Thursday, September 26, 2013

I. The End of All Things

I HAVEN'T WRITTEN anything in a while.  It’s time to start again.

I enjoy writing.  I want to write.  I have a lot to say.  But I can’t say it, for the most part; at least not in a public forum.  My employer frowns on it, and that’s okay.  I get it.

I can’t write about politics, or economics, or current events, because that would mean inflecting my opinion, which is kind of a no-no as far as my company’s social media policy goes, even for personal writings.

I’m hesitant to write about religion, because I’ll just offend everyone.

I shouldn’t write about sports or video games, because nobody cares what I have to say in those arenas.  (Actually, I do write about video games, using a pseudonym, for a video game website, in their user’s blogging forum.  It’s fun.  But I don’t share it, because, again, hardly anyone I know personally is interested in video games.)

And yet, like an artist without a canvas or a musician without an instrument, I am bursting with creativity, longing to put pen to paper, figuratively, or realistically, fingers to keyboard.

Truly, though, I flatter myself, for I am no linguistic artist.  I will never win a literary award, and I don’t really think I could write a book.  Not right now, anyway.

But the yearning is still there.  I can’t fulfill it by writing news items at work; those have too many rules.  Nor is writing a little-read video games blog validating my urges.

So here I am, again, on my personal blog.

I don’t know where to start.

Eventually, I turn to my best friend, the one whom I find to be the most insightful person on Earth.

“Emmy,” I say, “What should I write?”

She stares back at me.

I have my answer.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It Was Really Good. I Swear!

 I WROTE WHAT I considered to be one of my best pieces of personal writing for this week's blog.  I submitted it to a trusted friend for review.  She approved.  Ultimately, though, I decided to destroy it forever.

Why? Mostly because it was too personal, and it surrounded a true story of another friend which, while extraordinarily powerful, and one which I strongly felt needed to be told; but I ultimately decided that I could not bring myself to ask their permission to share it, even with names and details altered.  Even altering it further, I decided it would have too many markers that could make the individual in question identifiable.  I do not think this person wants this story shared, at least not in that manner.

Self-censorship is the baton that beats most of my writings into submission.  I crossed more than a few lines with last week's post, and I'm now using Facebook's privacy tools to even further limit the audience for this blog, lest I run afoul of my employer's strict (and totally reasonable) social media policies.  As a journalist, I must be objective; while having opinions and expressing them is a normal part of life, it is considered poor judgment to do so when one's career depends entirely upon objectivity and fairness.

As a reader of this blog, I trust that you believe I am capable of being evenhanded in my work, even in spite of my own beliefs.  But I gotta tell you, holding back kind of hurts sometimes.  Then again, the fact that no one using the relative anonymity of the internet holds back much at all is the primary reason I avoid reading website comments sections or Fox Nation.

Interestingly, I have in my unpublished blog entry a good starting point for what I hope will someday be a book.  That, ultimately, will require the participation of the subject, so it may never happen.  If it does, you'll be the first to know.

To my American friends, enjoy your holiday weekend.  You know where I'll be...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Theocracy Now!



