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Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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The Way I See It:

By on May 13, 2013 in Helpful Words, Writing

PatPiperBWThe Way I See It:

Writing is about seeing.

Putting a pen to paper (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s time to go to another website) is about putting into words what your eyes see. It doesn’t always work because words, to paraphrase detective Harry Callahan, “have their limitations.”  That’s why the writer you hire has to nail a feeling that sits inside an event that’s inside the world in front of us. This is what I do.

See what I’m saying?

I can deliver the right words for the right audience. “Nuf said,” to quote Nina Simone.

 

February 7, 2014

A Note On Leno

Jay Leno has left the building.

After 22-years doing “Late Night,” the 63-year old is saying “good night.” I have a story about the early years:

When I was producer of Larry King’s popular late-night radio program for Westwood One, I faced a moment every producer of live (and probably some taped) shows faces: a guest cancellation. And it happened two hours before we went on the air. We were in Los Angeles and I pulled out a notebook I carried with phone numbers. The technical name for this was “OSNW?)” Translation: “oh shit, now what?” It sometime went by another acronym called “OFNW” but I won’t go into that here.

I called Jay Leno’s contact and told him my story. We’re in LA, we have the second hour open, I need a “yes” or “no” within the next five minutes or
I’m going to the next name in my book. He said he’d call Jay and let me know.

NOTE: This was before the Internet so we used phones. I find talking to someone works better than e-mail. Just sayin’.

Three minutes later, Leno called me.”Hey, when I get done with the show (he had been doing the “Tonight” show for about a year by then and, yes, it was taped), I’ll get on my bike and be there.” I gave him the address and right on cue, Jay pulled up outside our studio in Culver City on a huge Harley.

When I’ve told this story, I always get the same question: Who was #2 in the OSNW?

Nobody, I say. In fact, I never had a #1. When they show up on time, that’s when they’re #1. One has to be humble when doing anything live. Mr. Leno proves this is true.

January 28, 2014

A Lesson from Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was a guest on Larry King’s late night radio show in the 1980’s. He brought his banjo (of course) and played a few verses of tunes while Larry asked questions. We never screened phone calls, other than the city and everyone had a story for Pete about how his music had made them see optimism despite his songs being so well known for things that aren’t right (Where Have All the Flowers Gone-1962 is one example).

But he made the point that night, and through most of his life, that we may created problems but we can also fix them. In an interview I later did with him for the book Powerful Prayers, he told me about a song he had written called “Arrange and Rearrange.”

“I was out one morning to get firewood to warm the house and I saw the sun coming up. I thought to myself, “Dear God, I really hope we manage to survive all the problems we’ve created for ourselves.”

And then he picked up a guitar nearby and started singing:

“Early in the morning I first see the sun, I say a little prayer for the world. I hope my little children live a long, long time, yes, every little boy and little girl. I hope they learn to laugh at the way our precious old words seem to change, Cause that’s what life is all about, to arrange and rearrange and rearrange.”

He always carried a notebook to write ideas that came to him while going about the day. His publisher had asked him to try a song similar to “Good Night Irene,” which had done well. “I need something that isn’t a protest song,” he was told.

Pete went to his notebook and found the words in Ecclesiastes about “to everything, there is a season.” He went to work and added the words, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” We were given “Turn, Turn, Turn” as a result of that moment.

Yes, he wrote protest songs. Pete Seeger believed we can do better than this.

January 24, 2014

“Braking Breaking News”

TV and radio and webpages too—(gee, that sounds like the cadence to “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My”) use both words and color to get our attention when the topic is “Breaking News.” These are smart people who understand the way to keep a viewer or a listener is to subtly show how plugged in they are to the fast-changing world and how lucky the viewer/listener is to have happened onto this castle of information.

As a result of these Media Mensa Members, “Breaking News” is provided even when it isn’t breaking news, sometimes when it isn’t news at all. You see, that doesn’t matter anymore. They get our attention and we stay tuned/clicked-in to learn more.

