I, Or Anyone I Know   (2017Apr06)

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Syrian security tries to quash dissent in Douma, but residents remain defiant, Jan. 14, 2012. (Elizabeth Arrott/VOA)

Thursday, April 06, 2017                                        2:24 PM

Devin Nunes, having erred on the side of Trump-partisanship to the point of public misconduct, has finally bowed to the inevitable result of such mischief and stepped down as head of the House Intel Committee investigating the Trump-Putin collusion. How many Trump-people does that make, so far? How many have been fired or resigned in disgrace? And how many good people have refused his appointments, refused to be complicit in his collapsing administration, or have been fired simply for being competent, long-term civil servants (the ‘enemy’)? There’s at least one Russian spy who’s been released from jail and whisked off to Moscow before he can be called in for questions.

Apparently, Trump’s hatred of visibility, and its accompanying disapproval, has led to a lot of empty government offices where, ordinarily, people would be pointing out unethical, counter-productive, or downright dangerous policy problems. The EPA has been put in solitary confinement, along with the NFS and many other agencies with a watchdog component. Trump likes rules, but only when he’s the one making them.

This helps distract us from him being the first president to ever be elected without any experience in government or the military—and helps him line his pockets with whatever international deals he makes. While all the people in DC, outside of his inner circle, have devoted their lives to public service, Trump’s career has been about greed—and old habits die hard.

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Pro-government demonstartion in Latakia

But worse than his shady dealings, his hypocrisy about Syria is sickening. He speaks of seeing photos of ‘beautiful children’ who were gassed by Assad and his determination to do ‘something’ about it. The Syrian Civil War is six years old now—is it finally real because Trump saw a photograph? Who is this asshole? And the pretense that he’s starting from zero—what a narcissist. Hey, bub, the world has been trying to put this fire out for a long time—it’s not new—you are. And the same could be said for Trade, Healthcare, or Civil Rights. All these things are well-discussed issues—the only thing new is that you are pretending to care about them now—just like you pretended to care about the Constitution to win an election, without reading the damn thing.

I saw his ‘interview’ with the New York Times—I have an institutionalized schizophrenic friend whose phone conversations are more coherent—and more human. Okay, I’m sixty-one—I’ve seen a few miles of road—so, I am older and wiser now—but I still never thought we’d elect a president whom I’m sure I could do a better job than. Understand that I’m not claiming I would be a good president—I’m saying I, or anyone I know, would make a better president than Trump. How did one-sixth of eligible voters elect a pig that the rest of us despise? It’s like the NRA’s stranglehold on gun rights, writ large—a small but vocal group of delusional yahoos defeat common sense among the majority.

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Anti-Assad protests in Baniyas, April 2011

In that interview, he urged the Times to follow that ‘Susan Rice’ story. Trump, do you mean the criminal allegations you spuriously made without proof or evidence of any kind? That story, you lying bag of shit?

Our democracy has been hacked—and the proof is that maniac in the Oval Office. I don’t care if it’s the Russians or the Super-Wealthy, but some sons-of-bitches have taken over our democracy—and majority rule is dead. I’m sick of it and I’d like to take a flamethrower to the bastards responsible.

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Protests in Douma

Trump Casts Intelligence Aside   (2017Jan06)

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Friday, January 06, 2017                                          10:32 AM

I’ve stolen today’s title from the New York Times headline—because in their piece, they’re discussing his rejection of intelligence-gathering agencies—but I think it is just as important to point out the truth of this headline in more general terms. Trump has an animal cunning, so it’s not that he’s casting his own intelligence aside—he’s plowing the intelligence of others aside as he sweeps the road clear for graft, corruption, and misconduct.

He started by belittling the experience and intelligence of his opponent—inveigling the voters to cast aside their own intelligence and good judgement, and vote as if they were watching the reality game show that gave Trump such prominence among the illiterate. Then he began belittling the importance of the truth—pretending, like a toddler, that saying “Is Not!” was sufficient response to charges that he is unfit to be trusted with responsibility.

