Fall brings the good, bad and indifferent of television

With fall comes new TV shows for however long. The seasons seem shorter with the advent of cable programming. That beats seasons-long reruns all to hell although it leaves viewers wanting more of a particular product should it be worthwhile.

A friend mentioned on Facebook her joy at the return of “Sons of Anarchy.” It will be the final season although I am sure to watch many of the early episodes down the line as reruns, or hopefully, that is. I think SOA was on for several years before I came an avid viewer.

Since the new season aired only last night, I won’t give away much to prevent spoilage. I will say the show seems much darker and bloodier than in the past. I mentioned to my friend that the blood and guts are cause for my stomach to considerably weaken. The “autopsy shots” and those of “crispy critters” featured on “Duckie Mallard’s” table in NCIS episode absolutely make me turn away. As I told my friend, Tere, I don’t know if all the horrors I saw as a younger man –as a firefighter/EMT and later as a reporter — have finally caught up with me. The last real “Doctor” psychiatrist I spoke with about 10 years seemed to think it inevitable that I had PTSD, though it was never a real diagnosis. WTFK, right? (Who the f*** knows, if you wondered about the acronym. )

I am glad to see Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” returning on CNN. Bourdain is known as a chef, though since his books including “Kitchen Confidential,” unearthed the dirty business side of restaurateurs and chefs, Tony has become much more well-known as a TV travel guide. Bourdain combines eating and drinking along with traveling, done in almost equal parts humorous and poignant, he is definitely a favorite multimedia-type of mine.

I  suppose that I live somewhat vicariously through Tony Bourdain since I doubt I could find anyone who might finance me on a junket to explore sights, sounds, eats and drinks in exotic places. Most of the exotic travel I did was as a 21-year-old in the Navy. I could write about my exploits and have to some degree. Some of said exploits might be a bit too harsh for certain loved ones. Strolling down Magsaysay Drive in Olangapo, Philippines, at night while toasted, a cold San Miguel in one hand and a piece of barbecued monkey on a stick, could pass for a young salt in the 70s. But other entertainment, while certainly amazing in some respects, might also seem to others as somewhat perverse.

Television standards prevent, supposedly, an on-air person getting baked on ganja or s***faced on some foreign assortment of liquors. Nonetheless, Anthony Bourdain can be seen at the end of some evenings in his exotic travels, looking much worse for wear though no doubt happy for it.

Some TV shows disappearing or reappearing do not matter at all to me which way they go. The “reality” programs are high up on that particular scale. “Big Brother,” I never watched it. “Naked and Afraid,” sad to say, yes. But it is ridiculous to a high degree. If the embarrassment would fall to another’s face, I might watch it if I was without reading material. However, since I just took control of a new HP laptop today. I don’t foresee that happening.

Now, if I can just get used to Windows 8 and things going “bounce” in the day, I will find myself okay. Catch you here or there this fall.

Giving blogging the finger and my sleeping health

Live from tablet world! I don’t yet have a wireless keyboard to, hopefully, make this more blog-like. I have also not figured out how to get my WordPress platform–if that is the correct terminology–working on this particular Android operating system. It is a real pain in the ass to train my opposable thumbs to work on this quote-unquote “virtual keyboard.”

So what does a quote-unquote blogger do? Hellafino. I have to later shower, eat and drive uptown to a private medical facility for a sleep study. It has been about 14 years after I covered my own sleep study at a VA-DOD center out near Fort Hood and discovered that, yeah, I indeed have sleep apnea. My picture was on PI above the fold and everything.

A look at the computer chip in my head CPAP machine by the VA revealed I wasn’t getting as much sleep as was thought during the pregnant pauses in my breathing during night-night. An echocardiogram recently showed I have a slightly enlarged heart. The heart doc at the VA said it can be a byproduct of sleep apnea. So we will look and see eventually. If you see me writing about a stress test some later, you too will know. I kind of wonder about the VA sending me to a local private mini-hospital and that happening PDQ. Is it me or the scandal nationwide that this sudden burst of medicine is about?

My fingers or finger, one, index, right, is about to give out. So it”s off to hopefully a good night’s sleep, with a touch of weird science.


