Windsor not

Look, since I’m kind of on a cranky roll anyway (see two most recent posts, below), here are a few unkind words about Americans’ obsession with tomorrow’s royal wedding.

The one in England…you heard about it, right?

God, who around here hasn’t!?  Honestly, have you thought about what has brainwashed American TV networks—hell, local stations even—into thinking that we care enough about this spectacle to justify their overkill?  Well I have, and the answer is: nothing.  They don’t really care whether we care or not about some royal wedding; it’s just an event—one completely absent any real significance (except for the participants and their families, I assume)—that they can turn into “An Event!” that will attract a lot of eyeballs, which is what they need to sell overpriced advertising.  Have storyline, will hype.

And even at that I wouldn’t be bothered enough to complain, except for one thing.  I have no qualms about a TV company that promotes and broadcasts an event with the intention of making a boatload of money; that’s what they do, whether it’s the Super Bowl or “American Idol” or the last episode of “M*A*S*H.”  But I have significant-sized qualms when they prostitute any credibility they may still enjoy by dressing up this sales opportunity as coverage of serious news when it is without a doubt nothing of the sort, and when we let them get away with it.  By “we” I mean the Great Unseen Unwashed American Tee Wee Viewing Audience, and by “let them get away with it” I mean act like we don’t know or care that they’re blowing sunshine up our collective skirt.

Oh, here’s some good news: television ratings indicate interest in this pseudonews is less than expected…I hope that carries over into tomorrow, too: schadenfreude is best served with tea and biscuits.

And on a related subject: this keen interest from Americans toward a royal wedding seems a bit disloyal, inasmuch as we fought a whole war and everything to make the point that we don’t much care for fancy pants nobles and royalty because "all men are created equal."  So what’s up with that?

What fools these mortals be

Somebody (Albert EinsteinRita Mae Brown?) said the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  Well, I admit I’m as crazy as the next guy.

Although I know better, I subscribe to the (one and only) Houston daily newspaper, and I take the sports section to work to read at lunch.  Last Friday there was a throwaway sentence in Houston’s Leading Information Source’s game story on the previous night’s Astros’ embarrassing loss to contest with the Mets: “…and a four-base error on right fielder Hunter Pence opened the way for the Mets to push across three unearned runs in [the] eighth.”

Four-base error?  Interesting; I wonder what happened?  But I had to keep wondering, because there was no further mention of the event in that story.  Nothing; it seemed an odd thing to overlook.  When I got home later in the day I clicked on a Yahoo! Sports headline about a “Little League homer” in the majors and noticed a familiar brick-colored jersey in the picture: Pence had turned a lazy pop-up down the line into a home run for a guy playing his first game in nine months!  Here, see for yourself.

There are subjective editing decisions to be made at several stops along the way on every story in every paper; I get that.  In this instance I don’t know if the writer failed by not bothering to explain this one truly unusual thing that occurred and the desk in Houston didn’t notice the omission, or if the desk noticed but failed to send the story back for a rewrite; or, if the writer did write it up but the desk failed by making a really poor choice of what to cut to make the story fit the hole.  (Let’s not even consider the possibility that someone made an editorial decision to low-profile the thing so as not to embarrass the player or the team.)

Why was I expecting even a competent recap of the game from this newspaper?  Because I am a fool, it appears.

But I am not one of the fools that the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick thinks local television stations are trying to attract with their newscasts.  He’s writing specifically about the local stations in New York, but I’ve seen enough local TV news around the country to say that his criticism applies pretty damn much everywhere.  His modest proposal: “What would happen if one of these newscasts surrendered the race to attract fools and went after those disenfranchised viewers who would tune to a local newscast for news, the real stuff? What’s the worst that could happen?”  Check out some of his quick and easy steps to stop dumbing-down the broadcast by cutting out a few things, like:

1. Lead our winter/summer newscasts with hysterical word that winter/summer weather is here, with more winter/summer weather expected until the spring/fall. We will no longer, during our weather reports, suggest what kind of clothing to wear when it’s cold or hot.

4. All promos for network primetime shows will be seen in advertising and promos around the news, and not within the news, as if it were news. We have too much respect for our viewers and our profession to be in on such a credibility-killing compromised game.

5. Our reporters and anchors will be hired based on their ability to credibly gather, investigate and literately report the news, and no longer on the basis of beauty, sex-appeal, ethnicity and race. That’s right, the ugly will be given a fair shot. And no more “see these?” cleavage will be displayed by our reporters, not even during weather reports.

7. Our anchors will not engage in forced chit-chat after every report, a transparently phony formula to promote folksiness and trust. Tragedies will stand as self-evident, no need for our anchors to tell us that the news just seen was “Sad news” followed by the other anchor’s, “Very sad news, indeed.”

9. We will not send reporters to provide live reports while standing outside a closed bank that was robbed 20 hours earlier. Unless the robbers are still inside.

The worst that could happen?  We’re all stuck with the same drivel we’ve got now, and I’ve still got something to complain about!

Don’t let the rules of evidence get in the way of a guilty verdict, not when you can change the rules

Did I grow up on another planet?  Was my education about the basics of a criminal trial, or even just the nature of plain old fairness, totally alien?  Apparently so, when I read what the Texas Legislature is up to

We here in the Texas state senate are voting to change a rule of evidence in criminal trials.  Now, this wouldn’t be for every criminal trial, just a special kind of case, one where the defendant is accused of rape or sexual assault.  Y’see, people accused of rape or sexual assault—not convicted or admitted rapists, mind you, but accused rapists—they are so clearly evil (evident by the fact that they have been accused) that we think our good God-fearing prosecutors deserve a little help inflaming the passions of connecting with the jury.

