Category Archives: In Our Time

Young Icelanders seem confused about God and science

Sistine

Yet another story from The Washington Post that I meant to post about over the weekend…

I was intrigued by this headline:

In this country, literally no young Christians believe that God created the Earth

The story reports that “Exactly zero percent of respondents in a recent survey said they believe that God created the Earth.”

That apparently includes the 40 percent or so of younger people in the increasingly secular country who still consider themselves to be Christian.

I tried to find out how that could be, and the explanation was confusing:

Despite the trend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is still the country’s declared state church. Solveig Anna Boasdottir, a professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland, agreed that scientific progress had changed religious attitudes in the country. But she said that about 40 percent of the country’s younger generation still consider themselves Christian — but none of them believe that God created the Earth. “Theories of science are broadly accepted among both young and old. That does not necessarily affect people’s faith in God,” she said….

Yeah. Got that. I don’t see any reason why acceptance of science would diminish faith in God — I’ve always found that simplistic dichotomy (God on one side, science on the other) — to be rather absurd, with the battle over evolution being one of the more ridiculous manifestations.

But I don’t see how it would affect people’s belief that God made the world, either.

I’ve always thought evolution is exactly the way God would create people and other species — a majestically slow, dignified, enormously complex process, rather than some Cecil B. DeMille, abracadabra “poof!”

Same with the geological eons to create the world on which all these species live.

Yeah, I get it that some people are very literal-minded, and they think that if it didn’t happen in the six days set out in the Genesis allegory, then God must have had nothing to do with it.

So if this survey is right, every single person who lives in Iceland is that literal-minded.

Which surprises me…

So basically, these folks are the opposite of deists, who believed God did create the world, but then left it alone…

The story even acknowledges what seems obvious to me, which is that “some Christians believe both in the Big Bang theory and God’s role.” So… how does that lead to no one believing God created the world?

Maybe the story’s just not well-written…

A film almost, but not quite, entirely unlike anything that appeals to me

When I saw the email from Netflix headlined “Brad, we just added a movie you might like,” I braced myself. Netflix chirpily announcing it has something I will like gives me the same creeping feeling that Arthur Dent got when the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation’s Nutrimatic drinks dispenser offered him another cup of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

And sure enough, here’s what it was offering me:

netflix

Don’t know about you, but I consider that to be one of the silliest, most ridiculously hyped films of the past decade. It easily qualifies as my least favorite Ron Howard film, and I suppose my least favorite featuring Tom Hanks as well.

It was like a cheesy retelling of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and I didn’t like that, either. There are people who just eat up a tale involving a conspiracy stretching over thousands of years, especially when it involves the Knights Templar (as both tales do). I’m not one of them. I’m not a huge fan of the whole paranoia thriller genre to begin with, and when you stretch it to such extremes, you totally lose me.

And don’t even bother feeding me a tale about brilliant algorithms duplicating the human mind and taking over the world. When Netflix gets a clue as to what I like, then I’ll worry…

These days, apparently, you ARE entitled to your own facts

We now know, as a result of an FBI announcement late this morning, that one of the San Bernardino attackers had “pledged… allegiance” to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

That’s the first piece of information we’ve had indicating that the killer couple had any sort of connection, direct or indirect, to radical Islamic groups.

That news broke about 6 hours ago. But before that, there was a remarkable number of people in this country who were so sure that this was indeed an act of Islamist terror that they were contemptuously dismissive of anyone who expressed anything other than absolute certainty on that point.

For instance, take a look at some of the Twitter reactions to a story that was in The Washington Post this morning (meaning that it was probably written last night, long before that FBI disclosure). The story was headlined, “Motive elusive in deadly San Bernardino rampage as FBI takes over probe.”

Which was certainly true when the story was posted. This was a weird case, and not only because it was the first potential terrorist attack that we had seen involving a married couple with a young child (so much for the stereotype of sexually frustrated young men). This couple had taken the trouble to amass a modest armory, had taken their child to relatives for safekeeping — and yet had not left the world any obvious message as to why they were doing what they did. It fit no known pattern.

But there are a lot of people out there these days who just know things without any evidentiary support, such as these:

… and so forth.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Oh, how quaint.

Today, people are adamant that they are so entitled to their own facts. That’s why Donald Trump doesn’t implode no matter how many stretchers he may defiantly utter. There is a natural constituency that believes that truth is whatever they choose to forcefully assert.

I find myself suspecting that this is related to the rise of the Web. Since there are no barriers to publication, there are no standards. Anyone who believes anything can find an audience of people who believe him — and stand ready to amplify him — and that’s the only test one has to meet. The hordes of people who embrace this new state of affairs have been waiting for a man like Trump, and the moment has found its man.

