Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Revisiting the "Southern Strategy"

The "southern strategy" is alive and well.

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger." - GOP strategist Lee Atwater

I think I could likely safely wager that most people today are ignorant of what was known as the "Southern Strategy" when it began in the 1960s. Simply put, it was the strategy used by the Republican Party to appeal to the southern states through their racist attitudes toward African-Americans. It was probably best summed up by GOP strategist Lee Atwater in the quote I used to begin this piece. The initial approach was direct, in the language that southerners could easily understand. As Atwater put it, "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.'" Eventually they couldn't get away with that. When African-Americans were no longer the silent oppressed minority you couldn't get away with using that kind of language. Blacks were put off by it and a growing number of Whites were put off by it as well. The message had to change.

The message did change and went to talking about supporting states' rights and being opposed to forced busing for racial integration of schools. These were things you could talk about without seeming overtly racist by doing so. Who wouldn't support states' rights against an oppressive federal government? Who wouldn't be opposed to busing kids out of their own neighborhoods to schools halfway across town just for racial integration? Forced busing was disruptive. It cost taxpayers money. It just wasn't right. Or so the story went.

The message eventually turned even more abstract and went to terms of cutting taxes and advocating "smaller, less intrusive government." It all sounded nice and friendly. The terms were so generic that even those who weren't racists themselves could support those ideas. As Lee Atwater put it, the net effect is that blacks get hurt worse than whites. The original racist goal is being achieved but in terms so carefully crafted that people aren't aware of what's going on. This is the language of "code speak," saying in kinder, gentler terms those ideas that would be distasteful if plainly spoken. It's happening right now. Laws are being proposed and enacted using coded language meant to spread a racist agenda to hurt African-Americans at the expense of a few Whites who might get caught in the crossfire. The old guard refuses to walk away quietly and they're training fresh acolytes to take up their fight, many of whom aren't aware of the roots of their cause.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

It's a Moot Point

"It's a moot point that brownies are superior to cookies in every way."

I'd wager that as 99.99% of you read that sentence your conclusion was along the lines of thinking it's settled that brownies are superior to cookies and it's pointless to argue anything to the contrary.

You'd be wrong.

In the words of Inigno Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Moot" actually means "subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty." It means exactly the opposite of how most people use it. How did this come to be true? It's an easy matter to look up a word to see what it means but this misuse of "moot" has persisted over decades.

Now we're also starting to see the word "literally" being used in its completely opposite sense. "Literally" is being used to mean "figuratively." Should we change the dictionary definition to accommodate this change in usage or should those of us who know the difference just shake our heads, mumble incoherently, and walk away when we see or hear a word used incorrectly? At what point do you just give up trying to correct people and just toss in the towel in frustration?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The TV Ratings Game

I've always been fascinated with television, not so much television shows themselves but in the ratings game that determines what we all get to watch. I don't watch much television but I have a keen interest in the numbers and how they are determined. Somehow I've also been part of the Nielsen survey 3 times in my life, once while I was a teen and twice since I've been living on my own.

The ratings game has changed drastically since the dawn of the video cassette recorder (VCR). The VCR enabled time-shifting. Prior to the VCR all television viewing was what I like to call "appointment viewing." Your show came on at a certain time and you made an appointment in your busy daily schedule to sit down and watch your show at that time. The VCR enabled people to record their shows and shift them to view later. In my own life I would often record shows during the week and watch them all on the weekend. I had a separate tape for each day of the week and each morning before leaving for work I would pull the previous day's tape and replace it with the current day's tape. Eventually I developed a system of having 4 tapes for each day of the week, labeled A through D, so it would be a month before I might have to record over something. In any case I no longer had to set an appointment to watch anything. I watched a show when I was ready to watch it, not when a networked dictated that I should watch it.

