MTV hits the big 4-0

Where were you 40 years ago? Were you anxiously awaiting the launch – at midnight on August 1, 1981 – of Music Television, better known as MTV?

Were you born? If you did exist on Earth back then, were you old enough to remember this august (pun intended) moment in American cultural history?

I am old enough to remember the start of the MTV phenomenon, though I did not witness the launch personally. The availability of cable television wasn’t widespread in 1981, especially in urban areas. So in Pontiac, Michigan, where I grew up, our TV choices were still limited to over-the-air broadcasts from stations mostly in Detroit:

2WJBKCBSDetroit
4WDIVNBCDetroit
7WXYZABCDetroit
9CBETCBCWindsor, Ontario
20WXONIndependentDetroit
50WKBDIndependentDetroit
56WTVSPBSDetroit
62WGPRIndependentDetroit

Here’s how the Detroit Free Press noted the upcoming launch of MTV two days before it started:

Detroit Free Press, Thursday, July 29, 1981, page 12B

An interesting note about cable TV availability: I was listening to the original MTV video jocks (Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, and Alan Hunter – the fifth original VJ, J.J. Jackson, died in 2004) chat about MTV’s start on SiriusXM’s “80s on 8” yesterday, and they recalled that they had to travel to Fort Lee, New Jersey during the evening on July 31, where they went to a restaurant that had cable since it wasn’t yet available in Manhattan. They’d been taping their segments that would appear between the videos, but really weren’t sure what MTV was going to look like until the channel started at 12:01 a.m.

My first exposure to MTV was about a month later when I went off to Central Michigan University for my freshman year. As noted in Bettelou Peterson’s Free Press item above, Mt. Pleasant was one of the Michigan cities that had cable and was going to have MTV on their lineup. So when I got to my dorm (the late, great Tate Hall), some of my new dorm mates were aware of the channel already. The dorm had only one cable connection, located in the basement hangout room, where it was attached to a then-quite-large 24” diagonal color television.

I spent a bit of time down there watching, but frankly, I was more into radio and didn’t see the attraction of watching music instead of just listening to it. But some of our classmates spent way too much time down there, and it was apparent that the concept definitely had appeal.

During “Welcome Week,” in fact, the university’s Program Board, which organized music and other cultural events on campus, held a “video watch” event in the Kiva space in Moore Hall. Music videos were projected onto a screen. About 100 people showed up and a good time was had by all.

By the time my radio career got started in 1982, first at campus station WCHP and then at WCFX-FM in Clare, MTV was already affecting how music was being marketed and consumed by fans. MTV’s popularity profoundly influenced what it took to be a successful popular music artist. While it never hurt to be physically attractive before, visual image became even more important in an era when your song absolutely had to have a video to have any chance of getting played, not just on MTV but on the radio as well.

Change is often gradual, and it’s hard to point out exactly when our culture started moving in a different direction. But August 1, 1981, was a pivotal moment in American society when the rocket took off and MTV started burrowing into our collective consciousness.

Our exit strategy is death

Craig Newmark founded Craigslist in 1995. A dozen years later – at which point Craigslist was a senior citizen by venture-capital-fueled Internet standards – Newmark was asked for the umpteenth time, “When are you going to sell your company and cash out?” In other words, what was his “exit strategy?”

His response was (more or less) “My exit strategy is death.” He’s repeated that sentiment many times since. He retired from day-to-day operations at Craigslist in 2016 to focus on his philanthropic efforts (Forbes estimated in 2017 that the company was worth $3 billion, making Newmark – who’s assumed to own at least 40% of the company – worth around $1.3 billion or so.) He has no plans to sell Craigslist to any of the many suitors who’ve come calling over the years, nor is he interested in further monetizing the site, which remains pleasantly archaic in appearance and functionality in 2021, yet likely brings in several hundred million dollars per year.

Newmark’s approach continues to be refreshingly offbeat in a world where the quick buck is treasured. But his plan was based on real information, which we used to call “facts,” and led him to make the decisions that turned Craigslist from a San Francisco-based mailing list helping locals find Bay Area arts and entertainment events to a global company that was truly one of the Internet’s first “social networks.” (Fortunately, his stewardship of Craigslist meant it didn’t turn into a platform with the power to destroy American democracy itself, *cough* “Facebook” *cough*.)

On the other hand, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the endless misinformation campaign, led by right-wing media such as Fox News, OANN, and Newsmax, as well as *cough* “Facebook” *cough*, against the COVID-19 vaccines has been wildly successful in convincing nearly half of Americans that the vaccines are part of a widespread government plot to steal their guns, make pedophilia legal, and turn the U.S. into a freedom-hating socialist state. COVID cases are rising nearly everywhere as we’ve seen vaccination rates taper off and everyone, including the non-vaccinated who should still be wearing masks, tossed those masks away and started hanging out in crowded restaurants and bars again. Only this time, nearly everyone who is being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 is unvaccinated:

Appeals to reason and common sense haven’t worked. Most of those who say they still won’t get vaccinated overlap very neatly with those who think the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Despite all the evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective (and that there was no “steal” to be stopped when it comes to the presidential election), these folks are sure that’s all “fake news.” Until it isn’t:

Maybe if enough unvaccinated people start becoming seriously, even permanently, ill – or perhaps even dying from COVID-19 – it will start to convince the doubters that the only way we can escape endless waves of COVID-19 infections is by getting shots in the arms of everyone who can be vaccinated. Nothing else seems to be working to change minds.

It’s a morbid thought, but perhaps our best shot at an exit strategy from COVID is death.

More fun with numbers and the media

I’ve found USA TODAY’s “Coronavirus Watch” newsletter very useful during the pandemic. But today’s lede is a perfect example of the type of cherry picking I mentioned yesterday:

Is there cause for concern? Numbers are going up, right? Well, yes, but how much?

