Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not Just Stupid... Stupid and WRONG!

Before I launch into today's short rant, I would like to thank all the people who passed along words of support, encouragement, help and advice after reading the previous posting. It means a lot to me and it's genuinely appreciated. It supports my belief that although institutions may fail us, we shall never fail each other.

I don't know if yesterday's post will actually accomplish anything, but writing it was damned theraputic for me!

Okay, now for today's rant.

Apparently, there's a Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota's 6th District, Michelle Bachmann, who frequently says some rather bizarre things. She recently said another. I can't possibly do it justice by paraphrasing, so here's the direct quote:

"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter, and I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."

Unlike some people, I don't mind getting older. The reason for this is being around longer means I can remember things that happened before some of you whipper-snappers were around. Like the last swine flu threat. The one that happened in the 1970's. The one that happened when Republican GERALD FORD was President!

President Ford oversaw a Swine Flu vaccine program and encouraged Americans to get a shot.

In fact, Ford, wanting to set a a good example, got vaccinated himself. Here's a picture:

I don't really understand the point of Rep. Bachmann's statement, but I'm reminded of the ol' adage "knowledge is power". And I suppose if one lacks knowledge, one can't be expected to be responsible with power.

Y'know... now that I'm reminded of him, I kinda miss ol' Jerry Ford. He seemed like a nice guy and, unlike some of some his GOP successors (see above), he wasn't a complete ignoramus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Michael Moore

Dear Michael Moore,

I owe you an apology.

There was something you frequently did that really bugged me.

It had nothing to do with your political views. In fact, I’m pretty much in agreement with most of them. I think healthcare should be a universal right and that working people should be given a fair break and that access to education should be affordable to all.

And I, too, was an Obama supporter and was thrilled when he was elected.

No, the thing that bugged me was that damned hat you were always wearing. That green one. The one with the white “S” on it. As a lifelong University of Michigan fan, I found that hat to just be so profoundly… wrong. Why were you always wearing THAT hat? Why not a nice maize and blue one? One with an “M” on it?

But then something happened…

Last week, the University of Michigan announced they were no longer going to fund WFUM, the Public Television station in Flint, Michigan. They claimed they no longer could afford it.

Before I continue, I should say in the interest of full disclosure that I am a 26-year employee of WFUM. I will lose my job soon. And while that is personally devastating, that’s not the real issue. True, it’s a horrible feeling to hold your sobbing wife in your arms as she asks “What are we going to do?” and feel sick to your stomach because you don’t have an answer. And to make sure you do your crying in the shower so nobody will see you. And to feel the heart-wrenching sadness of looking at your children working hard on their homework and wondering how the hell you’re going to save for their college tuition when you’re not even sure how you're going to make the house payments.

It's so frustrating to feel that despite doing all the "right things", getting an education, working hard and being a loyal employee things still end up this way.

But let’s face it. There’s nothing that’s happening to my family and I that hasn’t happened to hundreds of thousands of workers across the nation already.

No, the real issue is that of large educational institutions and their role in providing information and education to their surrounding communities. The University said that WFUM didn’t fulfill its “core academic mission”. Which seems to be a polite way of saying “if you’re not paying tuition, why should we bother with you?”

But I believe serving the general public IS and SHOULD BE considered part of an educational institution's core academic mission.

And I also believe that over the last three decades WFUM has helped a community that desperately needed it. We have aired countless hours of educational children’s programming to provide learning resources to families who might not otherwise have access to them. And our station has a dedicated staff member who conducts educational workshops for parents and educators of underprivileged and underserved segments of our population, giving them books and lesson plans that tie-in with the educational content of the television programs.

There is also the use of multicast technology to present "how-to" instructional programs about painting, sewing, crafts, cooking and travel on our new second digital channel.

And then there was our other programming. In fact, I remember the local furor when PBS was going to air “Roger and Me” years ago. Many people, some of them rather prominent, called demanding that we not air that program. I’m happy to say that Jim Gaver, our program director at the time, realized the profound importance of airing it in the city that was the subject of the documentary. And it aired. And I was proud to be an employee of WFUM.

And I also remember the pride I felt when you graciously allowed WFUM to air your series “The Awful Truth” because it was not available on Flint-area cable channels at the time. I still remember the good feeling I had when I took the box of “Awful Truth” tapes to our master control room for air, knowing no other local station would dare air it. I felt we were really doing something for the community.

I also recall the situation a few years back when certain conservatives in the government, apoplectic over the positive portrayal of (gasp!) Lesbian parents in an episode of the children's series “Postcards from Buster” pressured PBS into pulling the episode from their national feed. We made alternate arrangements and aired it anyway. I still recall the satisfaction I felt knowing we were doing the right thing.

And then there are cutting edge informative shows like “Bill Moyers Journal”, “NOW on PBS”, the unflinching "Frontline" documentaries and local political programs like “Off the Record”.

But PBS, since its inception, has always lacked a secure funding source.

This is especially troubling since, in the current media landscape dominated by massive corporate conglomorates, having a strong and independent noncommercial public service media is, I feel, an important source for the information needed to support a strong democracy. Many dedicated people who work in public broadcasting have felt the same way and despite harrowing financial obstacles have done a great job presenting such programs - especially considering the meager funding they have received.

But others, some at the University of Michigan, apparently aren’t as passionate about that sort of thing.

I do wonder, though, why a huge institution like the University of Michigan feels it can’t afford a Public Television station serving the surrounding communities while smaller institutions in this state such as Delta College, Grand Valley State, Northern Michigan University and… yes… even Michigan State University, can.

Don’t get me wrong. The University of Michigan is a great institution that accomplishes many wonderful things in science, research, the arts and technology (though apparently no longer in football, though THEIR funding seems secure). But shouldn’t they also have an obligation to serve their surrounding communities? Many people in Flint and the surrounding area who may never be able to afford a tuition at the U of M can still benefit from the high quality informative programming provided by WFUM.

But that will no longer be the case in a few months.

Which brings me back to that hat.

I forgive you for wearing it.

Because, in all honesty, I have to question why a community should support an institution that no longer supports the community.

And that is why, although I have been a Wolverine since I could walk and although my discretionary income will likely be minimal soon, I plan to take a small part of my final WFUM paycheck and go to the sporting goods store. And I will buy a green baseball cap. One with a white “S” on it.

I will put it on.

And like you, I will wear it with pride.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remembering The Bird

A few days ago, the title of an article on MSNBC's website caught my eye. It was something about a lack of real characters in major league baseball nowadays. I didn’t read the article, but the headline brought me back to 1976 and thoughts of one of the most memorable baseball players I can recall: Mark Fidrych. That made it all the more hard to believe the headline I read on that same website this morning: Mark Fidrych was dead.
I was a diehard Detroit Tigers fan in the mid 1970’s. Believe me, that wasn’t an easy thing to be. Back then, the Tigers simply sucked and everybody knew it. It was one disappointing game and one disappointing season after another. But then, as if out of nowhere, there comes this goofy-looking guy whose resemblance to Sesame Street’s “Big Bird” earned him the nickname “The Bird”. When he was on the mound, he seemed a wound up wellspring of nervous energy. He’d pat the dirt on pitcher’s mound. He’d talk to himself. He’d talk to the ball. He was crazy: but it was the GOOD kind of crazy. And not only that, when he was on the mound, miracle of miracles, there was a pretty good chance the Tigers would win the game. Those who knew him said that his on field antics weren’t an act. He really WAS having fun. And his enthusiasm was contagious.
The Bird made being a Tiger fan exciting again. For those of you too young to remember, the summer of ’76 in Michigan was a hotbed of “Bird Fever”. Tiger stadium would be a sellout whenever he would pitch. And it seemed when the games he was pitching were televised, every set in the area was tuned in. Even people who usually didn’t care for baseball were caught up in the excitement. There were newspaper profiles of the Bird… songs, posters, whatever. It was amazing.
Mark Fidrych brought some fun to people who desperately needed it. It was a fun time to be a Tiger fan.
Sadly, injuries cut short Mark Fidrych’s career. He was soon in the minor leagues and shortly thereafter out of baseball altogether.
But the memories he created remained… and will continue to remain long after his premature death.
Thanks, Mark, for bringing some much-needed joy and excitement into the life of a geeky 14-year-old Tiger fan in Fenton, Michigan. Your exploits will be missed but long remembered. You helped make my summer of 1976 magical.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Book Review: "Society without God" by Phil Zuckerman

Over the past decade or so, a debate has been raging in the US. On one side, the religious right has been warning us that the rise in secularism in this country will lead to an erosion of social values and a corresponding rise in crime, violence and incivility.
On the other side, the so-called “New Atheists” (a misnomer in my opinion since their arguments aren’t new at all though the degree to which their arguments and ideas have permeated the nation’s ideological landscape certainly is) have argued that religion is, in fact, harmful to society in that it eschews logic and reason for antiquated doctrine and attempts to impose unproven religious dogma on others through government coercion.
And so the debate raged with nothing to really break the stalemate… until now.
In one of those “Why didn’t somebody think of that BEFORE?!” moments, sociologist Phil Zukerman decided to actually LIVE in a couple of the world’s least religious nations and see for himself what they were like. Zuckerman spent a year in both Denmark and Sweden, not only observing what things were like, but also conducting in-depth interviews with Danes and Swedes from a variety of backgrounds.
What he found impressed him. Though he pointed out that neither country was perfect, they were far from the dystopian hellholes the religious right would have us believe would be the result of a society without god. Both Denmark and Sweden have some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world, excellent (and free!) health care, well-funded arts programs, some of the world’s best childcare and a populace that rates at the top of “happiness index” surveys of the level of contentment of a nation’s residents. As Zuckerman himself notes “society without god is not only possible, but it can be moral, successful and downright pleasant”.
In the personal interviews, he found that rather than being hostile toward religion, most Danes and Swedes simply don’t think that much about religion one way or another. It’s sort of a “benign indifference”. They also aren’t freaked out by death “When you die, that’s it. You rot.” is a common shrugged matter-of-fact response to questions on that subject. They see their nations as “historically” Christian without accepting the tenets of Christianity in particular or religion in general.
But could the Scandinavian experience ever work here?
One of the most interesting chapters of the book is an account of the culture shock the author felt upon returning to the US. The “God, guts and guns” mentality that permeates some parts of this nation are brought out in stark contrast when one is free from it for over a year.
So if you want to read an interesting account of what a future secular world might hold, track down a copy of “Society without God”. It’s well worth reading!