The Trouble With TV – It’s Mostly Bad

   So you’ve got cable or satellite, plus all those new local digital channels and you still can’t find anything of interest on television?  You say you’re increasingly turning to PBS in search of something that doesn’t insult your intelligence?  Something that doesn’t overwhelm your senses with generally bad writing, lousy concepts and unprecedented profanity?   You say you’re spending much of your tv viewing time watching reruns of “Cheers” and “Sienfeld” while hopelessly pining for a return to the days of  Walter Cronkite?   Well bunky, you’re not alone.  Look at this-

NEW YORK — Americans avoided television in historic levels over the past week.

CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox together had the smallest number of prime-time viewers last week in two decades of record-keeping, the Nielsen Co. said. Given the dominance of the big broadcasters before then, you’d probably have to go back to the early days of television to find such a collective shrug. -AP

It’s a pretty sure bet that the Fourth of July factored into the drop in viewers.   Still, with such a massive drop off there’s probably more to it than people abandoning their tv sets for backyard barbecues.  The concept of “narrowcasting,” which often aims to satisfy advertisers by targeting the youth audience may have something to do with it.   It’s the same reason there are so few movies worth seeing.  They’re mostly in 3D and targeting 12 to 18 year-olds.   Or younger.

Perhaps the local channels and the old over-the-air networks should get back in the business of “broadcasting” and leave the “narrowcasting” to the cable and satellite channels?   Remember broadcasting?   Going for the broadest audience possible and putting the after school specials back where they belong?  Suppose that might work?

Do you suppose there is any way to overcome a corporate culture that dictates marketing plans targeting the tastes of naive kids with tons of disposable income?  A culture in which corporate shareholder value trumps traditional values?  What’s that gotten us?

Steve Allen, called it some years ago.

“We have come to a hell of a pass when our society derides those who speak out for virtue and decency but richly rewards those who practice vice……..The West must prove that economic competition in the free market need not of necessity cause us to debase our standards.”  -Steve Allen, “Vulgarians At The Gate/ Trash TV And Raunch Radio” -2001

As usual, Steve was way ahead of the game.

The Los Angeles River – The Fantasy Continues

 Los Angeles River /   It’s easy to have a problem with the Los Angeles River.  For one thing, it isn’t there for much of the year.  There’s very little or no water you see.  It’s dry.  D-R-Y.    Still, upon my arrival in Los Angeles many years ago, long-time Angelinos assured me that the big dry concrete-lined flood control channel that runs through the San Fernando Valley and eventually finds its way to Long Beach  was a “river.”


It’s not like downtown Pittsburgh, where the Allegheny and the Monongahela meet to form the Ohio.  Or the headwaters of the Mississippi up in northern Minnesota.   It’s in no way similar to the lazy Severn River near Annapolis.  Those are rivers with….you know….water.  Rivers that don’t disappear for much of the year.  The so-called “L.A. River” is something else.  It’s all or nothing at all.  It’s either running like a water buffalo in heat or it’s mostly dry as dirt.  And the dry periods go on for months.

Nevertheless, our much-loved and often ballyhooed flood control channel commonly called the Los Angeles River, has  been afforded a new dignity.    Water or no water, the EPA has declared it to be a “traditional navigable water.” 

They’ve gotta be kidding.

I know this is a big deal for those who want the river restored to its former glory, when seasonal rains flooded out huge sections of Los Angeles, putting people and their property in danger.   The good old days before the aqueduct, when the river ran free.  Like the 1930’s, when two floods claimed more than 50 lives.

Actually, a big part of the problem back then, was that the river apparently had no regular channel.  It kept changing course and during the normally wet winter months it became an angry, raging torrent.  Or torrents.  Still does.  It isn’t unusual for the water to rise to the top of the channel here in the San Fernando Valley, turning from a trickle into  whitewater rapids.  An unstoppable force, roaring ever forward until it passes just east of downtown Los Angeles.   As rivers go, the Los Angeles River is totally psycho.  A form of liquid schizophrenia that goes from being nearly non-existent in the summer to a life-threatening monster in the winter.  A monster which must be contained and controlled.

The Army Corps of Engineers put an end to the chaos and death in the early 1960’s, enclosing most the the river’s 51 miles in concrete.   Naturalists, preservationists, conservationists, tube-shooters and others have been irritated ever since,  seeing not the creation of a flood control channel that will save lives and protect property,  but the death of a natural river.   Calls for restoration of the river’s beauty have continued.   Eventually, a revitalization master plan was drawn up.  A plan that aimed to restore the former beauty of the river “while maintaining safety and flood controls.”   That’s cool, I guess.  But calling it a “traditional navigable water?”

Try launching your boat in Studio City in July.  See what that gets you.

But that’s not what this is all about.

The EPA’s declaration means that the Los Angeles River will now be protected by federal regulations limiting industrial discharge and protecting wetlands.

The New York Times reported:  “Environmentalists cheered Jackson’s declaration as key to limiting destruction of the river’s tributaries and wetlands and expanding recreational opportunities for Los Angeles residents. They also said the move shows that Western rivers, despite their propensity to run dry because they are overtapped for irrigation and drinking supplies, deserve full protection under the Clean Water Act.” 

“….limiting destruction of the river’s tributaries and wetlands.”    That’s a biggie for the naturalists, some of whom advocate removing the concrete lining altogether and restoring the river’s natural vegetation.  And it goes way beyond the river itself.   Apparently, the declaration could be interpreted as being applicable to the river’s entire 834-square-mile watershed.  That could be meaningful for many of us, if we start flooding out.  That’s what nearly happened a little more than a decade ago, when a group of naturalists fought to prevent the Corps of Engineers from clearing out sections of the county’s flood control channels that were choked with trees, underbrush, old tires, shopping carts, mattresses, plastic bags, old underwear and other assorted “habitat.”  Thing was, you see, we had an El Nino storm system coming in.  There were predictions that thousands of homes might flood out if the flood control channels weren’t cleared of debris.

It wasn’t as though the county hadn’t been trying to get the job done.

“Last month, Jim Noyes, chief deputy director of the department of public works, told the board that the county had been trying for two years to obtain permission to clear out 95 flood control channels, many of which had lost more than half of their capacity to weeds and debris. If they overflow when El Nino brings anticipated storms, Noyes said, massive flooding could result.”  LA Times – October, 1997

The potential for thousands flooding out while the Corps of Engineers waded through mountains of environmental red tape put in place by naturalists assisted by the federal government made the whole thing more than a little controversial.   The Los Angeles Times published photos of  debris-choked channels.   County Supervisor Mike Antonovich  and a few others got involved and eventually the Corps of Engineers was allowed to clear out the trees, underbrush and assorted junk.   They got it done just in time.  The forecasters were right.  The storm hit, the rain fell and our system of flood control channels struggled to deal with the predicted angry rush of water.   The total seasonal rainfall for downtown Los Angeles in 1997/98 would be 30.01 inches, or 210% of normal.   It created a torrent which in all likelihood would have caused at least some of our flood control channels to go critical had the “habitat” not been cleared away.

But back to just the Los Angeles River.

By declaring the “river” to be “navigable,” it would appear the EPA has thrown another roadblock in the path of those who would seek to put people and their property above the interests of some naturalists.   Better think about it now.   Some of the streets in Sherman Oaks flood out every time we’re hit with a heavy rainfall as it is.    And our local flood control channel, also known as the Los Angeles River, is running near the top of its banks.  When there’s rain.  Otherwise, it’s dry.

Gonna leave now and take a walk down to the river.   I’m not sure what I’ll find but according to the EPA the salmon should be running.

Will The Real Lindsay Lohan Please Stand Up?

 Lindsay Lohan mug shot  I was in the middle of a workout when a local station cut into its regular programming for coverage of Lindsay Lohan being sentenced in a Beverly Hills courtroom.  So much high drama happens in that little courthouse over in Beverly Hills.  The Zsa Zsa cop slapping trial was held there.   What a thing of beauty it was, with Timothy Leary running around yelling “Free Zsa Zsa!, Free Zsa Zsa!”   And the actress herself telling me, “Dahling, vhat could I do?  He had a gun in his pocket!”  You can’t buy that kind of entertainment.

I was also there when they threw Robert Downey Jr. in jail.  They led all of us media types to believe they were bringing him in the front entrance and then snuck him through a side door, so nobody got the shot.  They sometimes give celebs a break you or I would never be afforded, so in my mind, jail time for Lohan was no sure bet despite her repeated offenses and continued snubbing of the court.

And so, I stopped in the middle of my workout to see what the judge had decided to do.  Lohan’s reaction to the 90-day jail sentence was fascinating.   Not because she broke down and cried, others have done that, but because I couldn’t determine whether she was crying because she was shocked by the sentence, or if it was just one more performance by one very good actress.  She’s so good that it’s really impossible to tell.

I left the gym conflicted on whether Lohan had actually been impacted by the sentence, whether the weight of what was going on had finally hit her, or if it was all just an act.    I wondered if she might not be just one more example of our societal standard which dictates:  “If you can get away with it, then it’s really okay.”   The whole moral relativity thing.

Then I read the news this morning.  Lohan, apparently had an obscene message written in tiny letters on the fingernail of the middle finger on her left hand.  The hand she held in front of her face as she sobbed, which would have pointed the tiny message directly at the bench.  Intentional or not, it was a very bad move.   Every judge in the county will hear about it.   Any semblance of sympathy they might have felt for her is now sure to vanish.

Hopefully Lohan will now get the help she needs to get over whatever her problems may be and we can get back to focusing on less important matters.  Things like NATO accidentally killing 5 Afghan soldiers in a war that appears to be without end, 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf which may or may not be leaking (nobody really knows), unemployment and the economic recovery, health care costs which continue to be out of control and Israel moving toward renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.  Stuff like that.

Our best wishes go out to Lindsay Lohan.  Whether her problems are alcohol related as the court believes, or prescription drug related as her father has suggested,  it appears this judge’s decision could end up saving the young woman’s life.  But it won’t come from the jail sentence.  With overcrowding and the fact that she’s not a violent offender, she’ll probably be released in a matter of weeks.  It’ll be up to the people she deals with in the rehab program that follows to get to the bottom of what’s really going on, be it alcohol, prescription drugs, or both.  If they don’t, it’s likely the entire process will have been for naught and the performance will continue.


Your Communist News Channel Is On The Air

   The ruling Communist Party in China now has its own global English language tv channel.

 “China Xinhua News Network Corp. (CNC) began broadcasting its first English TV service, CNC World, around the clock on Thursday, including news segments, feature stories, weather updates and special bulletins, the official Xinhua News agency said.

“The English service will provide international and China news with a Chinese perspective to global audiences,” CNC President Wu Jincai said at a news conference on Thursday.” -AP

The AP says the service will offer around 70% international news and 30% on China.  Isn’t that nice?  “A Chinese perspective?”   Wonder how many commie government censors they’re using……

On the same day it was announced that the Communist Chinese “thought police” are partially blocking Google for users in mainland China.

So while American journalism dies the death of a thousand cuts, Communist Chinese journalism is rising.  I suppose we’re far too indebted to the Chinese to take a stand on it.

After all the county’s been through, we now find ourselves, on our nation’s birthday, under the economic boot heel of Communist China, while a select few corporations led by big oil dictate terms to the Congress.

Words To Remember On The 4th Of July

 Patrick Henry   “It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

-Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

Living In Glass Houses?

   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Krakow, Poland, complaining that “the walls are closing in” on civic rights organizations such as unions in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Egypt and Russia.  Fascinating, but what about us?

Here in the U.S., more than one-third of all Americans belonged to a union in 1945.  By 1998 union membership had dropped to 13.9%.

The push to kill unionism  received a huge assist with the “Reagan Revolution” which got its start with the destruction of “PATCO” (The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) by using the so-called “last, best and final offer” of  “come back to work on Monday or you’re fired.”   A method Mr. Reagan was only too happy to share with the American business community.  There was also a later decision by the NLRB to allow union members to withhold a portion of their dues unions were using to fight politicians who were working to kill unionism.  Other steps were taken as well, as Mr. Reagan and his buddies whipped the country in an anti-union and deregulation furor.

Now, by one accounting, union membership in the private sector has fallen to less than 9%, a level not seen since 1932 and the Great Depression.

While those unions that remain struggle to survive and with millions of jobs sent overseas or simply eliminated through merger madness by giant corporations that have literally purchased the Congress, we find our Secretary of State complaining about  “….the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.”  

You mean like the “steel vise” corporations have used to buy up and control the House and Senate, Madam Secretary?

I can almost hear the goose-stepping march of the “New World Order” as unionism and the middle-class are all but crushed by the creeping fascism of the new American oligarchy.   This is what anti-unionism and deregulation has given us.   A world of, by and for corporate interests.   A return to the 1880’s of Carnegie, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan, when one-eighth of the population controlled seven-eighths of the nation’s wealth.

Think that’s an exaggeration?

As of 2007, 85% of the nation’s wealth was in the hands of just 20% of the people.   An earlier survey by the Fed pointed to the net worth of the top 1 percent being approximately equal to that of the bottom 90 percent.

What’s that ancient principle?  A system that’s out of balance is a sick system?

Camerawoman Awarded $1.7 Million

   The AP is reporting that a jury in Los Angeles has awarded damages in the amount of $1.7 million to KTTV camerawoman Patricia Ballaz, who complained she was brutalized by police while shooting a May Day protest in 2007 in MacArthur Park.   The jury also awarded $39,000 to KPCC radio reporter Patricia Nazario.  They failed to reach a verdict on KTTV reporter Christina Gonzalez.

