Where Do We Draw the Line? All Things Are NOT the Same

The events of the last month or so – hell, if you want to be serious, it’s dating back to the 1990s – have opened the door of Pandora’s Box. Whether it is in the world of relations between men or women or even something as small as what constitutes a joke, it seems we want to eradicate the impropriety, even the ability to laugh at ourselves. If it delves into a needle of a person’s appearance, a stereotype, or a myriad of other situations, it seems as though it has become verboten. This has caused me to wonder a few things:  just where do we draw the line? And that led to my second thought:  all situations are not the same.

A couple of months ago, I saw one of my favorite films of all time. Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles was on AMC (and unedited at that!) and I laughed my ass off all the way through it. The performances were priceless in the film, from Cleavon Little’s streetwise (and black) Sheriff Bob to Gene Wilder’s drunken Waco Kid, there wasn’t a dull moment in the film about a black man assigned to be a sheriff for a racist town. There was also a litany of jokes about Mexicans, Indians, blacks, Jews, and a host of others that would be considered “inappropriate” today.

CleavonLittleGeneWilder

Imagine my surprise when I heard Brooks discuss the issue in an interview soon after. In an interview with the BBC, Brooks commented that he could probably have done Young Frankenstein, but Blazing Saddles could never have been made. “Never ‘Blazing Saddles,’ because we have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy,” Brooks stated to the BBC. But Brooks’ groundbreaking and legendary comedy isn’t the only piece that might be “wrong” to watch today.

AMC was also the home of another cinematic classic I viewed recently. The original M*A*S*H, with Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye Pierce and Elliott Gould as Trapper John McIntyre, depicted the Korean War with all its warts. It is arguable that there were enough things to twist the panties of today’s sensitive souls, with just the name of one of the characters (‘Spearchucker’ Jones), the usage of drugs and treatment of women by…well, virtually everyone…to get outrage going.

DoctorDetroit

You think this was just something from the 70s? Another favorite film of mine is Doctor Detroit, a middling 80s comedy starring Dan Aykroyd as a nebbish college professor who, when plied with alcohol, drugs, and sex by a bevy of beauties (that included his future wife Donna Dixon), becomes a chiropractor/crime lord (and the women’s pimp) to not only save them but his college. In the 90s, it was Ace Ventura:  Pet Detective, the story of an inept detective chasing a transgendered (and very sexual, if you’re to believe one scene) former football player. The 21st century hasn’t changed this brand of comedy, or did you miss the Harold & Kumar series?

The movie industry in 2017 has been ravaged by the accusations of some of the most powerful men in Hollywood and the long-rumored “casting couch.” This trend caught one of the most powerful men in Tinseltown, Harvey Weinstein, who was alleged to have attempted to use his position as a “make or break” player in the movie business to have sexual relations (sometimes even forced) with women looking for their big break. Add in other alleged situations such as actor Kevin Spacey, director Brett Ratner and hip hop legend Russell Simmons, and now actor Jeffrey Tambor and it all is coming to a head.

This same year the same accusations have rocked the media and political professions, some proven, some “paid off.” Former Fox News president the late Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, now Charlie Rose…all have been alleged to have committed some form of harassment of women. In politics it dates back even further to the peccadillos of John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. For it to come around to today’s incidences, with both Al Franken and Roy Moore being castigated for their actions, isn’t surprising. And remember, more than a dozen women – and a rape allegation of a 13-year old – are awaiting the person who sits in the most powerful seat in the land (remember right after “grabbed them by the pussy” on the Access Hollywood bus?) To this day, he has never answered for those transgressions.

AlFranken

I am reminded of when I was back in my radio days. At that time, the biggest name in the game was (and arguably still is) Howard Stern. Stern’s programs routinely featured (and still does) in-depth discussion of sexual actions, women’s anatomy, the derision of the handicapped, and basically set the format for “morning show” radio (the “morning crew” days). As someone who worked in those days, the different “morning show” crews were constantly trying to gain the edge over each other with who could put up the sleaziest, sexiest, most outrageous morning show, making the most fun of the most people that are in existence. And you know what? The audiences LAUGHED ALL THE GODDAMN WAY with them. (And if you want a look at what it was like for a woman in the music business, check out Lita Ford’s autobiography Living Like a Runaway for all the gory details.)

I do realize that this is a new age, a new era, but it is beginning to get a bit out of hand. Can anyone reading this tell me what they did 20 years ago? How about 30? Do you remember every interaction you’ve ever had with the opposite sex (or, in some cases, with the same sex)? Were they all innocent engagements with absolutely nothing memorable about them? Then ask yourself this:  is there a possibility that someone else you were with that they remember the situation completely different than you do?

There needs to be some lines set out. In a court of law, there are differing degrees of murder – first degree, second degree, manslaughter, all the way down to legally allowing a person to kill another human being (self-defense, or “Stand Your Ground”). Sexual assault and harassment can go in the same ways as there are differing standards that could be set.

To compare the pedophilic acts of Moore to Franken’s nobody comedy writer dream of getting to lock lips with a Hooters waitress who made it (and acting like a 15-year old virgin in the process of rehearsing it) is completely asinine. The actions of both men are a FORM of sexual assault. But to hold Franken up as “the same” as Moore – who allegedly fiddled with some 14-year-old child and cruised malls to score teenage girls as a 30-plus year-old man (and a District Attorney at that) – is outright lunacy.