Anyway, back to actual reality…

This case remains perplexing. Why would this woman have “pledged allegiance” to ISIL’s leader, but done so in such a backhanded manner? One of the cardinal rules of terror is that you kill and/or sacrifice yourself to send a clear political message.

Why has ISIL not leaped to claim even indirect responsibility, given the way they did so so quickly after Paris?

I’m interested to learn more so that I can understand what happened and why, and learn valuable lessons for heading off this kind of thing in the future. Yeah, I know. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I like facts…

336 days, 355 mass shootings

I got this from The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog. How is a “mass shooting” defined for the purposes of this count?

The San Bernardino shooting is the 355th mass shooting this year, according to a mass shooting tracker maintained by the Guns Are Cool subreddit. The Reddit tracker defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire.

The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting — the old FBI definition focused on four or more people killed as part of a single shooting.

It would be also be the second mass shooting just today — in the early morning hours, one person was killed and three were injured in an incident in Savannah, Georgia.

Speaking after the Colorado Springs shooting last week, President Obama urged Americans to not let this type of violence “become normal.” But the data show that this type of incident already is normal. There have been more mass shootings than calendar days so far this year…

So if only three people are hit, it’s not a mass shooting, by this count.

Is Heroin Chic back? Oh, I really hope not…

heroin chic

So I was doing this blog post for ADCO about a design group that recently redesigned Vogue’s website, and ran across the above image.

Yikes.

Wikipedia says Heroin Chic went away in 1999 with the arrival of the über-healthy Gisele Bündchen. As Jake Barnes said to Lady Brett Ashley, it would be pretty to think so. Very pretty, in this case.

But that girl in the middle of the picture above looks way, way worse than the illustration of Heroin Chic that Wikipedia provides.

Maybe this is something else. Walker Chic, perhaps, in the “Walking Dead” sense? In any case, this is a terrible thing for the world, especially for girls who see such images held up as something to emulate. (Not that it’s all that great for them to be expected to look like Gisele Bündchen, either. But at least she looks alive…)

The extreme embarrassment of Ultron

In another context, his stance might look menacing. Here, he seems mortified...

In another context, his stance might look menacing. Here, he seems mortified…

Forget about separate bathrooms; there is no more dramatic separation between the sexes than the stark contrast between the store aisles devoted to items marketed to boys and those aimed at girls.

The “boys'” aisles are filled with menacing things that shoot, crash, kick, punch or snarl, and the dominant colors are not baby boy blue, but black and brown, relieved only by blood red, ninja turtle green and sometimes alarming orange.

And the “girls'” aisles are, well, pink. That’s about all you can see at a distance, and sometimes close up. So much pink that I still feel an aversion to walking down them, like there is still a trace of Wally and the Beave in me, thinking, “Aw, Mom! Don’t make me go there! What if one of the guys sees me! He’ll give me the business!”

And anyway, we try hard to find more neutral things for our granddaughters — building sets, puzzles, games — something less frou-frou at the very least. There are such things still to be found, for girls and boys, and they are only occasionally to be found floating in the sea of pink.

And when you find something that doesn’t belong there, boy does it stick out. Like “Ultron” above, which I found amid the pink at Target, no doubt left by some kid whose parents said, “Put that down; we’re shopping for your sister.” (Or maybe the sister wanted it, and her parents preferred to buy her something more “suitable.” I don’t know…)

How did I get here? I'm not touching anything!

How did I get here? I’m not touching anything!

I like Ultron’s stance in the photo. With his shoulders hunched up toward his ears (or where ears would be if he had any) and his arms hanging in a way that suggests a reluctance to touch anything, and that mechanical grimace, he looks terribly awkward and embarrassed, as though he had accidentally gone clanking into the women’s bathroom. He seems to be thinking, “Get me outta here before the Avengers see me! They’ll give me the business!”

Well, it just serves him right for being such a testosterone-fueled bully who wants to dominate the world. Maybe in the future he’ll remember to check his privilege before barging in among all these lady dolls…

Y’all are all getting ads like this too, right? I said, RIGHT?

The ad at right, generated by Google Adsense to appear in the right-hand rail of the blog for my viewing pleasure, is weird on a number of levels.testosterone

  • What’s the connection between hot women and low testosterone? Is the theory that guys who have need of the product will look at the picture and think, “I feel nothing, so I must have low T”? I would think that most heterosexual males would be persuaded, by looking at a picture like that, that one thing they do not need is more testosterone. I mean, seriously, did Ulysses think he had low T as he was tied to the mast, his naked ears tortured by the sirens sweetly singing?
  • Who are the ad wizards who wrote that copy? You’re saying this is “What Happens When You Take a Testosterone Supplement?” Well, then, no thanks! I don’t want to look like that! (I mean, it might be gratifying to see Bruce/Caitlin Jenner turn green with envy… but not that gratifying.)
  • Finally… why am I seeing this? I promise you that I have not searched for “What do I do about low testosterone?” or “Large-busted young women who wear T shirts that are way too small.” Hey, maybe that’s the problem! Maybe Google assumes that if you’re NOT searching for such pictures, you must have low T….

