Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going To The Beach For A Pizza!

I have been blessed to be working through the holidays, as those with real jobs have taken off work to give us freelancers a chance. Yesterday, however, I had my one and only weekday off, so the family and I decided to go out for pizza - in Rehoboth Beach!

For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware is about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive from Brookeville, but gas has suddenly become dirt cheap, and we DID have a 65-dollar gift certificate to Grotto Pizza that I had won at an Associated Press convo a year and a half ago, and the certificate happened to expire on 12/31/08. It was now or never - plus, they had shopping outlets and no sales tax - so off we went!

It just so happens, Tuesday is "half-price pizza" day at Grotto, so our 65-dollar gift certificate not only yielded us plenty o' slices for lunch, but also gelato for dessert AND three large pizzas for the freezer at home!

Next it was off to the outlets, where all rumors of big price markdowns after the miserable holiday shopping season are TRUE! We dropped the boys off at the movies, while the missus and I found dress shoes for me (two pair - all leather - 40 bucks!), shirts for the boys and perfume for mama. Then on the way out of town, I found the biggest bargain at all at Wawa - we filled the gas tank for - get this - $1.41 a gallon!

A road trip with free pizza and cheap gas to boot! What more can you ask of the holiday season?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Camelot Is, You Know - Over.

Caroline Kennedy made a big mistake on her way to Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate seat. She opened her mouth:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Man In Mumbai

It is amazing to me that, as much as personal computers have changed our lives, they are still frustrating and confounding machines. When you buy a television, you more or less expect to be able to plug it in and start watching it. But computers are still tempermental, delicate creatures.

I have bought five computers in the past 18 years, and I have had major problems with all five of them at one time or another, from bad mother boards to bad CPU fans to viruses to planned obsolescence.

The newest computer arrived for my sons for Christmas - a new Dell to replace the six-year-old Compaq that can simply no longer keep up with 21st Century software. I opened the box yesterday morning and started putting it together. Everything seemed to be OK, and it booted up just fine... but there was just one problem. There was no sound.

I checked the speakers. I checked the audio drivers. The Windows Vista device manager became my best friend. I ran the machine through its paces, installing and uninstalling with wild abandon - all to no avail. Fortunately, my good friend, Bill, was coming for dinner last night. Bill and I have been through many a computer battle together, and he knows far more about them than I do. Bill and I spent more than an hour messing with the computer after dinner (and therefore avoiding doing dishes, too!), and we both concluded it was not a software issue. The sound card that had been built into the motherboard must have gone bad.

So, sometime around 11 pm, I called Dell support, and was routed to a "Mr. Williams", who I learned was speaking to me from Mumbai. "Mr. Williams" was a very pleasant and helpful-sounding man, who proceeded to ask permission to poke around my computer to see if he could ascertain the problem with my machine. I, of course, granted said permission, and was both bemused and amazed to watch him take over my screen from half-a-world away. He poked and prodded with my mouse cursor - and tried every trick that Bill and I had just spent the evening trying. Then he tried them all again. And again.

I was fairly certain "Mr. Williams" was under strict orders from his boss to find a software problem, and that he would be fed to the street rats if he found a hardware issue. Alas, "Mr. Williams" may now be Purina Rat Chow, because finally - at 12:40 am - nearly two hours after the phone call started, and long after Bill had gone home, he cheerfully announced that I must have a bad motherboard, and he assured me that someone in a Dell uniform would be by in the next day or two to replace it for me.

I was so relieved to A- get off the phone and B- have the knowledge that someone would be coming to my house to fix the computer, that it pretty much buried any outrage I may have felt that the machine I had spent several hundred dollars for was broken when it arrived at my house!

Thank you, Mr. Williams! Come again!

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's Barbie, Bitch!

America's favorite playdoll is turning 50, and she's copping a 'tude!

Building An Edgier Barbie
By Nicholas Casey
The Wall Street Journal

Barbie turns 50 next year, and her luster has faded over the years. Now, Mattel Inc. executives have begun a sweeping makeover of the doll's marketing in advance of her birthday.

The company wants to return the doll to her roots, doing everything from revamping the corporate structure that oversees Barbie to changing the way the doll is photographed for ads. The goal: to make Barbie fashionable again with older girls, who are dropping her for other, edgier playthings like video games.

For years after her introduction in 1959, Barbie reflected and even shaped fashion trends with her bell-bottom pants and power suits. But the Barbie empire started to lose its focus in the past decade as Mattel put the Barbie name on everything from animated cartoons to golf clubs.

Goosing Barbie's appeal is crucial for Mattel. The world's largest toy maker is suffering from weakening consumer demand as the industry prepares for what's expected to be more than a 5% drop in toy sales for the Christmas season, the worst in a decade.

Sean McGowan, an analyst at Needham & Co., recently reduced his estimate of Mattel's fourth-quarter sales by $21 million to about $2.28 billion, citing weak sales before Thanksgiving. "They needed to be smokin' hot and they weren't," he says.

Video games and iPods aren't the only cause of Barbie's declining appeal. MGA Entertainment Inc.'s teenage Bratz line and, more recently, the Hannah Montana line, a Walt Disney Co. license whose dolls are made by Jakks Pacific Inc., have moved into Barbie's turf with sexy outfits and cutting-edge fashions.

Barbie had largely ceded the "tween" customer -- kids eight to 12 -- to Bratz and other toys, instead making do with an audience that skewed younger and younger.

"We had lost a whole piece of the business, the older girl," he says.

Around the time of the Bratz dolls' arrival in 2001, Mattel launched a new line with Barbie dressed as Clara, a character from "The Nutcracker." The new fantasy tack proved a boon to the company, leading to new characters each winter and spring. But it also pigeonholed Barbie as a doll associated with younger girls.

In the future, Mr. Dickson says, the company plans to anchor the brand more firmly in the world of fashion. Mockup ads for 2009 include close-up shots of Barbie's face and show the doll posing as a model in what Mr. Dickson says is a deliberate nod to fashion magazines like Vogue.

The company hopes to regain the "tween" customers with the edgier look, while holding on to the younger girls, who like to copy older siblings.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Father And Son Santas

I've been going through the old family album, and I found a couple of pictures I wanted to share with you this Christmas... Here is a picture of Mrs. Matthews - who I swear has not aged a day in 15 years - with our son, Brad, at the tender age of 3 months. Brad was a premie - he was 2 months early and weighed 4 1/2 pounds at birth, so he was still a pretty little guy - probably about 9 pounds when this shot was taken...

Brad was the hit of the WMAL holiday party that year... Since he was so little, and was attached to a breathing monitor to boot - we had to bring him to the party, where everyone promptly fawned over him!

Finally, I told you recently that I was a department store Santa in my student days at Syracuse. Well, my sister Jill has unearthed a newspaper clipping (that I had completely forgotten even existed) from the Syracuse New Times in December of 1981, in which yours truly was asked what I, as Santa, wanted for Christmas... And my answer in those recessionary times is oddly fitting in these recessionary times!