SUBJECT: Today’s News

Dearly Beloved, I know it’s been a rough morning so far.  So jarring, in fact, that some of you may be questioning Me and My Father’s will.  You may be staring at a TV or computer screen, realizing we've lost some key battles today.  It certainly seems like a dark time is upon us. If you were otherwise unaware, I am of course not talking about crushing poverty among families with children, or worker abuses in China, or government-sponsored massacres of citizens in Syria, or the erosion of human rights in Egypt, or fatal circumcisions and genital mutilations of young girls, or oppression of women in the Middle East, or child sex trafficking in southeast Asia.  Those issues do not concern Me now, and you can rest assured that they will never interfere with our primary goals. I need not remind you that those goals are, of course, keeping gay people from having sex and preventing women from not bearing children. Let’s start with Texas, shall we?  Hoo boy, I swear to Dad this was the LAST place I thought we’d have trouble keeping abortion from being safe and legal.  I mean, y’all have done such a great job over the years -- no godless Democrat has been elected to statewide office in 19 years, and the GOP (God's Own Party) has had control of the State Assembly and Senate for as long as I can remember. So how in the name of Me did you manage to screw this one up? Early this morning, using stall tactics, the Texas Senate failed to pass a sweeping ban on abortion that would make it virtually impossible to commit homicide in utero within the state’s borders.  Nearly all baby-murder clinics would have been forced to close, and practically every woman who became pregnant there would be required to carry her precious offspring to term, regardless of her desire or capability to care for the child.  (Not to worry, your tax dollars would never be spent on providing said child with food or medical care after he or she is born.  We only care about them before they exit the womb; then they’re somebody else’s problem.) I know this has many of you and your congregants upset.  Yea, fear not; for lo, I am the LORD thy God, and my servant Rick Perry has assured me that he will call another special session of the legislature, on the taxpayers’ dime, to ensure that this vital piece of legislation is finally passed.  (I took the form of his hair dryer to talk with him this morning.)  Amen. Speaking of Texas, today marks exactly ten years since Satan used his influence over the Supreme Court to overturn the Texas sodomy law, which prevented the Lone Star State from arresting gay people for being gay.  Dad was so mad that day, he was punting Seraphim left and right, let me tell you.  He would have smote the entire state with fire and brimstone, but fortunately thou hast kept the anti-sodomy law on the books, even though it is totally unenforceable and demonstrably unconstitutional. And lo, so it has come to pass, that ten years to the day after that terrible decision in Lawrence v. Texas, we have another Court catastrophe on our hands.  For the court hath decided to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and California Proposition 8.  This, of course, means it will be much more difficult for us to prevent the sodomites from being married to one another, in the legal sense. Perhaps what your American government needs is a better nation to model itself after.  I have the perfect suggestion!  It’s a country where the Word of God is law; where abortion and homosexuality are not only illegal, they are punishable by death; and where even merely insulting My Father or those who worship Him is a capital offense.  I am, of course, talking about Pakistan.  True, they have the wrong God in charge, but all you need to do is substitute that silly Qur’an with the Holy Bible, and you’re all set.  (Just make sure it’s the right translation.  You know the one.) Now more than ever, I need you to fight back against this travesty.  Remind your flocks of the consequences: tell them, for example, that now you may be required, by law, to perform gay marriages in your churches!  Remind them that this has opened the floodgates for legalizing marriage between a man and a dog, or a man and many women! (No offense, Tommy.)  Pat, get back on your show and predict that this will result in My Father sending a huge earthquake or a hurricane or a meteor or something.  I’ll have a chat with Him this afternoon and see what we can do. I know that some of what I’m suggesting might seem, well, “wrong” to you.  After all, some might say you’d be lying to tell your congregations what I've mentioned.  But remember, if you lie in defense of The LORD Almighty, El Shaddai, He Who Moves Mountains, or at Least He Would if Someone Asked Him to, Which Apparently No One has Done Lately Because No One has Ever Seen a Mountain Moved by Unexplained Forces, then you’re doing the right thing.  This is, after all, the defense of MARRIAGE we’re talking about!  And yes, I know that, maybe a couple thousand years ago, one of the only things I said about marriage was that My faithful servants should avoid marriage if they can; and I realize that the “definition of marriage” in My Holy Bible includes polygamy, sex slaves and rape; and back to my original point, I understand that My Father is responsible for the deaths of far more unborn babies than all abortions combined. But I am the LORD Thy God, and even though I am all-powerful, I still need you to do My bidding. Because, you know, I’m busy with other stuff.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Bird and the Box

PICTURED HERE IS an empty box.  Well, mostly empty, save for a few bread crumbs.

This was a very happy sight for me.

A day earlier -- a particularly hot late spring afternoon in Atlanta -- I was preparing to go to bed, and took Emmy outside as I always do just before we sleep.  Something got her attention and she ran over to it and pounced on it.  I immediately gave her the “drop it” command, and as usual she obeyed unhesitatingly.

The object of her interest was a small bird.

Emmy, of course, cannot ordinarily catch birds.  Fortunately, she had not injured this one, although there was apparently something wrong with it as it did not fly away upon my approach.  It was clearly frightened and exhausted, but I was uncertain if it was injured.

I took Emmy inside and lamented the fact the creature would likely die of heat exhaustion or be killed by a cat before too long.

I couldn’t let that happen.