But of course, it’s not just me, is it? All of you fellas are getting the same ad, right? I said, right?

I don’t know. I just think it’s weird. And what about all those ads about meeting Asian women? Is that just because I’ve written about going to Thailand?…

The deputy and the student: That violent Spring Valley video

Again, South Carolina makes national news, and again, it’s in a bad way.

It’s early in the discernment process, and we lack any context (whatever the context may be), but the extremely brief video is a kick in the gut, especially the instant when the desk flips backward in a way that almost seems to defy physical laws. It’s amazing that the student wasn’t injured, a fact we can only chalk up to the resilience of youth.

Here, from The State, are the skimpy facts, which tell us next to nothing:

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department is investigating an incident between a school resource officer and a female student at Spring Valley High School on Monday, after a video showing a confrontation was posted online.

The female student and a male student were arrested for disturbing the peace, said Richland County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson. The resource officer, Senior Deputy Ben Fields, has been placed on administrative duties with pay pending the investigation’s results, according to Wilson.

While Fields will work at the Sheriff’s Department, he won’t be performing any duties at area schools. In a statement, the Richland 2 school district said it had “directed the school resource officer not return to any school in the district.”

The video shows Fields approach the female student seated in a desk. The resource officer proceeds to place his left hand on the female student’s left arm, before putting his right arm around her neck. Fields then flips the desk over, with the student still seated, before spinning it around and forcibly removing the student and trying to restrain her at the front of the classroom.

Wilson said no one was injured in the incident – neither the students nor Fields.

Wilson said prior to what is shown in the video, the female student was asked to leave the classroom and refused. Wilson said that was when the resource officer was called in….

The official response to the incident seems appropriately cautious so far. The sheriff is out of town. The mayor wants an independent investigation. The school district’s one response, saying it doesn’t want that officer back in the classroom, seems appropriate under the circumstances.

All we have now is a video that shocks the viewer as much as it seems to have shocked the bystanders, who react not at all — their stillness is almost eerie — except for the one who shot these 15 seconds.

Thoughts?

 

 

Forest Acres officer shot, killed at Richland Mall

The fallen officer, Greg Alia.

The fallen officer, Greg Alia.

Horrible news travels so fast these days.

By the time I got a news alert from WACH telling me that a Forest Acres officer had been shot and killed at Richland Mall this morning, the flags at City Hall were already at half-mast:

And more astoundingly, my friend Mary Pat Baldauf had already contributed to a memorial fund for him:

It’s like we don’t even get a moment anymore to absorb the news, to say, “Oh, my God. How terrible…”

So consider that to have been said by me. Perhaps I’ll have more to say later.

See, that’s what I dislike about the “like” button

I’ve been enjoying Alexandra Petri’s stuff since I discovered her very recently.

But I must take issue with her piece last week, “A DISLIKE button, on Facebook? DISLIKE.” I don’t disagree with her on that. I don’t like the idea of a dislike button, either. And she argues her point ably:

A badly kept secret of human beings is that we never quite have the right words for delicate situations. We love “Like” for this reason — better than “Congratulations!” by a mile — but what is awkward in Facebook is not that there is no button for framing your compassionate response to loss. It is that grief and condolences are inherently unwieldy. Even the right button would not quite be the right button. The act of pressing a button in response to that news would feel wrong no matter how compassionate the word was. “Like” feels wrong. But I’m not sure “Dislike” would be much better.FBDislike

And any negative word presents the possibility of abuse.

Look, being considerate takes work. Communication takes work. Correspondence takes work. Finding words takes work.

I always find striking the rare Facebook status that has more Comments than Likes — usually, this comes when someone has suffered a loss. And then, in our fumbling way, we struggle for words. “I’m so sorry,” we say. “Sending thoughts,” we say. These responses are never very many words, but they feel infinitely difficult.

And they always have.

But here’s where I disagree: I have the same problem with the “like” button. It’s a cheap way out from doing the hard work of expressing what you really mean: Look, being considerate takes work. Communication takes work. Correspondence takes work. Finding words takes work.