L.A. County Supervisors Complain To Sam Zell

 Los Angeles Times  The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have complained in writing to Tribune Company Chairman Sam Zell, about a 4-page wrap-around ad that turned the Los Angeles Times “LATEXTRA” section into a giant ad for the King Kong feature at Universal Studios.  One big ad disguised to look like legitimate news.   The supes called upon the newspaper to:  “stop selling its front pages to advertisers, especially in such an offensive and alarming manner. The cost of this distasteful practice to the people of Los Angeles County is far greater than any short-term gains by the Tribune Company.”

The newspaper issued a response in a blog, writing-  ‘”Los Angeles Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein stood by the advertising supplement, saying such ads provide the revenues to help fund the paper’s global reporting efforts.

“The Universal Studios Hollywood ad wrapping Thursday’s LATExtra section met our advertising guidelines, including a large, red ‘advertisement’ notification on top of the page,” he said. “Our readers understand the ad-supported economic model of our business, which allows us to provide the outstanding journalism they rely upon 24/7.”’

Presumably he’s referring to the “economic model of our business” that’s resulted in the closure of bureaus (global reporting?),  laying off or otherwise losing some of the finest journalists in the country while shrinking the size of the newspaper?    How Mr. Hartenstein can refer to providing “outstanding journalism” while attempting to validate “an ad-supported economic model” that turns journalism into a bad joke and threatens the core credibility of one of the nation’s biggest newspapers is a mystery.  It’s pretzel logic.  It’s the kind of thing Karl Rove would come up with.

Some of the paper’s readers were non too happy with it all.  Some of their communiques to the Times were posted by the newspaper’s “Readers’ Representative Journal.”

“I was frightened as I started to read about Universal Studios.  When I realized it was a hoax, I was furious. How could you be so irresponsible?” said Joan Richmond of Claremont.

“The clever advertising hoax played with the trust your readers have developed over the years. Please don’t toy with that trust again. What reader wants to be made to feel like a nincompoop because he or she believed what was on the front page of the L.A. Times?” asked Janet Weaver of Huntington Beach.

“Next time put the red ‘Advertisement’ notice at the top of the page in letters that can’t be missed, and do it on all the inside pages as well.  What a lousy joke,” said Stan Greenfield of Woodland Hills. -L.A. Times Readers’ Representative Journal

Kudos to the Board of Supes for at least trying.

The L.A. Times – The Adults Have Left The Room

   What the people at the top of the Los Angeles Times did on Thursday is wrong on so many levels.   It’s so beneath this once great paper, that I’m really not up to writing about it.  But I have to.  Anybody who gives a damn has to.  Except for the people at the Times who’ll probably be censored and then reprimanded or fired for trying to go public with what they’re really thinking.  They probably won’t be able to write about it.  But I know who they are.  I worked in that building for nearly five years.  I was there with John Carroll, Dean Baquet, John Arthur and Leo Wolinsky.  People who know how it’s supposed to be done but are no longer with the paper.  However, some of the finest journalists in the world are still there and I’m pretty sure I know what they’re thinking.  They have my sympathy and I can write about it so I will.

How bad does it have to get?  How low does it have to go?  We are now in the age of Twitter, the “give um what they want and not what they need” slant of Fox News, bloggers without credentials and people who think fake news stories are fun.

Thank God for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.   News operations we can depend on to filter out the junk and give us what we need to know in a straightforward and objective fashion.  Newspapers that continue to army on with real journalism in spite of their economic difficulties.  At least we still have these four great papers to keep us informed.  To do the digging and give us enough valid information so that we, as a free people, can continue to participate in the democratic process that drives America.  A process that threatens to wither and die without an open, objective and investigative press.

At least we still have these four.  Well, maybe not.  The Wall Street Journal is now under the Murdoch news umbrella, so you have to wonder about that.  And the L.A. Times is now publishing fake news, so we may be down to only two.

“Universal Studios Hollywood Partially Destroyed.”  That’s the headline on the front page of the Times “LATEXTRA” section on Thursday.  A better headline might be, “Los Angeles Times Partially Destroyed.”   The word “ADVERTISEMENT” was printed in small red print at the top of the page, just above a giant photo of Universal City in ruins.  That’s supposed to make it right?  Please.  The adults have left the room.

Did Harrison Ford and Jeff Goldblum really die in New Zealand?   Is Caltech really predicting a major earthquake within a few days?   Did you hear about it?  It must be true, because it’s all over Twitter.   I can’t wait to rush home to watch Jon Stewart on Comedy Central to find out what’s really going on.