Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Auto Industry Angst

There's more than enough worry to go around these days in Detroit and other parts of the nation where the U.S. auto industry plays a big role in the economy. They are worried about their livelihoods, and who can blame them? Unfortunately, there's little the government can do, short of further bankrupting the nation's economy, to keep the industry going.

If GM and Chrysler folded tomorrow, I'm not at all sure it would ever have a profound impact on my life. I do not own any of their cars, and the U.S. auto industry has no sizable stake in the local economy. Yes, there are many local car dealerships that sell American cars, and some of them would no doubt close, but some would start seling Toyotas or Nissans or Mazdas, and they'd get by. If there were no American cars, that wouldn't stop anyone from driving or needing to buy new cars.

I have owned plenty of American cars in my life - My very first was a Ford Maverick. I then owned four different Chevys before I got married into a "Chrysler family", so I've owned a few of them as well. You never know what the future will hold, but as of now, I could never imagine owning a "Big Three" car again.

All of the cliches you've ever heard about American cars held true for me. Every one of them became financial black holes after three or four years of driving - Planned obsolescence designed to get me to return to the showroom to buy yet another car. That all ended for me in 1997, when I traded in my wife's Plymouth Sundance for my beloved Honda Civic, which is still running 12 years later, and which will stay in the family until it falls apart (i.e. - not any time soon).

We did buy a Chrysler Town and Country minivan in 2001, and I will say this: When it comes to comfort and roominess, Chrysler owns the market on minivans. It was a great ride... for about four years. The last two years were a never-ending parade of increasingly expensive trips to the repair shop. Two years ago, my wife started looking at new minivans, and tentatively settled on the Toyota Sienna. When she sought the advice of the mechanics who had been servicing our Chrysler, they told her (jokingly) to buy American - because they needed the business! We bought the Toyota and have had no problems at all.

I guess what I'm saying here is that the Big Three automakers have, for now and for years to come, lost me as a potential customer, because every consumer group out there will tell you that there are better, less-expensive cars out there being built by foreign-owned companies. And, at least for Japanese cars, most of them are built in America, to boot.

And I'm not alone. Go ahead and google "Best selling cars in U.S.". You'll find many lists, but invariably, you'll find that 6 or 7 of the top 10 will be Japanese, and that the only U.S. models on the lists will be pickup trucks.

The government can throw all the money it wants to at GM and Chrysler, but the fact remains that they won't survive if they don't start building better cars. And it's hard to imagine either company lasting long enough to rebuild their reputations, because that will surely take YEARS to accomplish.

We can't keep the US auto industry alive simply because the US has a long history of building cars. That's not a good enough reason. If it was, I'd still have a job, because, along that line of reasoning, people would still be listening to AM radio, too.

Nope. We need Detroit to give us better cars. If Ford can do that as the only U.S. automaker, then it won't be the only U.S. automaker for long. Somebody else will jump in to challenge Ford, and the competition will create better, more affordable vehicles.

THAT's the American way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Twitter-Size Monday Update!

I do not currently "Tweet", but I am told Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters, so I am going to try my hand at blogging on several topics in Twitter-size chunks!

Obama wants GM Chairman Jeff Wagoner gone? I have no problem with that per se, but am I the only one who feels the government is getting dictatorship-ish?

Tiger Woods truly DOES walk on water. He comes back from 5 shots down to win his first event since knee surgery. You know Tiger's cool when my wife will sit and watch!

Large crowds turned out at the Tidal Basin over the weekend to see the Cherry Blossoms. I spent my weekend beating my head against the wall. I think I got the better deal.

I received a form letter from NPR this weekend, thanking me for the application I sent 8 months ago! I won't hold my breath waiting to hear from them again!

Good thing I went out early to get the newspaper off the driveway this morning. The Washington Post is getting so thin, it could have just blown away!

The kids are home, so we're going to see "Monsters vs. Aliens", despite lousy reviews. We're seeing it in IMAX 3-D. If you're gonna watch mediocrity, I say do it BIG!

I drove out of my way to save about 10 dollars at the supermarket, then took my son to Five Guys, and spent 15 dollars on lunch. So much for saving money!

I don't know if I'll blog this way again. Writing short takes far more time than writing long. Stick that in your Twitter and shake it!

Friday, March 27, 2009

On Second Thought, DON'T Play It Again Sam!

Shocking news from the next county over...

Howard Man Charged With Allowing Gambling at Bar

Howard County police say a Jessup man has been charged with allowing illegal gambling at his bar in Laurel.

Police announced Thursday that 63-year-old John Edward Divver has been charged with four counts of gambling and gaming.

Police say undercover detectives went to Sam's Bar in the 9900 block of Washington Boulevard, where they found illegal video slot machines.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This Is "Post-Racial" America?

I'm going to speak briefly about race today. Race is one of those third-rail topics that I usually don't like to discuss, because one is constantly in danger of offending someone. However, the issue has come up a couple of times this week, and in both cases, I think it signals a change in the way we will be dealing with it in the future.

Earlier this week, during his news conference, President Obama downplayed the importance of race as an immediate issue while he tried to grapple with the difficult economy, saying the issues facing the country "affect black, brown and white", and that he will be judged on whether he was a competent president, not merely as a black president.

President Obama is in a difficult situation. He is correct in his assertion that he needs to be the leader for ALL of the people, but he is also clearly riding on the hopes and expectations of a Black America that is counting on him to bring their concerns to the forefront.

Just a day after Mr. Obama's comments, the National Urban League issued a statement calling on the President to close the disparity gap that blacks face in areas including education and prison time. President Marc Morial wrote, "The election of the first black president does not mean we can now all close up shop and go home."

And now an issue of race strikes closer to home, in the District of Columbia, where Mayor Adrian Fenty is proposing to demote "Emancipation Day" - April 16th - from being a paid city holiday to a non-paid holiday. The move would save the city 1.3 million doillars a year in holiday pay - enough to keep 23 full-time city workers employed.

Some members of the city council are up in arms, saying it's important to recognize the day that President Lincoln freed the city's slaves in 1862. Mind you, the holiday itself is only four years old, and there is little evidence to support the notion that anyone is celebrating the day as anything more than an extra day off of work.

Mayor Fenty and President Obama face similar political problems here. Both have faced frequent "litmus test" questions about their own racial identities - questions about whether they are "black enough". Both men have white parents, and both are trying to rise above their racial identities as they lead their broader constituencies. It's almost as if they both need to "have their cake and eat it, too" on the issue of race.

I can't begin to offer input on what the President should do on this topic. Frankly, as long as the economy is sour, he'll have that as a shield to protect him against having to seriously address race or many other issues.

But I do have a piece of advice for Mayor Fenty. Money is tight. Your constituents are probably not too thrilled to see city workers enjoy yet another paid holiday that they themselves don't get to enjoy. If Emancipation Day is so important, choose another paid holiday to be given up in exchange. I would suggest Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus' star has faded in recent years, and there are few longheld links between the city government and Columbus. It almost seems as though the day exists as a holiday in the city because federal workers already have it off.

I know there's been a lot of hope that the election of President Obama will bring us to a "post-racial" America.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

I'm Going To Miss Remembering "The Lion King"

My wife and I went to the World Premiere of "The Lion King" at the Uptown theater in Washington back in 1994. I was a reporter at WMAL at the time, and a friend of mine at Disney got us the invitation. It was quite the affair... Vice President Al Gore was there, and so was Disney Chairman Michael Eisner and Walt Disney Pictures President Jeffrey Katzenberg, among others. After the movie, there was a gala reception at the National Zoo. Disney rented out the place, and served up a feast right next to the Lion's Den at the Zoo.

It's too bad I'm going to forget it all in short order. It seems Disney is putting the film - and all memories of it - back in the vault!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's Like Deciding When To Pull The Plug On Granny!

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin has come up with a plan to keep America's newspapers from folding - He would change the US tax code, and allow newspapers to operate as non-profit entities. The papers would still be allowed to sell ads, which would become tax exempt. Any revenue from circulation or contributions from readers would be tax exempt as well.

I want to congratulate Senator Cardin for his efforts, but I fear his proposal will come up short.

Speaking in medical jargon, I am all in favor of keeping community news alive, but I worry that some of the side effects of this treatment may be worse than the disease, and that it may ultimately serve to prolong what is already a terminal illness.

Cardin says under his plan, newspapers would be free to report what they like, but would be prohibited from making political endorsements. Well - that's one strike against the first amendment right there. And please forgive me if I'm skeptical. I believe Senator Cardin's intentions are noble, but I highly doubt that down the line, some lawmaker would not try to use a newspaper's tax-exempt status as leverage to try and sway the coverage of a story. I don't have a whole lot of faith in the intelligence or integrity of your average lawmaker.

I also do not believe the American people as a whole have much respect for the media, or a clear handle on the importance of having a free and independent press. They've been trained over the years - by lawmakers and pundits - to distrust the media. And increasingly, they seem willing to sell the Fourth Estate down the river without giving a thought as to how that would impact their lives. I'm not sure there would be much of a groundswell of support to keep papers alive.

From a more pragmatic point-of-view, why are we specifically trying to save newspapers? Is it to preserve a medium that is largely used by people who are 50 years old and older? And if that is the case, why are we trying to save it? Do you really think by giving newspapers a non-profit status that younger Americans will suddenly start changing their reading habits?

Newspapers are - like TV, radio and the internet - a delivery system for the transmission of information. However, compared to the other systems, they are slow, archaic, cost-inefficient and environmentally unfriendly. When you look at newspapers dispassionately, it is difficult to imagine why they WOULD be worth saving.

Think about it... News stories are blocked out, printed in huge factories on large sheets of paper, distributed by truck to various locations all over the region, then further distributed by smaller trucks and cars, wrapped in non-biodegradable plastic bags and thrown on people's lawns. The customer then glances through the paper and throws it away. IF we're lucky, the customer will leave the paper for recycling. It all sounds so damn inefficient compared to grabbing the mouse and clicking away, doesn't it?

I still love reading dead-tree newspapers, and I do subscribe to the Washington Post. But I also know I'm a dinosaur.. and when the paper goes extinct (which will likely happen sooner rather than later), I will adapt to reading it exclusively online instead. If everyone had come to the realization that this was actually going to happen a few years ago, we might all have been better prepared for the current collapse in media, and I'd have a safer job someplace else. But you know what they say about 20/20 hindsight.

I remember having a conversation with my old News Director in 1992 about personal computers. I had owned my first computer for more than a year, and I remember telling him all about the dawn of the internet, and how cool it was to find information on Prodigy and America On-Line. This was a man who had ripped wire copy and written newscasts on manual typewriters for more than 30 years, so when I encouraged him to get his own computer, he looked at me and said, "Why would I ever want a computer?" He could not fathom the end of the way things used to be. But he adapted.

My mother-in-law is 73 years old. She has been reading the New York Times her entire life, and she cannot begin to comprehend NOT having it at her doorstep each morning. But that day is coming. And she'll adapt, too.

I do hope something can be done to preserve local community news. It's a vital part of our lives, even if most consumers don't appreciate what they have. But saving newspapers is not the answer. It's merely prolonging the inevitable.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Congress Takes A Mulligan...

I want to be careful here not to give too much credit to our lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but it appears the Senate is doing what it can to make last week's angry AIG bonus tax vote in the House go away quietly. After Majority Leader Harry Reid initially tried to bring the Senate version to a vote last week, someone got to him and told him to shut the hell up, and it now appears the Senate will put off a vote on the measure until late next month at the earliest.

What's causing the delay? Embarrassment, mostly. The Senate is treating the House like a naughty child - sending it to its room to think about the bad thing it's done.

I've mentioned this already, but it bears repeating. Last week's knee-jerk reaction in the House to use the tax code as a weapon was immature, thoughtless and potentially dangerous to the nation's recovery. President Obama knows it, and he has said as much. So does most of the Senate. And even some of the members of Congress who voted to tax the bejeezus out of the AIG executives last week are now blasting the very same package this week!

To me, this is a very clear reminder that we do not necessarily send our best and brightest to represent us in Washington. We send ambitious politicians - people who will pander as needed to keep their jobs.

Let this be a lesson to us all.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Called The EXPRESS Line For A Reason!

As mentioned in this space nearly a year ago, I do enjoy using the self-service checkout line at the supermarket. But if you're going to brave 21st Century technology, you've gotta be up to the task!

I lined up in the 15-items-or-less line at the Olney Giant behind a woman who had somehow managed to miss the fact that she had taken her FULL cart to the express lane. The store clerk who runs interference over the self-serve lanes certainly noticed... She was bagging the woman's stuff as quickly as the customer could ring it up - which unfortunately, was not very quickly. Even after the woman finished ringing up her items (30 at least!), she grew even more irritating after the crumpled up bills that came from the bottom of her purse refused to be accepted by the automatic cash machine.

I stood behind the woman with my four items, quietly stewing and hoping that the Giant clerk would transform into "Express line" Nazi - expelling the woman from the store for daring to exceed the 15-item limit so egregiously. But alas, this was not to be the case.

As I patiently (on the outside - inside, I was shooting deadly lasers with my eyes into the back of the woman's cranium) waited my turn, I pondered for a moment whether I was the one who was socially deficient in this situation... whether I was somehow too quick to blame and somehow overly rigid and obsessive in my need for supermarket law-and-order.

After all - we've all skirted around the 15-or-less rule, haven't we? We've counted the 10 bottles of soda selling at 10 for 10 dollars as one item, haven't we? Or let the 15 item-limit slide to 18 or 19 in hopes that no one would notice - haven't we?

SCREW THAT! I've noticed, dammit! It's YOU people who are the problem! YOU are the social devients and thoughtless selfish jackasses who gum up the works and make the lines grow longer. It's YOU people who think you're too good for EXPRESS lane limits. Yeah, and if YOU worked for AIG, you'd have damn well accepted your bonus without regrets too, wouldn't you?

Breathe, John. Breathe.

Coming soon... My take on McDonald's employees who give you a girl's Happy Meal toy instead of asking whether your child is a boy.

Damn You, Delaware!

An angry shake of the fist this morning to the State of Delaware for failing to fix its chronic problem on I-95 through the state - an eight-mile stretch of Hell known for its mind-numbing toll booth delays!

The Matthews family made a required trip to New York over the weekend, and we managed to avoid any problems in the First State on the way north, primarily because we were out of the house by 6:30am and through "Hellaware" by 8 am. However, there was little we could do to avoid the state on the way home.

We cruised across the Delaware Memorial Bridge at around 5 pm Sunday, and managed to cruise along at around 70 mph until we got to the Delaware rest stop, where we hit the wall - a three and a half mile, 40 minute back up to pay our toll.

Now, there was, to the far left, a "dedicated" lane "exclusively" for EZ-Pass users, but this was no bargain for the first two and a half miles, because there was so much traffic, it didn't really matter who had a toll transponder and who didn't. Eventually, as we moved closer to the toll booth, I did move over to the dedicated lane, and we did managed to pick up speed as we went through the EZ=Pass lane. I would bet that people without EZ-Pass easily faced a 70 - 80 minute wait to get through the booth!

Which leads me to ask a couple of questions... First - why would one ever drive to New York without owning an EZ-Pass? They used to be free, but now I think they are a dollar a month. Still - If you drive in the Northeast corridor of the US more than once a year, this has got to be one of the biggest timesavers and best investments ever!

Second - what can be done to fix this problem in Delaware? I have a couple of ideas... First - they should ease the pain by cutting it in half- just as they do in Maryland on both I-95 and at the Bay Bridge... Double the toll, and charge in only one direction. Charge at the turnpike going north, and charge at the Delaware Memorial bridge going south.

Next - charge people who pay cash twice as much as you charge EZ-Pass users - and put up big signs showing motorists the price difference. Then, double the number of "EZ-Pass only" lanes. You'll get people to convert to EZ=Pass and keep traffic moving better!

And finally - go the American way... and cheat! After botching about this on Facebook, my friend Eddie McGrath, who lkives in Wilmington, sent me instructions on how to avoid I-95 altogether in Delaware. I have already printed out the idirections and put them in my glove box for next time. Here they are:

Coming north, get off I-95 at rte 279 in MD--head toward Newark DE

Rte 279 turns into DE Rte 2. Turn right onto Rte 4 (Christina Hwy). When you get to Rte 896 (S. College Ave). turn right, then get onto I-95 north. It adds 2 miles and you avoid the toll.

From the north, get off I-95 at 896 north. Reverse these directions. Believe me, that DE toll is a rip off and totally avoidable."

So take THAT, Delaware! I love your tax-free shopping, but you can take your little strip of I-95 and kindly shove it!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Congress-What's That Brown Stuff You Stepped In?

If you're lucky, members of the House, it's just mud. But step in it, you did!

I blogged yesterday about what I thought was an asinine move by Congress - to set a 90 percent tax on those bonuses given to AIG executives. I was a bit worried about putting my opinion out there, simply because it was pretty much lockstep in line with Andy Parks, my longtime friend and morning host at WMAL whose opinions are usually somewhat to the right of my own.

In this case, Andy was right. And Congress was wrong. How do I know this? Just take a look at today's Washington Post Op-Ed page...

The main editorial, titled Washington Gone Wild, took lawmakers to task for "currying favor with the public", and went on to say "the House had the feel of a mob scene" and "Elected officials have a responsibility to lead, not just to pander; to weigh what makes sense for the country, not just what feels good."

Two conservative columnists, Michael Gerson and Charles Krauthammer, also (somewhat predictably) attack Congress' actions on the op-ed page in the Post, and even liberal columnist Michael Kinsley points out that all of this current outrage of the AIG bonuses could have and should have been debated by Congress MONTHS ago. Kinsley even finds it tough to give the Obama Administration a pass.

Finally, on the business page of the Post, Steven Pearlstein's column is titled Let's Put Down the Pitchforks. Pearlstein says "the reality is that we can punish the bankers or we can save the banking system, but we can't do both at the same time." He goes on to say:

At the moment, the Treasury is working (and working and working) on ways to entice private capital back into the banking and shadow-banking system by offering government financing and guarantees against losses. Every dollar of private capital that can be attracted back into the system is a dollar that the Treasury won't have to borrow or the Federal Reserve won't have to print. And only with the return of private capital will the government be able to get back the rescue money it has committed.

But how eager do you think private equity and hedge funds will be to invest those billions of dollars if they fear that their participation will subject them to front-page accusations, congressional inquiries and public outrage over how much they might be paying for bonuses or employee travel or office decoration? Will they participate if they think that Congress, in a moment of populist pique, will try to tax back their profits if they earn more than originally expected?

At the end of the day, we still have to fix what's broken. We can't do it without the help of the private sector. And we need our elected leaders to have their heads in the game - not distracted from the conversation because they are too busy poking their fingers in the air to see which way the wind is blowing!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do You Feel Better Now, America?

Our economy is falling apart, but rather than take positive action to try and solve the problems that we've basically caused for ourselves, we Americans are demanding that our lawmakers shake their fists and seek retribution. So that's what they've done!

The House has voted overwhelmingly to impose a 90 percent tax on 165 million dollars in bonuses that were received by executives at AIG. Never mind the fact that these bonuses were legally negotiated and agreed upon MONTHS before AIG tanked. Never mind that Congress cleared the way for the bonuses to be handed out before word leaked that they had been given. Never mind the fact that no one in either the Bush or Obama Administrations or in Congress tried to negotiate away these bonuses when they were negotiating with AIG. And never mind the fact that there is a good chance this new law, if it passes, won't hold up in a court of law. Congress is out to get its pound of flesh, and by God, it's going to get it!

Do I condone the fact that these executives are getting their bonuses after basically failing at their jobs? No, of course not! But it's far more important that our lawmakers respect the law of the contract in this country than it is to fall prey to what is essentially an angry mob! All that's missing here are the torches and the rope!

These obnoxious blowhards on Capitol Hill are ranting and raving because they are hearing from constituents who want a piece of flesh - they are reacting out of fear and anger. They are giving voters what they want to hear... and they are trying to give their constituents a small measure of "justice". But this is not justice. It's a power trip.

Congressman Barney Frank is demanding that AIG name names. He wants these executives apraded out in the public square - no doubt so they can be figuratively tarred and feathered. Did anyone see the tar and feather scene in "John Adams"? That's what Congressman Frank is demanding be done here.

Contrary to what cliches you may hear, contracts in America are NOT, in fact, made to be broken. If Congress can do this to the "bad guys", then they can do it to you. What if you have a contract that Congress decides is not in the best interests of America. Will they come after you next?

There are good contracts out there and bad contracts out there. But there hasn't been a contract written yet that hasn't been signed by two parties agreeing on something.

We're talking about far more than 165 million dollars. We're talking about working to fix an economic crisis that's several zeroes larger than that, instead of wasting time getting angry just to make each other feel better.

And more importantly - we're talking about having our lawmakers following well-reasoned and thoughtfully-crafted laws instead of changing it up as they go along on a whim of anger to appease voters.

This time, it's AIG. Who's to say the next time it won't be YOU?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Never Underestimate The Value Of Credit Card And Frequent Flyer Reward Programs!

How often have you signed up for a credit card that awards points, or for an airline's frequent flyer program, and then promptly forgot about the program because you never bothered to accumulate much in your account?

Here's a little unsolicited advice - Go back and check on those old accounts, because they may have value that you are not taking advantage of. A few years back, our family had a couple of US Airways accounts with a couple thousand miles in them. We don't fly US Airways any more, but the miles did not go to waste. It turns out the airline (at least at the time) traded miles for magazine subscriptions, so we gladly traded them in for a year of TIME, and a year of TV Guide.