I’ll admit that the harm done by hitting a “like” button is minimal compared to being misunderstood when you hit something just as simplistic with negative connotation (and I’ll confess I’ve made use of it, when I feel the tiny urge of social pressure to say something, and the like button is a sufficiently inadequate social gesture to meet that need). Seldom will anyone angrily confront you to demand, “What do you MEAN, ‘like’?” Although some people would. OK, I might. One can only take so much unfocused affirmation.

But I have to say, I “like” her suggestion for a “MEH” button…

‘What dreams are made of:’ Your own, personal flamethrower

Our discussions about gun control go nowhere, so let’s talk about this.

A flamethrower and a BIG ol' tank of gasoline: What could possibly go wrong?

A flamethrower and a BIG ol’ tank of gasoline: What could possibly go wrong?

“You might ast yerself, what is this? Well, ah’m ‘one tell ya. This, my friends, is what dreams are made of,” says the crusty, country-fried Santa in the video above. “Look at that, would ya. Heh-heh, ha-HAAAH! Ah’m talkin’ ’bout get some fer sure. Guys, this is a XM42 personal flamethrower.” When he gets to the word “personal,” he tilts his head forward and peers out knowingly from under his brows, letting each and every one a you red-blooded viewers know that he sees into your innermost desires, and knows this is what you’ve always wanted.

Or, as the boys at Bennettsville High School when I was in the 9th grade would have said had they seen this, “GOT-tawmighty!”

I learned from The Washington Post today that:

Anyone with $899 and an Internet connection can buy one.

No background checks, no permits, and in 48 states, no regulation….

Which are the two states that would presume to stand in the way of your God-given right to burn s__t up at will? Well, California — the ultimate left-coast Nanny state — requires a permit. Maryland outright bans them.

I must confess that — perhaps because the Warthen part of my family tree hails from Maryland — I have, shall we say, reservations about the ready availability of these weapons. I’ve always thought there was something a little unsavory and shall we say unsportsmanlike about them. Oh, I’m sure that if I were a grunt on Iwo Jima or Normandy, I’d welcome them as a way of frying the machine-gunners who’d been killing my buddies from the safety of a concrete pillbox. But in playing a Red Army sniper in Call of Duty: World at War, I always aimed for the Germans with the tanks on their backs first. No one wants to be on the receiving end of one of these things, even in virtual reality.

The political battle lines are drawn. On his first day in office, President Obama signed a three-decade-old U.N. ban on the use of napalm and flamethrowers (some of which use napalm as fuel) on civilians.

Now, civilians can have their very own flamethrowers in most of this country. And as the guy in the video says, “As always, keep up the fight against flamethrower control… and gun control. And remember, Big Daddy loves yuh. Oo-rah!”

Is America’s love affair with cars really hitting the brakes?

SOME young guys still love cars: This is my grandson two years ago, when he was just learning to stand.

SOME young guys still love cars: This is my grandson two years ago, when he was just learning to stand.

…Mom&Dad&Buddy&Sis in the suburbs… There they go, in the family car, a white Pontiac Bonneville sedan— the family car! —a huge crazy god-awful-powerful fantasy creature to begin with, 327-horsepower, shaped like twenty-seven nights of lubricious luxury brougham seduction— you’re already there, in Fantasyland, so why not move off your snug-harbor quilty-bed dead center and cut loose—go ahead and say it—Shazam!—juice it up to what it’s already aching to be: 327,000 horsepower, a whole superhighway long and soaring , screaming on toward…Edge City, and ultimate fantasies, current and future…Billy Batson said Shazam! And turned into Captain Marvel.

— The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Dear Millennials,

As sick as I am of hearing about y’all (when everyone knows the only truly fascinating generation was the Baby Boom), come on home. All is forgiven, if you are truly ushering in an era when America will be a little less crazy about cars. From The Washington Post over the weekend:

Cruising toward oblivion

America’s once magical – now mundane – love affair with cars

… For nearly all of the first century of automobile travel, getting your license meant liberation from parental control, a passport to the open road. Today, only half of millennials bother to get their driver’s licenses by age 18. Car culture, the 20th-century engine of the American Dream, is an old guy’s game.

“The automobile just isn’t that important to people’s lives anymore,” says Mike Berger, a historian who studies the social effect of the car. “The automobile provided the means for teenagers to live their own lives. Social media blows any limits out of the water. You don’t need the car to go find friends.”

Much of the emotional meaning of the car, especially to young adults, has transferred to the smartphone, says Mark Lizewskie, executive director of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa. “Instead of Ford versus Chevy, it’s Apple versus Android, and instead of customizing their ride, they customize their phones with covers and apps,” he says. “You express yourself through your phone, whereas lately, cars have become more like appliances, with 100,000-mile warranties.”…

Personally, I have my doubts that folks who are in the time of life when hormones rule most dominantly are really satisfied with, say, interacting with the opposite sex via text rather than in the back seat.

