Thursday, April 5, 2012

Keith Still Matters; Not necessarily cohesive thoughts on a treasured voice

Taken from the internets. I hope he doesn't mind.

MSNBC was a struggling news network desperately trying to establish an identity in a world dominated by CNN and this other upstart, FOX News, which had known its right wing, lying agenda from the outset. Struggling with ratings, MSNBC tried all kinds of stuff and even gave the liberal Phil Donahue his own show. Then they fired him. Phil just wasn’t getting the ratings. Too mild, too nice…something or other; he just wasn’t landing. Hell, I was a Donahue fan and I found the show informative yet boring.
An opportunity for a much needed liberal minded news show was shot. Ratings after all, are 95% of what matters in TV. Well, the revenues said ratings bring actually, but...yeah.

Replacing Donahue was Countdown: Iraq, a news show dedicating itself to the hype of the Iraq War. MSNBC brought back Keith Olbermann to replace Lester Holt as host of the show as it covered the war who then evolved the show into something more in step with his own personality.

Keith first came onto my radar years ago when he was a spokesman for the Subway sandwich chain. They had an ad that mocked the Calvin Klein ads of the time. In black and white, rail thin models quietly intone about hunger, deep and abiding…then in color, Keith pops up from behind a rock and says “Here’s a clue…EAT SOMETHING”.
I was an instant fan. I’ve never been a big sports fan, though at one time I had a passion for baseball. (The shenanigans of the MLB have turned me off) so I didn’t know who this guy was. And even though I knew the commercial was scripted, it was clear that this sardonic, sarcastic tone was genuine and I felt like I discovered a brother from another mother. I don’t remember what year that was, or how long before Countdown, but it kept Olbermann on my radar.
Some time later I got wind of Countdown and this guy who had cracked me up every time I saw that ad and decided to watch. It was the middle of the show the first time that I watched it and Keith was discussing the sickening orange shower curtains that had been forced upon New Yorkers and Central Park goers known as The Gates. As someone feeling very much in the minority (at the time only my daughter shared my intense dislike of the “art project”) I had once again felt that I had found a brother from another mother. He was making the same points about those god awful things that I had been. Ugly, obtrusive, inescapable...and did I mention UGLY? Dude was speaking my language.

Then came other bits and pieces. Things that made liberal points that were factual, yet fun. Something that liberals are not often accused of being. Worst Persons, Oddball, etc.

And then came the Special Comment that changed everything. More and more folks took notice and the already growing show really took off. Finally, SOMEone was articulating with passion, knowledge and facts what those of us who knew wtf was really going on had been trying to get out there for what seemed like ages. Finally someone on television wasn’t repeating right wing or “moderate” pabulum.
MSNBC’s ratings began to rise. Little wonder. Olbermann’s talent was more evident than ever to those of us that hadn’t watched him on ESPN and Fox Sports. 

Keith was proving that a voice from the Left could in fact attract income for networks. 

Without Keith, there is no Rachel Maddow on TV, indeed after the demise of Air America, Rachel would be history and there are few voices as well researched as hers.
Without Keith, there is no The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, another great show.
Without Keith, there is no Ed Show (I’m not a fan, but occasionally he contributes something useful. Maybe I’ll elaborate sometime, but at this point the more voices the better).
Without Keith, there is no Up with Chris Hayes, the smartest fucking news show there is. Yes I know this came about after MSNBC fired Keith, but the tone had been set. The ratings had been proven, and none of that happens without Olbermann.
No Melissa Harris Lacewell, no Al Sharpton either. A mere 6 years has brought us actual diversity of thought and coverage in cable news. All of this, as far as I'm concerned, is courtesy of Keith Olbermann's efforts and energy.

I’ve never formally met the man. I once rode the R train sitting opposite him and then on departing at the same stop, nodded a silent “hey, I’m a fan and thank you” to which he nodded back what I think was a thank you back. I tweeted him once that he had been off air a bit too much for a fan's taste and he reacted with a bit of defensiveness. It’s easy to misinterpret tweets. I didn’t mind. I knew that he had lost his father not long after losing his mother and needed some actual vacation time. I was simply pointing out that he was missed. Well, not really simply.