I may or may not be posting in the next week or so - it all depends on whether something strikes my fancy - but most likely, I'll see you all back here in this space after the New Year! Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hell, Yes, I Told You So...

Well, lookie here... The DC Government is backing off its earlier projections that 5 million would be attending the inauguration... The city now says the number may be more like 2 million, and organizers admit the original figure was really just a product of exuberance over the election. "It's more of an art than a science," City Administrator Dan Tangherlini told the Washington Post. "The fact is, earlier it was speculation. Now we're beginning to flesh it out and figure out what the physical capacities of the system are." Not exactly a scientific method for public planning, is it?

And there's more:

With a lack of solid information -- the Secret Service and the Presidential Inaugural Committee declined to make their estimates public -- colossal numbers continue to be bandied about. Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, head of the D.C. National Guard, said at a news conference Thursday that the crowd estimate was 4 million.

His source? "That is the number I have heard on the television," he said.

I told you more than a month ago that the estimates were baloney! Logistically speaking, there is no way they will ever stuff 4 million people on the Mall. Looks like the geniuses have just figured that out!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We Won A Major Award!

I promised you a couple of weeks back that I'd post some pictures of our house dressed up for the holidays, so here you go!

What can I say? The missus and I have a thing for Mickey Mouse! Our homeowners association must like the rodent as well, because last night, we found this in our yard!

What a thrill for the family! I think we get a gift card from Home Depot as a prize - but to us, the sign alone is a MAJOR AWARD! Just like that italian lamp from "A Christmas Story"!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Facebook Psychiatry, Starring Porky Pig.

Do you ever catch yourself thinking, "Boy - I really shoulda gone to a shrink years ago?" Every once in a great while, I think that... And one of those moments hit me between the eyes this afternoon.

I have been enjoying Facebook for several months now, and have even enjoyed the occasional encounter with some folks who I knew from high school. I loved high school... I had pretty good grades, I was in some nice cliques, and I was heavily involved in music and theater. So to see high school friends and acquantances on Facebook has been a nice pastime.

Then, today, I received a friend request from someone I knew in elementary school. Elementary school was not anything like high school. My parents split up and divorced when I was in elementary school, which back in the late 60's was akin to having everyone in the family wearing a scarlet "A" on their chest. In addition, I was on the pudgy side, and every other kid in the school made sure I never forgot it! The real clincher came in fifth grade, when the new Phys Ed teacher called my out on the first day of school. Not knowing my name, he called me "Porky". That was it... I spent the last two years of elementary school and the first year (at least) of Junior High being called "Porky Pig", with the inferred endorsement of one of our teachers, no less! Can you tell this has bothered me for nearly 40 years?

But back to Facebook... OK... so I can handle being online friends with someone I knew when I was 8 years old... What's the big deal? This person was never a real nemisis of mine. I clicked "confirm" on the friend request, and soon thereafter saw a photo posted on his Facebook wall. It was a photo taken 2 months ago of a group of people, some of whom I have not seen in more than 30 years.

Among the people in the photo were most of the boys (BOYS? - No, nearly 50-year-old men!) who were my biggest tormentors when we were 10 and 11 years old. They now wear all manner of paunch and bald spots, but I really still saw them as being 4-foot-6, wearing Bobby Brady-striped shirts and evil "Scott Farkas" grins on their faces. It was more than a little disconcerting, and for a moment, it gave me pause to consider whether I really still want to be on Facebook at all.

Then, I took a breath. And another. And I realized that while I may still be stuck on the playground of Cresthaven Elementary School, all of the rest of those people left it behind decades ago.

They are now old, decrepit people just like me... Some of them, no doubt, are grandparents! And just like me, they are probably amazed at the power of the internet - Power that can transport us all back to the mean streets of Silver Spring (HA!) with the click of a mouse! Whatever head case problem there is here, it is mine, not theirs.

I went on Youtube and found this video from my childhood... I heard this theme song a lot on that playground. And I'm shocked to find the emotions are still pretty strong...

Anyone know a good shrink?

Ford...GM... Chrysler... SANTA?

Seems like everyone's asking for a bailout these days!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Global Warming? Yes, Please!

You can count me among the skeptics that mankind has caused global warming, but I really don't want to debate politics here...

I DO want to point out that Las Vegas had 3 to 6 inches of snow on Wednesday, which was enough to shut the town down, and no doubt make the casinos happy to have a whole crop of captive gamblers! It was the worst snow storm in 30 years in Vegas, and it pretty much closed the airport. No planes could take off because McCarren Airport does not have snowplows or deicing equipment!

My sister, Jill and my nephews are spending Christmas in Vegas, which is expected to see temperatures near or below freezing well into next week. I bet she's praying for a little global warming about now...

And in this early winter season where it seems most of the U.S. is significantly colder than usual, there are a couple of hosers in Minnesota who are also wishing for some greenhouse gas buildup! Please enjoy their excellent video!

Lorne Michaels Is Ebenezer Scrooge!

I must say - it's kinda frustrating to have a holiday video festival when one website controls all of the Saturday Night Live content, and then fails to post most of the good stuff! is the exclusive SNL content provider... Just try looking for SNL clips on youtube, and you will see a bunch of videos that have been removed as a copyright violation. I guess Lorne Michaels is still making a lot of money on DVD's, because most of the really good Christmas content is not available online... I thought I had found one of my one of my all-time favorites - "The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas", but it turned out to be "The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Easter" - a pastel pale pretender!

So screw SNL... Enjoy this short piece of fluff instead! Ho Ho Ho!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Haven't Got Time For The Pain!

Where has December gone? Just in the past few days, I have come to the realization - especially since I'm working through the holidays for the first time in forever - that I don't have time to do everything I need to get done! Therefore, my faithful readers, you may find more video content than written content in the coming days... I hope you will enjoy this little holiday video festival. We open with "The 12 Pains Of Christmas". I normally HATE parodies of the 12 Days of Christmas, but I love this one... And I hope you do, too... HANGOVERS!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Never Knew I Had So Many Friends!

Ever since my extended leave from the working world began last spring, I've been devoted to becoming a creature of the 21st century - using technology to expand my social network.

I signed up for "Linked In" and made essential business connections - that didn't get me a job, but I am now connected to people who have them, and I'm sure that's vitally important!

I also signed up for Facebook, and further expanded my world of friends - I also know now when they are hungover, depressed, hungry, bored and tired. I found out that a girl I knew in high school and I are "soul mates" because we took the same movie quiz and it turns out we mostly like the same movies. I learned to write "lol" a lot, and I hate myself for it a little bit more every time I do.

But by far, the most interesting expansion of friends has come from a collection of folks writing e-mail to me. I really can't say I remember meeting any of them, but I must have because they are all really enamored with me, and we all seem to be on a first-name only basis.