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Now, the New York Times has run op-eds that discuss the finer points of calling Trump a liar—claiming that it is unfair to accuse someone of lying, if that person is unaware of their own untruthfulness. Now, I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit—Trump has blatantly, grinningly presented us with lie after lie, as if daring someone to prove the truth while the airways remain crowded with fake news and bullshit artists like Kelly Conway. Pretending that he has said these lies often enough to start believing them himself—that’s giving him far more credit than he deserves.

If Trump is faced with the choice of convincing people by reason, and bamboozling them with lies, he obviously prefers the second method. Do you remember his shit-eating grin, while he declared, “Obama is the founder of ISIS”—were we not supposed to see his obvious enjoyment of trashing every decent thing in the course of his campaign? Is it because he’s not so good with reason? Is it because he actually enjoys telling lies? Who knows—and frankly, who cares?

Him and his lackeys have parsed the grammar, inverted the morality, questioned the reality, and mugged their way past the sincerity of all the decent people that oppose them. Trump calls people names—that’s his policy. Trump says the professionals don’t know anything and he knows it all—what an asshole!

What Trump, his coven, and the whole GOP, really, do NOT ever do—is offer solutions, alternatives, plans, or ideas. They are full-on negative—because negative has two advantages—it lets them attack their opponents, rather than debate them—and it allows them to do nothing at all—and pretend that that’s their job.

If the media were honest, they’d be pressing Trump hard about what he’s going to do—he still hasn’t said, in case anyone was wondering. The media should be saying, “Yes, yes—bitch, bitch, bitch—we get it—but what are you going to do?” Paul Ryan won’t say what he’s going to do, either—I don’t mean to imply that the fartbag-in-chief is the only scum coating the halls of the Capitol. Their latest plan is to repeal Obamacare, but have cancellation take effect in four years—taking credit for a victory, without the need to solve the problem—these are the kinds of assholes you voted for—you have no one to blame but yourselves.

Imagine if someone turned seventy years old—never had a thought for public service his whole entitled, spoiled life—and decides he wants to be President. Yes, delusional is the correct term for that. What the word is for those who voted for him—I don’t know. Super-delusional? Yes, Trump casts intelligence aside, alright—but he sure has lots of company.

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Children   (2015Dec28)

Monday, December 28, 2015                                           12:01 PM

I saw two thought-provoking items in the New York Times Art Section today. One was about laser-scanning ancient historical sites under threat from ISIL vandalizing—and the other was about Jennifer Jason Leigh’s return to movies after the birth of her son.

I love the laser-scanning—once completed, a good laser-scan allows us to buy up some real estate down in Anaheim (next door to you-know-who) and recreate an entire site—right down to the texture of the stones—suitable for family visits or archaeological study. Indeed, we live in a world where, before long, even the reconstruction will be unnecessary—virtual-reality headgear will allow us to visit the site without leaving our homes. Meanwhile, science-denying thugs wandering the deserts of the Middle East can crack all the stones they want—was there ever such a display of ignorance?—destroying the remains of our past out of fundamentalist superstition. What children. Our only remaining threat would be Chinese-ISIL—people who could hack our digital heritage sites.

It is fitting that the season of Santa Claus would be a time for Jennifer Jason Leigh to start wishing for a role in a film her five-year-old could see. We parents are careful to keep our children from growth-stunting stuff like caffeine, alcohol, or cigarettes—and we do the same with perceptions. We feel (correctly, I think) that children’s minds cannot mature properly if certain memes are presented too early—vice, violence, betrayal, and despair can overtax a growing mind, killing its spirit before it has a chance to grow strong enough to handle adult issues.

Thus we raise our children in a fantasy world of happy endings, magic, and limited evil—we lie to them about Santa Claus for their own good—even though we must be revealed as liars, in time. Movie stars like Jennifer Jason Leigh act in challenging roles that suit their young ambitions—but when they become parents, they invariably start to think about roles in family-friendly fare—they become Santa Claus actors. Are they surprised, I wonder, when they discover that it is just as difficult to act out fantasy as reality? Ask a children’s-book author—it is as hard to write an engaging children’s story with limited vocabulary, devoid of adult issues, as it is to write adult literature full of big words and complex problems.