The point is, I don’t care about his personality. I care about his voice. When he was fired from MSNBC and moved to Current I was frustrated, because he was back on TV, but as a Cablevision hostage customer I wasn’t going to get to see it and the iTunes clips were incomplete. Still, it was refreshing to hear him whenever possible.

I’ve had my disagreements and frustrations with him. For instance as someone that had been long unemployed at the time, I didn’t appreciate his take on Obama “caving” on Bush tax cuts and ignoring the dilemma of so many of us who were in fact hostages of the Republicans. He and Maddow and most egregiously, Ed Schultz were wrong to cover it from that standpoint. Though over time Keith and Rachel did acknowledge the issue and moderated their tone and turned their ire on the actual perpetrators of the crime.

Keith himself has even apologized for being over the top at times. Apologies, in general, are no the act of someone who can't stand genuine criticism.

And Keith always covered things that no one else was even mentioning, and most recently he was the first to cover the Occupy movement. The first to actually go down there and talk to people. The first to have Occupiers on his show and admit his own hesitancies about the movement even as they evolved.

From another network you could see that he was still influencing what was getting covered on MSNBC as they followed his lead.

As to Current, well the network itself can’t seem to pull it together. Once they hired Cenk Uyger who is intellectually lazy to put it kindly, I was sensing something not really functioning over there. Keith was it’s consistent (if not present) voice of raging sanity.

Even now, after being fired by Current, the only thing that anyone can try on Olbermann is his alleged difficult personality. They can’t get him on facts, they can’t get him on intellectual integrity. They can only make it personal.

Current’s behavior has been despicable and dishonest. Keith’s been able to refute each of their rather petty points. Especially this limousine nonsense which they still haven't backed up. When you have to leak information to the New York Post, a rag barely capable of telling the remotest of truths and which has lost billions under Rupert Murdoch, you’ve already lost the argument.
No voice is perfect. I myself am a raging asshole. I’m even called a political jackass by someone who lurves me and agrees with me 99% of the time. What matters is are you on the money most of the time. That you take stock and responsibility for what you say.

I have disagreed with his decisions to stop doing "Worst Persons" but I respect and admire his willingness to see what may be his own role in certain unpleasant events. Hannity never does that, Rush certainly never does it. Who has the thin skin?

And if you don’t get that Keith’s chandalier reference on Letterman the other day was characterizing Current’s attitude about Keith when he was hired, you haven’t been paying attention.

Keith still matters. I am not counting him down, or out.

*Thanks to @majorbedhead for pointing out some egregious errors in this post.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


A friend of mine was in despair this morning from watching Morning Joe. Everything going on was getting to him. Here's what I said.

Recommendation 1: Stop watching Morning Joke. Mika is a vapid fool and I'm convinced that Zbigniew bangs his head against the wall every single morning wondering how he ended up with such an idiot for a daughter.

Scarborough himself has yet to explain the dead intern in his office.

Willy Geist is a phony masking his utter lack of intellectual ability behind sardonic-isms.

Recommendation 2: Yeah, we lost NY9. This sucks.
However, remember that while we lost 9, we won 26 and 29 last year, two upstate districts that had been Republican since the Civil War. Bigger wins. 9 was a thin margin, 26 and 29 were a good deal wider.

The Rs played the Israel card very well. Better than the Ds played the Medicare/Social Security card. They took it for granted and not without cause. Let that be a lesson.

Recommendation 3: Stop watching the Republican debates. You won't get anything out of it. None of those candidates are going to say anything particularly insightful.

The race is going to be Romney v Obama. It may or may not be a close race.
The race is going to be Perry v Obama. It will be a landslide victory for Obama and quite possibly hand the House back to Nancy Pelosi.