This one girl, Ellen, even told me in the subject line "I think I'm in love wif u". Then there was Jane, who appears to be genuinely concerned with my health. She offered to get me big discounts on any medicine I want. I'm afraid Rhonda must have gotten the wrong idea about me. She writes, "I live 15 min away from you! lol, I'm horny!" And Deanna must realize that I'm pretty bad at names and faces together - She wrote - "UmmM do u remember me?? I hope so!!"

Rita offered me weight loss tips (how helpful!)... And Durfey told me there is a penis enlargement patch that really works - how I managed to miss Dr. Sanjay Gupta talking about that on CNN is beyond me! Karen offered to sell me a Rolex or Cartier watch for 99 bucks, and Delores offered me some "hot webcam action". I love having friends who are so dedicated to using technology, don't you?

Well, enough of all this. I have to go respond to all of this e-mail, and then grab some breakfast. I'm having a yen for a big plate of Spam!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Getting A Wii For Christmas?

Here's why you might want to re-think that... I'm just sayin'!

Another Wii Sports Casualty - Watch more free videos

Friday, December 12, 2008

Spare Me! (And Bite Me While You're At It!)

Montgomery County has announced it is dumping it's experiment to play a satellite radio channel designed specifically for kids on school buses. BusRadio plays a lot of Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers, and mixes in about 4 minutes of commercials an hour. The school system was interested in carrying the channel because studies have shown that the use of music and similar other distractions on school buses keeps down the amount of fighting and bullying.

The plug is being pulled on BusRadio, though, because parents have complained about their children being exposed to advertisements. No, this is not a joke.

Folks - we can nanny our kids to death. But as long as you're "protecting" them, make sure you are also hiding the TV remotes at home... and locking up the computers... Keep them from listening to modern music while you're at it. And while you are limiting their exposure to the outside world, home school them as well. Rip the radios out of your cars. Lock them in their rooms. Cover up the back of the cereal boxes. Padlock the refrigerator. Tell their friends that your child is dead to them. Hermetically seal your homes. Cover the windows. And for God's sake, cancel your newspaper subscription!

If your children are really that impacted by hearing a few commercials, and really can't discern right from wrong, you must really be doing a sh***y job of raising them. Think about that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Santa!

When I was in college, I spent one Christmas season working as Santa at the Dey's department store in downtown Syracuse, New York. I enjoyed the job, sitting right outside the toy department, asking the kids what they wanted for Christmas. The only thing that really drove me nuts was that the only music they had was the Muppets Christmas album, which unfortunately scarred me for life. To this day, whenever I hear them sing "The 12 Days of Christmas", and Miss Piggy lets out "Five Go-olllld Riiiiinngs!!!", I break out in hives. (shudder!)

The only bad thing that happened to me was one or two little kids peeing on my leg. That was uncomfortable, but at least I didn't own the suit or have to pay to get it dry-cleaned! The guy in this video had it MUCH worse!

Turning On The WAAAY-back Machine...

I spotted this on Youtube... Of special note for you Washingtonians, the narrator is Ed Walker, and Ronald McDonald is played by Willard Scott! This is believed to be the very first McDonald's TV commercial featuring the "Hamburger Happy Clown"...

Corruption Paints With A Broad Brush.

As the inauguration approaches, and as I continue to read predictions of up to five million people descending on Washington (an unfathomable number that I continue to insist is not logistically possible), I wonder where all of this optimism for one politician is coming from.

I have nothing against Barack Obama. In fact, I voted for him. But I really wonder how naive Americans are if they think this man - or any politician - is going to bring sweeping positive change to America.

There are plenty of good politicians out there - noble people who really do want to be agents of change in their communities. But I dare say it's impossible to tell good from evil. There are surely plenty of Illinoisans (Illinoisers? Illinoid? Illinoisy?) who believed they were voting for a good man when they elected Rod Blagojevich Governor... but they were not. Blagojevich is a crook. His predecessor was a crook. There are crooked politicians dotting the map in America.

I have no reason to believe Barack Obama had a damned thing to do with the Blogojevich mess. But, for better or worse, he is a product of the Illinois political machine - a machine renowned for its filth... Here's just a recent history, courtesy of Wikipedia:

In 2006, former Governor George Ryan (R) was convicted of racketeering and bribery. In 2008, the sitting Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) was indicted on corruption charges stemming from allegations that he conspired to sell the vacated Senate seat left by President-elect Barack Obama (D) to the highest bidder. In the late 20th century Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (D) was imprisoned for mail fraud; former governor and federal judge Otto Kerner, Jr. (D) was imprisoned for bribery; and State Auditor of Public Accounts (Comptroller) Orville Hodge (R) was imprisoned for embezzlement.

People like Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan make it impossible for Americans to truly trust its politicians. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. - another Illinois politician - is jumping up and down insisting he did not try to buy Obama's Senate seat, but no matter how much he jumps, will we ever know whether he's telling the truth?

Even if Obama is clean (and again, I have no evidence to the contrary), how do we know his underlings are not taking bribes to get cabinet posts or undersecretary jobs? This suspicion is the horrible gift that the Blagojevich scandal has dumped on the Obama administration.

Although I voted for Obama, I never did feel that Oprah-like glow that many others did. Call me a cynic, but Obama is ONE person - and hopefully a good one. But he is not turning around America by himself, and so far, he's filling his cabinet with longtime Washington political operatives - people who lost their idealist virginity long ago. The Blagojevich mess reminds us that American politics is not a game for idealists to play, anyway.

And it makes the Obama mantra of "Change you can believe in" seem more and more like a hollow campaign slogan.

(NOTE: This blog entry can be removed for a price. I'm open to offers!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Who Has TIME For Christmas???

You would think, given my current, um... abundance of availability... that for once, I'd be able to relax and enjoy the holiday season. Well, it turns out that life has a funny way of filling in idle time quite nicely, thank you, and once again, we in the Matthews household find ourselves spending far more time preparing for the holidays than we'll ever spend enjoying them!

Last week, I spent days climbing ladders and hanging rope lights outside... This week, we'll be rearranging the family room and living room to accomodate Christmas trees, then lugging in boxes from the garage to turn the inside of the house into a red-and-green holiday puke-tacular!

We have an editing problem in our house. Mrs. Matthews is loathe to give anything up from year-to-year. "Taking a break" from something is not in her vocabulary - which means that everything we have put up as decorations in past years must go up again. Every "i" must be dotted, and every "t" must be crossed. This must explain why we "graduated" a few years ago from having one real tree to having a real tree AND a smaller fake tree - to handle the ornament overflow.

Hanukkah is even worse - and more dangerous! Somehow, over the years, we have accumulated a half dozen menorahs, and Robin insists on lighting all of them... By the end of the holiday, we have a crew standing by from the Sandy Spring Fire Department outside - just in case!

