Posts Tagged ‘media’

Ideas for a revamped NPR

March 15, 2011

NPR’s Robert Siegel is interviewing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim cleric out to destroy America by building a mosque in downtown New York. Rather than reach across the table to strangle the Islamic extremist, Siegel is asking him a question.

“Was your choice to build your Islamic cultural center so close to Ground Zero designed to make a statement about religious freedom in America, or was it simply due to the propinquity of the Manhattan real estate market?” Siegel asks.

It’s just this type of attitude, and this type of vocabulary, that has all right-thinking Americans up in arms about federal funding for National Public Radio and its blatantly liberal bias. “Propinquity?” What kind of word is that? We’re proud to say that most people’s common-man, everyday speech patterns barely recognize the words “National,” “Public” and “Radio,” much less a word like “propinquity”.

Presuming that the listening public knows big words with a “q” in the middle of them is a large part of what has brought on the initiative in the Republican-controlled House to cut funding to NPR. An educated citizenry may well be the key to maintaining our democratic ideals, but that’s only true in the civics textbooks we’re currently in the process of banning from our public schools.

America can easily get by on several hundred words to engage in the political debate needed at this turning point in our nation’s history. Our Founding Fathers were perfectly comfortable using terms like “cat” and “Sally” and “Spot” to frame our constitutional principles, and we should be equally at ease using simple words in our public discourse today.

Proponents of public radio continue to claim that they present the news of the day in a straightforward manner, tilting neither right nor left. Then how come they have correspondents with names like Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Ira Flatow and Lakshmi Singh? If they hired the occasional Bob Smith or Mary Jones, maybe they wouldn’t be facing the opposition they’re currently seeing.

Rather than slash funding completely and obliterate this elitist stream of progressive thought from the public airways, some have suggested reform may be the best solution.

“There may be a need for public radio. I guess somebody has to be there to broadcast the occasional farm report,” said Fox News vice president of communications Allen Cutter. “As an executive for a communications company that actually makes money, I might offer some suggestions on changes in programming that could lessen the leftist impact.”

Cutter said many current shows could be slightly re-branded in a way that would put them more in line with the opinions of conservative Americans.

“Why must it be ‘All Things Considered’?” Cutter asked. “Why can’t it be ‘Some Things Considered’? There’s a lot going on in the world today that’s not really worthy of our consideration. If we ignore foreign cultures and strange ideas, studies have shown that these tend to go away.”

Cutter also proposed other changes to some of the more popular shows on public radio. He suggests turning “Morning Edition” into “Morning Sedition,” and making it a time slot where anti-government fanatics can vent their rage against the federal system. He’d like to see the popular Saturday afternoon cooking show “Splendid Table” turned into “Splendid Cable,” and make it an outlet for those wanting to praise the efforts of networks such as Fox. The Friday feature of “Talk of the Nation” known as “Science Friday” could be moved earlier in the week and renamed “Voodoo Tuesday,” with guests discussing creationism, conspiracy theories and their experiences with alien probes.

“There’s at least one show I’d leave just like it is, though,” Cutter said. “I think ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me’ accurately sums up our intellectual outlook, and should remain on the schedule. Besides, that Carl Kasell is an absolute hoot.”

Cutter had one more change in mind he’d make for a newly revamped NPR.

“We’d need to move its location from the far left end of the radio dial to well right of center,” he suggested. “Those lower-numbered channels could be returned to the Soviets, where they belong.”

(What could’ve been) the Decade in Review

December 30, 2009

We never did come up with a definitive name for the decade we’re just now completing, though “the aughts” or the “oh-oh’s” seem appropriate. We ought to have done a better job managing our lives and our finances, we ought to have avoided a poorly conceived war in Iraq, we ought to have foreseen that a city built 12 feet below sea level would flood during a hurricane. Oh-oh, we accidentally elected George W. Bush president.

It was a mistake-filled decade, one I keep hoping some great replay official in the sky will declare as a “do-over.” What if that could happen? What if I tossed a red flag onto the field of life, the referees huddled around a monitor that displayed the passage of the years 2000 through 2009, and emerged to throw their arms in the air and wave off the last ten years?

“Upon further review, the last decade will not stand,” comes the announcement. “Let’s try that again.”

I’d like to imagine an alternate history that wasn’t as devastating as the reality turned out to be. How could that have transpired? Let’s check the timeline of what might have been.

