The TV revolution

Have you heard about the new TV show called Transparent? The Hollywood crowd is abuzz with excitement. Here’s how the producers of the show describe it:

An L.A. family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone to spill their secrets.

In the industry that’s called a “logline”, a one-sentence show description designed to hook the reader into wanting more. This one strikes me as pretty bland but the critics are raving about the show and the industry insiders are fawning and fussing over themselves for being so brilliantly progressive as to create this wall-shattering, breathtaking cinematic experience.

CarolAnn and I were curious so we watched three episodes last night. They’re only a half hour each. The show is labeled as comedy.

Transparent is about a 70-ish family patriarch cross dresser coming out of the closet to his adult children and admitting he is a long suffering woman trapped in a man’s body. (“Trans”-“parent”, get it?) It’s filled with nudity, including full frontal, and people running around having sex with people they’re not supposed to be having sex with, including two happily married soccer moms having a fling together at their long repressed lesbianism and a drug addled caucasian female who arranges a ménage à trois with two African American men and explains to them that when they are finished with her she wants to watch them “do” each other. That’s when they throw her out of the house.

They have their principles.

I’m not making this up. I honestly don’t believe I could if I tried and I’m kind of proud of that.

As you might imagine there is a lot of yelling and swearing and tears in all of this but, oddly, no comedy at all, not a single chuckle or even a smile and I honestly can’t see where any was intended.

My wife and I are old enough that none of this shocks us. We’re not particularly offended by language and we don’t even lament the loss of cultural dignity and decency as much as we used to because, frankly, that train left the station long ago. We’ve sort of gotten used to it. We’re just tired of TV shows with no likable characters, no reason to care and nothing to smile about.

And, we’re tired of being told that depravity is normal and there is no such thing as a lie when it serves our own selfish desperation.

This is what passes for comedy now. It’s what we celebrate.

Because it’s easier to lower our standards than to raise our expectations.

Dear Little Thing…

Until I read this letter a couple of days ago I’ve excused myself from passing judgment on abortion. I don’t like it but I’m a man, it’s not my body and I have no right to an opinion.

Sorry, not my table.

Besides, morality is largely subjective, isn’t it? Who am I to tell you what’s right or wrong for you?

Then I read this letter written by an unidentified woman and posted on the social site, Reddit, and reprinted in Cosmopolitan. The writer is having an abortion tomorrow.

It’s a letter to her unborn child.

Little Thing:

I can feel you in there. I’ve got twice the appetite and half the energy. It breaks my heart that I don’t feel the enchantment that I’m supposed to feel. I am both sorry and not sorry.

I am sorry that this is goodbye. I’m sad that I’ll never get to meet you. You could have your father’s eyes and my nose and we could make our own traditions, be a family. But, Little Thing, we will meet again. I promise that the next time I see that little blue plus, the next time you are in the same reality as me, I will be ready for you.

Little Thing, I want you to be happy. More than I want good things for myself, I want the best things for the future. That’s why I can’t be your mother right now. I am still growing myself. It wouldn’t be fair to bring a new life into a world where I am still haunted by ghosts of the life I’ve lived. I want you to have all the things I didn’t have when I was a child. I want you to be better than I ever was and more magnificent than I ever could be. I can’t do to you what was done to me: Plant a seed made of love and spontaneity into a garden, and hope that it will grow on only dreams. Love and spontaneity are beautiful, but they have little merit. And while I have plenty of dreams to go around, dreams are not an effective enough tool for you to build a better tomorrow. I can’t bring you here. Not like this.

I love you, Little Thing, and I wish the circumstances were different. I promise I will see you again, and next time, you can call me Mom.

The woman who wrote this is obviously a person of sensitivity, intellect and skill. I’ll even assume that she has a great capacity for love because she seems to understand how it feels, if not exactly what it means.

Mom is ending her beloved Little Thing’s potential for life because it’s inconvenient.

Little Thing will never open his or her eyes to the dazzling rock show of light and sound that celebrates the moment of every birth. She’ll never feel the warm rush of delivery from her mother’s womb to her mother’s arms.

Little Thing will never suffer fear or confusion because Mom spared him of all that inconvenience.

He/She/Thing will never cry or laugh or decide what tastes It likes or doesn’t like.

She/He/It will never be excited or fearful, nor consider Little Thing’s future possibilities.

After tomorrow nothing will be possible.