And if it is truly necessary to raise our children in a bubble of innocence, why have we never addressed this scientifically? Scientists might be able to determine the exact age at which children are best told that Santa Claus is a fiction—instead of having those uncomfortable confrontations between kids whose parents let the cat out of the bag—and kids whose parents want to hang onto innocence awhile longer. It is one of those ‘givens’ that we recognize, but never study outright. Doctors and nutritionists give careful study to which foods are appropriate for growing infants—when to start on solid foods, etc.—but we leave the decision about emotional maturity to the MPAA, which determines how old you have to be to watch each film being released—and the MPAA, trust me, is not a scientific institution with our children’s mental health as their primary concern.

Of course, even if we studied this issue, there would be parents who would take exception for their kids—as some of them do now, with polio shots and other school-mandated vaccines. Ignorance is an important part of childhood—and we parents sometimes want to prolong their ignorance—yet no parent would admit that they want their children to grow up to be ignorant adults. Even though reproduction is the cardinal activity of living beings, we still have debates over whether we should enlighten our children with sex education classes. That attitude seems more for the parents than for the kids—wishful thinking that our kids won’t have sex. Some school systems even have so-called sex-ed classes that supply misinformation and focus on abstention, rather than giving kids the information they need to avoid early pregnancy or STDs.

We even lie to teenagers—take any class in business administration and show me the chapter that deals with bribes, protection, or corruption—unavoidable factors in real-world business that we nevertheless overlook when we study the subject. Criminality is like an unrecognized sovereignty—it doesn’t officially exist, but any real-world activity must take it into account. This accounts for the phenomenon of college-graduates who don’t know a damned thing about real life—for all the debt being incurred, that seems kind of wasteful.

Eventually, we must admit that the lying never ends—even adults can be grouped into levels of greater or lesser reality-facing. There’s a group that believes in the efficacy of group prayer. There’s a group that believes America is great because it is rich and powerful—and never asks how it got that way, or how it stays that way. People can be categorized by how much childhood innocence and ignorance they retain, and how much, and what kinds, of reality they embrace. We live in a world where, no matter how true something is, there’s a group of people that don’t believe it—and, conversely, no matter how silly something is, there’s a group of people that do believe it.

As T. S. Eliot once wrote, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” We have difficulty living in the present. We have difficulty accepting hard truths. Outside of the infinity of truths even a scientist cannot know, there is a further infinity of truths we refuse to acknowledge—it is troubling for me, a seeker of truths, to accept that for many people the avoidance of truth is a valid pursuit. Long ago, in my youth, I used to see religion as the prime avoidance technique—but now that mass media has come into its own, I see that misinformation has no limits. Some people are so insistent on falsehood that they can contradict themselves without embarrassment—or deny that they said something, moments after they said it.

It is fitting, I suppose, in this age when knowledge is exploding in every direction, that misinformation should explode as well—but that doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Failure at CNN and The New York Times   (2015Apr24)

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Friday, April 24, 2015                                              5:59 PM

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What with FOX News, Court TV, Network TV news, and MSNBC all out there working their angles, I use to tell myself not to worry—after all, there was always the ‘Gray Lady’ and CNN. They both have respectable histories and both seemed to display a real dedication to journalism. But I’ve been noticing the mob mentality of mass media inveigling its way into the thinking of even the ‘respectable’ news-editors lately. I’m even starting to wonder about Gwen Ifill!

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Let me give two examples from today that raised my blood-pressure and totaled my peace of mind. The first was the headline of the New York Times issue on the kitchen table: “Obama Apologizes For Drone Strike that Kills American and Italian Hostage” What the hell is that? We didn’t take those people hostage. We don’t use human shields as SOP military strategy. And Obama wasn’t at the controls of the drone that hit the innocent victims. It’s ISIS who should apologize (if those fuckers had consciences, like human beings). These fucking savages terrorize the planet for years, and we focus on the rare mistakes where one or two of the deaths can be laid at our doorstep (if you ignore the source of the exigent circumstances).

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When are we going to cut this poor bastard a break? But Obama is nearing the end of his last term—for my second example, let’s turn to Hillary Clinton. I wouldn’t be Hillary Clinton for all the tea in China—this poor lady is America’s favorite target. I hope she doesn’t get elected—you fuckers don’t deserve her. And she certainly doesn’t deserve the treatment she gets at the hands of all the hacks pretending to be journalists.

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I saw three assholes talking on CNN. The left-wing-view guy makes a simple declarative statement—that ‘no evidence has been produced to support any charges of wrongdoing in the case of the Clinton Foundation vis-à-vis contributors getting special favors’. End of story, right? I mean, they’re journalists, right? Wrong. The moderator asshole responds, “Well, isn’t that just daring people to go and find proof?” In what bizzaro universe is an avowal of innocence the same as a dare to find wrongdoing? Only a total asshole would twist a simple sentence to mean its opposite—and only in the name of high ratings, truth be damned. A professional journalist wouldn’t even be talking about malfeasance without proof in the first place, never mind insisting on speculating on the whispers of her self-professed haters.

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These people are lucky they live in a modern world where they can say these things in print or on a TV screen. If they said this shit in public, I’d fucking attack them—what a bunch of scum. You’ll notice I mentioned glancing at a newspaper headline on the table and seeing three assholes on CNN. I did not read the paper and I didn’t watch CNN—these were just snippets that I noticed in passing—and wished I hadn’t. I’ll pay actual attention to the details of these jerks when journalism comes back in style—and that’ll happen as soon as the major media corporations go bust, not before. So, I’m not holding my breath—or watching the news. Fuck’em all.

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Are We Asking The Right Questions?

Are We Asking The Right Questions?

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We ought to remember to ask our own questions, even though news-reporting has traditionally done this for us, when journalism had high standards and ethics. On today’s Info-tainment news, the interviewer is prevented from asking certain questions by his or her restrictions, handed down by the media-owners…

We must re-learn journalism for ourselves, and begin to ask our own questions–the ones that the ‘News’ pretends aren’t there.

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The Oscars in the Era of Digital Entertainment

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“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline –an excellent read in its way, a real page-turner–I just finished reading it at 3am earlier this morning—I’ve slept most of the intervening time, but my eyes won’t focus today. See—that’s the difference between age and fatigue—fatigue is something that fades quickly, whereas the limitations of age are more holistic—don’t read an entire book in one day (I was surprised I still could.) if you want to use your eyes for something the next day, and maybe the day after.

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Also, the book is set in the near future, but concerns the nineteen-eighties in an OCD-‘Best of the 80s’-treasure-hunt that is central to the tale. I started in the mid-nineteen-seventies (pre-PC, pre-Windows, pre-WWW) with mini-computers—new sensations in the small-business world, particularly the easily computerized industries—insurance, real estate, mailing lists (yes, this was before e-mail and its evil twin, spam, too). But they were still using up an entire room—an air-conditioned room, too.

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The micro-computers that started showing up a few years later are now known as PCs—and the first way to hook them together was a Local-Area-Network, or LAN. The first modems had misshapen foam cradles which held the old phones’ receivers and worked by analog audio beeps and chirps. My first PC had a two-megabyte internal hard-drive—it couldn’t hold a single hi-res JPEG by today’s standards.

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Back then, everything was B&W, just letters and numbers, logic and calculations. When I first saw Windows 2.0 I asked what the point of it was—I was told it made it easier for people to use a computer. I replied that people who didn’t understand how to use a computer weren’t going to have any more luck with a GUI (Graphics User Interface—aka ‘Windows’—except for Macs). What I failed to realize was the pressure digital-era literacy would force on us all—suddenly typists needed to learn Word Perfect and bookkeepers had to learn Lotus 1-2-3 (early spreadsheet software).

