Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Tiny Conundrum

Regular readers of this blog … are to be commended.

Recently, you’ve had to pay serious attention in order not to miss the very rare flashes of activity.

This calendar year so far, I’ve posted, on average, once a month.

This is far less than the previous rates of writing.

On top of that, while lately it’s been just about once a month, there’s a gap of exactly four months between posts, back in the spring.

So, the average doesn’t quite tell the story.

I’ve been away, seemingly.

 

Well, no. I haven’t. I’ve been right here. And very very often, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, I’ve been ready to write.

And I’ve taken my hands off the keyboard.

If you’ve read the Editorial License blog in the last three years at least, but especially since June 2015, you know that I marinate in politics. I keep up with the news. There are plenty of people in this country who, for various sometimes legitimate reasons, don’t follow the workings of the government well enough to know who the Secretary of Commerce is, or how the 25th Amendment works. They’re working multiple jobs, they’ve got kids, they’re keeping their heads above water.

But I follow, and I know. I make it a point to follow, and know.

Which sounds pretty arrogant, or at least very very confident. But here, “I make the effort” doesn’t automatically lead to “…and you don’t”. My goal is not to be self-inflating. Current events happen to be an interest of mine — and has been since it was part of sixth-grade social studies class.

There have been good reasons to keep up with the news, and to know who’s who and what they stand for and what policies they support, and even how they behave.

Through all the waves of legitimate news stories about legitimately awful or corrupt or mean behavior perpetrated by the federal government in the last couple of years or so, there has of course been one guy … That Guy … who is known by everybody, who is commented upon or joked about or railed against by everybody.

That Guy, the person currently occupying the Oval Office, is of course that guy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, I worked hard to make sure people knew who That Guy was, why I didn’t care for him in the slightest, and why you shouldn’t either. In the first few months of his occupation of the Oval Office, I kept after him. It wasn’t just your average case of executive branch mischief; I felt like it was important to highlight his behaviors, actions, and beliefs which directly contradicted the patterns of proper and decent and humane behavior, action, and belief that my parents and teachers taught me, and which I (and my friends who became teachers) have turned around and tried to instill in the students we were lucky enough to have in our classrooms.

 

I didn’t want to suffer news fatigue.

For all this time, I’ve suggested to people that one single individual can’t possibly keep track of all the news; can’t possibly be the point person for activism against all the wrongs. There are lots of people in the world; there’s a history of division of labor in our civilization; so let’s take advantage of that. Pass the baton; catch your breath; get ready to take the baton back when it comes around again.

Equally, it’s important to step away from anything, occasionally. It’s a great reason for the existence of vacations. It’s the purpose of sleep — because none of us can go full-tilt, 24/7, all the time.

Actually I don’t think I’ve suffered news fatigue: yes, the news is fatiguing.  But I continue to keep up with current events, and grind my teeth firmly about every new piece of stupid, arrogant, cruel behavior that emerges from our current version of the Executive Branch. I download my political podcasts and listen to them all the way through. I engage in conversation with anyone who also seems interested in discussing the news of the day.

So why haven’t I written about it all here at the rate that I used to? I may have fallen victim to the “frog in boiling water” effect. There is SO much going on, so many things to keep track of, so many examples of terrible corruption and awful behavior and inhumane policies … that it’s only the really seriously over-the-top egregious ones that cause me to leap to the blog and write. Children in cages, as an example. #Metoo, for another.

So with regard to all the important issues of the day, I suppose I’ve not got much of an excuse. Just at the moment, as a straight middle-class Christian white guy, I live every day in an environment of the kind of privilege that allows me to check out. Not many of my rights are in immediate jeopardy. The various demographics of whom I am a member allow me the privilege of stepping back, exhaling heavily, and contemplating my toes for an afternoon, or a day, or longer … before gathering myself and hurling myself back into the fray.

