Why I’m Not Watching The Winter Olympics

I’m not watching the Winter Olympics.  Apparently I’m not alone, because the ratings are abysmal. On some nights, the Nielsens have been the lowest for an Olympic broadcast in more than a decade.

There seem to be lots of reasons why people are tuning out the Olympics.  Some people aren’t watching because they think the NBC broadcast is dreadfully boring.  Other people are put off by the political overtones of the North Korea-South Korea storyline that apparently is a constant undercurrent in the broadcasts, or fawning coverage given to the sister of Kim Jong Un and the robotic North Korean cheerleaders.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter OlympicsI haven’t been watching because the constant efforts to jazz up the Winter Olympics with new “sports” really don’t make this seem like the Olympics at all.  I’m not a skier or skater or big winter sports participant, but in the past I’ve enjoyed watching traditional Winter Olympic sports like the bobsled — which is the best named sport, by the way — or the downhill, ski jumping, and hockey.  But when we were over at our friends’ house for a dinner party Saturday night and the Olympics was on the TV, it featured an event where snowboarders were jumping up and skidding on bannister-like contraptions and launching off of artificial hills to do spins and tumbles.  It was as if the Winter Olympics had mated with a circus act, and the next thing you know a performing bear riding a bike would appear.  That single hopelessly artificial, jazzed up event perfectly summarized the desperate efforts to make the Winter Games more exciting and appealing to the slacker kids down at the local skateboard park.  The X Games have invaded.

One of the other people at the party said my reaction reflects the thinking of old codgers.  No doubt that is true.  I’m not saying that people who can do skateboard-like moves on a snowboard don’t have some athletic ability, I’m just saying that such contrived events seem to reflect more of a desire to create ratings and interest, rather than the “Olympic spirit” that is supposed to be the underpinning of the Games.  And that’s why I’m not watching.


Cloudy, With A Chance Of Film

Have you ever felt like you’re reenacting a TV commercial in which you’re the baffled consumer unable to resolve a curious household problem?

Frustrated woman with haunted look as she hears mocking taunts of “ring around the collar!”: “I’ve tried scrubbing them out, and soaking them out, but nothing seems to work!”

Embarrassed woman who sees a cloud of gas with images of dogs and babies in diapers inside lingering in her living room as she prepares for guests: “What can I do to give my house that clean, fresh scent?”

Mystified Webners: “The glasses that come out of our dishwasher seem to be coated with some thin kind of film. How can we eliminate the scourge of cloudy glasses and make our glasses sparkling clean?”

In the commercials, at this point some officious busybody named Madge shows up and gives the answer that allows the grateful consumer to solve the problem of ring around the collar or reeking rooms. So far, though, no complete stranger, genie, or disembodied voice has provided us with guidance on resolving the cloudy glass conundrum, and none of the additives, rinses, or other commercial products we’ve tried have done the trick.

This isn’t an earthshaking problem, of course, but it would be nice to have glasses that are transparent. And while we could pre-wash or post-wash them, that defeats the point of a dishwasher, doesn’t it?

I guess all we can do is cast our gaze skyward, say “what’s a troubled dishwasher owner to do?,” and hope for the best.

Robots On The Air

The U.S. may be ahead of the rest of the world, generally, when it comes to innovation and invention, but Japan always seems to be a little bit ahead of America when it comes to the speed of acceptance and application of newfangled technology.

when-paul-met-erica-2So it should come as no surprise that the Wall Street Journal has reported that some Japanese TV network will soon employ a robot as a news anchor.  People are making a big deal out of it, viewing it as another sign of robots encroaching on previously human jobs — even though this development has been predicted for years.

The robot, named Erica, has been created to resemble a long-haired woman and looks like a Japanese anime character converted to corporeal form.  She/it — I guess we’re going to have to get instruction on the politically correct way to refer to a gender-specific robot, eh? — will be equipped with a form of artificial intelligence that will allow her/it to read the news, although the new stories she/it reads will have to be selected by humans.  Erica apparently will be the first “android anchor” in the world.

Hey, wait a second!  I just realized . . . does this mean that the people who currently read the news on American TV stations aren’t robots?  Who would have guessed?

Searching For Snippets

Lately I’ve spent a bit of time in front of the computer at home, on the YouTube website.  I’ve been looking for some funny highlights from TV shows that are now decades old.  You might call it searching for snippets.

My initial goal was to find the “Sis Boom Bah” moment from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.  Featuring the redoubtable Carnak the Magnificent, in what I always thought was one of the best continuing skits on the show, it is arguably one of the funniest single moments on what was a consistently funny show.  (You could argue about other Tonight Show moments, like the Ed Ames tomahawk-throwing incident, but I digress.)  Sure enough, I found the entire Sis Boom Bah Carnak sketch on YouTube, and I’ve put it above in all of its early ’80s, totally un-PC glory at the top of its post.  The Sis Boom Bah moment is still hilarious.

There’s comedy gold to be found just about everywhere on YouTube, but you have to work to find it.  In that sense, it’s a lot more interactive than just watching TV and letting the cathode rays wash over you.   Let’s say that you thought the “Norm!” one-liners from Cheers were consistently funny, as I do, and just wanted to check out a few of them.  A few deft searches, and voila!   One example of what I found, with some of Norm’s choicest rejoinders, is below.  And whether it’s great moments from Seinfeld, or the title introduction to Hogan’s Heroes, or a favorite scene from The Dick Van Dyke Show, you can probably find it on YouTube.


News-Free Fitness

Life Time Fitness, which operates 128 fitness facilities in the United States and Canada, has eliminated cable news channels from the big TV screens that are available for viewing by members who are working out.  The treadmill set at Life Time Fitness won’t be able to watch CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or CNBC any more.  Instead, USA, A&E, ESPN, Discovery, HGTV, and local stations will be featured on the bigger screens.

wht3_fitness-tvs-1Life Time Fitness explained that the elimination of cable news channels is due to its “commitment to provide family oriented environments free of consistently negative or politically charged content” and a “healthy way of life philosophy.”  The change is also the result of feedback from members, who said they felt “stressed” during their workouts when watching cable news programming.  One member wrote to Life Time that the gym “is no place for constant negativity like the news chains love to surround themselves with.”

Studies have shown that the viewing of TV news can affect a person’s mental state and mood — no surprise there, really — and one study reported that people who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning were 27 percent more likely to say their day was unhappy when surveyed six to eight hours later than a group that watched more uplifting TV content.  If you’re a fitness facility, why show programming that is more likely to cause people to conclude that days begun at the gym are unhappy ones?

I can understand why a fitness center might decide that featuring cable news really isn’t well-suited for workouts for other reasons, too.  How can you reasonably expect to maintain focus and a positive attitude about what you’re doing on the elliptical machines if you’re being bombarded with news stories about the latest dysfunctional activities in Washington, D.C.?  And having your blood pressure spike during a choleric reaction to disturbing news reports about President Trump’s Twitter feed is likely to be inconsistent with the pre-planned heartbeat increase and calorie burn built into that hill program on the exercise bike or treadmill.  Programs about home remodeling, in contrast, are bound to produce a better workout milieu.

Now, if we can just get airports to get rid of cable news channels on the monitors found in every gate area.  We don’t need to add to the stress when we’re waiting on delayed flights, either.

In Praise Of Bingeing Technology

You can argue about the value of some technological advancements that we have seen in our lifetimes.  Is the invention of Roomba vacuuming robots, for example, really a good thing?  However, the significance of one development is indisputable:

The ability to engage in TV and movie binge-watching during the cold Midwestern winter months is one of the greatest leaps forward for the human species since the ancient Egyptians developed papyrus.

tmp_uirc5w_4f3814e036213fed_harry_potter_photoConsider this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It has been so absurdly cold, with ambient temperatures hovering, with leaden immobility, in the single digits and wind chill factors below zero, that there is absolutely no incentive to go outside voluntarily.  Unless you’ve got to go to work or to an appointment, there is no rational reason whatsoever to venture into the frigidity.  So, you’re stuck inside.  What to do?  Well, you could read a book, of course . . . or, you could be intellectually lazy and binge-watch TV, thanks to options like Netflix and Amazon TV and cable channels that offer premium options.  The last few days Kish and I have curled up on the couch at nights and begun watching the entire Harry Potter movie series — thanks, HBO and AT&T Uverse! — and it’s been a lot of fun.

You don’t have to watch the Harry Potter movies, of course — you could watch The Wire, or Deadwood, or Lost from start to finish, or a whole season of 24, or the John Wayne westerns in sequence, or the Thin Man films from beginning to end, or every movie in the Shirley Temple collection.  With the amount of new content being produced these days, and the amount of old TV shows and movies that remain available for casual viewing, your binge-watching options are virtually infinite.  And whatever you choose, you’re going to be entertained . . . and out of the cold.

I’m not suggesting that binge-watching TV is something that people should do constantly, week-in and week-out — but when the cold fronts plant themselves in your neighborhood and going outside becomes a bleak, frigid experience, binge-watching is a wonderful option to have.  As I said, it’s right up there with papyrus.

The Pentagon, On The Mulder Beat

The New York Times is reporting that the Pentagon recently created a highly classified project to examine claimed UFO sightings.  The project, called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, came into existence in 2007 at the urging of former Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who in turn was reacting to conversations with a friend, a billionaire aerospace company founder, who believed in UFOs and alien visits.

i-want-to-believe1The secret program, which was funded with “black” money and was never discussed during debate on the floor of the Senate, also was supported by other senators, including Ohio Senator John Glenn.  The AATIP studied video and audio footage of “close encounters,” including an incident where a Navy jet was surrounded by a glowing object of unknown origin traveling at a high rate of speed, and interviewed people involved in the encounters.  The program was shuttered in 2012, and a Pentagon spokesperson explained:  “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change.”  According to the Times, however, the Pentagon is still involved to a certain extent in investigating new close encounters.

Is it worth checking out credible reports of close encounters with UFOs?  Sure, why not?  I’m not sure I believe there are aliens among us — if they are, why haven’t they stepped forward and shared the advanced technology that allowed them to get here in the first place? — but there is certainly enough room for doubt to justify investigating such incidents.  UFO report investigation is at least as worthy of funding as many of the boondoggles the federal government is involved with.

But here’s the disturbing thing — the thing that might cause Fox Mulder on the X-Files beat to nod knowingly.  The program was funded with “black” money and kept totally secret from the American public.  Why were the Senators involved unwilling to allow the people to know what was going on at the time?  Did they really think the American public wasn’t ready to hear about a UFO investigation unit, and what it concluded from its investigations?  It smacks of appalling paternalism, at least — and Mulder and Scully might detect a whiff of deep-state conspiracy, too.  It also makes you wonder:  how many other super-secret programs are out there, being funded with “black” money at the direction of our elected representatives, that we don’t know about?