RoyMoore

And just what should be the punishment for these actions? In the case of those in Hollywood, their careers have been destroyed, their reputations in tatters, while the women haven’t emerged any better for telling their stories. Franken may very well lose his seat in the U. S. Senate, while Moore should never be seated if elected next month. Is it worth destroying someone’s very existence for something that happened when they were at a completely different stage in their lives?

I don’t pretend to know the answers and, after reviewing everything, I myself am cloudier on the issue than when I started. But if we’re looking for saints in our politics, we’re going to have very empty chambers to decide the laws. If we’re looking for saints in business, comedy, entertainment, and the news, then there’s going to be a very bland life ahead for our progeny. Brooks said it best in that BBC interview when he said, “It’s okay not to hurt feelings of various tribes and groups. However, it’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering into the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behavior.”

We still have to find how far those risks can go, in comedy and other arenas in life, and, if they were violated long ago, what the appropriate punishments should be.

Advertisements

Let’s Put It This Way…Fuck 2016

For anyone who has been around a good length of time, there are years that are remembered more fondly than others. For myself, there’s 2006, when I met my lovely wife; 2008, when we were married, and 20xx when we had our son. Then there are those years that are better left unsaid (mine was 1988 and let’s not get into why except to say that I came out of it a better person). With all of this said, there’s only one way to put the latest ‘trip around the sun’ and that is…fuck 2016.

There were two main areas that were ravaged over the past 365 days (and we’ve yet to actually reach New Year’s Eve, for fuck’s sake). One was the entertainment industry and, in particular, the music industry. When the year kicked off with the death of David Bowie (January 10) from liver cancer, it caught everyone by surprise simply because the very private Bowie had not informed the world he was in failing health.

A little more than a week later, another stunning death occurred. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey would pass away on January 18 following intestinal surgery and, by the end of the month, a band’s history was decimated by the death of two former members. Oddly enough on the same day – January 28 – Signe Toly Anderson, the original vocalist for Jefferson Airplane, and the former lead guitarist for the band, Paul Kantner, both passed away at the age of 74.

Arguably the most surprising death of the calendar year was the passing of Prince in April. “The Purple One” was found unresponsive in the elevator of his Paisley Park home on April 21, ending a charade that had been going on apparently for years. Bedeviled by pain from his strenuous and acrobatic performances over the last 30-plus years, Prince was found to have been using the painkiller fentanyl and overdosed on the powerful drug.

Prince3

The sheer number of deaths of legendary figures of the music world continued to mount throughout the entire year. Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire (February 4); Merle Haggard (April 6); Leonard Cohen (November 7); Sharon Jones, a fiery soul singer often called the “female James Brown” (November 18); two members of one band in Keith Emerson (March 11) and Greg Lake (December 7)…the legends that left had many music aficionados stunned into silence. To administer the coup de grace for the year, former Wham! front man and solo sensation George Michael passed on Christmas Day.

Add these in with the deaths of such acting icons as Alan Rickman (January 14), Abe Vigoda (January 26), Garry Shandling (March 24), Patty Duke (March 29), Gene Wilder (August 28), Florence Henderson (November 24) and Alan Thicke (December 13), sports legends like Muhammad Ali (June 3), Gordie Howe (June 10), Arnold Palmer (September 25) and former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt (June 28) and political figures such as Nancy Reagan (March 6), Elie Wiesel (July 2), Fidel Castro (November 25) and John Glenn (December 8), and even the hardest of souls would have to say that this has been a pretty devastating year (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of those who passed in 2016 – the awards shows this spring are going to be pretty somber affairs when it comes to the “In Memoriam” segment).

It is often asked why people get emotional over the death of entertainment figures, sports heroes or even politicians. It is because it is usually a link to our youth that has been snatched away from us by the talons of the Grim Reaper. Along with that past link, there is also the wealth of work that we will never hear or see those people perform again. In some cases, yes, the person has lived a full life…it still doesn’t make it easier on those who consider themselves fans of the person or their achievements in life to recognize the passing of the body but not the soul.

The other area that was particularly screwed up in 2016 was the world of politics (sorry if you were looking for something else). At the start of the year, it seemed that there were legitimate candidates on both sides of the aisle that would provide for a good choice for the citizens of the States of America. Then a narcissistic, xenophobic racist fascist stepped to the fore.

The man who would eventually become the GOP nominee was not challenged by his own party, partly because they thought he was a joke (and he is) but also because they thought that he had no chance to win. They also didn’t want to offend the “base” that flocked to him like lemmings off a cliff because that “base” was something they had taken a long time to create through their actions of the past 16 years. By pushing them away too hard, they would threaten their own chances when the GOP nominee fell out of favor.

The only problem with that was he never did. Instead of falling from favor, more members of the Ignorati came along for the ride. And because they could not coalesce behind an alternative member – one wasn’t conservative enough, another was too conservative, another’s family had been there before, another was too young, etc. – they allowed a travesty to take over their party. In fact, many of those stayed on the sidelines EVEN WHEN THEY NOMINATED HIM and thought that the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, would be the one to take him down.