But specifically as regards That Guy, the fellow currently occupying the West Wing? For the last year or so, I certainly could have leapt to the keyboard and blogged, vociferously, about each of the four or five latest outrages perpetrated by That Guy. I detest just about every single thing about him. Hate is a strong word, and I’m going to work really hard to reserve it for things that really rate it. But it’s been a rare thing for me to come upon a human being about whom I can find nothing to admire, and everything to loathe. So congratulations, Toddler-in-Chief, Orange Muppet Hitler, Vulgar Talking Yam, Cadet Bone Spurs … I guess you’re the best in one category, after all.

But — and I didn’t say this to myself consciously, but looking back, it was definitely the case — I haven’t felt like constantly, weekly, even daily, railing against That Guy in this space.  And I could have.  There’s lots of raw material; lots of fodder for this particular cannon.  After a year of the campaign and a year of this hideous Administration, it’s not so much a case of “what more is there to say?” because there’s ALWAYS something more to point to and say, kids, don’t be like that.  It’s more a case of “do I want to flog my readers with yet another rant about Cheeto Mussolini?”

The solution might have been, “well, write about happy things instead. Make the blog into a respite from the stupid.” Again, subconsciously, I was recognizing that this would’ve come off as either willfully turning away from the flood of awful, when enough of our institutions and our mores had been under assault and really deserved propping up, and why would I not write about THAT instead of about unicorns and rainbows?

So. A tiny conundrum.

 

A blog doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Or, ideally, it shouldn’t. There are readers — there are subscribers who actually aren’t Russian bots! — to consider, and to respect.

At least they’re not paying readers and subscribers. Dodged that bullet.

But … do I flood my readers with unPresidential rants and tire them out and drive them away? Do I write about subjects that, in the current climate, seem trivial and unimportant? Or do I restrain myself, write far less, and cause my readers to drift away?

I appear to have chosen Option 3. If you’re reading this now, you are, again, to be commended.

Let me see if I can get back to honoring your commitment to this.

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September 25, 2018 Posted by | blogging, current events, government, news, politics, writing | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fury

Last night on her top-rated news analysis program, Rachel Maddow ran ancient (1991) video of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Anita Hill, with regard to the awful experience that she was alleging: repeated, wholly unprofessional instances of sexual harassment, at the hands (metaphorically) of then-Supreme Court nominee, now Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.

I forced myself to stay with it till the end, and it was excruciating. Not merely because of the subject matter; and not merely because Ms. Hill’s parents were in the room at the time, being forced to listen to stories from their daughter’s life that no parent should have to listen to. At least as excruciating was the dogged determination of the questioners, from an all-male Judiciary Committee, to extract from Hill every last lurid detail of various events and conversations, and to spare no opportunity to take from her the refuge of euphemism. Exactly what physical attributes are we speaking of, Ms. Hill? Exactly what name did Judge Thomas assign to his penis, Ms. Hill?

Notably, all of the coveted seats on the Senate Judiciary Committee then were occupied by older white men. Some professed, uncomfortably but inevitably, the wish to get all the evidence “on the record”. Some of them disguised less well their wish to force Anita Hill to recount nearly-unspeakable things in public, in a Senate hearing, before the eyes and ears of the nation, for reasons other than “getting all the details on the record”. You want to challenge the status quo by carrying out what amounts to a genuine act of bravery, Ms. Hill? You’ll have to endure the humiliation once again, then. That’s how it has to be. We say so; as we have said so for a very long time.

Fast-forward twenty-seven years, and how ’bout that. Here we are again.

If and when there is Senate Judiciary Committee questioning of Prof. Christine Blasey-Ford, with regard to her (so far alleged) awful experience: outright sexual assault, at the hands (literally) of now-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh … is there any guarantee that the questioning will be any less excruciating?

Not merely because of the subject matter; and not merely because as recently as 2012, Prof. Blasey-Ford reportedly engaged the services of a therapist in order to further process an event that she says happened when she was a teenager. Most likely, at least as excruciating will be the dogged determination of Committee questioners to similarly extract from Blasey-Ford every last lurid detail of the event, and to spare no opportunity – in as many words, in effect – humiliate her. You want to challenge us, Dr. Balsey-Ford? We’ll take the opportunity to (metaphorically) take you down.

