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Monday, April 14, 2014

Hate the state of programming on TV and the Internet? We get what we pay for.

How Much Did You Pay?

Not surprising to hear  us ask "How much did you pay?" as often as we do, considering our consumerist culture. It's natural to compare, to want to know details on our friends and neighbors purchases. 

Not always is the same question applied to our information, though there are compelling reasons why it should be, especially as mass media moves from one era to the next in subtle but sure ways.

We used to pay for our mass media and our information with our participation in the advertising structure that was the base of the entire enterprise. And what a structure it was. Three big networks taking in all American television viewers, dividing the audience and the advertising dollars in three big pie slices. It paid for what we got. We didn't get Shakespeare on Sundays evenings, but Bonanza, Ed Sullivan and Disney were not as bad as reality television either. 

Today, the Internet's at the head of the mass media table, and because of its disruptive-to-old-media-models-structure (it's free), the advertising dollar pie's been sliced so thin, it's tempting to think a Ronco kitchen device has been slicing and dicing in super-thin mode. There are so many programming choices (think YouTube), that it's hard to make production dollars pay off for those working in the old media landscape of television. That's why we see so much programming done on the cheap.

When we bemoan the standards of television programming, including news and current affairs, it's helpful to note the staffs at the network news have been cut back commensurate with the audience's shifting attention to the Internet and drops in advertising in traditional, legacy media. 

Here are some interesting and informative talks on the changing landscape of media gathered from TED talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design). Media Talks (each about 18 min.) 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lucky Comes To Say Hello Again

Anyone past their first few years has experienced grief, many over a pet who's died or run away or disappeared.

I was in the throes of sadness and mystery over Lucky's disappearance and almost sure death to the coyotes who were roaming the hills near us when I was visited by a chance message of reassurance about Lucky's demise. 

I found a film to watch one evening last week on Netflix, Dean Spanley  that spun a great yarn about a minister who could, with the help of a special brandy, recall his former life as a dog. He demonstrates how dogs think and what about, but most importantly for me, how death is perceived by an animal as one only more new sniff in the air, another over to run across, no pain whatsoever. 

This message is one I was desperately in need of, but I never dreamed of hoping for the elegant, poetic and heartwarming balm this movie delivered.

Here is a poem from Mary Oliver that comes to me also by surprise and as quietly this foggy, damp morning as Lucky used to appear beside me just to say hello.

The First Time Percy Came Back

The first time Percy came back
he was not sailing on a cloud.
He was loping along the sand as though
he had come a great way.
"Percy," I cried out, and reached to him--
those white curls--
but he was unreachable. As music
is present yet you can't touch it.
"Yes, it's all different," he said.
"You're going to be very surprised."
But I wasn't thinking of that. I only
wanted to hold him. "Listen," he said.
"I miss that too.
And now you'll be telling stories
of my coming back
and they won't be false, and they won't be true,
but they'll be real."
And, then, as he used to, he said, "Let's go!"
And we walked down the beach together.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

We were Lucky

When I met Lucky, I waved a broom at him to scare him off. When he dropped by again the next day for a snack  (kittens need a lot of snacks) from my other cat's dish I sprayed him with water from my hose. I didn't want another cat, even one with such huge fireman's boots paws. 

He was undeterred by my efforts to keep him out of our yard, and came right up to my lap one day on the front porch rocker. Yep, we've got another cat, now. No, I don't know what we're going to do with four. Yep, I've gone 'round the bend. I'm officially dotty, I told Susie when she drove up on the new Madonna and child on the front porch. 

He knew his place among the existing cats. He knew to stay clear of Sam, the outdoor-only short haired gray. We had in-and-outdoor cats, Cheech and Chong, the Burmese brothers. Lucky also stepped lightly around the old bachelors who were set in their ways. They looked down their noses at him at first, but only hissed a few warnings at him. They knew the Two Legged that lived with them already had another cat, a parrot and a dog. What harm could a kitten do? 

I named him Lucky, because I'd heard of a man where I worked with that name and liked it. What would your life be like if your name were Lucky? I gave it a try on the big-pawed kitten. Besides, he was lucky to live with us. We had a great life to offer a cat, lots of food and water, trees, grass, tons of pillows and sunny windows to nap beside. Hugs and love. The necessary trip to the vet to get neutered and all his shots. Well, no one could be all luck. But, overall, Lucky adapted well to the new home he had selected.