Through the mechanizations of many parts, Election Day instead resembled “The Purge” as the Ignorati worked such an unlikelihood that no one considered it possible. To win, the GOP nominee had to sweep at least four states – some combination of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida – to be able to win the presidency. The GOP nominee took six of the seven, with Virginia the only holdout. The margin of victory in those states amounted to around 100,000 votes and the GOP nominee would actually lose the popular vote to Clinton.

TrumpSmug

Now we enter a world that, with Twitler in charge, is a much darker place. He continues to threaten different agencies, looking for the names of those scientists who have done research on climate change or women who have worked to advance women’s rights in foreign countries. He continues to harp on developing a registry for Muslims, threatening to enrage a religion that is the second largest in the world with 1.6 BILLION devotees. He also threatens to take us back to the era where a simple error – lost contact with command and control, a “broken arrow” of a stolen or misplaced nuke or a simple regime change in a country – could bring us to the brink of thermonuclear disaster.

The only way to stop such a despot is to fight on every corner, for every fiber and inch of earth that is possible. It will be more difficult in 2017 as the GOP has complete command of the government, but they now also have no fucking excuses when (and it will be when) things go FUBAR. There may be those who say wait for a couple of years to change the narrative, but the time is now to stop any forward momentum that the GOP nominee may think he has (which he is highly mistaken – there is no “mandate” as many members of the Ignorati have been claiming).

These were just the two jewels of the crappy crown that topped the Year 2016. With hope, we can put this year behind us and find better things going on in the New Year. Let’s blow the horns, rev up the noisemakers and tip the bottle of champagne…fuck 2016! It’s done! And let’s hope that 2017 brings us better circumstances than the previous 365 days has.

Protests Only Work When It Hurts…

It’s funny the things that will come up when you’re in the process of moving. During me and my wife’s latest move from the foothills of North Carolina to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I happened across probably one of the more disappointing moments from this year (at least until possibly the election in November)…

Springsteen.png

Now, the seats weren’t fantastic – in fact, they were at the other end of the arena from where the stage was situated. But they were square on with the stage and would have offered a great opportunity to see much of the crowd enjoying the show from Bruce, one of the legendary performers in rock history (I could tell stories about seeing him in 1980 for a six-plus hour show, but we’ll save that for another time). My wife and I were eagerly anticipating the show as it had been many years since either of us had been able to see “The Boss” in action.

Then the North Carolina General Assembly and asswipe Governor Pat McCrory got their panties in a bunch.

In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance extending protections to the lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender (LGBT) community. A part of this ordinance – and the issue that sparked the most controversy – was the provision for allowing people to use the restroom of their gender identity, rather than that of whichever sex they were born. In essence, the ordinance allowed those who were in the process of shifting from one sex to another to use the restroom of that other sex (male transgendered individuals could use female restrooms and vice versa).

The response by McCrory and the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature (which has been gerrymandered to make it virtually impossible for a balanced legislature to occur – witness the THREE TIMES that the federal government has called the state’s legislative districts unconstitutional) was immediate. Convening a special session of the General Assembly (one outside the normal working times of the legislative body), McCrory and his henchmen pushed through HB2, a bill that was so overreaching in its aim it was destined for the “unconstitutional” bin almost from the start.

Not only did that bill immediately set that “all people” had to use the restroom of the birth sex, but it also removed the right for minorities and the LGBT community to sue through the state court system for discrimination. It included a provision that prevented individual cities from enacting their own laws that differentiated from state statutes. With many Democratic representatives protesting by leaving the voting floor, the statute passed through the General Assembly with only about 12 HOURS of overall discussion.

This was the end of March and, within days, the impact was felt. Several local productions in theaters around the Tar Heel State reported that the rights holders to significant stage productions (plays) were pulling their approval for performance over the bill. The streaming provider Hulu pulled the production of a program they had set for airing out of North Carolina over the bill and PayPal suspended expansion of its operations center in the state. This was but the tip of the iceberg, however.

allstarcanceled

Many entertainment artists have also pulled out of shows that they were scheduled to perform, including “The Boss,” Pearl Jam, Boston, Bryan Adams, Ani DiFranco, Ringo Starr, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil. The real thunder came down, however, over the past couple of months, first with the National Basketball Association’s removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte. Then, just yesterday, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) removed SEVEN championship games or playoff sites from the state, citing the law as the reason. All totaled, the loss of business regarding all of these repercussions could total to as much as half a billion dollars by the year anniversary of HB2’s passage, with the NBA All-Star Game accounting for about $100 million of that total, and could even impact future business in the state.

The reason this came back to me was not only a result of the move. Finding that ticket stub for an unused concert was simply the catalyst for a reply to model Kate Upton’s Twitter hissy fit over athletes not standing for the National Anthem. Of course, over the weekend was the opening weekend of the National Football League season (and the 15th anniversary of 9/11, just coincidentally) and, following in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s continuing protest against inequality in the United States, some players either did not stand for, knelt in protest or displayed the “Black Power” salute as the National Anthem played. This bunched Upton’s panties, who stated, “This is unacceptable. You should be proud to be an American. Especially on 9/11 when we should support each other.”

The continued attention being drawn to what has now become a movement (hey, if a subject catches the nation’s attention for more than two years – yes, it’s been that long since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, widely considered the spur – it is a movement) is only done when a protest has an impact. Kaepernick has been vocal in the past regarding the issues of black people in the United States and their treatment at the hands of law enforcement, but no one was paying any attention to what he was saying. It wasn’t until his act of defiance of not standing for the National Anthem – and attention was drawn to the fact that he was doing it – that there became a national conversation (admittedly sometimes not about what Kaepernick wanted to talk about, as with Upton’s attempt at using her First Amendment rights by silencing Kaepernick’s, but still there was discussion).

nflprotest

For a protest to have an impact, there are a couple of things that it should have. It has to have some financial teeth, some fiscal bite, that pushes some to reconsider their positions (it also has to have a side that understands those fiscal implications – apparently North Carolina Republicans are morons if they issue this response). Along with that, it should have some emotional impact on people. There were plenty that were upset over Springsteen’s decision to not perform in North Carolina, just as there are more than likely many upset that Demi Lovato didn’t come to North Carolina or that LeBron James won’t be making an appearance during the NBA All-Star Game in the state. A protest only works when it hurts, either physically or emotionally. That is what makes a protest enact the change that comes about (eventually) with issues.

I’m putting those unused Bruce Springsteen tickets back in the desk as a reminder to myself for a couple of reasons. One, something has to be lost (in some cases) for a protest to have its desired effect, and Two, there is the ability to protest at all levels, from the richest of us all to the poorest. It will be some time before the protests of the actions in North Carolina and the national discussion of inequality are adequately addressed, but hopefully it is sooner than later.

How Far Do We Let Law Enforcement Go in Stopping Criminals?

DallasShooting

The tragedy that occurred last week with the Dallas Police Department’s finest officers – seeing the death of five of their own and the injury to seven, not counting the civilians in the mix – being gunned down by a deranged former Army soldier has left the country stunned. This aftermath came after two shootings by police against black citizens in Louisiana and Minnesota, presumably without provocation or cause (investigation will reveal more…perhaps). As we try to figure out the problems with these prickly issues, there was another issue that raised its head during those frantic hours after gunshots rang through downtown Dallas.

The Dallas police did their job admirably, finally cornering the suspect in a parking garage in that downtown area. Concerned with the possibility that the shooter (and we won’t dignify him by using his name) could shoot and kill more cops and the threats from that shooter that he was ready to use bombs to take out as many people as possible, the Chief of Police for the Dallas PD, David Brown, made the difficult decision to use a remote controlled robot to deliver an explosive device of its own. The device, a Remotec Model F-5, carried a block of C4 weighing less than a pound to the shooter and killed him in the explosion.

RemotecF5

The Dallas PD issued a statement afterwards, stating that usage of the robot was “a last resort…to deliver an explosion device (sic) to save the lives of officers and citizens.” Chief Brown himself stated that “This wasn’t an ethical decision for me…I’d do it again,” commenting that the standoff with the shooter, the number of officers and civilians already injured and the potential for more casualties required the action. “I would use any tool necessary to save our officer’s lives. I’m not ashamed to say it,” Brown stated.

While the Chief of the Dallas PD made his decision and stands by it, the usage of remote controlled devices by law enforcement is something that has to be questioned. In examining the issue, however, we have to look at how dependent on mechanical, electronic and robotic devices we’ve become to do our “dirty work” for us.

There are the benign uses for robotics – the auto industry has been using them for car manufacturing for decades – and other arenas have also benefitted from their introduction. The medical field, agriculture, the airline industry – all have been able to improve their respective industries for the good of mankind. There are two areas, however – military and law enforcement – where the usage of robotics and the ethics behind such actions can be considered questionable.

The drone program that was started by the Bush Administration in the Middle East, and further expanded by the Obama Administration not only in that area of the world but also into Africa, has always been fraught with ethical questions. The ability of an unmanned object flying into an area and delivering death while its pilot sits comfortably hundreds (or even thousands) of miles away in a control room is something that is unfathomable to many in the world. Thus, trying to decide whether or not it is an ethical action or not is tough in the military world.

If the ethical decision is tough in the military world, then it is even more difficult in the civilian and law enforcement communities. People like to believe that they are safe and have entrusted the police to ensuring that safety. Over the years, however, we’ve seen that militaristic attitude creep over into the law enforcement community. Normally outgunned, the police departments of many cities and towns have been outfitted with the latest in riot gear, armored vehicles and tactical weapons to be able to “combat terrorism” (a 1997 law called the “1033 Program” ramped up in 2011, providing some of the tools we see used today). Military robots are also a part of that program and quite possibly provided the robot used to end the Dallas standoff Friday morning came from that 1033 Program.

But is it ethical to use a military device to kill a civilian? What are the processes that should be considered? Should a judge be involved in the decision? Or is it on one person or a small group of people to make that “judge, jury and executioner” decision rather than the legal process?

