Privatization: Where greed meets grift

A motorist died because of neglect by a private real estate developer and a big technology company. Think about this the next time someone wants to privatize a public asset

Private investors can do a better job than big wasteful government, right?

You may have seen this story in the news this week: A man in North Carolina died in a car crash after he plunged off of a bridge that had washed away in a flood several years ago.

Philip Paxton, 47, was following directions from Google Maps on the night he died.

His family is now suing the people who owned the bridge and Google Maps for being liable in connection with his death.

Your first reaction might have been, “Ha, ha, the Darwin Awards at work, it’s just another person who died because they were following their smartphone.” That was my initial reaction, too.

But the actual story is pretty horrifying and it made me angry, and I thought you’d like to know what I found out.

Continue reading “Privatization: Where greed meets grift”

Wasting away again

I’m never up before sunrise, but I was on Saturday. For whatever reason, I woke up at 4:30 a.m., couldn’t fall back to sleep, and decided to give up and get out of bed. I was making my first pot of coffee when a friend messaged me that Jimmy Buffett had died.

I’m by no means a parrothead, but I have a lot of fondness for Buffett, in part because he was the soundtrack to the first vacation my wife and I took together. I have a lot of great memories of driving along the Lake Erie shore with her, listening to Jimmy Buffett on the car stereo.

Rather than play Buffett’s hits on Saturday, I decided to do a deep-dive into his catalog and play cuts from his first three albums, including “Down to Earth,” which reportedly only sold a few hundred copies during its first release in 1970.

It’s hard to overstate how much easier pulling together such a show is today than it would have been 10 or 20 years ago. By 7 a.m., I was looking at newspaper stories about Buffett written in 1970 and 1971, from local newspapers in Florida, which mentioned what some of his most popular songs were at the time in local coffeehouses and college unions, where he was performing at the time.

Continue reading “Wasting away again”

Don’t call us, we’ll call you

“We don’t have to care. We’re the phone company.”

I ordered a new cell phone this month. I have one of those pay-as-you-go cell phone plans, which I’ve had for more than 10 years, and I’ve been pretty happy with it.

I haven’t been so happy with the phones themselves.

Oh, I used to be. My first one was a non-smart phone — a Motorola “Renew.” It was advertised as rugged and was supposedly made from recycled materials, and it was praised for its excellent call quality. I liked it a lot and kept it for seven years. It couldn’t play games (I think it may have had “Tetris” on it), the web browser was strictly 1990s quality, and sending a text message was slow and painful. But as a phone, it was great.

Unfortunately, after seven years, the battery would no longer hold a charge. So I upgraded to an Android phone.

It lasted about four years before it started dropping calls, crashing and running out of memory. I tried several patches, resets and upgrades until I became frustrated and traded it in on another Android phone.

That one lasted about two years before the same pattern occurred — dropped calls, software crashes, memory errors. One of its neat tricks recently was that the screen would freak out and start randomly opening and closing applications and sending gibberish messages until I did a hard reboot. (One day it sent a “hugs and kisses” emoji to the police chief. I said “sorry, my phone is going nuts.” He replied, “I was wondering. You’re a nice guy but I don’t like you in that way.”)

Continue reading “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”

Facebook is a failed mall

I’m no social media expert, but when all of your advertisers are weirdos and wackos who can’t complete a sentence, your service is circling the drain

It’s no secret that Facebook has more or less become a social-media garbage barge. While not as openly full of Nazis and white supremacists as Twitter — sorry, I mean, “X” — bigots definitely run rampant.

Don’t believe me? Visit your local “neighborhood” or “community” page on Facebook and read some of the comments. It’s not subtle. And it’s a cesspool of conspiracy theories about literally everything.

If you maintain a corporate web presence on Facebook — I maintain several for my professional life — you have access to Facebook’s “insights,” which tell you generally who’s seeing your pages and posts. The demographics on Facebook, across the board, are bad. The average age of the users is going up, the number of users is going down, and the amount of engagement is dreadfully small.

Basically, Facebook is Century III Mall in 2007. It still has a couple of large anchor stores open, but the places in-between are being replaced by dollar stores, nail salons, clearance outlets and other low-rent businesses. Facebook is on a fast slide to becoming a permanent flea market.

Continue reading “Facebook is a failed mall”

Unearned unhappiness? That’s all right, I guess

Are you ready for some football?

News item: “A ticket to the USFL Championship Game is on the line as the Pittsburgh Maulers battle the Michigan Panthers in Canton, Ohio, this Saturday. How will this war between two 4-6 teams shake out?”

Las Vegas odds-makers say “Nobody Gives a Crap” is the favorite, but “Who Could Care Less” could surprise us.

Also, this:

If you’re looking to bet on the USFL North Division title game between two 4-6 teams, trust me: You have a gambling problem. Call now, operators are standing by.

Continue reading “Unearned unhappiness? That’s all right, I guess”

News you can’t use

Supposedly, someone asked Gandhi, ‘What do you think of Western civilization?’ He reportedly replied, ‘I think it would be a good idea.’

If a cluttered desk signifies a cluttered mind, what’s an empty desk signifying? Here are empty items from my cluttered mind:

News item: State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Inquisition) is planning a “special” announcement today, fueling speculation that he intends to run for the U.S. Senate in 2024. Mastriano, who ran for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022, lost in the general election to Josh Shapiro by approximately 800,000 votes.

If Mastriano makes it through a Republican primary for U.S. Senate, he would face incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat, who has said he intends to run for a fourth term in 2024.

Oh, Doug. Dan Hicks wrote a campaign song just for you:

How can I miss you when you won’t go away?
Keep telling you day after day
But you won’t listen, you always stay and stay
How can I miss you when you won’t go away?

Doug is a certifiable crackpot, but he’s positively sane compared to Kandiss Taylor, who ran for governor of Georgia last year. (She lost in the Republican primary.)

Taylor has been elected a district chair of the Republican Party in Georgia, and on her podcast, “Jesus, Guns & Babies,” she spent time debunking the “conspiracy” that the world is round.

The world is flat, she explained. The Bible says so. “Globes” are part of a trick being played on young people by liberals, socialists and, I guess, airline pilots.

And she’s not the only Republican candidate to be part of the “flat-earth” movement. Lauren Witzke, who ran for the U.S. Senate from Delaware in 2020 and worked for the Trump campaign in Iowa, also describes herself as a “flat-earther.”

According to a survey by the University of New Hampshire, about 10 percent of Americans believe the Earth is flat.

And — this will shock you, so I hope you’re sitting down — according to the survey, “Trump approvers are more likely … to agree with conspiracy claims that vaccinations implant tracking microchips, the Earth is flat, or NASA astronauts did not land on the Moon; but they are less likely to agree with scientists that the Earth is billions of years old.”

Golly. You don’t say.

The point, and I do have one, is that craziness is not the fringe of the Republican Party. It’s the center of the Republican Party.

And this is what CNN, the New York Times and other major media outlets are trying to normalize. “Let’s go to this diner in a rural small town and talk to the most extreme Trump supporters we can find in an attempt to sympathize with them” is equivalent to, “let’s find the craziest people we can, and make them seem normal.”

Then they expose the rest of us to the craziness over and over and over, until we get used to it: Well, maybe the flat-Earth people have a point.

The crazies are still a minority (for now). Most Americans want legal access to birth control. Most Americans want legal access to abortion. Most Americans want other adult Americans free to marry another adult person, regardless of their sex or gender identity. Most Americans want to be free to read what they want when they want. Most Americans want teachers and parents in charge of the education of our children — not religious kooks.

Why are we letting a tiny minority of fact-deniers dictate to the rest of us?

Because our supposedly “liberal” media insists on letting Republicans pee on our legs, and telling us it’s rain. Here’s the “liberal” MSNBC:

“Why is Ron DeSantis partnering with Elon Musk to launch his 2024 presidential campaign?”

Because they’re both white supremacist jagoffs. There, I saved you a click. It’s really that simple.

One last thing before I change the subject: For years, the media has referred to the Republican Party as the “GOP.” That’s an acronym for “Grand Old Party.”

The nickname began to be used widely after the Civil War, because the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln, and had fought to preserve the Union from segregationists and slave-holders. They were the “Grand Old Party that saved the country.”

Since then — after all, it’s been 150 years — the positions of the two parties have reversed. The Southern segregationists are all in the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party seems to be the one (albeit haphazardly) fighting to save America.

I know this is futile, but let’s knock off the “GOP” nonsense. There is nothing “Grand” about a party that wants to discriminate against women, Black people, immigrants, non-Christians and the LGBTQ community — let alone a party that can’t even agree that the world is round.

“Was there sensimilla in those Powdermilk Biscuits? Heavens, they’re tasty and expeditious.”

And finally: The state of Minnesota is planning to legalize recreational marijuana. I’m trying to imagine Garrison Keillor speaking even slower than he already does.

“Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown.” (Inhales deeply, holds it.) “Down at the Sidetrack Tap, Ole Olson was … uh … was … wow, do you ever really look at your hands?”

I used to be a serious Keillor fan. In the era before the Internet and podcasts, I used to set a timer to record his Saturday show if I wasn’t able to listen live. But as he burned through marriages and mistresses, I began to suspect his nice-guy persona was all an act.

And then reports began to circulate through the public radio community that, indeed, indicated he wasn’t nice after all. His newspaper column also became increasingly nasty. The sexual harassment scandal that eventually got him cashiered from Minnesota Public Radio seemed pretty minor in isolation, but it fit a pattern of questionable (or at least arrogant) behavior.

Come to think of it, if anyone could use a little weed to mellow out and relax, maybe it’s him. Someone get a bag of weed to the Chatterbox Cafe and run down to Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery for Doritos and Twinkies.

P.S.: The Gandhi quote is baloney. According to the Quote Investigator website, it can be traced to a 1967 documentary called “The Italians,” but that didn’t air until 29 years after Gandhi died, and there’s no evidence linking it to Gandhi before then.

