Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

No Comment (or, Words Create Realities, Part 3)

Here’s the problem: in this country, right now, in 2011, we cannot solve any problems. Here’s a large part of why.

Step 1: A CNN.com opinion piece is posted, in defense of the Wisconsin public employee unions’ fight to preserve their right to collective bargaining (and thus basically their unions’ very existence). In sumamry, it emphasizes that Wisconsin teachers unions have already said to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in essence, we’ll take the pay cuts or the money reductions or whatever. This is not, as the Governor has insisted, about the money, so can everybody please cease to paint the teachers as massively wealthy moneygrubbers when it is a provable assertion that the vast majority are not. [Those who are massively wealthy have probably been teaching for a ridiculous amount of time to get there. Please don’t challenge me on this: I know my way around a public-school teacher pay scale table. -Ed.]

Step 2: Many comments flow in, pro and con. Some are well-written (on each side), some are not (on each side). Some feature things like punctuation, spelling and grammar; some don’t. (I don’t know… I think if you’re commenting on an education story, you should at least be required to prove you passed a sixth grade Language Arts class.)

Step 3: One of the comments (with spotty punctuation etc. but with a good heart and good intentions) is from an Army vet with a screen name “Dennis25” and it says this:

The teaching profession is an honorable one to be sure. They are under paid for what they are held responsible for, students, and educating them to the best of their ability. Yes, this country of ours blew Billions $ on wars in the middle east. The costs are and continue to be enormous to all. We all know that. Even myself a retired US Army veteran know that.

However, back to the complaints levied against the Teachers in Wisconsin and around the country. You’re wrong. Just think what future our country would have if these brave and dedicated women and men did not do their jobs. We’d be just a bad off as the third world countries the US and others have always helped throughout our history.

“Our children are our future. They are the future leaders, husbands, wives and parents of future mechanics, doctors, dentists, teachers of all fields, a scientist with a cure for some disease. The point being, those that lay blame on a segment of our society for having it too easy don’t have a clue. Try volunteering at your local school in a troubled area ? Or maybe you in live in a place where all is beautiful and calm. Be thankful because in our society all is not equal or fair. As long as there are folks that want to divide us trouble is all that comes from those voices. The only one’s that lose are our children, their parents (if they have one or both or a mentor that cares enough to give of his or her time to help improve that child’s life.) Life is hard enough for all of us. A Uncle of mine said to his classes every beginning term of the new year, if you think I am going to be tough on you in English class, try life.

“Our teachers are the front line of our Nations educational system. We ask so much of them and to do it will little or no extra’s. There self worth is what they do with the resources and intelligence they bring to their classrooms every day even when there are dark clouds hanging over them. Give them a break. We need them. A house divided will not stand. However, a house united can do anything it puts it’s collective mind together, all things are possible, from upscale neighborhoods to the inner cities which can be life threatening to all, students and teachers alike.

“/s/ A retired US Army veteran from Northern CA”

Step 4: Someone with a screen name of “Jim” posts what he clearly believes is a witty (though miserably punctuated) reply to this comment:

Dennis, I remember you, you were kicked out under the dont ask, dont tell policy. How ya do’in sweetheart?”

(A short pause while I force down the urge to track down this feller.)

I know all about this country’s vaunted free-speech tradition. It’s what makes us different than the dictatorships in the world. I can express an opinion without fear of being sent “To The Big House!” Heck, I have this blog thing going here. The very poster child of freedom of expression. I’m fortunate, I think: the vast majority of the comments that have come my way have been supportive; a few have been constructively critical; not one, thankfully, has been abusive – at least out of all the comments that got through the spam filter. And this week I Facebook-posted a link to an article about yet another “curious” bill that has been advanced in one of our state legislatures, and that post drew a series of thoughtful comments from my Friends which turned into a fairly enlightening debate and made me proud to call those people Friends.

But this is exceptionally rare. It’s the ol’ Spiderman mantra: with great power comes great responsibility. And clearly, there are way too many people out there who, tempted by the great power and utter anonymity of comment sections, abandon all pretense of being grownups. Some post before thinking; some think before posting, which could easily be a worse case.