I found a small box and walked back outside, alone.  The little sparrow was still there.  I gently coaxed it into the box with a piece of paper I’d also brought, and it reluctantly hopped in, though perhaps out of fright it relieved itself on the concrete sidewalk first.

I didn’t know exactly what to do at this point.  Keeping it in my air conditioned apartment would definitely help cool the little guy down, but if he was just overheated and not actually injured, I feared he would start flying around while I was asleep.  By that point, it could take a great deal of time and frustration to get him outside again, if he didn’t die in the process.

The best solution I could come up with was to set the box in the shade on my porch.  I then brought out a dish and filled it with very cold water, and added some ice cubes.  It was so hot out, the ice was sure to melt within minutes.

Lacking birdseed, I tossed some bread crumbs in the box behind the dish and wished the bird luck.  I then went to bed, knowing there was a good possibility I would have a dead bird in a box when I woke up that night to go to work.  But I slept well, knowing I had done my best to give the sparrow a second chance.

When I woke up hours later, I immediately went out to my porch.

The box was empty.

There were no signs of the bird anywhere else on the porch.

I went back inside with a big smile on my face.

“We did a good thing, Emmy,” I said, patting her on the side.  “We did good.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Pictured: my "feature" phone.
MY PHONE IS a piece of crap, by most measures.  It’s three years old.  It does not have a touch-screen.  It has no maps or apps.  It has a 3.2 megapixel camera that takes blurry, low-resolution photos.  It can get on the internet, but only barely.  It doesn't do anything but make and receive phone calls and text messages, and it does neither of those things exceptionally well.

I wouldn't give it up for anything else.

For starters, the thing is practically theft-proof.  Who would steal a 2010 LG Octane?  It wasn't even state-of-the-art when it was first released.  (Heck, Verizon gave it to me for free!)  But seriously, folks, mobile phone theft is a major problem.  A HUGE problem.  It even happens to public figures like CNN anchor Carol Costello.

Phone theft has gotten SO out-of-control, in fact, that today lawmakers are meeting with major phone providers to ask them what to do about it.  But guess what?  Mobile phone providers don’t care -- stolen phones are good for their business model.

I think a big reason behind my insistence upon keeping my bare-bones feature phone is that it’s my way of sticking it to Verizon and the phone manufacturers.  My monthly bill is about 50 bucks.  How many people do you know with an iPhone or Android who spend less than $1,200 a year on bills, accessories and apps?

No, I can’t navigate or look up information on it while I’m traveling, though I can do some of those sorts of things on my BlackBerry provided by my employer, which costs me nothing (though it is also pretty worthless as phones go).  More importantly, in the event I do somehow lose my phone, I’m not risking my financial life; with the way folks use their phones nowadays for purchases, passwords, Facebook and everything else, losing your phone means losing a lot more than an expensive handset.

I will further brag that my clunky phone can and has survived a number of drops onto hard bare floors and even pavement without malfunction, has an IMPOSSIBLE to break screen (it’s not glass!), has tactile, physical buttons (which I prefer), and has a battery that goes about a week between charges.  A WEEK!  I’d like to see your fancy Galaxy or iPhone go a DAY before draining its precious battery of life.

Of course, the primary reason for the battery longevity in my case is that nobody ever calls or texts me.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Can't Watch This

IT’S BEEN A little over three years now since I cut the cord and gave up pay TV for good.  I don’t miss it, and I don’t regret that decision in the slightest.

It is terribly ironic that, considering I make my living in an industry that depends almost entirely upon cable and satellite subscription fees, that I would have minimal interest in being a subscriber myself.  I do miss having CNN at home, and watching Cowboys games is now nigh impossible (though that may not be such a bad thing).  I am also left out of communal TV watching events, particularly Game of Thrones and other things my friends seem to discuss a lot, particularly online; and I have a more difficult time accessing the few series I do enjoy.

But it’s not just about saving money for me.  It’s about the principle of paying a LOT to watch only a little, and effectively subsidizing garbage I’ll never watch.

