Tuesday, April 23, 2013


So what are these awards--the JOOP AWARDS?  They are awarded to the five people in the media who I believe we should most treasure for their unique voice, honest take on events, reasoned perspective on major issues, and articulate, unpretentious communication skills. JOOP stands for Jerry's Opinion Only, People, and if I were stranded on a dessert island, these are the five I would want to still have access to so I could keep in touch with world events.  And then there are the UNJOOP AWARDS, the five media personalities I believe we could most do without, and would all be better off if they were removed to a dessert island and no longer available to the rest of us.

These are not in any  particular order of importance or preference.


1. David Brooks--perhaps the most rational Republican commentator out there. His NY Times columns are some of the few available that maintain the spirit of the old-fashioned newspaper columnist. And one of the only must-see TV events in the field of political discourse is his weekly debate with Mark Shields at the end of the Friday edition of PBS Newshour.

2. Andrea Mitchell--NBCs Chief Foreign Correspondent, is one of the hardest working reporters in network news. And she always checks her facts, a quality dramatically lacking in many of her colleagues. I've seen her work ethic firsthand when we were both at KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia (we even dated a few times), and she almost singlehandedly changed the presence of women in media from ditzy weather girls to respected journalists.

3. Andy Borowitz, our best political humorist, period. His columns for NewYorker.com are in the tradition of Mark Twain, Will Rogers, and Mort Sahl.

4. Peggy Noonan, another Republican voice of sense and sensibility. She's come a long, long way since being Ronald Reagan's primary speech writer. I don't always agree with her, but she always tells the truth, gets her facts straight, and leavens her commentary with humor and humanity. She also wrote one of the speeches considered among the ten best of the 20th Century, President Reagan's address to the nation after the Challenger shuttle explosion.

5. Andrew Sullivan, founder of the Daily Dish blog, and frequent guest on TV political talk shows. That rarity of rarities, a conservative gay Republican, he is always provocative, often at odds with his party, and just a refreshing presence on the media scene.

Wow, how about that for diversity? Three Republicans, two women, one gay man. Together, while on that dessert island, I think I would get a truly fair and balanced view of what was going on.


These are the media stars I could most do without, who get their facts most wrong, and who never would have met the standards I had to live by when I was a broadcast journalist.

1. Ann Coulter, who is more of a media clown than a serious commentator, probably has done more damage than most of them, since in order to bring attention to herself, she makes the most outlandish provably wrong political statements. Some people must take her seriously, so that she has become a bestselling author instead of being laughed off the stage or publicly shunned. Her transgressions are too numerous to catalog here, but whenever she appears, you can be certain of one thing, at least one major lie will be told and retold.

2. Rush Limbaugh, America's right wing Windbag-and-OxyContin-Addict-In-Chief. The most notable thing about him is that you can listen to his show today and not be able to distinguish it from any show he did twenty-five years ago. The same prejudices against Democrats and women and minorities, the same lame jokes. If we ever think we have made intellectual progress as a nation, that view is quickly dispelled when we realize this guy has the number one radio talk show in the U.S.

3. Glenn Beck, the ultimate conspiracy theorist and Joseph Goebbels mini-me, his views are so outrageous that he has largely lost his influence. If political commentators were forced to undergo psychological evaluations, this man would be institutionalized rather than talking to anyone.

4. Laura Ingraham, another conservative blonde bimbo, though she seems more articulate and intelligent than Coulter. 

5. John McLaughlin, host of The McLaughlin Group, which used to be on my must-see list, and was a favorite political talk show for over twenty years. But, sad to say, John is losing coherence week by week, and I wouldn't be surprised to see any announcement that he is suffering from Alzheimer's. His panel members try to ignore his many gaffes and prop him up, but he embarrasses them and himself by refusing to pack it in. The former Jesuit priest and Nixon speech writer could have left a couple of years ago at the top of his game.

There you go, and once again, remember these are Jerry's Opinion Only, People.


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Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I remember vividly and fondly that my maternal grandfather and I argued regularly and fervently. Quite often it was about politics, and this was when I was 10, 11, 12. I remember me shouting out several times, "If you think it's so bad here, why don't you go back to Russia!" And we loved it and each other. 

It was a more innocent time, and a less politically correct time, when people engaged in heated debates without fear that it would offend or lead to violence. This was part of the fun of watching the Siskel/Ebert movie reviews, and on a much milder scale, it is why I am such a faithful fan of the Friday night debates between Mark Shields and David Brooks on the PBS Newshour, or some of the back and forth on Morning Joe. But this is wuss-like stuff compared to the good old days of Argumentative America. I know there is no such word, but it's as if we have been timidified, pounded into submission, so that in places like Fox News and MSNBC, it is more likely to find all the arguing one-sided. 

I also have fond memories of some of the fake celebrity feuds that sometimes went on for years. Jack Benny and Fred Allen, Milton Berle and Henny Youngman,  Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. All of these heated rivalries were played for laughs, and the more insulting they were, the more fans loved it. Now, we tiptoe around invective unless the anger is real.

I think we've lost something in this homogenizing process. Watch some of the heated debates in the British House of Commons. The rival politicians are known to often get together for a warm beer at the pub afterwards. Our rival politicians are not nearly as free or colorful in their interactions, and hardly talk to each other outside the floors of the House and Senate. 

Maybe what I'm really complaining about is that it is getting harder and harder to be a grumpy old man. But I'm going to work on it, so watch out!