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I spent my late teens and early twenties learning computer-literacy and computer maintenance systems that vanished practically overnight, sometime around 1985, and was replaced with home-video games that killed the arcade industry, the WWW, which killed the LAN and WAN industries, and MS Office Suites, CorelDraw Graphics Suites, and Roxio Audio-Visual Suites (and their Mac equivalents)—all of which killed the individual programmer-maven job market. Hot-shot coders were supplanted by Nintendo, Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Facebook, I-Phones and other industrial-sized app- and mega-app-creators.

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So the 1980s digital watershed as experienced by the writer (I’m assuming) came around the time I was losing the ability to indulge in childish things without embarrassment. For instance, Matthew Broderick, a central figure in the book, is much younger than I am—and I won’t get into how depressing it is to see him graying with age in the present day. Yes, boys and girls, if you live long enough, even the sci-fi makes you feel old.

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By 1980, I was in my mid-twenties—this made me a generation older than the oldest man in the book. So, I’m reading a sci-fi thriller set in the near future and all I feel is ‘old’—that’s just so wrong. But enough of my whining… let’s discuss.

Society used to imply a fixed point of geography—but no more. The way I see it, any place or time that has fixed morals applicable only to that place or time, is a ‘society’. For instance, Commuter Traffic is its own society—indeed, commuting has at least three societies—the drivers, the bus and train-takers, and the walkers.

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Walking the sidewalks of mid-town Manhattan during the morning rush seems very cattle-like, especially to the people in its grip. But it actually requires a very heads-up approach—you need to watch the whole 360 degrees around you, your pace should be brisk but not breakneck, and the only real crime is to behave as if it weren’t rush hour, when personal stopping and going and distraction won’t impact the entire flow of the press of people all around such an out-of-place fool.

Walking is usually the last step in the journey. And there are many who go by subway—but in my relative inexperience, I leave its description to someone more inured to its ways. Nevertheless I have spent years on both of the other circuits, ‘driving in’—and ‘taking the train’.

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Taking the Saw Mill River Parkway into Manhattan’s West Side Highway is not for the faint of heart. Its lanes were designed for the days when it was truly a scenic parkway—and for cars which topped out at, maybe, 30 mph. It’s modern reality is a cross between Disney World’s Space Mountain and the Grand Prix—hurtling cubes of steel, inches apart, doing 60, 65—and some of them are in a bigger hurry than the rest—these restless souls try to pass other cars as they go and will push their driving skills to the limit. This forces anyone in the lane beside them to be just as razor-sharp in controlling a vehicle that may not have the road-hugging quality of a BMW.

Taking the Harlem-Hudson line into Grand Central has had many changes since my day—the locomotives were diesel, there was always at least one smoking car and the night-time commuter trains had a bar car, which was an automatic smoker. The seats were upholstered but badly sprung—and larger. But some things remain the same—the etiquette of boarding as a group, of sitting beside a stranger (don’t read their paper—get your own!)

And the strange race for pole-position when debarking at Grand Central. This took planning. Firstly, one had to rise when the train had neared its platform, and move towards the doorway. If you weren’t first in the doorway, there was no way you would have a chance to sprint towards the exit ramp with the other contenders. The choice of when to rise was a personal one—some rose quite early and simply stood in the doorway for a good ten minutes, others waited until the last minute and relied strongly on line-cutting bravado. Once the train stopped, there were maybe fifty yards of empty platform which the prepared passenger sprinted across, hoping to avoid the human condensation that made that exit a twenty minute delay for those who took their time getting off the train.

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This was the most cattle-car moment of any commute—people actually touched each other while we crowd-shuffled towards the open terminal beyond the platform gate. This was a world-class pot-luck situation—the people who crushed against one could be very attractive or quite repellent, even odiferous. There was no logic to the Brownian motion of the crowd—you couldn’t position yourself to mash against someone of your own choosing.

Eye contact, personal space, split-second go/no-go choices made at traffic-lit corners or when spotting an unmarked traffic cop car in the work-ward rally—all these and more were self-imposed by the natural human reactions to the different intimacies of rush-hour mass motion. And, not surprisingly, all these societies have a night-time, complimentary society, with different rules respecting the fact that everyone is in an even bigger hurry to get home than they were to get to work that morning, but with the luxury that no one got fired for getting home late.