I broached the idea last night that perhaps this would be a good year to skip sending out holiday cards... Let's face it - I don't have an abundance of good news to share this year, and we could probably save a bunch in postage... But Robin looked at me like I had blood hemorraging from my ears, so at some point this weekend, we'll force the boys to comb their hair and subject them to the torture of posing for a holiday snapshot, which will then be mailed out with the cards.

I will say that shopping is less of an issue this year. The boys will make out like bandits as usual (it pays to be born to a non-practicing Jew and a non-practicing WASP - you get to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas), but Robin and I have happily scaled back presents for ourselves, and Robin has helpfully bought a couple of small items for herself that she says I can wrap for her. Usually, I balk at such fakery when it comes to gift-giving, but in lean times like these, it's better to end up with stuff you know your wife will like. No sense in buying stuff that never gets looked at again. There's a foot spa in the garage that is about to celebrate a 10th birthday - and the box has never been opened!

Adding to the time crunch this year is the fact that for the first time in at least 15 years, I will be working straight through the holidays. When you're a freelancer, you work the days that fulltimers want off, which means that during the weeks of Christmas and New Year's, I'll be writing at ABC News and anchoring the news at WMAL. I am thankful for the work, but it will be strange opening presents on Christmas morning dressed for the office instead of lounging in what passes for pajamas in my house!

Still - there is something about the holidays that prompts us - (or is it only me?) to reflect on our lives and realize just how blessed we are. At some point - no doubt after I've worn myself out putting the lights on the tree or after wrapping myriads of presents - I'll sit on the couch and look at the tree, and after noting that some ornament is facing the wrong direction, I'll relax long enough to enjoy the occasion. I'll thank the lord for giving me a beautiful wife and healthy kids. For giving me peace, if not wealth. For giving me friends and food for my table. For bringing peace and harmony to my world.

And I'll bask in the knowledge that I've still got a couple of weeks before I have to start tearing everything down and stuffing it back into the garage!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Leno at 10 pm? Say It Aint So!

Well, that explains that. In my previous post, I mentioned that NBC's programming chief, Jeff Zucker has said that NBC may scale back its prime time programming in a bid to save costs. Now, it appears the other shoe has dropped. NBC's answer for the 10 pm hour is to put Jay Leno on before the late news, and to put Conan O'Brien on in Leno's 11:30 pm shot as previously planned.

There are several reasons for doing this. Network executives have noticed in the past couple of years that the 10 pm hour has become a really popular time for DVR owners to watch their time-shifted programs, rather than to watch the shows that air at 10. Putting Leno on at 10 would be monumentally cheaper than producing hour-long dramas like "Law and Order", and it would keep Leno from escaping to another network when his NBC deal expires next year. But this does NOT mean it's a good idea.

The biggest knock on Jay Leno is that he is simply NOT FUNNY... and this will only become more painfully obvious at 10 pm than it ever was after the late local news. Leno's ratings are going to tank, and it's going to be a drag on the other major networks as well, as viewers have even less of a reason to stick around at 10 pm. If NBC is throwing in the towel at 10, can the other nets be far behind?

With the endless onslaught of bad media news in recent weeks, it's getting tougher to find the light at the end of the tunnel... The business model for commercial broadcasting and newspapers is now near total collapse - and even the internet is suffering from a lack of advertising.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but... Last one out the door, turn off the lights!

Monday, December 8, 2008

More Happy Media News!

Because I haven't been bleak enough for you lately vis a vis the state of the media business...

Here are just a few headlines from TODAY (and there were just as many yesterday and there will be more tomorrow!):

Finally, if this is actually enough to fatally wound any of my fellow media friends, I happily refer you to my sister's blog, where she has compiled some thrifty tips for your funeral. Every penny counts these days, ya know!

Congratulations, Sherwood!

Big news in the greater Olney area over the weekend... Our Sherwood High School Stormin' Warriors are the Maryland 4A High School Football Champions, after beating Linganore of Frederick County, 21 - 3 on Friday night! Sherwood did something the Redskins tried, but couldn't do... They won this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore!

Big Stadium Provides Big-Time Atmosphere

By Toni L. Sandys
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, December 8, 2008; E08

Most of the other Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state championships are held at state university facilities. Six years ago, after a scheduling conflict at the University of Maryland, the football championship games were moved to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. They have been there ever since.

It's a field most people can only dream of playing on. The energy fills the air -- along with trumpets, screams, and cheers -- as the final minutes tick off the clock and dreams are realized. "We worked so hard for this," Sherwood senior Sosthene Kapepula said.

From the beginning of its 14-game season, the team felt underestimated by so many. But the Warriors powered through their opponents to an undefeated record. They won eight of their games by more than thirty points -- four of those games were shutouts. They earned their 4A championship by soundly beating Linganore, The Post's top-ranked team, 21-3. "I have no words for it," Kapepula said. "It feels so good."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Welcome Back, "Hillary"

Millions of Americans gave up on "Saturday Night Live" after the election, so in case you missed it, new mama Amy Poehler came back this weekend and brough new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her... Enjoy!

The Inauguration IS On TV, Right?

Maybe it's just a reaction coming from a guy who's had to keep a fairly close eye on his spending in recent months, but when I read this article in this morning's Washington Post, I pretty much wanted to hurl.

It turns out there are a lot of perfectly middle-class people who are willing to go considerably into debt in order to have the opportunity to attend the inauguration... Not just to travel to Washington, DC, but to go all out and do the whole Inaugural ball and rent a limo thing, as though this was some sort of senior prom. The Post article features a woman who is flying here from Oakland with her boyfriend and their three daughters, ages 13, 3 and 1, and is planning to put a minimum of 11,000 dollars on her credit card to do it.

Maya Dillard-Smith tells the Post, "When you say the amount, it sounds crazy, but this is history. I remember my mother taking me to see Nelson Mandela at the Oakland Coliseum, meeting Jesse Jackson and being there when Desmond Tutu came when I was a child. Because of the historic nature of this election, I want my daughters to be there to see this in the environment where it is happening."

That all sounds well and good, but when those things happened, Mom took her daughter down the street, not across the country. I do not want to diminish the significance of Obama's historic inauguration, but to me, this woman's rational for dragging her kids across the country for an event that the two youngest children will not even remember is not only foolish but irresponsible at a time when the nation is in recession.

Dillard-Smith works for the Oakland city government, and her boyfriend owns a small construction company. Those don't sound like the type of careers that will allow them to pay off an 11-thousand dollar credit card debt (and that assumes this is their ONLY credit card debt) in just a month of two. And what happens to their memorable and historic trip if one of the babies comes down with the flu or snow puts a damper on their plans?

Our country is in the shape it's in right now because we, the people, have been foolish enough to trade our good credit for stupid and irresponsible things like 11,000 dollar inauguration vacations. I don't see how anything this family is doing jives in any way with Barack Obama's call for change in America.