Unless either of those two things suddenly changes (always possible) there's just no reason to watch. Think of the reasoning as the same reasoning you use to not watch Jerry Springer. Why bring yourself down watching the worst of humanity?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life is weird: A Memory

My grandmother died on September 7th, 2001. She had been living in a suburb of Pittsburgh ever since her third husband, a retired steel worker, had died decades earlier.

Being next of kin it fell on my brother and me to get down there and take care of things. My mother, who happened to be in NY that weekend drove the very large family van with us in it. The funny thing is that this was my father's mother who had died. But my mother, never one to pass up a road trip with her sons. Besides, she had a big van and we were going to need it. It's a long drive from New York City to McKeesport, PA.

To say that my grandmother was not well would be an understatement. Always somewhat emotionally immature as well as an alcoholic, she had left behind a small apartment piled wall to wall and knee high in Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes mailings and chintzy "consolation prizes". So when we arrived at her place on the morning of September 9th. We had a lot of work ahead of us.

It took us two days to get all the garbage out. On the morning of the 11th, we turned on the news as we got ready to leave the hotel and head to the apartment. There was a small campus fire at UP Pittsburgh. A dorm kitchen apparently. We watched the coverage of that, grabbed our free hotel coffee and headed over. One there, we packed up all the "consolation prizes" to take to the Goodwill in the next town. Deciding we needed to stop by the hotel on the way to the Goodwill to use the bathroom, we headed into the lobby, van loaded with stuff.

In the lobby, guests and staff were all gathered, watching the television. All I saw on screen was smoke. I thought to myself "Wow, that campus fire is out of control". I turned to a guy standing next to me and asked him what was going on. He told me that planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I stared at him in disbelief, my face probably for an instant communicating "fuck you, what's really going on?" But I saw he meant it.

We had to keep moving though. There was just too much that had to be done at grandma's to pause. So, after our bathroom break, we got back into the van to head to the Goodwill. The "Kill All Towelheads" signs were already up on pick up trucks that we drove, listening to the Today Show on the radio. As we commented to eachother on how we were already blowing it, the first tower fell. How my mother managed to stay on the road at that point, I'll never know.

It's a very odd experience listening to someone narrate a terrible event as it is happening. Matt Lauer's voice will forever have that echo for me. In a way, I'm grateful that I wasn't among the millions watching. Weird as it was, I think it was easier to process emotionally for me than seeing it would have been.

We unpacked at the Goodwill which was for all intents and purposes abandoned, and went back to town. We had to stop at the town funeral home to arrange grandma's cremation. On the way, we listened to the second tower falling.

When my brother and I returned to the van from the funeral home, our mother who had stayed in it to listen to the radio told us that another plane had just crashed in Shanksville, about 70 miles from us.

It seemed like the end of the world in that moment. The Twin Towers were one thing, the Pentagon part of the same thing...but a field in rural Pennsylvania? "What the fuck?" just doesn't even cover it.

We took a few moments to pull our heads back together and get back to grandma's apartment. We were finally going to be able to deal with her actual possessions. And start to figure out what to do with everything.

Much of it, oddly, was still in boxes though she'd lived in that apartment for 20 years. (I guess she needed the room for all the used PCH mailings). Taking the box nearest where I sat, I opened it carefully. It felt like it would be mostly paperwork and that seemed like the best place to start anyway.

When I opened the box right there at the top, was a plastic framed 3D photograph taken of the World Trade Center to commemorate the opening of the Twin Towers. My grandmother had kept it from her visit that summer of 1970.

I gasped. All the time it took to get through the detritus she had left behind...the events of the day and the first actual possession of my grandmother's I uncover was this.

Life is weird.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gaining Momentum Part I

It has to be said that I am often slow. Not in general, but certainly on a social level I’m like slow glass. It takes awhile for the light to pass through and reveal itself to me. Especially when it comes to relationships and sex.

I’ve written about this here before. I have a running joke that I could be in a dark corner/room/anyplace with a woman and she would be tearing my clothes off, covering me with passionate kisses and begging me to take her to bed/the wall/someplace/anyplace and in my head I’m thinking “I wonder if she likes me”.

Yeah, okay, that’s an exaggeration. I’m not quite that slow…but sometimes I’m close. Also that scenario rarely actually happens, when it does…I’m generally way more on the ball….so to speak.

But last April, when I attended MomentumCon (thanks very very hugely to my friend @dangerouslilly), I began to learn and realize I actually am and have been.

Let me explain, if you’ll be kind enough to indulge me and read on.

My whole early life, I’ve been giving myself hints about what my desires were and are. What I like, what I don’t like what I want. My subconscious would give me ways of thinking looking and thinking of things. But I wasn’t getting it. I think the reason for this is because I grew up in a fairly repressed household…you know, the classic “stop touching yourself” kind of thing when you’re a kid…subtle if unintentional parental messages of shame. You know the drill…It was the 60s and 70s and my parents were young and children of the 40s and 50s.

So I never asked myself certain questions and I managed as I grew older to squelch my darker ideas about sex and thus left them unexplored.

In my early teens I read books by gay men, knowing that I wasn’t attracted to men. I was fascinated by the sense of being “other”. I was mystified by this. Why was I so interested in the thinking of struggling gay men when I was clearly attracted to girls. I didn’t realize this then…but I was drawn to reading about people who struggled with self and societal acceptance. I think I was trying to tell myself that I had desires and attractions that I wasn’t accepting. It certainly was what I was doing. And since there were no ready books for me out there yet (Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty was completely out of my radar until I was in my 40s) Merle Miller was what I had to go on.

In college I became frustrated with the plethora of books on women sexuality and the absolute lack of books on male sexuality. Other than a book by Bernie Zilbergeld, I could find nothing. This is the very early 80s. No internet. And oddly, though I was in a very liberal college with lots of artists, I wasn’t encountering the kind of “dark play” that still crept in the back of my mind. In high school I would role play with my girlfriend, but she would only go so far and since I viewed myself as being unusual I simply let it go as far as she was comfortable and resigned myself to not going further.

I simply had no awareness of any other option and I think, being partially on the spectrum, or at least the way that I was on the spectrum, things just didn’t occur to me. So…suppression continued…it went on through my brief marriage and even further.

A couple of years after my separation from my wife, I discovered online role play…you know…the old Yahoo chat rooms. I just went early on to meet people but eventually learned there were people creating their own “worlds” and stories.

I was in my 30s and this is where things, still slowly, began to come alive...

To be continued

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cold Kraft

Yesterday we took my daughter up for the second semester of her Junior year in college. We go up as a family, my daughter, ex-wife B, her boyfriend/fiancee, F and me. F has a car that's a small station wagon and he's happy to make the drive.

F is a drummer and has been a musician for awhile and knows his stuff, but generally when it comes to certain kinds of music I tend to turn to my daughter as the young one more attuned to current or recent music.

So yesterday as we are heading north I get a tune stuck in my head. 8 notes that repeat several times...I'm sure it's a Coldplay tune, but the rest of it is gone...I hum the notes to my daughter who also finds it familiar but isn't sure it's Coldplay. F finds it familiar too anWd after a few minutes is sure it's a Kraftwerk song.

I tell F that I'm sure that's not it, because I heard it on a radio, and Kraftwerk, brilliant as they are, hasn't had anything play on a radio in a store in decades.

After awhile F blurts out "Computer Love" and I look it up on my iPhone and sure enough, there are those 8 notes...but it's not the song.

Eventually my brain kicks in...the song I'm thinking of is "Talk" and once we listen to both as iTunes samples I learn that Talk is indeed inspired by Computer Love.

Computer Love is a song that accurately depicts the loneliness that comes with being sort of obsessed with communicating through computer. Talk is a song about uncertainty in communication among other things.

Turns out there's a wiki page on this. Who knew? Well, apparently Wikipedia and I'm betting scores and scores of people. Sometimes my ignorance cracks me up.

We all learned something yesterday...and I got a tune unstuck in my head. FTW.

Here for your enjoyment, are both songs.

Computer Love by Kraftwerk. 1981.

Talk, by Coldplay. 2005. This is the official video and I love the retro science fiction theme.

Please enjoy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And if you ever turn around....You'll see me

The other day I watched the movie Adam on HBO. It's a beautifully told story of a young man with Aspergers Syndrome and a budding romance he has as he begins to strike out onto the world on his own. Hugh Dancy's performance as Adam is spot on.

Without tieing things up in a neat little Hollywood bow, Adam shows what happens when there is understanding, compassion and an open heart toward people who see and experience the world differently. It also faces the reality of such things with bittersweet honesty, especially in that way that depending too much on someone holds you back, yet that dependence can be the launching point for something greater for you both.

The movie has stuck with me for the last several days. Haunted me really. If you've read any of my previous blogs on Aspergers you'll immediately assume that I think much about my daughter when thinking about this movie, and you would be right. But there is much in the character of Adam that reminds me of myself in a lot of ways. I think I'll save that for another blog though.

I've been thinking much of my daughter who is now 20 and not long away from striking out on her own. The song that comes at the end of the film is one of very beautiful and simple words of encouragement and the kind of words I wish I had gotten in my youth. The kind of words I want to tell my daughter now and holds in her head and heart in the moments before, during and after she walks on stage in a year and a half to take that diploma after 4 years of struggle, growth, frustration and triumph.

This is for my beautiful 20 year old daughter who is becoming an articulate and wise young woman even as she hangs on to many of the trappings of childhood, as many of us do at that age before learning to let go and walk on.

Can't Go Back Now
Written and Performed by the weepies

Yesterday, when you were young,
Everything you needed done was done for you.
Now you do it on your own
But you find you're all alone,
What can you do?

You and me walk on
Cause you can't go back now.

You know there will be days when you're so tired that you can't take another step,
The night will have no stars and you'll think you've gone as far as you will ever get

But you and me walk on
Cause you can't go back now
And yeah, yeah, go where you want to go
Be what you want to be,
If you ever turn around, you'll see me.

I can't really say why everybody wishes they were somewhere else
But in the end, the only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself

And you and me walk on
Yeah you and me walk on
Cause you can't go back now
Walk on, walk on, walk on
You can't go back now

Friday, November 5, 2010

My letter to Phil Griffin regarding Keith Olbermann

Dear Mr. Griffin, (

It strikes me as quite an over reaction to suspend Keith Olbermann for his small contributions to two political candidates.

I understand that there are provisions in his contract and that he failed to inform your company before hand as he is obligated to. An employer does indeed have the right to reprimand it's employees as it sees fit. However an indefinite suspension is an act better saved for someone under indictment for a serious crime or perhaps something truly damaging to the reputation of the employer. This does not fit that category. Perhaps a more reasonable reaction would have been a defined suspension or the docking of pay over a fixed period of time.

This act however punishes your audience and only creates animosity. MSNBC after all, is a network struggling between 2nd and 3rd place. Showing such disrespect over what amounts to a hill of beans will only turn off what few viewers you have.

You're action demonstrates your own personal view of the situation rather than reasonable business thinking. Countdown is your highest rated show with a very loyal following. Mr. Olbermann himself has been a strong influence on your evening line up with has resulted in more weeks of MSNBC as number 2 rather than number 3 in the ratings of the 3 cable news networks.

Understand that I also believe that NPR should not have fired Juan Williams for his strange statements made on the Fox Network, nor Rick Sanchez' firing from CNN for his ridiculous statements. Much as I understand the employers reasons, there were better ways to handle that situation and created dialog over important issues. I tell you this because I want to assure you that I am not merely writing as an outraged viewer who agrees with Mr. Olbermann's positions (In fact I often disagree with him with respect). I am writing as a viewer who finds himself being treated with neglect and carelessness.

I urge you to rethink your decision. In the meantime, until such time as Mr. Olbermann is returned to the evening line up, I will not be watching any programming on MSNBC at all. Nor will I stream Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell or Ed Schultz as I often do on my home computer. I will seek my news sources elsewhere.