MSNBC has been under fire because host Andrea Mitchell interrupted an interview she was about proposals to force the NSA from collecting phone records with former Congresswoman Jane Harman, an expert on homeland security issues and now head of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The reason? Justin Bieber had just been arrested for DUI in Miami. Obviously, the critics who can’t fathom the idea that a 19-year old punk in a rented Lamborghini who drove 60-mph through a residential area at 4AM after drinking shots and smoking dope think a few million stupid phone calls collected by the government is more of an issue.

Get off the high (yeah, it was intentional) horse and join the real world.

The government probably has the one phone call Bieber was allowed to make to his manager anyway. The point is, we need to know this stuff. Parents are talking to their children right now about how wrong it is to drive their Lamborghinis faster than the speed limit. It also turns out Mr. Bieber’s driver’s license expired 6 months earlier. I’m sure this is also part of the conversations taking place across America right now and for the next few days.

MSNBC is to be commended. As for the phone record collected by the National Security Agency? I bet Edward Snowden is going to leak it.

January 13, 2014
The First (fill in the blank)

Recent news stories have included Janet Yellen being approved to head the Federal Reserve and Mary Barra being chosen to run General Motors and Deborah Rutter being appointed as president of the Kennedy Center. And each story has used the adjectives “the first woman to…”. That may be true but it takes away from the skills these women have demonstrated to be selected in the first place. In the newsroom I deleted the those words saying “are we quietly saying ‘we’re proud of our society and ourselves by saying this?’”

In 2008 we elected “the first black president” and when one looks at our history, that probably was needed in the story. Still, are we patting ourselves on the back by saying “look at us and see what we’ve done?”

If we are really that advanced in society by selecting women and different races for jobs, then their gender and nationality shouldn’t be a factor in the first place. They are the right person for the gig and if you’ve got that, you don’t need the adjectives.

Yes, I think we have a distance to travel before “the first” isn’t part of the story.

January 8, 2014
Help With Help

As a phone call with my health insurance provider was coming to an end and they had told me I was not covered for a a medical device I needed, I was asked the following question:

“Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”

This comes from the Department of Not Listening To What has Just Happened (also called DNLWJH). The clowns who make a living as “Customer Service Technicians” think the customer wants to come away with a happy feeling after dealing with their company, you know, like suddenly wanting to skip while walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago or walking into the Carnegie Deli in New York City.

I always feel sorry for these people who have to ask that half-ass question but then, I start to wonder if they have any idea about (1) the question being asked and (2) why anyone who has just been told “no” would want to keep this verbal shutout going?

My answer is always the same: “No thank you, I do appreciate your assistance in helping me with this request and I look forward to our next conversation.” There is a brief pause and then I’m told “We’re always here to make your life better.”

Jesus Christ.

A few minutes later, I get an email asking me to take a survey “about your experience” which I am always glad to complete with “0” as my rating for each of 137 questions that are asked after that 5-minte phone call.

We have all of this incredible technology for communication in front of us but we keep forgetting how to listen. The toys are fun but that’s not enough for a conversation.

December 28 2013
The Story of the Year

The year comes to an end so every channel, radio station, magazine gives us a year in review with a list of the people we lost and some even try to tell us The Top 10 Most Important Stories (yes, the caps are mine) and it’s all done to maybe teach a lesson but more to quietly say, “a lot of stuff happened.”

The story of 2013 is the lack of trust in government and there’s good reason for this being Number One (number one-number one-number one….)–OK, if you didn’t listen to jingles on Top 40 radio stations, you have no idea what I was doing there.

Congress has an approval rating in the single digits and I’d be curious to see a few interviews with 277 people in the country who say they did a good job. For those making lists, it only passed 65 laws and that includes renaming a few post offices. The previous Congress (the 112th if you like numbers) passed 63 pieces of legislation (and no, I can’t tell you the number of post offices that were renamed that year).

