Danny Thomas (born Amos Alphonsus Muzyad Yaqoob), Jan. 6, 1912-Feb. 6, 1991.

Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.

—Danny Thomas

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Many Americans today have probably never heard of Danny Thomas, as he belonged definitively to the twilight of the Golden Age of Cinema (starring in the 1952 remake of The Jazz Singer) and the dawn of the Golden Era of Television (starring in, what else, The Danny Thomas Show and producing such shows as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Mod Squad). And before all that, he was a stand-up comic touring the Midwest nightclub circuit under an anglicized form of his given name, Amos Jacobs.

In any event, it is not for Danny’s entertainment talent that we honor him today. Of all his long work in the studios, only a couple of his many shows are still shown frequently. But though most do not know him by name, nearly everyone knows him through his greatest legacy: The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

At an early moment in his career, when the nightclub circuit was looking particularly grim (he was languishing in Detroit, no less), Danny knelt down in prayer and asked St. Jude Thaddeus (patron of hopless causes) to “show me my way in life.” Soon Danny found himself in Chicago and his career finally moving. When he next went to St. Jude in prayer at another turning point, he pledged to build a shrine if he ever had the means to do so.

His career took off, and Danny found himself wondering just how to fulfill his vow. Working with a group of businessmen in Memphis, he hit upon the idea to build a research hospital dedicated to curing the most catastrophic diseases afflicting children. A key point here: Danny Thomas didn’t just found a hospital—which after all can only treat the children that come through its doors—he founded a research institute dedicated to researching, applying, and publicizing cures for free.

And Danny did more than just found the place, he returned to the community of his birth, Lebanese Americans, to secure ongoing funding. From his efforts, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) was founded—with the sole purpose of supporting St. Jude. Today, ALSAC—still exclusively dedicated to St. Jude—is America’s third-largest health-care charity. Thus, the efforts of Danny Thomas and the Arab-American community produced a fundraising powerhouse that today transcends ethnicity, geography, and ideology to reach across America.

With an initial focus on pediatric cancer, St. Jude has helped increase the cure rate of acute lymphocytic leukemia from 4% to 80%, seen its budget grow from $1 million per year to $235 million, and branched out to study HIV-AIDS (devastating the children of Africa) and numerous cancers. Today it engages in cutting edge gene and stem cell therapies and is a highly rated scientific institution.

Leaving aside the 4900 patients seen each year, St. Jude has saved the lives of thousands upon thousands of children around the world through its contributions to basic and clinical research. Protocols developed at St. Jude have helped raise the survival rates for childhood cancers from under 20% to around 70%, with several key cancers having survival rates 90% or higher. And now it sets its sights on the diseases and therapies of the 21st Century. In the best American fashion it does not simply treat the symptoms of the ills it fights, it seeks to eliminate the root causes.

All from the vow of a stand-up comic, with help from a few Memphis businessmen and the unstinting assistance of the Arab-American community. Danny Thomas represents precisely what is right about America: he had opportunity, seized it, succeeded, and then stopped to consider how he could use his success to improve the world.

Of course, as with our other Great Americans Walt Disney and George Marshall, there are detractors. Some point to the sheer impossibility of curing childhood diseases and the tendency of charities to metastasize over time. To these folks the size and scope of St. Jude aren’t strengths but weaknesses—weaknesses that a group of smaller more focused institutions wouldn’t have. Others point out that as nasty as the diseases St. Jude fights are, they’re nothing compared to the childhood deaths from starvation, war, and exploitation. Wouldn’t all those millions be better spent fighting these more lethal, but far less scientifically “sexy” killers? Doesn’t St. Jude commit the classic American blunder of the Big Plan when less ambitious, more targeted efforts would work better?

There’s a point to all the carping, to be sure, but it still misses the point. Here, as always, the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good. Trying too hard to get the perfect solution is a great recipe for doing nothing. While others carp, hopeless cases still find hope at the place Danny built.

Still, I don’t think Danny would mind if those critics of his got busy building their competing visions. They might give ALSAC a run for the money, but I can’t help but think that Danny would just look down and urge them on.

After all, there’s still more than enough childhood misery to go around, sadly.

The holiday season is always an interesting one for me. In addition to visiting family, in-laws, food, and fun, it’s one of the few times I am exposed to modern television. I’m not normally exposed to television at all (except football on Saturday’s at the bar), as I simply don’t watch it. I also don’t miss it. I find reading articles on the internet, or reading books far more entertaining. The holidays usually serve to remind me why I don’t watch TV, as I am bombarded by the mindless shows, ridiculous commercials, and 24/7 celebrity infotainment. This time around, however, I was exposed to a particularly disgusting modern show, which is so revolting it deserves its own rant.

I’m talking about TLC’s “What Not To Wear“.