There will be no Little Thing.

She/He/It is inconvenient.

The beauty of youth is in its innocence.

Youth believes in forever and happy endings.

The harshness of age is in its wisdom, the bitter pill of learning that as much as our younger selves still cling to hope and miracles, the truth is some people can’t be fixed.

Getting older doesn’t make us less tolerant. It makes us sadly less naive.

After 60 years of looking for excuses I’ve decided that very bad, destructive people need to be put away for life. I can’t care anymore about their personal problems. I’m sorry for them but we just can’t afford to give some people a second chance.
Arsonists are like murderers. They should either be executed or locked up forever. They blew their shot at happiness, decency and contribution.

Some of them never had a chance, of course. Some grew up in families so screwed up they never had a shot at personal salvation. These poor souls suffer more internal pain every week than most of us will deal with in our entire lives.

That’s tragic in every sense of the word but here’s what’s worse:

We just can’t afford to care.

Some of them must be sacrificed because our abilities are limited and we must make decisions.

That’s the ugly truth.


This  morning I talked on the radio about a village in India where people are terrified to walk the paths between their town and those of their neighbors. When darkness falls they huddle in their homes, fearful for their lives because a leopard has  been stalking and eating humans, twelve victims in the past two years.

Can you imagine having something like that to worry about?

My partner, Amy, and I also talked about the Islamic terrorists in northern Iraq who have been slaughtering Christians and beheading babies. By comparison, that village in India seems like Disney World with a plumbing problem.

In Africa people are dying by the thousands of Ebola, which is highly contagious, rarely curable and never satisfied to simply snuff out lives. It insists on doing so in a long, drawn out, fevered, hemorrhagic horror.

People in their Ebola death throes sweat profusely as their eyes bleed and their minds scream for deliverance.

Meanwhile, here in America we’re all wound up about two very wealthy young athletes who both have apparent tendencies to snap and hit people they love. So far none of the people they love have been seriously hurt and are defending their attackers.

In our house, our dog Amelia has an intestinal virus but the vet gave us some medicine and says she’ll be fine.

Carolann and I are also trying to figure out how to save enough money to buy Christmas presents for our family in California.

We’re healthy and happy but we do stress about our weight a bit.

Sometimes we’re annoyed when the WiFi doesn’t work right.



Tradition: the generation gap

When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21 I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. — Mark Twain

The idiocy of ageism has angered me for as long as I can remember, decades, not just in recent years.


The doorway to sexism, racism and all other isms is here, in our childish disrespect for other generations on either side of us.


Here is a link to the piece that published these memes and got me riled today. It’s a website called Elite Daily, which bills itself as “The voice of Generation Y”:

‘Scumbag Baby Boomer’ Meme Is The Perfect Response To People Who Criticize Gen-Y

This is my published reply, by no means intended for everybody whose birthdays fall within the arbitrary range of years defined by the author of this piece:

Shocking as it may be to some of you whippersnappers, we old farts understand how you feel and think. We grew up as hippies, peace and love and all that. We were going to change the world. At the time we thought our parents were “square” and backward. Every generation does. But we still loved and respected them. 

This is just nasty. 

Gen Y is apparently defined as people born between 1980 and 2000. Good God, some of you are in your mid 30s and still bitching and whining.

Y’all are on your own. 

Personally, I accept very little credit for my children’s wonderful qualities and no blame at all for the decline of American society, our government and our family values. 

My old fart friends and I have worked hard to live honorably and remain relevant. We succeed in varying degrees but we can only fail by the self-righteous judgment of you, whom we coddled and still love. 

You will ultimately define us, but at least have the decency to wait until we’re dead.

Live your life, fix your world and if you can’t show a little respect, just leave us alone.

And, stay off the lawn.



Robin Williams

Robin Williams ended his life nine days ago and I can’t get over it.


In the past few days CarolAnn and I have watched five or six of his movies we had never seen before, the ones that weren’t big box office smashes, the ones the critics sniffed at with condescension. We’ve discovered that we love his chiseled face, his body language and the way he spewed lines with deadly comedic or dramatic accuracy.

But mostly, we just love his simple, vulnerable honesty.

There are a lot of extremely gifted actors who can portray reality but Robin wore his soul on the outside for all to see instead of guarding himself as the rest of us do.

After all the talk of alcoholism, drug addiction, clinical depression and the early stages of Parkinson’s, as we struggle to understand how a man overflowing with enough joy to share with the entire world and yet be so tortured as to take his own life — I have finally reached a conclusion:

I don’t and can’t and will therefore never get it.

Maybe Robin’s gifts so isolated him from normal folks that the rest of us drove him mad with boredom and loneliness.

Or, maybe the cacophony of circus noise inside his unfiltered creative genius finally led him to throw the off switch just so he could get some rest.

Maybe a lot of things.

I don’t spend much time on questions that have no answers for me but I think I owe Robin Williams the gratitude and respect of not assuming he is to be pitied.

Enough of the “tortured soul” stuff.

I choose to think Robin was simply finished. He knocked off early and went home.

His work should never again be picked at with clinical tweezers by the superficial arts of critics and their students.

Academics, as Robin showed us time and again, are merely sign posts to self discovery. And unless we are instinctively inspired by a higher source, as he apparently was — we need to follow our curiosity, just dive in and live.

The Dumas Kid

Last week Carolann and I enjoyed our first long road trip in several years. We drove from Dallas to West Yellowstone, Montana, and stayed off freeways except for one short stretch of I-80 across southern Wyoming. Otherwise we took back roads through the Heartland and I highly recommend it. It refreshes the spirit. You’ll meet wonderful people whose regional natures will IMG_20140707_111126amaze you, different as they are from one place to the next.

Texans and Oklahomans tend to be more gregarious than Kansans and Wyomingites, who are friendly but wary.

Coloradans are happy to meet you, happy to serve and happy to see you leave.

Taking days rather than hours to get from here to there renews your sense of awe in the sheer size of our country that travel by air destroys. You have to suffer through several hundred miles of sagebrush and alkali to appreciate it, if your attitude will allow.

And, there’s another advantage that you’ll learn to appreciate though it might drive you slightly crazy for the first day:

Nearly the entire distance is void of a usable data signal for smart phones and digital tablets. That, too, will soon be a thing of the past in the name of technical advancement.

For now though, in great chunks of the American West, Facebook will have to wait. Words With Friends becomes Words With Spouse.

With no option but to actuaIMG_20140706_101927lly talk with each other Carolann and I had a wonderful time made even more enjoyable by the presence of our not quite 12 year-old grandson, Isaiah.

As we drove north from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Amarillo and on, across the desolate Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, our adventure took us through the town of Dumas, Texas. As we passed the city limit sign the boy read it aloud:

“DOO-mas,” he said.

“That’s not right,” I told him. “You’re mispronouncing it but it’s not your fault. The town used to have a ‘b’ in the middle of its name. It’s called ‘Dumbass,'” I said seriously.

Isaiah thought that was very funny. He giggled for a long time. We all did. Then, for the rest of the trip we called eachIMG_20140708_034243 other “DOO-mas” from time to time.

This is the stuff a kid remembers for his entire life. It’s what makes parenting and grandparenting especially rewarding. A quip and a laugh in an innocent moment is a moment enshrined for decades.

None of us will remember the frustrating times he fussed and pouted about having to take a bath or go to bed. And though we’ll always treasure the pictures of Isaiah and his Nana in front of Yellowstone Falls and of him holding a long fork with a flaming marshmallow for a campfire s’more burning out of control, it’s the shared laughs that fill our hearts for the rest of our lives.

No matter how old he and we get, Isaiah will now and always be the Dumas Kid and we will always love each other more for it.

The accidental journalist

I started writing and reading radio news a long time ago by accident. In my mid-twenties, after several years as a rock and roll disc jockey, I decided it was time to grow up.

One morning in 1975, whilSeattle 2012e writing and recording commercials for a news and talk station in Sacramento, I was drafted to fill in for the real news anchor, who was sick. The station was desperate for somebody to just sit in the chair, read the stories and play the commercials.

Almost forty years later it still feels like I’m just filling in for the real news anchor.

I never had any desire to be a reporter but I learned by being sent to boring news conferences and terrifying police actions.

Early on I did a live report from inside a cloud of tear gas while a guy in a trailer was taking potshots at anything that moved.

Another day I found myself outside a bank where a shootout and police standoff suddenly made me a network reporter for ABC. A couple of months later it happened again when an attempted plane hijacking occurred at an airport near my home.

In that first year or two I was always in the wrong place at just the right time. (Or, vice versa.)

I never wanted to be in the serious news business. I’m not a serious guy. I was just a radio guy doing what I was told to do: tell what’s going on and how you feel about it.

Some of my past and present colleagues won’t be amused to learn that I have always thought the word “journalist” to be snotty and condescending. A few of you who find and develop your own stories are the real deal, of course, but most of us are fakers. I never wanted to have that label, “journalist”, hung on me because I don’t like it and I haven’t earned it. I just tell stories and try to be interesting and entertaining.

Weirdly, along the way through forty years I have gotten a bunch of awards I didn’t seek or expect, including four Mark Twain Awards from the Associated Press. The anti-journalist in me must admit, I kinda like those because Mark Twain is my hero.

Mark Twain told stories. He was interesting and entertaining.

This past week I was stunned to learn that I’ve been recommended for a fellowship to join six or seven other American “journalists” to travel to Germany in early November for the 25th anniversary commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Suddenly – after forty years of delivering news and information in the morning – it has finally landed on my thick skull:

I am an accidental journalist in the tradition of my hero who said, among many other wonderful things:


If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed.
If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.“

–Mark Twain


imageI recently came across an article in the New York Times that left me slack-jawed.

It seems there is a growing movement at major universities across the country to require “trigger alerts” to warn students that the academic materials they’re about to ingest may upset them. World History classes, for instance, might come with a caution about subject matter relating to death, destruction, enslavement and torture.

Examples given by the Times are more specific: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains racist themes; books and classes on Greek Mythology and ancient works of art may display sexually explicit pictures, drawings and statues.

Students who support these academic admonitions say some people, rape victims or war veterans for example, might find some materials to be particularly traumatic. That’s possible but you can’t whitewash the lessons learned from painful experience and research for the sake of the few who have more personal issues to deal with.

Somewhat surprisingly, to me at least, the people most opposed to the idea seem to be the teachers at these schools. According to the Times:

The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.

I think our chickenimage2s have come home to roost.

Some years ago we stopped keeping score of little league and youth soccer games so as not to distinguish winners from losers.

Some schools don’t allow teachers to use red ink in grading papers because it might be too stressful for our children to be told their work was less than perfect.

We hand out trophies to everybody or nobody and a decade or two ago schools began passing out those “My child is an honor student at Foonman Elementary” bumper stickers to every kid in the school because we didn’t want to hurt the non-honor roll students’ feelings.

Those kids are now in college and they expect to be protected.

God help them when they are forced to live in the real world.

It’s easier to be righteous than right

When I was about fourteen years old my dad said something in passing conversation that I have never forgotten. It comes to mind more frequently these days because of an amazing phenomenon:

Though we live in an age in which information is as close as a Google search we seem to be more gullible and closed-minded than ever.

A couple of days ago I ran across a news story in the Washington Times about a handful of law students at Washington and Lee University threatening to perform acts of civil disobedience unless campus authorities ban the flying of the Confederate flag and at the same time admit that Gen. Robert E. Lee — for whom, in part, the school is named — was a racist.

Getting easily riled up over perceived civil rights offenses is a rite of passage for people growing from their teens into their twenties. It’s natural, it’s healthy and it’s cute. The only problem is, they are often wrong because things are never as simple as they seem.

Robert E. Lee was far from a racist. In fact, he was strongly opposed to slavery and publicly celebrated its abolition.


In 1870 he told fellow Virginian, Rev. John Leyburn, “So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished.” He went on to say the end of slavery was a goal well worth everything he personally lost in the war.

The law students at Washington and Lee either never heard this or just don’t care.

I wonder if they know that President Lincoln asked General Lee to lead the Northern Army in the Civil War? Forced to take sides Lee reluctantly declined so that he might defend his Virginia home, family and friends. He was tortured by the choice.

You might have learned all of this in high school history class. I did. But the students at Washington and Lee apparently value their hormonal opinions more than the complex yet enlightening facts.

And, that’s where we are today, I think. It’s easier to be righteous than to be right and everybody wants to talk rather than listen.

You might think law students, of all people, would have spent a minute or two Googling the subject of their  attack. If they had, they might have stumbled across this quote from General Lee:

“Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, and, when summoned away, to leave without regret.”

Which brings me back to what my father, Donald M. Williams, told me when I was a kid:

“People say you have a right to your opinion. That’s only half true. You have a right to an informed opinion. If you don’t know what you’re talking about you should shut the hell up.”