And the most hostile questioning will come from the Republican, Congressional-majority side of the Committee, which is still completely comprised of older white men. (The chairman of the Committee will be Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) … who was on the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, during the Anita Hill hearings.)

So much has changed, and yet nothing has changed.

And we wonder why women are furious.

In saying this, I will come off sounding like a white knight; a “woke” man trying to ride to the rescue of women; a bandwagon-jumper. Despite numerous blog posts in full-throated support of women, over the last eight years, from Sandra Fluke to the #metoo movement, I recognize that a worthy strategy would be to shut up and step aside. Women can speak for themselves.

(And yet here I go. I know, I know.)

No surprise, then, that the very day after the 2017 Inauguration, a nationwide – no, worldwide – protest … one whose size dwarfed that of said Inauguration, and one which was so large and so vocal that the mainstream corporate media was forced to acknowledge that it had even happened … was called the International Women’s March and was driven by the anger, the rage, the fury of women.

Historically, when women have had it up to here and rightly called BS – whether they were the Suffragettes or Serina Williams – they’ve been called hysterical and shrill and mixed-up and pipe down, little ladies, it’s not your place.

Sorry. That was way too passive-voice. When women have risen up, men have actively worked to shut them down.

In the last month or so, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts being not nearly the only examples … it’s begun to become clear that politically, the force-to-be-reckoned-with will be women. Women of color, in those cases, but not exclusively. It’s a force that looks like, and represents the interests of, a constituency that has long been dismissed as hysterical, shrill, emotional, insubstantial, unimportant, not qualified to make decisions.

And that force, clearly, will be driven by firmly-channeled and tightly-focused fury.

In the words of maybe not the most effective feminist icon ever, “That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stands no more.”

Not long ago, on the floor of the US Senate, a speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was interrupted on allegedly procedural grounds by Senate Majority Leader and ancient male Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Within half a day, Warren (ably assisted by her fellow American citizens and their spectacular meme skills) had turned McConnell’s condescending “nevertheless, she persisted” into a rallying cry and a future campaign slogan. She went on cable news programs and pointedly pushed back against McConnell’s attempt to shut her down. She didn’t yell … but she didn’t whisper either.

This past week, during the early moments of the Kavanaugh hearings, Senate Judiciary Committee member Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) interrogated the Supreme Court nominee in such a clinical and legal-eagle way (“Be sure about your answer, sir,” advised Harris in a tone that was at once glacial and “be reminded that you’re under oath, fella”) that it made me glad not to be the object of her inquiry in that moment. Harris’ voice was calm, but the fuel behind it was more than just one hearing-day worth of frustration and the honed skills of a professional prosecutor.

Flailing anger alone can be dismissed as emotion triumphing over logic, or self-control. Volcanic rage can be written off as short-lived (as demonstrated by a teacher or two of mine, whose explosions at roomfuls of students only had its intended effect for a few minutes) and not worth remembering.

Fury, though … fury is all that emotion, curated. Collected. Concentrated. Unleashed in a specific direction, for a specific purpose, with a specific target.

Such as… well, seven weeks from tonight we get to try and save our democracy, eh?

For my money: as many women as can be elected to Congress, state legislatures, governor’s mansions, local school boards, whatever … will be the best outcome.

No, it isn’t right to generalize about any group of people, whether for weal or for woe. Hashtag “not all fill-in-the-blank”. Not all men…! Not all white people…! Not all people of color…! Not all Republicans…! Not all Bernie supporters…!

Not all women are working for the good of humanity, or even of people who look like they do. Not in a world where people like Ann Coulter and Roseanne Barr and Jeannine Pirro still rate a platform and can behave the way they do.

Not one hundred percent of any group of people are pulling the oars in the same direction.

But I’d be willing to see the world give this particular constituency a whirl, since this is also a world in which people like Rachel Maddow and Carmen Yulin Cruz and Maxine Waters and Aisha Tyler have platforms and behave the way they do.