Sadly, it smacks of "same old, same old" America. Enjoy your trip.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Barry Diller Is My New Hero!

For those of you who are not in the know, Barry Diller is a media mogul. He's been around Hollywood for decades, and at various times has run the ABC, FOX and USA networks, as well as Paramount Pictures. Today, Diller is chairman of Expedia, and he also runs a conglomerate that operates several web-based businesses.

So why is Diller my hero? Here's what he said at a media summit in Hollywood this week:

“The idea of a company that’s earning money, not losing money, that’s not, let’s say ‘industrially endangered,’ to have just cutbacks so they can earn another $12 million or $20 million or $40 million in a year where no one’s counting is really a horrible act when you think about it on every level. First of all, it’s certainly not necessary. It’s doing it at the worst time. It’s throwing people out to a larger, what is inevitably a larger unemployment heap for frankly no good reason.”

Now, I'm not sure this would apply to me, because I'm not sure my former employer is going to survive. But just yesterday, both NBC and Viacom, both viable and profitable companies, laid off several hundred employees each. helping to extend the cycle of unemployment that will contribute to the depth and length of our current recession. The longer the recession lasts, the less money these giant companies will make, thereby making the recession a self-fulfilling prophesy. Diller went on to say:

“It’s not that you don’t want to earn as much money as you can — it is your obligation, of course — but companies have obligations beyond that and they certainly have obligations beyond that at certain times, in the times in which they operate. And they also certainly ought to know that meeting and beating expectations is probably yesterday’s game and it will be increasingly so, which would be by the way very healthy for companies. Running a company that meets and beats expectations, and that runs their company accordingly, are companies that I would question why anyone would invest in.”

You can read more of Diller's comments here.

What I think Diller is trying to say is that people are still the most important assets of any business. Yes, you can make more money in the short run by cutting your labor costs to the bone, but eventually, what you really need are customers to buy your product... And the only way there will be enough customers is if American business does everything it can to keep people employed so they can BE customers.

Thank you, Mr Diller!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Have You Watched "Rudolph" Lately?

Last night, after spending the day draping the front of my home with holiday lights, the Missus and I sat down and watched "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" as we ate our dinner, and as the parents of two special needs children, we had a few good chuckles over how out-of-date the TV special was in terms of its political correctness. Mind you, we took no offense - we love vintage TV Christmas specials! But just consider...

  • When young Rudolph is born and his "impediment" is discovered, his parents don't seek help - they effectively put their "handicapped" son in the closet, by forcing him to wear a fake nose and pretend he's just like all the other kids.

  • Rudolph's ruse works OK for a while, but in a fit of adolescent excitement, just as he's impressing Santa with his flying skills, Rudolph's fake nose falls off, revealing his radiant proboscis. Once Rudolph's "handicap" is revealed, the VERY FIRST character to comment on it is none other than SANTA, who says (paraphrasing) "What a shame - and he had so much potential, too!"

  • All of the other reindeer promptly fall in line behind their leader, humiliating Rudolph and proceeding to immediately isolate him, banning him from joining in the reindeer games.

  • Rudolph, of course, runs away with another deviant outcast, Hermie, the elf who wants to be a dentist... And where do they go? The Island of Misfit Toys, where all "handicapped" toys are sent to be banished rather than be allowed to assimilate.

  • Rudolph and Hermie eventually meet up with the Abominable Snowmonster of the North, who is holding Rudy's parents and girlfriend hostage. They manage to free the hostages, but the fail to finish off the snowmonster because they realize it would be better to "get the women folk" (that's a quote) back to safety.

As we all know, everything works out in the end and Rudolph saves Christmas - but only because he could prove that his "handicap" had an upside! Otherwise, he and the misfit toys would still be chillin' back on the island!

Just imagine what would happen if this scenario played out in real life in 2008. Somehow, I think the outcome would be quite different - and a lot of lawyers would be getting rich!

I wanted to include a clip from the Rudolph TV special, but Rankin/Bass has been successful in pretty much banishing its material from Youtube. I did, however, find this fabulous parody clip, in which the Rudolph special is produced by Martin Scorcese. It's a hoot! Enjoy!

Well - There Goes 2009!

Can we just skip a year and go straight to 2010? The latest projection for the radio business just came out last night, and analysts are already writing off 2009:

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Newly released data suggests that the U.S. radio industry could be on track to record its worst annual drop in ad revenue in decades.
According to the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), total ad revenue for all U.S. radio markets dropped 10 percent in October from a year earlier. Local revenue fell 15 percent, while national revenue slipped 1 percent.
October marked the industry's 18th consecutive month of year-on-year revenue declines, according to James Boyle, a senior broadcast analyst at research firm C.L. King & Associates in New York.
"One actually has to go all the way back to 1954, when radio ad revenue was down 9 percent against the prior year's dip of 2 percent" to find a worse decline, Boyle said. "1954 was the fourth straight year of substantial radio advertising underperformance versus total domestic ad revenue."
That was also the year, Boyle quipped, "when 'The Lone Ranger' had its last new radio episode and Sen. Joseph McCarthy was railing against hidden Communists."


The future doesn't appear bright, Boyle said. "If the recession lasts for all of 2009 and the weakness persists in many of the major radio ad categories, such as auto, to the point where spending severely plunges, then it may be 2010 or beyond before radio revives," he said.

You can read the entire depressing assessment HERE. And just to add fuel to the inferno, we just learned this morning that Montgomery County Teachers ( including my wife) will go without pay raises next year:

Montgomery County teachers and other school employees have agreed to give up a 5 percent pay raise next year, a concession that saves the school system $89 million and allows Superintendent Jerry D. Weast to balance the budget.
Leaders of four employee associations, representing more than 22,000 workers, agreed Tuesday to forgo the raise all workers would have received in the fiscal year that begins in July. Weast said he and other top administrators in Maryland's largest school system would also lose annual raises.
School officials said it was the first time since the early 1990s that Montgomery school employees had given up a contractual pay raise, a sign of the magnitude of the economic challenge. School board President Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) credited unions with "tremendous sacrifice during these tough times."

You can read all about the teachers' pay raise cut HERE.

As much as it hurts our family budget, I support the county's action to cut the pay raises. As I've mentioned before, I believe it's important for government workers to have a realization of the troubles that their employers - the taxpayers - are experiencing. We'll all in this together, folks!

My wife has been troubled that my current state of underemployment is relatively unique among our friends - like there's something wrong with us. Unfortunately, I'm afraid our situation is going to grow less unique by the day.

Keep your heads down, folks!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Repression As a Political Gimmick

Am I the only person out there who thinks the DC government's crusade to stamp its "Taxation Without Representation" slogan on everything is obnoxious and pointless? Last week, the city council announced plans to rename South Capitol Street in front of Nationals Park "Taxation Without Representation" Street, because the Nats refused to post a big sign with the slogan inside the stadium. Now, the city is asking President Obama to ride with "TWR" tags on his limo in the inauguration. Previously, the city wanted to stamp the slogan on the D.C. version of the quarter, but the U.S. Mint killed that proposal.