I’m not quite sure how a show this awful and vapid managed to work its way onto a network known as “The Learning Channel”, but then again looking at the rest of the lineup, with many “interestingly” named “gems” like:


  • A Makeover Story
  • American Hotrod
  • Little People, Big World

I have to question what people are learning. Just in those three shows, the channel is selling shallow judgmental culture, NASCAR, and “Let’s laugh at the midgets”. Bravo, way to teach people good values and interesting lessons. I can only imagine the depths of tacky tasteless crap that these shows manage to plumb, as “What Not To Wear” dredges up some Grade A Sewage, and masquerades it as entertainment. Not having experienced the other shows on The Loser Channel, I’ll have to focus on “What Not To Wear”, and why shows like this are an affront to America, Freedom, and just plain old good taste and tact.

The premise of “What Not To Wear” is simple, since Rich Northeasterners are Vapid, Shallow and Soulless, they assume this to be the condition of Americans everywhere, and thus appearance is the sole quality by which people should be judged. As such, the show implores its viewers to send in their friends and family to be ridiculed on national television for having tastes which are independent of what Paris Hilton or Tom Cruise are currently wearing. The hosts (both of which are poster children for Coastie Callous Consumerism) then make the participants an offer, they can waste $5,000 on clothes from stores which are paying the show for massive product placement, if they throw all of their current clothes into the trash (and of course buy clothes that the celebrity zombies agree are “in fashion”). This of course leads me to two large questions:


  1. Who needs to spend $5,000 on clothes, especially when we live in a world full of hunger and illiteracy?
  2. If you’re going to toss out someone’s wardrobe, would it kill you to have a heart and donate it to the Salvation Army or Goodwill?

The rest of the show is simply an exercise is tearing down someone’s individuality and rebuilding them as a celebrity zombie, decked out in the latest brands that are paying the show for promotion (with long panning shots over store names), repeat ad nauseum, which doesn’t take long at all. I’m sure with our modern infotainment, celebrity, consumerism obsessed culture that this is but one in a long list of disgusting shallow shows on TV. What bothers me is that this trash is on television in the first place, and what’s more, that a lot of people seem to be watching it.

Personally, if I had $5,000 to give away every episode of a TV show, I can think of millions of better ways to spend it that actually contribute to the world. Like perhaps finding a needy elementary classroom, introducing people to the town and children, and then donating 25 Laptops from the One Laptop per Child project to the class. Or maybe they could have people write in with charities to donate the money too, and spend the episode show casing needy causes. Another great idea would be to find soup kitchens around the country, and visit them, using the $5,000 to outfit them with better equipment to help feed the homeless.

Note that these sort of uses of the money don’t mean that the show can’t make income from product placement. If a company wants to donate something to a charitable cause, by all means give them some screen time! That sort of generosity deserves to be rewarded, and if a company really wants my business, that is the way to convince me to give it to them, not by supporting shallow behavior and wasteful spending. Unfortunately I have little hope that anything will change. Shows like “What Not To Wear” embody a disturbing and sick slice of modern American culture, a slice that is nothing more than a gussied up version of the blue collar obsession with Wal-mart style consumerism. It’s a sickness we need to face as a culture and cure before we let it destroy the values we, as Americans, are supposed to treasure and strive for.

-Angry Midwesterner


We’ve been awfully serious here for a while. I mean, recent topics include the radical Islam and ethics of stem cell research, what’s next, heart attacks (how right I was…), breast cancer or nuclear war? (On second thought, I don’t want to hear about nuclear war—this means you AOC! ;)) I figured I’d lighten things up a bit with a bit of mean-spirited satire. Here are some TV show concepts I’d love to see explored.

todmuskie.jpgThe U.P.: This is the story of a well-off kid Tyler Stone who moves from Orange County, California, to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a trailer park with his Uncle Charlie. He quickly falls in love with Dakota Lynn Wiedemier, the daughter of his next door neighbor. He gets a job at a working as a tour guide for rich Chicagoans (aka FIBs). The first episode will involve Tyler’s initiation into UP culture when Uncle Charlie takes him ice fishing. Amazingly, they catch a muskellunge (getting rarer these days what with the FIBs fishing all the lakes…) and, initiating Tyler to his new home, Charlie and Tyler drink its blood, mixed half and half with raw grain alcohol right there in the ice house. The season 1 finale will have Dakota telling Tyler that she’s having his baby even though she’s not real sure whether Tyler is the father or if it’s her old boyfriend Dwayne, who “lived next door to me in the trailer park all their lives.” In Season 2, Tyler will develop a crystal meth habit and become a rentboy for FIBs after getting his Orange County ass kicked by Dwayne while Uncle Charlie is doing 30 days for a DUI.

w_michael_bolton_0943.jpgMichael Bolton and Kenny G on Ice! Skated by Brian Boitano and Friends, Sponsored by Arbor Mist. Michael BoltonKenny GBrian BoitanoArbor Mist…. I’m not real sure what needs to be said about this, honestly. There was a show disturbingly close to this already at mega-retirement community The Villages so evidently someone already thought my idea was a good one, and as we all know it simply doesn’t get any better than when Michael Bolton sings “When a Man Loves a Woman”. Still, Kenny G and Arbor Mist are nice touches that push the concept over the top, don’t you think? Repeat! Repeat!