Lucky wasn't a fighter like our gray cat, Sam, who was rescued from a traffic island, howling in pitiful protest. He was in an awful mood after that, understandably. Except for sleeping and eating (barely) he spent most of his life sulking and ready to fight with the world. Lucky for us, the new cat was more like Cheech and Chong, who were also rescues. They came from a vet's office, and their lives as kittens were much safer, apparently, as their names suggest, very mellow and happy.

His breed was Maine Coon, and his personality was true to his kind of cat: gentle, loving and easy-going. He was still a kitten, though, and Cheech accommodated him with practice wrestling matches that sometimes resulted in fur flying. Lucky didn't keep grudges over being whipped by Cheech, who had tons more years of practice wrestling with his brother Chong, not to mention sheer bulk.

Here was a true people cat. Lucky always stayed close to home. When we were there, he sat or slept right beside where ever we were.  I could see he had been careful in who he chose to live with.  I suspected he had been born nearby at a family's two doors behind us whose children had helped raise him to be fond of Two Legged folks like us. 

When a woman doesn't have children of her own, she has the extra time and money to spend, some of it at the veterinarian's office, or the grocery store for pet food. Even so, her hugs, however romantically fulfilled by adults, still require a wee thing to squeeze and connect with. Lucky was a handful and grew to 14 pounds, but was always glad to have a hug and never minded being treated like a baby doll, learning to make the sign of the cross or being hung upside down by his big paws to show off the curly blond fur on his formidable belly.

Lucky lived indoors, and slept under the bed for many years, and later in a basket in the pantry. In the summers he slept in the screen porch. A true Maine Coon, he sat in the middle of any group of family, friends or artists working at the house. When the house was full of people, and doors were likely to be left ajar, Lucky would slip outside, preferring a wander to visiting, but he would be back in an hour or so, leading me to his food dish, which he knew I would magically fill for him. 

A very large short-hair yellow tom stray lived in the neighborhood, sleeping close to the houses, but generally living wild in the hills. He caught Lucky and showed him who was bigger, but there were no injuries requiring doctor visits, and I'm not sure Lucky even minded his encounters with the yellow tom. There's something a bit wild about all cats, if you are honest about it, even with a gentle old bachelor like Lucky had become after thirteen years with our family. 

Lucky watched television with us, never begged at us for food (he had his own place to eat, thank you) and was always at the door to say hello, follow me I have this empty dish to show you. 

He was a load to pick up and hug every day, but a mom has to do her duty, doesn't she? 

Lucky forgave us for leaving him accidentally locked in a bedroom without food or water for five days while we attended a niece's wedding in California, for over-zealously thinning out his tail fur, again by accident, and in his elder years, when we should have been more respectful, for making him perform his 'dog trick' in front of visitors: "Come, Lucky" the Two Legged stands holding cat treat. Lucky glances up from grooming to see the green teeth-cleaning treat the Two Legged pays five dollars for at the pet store. Lucky trots over to hear her hiss out "sssit!" "sssit, Lucky!" while raising the pet treat across his nose and up to his ears. What the...OK, I'll follow the treat with my eyes, therefore down goes my rump. Why do you insist on hissing "sssit?" Lucky wonders as he takes the treat delicately between his two incisors and crunches down. 

The weather looked to be good that night after an unending winter, so after a night of watching TV with us, we put his basket in the screened in porch for the night. The wind picked up in the middle of the night and was so strong it turned over a cot. In the morning I went to check in on him, but he had escaped through an opening in the screening the wind had blown open. 

It's been several days of looking for him, waiting for him and feeling someone missing from my heart.  A neighbor says her four cats, and the yellow tom are now all missing. We think the coyotes, who have come up from the valley looking for food with the drought this year must have found them.

Human beings are great, but they're not the heavy bundle of paws, fur and whiskers curled up on your lap that was Lucky.  


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blood Pot

"I never buy Mexican 'blood pot'. I only buy pot that I know has been grown here in the states."

When my friend first used the term 'blood pot' it stunned me, weighing me down like a beast sitting on my chest, forcing me to see an uncomfortable truth.

I was grateful someone finally said what I'd been circling around and side-stepping for years: when we buy pot from Mexican traffickers we each of us are accomplices in Mexican murders, kidnappings, extortion and the silencing of justice.

'Blood pot' buys the death squads, the hangings, the prison-break-outs, the black trucks and fire-arms, the short fuses on the lives of young Mexicans whose horizons shorten with each passing decade, the boarded up schools and church of my grandmother's village. 

'Blood pot' buys the black hats worn by bad guys everywhere, left and right of borders, on college campuses, on airport tarmacs, in warehouses in deserts and deep in city cement jungles.

'Blood pot' pays off police chiefs and judges, governors and municipal presidents and businesses from banks to restaurants on both sides of the border.

'Blood pot' needs to be screamed so loud that it echoes from San Antonio to Sinaloa, so no one can pretend anymore that they haven't been purchased, paid off and delivered, cheaper than dirt.

I'm grateful to learn a new term, a term that says in few words exactly who pays for the twisted, over-grown and profitable black market that is our drug economy. 

I'm grateful too, for legalization efforts in Colorado and other states. Every ounce sold by legal sellers is one less sold by narco-traficantes at a human cost too high to calculate. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Food, drink, memory

Food, drink, memory

We stopped in for a quick dinner before our long drive back into the Hill Country. 

The waitress was young and friendly and we liked being back where we had enjoyed many lunches and dinners in the past, when the place had another owner and name. The new menu was ambitious, less regional. As we ate our dinner, we were grateful for such good food and service.

As I lurched toward the ladies' room (the building slants several discernible degrees as it has done for the past 70 plus years) past the bar where a few couples sat eating, I suddenly realized I was older than any of the customers or waitstaff, and had known the building before anyone else in the whole restaurant had been born. My memories of the place stretched back to the trio of fellows who moved here from California to open the restaurant in the early 1980's and who set the bar (no pun intended) so high for the present owner. 

I marveled that I had been a witness to a history of a sort, and that so many memories of the place still lingered and meant so much. I thought of the San Antonio celebrities I had run across there in years past: Susie and my brother Israel and I had had the interesting aural surprise one warm Sunday afternoon to hear the voice of the actor Tommy Lee Jones booming from behind us while entertaining his friends over lunch.  I had watched the El Paso writer Dagoberto Gilb duck paying his dinner tab late on a Saturday night while there with writers from Macondo Workshop with Sandra Cisneros. The last time I had walked past the bar there was three years ago when I spotted a handsome and gifted photographer looking much older catching me staring and and probably thinking the same thing about me.

What is great about a place to eat and drink and be with friends is the odd and out-of-focus movie that whirls like a Fellini film. There is a drunkenness that comes from the alcoholic spirits, but also from the people's spirits rising in conversation, storytelling and laughter.  The door opens to new arrivals and waiters in white shirts escort them to tables, all new players on the tilting floorboards of the restaurant turned into impromptu theater. Friends amble by, stop and say hello, and the rooms are charged with smoke and sounds, aromas and energy-- gossip and news, discussion and persuasion. Squeeze past two overcrowded tables, chortles, hey waiter, can I have a slice of Virginia Green's chocolate cake, please?

I sat in the glow of the neon rimmed window where I had sat for many dinners over the decades and remembered the times when for a few minutes the old orb we lived and loved and labored on was transformed to a planet friendlier than before, and even how it traversed the sky changed from straight across to samba shuffle.  I could almost hear the little slanted restaurant's chatter, chairs shuffling and riffs of laughter. Good luck to Minnie's Tavern. You have big shoes to fill at the old Liberty Bar. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Little Red Riding Hood Through the Eyes of Media Scholars

The semester at Northwest Vista College is new and minds are open to the material to be learned in Introduction to Mass Communications. I re-vamped the course this semester, but the goal for the first few weeks is the same: sharpen the students' awareness of the role mass media play in our lives and in our world. 

I used to use a textbook, but I now prefer a project-based approach to teaching, and the change has allowed me to increase student engagement and skills in accessing, analyzing, evaluating, and creating media. 

For many semesters, students participated in a media deprivation experience that started at 100 hours without entertainment media, fell to 48 and, after weighing the pro's and con's, I jettisoned the assignment for a new and much better one that has the same goal of sharpening awareness of the role of media in today's world. 

I used the more accessible essays (brief 2-3 page excerpts) from three media theorists, George Gerbner, Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan, who each describe the role of communication and the birth of mass communication over time. We study three eras [tribal or oral (pre 3500 BC) , literate (alphabet,printing press) and electronic (telegraph era to today)].

At the end of three days of reading in class, extracting main messages and class discussions at a pair, group and whole-class levels, we create charts that helped to clarify the changes in communication over the three eras. For example storytelling's function in tribal times was to convey information (scarce) that was tied to usefulness, while today it is "untied" from that function and because it has become a commodity, is now in overflow mode, or "glut" as well as commercial in nature. The storyteller today is selling us an idea or a product.

I resurrected an exercise I had used successfully several semesters ago: placing students in three teams and having them select at random a theorist and an era to re-enact the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood with the characteristics of the era and theorist they had selected. 

The students take a few minutes to introduce themselves to each other and then spend about 20 minutes planning their approach to the exercise. I do my best to keep the three groups separated, but check in on their progress. Not necessary. They are way ahead of me, and usually demonstrate with ease not only their knowledge of the eras and theorists ideas and concepts, but creative and often athletic or theatrical approaches to the task. 

The three groups stage their re-enactments and we laugh, clap and are joyful in the learning experience to a degree I wish were possible all semester. 

A brief 2-3 paragraph reflection paper is hand written about the experience at the end of the presentations on the topics what might have become clearer for the student through the experience, as well as what additional questions the experience brought up. The writing is shared with a partner then turned in. Here are some excerpts from the next generation of media scholars getting their start at NVC:

"I had an epiphany while reading Gerbner's essay the first day of class. I realized how the amount of information we receive could be a bad thing. I wonder how communication will change in the future."

" I also think that I was left with personal questions such as how much television I'm actually watching and how much it's affecting me. I also think that I got some new insight with regards to how much I want to, can, and will be able to learn and curate in my mind."

"People in the modern world are focused more on the idea of a perfect family on television than trying to make their own better."

"Before technology, information was available in select quantities. But now, we have access to infinite information and ideas. I do have one question: What will be the next era".

Great question!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

KLRN ARTS segments in a great 12 month collaboration of creativity

Thanks for a great year of creativity, and hard work I'm very proud to share here, to all the team at KLRN TV, public television in San Antonio and numerous surrounding counties, including Laredo. 

David Bibbs, Julie Coan, Sergio Gonzalez, Leigh Utecht--They're the hardest working media professionals in the region. I say this with personal experience working at three radio stations and four television stations over the many years since I started in the business right after high school and during and after college.

For the past twelve months we worked together to produce KLRN's ARTS series, pooling our ideas and talents in a collaboration that was enjoyable and exciting.

Here are the links to the segments which I personally directed and wrote:

1. A great overview of the Chicano art collection donated to the McNay Museum by Drs. Harriett and Ricardo Romo.

2. Profile of internationally respected conceptual artist Jesse Amado.
Jesse Amado 

3. San Antonio Museum of Art's exhibit of Aphrodite 
SAMA's exhibit on the goddess Aphrodite

4. Profile of faux bois artist Carlos Cortes
Carlos Cortes Profile 

5. Maestra Teresa Champion's flamenco career 
Teresa Champion, Flamenco maestra 

6. Spotlight on impact of street banner photos on near Westside historic neighborhood
project of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center 

7. Profile of glass artist Gini Garcia
Internationally reknown glass artist, Gini Garcia 

8. Profile of San Antonio Poet Laureate 2013 Carmen Tafolla
San Antonio poet Carmen Tafolla 

9. Profile of Kenya-born San Antonio artist Naomi Wanjiku
Naomi Wanjiku profile

10. Four local watercolor artists celebrate a half century of working together
Profile of Watercolor Gang 

11. San Antonio Film Festival 2013
Preview of festival 2013 

12. Exhibit at McNay on photos used by Norman Rockwell in preparing his paintings
Norman Rockwell's study photographs 

13. Profile of Flamenco guitarist and dancer
Flamenco guitarist and dancer 

14. Nan Cuba publishes new book
Nan Cuba's new book