I have never understood why the residents of the District of Columbia think a slogan that effectively says "We are repressed" is suitable as the city's primary marketing message. They are shouting a complaint that no one is hearing. People who live in the DC area have spent our entire lives being pounded with "DC Statehood" campaigns, and people who don't live in the DC area either don't know or don't care about the city's complaint.

The city wants a "fair" vote in Congress - ideally by becoming a state, with a House member and two Senators. That, pragmatically speaking, is never ever going to happen, even with Democrats controlling both Congress and the White House. There are more than enough constitutional questions to keep it from happening anytime soon, and you'll never find enough momentum for lawmakers to make it a priority to get the deal done.

And can someone please tell me how repressed the people of Washington, D.C. really ARE? I get the concept that they are being taxed by the government without having a say as to how their taxes are spent. And yes, I know that Congress has the right to overturn DC laws. But that's been the deal from the get-go in Washington. The city, for better or worse, was created that way by design. DC residents do have the freedom of choice to move a matter of a couple of miles if they really feel the need to have that right to vote. No one is making you stay put if it's that big of a deal to you. My father has lived in DC for most of the past 40 years, and somehow managed to avoid caring about having a vote in Congress. And he pays more taxes than most people, believe me!

This whole "Taxation Without Representation" shtick is a political gimmick. Every politician has one - something to hang his hat on to create buzz. Barack Obama's gimmick was "Change you can believe in", and that got him pretty far. I sometimes think DC pushes this whole "vote in Congress" thing just to keep itself in the news. They need something to bitch about.

To me, D.C.'s use of "Taxation Without Representation" speaks a message of snarky bitterness. It thumbs its nose at Congress, and by extension, to the rest of the United States... Ironic, considering the city wants to be INcluded and not EXcluded. I don't know... If I wanted to be invited to a party, I don't think I'd start off by telling the party's host that she's ugly.
But that's just me!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's Honeydew Time...

... Or perhaps that would be more accurately spelled "honey-do" time, as in "Honey, do this..." or "Honey, do that..." With my recent run of work at WMAL and at ABC News coming to an end, the Missus is after me to get my domestic responsibilities in gear - in this case, getting up the holiday lights.

We're not talking about a string of lights flung around the nearest evergreen. No, Christmas at the Matthews is something more akin to Walt Disney World meets the Las Vegas strip. It is a multi-day multi-media experience... Something that drives my electric bill up by 30% each December, and quite frankly, something that is getting to be a bigger pain in the ass every year... Not that the Missus cares!

So if anyone needs me today, I'll be the one outside getting my fingers stuck by pine needles, climbing the ladder to hang homemade Mickey heads, and stringing enough electric cable to send men to the moon and back! I'll post pictures when I'm done... or you can just drive up Georgia Avenue through Olney, and I guarantee you'll find us!

Feliz Freakin' Navidad!

Monday, December 1, 2008

R.I.P. Real News

At the risk of being a little too "inside baseball", I'm going to write today about the pending demise of real news. Whether you knew it or not, "real news" has been on life support for quite some time, but with the continuing collapse of newspapers, there is little reason to believe there will be anyone left within a few years to actually COVER the news.

You see, there is a very real food chain in the news business, and for the most part, that chain begins with newspapers. What starts as an item in a community paper gets picked up by the Washington Post, then makes it onto the Associated Press wire, and eventually onto radio, TV and the internet. Despite what all of those TV promos tell you, there's actually very little actual reporting going on - at least in local TV and radio news. It's the newspapers that are setting the news budgets in most cities, and for the msot part, what you see on TV at 6 pm was in the newspaper earlier that morning.

Now, with newspapers cutting staff left and right, there's less content being fed to the wires, and lower quality showing up on your TV and radio. This is all have a self-destructive effect. As time goes on, there are fewer jobs for journalists, and fewer resources for investigative reporting. Fewer people with lesser skills are ending up editing wire copy, making the AP less of a value for newspapers, which are now starting to drop the AP as a whole. The AP, meanwhile, is turning more and more of its news efforts away from print coverage to television and internet news instead. This is not good news.

Love it or hate it, the Associated Press has been the standard for American journalism for more than a hundred years. The AP has largely been "vanilla", but at least it has been reliable. Now, that reliability is turning instead into a liability. The AP's quality, especially at the local level, has really tanked in recent years, and the piranhas at CNN are smelling blood, launching their own wire service to rival the AP. No offense to CNN, but there is no way it can build a cost-efficient wire service to rival the AP. It will be able to sell print versions of some of its excellent international and national political coverage, but trying to build a wire that includes local news - especially at a time when local newspapers (remember the food chain) are closing in droves - will just not work.

So - what does this mean for you - the consumer? Sadly, I think it means you'll soon be on your own in terms of knowing what is really going on in your local communities. The local paper here, the Gazette, has been an excellent source for community news, but it has already gone through significant cutbacks and consolidation. If and when the Gazette goes, I don't know what we'll be left with... But I think you may be counting on bloggers to deliver what passes for local news in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime - with apologies to Heroes on NBC - SAVE YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER, SAVE THE WORLD!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Black Friday Blues!

I feel like I haven't posted for a year, but I think spending a week at WMAL, and getting to work by 3:45am kind of did me in! I woke up yesterday feeling sick and spent the day sucking on Cold-eeze and napping off and on all day.

By contrast, my lovely bride has not stopped moving! She's been in her element ever since 5 am on Friday morning, when the Wal-Mart in Germantown opened. For the past several years, Robin has been WMAL's un-named Black Friday correspondent, calling in and doing a fabulous job of describing the mayhem that IS the morning after Thanksgiving.

No one died in Germantown this year, but if you listen to this, you can hear Robin describe the mayhem... It's no wonder a store clerk was trampled to death in New York!

During this particular year, Robin and I were somewhat of a tag team. She kept calling me at WMAL to offer some audio for the broadcast, as well as to consult with me on what she should or should not be buying. When she reported trouble reaching the electronics department to pick up some new movies that were selling for 9 bucks, I went on and bought the movies online for the same price - they were having a Black Friday sale, too! It turns out that Robin couldn't reach electronics because Wal-Mart's biggest deal of the day was a flat panel TV for 700 bucks... and the people buying them were clogging the aisles trying to get them out of the store.

This year, with me being underemployed, the search for bargains is more important than ever! But Robin will not be denied... She buys everything, and then decides later that most of it is going to be returned - and that just gives her another excuse to go back to the store! After leaving the house at 3:45 Friday morning, she did not get home until nearly 6 pm Friday evening - clearly exhausted but anxious to eat dinner and go back out into the fray... Fortunately, a hot shower and a warm meal did her in... But she then proceeded to be out shopping for another 5 hours on Saturday afternoon, and another 4 hours Saturday night.

