Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Is it the wheel? Or fire? Maybe you think it’s the printing press. Lots of people are positive the prize, almost automatically, goes to the flush toilet.

What is the greatest invention ever?

The debate is finally over. It’s settled once and for all.

The greatest thing ever invented by mankind is Batter Blaster. For those too far behind the cultural curve for their own good – those who’ve never heard of Batter Blaster - for you I have the only two words that matter, the key to your future delight: Instant pancakes.

You can now buy a can – yes, the same sort of refrigerated pressurized can that whipped cream comes in – and out of its nozzle springs… Instant pancakes!

It’s so simple and so quick. Walk into the kitchen, put a frying pan on the stove, turn up the flame, press the plastic nozzle and – out comes pancake batter!

In a matter of moments, what do you have? You have just the very thing you’ve always wanted – instant, homemade, hot, light, golden brown, crisp around the edges PANCAKES! Please, please, hold your applause.

Life is good. The Patent Office has served its purpose. You don’t have to mix the ingredients, measure the flour, add an egg, pour the milk, shake it up or mix the bowl. You don’t have to worry about making too much batter. You don’t have to watch carefully how much you pour into the frying pan. Oh, no. Batter Blaster. Just point and shoot, so to speak.

And the best part – It takes no time at all. Before you’ve scratched your still sleepy eyes, you’re eating them.

I'll have another, thank you.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Why was Liz Cheney all over television last week?

A week has 168 hours. That’s 10,080 minutes. There’s no way you can make it shorter.

For you and me, we may not care. Life goes on. But, if you’re running a cable news operation, you face an unending, ceaseless demand for “programming.” Ten thousand and eighty minutes divided into program segments of approximately seven minutes each means you must be prepared to deliver some sort of on-air content to cover 1,440 segments – this week, next week, the week after, and… every week until you shut it down, turn it off, or blow your brains out.

Thus, in answer to this oppressing necessity, there has been created in modern American culture the “Talking Head.” These are the faces and mouths, the eyes, ears and hair, which fill the screen and add the audio. Their real purpose - treading water until… the next segment. For the Programming Department, the “Talking Head” is the tiny rat on the spinning wheel – you know, the wheel that turns and turns but never goes anywhere.

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll immediately understand. The “Talking Head” is the television equivalent of the middle-reliever, someone brought in from the bullpen in the third inning, somebody who can “give you some innings.” No crying baseball? Well, there’s no “mercy rule” in television. No time-out. Every minute is sixty-seconds and you must fill them up – each and every one - with something to look at and something that makes noise. You can never reach the next segment without completing the current one.

Obviously, the qualifications for who can be a “Talking Head” is either very liberally interpreted or totally ignored. “Any port in a storm” has been replaced in the daily world of today’s cable news networks with “Any face, Anytime.” In a moment of panic – when catastrophe strikes – the only known escape is to hit the control room button and bring up Billy Mays’ stain remover rant or the saving grace of the “Sham-Wow.”

“Talking Heads” feed the televised tapeworm. And, there is never enough food.

This explains why we have been lately subjected to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz. She’s out there for Daddy. Were she a few years younger this would easily be labeled child-abuse. Of course, as a father, I appreciate the loyalty and love of a daughter. I have three and I am positive each of them would do for me what Cheney’s daughter has done for him. What greater gift can a daughter give than to publicly embarrass herself to protect her father from the consequences of his action?

So, let us praise Liz Cheney for her devotion to family and her willingness to humiliate herself for her Dad – and now let’s ask the only questions she should have been confronted with while she was on television, but of course she wasn’t.

Question #1: Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?

This is not a frivolous question. She’s defending her father and quite specifically attacking President Obama. Based on what? Her opinion? Her unquestioning love for her father? Or does she have some facts on which to base her opinion that her father’s torture policies were both legal and productive and Obama’s stopping them is wrong and damaging to the nation? Since this is what she said – shouldn’t she be asked - how does she know this?

If Liz Cheney only has opinions – well, we all have opinions. She’s only giving the cable programmers “some innings.” More meat for the monster. Here today, gone tomorrow. If we’re dumb enough to watch, that’s our problem.

But, if she has some real information, some facts, some data to back-up her assertions – well, if she does, where did she get this information, these facts, this data? After all, she’s only Dick Cheney’s daughter. She possesses no other qualifications; she has no official resume or background or experience – and for damn sure – Liz Cheney has no national security clearance. As far as we can tell, she has no first-hand capacity to know anything that you or I don’t know.

Unless, she’s spoken with her father about this issue – about the run-up to the Iraq War and the use of torture and rendition by the CIA and other American agencies and operatives, private, public, secret and foreign.

This leads right into the next question Liz Cheney should have been asked on television.

Question #2: Have you ever discussed this topic with your father?

Maybe she says, “No.” Okay, in that case – why is she on the air?

Maybe she says, “Yes.” In that case isn’t she admitting that her father, the former Vice President of the United States, has violated a number of federal laws regarding the use and dissemination of classified information?

Liz Cheney appeared on every cable news network last week. She also was seen on each of the traditional over-the-air networks. They all covered her remarks. Did anyone, at any of these television operations, ask her these questions?

Perhaps, the next time she sticks her head above the mud, somebody with a microphone will ask her how she got so dirty.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Car dealers have a word for it – a term that accurately describes what New Orleans has become. “Almost walking” is what they call it. When a customer drives onto a car lot in an automobile obviously on its last legs, that’s what the salesmen say – “He’s almost walking.”

You can’t see it from the air. The path into New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport takes you over the northern portion of Lake Pontchartrain, so you get no view at all from above the city of New Orleans. And the cab ride into town from the airport has also been arranged to block any sight of blight, disrepair, abandonment or damage of any sort. All along Interstate 10 they’ve built high walls of beautifully contoured, richly toned cement complete with the famous Fleur De Lais logo. You’ve seen walls like these before on highways in residential neighborhoods. They are usually constructed to block the roadway noise from local residents. In this case, it’s pretty obvious. They’re designed to hide the results of the recent unpleasantness, the ugly residue of Katrina. They have to do that because if you could see it, you’d know.

New Orleans is “almost walking.”

Our first morning there we went to the Café Du Monde down on Decatur Street, along the river, for your traditional New Orleans breakfast – beignets and coffee. If you’ve ever been there you know the Café Du Monde is a huge place, open aired with a roof but no sides, no walls – just a mass of small tables, a bunch of waitresses running around in constant chaos, and a jazz band to liven the atmosphere. The coffee is pure Louisiana – with a hint of chicory, lightened with heavy cream and sweetened just a little too much. The beignets are special – hot from the deep fryer, overwhelmed with powdered sugar, three to a plate. It’s a breakfast fit for kings.

We never even sat down. You didn’t have to be or even remember Doris Troy. Just one look was all it took. What you saw was the dinning room in a nursing home. Walkers, wheelchairs and the “almost walking” themselves were everywhere – to the exclusion of everyone else. At first glance, we thought we had stumbled into an outdoor, early morning Bingo game. So, we hightailed it across the street and up a couple of blocks to a tiny joint I’d been in years before called simply, Café Beignet. The coffee was just as good. The beignets were even better and if there were a dozen people in the place that was a lot. Perhaps, I thought, the Café Du Monde was an anomaly. Could the remnants of the John McCain campaign be holding a reunion? Maybe it was a Billy Graham meeting. But it wasn’t.

All over New Orleans, no matter where we went, it looked like a field trip, an excursion for the nursing home set. In the hotels. In the restaurants. On the riverboat jazz dinner cruise. In the French Market. Everywhere we went. there was the Social Security crowd. Where, I wondered, had all the young people gone? Even the middle-aged were missing.

Among the great sights in New Orleans has always been the young people – drunk, high, smiling, laughing, parading up and down Bourbon Street with painted faces, bare midriffs, halter-tops and scary T-shirts. Not this time out. Bourbon Street was still crowded. They still don’t allow any cars on it. But, the walking wounded looked angry, frustrated, sick and tired, and some just plain mean. The happiness and joy was all sucked out of them. Bourbon Street was noisy with music, but it wasn’t alive; it was different. The music was recorded and most of it was hip-hop. The old joints with their own local bands – the brass bands and jazz quartets, the horn players and blues guitars – all gone. Sure, the sixteen-ounce beers, at three bucks a pop, were still there. The sex-show barkers were still pitching hard. But the context that made it all so attractive once was missing. It was Bourbon Street and yes, it was The French Quarter, but it might just as well have been Pittsburgh or Buffalo, Boise or Tacoma, Little Rock or Albany.

The French Quarter is “almost walking.”

The hotels are open. The lovely, elegant place we stayed at, in The Quarter, had weddings both nights we were there. Two receptions. Two bands in the courtyard. Not a black musician in either band and not a single player under the age of fifty, or so it seemed. The restaurants too are open. The famous ones – Antoine’s, Commander’s Palace, Brennans’s, The Rib Room at the Royal Orleans – they’re all full. But The Quarter is also full of Realtor’s For Sale Signs and hand lettered posters in windows saying For Rent. After a while you begin to notice the enormous number of abandoned residential buildings and when you gaze through the gates back to the courtyards, you see the grass hasn’t been cut and the fountains aren’t working. Nobody’s home. The people who lived there are gone. A truly American culture has been dispersed, perhaps destroyed.

We saw no street musicians, no dancers, no jugglers, no mimes, no painted people, walking works of art, no happiness and no joy. Even the horses fronting the carriages lined up in front of Jackson Square looked like they’d rather be elsewhere, out to pasture than lined up to pull the nursing home crowd around the narrow streets of the French Quarter.

We stayed the weekend. We ate well. No doubt about it. We bought a couple of T-shirts for the grandchildren – realizing as we did that we were as old as most of the others around us. We don’t feel like it – and maybe the other oldsters trotting around New Orleans think of themselves as their younger selves too. I did hear one old man ask the old woman he was with, as they finished their lunch, “Are we ready to rock ‘n roll?” She said, “Yes,” but I’m not sure.

Ernie K. Doe is gone. So is The Fat Man. Donna’s Bar & Grill is closed. You might hear “Stagger Lee” but it’s some fifty-five year old white guy singing it, not Lloyd Price.

I was hoping to see Old Charlie on N. Ramparts and maybe catch some Sunday Cajun square dancing at Tipatina’s. No more. Ain’t it a shame.

New Orleans is “almost walking.”