Hobo Cooking: New to Food Network. Just because you live in a cardboard box doesn’t mean your house can’t be a home. Chefs Hobo Bob and Bag Lady Martha show appropriate pairings of meals, such as Alpo and Thunderbird. The warmth of Thunderbird completes the meaty richness of Alpo, but make sure to buy the cans with gravy. Don’t waste, either: MD 20/20 makes an excellent pan reduction for the Alpo cans cooked over a fire barrel. Entertaining? Chef Hobo Bob shows you how to dumpster dive at grocery stores to feed as many as you need with any cuisine you desire. Looking for lighter fare? Try cat food and Grape Drink. The possibilities in a tin can are… endless when you open yourself to the Freedom of the Open Road.

Four to Six Weeks This show chronicles the high tension environment of the fulfillment house for the Bradford Exchange, all in (mostly) real time. Watch as main character Jake Farmer makes sure that packages containing goodies like the Thomas “Painter of Light” Kinkade Timeless Memories Collectible Cuckoo Clock or the Perilous Quest Collectible Dragon Axe get to where they belong, despite the constant interference of his management and nefarious individuals who want to stop him from delivering the goods across the land.

Durian

NYC Stink Look out Miami Ink and its fall 07 spinoff LA Ink. This reality show is about a team of garbage men in the Big Apple (which IMO should be better known as aka The Big Durian). Watch as Louie Lazardo and pals pick through Monday’s bags of trash and finds used condoms, week-old leftovers from Sung Dynasty, dead rats, packaging from Macy’s, and, sometimes, the truly unidentifiable.

The relevant cable channels can send me the checks for development. Any resemblance to existing shows is, of course, purely coincidental.

Of course.

(If you want in on the big money, add your own in the comments.)

Blogo drives many people in Illinois nuts in very much the same way that Shrub drives many people nationally nuts. Of course, their constituencies are different ideologically and many of the Blogo haters are conservatives and many of the Shrub haters are liberals. Given Shrub’s approval rating, he’s down to his hard core. If my conservative friends want to understand my disdain for the President, they need only contemplate their disdain for Blogo (something I share). Give Blogo some time and he’ll be down to his hard core, or in the pen, like three other Illinois governors since World War II (George Ryan, Dan Walker, Otto Kerner, all for being on the take). There are important differences between the two, of course. Obviously Shrub’s very religious and, so far as I can tell, that doesn’t factor much into Blogo’s calculations. Blogo goes in for a lot more blow-wave than Shrub. Clearly there are big policy differences between the two men, but let’s leave those aside entirely since I think a good chunk of what bugs people about both men involves background, style and personality, and, ultimately how those affect the way both men do business. Let’s go down the parallels of these two rogues:

  • Undergraduate degrees from elite universities (Northwestern for Blogo, Yale for Shrub) where they were more interested in beer bongs than studies.
  • No real sign of intellectual curiosity or ability. Of course no one who gets to high office is downright stupid, but Blogo had an ACT of 19 and Shrub is notoriously incurious in ways too numerous to mention. Sharpness of intellect they do not possess.
  • Holders of professional degrees (JD for Blogo, MBA for Shrub). Not a bad thing, but notable.
  • Careers largely built by fathers or father figures (father-in-law for Blogo, father for Shrub), from whom both had certain separation difficulties. Think the famous “higher father” line from Shrub, or Blogo’s recent falling out with his father-in-law. (At least their fathers weren’t like this.)
  • Pseudo “Ordinary Joes”. Blogo actually comes from a working class background (his father was a factory worker from Serbia, who also happened to be a Chetnik—aka early Serb ultra-nationalist a la Slobodan Milosevic), but he’s obviously shed that background a long time ago with his “fly back to Chicago every weekend” ways. Shrub merely pretends to be a down-home Texas businessman, but he never met a business given to him by his old man’s friends he couldn’t run into the ground. He too likes to spend a lot of time on vacation. Neither are self-made men, though they’d certainly like you to believe that.
  • A populist governance style built on appealing to the masses in a manner reminiscent of Juan Peron or Huey Long. Both think of themselves as an elected king, which entails a dogmatic, inflexible “my way or the highway” style of leadership long on publicity stunts, but is awfully short on results and which inevitably poisons the well with the legislative branch of government.
  • Decidedly convoluted reasoning about government finance.
  • A shared penchant for cronyism and personal loyalty above all, the consequences be damned.
  • Both have or had large legislative majorities but never managed to capitalize on it, frequently squabbling with the legislature when they couldn’t get it their way, e.g., proposing tax policies hearkening back to the Great Depression that fortunately seem to going nowhere, or collaborating with them on injecting the Federal government into a specific personal tragedy ordinarily—and appropriately—handled by state courts when the base got riled up.

