Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Just Stop

I know, I know. I shouldn’t write this.

Not because this man’s devout followers will inevitably descend upon this blog post like jackals. (Do your frickin’ worst. I’ll even leave your troll comments here. I won’t delete them, as long as you utilize Webster’s Dictionary and leave the four-letter bombs out of it. It’ll say so much more about you than it’ll say about this essay.)

I shouldn’t write this because of how much I admired the object of this man’s nonsensical armchair psychoanalysis.

I shouldn’t write this because I think maybe this man didn’t get enough attention from his mommy, so he’s got to compensate now. (Speaking of compensation. Big man. Impressive. Bring others down, even if they’re dead – before they’re even buried. Way to prove your manhood.)

I shouldn’t write this because of this man’s raging case of psychological projection.

I shouldn’t write this at all, because by writing about this man, I will merely spread the public awareness of him – of his offensive remarks, and of his very existence as a media figure and as a miserable human being – to more people than he frankly deserves.

But I just spent a couple of weeks with fine people, teaching other potentially fine people how to march and how to conduct and how to error-detect-and-correct but most importantly how important it is to be decent to each other because that’s the best way to start getting positive things accomplished, and then I’ve got to return to the world of this?

Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday tied Robin Williams’ death, which sheriffs believe was a suicide, to the ‘leftist worldview.’

A caller on Limbaugh’s radio show lamented how much coverage the media has given to Williams rather than to other news stories, and asked Limbaugh, ‘What do you think the political reason for their doing this is?’

The conservative radio host first discussed his concern that people commit suicide for the attention.

‘The thing I worry about, I really do, they’re making such heroism out of this that I hope it doesn’t inspire a lot of copycats by people seeking the same kind of fame,’ he said. ‘To kill yourself is one way to get the media to spend a lot of time talking about you, if you want to be talked about.’

He then said he didn’t think that the media’s coverage of Williams was driven by politics, but he said it was a factor.

‘But I don’t think that the politics is driving it. I think there was, on the part of media and Hollywood, genuine affection for the guy that is driving it, but there is politics,’ he said. ‘If you notice the coverage is focused on how much he had, but it wasn’t enough.’

‘Now, what is the left’s worldview in general? What is it? If you had to attach not a philosophy but an attitude to a leftist worldview, it’s one of pessimism and darkness, sadness. They’re never happy, are they? They’re always angry about something. No matter what they get, they’re always angry,’ Limbaugh continued. ‘They are animated in large part by the false promises of America, because the promises of America are not for everyone, as we see each and every day.’

The story behind Williams death, fits with liberals’ outlook on the world, according to Limbaugh.

‘He made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside. I mean, it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the left has,’ he said. ‘Talk about low expectations and general unhappiness and so forth.’”

Talk about it, indeed.

Rush needs to shut up.

Sorry. As a kid I was told that this phrase is not the one we ought to use. And perhaps it was my initial, knee-jerk, snap-judgment response. So, to my teachers and my parents, I say, sorry.

Ordinarily I would now suggest many possible behavioral adjustments that might make Rush’s life better, happier, more productive – as well as the lives of anyone who chances to listen to him, on purpose or not.

Ordinarily I might go on for a bit about the Golden Rule … or the concept of empathy … or the concept of compassion … or at the very least the idea that knee-jerk reactions and snap judgments usually are made without all the proper information that would otherwise better inform the reacting or judging person.

Ordinarily I might express how appalled I am that some people, particularly those in position to shout it from the media rooftops (who are therefore not only prone to shout but paid to shout), cannot see past their own profession or their own beliefs, and thus cannot avoid making everything all about politics, all the time. Right-wingers commit suicide, too, y’know. So do centrists. So do people who don’t give a wet slap about politics. So do people who perceive that they have been placed in unsolvable situations by the beliefs and policy decisions of other people, about whom they can do nothing.

