Asking for television help

December 9, 2018 • 8:45 am

I have a very old color television (yes, it has a tube) that finally gave up the ghost: the picture and channel-changing functions are fine, but now there is no sound (yes, I checked that the “mute” button is off). Here it is (the other stuff comprises a tuner and CD player for my nice speakers). There’s a round antenna and a digital converter box on top of the unit, as well as an effigy of Krazy Kat (Matthew Cobb, take note).

As I’ve said many times here, I hardly watch any television: the morning news as I’m getting dressed, the NBC evening news, and 60 Minutes (I watched the Olympics a bit, too). Rarely I’ll watch a PBS show. I never watch—or want to watch—much else, and I don’t want cable t.v. In other words, I just want to watch the “regular” channels available without cable: CBS, ABC, NBC, and the several public-broadcasting channels. I don’t want to pay for cable access that I’ll never use. (I’m not sure I could even get cable in my building, as it’s nearly 100 years old and I’m told that there should be a round “cable port” in the living room, which I can’t find.)

But I do depend on “regular” channels for the news, and now miss that. So, here are my questions:

1.) What sort of television should I get? Everybody seems to have flat-screen t.v.s these days, and they provide a good picture and take up less space. But I don’t want to spend a lot of money, though I’d like a decent sized screen but not a GIANT one. I don’t want to put the t.v. on a wall. I don’t need fancy electronics and I despise thick “how to” manuals with complicated setups. I don’t want to spend more than about $500, which puts me in the “secondary television” market, i.e., the ones that regular people put in their bedroom (I don’t want one in there). I think one the size of my office computer (about 30-inch diagonal) would suffice, and don’t want anything larger than 40 inches.

2.) How do you get regular t.v. without cable? A friend tells me that all I need is a digital antenna, which doesn’t cost much, and with that connected to the t.v. I can pick up the non-cable channels.

Any help or advice appreciated. I know I’ll surely get a diversity of opinions, but I can ponder them all. And remember: I don’t want to pay for television access!


American professor: “White crime dramas” are a sign of racism. So are black and Hispanic crime dramas

October 2, 2018 • 9:30 am

I really should stop looking at HuffPo, as it’s simply the Left’s version of Breitbart: a tendentious and often ridiculously slanted look at politics. Both sites anger me. If you know what subject a HuffPo article is about, you already know what it’s going to say. Or, at least, you know what line they’re going to take, as the article below surprised even me with its stupid thesis. Click on the screenshot if you must see the carnage:

This article is not written by a gung-ho Leftist college student but—and I guess it’s no surprise—by a gung-ho Leftist academic: Jessie Daniels, a sociology professor at Hunter College and the City University of New York.

Her thesis is clear, and amounts to a lot of virtue signaling by the good professor, as she simply has no solution for the “problematic” issue she raises. Her claim is that our fascination with “white crime dramas” like “Ozark”, “Weeds,” or “Breaking Bad” reflects racism. How? Because, as racists, we don’t expect white families to be engaged in crime, so our attention to these kinds of television shows reflects the overturning of our expectations. Of course, black and Hispanic “crime dramas” are also racist, as they fulfill our expectations of the criminality of people of color. In other words, you can’t win, for every crime drama is racist, no matter who it portrays.

Her thesis:

a.) White crime dramas are popular because they overturn racist expectations of how white people should behave. I quote:

In all of these shows, part of the drama and the comedy and the surprise depends on these families being white. Their whiteness is largely not discussed. But the juxtaposition between what audiences expect from these moms and dads and kids ― innocence and stability ― and what we see characters doing ― committing crimes and trying not to fall apart ― is intrinsic to the programs’ appeal.

White crime family dramas actually rest on the subversion of two expectations. The first is the widely held belief (at least among white people) about the inherent wholesomeness of white families, and the second is the false notion (again most popular among white people) that criminals are almost always individuals of some color other than white. [JAC: That last sentence is pure bullshit, I must say.]

Is there any truth in this? Well, I’ll admit that, for some, part of the suspense of a show could be the juxtaposition of a “normal” family with their life of crime. But that might not have anything to do with the families being white; it might have more to do with their middle-class status jarring with what they do on the side. It would also startle us if there was a “double” television show (à la Hannah Montana) in which Bill Cosby’s television family did the comedy show on one side but then dealt drugs on the other. (Bill Cosby isn’t white, of course.) Or perhaps 5% of our interest could come from the expectation that Daniels notes. But what is the evidence? There is none, just anecdote and assertion. I don’t watch much t.v., but I’m sure readers can produce counter-anecdotes.

After all, there’s a whole history of crime dramas that I find it impossible to characterize as subverting expectations that white people shouldn’t do crime. Take The Godfather trilogy, for example. Did anybody like it, or watch it, partly because they thought, “Jesus, the Corleone family is white! How odd that they’re in the Mafia.”?

I’m somewhat handicapped here because I don’t watch television except for the nightly news and “60 Minutes”, and don’t get cable. But I remember plenty of crime dramas in the old days, like Hill Street Blues, in which whites and nonwhites both committed crimes, and my absorption was with the story, not with the race of the criminal. And, of course, although racism was more pervasive before the Sixties, the crime dramas before then, like Dragnet, were popular not because they subverted expectations, but because of the story. There were almost no black people on television then, and I can’t imagine that Dragnet was popular because it overturned our expectations about whites. (One can also think of the popularity of the Bogart crime dramas, which had white offenders.)

I’m sure I have a lot of readers with cable who watch crime dramas, so please weigh in below.

b.) Some of the racism that motivates our watching these dramas is their concern with the family. I quote Dr. Daniels:

Together, Wendy and Marty are clear about what motivates their life of crime: It is always “for the family.” When Wendy tells Marty she bought a house so they can launder money through construction costs, she says she feels good about it because she “did it for our family.”

Then, she asks Marty, “What’d you do today ― for our family?”

“Bought a strip club,” he replies.

In “Ozark,” as in other white crime family dramas, the characters manage to justify every horrendous deed ― even murder ― because it was done “for the family.” These are anti-heroes, to be sure, but their moral and ethical dilemmas are meant to be sympathetic, because who among us wouldn’t do everything possible for our family? If the audience wants to think these felons-in-the-making are not as bad as the “real criminals,” the show gives them some room to do so.

Again, I doubt it is the case—though The Godfather involves “the family” a lot, but not in the way described above—that white crime dramas invariably involve families, and that’s to make them more sympathetic. Perhaps this is true to some degree, but Daniels doesn’t make the case that this involves racism and whiteness. She merely quotes anecdotes because, in the end, this is not about fixing racism (Daniels has no solution), but about the author showing how virtuous she is.

c.) Even showing white families engaged in crime somehow buttresses racism. This part of the article escapes me, but I think what Daniels is saying is that these dramas gives a false picture of crime because they portray the white criminals as more “wholesome” than blacks or Hispanics. That, at least, is what I glean from this bit.

The reality is that white families are no more or less wholesome than any other families. A majority of most violent crimes against white people are committed by other white people, and white people are far more likely to commit white collar crime.

Well, I’ll accept Daniel’s data here, but what she doesn’t point out—surely deliberately—is that blacks commit violent crimes far more often, compared to their proportion in the population, than do whites. This is well known, and I’m not for a minute imputing it to anything inherent in being black. In fact, I think it represents the residuum of racism, with blacks being put into living situations, including dire poverty, that can promote criminal behavior. But it can’t be denied that there’s a disproportionality. As one website notes,

It’s true that around 13 per cent of Americans are black, according to the latest estimates from the US Census Bureau.

And yes, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black offenders committed 52 per cent of homicides recorded in the data between 1980 and 2008. Only 45 per cent of the offenders were white. Homicide is a broader category than “murder” but let’s not split hairs.

. . . What about violent crime more generally? FBI arrest rates are one way into this. Over the last three years of data – 2011 to 2013 – 38.5 per cent of people arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault were black.

Clearly, these figures are problematic. We’re talking about arrests not convictions, and high black arrest rates could be taken as evidence that the police are racist.

But academics have noted that the proportion of black suspects arrested by the police tends to match closely the proportion of offenders identified as black by victims in the National Crime Victimization Survey.

This doesn’t support the idea that the police are unfairly discriminating against the black population when they make arrests.

I don’t think that this means that black families are less wholesome than any other families. The crime could, for example, reflect the higher proportion of black families that have just one parent. I simply point out that the tendentious Daniels is being very selective in citing her statistics.

What is to be done? If the popularity of white crime dramas reflects racism, and the popularity of black crime dramas also reflects racism, as Daniels suggests below, what can we do? It’s not to show more crime dramas involving people of color:

One could argue that we need racial and ethnic diversity in the representation of crime families. Writing more criminals who are black, Latinx or Asian would only reinforce existing stereotypes about race and crime, and we have plenty of shows doing that already.

The stories we tell ourselves matter, even when they come in the form of middling shows like “Ozark.” When stories about white crime families rest on ideas about the supposed goodness of white people, they reinforce a whole apparatus of assumptions, benefits of the doubt and second chances afforded to white people who cheat, steal, rape or kill someone.

You can’t show more black crime dramas, and you can’t eliminate white crime dramas, as that would suggest that white people don’t do crime. Nor should we show more white crime dramas, as those dramas simply reinforce racism. Are we then supposed to eliminate all crime dramas? Daniels doesn’t say. I suppose one could suggest we show white crime dramas that don’t show seemingly wholesome white people, but I don’t think that would work, either, as The Godfather attests.

In the end, Daniel’s misguided essay does nothing to eliminate the problem of racism. But, as I said, that’s not why she wrote it. She wrote it to signal her virtue by crying that racism is everywhere. Well, fine, but where is her solution?

Oh, and at the end of her essay, Daniels can’t resist taking a wholly gratuitous lick at Donald Trump and his family. This has nothing to do with her essay; it’s just another flag she runs up to show her virtue. I quote:

Those set of assumptions that animate “Ozark” are also the same ones that have enabled the white crime family that’s currently installed in the White House.

I don’t think so. And neither do a lot of commenters on the piece, who say stuff like this:


There’s hope for America yet.

Steven Pinker on Bill Maher

August 11, 2018 • 11:00 am

Steve Pinker appeared on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” show last night, and here’s a seven-minute clip of their chat. (I immediately noticed that PInker was wearing a blue suit, which I’ve never seen—he usually wears black—and is also sporting his cowboy boots.)

You may already be familiar with the indices of progress limned by Pinker here, but Maher also gives a list of bad things about the world (emphasizing “nukes and pollution), asking Pinker to respond, which he does at 4:45 and 5:30.  Unfortunately, Maher dominates the conversation here—not the behavior of a good host—and I can’t find any videos in which the conversation continues.

Here’s the “overtime” panel consisting of Pinker , Rep. Seth Moulton (Democrat, Massachusetts), MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, political commentator and comedian D.L. Hughley, and LA Times political editor Christina Bellantoni; they all answer audience questions. O’Donnell is asked to respond to the plaint that MSNBC is “just a liberal version of Fox News.” Maher interrupts Pinker again when Steve tries to point out how Democratic policies have worked.

The Mickey Mouse Club song

August 7, 2018 • 12:48 pm

I was just talking to our HR Administrator, a friend, and we began recalling—and singing—the theme songs of cartoons and comedies of our era: The Flintstones, the Jetsons, and the Beverly Hillbillies song. When we got to the Mickey Mouse Club song, our memories diverged. She remembered “M-i-c (See you real soon) K-e-y (because we like you), and I remembered “Mic (See you real soon) k-e-y (WHY? Because we like you).” I insisted that the “Y’ was repeated twice, with the repetition being the word “why”? We made a bet, and of course I won. The Internet is great for settling these disputes.

Now you won’t remember this unless you’re in your dotage, but here it is, complete with Roy and Jimmy. Annette and Darlene, the older and pretty Mouseketeers, were the first love of many men my age, and I was particularly smitten with the dark and sultry Annette. Sadly, she died five years ago of multiple sclerosis. (If you’re a bit older, you’ll remember her in the “Beach Party” movies with Frankie Avalon, which afforded us a chance to see her in a bathing suit.) I haven’t heard this song in what must be at least 50 years.

Here’s the intro to the first episode. Roy gives me the creeps!

Multitasking to the max: Weather reporter solves Rubik’s cube while giving the forecast

June 14, 2018 • 2:00 pm
This woman has got it going on. Look how well she delivers the weather report while solving a Rubik’s cube. I am sure that even if I could solve the puzzle (and I haven’t tried), I couldn’t do it while delivering a coherent report. The YouTube notes say this:
Reporter Lauren Olesky with Florida news station WPEC proved she can multi-task like few others, delivering her Friday weather report while also solving a Rubik’s Cube.

60 Minutes explains CRISPR, neglects important contributors

April 29, 2018 • 6:25 pm

Not too long ago in the Washington Post, I reviewed (favorably) Jennifer Doudna’s new book on CRISPR, A Crack in Creation, which describes for a popular audience this amazing new method of genetic engineering, a method based on DNA and enzymes that bacteria use as their immune defense against viruses.

The development of CRISPR, which in effect lets us change any gene in any way in any organism, will undoubtedly be graced by a Nobel Prize. But given the number of contributors to its development, who will share it? Doudna and her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier are my prime candidates, but Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute, who helped develop their technique for use in human cells, is also in the running.

So why, when CBS’s “60 Minutes” has a segment on CRISPR, did they almost entirely ignore Doudna and Charpentier’s contributions, concentrating almost entirely on Zhang? Doudna was given a very brief nod (I don’t remember Charpentier being mentioned), but mainly just to note that she is challenging the Broad’s patent on using the technique for genetic engineering in humans. The head of the Broad, Eric Lander, who wants a Nobel for his Institute, also appears in extenso, erroneously described as “head of the human genome project” (not true; it was J.D. Watson and then Francis Collins).

As Berkeley geneticist Michael Eisen noted in his stinging but accurate website post, “The Villain of CRISPR“, Lander has engaged in a wholesale rewriting of history in favor of the Broad Institute, which he heads. He wants the Nobel for his boy Zhang, and couldn’t care less about the others. Lander’s behavior in this respect has been one of the most  self-aggrandizing exercises I’ve seen in science, and I’ve seen a lot.

So let me just say that CBS’s program was grossly slanted toward a single candidate as well as the head of his institute, giving not even one minute to Doudna and Charpentier, who deserved at least half of the time. That, combined with CBS’s incorrect naming of Lander as “head of the Human Genome project,” suggests that the network needs to work on its science programming.


Cunk on Britain, part 2

April 10, 2018 • 6:00 pm

The second installment of the BBC “Cunk on Britain” series is up, and watch it while it’s there. (There will be five parts.)

Surprisingly, Part I is still up (here) though perhaps in a different incarnation, so maybe the BBC will for once let us Yanks watch the whole thing—at least for a short while.

I haven’t yet seen this, but wanted to give people a chance to watch while they could.

h/t: Kieran

A parody on Canadian television highlights the divisiveness of religion

April 9, 2018 • 1:15 pm

Diana MacPherson sent these two videos, one of which is a real commercial and the other a parody. As she says:

 I hope you can view these. It’s for “This Hour Has 22 Minutes“, a political and satirical comedy show in Canada. Here they make fun of religion as divisive based on an commercial about finding out about your DNA.

The show Diana refers to appears on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a government entity.

First we have the legit commercial—the one parodied by the satire below. It’s tribalistic and way over the top, but that’s how they’re sellling ancestry tests in Canada. (I wonder, as an atheist Jew who has ancestors in Galway, if I’d be greeted so warmly!):

And here’s the “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” parody:  [JAC: be sure to watch to the end.]

Can you imagine this being shown on any television station in the U.S., much less one run by the government? Ceiling Cat bless Canada!

It reminds me of this joke related by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion:

A journalist, researching for an article on the complex political situation in Northern Ireland, was in a pub in a war-torn area of Belfast. One of his potential informants leaned over his pint of Guinness and suspiciously cross-examined the journalist: “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?” the Irishman asked.”Neither,” replied the journalist; “I’m an atheist.”

The Irishman, not content with this answer, put a further question: “Ah, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

“Cunk on Britain” tonight

April 3, 2018 • 2:30 pm

Several Brits have written to inform me that the first episode of “Cunk on Britain”, Philomena’s series on her beloved land, plays tonight on BBC Two. There will be five episodes, with two scheduled. The first is this evening at 10 pm England time (don’t ask me what it’s formally called)—about an hour and a half from this posting; and the second episode is in a week:

Little do the people who wrote me know that I won’t be able to SEE this, which makes me unspeakably sad. (BBC shows are embargoed in the US.) It’s like telling me they’re giving out free glasses of 1982 Petrus at a bar in Mongolia.

Here’s one clip, which makes me want to watch it even more (click on screenshot):

BBC One “Big Cats” series starts tomorrow

January 10, 2018 • 1:00 pm

For those lucky of you to live in the UK, you’ll be able to see BBC One’s “Big Cats” series (so far two parts are scheduled) starting tomorrow at 8 p.m. The Torygraph summary makes it sound pretty cool:

Filmed over two years in 14 countries, the crew from the BBC’s Natural History Unit managed to capture an unprecedented 33 out of the 40 species of the cat family: from man-eating swamp tigers in the mangroves of the Sundarbans in the Bay of Bengal to the ghostly Canadian Lynx.

Through using the expertise of scientists in the field, the crew secured numerous world exclusives including filming the Pallas’s cat (also called the Manul) for the first time in the wild – picture the flat-eared children’s character Bagpuss, and you are not far off.

A similarly rare image of the swamp tiger was captured after spending some 600 hours in a boat, cruising between the mangroves to look for paw prints in the mud.

. . .For Mike Gunton though, it is the smaller, lesser known cats that prove the objects of greatest fascination in the series. In particular, he cites the Pallas’s cat – which lives in the grasslands of Mongolia and hunts by freezing stock still and pretending to be a rock as it sneaks up on prey.

The crew also filmed another little known member of the feline family and the smallest – the rusty-spotted cat. Eventually, they managed to film a young male in a remote rainforest reserve in Sri Lanka.

“I had no idea that cat even existed and it is just so gorgeous,” Gunton says. “Even being the size of a guinea pig he still has that cat personality which marks every cat out.”

Here’s the rusty-spotted cat in a preview:

A cat the size of a guinea pig! Now you know you want to see that, and the whole show. Please report back here after you watch it.

h/t: Michael