Both men are very much TV-era appeal to the base, policy=politics politicians. For many of us the dialog of politics in the TV era is about as appealing as, well, those irritating Vonage ads with that annoying song from Kill Bill, Vol. 1 or the stuff you find in the the fridge growing on forgotten leftovers from March that might have become a new civilization if given enough time. Unfortunately pushing the mute button doesn’t change the fact that the stuff they do has real impact on our lives. It will be a good day when both move on, though, sadly I’m confident someone equally execrable will replace them. Hopefully they’ll at least have the decency of being differently execrable, but I’m not holding my breath.

You may be tempted to believe given my background that I believe political executives should be “intellectual.” In other words, am I guilty of looking in the mirror for my notion of a good candidate? The short answer is no. Woodrow Wilson was a professor and had many of the flaws of an intellectual in a position of executive responsibility, particularly in the way he ran US participation in World War I in a totally partisan manner (sound familiar?) and, when his political capital ran out, botched the peace treaties. Ancient history is not necessary: Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank shows just how bad academics can be as executives. So no, I’m not very sanguine on how well I think college professors would do as chief executives because I think the skills and personality traits necessary for success are rather different. But I do ask that the person have some intellect and some humility, self-understanding, and an ability to make real compromises, which are necessary quantities in the decidedly non-majoritarian system of government and diverse country we have. I just don’t see that from either RRB or GWB, both of whom seem to be long on moralism fused to personal ambition and short on an actual engagement with issues in a deep and critical way. GWB seems to believe his moralism while I’m fairly sure it’s feigned for RRB, but I’m not sure that’s any better. Moralism sells well, though, especially on a fundamentally emotive medium like TV and so the likes of Blogo and Shrub rise to the top while less interesting (to the almighty base, that is), but effective leaders like former Illinois governor Jim Edgar or current Arizona governor Janet Napolitano aren’t candidates.

I could go on, but the attitude I’m looking for is best summed up by a few choice quotes from a far better political writer than I’ll ever be, Abraham Lincoln:

  • (Responding to a query to lead a prayer for God to be on the side of the Union) “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”
  • “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.”
  • “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
  • “The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.”

Whether these qualities can exist in the age of the 24 hour news cycle—with its demand for moral certitude, instant results, emotional authenticity, and a media more interested in answers to constant, baited questions than anything that matters to ordinary folks—I do not know.

Thanks to Angry Political Optimist for pushing me to remove the redundant and pointless stuff.

Oprah Moment. n.
A defining point in time in which a person comes to some sort of revelation or truth about themselves [even if it is a lie prefabricated to sell].

In previous excursions I’ve alluded to the fact that these days a “compelling personal story” in which one has “overcome adversity” is needed to succeed. And, of course, cash in for the big bucks or power (think of politicians). Like the purported Age of Aquarius famous from the musical Hair, the Age of Oprah is insipid sh!te.

Oprah Winfrey seems to be an emblematic figure in this selling of emotional “reality.” She’s been busted before, the “million pieces” memoir-iste James Frey who turned out to have made the whole thing up and whose book went from bestseller to the remainder bin in record time being a very prominent example. James Frey is only a recent example of fraudulent autobiography, which is far from new—the most excellent short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is an excellent parody of a middle aged man’s fantasy life—but what’s interesting about Frey is the fact that he exaggerated not his accomplishments but his utter lack thereof. It was better to be a puking, drug addicted, jailbird than a nobody. Definitely better because it got his book published, though in the end he had to face the Wrath of Oprah when it was revealed to be bantha poodoo.

Of course, Oprah didn’t invent this, though she and her less successful fellow daytime talk show hosts profit from it immensely. (Oprah is the richest self-made woman in the world and the only African-American billionaire.) Instead it taps into a very deep strain of vulgar populism in the American psyche, rooted perhaps in the Protestant tradition of
testifying and the overthrow of nobility in the Revolution. (Or maybe it’s even older and broader spread? The telenovela is all the rage around the world, after all.) In short, I’m not entirely sure where it comes from, but the confessional populism of Oprah and her ilk is definitely with us. It has long since spread to the large quantity of people who like nothing if not a good cry… followed by a cheap happy ending, of course. If James Frey had written a book about his life while still a crackhead, I doubt it would have been so well received. Of course, there’s the get rich quick angle, which Oprah’s been into as well: she seems to have jumped her own couch pimping the newest self-help phenomenon The Secret. There is no secret: it’s just “the power of positive thinking” rehashed for the early 21st Century. Optimism in and of itself is a good thing, but again, taken too far, it becomes insanity.

Here are some other examples:

Celebrity Redemptions Britney “I should have gone into an alternate career in porn, where my name would have been perfect” Spears recent bizarrities, Lindsay “I’ve never seen a substance I didn’t want to abuse” Lohan’s constant trip to rehab, Paris “I’m the picture perfect post-modern star, famous for being famous for being in a homemade porn video released to the internet by my scumbag boyfriend” Hilton doing time, Mel “I’m a drunken bigot who has, at least, made some decent movies in the past” Gibson , etc. Rehab just seems to be part of the personal cost of making millions and millions of bucks.

Presidential Politics Our current president’s liking for a compelling personal story has led him to justify keeping incompetent fools around long past their sell-by date. Of course, his own compelling personal story of “overcoming” addiction (IMO by replacing one with another, but of course your mileage may vary) didn’t hurt him in the 2000 election compared to the relatively wooden Al Gore. Joe Average felt they could sit down and have a beer with GWB, presuming he drank beer anymore, as if that mattered for running a country. (I just don’t see George Washington walking into the local pub and knocking a few back with the boys.) This isn’t a partisan thing: Jimmy Carter pioneered it (in a 1976 interview in Playboy, no less) with his statement about adultery and Bill Clinton, the “Man from Hope [Arkansas]” was probably the recent master of the political confessional.

Motivational Speakers Nobody even vaguely famous ever retires. They just become motivational speakers, who incidentally, cost at minimum $10,000 to speak at your corporate event telling you about their personal struggle or whatever. Just ask their agents about the General of the age Tommy Franks, United States Army (ret.), KBE, and holder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (a civilian award), or Erin Brockovich. Heck even former Presidents get into it. Both George I of the House of Bush and Bubba charge some tall bucks to grace select groups with their august presences and I’m sure George II will similarly charge tall bucks to talk to whoever is willing to listen to him. (Me? I’d rather hire Jefferson Starship to play my corporate event. I’d look forward to whomever they found to replace the retired Grace Slick wailing “eat your head… eat your head…” while making sure not to dislodge their Depends.) Even the British sailors released from the clutches of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on Easter are selling their life stories (see here for a bit of discussion). I guess if Tommy Franks can get a book deal inspiring us with his dubious wisdom, why not Faye Turney with her lack thereof? Fair is fair, after all and if a ghost writer can spin an interesting enough book, she should go for it. In some senses, I can’t blame Joe Average for seeing his chance at a meal ticket way better than what he would otherwise make, but a guy like Tommy Franks probably doesn’t need the money. He obviously doesn’t care about the dignity.

Certainly there’s virtue to be found in having to struggle personally and that’s what the “compelling personal story” is all about. But when it’s become another currency, ambitious youngsters go through a lot of trouble to pack their resumes with appropriate life enriching experiences. What matters is accomplishment. To the extent that one’s life experiences help inform that, sure, but when struggle and redemption (or, rather, the appearance of struggle and redemption) has become a necessity to further advancement or a way to make a buck, what’s really going on?

When James Frey figures out a way to write a successful memoir about his time making a fraudulent memoir that got plugged by Oprah, we’ll know we have well and truly jumped the couch.

One of the hazards of living in this strange part of the country is the constant conflict of interests. This curious region is inhabited by both the very rich and the very poor. Despite their best efforts, the rich cannot seem to eradicate the working class from the county. This plays havoc on the local television stations who want to appeal to all of the people locally. While one might be sympathetic with their situation — trying to serve such a diverse crowd –it is unfortunately impossible when they constantly make such bad decisions.

The current trend seems to be to break into any show for “news” about any celebrity event, even when the station has no information at all, and much better information has been available for an hour online. They don’t just say the message and return to programming, but they keep the camera on their vapid talking head who makes a mess of trying to sound dramatic while repeating the same dull non-information over and over.

For instance, it evidently merited an hour of breaking coverage to inform the breathless world about the genetic ancestry of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby. The anti-climatic end to a national game of “Mystery Date” in which all of the possibilities were “the Loser”. Does it really spike your channel’s ratings to be one of a hundred information outlets? Are there really that many nail salons and hairdressers all watching right now? Does anyone else care?

Television out here is delayed 3 hours from the time everyone else gets to see it. It makes the new push for having a show “web community” less effective here, since the forums and blogs all fire up talking about the latest episode hours before it even airs here. The added irony that makes me laugh is that the shows are mostly filmed out here, and the actually community of people who contribute to the show are kept from contributing to the “web community” by that wicked trick of the Earth’s rotation.

This can lead to utter disasters, such as the one that struck the Angry Fiancee. It has, much to her disappointment, been announced that this is the final season of The Gilmore Girls. This was announced with only a few episodes left, and watching those became a big priority for her. If the show were broadcast at the same time across the country, the episode would have aired here normally. However, since it was delayed three hours, the coverage was broken into by coverage of a local brush fire. She hoped that the break would take two minutes, then return to show, but they kept circling their helicopter over the fire for hours. The only news they had to say was “Griffith Park is on fire. If you live in Los Feliz and the fireman haven’t pulled you from your house already, please run away from the flames.” I’m sure the residents of that neighborhood appreciated this channel repeating that in a dull uninventive way all night, especially since their power had already been lost three hours previously.

I think the key for modern TV directors is to look in their book and read the whole “interruption” script. There are two lines:

1) “We interrupt this program to bring you this important announcement.”
This should now quickly mention things like ‘The President has died, the country has been attacked, or the Germans have unconditionally surrendered’. Short of that, any message should be run as a crawl on the bottom of the screen.
2) (This is the most important part) “We now return you to your regularly schedule program already in progress
Return me to my regularly scheduled program! I cannot understate how important this is! I don’t watch your channel to see a fire in Griffith Park. If I wanted to see that, I would walk outside and look at it myself. It’s on a big hill, and clearly visible to everyone.

This is why your channel gets zero ratings around here, and you have to beg Warner Bros to let you run the only decent show you schedule (which has now finished it’s run). This is why your channel couldn’t even sustain a tele-novella — the single most popular television format in the Western Hemisphere! Return me to my regularly scheduled program!

And so now I’m forced to deal with the other channels in town that, while not making quite the novice mistake of that particular channel, mix and match their programming in a way that guarantees that no single person watches their channel all day. For instance, they scheduled NHL hockey just before the Preakness. The current fad of cross-promoting your shows means that during the intermission breaks from top-level hockey — that most genteel of hobbies — they cut away to the rough and tumble blue-collar beer-chugging world of million dollar horse racing. Not so much the racing itself, but the discussion of the current crop of fashions that are on display around the track.

Since this particular hockey game ended in overtime, and there is no greater joy to a hockey fan than overtime hockey in the playoffs, one would expect the program manager to stay with hockey and switch to the Preakness once the sudden death goal was scored. Especially since the horseracing coverage consists of two hours of stalling before the actual two minute race. They couldn’t spare 10 minutes from their “tributes to past horses” and “interviews with a horse hair French-braid specialist” to let the viewers who have already invested two hours into the game watch the actual finish of it? Nope. On to the boring horse manure.

Of course, as I finish writing this, the channel did cut into the middle of an interview with “breaking news” showing the final 5 seconds of the hockey game. As if any hockey fans were still watching this channel, and hadn’t thrown a chair through their TV in frustration already anyway.

The shooting deaths of 32 faculty and students at Virginia Tech is an [insert your adjective here] case of societal chickens coming home to roost. This week, it is imposible to view any news not related to his incident. Poor Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson — their luscious feeding trough of a la Imus does in fact have a bottom. Al Qaeda and Hamas are grinding their teeth in impotency that their viewer share (or more importantly media share) is gone. (I’m sorry — what was the Iraq body count Monday?)

I am angry. I watched Fox News (and CNN for that matter) and hear about the 2 1/2 hour gap. This is as infuriating as the question proposed in Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore as to why Bush did nothing for 12 WHOLE MINUTES after hearing about the first plane into the trade towers. Why oh why (excessive handwringing) did the administration wait 2 1/2 hours and not shut down the campus?

Each network lines up its chartered experts: psychological profilers, ex-FBI experts, presidents of security consulting firms, a student from Columbine (actually he was pretty cool with his comment about inane media drivel and shallow continuing analysis, quickly cut to commercial). The ex-FBI agent commented on the statistical probability of the event and the difficulty in securing an open campus — not to the liking of the anchor who was flogging his agenda of the 2 1/2 hour gap and how or why could and did this happen (more verbal excessive handwringing).

So…

At the University of Illinois, in a similar situation, the only thing limiting the body count would be the amount of ammunition the gunman could carry. It wouldn’t be lack of targets. With a little machining, a silencer on any weapon would quadruple the body count. The university has multiple emergency response plans — this isn’t in any of them. Each of the plans has a line of comunication established which includes various police and emergency response agencies, but they have to be activated. That takes a decision. Decisions at the University of Illinois tend to be consensus affairs, and I doubt that Virginia Tech is any different. But let’s be generous and assume that some authoritative hierachical type calls down the troops. CNN anchors suggested that it was criminal not to inform all the students. Further, let’s overlook the difficulty of contacting all these thousands of students and suppose that the University has a magical means of doing so instantly and flawlessly. Virginia Tech has 26,000 students. The University of Illinois has about 10,000 more.

Now that we have a magical means of communications, tell them what? — to go back to their dorms? Where the original two were shot? How about a collection point — like the Assembly Hall. Hmmm more targets in a restricted space. Tell them to stay in the classroom — Hmm that didn’t work out too well. And assuming that you got them all together what about toilet facilities, congested cellular channels (yes parents would be calling), food. It would make the SuperDome in New Orleans after Katerina look positively inviting. So you can’t “shut down the college” because there is no place for the students to go. And lockdown to classrooms isn’t much better. The reasonable action, which Virginia Tech took, was to try and ascertain the facts of the first shooting and locate and detain the perp. Investigations don’t resolve themselves in 50 minutes as in CSI (even with commercials). So the bottom line is “we’re screwed”; much the same as when the tornado tears the house apart around you. There is nothing to do to get unscrewed — no quick little Planned Parenthood abortions, no mulligans, no do-overs, no ‘saved by the bell’ last minute reprieves. No dodges around real pain and problems that the Hollywood types love to write into scripts.