I get all the news I need from the weather report

Beware of pink-slime news — it’s creeping into Pittsburgh and all over the country. (Spoiler alert: It’s probably already in your neighborhood)

A few items from Jay’s vast archive/fire hazard

A brief show note: This week’s show is live. Next week’s show will be partially pre-recorded from beautiful Dayton, Ohio, where I’ll be attending the annual Hamvention, one of the world’s largest amateur radio gatherings. (Or as my brother calls it, “the nerd convention.”)

I know a few people have been worried that the ongoing writers’ strike might affect my show, but if you’ve listened to my show even once, you know that no one is writing any of that crap.

Speaking of writing: I’m one of four co-authors on a new book called “American Deadline: Reporting from Four News-Starved Towns in the Trump Era.” You may actually hear me soon, being interviewed “on another network,” as they used to say.

As they used to say, “Check your local listings for times and stations.”

Or don’t. Try to find “local listings” any more. For that matter, try to find a newspaper. When the McKeesport Daily News closed at the end of 2015, it must have taken me two months before I no longer had the urge to stop at the store on the way home from work to buy a paper.

As you can see from the collection/archive/fire hazard above, although I worked for that newspaper for less than a year, it played a big role in my life.

I’ve had exchanges recently online with people who absolutely will not pay for news. They’re actually offended when someone posts a link to any publication that has a paywall: “Please don’t link to The Washington Post, I choose not to pay for content.”

It’s an odd flex. Try that with any other business and see how far you get. “I choose not to pay for plumbing repairs.” Well, enjoy wading neck-deep in feces.

Continue reading “I get all the news I need from the weather report”

Mike Royko knew about Murdoch

And the legendary Chicago columnist would have spotted Tucker Carlson as a lying fraud from a magnificent-mile away

Rupert Murdoch announces his purchase of the Chicago Sun-Times in a 1983 photo from the Chicago Tribune. Murdoch sold the paper two years later after making it “hideous,” as the weekly Chicago Reader once said. (Clipping from the Chicago Tribune)

Mike Royko knew.

Royko, for younger readers, was a legendary newspaper columnist in Chicago. I guess I also need to explain what it meant to be a “columnist.” A columnist was an opinion-writer, but more than that: At most newspapers, they were the stars, often (but not always) the best writers, and they were called “columnists” because they would fill up most of a “column” of type on the page.

There were other legendary newspaper columnists. San Francisco had Herb Caen, New York City had Jimmy Breslin, and Chicago had Royko. For a while, Royko’s columns were syndicated to hundreds of other newspapers all over the world.

Royko first made his mark in the early 1960s at the struggling Chicago Daily News, going after targets that other journalists were afraid to tackle, including Mayor Richard J. Daley. When that paper closed, he shifted to the morning paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, that was owned by the same publisher.

But in 1984, Royko quit the Sun-Times and went across the street to work for its mortal enemy, the Chicago Tribune. It would be like the Pittsburgh Pirates leaving the National League. People were stunned — including the people who ran the Sun-Times, which promptly filed a lawsuit to block the move.

Why did Royko walk? Because Rupert Murdoch had just bought the Sun-Times.

Continue reading “Mike Royko knew about Murdoch”

Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad

(Apologies to Corentin Penloup)

What is there to say now about cartoonist Scott Adams that hasn’t already been said by a thousand other people, mostly better than I could say it?

Maybe that while others may enjoy seeing a rich jerk get rightfully clobbered by public opinion, I find it sad.

In case you’ve missed it, the creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip posted a rant on his YouTube channel in which he urged white people to separate themselves from Black people. The next day, while attempting to supposedly put his comments into context, he made them worse.

As Gene Weingarten wrote in his excellent analysis of Adams’ meltdown, “every viewer of 1950s TV Westerns knows when you walk into quicksand, you thrash as little as possible.” Not Adams, who fell into it up to his neck, arrogantly refused to stay calm or get help, and has just gone under for the final time.

Dozens of the remaining newspapers that were carrying “Dilbert” have now pulled the comic strip, and as I was posting this entry, I learned that he’s also been dropped by the syndicate that distributed the cartoons.

Maybe Adams will find another syndicate to distribute his work, or maybe he will self-distribute it, but effectively, if the major newspaper chains and syndicates don’t want his comic strip any more, “Dilbert” is out of business, at least as a mainstream property.

Continue reading “Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad”

May we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land

Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph sings at Super Bowl LVII

Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” is a hymn written by two brothers, James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, in the late 19th Century, and it has been known as “The Black National Anthem” for more than a century.

In fact, the first reference I can find to it being called the “Negro National Anthem” is in a 1918 issue of the Omaha, Neb., Monitor, a weekly Black newspaper:

Clipping from the Omaha, Neb., Monitor, May 18, 1918, p. 5

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People popularized the term “the Negro national anthem” one year later and appointed James Johnson the executive secretary of the NAACP in 1920.

The lyrics are anything but controversial. Inspired by the Book of Exodus, the hymn is patriotic and religious, and a cry for equality and freedom for all:

Continue reading “May we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land”