I can only speak for myself … and I can only offer advice … I can’t force you to do anything.

But I’ll at least let you know … that in November, when I go to the polls, if I look at an election ballot and have a choice one way or the other, I know what choice I’ll make.

September 18, 2018 Posted by | current events, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Credit Where Credit is Due

Here’s a scenario:

So you’re new on the job, leading an organization with a certain amount of history and tradition; and of all the members of the organization, you’re the only new person. Everybody else all know each other; they all know how things have been done before; and the organization’s past successes have only cemented the feeling that the main job of the new leadership should be … just keeping things going exactly as they have been going for a very long time, and everything will be fine.

And of course as the new person you’re just looking to survive, never mind thrive.

Naturally you will wish to prove you’re the best person for the job.

Starred Thought: Prove you’re the best person for the job.

And also, if you are any kind of strong personality, or if you are the kind of person that possesses even a tiny bit of confidence, you will wish to demonstrate that you have a vision for the future direction of the organization.

And through all this you are walking a tightrope: I want to prove myself! And I don’t want to alienate people.

Starred Thought: It takes ten years to build a program; it takes just one to destroy it.

Starred Thought: Be a builder, not a wrecker.

So you look around, keep your eyes and ears open, make an effort to listen carefully to all the stakeholders and all the constituencies (or at least give that impression!), learn as much as you can about the history of the organization.

Starred Thought: Look for past traditions to uphold.

And you discover that, for weal or for woe, the members of your organization are really really fond of the previous leadership. You also discover that some of them are a little bit more passionate about this fondness, and about expressing this fondness, than is sometimes comfortable. You do your best to reconcile this enthusiasm with your interest in moving the organization forward, Toward The Future.

It is a hard tightrope to walk. A ridiculously hard tightrope. Especially if your predecessor happens to be seen as legendary.

So, at least at the outset, you play the game.

Starred Thought: If you act the part long enough, you become it.

In those first few moments of your time as the leader of this organization, what you don’t do is – in private or in public – dump on those that came before you. Whether you’re firmly confident in your abilities, or you quietly think to yourself, “what in the world kind of bear trap have I gotten myself into?” You don’t take shots at the people who have done your job before you … whether they’re legendary for good reasons or bad.

Starred Thought: The easiest way to mask insecurity is to cut other people down.

And so, you don’t. Especially in the very early stages of your time there, you make sure to go out of your way to publicly appreciate the foundation that previous leaders have laid, so that you can have this amazing opportunity to contribute to the long line of successes that have characterized the organization.

Starred Thought: Support people before they’ve demonstrated support for you.

So, you give credit where credit is due.

 

Here’s a new wrinkle to this scenario:

You are now several years into your time as leader of this organization. You’ve begun to find successes that you can call your own. Some of them are very, very significant – feathers in the cap, to say the least.

You might consider (or you might not) that now, finally, the time may have come when you don’t need to trumpet the accomplishments and the legacy of the leadership that came before you. After all, living in the past isn’t always a great strategy for moving Toward The Future. Appreciating and recognizing the past, yes, but not getting mired in it.

And yet the membership of the organization still hangs on to the legacy. Not in such a way that they’re dumping on you, no indeed … they’re just remembering fondly … but very very often there are references, remembrances, big and small, that continue to canonize the leadership that came before you.

Starred Thought: You can’t do this job without a LITTLE bit of ego.

Be honest. After five or six or eight years, wouldn’t you start to get a bit weary of it? No matter how much the remembrances emphasize the wonderful foundation that you are now getting to build upon. Can you honestly say you absolutely would never even think, quietly, in the most tucked-away corner of yourself, “…can we just ease up about that?” We’re five or six or eight years on now, after all. Is it not time to turn our eyes Toward The Future?

And is it unreasonable for people to allow you (the not-really-so-new-anymore leadership) to have this tiny thought? To allow you, with your growing record of leadership, to begin to shift the focus back in your direction? Or at least not to focus quite so hard on your predecessor’s?