These societies have a geographical ‘location’ (if an unsupervised racetrack can be called a location) but they come into being for a few hours in the morning and again at night, each time fading away almost as soon as it peaks, barring delays and bad weather. The ‘train stuck in a blizzard’ has a society, too—which only comes sporadically and can skip whole years at times.

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Talking on the phone is a society—or, again, several societies, based on context. A phone conference, a sales call, a relative calling to gab, a friend calling with an invitation—each one has its own little head-dance and body language. And we could hardly leave out Facebook or the internet in general, when cataloguing the many sub-societies we join and quit all through our days.

These were my musings on Society this morning after I read the New York Times Art Section article reviewing the Oscars and the reviews others gave it, particularly PC groups that disapproved of the irreverence and insensitivity of the jokes and songs—and of Seth McFarlane, personally. The Times article pointed out the discrepancy between the Academy’s need to bring in ratings, especially from the younger demographic (call it the “Family Guy”-factor) and to appear sensitive to the community-watchdog groups that have been attacking “Family Guy” since its premiere in 1999.

Seth McFarlane is a media juggernaut with three (yes,3!) TV series now in operation: [Family Guy (1999–2002, 2005–now), “American Dad!” (2005–now), “The Cleveland Show” (2009–now)]. His ‘tastelessness’ finds favor with a younger audience because it embraces (as far as a TV show can) the new Internet society—which has few editors and even less censors. This younger entertainment society accepts the crassness as ‘bold honesty’ of a sort (which dawned, IMHO, upon the Seinfeld episode when Jerry, et.al. all repeat the phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” until the defensiveness of PC-speak becomes its own post-modern joke/attitude).

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PC-abandonment is the new humor in this society—if it makes old people like me wince, it’s funny. And television, in many ways, is still bound hand and foot by wincing old people. These dinosaur-people miss the point—we joke because we love—and we love ourselves—even our bigoted, foul-mouthed selves. And we won’t pussy-foot around about it anymore. Any old geezer that can’t let go of the militancy that served human rights so well in the twentieth century can’t help but be scandalized by our new-minted idols, like Seth, who are comfortable making a joke about Lincoln being shot in the head without being suspected of hidden racism or some twisted fundamentalism.

I would like to join in—but I’m too old and set in my ways to reinvent myself as an aging hipster—besides, comedy was never my strong suit… But my point is this: we have two major societal paradigms that are at something of a disconnect—Network TV and the World Wide Web. I can’t get in the spirit of it—for me, half the fun of a show is watching it when it’s aired. The feel of live TV—even scheduled, recorded, first-run TV shows—is lost for me whenever I have to find the show on the cable-box’s VOD menu—but my son watches all his ‘TV’ online, using our Netflix account. And I grew up admiring martyrs to the cause of civil and gender rights—I’ll never be able to speak lightly of those momentous changes that informed my lifespan.20130226XD-Googl-RPO_004(SMcFarlane)

I can handle Seth McFarlane, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Matt Groenig—all the new-wave, internet-capable entertainers, but my laughs are a little repressed by the sheer effrontery of their attitudes. When I was a boy I wondered why it was so hard for my parents to see my point—now I understand—by their standards, I didn’t have a point. I wasn’t seeing everything through their experiences, I was seeing everything as new and without emotional context. And now I’m trapped in my memories of what our children see as ‘history’, if they notice it at all. Paperless, wireless, unconventional families, uncensored entertainment, the disintegration of traditional religious institutions’ power to shape people and events, access to everything—information, encyclopediae, maps and navigators, definitions, language translations, 24-hour news cycles—all the things that have remade what was once my stable little spot on the Earth—our children take them as givens—the same way we took drinking from our lawn hoses for granted (back when people still felt safe drinking from ground wells).

So, in the end, Seth McFarlane did a great job hosting the Oscars—he also did a terrible job—it depends on your age.

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