On a larger scale, you can really do impressive things with credit card rewards and frequent flyer miles if you plan carefully. I kind of do this as a hobby. I have just put together a 10-day summer vacation for the whole family to California and Las Vegas, complete with air, rental car and hotel rooms. My out-of-pocket costs? $o.oo.

OK - now for the honest truth. I own a membership in the Disney Vacation Club that is covering the cost of a hotel room for four nights, so I did pay for that, albeit three years ago. Now, at least, it FEELS free. Another three nights will be free because we're staying with my college roommate in L.A. And the final three nights will be free at the Paris resort in Las Vegas because I use one of their free membership cards whenever I gamble, and they gave me the room as a comp. You do not need to gamble very much at all to get these perks - especially these days.

The four airline tickets are free because I signed up last year and this year for American Express cards in separate promotions that provided enough AMEX points to pay for the airfare.

The 10-day car rental will be covered by points earned through the use of our Mastercard, which is our "every day" credit card of choice. I was going to buy cheap airline tickets from L.A.to Vegas, but then I realized that driving the rental car to Vegas will save us a couple of hundred bucks, and I won't have to pay the drop-off fee because my credit card reward will cover the expense.

We will also have several meals covered during our trip. I have enough AMEX points left over to pay for a couple of restaurant gift cards, and the missus has a separate Visa card of her own that she uses to pay for classroom expenses, and rewards from that card will pay for some meals as well.

We didn't do anything extraordinary - we just paid attention to the offers we received in the mail, and made sure to put as many of our big expenses on our credit cards as possible so we could rack up the miles. The key, as always, is to pay the cards off immediately, of course, because otherwise, you'll be spending money on interest instead of saving money with rewards points.

Now, if I can just manage to limit the amount of time I spend at the blackjack table, this should prove to be one cheap family vacation (Which is the only way we can travel these days)!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Visit Vegas - While It's Still There!

There is chilling news today from MGM-Mirage, the largest owner of casino resorts in Las Vegas. We get this from Bloomberg News:

MGM Mirage, the casino operator controlled by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, said auditors questioned its ability to stay in business as the company won a two-month bank reprieve to restructure its debts.

Auditors raised “substantial doubt” about MGM Mirage’s ability to continue, the largest casino owner on the Las Vegas Strip said today in a filing. The company also reported a $1.15 billion fourth-quarter loss after writing down properties because of shrinking gambling revenue.

The auditor’s comments increase the likelihood MGM Mirage will seek bankruptcy protection from creditors.

Gambling revenue slid 17 percent across all of MGM Mirage’s properties because of a 17 percent slump in Las Vegas table game betting and a 12 percent decline in slot-machine takings.

Revenue per available room, a measure of rates and occupancy known as Revpar, tumbled 21 percent at MGM Mirage’s Strip properties in the fourth quarter, as occupancy dropped to 85 percent from 93 percent a year earlier, and the company charged on average $31 a night less for rooms in Las Vegas.

Gambling revenue in Las Vegas, the biggest betting center in the U.S., fell the most on record last year and continued to tumble in January, cutting sales at MGM Mirage, the owner of 10 casino resorts in the city including the Bellagio, Luxor and MGM Grand. MGM Mirage is the biggest employer in Nevada.

MGM Mirage is not alone. Harrah's - the other major casino player in Las Vegas, and the largest casino operator in the world - is also in danger of default. Las Vegas Sands, the owner of the Venetian resort, has lost 95 percent of its stock value this year, and many construction projects in the city that never stops growing are now abandoned - waiting for more money to come available some day.

I know from personal experience that times are tough in Sin City. Just this week, I made reservations at the Paris casino for later this summer, and was able to land three weekdays for FREE. Now, I do like to gamble when I go to Vegas, and I did receive the deal because the casino knows I will likely gamble a good bit at Paris. However, I am not obligated to gamble a single dime on the trip. Last summer, when I stayed at Paris, under the same circumstances, with the same level of gambling under my belt, I had to pay 59 bucks a night.

If you look at hotel rooms in Las Vegas for this summer, you will find LOTS of good deals. I found rooms at Bally's - for anyone - for 45 bucks a night. Bally's has really nice rooms, and it's in the middle of the action. There are tons of similar deals to be had!

I would hate to see any of the major casinos go under, and I don't mean to be crass, but hard times for the casinos often translate to good times for the small-time gambler. As I've already noted, hotel rooms are going for a song this summer, and casinos will go the extra mile to make sure you sit down at a table or a slot machine, too.

I remember back in 1995, I had a convention to go to in Los Angeles, and as long as I was flying all the way out west, I decided to detour to Las Vegas for a couple of days of gambling on my way out to L.A.. I remember reading in the Wall Street Journal that the Stratosphere was struggling to emerge from Chapter 11, and was pulling out all the stops to get people to visit - including cranking up the slot machines and guaranteeing a 98 percent payback on dollar slots. That means for every 100 dollars you churned through the slots, on average and over the long haul, you would receive 98 dollars back.

I decided to stay at the Strat, and within a couple of hours of arriving in town, I hit a dollar slot machine for 2500 dollars - the biggest jackpot I've ever hit - before or since!

Few places in America have taken this recession as hard as Las Vegas, because people out there bought into a dream. It's a place where even hotel maids were able to buy their own homes because of the steady tourism growth and constant need for labor. Between the mortgage crisis and the downturn in the economy, many of those homes are now in foreclosure, and many of those workers are out of jobs.

I'm going to make it my personal economic stimulus mission to contribute to the Las Vegas economy this summer, and help those folks out.

That is, unless I get LUCKY!

Speed Cameras Save Lives? No. Budgets? Yes!

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett is in a no-win situation these days. The county's finances are in shambles, just like virtually every other county in the U.S., and Leggett has to find a way to balance the budget. He's cutting about 400 jobs, local bus routes, library hours and various other programs, all of which are prone to gripes from various factions in Montgomery.

He's proposing to impose an ambulance fee, a move that has already been declared "dead on arrival" by the paid fire personnel who would be charged with imposing it (not that they should have any say at all in the matter). And then there's this one-sentence item from today's Washington Post:

Drivers on Montgomery's streets would see the number of stationary speed cameras increase to 60 under Leggett's plan. With the additional cameras, the program is projected to raise $15.7 million for the budget year that begins July 1.

Wait a minute. I thought speed cameras were regarded primarily as a "safety" measure, not a revenue -generator. So why would the County Executive order up more of them in order to add to the bottom line? I'll tell you why... Because speed cameras are nothing BUT a revenue-generator - and a decreasingly effective one at that, I'd bet!

I regularly pass by two sets of county speed cameras. The ones on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, and the one on Georgia Avenue in Olney. I was nabbed a couple of times in Chevy Chase when the cameras were new, but have not been caught since then, and I've never been caught in Olney.

I can tell you that those two blocks are two of the safest blocks in America, because everyone slows down to the speed limit as they pass by the cameras. Of course, they are speeding right up to the boxes, and they resume their speeding a block later, but by God, those blocks where the cameras are actually located? SAFE!

I would bet that after initial spikes in revenue, those areas are starting to see a drop-off in the number of tickets they generate, because regular commuters are wise to them... therefore, the need for more cameras throughout the county.

This is all a sham. I think I'd feel better about the cameras if the county would just call them what they are... a deliberate money-making tax on leadfoot drivers. You can't convince me that speed cameras are making our streets safer when many, if not most, of these cameras are located on level-ground straightaways in areas where the speed limit is already artificially set too low.

I'd have less of a problem if the speed limits were set at more reasonable speeds. But then the revenue levels would drop.

We can't have THAT now, can we?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thank You, Ron Silver.

I was saddened this morning to hear of the passing of Ron Silver. The talented actor, perhaps best known for his apparances as political campaign strategist Bruno Gianelli on The West Wing, and as attorney Alan Dershowitz in the true-life drama Reversal of Fortune, was also a Tony-award-winner, for his role in Speed-The-Plow.

I enjoyed Silver's work quite a lot - especially on The West Wing. But I admired Silver far more for his political activism, and for his refusal to be painted with the brush of any political party. Silver considered the use of his celebrity for political purposes to be a duty, not a privilege or a bid to be Hollywood-trendy. His causes swung wildly from the far left of the political spectrum to the far right - even as his friends in Hollywood grew to shun him in his later years for failing to blindly fall in line with what was expected of him - to be a Bush-bashing unquestioning liberal Hollywood Democrat.

How liberal was Silver? Well, in 1990, he co-founded the Creative Coalition, a Hollywood political activist group, along with other actors like Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin - the very definition of Hollywood liberal. The group took an active role in lobbying Congress on traditionally-Democrat things, including the environment, women's issues, and protecting the arts.

Then, after 9/11, Silver found himself aligning more with the GOP in terms of how the U.S. should be dealing with terrorism, and he was vocal in his support of the Bush administration's policies. He even addressed the 2004 GOP convention - a move that could have (but in all honesty, probably didn't) cost him a great deal of acting work. To see Silver's take on his journey to Pariahville in his own words, click here.

I won't spend any time debating the merits of Silver's stance on any of these issues. That would be irrelevant. My admiration of his comes from the fact that he had the courage of his convictions - the guts to create his own political platform and to be an activist, regardless of what it cost him both personally and professionally.

The world would be a much better place if we all could be as strong as Ron Silver.

Thank you, Ron.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay!

The Matthews family had the extreme pleasure again last night of attending the 38th annual Sherwood High School Rock and Roll Revival. We saw the show for the first time last year, and were blown away then by the quality of the production. This year's show proved to be every bit as good, with a cast of hundreds (literally) working their hearts out to give the best performance they could.

If you're skeptical - wondering how good a bunch of high school kids can be... just check this out - one of the highlights of the show! ( I HAD posted a song from this year's show, but it has since been removed from youtube. Here's a song from the revival of two years ago...)

I've learned in recent days that a lot of high schools in the region are now doing these revivals, but Sherwood was the first... and I would dare say, still the best! Because of the tough economy, the school had a bit of trouble selling out the show, but believe me - three hours of rock and roll and dancing was worth far more than the price of admission!
My 15-year-old is still grumbling about this, but I am DETERMINED to get him into this show next year! He can stand in the back and sing "ooo" for all I care. But being on stage was a big part of his Dad's high school life, and the boy needs to know there's more to his teenage years than being moody and obnoxious!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Grooving On March Madness!

I will be the first to admit I am a bit of a fairweather college basketball fan. I only tend to start paying attention at conference tournament time, and even then, only when one of my teams has a shot at making the Big Dance, also known as the NCAA Tournament.

Fortunately for me, both of the teams I root for are perennial contenders. Maryland is the team I grew up watching. My first taste of college basketball came in the early 70's watching Lefty Driesell's great teams with Tom McMillan and Len Elmore and Howard White and Jim O'Brien. Back in the days before three-point lines and shot clocks, you had to be careful when North Carolina got a 3 point lead on you, because Dean Smith would put his players into a four-corner offense, and stall until the game was over!

My favorite memory of those early years is that when Lefty's Maryland teams would build up a big lead at the end of the game, the pep band would strike up a chorus of "A-men", and the entire crowd at Cole Field House would sing along non-stop until the game was over.

Later on, as Maryland was going through its dark days after the death of Len Bias, and was stuck with Bob Wade as coach, I was wrapped up in starting my career, and being, as noted, a fairweather fan. But I have continued to follow the Terps each year under Gary Williams. And even though he has had his critics, I have remained firmly in his corner. Williams is an exciting man to watch - and even though he catches no shortage of grief for failing to recruit big stars, I can't help but admire his ability to motivate second-rate talent and get more out of them than anyone has a right to expect.

He's certainly doing that this year. He has the shortest team in the ACC, but he's managed to win two conference tournament games, and it would not shock anyone if he could pull off two more. Hopefully, the Terps have done enough to go to the NCAA's, because now I've been sucked in, and I would hate to see them go to the NIT!

My other team is Syracuse, where I went to college. I became an SU fan at a curious time - at the dawn of the Big East conference. Syracuse's new rivalries were still being born - against St. John's and Villanova and Seton Hall and Connecticut... and most of all against Georgetown! The first game I went to at SU was the last game of my freshman year, which also happened to be the last game the Orangemen played at the old Manley Field House. They had a 56-game home winning streak, and they were playing the Hoyas. And they lost. I have hated Georgetown and John Thompson ever since.

I have not followed Syracuse so much on a year-to-year basis as the years have gone by, but I do follow them at tourney time. There are still several ties that bind. First of all - SU unbelievably has the same coach now as it did when I went to school there a quarter-century ago! Jim Boeheim grew up in Syracuse, played at Syracuse and has coached at Syracuse for the past 33 years. Secondly - for some bizarre reason, SU and Maryland seem (to me, anyway) to run in parallel universes. Jim Boeheim and Gary Williams are virtually best friends, and the two teams won consecutive National Championships - Maryland in 2002 and Syracuse in 2003. Finally, there is a special tie this year. One of the stars of the current Orange team, Andy Rautins, is the son of a guy who played at SU when I was there, Leo Rautins. So it's fun to watch him play, too.

Reading back through what I've just written, I realize that I really don't have deep enduring ties with either of these teams - or even the sport of college basketball... certainly nothing like my passion for the Redskins. But it doesn't take much at the dawn of each spring to get that interest going again... to watch players I don't know take to the court... and to find myself pumping my fist with each three-point basket they sink. All in the name of team colors, names and nostalgia. It still feels damn good.

As I write this, Maryland will play hated Duke this afternoon in the ACC semis, and Syracuse will play Louisville tonight in the Big East final. SU is going to the NCAAs... and Maryland should squeak in.

Hope they're not in the same bracket!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yet Even MORE Fun With Andy O.!

More fun stuff about my man Andy Ockershausen is pouring in in advance of his 80th birthday, which, in actuality, is tomorrow (Friday).

Andy sat down with Washington Post Sports Bog guy Dan Steinberg, and was treated to all kinds of fun stories that I was never privy to, because I had to write Andy's bio in secret. (That's OK - we'll save it for the sequel!) You can read Andy's stories with Steinberg HERE, and preview the biography that I wrote for Andy HERE.

In addition, Comcast SportsNet has released a new video preview of the "O What A Night" special - the one I played a role in producing - which you can see on Sunday night at 9pm on Comcast SportsNet. Enjoy!

Happy Birthday, Andy O.! You are the MAN!

Octomom Is Eight Times As Nuts As Most Moms!

For the few friends of mine who haven't seen this yet... Jimmy Kimmel has exclusive video of Octomom Nadya Suleman giving birth. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Here's Proof We haven't Learned A Thing...

As the federal stimulus money starts to pour out of the government's coffers into state and regional agencies, the decision-makers at the local levels are getting to decide how to best spend the money. The idea (at least as far as I understand it) is to use that dough to create jobs by fixing infrastructure - preferably in projects that will take a good long time to complete. The hope is that by the time these projects are completed, the economy will be in good enough shape to sustain the workers who will be benefitting now from the stimulus program.

So can anyone explain to me why Metro is planning to spend a huge chunk of its stimulus money - not on capital projects - but to keep the current system going? Metro has a 30 million dollar budget hole, and was looking at cutting service to close the gap until board chairman Jim Graham stepped in with a plan to use stimulus money instead.

Critics say using stimulus money to balance Metro's budget this year will only move the problems to next year, when no new stimulus money will be forthcoming. But Graham told us at WMAL today he's optimistic the economy will recover enough by next year so that Metro won't have the same budget problems it has now.

Isn't this how America got into the trouble it's in today? By spending money NOW and worrying about how to pay our bills later? Using optimism as some sort of credit plan is not the smartest idea I've heard, either, Mr. Graham!

Metro loses money with every person who rides a train. For every dollar you spend to ride Metro, some government (MD or VA or DC or the Feds) is paying another dollar to subsidize your trip. By failing to cut service, Metro is hoping to keep people riding. That is all well and good from a public policy standpoint. But the more people ride, the more it costs taxpayers to keep them riding. Financially, it could very well make sense to cut some of the lower-volume train and bus service.

Montgomery County, which I have railed on regularly in this blog, will release its budget plan this week, and County Executive Ike Leggett is promising he will not use a single stimulus dollar to balance the county's books. I have a lot of problems with how Montgomery County conducts its business, but I am with Mr. Leggett on this point.

If your credit cards are at their spending limit and you find a wad of cash in the street, you don't go buy yourself a new car... you pay down your debt.

It's called being fiscally responsible. Montgomery County (at least in this case) is.

Metro is NOT.

NOT The Magic Of Disney!

Many people who read this blog know that I have a historical affinity for the Walt Disney Company. As a longtime fan, I have spent a good portion of my income supporting a Disney habit... a habit that, by financial necessity, has waned a bit in the past year or so.

Still, I have generally followed the business of the company. I am a stockholder after all, and I also have an ownership stake in the Disney Vacation Club. No one knows better than I how much Disney likes to part a Disney fan from his money.

So it was with this in mind that I read this morning about Disney's latest venture - D23. D23 is the "Official Community for Disney Fans" - a website that one can log into for free, but which requires you to fork over 75 bucks for the "good stuff".

I took a visit over to D23, and noticed immediately that it is affiliated with disneyshopping.com. Good thing, too, because Disney knows that its most loyal fans are also its biggest spenders!

What does a membership in D23 get you? A magazine four times a year. A membership certificate ("Suitable for framing!"). A membership card. Discounts to a four-day D23 Fan Expo in Anaheim in September. A "surprise" membership gift. AND - the "opportunity" to purchase exclusive D23 merchandise...

Who could afford to pass that all up???

I can. There was perhaps a time when I would have probably swallowed hard and pulled out the credit card. But I know from personal experience that when it comes to Disney, the "official" experience is never as good as the "unofficial" one. Disney is trying to cash in on something that everyone already gets for free. There are more Disney fan websites that carry more useful and more honest information than Disney does than I can count.

Disney is typically terrible at selling its own message because every word on its websites is designed to either avoid litigation or to induce you to buy something. If you want to book a Disney Cruise, for example, you can certainly do that at Disneycruise.com. But if you want decent information ABOUT a Disney cruise, you need to go some place else, like the DIS or allears.net, where you can get an honest opinion and hear helpful dos and don'ts.

It's interesting to note that even as Disney describes D23 as a "community", there are no bulletin boards on the site. No place for people to rant - or say something that can be construed as uncomplimentary towards the Mouse.

I am not alone in my assessment of this new venture. Just take a look at this blog and its responses from REAL Disney fans - people who make me look like a Disney lightweight! This day does not bode well for the company.

I don't begrudge Disney's effort to make a buck. That's why the company exists. But to ask its biggest fans to pay for something that REAL fans can already get elsewhere for free - and in THIS economy...

I smell backlash.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday Tidbits

Just a few random items today!

I received yet another reminder this week that I am, indeed, the parent of a teenager, and that, as a whole, teenagers are not nearly as innocent in thought as we would like to think they are. My 15-year-old were discussing his friend group - perhaps 8 to 10 strong - who like to hang out on weekends at various town centers and go to movies and whatnot. It's more or less an equal mix of boys and girls, so naturally, I asked him if there are any boys in the group who "like" any of the girls in the group. He told me he doubted it, because two of the girls are self-proclaimed lesbians, and one is bi-sexual. O-kayyy. He then found it incumbent to inform me that HE is straight. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I considered doing a full-blown piece on Nadya Suleman, aka "Octomom". But I realized as I read some news stories about her that there's no real need to blog on her, because the woman is a media whore and just plain nuts to boot. I find it hard to believe that most people don't already have the exact same opinion of her, so what would the point be in blogging? Her children are going to grow up with significant developmental delays and psychological problems, and she's out there trying to pitch a reality show out of it? Spare me... and spare the rest of us, too!

Speaking of reality TV, the newest season of "Dancing With The Stars" debuted last night, and for a show that had made its fame by going after C-list celebrities, let me tell you. Producers have sunk straight down to the D-list. You might not find some of these people even if you googled their names! I always enjoy watching the competition, and frankly, I watch more now for my favorite pros (Julianne, Mark, Cheryl, Maks and Derek) than I do for the stars. But the casting has become predictable. I can tell you now that 3 of the final stars will be Shawn Johnson, Lawrence Taylor and the girl who just got dissed on the Bachelor. Everyone else - lambs for the slaughter.

Finally - this may be funny to no one but me, but I made a ha-ha, and I have to share it. My former boss posted this as his status message on Facebook on Saturday:

Chris Berry is in Chicago for Paul Harvey's funeral and memorial service.

If you are at all familiar with Paul Harvey, you know how he opened every broadcast... So, with that in mind, knowing that Chris would be spending several hours in church, I responded with this:

Stand by - for PEWS!

You may or may not find that to be funny, but I think it is... and I think Paul would have as well.

John Matthews... Good Day!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over...

Today, Life On The Beach presents an essay from today's Washington Post by columnist John Kelly. Kelly nails the issue I've frequently driven home concerning the demise of the newspaper. I especially enjoy the joke midway through the essay concerning what future careers these journalists are considering... Enjoy!

Scene: The Newsroom, Just Before the Lights Go Out

The last two journalists in America sat at a card table in the middle of their empty newsroom. They faced each other, about to flip a coin.

The coin was to decide which one would be the second-to-last journalist in America and which one would be the last journalist in America.

The last two journalists in America were dressed oddly; not poorly, as journalists usually dressed, but in what appeared to be costumes. The woman looked as if she'd stepped out of a black-and-white movie. She wore a tight-waisted woolen dress with angular shoulders. There was a seam up the back of her stockings. Two pencils stuck out of a bun of tightly-gathered hair at the back of her head. The man had on flared pants, a loud, collared shirt and a necktie as wide as a dinner napkin.

She was from "His Girl Friday." He was from "All the President's Men."
"Call it," the man said, flipping the coin in the air.

They'd known this day was coming -- had spent the past 10 years watching it get closer -- but even so it was a bit of a shock to see it arrive. The newsroom that had thrummed for so long was vacant. The computers and phones were gone. The desks had been sold for scrap. Their contents -- spiral-bound notebooks, computer printouts, government documents, letters from inmates, soy sauce packets, Freedom of Information Act requests, paper-clip chains, journalism awards, eraserless pencils -- had been push-broomed into huge drifts that dotted the cavernous room like termite mounds on the savanna.

"Heads," the woman said.
They'd kept the newspaper going for months, just the two of them, editing each other's copy, taking photos, doing layout, writing headlines. At times they felt like those astronauts in "Silent Running," preserving something important that no one else seemed to care about. But time had run out. People didn't want newspapers anymore. The huge printing presses that had rolled for so long -- that had announced the assassination of McKinley and the sinking of the Titanic and the return of leg warmers -- were being converted to print lottery scratch cards.

The man caught the coin and slapped it on the table, hidden under his palm.
They didn't feel sorry for themselves. They'd stood outside enough burning rowhouses, interviewed enough mothers of dead children, counted enough corpses in fetid Third World killing fields to know what real tragedy looked like. They knew that the great gears of society whir and spin. Industries rise, and industries fall. To take any of it personally was like getting mad at a cloud for raining on you.

But even so, something bothered them. It was the thought that after telling so many stories, no one would be around to tell theirs.
And so they had decided on this little ritual: the card table, the costumes, the coin. The idea was that whoever won the toss could choose whether to be the one written about or the one doing the writing.

The man removed his hand. Abe Lincoln's face looked up. "You win," the man said. "What do you want?"
"I want you to write about me," the woman said. They both knew what that meant.
"So, what are you gonna do now?" the man asked.
"I don't know," the woman said. "Teach journalism, maybe. Or do PR."

They both laughed at the joke. They knew they'd missed their chance. Besides, they'd never understood how it was that some of their old colleagues had gotten jobs like that. Teach journalism? Wasn't that like teaching chariot repair? And PR? What newspapers would they pitch stories to, now that newspapers were gone?

"What about you?" she asked. "What'll you do?"
"Well, I've always wanted to write," he said. "Now I'll have the time." They both laughed again.
The second-to-last journalist in America grabbed her purse and threaded her way around the trash piles and toward the elevator. She looked back at the newsroom, at where the obituaries desk had been and, beyond that, metropolitan news, foreign news, national news, features, sports, business.

The world would go on, news would happen, people who wanted to know about things would figure out ways to know about them, but it would be different. There was no use crying about it, but neither was there anything wrong with pausing to remember.
She waved, and the elevator doors slid shut.

The last journalist in America walked to one of the mounds and rooted around for a while, finally pulling out a battered Royal typewriter that a city editor once decorated his office with. He fished around some more until he found a piece of blank paper.

He set the typewriter on the card table, smoothed the paper out, then rolled it into the carriage. He thought about what his lead might be. After a few minutes, he started typing:
"The last two journalists in America sat at a card table in the middle of their empty newsroom. They faced each other, about to flip a coin . . . "

Sunday, March 8, 2009

One Hundred Percent Grade A Ham!

11-year-old Spencer Matthews was in the Greenwood Elementary Variety Show over the weekend... He performed in several numbers, including "Thriller", "Cool" from "West Side Story", and this number, "Rock On". He's number six on your screen and number one in our hearts. All of the kids are wearing NFL jerseys from real players, including Spencer. He's wearing the jersey of Shane Matthews, who quarterbacked for the Redskins under Steve Spurrier!

Robin (who teaches Kindergarten at Greenwood) and I took out an ad in the show's program in support of Spencer. It read:

Your Mom's a teacher in our school
So stand up straight and please don't drool!
Not when you "thrill" us as a ghoul
Nor when you sing and dance in "Cool".
You're talented more than a tad
The biggest ham we've ever had!
So "break a leg", our favorite lad...
We love you - Mom and Dad and Brad!

Way to go, Spence!

Where's Your Tie?

I stumbled upon an article in the Washington Post that recommends a suit and tie (or a dark suit and pearls for women) for any and all job interviews. As someone who has hired dozens of people, I heartily agree with this advice. Looking sharp on an interview may not get you a job, but it shows respect for both the position you are applying for and the person who will be interviewing you.

Dressing down for an interview sends an instant message to a prospective employer that you are either too ignorant to know enough to dress appropriately, or too independent to be a team player. And, as my previous boss at WMAL liked to say, "Casual dress means casual work". I do not necessarily agree with the sentiment that one must wear a suit and tie to work everyday - especially not in radio - but on job interviews? You betcha!

I have, of course, hired people in the past who did not heed that advice, simply because their talent overcame their lack of common business sense. There was a guy who once applied to be my afternoon anchor. He had a great sound, and his writing was superb. But when he came for his first interview, he was wearing an open collar with a vest. I plowed right past this, and after a good interview, I invited him back the next day for an interview with my boss. And I told him to make sure to wear a tie.

The next day, the guy showed up, and he did have a tie around his neck. It was, however, just draped, and not really tied. It became instantly clear to me that the poor schmo did not know HOW to tie a tie. But at least he followed instructions. And we hired him anyway. Bear in mind, however - that it was a source of concern in the interview process for both myself and my boss. This guy was able to rise above the "suit and tie" rule. It doesn't mean you will.

There is a headline on Drudge today that says "Ohio school gets 700 applicants - for one janitorial job!". What do you want to bet the winning applicant will be someone who took the opportunity seriously enough that he wore a suit to the interview?

It's the little things that get you jobs. Wear a suit. Don't post pictures of yourself getting plastered on Facebook.

And for god sake, DON'T go into radio!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Face Time With Andy O.!

Just a quick folo to my Friday post, in which I told you all about the 80th birthday celebration for Andy Ockershausen. For pictures of the event, click here. And here's a video package that Comcast Sportsnet did on the man himself! Enjoy!

Turn On Your Radio Wayback Machine!

Found this on youtube, and had to throw it up on the ol' blog... If you're not in the radio business, you may have never given any thought as to where radio jingles come from. Well, it so happens that MANY of them over the years - and especially back in the 80's - came from a single source - JAM Productions, a jingle house in Dallas Texas, where people would go to work every day and sing radio call letters and DJ names, and produce what were known as
"JAM packages" - the jingles that gave your favorite station its unique sound.

Nowadays, with formats so splintered - production values and styles have changed, and all kinds of places are doing radio production. But give this video a look and listen. Back in the mid 80's, the folks at JAM produced a song full of jingles - a novelty sent out to stations to promote the jingle company. Someone just recently turned the jingle song into a video, And the rest is solid gold radio history. Enjoy!

"O" What A Night!

I had the extreme pleasure last night of attending the surprise 80th birthday party for my good friend, Andy Ockershausen. Andy has had more influence on my career than anyone else, and he is still influencing the lives of many, many people in the Washington area. But more on that coming up.

So who is Andy Ockershausen? He is a homegrown native of Washington, DC, and for the past sixty years, a major player in the Washington media landscape. He worked for, and at various times, ran WMAL Radio and Television (now WJLA-TV, Channel 7) for 37 years, then spent five years with Channel 50, and for the past 15 years, has been working in sales at Comcast SportsNet.