In the movie Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, this ethical dilemma is considered and an answer provided. (SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen a film that was released more than 35 years ago!) With the damaged starship Enterprise needing to get away from the detonation of the Genesis Project or be destroyed itself, Mr. Spock enters the engine room to restore the warp drive to the ship. Spock is successful in fixing the warp drive and the Enterprise escapes, but Spock is mortally wounded by radiation poisoning. With his dying breath, Spock states to Admiral James Kirk, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” as he offers his final Vulcan salute and passes away.

WrathofKhan

In the Dallas situation, Chief Brown was faced with this dilemma. Did he allow a situation to carry on for perhaps several more hours, with the potential for more people to be killed or injured by a maniac who gave every impression he was ready to die in the battle, or did he end the situation with a device that, while depriving the shooter of his due rights to the legal process should he be killed, could save innocent lives? The Chief did what he had to do and, in my opinion, did the right thing in this instance.

The problem is how do we move forward with similar actions. Would people have been as happy about the usage of a military robot or drone if it has been used on the Bundy occupation in Oregon earlier this year? What if it had killed several of the protesters on the grounds of that wildlife reserve? There are rules that need to be set for the usage of such robotics by law enforcement, just as there are rules for engagement for pretty much everything else that they do in the execution of their jobs.

First, it should be a “last resort” situation that a robot or drone is considered for usage by law enforcement. This may take several hours or even days to determine, but every other option should be exhausted before going to this length. Second, a judge should sign off on the decision by the appropriate personnel (the Chief of Police is a good one to make that call), giving it the blessing of the judicial system. Finally (and if possible), there should be some sort of warning given to the perpetrator that such actions are being readied and there is a final chance to surrender. After taking these steps, I don’t have a problem with law enforcement using a military drone or robot on a suspect.

What we can’t have is law enforcement going to these lengths on a regular basis to solve standoffs. Part of the reason we are having the debates about police actions that are heavily militarized and civilian reactions that view it as “oppressive” are due to that very militarization that are mentioned. The actions of Dallas’ Chief Brown, while ethically a challenge, were spot on in this case. In another one, they may very well be an overreach, unless the protections sought above are utilized. It is something to consider before the next situation arises and we’ve not figured out a protocol.

“Cutting the Cord” If Only for A Day

CuttingCord

I thought it would be an interesting experiment. I’ve read quite a bit lately about people who have been ditching their cable or satellite companies – “cutting the cord” as it is called – and just going with what can be found on their computer or other streaming services. For the last couple of years, I’ve owned a Roku 3 (a great Christmas gift from my lovely wife) and use it quite frequently, especially during the baseball season. As an experiment, I thought I would give it a day’s trial, just to see if I could “cut the cord” for a simple 24-hour period. You might be surprised about a couple of things that occurred.

It is something that is happening more than you think across the United States and around the world. Estimates are that as many as 10% of U. S. homes are disconnected from traditional cable or satellite service. A 2014 survey by Mike Vorhaus of Frank N. Magid Associates for a trade conference estimated that 59% of U. S. households paid for a subscription video-on-demand (VOD) service and Netflix was 43% of that group. Finally, that same survey from Vorhaus noted that, among 18-34 year olds, television as the primary medium for entertainment was down to only 21%. Two years later, imagine where those numbers are…

My experiment, however, didn’t get off to a great start. First of all, getting up in the morning and turning on the television was distinctly out. As I prepared my son’s lunch for school, I absentmindedly hit the television in the kitchen for CNN. Just as quickly, I shut it off as I reminded myself what today’s experiment was to be about. After I returned home, it was fortunate that I had some work to do and a doctor’s appointment because I wasn’t concerned about what was either on the television or what I was missing from the news. This was good and bad, in my opinion.

Being able to get your work done – especially for someone like myself who works from home – takes a great deal of discipline. Sure, part of the reason we do it is for the flexibility of the situation (my wife and I also save a great deal on child care), but to be able to look at what you have to complete from a work status and be able to achieve those goals while sitting in your abode is something that all people enjoy. The down side is that, yes, we do work from home so we can have a few extra niceties, such as the television on in the background; I especially like CNN because it isn’t something that you have to concentrate heavily on and, in the cases of “BREAKING NEWS,” it allows you to keep on top of what’s going on in the world.

After the doctor’s appointment, I tried to use one of the new features from CNN, CNNGo, which brings their live broadcast to your computer screen. As I halfway listened to the news that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was “absolutely, positively NOT” going to be the GOP’s savior at their convention in Cleveland (sure, Paul…just like you “DIDN’T WANT” the Speakership), it suddenly cut off and I brought up the window. Sure enough, I reached a situation that many do when they try to break away from their cable service.

To be able to access CNNGo (and, as I was to find out later with my son, to be able to access Disney Junior), you had to have an active cable service account. While CNNGo asked for several of the prominent carriers in the business – names such as Charter, Xfinity, DISH Network and others – they didn’t come up with mine:  Time Warner Cable. As such, I couldn’t WATCH CNNGo on my computer – and my son could not watch Disney Junior through the Roku 3 later in the day – because the companies cannot come to a financial agreement so that CNNGo or Disney Junior can be offered on the computer or Roku (you can, however, access them through the Time Warner app that is available through the Roku…figure that one out). This is one of the reasons that pisses off many with the whole “cutting the cord” thing; in reality, you’re not cutting the cord because, at the minimum, you have to at least have minimal cable service to be allowed access to certain channels, whether it is on the computer or through such a streaming device as a Roku.