The VCR complicated things greatly in the ratings game because it meant tv networks could no longer guarantee eyeballs for ads. See, the advertising is the thing. The shows we all love are just convenient wrappers for the ads. The shows are used to set ad rates so the networks can make money and pay for content. The ads are responsible for paychecks. If you can't guarantee that people are watching your shows then you can't sell ads easily. TV ratings are still built on the daily ratings, how many people made an appointment to watch a show on the day it aired. The dailies are important because they represent people who didn't skip through the ads. Next in line are the people who viewed a show within 24 hours of its original airtime. Next are those who viewed it within 3 days of its original airtime. Last in line are those who viewed the show within 7 days of its original airtime. This remains true in the digital video recorder (DVR) era. They are referred to as the DVR+1, DVR+3, and DVR+7 ratings for any given show. A show can be quite popular in DVR viewing but if it's weak in same-day viewing it probably won't survive. Why is this the case? It's all about the ads. DVR viewers generally skip commercials, so ad rates can't be set from DVR views. This is unfortunate since there are some shows that see their audience size increase by 100% in the DVR+7 ratings, but they could still be canceled.

A comparison I've often seen with tv shows is that Show A beat Show B in the 8PM Thursday timeslot, so Show B is probably going to get canceled. From what I've read from various sources that's probably not an accurate assessment. It doesn't matter so much that Show B lost to Show A in head-to-head competition on Thursday night. What does matter is how Show B has been doing compared to other shows on the same network. If Show B lost to Show A head-to-head but Show B is still one of the strongest shows on that particular network Show B is probably going to be renewed for another season. If push comes to shove Show B might be moved to a different night where it could potentially get a bigger audience. So if your show keeps getting trounced by another show in the same slot on a different network there's no reason to fret unless your show is dragging the bottom on its network. You generally don't dump your best player.

Cable shows are less likely to get canceled due to low ratings than broadcast network shows. Why is this the case? As always, it's a numbers game, but in this case it's a scheduling game. The top 4 broadcast networks have primetime schedules that are completely full. They have shows in every slot for every day of the week. If a show isn't doing well it's better for the broadcast network to pull it off the air and try something else in that slot to see if that other show does better. You'll often notice that every broadcast network has a lineup of midseason replacements that they announce even before the new season has started. They know they're going to have to cancel some shows and they already have the replacements set. For the cable networks there are huge gaps in the primetime schedule, with the possible exception of the USA Network. Most cable channels don't have every primetime slot filled with new original programming for every day of the week. This means if a show does poorly they can typically afford to leave it on the air longer because it's not taking up a slot that could be used for another show which might pull better ratings. Cable shows are simply less likely to be canceled because the network probably doesn't have something else with which to fill the slot. If a cable network had a stable of midseason replacements lined up you could bet they would use them. Since they don't, they can't.

The last bit that I'll add here on the ratings game is that networks tend to air their strongest shows on Sunday and the shows tend to get weaker as the week progresses. You'll never see a strong show on Saturday unless it's a rerun of the show from earlier in the week. Why is Sunday the big night? Everyone is home. The networks know they're more likely to get "appointment viewers" in front of the tv set on Sunday night than any other night of the week. Viewership numbers tend to be highest on Sunday and lower throughout the week. If your favorite show is on Sunday night the network probably has confidence in it. If it airs later in the week, things could go either way in terms of renewal versus cancellation.

That's it for now, go watch some tv.

Getting a Haircut

My dad always taught me that a man should get his hair cut often enough that his friends and coworkers can't tell that he needs a haircut. He said you need to present a consistent, professional appearance when you're out in public. He said you don't want someone to be standing within your personal space and thinking, "This guy needs a haircut!" To that end I always get my hair cut every 2-3 weeks depending on how "tight" my appearance needs to be. My own standards for when I need to get a haircut always seem to be stricter than those of the people who know me. I'll often tell someone I'm going to the barbershop on Saturday and the response is usually that I don't look like I need a haircut. Exactly. If I look like I need a haircut I've obviously gone too long without one.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Starship Design

Babylon 5's Ron Thornton on Starship Design

Next to the Starfury I think my favorite spaceship is the Eagle from Space: 1999.

Watching TV in a Vacuum

For the few weekly tv shows that I watch I typically watch new episodes in a vacuum, with virgin eyes untainted by whatever is being posted about them on the internet. Sure, I'll take a look at spoilers but I tend to avoid reviews of upcoming episodes of my shows. I prefer to go into a new show without a preconceived notion of liking it or disliking it. I want to form my own opinions about the cast, the plot, the acting, and the special effects. After I've formed my own opinion upon viewing several episodes I'm willing to look at reviews. Sometimes I'm surprised to find hatred for the things I love about the show. Sometimes I'm surprised to find love for the things I hate about the show. In either case the reviews don't sway my opinion but they do inform it. I can deal with being told that a show I love is utter crap because I will probably think the same of a show that you love. As long as we can agree to disagree, we can get along.