So, all right, kids (he says, adopting his best dangerous “I’m the teacher and I have put up with this nonsense for just about as long as I can stand it and I can’t stands it no more” tone): if we can’t handle the responsibility of comment sections, maybe we should just take away that toy for a while.

Free speech advocates would wail at the prospect of abolishing comment sections entirely. As a former journalism major, I would think long and hard before I advocated such a position (even though a number of newspapers have disabled their comment functions lately). But oh, is it a tempting thought.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Internet | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Denis Hammerton Moment

(re-posted from my Facebook profile, February 23, 2009)


I don’t expect to post a whole lot of things in this space having to do with family; no skeletons in the closet that I know of, but I do wish to respect various people’s privacy. If they want to reveal private family stuff, they can blog too!

Today would have been my Dad’s 82nd birthday. He passed away seven years ago this May. He’d had a heart attack eight years prior to that one; so we all had time, and inspiration, to make sure everybody knew what everybody thought of everybody else, and very little was left unsaid, and we were all very comfortable with the fact that I was his favorite son (he only had one) and he was my favorite Dad (I only had one) (but of all the Dads on Earth…).

Two years ago, on what would have been his eightieth birthday, I posted an item as a Facebook note – it was basically what I presented at his memorial service – and I’d like to include it here. Pretty often I hear myself say something or say it a certain way, or frequently I hear someone else describing a memory of my father that just further convinces me that even after we’re gone, if we’re lucky and we’ve done it right, we’ll continue to have an effect on other people. If you ever met my Dad, even just once, you probably have at least one Denis Hammerton Moment similar to the ones I mention below . . . and it most likely makes you grin and chuckle. May we all have the kind of effect he had on the world. Read on!…

Henry David Thoreau said: ‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears . . .”

When I’ve tried to describe my father to people, I’ve sometimes tried to boil it down to a few short words, or a sentence. Those who know me know that brevity is not always one of my strongest suits. My dad compounded that difficulty by managing to be many, many things … not merely a chemical engineer, not merely a curious and quirky Englishman trapped in America, not merely a great father and husband. He made it very tough to put his life story on a bumper sticker.

The Denis Hammerton stories that have come forward in the last couple of weeks – many of which I had never heard before – reveal a man who didn’t do giant-sized things for people with the intention of putting them on a billboard and pointing and saying ‘look what I done’. He did small things for individuals: a staggering number of them.

“‘What goes around, comes around’ is a phrase that applies to good deeds in life, too. I think Dad would be startled to realize just how beloved he really was – he really didn’t think too hard about that. A few of my memories of him may serve to give you an idea of why I thought he was so great.

A man with a PhD in chemical engineering no doubt would enjoy seeing his son excel in math or science. Alas! … after about sixth grade, those subjects and I were no longer close friends. Some fathers would bemoan this situation, mumble something regretful about who’s going to carry on the flame … but not Dad. I think he understood very well that I LIKED science and math just fine; I just wasn’t real GOOD at them. And he made it clear that he was fully in favor of whatever subject or pursuit about which I DID feel successful, and would help in whatever way he could.

Mark Twain (a bust of whom sits on top of our piano at home, and somehow I suspect that was DAD’S idea) said this: ‘Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.’

So I credit my Dad with opening my eyes to some important truths about the subject in which I now make my living – music. Now, understand: my father claimed to be not particularly musical. [He] would have you believe that the nuns at the convent school kicked him out of the school band because they’d had him playing second woodblock and he couldn’t cut it.

One Sunday when I was about 10, our church organist fired up the organ and began to play a hymn. We stood; we began to sing. And the thought suddenly occurred to me as I listened to what Dad was singing … ‘that’s not exactly the melody, is it?’ … ‘but it works!’ As it turned out, this was the [air quotes] Bass Line. It was my revelation that those notes that looked like the piano music that I never practiced enough … could be sung at the same time as the tune everybody else was singing. And it would work. . . . Is it too much to suggest that his manner, his peculiar modes of expression, mirrored that idea? All of my friends who met my Dad thought the world of him, and most thought he was just a wee bit odd; and liked him that much more because of that.