Think about it: Harry Truman looked at the 80th Congress at the end of 1947 and called it the “do nothing Congress” and those guys passed 395 rules. Now House Speaker John Boehner may have a point defending his work in the House saying don’t judge a Congress by how many laws it makes but, rather, how few laws it makes. That goes along the lines of the “government -can’t-do-anything-or-shouldn’t-do-anything” logic. My problem with this is only that ideas for laws should at least get the chance for a vote, instead of sitting in a committee someplace because a few don’t want it to see the light of day—or any of the rest of us to see it. Yes, those horrible Democrats do the same thing. Heck, they wouldn’t allow a vote on the 46 measures to repeal Obamacare. The shame.

So by doing nothing, and having a government shutdown, it’s pretty easy to see why America thinks Congress is filled with a bunch of clowns who still call their political enemies “my good friend from (fill in the blank where their good friend is from). That’s complete theater–they aren’t friends. They’re playing games and do it extremely well. The result is distrust from the rest of us.

Yep that’s the story of the year. I think it beats out the fact Justin Bieber wants to retire (though I dont trust him to really do that….)
December 17, 2013

Some years back, my wife and I attended a concert at Wolf Trap outside Washington D.C. to see Joe Walsh—the guitar player, not the tea party clown from Illinois.

While he was in the instrumental of the classic “Life’s Been Good,” a much younger girl in front of me handed me her camera and said “take a photo of me with Joe playing.” Let’s just say that’s not the moment to ask a favor of a Joe Walsh aficionado. I handed it back and said, “enjoy the moment.” She started in with a few “Well, F’you’s” though it was hard to hear among everyone singing—and with Joe’s amp turned up.

I thought about this when all the hoopla started about President Obama getting a “selfie” with British Prime Minister Cameron and his wife at the Mandela funeral. To his credit, he wasn’t the one who wanted it (Cameron’s wife did) but that wasn’t a moment for stuff like that.

I have long wondered if there’s anything worthwhile in this “it’s all about me” society being seen every day? Vanity plates have long been thought of as showing one’s need to say “look at me” though shrinks have said it shows a high degree of feeling inferior. Social media lets us tell eachother that we’re standing in line at Starbucks on a Tuesday in Norfolk waiting to get a latte which—allow me to be a critic here—means absolutely nothing to anyone in the world, besides the guy standing in line. I may be missing something here but just because one can send a tweet or an email doesn’t mean there’s any reason to do so….unless it’s about you, of course.

I don’t get it and if there’s something to get, I hope I never do. Oh my…three “I”s in one sentence.

December 6, 2013

In 1990, just as news was breaking about the release of Nelson Mandela from a South African prison after 27 years for trying to overthrow a government that recognized apartheid, I interviewed Piet Koornhof, South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States.

“Does he have a role in government?” I asked.

“That is up to the people who elect,” Koornhof replied.

In other words, the ambassador wasn’t willing to accept the fact this black man could hold any role in government. I remember a single feeling while we were talking: here are two white guys discussing how a black man should live in a country that is 74% black and 14% white. I remember too, the engineer for the radio interview was black. The ambassador greeted him with a firm handshake, said to make yourself comfortable and then never looked at him again. As we were driving back to the network along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC, the street where most of the embassies are located, our conversation wasn’t about what Ambassador Koornhof said, but about what he wouldn’t say.

I later learned the ambassador was living with the black woman who was his secretary during his term in the embassy. We are always talking about going beyond words with deeds but here the ambassador couldn’t use the words. Had he done so, he’d have been thrown out of his job.

One more thought about Nelson Mandela: when he was inaugurated as president in 1994, the guards from Robbin Prison were invited. “If you want to make peace with you enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner,” Mandela wrote in 1995.

Members of Congress who are forever pointing fingers at eachother in press conferences would do well to get beyond the words they use, and instead, listen to the words of Nelson Mandela, who I’m sure they’re all going to be praising over the next few days.

November 18, 2013

Where Were You?

Unless you’ve been on Pluto–and now that I think about it–this is probably being talked about there too–we are approaching the anniversary of the day John F. Kennedy died. There is always a bit of “where were you” talk, but this year we have a “0” at the end of the year marking the anniversary, so it’s a big deal.