'Tis the season to go shopping - thank the Lord I'm too sick to go along!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Have Perks Again!

One thing I've definitely missed about my old job is that I used to get perks. Some pretty good perks, actually. When I worked for Disney, there were free theme park tickets and huge discounts for everything else, making it easy to feed my Disney addiction.

But being a news director had its own benefits all by itself. I would routinely receive gifts in the mail - things like T-Shirts, or tote bags, or Girl Scout cookies, from outfits looking for some free publicity. I could routinely schmooze myself into sporting events or local shows without paying. If I wanted to go to Sea World or the San Diego Zoo, I could arrange to get into those places for free as well.

So imagine how quickly I crashed to Earth knowing I could no longer just fire off an email or pick up the phone to arrange freebies. Well, at least in a small way, I'm back to getting a pretty cool perk.

When I started freelance work at ABC News, I was required to join the Writer's Guild of America. And I did not discover until just this week that it came with a pretty nifty side benefit.

It turns out the Writer's Guild hands out awards each year for writing in tv shows and movies... It's part of the same awards season that includes the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Well, as a member of the guild, I am eligible to vote. And I have started receiving review copies of Hollywood movies!

Two of the movies I've received have just arrived in theaters - In fact, one of them, "Slumdog Millionaire", arrived at my home the day before it opened in theaters. In the packaging, Fox Searchlight pictures has basically threatened my life if I try to pirate the dvd they sent me, and they've asked me to destroy the dvd as soon as I've watched the movie. I'll take that request under advisement.

I don't know if I'll ever watch any of these movies, let alone vote in the Writers Guild awards. But it's still pretty cool to own films that are still showing in theaters!

Of course, I'd trade them all to get my Disney Silver pass back... But that's another story!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sayonara To Sequins And Sambas!

Well, the latest season of "Dancing With The Stars" has wrapped up, and I am digging deep into my testosterone-driven courage to write a blog entry about it! There is nothing unmanly about enjoying a good paso doble - and if it's manly enough for ESPN, then it's manly enough for me.

I have been a devoted fan of the show from the start, and as such, I have long since given up on any notion that it is a fair competition. In fact, I firmly believe it is fixed - but I still enjoy the spectacle of it all... and I think the show's producers have done a good job of picking a winner each time who brings the right combination of talent and popularity to the show.

This season was weaker than most... The best dancer, TV host Brooke Burke, was the best but this was a fairly sad bunch compared to some recent seasons. Burke was pushed by former NFL star Warren Sapp, who had little talent but massive appeal with the audience... and third place went to N Sync's Lance Bass, who I truly cannot stand to look at any longer. He was played up as a villain this season - perhaps unfairly - but he and his professional partner, Lacey Schwimmer, went out of their way to be "different" - so I guess they got what they deserved.

Here's Brooke Burke's winning freestyle dance that sealed the deal for her this week... the perfect Dancing With the Stars combo of cheese and talent! Enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Back On The First Amendment Soapbox

Every time I see a cop who thinks his badge gives him some sort of super powers, I get steam coming from my ears. The fact is that most cops don't like members of the media, presumably because they don't like being caught ignoring people's civil rights. I hate to sound like a law-enforcement hater, because I swear I'm not. But every time I see video (and I've seen plenty)of a police officer forcibly deciding what is and what is not appropriate for a photographer or cameraman to shoot, I think it gives police a bad name. This cameraman was detained in the back of a police car for more than an hour. If you or I did that, we'd be charged with kidnapping. The fact is, the cop had no right confiscating the guy's camera or detaining him to begin with! Watch and learn:

What cops need to realize and remember is simple. Members of the media and members of the public are one and the same. If you want to keep the media from shooting video of something and you have a legitimate reason, then shut down the street to everyone. I can't tell you how many times as a reporter I was blocked from being at a crime scene, even when members of the public were allowed to roam freely on the other side of the yellow police tape. That's not only unfair, it's also illegal. I was also thrown off the grounds of Dulles airport one time for asking members of the public questions. The officer decided I was harassing people. I most certainly was not - certainly not as much as the hare krishnas who used to walk up to complete strangers at the airport and solicit them for money. No one ever stopped them.

Again - treat members of the media like you treat members of the public (because we ARE members of the public), and you'll get no beef from me.

But that cop in Newark should lose his badge.

Like Riding A Bicycle...

Well, there I was this morning... back in the newsroom at WMAL, doing the exact same job I was doing nine months ago (almost to the exact day) when I was let go. I was not sitting at the same desk, because I had bequeathed it to my friend and protege, Jen Richer, when I was dispatched the first time around. But all in all, it felt pretty much the same.

Most of the equipment that didn't work then still doesn't work now. The same people who had crappy attitudes then still have crappy attitudes today. (And THEY still have jobs! HA!) I can still finish the sentences of the people who still work there. All in all, it felt comfortable and familiar.

All of the routines that I had carefully developed over 25 years came back like muscle memory...

As usual, I woke up at 2:35am - Five minutes before the alarm went off, because it rarely ever woke me up. Last night was no exception, but I will confess to a night of tossing and turning... You'll have to excuse me for a fitful sleep the night before going back to my old job - this blog entry comes to you courtesy of a STRONG midday cup of Starbucks Verona blend coffee!

I was at Seven-Eleven by 3:15... WOW - they put in big new coffee urns to replace the old dirty pots since I was last there! As usual, I appropriated as many "International Delight" creamers as I could for my friend, Bill Thompson, who, as it turns out, switched to black coffee months ago after I stopped bringing him creamers! Well, Bill, we have four days to restock your desk drawers! The guy behind the counter saw me and said (in his best clipped Indian accent), "It's been a long time, sir!" When the guy at the 7-11 in the middle of the night remembers you, you know you'd been doing something for a while!

I headed down Connecticut Avenue pretty much by myself, as usual, except that a motorcycle cop whizzed past me by the speed cameras in Chevy Chase, thereby setting off the flashes... not that he'e ever going to be paying any fines.

I brought in a beautiful and tasty coffee cake from Costco, and I set it down on the counter to be shared before I went into the studio to do my 10 am newscast. By the time I got out of the news booth 10 minutes later, it was already 2/3rds consumed...

Yep. Nothing much has changed!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

SNL - The Next Four Years!

We're done with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin - at least for now... But after seeing its ratings go through the roof before the election, the producers of Saturday Night Live are going to keep politics front and center on the show. Enjoy this clip of Andy Samberg as Barack Obama's new Chief of Staff - something you DIDN'T see on SNL this week!

Not Back To The Future... Back To The Back!

By the time many of you read this, I shall be once again, on a freelance basis, be working at 630 WMAL, the place that furloughed me in a corporate restructuring nine months ago. I have had this work scheduled for a couple of months now, and as the day has drawn near, I have found my own personal anxiety level growing a bit.

