A Muse Machine Gift For You!

More serious topics to come this week, including Sen. Jim Webb’s gutsy call to drastically reshape our unwinnable “Drug War’ drug laws, but let me start this Monday  with a special gift. Don’t want to give too much away, but I consider this one of the funniest things I’ve read in years.

You may want to read it now, or  wait until some time this week when you’re feeling a bit low, when you need something to kick-start your spirits. Then read here and enjoy.

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Is America Getting Smarter?

Some years back, Lily  Tomlin did a clever one-woman Broadway show called “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.”

Well, here’s another sign: To my great surprise, the recent Arbitron ratings show that National Public Radio now has more than 20 million listeners a week, jumping nine percent over last year.

And here’s the big eyepopper: The flagship NPR program Morning Edition draws 7.6 million ears, or sets of ears, which is 60 percent larger than the audience for ABC’s Good Morning America and a third larger than the audience for the Today show on NBC.

I’m a longtime NPR listener and contributor, but as Johnny Carson used to say, I did not know that. Did not know that. More details here.

 I can feel a little faith in my fellow Americans trickling back.  Granted, these aren’t majority numbers by any means, and no doubt many morning folks are  listening to and watching stuff that makes Today seem like Ulysses by comparison, but still. . . when 7-minute pieces on the Brazilian economy win out over 30-second Britney blips, that deserves a round of applause.

A Heroic Fight in Fargo

I was glad to see that President Obama praised the heroic effort going on in Fargo, ND, to hold back the rising Red River. These people have done superhuman work in what still may be a losing effort, but no matter what Nature does, this is the kind of thing we should keep before us as examples of human nobility and grace under pressure, rather than wasting our brainpower on  the pathetic carnival of the OctoMom, the latest rap thug in jail, the latest pedophile principal  and the like.

We become what we behold. Look long enough at the sleazy parade of freak-show culture, and you come to think that’s all the human gamble has to offer. To maintain some species-self-respect, not to mention sanity and happiness, we should deliberately seek out behavior that is admirable, intelligent, and represents excellence.  Whenever one side of the scale gets too heavy with idiots, charlatans and freaks, put something higher and better on the other side of the scale.

Examples of the good and the great are always  there, if we just look.  Remember the Mars Rovers that landed on that planet about five years ago?  Here were these fantastic machines, dreamed up and created by people, sent across the universe, working spectacularly and exploring for months, years, far longer than anyone had expected (and amazingly, still going).   And yet, how many of us, especially young people, even knew about this triumph? No doubt we were fixated on last night’s  bitchy exchange among the judges on American Idol, or wondering how Kid Rock (there’s a piece of work)  got away with spouting the F-word on some awards show.

As Ayn Rand said of the first moon landing: “What hath Man wrought?” Quite a bit, much of it wonderful, if we didn’t let the lowest common denominator monopolize our minds.

The latest on the Fargo effort is here. If you’re the praying type, send one for these folks: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/us/29webflood.html?_r=1&hp

Spring Break Hordes Boost Galveston

Bless their bong-sucking, Twittering, sunburned,  jello-shot-on-belly-slurping little hearts: Thousands of randy college students who apparently have no idea that the world economy is free-falling toward Zimbabwe-status descended on my beloved Galveston over the past couple of weeks, pumping (wink, wink) more than 30 million bucks into that hurricane-blasted island, proving that even mindless hedonists can do good. More details here .

Blogger Learns That Gonzaga is Not a Cheese

As Final Four Fevah grips the land, mea culpa: I’m not a big college hoops fan; in fact, I confess with burning shame that I’ve never watched a game all the way through, much less filled out a bracket. But then I’m also one of only four or five living North American White Guys who has  never played golf or gone skiing, either. Is this my Third Strike? Time to hand in my Polo shirts and  middle-class honky credentials?

Anyway, even though I thought Gonzaga was a cheese, Siena a crayon and Robert Morris a Victorian author, I was moved by NYT syndcol Stanley Fish’s piece on a lifelong love of basketball. He’s got some deep thoughts about the game here, but late in the piece, Fish quotes Olympic swimmer Pablo Morales on  “that special feeling of getting lost in focused intensity.”  Fish goes on, speaking for every weekend athlete:

The marvel is that focused intensity can be achieved even in the act of failure, even by someone who knows what to do but most of the time can’t quite do it. And it is for that intensity — not its object or its goal — that one plays, for in those moments of surrender to the game all one’s troubles, all one’s strivings, all one’s petty irritations fall away. And if, occasionally, you actually do set the hard pick or deliver the perfect pass or make the improbable shot, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

I still don’t know why they’d let someone bring a pick onto a basketball court, but if the players are feeling half of what Fish describes, I envy them.

More, More, More TV

New reports show that the average American now watches about 151 hours of TV a month–in other words, he/she spends almost the equivalent of a 40-hour work week watching the tube. Amazing.

Now I’m not a rabid tubeaphobe. If you pick and choose, you can find an hour here and there that won’t feel like an utter waste, and once in a great while–rarely, but sometimes–I actually see something of quality.

But 151 hours a month? And of course, that average means that many watch far more.  I doubt my total intake tops 30 hours for the whole month, and 2/3 of that is network and cable news.

No wonder the newspapers are dying. Who’s got any time left to read?

Check out the full Nielsen report  here if you like.

Have a Nice Day Anyway

The blogger returns from his Nor’eastern swing to find a cauldron of  unhealthy emotions bubbling at the New York Times. How about some rage, shame and anger with that morning coffee?  Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News, a stack of which awaited this old-fashioned pulpophile upon his return, laments the passing of shame and says we would profit from its return.

GAIL COLLINS
Rage Redux: Changing Channels

Is the George W. Bush Presidential Center really the best possible use for excess cash at this particular point in history?

BOB HERBERT
The Great Shame

Sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem is diminishing.

CHARLES M. BLOW
Anger Mismanagement

Congress should let Americans’ anger over A. I. G. bonuses run its course instead of attempting to manipulate it.