Ordinarily I would do those things, because I’m a teacher (but also, I hope, because I’m an okay human being). My job is to deal with children who haven’t been on earth a super-long time. Who maybe haven’t grasped these ideas, not by any fault of their own, other than they’ve not had a lot of experience, comparatively, with these ideas. My job – my instinct – is to try to present these thoughts, make these suggestions, in such a way that they might take away a fresh perspective, that they might learn from them. Not because I told them so, but because these ideas contribute to decent and civilized human relations, and also their lives may be less stressful if they keep them in mind.

Rush has been on earth for sixty-three years now. You’d think he would have grasped some of these, either through personal experience or observation of others or something.

Apparently not.

Obviously not.

Maybe it’s an entertainment-industry persona. Maybe if you actually talk to the guy, he comes off as not “radio Rush” but “human-being Rush”. Maybe, to paraphrase a favorite fictional character, he does care about anything, or anyone.

After all, we are now being treated to anecdotes about Robin Williams’ off-stage persona – for example, how, even though he was a “wild and crazy guy” on stage, he always expressed a caring attitude toward stagehands and production assistants and other entertainment-industry “little people”. American entertainment is littered with examples of people who were one thing on stage, and another when the lights went down.

So I’d like to leave open that possibility in Rush’s case.

But the problem is, movie stars’ performances mostly inspire their fans and followers to admire them, and to go see another of their movies. I don’t know how many people watch, say, Tom Hardy as Bane or Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … and then go out and treat other people the same horrible way, just because they saw and heard what remarkable things those actors did to make those characters come to life.

Y’know … I was about to suggest that Rush is in a different position within society, one in which his on-stage behavior – the way he says things and what he actually says – does have the opportunity to encourage his fans and followers to think and feel certain things and then to go and act on those beliefs, to behave in ways that do dramatically affect other people’s lives – regardless of whether he’s a good or awful person away from the spotlight.

But I don’t think that’s fair, because you can take that last paragraph, rip out the name “Rush” and plug in the name “Mother Theresa” or “the Pope” or name-your-universally-beloved-public-figure … and the paragraph would still be true. Charles Barkley once said that just because he was a successful NBA basketball player, that didn’t mean he felt he should be seen as a role model. To which I remember saying, sorry, man, it’s out of your hands.

Instead, perhaps, my thoughts boil down to this:

Stop, Rush.

And unfortunately, because I’m probably not the only person who will pen a scathing reply to your utterance, you will not be encouraged to heed this advice. Quite the contrary.

And yeah, I’m a little bit of a leftist and you just damn well bet I’m angry, but not for the reasons your political stripe causes you to believe.

I’m angry at you.

I’m angry at what you say, and how you say it, and how it belittles the people that you don’t like, and how it encourages other people to behave inhumanely. Damn right I’m angry at you.

But I’m not so angry that I would wish physical or other harm upon you, no indeed. My worldview is not so dark that I think that physical violence solves anything, or that I think people who believe differently than I do are automatically evil or “takers” or drains on society or any of the rest of that crap that we’ve been subjected to for some time now.

But I’ve been subjected to it for long enough now, I think.

So, Rush, just stop.

Don’t stop and think.

Don’t stop and consider.

Don’t stop and then issue an apology, or revise your statement, or claim you didn’t mean or even didn’t really say such a thing.

Just stop.

August 13, 2014 Posted by | celebrity, current events, entertainment, Famous Persons, media, news, radio | , , | Leave a comment


Has it really been only eleven days or so since I saw the first bucket of ice water hit someone?

The fundraising phenomenon asks those willing to douse themselves to challenge others to do the same within 24 hours. If they don’t, they must make a donation to a certain charity. Each person who participates nominates more friends, who nominate more friends, who nominate still more friends, which explains why the trend has exploded. … The months-old movement has taken the Boston area by storm over the last 10 days, since friends and relatives of former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates used it to raise awareness about Lou Gehrig’s Disease [ALS].

Early on, I posted this on Facebook:

A pre-emptive statement: if challenged to do that ALS-awareness ice bucket challenge thing, I will be a party pooper and donate the hundred bucks. I just don’t want my cardiac event to be recorded on video.