I think it’s probably not unreasonable.

With all this in mind: I’ve become impressed with a particular gentleman’s willingness and ability to play this complicated game, to play it well … and to play it with respect for so many members of an organization, some of whom may not always have responded entirely in kind.

Starred Thought: To be a leader is to do the uncomfortable thing.

And one event in the last couple of days suddenly stood out to me: both as an example of this willingness and ability to play a very tough game, and as evidence that this gentleman all along has had the confidence to play it very well.

 

Two afternoons ago was the last weekday rehearsal of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band before the eighth anniversary of its previous leader’s passing. There have been eight September 16ths during which the current Minuteman Band leader has had to navigate those potentially treacherous waters.

Friday afternoon, the current director of the Band carved out a few minutes at the end of rehearsal so that the band could play “My Way”, the song that the Band’s previous director had established as a UMass band tradition.

Band members and alumni know that in general, they don’t really rehearse “My Way” after band camp is over; they just play it. At the end of most every public performance. Which means they play it a lot, but don’t use rehearsal time during the regular semester on it. (There’s too much else to spend that valuable time on.) So when they do break it out during the week, it’s at least as rare an occurrence as them not playing it after a gig.

The current band director sent his associate director to the podium to conduct the song. Which is now standard practice – the current director yielded that duty to that associate director almost immediately after his arrival at UMass. I imagine that his logic was something like, “that associate director, having been at UMass for more than three decades, can easily be seen as a comforting link to the past, through taking over the reins of this particular band tradition”.

There are people who, in that situation, might not have had that thought.

More publicly than a weekday band rehearsal, right from his first home football game at UMass, the current leader of the Minuteman Band has gone out of his way to acknowledge and appreciate that associate director in public performance settings. He’s pointed out to many, many audiences how important this new (now not-so-new) colleague of his has been, and is, to the Band.

Starred Thought: Saying “thank you” to someone else makes them feel like a million bucks, but it doesn’t cost you a penny.

And the current director of the Minuteman Band has made it a point to recognize and appreciate the legacy of his predecessor. Not just at Homecoming, when band alumni are all around and it would be politically expedient to do so … but consistently, time after time, opportunity after opportunity.

Giving credit where credit is due.

He could have decided not to do so at all.

He could have decided to do so for awhile, and then decrescendo, because after all, it’s been five or six or eight years now.

Instead, he decided to do so … and keep on doing so. Whether by invoking the name of his predecessor specifically … or by acknowledging the associate director gentleman who was at his predecessor’s side for three decades and more … or by putting in the effort, caring and love required to move the organization forward, Toward The Future – and preserving that legacy in the process.

Starred Thought: Go out of your way to treat people kindly.

If you’ve seen and heard the Minuteman Marching Band at the Rose Parade this past January, or at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City a few years ago, or at Gillette Stadium last weekend, or at any relatively mundane home football gig since autumn 2011, you’ve seen a band that plays and moves in an entirely familiar way. The Band’s sound and look, its style, its personality, its impact(!!) still carries with it the spirit of George Parks.

 

It’s a credit to the legions of band alumni that they’re devoted enough to the George Parks legacy that they have been willing to be vocal about not wanting to just push that legacy, that history, those traditions, aside.

It’s a credit to George Parks, and to associate director Thom Hannum, that their effort and caring and love for the Minuteman Band organization was more than fervent enough to inspire reciprocal effort and caring and love from their alumni.

And: it’s a credit to Timothy Todd Anderson that he has been willing to face more than a few slings and arrows, has walked that ridiculous tightrope, and has still doggedly, consistently, genuinely acknowledged and recognized the Minuteman Band’s past leadership, in the persons of George Parks and Thom Hannum especially, that has laid the foundation … so that he can maintain and continue the Band’s success, in an entirely recognizable form, out here In The Future.

Gotta give the guy credit.

Credit where credit is due.

September 16, 2018 Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, Starred Thoughts, Thom Hannum, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment