November 27, 2010

Unfortunate Proximity

My brain keeps trying to combine these two news stories from the Sun-Sentinel:

Why No One Noticed When 93 Rock Died

When was the last time you talked about listening to music on the radio with a friend? 


93 Rock died because it had no soul. Or Soul, for that matter.  It was
just a bunch of songs played through out the day.  It was a wireless
jukebox of songs someone else selected from a limited catalogue at random.  Bland.  And frankly,
102.7 and 105.9 are not one whit better.  But their audiences are not so
adept at technology as the younger tech-savvy fans of new music, people a little too set in their ways to replace their radios.

Hell, I was barely aware that there even was a 93 Rock until the announcements came that it was now the fabulously stupid Home of South Florida's Holiday Music.  (Yeah, that'll work, up until about December 26).  There was mention of a "Bubba the Love Sponge," which sounds like someone was desperately trying to grab the coattails of Sponge Bob Square Pants.  I vaguely remember hearing the name and thinking it was someone who cleaned up porno sets.

Management thinks there's no audience for modern rock in South Florida; although classic rock still seems to be going strong.  They also thought there was no audience for Jazz; but the first Sunday of every month, the Fort Lauderdale Jazz Brunch attracts throngs of people.  With no jazz radio, we've turned to the internet.  Which is great for listening choices, but horrible for music promoters who no longer have a local media outlet.

But it's not the music that's the problem; it's the way radios stations are presenting it that sucks, not the music.

Every day, around noon, Big 106 (or more accurately, 105.9) plays Billy Joel, like he's Big Ben or something.  Listen for a day, and you will here some songs several times, and a limited number of artists.  Listen for a week, and you will not be exposed to a new song by the end of it; or even an artist you haven't heard before.

It's boring.  I am so bored with the dreck that ALL the South Florida stations are broadcasting that I've started listening to National Public Radio almost exclusively.  It ain't exciting, but at least I don't know what they're going to say next.

So music lovers invest in satellite radio for our cars, or download MP3s of stuff we like, or stream Pandora to our computers.  Which gives us a greater variety of choices, but even there, the listening leads us to hunt and gather amongst the selections; for an hour, it's "adult rock," followed by "classic rock," shake it loose with some "heavy metal," then who knows?

If radio wants to survive in the 21st century, it has got to unlearn all the poor habits it's picked up in the last thirty years.   Radio started to suck when they stopped letting human beings program in favor of letting spreadsheets and statistics do the programming.  And now, it's given us a sterile, bland, playlist that is reduced to background noise, like Muzak.

If radio wants to succeed, it has to throw away the labels; in truth, there are no such things as "rock and roll" fans, or "heavy metal" fans, or "country" fans, or "jazz" fans, that's all bullshit.  Are there people who lean one way or the other? Sure.  Are there people who cling to labels?  Sure.  But they don't matter.  The market to appeal to is MUSIC FANS.  People who like MUSIC.

If radio is to succeed, it has to embrace the concept that people simply like music.  All kinds of music.  When we were children, we were exposed to all of it.  How much rock'n'roll was played in Bugs Bunny?  None.  But even now, if you gather any group of people and start talking about Bugs Bunny at the opera, they'll all start cracking up and telling their favorite parts.  People say that theater is dying, but those old musicals still bring people in in droves.  You can argue that WICKED has rock'n'roll influences, but WEST SIDE STORY?

People want to listen to good music, any kind of good music.  Labels don't matter, quality matters.  The ability to touch us matters.

Back in the early 70's, I remember stations played Sammy Davis, JR, followed by Glenn Campbell, followed by ABBA, followed by Kiss.  Broadway show tunes made the charts; it was a brilliant free-for-all.

And that's what radio needs to do to survive.  Throw away the labels.  Throw away the playlists.  DJs should be recruited from those people we find at every party, the men and women we snag as they come into the door and stand them by our stereos, because they'll pick cools songs.

The best mixes aren't the ones where you know what the next song is going to be; the best mix is when the song segues into something you never, ever would have thought to put there, and it works because it's a surprise.

If radio is to survive, and even thrive, it will need to invest in fabulous Disc Jockeys again.  Not simply engineers who know what switches to flip at the station break, but men and women who simply love music, and who live music, and who live to share their love of music with others.  People whose passions will engage us, and draw us in.  People who will throw in random shit simply because they thought it was cool, and maybe we'd get a kick out of it.