But whatever the cause, if there’s an opening here for public transportation (which I love) and bicycles and walking, a chance at a less Hummeresque future, well then good for you, young people! The Energy Party salutes you! (But I think you boys should maybe get your T-levels checked, just to be on the safe side.)

I’ll close with a couple of pictures of my family’s (that is, my parents’) favorite car ever, the 396-horsepower 1965 Impala Super Sport (cue the sound of Tim the Tool Man grunting). This isn’t the actual car, but it looked just like the one(s) in these photos. I never got to drive this one (I was only 11 when we got it), so I feel like I missed out:

65impalaSS_dsf

Chevrolet_Impala_SS_1965_2

Sorry, governor: It wasn’t me; it was Facebook

One of the things I hate about Facebook is the way it will randomly grab an image from my blog to go with a post that has no image.

People think I spend a lot of time on Facebook every day. I don’t. When I post something on my blog, the headline and link automatically post to Twitter. All of those Tweets — plus all of the Tweets I compose directly in Twitter itself — automatically post to Facebook. It’s not me; it’s the algorithms.photo (14)

If there was a picture in the post, that also shows up in the Facebook post (which up to a point is cool — I wish Twitter would do that, too).

But when there isn’t a picture in the post, Facebook goes and finds one. As often as not, it grabs one of the scores of header images that are generated randomly from my image library to display at the top of each page on the blog.

This makes for some picture appearing with posts that are wildly unconnected to the subject matter. Which is frustrating.

I particularly hate what it did last night — pairing the header image below, from Nikki Haley’s campaign appearance with Sarah Palin in 2010, with the headline “These are some bad guys. Some really, truly bad guys,” and the link to my post about ISIL.

Please allow me to apologize to Gov. Haley (and to ex-Gov. Palin, although you couldn’t really see her). I know I’ve been critical at times in the past, but I did NOT mean to say that about you.

And I wish to set the record straight with everyone else. I was not saying that about our governor.

The only good news in all this is that to the best of my knowledge, you could only see the governor in the phone version of Facebook (the iPhone app version, anyway). The iPad version and the browser version randomly cropped the image so that you couldn’t see anything but some of the granite steps. Which looks stupid, but at least doesn’t seem to say something I don’t mean to say.

Facebook can be such a pain…

cropped-HaleyPalinheader

The Golden Age of Television Overload

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Pope Francis recently disclosed that he hasn’t watched television since 1990. Which means he’s like way behind on “Game of Thrones.” Among other things.

I’m beginning to think His Holiness is onto something. I’m feeling… a bit out of control with my own binge-watching lately. Wouldn’t I be a better person — more productive, more attuned to the needs of those around me — if I stopped watching Netflix, HBO NOW, the downstairs TV, the upstairs TV, the Roku, the Apple TV, the iPad and on very rare occasions, actual broadcast television?

The Pope has enough on his plate keeping up with matters relating to this world and the next, much less Westeros and all those other fictional universes out there.

Today, the front of the Arena section of The Wall Street Journal raises the question, “How Many TV Series Can Your Brain Take?” An excerpt:

“Game of Thrones,” which will leave multiple story lines dangling for a year with Sunday’s season finale, is notorious for befuddling even ardent fans with its many clans, lands and simmering subplots. But it’s just one of many shows taxing the memories of audiences who have been flooded with complex story lines and crowded character ensembles.

“Orange Is the New Black,” which returns Friday for a third season on Netflix, uses more than 20 characters to populate a fictional women’s prison with inmates and staff. On “Orphan Black,” finishing its third season on BBC America this month, lead actress Tatiana Maslany plays six different characters, all clones, in a sci-fi conspiracy story. New viewers have to absorb dense mythologies if they hope to jump aboard returning shows such as CBS’s summer series “Under the Dome,” which, in its coming third season, might finally explain why a bubble is encasing the town of Chester’s Mill.

The deluge of compelling shows means fans have to be good at time management to keep up with the best offerings. But they also are grappling with the limits of memory. How many shows (and knotty plots and twisting character arcs within) can we keep track of at once? In a binge-watching world, where we aren’t limited to weekly installments of network TV shows, is there a limit to the number of narratives we can keep straight?

Actually, I don’t think that frames the question correctly. Binge-watching doesn’t cause the problem of having trouble keeping up. What I find is that failing to binge-watch makes it harder to know what’s going on.

Dramatic series are written for binge-watchers, not for people who watch an episode, walk away and lead real lives, then come back in a week or more to try to pick up the thread again. That is part of what makes the new breed of shows so absorbing — they pull you into a complicated world, and if you can’t stay there until the season (at least) is over, you’re likely to be disoriented when you return.