Roku4After this revelation, the next problem arose as to the “break away” from the cable company. I sat back and watched, through Poker Central, some of the action from the Global Poker League on the Roku 3 during the afternoon and got a bit restless. Taking a look around, there were very few free streaming channels that you could find to actually watch any type of substantive programming (PBS is good for this and free, but fun isn’t the first thing you think of with PBS). To be able to have any selection to be able to choose from, you had to have access to something like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu Plus, each of which charge a monthly fee for access.

These three are the “power brokers” in the new streaming world (“streaming” being whether you watch on your cellphone, your computer or through a device like the Roku) and could have a seismic impact on the shape of the television world in the future. They have already had an impact on programming, beginning to offer their own scripted television shows that have garnered critical acclaim (at the expense of the traditional television networks). But would people actually move to a piecemeal system like this over the traditional cable system?

Some studies suggest that the bundled channel system that cable companies use actually save customers money rather than cost them more, and there’s some evidence to suggest that they may be right. If your cable company offers a basic cable package for $20 per month (and that’s about as base as it gets in many areas, pretty much offering the local channels and a few other stations like the Weather Channel, CNN, ESPN and others), that is normally what people will watch; where people get irritated is when they have 300 channels and nothing is on. With the streaming outlets, you pay somewhere along the lines of $9 a month for Netflix or Hulu (Amazon Prime is $99 per year), but you might have to pay $4.99 for this station to get access over your streaming device and another $4.99 to access another station…it begins to mount up if you have several access points.

Then there is the factor of live sports. Pretty much every sports league has some sort of live package where you can watch every game from the league (except the National Football League; at this time, the NFL Sunday Ticket package is still the domain of DirecTV, although you can pay to be able to watch, on a tape-delayed basis, the NFL games the next day). These packages can range in cost up to $129…if you put that together for baseball, basketball, hockey and hell, let’s say the NFL comes around and does it too, it’s over $500 per year. That’s not counting any NCAA collegiate games, NASCAR, Formula 1, Indy Car, Major League Soccer, Premier League…you might be getting my point by now.

ESPN Plaza - Bristol CT

Then there’s the monolith known as ESPN. Losing money left and right nowadays (as much due to the competition from outlets like Fox Sports, the CBS Sports Network, the NBC Sports Network and insane fees to the sports leagues for broadcasting rights), ESPN has been considering taking the route of Netflix into an “a la carte” service. According to a 2015 article from The Motley Fool, 40% of people would be willing to pay $10 per month for a “Netflix” version of ESPN. The problem is, the Fool states, that ESPN would need at least $15 per month from subscribers AT THIS TIME to maintain its current standard of performance revenues. This isn’t even looking into the future, when the marketplace is further crowded and the bidding wars for rights fees for athletic events gets even more bloodthirsty.

By the time the Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays ended tonight on the Roku, it was time to end the “cut the cord” experiment. I had proved I could do it – there’s enough out there and there is the capability to still watch what the television networks provide, if you’re willing to wait in some cases – for at least a day, but any longer might be a stretch. Perhaps in a few years, when the streaming networks have become more like the cable companies and are actually offering “channel packages” and the cable companies have gone truly “a la carte” to allow their customers to choose ONLY the channels they want, then it would be good to try it again. Right now, I’ll dance between the two worlds quite happily – and enjoy them both immensely.

For Minorities, It’s Better to Have Deserving Oscar Nominees Than Token Lip Service

Oscars

There used to be a time when I went to the movies quite frequently. I was, at one point in my life, very active in seeing Hollywood’s greatest – and sometimes not-so-great – cinematic efforts as soon as they came out, simply for the entertainment value of it all (at that time, I was also working in radio, so I used it as fodder for my on-air commentary). Thus, I was at one time quite knowledgeable when it came down to the films that were nominated for the Academy Awards and the actors and directors that were put up in their particular categories.

As the years have gone by, however, I’ve gotten less tolerant of what goes on in movie theaters. Maybe it’s the price that is being paid to get into seeing these cinematic efforts. There was a time you could pay as little as $.50 to see a film that came out three months previous and, if it was in its first week of release, you could catch the matinee for $2.50 or $3; now, you can’t touch a film for under $7.50 in its first week and these bargain movie theaters don’t exist for the most part. Maybe it’s the concessions and the jacked-up prices there, maybe it’s the incivility of the people going to the movies…I’ve gotten to the point that I wait until the film I REALLY want to see comes to my house On Demand where I can sit with my microwave popcorn and my beverage of choice in my recliner and watch the movie (not to mention if I have to go to the bathroom, I just pause the film). Thus, my knowledge of the movie world isn’t quite as extensive as it has been in the past.

