Webster on the Web - 2015

Previous Year

A column by Gary Webster

 

December 2015

I can't say I wasn't warned.

I learned many useful things during the two years I spent earning my bachelor's degree in electronic communications from Kent State University (1977-1979 to be specific.) Among them was the following pearl of wisdom, which I remember some 38 years later: the purpose of radio, and television, is not to entertain the masses. Or the individual. The sole function of radio and television is to sell products to the masses. Or the individual. Entertainment programming is a necessary evil, the function of which is to keep the masses, or the individual, tuned in until the next commercial break. If people would watch or listen to nothing but advertisements, that's all they'd find on radio or television. The class in which I was informed of this fact was told by the professor that, long before the advent of cable and dish TV, an on-air station in Los Angeles tested the theory that people wouldn't sit in front of their sets for hours at a time watching only commercials. . .no matter how entertaining those commercials may have been. And some commercials have been pretty doggone entertaining. Remember the one. . .never mind. That's another topic for another day. The station in question abandoned the experiment of running commercials 24/7 after one week, because no one was watching them. That was too weird, even for southern California. This was, of course, before the invention of home shopping channels.

I'm reminded that the only purpose of television and radio is to sell products every time I turn on my TV. Before composing this essay, I watched last week's episode of The Big Bang Theory on CBS's website. I missed it when it aired last Thursday, as I was working. Such is the beauty of the internet. In the old days, before computers, when one missed an episode of one's favorite TV program, one would have to wait months until it was re-broadcast. Unless the program was unpopular and was canceled before the re-broadcast aired. In that case, one was out of luck and would never see the episode that was missed.

Aside from sports, the only program I watch on network television is The Big Bang Theory. That's because I've been spoiled by the invention of the VCR. Yes, I still use a VCR. I don't have a fancy television with a DVR, which, as I understand it, serves the same function as a VCR. I spent hours taping my favorite programs on my VCR, then I spent more hours editing out the commercials, which required a second VCR. It was a wise investment. I also have some of my favorite old shows on DVD. In both cases, I can watch as many episodes as I wish in succession without commercials. I've gotten used to watching TV without the advertisements, which is why I don't watch CBS, ABC, NBC or FOX anymore. Actually, I never did watch FOX. Well, I did watch two shows on FOX when it first went on the air. I watched The Tracey Ullman Show and It's Garry Shandling's Show. When they were dumped, I stopped watching FOX.

I gave up network TV because it's one long commercial now-a-days. The episode of The Big Bang Theory I just viewed on my computer was only 19 minutes and 15 seconds long, and that included the opening theme and closing credits, meaning the body of the show was about 18 and a half minutes long. That means 10 minutes of commercials, which is way too many! When I was a kid, TV shows (including opening and closing themes) were 25 and a half minutes long, with three minutes of advertisements. I watch TV to be entertained, not to be hounded by sponsors who want me to spend my money on their product, whatever it may be. And advertisers try so hard to be clever these days that, after I've sat through five minutes of commercials on The Big Bang Theory, I scratch my head and ask myself "what were they trying to sell me?" I couldn't buy it if I wanted to, because I don't know what in blazes it was!

Tonight's episode of The Big Bang Theory will begin in three hours. I know what I'll do during the 10 minutes of commercials. That's what kitchens and bathrooms are for.

 

November 2015

I've finally figured out what I need.

If you've been reading these essays for a significant period of time, you've probably figured out what I need, too. . .starting with writing lessons. And there are many things I need, not just one. . .starting with the phone number of a hypnotist to put the lovely Vanessa Hudgens into a trance, preparatory to marrying her, as I predicted I'd do in January's essay. If you haven't read January's essay, I'll pause while you do so now. It was really good.

Welcome back. For those of you who'd already read January's essay and thus plowed ahead with November's, forget I said that. Anyway, there are many things I need, but I must prioritize, so at the top of the list is a way to sell the three books I've written that have been published by McFarland and Company of Jefferson, North Carolina. I don't want to blow my own horn, so I'll pause while you visit my publisher's website to get the lowdown on my books. Click sports, then click baseball. You should be able to figure out the rest without instructions from me.

Again, welcome back. For those of you who were familiar with my books and didn't visit my publisher's website but forged ahead with November's essay, forget I said that, since you didn't go anywhere to be welcomed back from. I have written three very fine books for McFarland, if I do say so myself. But the public just doesn't know about them, because if it did, I'd have earned a heck of a lot more than $68 in royalties for the first six months of this year. The folks at McFarland are a swell bunch of publishers, but they freely admit that they don't do much to market the books they publish, except to libraries. And I wonder how aggressively they pursue libraries, since there are 125,000 libraries of various shapes and sizes in the United States, and I've sold less than 1,000 copies of my three published books combined. If only 10,000 libraries (7.5% of all the libraries in America) had purchased a copy of each of my books, I'd be rubbing elbows with Bill Gates right now. Okay, so I wouldn't be that rich, but my last royalty check would've had a heck of a lot more zeroes on it. Because these are three very fine books, I have logically deduced the problem to be a lack of publicity. People need to know my books are out there so they can purchase them. I wanna hang out with Bill! Actually, I'd much rather hang out with Vanessa, but that would take money, too. Have you seen the bling she wears in her publicity photos?