For instance — when the third season of “House of Cards” came out several months back, I did what I had with the first two seasons. I started watching to see what everybody was talking about, then got fed up with it and quit, and then, when curiosity built up enough, came back and pushed through the rest of it.

SPOILER ALERT! Consequently, when I saw the season finale the other night, I was somewhat at a loss: Why was Claire leaving Frank? Yeah, they had been slightly weirder together the last few episodes — which means five percent more than their usual standard, which is creepy as all get-out. But what precipitated this blow-up? Surely nothing that had happened recently had showed her anything she didn’t know about her husband. Not to mention that she’s no bargain herself on the decent-person scale.

If I’d watched it all straight through, I think I might have a good feel for it. But as things stand, I don’t.

Not that it matters, right?

Last year, David Carr wrote in The New York Times about the problem of “Barely Keeping Up in TV’s New Golden Age.” I could really identify:

The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.

I was never one of those snobby people who would claim to not own a television when the subject came up, but I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy….

And what a feast. Right now, I am on the second episode of Season 2 of “House of Cards” (Netflix), have caught up on “Girls” (HBO) and am reveling in every episode of “Justified” (FX). I may be a little behind on “The Walking Dead” (AMC) and “Nashville” (ABC) and have just started “The Americans” (FX), but I am pretty much in step with comedies like “Modern Family” (ABC) and “Archer” (FX) and like everyone one else I know, dying to see how “True Detective” (HBO) ends. Oh, and the fourth season of “Game of Thrones” (HBO) starts next month.

Whew. Never mind being able to hold all these serials simultaneously in my head, how can there possibly be room for anything else? So far, the biggest losers in this fight for mind share are not my employer or loved ones, but other forms of media….

I think back to a time before all this. Say, the ’80s. In that whole decade, I can remember watching only one dramatic series on television that in any way compares to the shows I’m juggling now: “Hill Street Blues.” There was that, and maybe “Cheers” — both on the same network on the same night. I was very, very busy with a demanding job in the daytime and a family full of young children at night, and entertainment wasn’t high on my list — which made the lack of high-quality options a good match for my lifestyle. And “Hill Street” was written for people who only visited that world weekly. There were continuing story lines, but everything was episodic. One episode held you for a week.

Lately, I’m juggling, off and on:

  • Blue Bloods” — My only current show written in that old fashioned episodic form, and the only one coming from commercial broadcast television. But I’m watching it the new way. I had never seen it before a couple of months ago, when I started the first season on Netflix. It’s the perfect length for a workout on the elliptical. I’m not quite as obsessed with it as I was with “The West Wing” last year, but I do like it.
  • Foyle’s War” — Watching this on two temporal streams. We just finished the current season of new ones on PBS last night. Meanwhile, we’re almost done with the previous seasons on Netflix.
  • Game of Thrones” — ALMOST caught up. I’ve got one more episode to watch (last week’s) before this Sunday’s season finale. And I’ll be glad to be done with it for awhile. I wanted to be up on the cultural phenomenon, and now I almost am. I don’t find it very satisfying.
  • The Wire” — The best of the lot right now. I’m trying not to spend it all at once. I’m past the halfway mark in the second season.
  • Orange is the New Black” — We were really into this, but my wife and I sort of lost interest during the second season, and didn’t get more than a few episodes into it. With the new season out today, will we get back into it? I don’t know.
  • Daredevil” — Probably the best adaptation of a Marvel franchise ever to appear on television. I’ve only got one episode left in the Netflix season, still waiting to see him in the red superhero costume. The series is taking the origins thing at a stately pace.
  • True Detective” — Got started on this and got sidetracked. Want to finish the season before the new one comes out.
  • Mad Men” — Lost interest a couple of seasons back. There’s just so much moral vacancy one can take. But my wife and daughter say the last season was as good as the early ones, so I’m going to take it back up soon.
  • The Walking Dead” — Haven’t watched it in months, but I do want to get back to it and catch up. I just want to know one thing before I do: Daryl doesn’t die, does he?
  • Justified” — It’s as good as some of my friends here say, but since the only way I can see it is on DVDs from Netflix, I only get back to it periodically. I’m only up to the second or third episode in the second season.
  • Better Call Saul” — Since we don’t get AMC (the only station I miss from cutting back on cable), I bought the season on iTunes when it first came out. So since I paid for it, I really must get back to it and watch the rest of the season at some point. It’s good, but it’s not as compelling as “Breaking Bad.” I’ve just got this investment in it.