January 1, 2000 — The Y2K bug turns out to exist after all, but its effect on computers and the Internet worldwide is that they can only be used for good. Productivity increases dramatically, education is available to everyone, and healthcare information is at our fingertips. Time-wasters like Facebook, YouTube, the blogosphere and Twitter are technically impossible to invent. Just to be on the safe side, a young computer geek from Massachusetts, would-be founder of Twitter “Biz” Stone, is accidentally electrocuted while trying to program a workaround.

Would-be Twitter founder "Biz" Stone

November 7, 2000 — Al Gore is elected forty-third president of the United States. Thousands of confused retirees in Arizona who thought they were voting for Wile E. Coyote accidentally selected Gore instead, putting him over the top in the Electoral College.

September 10, 2001 — Within a one-week period, three airline pilots are discovered to be drunk, another crew accidentally overshoots a destination by 150 miles while discussing their schedules, and a third squad falls asleep at the controls. The FAA orders the entire American fleet of passenger jets grounded for two days, demanding that airline personnel “shape up or go back to your jobs at the convenience store.” Flights resume on Sept. 12, including one that carries a frustrated contingent of Saudi travelers back to the Mideast.

September 4, 2002 — Kelly Clarkson narrowly defeats Justin Guarini for the title of first “American Idol.” However, results are overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court five weeks later, which declared in a 5-4 decision that the singing competition was “stupid” and installed Dick Cheney as the winner.

April 9, 2003 — President Al Gore, having completed his landmark negotiation of a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, thereby permanently settling the once-troubled region, travels to Baghdad for a well-deserved vacation. Long-time friends from his college fraternity days join the president for what they term a “shockingly awesome blast of massive proportions,” and paint the Iraqi capital red.

January 11, 2004 — The first legal marriage of a same-sex couple occurs in the U.S. It is totally gay.

May 1, 2004 — The largest expansion to date of the European Union takes place, extending the federation by ten member-states, including Slovakia, Slovenia, Slomotion, Sloeginia and Wal-mart.

April 2, 2005 — Pope John Paul II dies. The entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church goes into deep mourning for its loss, but then the Guy at the top remembers, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s him right over there.”

August 29, 2005 — The Katrina and the Waves Summer of Fun Tour stops in New Orleans, where concert-goers greet performance of the group’s hit “Walking on Sunshine (Tryin’ to Feel Good)” by staging a massive riot that guts the Louisiana Superdome. Survivors gather in the streets outside, spelling out “HELP US” with discarded souvenir tour t-shirts, but aren’t rescued by the National Guard until six days later.

Katrina and the Waves

October 9, 2006 — North Korea performs its first successful nuclear test, scoring an 86 and getting a “good point but remember that punct. counts” comment on the essay portion of the exam.

March 2, 2007 — Shiloh Jolie Pitt, daughter of actress Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt, is introduced to the world. The world pretends to get an urgent cell phone call and has to step outside for just a minute, then sprints off across the parking lot.

May 2, 2008 — Cyclone Nargis makes landfall in Myanmar, causing massive flooding and widespread destruction. A butterfly displaced by the storm sneezes, causing a tiny atmospheric disruption that slightly raises the humidity half a world away. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain detects the change, and somehow interprets it as a sign that he should pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

September 14, 2008 — A collapse of Wall Street is narrowly averted when city engineers detect a faulty beam in the subway platform beneath the New York Stock Exchange and repair it just in time. Grateful investment banks thank the American taxpayers by subsidizing a nationwide “Merrill Lunch” on Sept. 30, during which anyone who buys a small order of fries from a fast-food outlet gets a free upgrade to a medium.

French fries, or perhaps President Joe Lieberman

November 4, 2008 — Following two successful terms working closely with President Gore, Vice President Joe Lieberman is elected forty-fourth president of the United States. That butterfly in Myanmar commits insecticide.

June 24, 2009 — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is the latest in a continuing parade of politicians who call a press conference to acknowledge loving their wife and family, and being unable to imagine life without them. Women nationwide ask their husbands why they can’t be more like that, while the men pretend to get an urgent cell phone call.

June 25, 2009 — Texas State Senator Mike Jackson (R-District 11), delivering a five-minute routine of jokes and other humorous stories to fellow legislators gathered with him at the Galveston Olive Garden, dies when nobody laughs.

Texas State Senator Mike Jackson

November 23, 2009 — Golfer Tiger Woods crashes his Buick into a Nike shoe outlet, apparently distracted by his AT&T phone and a bottle of Gatorade he had spilled in his lap. He checks his Tag Hauer watch to note the time of the accident for the police report, then calls Accenture to ask what the hell they do, so he can screw that up too. Fortunately, no endorsement deals are jeopardized.