“Alaska and Arkansas more than doubled cases in the last week.” Okay, is that from 50 cases to 100 cases, or is it from 1000 to 2000 cases? Context matters.

“In Missouri, hospitalizations jumped by nearly 30% over the weekend.” Considering the covidestim.org map I included yesterday, this isn’t surprising, and a surge in hospitalizations is what we want to avoid so we don’t overwhelm our facilities and, more importantly, our healthcare workers. But is this from 100 to 130 people hospitalized, or from 1000 to 1300? Again, context matters.

“Mississippi’s fully vaccinated rate of 31% is the lowest in the nation.” Okay, no complaints with the reporting here; that’s a fact. It’s also unbelievably pathetic. Way to go, Mississippi.

Percentage changes, or deltas, are among the most misunderstood and easy to manipulate statistical measurements. Always ask what the underlying data is when you read something like these statements. Context matters.

Keep following the data

It’s been awhile since I took a deep look at the data for COVID infections and vaccinations in St. Clair County and in Michigan, so here we go:

  • According to Bridge Michigan, case numbers have fallen to a point in Michigan where the state will now only update their statistics twice a week. During most of the pandemic, MDHHS had daily updates; they stopped reporting on Saturdays a few weeks ago, and now will only update on Tuesdays and Fridays. The July 2 update showed 101 new cases, up from 40 the week before, but still very low. To compare, at the peaks in December 2020 and in mid-April 2021, the state was reporting over 7,000 new cases per week.
  • Unvaccinated people account for almost all new hospitalizations from COVID-19, as well as nearly all deaths from the virus. In a study released by the Cleveland Clinic, of the 4,300 COVID patients admitted to their facility between January and April of this year, 99.75% were unvaccinated against the virus. Also notable: “The study also looked at 47,000 Cleveland Clinic employees who had received one shot, two shots, or no shots. Among those, 1,991 tested positive for the coronavirus in recent months. About 99.7% of those who contracted COVID-19 weren’t vaccinated, and .3% were fully vaccinated.”
  • In another study at the Cleveland Clinic, over 52,000 employees, those who had already had COVID and those who hadn’t but had been fully vaccinated had almost no chance of getting COVID. Specifically, “The cumulative incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection remained almost zero among previously infected unvaccinated subjects, previously infected subjects who were vaccinated, and previously uninfected subjects who were vaccinated, compared with a steady increase in cumulative incidence among previously uninfected subjects who remained unvaccinated. Not one of the 1359 previously infected subjects who remained unvaccinated had a SARS-CoV-2 infection over the duration of the study.

Here’s the U.S. map from covidestim.org for July 3:

Missouri, Arkansas, and northeast Texas are dealing with a flare-up, but the rest of the country, including Michigan, is fairly quiet.

The Rt values for several states are above 1.0 again. Rt is the average number of people who will become infected by a person infected at time t. If it’s above 1.0, COVID-19 cases will increase in the near future. If it’s below 1.0, COVID-19 cases will decrease in the near future. Michigan’s Rt number has remained steady at around 0.85 for several weeks. It will be interesting to see if the number rises after the Fourth of July weekend; if it does, it could be concerning, especially for hospitals and clinics that could see a small surge in COVID cases. If it doesn’t rise significantly, however, it would be an excellent sign moving forward.

Per covidestim.org, St. Clair County’s Rt number is 0.62, lower than the state number despite only about 49 percent of county residents being fully vaccinated (52 percent have had at least one dose of the two-dose vaccines, which still provides good protection). 46 percent of St. Clair County residents have had COVID already, again per covidestim.org. While there’s still much to confirm, if you add the percentage of those who’ve already survived a bout with COVID to those who are fully vaccinated, you start to approach 100 percent of the county having at least some protection against the virus (admittedly, some people have both had COVID and gotten the vaccine, so a simple addition – which would result in a 95 percent number – is too simplistic). But you start to see why numbers remain low, even when vaccination rates are much lower than you would hope and no one seems to be wearing masks in public, vaccinated or otherwise.

The vaccines work. Even Jim Justice, Republican governor of West Virginia, knows what’s up.

Still, lots of people, including many of our elected representatives, are either stupid or intentionally pandering to ignorant people (why not both?):

None of the above guarantees that the Delta variant – or some future variant – won’t be a problem. But working with existing data, I think it’s important to avoid the cherry-picking of bad stories, some of which are anecdotal in nature, that we keep reading in the news every day. Yes, people will continue to get sick from COVID, and some will get seriously ill and die, but at this point that seems to be almost exclusively limited to those who cannot – and more importantly, have chosen not to – get vaccinated.

Norman Lloyd, 1914-2021

At my not-terribly-advanced-but-hardly-a-spring-chicken age, I’m starting to see more and more of my contemporaries dying. Where “58” seemed like a fairly ripe old age when I was in my twenties, it now seems more like “died way too young.” I realize that, using standards of American male life expectancy as my yardstick, I’m definitely in the last foot or so.

But then there’s Norman Lloyd.

Mr. Lloyd died yesterday at the age of 106. He was an actor, director, and producer, on stage, on radio, on film, and on television for eight decades. He worked closely with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. He may be best known to television viewers of my generation as the wise Dr. Auschlander in NBC’s St. Elsewhere from 1982 to 1988 (where his co-stars included Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Adams himself, William Daniels).

According to his friend Dean Hargrove, who confirmed Lloyd’s death to Variety, Lloyd claimed his longevity was due to “avoiding disagreeable people.”

Now there’s some good advice. Thanks, Norman Lloyd, for an amazing life.