How about preventative measures – courtesy Fox News. Prevent this from happening. Metal detectors probably won’t work. They don’t work at airports (except for assuring Granny that “no – guns can’t pass through”) where you have an hour before (two for international) instead of 10 minutes between classes, and there aren’t 5,000 students entering one building carrying laptops and iPods and cameras. (Those that don’t have enough piercings to set off a magnetometer in the next state). Gun control — oh wait, Virginia Tech was a “Gun-Free Zone”. And racial profiling is out (what race is goth wearing ankle length dusters with an affility for guns and the on-line Columbine role playing game (RPG) where you get to shoot your friends?) Anyway racial profiling would affect about half the campus.

No, to keep this from happening you have to address the root causes:

1. The media rehashing what little fact there is with sensationalism, attributing superlatives to the event: “the worst shooting EVER; the largest body count”. Basicially inviting any disturbed person to try and top this to get his 15 minutes of glory (infamy);

2. The treatment of students as non-persons not worthy of respect, to be recognized only for their tuition contributions to the welfare of the ruling faculty. The view of the person as consumer and of no intrinsic value save as an instrument of purchase of goods and services. The belief that everyone should be manipulated by advertising and media in such as way as to make them susceptible to all manipulation.

3. The fact that most students don’t really belong in or are cut out to be in an academic environment. Let’s face it — you can’t get a decent job without a sheepskin. It’s a checkbox on an employment application. There is no love of learning, no questioning of how or why things work, no wonder of the mechanism, except in a few students — those who belong in the system. To the others, the system is a provider of stress, and the more the mismatch, the higher the levels of stress.

4. The loss of civility in discourse. Look to our leaders as shining examples of this. A political discussion of divergent philosophies is impossible without character assassination, inuendos and rabid attacks on the person, not the ideals. Why argue logically and resolve a conflict when you can assassinate?

5. Lack of respect for the person. The same phenomemon which led Imus to make his comment about the Rutgers team. The constant barrage of Rap music and Gangsta reducing all women to “nappy headed hos”. If it’s in the national lexicon, its usage is pre-ordained.

To fix this requires all of us to step back from the abyss of our society and ask what are our essential values? What is the foundation of this society and what must we do to preserve it? Ethical relativism is the rooster, and a mean-spirited, narcissistic, alienating member of a consumer henhouse it is; and it’s laying some nasty nappy headed little eggs.

Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. (Rm 12:19)

If you haven’t heard about the recent kerfuffle with Don Imus yet, you probably would’ve made a great juror for the OJ Simpson trial. For those of you who misses the excitement, let me summarize (from here):

DON IMUS: “That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos …”

BERNARD MCGURK: “Some hardcore hos.”

DON IMUS: “That’s some nappy headed hos there, I’m going to tell you that.”

And now the half the world is up in arms, demanding Imus’ head. People could care less about the raging misogyny that came out of the mouth of Mr. McGurk, but Imus has to go. Why is that? After all, rap artists use this sort of language all the time. But the ever-so-eloquent Snoop Dogg would have us believe something different. He notes, “We’re [rap artists] talking about hos that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing (bleep), that’s trying to get a (bleep) for his money. These are two separate things.” As Snoop notes, “First of all, we ain’t no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls… I will not let them (bleepers) say we in the same league as him.” Although, I’m sure that Snoop would make an exception for Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem) to spew as much misogyny as he wants, even though Mr. Mathers is also white. I somehow doubt this is because Mr. Mathers is neither “old-ass” nor on MSNBC. This is what we in the chattering classes call a “double standard.”

To clarify my person position, let me state for the record: I disapprove of Mr. McGurk and Mr. Imus’ comments. Their comments were both offensive and not funny. Misogyny is never a good thing and the world would be a better place if rap artists like Snoop Dogg and Eminem paid even lip service to respecting women. If Mr. McGurk and Mr. Imus wanted to insult some public persona, you might be able to argue that their comments were humorous, but this was a college basketball team, and a Cinderella story at that. Not funny.

But this entire episode illustrates something deeper and darker, and I’m not talking about the inherent racism of either Mr. Imus or America as a whole. I’m talking about what I’ll call the Culture of Vengeance. Normally, the shrill voices of intolerance, such as Ann Coulter and her friends on the right wing blowhard circuit would have us believe that this is just another example of the plague of political correctness sweeping America. But even Ms. Coulter, in a rare moment of lucidity thinks that Mr. Imus’ comments were unwarranted and that he owes an apology to the basketball team. This is not about political correctness, and despite what Ms. Coulter feels, the demand for Mr. Imus’ head (on a pike, as a warning to the next ten generations) is not about political correctness either.

It’s about how our post-modern (post-post-modern?), post-Christian culture has become unable to forgive.