I Only Watch 5 Shows, Deal with It

I've mentioned to several people in the past that I only watch 5 television shows on a weekly basis. Most are fairly incredulous when I say it because they watch a lot more television than that. Trust me, I used to as well.

During the 90s I realized I was watching about 30-40 hours of television a week. I had 2-4 different shows each night of the week and caught up with other shows by watching the recordings on the weekend. I was coming home from work to watch specific shows. I was flipping from one network to another to watch different shows in different time slots. I had a "must-see" show for each night. It dawned on me that it was altogether too much. I needed to cut back and I needed to cut back severely. I decided to only watch 5 shows.

My 5-show routine comes with a few conditions. The 5 shows must be current weekly shows. One-shot specials don't count. Mini-series don't count. News programs, whether local or national, likewise don't count. Reruns of series that are no longer on the air in weekly production don't count. Since I don't watch "reality" tv this means my 5 shows are all scripted. Since I don't watch sitcoms it means they're all scripted dramas. My 5-show routine also means that if I add a show to my list of 5 I must also drop a show from my 5. This means if I'm going to start following a show on a weekly basis I have to be willing to give up something I'm already watching. In the past it was a strict rule. Lately I've been a little looser with it but adding a show means dropping a show. Occasionally the dropping of a show happens for me, especially with cable shows that have seasons of only 10-13 episodes. Once the season ends I can pick up another show to put in that slot. My 5-show routine also does not include tv shows that I watch exclusively from streaming on either Netflix or Amazon, although I'm mindful to not watch episodes from more than 2 streaming shows in a week. Currently my streaming shows are Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. I'm not doing marathons of either. I'm treating both as regular (roughly) weekly tv shows.

It all adds up to mean that between my 5 shows, various news shows, streaming shows, and the occasional documentary I might consume about 12-15 hours of television in a week. At other times the television set is turned off. I don't use tv to provide background sound while I'm doing other stuff. I'm perfectly comfortable sitting in silence. When I do watch something on tv I give it my undivided attention. When the show ends I turn the tv set off. I do watch movies, both on DVD and streaming, but that is separate from my tv viewing and I never watch more than 2 movies in a sitting and rarely more than 3 movies in a week. As a general rule I don't watch "live" tv except for the news. All 5 of my weekly shows are recorded on my TiVo and I usually watch them within a few days after they air. If I'm spending time listening to podcasts I'll save my tv shows to watch on the weekend.

Chances are fairly good that whatever show you're watching I've never seen. There are tons of popular shows that I've never seen. There are many shows that have come highly recommended by friends that I've never seen. Adding a show means dropping a show and a show has to do something unforgivable to truly piss me off before I decide to drop it in midseason to add a new show. It's happened before. I dropped House, M.D. in the middle of the fourth season after they aired 3 episodes in a row that I totally didn't like. I don't recall what I added in its place but I definitely dropped Dr. Gregory House and did not look back. When I heard the series was ending I didn't even tune in to see the finale. I dropped Bones for the same reason. They aired several episodes in a row that were boring and formulaic so I dropped the show midseason. Over it means over it, for the most part.

So, that's how I watch tv. As always, your mileage may vary.

Six Million Dollar Man vs. Bionic Woman

I've been slowly making my way through Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman over the course of the last 18 months or so and I've noticed that BW seems to have better writing than SMDM over the course of the series. The writing team working on BW spent a little more effort on developing the character of Jaime Sommers than they spent on Steve Austin. We also got to see more of Jaime's home life than we did of Steve's. Jaime got to have personal problems that needed to be dealt with outside of her job and her bionic missions. Steve, on the other hand, didn't have much of a life outside of the Air Force, NASA, and his bionic missions. All things being equal, between the 2 shows I would probably pick a night of watching episodes of BW over a night of watching SMDM.



Welcome to my blog. I'm just settling in so there will be many changes over the next few weeks as I get back into this blogging thing.

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