Breaking News: Robin Williams dies of apparent suicide

The CBS Evening News Scott Pelley reported on air this evening that comedian and actor Robin Williams was found dead today at his home in Marin County, Calif.  The 63-year-old who first came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s TV comedy “Mork and Mindy,” apparently committed suicide. Entertainment Weekly’s Danielle Nussbaum reported via Twitter that Williams, who also starred in a number of films including “Good Morning Vietnam” and won an Oscar for “Goodwill Hunting,” had experienced periods of deep depression recently.

Although Williams could be an acquired taste in my personal opinion he was nonetheless a comedic genius and a talented actor. It is needless to say he will be missed.

Rainy day tales from a pissed-off semi-retired journalist

Ann Coulter, the attention-seeking missile, has managed to finagle her way into the American conversation once again with her rant against soccer and the World Cup. Pttttewwwie. That is my spelling of a spit that comes from me. I know that spit is not good for my computer so I will just spell it, and not spit it. What I will not do is give that, well, I can’t use the word I would like, but I will not give her any more of my attention.

So it’s a rainy Friday afternoon. CNN is on my screen but the volume is not engaged. Wolf Blitzer is on TV talking to a Republican House Ways and Means Committee member about some missing IRS emails. “GOP outrage at missing e-mails,” is the “Developing Story” headline. This, in these days where every little happenstance is a “Breaking News” story.  Boy, they set the bar so low.

I once received a corporation-wide monetary award that I shared with another reporter. Both of us are gone from the paper and in the government sector. Well, I’m just part-time. Here is what happened:

I wasn’t Cops reporter anymore but I got to the paper an hour early so I could, usually, leave an hour early. I was the only one in the newsroom. I heard a call on the police scanner, a sheriff’s department dispatcher said there had been a helicopter crash. I called the sheriff’s department and got what information I could. An Army Black Hawk, on a foggy morning, crashed into a TV tower out in the countryside. It turned out bad, all seven on board including a brigadier general were killed.

The editor came in pretty soon and I told him what was going on. Best I can recall, he sent the other reporter at the scene and told me to “rewrite.” The latter term is now sort of a dinosaur. In the olden days — before I was even a reporter — a newspaper would have reporters in the field calling in their stories or pieces of story by land-line phones and the rewrite men (and women) would craft the story together. I only did it a couple of times and both times I just saw what was happening and took off from there, figuratively speaking, after a few seconds of direction from the editor. The other story was about a fatal charter bus crash out on the interstate. We had three or four reporters on that.

This rewriting of breaking news, or deadline reporting as it is called in the business, was not something I really trained for but rather something I seemed to take on instinctively. I knew about the award before I left the paper — I don’t know if my confidential agreement is still in effect, maybe some day I may tell the story, there isn’t much to tell anyway — I collected my share after I began freelancing. I think maybe it was only $50. That is more than the average newspaper award.

You’ve no doubt heard the term “award-winning journalists.” Well, in some ways, journalism awards can be a dime a dozen. There is something really wrong with you if you haven’t won awards. I had collected, jeez, I don’t know how many awards from regional and one state press association in my first two years as a journalist. And I pretty much learned about running a small weekly on my own.

Awards are nice to have. I won a couple of Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Assn. awards, first places for my size of daily newspaper, which was below a major metro. I won environmental writer of the year from the statewide Sierra Club. I did okay in my job, in other words. The latter and the company award meant more to me personally. Regional and state press clubs are, while nice to have personally (like on a resume), more a bigger deal to the newspapers and its managers.

Back to Vulfenzblitzer, as I like to call him, I detest CNN making every other story “Breaking News.” Technically, they are correct but it cheapens the really big stories that reporters write or broadcast every day in different cities around the world. A Facebook friend of mine, a network radio reporter, is traveling around the East with Secretary of State John Kerry.  She and I met covering the court-martial of former Army Spc. Charles Graner, the alleged “ringleader” of the Abu Ghraib saga. Those are real stories and, of course, I have my Gee Dubya stories from interviewing him alone by ourselves when he was campaigning for his “Poppy” to I don’t know how many press conferences as governor and a few as president.

Really, I am not bragging as there really isn’t much to brag about. I just spent some incredible years as a journalist who was just doing his job, and then some as a freelancer. CNN’s repeated versions of “Breaking News” kind of cheapens my personal history. And I don’t like it very much, see?