When the 2016 Academy Awards announced their nominees last week, I took note accordingly to potentially get some ideas for Movie Night with my lovely wife. Unfortunately, from looking at the Best Picture nominations, there aren’t many that will pass both of our stringent guidelines. Trumbo may be something that interests me (and thus might see Bryan Cranston’s Best Actor nominated role), but Lovely Wife may be interested in something along the lines of Joy or  Brooklyn (knocking off one of the Best Picture nominees and Jennifer Lawrence, who earned another Best Actress nomination). As you can see, the Movie Night decision is a difficult one in the Burton household (the last movie watched? Inside Out and don’t judge us…that was a more adult film than many you get out of Hollywood!).

The point being made here is that, from the glance over the list of nominees, there were some excellent choices made by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Some may tilt the head a bit at Mad Max:  Fury Road or The Martian, two films that were extremely popular with moviegoers, but this installment of the Mad Max franchise was a visually stunning and exhausting exercise for viewers while The Martian was a well told story. In the acting categories, there were no weak spots save for maybe the sentimental nomination of Sylvester Stallone in the Best Supporting Actor category for bringing back his iconic boxer Rocky Balboa in Creed (he’s probably also the favorite, however). The one thing I didn’t think of was “Who do I drop so that some minority actors can get into the mix? What film do I eliminate so that a minority film gets some attention?”

Most of the attention after the announcement of the nominees for the Oscars has been the factor that, over the five major awards (Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress and, hell, let’s throw in Best Director just for shits and giggles), no minority actor – and, in particular, no black actors – were nominated for any of the awards. This was a point brought up by the host of this year’s Oscars telecast, comedian Chris Rock, who Tweeted that the Oscars had become “the White BET Awards.”

While that was probably meant half funny/half serious, what has happened since has been all serious. The wife of actor Will Smith (who himself has supposedly done some great work in the movie Concussion as the doctor who discovered CTE in pro football players – I only say supposedly because I haven’t seen the film), Jada Pinkett-Smith, went on a tirade about how black actors should boycott the Academy Awards ceremonies over the lack of “diversity in nominations.” For his part, director Spike Lee has jumped on the bandwagon also, saying that he will not attend as a protest over the situation.

A boycott or protest are completely unnecessary on several aspects. First, the head of the AMPAS has noted that the organization is in the midst of changing its membership and, as that takes time, seismic shifts aren’t going to happen overnight. In an announcement following Pinkett-Smith’s hissy fit, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone said “dramatic steps” were being taken to “alter the makeup of our membership” to become more diverse, but more time was needed. The average member of AMPAS is a white male that is 62 years of age so, yes, it needs some changes. Boone and those in charge are sharp to realize this and some time has to be given to be able to make those changes.

Second, would you rather have token actors and/or directors on the list rather than those who actually did outstanding work? When Denzel Washington and Halle Berry swept the Best Actor trophies in 2002, they were the most outstanding actors in film that year. When the movie 12 Years a Slave and actor Lupita Nyong’o won Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress in 2013, they were the best in those respective fields that year. I would rather see people nominated when they arguably deserve the nomination, not just because they are of a particular racial background.

Sure, there were some great performances this year by black actors (and, since this seems to be where much of the screaming is coming from, let’s focus here). The movie Straight Outta Compton was one of the bigger success stories of the year (grossing $188 million by the end of 2015, the best in the history of musical biopics), but which person gets the Best Actor nomination from the five men who performed as the rap group N.W.A. (as an aside, one of my favorite actors from Leverage, Aldis Hodge, was a part of that group)? O’Shea Jackson, Jr., might be the logical choice, but he was simply playing his father, Ice Cube, not a huge leap in any stretch.

Then there’s John Boyega, who is the British actor currently starring in the final three installments of the Star Wars franchise, starting with Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, as Finn. Now, since I haven’t seen this film as of yet, I have to go on reports that say he has done an outstanding job of portraying a Stormtrooper whose loyalties are strained, and this may well be deserving of an acting nomination. But did you see how many Academy Award nominations that Star Wars:  The Force Awakens got overall? Five nominations are great for a film, but all were in technical categories, none of them in any acting categories.

There’s also some other well-known black actors, such as Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Will Smith (Concussion), Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and Latin actor/director Benicio del Toro (Sicario), who weren’t chosen for their roles on screen in 2016. I don’t believe that they are being slighted in any way due to their skin tone or racial background. It more than likely is due to a certain snootiness of Oscar voters – who will often go for “artistic” films rather than “popular” ones when it comes to the Academy Awards – more so than any conspiracy over skin color.

Finally, there’s the simple logic of the numbers. Most of the films that come out of Hollywood feature actors that are Caucasians. In a study in 2014 from the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, only 10.5% of the 172 films that were released in 2011 featured minorities in lead roles. The study found that many of those films were comedies, such as efforts from noted black director Tyler Perry, and films like the action flick Fast Five, not exactly the fare that Academy Award voters are considering. Furthermore, more than half the films (51.2%) featured a cast that was 10% minority or less, the study found. You’d like to think that, by this point, it might have gotten better, but apparently not to the point where it would have an impact on the nominations.

What is the answer to the lack of minority nominees for the Academy Awards? Simply time and the proper vehicles. The more diverse that AMPAS becomes, perhaps the more diverse the nominee list will become also. Additionally, when there are more quality films for minority actors and directors to take part in – instead of movies like White Chicks – then perhaps the attention of AMPAS will be attracted. Either way, it isn’t a situation that will be fixed overnight.