December 30, 2009 — About 100 readers of an obscure, excessively wordy blog find something way better to do with their time.

Fake News: Something overshoots something else

October 29, 2009

I don’t want to, but federal regulations require me to write a satire of the recent news story about a Delta Airlines jet over-shooting its planned Minneapolis landing by 150 miles. The Humorists, Satirists, Comedians and Wiseguys Media Responsibility Act of 2008 states that I and every other humor writer must make up a story about the two pilots who were either falling asleep, playing laptop solitaire or engaged in a shouting match at 30,000 feet over the Midwest when, oops, wasn’t that our exit?

Because my heart’s not really in it, I threw together three different variations in hopes that one will fulfill my obligations and keep me out of Supermax. Take your pick.

Cruise ship overshoots port

MIAMI — A luxury cruise ship captain accidentally overshot the Port of Miami this weekend, travelling six miles up a canal and another 35 miles into the Everglades before realizing his error.

Capt. Arnold Shores was returning Royal Caribbean’s Hippopotamus of the Seas from a week-long tour of the West Indies when he was apparently distracted by a passing clump of seaweed, or it might’ve been a mermaid or mer-man. It wasn’t until he plowed a mammoth gash through the sawgrass west of the Miami International Airport that he realized he missed the dock.

“A lot of the passengers on deck thought it was a little unusual that we’d see automobile traffic on the high seas right next to us, but we just figured it was going to be one of the excursions,” said passenger Steve Nichols. “Our dining room table-mates then saw a couple of alligators and wanted to know if we could eat them.”

The giant ship appeared to be permanently lodged in the shallow waters, though most of the passengers insisted they were staying aboard at least through tonight’s Tropical Trivia Challenge in the pool bar. The captain, who several witnesses said appeared intoxicated, hopped aboard a passing airboat, commenting “let Flipper finish this stupid cruise.”

‘Balloon Dad’ overshoots media

DENVER — The unlikely story of “Balloon Boy” Falcon Heene continued to unravel yesterday, and it now appears the six-year-old parachuted out of the metallic flying saucer shortly after take-off. The helium-filled airship then overshot its planned landing at the high school down the street, veering off course for 70 miles before coming to rest in a cornfield.

“After his chute deployed, he apparently landed on the roof of his garage, magically transformed the chute into a pile of leaves, then scrambled into the attic where he hid from his parents,” said Sheriff James Alderden. “At least that’s what they’re telling me today, and I have no reason to doubt their story.”

Father Richard Heene had attempted to launch the family’s career in a new TV reality series with the publicity stunt, but underestimated the national clamor it would cause. What was planned to be a feel-good feature on local stations in the Denver area instead became a sensation that may result in charges against the Colorado space cadet.

“Admittedly, I may have aimed a little high in trying to get media coverage,” Heene said. “But when you’re competing against that ‘drunkest-man-in-the-world’ guy trying to buy beer at the Circle K and every piano-playing cat east of the Rockies, you have to think big.”

Obama administration overshoots recovery

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s economic recovery plan now looks like it has significantly overshot its goal, with the latest gross domestic product figures showing that every single American is now fabulously wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

The stimulus package that passed Congress earlier this year and other efforts to repair the burst mortgage bubble turned out to be so successful that millions of citizens have had their natural teeth extracted and replaced with diamonds. McDonald’s is updating its famous Egg McMuffin with the “Egg McMahon,” a robotic sidekick featuring Canadian bacon, a slice of American cheese, and a mechanical head that will chuckle at your every joke. Toilet paper has largely been replaced with a thin gold foil.

“Yes, we wanted economic conditions to improve and Americans to get back to full employment but frankly, this is ridiculous,” said top economic advisor Lawrence Summers. “I mean, somebody has to be poor and struggling desperately to get by, or else how will the rest of us be able to appreciate our wealth?”

Expensive homes financed by subprime mortgages that only last month were termed “underwater” because their value had fallen so drastically are now actually floating about ten feet in the air, kept aloft by powerful wind machines homeowners are spending their bonuses on. What had been a bleak unemployment picture has evaporated, with many workers now holding as many as five or six jobs. Even family pets are reporting six-figure salaries that include stock options, travel on corporate aircraft and country club memberships.

“Here, have a hundred-dollar bill,” Summers told reporters at a White House press conference. “Take several if you want.”