First, anniversaries. I did an interview for a book I ghosted with Larry King with the late Harvard scientist Stephen Jay Gould about the coming millennium and what we need to know in this ever-fast-and-going-faster world. He told me we have always gotten excited when our car odometer turns to 10,000 miles (although in my case I dreaded when it turned 60,000 miles) than when it turned 9,347 miles. Same thing with birthdays. I dreaded that moment too now that I look back but the point is, one enters a new league when their age contains a “0” or a “5.” So that’s why every network-cable channel-magazine-radio station is airing long form programming about what happened in Dallas 50 years ago.

I will admit it’s been a good history lesson and I’ve read-heard-seen reflections from many people who were there or who have had half a century to review what happened to us as much as what happened in front of the Book Depository building.

When I was an editor at the Mutual Broadcasting System, we did an interview with the late Senator Ted Kennedy about his push for health care and xince the program would air on the weekend of when his brother was killed, we asked The Question. “I am going to spend that time,” he said, “thinking about the day my brother was born than thinking about the day he died.”

That answer has stayed with me for years and I’ve used it when friends have called to say someone we grew up with was dead. I wonder in all of this “where-were-you” atmosphere if anyone can answer the late senator’s question?

It’s May 29th. Spend some time thinking about that.

October 30, 2013

Questions (not 67 or 68)

Sunday talk shows are part of what I do. I decide what “sound bites” are appropriate (read: newsworthy) for a network radio newscast. There are a lot of talk shows with a lot of guests. First, some observations:
(1) Chris Wallace asks the best questions on Fox News Sunday. I enjoy his warnings to politicians who start with the shop talk that nobody will understand about “don’t go too far into the weeds here” or “don’t go wonky on me.” Of course, he had a good teacher and if you’re clueless about that sentence I’ll suggest you go into the weeds a little bit.

(2) Every talk show has panelists who comment on the interview everyone has just watched. That’s OK I guess but one starts agreeing with what a panelist says rather than what the guest said. I’d prefer there be no panel and let the points made–or not made–by the guest stand for themselves. Of course, if we watch a play made by Jay Cutler for the Chicago Bears, we also see it over and over before the next play is made—and there’s commentary as we do so that idea may be out the door. The downside with panels is always having an echo chamber where everyone agrees with everyone else. There’s no learning taking place when that happens.

Now, here are some questions that have yet to be asked by any of the Sunday hosts:

(1) Ted Cruz–”Senator, you have been vocal about how Obamacare will destroy jobs so I will presume this means you have an alternative that has somehow been missed. What would you change and what would you keep?”

(2) Any Tea Party Member: “Most of us were taught in civics class that changes can be made to a law by offering amendments where one idea replaces an existing rule. Why don’t you do that instead of shutting down the government for 16 days?”

(3) To Both: You have been vocal about government spending too much and how the deficit is going to ruin this country and many will agree with you. How fast do you plan to get the deficit to 0? Ten years? Five years? (and a follow up question) Economists say bringing the deficit and government spending down too fast will harm the economy so do you believe that premise and if not, how will it be done? (and one more follow up) How come you haven’t offered a timeline to do this?”

Tune in Sunday and see what happens.

October 23, 2013
It happened To Me

I felt empathy for the woman in the red dress standing behind President Obama who became light-headed while he explained the failure of the HealthCare.gov website. She was having a low blood sugar–one of the givens for the three million Americans who deal with Type 1 diabetes every day. I have it too.

A normal–OK, let’s say “healthy”, human body operates with a blood sugar of about 100. Diabetics can drop as low as 11 (yeah I’ve been there) and lose consciousness or go as high as 600+ and ruin their eyesight, kidneys and a list of other organs if it’s not treated. Control requires a daily injection of insulin before every meal and then testing of a blood sample throughout the day to check the glucose levels.