On the topic of publicity, which is what I have deduced my books need, the best way to get it is to advertise during the Super Bowl. A 30-second commercial extolling the virtues of my books (and telling the audience how to buy them) would be seen by over 100 million sports fans, and my books are about sports. Granted, they're about baseball, but most baseball fans are football fans, too. For a mere $4.5 million, I can pitch my books (get the tie-in…baseball…pitch?) to at least 100 million potential customers. And it would only cost about a nickel per customer. Such a deal! And if just 10% of those 100 million Super Bowl viewers bought my book, that would mean $300 million for my publisher and about $40 million in royalties for me.

Who among you is going to be a pal and start one of those on-line fund-raising accounts on one of those on-line fund-raising websites to come up with the $4.5 million I need to buy a half minute of commercial time on the Super Bowl to advertise my books?

What will you get out of it? I'll sell you an autographed copy of one of my books (your choice) for half price. I repeat: such a deal!

 

October 2015

Now, it can be revealed.

What's in a name, the immortal Bard once asked? Actually, Romeo Montague asked the question, but Shakespeare wrote all of Romeo's dialogue. When it comes to writing, a name means a lot. You may have heard that Joanne Rowling, better known by her initials, decided to try something new after retiring the Harry Potter series of books. Rowling tried writing a mystery, and so as not to capitalize on her fame, she composed the book under an assumed name. She found a publisher, but the book was selling poorly until someone (maybe Rowling herself) leaked the information that Rowling was the actual author. Fans of Harry Potter couldn't order the book fast enough. I recall reading that the publisher was overwhelmed with orders. . .more than a million copies of the book were purchased within seven days after it was revealed, and Rowling confirmed, that she was the author. I have no idea what sort of deal she has with her publisher, but if she's getting the standard royalty, the sale of a million books should've added at least three million pounds to her bulging bank account. And I do mean bulging.

Ms. Rowling has another deep, dark secret that I feel compelled to reveal. I owe it to her. I can no longer in good conscience allow her not to receive the compensation to which she is entitled for her years of research and diligent effort.

In my mail box recently arrived a large white envelope from my publisher, containing a check for six month's worth of royalties for my three books. Six months worth of sales of my three books earned for me three pictures of Andrew Jackson, one picture of Abraham Lincoln, and three pictures of George Washington. I'll pause for a moment while you do the math. That is why I can no longer keep Rowling's deep, dark secret, despite her plea that I do so. The woman is being cheated.

The checks from the publisher have been sent to me to protect Rowling's secret, but it's time literature fans learned the truth. I didn't write the three books that bear my name.

They were written by J.K. Rowling. And it's time she received the proper recognition, and the proper royalties. Yes, Rowling fans, your favorite author, the woman who created Harry Potter and his pals, is a closet baseball fan. A fan of the Cleveland Indians, to be specific. Who knew? It was Rowling, not me, who decided that the story of the 1920 world champion Indians should've been written years ago, and she wrote it in between tales of Hogwarts. It was Rowling, not me, who needed something to do between stories about Harry and Ron and Hermione and wrote a book about the 1954 American League champion Indians. And it was Rowling, not me, who passed the lonely hours after wrapping up the Potter series by writing a book about major league baseball's mid-season managerial changes. The lady is a baseball fanatic!

How, you may be asking, did my name come to be on Rowling's books? As with her mystery book, she wanted her baseball books to sell on their merits, and not on the strength of her famous name, so she contacted me through the Society for American Baseball Research and asked if I'd let her put my name on her books. . .and keep the arrangement strictly confidential. Which I did, until that measly royalty check arrived. I must reveal Rowling's secret. I can no longer tolerate her being cheated out of the millions in royalties for these books that she has earned and richly deserves.

Please don't purchase these fine works just because I told you that Rowling wrote them. Purchase them because they are among the best baseball books ever written, if I do say so myself, and I just did. And don't waste your time investigating my claim that Rowling wrote them. She did.

Really.

Honest. Cross my heart and hope my word processor breaks.

Take my word for it. I'm not allowed to lie. I was a Cub Scout.

 

September 2015

Now I know how the genie felt.

