Trump and Bump and the Political Potty (Mouth)

Yesterday, I wrote about media outlets that are too squeamish to make references to bodily functions, including even words like “pee” that have made their ways into everyday conversation.  Newspapers with “family” sensibilities and radio and television stations fearing censure and fines from the FCC are finding it more and more difficult to operate within strictures that defy the realities of the world about which they are reporting.

Once we get beyond the popularity of slang references to urination and defecation, we get into the territory of what were once known as “cuss words,” many of which refer to genitalia or sexual functions.  I should mention that these words referred to those subjects at one time, although today they have largely divested themselves of those meanings, being used primarily for emphasis or to indicate anger or surprise.

I vaguely recall reading that a major American newspaper vowed never to print one of those vulgar words in its pages until such time as the president of the United States used them publicly.  It wasn’t long until that very situation occurred and the paper had to eat humble pie.

The fact is that quite a few U.S. presidents have demonstrated their fondness for profanity.  Harry Truman, LBJ, Clinton, both Bushes and, yes, President Obama, are among them.  Some would argue that use of this type of language constitutes decidedly unpresidential conduct and is inappropriate for anyone supposedly serving as a role model for today’s youth.  Whether the leader of the free world is expected to fulfill that function in the 21st century remains a subject for debate.

I must admit that I was a bit taken aback by an article published over the holiday weekend by Phil Bump, a Washington Post political columnist whom I admire and respect.  The purpose of the piece was to point out that presidential candidate Donald Trump has a potty mouth, as clearly demonstrated by some of his very colorful tweets.  It’s true:  The man loves his expletives.  If nothing else, they certainly attract attention.  The problem, as I learned in writing class many years ago, is that the expletive tends to be all the reader sees.  The shock value of such words tends to completely supersede and blot out any point the writer may have been attempting to make.

I’m not surprised that Trump likes to cuss, but I was terribly disappointed with the subterfuge to which Bump had to resort in order to present Trump’s Bluest Hits of Twitter without violating the arcane and laughably out-of-date rules set forth by his newspaper.  The plan involved asking readers to solve a type of cryptogram in order to figure out the particular vulgarities used by Trump without the paper having to actually print those words.

“For kicks,” writes Bump in explaining his scheme, “we’ve changed the four swear words we looked at into names.  The word beginning with an F is “Frank.”  The one beginning with an S is “Sam.”  The three-letter word starting with A becomes “Alex,” and the longer, seven-letter variant thereof, “Alexander.”

Bump then coyly quotes some of Trump’s rants on Twitter, substituting the proposed words above for the profanity actually used.  WTF?

“Before we continue,” writes Bump, “we will demurely note that The Washington Post tends not to use a lot of cussing on its pages.”  No, really?  I mean, gosh darn, you could have fooled me.  He then goes on to state, seemingly by way of distancing himself from his own folly, that “We are not 10, but if any 10-year-olds read this, their innocent sensibilities will be spared (in case there is some 10-year-old who doesn’t know the f-word).”

I believe that this last sentence, particularly the parenthetical portion, is designed to point out Bump’s awareness of how utterly ridiculous are the rules by which news writers and columnists are bound.  Surely it is no surprise to anyone that a demagogue, a self-styled man of the people such as Trump, would speak using the same type of language that (most of) the rest of us do.

That the news media ignore the facts of the modern world, instead opting to sing “la la la la” while sticking their fingers in their ears, is a demonstration of how out of touch they are with reality.

As for you, Phil Bump, quit playing cryptogram games and insist on telling it like it is.  If the Post won’t print it, tell them to go Frank themselves.

 

Free Newspapers for the Unemployed? Nah!

times

We’re not even a week into the new month and already I’m done.

When I’m not writing about my family or waxing sentimental about my college and grad school days, most of my posts require some degree of online research.  Even when I feel that I am fairly knowledgeable about my subject, I’m not inclined to hit the Publish button until I’ve done some basic level of fact checking, if only to avoid embarrassing myself by discovering that the whole world changed while I had my head in the clouds and that I’m the only one who didn’t get the memo.

The websites of federal and state agencies are often helpful, as are CNN and Fox News online, along with the tried and true Google search.  But my mainstays, the bedrock upon which I rely, are The New York Times, The Washington Post and, since this is A Map of California, The Los Angeles Times.

The problem with those newspapers is that — surprise — they require revenue to continue operating.  Accordingly, they maintain their websites, to a greater or lesser extent, behind a paywall.  Newcomers to these sites may generally read some articles for free (a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “clickbait”) before being faced with a popup informing the user to pay up or be shut out.

Lately, I’ve been doing more than a little bit of research on the expiration of federal unemployment benefit extensions, and it’s finally caught up with me.  Today I came face-to-face with the dreaded New York Times popup notice “you have reached your final free article for this month.”  The notice includes a link to a page where readers may purchase a Times digital subscription.

This is not the first time that I have used this forum to express my opinion that effective democracy requires universal access to major newspapers (otherwise, the freedom of the press guaranteed us by the First Amendment doesn’t mean a whole lot).  Nevertheless, I feel as if I do owe the Times some duty of support, particularly since I check their headlines on my phone every morning and rely on their journalistic prowess and wide range of opinions not only for statistics, but also to open my eyes to ideas that may be new to me.  As the popup notice informs me that a digital subscription costs 99 cents, it’s hard to say no.

But then I looked at the other terms and conditions.  Apparently, the cost for digital access to the Times is 99 cents per week for the first four weeks.  After that, it’s $3.75 to $8.75 per week, depending on the plan I choose.  Even if I choose the most economical plan with the least access, the cost would come to about $184 per year.

I suppose I could try to be sneaky by purchasing a subscription for the introductory offer of 99 cents per week to get me through January and then cancel at the end of the month.  This assumes that I remember to actually cancel at the correct time, which I know full well is highly unlikely.  My credit card would likely be charged for a while before I noticed (something the Times undoubtedly depends upon).  And even if I do remember to cancel promptly, I’ll just be back in the same boat come February, hoarding my newly refreshed complement of ten free articles in a miserly fashion.

Under normal circumstances, this whole thing wouldn’t be a big deal.  I’d put it on the Visa, consider it a little present to myself and promptly forget how much I paid for it.

Unfortunately, normal circumstances no longer prevail.  Now that three months have elapsed since I was laid off at work, I can no longer justify a $184 expense for my own enjoyment.  Not with our fifteenth wedding anniversary coming up.  Not with my mother’s 80th birthday celebration coming up.  Not with the expense that we reluctantly resigned ourselves to a couple of weeks ago — to buy a bed that the two of us could actually fit into without my wife being shoved up against the wall like a perp on a cop show while I hung off the other side within inches of kerplopping onto the floor.

Perhaps I should email the New York Times to suggest that they implement a special discounted rate for the unemployed.  Nah, they’d probably just tell me to go to the public library.  Got gas money, anyone?

I have a better idea.  Now that the suspended coffee movement has taken off, perhaps the idea could be extended to suspended Times subscriptions.  Surely some benevolent individual would like to buy two subscriptions and suspend one so that a certain unemployed blogger in the northern reaches of the Golden State can do his research.  Pay it forward and all that, right?

I still have three more months of unemployment checks coming, and I pray that I am somehow able to find employment before the end.  While there is the possibility that Congress may begin considering a stopgap measure to temporarily reinstate federal unemployment extensions when it returns to session on Monday, such a provision would likely expire before my state unemployment claim runs out and thus would not apply to my situation.  And it is far from certain that Congress will be able to agree upon even a temporary measure.  In my last free Times article for the month, journalist Annie Lowrey reports that Congress is “setting the stage for a major political fight” and that “the constrained fiscal environment makes its [federal unemployment benefit extensions] reinstatement somewhat less likely.”  I believe it’s fair to expect that the fur will fly this week in the House and in the Senate.

Some have suggested that the unemployed will just have to become more resourceful.  As for me, I have figured out that I can obtain additional access to New York Times articles via the Yahoo email account I use to keep track of Scrabble tournaments and the gmail account that I somehow obtained when I began occasionally cross-posting over at Blogger.

After that, there’s always my wife’s email account.

Be forewarned, dear nieces and nephews.  I may need to borrow your email passwords soon.

 

Freedom of the Press, and of the Tunes

newspaperradio
I suppose it’s a part of growing up. There are some things my parents did that drove me crazy when I was a child but make perfect sense to me now. And as may be inevitable for a man squarely in the grip of middle age, I realize that I have become my father.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Anytime I’d be in the car with my father (and I was always thrilled with the opportunity to ride up front with him), he’d tune the radio to either news radio or to easy listening music. I could handle that, but what really bugged me was the way he’d either flip stations or turn off the radio whenever a commercial came on. He’d refer to the results of the latter alternative as his favorite song, “The Sound of Silence.” (I hadn’t yet discovered Simon and Garfunkel.) He made it clear that he wasn’t going to have the idiocy of Madison Avenue forced upon him. Occasionally, he’d leave the radio on just so he could mimic the ridiculous ads (“rub it in, in, IN!”), which he’d usually follow up with a stream of swear words that I’d try my hardest to ignore.

Well, I don’t do the swear words thing, but I’ve now reached the age where I find myself changing the station or turning off the radio as soon as I start to hear a commercial. In my little town, this is no small statement. I refuse to listen to the Spanish stations or the Christian stations, which leaves me with exactly two choices. There is a powerful country music station over in Arizona and there is our little hometown radio station that plays an eclectic variety of music. I find our local station charming. I never know what to expect and I am often delighted. Turning on the radio, I may be transported back to another era by one of my favorite doo-wops, followed by something from Kenny Chesney or Carrie Underwood, then a classic from the Stones and a tune by Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj.

With entertainment like that, it seems the least I could do would be to support the station by listening to the commercials that pay their bills and then patronizing those businessess. Sorry, Charlie. Nothing doing. I may have been bopping and drumming to the song that just ended, but when a commercial comes on, I am gone. Out of there. Splitsville.

Too often, both our local station and the Arizona country people are playing advertisements at the same time. Like my father, I’ve come to accept and even enjoy “the sound of silence.”

Back in my college days, I used to argue about this with a friend of mine. He’d insist that radio stations are businesses, and that like any business, their sole purpose for existing is to make money. Bah humbug, I’d say. The purpose of radio is to entertain me. If a station ceases to do so, either because of its music selection or because an idiot commercial has come on, it’s adios, amigo. That’s not fair, my friend would respond. I’m receiving a service for free, while the radio station has to pay its bills. Not my problem, I’d tell him. No one is forcing the radio station to entertain me for free. The public has every right to take advantage of its largesse. If someone has dropped a quarter on the ground, why shouldn’t I pick it up?

When my wife and I purchased our current car, we found that it “came with” a six-month subscription to Sirius XM radio. Thus, we discovered the world of radio by paid subscription.

The technology fascinated me. Just to think that Sirius XM could send a signal specifically to our car antenna, a signal from a satellite orbiting the earth that we could pick up but the car in front of us and the car behind us could not. Amazing!

The best thing about paid subscription radio, of course, is no commercials. Well, sort of. I’d happily sha-la-la and whoa-woah along with Sixties on 6 and Seventies on 7 in commercial-free heaven, but when we switched to the comedy channel, we found the routines constantly interrupted for commercials. Not just any commercials, mind you. Commercials for . . . ah, um, er, products of an “intimate nature.” And we were paying for this!

Well, for the first six months it was free with our new car. But after that we were paying for it. Yes, we shelled out the bucks and renewed our subscription several times. This, of course, is exactly what Sirius XM hoped we would do. Get ‘em hooked, then send ‘em the bill.

After about a year of this, we figured out that it just wasn’t worth it, particularly with the idiot commercials that interrupted our favorite stations. We could get that for free on over-the-air stations.

That’s when we started keeping CDs in the car us. We’d slip them into the disc player to entertain us on our frequent trips between northern and southern California. Of course, the CDs weren’t free, but at least we only had to pay for them once rather than being billed every six months for a subscription. And no idiot commercials!

The downside of the CD solution is that you end up playing the same music over and over. Not only that, but we realized that we tended to buy a CD for one or two favorite songs, while the rest of the album really didn’t interest us.

iPhone to the rescue! We already had iPods, and when we purchased iPhones, we had our music right on our cell phones. With the aid of a little adapter cord, we were able to plug in, set the music on Shuffle and go rockin’ on down the highway. I’d be singing along at the top of my lungs (off-key, of course) and before I knew it we’d be past Bakersfield.

This was better than CDs. We had exactly the music we wanted to hear. No idiot commercials and no B-side boring stuff. Of course, this didn’t come free. Every time we thought of another song we wanted, we’d just go online and buy it. We found that most songs were 99 cents or $1.29 to download. Very reasonable, particularly when you build your music collection a little at a time.

I love reading newspapers almost as much as I enjoy listening to music, and I don’t think I should have to pay for either one, at least when I am not picking and choosing my content. Back in my New York days, on Sunday mornings we’d go out to buy fresh bagels and pick up The New York Times. The Sunday Times was truly a marvel. It was thick and heavy, with many sections. I’d head straight for the “magazine” section and the book review. Then I’d settle back with Section 2, the famed Arts and Leisure section, where I’d ogle the full-page announcements of Broadway shows with a mixture of awe and delight. Of course, the Times wasn’t free, and its price increased as the years went by. But it was a once-a-week indulgence, and we could skip a week or two anytime we felt like it. It’s not like we had a subscription.

My parents didn’t even subscribe to the local paper. Both they and I knew that it would largely go unread and back issues would inevitably be stacked up in heaps to be carted out to the curb on recycling day.

But that was back in the Stone Age before the internet came along. Soon, I found myself being able to read The New York Times online for free anytime I liked, weekday or Sunday. This was wonderful, particularly after I moved to California, and then to a remote area of the desert where I couldn’t go to the corner and pick up the Times with my bagels and cream cheese.

Like all good things, this one didn’t last. It didn’t take long before the Times realized there was money to be made out there in the wilds of cyberspace. Inevitably, the Times began charging for its service. But you know me. I’m not going to pay for it if I don’t have to.

This is how I worked it out: First, I downloaded The New York Times on my iPhone. As I am constantly reminded by the insipid pop-ups, “Top News is Free. Subscribe for full access.” I don’t think so!

First phase accomplished: I get to read about a dozen top news stories on my phone for free every morning. Of course, the Times attempts to tantalize me into paying by dangling what I’m missing in front of my nose. I can click the “Sections” icon and view the headlines and the first sentences of all the great articles I’m missing in Opinion, Books, Travel, Arts, Dining, and on and on.

And so on to the second phase: Grab a scratch paper and make note of the titles of the articles I am really interested in reading but don’t have access to. Then I log into www.nyt.com on my laptop, find the articles I’m looking for, and read to my heart’s content.

Well, not exactly. Surely you don’t think the venerable Times will make you pay on the iPhone but give it up for free on Windows? Of course not. I am able to read ten articles per month for free on my laptop. After that, I am blocked by the ubiquitous message to subscribe in order to continue reading.

Fortunately for me, my wife doesn’t object when I log onto her account on her laptop and get to read another ten articles in the Times.

To paraphrase Billy Joel, “he’ll take what he’s given as long as it’s free.”