Why I like TV

November 8, 2008

I grew up, like most men my age, as a big fan of television. One of my earliest memories is preparing to go to school each morning so I’d have enough time to watch reruns of “The Three Stooges”. I was on the kiddies’ show “Skipper Chuck’s Popeye Playhouse”; I’m told that when the Skipper threw the floor open to an on-air question-and-answer segment, I asked “Can I go to the bathroom?”. I was a huge fan of the country-humor genre best represented by the likes of “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”, shows I defend to this day for their under-appreciated irony.

As I’ve grown into middle age, I find myself watching TV less and less. I’m not sure why, though I do believe my son’s monopoly of the widescreen we bought a year or so back plays a big part in what I’d otherwise call my maturation. He prefers shows like “Halo” and “Guitar Hero”, the plots of which I’m completely unable to comprehend, except that they require some really strange remote. My wife and I still manage to arrange some family TV time with a few shows we all like – “House”, “The Colbert Report” – but just as the proliferation of specialty cable channels has segmented audiences in general, we’ve developed our separate interests.

What seems to differentiate us the most these days though is our TV-viewing styles. Rob has that ability he shares with the rest of his generation for electronic multi-tasking, combining television with the Internet, text messaging, instant messaging, cell phone conversations, homework, petting his cats and annoying his mom. Laura is able to watch long movies in 5- or 10-minute segments while going about more productive activities. How she’s able to remember plot points from one segment to the next, while I can barely remember what show I’m watching during commercial breaks, is beyond me.

Maybe it’s because I’m not paying attention. Or rather, it’s because I’m paying attention on a whole different level than what she and others see. (Kind of like President Bush is paying attention to the nation on what can politely be called “a whole different level”). I suspect I share a trait with many other men who watch television for two different reasons. Sometimes I watch because the broadcast is interesting, and other times I prefer just to let the electrons fly and lull me into a state that closely resembles irreversible coma to the untrained eye.

Smarter people than I have labeled these two viewing styles as “lean forward” and “lean back”. The lean-forward style is used when you’re intently engaged with the monitor in front of you, whether it’s displaying the final minute of a tight football game or a particularly titillating spreadsheet. The lean-back style represents a more casual interface, like when you’re at work. Sometimes I really want to be paying attention to what’s on while at other times, it’s just the “on-ness” that matters.

And it’s hard for even me to predict which mode is going to seem more appropriate for any given TV-watching opportunity. There are many shows that sound good in theory and yet I find it difficult to get around to them. On my DVR right now, for example, are recent broadcasts I recorded including a documentary on 9/11, a high-definition portrayal of what it’s like to be imprisoned in India and six episodes of “Mad Men”. I often joke that what I need in order to get caught up on this backlog is a good case of spinal meningitis to put me on the couch for a couple of months. In one sense, though, I’ve got the feeling that recording the programs is basically equivalent to watching the programs, and that actually playing them out is overkill.

I think I could stay awake for most of these shows, assuming the meningitis wasn’t too crippling. If I have some real interest in a subject, if there’s any suspense or excitement or (especially) catastrophe at all, I don’t think I could fall asleep if I tried. Even the Weather Channel, notorious in households across the country for providing little more than background noise mixed with thunderstorm watches for states you’ve never heard of, can hold my interest if the subject is right. Blending the stupefying musical accompaniment to the hometown weather insert with features like “It Could Happen Tomorrow” – what if New York were struck with a hurricane, volcano and sandstorm at the same time? – is obviously brilliant programming.

But I have what I think is an even better idea, and I’m offering it here to any TV moguls who might’ve stumbled into the blogosphere. If we can have specialty channels devoted to such esoteric subjects as country music and home improvement projects, why not introduce The Sleep Channel to cable? You’d really need very little original programming; just the re-broadcast rights to already-existing shows that could be packaged and marketed as a sort of video Ambien. A typical line-up might include a painting with watercolors show, “Teletubbies”, another “Teletubbies”, any cooking show without Rachel Ray, public-access coverage of the city council, a cavalcade of security cameras, and Larry King “Live”, topped off with what you could call “The Black and White Hour”, featuring anything made in the days before color. Then for sweeps week, roll out the broadcast I couldn’t believe my good fortune to come across one recent lazy Saturday – it wasn’t just golf, it wasn’t just senior golf, it was a rerun of last year’s senior golf shown while this year’s tournament was being rain-delayed (complete with updates on when the weather might be clearing).

As I drifted off, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Or at least that’s what my wife thought.