Happy 117th!

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. Here he is, sitting for a photograph in commemoration of his graduation:

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Grampa held two degrees in architecture: one from Armour (now Illinois) Institute of Technology and one from MIT. In today’s eye, the pose might look a bit corny, but the more I look at it the more I like the concept. A graduate in academic regalia, upon the occasion of his commencement, poses with the tools and fruits of his trade. Or in this case, a tool and a fruit of his trade.

I’m not sure what I would have posed with upon my college graduation (my God– that was twenty years ago this Sunday). A supply and demand graph? A great big square L with a marked-up X in it?

The older I get the more I think of to ask him and my other grandparents. Alas.

Grampa would’ve turned 117 today if he hadn’t died preventing a false vacuum collapse.

This post was brought to you today by the number zero.

Let me begin with the sort of disclaimer that would likely stave off ad hominem attacks if used in familiar company, but would provide no such protection in larger forums such as social media:

Sesame Street was an integral part of my childhood. I still have my stuffed Ernie and Berts packed away, and we had a stuffed Cookie Monster and Snuffy and Big Bird, and the Fisher-Price figurines of both the muppets and the humans, and various puppets and toys, all of which my progeny shall play with one day. I remember Prairie Dawn and Sherlock Hemlock and Roosevelt Franklin. I remember the ice-skating special. I remember when Mr. Hooper himself ran his eponymous store, and I remember his passing. I remember when Snuffleupagus had only ever been seen by Big Bird, and wandered off whenever any other character approached, leaving us all to wonder whether he was a figment of Bird’s imagination. I remember when they decided to reveal Snuffy to the other characters on the show. And I remember a time before Elmo, who I say is the moral equivalent of Cousin Oliver and Ted McGinley combined.

I loved Sesame Street, as did and do generations of kids. So by extension, I suppose I loved PBS for giving me Sesame Street. And Electric Company. And 3-2-1 Contact.

But Congress probably shouldn’t give PBS a dime.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which governs and partially funds PBS and NPR, gets a bit less than $500 million of the over $3.5 trillion the feds spend in a year. That’s less than 0.014% of the federal budget, about a buck and a half per American. Seems like a small price to pay for Oscar the Grouch and Grover and Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross and All Things Considered, right?

Well, if it’s a small price to pay, and plenty of private businesses are already doing similar work without federal funding, why not let PBS and NPR raise their own funds? They already solicit donations; I’m sure plenty of Americans would be willing to voluntarily donate enough to make up for the shortfall. Otherwise, they can commercialize. They can sell ad time, or do product placement, or they can become a for-profit business like a subscription service, or they can sell their properties to other companies. They have options aside from digging into your pocket– let them exercise them.

Back in 1967, when the CPB was founded, there was no internet, there was no cable, there were only a handful of national media networks, and your city or town probably had just a few TV stations. Maybe federal funding of the CPB made sense back then, because you could argue that without it there might be no educational programming available at all.

But it’s not 1967. There’s more media out there than we know what to do with. We have dozens of “free” channels and stations available via broadcast TV and AM/FM radio. If you pay for TV or radio services, you can access hundreds or thousands more channels and stations. If you have internet access, your media options increase exponentially beyond that. News sites. Educational sites. Podcasts. YouTubes. Blogs. If you can’t find educational programming out there, you either [A] don’t have a TV or radio or internet access to begin with, which means you have a problem that the CPB doesn’t address anyway, or [B] you’re not looking hard enough.

True, some of your favorite PBS and NPR shows might get cancelled if the feds cut off the CPB’s appropriation, but I think some other station or channel or website would pick the more popular ones up and give them a shot. Sesame Street would definitely get snapped up– it’s arguably the most famous children’s show ever. And even if doesn’t, you can find plenty of old episodes and clips online. Same goes for plenty of other shows– search YouTube for This Old House or Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!, and you’ll get thousands of hits, if not a dedicated channel.

We don’t need the Corporation for Public Broadcasting so badly that it warrants Congress taxing you to pay for it. If Congress stops giving the CPB money, educational TV and radio won’t disappear; we’ll just have to resort to the bazillions of other options that are available today in 2017.

Or we could read books.

And as long as we’re trimming the budgetary fat, I’d like to see Congress legislate some caps on taxpayer-funded Presidential travel and protection of multiple residences. I think there’s an opportunity for some real savings there.

Just thought of different post title: “That’s zero, zero dollars, ah, ah, ah!”

On the end of the Bears’ season (’16-’17).

Last summer, I bought a new Bears t-shirt. I figured it was time to replace the old one because [A] I’d lost weight and it didn’t fit well anymore, and [B] wearing it during every game three seasons in a row clearly hadn’t helped. Those were three of the Bears’ worst defensive seasons ever; they gave up 478, 442, and 397 points. New laundry, I thought, would bring new karma.

Nope. They had their worst season in my lifetime.

Just three wins. Three. The last time the Bears won only three games was in the strike-shortened 1982 season that was only nine games long. Before that it was 1973.

I write a post every year about the Bears’ season. Remarkable how last year’s downside paragraph applies almost perfectly this year:

The downside: lots of injuries (including a season-ender for the first-round pick), several winnable games were allowed to slip away, and the defense was the fourth-worst in team history.

Blown leads left and right, including against the pathetic Jaguars? Check. Fourth-worst defensive season in their history? At 399 points, that’s a check, though there was some improvement in yards surrendered. The only difference is that this year’s first-rounder didn’t go down for the season. But last year’s first rounder, Kevin White, spent the last twelve weeks on injured reserve alongside half of the other starters.

And worst of all, the two losses to the Packers mean the all-time head-to-head record between them is now tied for the first time in decades. Appalling.

The upside: the rookies looked decent. The Bears got the third pick in the draft. And my sister gave me a small charcoal grill… just about the right size for a useless t-shirt.