It’s not fun, it can be embarrassing, and it can be expensive without health insurance but even with health insurance, it’s a disease that affects the wallet as much as it affects the pancreas (the organ in the body that produces insulin). In a diabetic, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a “healthy” body, hence the need for insulin injections. Too much insulin and you begin to feel light-headed, and unable to focus and too little insulin, you become thirsty, hungry and need frequent stops in the bathroom.

There is no cure despite non-stop fundraising walks, dinners, bike rides and academic and National Institutes of Health grants for research. In my lifetime, there may never be a cure. Quite frankly, I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what life would be like if there were?

It requires a philosophy though: I choose to say “There are X amount of people with this disease in the world and I’m one of them so that means someone else doesn’t have to have it.” I’ve been called simplistic for that approach. That may be true but it works for me.

People have witnessed it happen to me and once I come back from wherever a low blood sugar takes you, I’m apologetic and embarrassed and promise never to let it happen again and put more friends and strangers through having to call a paramedic.

The woman with the red dress is feeling all of this right now. It’s proof we need to really take a look at the idea of a national health care effort and how to make it work better. I know there’a lot of noise about how bad it is but one has to be naive to think it can all run as planned on the first lap. Henry Ford built prototypes of the Model T before launching it in 1908. We’ll be seeing the same thing with health care….and diabetes. The naysayers are just doing their job and I hope the researchers, web geeks, politicians and presidents continue to do theirs.

October 17
The Clean Resolution

Much of the banter a few miles from here has been about “a clean resolution” to end the government shutdown. The White House demanded any measure to fund the government and to avoid a debt limit default had to be “clean”—meaning no defunding Obamacare or delaying Obamacare or funding only certain parts of the government or–well–whatever Ted Cruz and tea party experts could come up with.

It didn’t happen but…..well, Mitch McConnell the go-to Senate Minority Leader added a 2.9 billion dollar improvement to the Olmsted Lock and Dam Authority on the Ohio River which just happens to be in his home state of Kentucky.

In these days of the obvious being called something else (i.e. in admitting defeat, Speaker of the House John Boehner tells America “we fought the good fight” instead of saying “this was a dumb idea”, Senator McConnell says “it’s not an earmark” because it save the taxpayers a lot of money. Ya think?

The thing of this is, after 16 days of too many speeches on the Senate and House floors instead of having conversations with the other side, there’s relief it’s over—and that comes from both sides.

Please tell me this could have had a simpler solution than it did. Please, also, tell me in 90 days we won’t go through this again. Talking to the other side might just be a good idea instead of to CSPAN.

I’m not taking either bet and I’m a positive guy.

October 10, 2013

We have countdown clocks running and we have calendars noting how many seconds, hours, and days since the partial shutdown of the United States government began. Fingers have been pointed non stop as to who’s to blame and everyday brings a new news conference from either the White House or Capitol Hill saying “we need to negotiate.”

With one week before the United States facing a possible default on paying  bills from the past fiscal year (i.e. the debt ceiling) for the first time in 247 years, members of both political parties are having talks at the White House. The sad thing is we now call this “progress,” when common sense suggests it could have been done all along.

One thing I’ve learned living in Washington DC is Congress waits for the last possible moment to do what it could have done from Day One. It’s part of the way we do things because waiting allows one side to give in as a result of the threat of what could happen a few seconds later.

This time is different though.

Some in Congress say the October 17 deadline when the Unted States runs out of its ability to pay bills really isn’t October 17, but sometime later–though no set date is ever provided by these economic experts. In other words, the debt limit is really a lot of hooey and we’re all victims of scare tactics by the White House.

When I grew up in Indiana, my father would say “being dumb is OK as long as you learn from all the mistakes that being dumb puts in front of you.” Today, however, being dumb is more serious. Now we look at common sense and say, “it’s not really common sense.”

Congress has an approval rating of 5%. That shows hope for the United States.