I didn’t post it to be a spoilsport. I didn’t belittle the concept. I was thinking more along the lines of, if I want a brain freeze, I want it to be accompanied by ice cream.

And the conversation that ensued was gentle, and really didn’t imply such things. Early on, I also had wondered if there would be people out there who would dump the ice water over themselves but then not contribute. The Associated Press article quoted above does not make it sufficiently clear that the doused people then get to contribute a certain amount to charity themselves … and, well, I just wondered. The Internets are full of stories of cheaters and undeserved-attention-mongers, after all.

To my relief … it seems I shouldn’t have worried.

[Pete Frates’] parents, Nancy and John Frates … said the ice bucket challenge has done more to increase understanding about ALS than anything they’ve done over the past two years.

For those who work to raise awareness of ALS, the ice bucket challenge has been a windfall. The ALS Association’s national president, Barbara Newhouse, said donations to the national office surged during the 10-day period that ended Thursday, to about $160,000, from $14,480 during the same period a year ago. That’s not counting donations to chapter offices around the country, Newhouse said.

Excellent. Truly.

Meanwhile, something that has struck me over the last week and a half has been the great variety of images on display. One might suppose that this is among the simplest concepts: one person gets doused with a bucket of ice water.

It is. But ah ha ha! Vive la difference!

I’m sure that Famous Persons have taken part in this, but by sheer happenstance, I haven’t seen any of those videos. The video I’ve seen has all been via my Facebook news feed, and all of the ice buckets have been applied to friends or former students, or friends of same. I would guess, since I have neglected to count, I’ve seen many dozens of video clips of splash.

And, because all humans are different somehow, it would seem that all splashes are, too.

Some of my friends and colleagues and former students have worn bathing suits. Some have worn tank tops or t-shirts. The Beverly (MA) Police Department, collectively, wore full duty uniforms.

Some have doused themselves. Some have counted on others to dump the water.

Some have stood in their backyards and had the ice water dumped on them from high above, by someone on a back deck or a folding chair. Others have had water dumped on them by someone standing behind them.

Some have stood on the beach. Some have stood in their driveways.

Some have gotten hit with a gallon or so of water. Some have been splashed by a multiple-gallon cooler full.

Some have been hit with more ice cubes than ice water.

Some of them were ready for it. Some weren’t.

Some have looked as if they were desperately trying to predict when the water would arrive. Some stared straight ahead and waited without peeking behind them. One was doused on the count of three, except that instead it sounded like “one… two… SPLASH!”

Some have danced around afterward. Some have stood in place, frozen (literally and figuratively).

Some have staggered backward. Some have waddled forward. Some have nearly fallen forward.

Some of them reacted with a great whoop of laughter (or something). Some have stood in quivering silence.

Some have run around afterward in a small circle. A couple have run around in a great sweeping arc, flapping their arms.

Only one that I’ve seen, so far, has appeared to be ready to commit violence upon the bucket-holder.

Some have been splashed by friends. Some have been splashed by family members.

One was splashed by her little brother, who looked like he was having way too much fun.

One splashed his twin daughters, who squealed with shock and delight. A few days later, this same friend readied a bucket for a self-splash, and one of those same toddlers very enthusiastically filled the bucket with ice cubes before making a quick getaway.

One of my colleagues doused himself while the high school band he was teaching played their school song in the background.

One of my DMA colleagues was splashed by her father – who looked very startled when, possibly in an improvised moment, she nominated him to be one of the next ice-bucket recipients.

But no doubt all of these people have had one thing in common: they’ve been able to achieve any or all of these physical things while not been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Nerve cells in their brains and spinal cords have not been affected. The ability of their brains to initiate and control muscle movement has not been compromised.

And one other thing they, and I, and we all, can do … is to write that check for $100, or whatever amount. And then check up on the ALS Association and see if we can do them some more favors, in the coming months and years, so as to keep this from being a flash in the pan.

Not always the best thing to hear, but in this case it’s okay: my check is, indeed, in the mail.