At the end of Walt Disney's classic animated film Aladdin, the hero valiantly uses the last of his three wishes to grant the genie his freedom. Anxious to verify the wish worked, the genie instructs Aladdin to wish for something extravagant, like the Nile. Aladdin does, and the jubilant genie responds vehemently, "NO WAY!!!" This morning, I experienced the same sensation the genie did when he denied Aladdin his request.

On my radio program this morning, I yelled at a member of the United States House of Representatives. In absentia, unfortunately. He wasn't in the studio, and I'm quite certain he wasn't listening. Nor were any of his staffers. Had one been, I'm certain I would have heard from him or her, reprimanding me for disrespecting the honorable Bob Gibbs, Republican, seventh congressional district of Ohio.

I had a bone to pick with representative Gibbs this morning, and I picked it, live and on the air. The big story of the morning on the day this essay is being composed, which happens to be August 31st, was President Obama's decision to officially re-name Alaska's Mt. McKinley as Mt. Denali, which happened to be its name long before it was Mt. McKinley. I always assumed Denali was re-named to honor William McKinley, an Ohioan who served as our 25th president, after he was assassinated in 1901. I found out today that the 20,000-foot peak, the highest in North America, was named for McKinley by a gold prospector who admired him in 1896. At least, that's what Wikipedia said. I had no idea private citizens could name landmarks. I suddenly feel so powerful.

Congress voted to change Denali's name to McKinley in 1917. Alaskans have been trying to change it back ever since. In 1975, Alaska's legislature voted to re-christen the mountain Denali, and that's what most Alaskans call it, Congress and the admiring gold prospector not withstanding. But the official name remains Mt. McKinley, thanks to Ohio's congressional delegation, which has thwarted every attempt by the federal government to bow to the wishes of the majority of Alaskans and change the mountain's name back to Denali. And that delegation is hard at work again, even though Congress is in recess as this essay is written. Just hours after the secretary of the interior exercised her legal right to unilaterally change McKinley's name back to Denali, Ohio's elected representatives, who, it seems to me, have better things to do than worry about the name of a mountain three thousand miles away, began screaming bloody murder. That includes the Democrats.

Gibbs started the chorus of derision, saying "this political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans!" He also vowed to "do everything in my power" to reverse the administration's decision. Here's a memo to representative Gibbs: I am an Ohioan. I was born here. You weren't. I've lived in this state longer than you have. And I am not, repeat NOT, insulted by this "political stunt." And I will thank you never, repeat NEVER, to have the gall to presume that you can speak for me again. I wish I'd been on the air when I said that.

Said a member of my own party, Democratic representative Tim Ryan, whose district includes Niles, McKinley's hometown, "we must retain the national landmark's name in order to honor the legacy of this great American president and patriot." Wow, that's really pompous. And my response to representative Ryan is: no, we must not. The people of Alaska want to call the mountain Denali, and we must honor their wish.

If Ohio's congressional delegation insists on having a mountain named after McKinley, here's a novel suggestion: find one in his home state, instead of one three thousand miles away. A mountain Ohioans could actually visit. Think of the tourist attraction it would be! The highest point in Ohio is Campbell Hill in Logan County. So it's 18,450 feet shorter than Denali. In Ohio, that passes for a mountain. I don't know who Campbell was, but hopefully he or she (or his or her descendants) won't mind if it's re-named for McKinley.

Why not honor McKinley by naming a city after him? If representative Ryan is so concerned about preserving McKinley's legacy, how about asking the city council of Niles to re-name it McKinleyville? Or McKinleyburg? That beats the heck out of having a frozen mountain just south of the arctic circle named for the guy.

Politicians love to talk about being elected "to do the people's business." The people of Alaska want their mountain named Denali, and will call it Denali regardless of what its official name is. What the people of Alaska want obviously means nothing to Gibbs, Ryan, congressman John Boehner, or senator Rob Portman, all of whom wasted no time insisting Mt. McKinley must remain Mt. McKinley now and forever. My advice to them, and any other busybodies in Ohio's congressional delegation whose knickers are in a bunch is: let Alaskans run their own state and find something important to do in ours!

 

August 2015

Now for today's civics lesson.

Civics was what educators used to call social studies back in the 1950's, and probably before that. It dealt with society and government and how they functioned, or occasionally malfunctioned, together. Today's lesson involves adding amendments to a state's constitution. Specifically, Ohio's constitution, as Ohio happens to be the state I live in. At least until I can afford to move to Florida, where the winters are much warmer.

In Columbus a few hours before this essay was composed, the honorable John Kasich spoke to a crowd of supporters at his alma mater, Ohio State University, and declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. I don't know how honorable Kasich is, but that's the proper way to refer to elected government officials, whether it's deserved or not. And I assume Kasich spoke to a crowd of supporters when he made his announcement.

Politicians rarely make such announcements before a crowd of opponents.

I told my radio audience about Kasich's announcement this morning and noted that he may suffer the embarrassment of not qualifying for the first debate among Republican candidates, scheduled for early in August, in Ohio. . .Kasich's home state. Then I realized I'd mis-spoken. Ohio isn't Kasich's home state. He was born in Pennsylvania. He was raised in the Pittsburgh area. This, to a native Ohioan and a native Clevelander, is a revolting thought.

My home state is being run by a man born in Pennsylvania. That isn't so awful. My dad was born in Pennsylvania. But my home state is being run by a man who grew up in Pittsburgh! Ewwwww! Double eeeewwwww!

That IS awful!

This is an intolerable situation that must never be allowed to repeat itself. And it won't, if a simple amendment is added to our state's constitution. An amendment prohibiting non-native born Ohioans from running for the state's highest office. Like the amendment in the Constitution of the United States that prohibits non-native born Americans from serving as president. And there must be no loopholes to the amendment I'm proposing for our state constitution, as there is in the U.S. Constitution. That loophole came to my attention quite recently, when I was involved in a debate over politics with a Republican friend. I wondered how long it would be before someone, anyone, noticed that a man who isn't eligible to be president was seeking the Republican nomination. Why did none of my fellow Democrats notice this? How did it escape their vigilance? How could I possibly be the only Democrat to notice that Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas who's running for president, was born in Canada, which is not part of the United States, which renders his candidacy null and void? Was I the only person in America paying attention to this scandal? My Republican pal explained that while Cruz was born north of the border, his mother is an American citizen by birth, making any and all of her children eligible to be president, regardless of where they were born.

"That's in the Constitution," my friend said, and he is correct. There must be no such technicalities in the amendment we need to add to the Ohio constitution.

Ohio for Ohioans! That's my motto. No immigrants from Pennsylvania or any other state shall be allowed to oversee our state's government forever more, if I have my way. . .which I rarely do.

Is this what a filibuster feels like?

 

July 2015

Honesty is the best policy.

Honesty also figures to be a rare commodity between now and November of next year. That, in case you've forgotten, will be the month we choose our next president, and the people trying to achieve that distinction will stretch the truth every which way but loose over the coming 16 and a fraction months.

The lack of honesty about which I'm going to pontificate this month, however, comes not from politicians and the public relations geniuses they hire to get themselves elected. It comes from an off-shoot of our democracy known as the PAC, or political action committee. Several of them are hard at work even as I compose this essay that will criticize them without mercy. I have a feeling my criticism won't faze them in the slightest.

Since I'm writing about honesty, allow me to be honest myself. I really don't have any problem with PACs. I don't have any problem with the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people and can spend any amount of money they wish in order to try to influence the outcome of an election. Some jazz about free speech. PACs are merely promoting their agendas, and what's wrong with that? We all have agendas. You have an agenda. I have an agenda. We all want what we perceive to be best for ourselves. So do mega-billion dollar corporations, and mega-billionaires. I have no problem with them spending a significant portion of those billions to try to get you and me to agree with their agenda. I just wish they had to clearly identify themselves.

Technically, by law, those who purchase political advertising, whether it's to promote a candidate, a party, an issue or an ideology, must identify themselves. Unfortunately (and this is what aggravates me), they are permitted to do so in mysterious and obtuse ways. In the coming months, many PACs, with patriotic sounding names like THE COMMITTEE TO SAVE AMERICA and KEEP AMERICA STRONG and WE CAN'T AFFORD ANOTHER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT will bombard the radio and television airwaves (and cable, too) with messages urging us to vote their way, whatever their way might happen to be. Actually, I wouldn't mind if a PAC called itself WE CAN'T AFFORD ANOTHER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT. At least I'd have a pretty good idea who was behind it. I have no idea who AMERICANS FOR A GREATER SOCIETY is made up of, although their message may, and probably will, provide a clue.

If you're going to try to influence my vote, I have the right to know exactly who you are, and I don't mean AMERICANS FOR PROGRESS. I mean "I'm Joe Hackensacker, I have billions, and I'm spending some of them for this ad."

So, amid the flying brickbats, allow me to toss a bouquet to the Ohio Petroleum Producers Association, which has been airing radio advertisements asking me to call my state representative and urge him to vote "NO" on a bill that would raise taxes on oil and gas wells. The commercial explains why raising taxes on oil and gas wells would result in the loss of jobs, which, of course, would hurt the poor citizens who'd lose those jobs. In no uncertain terms, the ad claims raising taxes on oil and gas wells is a bad idea, and begs me to call my state representative and tell him that I'm against it, and he doggone well better be against it, too, unless he wants to be responsible for lots of hard-working Ohioans losing their jobs. I wouldn't be one of them. Oil and gas has nothing to do with the radio business. Or the writing business. At the end of the commercial, an announcer says "paid for by the Ohio Petroleum Producers Association." Not by SAVE OHIO JOBS, or some other nebulous, essentially anonymous organization.

Thus, I know who's trying to influence my behavior, which is all I ask for. I can make my decision within that context. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes, and the Ohio Petroleum Producers Association has every right to spend some of its money ask to me to ask my state representative not to raise theirs.

Just as I have every right to say "nothing doing!" Better their taxes get raised than mine.

 

June 2015

It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place…

That won't be the case in the summer of 2016 in downtown Cleveland and surrounding areas if the Ohio General Assembly has its way. And it will, because the General Assembly is Ohio's fancy name for its state legislature. State legislatures pass laws, meaning what they say goes. And Ohio's legislature is currently debating a bill that would allow establishments that serve intoxicating beverages to do so until 4:00 in the morning.

I was unaware that there was a state law establishing what time bars had to stop serving alcohol. Since I don't drink alcohol, the matter has never been important to me. I believe last call for alcohol at most bars is 2:00 in the morning, so I'm assuming, if there is a time established by law that the booze has to stop flowing, that must be it. According to the Ohio News Network, which brought this matter to my attention on one of its newscasts this morning, the reason the legislature (both houses of which are controlled by the Republicans) is considering lengthening legal drinking hours is because the Republican national convention will he held in Cleveland in July of 2016. Conventions are strenuous affairs, and God forbid that after hours of shouting, cheering, waving signs and whatever else conventioneers do, they should be denied the chance to relax and unwind with a drink or two by stopping the flow of alcohol at 2:00 in the morning. That's positively un-American, and if there's anything that gets a Republican riled, it's something positively un-American.

For the record, in case you've forgotten (or didn't know in the first place), I'm a registered Democrat. A bill to extend legal drinking hours from 2:00 until 4:00 in the morning is the kind of legislation I'd expect from my party. Democrats are rowdy. After all, we're the party that gave America Bill Clinton and all his escapades. Then again, we're also the party that gave America Tipper Gore and warning labels on CD's containing songs with bawdy lyrics. Maybe that's why Al and Tipper split. I wouldn't expect this kind of legislation from Republicans, the party of family values. Or so they told us in 1992, when George H.W. Bush and his family values were defeated by Clinton and his family values. The Bush family has been shoving its family values down America's throat ever since. We had eight years of them from 2001-2009, and we may get more Bush family values, or at least more Bush family, starting in 2017.

The Republican party is the party of evangelical Christians, and evangelical Christians aren't supposed to stay out until 4:00 drinking in bars. Or even 2:00. This is the very type of revolting behavior the Republican right is supposed to be fighting against.

I understand the reason for this piece of legislation. The Republican party is the party of big business, and Cleveland businesses (particularly hotels, restaurants, and bars) are salivating at the thought of the money that will be spent during the four days in July of 2016 that the convention will be in town. Two extra hours of drinking each night means two extra hours of money flowing into the bar owners' coffers. And there's nothing more American (or Republican) than money flowing into business owners coffers.

I'm old enough to remember when, by law, bars were required to close on election day so voters wouldn't have their judgment impaired by demon rum. Now, Ohio's legislature wants to allow convention delegates an extra two hours each night to get plastered while they nominate the party's presidential ticket. All in pursuit of the almighty dollar! For shame!

What'll be next? Allowing women the right to vote?

 

May 2015

Who says television isn't educational?

The night before this essay was written, I was watching a DVD of my all-time favorite cartoon show, a 1960's spy spoof called Cool McCool. Cool was a suave, debonair secret agent who was based on Maxwell Smart, but who sounded a lot like Jack Benny. I never noticed the vocal resemblance when I watched the show as a child, possibly because by the time Cool McCool premiered in 1966, when I was 10 years old, Benny was no longer on television. When the show's 40-episodes were released on DVD eight years ago, in an episode that included commentary, it was noted that the show's creator wanted Cool to sound like Benny. Why anyone thought a secret agent, even a bumbling secret agent like Cool, should sound like a famous comedian is beyond me. The man who created Cool McCool, by the way, was Bob Kane. Yes, the same Bob Kane who created Batman. So much for today's TV history lesson.

In the episode that inspired this essay, my hero was going over a list of neat gadgets his car, the Coolmobile, had been equipped with to help him fight bad guys. There was a smokescreen, a machine gun, and radar, among other things. Then Cool reached into the pocket of his yellow trench coat and pulled out his official license to kill. "Now, if I only had a license to drive," he mused. The lack of a driver's license didn't stop Cool from speeding after the crook in his trusty Coolmobile, and, of course, bringing the miscreant to justice in just six minutes. That's how long network TV cartoons were in 1966.

The reference to a license to kill started me thinking about the professions that require a license. . .and, more importantly, a profession that doesn't require a license but probably should. Doctors must have licenses to practice medicine. Nurses must have licenses to help doctors practice medicine. Veterinarians must have licenses to practice medicine on our pets. Attorneys require licenses to practice law. Professions too numerous to mention in a one-page essay require that their practitioners obtain licenses to do so legally.

What about politicians? If doctors and nurses and lawyers require licensing by the government, why not the people we select to run that government? True, most politicians are lawyers, and thus are already licensed. But just because they've proven they know the laws that politicians who came before them have passed, does that make them qualified to pass laws themselves? Not only are these people creating the laws you and I are forced to live by, they're also managing our money. We're putting these people in charge of the way our hard-earned tax dollars are spent, but how many of them are professional economists? Judging by our national debt, plus a whole bunch of other things that are wrong with our economy, I'd hazard a guess that the answer is NONE!

We're trusting these people to make decisions that affect our lives and our money every day, yet we've set no minimum standards they must meet in order to seek that trust. What requirements does the Constitution set forth for those who wish to serve as our president? Thirty-five years old and a natural born citizen, a fact a certain Republican senator from Texas and his supporters are conveniently ignoring. That's it! Any bozo can meet those qualifications, and a few bozos have been elected president.

Isn't it time we license the people who want to run this great country of ours? Of course it is, and we have a 1960's cartoon character to thank for the idea. Now I know how Jerry Rubin felt.

 

April 2015

261...260...259...

In December of last year (2014, in case you've forgotten) I posted an essay on this website making fun of a Christmas movie I saw part of on the Hallmark Channel. I think the Hallmark Channel is part of the cable package I subscribe to, but I don't watch it. I am exposed to it only when I'm visiting my mother or my sister, as I was doing two days ago, which happened to be Easter. My sister's TV was tuned to the Hallmark Channel, and it was running a marathon of episodes of a series entitled Love Comes Softly. The series took place in the old west, and it featured the lovely Hayley Duff, the sister of the equally lovely Hilary Duff, who was not featured. At least not on the episodes I saw. The presence of the lovely Ms. Duff (Hayley, not Hilary) was the only thing Love Comes Softly had going for it, at least in my opinion. I'm sure my mother would've disagreed. She loves that kind of stuff. That's why, when she isn't watching religious programs, she's watching the Hallmark Channel. My sister wasn't paying much attention to the program. When she started paying attention, she asked "what have we been watching?" Then she switched to the Weather Channel, which was running a marathon of a program called Highway to Hell, which had nothing to do with the weather. It did have something to do with highways. It didn't feature Hayley Duff, which meant, given my druthers, I'd rather have stayed with the Hallmark Channel. However, if I'd known then (which was only two days ago) what I know now, I wouldn't have felt that way.

What I know as I write this essay, that I didn't know as I watched Love Comes Softly on Easter Sunday, was that, as soon as Easter ended, the Hallmark Channel would begin its "Countdown to Christmas." I assume it was the Hallmark Channel that began a "Countdown to Christmas." My mother told me that some cable network has begun a "Countdown to Christmas," and since the Hallmark Channel is the only channel she watches, I'm guessing it's the guilty party. It's certainly a likely suspect.

I enjoy Christmas as much as anyone. I probably explained that in the December essay in which I chastised the Hallmark Channel for the insipid Christmas movies it begins airing the day after Halloween. But this is too much!

Whose brilliant idea was it to start counting down the days until Christmas in April? I'm still recovering from the monstrous winter we just suffered through in northeastern Ohio. February of 2015 was merely the second-coldest month in recorded history in Cleveland, and weather records date back to 1871. In other words, the government has been keeping weather records in Cleveland since six years after the Civil War ended, when Ulysses S. Grant was president. For the statisticians, that's 1,728 months, of which only one was colder than this past February. We're not even three weeks into spring, and the Hallmark Channel has started its "Countdown to Christmas?" I'll bet that's going over big in New England, where people are still digging out from snow that fell last December!

I think I know what's going on. The executives at the Hallmark Channel (one of whom must be named K. Kringle) are sending up a trial balloon. They want to find out how many people will watch Christmas programs in April (and May and June, etc.) to determine whether they should launch a sister network. . .you guessed it, the Christmas Channel. All Christmas, all the time, 365 days a year. . .366 on Leap Years.

Imagine being able to watch It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. What a country!

 

March 2015

Big Brother really is watching.

Or maybe it's Big Sister. Let's not be sexist about this.

I am learning rapidly about the perils of spending too much time on the internet, a crime to which I readily plead guilty. If I had a dollar for every hour I've spent on YouTube, Bill Gates would be asking me for loans. Did I use that joke in a previous essay? I can't remember. I've written a lot of jokes since I began this column in 2001. Some of them have actually been funny.

Back to the matter at hand. I know total strangers are tracking my every movement on the internet with devices called "cookies." And these cookies don't have chocolate chips. If I hadn't been aware of that before, the fact that someone (actually dozens of someones, maybe hundreds, maybe even thousands) are watching me every time I venture onto the internet was driven home to me during the episode related in February's essay. Having made the foolish decision to replace my perfectly good Windows 7 operating system with Windows 8, I was told by the fellow at the electronics store's computer counter to access a website that sells disks which restore such systems. I did so, but declined to purchase such a disk at that moment. Then I moved on to other websites. Lo and behold, at each site was an advertisement for a different entity that sold disks which restore a computer's previous operating system, and urging me to buy one. NOW! I had never seen such advertisements on my screen before, but I'd never been in the market for a restore disk. Now that I was, every website I visited, and I do mean every website I visited, tried to sell me one.

I wonder how they knew?

Duh!

That explained all the advertisements for dating websites that pop up everywhere I go. These peekers are monitoring the websites I visit, and they know many of them are sites that feature celebrity pictures. Legitimate celebrity pictures. I know the other kind are out there, but I don't look at them. Honest! The peekers also know I only look at the pictures of female celebrities. I wish I had a dollar for every picture of a female celebrity I've stared at since I got my first computer 17 years ago. If I did, Bill Gates would be…sorry, I already used that line. So, the peekers figure this guy's lonely and, if you'll pardon the term, horny. Not necessarily in that order, and perhaps one leads to the other.

Some websites are up front about their use of "tracking cookies," such as the website featuring tens of thousands of pictures of hot young (well, mostly young) Hollywood starlets mentioned in last month's essay. The operators of the website claim the use of such cookies will enhance my viewing experience by allowing them to learn my likes and dislikes and tailor their website to my personal tastes each time I visit. Since I hold that website personally responsible for the virus that attacked my computer last year, I don't visit it any more. I really miss those pictures of Victoria Justice.

Most websites aren't up front about their use of tracking cookies. They follow you wherever you go on the world wide web until you expunge their insidious software when you conclude your visit. By that time, of course, they've learned what they wanted to know. And they'll hitch another free ride the next time you visit the internet.

I will admit, I've yearned to have a following all my life. Why do you think I write these essays? But this wasn't the type of following I had in mind.

Maybe I should contact one of those Russian women. . .nah!

 

February 2015

I'll take my Pulitzer now.

The following column will explain all the trials and tribulations a certain internet columnist endured in order to be able to write the following column. I hope you appreciate it, considering I don't get paid for this!

It all began in September of 2014, when I was perusing a website featuring publicity photos of beautiful young (and in some cases not-so-young) Hollywood actresses. I won't mention the name of the website since I believe it to be responsible for the problems that followed. I'd visited this website dozens of times before, but on this occasion my cursor suddenly developed a mind of its own and wandered up to the extreme left-hand corner of my computer screen and remained there. Try as I may, I couldn't budge it. I re-booted my computer several times, and the same thing happened each time I returned to the website in question. You may say it served me right, but I'm a single middle-aged man and I'm allowed to look at publicity photos of beautiful young (and in some cases not-so-young) Hollywood actresses in my free time if I wish to…and I wish to!

Dismayed and confused, I drove to a nearby electronics store and explained my problem to a fellow in the computer repair department who informed me that someone most likely thousands of miles away had hacked into my computer, taken control of it remotely, and I had better bring it in to be fixed immediately. Instead, I gave it a triple dose of my free anti-spy ware gadget (emphasis on 'free,' as in you get what you don't pay for) and my computer worked normally until late in November, when problems too numerous to mention in a 45-line column developed. My free anti-spy ware software proved useless, and I took the computer into the electronics store where, for $200, I acquired a 12-month service package that would eliminate all my problems. And it did. For a week. Then, my computer developed more problems, despite the fact the folks at the electronics store had equipped it with the best internet security software known to humankind. Nonetheless, my computer suddenly decided it wouldn't download anything, wouldn't open e-mail attachments, and wouldn't send e-mail attachments. At least, not attachments that could be opened by the recipient. And attachments that can't be opened by the recipient (including the editor of this website) aren't worth diddly-squat. In addition, my computer began to sound like it was going to blast off for the International Space Station each time I turned it on. It also told me it had to check one of its disks for consistency. So, it was back to the electronics store. I was told I needed a new hard drive, and I was asked if I wanted to upgrade my operating system from Windows 7 to Windows 8. I said yes. BIG MISTAKE!

Windows 8 does not contain the word processing program that Windows 7 and all previous operating systems I'd worked with contained. That rendered me unable to write (hold the thunderous applause, please) and, more importantly, unable to open the six book manuscripts I'd written with Microsoft Works, including a manuscript that was due at my publisher's office 11 days ago. So…you guessed it…I returned to the electronics store. After I'd paid $27 to buy a disk to restore my old operating system to my computer, and $20 to have it shipped to me overnight express. A writer can only go so long without a word processing system! Did I mention that I don't get paid to write these columns? This has been an expensive proposition.

Hope you enjoyed the essay!

 

January 2015

Eenie, meanie, chili beanie. The spirits are about to speak.

Actually, the spirits have nothing to do with what you're about to read, but a reference to The Bullwinkle Show seemed like a good way to lead into this month's essay. I'm going to polish my crystal ball and make a year's worth of predictions that I can almost guarantee won't come true. I can say that because I'm making them. Do I look like Jeanne Dixon?

JANUARY: Polar vortex strikes United States. Okay, this one will come true, because it already has. That's one reason I'm writing this essay. It's three degrees with a wind chill in the vicinity of minus 20, which is a vicinity I prefer to avoid. I needed to do something constructive while I sit around my warm apartment, so I decided to write this essay.

FEBRUARY: Another polar vortex strikes, which may be the fourth or fifth of the season. I've lost track. No one knows whether we'll have six more weeks of this stuff because Punxsutawney Phil refuses to emerge from his heated burrow on February 2nd. It's too doggone cold! Phil may be a groundhog, but he's not an idiot. On a personal note, Cupid's arrow fails to connect with Vanessa Hudgens, star of the High School Musical films, on Valentine's Day. She doesn't fall madly in love with me and fly from Hollywood to suburban Cleveland to propose to me, ignoring the slight difference in our ages and social status.

MARCH: Polar vortex refuses to quit. (I sure hope I'm wrong about that one.) Former Florida governor Jeb Bush forms an exploratory committee to consider the possibility of forming an exploratory committee to consider the possibility to seeking the Republican nomination for president. This will become a regular occurrence for the rest of the year.

APRIL: One last polar vortex postpones Cleveland Indians home baseball opener. It proves to be the highlight of the season. (I hope I'm wrong about that one, too.) Gas prices continue the plunge that started in the autumn of 2014 and fall to a dollar a gallon (no chance of that.)

MAY: New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose name has been mentioned by many people (including Chris Christie) as a 2016 presidential candidate since the day after the 2012 election, says he needs more time to consider forming an exploratory committee. Gas prices fall to 75 cents a gallon.

JUNE: Summer solstice brings the longest day of the year. If that prediction doesn't come true, we're in deep doo-doo. Solstice also means the next polar vortex is only six months away. Tens of thousands of happy couples tie the knot in traditional June weddings, but Vanessa Hudgens and I aren't among them.

JULY: Democratic National Committee rejects Columbus, Ohio's bid to host its 2016 convention and awards the convention to Bemidji, Minnesota, because it has a cool sounding name. After months of making threats to do nasty things to the United States, a country which shall remain nameless located between South Korea and China develops a machine that dries up all the gasoline in America. Gas prices soar to the point that even Bill Gates has to ride a bicycle to his office.

AUGUST: National Football League teams open their training camps, and league commissioner Roger Goodell announces that the Cleveland Browns have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The players pack their belongings and go home. Fans demand their ticket money back.

SEPTEMBER: Bemidji, Minnesota rejects hosting Democratic convention because it would interfere with the mayor's summer fishing vacation. Former Arkansas Republican governor Mike Huckabee decides if one former Arkansas governor (a guy named Clinton) can be elected president, so can he. Huckabee forms an exploratory committee to find out if enough voters agree with him.

OCTOBER: Democrats award their 2016 convention to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, providing the delegates can find it. Florida senator Marco Rubio forms exploratory committee to see if he should seek the Republican presidential nomination, or if too many voters confuse him with the Italian explorer who visited Ghengis Khan in China in the 13th century and discovered pizza. Early polar vortex brings snow to Key West.

NOVEMBER: Democrats look for another place to hold their convention after Oklahoma's legislature unanimously passes a bill outlawing the party and requiring that all Democrats be shot upon crossing the state's border by land or by air. Polar vortex causes 12 feet of snow to fall on my former apartment complex in suburban Cleveland, but I don't care since I'm living in Hollywood with my new bride, Vanessa Hudgens, who experienced a miraculous change of heart. The hypnotist I hired may have had something to do with it.

DECEMBER: Kentucky senator Rand Paul decides to make things easy for everyone in the Republican party and forms an exploratory committee to determine if Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. . .or anyone else, excluding himself. . .should seek the party's presidential nomination. The committee's answer is NO! Christmas is canceled due to, you guessed it, a polar vortex even Rudolph can't handle. President Obama explores the legality of issuing an executive order canceling the 2016 presidential election since the voters haven't recovered from the 2012 election yet. Have a happy new year!

 

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Copyright © 2015 by Gary Webster

 


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