It’s over now, but for a few weeks there, we were really into “Wolf Hall” — which we’d watch on Apple TV the night after each episode’s release, because I didn’t want to stay up past 11 on Sunday night. (One good thing about this — it forced me to go ahead and finish reading Bring Up the Bodies in order to stay ahead of the show — which I shoved aside The Guns of August in order to push through.)

Meanwhile, it seems that Netflix releases a new series daily, and some of them are bound to be good. It’s just ridiculous.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to read The Guns of August, a really compelling history book, for months. But if I read a chapter in a sitting, it’s unusual. And it was interrupted first by the trip to Thailand, and then by Bring Up the Bodies. Mostly, it’s a couple of pages over dinner. And talk about losing track of characters and story lines — of course, books are supposed to be that absorbing and complex. TV never was before.

Yeah, it’s true, and it’s appalling: I’ve only finished on new book so far this year.

The Pope has the right idea. I just need to summon the self-discipline…

"Daredevil:" Matt Murdock still hasn't fully donned his superhero persona.

“Daredevil:” Matt Murdock still hasn’t fully donned his superhero persona.

Verizon-AOL deal: “You’ve got a white elephant!”


That was actually my second reaction when I heard Verizon had bought AOL for $4.4 billion. My first was that I didn’t know Verizon was into collecting retro kitsch.

What on Earth does Verizon want with AOL? Here’s what they’re saying:

The company has developed valuable technology for serving mobile video and advertising, and Verizon is billing the deal as a way for it to expand its video offerings. Already a leader in distributing mobile video through its robust national mobile phone network, Verizon is making a push to become a leader in so-called over-the-top video, shorthand for television content distributed through the Internet.

But in acquiring AOL, Verizon is buying much more than websites that host streaming content. Along with its video and online advertising technology, AOL owns The Huffington Post, a sprawling collection of international news websites with growing traffic.

It also manages a dwindling but profitable dial-up Internet business, providing online access for those who live in areas too remote to have broadband, or who never canceled their subscriptions…

Yeah, well, the WSJ is not impressed, saying the “deal suggests a crumbling empire more than it shows the power of the network:”

Neither Verizon nor AT&T is going away. But their place in the world seems ever more insecure. What is their purpose in this converged world? AT&T has taken a path into the past, agreeing to buy satellite-TV operator DirecTV for nearly $50 billion. Verizon is spending $4.4 billion on AOL, a loose confederation of advertising-technology businesses, random “content” plays, and a beguiling, money-leaking adventure called the Huffington Post.

This puts Verizon in a number of intriguing, if conflicted, new positions. It will have to be neutral arbiter in these advertising businesses, but also have to nurture and develop its offerings of online video and content. Does a phone company have the mettle and creativity to do this well? Does the prospect of a TechCrunch video show—brought to you by Verizon—captivate or horrify the average millennial?

The answer is that no one has the answers. It is a war of all against all. Platforms against platforms. Content against content….

Like “Game of Thrones.” And that analysis makes Verizon sound kind of like the Starks at the end of Season 3 (which is where I am).

Does this make sense to anybody? I mean, don’t go by me — I’m the guy who thinks Facebook is the AOL of this century. Think about it — It’s another messy, way-too-busy interface that tries to be your one and only portal to the Web. I find it hugely irritating, and more of an obstacle than a useful tool. But it’s still going strong, so, as I say, don’t go by me…

If you live in Columbia, buying the new Toyota hydrogen car could actually make sense

Something jumped out at me in this story in The Washington Post about Toyota’s new hydrogen-powered car, the Mirai (the name comes from the Japanese word for “future.”)

Along with all the gee-whiz stuff, such as the 300-mile range and the fact that it takes only five minutes to refuel (versus all night for other electrics), there were some caveats — and that’s where I found the good news for South Carolinians who’d be willing to pony up the 50 Gs for one of these things:

The Mirai’s sole fuel source is hydrogen, which you can get in only a dozen fueling stations across the country: 10 in California, one in Connecticut and one in South Carolina. More are in development, but there’s still no way this will be a road-trip car anytime soon.

And, last time I looked, that one was in Columbia.

No, wait… there were two in South Carolina, weren’t there? One was around Aiken, I believe. So maybe one closed. I hope that wasn’t the one in Columbia…

The long-awaited collapse of the ‘bundle’

Sopranos

This is me in the past, wondering why I couldn’t just pay for the channels, or specific shows, that I actually wanted to see.

Back when I was editorial page editor, Bud Tibshrany used to ask me out to lunch about once a year. That’s because he was doing PR for Time Warner Cable, and his job required that he check in with me periodically, and going to lunch with him was less of an interruption to operations that a full editorial board meeting. I had to eat anyway.