All my life, [as both a] high school music teacher and college band director, my parents have made it a point to be at as many of my performances as they could, be they concerts or football games or whatever. (Dad called the sport of AMERICAN football ‘heaps of men’. Similarly, he called ice hockey ‘heaps of men on skates’.) And at the appropriate moment, probably at the beginning of the third quarter, I would take great pleasure in making sure my students knew who they were looking at, wearing that bulky and rather loud winter down coat and the furry hat. That’s my Dad. I’m 37 years old; my parents come to my games. … Once a band parent, always a band parent.

Not long after Dad passed away, I sent out an email to friends of mine who had known him, or even just met him once or twice. My friend Heidi Sarver, with whom I was drum major at UMass a few years ago [laughter] … and who is now the director of the University of Delaware marching band … passed that information on to basically all of our summer band clinic colleagues, which I thought was very kind indeed. It was something she would have done in any case. [It turns out] she must have forwarded that note even further, because early this week I received a card from Courtney Moore. Who? Courtney Moore, the card explained, was a member of the Delaware Band. We had never met. She certainly had never met my father. But she had been told of his passing, and wanted to let my family know that we were in her prayers.

Baseball great Jackie Robinson said this: ‘A man’s life is only worth how much he impacts other people’s lives.’

If a man’s life is in fact to be judged on how much he impacts other people’s lives, Denis Hammerton shapes up to be one of the worthiest men I can think of. I only have to look at how he affected my life to know THAT.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this: ‘To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.’”

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pruning the Ol’ Bookmarks Folder

Just got freshly appalled at the number of webpages I’ve bookmarked without ever returning to them again.  So, in the spirit of “I’m on school vacation, I have time, and my house is a wreck, must clean, must clean”… I’m starting with my hard drive.  (That’s helpful.)

During that process, unfortunately, in the spirit of “I’m a hopeless pack rat”, I’ve re-discovered webpages I’ve bookmarked without ever returning to them again… that I might return to.  And which might explain a lot about me, actually…

So, in no particular order…

Besides her regular duties on “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me!”, and besides the fact that she and her family were members of the church I grew up in … I don’t know a thing about her.

This music dictionary even pronounces terms for you!

Reportedly, the gentleman who played Data on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is a pretty odd duck; but on Twitter he’s comedy gold.

The first thing to do when you go to this website is find out how to quickly stop the MIDI file of a hymn (and never the one you were searching for) that automatically plays upon your arrival to every single webpage inside it. After which, it’s a great resource.

With luck, this will stop being topical someday. Until then, it’s just fun and occasionally pretty creative. (Even more fun than William Shatner reading Ms. Palin’s Twitter posts in the manner of a poetry slam.)

They’re putting out another album this month. At last.

I wish something like this had existed when I was a college bando. Then again, maybe I don’t.

Looking for good clean jokes? “A Prairie Home Companion” to the rescue. Looking for slightly off-color jokes? Same rescue organization.

My desperate attempt to stay literarily engaged. Even if I don’t always appreciate non-rhyming poetry.

When I was about 12, I thought this was the sweetest funny television show I’d ever seen. I still put it right up there. Thanks to the BBC via PBS (whom else?).

Just an episode guide, but please do enjoy the audio that plays constantly.

My favorite cable-news law professor consultant guy.

The ultimate in nerd, but it does try to explain the unexplainable. No, not George Lucas’ dialogue; just the techno-toys in his movies.

This explains a great deal about my sense of humor, I think.

In a desperate attempt to stay literarily engaged, part 2.

When an outfit like the American Shakespeare Center creates a funny Shakespeare graphic, it’s actually funny.

Going back to the “when I was 12 and thought it was cool” department. Although, for the record, some of this stuff even I found dorky at the time.

Flanders and Swann. British. Lyrics. Spectacular.

Let’s see, what things do I like? Behind-the-scenes documentaries? Check. Music? Check. Sci-fi? Check. The only thing this TV composer’s blog is missing is something about baseball and band.  (Oh wait!  He talks about contrabass clarinets.  Check.)

It’s John Cleese. No more need be said.

February 21, 2011 Posted by | entertainment, Famous Persons, Internet, literature, marching band, media, movies, music, news, npr, politics, radio, science fiction, television, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment