Backpacking And Eurailing Through Europe

For the Webner family, the countdown has begun.  We’re about a month away from Richard’s departure on a four-month trip through Europe and adjoining countries.  His itinerary calls for an arrival at Istanbul and a departure from St. Petersburg more than four months later.  In between, he will go where the wind blows and interest carries him.

I’m hoping that Richard will share some of his planning and preparation for his trip on this blog, and then do some additional blogging about his adventures when he is across the Atlantic.  In the meantime, I can only give him kudos for excellent travel preparation.  He has carefully researched where to go and prepared a rough itinerary of where he wants to go and what he wants to see.  He has purchased his Eurail pass and requested the necessary visas.  He has analyzed, and in some instances purchased, the lightest, slimmest, most comfortable necessities to take on his trip, and he has further reduced the weight of his baggage by opting for a Kindle rather than heavy and bulky books.

I’m envious of his coming voyage, and I’m going to live vicariously through any accounts he may decide to share with us.  In the meantime, his trip reminds me, inevitably, of my four weeks of travel through Europe after I graduated from college in 1980.  Steel yourselves, O Webner House readers!  I’ll be posting accounts of some of my misadventures and observations from the 1980 trip in the coming weeks.

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Another Demonstration Of Why Balancing The Federal Budget Is Such A Huge Challenge

ABC News had an interesting story today that demonstrates why cutting spending and balancing the federal budget is so difficult.

The story is based on an email sent out by an unnamed Democratic staff member on the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee that will address the Labor and Health and Human Services budget.  The email set up a meeting with hundreds of lobbyists who support programs that fall within that budget and encouraged them to band together to oppose cuts to that budget.  The article quotes the email as saying that “[o]ne thing everyone should be able to agree on now is that a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that a higher budget allocation “improves the chances for every stakeholder group to receive more funding.”

Don’t you just love the phrase “stakeholder group”?  It aptly captures the reality of the out-of-control federal budget, where every bloated federal program is strongly supported by some interest group that has a huge stake in continuing to get funding for their pet program.  And now, thanks in part to the efforts of committee staffers who in reality are beholden to those interest groups rather than to voters, legions of K Street lobbyists will be hired and funded and encouraged to band together to stoutly resist the funding cuts that are essential to restoring some form of fiscal sanity to the federal budget.  The mind reels at the prospects of legions of lobbyists descending on Capitol Hill and of the legislative logrolling, campaign contributions, and stealthy cloakroom deals that will define the budgeting process during this Congress as a result.

Those of us who are interested in reducing the budget deficit and the federal debt shouldn’t kid ourselves.  The people and entities who are dependent on federal programs are highly motivated, well-funded, and will do whatever they can to see that efforts to cut spending are blunted and frustrated at every turn.

Who Was Ghoulardi, And Why Should Anyone Care?

The ’50s and early ’60s were a pretty standardized time.  There were three TV networks, and they offered similar programming: morning news shows, soap operas and game shows during the day, the evening news, and variety shows, westerns, crime shows, and silly sitcoms at night.  There were good shows, and bad shows — but mostly, the shows seemed to be cut from the same cloth.  Late at night, however, some differences emerged.  In Cleveland, in the early ’60s, the most significant of those differences was Ghoulardi.

Ghoulardi was a TV character invented by Ernie Anderson.  He was the coolest, weirdest TV host we’d ever seen.  He was supposed to be the host of a show that showed movies, but the movies sucked and Ghoulardi made fun of them.  Nobody cared about the movies, anyway, because Ghoulardi really was the show.  He wore a fake moustache and goatee, fake glasses that usually were missing a lens, a white lab coat, and a cheap wig.  His show looked dark and creepy.  He played great music that you didn’t hear on the radio.  He blew up car models on the air.  He showed weird drawings.  He had bizarre skits and in jokes, he regularly made fun of Parma, and he created catch phrases.  You weren’t sure you got all of Ghoulardi’s jokes — in fact, you were pretty sure that you didn’t — but you also thought that the powers that be probably weren’t getting all the jokes, either, which just made Ghoulardi cooler. (The “poker” joke in the YouTube clip below is an example, I think.)

Ghoulardi wasn’t for everyone.  I’m sure the Greater Cleveland Decency League or the Daughters of the American Revolution or some other “pro-decency” organization regularly protested his show.  But, if you were a kid who lived in the Cleveland area you just had to watch him and then talk about him with your friends the next day.

Why should anyone care about a local TV personality who was on the air a few years more than four decades ago?  Because Ghoulardi, and similarly unique local TV personalities from other areas, helped to light the way for the current state of TV in modern America.  Ghoulardi showed that bold and strange TV shows could develop a devoted following, even if the show didn’t broadly appeal to the masses like the standardized pablum that was broadcast on the networks.  Ghoulardi was a niche show before there were niche shows or niche networks.  In that sense, shows like Man vs. Food, Robot Chicken, and Space Ghost Coast To Coast, among many others, owe a debt to Ernie Anderson and his curious, non-conformist character.  He helped to blaze a trail that the entertainment industry is still following, 45 years later.