Each year, he’d ask me if I had any questions about Time-Warner or the industry. And I always had just one question: When will I be able to buy channels a la carte instead of having to pay for scores of channels I didn’t want just to get AMC? It was really all I wanted to know.

I knew I was being a pain, but he asked.

The answer was always the same: Not in the foreseeable future. The cable providers’ hands were tied by the contractual demands of the content providers, and so forth. Which was true.

True then, that is. Times are a-changin’:

Web streaming is upending the neat arrangement long enjoyed between TV channels and cable providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Verizon pays ESPN and other channels a certain amount to carry their programming, a cost that gets factored into customers’ monthly bills. But with consumers complaining about paying for too many channels and switching to online streaming alternatives such as Netflix, cable firms are feeling the pressure to cut costs — and even drop channels, especially those with plummeting ratings.

The swift decline in cable has been particularly harmful for Viacom, which typically presses cable distributors to run all of its channels — including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — or none of them. The company announced this week that it will cancel some shows and lay off staff as part of a broad restructuring plan….

Talk about creative destruction.

Just last night, in response to an invitation via my Apple TV, I signed up for a free one-month trial of HBO NOW, which markets itself with the pithy tagline, “Now, all you need is the Internet.”

Well, that and $14.99 a month, which I probably will not spring for when the free month is up.

But in the meantime, it’s pretty awesome. We watched “Jersey Boys” last night, and enjoyed it. I see that I can catch up completely on “Game of Thrones” if I care to binge, starting with the first season. Or watch “The Sopranos” again all the way through, or any other series that has ever been on HBO. And I can send back that DVD from Netflix with the first episodes of “True Detective” on it. The whole series lies before me now.

Anyway, whatever I do going forward, I appreciate this brave new world…

Is anyone watching television anymore?

The New York Post reports that televisions ratings “see double digit declines for fifth straight month“.

Commercial ratings — the viewing “currency” that determines what advertisers pay for TV time — cratered across broadcast and cable networks, marking the fifth straight month of double-digit declines for the industry.

“It’s clear the downward spiral in TV ratings continues with no end in sight,” media analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in a research note on Friday.

Overall prime-time broadcast network ratings were off 12 percent last month compared to a year ago, while cable networks dropped 11 percent, according to his report.

Other than live sports, I really don’t watch television anymore. I have a few shows that the wife and I watch together after the children are all settled, but we don’t watch them live. 99% of the time the program is usually something streaming from either Netflix or Amazon. For movies, it’s the same thing. In fact, if it wasn’t for sports, I’d probably wouldn’t have a subscription to regular television.

Also, ever since the new year, I’ve been trying to cut down on the television watching. For me, watching television is like eating junk food – it’s fun while you’re doing it, but you feel guilty afterwards. Most of the time, I feel like I’ve wasted my time just watching tv. I mean, honestly, almost anything you do is more worthy that sitting in front of the Idiot Tube and being hypnotized by the beams of light coming out of it. I kind of think the television has something to do with the shape of this country. Watching (most) television makes you dumb, disconnected, and lazy.

It also makes it easy to just waste your entire night, and by extension all your nights. Television makes it so easy to simply do nothing. And we shouldn’t do nothing. We only have a little time on this earth, and watching television isn’t the way to spend it.

Some of the best nights I have are reading books, playing with my children and actually talking to people. Unless we’re talking about having the television on in the background when you’re doing mindless work with no one around, watching television is always an inferior choice to doing anything.

Accordingly, I’m glad that cable television is going down the tubes. Unfortunately, it’s probably due to all the other ways that we now have to distract ourselves.

All y’all already know this, but I’m encouraging everyone to try and make better choices with how we spend our time. Television is never usually the right choice.

Petition to have GOP Senators jailed now has over 241,000 signatures

As of now, over 241,000 people have signed a petition on the White House website to have 47 GOP Senators put in jail. Here’s the entire petition.

On March 9th, 2015, forty-seven United States Senators committed a treasonous offense when they decided to violate the Logan Act, a 1799 law which forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Violation of the Logan Act is a felony, punishable under federal law with imprisonment of up to three years.

At a time when the United States government is attempting to reach a potential nuclear agreement with the Iranian government, 47 Senators saw fit to instead issue a condescending letter to the Iranian government stating that any agreement brokered by our President would not be upheld once the president leaves office.

This is a clear violation of federal law. In attempting to undermine our own nation, these 47 senators have committed treason.

So, it’s come to this. I’m so old, I remember when it was absolutely shocking and beyond the pale to say that President didn’t love his country. Now, we’re cool with saying that 47 Senators have committed treason?

Gotcha. Interesting times we live in.