November 26, 2010

The Sandwich

In my family, when you say The Sandwich, you're really only referring to one, specific, sandwich.  And we only make it twice a year. 

Which is probably a good thing, because it's easy to gorge on this one. 

I'm referring, of course, to the post-Thanksgiving turkey-leftover sandwich. 

In my family, the dinner was really just the way to bring together all the elements for The Sandwich.  Sure, the dinner was great.  But the best dinner in the world can't hold a candle to The Sandwich.  Outsiders joke about the sandwich; we don't care.

I remember one year, I was up at my dad's, while he was with wife #2.  She just couldn't get over the fuss we were making.  She had argued for a smaller bird, and my dad and I just stared at her like she'd gone insane.  "Why do you need a 30 pound bird when there's only three of us?" she demanded.  "To have enough for the sandwiches," my dad and I chorused.

That year, the first sandwich was breakfast the following morning  (When I was a teen, it was often a snack a few hours after dinner). 

"How can you EAT that?" She shook her head in disdain.  So we made her one.  She resisted, at first, but finally capitulated, and took a bite.

Her eyes went wide.

"Oh. My. GOD!"  She started cramming the sandwich, praising it between bites.  "My god....this is....I can't believe...."

We had to force her to wait until lunch for the next one.

You see, everyone thinks that our sandwich is just random overkill; it's not. We're not crazy, my family.  We don't shovel things in there for nothing. Each element brings something special to the final assembly, something which makes the sum of the whole much greater than the sum of the parts. 

It's an amazing sandwich.  You can learn how to assemble it here.  You'll be glad you did.

November 22, 2010

Red Light Camera Results are Revealing

The Palm Beach Post reports interesting results from intersections with red light cameras installed: results offer a mixed picture. The number of wrecks declined, but injuries recorded in accident reports are up: five under cameras compared with one before.
So, less accidents are happening, but the accidents that are still happening are reported to have more injuries.

A little further into the story, it's stated a little more clearly in the case of Palm Springs:
Accidents are down significantly at three intersections in the early going there, with injuries running even compared with the same period last year.
Some are concluding that red light cameras are thus not eliminating risk so much as replacing it with a different risk.  But they'd be wrong.
Damage cited in Palm Springs police reports dropped almost in half to about $100,000.
What the studies reveal is that red light cameras are in fact effective at stopping people from running red lights.

But it also shows that a lot of people are exercising poor driving skills. The bottom line is this: you are supposed to stop for a red light.  And you are supposed to maintain a safe following distance from the car ahead of you.

The lesson isn't "get rid of red light cameras," as some would have you believe.  The lesson is that an alarming number of people are getting licensed without mastering the skills necessary to safely operate a vehicle. It's too easy to get a license, and too easy to keep it.

November 21, 2010

TSA: Totally Stupid Agency

Am I being harsh, calling the agency tasked with keeping American travelers safe "stupid?"  I don't believe I am, once you examine the situation.

The TSA was created to keep terrorists off of our airplanes.  And that's fine; it's not the mission that's the problem, it's the idiotic manner they are going about doing it. 

How do you find a needle in a haystack?  By looking for objects that are not hay.

But the TSA is trying to find terrorists by searching.... everyone who flies.  They are trying to find a needle in a haystack by examining the hay.  But the hay isn't what they are supposed to be looking for - if you're looking at hay, you won't see the needle.

The idiots are even making pilots go through scans.  What's wrong with that, you ask?  If a pilot wants to crash a plane, they don't need weapons or bombs to do it.  The pilot is flying the plane.  If they want to wreck it, they have their hands on the controls - literally.  It makes utterly no sense to expose the pilots to xrays several times a day looking for weapons they don't need.

The fact is that millions of people fly on airplanes.  Virtually all of them are NOT terrorists.  Searching everyone is a waste of time, because you spend most of your time looking at people who are not a threat.  That's time spent not looking for terrorists, and therefore it directly violates the TSA's entire raison 'ĂȘtre.

Now, I know that there are some of you that will start howling and spewing inanities like "how can we find the terrorists if we don't look for them?"  And if you'd read what I wrote more carefully, you'd see that I actually am all for looking for terrorists. But you have to do that by looking for terrorists, not wasting time on efforts that won't find terrorists.

Searching everyone is a complete waste of time and money.  Setting up impenetrable check points won't catch terrorists, because no terrorist is going to walk into such an obvious trap.

Besides, terrorist do not need to get onto airplanes to commit acts of terrorism.  They just need someplace with a mass of innocent victims - like the line of people waiting to go through a scanner or get groped by a poorly trained underpaid security guard.  And guess what? Our current system will let them get that far.

Do you know who has a serious problem with terrorist attacks? Israel.  And does Israel use any of ridiculously intrusive measures employed by the TSA?  They do not.

So how does Israel keep terrorists off of their planes?

Simple: they look for terrorists.

Now another group of you will probably start wailing about profiling.  And some kinds of profiling is not useful, like racial profiling. Do the Israelis search everyone who looks like an Arab?  They do not.

Everyone in Israel looks more or less like an Arab, so that's a waste of time.  And even those who are noticeably Muslim are unlikely to be terrorists.

So what does Israel profile, if not race?  They profile behavior.

Here's the thing; if you have a bomb on your person, you're going to act differently than someone who doesn't.  You're going to be dealing with it at some level; you want to make sure no one can see it.  You want to make sure no one is looking at you too closely.  You don't want it to go off early.  You don't want to accidentally disarm it.

So that's what Israeli security looks for; people acting suspiciously.  And they start waaay outside the terminal.  They're watching from the time you enter the airport.  Terrorists are stopped long before they get into the heart of the terminal.

Michael J. Totten said it best in the NY Post:
Israelis don't use security theater to make passengers feel like they're safe. They use real security measures to ensure that travelers actually are safe. Even when suicide bombers exploded themselves almost daily in Israeli cities, not a single one managed to get through that airport.
But here's the chilling question for you?  Why hasn't the TSA caught even a single terrorist to date, given that this is their job?

Didn't know that, did you? came to the following conclusion:
In May, the Government Accountability Office released a report noting that SPOT's annual cost is more than $200 million and that as of March 2010 some 3,000 behavior detection officers were deployed at 161 airports but had not apprehended a single terrorist. (Hundreds of illegal aliens and drug smugglers, however, were arrested due to the program between 2004 and 2008.) What's more, the GAO noted that at least 16 individuals later accused of involvement in terrorist plots flew 23 different times through U.S. airports since 2004, but TSA behavior-detection officers didn't sniff out any of them.

What these numbers don't get at is whether the TSA airport screeners prevent terrorist attacks through their very existence—deterring plots by hanging around. This is quite probably the case, but it's not obvious that they prevent any more attacks than the private contractors who handled checkpoints before the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 went into effect.
But the TSA has been an unqualified success in one regard: they have made millions of US citizens and innocent fliers absolutely miserable.  And as noted above, they have made our airports themselves a richer target because of the throngs of innocent people held up by pointless "security measures."

November 5, 2010

The Fifth of November

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England's overthrow.
But, by God's providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James's sake!

If you won't give me one,
I'll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

November 3, 2010

Blame it on Frank

 George Washington warned us.
"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally."

 "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."

"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."

 "One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to ...render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection."

"They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
-- from George Washington's Final Address as President, 1796
Why do I bring this up?  Because 214 years later, partisan politics is as ugly as Washington warned, and perhaps more twisted and vile than he could have imagined.

Check out this little tidbit, from today's Miami Herald:
Even Republicans who voted for Scott were wary of him.

``I wouldn't have voted for him if I had another Republican to choose from,'' said Frank Paruas, a 38-year-old Kendall Republican. ``I think Alex Sink isn't a bad person. But I just couldn't vote for anyone in the Democratic party right now.''
You are reading this correctly: even though, like most informed  people, he believed that Rick Scott probably committed Medicare fraud, Frank Paruas voted for a probable criminal rather than vote for a competent executive with a clean record who belonged to the other party.

We should have listened to George.

And Frank - in the coming years, remember this: it's all your fault.  And I will never, ever let you forget it.  Every time Scott is caught playing fast and loose, I will remind the world that you , Frank Paruas, voted for Scott.  Every time one of his appointees is investigated for fraud or corruption, I'll be gloating "Frank's boy does it again!"

You see, I've learned that simply telling the world at large the truth doesn't make a damned bit of difference. So from now on, it's all aimed at you, Frank.

Welcome to the Hell that you made by voting for a criminal.