This bill would make it legal in rape and sexual assault cases for the state to present evidence to a jury—after the judge hears the evidence outside the presence of the jury and decides that it is relevant—that at some time in the past there had been similar allegations of rape or sexual assault made against this same defendant.  Now, we’re not talking about telling the jury about a person’s record of criminal convictions during the punishment phase of the trial, after they already found the guy guilty of the new charge; that’s already in the law.  No, we mean telling the jury before they reach a verdict in this case about any time in the past when the same defendant was ever even accused of a similar crime.

Now, just to be clear: we’re not saying the jury should know that this guy was once arrested, or indicted, or tried on a similar charge; that’s OK and all, but we mean we want it to be OK for the jury that hasn’t yet decided if this scumbag’s defendant’s guilty of this crime to be told if he was ever accused of any similar crime—doesn’t matter if he was never arrested, or indicted, or tried on the previous accusation.

You and I both know that there’s some of them whiny types (folks who came here from New York City, probably) who’d say we’re ignoring fundamental rights and revving up some kind of witch hunt, but they just don’t understand how we do things here in Texas, is all.  We’re putting this together to go with a new package of laws we think’ll be good for Texas, stuff like:

Not getting all spun up about $27 billion in state budget “challenges” and starting the session off with having Governor Haircut declare that things like mandatory pre-abortion sonograms and outlawing sanctuary cities and demanding Congress pass a balanced budget amendment are emergencies, and need to go to the head of the legislative line; and

Making sure we get our money’s worth out of our lazy-ass liberal college professors by putting a premium on productivity and emphasizing more time in the classroom, not that egg-headed research they’re so keen on; and

Seeing to it that the long-suffering public servants in the Legislature get the treatment they deserve and can carry their concealed handguns in places like bars and amusement parks, places where we already decided it wouldn’t be safe to have everyone packing.

Any questions?  Well, thanks for your attention.

These are my favorite stories about the Texas Legislature:

There was a “typo” when they wrote the state constitution back in 1876—they didn’t mean to have the legislature in session for 140 days every two years, they meant for it to be two days every 140 years.

In the 1970s the mayor of Austin, who was noted for an irreverent sense of humor, was holding his weekly news conference and a reporter idly mentioned, “Well, the Legislature’s coming back to town soon.”  The mayor’s immediate response: “Lock up the kids and dogs!”

The gentleman from Pearland yields…

…for some great insight on yesterday’s topic.  First, Wayne Hale, a former NASA flight director and, among other things, a one-time manager of America’s Space Shuttle Program (the big boss!), who has retired from government service, is also a wonderful writer.  And he has a great post today on why Houston didn’t get a space shuttle—because Houston takes having the space program here for granted, and assumed it was in the bag.

…with the level of interest that our citizens and leaders have in JSC, I soon expect to see that facility in the hands of a different federal agency.  Soon the National Park Service will be leading tours through the historic – and empty – halls of the Johnson Space Center National Historic Site.

I have a suspicion Wayne is trying to stir the troops to action; good for Wayne.

Those same troops got a different message today from Kyle Herring, a NASA public affairs officer for more than 20 years.  He sent along a reminder that not having a shuttle come to live in Houston shouldn’t be the end of our love affair with the program.

These space shuttles will have ended their flying careers, but not their inspirational ones. That career will live on forever in places where so many people will see what we have lived for much of our adult lives and our careers. We now can allow those who aren’t really sure what we did to see what miracles of spaceflight the space shuttle orbiters really are.


As we travel around the country in a year, two years, five, 10, 20, our paths will take us to these museums.Discovery on SLF We’ll pass through the doors of a hangar, or round the corner of a cavernous hall and suddenly look up and see Enterprise, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour representing our work, our commitment, our dedication. Our forearms will sprout bumps knowing that these spaceships are there because we protected them through years of flight in an environment not friendly to Earth-built machines.


…when we are standing in one of the four locations each orbiter finds home, we can watch the visitors stand in awe of these remarkable spacecraft and tell them about the Space Shuttle Program. We can tell them about what it meant to support such a great vehicle. We can spread the meaning of space – and the space shuttle in particular – to them.

Houston, you are “go” to stop whining

Yes, it was disappointing that NASA decided not to retire a space shuttle to Houston.  But a “snub?”  That’s the default formulation here at home, the assumption that the intention behind yesterday’s announcement was “to treat [us] with contempt or neglect so as to humiliate or repress.”  Is no one ready to consider that, perhaps, the other places made better offers?  Even Houston’s Leading Information Source surprised with an un-hometown-ish editorial today: Houston, don’t take it for granted that we’re Space City; we have to work harder and smarter.

What, you say politics played a role in this decision, and a Congressional investigation is called for?  Why, I am shocked—shocked—to think that politics is involved in any way in the operations of an agency of the federal government.

NASA’s denial that politics influenced the decision is…probably a bit disingenuous.  I can believe that the bureaucrat who oversaw the collection and review of the applications did not have a political axe to grind when she made her recommendations; I can also believe that political considerations were taken into account farther up the food chain.  If you saw NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden making the announcement at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday, it was clear he was not happy about the words that were coming out of his mouth.

And sure, I can understand how, in the category of “close historical ties” to NASA, the New York City museum on board the USS Intrepid—which recovered the crews from one (1) Mercury mission and one (1) Gemini mission—clearly wins out over the facility at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, which has trained every American astronaut who ever flew and has controlled every American manned spaceflight since Gemini 4.  No contest.

Sorry, guys, but anything beyond “oh golly isn’t that disappointing” is just being a sore loser.