involve a bit of a hike, sometimes in the middle of the night, to some concrete-brick, campground restroom facility- hoping against hope some serial killer was not lurking in the really, really dark woods.

But camping has changed. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association recently informed me all about this. RV’s (which, frankly, I never considered real camping) have been considerably upgraded. Some now come with fireplaces, wine refrigerators, Italian tile, washer/dryers, home entertainment centers, leather furniture and great big, huge beds. All on wheels! Plus camp sites now offer Wi-Fi access. Always nice to know that when you really want to get away from it all, Facebook, Twitter, 4-Square and Tumblr are always nearby.

“Being stalked by serial killer on way to bathroom”- is that 140 characters or less?

Yes, camping has modernized beyond recognition. Or as the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association describes it- “Retailers are getting on the glamping bandwagon.” Note: It’s not just a trend- it’s a “bandwagon.”

You can now buy battery-operated insect repellant systems. Air Mattresses with built-in speakers for portable MP3 players. There are rental outlets that offer “butler service” that will “stock a rented RV with anything the customer requests and deliver it to any location, whether it’s a national park or a tailgating party.”

Ok, here’s my question and I ask it honestly. If you can get Italian tile, a fireplace and a king-sized bed in an RV- why go “camping?” Why not just rent a suite at the Ritz-Carlton? If you can get a butler to show up at your campfire with caviar and scallops wrapped in bacon- well, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of “roughing it?”

Am I wrong here? Wasn’t that the whole romantic notion of “camping?” Wasn’t the point of it to sort of pretend you were in George Washington’s army at Valley Forge or that you were a member of Geronimo’s tribe? Davey Crockett…hello? Fur caps…hunting varmin’….howling with the coyotes, peeing in the woods?

No…what we have here is the kind of camping Gilligan’s Island’s Thurston Howell III would have done.

“Oh Luvee, darling- turn off the fireplace and the home entertainment center and bring us a couple of glasses of Riesling ’92 from the wine fridge, would you darling? This outdoors experience is positively draining.”

Baseball Playoffs Begin With a Bang

Who is even going to come close to beating the Phillies this year?

History has been made this evening as Philadelphia pitcher, Roy Halladay, tossed the first post-season no-hitter since Don Larson’s perfect game in 1956. His second no-hitter of the season. One 2-out walk or it would have been a perfect game.

You don’t have to be a Phillies fan to appreciate something like this. Wow.

How does Baseball do it? It survives the steroid era. It survives Bud Selig. It survives labor strife. Remarkable.

And how does anyone survive the Phillies this year? Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels follow Halladay, all of them #1 pitchers on any other club. And because they had the best record in the NL, they got to choose their playoff schedule so out of 19 possible playoff games…with all the off-days scheduled…those three get to pitch 17 of those games.

All others- Surrender. This is one of the greatest teams of all time.

Class and Professionalism

I write not about the Redskins, per say, but their on-field leader, Donovan McNabb. You can never have too many leaders, and coupled with Coach Shanahan, that’s at least two good ones they have going right now.

McNabb is not only an NFL Quarterback, but he’s a darned good politician and diplomat too. Always says the right things. Never tries to provoke; although he did have one moment after Sunday’s surprising Redskin’s victory in Philadelphia where he showed himself to be human after all. After receiving the game ball, he gave a stirring speech to his teammates and ended it by saying “Everybody makes mistakes in life and they {the Eagles} made one last year.”

Good for him. The Fox Sports commentators said he made a mistake of his own with that statement. Chill a little, Terry Bradshaw. He is allowed to feel and express a moment of personal and professional vindication. If it ends up on the Eagle’s bulletin board next time the teams meet- so be it.

Heading into McNabb’s homecoming in Philly, much had been written about why Eagle’s fans never really embraced him. There seemed to be consensus that McNabb never got mad enough at himself when they lost. He was too even-keeled for Philadelphia.

Uh, excuse me. Since when is being mature and balanced in your approach to your job a bad thing? In fact, if you look at the characteristics of championship sports teams, one constant is that they control their emotions. They don’t get too high when they win. They don’t get too low when they lose. McNabb is the embodiment of a true professional. He did not, on paper, have the greatest statistical game against his former teammates Sunday. But as usual, he was cool when it mattered.

A note on Eagle’s fans. They were pitch-perfect Sunday at Lincoln Field. They showed a lot of class giving McNabb a standing ovation prior to the game. Once the players hit the field, they booed him just as they would any opposing quarterback. And that was cool too.

As for the Skins, I don’t know which team will be showing up week to week, but the one that played Sunday, was tough, gutsy and lucky. Those twin stinkers against the Rams and the Texans are all forgiven now by Redskins Nation. An NFL season is a long grind. I, for one, will never have qualms with a team that misses the playoffs but tries its heart out and shows character in the process.

Those qualities eventually produce a winner.