From the day I was let go, I have never felt those feelings of anger and bitterness towards my former employer that so many have felt - or at least, not against the managers of WMAL. They were given an unpleasant task to perform, and so it was done. I have appreciated their support these many months as I have sought a permanent job, and I also appreciate that they have called me for fill-in work when they clearly had no obligation to do so.

I have been back to WMAL on two or three occasions since I left - each time on business that was unrelated to my former job there. The first time I returned, it felt very strange, but since then, it's felt strangely comfortable - as if I had never left, except for the fact that someone else is occuying my office. And even that didn't matter much, because I had spent most of my time in the newsroom instead of my office even when I was working at WMAL.

This time, I'm actually returning to work FOR the radio station, writing newscasts and anchoring a couple of them a day as well... and hoping I don't fall flat on my face. I don't have any real expectation that I WILL fall flat on my face, but nothing could be worse than going back there and showing my former co-workers that my furlough was actually justified!

If there's one thing I have learned from my months on the beach, it is to treasure every opportunity I get to work. It's a joy that gainfully employed people who've never lost jobs cannot possibly appreciate. I thoroughly enjoyed filling in at WBAL over the summer, as well as my ongoing freelance job at ABC News. When I am scheduled to work, my adrenaline goes a little nutty, and I find myself a little giddy at the opportunity to channel my creative muscles in a constructive and income-producing way.

It makes me thankful at a time when finding things to be thankful for is a bit of a challenge. And those positive thoughts will make it that much easier to take when my clock radio goes off at 2:30 Monday morning!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Y2K - The Good Old Days!

In recent days, I’ve been enjoying the first season of “The West Wing” on DVD. It’s incredible how well written that show was - more intelligent by a good stretch than anything on the air today - but I was struck by one episode I saw recently that showed in quite a few ways just how much the world has changed in a few short years.

The episode, “He Shall, From Time To Time”, was first aired in 2000, and takes place in the days prior to President Josiah Bartlet’s second State of the Union address. There is chaos at the White House – a developing scandal involving Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. Word has leaked out that six years earlier, Leo, who was then the Labor Secretary, had received inpatient treatment for an addiction to alcohol and Valium. In fact, the senior staff gathers at the White House one evening because the story has just popped up on the internet, and it is sure to be a big story once the newspapers get a hold of it the next day!

Meanwhile, McGarry, mindful that the President is about to give his State of the Union speech, tells Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman to choose a member of the cabinet to stay behind at the White House while the rest of the cabinet goes to the Capitol to attend the speech. Josh explains to his assistant, Donna Moss, that someone needs to stay behind to run the government in case all of the nation’s top elected leaders are killed in a terrorist attack. The two share a good laugh imagining what the government would be like if the Capitol was blown up and Donna was left behind to run things.

Now, here’s what struck me as odd…

1/ If a big story broke on the internet in 2008, it would be plastered on every cable news channel and on every other news website in the world within minutes… not to mention on cell phones and Blackberrys around the world. Back in 2000, when a big story really did pop up on, say - the Drudge Report – it really DID take several hours for the media to vet the story, and newspapers were still somewhat the arbiter of what constituted news. That’s not the case any longer.

2/ Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure if it was revealed that President Bush’s Chief of Staff had a substance abuse problem years before he worked in the White House that it would be that big of a story. I don’t know if the times have changed, but it’s certainly less of a big deal today than it would have been in the past.

3/ I seriously doubt in the post 9-11 world, even more than 7 years later, that anyone would show two TV characters in the White House making light or making jokes about a possible bombing at the Capitol. It just wouldn’t happen.

Here’s a clip from the end of that episode, as the President explains to the Agriculture Secretary in friendly, but by today’s standards, chilling terms, what to do in case the Secretary is left to run the nation:

Thank You, Robin Ficker!

We offer a hearty congratulations and our deepest thanks this morning to an obnoxious pain-in-the-ass loudmouth whose very name has been little more than the punchline of a joke for the past three decades. Robin Ficker is an anti-tax gadfly in Montgomery County - someone who has railed against tax-and-spend local government for decades - and someone who had become accustomed to being roundly ignored by both local lawmakers and voters.

Ficker is known mostly for getting anti-tax referendums placed on county ballots - referendums that have been soundly defeated, until now. After a count of absentee ballots, Ficker's latest amendment has actually been approved by voters. The measure, which requires a unanimous vote of the county council to increase taxes beyond a cap set by the county's charter, will likely have little effect, and will likely be reversed as soon as lawmakers can figure out a way to do it.

But in passing Ficker's amendment, voters have done two things. They have told lawmakers to find other ways to generate revenue aside from increasing taxes. And more importantly, they have reminded elected officials that there IS more than one valid point of view in Montgomery County. Ficker himself told the Washington Post, "As evidenced by this vote, there are a lot of homeowners who feel their voices are not being heard," he said. "Someone is going to give these bipartisan homeowners a voice."

When I was a news director, I didn't take Robin Ficker very seriously, and neither did anyone I worked with in the media. Thank God for his thick skin and stubborn determination. Thank you, Robin Ficker.

Reasons To Be Thankful

Sure, the economy sucks, and yes, it's scary to think that things are going to get worse before they get better. But the fact is that human nature (or is it simply being American) dictates that we spend more time obsessing over the things we don't have instead of appreciating the things that we do have.

Check out this video by comedian Louis C.K. with Conan O'Brien. C.K. recognizes that we take too many things for granted. Yes, he's doing a stand-up comedy routine, but he makes some excellent points! So the next time Tivo clips off the last minute of a program you had recorded, don't be angry... Be thankful!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Inauguration Bullsh**!

Two items of note on the inauguration today...
First, it looks like organizers (well, everyone but Mayor Adrian Fenty) are now backing away from yesterday's rediculous report that as many as four million people could be on the Mall for the inauguration, and now the top figure seems to be 3 million. As mentioned yesterday, I believe four million is logistically impossible, and I don't think they'll get to three million, either.
Charlie Gibson mentioned on ABC's World News last night that 3 million would exceed:
  • Reagan's First Inauguration
  • LBJ's record-setting 1.2 million inauguration
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and
  • The Million Man March

COMBINED. He also mentioned that the region's 90,000 hotel rooms could accomodate three million people - as long as folks didn't mind sharing 33 people to a room!

It's heartening to see other media call B.S. on this Inauguration crowd story, but there's not a whiff of crowd size revision in this morning's Washington Post.

The Post does redeem itself somewhat by reporting in Marc Fisher's blog that Montgomery County School chief Jerry Weast has called B.S. on an online petition from students and teachers asking for an extra day off to observe the inauguration. Weast says he doubts very many students would actually try to go down to the Mall, and he says, in any case, they'd learn more by watching the ceremony in school where it could be discussed in class - a point I made in this space last week!