And if you know what's good for you, you'd better check out my other blog at:  http://MoneyloveBlog.com

Friday, April 12, 2013


I only had a passing acquaintanceship with this American comic genius who died today at the age of 87, but he was the kind of person who left an indelible mark on anyone who ever met him.

It was in the early 1980s when I was on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference. One of the students, an aspiring mystery writer who happened to be a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, Dr. Charles Smith Deal, was a good friend of Jonathan's, and a neighbor of his in the upscale Montecito suburb of Santa Barbara. I was running the all-night "pirate sessions" at the conference, where aspiring and published writers would come and read their work and have those other writers sitting on the carpeted floor in the large room offer their comments and critiques. Charles said Jonathan was working on his first book, and would be willing to come and talk at one of the sessions. He showed up on the dot at midnight and basically gave a hilarious one man show for the next several hours, going in an out of character more rapidly than anyone I'd ever seen before or since. 

At an outdoor cocktail party at the conference at the historic Miramar Hotel, I was standing nearby when Jonathan walked up to a distinguished African-American gentleman who identified himself as a college professor. Jonathan went into full improv mode and pretended to be a Southern congressman who was still championing segregation. The professor seemed stunned, having no idea that it was a put-on, which Jonathan continued for twenty minutes before turning and just walking away. I don't know if the professor ever found out whom he'd been talking to, but I got a lot of laughs telling the story for several years afterwards.

Another time, at Charles' home in Montecito, we were waiting for Jonathan to show up at lunch. His wife of many years, the very quiet, white-haired Eileen, who died in 2009, was there. She was the sturdy dock to his meandering ship, and began to worry when he was 45 minutes late, considering they only lived around the corner. Charles went out looking for him, and found him doing a routine for two telephone workers on a telephone pole. Jonathan said it was one of the best audiences he'd ever had.

Many a top comedian has said this in the past, and it is certainly true for me as a fledgling stand-up comic. Jonathan Winters' talent was so multifaceted and spontaneous that if I felt I had to reach his level of performance, I might just give up. Check out his videos on YouTube and you'll see what I mean. It was a rare privilege to know him even briefly.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Lots of folks ask me what it really is like to pack up everything and move to a new country and start learning a new language. In some ways, like describing a spiritual journey, it's almost impossible to convey the reality of it--the joy, the strangeness, the adventure, and the challenges. 

Thanks to my good friend, Tony Busse, who's been here six years, I had a lot of information when I decided this would be my destination, Panama City, Panama. But when I arrived on a sort of scouting expedition (even though I had already committed to moving here on February 1st) last October for ten days, that data was exponentially and dramatically expanded. Living here for just over ten weeks now, I have even more knowledge and awareness about this new identity as An American In Panama. 

So here are some of the things I've discovered and learned:

A knowledge of Spanish is only essential if you want to have the full experience of being here. Many expats don't bother with more than a few phrases, "Hello." "How much?" "Yes." "No" "Goodbye." They think they are having a full expat life, but I don't agree, which is why I am focusing a lot of time and effort on learning the language. After extensive reading of studies that show learning and speaking a new language is a way to enhance memory and brain health, I have even more of an incentive to do so.  But it's a real challenge, having been monolingual all my life.

Latina women are friendlier than most women in the U.S., and beautiful younger women seem to genuinely like relating to and flirting with older American men. They really don't all look like Sofia Vergara, but enough of them are in her class of beauty to make for a very pleasing esthetic. And if you're a man who likes pretty women in summer dresses, this is the year-round situation here.  
When I read that the average year-round temperature here was 82 degrees, I did not realize that this meant that at least a couple of months would be in the 90s. That's hot, but having lived in Miami for ten years, I am quickly adapting. 

A major advantage is the easy availability of cabs you can hail on almost any street, and the $2. fare with no tip that will get you anywhere in the city. But traffic is terrible, worse than Boston and the Interstate 405 in LA, and there is no rush hour--it is all rush hour except on Sundays and holidays. Much of this is due to massive construction projects throughout the city, mostly the state-of-the-art new Metro subway system, that is supposed to be finished next year. This is why I am so lucky to have found a place to live in the El Cangrejo neighborhood, where just about everything, including great restaurants and several casinos, is within walking distance.

Though my street is in pretty good shape, many of the sidewalks have chunks of cement missing, or sudden curbs that appear to take you up or down the hilly city. If you don't watch the ground,  you could break your neck. Sometimes the smells are not too pleasant, though the air is generally cleaner than most U.S. cities.

The prices can be 40% to 50% less than the U.S.  Restaurants are particularly inexpensive, and a nice meal for under $10 is the norm, plus retirees get an additional 25% discount at many places, even if they are not locals. The meat is not tainted by hormones and chemicals, and most of the fruits and vegetables are organic. The tap water is also very drinkable. 

Some of these things I've mentioned before in blogs and on Facebook, but they are worth repeating as I find myself appreciating them more each day of my new life here. Other than a great trip last week to Lake Gatun, I have not explored much of the vast outdoor experiences of Panama. I haven't even yet visited the highly regarded botanical garden and rainforest within city limits. Or more than one of the many beaches on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides. Or visited the Embera Indian villages.

The wonders I have yet to see and experience far outnumber the ones I have already explored. That is perhaps the greatest attraction of this small Central American nation. There is always more to see and do, and you learn to take your time down here. After all, Siempre hay maƱana.

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