Oh, “Breaking News” now about the VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs? I’ve written about it for years. I’ll save that for another day.


My mea culpa runneth over: Could I have changed DeLay-Babin history?

Ignorance seemed to sweep the state of Texas last night as all of the top right-right-wing candidates won the GOP primary for state offices. This include Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick who swept the top two offices. Fortunately, not all Tea Party candidates won the right to run in the November General Election. I speak specifically in the race to replace Rep. Steve Stockman, who gave up his office to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by John Cornyn.

Woodville dentist and former mayor Brian Babin defeated Tea Party mortgage banker Ben Streusand by a 58-42 percent margin. Streusand lives in Spring, a Houston suburb that is out of the district.

Babin lost two previous congressional races in 1996 and 1998 to original “Blue Dog Democrat” Jim Turner of Crockett. The GOP candidate for the 36th Congressional District of Texas, Babin, will face Democrat Michael Cole, a teacher at Little Cypress-Mauriceville in Orange County. A Libertarian candidate, Rodney Veatch, also will oppose the GOP and Democratic candidates.

The area in which CD 36 lies includes rural East Texas pineywoods, the area where I grew up. Longtime congressmen who served much of the area included colorful Democrats Charlie Wilson and Jack Brooks. Gerrymandering left out most of Jefferson County and adds GOP-prone areas of northern Harris County, home of Houston.

I lived in the area during the 1996-1998 Turner-Babin races and covered parts of both races for area daily newspapers. I found both men friendly and intelligent. I had been on the verge of a hot political story had I put more effort into it. “You gotta have heart,” as goes the song from “Damn Yankees.” At the particular time I didn’t have it.

I went to write about a rally for Babin at Cloeren Inc. in Orange. Pete Cloeren and his Dad had built a very successful plastics business. Unfortunately, he threw his politically-untested hands into helping finance the Babin campaign at the behest of Tom DeLay. A scheme was hatched that every Cloeren employee would donate to Babin the maximum $1,000 contribution allowed in congressional races.

DeLay was there at the rally I attended. I heard pols say that the Cloeren employees, each, all donated $1,000 of their own money in Babin’s name. I said: “Right! What bullshit.” I knew that was illegal and I knew it was about as likely as pigs flying that all the employees each gave $1,000 toward Dr. Babin’s campaign. Yet I was lazy, burned out, didn’t give a shit. Had I the time and the energy to go full force at this story as I had in later years chasing every cow pie that potentially entered the North Bosque River and the Waco city water supply, perhaps I might have changed the course of history with respect to Mr. DeLay. But I doubt it. I seriously, seriously doubt it.

In the end, well, we don’t know the end yet to the former bug killer, DeLay’s, saga. I do know from my time covering court cases that Houston appellate attorney Brian Wice — a sometimes legal talking head on TV — is still a guy I enjoyed hanging out with while awaiting a jury verdict. I say all that and add Wice is hell on wheels on appeals and he is representing Tom DeLay in “The Hammer’s” overturned conviction.

Babin and his campaign committee were fined $20,000 by the Federal Election Committee and paid $5,000 in excessive contributions. And now look at him. He’s the “Comeback Kid!”

That’s about as mea culpa as I’m going to get. I started off writing this thinking, “Well, at least we didn’t get Streusand if the GOP candidate wins in November.” But remembering my little lapse in doggedness, I feel even more that the 36th CD needs to elect Michael Cole.



Science does it again

Sometimes it seems that perhaps the medical industry and the media could just keep a lid on research until all the hypotheses and postulations on a particular study was a bit more well-developed.

For instance, I read today where younger adults with exposure to marijuana might have a higher risk of serious heart disease. This was based on a study by something called the French Addictovigilance Network. Really?

Now right away you might be suspicious of something called the “Addictovigilance Network.” Don’t think they’d have an ax to grind would they? For that matter, something starting with “French” … oh well, just a little friendly, fun French bashing. We still love the French here in America. You know, the French fries and French dip and French’s mustard.