Wondering Whatever Happened To…For December 11

TheDictators

Sitting around wondering whatever happened to “Handsome Dick” Manitoba (second from left) while pondering…

Don’t Know What You’ve Got Sitting in the Barn – There has been a recent rash of classic American muscle cars suddenly being discovered rotting away in, of all locations, farm barns.

Most recently, a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona was discovered in an Alabama barn, covered in rust but still recognizable by the racing fin sprouting from its rear deck. The Daytona was a very special car in that it was built exactly to the specifics of the racing model that tooled around Daytona International Speedway back in the late 1960s (in those days, the term “stock car” sometimes meant exactly what was said). It is also special in that it was one of only 503 that were ever built; auctioneers estimate that, after restoration, the car could earn a bid between $150,000 and $180,000 at auction.

This comes on the heels of a 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge being found in a cow barn in an undisclosed location. This particular Judge was involved in a trade in 1990 and, to put the car in safekeeping, the new owner stored the car in said barn. Looking to restore the vehicle, the new owner instead allowed it to degrade to the point that the car is buried up to its hubs in cow manure and other vermin have ravaged the interior and wiring. The owner “hopes” to start renovating the car but doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry.

And somewhere, millions of muscle car fanatics are crying…

Good Can Come Out of Tragic Circumstances – It is befuddling to most how professional athletes, with millions riding on their careers, can take tragic turns. In one case, however, the tragic turn has resulted in a bit of a good story.

Sixteen years ago, then-Carolina Panthers’ Rae Carruth was enjoying his position as one of the top wide receivers in the National Football League. That was before, however, he was charged with setting up his then-girlfriend Cherica Adams in an assassination-style attack that left her dead. The issue? She was pregnant with Carruth’s child, a situation he apparently wasn’t quite ready for.

One night as Adams followed Carruth back to his place, Carruth allegedly stopped the car long enough in front of Adams at a traffic signal to allow for a shooter to pull up besides Adams and empty a pistol into her vehicle. Adams would die of her injuries from the shooting just before the New Year 2000 and Carruth was eventually arrested in connection with the case. In 2001, a trial in Charlotte convicted Carruth of hiring a hit man to kill Adams; Carruth has, despite appeals, remained in jail since he was arrested in 2000 and, in 2018, is set to be paroled.

The good news out of this tragic situation? The child that Adams was carrying at the time survived the incident and, from all accounts, is doing well. Chancellor Adams does have cerebral palsy resulting from the trauma of his birth but seems to be functioning well for a 16-year old boy. There is one final tragedy of this story, however; Carruth, who hasn’t seen Chancellor since he was 1, has yet to apologize to Adams’ family members; every other person involved and convicted in the case has expressed their regret over being involved in the death of Cherica Adams.

Just Don’t Go into Meetings Uttering, “Bond…James Bond” – According to one of the top business magazines around, who would be a good role model to base your business approach on? How about the ultimate male, the international superspy and all-around expert at everything James Bond?

When the latest Bond film, Spectre, was released, Forbes Magazine pointed out the ways that people could learn from 007 about their approach to business. Citing Bond’s overall ability to “think on his feet,” “dress appropriately” and “finish what you start,” Forbes was able to craft the mystery of a nerdy mid-management being the next great ladies’ man. What they didn’t say was “how much money” it would take to make this change take full effect.

That’s One Way to Make Your Escape – According to many outlets, a man accused of several local robberies in Florida thought he had a way to make his escape…one which proved to be fatal.

Matthew Riggins was accused of several home invasions when police in Orlando, FL caught up with him. Despite being cornered, Riggins apparently dashed into a nearby lake and hid from his pursuers. In the dark, officers equipped with search dogs and an overhead helicopter couldn’t locate Riggins and, thinking he had eluded their capture, gave up on the search. After Riggins’ family reported him missing, police went back to search further.

Upon their return a few days after the pursuit, police found Riggins’ body floating in the lake while an 11-foot alligator stood watch over his snack. Both the body and the alligator (unfortunately the alligator had to be killed) were recovered and the necropsy on the alligator revealed some of Riggins’ body parts to be inside the creature.

Sometimes surrendering is the better option…

Now the answer to the question…what happened to Handsome Dick Manitoba?

For many, the name of Handsome Dick Manitoba won’t ring any bells. Some, however, will remember one of the forefathers of the punk world. He was the lead singer for the Dictators in the late 1970s and, following his time with that group, went off on his own with his band Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom (the band’s 1990 album …And You? and the song “The Party Starts Now” were considered the first great punk efforts in that decade). Manitoba would be the front man for the reconstructed MC5 in the 2000s and delve into other areas.

In 2004, Manitoba (born Richard Blum, here with Iggy Pop) started a program on Sirius XM’s “Underground Garage” channel that he still does today. Most of the time, however, you can find the former punk rocker at his bar, Manitoba’s, in New York City. Manitoba owns the bar but, surprisingly, he has been sober since the late 1990s, a time way before he even considered opening the bar. Patrons sometimes will make a trip to New York just to visit Manitoba’s and perhaps meet one of the originals of punk rock in a setting that befits him.

DickManitobawIggyPop