Tuesday October 1, 2013

Capitol Hill Road Rage

Just in the event you’ve been on the planet Pluto recently—oh wait, Pluto is no longer a planet (it’ a “Kuiper Belt Object”), negotiations between Democrats, Republicans and the White House have failed resulting in the shutdown of the government. The Cliff Notes version is Republicans don’t like Obamacare despite the fact it’s passed both houses, signed by the President and has been ruled legal by the Supreme Court, so they added its defunding, then delaying and now denying government being in business to a budget bill. In case you’ve been on a Kuiper Belt Object, Congress is supposed to pass a budget.

The antics (and antagonism) we’ve watched is going to be taught in future political science classes in high school on How Not To Do Things. One really has to try to act this way. Now, a lot of people are critical of Congress and the events of shutting down the government have taken opinions of House and Senate members lower than that of mosquitos.

Republicans like to quote Ronald Reagan a lot so here’s one they may have missed:

I agreed with FDR, who said in 1933: ‘I have no expectations of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average.

President Reagan used to have drinks with House Speaker Tip O’Neill a few times a month where they discussed policy positions—-President Obama hasn’t done this with House Speaker John Boehner. I’m not suggesting this will solve every problem but the beginning of every conversation has to include a willingness to set pinions to the side for a moment and learn where the other side is coming from. Usually, there’s a solution in the middle.

So how does this get resolved?

Children are given a timeout (yeah, that transition is there for a reason).  Step back and look at the big picture. The White House needs to tell Republicans it’s time to do their job and pass a budget without links to Obamacare or whatever the Complaint of the Day happens to be. Once done, the White House should offer to make some changes to Obamacare. This is something adults do; see a problem and fix the problem. Make a statement in the White House briefing room that The Affordable Care Act (“ACA” in Washington-speak) that there are 6 Democrats ready to have a conference committee with 6 Republicans who are concerned about the ACA. The burden shifts to Republicans to accept that offer. Americans will applaud it. And you know what? Congress will rise above mosquitos.

Making speeches rarely gets anything done but stir emotion and there are times when that’s needed. Talking, however, is what gets results and that’s what’s needed now.

Wednesday September 25, 2013

As I write this, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been talking on the senate floor for now 18 hours about why the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is “forcing its will on the American people.” I have been switching between this and Jerry Springer (the latter is part of my morning routine as I always want to learn something each day). Here’s the scary part: Jerry Springer makes more sense than what Senator Cruz is doing.

All the ad nauseum banter about President Obama’s effort to provide health care for America is based on the fact nobody is talking to each other and there’s an irony in that Senator Cruz is part of the “greatest deliberative body” which suggests there is a conversation going on somewhere. Well, to the esteemed gentleman from Texas, here’s a newsflash: There isn’t. The great speeches are going past the people who are supposed to be listening and having a conversation to find a solution.

The guests on Jerry Springer are there because they lack the ability to talk with eachother. The result is yelling, a few bitch slaps and little communication until Jerry offers his “final thought” which is always about the importance of talking to each other.

If Senator Cruz is interested in having a conversation about suggestions to make the Affordable Care Act more user-friendly, then he should do just that instead of wasting everyone’s time about how his father was a dishwasher and how much he loves America. In fact, both republicans and democrats should do that.

The result would be Senator Cruz not having to read “Green Eggs and Ham” to his children on CSPAN.

Talking isn’t that difficult to do but solutions aren’t found in speeches on TV. A single sentence quoted to me years ago while doing a book about things we need to know in the 21st century is this: “It’s not me against you; it’s the two of us against the problem.” Unfortunately, we’re far from that idea.

Time to go back to Jerry Springer now. I want to learn something new.

Wednesday September 4, 2013

I watched the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Kerry, Defense Secretary Hagel and Joint Chiefs chairman General Dempsey make the case for a limited bombing of Syria as a result of proof chemical weapons had been used.

Critics will say I’m making the same case about the most overused phrase in the history of civilization (“send a message”) just as I did in my last post. Rather than debate this, I’m going to just agree so we can get to my concern faster.

Everyone in front of the senators, and most of the senators themselves, used these tired, meaningless and now-nonsensical three words to ad nauseum: send a message.

There was concern about the message we would send by sending cruise missiles to chemical weapons delivery systems. There was angst about the message we send to allies if we don’t do a darn thing. There was hand-wringing over the message we send to Iran if we “degrade” Syrian president Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s regime. Secretary of State Kerry refused to disclose what was meant by “degrade” which would be addressed in a closed session—in other words, without Wolf Blitzer doing play-by-play in between commercials for Ram Trucks.

Here’s the question about all of this message sending: If nobody gets the message, why do we worry about sending it? Mr. Assad isn’t being targeted so there’s no message to be received. If he was being targeted, we wouldn’t (hopefully) tell him so he still wouldn’t get a message although I’d say the smart money is someone in Damascus is setting up a way to get a laser sight on Assad’s forehead.

The message I received after three hours of watching is that Teresa Heinz Kerry, sitting behind her husband, was ready to get out of Capitol Hill as soon as possible after the first twenty minutes.

I understand “send a message,” like “at the end of the day” is part of politics-talk. It is time however to communicate and this can’t be done if the eyes of the person getting the message or those of the American people who are trying to understand the message, are glazed over.

Will it change? Of course not. But man if it did, that would be awesome—-oh no.

Wednesday July 10, 2013

The Go-To Phrases Go Nowhere

Talk Show guests have got to stop talking and start listening. Yep, this includes members of Congress (geez, what a combination). Let’s go to some examples of meaningless phrases:

At The End Of The Day—The first time I heard it was former General Barry McAffrey who used this three times in just a four minute segment on MSNBC. General, with all due respect, there are other ways to say “when you look at the big picture” or heck, even “the bottom line” works.

Send A Message–This one has been around for too long. John Boehner has “sent a message” to the White House that tax increases are not on the table and when she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton “sent a message” every day whenever making a public statement. Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai was usually on the receiving end but so too was Vladimir Putin about being a lousy ally for assisting Syria’s Assad and you’ve got to start thinking maybe there are too many messages being sent and they’re colliding in the air somewhere over Omaha or, just maybe, the recipients are ignoring them? Maybe we need to send a message about no more messages being sent?

Bipartisan Coalition–The winner of this oft-used-now-nonsensical phrase is Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. When I listen to the Sunday talk shows at NBC News in search of something worthy to report, Dick Durbin drags this phrase with him to every sentence. Note to the esteemed genetleman from Illinois: Bipartisan doesn’t have a meaning anymore. BTW “I work with people who see the isue differently and we reached agreement” would work just fine–and the TV viewer would sit up and say “Holy S—, he said something there.”

The Liberal Media–Fox News hosts and the comedian formerly known as Rush Limbaugh can’t make it through the day without putting forth a problem and then pointing at “the liberal media” for not providing coverage of the ideas that will save the planet. Never do these respected members of the intelligensia tell you just who is a member of “the liberal media.” And are all the ills of the world because of this one group that we don’t bother to name? Might this be a cheap shot designed for an audience that doesn’t want to think too much to we just blame the liberal media and our job is done? Memo to Roger Ailes: If you’re going to pay these folks to blame the liberal media–pay them a little overtime so they can tell us who is and who isn’t. After all, we need to know who’s against us, right?

Language is important and it’s all the more important when 3,416 talking heads are pointing fingers and using words that have become meaningless.

 

Thoughts today:

WTF? (2.0)

CNN Headline News is going non-stop with the George Zimmerman trial (and I’m wondering if I should capitalize the “t” in Trial?). CNN is doing the same thing as is MSNBC and, even Fox News.

BTW, Fox News has actually been doing news other than this from time to time for which I applaud them.

Let’s look at the “in other news today” category:

  1. President Morsi in Egypt is in a pissing contest with everyone, including his army and thousands are in Thrill Square. Egypt is an ally of the US so we’ve got a dog in this fight.
  2. The heat wave continues in the west coast and Arizona is dealing with a wildfire that–as of Tuesday night–isn’t even 50% contained because of high winds.
  3. Congress didn’t find a solution to the student loan bill so any new loan is going to have an interest rate twice as much as those of existing student loans.
  4. As of Wednesday, the Obama White House is delaying a key part of the Affordable Care Act so we’ll see–literally–what the lazy TV suits decide to air. I’m not beiing on brains in this case.