Back in the age of the Puritans, the penitentiary was a place for well, penance. It was their that you reflected on your wrongdoing and turned back to right living. Punishment was not the goal, repentance and reconciliation were. On the other hand, in the Culture of Vengeance, any sin (real or imagined) warrants the maximum sanction. Forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation are forgotten. We can’t blame the left for the origin of the Culture of Vengeance, it comes firmly from the right. The intellectual framework of three-strikes laws, mandatory sentencing, capital punishment and post-prison confinement are all rooted in a “Culture of Responsibility” taken to its extreme. You are responsible for everything and when you transgress our shibboleths you will be punished. Thanks to the intellectual framework of the right, the left has now retaliated by using the same logic to enforce their own rules. And now Mr. Imus will be paying for his sins, not just with an apology, but with the loss of his radio show. You see, conversion and contrition is insufficient (and perhaps even irrelevant). Vengeance is required. Harsh punishment must be rendered.

J. Michael Straczynski, writer of the show Babylon 5, writes that his understanding of atheism makes forgiveness impossible: “So I cannot forgive. Which makes the notion of writing a character who CAN forgive momentarily attractive… because it allows me to explore in great detail something of which I am utterly incapable.” He speaks, I think, not just of himself, but of our society. We find forgiveness fascinating on the big screen, but we find ourselves utterly incapable of it ourselves, no matter the words of history’s most important Rabbi on the subject (Matt 18:21-22).

Game shows are microcosms of the American psyche: average person is faced with challenges, may need to compete against others, has potential to reap huge reward—all conveniently condensed into 30- or 60-minute blocks for consumption by the masses. For decades, this format has produced some successful, long-running shows . Some of these shows require actual brain power and knowledge, in others one only needs to make some lucky guesses.

Right around the dawn of the 21st century, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? came along and started the game show genre’s downward spiral. Fomenting what would eventually become the attractive element of so-called “reality” shows, Millionaire introduced a level of theater and drama typically reserved for CSI interrogations. The show became less about the individual player and more about the suspense. The other new annoyance feature of the nouveau game show is the contestant’s external internal monologue. For example:

REGIS: Ok, Mildred, for $3000, what color are oranges? Is it A) Blue, B) Green, C) Orange, or D) Purple?

MILDRED: Oh, geez, I know this one, I just had orange juice this morning with breakfast, but you know, OJ is kinda yellow and I don’t see yellow on there, so , oh man, I dunno, maybe, uh, ummm–

REGIS: Remember, you still have two lifelines; you can ask the audience or use the <Corporate Sponsor> Phone-a-Friend™. [Author’s note: Amazingly, Regis can verbalize the “™” symbol, it’s guttural, but distinct]

MILDRED: Hahaha, yeah, oh man, I know I should know this, I love orange juice, but I haven’t had an orange, like, you know, just an actual orange in a while…hmmm, lemme see, well, I don’t think it’s orange because that seems too obvious–[audience claps supportively]–maybe it’s green? Things that grow out of the ground are green, right? Are oranges the entire plant or are they like a berry on a bush? Oh, wow, this is such a stumper so early on…

[And so on]

I have to speculate–based on the difficulty of the questions–that the producers of Millionaire probably aren’t looking for the Ken Jenningses of the world. This lowest-common-denominator contestant casting is also apparent on shows like Deal or No Deal, and (not surprisingly) Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? A math whiz, or anyone with a background in probability and statistics could maximize his earnings on Deal or No Deal. The mouth-breathers on this show also get to bring along three friends who stand off to the side and shout conflicting information about which case to pick next or whether or not to take the deal offered (c’mon, we all know who the banker really is). Basically it amounts to an hour of rednecks-gone-wild hollering at attractive briefcase-wielding models who dramatically reveal numbers printed on posterboard. How is this entertaining? What does the viewer gain from watching this tripe?

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? takes the loyal Deal or No Deal viewer and actually makes him/her think. Of course, there are some 10- and 11-year olds on hand to help. This show makes me weep for humanity. It’s basically the same schtick as Millionaire, except Fox is unabashedly acknowledging the expertise of both the contestants and their “help.” Like Deal, this show also wastes takes up an hour of primetime that could be filled with more entertaining programming (like a sitcom about a group of white people living in an urban setting offering comedic commentary on the mundane things in life…what? that’s been done? oh). But no. Instead, Large Corporations™ pay for advertising time knowing that the people watching these shows can’t be any smarter than the shows’ contestants, and thus are probably not very discerning consumers. Ergo, bad beer, erectile dysfunction drugs, unnecessary hair products, bubble gum, soda pop, and fast food continue to intoxicate the masses and retard society’s progress.

We need to return to a simpler time, where game shows were truly American and focused on the cash money prizes! Where people won things for answering a question, or solving a puzzle, or wearing odd clothes. We’re individualistic and don’t care about the contestant’s thought process! Prizes now! Talk later!