The studies on major medical issues that surface each week reminds me of that old bit about “The News” George Carlin did in which he read “news headlines” such as:

“Scientists say saliva causes stomach cancer. (Pause) But only in small amounts over a very long period of time.”

Now I really don’t want stories about health breakthroughs quelled, being the semi-retired journalist that I am. Just, I don’t know, wait awhile before reporting on such a story to ensure the studies are well documented. Otherwise, you are destined to end up within a week having a headline that says: “Doctors say smoking a fatty each day can cause lengthy lives and perfect, white teeth.”

The state seizes Beaumont school control. The circus has left town.

The state board that oversees public education in Texas announced today that an appointed board of managers will rule the troubled Beaumont school district.

A letter from Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to the Beaumont Independent School District superintendent and school board said the managers along with an appointed conservator and superintendent will run district functions effective June 15. This means the current elected board and its appointed superintendent, Dr. Timothy Chargois, will cease supervision of the largest district in Southeast Texas. A copy of that letter is here.

The announcement comes in the wake of years-long controversy, often based along racial lines, over financial and other mismanagement. Some of the former has resulted in the alleged disappearance of  millions in public dollars. A few pleas by district officials made in federal court may result in prison time as well as financial reimbursement and fines. A deal was also worked out by federal prosecutors and the district’s electrician in which the latter will receive no prison time for allegedly bilking the district for more than $4 million.

A Texas Education Agency report released earlier this month noted ” … a severe breakdown in the management of the district’s finances both by the board of trustees and the superintendent.”

Additional criminal investigations by local law enforcement and the FBI are currently under way.

Not addressed in these official reports are the racial overtones that pervade the controversy. Some of the racial discord dates back more than two decades in which the school district incorporated predominantly black schools and marked the beginning of a “white flight” that has today left Beaumont as a city with a black majority in population. Population estimates for 2012 by the U.S. Census show Beaumont with a population of 118,228. Of that population, 47 percent is black and 40 percent white.

Much of the racial-driver controversy concerning Beaumont schools teetered in the shadows until recent years under the district’s predominantly black school board and its black former superintendent Dr. Carroll “Butch” Thomas. Before Thomas retired in 2012, his salary of more than $360,000 was the highest in Texas. This despite Beaumont ISD was not even in the top 20 Texas schools in enrollment size.

The zenith of the BISD controversy came about after voters in 2007 passed a more than $380 million bond issue. Some of the most vocal critics say Thomas and cohorts mishandled funds in the bond issue. The large “Carroll A. “Butch” Thomas Educational Support Center, with a 10,600-seat football stadium at its center, is perhaps the monument for the BISD storm that either saw its peak today with the state takeover or whatever else is to follow.

Within the fight against the school board has been a vocal minority led by white residents of the district’s more affluent neighborhoods as well local Tea Party activists. The opposition leaders include one of the few white school board members and one local attorney who serves on the Beaumont City Council. Many who are among the most vocal, and often the most racial, can be found at the board meetings and on the comment sections of local media stories. Often the most vocal make their thoughts known pseudonymous online, such as adopting racist names for Beaumont school leaders as well as making sure minorities in other stories are likewise not given the benefit of doubt for their actions.

I must admit, it was once fun watching the squabbling on both sides. But no longer is that the case. Many of the opposition to the school board and its appointed leaders Thomas and Chargois, will feel vindicated and perhaps even giddy upon the actions taken today by the Texas Education Agency and its distinguished commissioner, Mr. Williams. It is pertinent to point out that Williams, who is a Republican former Texas Railroad Commissioner, is also black. I fear though that if the white BISD opposition does not get out of those appointees what they want, the vocal minority will likely point at the black TEA commissioner and probably at any African-Americans he appointed to the board of managers. Perhaps even, the loyal opposition may show its ire at the whole group.

If such takes place, it can only result in more discord and more white flight.

A word for the media here. I am sure all the local TV stations will claim their role in this hoped-for correction of the district. The TV stations are already doing their annoying “It was first reported here … ” The local newspapers took a very, very slow start into covering problems in the district as did the TV stations. Were it not for several of the aforementioned ringleaders of opposition, the media coverage of the district problems would have been nil. Had these media outlets been competently led, they might have seen Pulitzer or Peabody prizes in their future. While I would be willing to bet the TV and newspapers may win some prizes, the awards will be nothing near what they might have been had the local media been on the ball. It’s even possible these problems would have never even come this far.

So much for the fun and games. The circus has long stopped being fun. The clean-up crew now has to try and sweep away all the crap that the clowns, rather than the elephants, left behind.


What’s wrong with Ferguson and Geoff replacing Letterman?

It looks like Wednesday, April 9, may finally be the day my torn knee meniscus cartilage is fixed. What a freaking ordeal that’s been.

The world of late night TV is also having its own freaking ordeal now that David Letterman announced his retirement last night. Some say he retired years ago. I just think the time has come. I have liked Letterman over the years but his show is difficult to remain with through a night. It’s definitely lost a lot of its freshness.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised Jimmy Fallon has become successful, off to a fast beginning in replacing Jay Leon. I suppose the people who like Saturday Night Live over the last 15 or so years would like Fallon. Of the two Jimmies, I overwhelming say Kimmel is the better. But I don’t really like to stay with his show the entire episode either. Automatically, many think of Craig Ferguson on the CBS Late Late Show which follows Dave as a likely replacement, but I supposed those who like the two Jimmies shows don’t particularly get Ferguson. Not so, me.

Only over the past year or so have I begun watching Ferguson and his very different style of humor. I really suppose I should start taping it so I can get to sleep at a better time. Oh, and I stay with his show, wishing it was just a bit longer.

Ferguson reminds me of the early days of Letterman who, while seeming appearing stable on the outside seems possessing a zany personalaity with deep intellect. Not that Letterman seemed all that brainy, although many times he ends up looking crazy as a fox. Ferguson, a naturalized Scot who shows an abiding love for America with all it warts (most often a difficult task these days), has no band and no real human sidekicks. He has an robotic skeleton, Geoff Peterson, whose fingers seem to be falling off and two people in a horse suit known collectively as “Secretariat.” The latter only dance around and nod their heads at something to indicate an affirmative or negative. Geoff is hilarious as is Ferguson.

Ferguson likewise has great guests and, I don’t know if they rehearse, but they all seem to come off as if they had been sitting around talking all day. A limbo contest between Ferguson and guest Ashton Kutcher last night was a hoot. The Late, Late Show  follows a legacy of another “out there” host whom I really enjoyed, Tom Snyder.

One must admit that there are some intriguing names circulating as potential candidates to replace Letterman. Among them, Chelsea Handler, Ellen DeGeneres, Arsenio Hall, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert. All could revitalize that first late show time spot. Then so could Ferguson and others.

Maybe I just should lighten up and accept what passes for comedy of the more recent Saturday Night Live variety. Maybe I am just stuck in the Belushi, Murray, Ackroyd days. Or maybe not. Too much to ponder.

Happy Weekend.

Start with a microbe, you end up with a redneck pondering speech

Here is a story from Canadian TV that helps put one back in their place: Ah, yes, tales of the “Methane-spewing microbe blamed in worst mass extinction.”

Speaking of methane-spewing, I am still laughing today at a particular scene from last night’s episode “Starvation” on the great FX series Justified. Yeah, I know some may have still not watched it so avert your eyes.

The wonderful redneck criminal character Dewey Crowe, played by Down Under-er Damon Herriman, is caught siphoning gas from a little old lady’s car. Asked if he wants some snack or such she trots off while Dewey hollers: “If you’re gonna be a minute, you mind if I run in and take a shit?”

Not surprisingly, the old woman returns with a double-barrel shotgun. Well, it isn’t surprising she returns with a gun, not that it isn’t surprising she comes back with a “side-by-side.” Or isn’t it?

I’m not all that good in character minutiae, especially with a fast-moving, Elmore Leonard-inspired TV series. But the show’s executive producer Graham Yost tells Entertainment Weekly that another comic exchange, this time between Dewey and lead Timothy Olyphant, has ties to the series’ beginning. Olyphant, who exquisitely plays U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylyn Givens, manages to arrest Dewey after he, figuratively, blew up a chance for the marshals to trap Dewey’s meaner brother Darryl. As Dewey is led away Raylyn gives the hapless criminal some advice that he might ” … stop referring to himself in the third person.”

“What? This guy?” Dewey asks, nodding toward the cop about to drive him to jail.

“Man, sometimes I don’t understand you.”

The last phrase, as it turns out, Dewey uttered in the pilot episode. I don’t know if I even saw the pilot. I’m sure I must’ve. I haven’t missed many of the episodes Justified‘s five season. This is one of the few golden nuggets in TV these days. It is a reminder that the show must’ve had a writer. And it did and it does.

Too bad it wasn’t me.


Crime and medicine: Duo subjects for budding sports journalists

The role of a sports writer has seemed to widen each year. The media, and I would say rightly so, has reported in recent years on criminal escapades of athletes at all levels. Depending on how forthcoming the sports media are about developing stories on “student-athlete-criminals” the consumers of said media may be delivered crime stories ranging from jocks at the junior high to professional levels.

As is the case with most crime stories a person need not be arrested, tried or convicted  to have one’s name end up on the pages or on television in relation to some criminal misdeed. And if one is a prominent athlete, or just an athlete in some cases, or a celebrity a conviction is not always needed to rate coverage. Take the example today of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson has been shopped as of late by Philly front-office types. Reasons range from work ethic, or lack thereof, to temperament. The latest rap is that Jackson allegedly has ties with gang members. One such alleged gangsta, a rapper named “T-Ron,” has supposed connections to the notorious L.A. “Crips” gang. Such thin allegations involving Jackson says little as for his involvement, innocence or guilt. What does give rise to suspicions is that the Eagles have so intensely shopped Jackson who came off the previous season with big numbers and a big salary to boot.

Writing about such allegations takes no specific training as a journalist or sports writer. Perhaps these scribes would study their libel courses very well before engaging in publishing stories heavy with accusations and light on facts. To do hard-nose reporting on criminal escapades committed by a ball player and his friends requires a bit of training, if only OJT.

A second type of specialty reporting in sports news falls into the field of medicine. I thought of this having heard earlier on the radio that Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley was supposedly diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his right knee after an injury during the Rockets-76-ers game last night. Always sunny in Philadelphia, huh?

Deeper reading will probably find some journalist with a knowledge about such an injury, what it means, and how surgery might impact Beverley and his team on the Rocket’s path to the playoffs. I first heard this story earlier in the afternoon on Houston ESPN 97.5 “The Blitz” program. Hosts Dave Tepper and Houston Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon ran down the Beverley story and how it could result in Jeremy Lin starting in place of the injured Rocket. These radio hosts made an interesting observation that former Knicks phenom Lin has as his strength these days playing from the bench. Whether this means  Lin can step up, of course, is a good question. Where Tepper and Solomon could have used help is in having someone with even the slightest bit of medical knowledge concerning the injury suffered by Beverley.

I know I could provide a little information about that injury. As a result of a medial and lateral tear of the meniscus cartilage, I have been ordered by my doctor to stand no more than 2 hours per day. This has gone on for a bit more than a month and a half due to a reexamination into my worker’s compensation case. I just learned today that surgery for my torn meniscus has been authorized so there is the possibility I might have an arthroscopic meniscus repair sometime next week. I have been and am ready to get it over with and hope it will help. Perhaps I can become an expert on such injuries. At least I might have more knowledge than I was given today on the radio. That isn’t slamming Tepper or Solomon. Such journalist or commentators aren’t expected to be lawyers nor doctors. They just need to know where to find one. And that’s my point.

If one has a dream of becoming a sports reporter, then legal and medical issues are the types of subjects which sports journalists are expected to encounter these days. My piece of advice is, if such subjects aren’t approached at some point in the first couple of years in J school, then I would suggest you find courses into which one may learn these issues. Basic criminal justice of the kind reporters require should be taught in news writing intro courses. If not, then sign up for an actual criminal justice class. You will likely find in those classes some would-be cops or actual LEOs who might add to your knowledge, that, in addition to what one learns in class. Medical classes are something of which I am not so sure. I learned my medical knowledge through EMT training in which I was certified for 10 years. I also dated a couple of nurses. (Pause.)

At the very least, talk to an adviser in your school’s nursing program. No telling what you might find there. Anything is better than nada, someone — I think Doug Sahm — once said.