Yes, Zimmerman is a reflection of race and guns in America. But it’s not the jury handing a verdict–it’s the back and forth of defense and prosecution as to whether this is an etc of self defense or a would-be cop white guy not liking a black kid? But non stop coverage? It’s cheap to do and that gives all the reporters a long weekend.

And when that happens, non-news wins. We’re better than this.

A Digital Divide

I bought an iPhone 5 and have spent the past three weeks learning what it does. Because I am one of those “digital-deficient” people, I signed up for a workshop to learn how to turn it on, make a call and get email. But because I’m such a genius, I quickly realized I had no need for this. So I called the Verizon Wireless store (using the iPhone 5 a few blocks away here in Virginia to cancel my appointment.

Let’s put it this way: It would have been quicker to walk to the store.

We all are fans of the automated voicemail where one pushes 2 for “droid” and 3 for “Spanish” and I can’t remember what 1 did though it probably was to get the third race at Santa Anita but I used a few adjectives and then said “operator.”

The automated voice said “please wait” so I listened to Verizon ads for five minutes. Then a nice lady comes and I tell I want to cancel the appointment and am put on hold again for more ads and then she politely comes back and says “OK, you’re canceled for the workshop.”

And then she asks the famous “Is there anything else I can help you with?” I asked if she could get rid of John Boehner and was was asked who he was and why? She told me she was in California which I had to ask, “Why would I have to talk to someone on the other side of the country when the store is just a few blocks away?”

“Oh, well, you should have pushed 4 for “service.”

Suddenly, I’m not the genius I once thought myself to be. All this time I thought this automated response was for efficiency. So much for the call being “important to us.”

 

 

What’s In A Name?

This is something I’m never going to have to worry about but if a politician is ever offered to have a bridge or airport named after them, he or she should say “no thanks.”

Do you think Ronald Reagan enjoys having the former National Airport in Washington DC named after him? Flight delays, TSA inspections after standing in line and then standing in line to get a cab? The Gipper wouldn’t be happy about this.

Do you think Woodrow Wilson likes the idea he has a bridge named after him? This is the center of the worst traffic in the United States according to the Urban Mobility Report from Texas A&M. People spend 67 hours/year trying to cross the Wilson Bridge.

How many adjectives are used each day by gridlocked/frustrated folks in these two places?

My take? Name bridges and roads after Osama Bin Laden or Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s more appropriate.

 

WTF?

I was talking to a guy on a flight from Chicago to Washington DC last week who worked in “Mobile Access” and, of course, I had to ask what that means?

“I keep the firewalls working,” he said and even though his words used just a few syllables, each was filled with exasperation at the fact I had no idea what “mobile access” happened to be. Now that I write about it, I’m getting a little angry too.

I mentioned how so much had changed since September 11 while noting it’s made us more proactive than reactive.

There was a silence as I waited for a response.

“What happened September 11th?” he asked.

There was another silence, this one from me.

“The twin towers were destroyed,” I explained and was about to add that’s why things are so different now when his hand went up.

“Oh, you mean ‘9-11.’”

“No, I mean September 11,” I said. “That was the date.”

“Yeah, I know,” he interrupted, “but everyone I know calls it 9-11.”

Sometimes, it becomes clear that more words are a waste of time. This was one of those moments.

“OK,” I said and went back to reading a Kurt Vonnegut book.

When we landed, I got up to get a carry on bag and said to him. “I hope you have a good 7-4.”

He shook his head, grimaced and asked, “A what?”

“Fourth of July,” I said.

“Nobody calls it that. I’ve never heard that.” He was looking right at me.

“My mistake,” I said, and headed for the doorway, with this single thought:

When words don’t matter, that’s the moment they really matter.

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