But Andy's local legacy runs much deeper than his career. He was a community organizer for 50 years before Barack Obama made it cool. He has raised money for every single charity of note in the DC area. As a member of the DC Board of Trade's executive committee, he helped run the city before DC received home rule. As a board chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, he helped rewrite more than 500 archaic government broadcasting regulations. And his activist editorial campaigns helped to shape the DC area's gun control and drunk driving laws.

But none of those plaudits alone would merit throwing a massive party for one man AND to turn it into a TV special,. No, Andy Ockershausen was being honored because he's a character and a throwback. A man who owns the room the moment he walks into it. A guy with a wisecrack at the ready for every guy, and a warm pat on the tush for every gal. A man who is as comfortable chatting up the President of the United States as he is the parking attendant outside.

More than 250 people showed up at the Imagination Stage in Bethesda to pay tribute to Andy O. - and it was a star-studded crowd, including four Redskins Hall-of -Famers, many local TV celebrities, all of the living WMAL air personalities from the Andy O. administration and others. Those who couldn't be there sent video tributes, including Charlie Gibson, Willard Scott, Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser.

So how did I come to be involved in all of this? Well - as I told you, Andy has had a huge influence on my life. First of all - Andy O. - as he has with so many others - basically gave me my career. He gave me an internship at WMAL as a favor to my father, who was one of Andy's tennis buddies. That was in 1982.

Many years later, on September 11th, 2001, 15 years after leaving WMAL, Andy called our newsroom (where I was News Director) to let us know he had just seen a plane hit the Pentagon. He stayed on the scene as our reporter for the next several hours. WMAL went on that year to win the National Edward R. Murrow award as America's best radio news operation, thanks in large part to Andy's service.

And last summer, as I was looking for work, Andy's wife, Janice (who actually hired me at WMAL), called me and asked me to write a biography of Andy... A biography that would be used as the base for a Comcast SportsNet TV special on the life and times of Andy Ockershausen.

I spent all of last fall researching and writing that biography - interviewing Andy's friends and learning far more about the man than I ever thought I'd know. I am thankful for the experience on so many levels. Not only did it provide me with a source of income, but it gave me an opportunity to try long-form writing. I have spent my whole career writing stories that had to be told in 20 seconds or less. It was a rewarding challenge to see if I could write more expansively. And I guess I succeeded. The final product was fifty pages long! I have since "published" the biography and turned it into a hard-cover book, which you can review (and even purchase) here.

I also had the opportunity to try my hand at writing for video - something else I have never done. One of my scripts ended up being used in the show, and will be seen in the TV special as well. The special will air Sunday night, March 15th at 9 pm on Comcast SportsNet!

And most of all, I had the honor and privilege to get to know Andy Ockershausen, the man, a lot better. As he was honored on stage last night, Andy told the crowd the best part of his life has been spent helping the community - That by lending a hand, he got back far more in satisfaction than he had ever given in sweat. And it was clear that Andy's words were sincere - and true... Even at 80, Andy was younger than just about anyone else in the room!

I am so happy to finally be able to share this on my blog. I had to keep the project under wraps for so long because we were keeping it as a surprise for Andy O.

But when I look back at this dark period of underemployment in my life, I know the memories of worry and regret are going to be overshadowed by the thrill of being involved in this loving and well-deserved project.

I want to thank Janice Ockershausen, as well as Rebecca Schulte at Comcast SportsNet, for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to work on this wonderful labor of love.

And thank you, Andy Ockershausen - you wonderful, loving, sarcastic, dirty old man!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Totally Tatted-up Barbie!

Have you seen the latest version of the Barbie doll? This is in no way a parody - it is 100% true and now available in stores... "Totally Stylin Tattoos Barbie"!

According to this press account, the "Totally tatted up" Barbie comes with a set of tattoo stickers, so little girls can post tramp stamps all over their dolls. And it also comes with a toy tattoo gun so the girls can tat themselves up as well!

I have nothing against tattoos, per se. (OK, I do - but I do recognize it is a personal decision, and I would never begrudge an adult's right to have one or twenty of them). But this is an ADULT decision... and the girls who play with Barbies are far from being adults.

I have friends on Facebook who have tattoos, and I just read a discussion between two of them yesterday, discussing what a big mistake they made in getting tattoos, and how much they regret it now.

I suppose tats have become such a big part of the culture, that little girls just want to follow in Mom's footsteps and dream of the day when they can have their own permanent artwork splayed across the small of their backs. But all it takes is one afternoon of sitting on the boardwalk in Ocean City and watching the girls walk by to realize what a lame cliche tattoos have become.

I get the feeling this may all backfire on the maker of Barbie, Mattel. Barbie is turning 50 this week, and Mattel has all kinds of publicity planned to unveil all kinds of new Barbie stuff. But I wonder if that's not going to all get buried by this tattoo story. I went on to the Barbie media site, and looked for more info on the tattoo Barbie doll, and there was not a single mention to be found.

Why isn't Mattel pushing it's new tattoo doll? Maybe because the toymaker realizes it's a little embarrassing, and they are covering it up - just like so many grownup men and women who are carrying around tattoos the wish they didn't have.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - Even In Starfleet!

We kid because we love... not that there's anything wrong with that!

Another Dispatch From The Road To Hell...

A Colorado congressman is catching heat for declaring the death of traditional media - in this case, the Rocky Mountain News newspaper in Denver - and being a wee bit too gleeful about it. Here's the story from the Associated Press:

DENVER (AP) - A Colorado congressman told bloggers that they and other new media are responsible for the demise of the Rocky Mountain News and other traditional news outlets, and that the change is mostly for the better. He later apologized.

Rep. Jared Polis made the remarks last weekend at a Denver event sponsored by Netroots Nation, a progressive political group. The News published its last edition Friday.

"I have to say, that when we say, 'Who killed the Rocky Mountain News?' we are all part of that, we truly are. For better or worse, and I argue that it's mostly for better," the Democrat said.
"Media is dead, and long live new media, which is all of you," he said.

Polis also said at the event that bloggers and citizen journalists carry a new responsibility since they're part of the reason for the demise of other news outlets.

"We can't just kill it and walk away," he said. "It's important for all of us to reach out to some of those ... on the other side and present the progressive point of view," he said.

John Temple, the former publisher and editor of the News, called Polis' remarks misguided and said they were an example of the congressman's poor judgment.

"The Rocky Mountain News was a pioneer in citizen journalism . . . and is an award-winning Internet newspaper," Temple said.

Polis issued a statement Tuesday apologizing "to the entire Rocky Mountain News family and anyone who was offended by my recent remarks."

Polis also had tempered his remarks on Monday, telling The Denver Post that the closure silenced a voice in the state.

"The rise of new media and citizen journalism has hastened the demise of many newspapers, and we, unfortunately, all share in the blame," Polis said.

Polis was elected to his first term in November. An online entrepreneur, he made a fortune selling greeting cards and flowers on the Internet.

I don't disagree with the factual part of what Polis said. I agree with him that traditional media - and especially newspapers - are dying. But to find that to be even a smidgen of good news is appalling to me. I have written many times in this space that newspapers are what keep the rest of the news world in check. Without newspapers, we don't HAVE responsible journalism, because TV and radio and the wires and the internet all primarily get their news from newspapers!

And if you think bloggers can really fill in the gap that the dying newspapers leave behind, then you deserve the quality of news you'll be getting from now on!