August 12, 2014 Posted by | current events, Facebook, Internet, media, news, social media, technology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Today I spent six hours in the middle of the day at a retreat. Participants included all of the professional staff members of the church wherein I do my church musician thing. Under normal circumstances, one might be inspired to run screaming from such a concept – metaphorically or actually – because most six-hour stretches of time spent in the company of a “consultant” or “facilitator” or “coach” stand a very good chance of being Life Imitates Art, As Long As Art Is An Excruciating Episode Of “The Office”.

Fortunately, life didn’t imitate that art. It was, I think, not a waste of time at all.

It helps when the consultant is also simultaneously an actual, active purveyor of the craft. In this case, the nice lady was a pastor herself.

We did a little writing (no fooling, we journaled) … we did a little molding of clay, and not metaphorically but physically (when’s the last time I made something out of clay? The fifth grade, probably) … we paired up and discussed … we gave our personal weather reports (“sunny, with occasional passing showers, thank you!”) … we did all those touchy-feely things that with the wrong sort of guidance can make six hours seem like six months, only without the enjoyable changing of the seasons.

Most importantly for this space, we did a little writing with pens, on notebook paper.

Which meant that we couldn’t really go back and move this paragraph over here, for example.

So, I was thrown back to the days of taking essay exams in little blue books. One had to organize one’s thoughts a bit before setting pen to paper.

It was mere coincidence, I think, that the notebook I chose to write in had a blue cover.


So the first question was in response to the reading of a verse from the Biblical book of Jeremiah. The first six verses went like this:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the world of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter as done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

(The Lord goes on to remind nations or kingdoms of the Old Testament’s Middle East that the Lord may be thinking of rewarding you, but if you’re not listening to His voice properly, He may change his mind and visit disaster upon you (Noah!). And if He was considering wreaking havoc upon you, but you turn away from whatever evil, etc. etc., He will change His mind and not wreak, after all. The Old Testament God was many things, but vague He was not.)

I didn’t exactly get hung up on the word “reworked” from the fourth verse – I did read and hear the rest of the passage – but the word did stick with me, enough that I thought it was worth addressing in the context of how a church staff might look to the future, and plan, and do.

So, with no ability to do drag-and-drop editing, I uncapped the pen and waited for the ink to flow. And, in short order, it did:

Is what we’re doing ever “set in stone”? Is how we do what we do ever set in stone? A wise philosopher once said, “The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘because we’ve always done it that way’.”

Is it possible for us to let go of our conviction that the “tried-and-true” methods, our “long-standing traditions”, are always going to be appropriate to meet our needs? Can we recognize that the task at hand may be different enough from what it used to be, that we may need to exchange our favorite tools for new “implements of construction”?

Can we convince ourselves of this – and those whom we help to lead – without conveying the impression that the old ways are uniformly outdated and unworthy? Can we honor the old, while adapting to (and embracing) the new?

Can we agree that “reworking” is not the same as replacing?

Not bad for having no opportunity to edit, and sculpt, and hone, and craft. Maybe not Pulitzer stuff, but ah well.

In many fields, not just those of church music, church staff, high school band design staff … that’s the challenge: not letting the past control us – but not innovating quite so thoroughly that we don’t recognize our “sport” anymore. Drum and bugle corps fights that battle every summer. Whether a person strikes you as a traditionalist or a stick-in-the-mud can depend on whether you’re that person or not. Depending upon one’s point of view, the fellow touting the latest innovative technique or concept or approach … might also be thought of as a troublemaker, stirring up the pot for the sake of stirring it up.

We (church leaders, public school music ensemble directors, … lots of other occupations, too) walk that knife-edge all the time. Maintain the status quo, rework, or replace?

It’s a challenge, fraught with risk – of going too far, or not going far enough, often depending upon which stakeholder you ask.  Sometimes we get both kinds of feedback simultaneously, in response to the same decision.

May we have the perspective (even when we’re up to our keisters in alligators, as the saying goes) to recognize it as the opportunity that it also might be. This suburban choir director hopes to be surrounded by people who are willing to open their minds a bit … even while he’s serving up some of the “old chestnuts” for them, too.

August 11, 2014 Posted by | choir, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment