Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Commercial Television Woes

   When I was a kid, back before the turn of the century, we watched  old-fashioned television. I remember the first television that our family owned. It was the size of a large hard-sided suitcase with a round screen about 10' in diameter. Black and white pictures only!

   Television (TV) programs were limited since we only had three channels: ABC, NBC and CBS. To make matters even more inconvenient, in order to change channels you actually had to get out of your chair, walk to the TV and turn a knob - BY HAND! There were no remote control units back then. If you wanted to be a couch potato you were out of luck. To watch TV, you actually had to MOVE! I know, I know. Hard to imagine!

   Back then, like today TV had commercials. Back then, unlike today the commercials were limited to a one minute interruption of the program. A few years later that minute was lengthened to 90 seconds (1 1/2 minutes). It seemed like forever when you were watching The Lone Ranger! 

   Fast forward to modern times: We see commercial breaks lasting up to eight minutes or more in length. This is long enough that we sometimes forget what programs we were watching or what the story line was. The programmers know this and will, on some programs, replay the last 10 seconds of the show prior to the commercial break in order to remind you of the storyline. Nice of them!

   I never paid much attention to this turn of events since it happened over the course of so many years and was so gradual that before we knew it, it seemed that we were watching more commercials than the program that we tuned in to watch.

   My wife and I have hosted several foreign exchange students. One was a boy from Hanover, Germany. When he first watched American TV he was absolutely beside himself over the commercials.
   "How can you watch TV like this?" he asked.
   "Like what?" we replied, totally unaware of the problem.
   "Why do they interrupt the programs like that?" he asked. We had no reply. 
   "To sell stuff, I suppose." we finally said, still unsure of the problem.

   He (J.P.) explained that in most of Europe, the commercials come before and after the program and that the actual program is un-interrupted by commercials. This way you can actually enjoy the program and watch the commercials or not - your choice.

   What a concept! No longer would we have to endure the onslaught of toilet bowl cleaners and Trojan Man ads! No more commercials about adult diapers and anti-depression drugs! No more attention deficit disorder due to commercials derailing our trains of thought!

   How then would the advertisers ever sell products if we had the option to not watch commercials? Apparently the Europeans have no problems with this. Products still fly off their shelves, European people still consume stuff.

   In our home commercials are seldom an issue. Most of the time we just hit he mute button on the remote and take the opportunity to use the bathroom, grab a snack or even occasionally talk to one another.

   We still buy stuff that we see advertised on the TV. This I know because I take out far more trash than I bring into the house in the form of purchased goods. I have never been able to explain this fact to myself in any satisfactory manner. It's a mystery!.

   When satellite TV was first introduced it was advertised as "non-commercial TV". This quickly changed when it became apparent that money was to be made through the use of commercials on the new satellite systems.

   We have to ask ourselves how far this will go? When will we get to the turning point: when we are watching more commercials than programming? At this time we average eight minutes of commercials for every ten minutes of programming. We're almost there. Before too long, TV listings will list the commercials to be seen sadly interrupted by the 6 o'clock news and Jerry Springer.

The Geezer loves the mute button!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Comes But Once a Year

   I'm sitting here thinking of Christmas. Not necessarily the one coming up, but of past Christmases.

   In my family, we never really had any particular "Tradition" - something that we always did no matter what. Like help out at a homeless shelter or go to church as a family.

   What we mostly did as kids was wait until we could just about see the sky start to lighten up then sneak out to see a pile of packages under the Christmas tree. We'd wake our parents, sit around and open the packages then have breakfast. I guess we did have a tradition after all.

   As I've gotten older, Christmas isn't what it was when I was younger. I guess some of the magic of the holiday has lost it's sparkle. Not having any children may contribute to that. Christmas has always been, for me, a children's holiday.

   My wife and I are in our 60s and we don't do much for Christmas other than maybe visit relatives and make the Christmas dinner of Turkey, potatoes, yams, dressing and cranberry sauce. We then have leftovers for the rest of the week.

   After last Thanksgiving, we stripped the meat from our turkey and put all the bones and scraps out for the neighborhood scavengers. We'll probably do the same with our Christmas turkey.

   As for gift giving, we (my wife and I) have what we need and don't much lust after spendy trinkets and such. We will wait until we get our tax refund check then buy stuff that we agree on and maybe a small gift for one another.

   I've been wanting a comfortable new chair for the living room and maybe one of those e-book readers like the Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook pads. I love to read and I usually buy my books on line. The e-books are available almost instantly and are several dollars cheaper than print books. But when you factor in the cost of the reader am I really saving any money? We'll see...

   I guess that getting old isn't what it's cracked up to be. The body creaks and the holidays have lost their allure. I seldom have the need for "The Next New Thing" and I concern myself with things like politics and is Taylor Swift REALLY a country singer? Will my pipes freeze up this winter and what the hell is the attraction to Hip Hop and Rap?

As The Geezer I'm going to leave Christmas to the kids and find myself an nice quilt to put over my legs as I watch UFC re-runs. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Political Correctness vs. Free Speech

   In "Guns Guns Guns!" I spoke about the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This short essay is about the First Amendment. Freedom of Speech.

   In America we have the freedom to express ourselves through freedom of speech. The courts have held that this freedom is extended to expression of our thoughts, ideas and talents. In other words, we are free in this country to do or say just about anything we want as long as what we do or say doesn't cause harm or damage to another.

   We can't yell "Fire" in a crowded theater and thereby cause a panic which might cause injury to another. We can't slander or libel another person and cause that person to be injured by falsely damaging their reputation or cause them damage financially, however if through print or speech what we say or print is the truth, then we can say or print away to our heart's content.

   We can say or print anything in expression of our own opinions and beliefs as long as we label it as such: "It is my opinion that..." or, "this is what I believe to be the case..."  This lets us say these things since they are our own words, thoughts and expressions.

   A number of years ago the term "Political Correctness" crept into our vocabulary. Being Politically Correct means saying things in such a way that no one anywhere at any time will be offended by our words or thoughts. In my opinion it's a load of crap!

   Thankfully, Political Correctness isn't written into the law - yet. We are not required to conform to the ideal of political correctness - yet. The First Amendment still protects what we can say or write but political correctness somewhat dictates how and when we can say what we want to say. Best not say something that will be contrversial and/or make someone uncomfortable!

   Some people have become so pampered, sheltered and coddled that they have grown to be too thin-skinned. So thin-skinned that they feel that they should be offended by off-handed comments made by others. Comments that are not intended to offend but are used in unguarded casual conversation.

   We have to be alert! We have to think ahead so that our words will pass through our internal PC filter and come out clean and pure as the driven snow so that we won't be pounced upon by the PC Police!

   Recently an actor used the word "Trannie" on a television show; "Trannie" being a pejorative (slang) term for a transsexual (A person who has undergone sexual "reassignment" surgery [changed from male to female or vice-versa]). The word "Trannie" is just easier to use, everyone knows what it is (not a term for an automotive gear-change mechanism). Being politically correct is mentally exhausting! The actor found himself in the position of having to apologize profusely for using a common word to describe an uncommon situation. Sad!

   So many people are too quick to take offense at nothing at all. Words that are neither designed to damage nor intended to hurt another person or group. These folks have found a friend in attorneys who do nothing but file lawsuit after lawsuit claiming emotional damage or harm to their clients who felt insulted or put upon by the careless words of another.

   People say things that are never intended to harm others but it does happen. People say things all the time. More people should say to themselves "That is none of my business" or "That wasn't intended for me" or "So what? I'm not going to let it bother me" or even "I'm a better person than that - I forgive you".

   As The Geezer, I have learned to let my skin grow a bit thicker. Life's too short to let this kind of behaviour get to me. I'll say what I want to say! I was here before Political Correctness but after the First Amendment to the US Constitution. I'm immune! I'm The Geezer!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Guns Guns Guns!

   I own guns. There, I said it. I'm a gun owner.

   In some circles it's not politically correct to own guns, let alone state the fact publicly.  At one time I had someone come into my home and as soon as they learned that I was a gun owner and actually had "one of those things" in my house, they became visibly agitated - as if I were going to start taking shots at them for the fun of it. Maybe I should have, just to prove that I was one of those crazy gun nuts!

      I have been involved with guns of one sort or another since I was five or six years old; my parents bought me a BB gun for my birthday. I was in heaven!  My father taught me to shoot it. He was a Marine Corps sniper in WWII and Korea. He knew how to shoot! Over the years he taught me what I needed to know.

   We once had a problem with feral cats around our home (see: Cats, I Hate Cats). I would occasionally go outside to "take care of" a cat that had the poor judgement to stand still long enough for me to grab my .22 and make it to the back door. Afterward my wife would ask: "Did you get him?" I would just respond, "Of course" as if there was any doubt. In fact there is never any doubt. I always hit what I aim at. I'm good. Not bragging, just a fact. My Dad taught me well.

   During a visit a year or so before he passed away, we went out and shot at some ground squirrels (often called prairie dogs). They are about as large as a man's fist. Dad pointed to a spot about 50 yards away and told me he was going to shoot that squirrel right in the eye. I could barely see the little thing. It was in it's burrow and just barely peeking over the lip of the mound around it's home. Dad shot and a puff of dust rose up from his .22 striking the dirt. We walked over and he pulled the squirrel from the hole. He had done exactly what he had said he would do. Right through the eye! A few minutes later I made virtually the same shot at another squirrel. "I taught you well, grasshopper!" he said. High praise! We laughed. It was a very good day!

   When I was in the military, during basic training, one of the instructors was teaching marksmanship but doing so somewhat poorly. I made a suggestion (not very well received but he listened to what I had to say about the way he was explaining the fundamentals. He later took me aside and thanked me for my suggestion and asked me if he could use the tip I had given him.) It was something that my Dad had taught me: "Aim small, hit small - Aim big, hit nothing". Meaning: Don't aim at the target - aim at a small part of the target and you're likely to hit very close to that point. (If all of the other fundamentals are sound - this can take a lifetime and some people never get it)

   For readers who live outside the USA: I know that there are those who question us Americans and our love of guns. It's part of our heritage. Our history is rife with stories of our ancestors - the pioneers who tamed the wilderness with a rifle in one hand and a plow in the other. Stories of our "Wild West" and the "Gunfight at the OK Corral" are mostly overblown and gunfights were rare. The OK Corral gunfight happened but has mostly been romanticized through books and films.

   Our founding fathers saw the need of/for the armed citizen in order to maintain balance with our government and to make it all but impossible for a foreign army to invade our country. This was stated in the second amendment of the US Constitution - Right below the first amendment which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. The second amendment supports the first.

   In states where citizens have the right to carry concealed weapons, crime statistics all indicate a downward trend. When criminals don't know which of their intended victims are armed, they tend to look elsewhere. "An armed society is a polite society". Robert A. Heinlein

   I have firearms that I have inherited from my father and those that I have purchased for myself. Many of those that I have inherited, I don't fire. They are keepsakes - but I still have ammunition for them all, just in case... I have a handgun and a rifle that are new and unfired. Why? I just haven't gotten around to it - yet. Their day will come. Soon.

   From The Geezer: If you don't like guns, that's fine. Don't criticize and demonize those of us who do. If you ever need to be protected, call your neighbor. Statistics say that he or she will have a firearm in their home and will know how to use it.