Industry analyst NPD Group estimates the average American’s monthly cable or satellite bill is about $86.  It’s easy to blame “cable company greed”, especially considering the poor reputation many providers have when it comes to customer service, but the real reason is the individual content providers.  ESPN, for example, is among the most-expensive of all cable channels, demanding about $4 per subscriber.  I’d have no problem paying $4 a month for ESPN, even though I wouldn’t watch it much, because they often have live sports programming I want to see.  I do NOT, however, want to pay anything to Fox News Channel, Lifetime, TLC, Food Network, OWN, Galavision, Nick Jr. or any of the other networks I will never watch under any circumstances.

So, you might ask, why are telcos so resistant to a-la-carte pricing models, allowing us to pay only for the channels we watch?  The answer is pretty straightforward: the entire business model of cable / satellite TV is built on this sort of “crowdfunding”.  If we only paid for channels we wanted, the big, popular networks like ESPN, Fox News Channel, USA, TBS, TNT, History and Food Network would all probably be just fine.  Smaller networks -- especially those with niche audiences -- would quickly go off the air.

Fine, you say; if a network isn’t popular enough to stay, why should I have to pay for it?

I think in this case, it all comes down to choice, both perceived and real.  The current “subsidy” model costs consumers a lot more, but also gives them a lot of options.  It’s really quite similar to how Netflix works; obviously you’re not watching every single movie and TV series Netflix offers, but your $8 a month combined with the same amount from millions of other subscribers allows everyone to have a huge Netflix virtual library.  A buy-what-you-watch model would probably leave cable / satellite with just one news channel (Fox News); one sports channel (ESPN); and a handful of general-interest channels.

While I support the idea of diversity and choice in programming, I just don’t like paying for it myself.  And for that, you can blame the fact that SO MANY once-great cable networks have fallen into the death-spiral of reality show trash TV, started by MTV.  Just as MTV no longer does music videos and instead offers low-cost, high-ratings visual sewage like “Jersey Shore” and “Buckwild”, Discovery has abandoned its original mission of quality science and educational programming for tripe like “Deadliest Catch” and “Property Wars” and “Moonshiners”.  Whatever happened to programs about history on History?  Why is TLC, nee The Learning Channel, the most anti-educational network ever created?  Why was CourtTV repurposed into a low-rent TLC / Discovery / A&E knockoff as truTV?

I guess I sound like an old man here.  But when the fake reality show campaign launched by New York’s PBS affiliate WNET can actually seem totally plausible, you know we really have reached the point of the vast wasteland.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Orwell that Ends Well

The Huffington Post

This is to say nothing of the additional news that the government and its contractors have been blowing millions of taxpayer dollars on lavish conferences, silly videos and adult playgrounds.  (It makes one wonder where all the angry protests and demonstrations are, since people got a lot more fired up about banking scandals and Second Amendment rights.)
In the interest of journalistic ethics and fairness, I am strongly discouraged from publicly expressing opinions about the merits of this program.  However, I can say you owe it to yourself to read as much as possible on this very important story.
Bearing all that in mind, here are what I believe are some of the more important statements to emerge so far.
"Everyone should just calm down and understand this isn't anything that is brand new.”  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada - June 6
"When law-abiding Americans call their friends, who they call, when they call, and where they call from is private information. Collecting this data about every single phone call that every American makes every day would be a massive invasion of Americans' privacy." Sen. Ron Widen, D-Oregon - June 6
“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats. The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.” James R. Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence - June 6
"Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?" Al Gore, former Vice President and U.S. Senator, D-Tennessee - June 5
"Radical Islam is on the rise throughout the region. Homegrown terrorism is one of my biggest concerns. It is happening in our own backyard, and I am glad that NSA is trying to find out what terrorists are up to overseas and inside the country." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina - June 6
"Let me just emphasize, this is nothing particularly new. This has been going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA authority and every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this." Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia - June 6
"I know that people are trying to get to us. This is the reason why we keep TSA doing what it’s doing. This is the reason why the FBI now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counterterrorism. This is the reason for the National Counterterrorism Center that’s been set up in the time we’ve been active. It’s to ferret this out before it happens. It’s called protecting America." Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California - June 6
"Our economy doesn't work; foreign policy's in shambles; and now we have no privacy because people say they want to be safe.  Governments cannot make us safe.  To pretend they can make us safe -- they have to destroy personal liberty." Dr. Ron Paul, former U.S. Congressman, R-Texas - June 6, on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360"
"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." President Barack Obama, January 21, 2009